Becoming the Hero
Nora spent her nights trying to not get kicked out the library. There had been a few nights she’d managed to just crash in the massive pillows in the kids section. Then the security got wise of her hiding under them and she had to get more creative. There were the high windows were she could hide if the ladders were close. But it was dangerous considering she had to push the ladder away or someone would think to look in the one she was hiding in.
But once everyone had left the building was hers. As were all the books. That was the best part, they were better to cuddle up with than her grandmother’s bity dogs. Nora adored her grandmother, but she still needed a break from the constant care she had to give. The house nurse came by three times a week, so Nora took those chances to sneak into staying over at the library.
She’d told grandma that she had friends living nearby that she was staying with. It wasn’t entirely untrue, she considered these old spines and the sweet smell of paper were her dearest and sweetest friends. Nora had spent a good amount of this evening in one of the study rooms, a history book keeping her company.
The whispers started then. The first time it had happened she’d thoughts someone else was hiding in the library. She’d spent the night searching for someone, anyone, Nora didn’t want to share this place with anyone else at night.
After the third time it had happened she realized, it was the books. The ones on the shelves. They were telling their stories, not just the ones on the pages, she’d gone to the childrens section and listened to them once, it had been hard at first hear one when they were all whispering, but she could hear it, they were telling the stories that weren’t written, the stories that continued beyond the pages.
Smiling Nora closed the history book and put it on the shelf next to its fellows, where it began to argue with the book next to it about the subtle difference between its own record of history and the one the next book contained. Nora preferred the literature sections to the history, non-fiction, and philosophy sections, all they ever did was ague. The literature, fiction, sci-fi, even the romance sections, they told stories.
Nora sat with her back against the shelf listening to the tales, she still couldn’t always pick out exactly which story she was listening to but that didn’t really matter to her. She liked the voices of the stories.
“So, you can hear it.”
Her eyes shot open, and she looked around in panic. The voice had sounded from right infront of her. No one.
“Honestly, when they even suggested I keep an eye on you I thought it would be a waste of time.”
“Up, you plebian, up.”
He was floating, wisps of dark smoke, the color of his suit were slowly drifting away from his form, and Nora could see the stained glass window behind him through him.
Her first instinct kicked in, she screamed and ran.
The figure sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose while floating after her, slowly sinking to the ground.
“What are you going to do? Call the athorities? Your trespassing on private property yourself, child. I have more right to be here than you do.”
Nora paused with the library public phone in her hand. She was sure she was loosing her mind, but what he said made sense. Maybe it was just a figment of her imagination, after all she’d been staying at a library to avoid responsibility... Slowly she put the phone down and turned. He was standing in the doorway, seeming more solid by the moment, he brushed something off his shoulder.
“Well at least she has some intellegence.”
“Who, or, what are you?” She managed.
“I’m not important,” he said. Nora raised an eyebrow to which he sighed, “If you must have a name or a title or something you can call me Wisp. I am here to ensure you get off on the right foot.”
Wisp sighed, “I had to be assigned to the one world where the dominant inhabitants think it is all just a story.” He rubbed the bridge of his nose again. “I suppose the quickest way just for me to show you.”
Without another word he took her wrist, his grip much stronger than Nora would have thought for his size, and dragged her down the hall, up the stairs to the second floor.
“What are you-”
“Just wait and you’ll see.” Wisp said, he pulled her to stand before the stained glass windows. “Just take a step through here and-”
“And what, die? That window is over the parking lot.”
“For one who hears the books, you don’t have much of an imagination.” Wisp pushed her to stumble forward into the window.
There was a shattering of glass, but she didn’t feel the sensation of freefalling. She stumbled forward into a long, dark hallway. A quick glance backwards left her staring at a whole glass window, but it wasn’t the same she’d always seen. This one was of the library she’d just left.
She stammered and stumbled over her words, staring at the window.
“Wisp? Wisp where are-”
“Go forward and take the test,” his voice came from everywhere. “I hope you’re more successful than you actually look. Who knows you could become the next hero. I pray to the Last Hero that you’re not a villan. That would make three in a row from Earth, we may never get to participate again.”
“Just follow the hallway, I’ll see you again, hopefully.”
The hall didn't stay dark for long. Windows twice the height of the library's flooded in bright morning light. Nora timidly went to one of the windows. She stumbled away after only a moment's glance.
Either the windows were all just screens with an ocean background, or this hallways was floating above a massive sea. Nora swallowed and turned her attention to the other change in the hallway. The statues.
Each one stood as tall as the room, they were people in heroic poses, weapons drawn, trimph written on their faces. They each looked to be the work of a master. She glanced at the plaque at one of their feet.
Elisabeth "Red Riding Hood" Whipstaf & Leon "Huntsmen" Whipstaf
Victors over Erin "Big Bad Wolf" Remlulous
Third Semi-Annual Tales Event
Blood. The taste of it thick on their tongue. Very common, expecially in cases like this. They took a deep breath and approached.
There was movement, they paused several feet from the car. There was still time, perhaps this one would find a way to pospone their appointment. Perhaps, someone would happen upon the accident.
They looked both directions along the road there was no one, the heat was palbable, even for them. If anyone were to find these poor souls it would be too late, they would have collected and left.
Adjusting the cowl of their cloak, they then took from their pockets the four small hour glasses. Two, already run out.
They touched their tops with one boney digit. Tiny splits appeared, somewhere within the smoking wreckage a small sigh and a sobbing call echoed, for only them to hear. They could see another, a man pulling himself out from the smashed window. They gave a quick glance at the hourglasses, yes, he would be the last one they collected from this place.
Whisps quietly rose from the vehicle, drifted toward them. The two souls circled them several times, they could hear the quite whispers, final thoughts of the dead.
"We have cookies at home."
"But I wanted those cookies!"
"Well I'm not making more until - Oh my god!"
Silence. The souls slipped into their hourglasses and then they were sealed.
Their bones ached, they felt the cracking pain, the smell and taste of blood as the vehicle crunched, folded, and penetrated skin. They waited for the phantom pains to pass.
A warm hand fell onto their boney shoulder.
They looked, but quickly turned away from the angel.
"It is not your duty to feel their pain." She said softly.
"I will know all of their pains, so they will not die alone, so they will forget." They handed her the two hourglasses, "Let them rest without these pains."
The angel smiled sadly. "We were not so different, once."
Their scowl sent the angel backing away, "You and I? I made a choice, you and the others... They watch. They give gentle guideance. They hide away from this!" They hissed. "I will not just watch, I will know, and I will suffer for it. Eternally, for those are the Laws of God."
"Victoria!" The screams of the man next to the car broke into their argument. "Oh God Victoria!"
They looked to the hourglasses again, "Even now, you'd watch. You'd feel pity, but you would not dare know what I know." There was still sand in each, one on its last trickles of sand.
The man was trying to pull another from the car. Trying to save a life that would soon be lost.
The last grain dropped as the man lay the woman's now empty body on the road.
A soft warm finger pressed to the top of the hourglass. They looked puzzled at the angel at his side.
"I am not afraid to know." She said resolutely, though her hand trembled as it pulled away.
Weeping, screaming, crying, deep soulful sounds of pain rose from the woman. The smokey whisp rose and circled the angel.
"How could you do this to us?" A pause. "What do you mean, if we weren't ment to-" she was inturrupted. "You said you loved me not her! You were going to leave her." "It is that simp-"
The angel fell to her knees. Burning hot tears flowing from her cheeks. They remembered the first time they had felt the pain, not only of a body but of a soul. They knew from the screams of the soul as it left it would be painful. More life ending than even the pain of the body. And they watched.
They watched as her wings crumbled like ash. They watched as the angel screamed her own agony as her way to the heavens, the connection to what lay beyond shattered like bone. They watched. And they were relieved.
They walked to the side of the man. He had abandoned the body of this Victoria and was sitting shocked, confused, bleeding, on the side of the road. They waited for both to end their suffering.
She'd been a brave one. But they had yet to see one recover from the fall, they were the only one who had felt the pain, both of life and of death, and continued on. They were hoping this one would be different.
Another angel would come, of course. There were souls to take to the worlds beyond. But perhaps now they would not have to shoulder this burden alone.
I kind of remember my first kill. Every detail of the mission leading up to the actual act. The others had always said that the first kill would always be burned into your mind, you'd never forget that first time you took someone's last breathe.
I don't remember their face, I can't even tell you if they were a man or a woman. Maybe its because I have been in the business for so long that all the faces are starting to blend together. Or it could be that I never actually felt too attached to "life" as the others were.
My trainer said it would make me the perfect assassin.
I remember in great detail the last one though. The one that sent me into hiding. The one I couldn't carry out.
The file had been like all the others. Name, Elle M. Age, 36. She was younger than any of the others I'd been sent after. I had only glanced over the rest of the file, known locations, there was something about her husband owing our client a debt and she'd been sent into hiding for it.
I handed the file back to my handler. "Make it look like an accident." He said.
I nodded, collected my tools and left.
A three hour flight, another hour by taxi, and I found myself in a slum. The streets were quite except for the occasional sound of breaking glass, and the humming of the mechanical drones, street sweepers, and other unmanned deviced. No civil servant wanted to be in this area, the stench alone would have sent a normal, unaccustom person to gagging and running for the nearest trax depot.
It did take some adjusting to the smell, but it quickly became nothing but the background. The homes were practically smashed into each other. The upper levels of the city were at least four or five times the size of these 'homes' my simple apartment provided by the organization looked like a castle.
It felt off.
Every other hit had been well off, politicians, executives, people who were effecting change in the world. Things that others didn't want to see come to fruition.
It broke protocol, but I went to the woman's work establishment. The diner was almost as grimy as the streets themselves. The air felt greasy and stank of stale sweat and potatoes that weren't going to last another day if they weren't fried.
She was young. But not as young as the picture has shown, I passed it off as this place weighing down on her. After a quick, cold coffee I went to her apartment again.
I made myself at home in tight front room.
When she arrived she only spared me a glance before going to the kitchenette. We said nothing, I waited.
"So, I guess you're here to collect or kill me?" She said finally, I went to speak, but she continued. "I loved him once you know. But he just couldn't keep himself from gambling. Every night I'd tell him not to go, every night he'd say he was going to make it all back and more this time. But, you know, here we are now."
I relexed back in the chair a bit more. "I don't need the details."
"No?" She laughed, there was the sound of dishes falling into the sink. "Then why aren't you after him instead of me, huh? Jacob said he would take it on himself, that he was going to take responsibility. But here you are, some trained killer coming to probably break my neck to send him a message. And what about Livvi? What are you going to do to her?"
I raised an eyebrow and looked at her. "Who?"
She was two.
I was going to leave her motherless and alone.
I could remember that pain. That was a vivid memory in my lifetime. It had left me as an easy pick up for the organization. Were they planning to come sweep her up too?
She opened her eyes, I was standing behind her mother in the door way.
Don't hurt Mommy. The words were angry, forced, they almost pushed me back from the doorway. In my mind.
"Yes." Elle said. "I know your type, you'll do your job. But if they find her-"
Don't hurt Mommy.
"-and find a way to-"
I'll hurt you if you hurt Mommy.
"-bare it if she became some kind of-"
My head was reeling. The child's voice pounded and thrashed in my skull saying it over and over.
"Livvi stop it!"
The voice stopped.
"Mamma..." she started crying in her mother's arms.
"I know, but your daddy made a mistake. And now we have to face the consequences." She said softly. "Remember what I told you when we got here?"
The girl nodded.
Elle turned to me in the hall, "I don't care what you do to me. But you're taking her with you, swear to me that you'll take care of her."
"Swear!" She yelled. At the same time the child's voice said it in my mind.
I flinched. I should have just done the job. ...Damn I should have read the file I'm sure it would have mentioned a child! This was spiralling out of my control.
"Please." Elle said softly. "I want her to have a normal life."
"She'll never have a normal life."
My brother hadn't.
Damn it all to hell.
A robbery gone wrong. That was what the news had said. The blood confirmed it was Ellenor Margaree, a once renound genetic scientist, and her daughter Livvi. Further DNA was discovered in the nearby biodegrader plant. The thieves had tried to despose of the bodies themselves.
I didn't know how to raise a child. But I did know how to make three people disappear.
I was always an evening runner. The park that was right outside my apartment was always well taken care of and in the spring when the trees were in bloom it felt like I'd found a new world all my own. There weren't many others out at that time, but there was two or three park officials that were always on duty, and self defense classes were also on my side so I never had any problems in the well lit, park.
I was pretty sure I was living my ideal life.
Then I started having to work late.
It was fine at first, but then I couldn't get to sleep. My life felt off without my evening runs. My boss said it would just be until they could get a temp into to help for the busy season. But it had become so engrained in me, those early evenings in the park, and nothing I tried could fill that 'me time' at home after work.
I tossed and turned, it was late. But I strapped on my running shoes and went across the street to the park.
The gate was still unlocked, the street lightes were still on and I could see someone in the guard house at the gate. I waved at the familiar face and went off down the path. Just five minutes, I'll take a quick five minutes down and turn back. I was already feeling more relaxed just with the sound of my shoes hitting the pavement.
The song of insects and frogs filled the air, the sweet crisp air in my lungs. It felt like coming home. I glanced at my watch, I was a little surprised at how much time had passed. I paused, bending over to catch my breath before going back.
My shadow ran on without me.
It was instant vertigo. I rocked back on my heels to keep from falling head first onto the concrete. I fell to my butt and stared, I could even still see it retreating in the lights of the streetlamps. It was only a moment more before I got to my feet and ran after it. As strange as it sounds I felt abandoned, alone, and even a little afraid. Was it running from something? Abandoning me to the darkness it was born from?
Any time I looked down and my shadow wasn't there I would stumble. My mind couldn't understand what was happening. This kind of thing didn't happen in this part of town! The news was full of strange stories, but it was always out in the country side, not in the city.
I only just noticed my shadow had stopped at a streetlamp. I stumbled to a stop and stood directly over it. It didn't move, neither did I. I waited and did a little jog in place.
It copied me. I sighed in relief thinking whatever had happened was temporary.
Then it motioned to the left, off the path, to a dirt path that led to the hedge maze. I felt my blood drain from my face, there wasn't a hair that wasn't prickling my skin. I didn't move.
It motioned again. I quickly looked around the park. The insects were still chirping, the breeze was still blowing gently through the trees, giving off the sound of a thousand voices whispering, but there was no one in sight. I looked down at my shadow, but didn't move.
It shrugged non-commitally and walked out of the ring of light, and I suppose it went into the hedge maze.
I should have turned back. I should have gone to the offical at the gate. I should have just gone back home and gone to the police in the morning.
After the third time the branches caught hold of my pant leg I had to wonder when the last time the hedge maze had been properly trimmed. I could still see a bit from the park lights, and there were a few of those solar lamps along the dirt path so I could still catch glances of my shadow. It would wait for me at corners, cast up on the leaves, hands on her hips tapping her toes impatiently. Then it would take off in a direction.
And I followed.
I'd come here with my father when I was younger, so I knew that at the center of the maze was a fountain. It had been designed by someone named... Tersou? Tresmon? T...something, he had disappeard some a year or two after he'd completed it. It was beautiful, full of mermaids, fae, other magical creatures that a child could dream of. It was one of the reasons I'd always loved the park.
The closer we got to the fountain I started to hear singing.The soft glow of the lights of the fountain lights made it easier to see my shadow.
It wasn't human. Whatever it was at the fountain it wasn't human. I wanted to run, but as soon as I had stepped into the center of the maze I couldn't move.
My shadow walked, yes walked, it was on the ground, there was shape, definiton to it. It walked up to the being at the fountain and touched them.
When the figured turned around I was fixated, by the pure beauty, elegance, and inhumanness of this being. She, I couldn't think of it as anything but a female, whatever it was, smiled and stood gracefully. She took my hand, I felt myself smiling back and following her clumzily to the side of the well.
My shadow took my other hand and helped me into the water. I looked up, I was looking back at myself.
It was like a horrifying mirror, it tilted its head to the side then smiled.
"Don't worry," it said in my voice. "I know everything you know, we're going to make this world better, perfect even."
The other creature smiled a perfect smile, elegeant, gossimer wings fluttered at her back. How hadn't I seen those before? She was watching, holding my hand calmly.
I scrambled to grasp her hand and that of my dopplegangers, because I was sinking. The water seeped up my shirt then over my shoulders.
"You'll be a hero to all kinds. You'll open the worlds to new possiblities." It said in my voice. "I will make sure you will always be remembered."
The water went over my head. They both released my hands beneath the surface. I couldn't break the surface, something pulled me deeper. I held my breath until I felt I would burst.
I wanted to cry, I wanted to scream. I knew it wouldn't keep my alive, nothing would, but I inhaled the water to let out my final anguished moments of life.
I didn't drown.