Thursday, October 20, 2011
FICTION: First Words by Samuel Eden
The ship swayed and creaked. He feels every bit of it in his body. Taking no chances the crew, damnedable pirates, have chained him with no give. Legs bound in a kneeling position, arms chained to either wall crucifying him to the ship like a perverse figurehead, he’s been their captive long enough to have forgotten the feel of kindness.
It is a small blessing that their fear of him keeps his gag in place at all times. It keeps them from coming anywhere near him. The captain learned a long time ago that he gleans all he needs to live from the moisture in the air, the brine in his eyes. During storms, when he is strongest, the captain posts guards with him. They don’t look at him.
A terrible hope fills him today. By the movement of the ship and the crew’s curses, he knows that they’re being pursued by another ship. This ship is a runner, fast. There’d be little concern of capture if the ship did not gain its quickness from being light, gain its lightness from having little room for armaments or supplies.
The pursuers have had them going for a week now and they’d been out of port for at least a month. He knows from the panic in the crew that the food is all but gone. Soon they’ll be too weak to load what small guns are aboard. He’d be surprised if they could remember how to sight the cannons it’s been so long since the captain has ordered them used.
His hope stems from the pirates’ desperation. If they succumb to practicality then they’ll come for him. With frightened hearts and shaking hands, they’ll undo his chains and he’ll get to spend some time under the sky instead of under foot. So he waits for their desperation to bloom practicality.
It does not take long. The first mate comes with three guards and the keys. It is always the first mate that comes to get him. The captain coming himself would make him a person that the captain fears, he wouldn’t last long once that got out among the crew. The first mate is the only one he trusts with the keys to his chains.
“The captain wants to see you.” He speaks with a unique accent that comes with the ship’s pidgin of French, Spanish, and Greek. His ears hear the gibberish, but his mind provides him with the meaning.
Slowly, they unchain his arms from the ship and secure them behind his back. The guards are afraid to touch him, unsure whether he’ll break or they’ll be infected with something. It strikes him as odd how religious some of these men are.
Coming onto the deck, sea spray hits him in the face, covers his bare chest. He instantly feels more alive. He stands taller, muscles flex, the chains bite into his skin.
They take him to the captain, standing at the aft of the ship. He stands beside the captain looking out at the wide ocean, the only thing marring their perfect view of the horizon the pursuers. The first mate and guards fold themselves into the three other men standing around them.
The captain just stands there for a few minutes, ignoring him. This too is done to show the crew he will do this in his own time, to show that the man he keeps below decks does not frighten him. Around the gag, behind the locked mouth plate, he smiles. Only he and the captain know what he is, and he knows that the captain is frightened of that.
“I have use of you.” From under his coat he draws out the key that only he is allowed to keep. He inserts into lock for the face plate. “If you hurt this ship my men will stab you and you will die before you can swim for freedom. Like always, yeah?”
He nods. It’s always the same threat. It vaguely occurs to him that this is only a half life. But then, the spirits would kill for half a life. The plate falls away and he spits the wooden wedge from his mouth.
His tongue sticks out, tasting the salt in the air. He flexes his jaw, taking in the blue sky, the white clouds, the gentle waves. He smiles at the captain. Other than the crew’s swords there is very little compelling him.
Finally, the captain’s annoyance at the delay shows on his face. He focuses on ship on the horizon. He tries not to think of the men on the ship. He knows he will have to answer for his actions one day, but he’s trying to postpone that day for as long as possible.
“ “ The wind stops, the water flattens. All around the ship, a calm settles. The crew has stopped its work.
“AH!” Lawrence jumps awake in the back of the cab. The cabby swerves.
“Whoa, buddy. You okay?”
“I’m fine. Sorry.” The cabby’s eyes dart from the road to the rearview mirror and back. “I’m good. I’m okay.” The cabby’s eyes return to the road and stay there, Lawrence was prepared to keep reassuring him for the rest of the drive as long as he didn’t take his eyes off the road.
“That jetlag’s a bitch, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, jetlag.” He doesn’t really feel like talking so he looks out the window. What he sees unsettles him so much that he almost closes his eyes again. Outside the cab desert stretched on for miles.
When he’d met the cabby at the airport he’d been fine. They’d been in the middle of a city. He preferred the buildings and people to the endless dry expanse. He tried to think of it as a sea of earth but it just made him queasy. He can’t help it, he closes his eyes.
“We’re almost there,” the cabby rouses him.
“How long was I out?”
“If I’d of known I wouldn’t have let you sleep at all. You wouldn’t believe how many people fall asleep in my cab from the airport.” The cabby keeps up a steady stream of chitchat for the next few minutes. Lawrence doesn’t say much, but he’s glad for the distraction.
“Here we go, buddy.” He pulls up in front of an independent diner. Lawrence can tell the sign was made with care when it was painted, years in the desert sun has faded it badly. “They got good food here?”
“I don’t know. This is my first time here.” He pays the fare and steps out of the air-conditioned interior. His lips are immediately dry and cracked. The heat cuts him to the core as fast as it dried his lips, the urge to speak rises in him. He needs to escape this heat, he’s drowning in dryness.
He rushes inside hoping that they’ll have air-conditioning. No such luck. The interior of the restaurant is as faded as the exterior. He seats himself, impatiently tapping his foot waiting for the waitress.
He can hear the sound of the wind. Not the dry, lifeless wind of the desert, but the damp, alive wind of the storm. It’s calling to him, begging him to call out. He licks his lips with a tongue he can barely feel.
He can’t help himself, the desert is antithesis for him. Why had he decided to come here? To satisfy some adolescent curiosity? He takes one long, shuttering breath.
“What can I get you?”
“Ah.” His eyes fly open, a thirty year old juicy fruit goddess stands before him. “A pitcher of ice water. Please.”
“You need to order something if you want to sit in here, honey.” She says it as if there’s more than a marginal difference between inside the diner and outside the diner.
“I really need some water.”
“You need to order…”
“The special, two of them, just bring me a pitcher of water.” His throat feels so dry. He has to speak now before he loses his chance.
POP! “How you want that cooked?” Her artificially flavored breath hits him in the face. His hands are shaking.
“I don’t care! Just bring me some water.”
“Hmph!” With blurry vision he watches her flounce back to the kitchen. He grabs the edge of the table to steady himself. He’s clenching his jaw by the time she comes back with a glass for him.
He swallows half of it. The cool liquid fills him, calming him. Vision clears, hands stop shaking, the urge lessening. The torrent of wind in his ears shifts to a gentle breeze. How close had he come?
The waitress turns to leave again, he grabs her arm. “Can I get you anything else?” She says it in such a way that makes Lawrence wonder if it’s actually a question. She tired of him he can tell. She’s too used to bullying the locals. He doesn’t trying to be nice to her, he just takes out a fifty and lays it on the table.
“This is your tip if you keep bringing me pitchers of water.” Her eyes gleam slightly as she stares at the bill on the table. Slowly she puts the pitcher on the table. “Thank you.”
He drains the rest of his glass and pours another. He finishes this one in three huge gulps. He doesn’t feel as trapped now, his breathing has evened out. He fills the glass a third time, finishing off the pitcher, but only sips this one. A couple minutes pass, the waitress brings his two specials and another pitcher.
Lawrence only picks at his food. Between the desert and the age of the equipment in the diner the food is completely dry. Mainly he just cuts up the food and moves it around on his plate.
Mainly he watches the people in the restaurant. He immediately discounts his waitress. Seeing her move around the diner, speaking with her, she’s spent most of her life trying to get away from this place. It’s a pity that she’d never really feel like she belongs anywhere.
An old man sits in another booth. He is weathered, his countenance telling the story of a life in the desert. Despite the heat of the day he’s drinking coffee. Lawrence would have considered him a likely candidate if his research didn’t tell him he is looking for someone younger. Besides the old man doesn’t look like he belongs here, only that he’s gotten used to living here.
It’s an old style diner setup, so Lawrence can see the cook behind the half wall separating the kitchen from the dining area. Cook would be a wonderful job for who he’s looking for. The heat rising from the stove providing a fix for the cravings while at work. Though nothing compared to the natural heat of the desert it would do while at work. Unfortunately the cook is wearing a sleeveless shirt that’s plastered to his body with sweat.
Lawrence’s heart falls. He’s not close enough to the cook to pick up a flow from him, but the fact that he’s sweating tells him all he needs to know. It’s possible his sources were wrong. It’s not easy to track a Bearer. The burden/gift they bear making it too hard to get a fix on them.
He’s about to get up, throwing the contents of his glass down his throat, when the kitchen door swings open and a young man steps through. Lawrence puts his cup down and watches him. Something in the way he moves is different.
Somehow his movements come off as light, almost bouncy. Even just clearing dishes from tables, his movements are quick, precise. He wears a t-shirt, jeans, and boots, all are cheap, but he still has an air of status. Lawrence notes that he’s not sweating.
He looks up, checking for more stray dishes. Lawrence motions him over. “You finished with this, mister?” Lawrence inhales and catches the scent of aged stone.
“We need to talk.” He boy smiles at him, Lawrence guesses he’s only about seventeen, nineteen tops.
“Sorry, mister, I’m just here for the dishes. You’ll want to try Craiper St. around ten tonight.” He grabs a plate, Lawrence grabs his wrist.
Sun…Heat…Dry…Sand…Lawrence pulls his hand away, palm red. Perspiration stands out on the young man’s brow now, fear in his eyes. He slides into the booth across from Lawrence. Lawrence pours another glass of water and waits for the boy to say something.
“Holy shit.” Lawrence couldn’t agree more. He hadn’t known quite what to expect, but that was intense.
“Tito, what the hell are you doing sitting down?” The waitress clearly needed more to do.
“I’m…I’m taking my break,” he yells back.
“The dishes aren’t going to wash themselves.”
“I’m on break!” She throws up her hands and goes back into the kitchen. Tito smiles at Lawrence. “Let’s go outside.” Lawrence downs his water and follows him out and around the diner.
“Who are you,” Tito finally asks when they’re alone.
“I’m, Lawrence Evans.” Lawrence doesn’t try to shake his hand. He isn’t offended.
“I’m Benjamin Fuller, but everyone calls me, Tito. Now who the hell are you?” It’s a fair question. If he doesn’t know what he is then he’s probably really freaked out. Lawrence can’t blame him, he’s been there.
“I’m your Twin.”
“Ha, not likely, man.” Tito looks skeptical, very skeptical. There’s at least fifteen years between them. And while Tito isn’t a full blooded Mexican, Lawrence can tell at least one of his parents is, while Lawrence couldn’t be more white without being an albino. It’s hard to believe.
“I don’t mean biologically. I mean spiritually.” Tito’s face is instantly serious. “You can feel it, can’t you? That subtle, tickling at the back of your brain that makes you feel like you know me, even while at your core I unsettle you.”
“Yeah.” Tito is breathless.
“You’ve been having the dreams since you’ve been thirteen. The dreams of other people’s lives, dreams of times long past, dreams that are so real that you feel like you’re living them.”
“Yes.” Tito looks so relieved that it breaks Lawrence’s heart. He knows what it’s like to finally have this explained. Lawrence had spent three years in a mental hospital trying to deal by himself. Tito is a strong young man.
“Where is there open desert?” Tito points down an alley. Lawrence starts walking, Tito doesn’t need to be told to follow, he falls into step next to Lawrence careful not to touch him.
They come out the other end of the alley seeing open land. For Lawrence it’s as close to nothing as he ever wants to get. Longing fills Tito’s eyes.
“I want to share something with you. Watch out there.” Lawrence takes a deep breath and centers himself. The urge to speak has been growing since they stepped out of the diner, the dryness creeping in to all his dark places. “ “
Tito’s hands fly up to cover his ears. “Ah! What the hell?” FLASH! BOOM! The thunder cuts off any further curses. Tito’s gaze is drawn out to the desert, where black storm clouds have formed out of nowhere. The fear is back in his eyes, he retreats till his back hits the wall to the building. “What have you done?”
“I spoke my Word. We’re Word Bearers, Tito. You have your own. Can you feel it? Deep in core.” Lawrence can see he’s confused. He’s frightened, overwhelmed. FLASHBOOM! “You can stop this, Tito. Go ahead. Say your Word. I want to hear it.”
“I don’t…I’m not sure.” Confusion and fear war on Tito’s face. Lawrence hopes he won’t run. He didn’t mean to scare the boy.
“Of course you’re sure. You’ve known it for centuries, you just haven’t spoken it yet. It’s okay. I’m here with you.” His first step is hesitant, his second is firm, his third is confident. Lawrence realizes he’s holding his breath. Tito looks up at him, he nods. Tito fixes his gaze on the storm.
“ “ There it is. It’s as quiet as Lawrence’s Word is loud, but no less powerful. It’s so beautiful. As Lawrence watches the storm clouds dissipate a tear rolls down his cheek.