Copyright © 2015 Anna King
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Escape. This was the only word I could think of as I wove through towering pine trees and deep bushes washed in deep orange light. Wherever I was, I did not care. All I really want is to get as far as possible from the highway where I crashed my car.
If the odds were with me, they’d assume I died from the wreck. But then again, my brothers never left unfinished business unsettled… and that meant bringing my decaying body back to Spinner.
My heart raced at the thought, and chills crawled up my spine. I was panicking, and I was unfamiliar with the feeling until this very moment. Only now did I realized that panic was not a single sensation, but a perfect, seamless mixture of many -- fear, helplessness, anxiety and alarm. I was only familiar with it because I saw it from the people I hunted. Never had it occurred to me that I will one day end up in the same situation as them.
Tears fell from my eyes and sobs pushed their way up my throat. Trembling feet dragged themselves through unfriendly foliage of thorns. Shaking hands felt for the surroundings, between the fingers of long shadows.
I could barely see now. Whether it was the night, or my losing light of hope, I could not tell. All that’s left within me was pure concentrated fright, and the feeling weighed on me like darkness.
Then the image of her face gave a little light to my currently dark world. [_ Margaux -- my beautiful goddess ]. If there was one thing I did right, it was her. She was the one who taught me to love. _She was the one who taught me the word passion and all the beautiful things it beholds. And the thought of her sparked what little hope was left -- the thought of her pushed me to reach for someone whom I had never dared believe in until today.
Dear God, I beg you! Please don’t let me die tonight! I deserve to go to hell for all my sins, but I can change! I promise You I will change! Just please let me come back to her! Let me live… for her!
The soft breeze brushed through the treetops, sending dried leaves and pine needles down on me. I stopped and looked up. Peeking through silhouettes of eerie bone-like branches, the moon shone in a taunting smile.
“Please I beg You!” I cried to the sky, hoping for a miracle. I dropped to my knees and cried harder, my face now bathing in moonlight. “Do miracles even work for bad men like me?”
Dogs barking and howling in the distance was a clear sign they were near. If there was anything I was most familiar with, it’s the Saints’ hunting style. They love dogs, especially when letting them track helpless rabbits like me.
There is no hope, I finally accepted as I stood up. I had not eaten nor slept for days, and my exhaustion had reached its limit. How could I even hope to fight anyone or anything in such a state? And what miracle am I hoping for now?
My hands felt for the last pack of cigarettes in my back pocket. I took and lit one, and breathed deeply. Without any thought, I leaned on the rock sitting beside me… and suddenly, the world spun.
I was falling. Everything happened so fast, I had no time to think. Then with a loud tonk!, everything turned blank.
Whatever was happening, I had no idea. But there were voices around me. I opened my eyes, but there was nothing but intense brightness. Between the cracks of light, however, I saw a girl. She had chestnut brown hair, and it fell perfectly on slender shoulders. Her almond eyes searched my face with deep concern, and I felt… warm. Thin pink lips moved to whisper “You’re gonna be alright,” then she disappeared and I closed my eyes.
Was I in heaven? Was she an angel? Before I could further reflect, however, I drifted to unconsciousness once more.
Strangers were seldom in our land, and when they do come, they were simply looking for someone to point them to the right direction because they got lost. This man, however, was a different story.
By the looks of the damage in the scene, he fell from the thirty-foot high cliff lining the borders of our farm. The boulder that fell with him crushed a few square meters of our crops, but the most damage, however, was on the stranger. He must have hit his head on a rock as he rolled on the steep slant of the brown rocky precipice, and landed unconscious.
My brothers found him this morning, and thought he was a cadaver dumped by bad men. He was pale, dry and thinning. Even I would have thought the same.
They brought him to me first, however, when they heard him moan. I’m not really a doctor for humans, but I do have the necessary skills to save one -- as long as the injuries were within saving.
Paul and Mark gingerly set the stranger on my table. His eyes fluttered open as I inspect his entire body for injuries. Though it was barely there, his heartbeat was strong enough.
“You’re gonna be alright,” I whispered, but as soon as I said that, he lost consciousness once more.
My hands moved through the vital points of his body and searched for wounds and inconsistencies. Apart from countless scratches on his arms, and bruises all over his body, his only major injury was on the head. No broken bones, sprained joints, or signs of poisoning -- nothing that cannot be fixed. And it seemed his unconsciousness was mainly caused by dehydration.
His head injury only needed stitching, and so I went to the corner of my little clinic to get the necessary tools. After sterilizing each, I went on ahead with the minor operation.
It may not show, but this man was making me nervous. Animals have died in my hands before, and for various reasons -- some were truly beyond saving, but a few perished due to my shortcomings. And each of them took a piece of me -- may it be a string of confidence, happiness, or peace -- and I fear that I have very few strings left. What worries me now was this man. What if he dies under my care too? I would have owed his family, his wife, and his kids if I lose him now. What would be left of me then?
911 was not an option for us. What if someone really had ill intentions against this stranger? Neighboring towns and cities were riddled with gangsters, and these hooligans keep tabs on hospitals and their patients. We’re not entirely sure, but they might be tapping on emergency lines as well.
I remembered the story Old Jeffrey once told us, about the injured man he saw in his barn one night. Not knowing what to do, he called the cops over along with 911. Only the cops arrived (or so they say), and they took the man without much ado -- no explanations, no questioning, no further searching, no nothing. Old Jeffrey didn’t dare protest against the oddity of their actions for they were armed. He simply prayed and laid all his trust on the good Lord that the man be placed in good hands.
The following day, however, as Old Jeff drove to town, police cars flanked an area beside the road. Traffic enforcers signaled them to slow down. But as he passed by the gap between the ambulance and the police car, just before the coroners zipped the body bag, he recognized the man in the barn. It was wrong to make assumptions about anything, but he could not help but think that he just gave the poor man away to hoodlums.
We cannot risk the same event to happen again, that’s why I’m risking my sanity to save this man’s life.
I shook my head to take the thought off my mind. Who would even die from having his wound stitched? It’s not like I’m performing heart surgery or anything. Get a grip on yourself, girl!
The stranger moaned and twitched. Not even his unconsciousness can spare him from the pain. It may be wrong, but that gave me relief. He’s alive.
“Paul, I need you to get me a liter of clean drinking water and sugar,” I ordered. The stitching was almost done, and this man needed to be rehydrated next.
“Gotcha, sis,” he obeyed. Paul was younger by five years, but he’s taller than me now. Still lean and lanky, but he’ll soon look like our eldest, Mark.
“Mark, go to town and buy me a whole pack of Gatorade. Before you come here, prepare a bowl of oats and add in a slice of bread.” Mark nodded without a word. He was a man of few words after all.
I cut the thread, cleaned the wound and tapped the stranger’s face to keep him awake.
“Wake up,” I said softly. “Sir, I need you to wake up.”
He responded with more moaning. The twitching had stopped, but his hands had begun moving. Every movement was uncoordinated, but it’s still progress. It means he’s healing, and fast. And finally, he opened his eyes.
That was when I noticed how strikingly blue his irises were, and how stunningly they looked being framed by thick black brows and long eyelashes. The more I stare into them, the more I understood the saying ‘our eyes are the windows to our soul’. And from what I see, I say he’s as cold as ice, but as beautiful as a snowflake.
My mind wandered off and wondered who this man was and where he came from. I could only guess from the tattoos on his body (which he had a lot), and how he was dressed -- fitted black shirt, fading jeans, and black leather boots. It seemed he’s someone to be feared, especially for a girl like me, but it also seemed he’s in dire need of security and love. It was only now that I realized how much of a mystery he was, how much I wanted to ask him what his life was like, and how he became what he was.
His eyes found mine and I felt myself stiffened. I didn’t know I was already leaning so close, and that my fingers were still brushing his face. It seemed he finally found coordination too, because he grabbed my hand. My stomach quenched in an unfamiliar way.
What do I do now?
All the beautiful colors of the world converged in her face, and she reminded me of spring -- the mix of green, blue and olive in her eyes, the changing hues of brown in her hair, the soft pink blush on her cheeks, and the smooth redness of her lips. She was leaning too close, and such an intimate space made me… uncomfortable, and for reasons even I cannot begin to understand.
She held her breath at the touch of my hand. Perhaps it was due to the coldness of my skin. The calming feel of her warmth made me realize I’m as cold as death.
I tried to utter words, but my throat was as dry as sandpaper. Despite my groggy consciousness, the alertness of panic remained, and there were a lot of things I needed to tell her. That she’s an angel. That I sincerely believed she was the miracle God sent me. That I needed to leave their premises as soon as possible because Spinner won’t be a gentleman if he finds me under the care of such a beautiful miss.
Her brows knitted in confusion as my voice came out in cracks, then she said really softly, “Sir, please calm down. You are dehydrated, and you are not fit to go out and go home yet.”
Without warning, a tall lean boy with dark hair appeared frantically from the door, carrying a bottle of water and a canister. And right then and there, she changed. Her face hardened, and she withdrew from all softness and delicateness, as if she’s afraid to show the boy this intimate side of hers.
He didn’t look anywhere near like a nurse, however, and now that I’ve noticed it, the girl was no doctor either. Where the hell am I?
The succeeding events went on like a blur. I couldn’t stay conscious for very long, but she keeps on talking to keep me awake. Not like how she did earlier, however. There was barely any trace of emotion in her tone now.
What I remembered was how she made me drink water (though I was not sure, because it was a bit sweet) and how she toweled the dirt off my face and body to, again, keep me awake. She was making me drink every now and then, and I do have to admit, every sip felt like a gulp from the Fountain of Youth -- if there ever was one.
My entire body was too sore that even if I had wanted to leave this place and run, my mind just couldn’t handle the stress of everything. What kept me awake was the rush she created, and that made me aware of certain things… until everything stopped. It felt like mere seconds, but at the same time, a lifetime -- like floating between the cracks of space and time, drifting in lostness and weightlessness. There was nothing but peace.
My eyes opened. The room was bright and homely -- wood paneled walls, flowing curtains, and white sheets. Where the hell am I now[_?_]
I couldn’t remember how I got here, or how long I was out. Everything passed by like a dream and the things that took place from the last two, or three, or only God knows how many days, seemed nothing but a bad nightmare -- except for the girl. In fact, I wished she wasn’t even a mere dream.
There was a pricking sensation on my head, but beyond that, I felt good -- really good. I got up from bed and was surprised at how strong and rejuvenated I am. To say I feel better was an understatement, because I feel brand new.
From the doorway, she watched, and I didn’t notice her until she said, “It seems you’re doing great.”
My whole body shot at her direction, and from the way her eyes widened, it seemed my reaction and expression weren’t too friendly. I felt my hands raise in both offense and defense, ready to put up a fight, but dropped them down upon the sight of her.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to sneak up on you…”
“Please don’t apologize. It’s my natural reaction to… surprises,” I cut her off. If you had spent most of your life with the brotherhood, especially with the specific job I had, surprises like that were the last thing you’d want. And when they do come, you’d better prepare to fight or die because it doesn’t come with a tray of breakfast.
“I see,” she replied, her face shifting to a guarded expression. I was looking for the angel, the girl who told me I’m gonna be alright, but I’m afraid I scared her away. “Well, anyway, I brought you something to eat. I thought you might be hungry.”
Without a word, I delicately took the tray, but I was not aware that I kept my stare on her. Everything about her was just fascinating. Perhaps it was because, to me, she was something new. All the girls I’ve seen and dated almost had the same essence and character -- promiscuous, a bit dark, heavy make-up, full breasts, killer high heels, and with long loose hair.
The one standing before me, however, was the complete opposite. Her hair was carelessly tied to a bun, her face had no trace of any cosmetic, she wore boots like a guy, and she was conservatively covered by a loose checkered blouse and loose blue jeans. Despite this effortless appearance, however, I can’t help but see how beautiful she was. And I find that odd. Was my perspective influenced by the fact that she saved my life?
Her face reddened, which I thought was cute, and I unknowingly smiled and snickered at the reaction. The gesture made her smile too, and it was just lovely. There she was again, the angel. Seeing all the worry and defensiveness melt away made her even more heavenly and welcoming -- like I could take a hug from her anytime I feel down or hopeless, and I was tempted to.
But now that I’ve thought about it, it’s been a long time since I last showed my teeth artlessly, and that brought me back to the reality that I cannot linger much longer wherever I was. That a group of someone wants me dead, and that I have another someone waiting for me.
[_ I need to come home to her -- to Margaux. _]
It was amusing to see him smile. That brief light moment reminded me of how the sun breaks through brooding clouds. Just when I thought I’ve lifted some of the weight he seemed to be carrying with him, his face darkened once more. Whether it was because of something I did or said, I cannot tell.
He pursed his lips and steeled his expression, and said, “I need to go. Thank you for everything, but I cannot stay long.” Those words brought me down. I felt my face melt to sadness -- and I don’t know why.
That’s how things should be, I said to myself. He does not belong here, and saying goodbye is apparent.
“Eat your breakfast, at least, before you go. You need energy,” I replied nonchalantly, returning all the indifference that should have been there in the first place.
He didn’t say a word, but he set the tray on the side table, then sat on the bed, and without any hesitation, began eating. I turned around towards the door to leave him in peace, until he called back.
“Please stay for a while,” he asked. “I need to ask you a few things.”
There was nothing in his tone -- not a single drop of emotion. It was purely objective, but something was behind it that made me follow his command, and no word best described it than threat.
I dragged the chair from across the room and sat before him. He never looked up. The toast he was chowing down had all of his attention. But even without seeing his eyes, I could tell that the helpless man I operated on yesterday was completely gone. He was a different person now, and he doesn’t seem friendly.
He started with the question, “Where am I?”
I know how serious the question for him was, but I can’t help myself. I just had to say this, and I had to say it without any trace of humor, “You’re in Narnia.”
That got his attention. He looked up at me, brows knitted in a mix of confusion and something that said ‘I think this girl is crazy’. What made me snort out a laugh, however, was when he realized I was fooling around, and how he made an effort to hold his grin back.
He was a man at war with himself, and I can see how much he needed help beyond the medical field. “I know this is none of my business, but why are you so uptight? It’s like you’re not giving yourself a chance to be happy.”
From that funny unclassy expression, his mood switched to guarded sadness. There was no response, but I don’t take silence for an answer, “Well?”
“You already said it. It’s none of your business,” he replied casually.
“Do you know that the leading cause of death for stubborn men like you is stubbornness?” I commented as-a-matter-of-factly. According to my brothers, this was the reason why men don’t like me -- why they don’t even try courting me at all. I’m so blunt and tactless most of the time, it hurts. But I’m not sorry being this way. Some people need it, but they don’t want it because, well, the truth hurts. And for someone whose main priority in life was to address the problems of those in need, I will gladly play the villain as long as it helps.
“Why do you care so much? I am no one to you. I am a stranger. Has your father ever taught you to never talk to one?” he said as he straightened up, food completely forgotten.
“You’re not a stranger to me. You are a patient. And I have this urge to make sure that you are well and fit inside and out when you leave my care.”
My words stunned him. Clearly, he was not expecting that answer, and his reaction hinted of longing but quickly shifted to withdrawal. Even if I don’t completely know him, what he does, and where he’s been, I can’t help but feel empathetic. He was torn in two, and I absolutely know how that feels.
“I really appreciate the thought,” he began, his tone almost pleading, “but you really shouldn’t care. I am a bad man. Aren’t you scared of my tattoos and what they mean?” He raised his arms, and pulled his sleeves back. “Trust me, these aren’t here for the sake of art.”
“Sir, a doctor never discriminates. Just because you have tattoos and I should be scared of them, doesn’t mean I should deny you help and care.” I am not a fool. The world beyond our little farm may be a stranger to me, but that does not mean I don’t know what it instills. I know what those tattoos mean, I just don’t want to make unfair assumptions on this man. Only God has the right to judge.
“Listen, miss, I have done a lot of terrible things in the past, that’s why I don’t wonder when I came so close to dying. And believe me when I tell you, you’re an angel. You are a miracle. And I am thankful for that, but there is no need for you to extend your pity. I have received enough.” His icy blue eyes fixed on me and searched. Though it’s pretty clear that he wants to go, there was something in the way he stares that tells me otherwise.
“Listen, sir, we are human. None of us were born perfect, and that makes us prone to doing bad things, even I am no exemption…”
“You don’t understand it, miss,” he cut me off. He paused for a moment, then he confessed the truth he’s obviously not so proud of, “I kill people for a living.”
That didn’t surprise me at all. Everything about him speaks of it. “And you’re only doing your job,” I answered empathically. “I, on the other hand, am a doctor. But I took more lives than I saved. But I understand how telling myself I am a bad doctor will not help me become a better one. I forgive myself, and then I take the lessons from the past to heart so I don’t repeat them again.” I leaned in closer to him, then said, “You accepted and told me you are a bad man, and that gave me the impression you want to change that fact. And that’s what matters now. Am I right?”
He sighed deeply as he rubbed his temples, then he whispered, “Why aren’t you afraid? Most people would have called the cops by now.” His eyes travelled back to me as he shook his head, then asked, “Hasn’t it occurred to you that I can kill you whenever it pleases me? To make things more convenient for me?”
“And will it please you? Will it make things convenient for you?” I asked hard. No answer. “I am not afraid because I know how imperfect the world is. It’s a place riddled with traps disguised as dreams. Dreams that will lure you in and feed your desires. And one day, you will find yourself drowning and dying in your own happiness, and the things you used to enjoy aren’t fun anymore because all you can feel is confusion and doubt. Everyone of us are victims of these traps, and you are no exemption. You are as much a victim as me, or as the people you’ve killed. You stood by what you believed in at one point and your chosen profession is but a residue of it, but somewhere along the road, you had an epiphany and that tore you in two -- the man you used to be, and the man you’re turning out to be.
“I can call the cops now and have you sent to jail. Will that make the world a better place? Maybe. But will that make you a better man?”
There was silence. He just stared at me like a puzzle. Perhaps he was contemplating the answer to my question. Or maybe he’s already planning how to kill me and my family. But I have faith in this man as I have faith in God. I can see it in his eyes. He will make the right choice.
He snickered, “Do you know that the leading cause of death for stubborn women like you is stubbornness?”
I grinned. It seemed the ice in his frigid world was starting to melt, and that’s good.
“My name is Maria, by the way,” I introduced, as I stretched my hand out.
“Such a sweet name for a fierce lady,” he commented, but took my hand all the same. “Victor.”
Maria blew my mind. There’s no other way to put it. My head was under a category five hurricane, and I don’t know how to save myself from it. All the things I believed in for the longest time now ended with question marks.
The world never really liked guys like me. From when I was just a boy, I have always been an outcast. And because of that, I was made to believe I am different, and in an unflattering way. Simply put, I was a social reject. This label, pinned on me by everyone else, led me to believe I am meant to live and die as one. And for a while, I owned it. I paraded the gloriousness of being a scum because the world taught us to ‘be proud of who you are’, right?
But this girl… she changed all that. She took the pin away -- my label -- and now I’m confused. I don’t know what I am anymore. I don’t know who I’m supposed to be anymore.
Fate used to be but a child’s dream to me. Somehow, I’m starting to believe the universe purposely dropped me to this farm, and it wants me to stay for a while. And I don’t mind at all.
Just when I was about to leave, it started raining cats and dogs. Maria’s older brother, Mark, was not kind enough to give me a lift to the closest town, which was about eight miles from their farm. He only said, “His feet works. He can walk.” The guy don’t trust me, and I completely understand.
Paul, on the other hand, was a lot friendlier and more animated. When I was left with no choice but to linger around, he began bugging me. First, about my tattoos and how cool they were. Then he started talking about how he wanted to leave the farm, go somewhere far and new, and become like me. He was under the impression I was just a lowly hitchhiker who got in trouble, and I sincerely wished my life was really that simple.
I was stuck with these two, for Maria was attending to their pregnant horse. We lounged around the kitchen table, waiting for the rain to stop. Paul kept on talking and I pretended to listen. He was now narrating the story of how they found me at the bottom of the cliff and how crazy the whole thing was. What amazes me, however, was how much he eats. Whether he’s eating breakfast, or lunch, or brunch, I’m too afraid to ask because it looks as though he’s eating portions of each meal in one sitting.
Mark, on the other hand, simply stood in one corner, but never interrupted our conversation. He was keeping an eye on me. I have been in my profession for years and sizing potential threats have become a habit, and this guy won’t be easy to fight off. He was taller and bulkier, and judging from the way he worked around the house, he’s fast. This must be the result of working twenty-four seven around a farm. The only advantage I have was experience. I know how to handle fights, and I know where the human body’s weakest points were.
My thoughts were interrupted when Maria entered the kitchen, and I shot up from my chair like how a private does when a general enters the room. All three looked at me in a “What the hell?” sort of way, so I eased back on my seat with a tinge of embarrassment.
“So,” Maria started. “You three seemed to be getting along just fine. What do you guys want for lunch?”
“Bacon!” shouted Paul. Does this kid ever stop eating?
“Too much bacon is bad for your health, Paul. How about chicken, mashed potatoes, and steamed veggies on the side?” Maria suggested.
“What’s the occasion?” countered Mark. It seemed he was not too happy for having such a grand meal.
“Nothing,” she replied flatly, then her eyes travelled to me. “We have a guest. And by the way, you two should fix the roof of the barn right now. The dripping is making Gypsy uneasy, and the last thing we want is a stressed pregnant horse.”
I didn’t say anything. The last thing I wanted to do was get on the bad side of the people who helped me. Mark was silent too. I’m not sure what was happening exactly, but I could feel clashes of thunder and lightning between his and Maria’s eyes. In the end, however, he just grunted and said, “Let’s go, Paul.”
Without a word, Paul stood up from his chair, grabbed a few slices of bread and an apple, then followed Mark out the kitchen. Maria and I were left alone once more, and though I kept a straight face, I felt like a happy puppy inside.
“I hope Mark wasn’t too disrespectful,” she began, as she took out the ingredients for the chicken and mashed potatoes from the fridge.
“No, he wasn’t. Not at all. Do you need help with that?” I offered, referring to lunch. I don’t know anything about cooking, but I don’t want to seem useless as well. Besides, she was making a special meal because they have a guest, and that simple fact made me want to smile and hug a rainbow-colored cloud.
Maria was surprised by the offer. I guess she didn’t get a lot of help in the kitchen from her brothers. “Wow! Thanks. Yes, please,” she said as she handed me the potatoes, a bowl and a peeler. Peeling shouldn’t be much of a problem. “That’s good. It also seems Paul likes you a lot,” she complimented with a smile, as she began preparing and dressing giant chicken thighs.
“Yeah. I guess. He’s a lively kid.” Though I’m not fond of talking, I sincerely liked Paul too. “Do you ever let him out of your land? He seems hell bent on leaving.”
She didn’t answer immediately. Judging from how her expression saddened and darkened, I just hit a delicate subject. I was about to apologize for asking, but she already spoke and said, “Well, our dad and Mark thinks bad things happen to our family whenever we leave the farm. Our mom died when she did. Our dad got incarcerated when he did. And Mark got beat up bad everyday when he entered a public high school.”
She paused for a while. I can see she was trying to hold back tears, and that made me even feel sorry for opening the topic, but she continued, “We used to go out a lot when we were just kids. Paul was just a baby then so he couldn’t remember. We used to attend church every Sunday, eat at diners on Saturdays, and visit fairs whenever we celebrate special occasions. But bad things happened one after another, so we were discouraged to go out and explore.”
“That’s really sad. And I’m really sorry.”
“It’s okay. The only thing that bothers me now is Mark’s overprotectiveness.”
“Well, if I had a sister as beautiful as you, I’d be as overprotective as Mark,” I countered absentmindedly. When I realized what I just said, I peeked from my peeling and saw how red Maria’s face was. She held back a smile with a bite, and that made me grin. Despite her strong and domineering personality, she was still a lady, and I liked that. I can’t tell what exactly, but I like it -- I like her.
“So, how about you? What got you in the profession of… eradicating people?”
That caught me off guard. “Uhm… It’s a long story.”
“We have time. You still have a lot of potatoes to peel,” she said jokingly. I guess that’s another thing I like about her. She made sensitive conversations like this light and funny.
“Let’s see. Where do I start?” I pondered as I add another peeled potato in the bowl. “I never really wanted to be one. And I never thought I’d end up as one. But things in my life just got so messed up, I had no choice but to become one.”
Maria simply nodded in response, waiting for further elaboration, so I continued, “My father was a drunkard, you see, who thinks beating his wife and kids was an intimate display of affection. One night, our dad lost all his money in gambling. He was heavily drunk then, so he picked a fight after the game. Because of that, he lost his job too. He was so mad, he grabbed the baseball bat when he entered our house and shouted my mom’s name. She already knew what was going to happen, and she knew it would be the worst, so she told us to go and escape.
“I was the eldest -- a blooming thirteen year old boy -- and I had two little brothers. I carried them both out the window of our apartment, and snuck them to our next door neighbor -- a friendly old lady. She took and cared for them when I rushed back to our flat to help my mom. When I got back, however, I was too late.
“She was curled in the corner of the living room. Her head was bleeding and she was already unconscious, but my dad continued hitting her. I got so furious. I grabbed his arms and took the bat by force, then kicked him hard in the gut. I was already taller than him then, and I know I can fight him off, but I didn’t know my own strength and rage yet. I forgot what I did next. All I could remember was hitting him as hard as he hit my mom, and that’s how I ended up killing him.
“I got in juvy detention afterwards. With the help of our neighbor, my sentence lightened after she testified against my father and reasoned that what I did was an act of self-defense. When I got home, however, I found out my mom had died a few days after the incident due to a concussion, and social workers took my brothers. I never saw them again. And no one told me where they buried our mom.” I paused.
A lump was building in my throat, and it made talking without cracking difficult. I’ve told this story before to Spinner. He was the only one who knew about my past. But back then, I could only feel rage. I never cried about my past, and I never lost myself in self-pity. Now, however, telling the same story to Maria, it seemed that the load that had piled up was getting lighter -- that the emotions I locked away somewhere in the deepest crevices of what little heart remains in me were being set free. It was painful -- immensely painful -- but liberating too.
After swallowing the lump, I continued, “Anyway, I was left to wander. School was not an option for me too because… well, just because. Then Spinner found me, learned my past, and introduced me to The Saints. He said the gang was my family now, and I believed that. Every member became a brother, and Spinner became the father I never had. He taught me all the things I know today.
“The Saints is kind of like a mafia, and they are involved in almost all kinds of criminal activity in the state. Whenever Spinner gets doublecrossed or cheated, he would send the other party a warning and a penalty of some sort -- in the form of money of course. If they ignore it, he sends me in to kill them. And I did what I was ordered because I wanted to make Spinner proud. He and The Saints were everything I had, you see,” I trailed off as I lose my gaze beyond the potato I was peeling.
“I see,” Maria whispered in response. She stopped what she was doing, looked at me with deep sad eyes, and held and squeezed my hand. I could feel her empathy, and receiving such a selfless and wordless gesture was the best feeling in the world. It touched a part of me I never knew I had -- the part of me that would have cried and shouted in anguish when all those bad things happened, the part of me that would have sought the comfort of an embrace instead of the ravage of anger.
And right then and there, I wanted to stand up and hug her with all my might, and cry all the tears I kept all these years… but I resisted. I was afraid the act will only scare or push her away from me, and right now, I am craving for more of her.
A single drop of tear fell from his eye, and it was beautiful -- he was beautiful. It was as if the dark clouds that filled his world and blocked his sun had finally broken up, and that made me happy. Of all the wrong things I have done, at least, for once, I have done something right.
I wanted to go to him and give him the tightest embrace in the world to let him know he’s not alone -- that there will always be someone who will never misunderstand, misjudge or misuse him -- and that someone was me. But I resisted. I was afraid such an act will only cause him to become a stranger once more, and that was the last thing I wanted right now, because somewhere deep inside me, he was filling a void I never knew existed.
No more words followed after that precious moment, so I let go of his hand, and continued with what I was doing.
Victor and I finished cooking and everything turned out great. The mouthwatering aroma of fried chicken filled the dining room, and I sincerely cannot wait to eat. I’m pretty sure our guest was hungrier than I am because he haven’t had any meat for days, and judging from his muscular physique, he requires a steady intake of protein.
I excused myself to fetch Mark and Paul and told them it’s time for lunch. The barn was at the farther side of the farm, so before I headed out under the rain, I put my raincoat on.
My brothers were already wrapping up when I arrived. The roof was fixed and Paul was playing with Sally, our beautiful German Shepherd, as he waited for Mark to come down. As I approached him, I noticed how behaved our dog was when my brother patted her lower back. That could only mean she’s ready to mate, and we can have puppies once more.
Whatever got into me that day, whether it was the idea of puppies or not, it made me bright and sunny despite the rain. I was so happy that when I approached Paul, I gave him a hug, and in a baby voice I said, “My little brother is so big now!”
“Whoa!” Paul contested as he pulls from my arms. “What’s gotten into you? What was that?”
“It’s a hug! I’m your older sister. Am I not allowed to reminisce the days when you were but a wee little baby with chubby red cheeks and chubby short limbs? Look at you now! You’re so big, lean and tall, I barely see that baby anymore,” I reasoned.
He just stared at me with a straight face, but after a while, he said, “That was weird, sis. I’m just gonna pretend that didn’t happen,” then poured his attention back to Sally.
If I was in my normal state, I would have given him a light smack at the back of his head, but I wasn’t so I just giggled at his reaction. “By the way, lunch is ready.”
Paul brightened up, and said, “Now that. Is. Awesome!” then ran and rushed back to the house.
Mark just got down and he didn’t look too happy -- as always. “What’s he running for?” he asked.
“Lunch,” I said, still beaming. “It’s time to eat. Come on.”
“What are you so happy about?” he replied, brows knitted in suspicion.
His question really annoyed me. There were very few reasons to be happy about in this farm, and now that I was, why can’t he be just happy for me too? “What’s your problem? Am I not allowed to be happy?”
“It’s him, isn’t he?”
“What?” Although I sounded offended, I felt my cheeks flush at the thought of Victor.
“I knew it. Listen to me, Maria, don’t get too involved with him.”
“What the hell, Mark?”
“Maria, I am your brother, and it is my job to protect you from him. He’s not…”
“And who’s gonna protect me from you?” I cut him off. “All you did was strangle us with your protection, Mark. Paul and I aren’t kids anymore. We know what we want and we know what we’re doing.” Then I walked out on him and ran off towards the pouring rain.
“Maria!” he called back. “Maria!”
My stomach grumbled at the sight and smell of lunch. I could not wait to eat, and it was driving me crazy. But what was driving me crazier was Maria. Just the simple thought of her face made me smile, and the feeling was grand. I wished I could tell her more about my past, and I wished I could know more about hers too. What her likes and dislikes were, her favorite color, the movie that moved her to tears, or the places she’d like to visit. And then someday, when I can repay her goodness back, I can take her to this place, or watch the movie with her, or simply paint her room with the color she wanted. My thoughts were interrupted, however.
Without warning, Paul slammed the door open, and shouted, “Lunch!”
It was surprising, and it made my heart jump a little bit, but the classless expression on his face was too funny it made me laugh hard.
He shot me a ridiculed look when I quieted down, then said “Alright. You and my sister are being weird today. Did you smoke weed or something?”
“What?” He lost me.
“Nothing. It’s just not in your character to laugh like that. You were all serious and mysterious earlier,” he replied.
“Oh.” I was about to say I was simply overjoyed, but a familiar car -- one that brings bad news for rabbits like me -- entered the road of their farm and headed towards their little house.
Panic crept back once more. I knew I shouldn’t have lingered too long in this house. Now, I have put Mark, Paul and Maria in deep danger. I brought the misfortune of the outside world to them.
“Whoa… Who could that be?” Paul said as he walks back towards the door. Before he could open it, however, I pulled him away.
“Listen, Paul,” I whispered in a panic. “Those are bad men. Remember when I told you I got in trouble? Well, they are the trouble, and they will be looking for me. They will pretend to be cops or other forms of authority, and they might force you to surrender me, but I want you to play dumb, okay?”
The kid shook his head in confusion, but I can see the panic spreading in him too. “What? What should I do?”
“Just answer the door, but don’t let them in. If they ask for me, tell them you don’t know anything about what they are saying, okay?”
The poor kid just nodded at my instructions. Though I wish I could handle things myself, I couldn’t. Otherwise, I’d put them in even graver danger. Killing members of The Saints will only aggravate the whole gang, and besides, I don’t want to take another life anymore.
I gave him one last look -- the look of trust between two men, two brothers -- and this time, he nodded more confidently. I scrambled back in the kitchen to hide from view, and hoped and prayed to the Man who I’ve been calling to quite frequently recently.
Despite the drowning sound of raindrops, I could clearly hear the car pulling before the house, and after a few heartbeats, a knock came on the door. Without opening it, I heard Paul say, “Yeah?”
“Good day, sir. We’re from the local police unit and we’re currently tracking down this man. Have you seen him?” I supposed they showed a picture of me.
“Hmm. No, I don’t think so,” Paul answered. He was acting and he was pretty good at it.
But he lost all conviction when the gang member replied, “Are you sure, sir?” The guy’s tone changed from friendly cop to a full-fledged Saint’s member -- threatening and deadly -- and I felt sorry for the kid for having to up with this for me.
Paul didn’t answer immediately, and I’m pretty sure his confidence was rattled by the guy’s response. “Y-yes?”
Then I heard the barking of dogs.
I forgot about the dogs! There’s no way to escape from them, and more importantly, no way to hide. Our Rottweilers were trained to relentlessly track down targets, and when they find them, it’s almost impossible to outrun or fight them off. Unless you have a gun, and you’re mad enough to put a bullet through an innocent dog, you’re dead.
Then I heard the man said, “It’s alright, sir. We brought dogs along. He might be hiding somewhere in the corners of your farm. We’ll sniff him out for you.”
My panic reached new heights. For the first time in my life, I didn’t know what to do. I would know how to act if I only needed to save myself, but I needed to save the people in this farm as well. If the Saints discovered they were hiding me, they will kill them without a doubt, too.
My mind rushed through ideas, but there were none. I was already preparing to jump and reveal myself, and just come up with a plan along the way, but then I heard the barking soften. I think they just ran towards the opposite direction -- not towards the house. Then I thought of Maria.
To be continued in Book 2
“The Liberation of Victor”
Miracles do happen, and they do not discriminate the bad from the good. And in Victor’s case, the miracle was Maria. When cornered by the unforgiving claws of death, Victor was left with no choice but to call upon the help of a Man he never believed in his entire life -- God. But just when he thought everything was over and just when he had accepted defeat, he found himself dropped into the care of loving Maria -- an emphatic veterinarian with a strong personality and deep faith in the Lord. As their involvement with each other gets deeper, Victor begins to encounter feelings and emotions he had never felt before -- the ones that will ultimately save him from the bad man that he was. Despite his willing efforts to change, however, his past kept knocking on his door, rattling the peace he was beginning to crave for.