False Dawn #20: Life or Something Called It
Part One of Four: Tragedies
Short Story Edition
Devin Leigh Michaels
I will never forget my executor’s face—devoid of emotion, life, and sanity. His name was Sawyer Ryder, and he was a captain in the Union Army. He worked directly under General Sherman, and during Casia’s and my time captured, I had the most contact with him. He brought us some food, later cleaned my wounds, but when General Sherman gave the order, he was to become my killer.
“Do not fret, boy,” General Sherman spat, a model of mock-justice high upon his steed. “You’ll be together—in death. KILL THEM BOTH!”
Bloody, hurt, and broken in more places than I knew or could count, I still managed to grab Casia’s hand. Dying, even if it is only once, is not pleasant, and Casia knew nothing of what it would feel like.
“Lance...” she pleaded, and I smiled as best I could through the crunching cheekbone.
“It’s okay,” I lied. “It’s going to be okay.”
The soldier stepped before us and lifted his rifle, and I broke from Casia’s frightened gaze to meet his eyes. I made a promise that day.
I’ll remember you.
Then, I looked back at her, and even in a homemaker’s dress, Casia was beautiful.
REVERE, MASSACHUSETTS, NOW
I awaken to a warm hand upon my cheek and look up to see Casia’s fiery hair and multicolored skin. It’s been a while since she’s shown her true colors, and in the early morning light casting through the dirty curtains, I’m grateful. Most people don’t get a view like this every day.
I, of course, grumble and turn over. “Hit the snooze.”
“Can’t.” She pokes me in the back with her scepter. “Donnielle called. She has news.”
Don calling. Well, that’s never good. Grumbling again, I sit up in bed, a long-sleeved T-shirt covering my arms. I glare at her unkindly. “You really know how to kill a mood, don’tcha?”
She turns and saunters to the bathroom, moving her assets just right. “Depends upon the mood.”
Sometimes, I don’t know if she’s serious or kidding, and neither does down below. I glare at a certain area of my body and hiss, “Now don’t you start.”
MUSUEM OF SCIENCE, BOSTON
The planetarium is darker than usual, the person inside gloomier. Under the rotating planets and stars in the center of the room sits Donnielle, cross-legged with an Astrophysics text book, her crane-swan necklace, and her hands forming dogs in the shadows.
Casia and I exchange unsure looks before I throw out one finger and Casia throws out two.
Damn. Of course she knows me by now. It’s only been a hundred something years.
Groaning, I tip my head back against my shoulders before sighing and heading toward the center of the room. I ignore Casia’s stuck-out tongue and her “trash talk.”
“Hey, Don…Donnielle…Who-hoo?” I whisper. Damn, if she isn’t creepy. “You here or should I come back?”
Donnielle turns toward me and opens her eyes, showing the ice fire burning within them. “Knock. Knock.”
Okay…she’s lost it. “…who’s there?”
Her eyes go full-pupil—purple pupil—and she berates, “A huge ass who seriously needs to get a hair cut or someone will do it for you. They won’t get just your hair.”
I run a hand through my longer-than-usual hair as it dusts against the back of my neck. “Casia put you up to that, didn’t she?”
“Maybe, but that’s doesn’t mean I’m not wrong.” She motions for Casia and me to sit, then hands us each a map of the Freedom Trail. “So…you got my message.”
“Yes, you texted.”
“Sure I did.” She winks but doesn’t quite smile. “I tried to follow the pattern by the fountain water, but since the little idiot drank so little, there’s not really much of a trail.”
“Why’s Ral an idiot but I’m an ass?”
Casia punches my shoulder. Ow… “Do you REALLY need to ask?”
“Apparently or else he wouldn’t have. SO! I did some more digging into another kidnapping case.”
“I thought we were paying you exclusively,” Casia demands.
I blink and thumb. “We’re paying her?”
“It’s personal.” Donnielle’s purple eyes darken as she takes out a worn pack of Pokemon cards and shuffles them quickly. “My brother, Jayden, was taken about three years ago by the very people you described.”
She flips over the first card—Jigglypuff—in front of her crossed legs. “I couldn’t find him. ME.”
Casia growls, “Because if you couldn’t, then none of us—”
“I’m an oracle. If I couldn’t find him, then neither could Barbara Gordon and most definitely not you.” Volbeat and Hoothoot. “But with your little pet’s trail plus my brother’s, I had enough to find some breadcrumbs.”
Casia eyes the cards warily. “Enough to make bread pudding?”
“Enough to make meatloaf.” Mew.
“So what’s next?”
Donnielle flips over the last card and gasps, losing the entire deck.
“What! What is it?” Casia grabs Donnielle’s shoulders. “What did you see?”
I pick up the last card, somehow having kept my eyes upon it, and flip it over.
Casia’s eyes shake, and her mouth drops open. “Lance…”
There’s nothing to say, nothing to feel. I leave.
CAPE COD, MASSACHUSETTS, FOURTEEN YEARS AGO
The cool breeze of the ocean tumbled through the curtains and teased my hair. The crashing waves drooped my eyelids, but I managed to stay awake to the very—
“—End.” Mary brushed the amber locks from her jade eyes and bent down, kissing my tiny nose. “Now it’s time for you to go to sleep, Josh.”
I was five, going by my fifteen name, and my bicep stung. At the time, I thought I’d been stung by a bee. “But do they, Mama? Do they really live happily ever after?”
“Of course, sweetie.” She pulled the blankets tightly and brushed a cool path across my forehead. “That’s how love works.”
“Will we live happily ever after?”
“Well, your mother and I did.”
I smiled as my father now stood in the doorway, seemingly having always been there, even though I knew that to be a lie. While my mother wore a simple jeans and a collared shirt, my father wore a black overshirt tucked into his black pants which bunched just above his commando boots. On all his clothing, save his boots, an azul four with a screeching phoenix sparkled in the low light.
Mary snuggled into bed and gathered me against her body, while Brandon sat down on the other side. “We had you, Josh,” my mother replied, “and one day, hopefully you’ll find that special someone for a Happily Ever After, too.”
For some reason, I couldn’t believe her, but with the warmth of both my parents securing me, I drifted to sleep.
Damn, was I naïve.
FANIEUL HALL, BOSTON, NOW
“Did we have to come during lunch?” Casia scowls, popping a French fry in her mouth.
I shrug as yet another high school tourist smacks into my back. “You were hungry; we got you food. What more do you want?”
She hunches over the table. “Breathing space.”
“Picky.” I twirl the point of his plastic knife about the Brewer Fountain in Boston Common on a Freedom Trail map. “This is the least guarded of the four entrances.”
“But the King’s Chapel Burying Ground is closer to the bunks,” Donnielle interjects.
“Maybe, but the fountain’s currently under construction, so it has two less fortified levels. Should be easier to get into.”
“But it should be a harder path once inside.”
My plastic knife snaps in half as I don’t even glance up at her. “If you know something, Donnielle, just say it. If you don’t, sit down and shut up. I know what I’m doing.”
“Really? Since when? Because as I remember it, you still needed me to save your suburban-bred ass from—”
“Your parents,” Casia breathes.
“Yes, from your parent—”
“No.” Casia snatches my wrist. “Your parents.”
My body tenses like I’m going to take on a Skadoian Warrior, but I don’t reach for my sword. When I turn, my heart drops. I thought for a long time I’d gotten past…well, my past. It held no more failures for me, just tragedies, but as I see the couple gaping at me from the center of the food court, I know I was lying to myself.
Mary and Brandon Sterling are older than I remember, with more worry lines, a little more snow than pavement for hair, but their eyes—they’re warm, inviting, and so hopeful.
“Josh, is that you, son?”
Brandon takes a hesitant step closer, and I can’t help but take a step back, unhinging the table. Brandon stops, and there’s only one thing I can think to say.
“I’m not your son. I’m just a THUG.”
And with that, I step behind a crowd of high schoolers and disappear amongst them.
OUTSIDE OF TIME, TEN YEARS AGO
The first time I met Lysander, I was nine. He was old, even back then, with short, paprika and salt hair, and a grandpa’s smile. Inside the Defenders’ stronghold, he looked like a god, standing in front of the glimmering silver phoenix and under the stained glass window that shimmered like the sun with blue fire. The whole place was unfathomable, a congress chambers more grand than the Senate’s.
My parents held my shoulders as Lysander became human and bent down to me, putting out a hand.
“Hello, little one.” He shook mine. “I’m Lysander Starbuck, the resident gatekeeper of the Defenders of the Fourth Dimension.”
He led them, was once revered as their greatest. Jackass.
“This is my son, Draven—” He motioned to a man slightly shorter and stockier with blue hair. “—and his best friends, Artemis and Sawyer Ryder.”
Sawyer…I’d seen the man and hated him, even if he was only twenty-something with pitch black hair and an uncle’s smile. But how did I know him? At the time, I had no idea, but I think Lysander knew.
He ruffled my raven hair. “You’re special, aren’t you? And one day, you’ll be among the greatest of us. I have no doubt.”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
Facing the black TV, I shrug from the hotel bed. “No.”
“What you did—”
The bed rocks when Casia falls next to me, her hands between her legs. “You really believe that, don’t you?”
“You saw what I did. Don pulled the Mewtwo card. It means someone we love is going to die, but hell, everyone I love dies anyway.”
“Not everyone. Not Addy or Connor or me—”
Casia furls an eyebrow. “Excuse me?”
“You’re an extended mortal, not IMMORTAL. So yes…” My despondent voice drops to a whisper; my bangs cast shadows over my eyes. “…one day, you will not be here, so there won’t be a Happily Ever After for me. There is no ‘fade to black.’ All I’ll get is to think of you. How you smell of ash and marshmallows. How your skin feels like cream cheese, not butter. How your real skin color is like the first rays of morning light and how when I wake up next to you, I think how damned lucky I am that I get to wake up next to you. And one day, you and Ral and probably even Connor and Addy will be gone.
“Just like my mom and dad.”
I don’t see her face, refuse to look up as the tears dribble from my chin, so I don’t see the warm hand until it’s on my cheek.
Don’t see her strawberry lips until they’re on mine.
Don’t see the tears mingling with mine, but I feel them.
She climbs onto my legs and pushes me down, and at the very last second, I grab her shoulders and free my lips.
“I’m not good enough for you.”
Casia smiles. “Oh, I know.”
But she kisses me again.
BOSTON COMMON, A WEEK LATER
Donnielle tucks her glittering necklace under her shirt. “I’m always ready.”
Casia scoffs, “Of course you are.”
Setting the charges at the base of the fountain, I run about the subway entrance and duck under the stairs. An explosion rocks Boston Common, and as soon as the concrete statues sink into the ground, Casia takes off, adding to the burning embers. Flying through the hole I created, she pushes her hands out as she lowers herself the ten stories to the floor of an atrium. Racing down a rope, I land behind her, crouching with a sword in one hand, a blaster in the other. Donnielle lands last, blinking at the empty and destroyed foyer.
“The walls—They’re like Swiss cheese,” she says.
Casia shakes her head. “I didn’t do this.”
“Yeah, I know.” I sheathe my sword and pivot. “But who—”
“You! Hold it!”
Instinct is my best friend. I half turn with my blaster and fire two shots, hitting the guards in the chest. “Well, that answers my—damn.”
“What?” Casia comes to his side and looks down at the two men in black shirts and pants with an insignia of a blue four and a screeching phoenix on their left breasts. “You know who these guys are?”
“Yeah. I do.” Maldita sea. “They’re Defenders of the Fourth Dimension, just like my parents.”
To Be Continued…