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By Myths n’ Wraiths
Edited by Vindea
“Hello,” Marcus said, trying in vain to keep the anxiety that was rising in his heart from reaching his voice. The portly man looked timidly at the nearly three dozen faces that were staring back at him intently. His words caught in his throat. “My name is…”
Just say it, Marcus. Just spit it out.
“Hello, Marcus,” the crowd responded in unison.
“And I lost my son to violence.” He forced the words through clenched teeth. Hot tears burned his bloodshot blue eyes and for the first time in weeks, he did not try to hide them.
A collective moan of sympathy and an applause of encouragement rose from the group of wildly diverse people who sat in the metal fold-out chairs that scattered the large auditorium. Many people pressed napkins, which had served to hold sugar cookies only moments earlier, to their faces in veiled attempts to clear their running eyes.
“They took him from me,” Marcus continued, the tears now streaming down his round face, “in the middle of the night. They came into my home, and I was too weak to stop them.”
Protests rose from the crowd in response to Marcus’s confession, but it was no consolation. He knew the truth of what had happened; the reality of existence that had been as true during man’s infancy as it was today. There was no excuse for his inactions. No reasoning could dismiss his failure.
“A man is supposed to be able to protect his home,” he coughed through his sobs. “To protect his children, his family.”
Jeremy Welsh, Marcus’s closest friend, rose from his seat in the front of the crowd and came forward to the podium to console the grieving father. “There was nothing…” he began, but Marcus cut him off. Holding out a hand, he held his friend at bay. Timidly, Jeremy backed down, but he did not return to his seat. The lean, gaunt frame of a man chose to stand off to the side, ready to approach his friend if the need arose. He was, after all, the reason that Marcus had come to this support meeting.
been coming to the
Marcus had not lost a wife. He had lost his own flesh and blood, his child. Desperate to confess to the world his failings, his weakness, he continued. “The monsters came into my house at night. I tried to stop them but…” He shook his head and gripped the edges of the podium until his knuckles turned white and his fingers began to ache. He opened his mouth and tried to speak. His lips moved and air left his throat but no words could be heard. Again, he tried to speak. “I couldn- I couldn’t stop them. They took a part of my leg and,” he took a long deep breath, “I wish they would have taken the rest of me.” Again the crowd protested, to Marcus’s confusion. How could the uncertainty of an afterlife be worse than the torment of losing a child? Hell held no fear over his heart this night. Marcus would have gladly gone to that pit if only the eternal physical torment would distract him from the ache his heart now wrestled with.
“They would have taken my life had it not been for my son.” Marcus’s knees buckled as the memories came flooding back. The crushing weight of his failure fell fully on his shoulders and it was more than his injured leg could take. Jeremy, still standing at arm’s length, rushed to his friend’s aid. He caught Marcus before he could hit the ground and helped him back to his feet.
“Don’t do this to yourself,” Jeremy whispered in his friend’s ear.
Marcus would not hear it, though. Again he pushed his friend away and, gripping the podium for support, continued with his confession.
“He saved me,” Marcus wept, pounding his fist on his chest. “My son saved me. I told him to hide in his room but…” His head slumped on his shoulders, unable to look the crowd in the eyes any longer. “David was only six. He came out of his room with his baseball bat. He tried to fight them.”
The podium was slick with his tears. His grasp on the wooden support began to fail.
Stand tall when you talk about him. He deserves better than your weakness. Marcus forced himself to release the podium and stand erect. Ignoring the lancing pain in his leg, he looked the crowd in the face once again. “They took him and left me there.” Drawing on his last ounce of strength, Marcus stepped out from behind the podium. The meager steps betrayed the limp in his right leg. “His name is David Eric Matthews… and my son is a hero.”
Marcus collapsed into Jeremy’s arms. The applause of the crowd fell unwanted on Marcus’s ears. He made his way, with Jeremy’s help, to his chair. The people stood in reverence and support but it only served to humiliate Marcus even more.
What are they applauding?
“What are you applauding?” A refined, strong voice rang out over the crowd. In confused bewilderment the applause stopped.
Unrecognized, an elderly man, dressed in a thick black cloak that fell to his ankles and concealed his seemingly meager frame, strode confidently to the front of the crowd. Lines of age and pressure etched his face, but his storm grey eyes bore a vitality that bordered on surreal. His well-kept hair was stark white and though his accent bore a British tone, his features whispered of a Greek ancestry.
“Does this man’s inability to guard that which he holds most precious warrant approval?” the stranger persisted.
“The man is grieving!” one woman shouted in protest. The crowd murmured their agreement, most still too shocked by the stranger’s curt words to speak more adamantly.
“Indeed,” the stranger agreed. “And while you all may provide some semblance of healing and comfort, you can not provide what is truly needed,” he spoke with a tone of condescension.
“And what is that?” another member of the support group challenged.
“A solution.” The stranger’s tone had shifted to almost fatherly. “You have all suffered from the unquenchable violence of evil in this city. Each of you has lost someone you loved because those who prey on you posses a power that you do not. True, there are heroes about the city who save many. But they did not save you.”
The words, though simple, bore the weight of a profound truth to those who were seeking more than comfort. “If you had the power to stop the creatures that took your son, even kill them, would you have?”
Surprised by the question, Marcus slowly nodded the affirmative. “Of course you would have,” the aged man agreed. “Is there any in here that would claim otherwise?” No one responded.
“The heroes of this city, noble though they may be, cannot protect us all. Evil is more desperate than virtue. The dark is more persistent than the light,” he continued. His voice had taken on a caring, almost sympathetic tone. His gloved hand raised, open palmed. His head was bowed and he bore the resemblance of a loving pastor praying over his flock.
Then suddenly his raised hand clenched into a fist. “But it need not be so.”
The crowd flinched in response to a sudden change in his demeanor. His head was now raised nobly. His frame, which until now had seemed slightly bowed with age, towered erect.
“The enemy has triumphed against our city and preyed on us because it has an advantage we do not. It can bestow power on its minions that we can only grant to a select few. Those who obtain such power represent us as heroes, but they can not hold back the tide. The enemy bestows this power to one end and one end only, to prey upon those who are too weak to resist. Until you can match their tenacity with equal strength, you will continue to be the victim.”
The crowd stood, now enthralled. Many nodded their heads in agreement; others sobbed in despair.
“I offer you that strength,” the stranger held out his hand again and a glowing red light began to emanate from his palm. His lips moved in unheard words and the light grew.
In awe, the crowd looked on. A few even pressed forward, drawn by the brilliance of the power that was growing in the stranger’s open palm. Marcus was among those people. Unsure and unconvinced, still he limped forward ahead of the crowd.
The stranger’s eyes focused on Marcus with a piercing awareness that seemed to gaze into his core. He felt naked before the man, yet he did not stop.
“Do you wish for the ability to avenge your son?” he asked in a tone low enough for only Marcus to hear. Marcus gave no answer. None was needed.
The light rose slowly from the old man’s hand and floated in a wavering path towards Marcus. Its glow filled the entire room now. Red hues drowned out the luminescent glow of the overhead lamps. It hung suspended in front of Marcus, turning his features a brilliant crimson. Without another thought, he stepped into the light.