Where Light Exists

Where the Light Exists

Issue 22 by Jesus Raul Torres

A man known only as The Client enlists the help of a woman named Blackberry to find someone very special to him. As their journey progresses across a desert filled with enemies, The Client’s past is revealed in flashbacks. A boy awakens on a bridge with no memory of his past. He falls in love with the first person he sees, a beautiful young woman whose name he does not know. She runs off, and the boy follows her. This causes a chain reaction of people to try and stop him at every turn. Slowly the reader sees how a young boy fueled by nothing except love became a man obsessed with a singular goal. Blackberry slowly becomes fascinated with her Client as she finds out more about his past. She begins to fall in love with him, knowing full well that she is leading him to the only woman he cares about. Along the way, he and Blackberry are pursued by a man in a brown suit, who is determined to stop The Client at all costs. In the end, Blackberry takes the Client where he wants to go, but not before having to confront the reality of what he has become. He and the girl from the bridge have a brief, intense reunion. Then the Client returns to Blackberry for good.

For Gracie

Business

The Client takes a bite of noodles.

Blackberry: I didn’t know they served that here.

The Client: Probably they don’t.

Blackberry: How did you get it, then?

The Client: I asked.

Blackberry: Huh.

The Client drinks his tea.

Blackberry: Is that a real dagger on your waist?

The Client: No.

Blackberry: What about that shield?

The Client: What about it?

Blackberry: Is it yours?

The Client: Yes.

Blackberry: Hm.

The Client: So.

Blackberry: So what?

The Client: How much?

Blackberry: You get down to business?

The Client does not speak.

Blackberry: Five-hundred. Flat fee.

The Client hands five-hundred dollars, wrapped in a band, to Blackberry.

Blackberry places the money in her pocket.

The Client: Aren’t you going to count it.

Blackberry: It’s all there.

The Client: So.

Blackberry: So.

The Client: How do we do this?

Blackberry: Do you have a picture?

The Client: No.

Blackberry: Then?

The Client: What?

Blackberry: Do you have a name?

The Client: A name?

Blackberry: What’s your name?

The Client stays quiet.

Blackberry: Ok. Fine. What’s her name.

The Client says a name.

Blackberry: She’s far away.

The Client: Is that a problem?

Blackberry: No.

The Client: Will it cost more?

Blackberry: No.

The Client: Okay.

Blackberry looks from the client to his shield, and back to the client.

The Client: Tell me how to get to her.

Blackberry: That’s not how this works.

The Client: How does it work?

Blackberry: I take you there.

The Client: Where?

Blackberry: To her. To where she is. I have to take you there.

The Client: No, you don’t. Just tell me.

Blackberry: That’s not the job. The job is I take you. That or I give you back your money and walk away.

The Client drinks his tea and eyes Blackberry.

Blackberry says nothing.

The Client: Okay.

Blackberry: What?

The Client: Take me.

Blackberry: Okay.

The Client: When do we start.

Blackberry: Now.

The Client: Okay.

Blackberry and the Client stand.

The Client places a gold coin on the bar. He picks up his shield and hangs it about his shoulder.

Blackberry and the Client exit the tavern.

People Inside

The man in the brown suit walks into the tavern. His boots resonate on the wooden floor with his every step, like deep, melodious notes. People stare but it means nothing to him because people always stare. They wonder, he knows, why there is no dust on his brown suit, or on his leather boots. No one looks up at his face. That’s okay. Everyone looks the same to him anyway. The man in the brown suit walks to the bar and grabs the bartender by the collar. No time to be pleasant. No time for anything. The bartender starts to scream but the man in the brown suit tells him to be quiet. Questions are asked. Answers come in hurried whispers. Whispers that are all about getting one man out of another man’s bar. The answers are not meant to be helpful, but they come too quickly to be lies. This is the truth as an instinctual reaction.

The man in the brown suit lets the bartender go. He starts to walk away but then his collar is snagged again. More whispers. The man in the brown suit says something to the bartender that cannot be unheard. Something that cannot be denied. Lies can bind a person but only the truth can hold them in place. This is what the bartender is learning as his face moves from mortal fear to something like an accepting calm. The bartender accepts not only his own fate but the reality of the universe, and the fact that it exists. By the time he is released he knows too much. By the time he turns away from the man, and toward the kitchen, he has already decided what to do. It is already too late.

The man in the brown suit picks up a coin that he finds on the bar, surmising that it must belong to no one because no one had it. He turns to the patrons of the tavern. They gawk at him with round eyes and round mouths. He asks who they are, and none respond. He asks where their families are, how long they have been here, and where they plan to go when they leave. Nothing. No answers. He tells them that he would apologize if he felt it were warranted, but it is not. He bids them farewell and exits the tavern. Outside, the man in the brown suit holds his coin up toward the light.

Behind him the tavern erupts into a ball of fire.

Sad

Blackberry: Stop!

The Client: Why?

Blackberry: Because there’s nothing you can do for them!

The Client stares at Blackberry for a long time.

Blackberry winces when she notices that there are no longer any screams coming from the tavern.

Not much time has passed between the girl running away and the boy deciding to chase her, but she is nowhere in the immediate vicinity. Which, by the way, is the edge of the forest. This is important because the boy begins to follow a road that will eventually lead to the forest proper. So the boy walks and walks until he reaches a crossroads. There is always a crossroads in these stories. One road leads into the forest and the other leads around them. Standing at this intersection is a man dressed in a very fine suit. He appears to have been waiting for the boy, though one can never be certain of such things. Maybe people around him just like hanging out at places where people will have to make important decisions. Maybe such places are more common than the average person realizes. But this is all a digression. The well dressed man calls himself Mr. Williams. He holds an obsidian cane with a large shining diamond, though it does not appear that he needs this cane to help him stand. His name and appearance are based on a certain raunchy comedian. But his placement as a character providing directions are a reference to a feline character from a very popular children’s book.

The boy asks Mr. Williams which way the girl went. It is clear that Mr. Williams knows where the girl went, but he is reluctant to tell the boy. He seems to be able to discern quite a bit about the boy, especially considering that this is their first meeting. He knows, for example, that the girl ran away from the boy, and that the boy is going after her against her wishes. More than that, Mr. Williams is able to glean a lot about the boy’s personality. He chides him for full-hardily chasing after a girl when he is so young and really knows nothing about the complexities of human relationships. The boy listens to all of this patiently. He is quite respectful considering he is being berated by a complete stranger. Again and again the boy asks Mr. Williams where the girl went, ignoring the insults and warnings. Finally Mr. Williams becomes enraged and whacks the boy with his cane. It is at this point that he is truly impressed by the boy’s tenacity. The boy does not fight Mr. Williams. He calmly regains his composure after being knocked down and asks again for the direction in which the girl went.

Hell

I tell the Client everything I know about the desert but he refuses to listen. I knew from the beginning that this would lead here.

I _ l ll _ !!

The sign at the edge of the desert, the real desert, says, TURN AROUND!! At least it used too. The sign has been there for a long time.

No one comes back from the desert. In the desert there is the Sunshine, and the Sunshine kills all. No one is sure what it is exactly. Some say a gang of killers, others say a monster, others say God, others say the Devil. Who or what it is is unimportant. What’s important is that only one person was ever seen again after crossing into the desert. He was a kid who had gone in on a dare. He came back seventeen years later. Looked fifty years older. They only knew who he was because of a star-shaped birthmark on the back of his neck. He appeared one day in front of the church in town. In a wooden box. He had no arms and no legs. No hair. No eyes. No teeth. No tongue. No ears. His skin was burned all over. Or cut. Or filed down to the bone. Where it was not scarred over, was translucent. The blood in veins was tinged brown, and thumped faintly as he gasped for breath. The person who found him tried to smother him immediately, but the old man from the church refused to let him. There was a great argument over whether he should be killed, and in the end they simply decided to let him die on his own. They figured he could not last long. It took nine days. Everyone watched.

The Client asks me how I know this and I tell him that everyone knows this story. He asks me how I know it’s true and I tell him that everyone knows it’s true. The Client turns away from me and looks out at the desert for a long time. It is as though he is attempting to stare the desert down. He wants the desert to back out before he and it have to fight. Because, he tells it without having to say anything, if we fight it will be bloody, and I may win and I may not but if I don’t then you will live to regret it. The Client touches the thing on his hip. The dagger. He asks me if I am sure that she is on the other side. I tell him that she is planting roses in a garden outside her house. Right now. When I say this he closes his eyes. When he opens them again I know it’s time to go. I turn around and see a man burning alive.

Dying, the thought of dying, doesn’t actually bother me. It hasn’t for a long time. It’s everything else about the world that bothers me.

Conceding that there is no reasoning with the boy, Mr. Williams tells him that she went into the forest. He warns the boy that the forest is extremely dangerous. He assures the boy that as soon as night time comes he will get lost. And then bad things will happen to him. This word of caution the boy seems to consider much more seriously, as it seems to come in a different spirit as the previous ones. True concern as opposed to some self-righteous agenda regarding societal norms. The boy elects to go into the forest. He hurriedly thanks Mr. Williams, citing that he has to make up for lost time. But Mr. Williams grabs his shoulder. There is a short exchange between that can neither be heard nor fully seen by the audience. The camera falls back so that they are silhouettes against the setting sun. It is clear from their body language that something significant is taking place. When the camera comes back to their faces the boy’s attitude has changed. He seems to take Mr. Williams much more seriously, not merely regarding him as an obstacle any longer. The boy walks solemnly into the forest, then disappears.

Walk

We walk all day. The Client asks me once, near noon-time, if I’m sure we are walking in the right direction. I say yes, and he does not ask again. We have with us one bottle of water each. His had been strapped beneath his shirt. Mine was wedged in my pants. The last drop of both is drunk some time after what must be midnight. We argue briefly over who should have the final drink. Finally I take it because, for as hard as I try, I cannot find a malicious motive for his offering it to me. In the night, as we look at the stars, trying for some reason not to look at each other, he tells me, for lack of anything better to do, about the girl. He tells me a good story about a bridge. In the morning we are surrounded. It happens very quickly. By the time my eyes opened the Client is standing above me. His eyes are narrow and focused, filled with rage yet not the least bit disturbed. If you pull back a curtain and find a beast staring back at you, what changes is you, not the beast. This I think as I leap to my feet to assess the massive heap of trouble we were in. It’s quite massive, and it smells awful. Like death.

Creatures. Five that can be seen. They’ve got to be seven feet tall, but they feel taller. Must be the fact that neither of us has had anything to eat, and we were thirsty, and we had been walking, and we had just woken up. This I tell myself but none of it is true. We are surrounded by the Sunshine. We are at the bottom of a very long chain of misery. We are the walking dead. Before long, we’ll be begging to be the dead. The creatures wear long yellow cloaks that cover their feet. They wear bright yellow masks, smiling, that cover everything except their eyes. Their eyes. The one directly in front of us looks from the Client to me. When he looks at me I see something I had only seen in my nightmares. Just before awaking. In those eyes was the worst form of the worst fear I could imagine. They looked away, but only after leaving their mark somewhere inside of me. I’m not who I was when I woke up moments earlier. My view on death has changed dramatically. The Client sees everything I see and he does not flinch. He only stands up straight, looking into each of their eyes. Daring them to blink. Then he pulls his weapon slowly from his hip. Not a dagger. Steadily he raises the blade up to the creature in front of him. Sunlight gleams off the steel onto my eye. That’s the last thing I see before everything goes completely to hell.

Impossible to say who strikes first. There was a flash of sand, then a flash of blood. A loud grunt. Then a collective roar. All of it, the client and the creatures hacking away at each other, exploded right next to me before I could react. When I found I could react there was nothing to be done. My clothes were covered in deep red arterial blood, caked with blotches of sand. I might have screamed, though except for the foul taste in my mouth it is impossible to know for sure. Loud screams from creatures that are not supposed to scream. Raw, guttural cries. Made me think of drowning children. Made me think of the creature’s eyes. Made my legs get weak, but falling down is not an option. As long as I can feel myself standing up, I am alive. Falling down is admitting that I died thirty seconds ago and haven’t got the good sense to accept it. Turn my head toward the Client, just an inch, and there is the flash of his blade above two creatures, or three, or five. For one instant his face comes into view. Blood-streaked, determined, but nowhere near frightened. Not rushed. Not anxious. Not panicked. A job to be done. Kill, and if need be, go on killing until there is nothing left to kill. For a fraction of a second one of the creatures looks up at me. Hatred, not at dying but at being defeated. The legacy of the Sunshine is a legacy of terror. The Client is something else entirely.

It doesn’t last long. When it’s over there are five huge things wrapped in bloody cloaks lying on the ground. The Client stands over them with his blade in hand, breathing hard. Something dark green, pulsing, is wrapped around his weapon. They are the entrails of one of the creatures. He raises the blade up, and the thing lets out a scream belonging to a small girl realizing that everything she ever feared was in the dark was real, and had followed her into the light. Then the creature is silent, and there are only the Client’s breaths and the thump of my heart. I am still standing, but the world about me has shifted completely. Everything is a lie. The Sunshine can be killed. The Client stared death in the eyes and cut its guts out. Then more creatures step forward. And more. And more. And more. All of them in their yellow cloaks and bright yellow smiling masks. Dozens of furious eyes gaze at the Client. He looks at every one of them as though expecting an answer. Then the answer comes.

He is larger than the rest of them. A hulking figure that moves the ground with his every step. He is dressed in black and wears a white mask. The mask is made from something that reflects the sun effortlessly. Porcelain, it seems. His smile glistens in the sunlight. The other creatures fall away as he approaches us. As he approaches the Client. I finally fall to my knees.

Malice

The man in the brown suit eyes the carcasses. Five. Unnoticeable at a distance. But no one wanders this far out into the desert anyway. There was a fight here. There was a victor, who was taken away. The only blood belongs to the creatures. The man bends over one of the creatures. He speaks to the bloody mask, asking why the creature could not accomplish the task assigned to it. The creature does not answer. The man snaps its neck, though it brings him no comfort. He rises, pulling the gold coin out of his pocket. Held in the moonlight, the coin radiates a strange golden and silver light. Laid flat it seems as though it were a miniature lake shimmering at dusk. Held upright it seems to the man like a sun and a moon colliding and forming a cosmic singularity that threatens to engulf anyone who stares at it too long. The man in the brown suit looks away. He starts to walk again after a moment, following the largest set of footprints in the sand.

In the scene immediately following this one it is clear that some time has passed. The shot is of Mr. Williams, evidently still mulling the events that just transpired over in his head. He is approached from behind by a man who is mostly covered by shadows. Mr. Williams does not fear this man, but he does seem to regard him as a superior. There is always a mysterious figure introduced early in these stories. He follows the protagonist around and seems to be behind the scenes of much of the action. He tends not to reveal himself until a pivotal moment later in the story, though occasionally the audience will glimpse certain characters that may be the mysterious man. Sometimes this is correct. Other times those characters are used as red herrings and the real mysterious man is someone that audience was not expecting. It is probably too early in this story for us to have already met such a person, though it is not impossible. This shadowy man, seeming to know everything that happened with the boy, makes some comment about how it could have been handled more professionally, though he is pleased that the boy was sent into the forest. Then the shadowy man gestures toward Mr. Williams questioningly. Mr. Williams remarks something to the effect of, “You win some, you lose some.” This off-handed answer does not please the shadowy man. He leaves anyway, and the final shot of Mr. Williams is of him alone at the crossroads, deep in thought.

Inspiring

The Sunshine King: I have allowed you to live. I have invited you into my home. You have dined and slept here. Do you know why I have asked for this?

Blackberry says nothing.

The Client: No.

The Sunshine King: You killed five of my people.

The Client takes drinks from his tea.

The Sunshine King: Do you know who I am?

The Client: The King of the Sunshine. Leader of these people.

The Sunshine King: Do you know how I came to be their leader?

The Client shakes his head.

Blackberry says nothing.

The Sunshine King: I killed the King before me, as he killed the King before him. So it has always been among our kind.

The Client says nothing.

Blackberry mouths the words “our kind.”

The Sunshine King: Long ago our city in the desert was great and proud. Travelers came from everywhere in the world to marvel at our glorious creations. Our buildings, our bridges, our gardens. All students wished to study and train at our schools. The finest music was played in our great halls. All the most sacred and most ancient volumes of literature were kept at our libraries. Our city, built in the center of this harsh desert, was the most marvelous city the world had ever seen. It was the pinnacle of human achievement. It was a monument! The rival of any ancient metropolis! Any celestial haven!

The Client drinks from his tea.

Blackberry: What…what happened?

The Sunshine King: None are alive who can remember. There was a war. Disagreements and disputes over who was right and who was justified and who was the stronger and who was the more righteous. In the end the strongest won out over everyone else. They dropped one bomb. Our great city was laid to waste and our people were forced underground. Here we remain. Here we live as animals, following the strongest, obeying, and killing anyone we need to.

Blackberry: Your home. It’s pleasant. It’s not…

The Client: It’s not the home of an animal.

The Sunshine King: It remains so only as long as my people fear me. To protect my home I must kill all who offend me. I must never sleep. I took it from my predecessor, and every day I must fight for it. Outsiders cannot understand this kind of suffering. They cannot see that this place is a prison and I its grand prisoner. But you can see this. Can you not?

The Client: I see it.

The Sunshine King: You know what it is to have the device of your own eternal torture built up around you by your deepest desires.

The Client: Yes.

The Sunshine King: It was only at the moment of his death, when I saw him smile, that I knew I was delivering my former King from suffering into everlasting peace.

The Client says nothing.

Blackberry: Why…did you let us live?

The Sunshine King: I let you live, you, because you are his.

Blackberry looks away from the King and buries her face in her hands.

The Sunshine King: He was allowed to live so that he might tell a story.

The Client: A story?

The Sunshine King: Like our kind, your strength can only come from a tale of immense suffering. There are things in your past that would terrify any of my people.

The Client: I…

The Sunshine King: You will tell such a story, or you will sleep in my house and dine at my table until I decide I am no longer amused by you.

Blackberry and the Client say nothing for a very long time.

The Client raises his tea to him, then sets it down.

The Sunshine King: Well?

The Client: No one has ever dropped a bomb that laid my city to waste.

The Sunshine King: Hm.

The Client: No one has ever annihilated my way of life.

The Sunshine King: Yes?

The Client: I have a story that hurts to tell. It makes me want to…

Blackberry says nothing.

The Client: It makes me want to tear my heart out, and the heart of anyone who approaches me. It makes me want to die. More than that, it makes me wish I could erase myself from existence. Short of this, it makes me wish to destroy everything in sight. It makes me want to burn the whole world and go up with it in a smoking pyre.

Blackberry: …why?

The Client: Because the world is no better than I am.

The Sunshine King: That is the story I wish to hear.

The Client drinks from his tea. After a long while, he begins to tell a story.

Cut drastically to something grainy and overly bright. The camera shakes a lot, as though this were the point of view of a real person. This particular person is breathing hard. He appears to have been recently beaten. We are able to ascertain some details about the scene. It is noontime. We are in some grassy meadow. The sun is bright and full in the sky. In the distance there is a white cat. It lets out a long purr. This is the last thing we see before a fist slams our face. Pain. Blood. More fists. A lot of blood. A lot of grunts. Our point of view person screams out, and then everything is black. It stays like that for a while.

Underground

The Sunshine King speaks in a low whisper from behind his mask. He tells us to go, but the Client refuses. Again and again the Client demands to know why. He asks why the King is allowing us to leave. The King tells him to go through the tunnel. In all honesty the King may as well be sentencing us to death. He has told us what lies inside the tunnel, as if I didn’t know. We are in a great room with white tiled floors and walls that once had beautiful images painted on them. The King calls it the Station. Bright electric lights hang from the ceiling. In the Station is the Tunnel, which people once used to travel across the desert. We must walk through the Tunnel to reach the girl. But there are things in the tunnel that even the Sunshine King fears.

The Client draws his blade and holds it to the King’s throat. He demands to know why we are being allowed to leave when we ought to be dead. He tells the King that if they are allowed to go through the tunnel when, by all rights, we should be dead, then there is no Justice in the world. He tells the King that the law of Death is the only absolute, and if that can be ignored then there truly is no reason for anything existing. The Client is now inches away from the Sunshine King’s mask, all but ramming the blade into his throat.

Then the Sunshine King removes his mask, and the Client’s blade falls to the ground. My mouth falls open, and I can do nothing but stare. It is the single most human face I have ever seen. Humanity unadulterated by civilization. Human evolution as it ought to have occurred. Under those hanging fluorescent lights he appears to be the most monstrous thing I have ever seen, and at the same time absolutely perfect. The King tells the Client that, until they met, and he saw his men slain on the desert floor, he too believed that Death was absolute. And then he saw a small, weak, human animal slaughter a pack of monsters whose entire existence revolved around killing. The King knew then that there was a greater power in the world. Something that Death itself kneeled for. He demanded the story so that he might know the source of this power. And though he listened carefully to every word of the Client’s story, as I did, he could not comprehend the source of his strength, as I could not. How one girl could infuse the Client with such strength and power was unimaginable to the King. But even though the King does not understand this amazing strength, he must stand in awe of it. He must bend to its will, because all he has ever known is to obey the will of the strongest. Killing the Client would not be the same as killing a King to become King. The Client’s indomitable will would live on after his death, in the King’s memory, and in the memory of anyone else who knew his story. In this way the Client has already achieved a form of immortality such as no one else on earth will ever know.

And as the Client and I stand motionless, the Sunshine King ascends the steps of the station back toward his home. He tells us that there is another intruder in his domain, and that intruder must be killed. After a long time the Client lifts his blade from the ground and sheathes it back in his hip. He wipes tears from his face, and then offers to help me to my feet.

From the blackness we hear indistinct chattering voices. Then the black fades open to a door. It is the inside of a restaurant. This is evidenced by the fact that there are people dressed in uniforms serving food to other persons. Our focus remains on the door. The camera is no longer grainy or shaking. It is steady. This image remains a few seconds longer, and then the door bursts open. Not in a threatening way. We see that our main character, the boy, has fallen through. He is bruised and bleeding. He is also apparently exhausted. He lays face-flat on the floor, breathing heavily.

A general wave of gasps passes through the diners. People begin to crowd around him, not as helpful as they are curious. It quickly becomes obvious that they are not as curious about the boy and his condition as they are about the shield which has fallen at his side. It is badly beaten. It is also marked with deep scratches. People point to it, muttering words among themselves. One notable repeated utterance is the word “impossible.” A young cook runs out with a glass of water. He helps the boy, half-conscious, to his feet. Behind him comes a man who is clearly the manager of the restaurant. Between the two of them, the manager and the cook carry the boy into an empty booth. The restaurant patrons follow. The camera stays back, and then pans to where a lone customer is sitting on a stool near the end of the bar. The man wears a brown suit. He appears mildly interested in the boy.

Reason?

The man in the brown suit is genuinely confused, such as he is not accustomed to being. It is true that, in his many travels, he has encountered individuals who were immune to his powerful suggestions. It stands to reason that in the entire population of the world a small number would exist which his most powerful charms could not control. What has always perplexed the man, as it does now, is why those individuals, seeing that their defiant actions are of no consequence simply do not give up. He surmises that the same flaw that does not allow them to succumb to his will does not allow them to listen to simple reason. This appears to be the case with the Sunshine King. Seeing his army of ravenous creatures regimented before him, the King refuses to divulge the whereabouts of his prisoners.

The man in the brown suit explains, one final time, that he will find them regardless of the King’s defiance. He tells the King that he has one final opportunity to save himself, or his loyal followers will tear him to pieces. The Sunshine King, unmasked, looks into the man’s eyes. The King asks what the man in the brown suit knows of love. The man considers this for a moment, then turns away.

The King’s screams resonate for miles.

We Both Go Numb

The Client looks down at his feet.

Blackberry says nothing.

After the long time the screams stop.

Blackberry puts her hand to the Client’s shoulder.

The Client: There’s nothing…

Blackberry: No.

The Client and Blackberry look toward the tunnel.

Blackberry: We should go.

The Client: Okay.

Blackberry: We have to run. Hard.

The Client : Okay.

Blackberry: Ready?

The Client unsheathes his blade.

They run. Footsteps. Squirming sounds. Screams. Sparks are seen as steel hits scratches the concrete floor. The sound of things dying is heard echoing from the walls. The sounds fade but they do not stop.

The scene switches to reveal the boy settled into the booth, still visibly shaken, dining on noodles and tea. The camera pulls out to show all the restaurant patrons, plus staff, about twenty in all, crowded around the booth with expectant, anxious looks on their faces. Closest to the boy is the manager, sitting next to him in the booth, followed by the cook standing beside him. In an adjacent booth sits the man in the brown suit sipping a hot drink. No one says anything. Zoom into the boy, and you hear the manager’s voice say, you know, “What happened?” or whatever. And the boy’s face fades into another scene. Of himself entering the forest. It very quickly progresses into night.

Finally it gets so that the boy is walking blind and scared in the dark. The lighting here should be the kind of “pitch black” that allows for indistinct blue lighting that allows the character and the audience to see everything. The boy terrified throughout the woods. The scene should be sufficiently confusing so the audience doesn’t make a big hoopla about where the boy is going or how he is getting there. The point is that he is lost. Then he falls. Trips over a root, or what he believes to be a root. In reality it is a shield. It is the same shield he walked in with to the restaurant, but shiny. Clean-like. So he picks it up, and as he picks it up the camera style changes. Just like that. We’re back to black and realistic, although not point-of-view in this case, and not grainy. Think nature shows. The shot moves shakily over the blackness, searching everywhere. Make it so that the audience can feel the newfound weight on the boy’s back. You know, the shield. Get a good shot of the crest to confirm that it is the same shield as the restaurant one. And then boom! Burst of fire! And the boy falls back on his ass!

My Way

We come out of that hole smelling like piss and shit and dead animals and the insides of the insides of dead animals. But we’re alive and it’s because of the Client. He killed everything in that tunnel. For several minutes all we can do is breathe. We lay, the both of us, face down on that desert floor, breathing. Huge, gasping breaths that take in as much dust as they do air. Dust is welcome. It is dry and simple and familiar. If it means I never have to breathe what was in that tunnel I will breathe dust for the rest of my life. I promise you I will.

The Client is the first one to climb to his knees. I look up at his face hoping to see, reflected in him, the same crazed desperation that I am feeling. He is patiently waiting for me to get up. No anxiety, no hesitation. He is ready to move on as soon as I am. How long that will be is unimportant. What is important is the goal. The mission. The job. Without my realizing it my hand has moved to my pocket. There is a wad of bills in there. Five hundred dollars. Flat fee. Because that’s the job. But the truth is that’s a lie. That’s not the job. Not the real job, anyway. Do you honestly believe I would suffer though this kind of hell for just anyone? Is that all that you believe is going on here? What could be worth all of this? Think about it. Think about it because it is important. If you haven’t caught on by now then you’ve fallen behind. But it’s important that you know. I wouldn’t be breaking the rules, talking to you like this, if it wasn’t important.

The Client offers me a hand. It’s time to move forward. He tells me it is sometime in the afternoon, and we should have a couple of hours of usable daylight. That should be good enough to get us there. To the place where he is pointing. It appears, at a glance, to be a tall man standing in the distance. The Sunshine King’s story plays itself in my head. A great city in the desert. A great people. A bomb. I get to my feet. The tunnel is the past. The King is the past. The old man in the church is the past. The tavern is the past. The letter in the sand outside the tavern is…gone. The Client is the future and the girl is the job. So we walk until we reach the structure.

Long ago this was the tallest, hardiest, most spectacular building in the city. It must have been, because its metal frame is all that is left. Along its rusted spires grow vines from which roses bloom. Their petals are a strange shade of purple that I have never seen before. Perhaps they only appear strange in the dying colors of the sun. A light rain hit us as we move to inspect the structure. Dew falls from the flowers above. I have not seen rain in so long I have forgotten its taste. The Client steps into the center of the structure and unslings his shield. It falls to the ground, a metal object as beaten as the structure itself. Then the Client falls, collapses, really, onto the muddy ground. He screams. He cries. He writhes and squirms and kicks and beats the ground with his fists and buries his face in the dirt. Over and over he says he is sorry. Over and over he calls out the girl’s name. This goes on until after the sun sets. At the end there lies a broken man weeping beneath the ruins of an ancient building. They are two beings that an eternity of suffering could not destroy. To remain standing they had to become things they could never imagine themselves being. Ultimately they were left completely alone in a vast, empty desert.

Lying next to him, he tells me about the stars, their names and their stories. After a while I have to stop him. I have to tell him that in his arms, at this moment, the stars mean nothing to me. I want to hear his story. All of it. I want to know about the monsters and the sorrow and everything he has been through. He tells me that his story is a story of pain. It is the story of a boy who fell in love with a girl. Don’t say it. Don’t tell me because I don’t want to hear it. He tells me that the boy thought all of his suffering would bring his love to him. The boy thought that if he tried hard enough he would earn his happiness. See, the boy thought he was a hero. The hero. Her hero. He thought he could be if he wanted it bad enough. I tell him to stop but he does not hear me. It turned out the boy, in the end, could never be a hero. He wasn’t even a real boy.

In the morning we sat drinking the dew that fell on us. In the afternoon we started walking again. It was a long time before I could bring myself to release his hand.

Come back to the boy in the restaurant. The boy, with his dirty-ish face and everything, looks up at the manager. The man in the brown suit lowers his drink to the table. The manager asks if anything is wrong. There are some murmurs in the crowd. The words trauma, horror, and shield are heard. These murmurs are silenced with a stern glance from the cook. The manager asks if anything is wrong, to which the boy replies by asking for more tea. One of the staff runs off to oblige him. Another immediately takes his half-eaten noodles and promises to return with a fresh plate. The boy looks around to see the faces of the people around him. Every one of them has a face of concern. Only the manager remains steady. The waiters return more solemnly than they left, and replace his food and drink. The manager nods. Close up of the steam rising from the plate in front of the boy’s eyes. The steam becomes full-fledged fire. Ease into the shaky grainy camera stuff. See the boy standing tall and straight, lightly jumping on his feet even. Shield in hand. He is lit by a fire off-screen. Turn in that direction and we see that the trees are on fire. In between them there is as a dragon. It is as tall as the trees, red skin, with gleaming yellow eyes. Roar, kind of like the one big dinosaur from that one movie, only not exactly it as I am certain that said audio file is the sole property of that director guy. Actually, scratch that, the sound should be a low growl. A Considering tone. Then followed by a burst of fire! Switch quick to the boy under the shield. Make sure the camera bounces in time with the pounding of the dragon’s claws on the shield. Get in real close on the sweat in the boy’s face. Come back out to reveal the restaurant again, but keep the audio from the previous scene going. He looks around again at all the concerned faces. Fire raining down consistently, nonstop, like the static of a building collapsing. Hear the scratches, the pounds. Amplify the scratching sounds while pushing into the shield. Start shaking the camera again. Fade into the boy in the forest, hiding under the shield, crying and sobbing like nobody’s business. Amplify his crying. He is on his knees on the ground. Stay on him and amplify the crying until the audience can hear the smoke scratching his throat. These breaths should be painfully wheezy. At just this moment, the boy’s eyes push open in a determined, if possible frightening fury. The boy lets out a loud yell that about half approximates the roar of the flames. In one leap the boy flies to his feet and knocks the onslaught of fire away momentarily. Show the boy being lit by the fire in the trees, standing, barely, and hardly able to hold on to his shield. The dragon straightens itself deliberately. It lowers its head, as if inspecting the boy, and at the same time preparing to charge. The boy sees this. His body is all but ready to collapse but his eyes remain trained on the enemy. The dragon runs and tramples the camera.

Distraction

The man in the brown suit stepped out of the tunnel and spat.

Cut to the boy in the restaurant. Looking toward the face of the crowd. Cut to the man in the brown suit sitting bolt upright, looking forward. Cut to the boy falling into the manager’s arms. There is a gasp in the crowd, but the manager simply embraces him. Stay on the boy asleep for a bit. Face completely slack. Back rising and falling steadily. Fade to black again, and hear the sound of a cup smashing on the floor.

Stay black, then bring back the grainy point of view footage. Not the one from the dragon-scene, but the one from near the beginning, when our man was being pounded by fists. Here our man is waking up. Everything is black except for brightly lit, colored smoke. Blue and yellow. From opposite ends of his peripheral vision. They combine near the center of the screen. Then some lights come on. The angle suggests that someone is hanging from a wall somewhere. The room around is small, made of wood. Crowded with things that pulse inside glass jars. The light comes from a lamp being held by an inauspicious-looking old woman. She is bowed slightly and wears glasses. She wears a bright purple robe. Sounds indicate that the person on the wall is trying to talk, but the old lady standing with the lamp in front of him tells him not to bother. She tells him that talking is the least of his problems. The camera lets out a sharp gasp as it comes down. The image, only visible for a second, is of a torso, torn open and mangled. Go from that directly to image of a flower on a lovely spring day.

Before You

We feel it long before we see it. There is water ahead. The good kind. The real kind. Cool and fresh enough to be drunk in small sips on the breeze. For half a day I have to fight the urge to run. The Client continues at his steady pace, but it is obvious that he also has to force himself to stay focused. His fingers squirm up and down and in-between my own as we walk. At some points he squeezes my hand so tight it hurts. Other times he threatens to let go completely. I have to pull him toward me. If he hears the whimpers under my breath he is kind enough to ignore them. The water in the air gets heavier. The horizon ahead of us changes. Before, that horizon had remained a solid yellow bar, one barrier to be crossed after another. Now it is uncertain. The road ahead does not have to be the hard scorched earth that we have become used to. It can be better. Except there is still the job. Always the damned job, paid for. Always the girl. I want to tell him the truth. I want to tell him so many things.

The lake is so large we almost cannot see its edges. The Client drops his shield behind him. His blade falls to the ground. He pulls off his shirt and his boots and his pants. And he dives. He does not swim so much as he glides through the particles of water all around him. I throw my clothes on top of his, and his smile catches me by surprise. I had not known he could smile like that. In the water he chases me, catching me at his whim, and then releasing me again. I don’t want to swim apart from him but I want him to chase me. Seeing his body move as swiftly as a thought through the water makes it worth it. Seeing his eyes as they are seeing me is too sweet. And all the while his only real thought is the same as mine. We are eyeing the swirls and ripples and waves in the water. The most important thing in this little game is that, through those waves and ripples and swirls and splashes and bubbles and bursts we must always be connected. How far can we get from one another and still be together? It is fun and terrifying at the same time. Finally I get too far. Turn around, and the look in his eyes is the same as mine. Panic. We push off from the water towards each other. Then we are together in every possible sense.

Then he is dressed. Getting into a boat. He will not look at me. The girl is in a house on the other side of the lake. She is in the kitchen of that house right now, fixing breakfast for her and him. Then he will go off to work or whatever it is he does. Then she will step outside to her garden to tend her roses. Her lilacs. Her petunias. Her flowers that have no name because they are from the farthest corners of the world. She mentioned to someone, one time, that she enjoyed planting roses. Now hardly a day passes that someone does not bring a bouquet of roses or a pile of seeds to her. Mostly they are common weeds found growing around the house. A cheap excuse to visit their home. That famous house. Every once in a while someone would bring her something truly special.

The Client pulls something from his pocket. Something that he had spoken about. It glistens in the daylight. A thing like that would glisten if it was buried.

Better Than This

Blackberry throws five-hundred dollars into the water.

The Client sits in the boat.

Blackberry: Do you think this is easy for me? Do you think I would have come all the way here for anyone else? What do you think is going on here? Do you think this is still the job you paid me for? You stupid idiot! What do you think is waiting for you on the other side of this lake? Is she going to see you, run into your arms, and that’s it? Everything just ends and you and she are happy together forever? As if anything could make you happy! Don’t you know what you are? You think you’re still a little boy waking up on a bridge? Is that it? It just took you a little longer to get to your damned princess! That’s all! You took the long route to happiness. It happens. It doesn’t mean you’re not the hero, it just means—what? That good things happen to good people? No! They don’t! Good people get stepped on! They get their heads crushed! Good people end up dead! You’re alive because—because you’re not a good person! You’re not a hero! You’re not! You’re not! You’re not!

Blackberry weeps, sincerely.

Blink. A blue eye blinks. Pull out to reveal a beautiful little girl pulling a rose from the ground and running across a meadow. Follow her until she reaches a girl who looks just like her. Her twin sister. Have some music playing by the time, something soft and unobtrusive. The girls giggle to each other. One asks loudly, “Remember?” While the other one answers, “I miss him.” They run off laughing, scooping up a small toddler as he comes out from a bush. The toddler has the same blue eyes they do. They run past a circle of stone statues. Stay on one that looks like a woman on the verge of weeping. Push into it, and make it fade into the face of the boy. The boy’s face should look markedly cleaner than before.

The two little girls, dragging the baby between them, come out from over a hill. They spy the boy and proceed to walk toward him consciously. Halfway down the hill both girls stop abruptly. They point toward the shield. Looking at each other, they shake their heads in disbelief, then rush full speed toward the boy, leaving the toddler to stand on its own. The girls slide in unison as they reach the shield. They feel the metal, running their hands over the crest. They look, in alternating synchronization, from the shield up to the boy. The girls rise and shake their heads in affirmation. The girl on the right grabs the boy’s hand and beckons him to run with her. The other girl grabs the toddler then chases after them.

They introduce themselves as they run. One girl is called Sticky. Another girl is called Stucky. And the other, the toddler boy, is called Boom. The inspiration for these names, if I may digress one moment, is taken from two sources. One is an animated Christmas movie where three children’s names also share a similar comical theme. The idea for the names themselves is taken, indirectly, from a video game wherein one of the weapons is a blue grenade that glows brightly, is stuck on an opponent, and then explodes. That has no relevance to the story but it seemed interesting. In any event, the girls drag the boy up the hill to reveal a stone embedded in the ground with a stone embedded inside it. If I have to tell anyone from whence that image was inspired the world is in worse shape than previously indicated. One girl says to the boy that only the hero can pull the sword out from that stone. The other girl tells him that only the hero can have that shield, and if he has that shield he must be the hero and he must pull the stone. Get a shot where the boy is eyeing the sword intensely, and it’s from the swords point of view so it appears that they are the same height on that hill. Cut to a close-up of the boy’s face. He looks determined. Zoom in on a scar beneath his eye that may not have been there before.

My Ordinary

There was a small house on the edge of a lake. They lived there and they were happy. He worked as a carpenter in town and she tended to her flowers. They sold well in the town market, though she would just as soon have given them away.

One day she spied a frightened child outside of her gate. He wore the unmistakable expression of a child who has lost his mother. She saw this only for an instant, and then the boy became awestruck. After a moment he stood quietly, no longer crying. She told the child her name. He explained that his sister had brought him to see the lake but now he had lost her. She took him by the hand and led him to the lake’s edge. The boy told her how, long ago, he had met her hero. Her hero had saved the boy from a bad man. Many people had such stories about her hero.

The boy asks if her hero has found her yet. He asks if she has seen the man with the broken sword. The woman begins to weep, and to say that that man is not her hero. And she has not seen him in a very long time.

On the day when she finally does see him the shears drop down from her fingers. The man stepped out from the boat and the woman ran towards him. When she reached him he lifted her and kissed her mouth. A powerful surge flowed through their bodies. They rose up off the ground, and the world around them became a whirl of color and fury.

Cut drastically to a split screen with the boy’s face in both of them. They wake up at the same time. Both awakenings are sudden. Both have morningesque light. The boy on the left has his head down on a table. The other is lying on a bed. They both rise at the same time and look up. Both have shadowy figures looming over them. The screen on the right takes over the screen and the old woman from before takes a seat next to the boy. The boy regards her with a welcoming look. The old woman smiles and bows her head. Cut to the old woman and the boy at the door of the old wooden room we have seen before. She looks up at the boy and tells him that she has one last thing to tell him. She has to tell him about what evil really is.

Cut to the boy in the restaurant looking across the table at the man with the brown suit. It is revealed that the rest of the restaurant is conspicuously empty. The walls are dirty with something black. They regard each other with stern eyes, sitting erect. “You know,” says the man in the brown suit, “I really wish you would make this easy for me.” The boy looks at him. The man in the brown suit goes on, “You can still walk away from this. But I know you well enough to know that you won’t.” The boy looks down, then back up. “This really is a shame, you know. You’ve got talent.” Cut to the old woman grabbing the boy by the arm in her doorway, saying, “Evil exists. You need to understand that if you want to survive.” Go to split screen again. On the left the man in the brown suit is angrily grabbing at the boy, who is fighting every step of the way. Have this running on the left side, with the noise muted. Make sure the fight looks, organic, realistic, and tight, though avoid using the grainy, shaking camera style that we have already seen. Think of famous action films with characters in tight spaces. Abrupt edits should more than make up for any parts that look too well choreographed. All the while the old woman is saying, “There’s bad, too. That’s what you are, boy. You’re bad, but you’re not evil. You’re not the hero, but that’s okay. Most people aren’t. And you’re not good. At least not in the traditional, law-abiding sense of the word. No, boy you are truly bad. And that’s good, because you are going to need it up ahead. I’ve read it.” The old woman then takes something shining but indistinct out from her rope and hands it to the boy. “He believed in you, I suppose, which is no easy feat. But now I see why he let you go. As if either of us could hold you. Still, for him to have had such confidence in you certainly makes you special.” The boy puts the shining object in his pocket.

Switch the audio for a second so that we can focus on the left screen where the man has the boy pinned against the window. He growls at him through clenched teeth, “Why the hell don ‘t you just stay down you little—“ and the boy gets a hard shot in from under the screen. He starts to run away, but the man in the brown suit grabs him, and their struggle resumes. Switch the focus back to the old woman saying, “But good does exist, and it’s in the places you will least expect. Sometimes it will be in you and sometimes it will be in others. It is hard to say, in my experience, which of those is harder to believe in. But that’s the truth. And you’ve got to call out to it, damn it! In your darkest, most painful moment, you’ve got to cry out to the good in the world and you have to believe that it will come.” Then the witch looks down. The boy that’s with her looks concerned. The boy that’s with the man is slammed into the screen. There is a close-up of the old woman. She says in a subdued tone, “I have a daughter, you know.”

The man in the brown suit takes over the screen. He kneels on the boy’s chest with his hands on his throat. The boy squirms and struggles and writes and fights. It’s no use. Push into the boy’s eyes, which are wild with desperation. Then they stiffen. With all his might he pushes off the man’s hands from his throat. Just like in the forest, in the shield, with the dragon, the boy lets out a roar. Except that his one is a word. At the top of his lungs the boy screams, “Help!” As he does the man in the brown suit is yanked violently upward. He is held up by the manager, whose complexion is light green with brown and yellow spots throughout. His uniform is torn all over. One eye is yellow and the other will not open properly, if it is even still there. The manager sees the boy and runs toward him. Scared, the boy turns but he is caught. Cut to a look of horror when the man in the brown suit looks up. Then cut to the manager tossing, in slow-motion, the boy through the nearest window. See the boy outside, shaken but relatively unscathed, considering. He looks through the window from which he was just defenestrated. The man tries to go for the boy, but the manager grabs him and tackles him to the ground. Zoom in on the boy’s eye, and then zoom back out. We are back on the hill with the sword in the stone.

Real

From the other side I see a blue-green flash. In one moment it looks like the gleam of a faraway mirror. Then there is a flash of energy that overtakes me. It happens in seconds. The lake overflows with light, violent blues and greens bursting out from the water. The rushing wind around me sings an acoustic hymn that gets louder the more I try not to hear it. This is the edge of reality. It is a transition from one world to another, the real world and the perfect world, suffering to happiness. Only happiness. My knees crawl to the edge of the water. I can’t stop them. In the next instant I am kneeling over that shining clear water searching for my reflection. There is something there but it does not look like me. My hands tremble as I lower them into the water. It feels good. But I have to pull away because that water is not for me.

Calendar

I was born in a thunderstorm. This is what my mom always told me. She said she was caught in a tomato field when it began to rain. She knew she shouldn’t have been out but the tomatoes were in season; a tomato field in bloom at dusk is a sight to be loved by those sensible enough to see it. I’ve seen it since. Nothing special. My mother felt me coming and ran home. Ran and fell. Tripped over a root. She twisted her ankle, limped home in pain, threw herself on a cushioned seat in the living room and screamed for her sister. And there she sat. In a rainstorm. Screaming for six hours during a thunderstorm while my unborn self tried desperately to make its way into the world. Thinking of the story brings certain constructed memories to mind: water dripping through a leaking roof, the dry cold sweat of my aunt’s hands clasping my soft, undeveloped head, and other lies. None of it is real, of course. I did not feel these things until after this story was related to me by my mother on my thirteenth birthday. Yet I could describe to perfection, if anyone asked, what the warm blankets felt like wrapped around me like an artificial cotton chrysalis. I recall being wrapped up in that little world of fluff and being utterly convinced that it was my new permanent state. Having just experienced the unspeakable horror of being born, it seemed like fair compensation. Above me were a myriad of tall, ill-defined moving figures. I know now that they were just two terrified and relieved women but to my half-closed eyes there appeared to be a great many figures gathered in a great hall to witness the spectacle of my birth. There was an attempt to orient myself with this new world which, as far as I knew, consisted of my fortress of fluff and a mob of grey limb-riddled creatures gathered together in a never-ending passageway. And I, so small, having accomplished something I knew, positively knew, none of them could replicate, felt a surge of pride such as I would never be able to recapture.

Of course, all of this is a lie. It was made up by my fevered and angry mind. The story was disseminated throughout my body, and the memories of all those sensations were stored in my skin, my ears, my cheeks, and my eyes. These memories did not exist until my mother told me this story on my thirteenth birthday. Late at night. Through a closet door. Her crying, me crying, the house empty except for the toys strewn across the floor amidst spilt drinks and stepped-on cake. My thirteenth birthday. My father chooses to return home after eight months of simply being gone. Drunk. Angry. Comes home to find a house full of thirteen-year-old giggling little girls. Suddenly he’s not so angry. One of those girls is his daughter but that’s never mattered to him. Hours later he is gone. My mom is hurt. I am locked in the closet. A story passes between us that we both know to be a lie. But it’s a wonderful lie. It reminds us both that things don’t always have to be bad. That lie was the best gift my mother ever gave me.

There is one thing she didn’t tell me, though it’s seared in my brain all the same. It’s a flash of light. It’s me daring after several minutes of life to open my eyes wide. I see a window. I see rain. I see darkness. And then a flash of lightning. The world in all its light blue glory was revealed to me and only me. There are people who have told me it is possible, in certain indefinable moments, to live an entire lifetime within the span of a second. Generally the moments do not even last that long. But in those lightning flash moments of crystal clarity one lives through their entire lives. They experience of a form of death, which in turn erases the memory of that life from their minds, leaving only a vague impression of the person they were. People come out of these moments as a different person. If they are strong—and smart enough to accept it—they live out the rest of their lives as strangers on an alien planet. They understand that the world they were born in is no longer theirs while simultaneously realizing that there are no others like them. And if they ever find someone from their world, a kindred soul, their union can lead only to disaster. All of this was explained to me years later, after my mother had hanged herself and left me alone in an empty house with my father trying his damndest to break the lock on the front door.

I belong in that awesome bright lightning world. I was born there among creatures who understand that being born and being alive is, in and of itself, the most horrifying thing a person can endure. Those hands that held me in that cotton cocoon dropped me in this pit instead. The tenants of that other world knew enough to revere a life for what it was. In this world the dominant beasts have learned how to invent reality with their words. These creatures can wrap you up in blankets that never existed thirteen years in the past. Or they can make you wish you were dead, and call themselves your father, and tell you that you’re beautiful while they’re wiping their greasy, hairy hands on your face. That night my father came banging on the door, calling me precious, calling me a demon. There was a safe place in that house. Only one. Side by side with my mom. Whatever came we could face it together. Head on with our eyes open, mouths firm, just like we endured that thunderstorm on the day I was born. The one that never happened. She must have been hanging all those hours because her face has had time to settle on a blue-grey shade that borders on black but only reaches it slightly around her eyes and lips. There are tears on the rope just above her head from where she tried to change her mind. Bloody trails of rope hang off of her purple finger nails. She was so close.

But my mom was dead. She must have done it just after I had gone to sleep that night. After we had drunk our evening milk like we did every night sometimes. After my perceptive sensibilities had detected that she seemed especially relaxed and my better judgment told me not to say anything. Anything you think about immediately becomes an impure thought. Anything you shine a light on is immediately distorted into something other than its true from. Some more things I learned living on a city street begging from scraps of food. Imagine all the things that must look beautiful in the dark. Imagine all the things that disappear as soon as we turn to see them. Imagine all the amazing thoughts that would stay amazing if only some idiot hadn’t stumbled across it before you were born and corrupted it for all time. You meet some interesting people when you’re forced to look up into their eyes to plead for pocket change.

You learn a lot when you realize that you are capable, at fourteen years old, of leaving your dead mother hanging over her bed as you sneak quietly out the back door. Years later it crossed my mind that my mom must have looked rather beautiful in all those carefully painted variations of purple and green and grey and yellow, suspended ever so daintily over a perfectly made bed. Just like a small child would have done with a variety of colors and instructions to color inside the lines. It even occurred to me that there must have been a place in the world for someone like my dad. Someone who is angry and stupid and has no respect for anything other than his own immediate wants.

Way to Live

I had friends. They were the same pleasure-addicts as everyone else, but at least they never went out of their way to hurt anyone. Generally speaking. Things were bad everywhere but that’s no excuse for people being rotten. Most people can’t stand up to the world around them any better than an old fruit can stand against the sun. But there was nothing for me in that old house, and these friends offered to help me forget. I never forgot. I never stopped hearing my mom’s voice through the closet door telling me lies about the day I was born. I was never able to keep myself from opening the door to her room, knowing full well what was on the other side but being terrified all the same. There was no forgetting, but there was pretending. I learned to do what my father could do, and found that, like him, I was a natural. I could use his language and his tricks to get the things that people told me I wanted. There were men who were really overgrown children. There were women who felt the same shame and guilt that killed my mother. This was my home. These people were my garden of deformed dogs. The men did whatever I asked as long as I asked naked and on my knees. They had no thoughts of their own. They wanted nothing except what I told them they wanted. Every room we entered reeked of fumes. Every morning my limbs were sore. My throat was in a perpetual state of near-vomiting. My eyes were constantly red and wet and puffed. Every day of that life was written across my body in scars.

There were moments of my childhood that did not make me ill, few though they were.

We used to shoot rats. Me and my father. Whenever he was in a good mood he would take me to a sinkhole filled with generations worth of burnt or degraded garbage and shoot the rats to hell. I fired my first revolver when I was six. It was a beautiful day. The sun was in my eyes and my nostrils were burning but it was all worth it just to see that little sucker’s face blown half off. He charged toward me a few more steps. He let out a squeal of horror that almost matched my squeal of delight. Seeing that blood spurt, knowing I’d hit my target, knowing my father was proud, and knowing that the little monster was no longer alive because of my actions, it was all beautiful. Whenever he wasn’t in such a bad mood my father would have to listen to me whine and complain about how we hadn’t shot any rats in ages. Rain, shine, smog or dust storm he would eventually break down and go. Bless that sinkhole and those stupid rats.

I’ve eaten rats. I don’t recommend it.

Wake up tied up in a room I’ve never seen. Two stories above the street. I know this because I’m tied to the balcony rail. Upside down. Naked. Odds are this is something I chose the night before. Or a week earlier. Who the hell knows? But there’s vomit caught in my throat, threatening to suffocate me. There are people arguing in the room behind me. No idea what they’re saying. What language is that? Glass shatters. Somewhere further away, something that may or may not be a gunshot. Big rats.

None of this is especially new or out of place. It’s how most sixteen-year-olds spend their weekends. Someone on the street under me is staring up with his mouth open. Not much to be said.

“Can I help you?”

“Yes,” says the man. “Can you tell me where the woods are?”

“Are you kidding?”

“I don’t kid.”

“Oh. Well, then, they’re three miles east of here.”

“Your east or mine?”

“Follow my left breast,” I say. His eyes track the direction of the woods.

“Thank you.”

“Don’t mention it.”

“Do you need any help getting down?” he asks. More screaming. A man coughs and swears loudly..

“Never needed help before.”

“You might want to look into it,” he tells me. Feeling around my mouth with my tongue I realize a tooth is missing.

“Anything else I can do for you?”

“Not today.”

With that the man left. Never saw him again, although I did hear about him.

From the Grass

Another time my mom and dad took me horseback riding. This would have been three years before I left home. I rode a pony. Other little girls, the friends I once had, had quite an affinity for ponies. Only it wasn’t ponies. Merely the idea of ponies. The one my father put me on was tall and calm. He had his thoughts collected. When he felt my near-insignificant frame fall on his back the pony understood our arrangement. I would guide us and he would take us. There was a world outside of the plywood prison of the pen on that farm. We spoke without words. Synchronized our breathing. Then the signal came. One harsh but necessary prick of my heel on his side. The pony was gone. Past the farm and my father’s screams in a series of moments. My fingers learned a skill that day that would come to be useful many times over: they learned how to hang on to something in order to stay alive. No pain. No fatigue. No distractions. Those tiny hands of mine refused to let the pony go even as it ran into the corn field. Stalk after stalk of corn beat me across the face. My cheeks were a series of bruises. Every slap across my face convinced me that the next one would crush my skull inward. Hanging off of the side of the pony burned my side down to the ribs. That’s what it felt like. When the pony suddenly halted, he flung me forward. Oddly, what bothered me most in the second before the ground came down swiftly upon my face was not the impending pain. Pain had been a part of the bargain made in the corral. What hurt most was the notion that the pony, whose name I had forgotten to learn, had deemed me an unworthy rider. Luckily, on that score, I was soon proven wrong.

The fact is I know how to hold on long after anyone else would have given up and fallen on their ass. I got myself off the railing once the stranger on the street was gone. Put on someone’s clothes. Walked out of the building. Never went back. There was nowhere for me to go. But there was nowhere I did not belong. In another world I was born a goddess. I was born into comfort, then that comfort was torn from me. I was thrusts into a world where closed doors conceal nightmares and goddesses hang themselves upside down because they don’t know any better. This was not my world. There was no longer any reason to pretend otherwise. This was war. The world had revealed its hand to me in the form of its armies of the apathetic. Those waiting to die who force others to wait with them. This was the world’s overwhelming horde of the not-truly-alive. They had taken enough from me. This world had taken my mother. If it wanted me as well it would have to cut my head.

The pony had been frightened by the scarecrow. It was a rather standard scarecrow. In all likelihood the horse had seen it from far off. But something happened as one approached the monstrosity. Something became very clear. The inside of the wooden head was hollow. Only that was not the proper word. That head was filled with darkness. In those black holes the pony observed something that would have been impossible for me to see at that time. I had not opened the door yet. But the pony knew that the scarecrow could see him, though it had no eyes. Those were not the sort of eyes that followed you around a room. Rather they drew you to them and told you that they can see things you wish they would not see.

My mother had beautiful eyes once.

I walked across a bridge, and then another. The towns fell from my shoulders in rapid succession. I raged against the world or was beaten into the ground by it. Or, to put it more accurately, I was beaten into the asphalt of a particular curb of a particular alley in one of many cities of the anonymous. I thought of my mom lying to me through a closet, pretending that she was alive. I had encountered my father inside of a dilapidated house. He sold me poison without recognizing me. Years later I knelt at his grave and saw a false name written across his headstone. Every one of my father’s names was false. The only true things in life are rats, bullets and death. And pain.

Look up, and a tall thin man in a tattered brown suit is holding his hand out to me. He waits for a long time until I finally take it. No one else notices him. He asks me what my name is. No one has asked me this in a long time. For a moment I struggle to remember the girl who held onto ponies and pulled herself up from high-rise balconies. What was her name?

“Blackberry,” I tell him.

“Hello, Blackberry,” says the man in the brown suit. “I am glad to have met you today. Walk with me. Don’t be afraid. I want you to know that I want only good things for you. Only happiness.”

Deny

The Woman: You can’t stay here very long.

The Man: I know.

The Woman: He’ll be back soon.

The Man: I know.

The Woman: Thank you. For this. For everything.

The Man says nothing.

The Woman: I know what you went through. I know you came a long way just to give me this. You shouldn’t have. You didn’t have to.

The Man: I know.

The Woman: I didn’t want you to.

The Man: I know.

The Woman: I wish you hadn’t! I wish…you’d gone the other way.

The Man says nothing.

The Woman: I’m glad you’re here. I shouldn’t be. I shouldn’t be glad. I’m a horrible person—

The Man raises a hand toward the woman and holds it over her cheek. The Woman takes his hand in hers.

The Woman: I am a horrible person because I would rather you be here instead of being happy. No. No, you’re not happy. This is not happiness. Happiness is what you get after hard work. Happiness is getting what you have earned after working hard. I don’t deserve this. I didn’t earn this. I haven’t earned you. I’ve destroyed you, and turned you into something you were never supposed to be. I destroyed that little boy on the bridge. Yes, I did. I created a man who so loved me that he endured hell to get to me. Don’t you understand? My eyes are not nearly as beautiful as you think they are.

The Man clenches his fist. The Woman turns the shining object over in her hand.

The Woman: You’ve given me the most beautiful thing in the world. You have given yourself completely to me. To accept it would make me the worst kind of person.

The Man: You will keep it, though, won’t you?

The Woman nods.

The Man: How much longer? Before he comes?

The Woman: We have enough time.

The Man lays with the Woman on the edge of the lake.

Later, after the Man is gone and out of sight, the Woman throws the shining object into the water.

The blade is still in the stone. Part of it. The boy has a blank expression on his face. Flash to the boy trying hard to lift the sword. Cut to the faces of the twins cheering him on. Cut to their faces now, eyeing each other worriedly. They are in deep shit. That is what their expressions convey. Cut to the boy giving up in frustration and kicking at the sword, the top of the sword breaking crisply, its metal shining in the sun as it does so. Cut to the edge of the sword shaking in the boy’s hands. Then turn around to show that the boy is in fact offering up the broken sword to someone. That someone turns out to be the hero. This is confirmed by a flashback to the brief flash of him that was seen when the story began. On the bridge. The boy and the hero eye each other standing opposed and in profile. The hero grabs the blade in the stone carefully with his left arm, without looking. It slides out with the cutting sound of a well-oiled sheathe. The hero holds the blade out against the boy.

The hero implores the boy to walk with him, which he does. They walk to the circle of stone statues that we saw earlier. In there the hero speaks to the boy, saying, “You don’t even know her name. How can you chase after her without knowing her name? What is she to you? Huh? You don’t seem to understand there are roles to be played whether we like them or not. It is not for us to mess with how things are.” The boy tries to hand the hero the broken sword. “I’m not even sure that’s mine. It yielded to you, didn’t it? Just like her. She is mine but do you think she would yield to you if you ever actually reached her? I am not so sure I know anymore.” The boy looks down, then looks up at the hero and says, “I’m sorry.” And cut to the boy being beaten savagely by the hero. Grainy point of view and everything. And then black.

The hero’s voice is heard. Calmer. “I can’t stop you. Not by these means, anyway. I need something else.” The boy’s eyes open. He is surprised to see the broken bottom half of the sword laid carefully beside his head. Next to the sword is a letter. It is the letter that the girl gave to the boy on the bridge. Cut to the boy reading the letter on the bridge. The girl’s voice narrates: “To the boy on the bridge, I don’t know your name. I don’t want to know it. I can’t be allowed to know anything about you. Because I am not yours. You are not my hero, and you never can be. No matter how much we might want it. So go! Run the other way! If you chase after me you will not survive. Or, if you do, it will not be as yourself. It will be as someone awful, and that will be my fault. Please, if you love me, stay away! I don’t want to kill you…” The boy takes off after the girl with green hair. The boy on the hill is being cared for by Sticky and Stucky. Abruptly he stands up. He thanks them wordlessly and walks away into the sunset.

Come Home

The sun is setting and I no longer want to hope. I am tired of hoping. It’s exhausting. I refuse to believe that the figure floating toward me along the lake’s surface is real. It’s just an illusion. But it gets closer and becomes more defined. It looks like someone, but it could not be him. He would not come back to me. Who would?

I think of the light.

It is only when I see his foot print on the sand that I know that it is him. My hero. Because illusions do not leave footprints. I knock him into the sand and kiss him. And I don’t ever want to stop.

Better

Dearest Blackberry,

I know you must hate me right now. You think that I am cruel and heartless. I will admit that sometimes I must be, though I never meant to act this way toward you. My apologies once again for all the trouble on our previous venture. Your services, as well as your professionalism, were greatly appreciated. As it happens, I am about to offer you another job, but first I must ask: What do you want in life?

This is not a rhetorical question by any means. I truly must know. When was the last time you were happy? When did you last feel safe? Has it been months? Years? All you have ever spoken of is work, and the escape of death.

You must understand that what I am about to offer you is not merely another job. This will be, if you want it, the last job you will ever undertake for me. What I am offering you, dearest, is nothing short of a new life. You know from experience that I take my business very seriously. I would not offer you this on a whim. I need you to do this, but it must be your decision.

Know that this will be the most dangerous job you have ever undertaken. I will not lie: you may well lose your life. But with this Client you will be in the best of hands. You will be more well protected than you have ever been in your life. More secure than perhaps even I could offer. And when this job is over, I promise a new life filled with love, safety, and joy.

I wish only the best for you, dearest Blackberry. You must believe that.

Only happiness.

Drop that piece of paper in the sand, and I would stand and watch it until it dissolves. But the client is waiting inside. I step inside the tavern.

About the Author

Jesus Raul Torres

Jesus Raul Torres was born in Laredo, Texas, where he has lived his entire life. He attended Texas A&M International University, where he studied literature and history. Currently he works as an English tutor while continuing to pursue his education.