Mark of the Shadow Part 27: The End
Well here it is. The first drafts ending. I finished this over a month ago now, and I’m working my way through the second draft as time allows. If you want to read a retrospect/what I learned you can check out the post I did over at Berin Kinsman’s blog. It has been a good experience that’s for sure, and maybe I’ll even have a good story when I’m through with it as I’m well aware that there are still loose ends hanging. Any thoughts you’ve had while reading would be helpful.
My eyes fluttered open and I could feel my chest pumping. I could hear it. I couldn’t feel my arms or my legs. Like something had been crushing um, stopping the blood from flowing. My head felt light, and every small move of my head brought a wave of shock and distress.
It was still dark, the shadows were still prowling around looking for prey. But they had given up on me at least for now. As my eyes adjusted to the dark I saw two things.
I had a ring on my finger. Black and hard, but smooth and cool on my finger. It was a bit large, so it could slip off easily. Wouldn’t want that to happen, as I could guess its purpose.
Rolph was in the corner of the room, slouched against the wall. His chest rising lazily. I would have called out, I tried but I couldn’t make anything loud enough through my gag.
Maria was no where to be seen.
There in the dark, with Rolph’s motionless figure, the view of the world skewed, a finger slip away from being found my the shadows again, I waited. Not slept. I couldn’t have slept even if I wanted to, and I really didn’t.
The room stayed still eerily still. No dust shifted; no light flickered. The air stayed stagnant, and the only sound could be heard was me endlessly working away at my bindings. I almost got um loose. Almost.
I heard footsteps then. A voice, John’s said, “Mother Mary, forgive me I am too late.” He walked past me unaware of my presence then kneeled besides Rolph.
Then to my surprise Rolph responded, “No, you don’t understand John. It’s Maria.”
John stepped away, and tripped over my legs crashing noisily to the floor. He groaned then shifted noticing me.
“Child,” he murmured as he pulled out a long knife and cut my bonds. I found my wrists to be agitated, rough to the touch, but still useable. My leg on the other hand I could still barely put pressure on. It wouldn’t do.
“My leg, sir John,” I said.
He knelt down and peered at it glancing back at the shadows amassed just outside.
“I’ve never seen such a concentration. Only ever two or three at once.” As he said that he did something horridly, unimaginably painful to my leg. With no gag I screamed as never before. It was worse than being shot, the pain was so vivid I wondered if I would ever forget the feeling. Quickly he wrapped a piece of cloth around the wound.
“I’m truly sorry for this,” he said, but it wouldn’t have healed without that. I nodded. I understood, I did, but I still couldn’t help but feel an intense hatred for the man just then.
“And I’m truly sorry for this,” said Maria. She must have just entered the room. I looked up and saw her gun pointed straight at John’s chest.
John made a gasping sound of disbelief. I looked back at him, there was wonder in his eyes, love and wonder.
“My sweet daughter. I didn’t think it was possible.”
“It shouldn’t have been,” she replied.
“How long!” she yelled. “Fifteen years of this. Fifteen years of being the only person on this world who can see what I see. Hear what I hear. Feel what I feel. Do you know what you did to me? No one should have to live through this. But guess what, someone will. Yes this girl here.
“You think just by untying her she’s going to escape? She can’t walk, but soon she will. Soon she’ll be running faster than any man alive, and she’ll have no choice but to kill, to do whatever it takes to make these feelings go away. She’ll hunt the shadows, but no one will thank her. She’ll have to steal, murder her way into food, into shelter – just like I did.”
“You know I never wanted this for you,” said John crying now on his knees.
“You are a worthless old man who let his family die and then couldn’t live with the truth.” She cocked her pistol. I dreaded what came next, flinching inwardly.
But then I realized something. Maria had forgotten about me. She was only a few feet away, and I still had one good leg. Not thinking a moment more, I dug my toe into the floor and launched my body full throttle at Maria’s legs. I heard the gun shot go off, and expected the worst, but I had gotten Maria on the ground.
Now what. I cried out for John, but it was Rolph by my side. He charged over to the scene with energy I’d thought long gone and stomped on Maria’s gun arm.
She screamed and kicked me off. I landed on my bandaged leg rupturing the walls of caked blood, letting loose new rivers down my leg. I pressed a hand to the wound and tried to get up. I couldn’t. Rolph had been grabbed and thrown clear across to the other room.
Now John who I’d thought caught up in his own grief fired his rifle. A loud crack ringing through the cabin. Maria fell, a hole in her chest, all the while struggling to the end to claw her way to John, to get her revenge. John shot again, and she didn’t make it. Then John bent down and kissed Maria on the head. He made a sign to god and then moved to Rolph.
Rolph was crumpled up at the side of the wall. He was curled up like I sometimes liked to sleep. John took from his bag a handful of herbs and dusted Rolph’s body. I feared it was a hunters funeral rights. The silence I’d known all night now returned. John said something I couldn’t understand and then left. He never came back. He carried a dull look in his eyes, and I knew he could never forget, never be the same.
I tried to compare it to what I had been through. How I had changed, and how I could never forget any of this. But it was different. I didn’t know how, but for John this had been years, a lifetime in the making. He’d always had hope that his daughter would come back, and now he’d lost it. More than that.
Rolph stirred a few minutes later, and my heart pounded with joy. He crawled over to me, a smile on his face obscured by dried blood.
“It’s over,” he said softly. He stopped at Maria’s body and tenderly emptied her pockets. He found a small bag, full of a fine black powder.
“This is it,” he said. “The cure.”
I smiled. After all we’d been through recently I’d forgotten what we were looking for. Now it really was over. A happy ending. Well, my father was dead, and nothing could change that. I knew that now better than ever, but I had a new family now.
Maria didn’t use a horse, and we never figured out how she got around so fast, so we had to walk. The going was slow and tough. Rolph carried me some of the way, and I had to use him for support while I did walk. He hunted, and I made traps for him to set. It was a calm time. The forest was tranquil, the sun high and bright and I even got my jade necklace back. We hadn’t used the cure yet. Rolph said he wanted to make sure we were back in town. I couldn’t figure why.
Rolph soldiered on with me. He put on a good face, but he smiled a little too much. I knew something wasn’t right. When he thought I wasn’t looking he touched the mark on his face. It burned bright red at the touch. He didn’t look scared.
After weeks of hiking we were back on the road. I guess that conflict between the Mormons and the army was cleared up now. Rolph didn’t want to talk about it. He didn’t want to think about what he had done to the indian’s here.
We walked right up to the city then he stopped me. “Your strong enough to walk on your own now,” he said. He was about to say something, but then he stopped. Instead he just looked into my eyes and smiled. “Go on try.”
I let go of his arm, but didn’t take my eyes off of him. I put my left leg down, and it hurt. It still hurt, but it was stable. Then I quickly lifted my right leg and put it down again. It worked perfectly. A little practice and it would be as good as old.
“Carlson and Cezary will be waiting for you in the Hitch N’ Post. Do you remember it?” I nodded. I didn’t understand why he was telling my this and my chest got tight. This was supposed to be a happy ending. I couldn’t take anymore sadness.
“There was only enough to cure one of us. You took it last night in your soup. The mark will stay with you the rest of your life but you will be free of them. No more sleepless nights.”
Then I began to understand. “But not you,” I said barely getting it out. My throat felt like it was being stuffed with something. I couldn’t talk.
“No, the curse is overtaking me. I don’t want you to see me become a shadow. I don’t intend to be one. But I don’t want to let what has to come. Carlson and Cezary will take care of you.”
I nodded blinking away tears, but it was futile. They were coming too fast. I’d known this. I’d known this the whole time. Rolph never spoke of curing himself, why hadn’t I seen this. Then maybe I wouldn’t look such the fool.
Rolph cradled my head in his strong arms and rocked me slowly. “I wish more than anything that we’d met differently. I wish I could see you grow up. I wish we could have rode together equals instead of what we were. Become a woman. I would say, see you marry a man, but I somehow doubt that’s you.” I could hear a certain cheer in his voice. “Remember what you’ve learned.”
“I’ll never forget,” I cried.
Then he let go. He handed me his long knife. The one he had told me was his luck, was from the woman he had loved. Then with out a word he shouldered his pack and walked back towards the wilderness.
I turned bleary eyed back to the city. The bustle of people moving through the streets. The dust flying through the hot air they breathed. None of them would ever know. But I would never forget.