Mists of Mourning
The girl who wouldn’t leave me alone until I wrote something
Here you go
Thunder shook the earth and lighting flared to light the sleepy town with an eerie and brilliant white light before fading back to a think inky blackness. The howling wind spun the driving rain through the air and threatened to tare the shutters from their hinges. The raging maelstrom swallowed all sound and left only the eruption of thunder, harsh cracks of the forked lighting, and the defining howl of the swirling tempest.
As implausible as life seemed in the given moment, a lone figure braved the feral weather. Fighting from the relative safety of an alley, a woman set heavily with child hobbled out into the street. With one arm she cradled her swollen stomach and the other clutched a travel cloak shut at the collar that whipped wildly behind her. Slowly she battled her way forward through the running quagmire that had once been a dirt road and lowered her head in determination.
She staggered her hay to a home across the way and fell against the door with all her weight. In the din of the storm the lone woman pounded on the door without reservation, pleading and praying for admittance. The unforgiving wind cut into her. The rain soaked deeply through her and made her clothes feel like anvils threatening to crush her into the stone steps. She growing weak and her assault on the door was beginning to slow. Tears mixed freely and indistinguishably with the swirling and beading on her pale skin.
Suddenly the door gave way and the woman fell inward onto the tile floor in a heap. Lazily her world spun as she struggled to concentrate. The door had been closed and the storm that plagued her was shut out.
Inside. She was inside. She had made it in the end.
Her sobs reformed in relief as her rolled laboriously onto her back to see the face of a middle aged man over her. It was racked with concern yet kind. She reached toward the long and narrow face and stroked the finely trimmed beard that framed it.
She let herself smile as the encroaching darkness filled her vision. The details of the man’s face faded to obscurity yet she could see his mouth moving without sound. Everything began to fade faster and faster. She no longer felt cold but pleasantly warm. Her mind felt slippery and could not quite grasp her thoughts. Clouded darkness enveloped her in a soft embrace as she did the same with her womb.
“Marissa,” she mouthed to the dancing shadow.
She had made it.
The sun made its lazy crest over the Forlorn Hills to shine down about a small hamlet. The light danced whimsically off the smattering of ceramic tiled roofs, glistening with the morning dew. Yet, more often, the budding morning flung into a thatched roof and produced a crawling shadow into the street.
A steady gust of wind soared along with the morning light. It rippled the thatching and danced through the street. Playfully the gust lifted a piece of paper and sent it fluttering across the earthen road and into a sunken alley. The morning wind carried through the town, fluttering the flower pedals of the planters adorning windowsills of the simple, yet sturdy, wooden homes.
On it went, leaving town and into the supple countryside. It rustled the tall grass that encroached upon the foot beaten road and continued up the hill that had once been farmland but now left for nature to reclaim. As the wind cleared the vale, it grew in strength and whipped the weather worn blades of the old farm windmill. Slowly the aged mechanisms lurched to life and churned out well water into an awaiting barrel.
Sunlight had long since reached the old farmhouse overlooking the town within the sheltered vale. Despite the attended farmland being reduced to a small fenced garden, the home showed signs of life. Smoke tumbled from the chimney only to be quickly dispersed by the advancing wind. The sprawling farmhouse held only two occupants at the dining room table.
Dr. Song wiped his brow to free it from sweat and a single curl of grey hair. His face was narrow, long, and its angular features bore a certain hardness that was dampened by the kindness etched into his eyes. He sat in his chair as a throne, tall and upright, and delicately worked his food before him. Is clothes were simple wool, but of fine make and of the current fashion.
Opposite him sat Marissa, a lanky girl in late indolence who could not be confused as pretty, but only bias would call her ugly. She dress was supple natural cotton, but tailored simply. She slumped in her chair to make herself small.
Marissa swallowed hard. There was nothing to say but to say it.
He slowed his cutting of his morning steak and looked at the girl. “Yes, Marissa. What is it?”
“Well, I’ve been thinking. I want to become a doctor.”
Dr. Song finished and delicately brought the morsel to his mouth. He chewed at length while Marissa fidgeted with her dress in silence. Dr. Song folded his hands in his lap, swallowed, and cleared his throat.
“Marissa, with your talents and potential, you may do anything you wish. You need not limit yourself in this manner.”
Marissa fluttered her eyelids. “Limit myself? What do you mean?”
That was not the best choice of words. I do not want you to feel pressured to follow in my chosen profession. You should be your own person.”
“Oh, no, that is not what I meant. I want to help people. I want to help them be well again.”
Dr. Song gave a small nod. “If that us what you want, however you should take more time to think on this. This is a decision that will alter the course of entire life. It should not be done in haste.”
Marissa leaped on the back of his reply in a tone far louder than she intended. “But I have been thinking about it! It is what I want!” She recoiled sheepishly. “I mean I have been thinking about seeking an apprenticeship. Maybe in the city”
Dr. Song paused for a moment and straightened his spectacles. “I shall consider it.”
Marissa brightened and her tone grew livelier. “It is just that I have studied with you for so long and I think it would be good to see another doctor’s methods and –”
Dr. Song cut her short with a firm look. “I shall consider it. We shall speak of this later.”
“Ok,” muttered Marissa under her breath.
Both returned to the rhythmic clinking of silverware against their plates as they ate. Marissa found herself eating more slowly as her mind wandered in search of the argument to persuade the good doctor. She turned phrases over, delved deeply into her practiced rhetoric, and tried to divorce herself emotionally to see an objective argument. She struggled to pierce through the fog and was still short of an answer when she was brought back to the dining table the gruff clearing of Dr. Song’s throat.
He did not look up from his plate as he continued to work, yet his voice was warm enough. “I have a delivery for you when you are finished with your breakfast. Mrs. Porter was not able to pick up her sleeping medication yesterday and should need it this evening. Please confirm with her she is only taking one capsule a night and only as needed.”
Marissa nodded her confirmation and Dr. Song took a final bite before standing to leave. She let out a long and hollow sigh as soon as he was out of view if not earshot. Idly she turned to stir her food with a fork and lost herself in the churning mass. Carelessly she let her head fall in her hand.
“Well,” she mumbled to herself. “That went about as well as I figured it would.”
Marissa pushed herself from the table, gathered her dishes, and retired to the kitchen. As expected, a box neatly wrapped in brown paper sat on the counter near the door. Casually she deposited her plate, silverware, and glass in the sink. Marissa turned to the closet to find her shoes and jacket she had hastily tossed in the night before and slipped them on. Once ready, she hefted the box and left to head down the old dirt road to town.
As much as Marissa hated the prospect of being in town, she loved her walks for deliveries and errands. She loved the feeling of the sun on her face. She adored the wind dancing around her, whipping her hair and dress about her. She found comfort in the earth moving beneath her feet and the sound of the wind in the grass and the song of the birds in the nearby trees. She loved the feeling of it all.
When she made it to the crest of the small hill that gave way to the view of town, her heart sank. Colors became less vivid and the clouds more dreary. Sounds became hollow and her feet heavy. The gate seemed to come in on her with each step.
She cast her eyes downward, however that only increased her sense of dread and foreboding. When the shadow of the wall finally came into view, her muscles were already tense. Marissa pushed her mind elsewhere and let her legs carry her down the maze of side streets and alleyways to the Porter’s home. She climbed up the set of red steps and gave the door a sharp knock.
Mrs. Porter, a short and round woman with a face marred with the scars of a childhood filled with acne, opened the door and her eyes shot wide open. Her mouth flapped for a moment before a hand rushed to her hair to smooth it with little effect. Marissa folded her hand s before her, pinning the package between her forearms and stomach and gave the woman a warm smile.
“Marissa?” Mrs. Porter managed to squeak out.
Marissa offered her a polite nod. “Dr. Song sends his regards.”
Mrs. Porter stuck her head out the door and looked down the street serendipitous. “Sweet merciful heavens, girl,” she clamored in near panic. “Don’t you have any sense? Get inside and be quick about it.”
Marissa bowed her head stepped through the threshold. “As you wish, ma’am.”
Mrs. Porter made one last hurried look down her street before retreating inside. “You had better not have been on my stoop long, child. Not that I put much stock in what is said about you, mind. Just a bunch of superstitious nonsense if you ask me, but people’s opinions matter. Oh yes they do. Just imagine what would have happened if someone had seen you? That is how rumors start, child.”
Marissa gave a quick curtsy. “My apologizes, ma’am. I shall be more careful in the future.”
Mrs. Porter gave a nod somewhere between approval and relief. “Mind that you do. Now what is it that the good doctor wants?”
Mrs. Porter did not continue into her home so Marissa did not venture any further. She remained with her back to the door of the plain and unadorned foyer. Foyer was a generous term in truth; the entryway had devolved to a glorified mudroom and neglected at that.
“Dr. Song expressed concern that you were unavailable to pick up your prescription yesterday. He also wished for me to remind you to take only one capsule at night and only when needed.”
“Oh, yes, yes. Thank you. I must have forgotten yesterday was the day.”
“It is not a problem, Mrs. Porter. Would you like Dr. Song to send a reminder for next month? Many patients find that service useful.”
“Hmm? Oh, Yes. Perhaps that would save you the trip.”
Marissa forced a smile. “Oh, I don’t mind, honestly. It is nice to get out of the house every so often. Only if it is more convenient for you.”
Marissa quietly waited for a response but none was forthcoming. She blinked her mind into motion and took a step toward Mrs. Porter to examine her with renewed consideration. Her pupils were heavily dilated and possessed a foggy sheen. They were distant and lacked anything resembling focus.
“Mrs. Porter?” Marissa prompted. “Are you alright?”
A small layer of the fog peeled away from her eyes but were far from clear. “Oh, yes, yes. Do what you think is best. That will be fine.”
“Mrs. Porter,” Marissa repeated flatly. “Are you alright?”
“Oh, I am fine. Just a headache. Nothing to be worried about.”
“You are going to have to see Dr. Song. Today”
“For a headache? It will pass in due time.”
Marissa grimaced. “No, for your physical, remember? We were just talking about it.”
Mrs. Porter gave a mildly confused look but smiled quickly. “Oh, yes. Don’t be silly. Of course I remember.”
Marissa bit her lip to hide her swelling concern. “Is there anyone to take you?”
“My cousin is in town visiting”
Marissa gave a curt nod. “Maybe you should remind him he was planning on taking you.”
“Take me where?”
“Your physical. With Dr. Song?”
“Well if there is nothing further, I will let myself out. Just tell your cousin right away, ok?”
Mrs. Porter gave a dismissive wave and turned to enter the home proper. Marissa hung in the doorway listening until she was satisfied Mrs. Porter had indeed conveyed the impromptu appointment and slipped outside. She pressed her back into the door to close it and let out a heavy sigh.
Marissa took a quick peek around to see if anyone was watching her and darted into the adjacent alleyway. With a sigh, she let her back side down the length of the wall and hid from the street from behind a pile of refuse. Marissa let her head fall forward as a smile slid into place.
She adored this moments of escape when she could be no one and hid from the world. When she closed her eyes she could pretend that none of it existed or, like on this occasion, pretend she was a part of it.
Marissa wrapped her arms around her knees and buried her face into her legs and let out a long breath. With it, some of her tension left her. Moments like these were far and few between for her and slowly she became lost to the world around her. Time spun forward and slowed to a crawl. It lost all meaning to her and couldn’t touch her. Marissa allowed herself to drift into idle thoughtlessness.
Her daydream come to an abrupt end as nearby sounds pulled her back to reality. Her mind focused on the sounds that slowly materialized into voices. The murmuring was that of a mature woman. Her tone was husky and lacked any warmth. Slowly the unintelligible gargling gave way to words.
“—ell I hear, and you are not going to believe this but I swear to god it is true, Karren told me, so you know it is good. She said that Bonnie, you know the one that lives over on fourth, saw her, actually saw her, pluck a bird out of the air and bite into it. Right there in the middle of the street. Can you believe it?”
Marissa clenched her jaw and her eyes even tighter. She fell completely still. Marissa had nestled herself between the refuse in the alley as to be out of view from the street. Not that would stop them if they knew she were there. It had never stopped people like this from berating her in the past. Mostly Marissa didn’t want to give them the satisfaction of appearing so she hid as a second, more elderly voice rasped in reply.
“Aye. She is unnatural, that one. The animals flock to her and mark my words; there will be a storm to mark her birthday. There is just something unnatural about her.”
The husky voice rattled out a hollow laugh. “And I would bet two good pennies there there has been one every year. It was storming the night she was ‘born’, yes?”
“Aye. Like you wouldn’t believe. That be the storm the Willis barn lost its roof.”
“Well,” chimed in a third voice with a tentativeness that revealed the last vestiges of youth. “Isn’t it the rainy season? It’s not all that uncommon to have, say, a storm every third day. If not more so.”
A stillness settled over the street. It lingered in the air as a defining silence that seemed to devour the ambiance of the day. As the moment stretched on, a small flame of hope began to grow. Marissa had heard most of this before, but it had been a long time since someone had come to her defense.
The airy and raspy voice cracked the tacit barrier. “Oh Heidi, you are so young.”
Heidi. That would be Heidi Mills, the husky voice would be her mother Fran, and the last her grandmother Ingrid. The Mills live on an old farm similar to her on the opposite edge of town and Marissa had not seen them in a few months.
Fran chirped in on the heels of her mother-in-law. “Yes! Naïve! That is what you are. Right, Ingrid? She is just a naïve little girl.”
“Aye. We love ya, Peapod, but yer gonna need some more seasoning, some more years under your belt.”
Fran continued the sudden barrage. “Just sit quiet and let the adults talk. Listen and maybe you’ll learn something.”
“I don’t know,” Heidi offered. “I just think it is unfair. She has helped so many people. She–”
Her mother hopped in quickly to interrupt Heidi’s thought. “That is right. You don’t know. Now do yourself a favor and do as you are told and be quiet.”
Heidi’s tone lost all strength “Yes mother. I am sorry. Please forgive me.”
A small silence was broken by Fran’s husky ton. “Has anyone ever questioned how a single doctor, who has never shown any interest in women mind you, came to have a daughter? It was right after he moved out of the city, was it not?”
“Aye,” came Ingrid’s reply. “That it was. It was, and still is for that matter, well known Dr. Song ran experiments in his home. They say he was seen digging in the graveyard right before the girl appeared.”
“Really?” Fran’s tone had grown jovial now. “My, that is something. I highly doubt that is a coincidence what with his insistence she is ‘special’ and ‘unique’.”
“Aye. That child be an unnatural thing. Something will have to be done about her that is for sure. Come along now. The stand’ll be closing soon. We cannot be missing it now talkin’ in the street.”
Marissa began a slow count to twenty after no response came. She let the air expel from her lungs and ruffled her hair. Tremulously she worked to her feet and rushed from the alley.
Eissen felt his bile rise in the pit of his stomach as he saw Marissa dart out of an alley and into the street. He hoped she could feel his eyes burrowing into her back. He prayed she could feel the scorn they carried.
He knew she was near before he had spotted her. Her kind reeked with their mischief. It was anyone’s guess what she was up to in that alley. It sickened him that she could get away with her nefarious plots right under their noses. She was a disease that was allowed to within their very walls.
He spun in search of the speaker and settled on a man a full head shorter than he. Yes, it was him. He had been speaking with him prior to being distracted by the little witch escaping the alley. His name escaped him but it was of little consequence. He didn’t matter in truth. He was a nobody.
“Yes,” Eissen replied. “What is it?”
“You were mid-sentence, sir.”
“Ah, was I? Pardon, I was distracted.”
The small man nodded toward the direction Marissa had vanished. “It was that devil of a child, Marissa, wasn’t it? Old Thomas Wagner said he saw her come in ’bout an hour ago I recon.”
Eissen nodded his confirmation and turned to stand shoulder to shoulder with the man. He huffed and folded his arms over his chest. “Yeah. That was her. Looks like she’s headed for the forest again.”
The man spat and wiped his jaw with the back of his hand. “Hear that’s where she goes to do her magics and whatnot. Sacrificing animals and such. In rituals.”
Eissen did his best to hide his growing smile. “Is that so? She sounds rather dangerous,” he lead the man.
“Aye and getting’ worse. Recon I don’t wanna name names but a friend, and one I trust mind, says she was talkin’ to little ones ‘bout goin’ out with her to the woods.”
Eissen balled his fists to reign in his sudden flash of anger. “My. Surely something is being done about this menace?”
“Menace is right!” But no, nothing is being done, hasn’t been done for years, or does it look like it will be.” The man quickly looks about and lowered his voice just over a whisper “But maybe someone should.”
Eissen’s lips curled into a sneer of a smile. “You don’t say. Well it just so happens that a group of concerned citizens will be meeting tonight to address that very subject.”
“You don’t say. ’Bout time we did something about that thing.”
A passerby stopped and turned her head. It was a middle aged woman he did not recognize. “What thing?” she asked.
“Marissa,” Eissen said in a neutral tone. As hated as she was, Marissa had won a few sympathies. His position was precarious. He could ill afford for word to reach the wrong person. It was best to proceed with caution.
The woman scowled deeply “Ugh, what has she done now? I hope everyone is alright.”
The man spat in the street once more “We just saw her run off to the woods again, we did.”
“What a sordid creature that one is.”
Eissen frowned. He needed to reign in this conversation and keep it on point. Discussions about Marissa were plentiful and the people were so used to doing nothing. If he did not regain control, it would just carry on and the cycle would remain unbroken. It was up to him to change this condition. He had to save them from themselves as much as from the girl’s influence.
“Yes,” Eissen interjected. “We were just discussing the fact that it was past time something was done about the girl.”
“You can say that can,” Said the woman with no attempt to mask her disbelief anything would come of this. “Good luck with that and you’ll need it. It’s been years since the counsel did anything useful.”
Eissen fought back a sneer and kept his features smooth. They had become comfortable with the status quo. His frustration was growing with each person that should be supporting him but instead offered him resistance. The delighted in complaining so much that it was as if they were scared to have the source of their ills and concerns removed. He would has to make them see reason.
Eissen forcefully kept his tone even and calm. “Perhaps it is time we, the people, took matters into our own hands.”
The man and woman quickly looked to one another. The former regained is voice first. “Take maters into our own hands?” he parroted. “What do you mean by that?”
I am hosting a gathering this evening on the subject. The town hall, immediately after sundown. Please allow me to invite you as my guests.”
“What sort of meeting are we talkin’ about, here?” asked the man while the woman nodded along.
“Just an opportunity to get more information and empower us as citizens. Won’t you join me?”
“I have some plans this evening,’ retorted the woman. “We’ll see.”
“Aye,” chirped the man. “Same here. Perhaps I’ll come after I am done. Family business, you understand.”
Eissen nodded. “I do understand. Nothing is more important than family. That is precisely why we are having this meeting. To protect our families. If she is already talking to our children, then how long until she gains influence in your home?”
That gave them pause. The man and woman took turns looking to each other and Eissen. Panic and fear welled up in their eyes. They may not come this evening, but a seed had found purchase in fertile ground.
“I…shall think on it,” offered the woman limply. “Thank you.” Quickly she disappeared into the throng of people.
“Yes,” said the man more strongly than his counterpart. “I shall think on it. What time did ye say?”
Eissen smiled. “Just after sunset.”
The man nodded as he turned away in contemplation. Eissen continued to smile as he stared into the man’s back. His hooks were set in him. He was as good as his.
Twenty. The man made twenty freshly recruited disciples by his count. Eissen was not going to hold his breath for the woman having put her at half chance of attending. She would be pulled into he flock soon enough, however. Her suspicion would give way to her fear and when he delivered on a few promises, they would all see him as their savior. Then everyone would be clamoring to stand at his side.
“You seem pleased with yourself, Eissen.”
The voice shook him from his thoughts. With a quick shake of his head he refocused on the world around him. Before Eissen stood a tall figure in a lime green robe with the city crest embossed on the breast. It was the robe of the Elders, the ruling council, and the object of his obsession. Soon, so very soon, he would have one of his own upon his shoulders.
Eissen bowed his head to feint respect and hint his grimace. “Elder Carpenter, this is a surprise. To what do I owe this honor?”
The Elder waved his hand in a dismissive motion. “I merely noticed you rented the hall for this evening. Please remember to tidy up after you are finished.”
Eissen nodded his acceptance to produce a knowing smile from Elder Carpenter. “Very good,” the Elder said as he turned away. “Don’t stay out all night. You have your party’s health to consider.”
Eissen turned away to hurry from the elder. He darted down a side street and sought the protection of the masses on the main thoroughfare bisecting town. Here he could hide in the horde of bodies.
They had found him out. That was the only explanation for the Elder’s appearance. Tonight. He would have to move up his plans to tonight. He would make them rue the fact they did not stop him when they had the chance. Their arrogance would be their downfall. Unknowingly Elder Carpenter had given him a great gift. Now he could act.
Eissen weaved his way through the masses. If they only knew this was the night their lives would change forever, if they only knew what he was doing for them and on their behalf, they would part for him. They would defer to him. Soon, they all will bow.
He was nearly done with his preparations and now that he knew they were watching he would be even quieter. He would be the shadow itself. Fools. As if he could be scared so easily. Never. Not when he was so close. Not when righteousness itself was on his side. He would have his reward. Oh, yes. He would finally receive what he deserved after so long.
Marissa quickly made her way through town, eyes down and refusing to so much as glace up to avoid eye contact. She distracted her mind by counting her steps and searching out patterns in the broken and uneven paving stones. With each passing street she quickened her pace. She could feel the gate drawing nearer and the relative freedom it brought.
When the gate finally appeared, Marissa was at a dead sprint. She was drawing attention but she didn’t care. She just wanted to leave the walls behind her.
She flew through the gate in a blur and immediately turned west to cut through the countryside. Marissa slowed to a jog as she entered the prairie and stirred a swarm of grasshoppers and tiny blue butterflies into the air.
She continued on through the dense grass picking and sorting her way onward. With each step her smile grew more pronounced and her gate more lively. She darted and weaved, leaving a wake of folded and bent grass behind her. She pressed on as the prairie gave way to forest and the darkness of the canopy enveloped her.
Marissa slowed to a walk and took deep, leveling breaths to slow her panting and take in the greater environment around her. This was her palace and sanctuary. Here she was free. Marissa padded her way into the heart of the wood to a narrow clearing snaking to bisect the proud and domineering forest.
This clearing was once a road, The King’s Road, recognized far and wide as an engineering marvel, but now only remembered by a handful of scholars. Now even the local name as the Old Road was rapidly fading from memory as mother earth continued to toil to reclaim what once was hers. Only a smattering of stones remained and even fewer still in place.
Marissa hopped from stone to stone where she could as she made her way through the encroaching brush. She scurried the penetrating rays of sunlight and basked in their warmth. She danced with the wind and took in the songs of birds overhead.
Deliberately Marissa made her way down the winding Old Road that flowed with the land rather than cleaving through it and forcing it to submit as its modern counterpart did. By the time Marissa reached the small footpath of her own creation that ran to the old farm house, it was approaching midday. She made her way to the front of her home and shut the door after her with deliberate force to announce her arrival.
“Ah, Marissa,” called Dr. Song from the sitting room before appearing with his coat removed and sleeves rolled to the elbow. “Perfect timing. Mrs. Porter has arrived and in in the sitting room now.”
“Did she? That is well. Did she have any troubles making the journey?” responded the girl.
Dr. Song shook his head in answer and took up a towel at his belt to wipe is hands. “Would you light a fire in the stove and put a kettle on while I see to Mrs. Porter?”
Marissa offered a small bow of her head to Dr. Song and departed for the kitchen. She quickly found herself humming as she set to work on her task. Fire building was something she truly enjoyed. She adored the feeling of creating the savage element from flint, steel, and twine. The art of balancing the fire’s needs and manipulating them to control the flames growth and size appealed to her more meticulous nature. But, most of all, Marissa loved watching the dancing flames consume the fuel to ember and ember to ash.
She usually challenged herself to use as little wood as possible, however she didn’t know to what end Dr. Song needed the water so she added ample fuel to heat the cast iron stove rapidly. Marissa set the kettle thereon and turned her attention to the small window in the door. She knelt down to gaze about the dancing flames that were her creation rage within and begin to consume the wood inside.
It was not long before the whistling of the tea pot shook her from her trance. Marissa engaged the dampener to lower the intensity of the flames so to keep the stove warm and collected the kettle. She hurried into the sitting room to find Mrs. Porter and Dr. Song sitting quietly with her hands folded in her lap not quite making eye contact. Instead the two had eyes only for the floor.
Dr. Song, upon noticing Marissa’s arrival, snapped into motion and fumbled with a tin. He had allowed his hair to fall at an odd angle and nervously rapped the tin with a finger. She quicken an eyebrow toward them man that had become to embody what it meant to be calm, cool, and collected.
“Ah, thank you my dear,” Chimed Dr. Song before she had an opportunity to voice her concern. “Thank you so much.”
Marissa crossed the floor holding the kettle aloft, the spout still spewing stem. Dr. Song set down his tin gingerly and stood to accept the pot. Carefully he poured the water in a cup already prepared on the side table and turned to offer it to Mrs. Porter. Her hands quaked as she took the cup to her lips and drank the contents with a loud gulp. Immediately she began to sob.
Dr. Song went to her and took her shoulder in his hand to ease her down to the couch and deftly slid a pillow beneath her. H took her hands in his and stared into her face with compassion. Her sobs continued and tore at Marissa’s heart. They were not the cries of physical anguish, but of mourning and sorrow, of loneliness and acceptance.
Marissa found herself paralyzed; she couldn’t move or speak. All she could muster was to stare wide-eyed at Mrs. Porter. Agonizingly slowly the older woman began to quiet. Her head and shoulders slumped to one side and one of her legs slipped off the couch. Dr. Song made on final squeeze of her hands and stood. He let out a quiet sigh and bowed his head.
Marissa began to tremble. “You killed her,” she whispered into the still air.
“There was nothing that could have been done, Marissa.”
The words struck her hard. Her knees buckled and tears began to run down her cheeks. Marissa had become a torrent of emotion: grief, fear, remorse, and guilt all bubbled seeking dominance.
“You didn’t even try! How do you know?”
“It was a tumor in the brain. Far too deep to operate and she was already fading fast. You did well to have her come. The physical was an excellent pretext to get her here and have me examine her closely. It was very clever.”
“No,” she whimpered. “I did this. I sent her here to die. I killed her.”
“No, Marissa, you did not. This was her choice and we must respect it.”
“Her choice?” she cried out erratically. “And how did she reach this decision? By what you told her! We didn’t even try to save her!”
“Marissa, calm down. This isn’t anyone’s fault. These things just happen from time to time. All we can do is honor the patient’s wishes and make them as comfortable as possible.”
Marissa shook her head vehemently. “How can you say that? Our job is to make people better, not kill them!”
“No, Marissa, our job is to stop harm and that is what we have done.”
Marissa clenched her eyes tightly and renewed shaking her head. Tears ran down her face, she spun for Dr. Song, and ran from the sitting room relying on her memory to compensate for her blurred and clouded vision. She couldn’t take anymore. She needed to get away.
“Marissa! Wait!” Dr. Song called after the girl but she did not slow.
Marissa flew from the farm house and directly into the prairie. She charged forth with reckless abandon unaware and uncaring of the cuts her legs were sustaining. None of it mattered. Only Mrs. Porter’s death bore relevance. It stabbed into her as a saber and crushed her under the weight of a thousand boulders.
The weigh reduced her to lumbering staggers. She fell forward onto her hands and knees and crawled forward. She needed to get further. Just a little further. Each inch she took weakened her mightily. Her sobs returned to her in a sudden burst and Marissa collapsed in a pool of small, majestic wildflowers.
Why hadn’t they saved Mrs. Porter? It was their job. She had needed them and instead, they condemned her to die. She had sent Mr. Porter to the hangman and slipped the noose around her neck. She didn’t pull the lever, but she might as well have. Mrs. Porter was dead, it was all her fault, and nothing would ever change that.
Hours past and Marissa remained amongst the wildflowers. Her guilt ebbed into grief at the passing and grief had begun to fade into remembrance of the woman who had shown her such kindness over the years. The sun had touched the horizon when a hand gently eased unto Marissa’s shoulder. She craned her head to see Dr. Song’s hand covered in fresh earth.
Marissa pulled her knees into her chest. She had missed the burial. She should have been there. One more sin to add to the pile.
Dr. Song squatted down, keeping his hand gently upon her shoulder. “Hey,” he intoned.
Marissa remained silent and fixated on the flowers around her. They tussled in the evening breeze and whispered in a tone to match the occasion. Even the living earth mourned this night.
“Do you know what kind of flower that is?” he asked sensing the object of her obsession. After a few moments of silence, he continued. “That is Damsel Tear. There are two legends surrounding the flower’s existence. One says that a brave and strong knight slayed a powerful dragon. When he returned to his King, he asked the knight to name his reward. The brave and strong knight said he would only consider the hand of the King’s daughter in marriage. The King agreed under the condition that he first display his love and, if it worthy of the princess, the King would offer his blessing.
“The Knight hurried back to the vanquished dragon and peeled away a clutch of the breasts shimmering blue scales. He cast them to the air and watered the withered rock where they lay with the scared waters. The ground itself trembled and as far as the eye could see, what had once been arid, jagged rock erupted into a lust and fertile grassland.
“The knight rushed back to the King once more and brought them back to view the miracle that had transpired. When the two bore witness of the field, they broke into tears. As they did, the land burst into the vibrant blue flowers you see before you.”
Marissa gave a weak smile, sniffed away her grief, and turned to face Dr. Song. What is the second story?” she asked.
Dr. Song returned the smile. “A brilliant blue star shown in the sky. Even in the brightness of day, people from miles around watched the star growing larger and larger until it came streaking across the sky and crashed to earth. The force of the impact caused the ground to quake and the world to cry. All around the people flock to the site of impact.
“However, instead of a creator, the field was pristine and at its heart knelt a beautiful angel weeping in her hands. Some believed she was crying from falling from heaven and others from being cast out. More still thought her tears were for a loved one, lost and yet some thought it was for deeds done and left undone. Whatever the reason, none ventured forward to ask. The next morning, the angle was gone and only a bed of the blue flowers remained where she had been the day before.”
Marissa’s smile grew stronger. “Those are nice stories.”
Dr. Song patted the girl on the shoulder. “Yes, they are. But they also miss the most important aspect of the flower.”
“What is that?”
Dr. Song looked squarely into her eyes. “Despite it being one of the last to bloom, the Damsel Tear is by far and wide one of the most beautiful.”
A single tear rolled down her face as she beamed. She launched herself into Dr. Song’s arms and cried into his chest. He held her until the sun was nothing more than a sliver on the horizon.
“Come on,” he prodded gently. “Let’s make dinner.”
Eissen fanned his fingers on the hardwood desk and slowly survived the room around him. Deliberately he counted each face and looked long into the eyes of each to offer a display of unity and comradery, but also to hunt out any reservation. Eleven. Only Eleven.
He kept his vigil in silence and none of the others dared to break it. Eissen looked to the tall oaken clock in the corner and scowled deeply at the rhythmic clicking. The mechanism made him terribly uneasy. Despite all assurances to the contrary, the device, capable of moving on its own and able to a measure more accurately than a proper man, smacked of witchcraft.
Regardless the source of its power, even he had to admit its usefulness. Gently he stroked his chin. He could afford to wait a few minutes more. The more he managed to assemble, the better.
Eissen regarded the interior of the courthouse with a smug grin. He had been planning on using his house for this occasion, but using the city center had been a stroke of brilliance on his part. At first it had been only for the convenience of the others as he lived on the far end of town and the hall was near the center.
As the day wore on, he realized using the municipal building added validity to his cause. When he arrived nearly half were already present. The municipal building was small, long, and soon would be inadequate for the growing city’s needs. However the archaic design made the small group feel larger.
Feeling like a bigger group would help them feel stronger, give them confidence. It would reinforce that they were in the right, that they were doing righteous work. Eissen had taken a seat at the administrator’s desk lending him more authority for the occasion. The desk was a symbol to its people. It had belonged to their founder and to many they did not so much elect a mayor so much as select the next to occupy the chair and sit at the polish mahogany desk. If tonight went as well as he hoped, soon it would be his.
And now the clock. The standing clock pounded away prying Eissen’s mind back to the courthouse. The noise of the thing was a constant reminder to all those gathered of its presence. He was not the only one to feel that way about the time piece and Eissen was willing to bet most of those present echoed his thoughts. It served a perfect reminder. Yes, everything was lining up perfectly. He must have been truly inspired. Fate. He was meant for this moment and nothing would stand in his way.
Eissen looked up again at his followers. No more had come while he was occupied with is thoughts. Eleven. He could make this work. He had to make this work. It was destiny.
Eissen moved to clear his throat but stopped short with a broad, feral grin. Slowly his hand curled around the gavel on the tabletop and gave three quick raps on the granite slate beside. The piercing ring short of echoing but still vibrated in the cramped hall.
He paced himself as he stood slowly and waited for everyone to look up from the floor boards. He straightened his tie and unbuttoned his jacket before gripping the far edge of the desk. Eissen leaned over the desk and paused for a moment as he towered over the small gathering from the raised platform.
Eissen spoke softly with a firm tone. “Ladies and gentlemen, we all know why we are here. We have an obligation to ourselves, our community, and our children to secure your future. We have a sacred duty to weed out corruption to preserve our way of life. We have long known of a grave threat to the peace, yet those who should be protecting us from such villainy have turned a blind eye and have allowed this festering blight to take root. I of course speak of Marissa.
“The good doctor’s ‘daughter’, if we can all her that, has been allowed to persist in our pristine community for nearly two decades now and the effect, especially on our youth, is self-evident. Her contemporaries and younger do not see her for what she is: a public nuisance. She is polluting the minds of our children and those with weak minds and otherwise easily swayed. If we allow for this to continue, if we do not take a stand now, tonight, we will be just as guilty as her.”
Eissen paused for a moment, stood up straight, and brought a glass to his lips. He used the glass to mask to let the last sink in. Eissen looked over the rim of the glass to gaze at his small clutch of disciples. Most made an effort to keep from making eye contact but the few who dared blinked in thought or let their jaw go slack in consideration. It was not their own thoughts, but his. They were such simple people and the only thing stronger than their fear was their pride. All he had to do was wed the two.
Deliberately he returned his glass to the glass and straightened his jacket. “Tacit consent,” he continued.” That is what they call it. By remaining silent we agree, we have agreed, that she has a place amongst us. She is different and there is no changing her nature if our community has had no effect on her to date.
“We have been more than accommodating to offer her a positive environment for the last twenty year to become more in tune with proper culture. She has proven herself unable, by choice or otherwise, to benefit by our excellent example. Allowing her to stay here as a member of our community will offer her no positive change and in exchange we receive only her continued crippling of our values and traditions. We must choose what manner of society, what kind of future we want for our children to inherit.
Eissen paused to let his words linger heavily in the air. He raised a finger and drummed it on the edge of the desk to set his cadence before he resumed. “And that is what this is all about. That is why we are here, isn’t it? Not for ourselves, but for them.”
“So what do we have to do?” broke in a small voice. It came in barely more than a whisper, but that was more than enough in this tight and intimate setting. Slowly the crowd shifted to form a bubble around the speaker and locked eyes on him. Eissen let the young man sweat on his island a moment, just a moment to get uncomfortable so that he could rescue him.
“It is quite simple,” Eissen offered in a practiced tone. It was the question, or at least close enough to, in the place he had desired. “We remove the cancer. We drive her from our town and from our lives. We make it abundantly clear that her kind is not welcome here and we will not allow for her corruption of all things we hold dear to persist.
“Enough is enough and when the sun rises tomorrow, it will bring with it a new dawn of our sleep village. It will usher in a second chance for us, the true people, to take control of our very destiny. We tell her that her presence will no longer be tolerated and she must leave immediately.”
Everyone in the small building had their eyes widen, some with terror and trepidation and others with excitement and joy. They looked to each other and darted back to Eissen and back to each other. Pleadingly they searched for the correct way to respond.
“But, but… is that proper?” came the same nasally voice as before. “I mean, is that really necessary?”
Eissen narrowed his eyes on the man and searched his memory for a name to the face. Around and around his mind spun before snapping into place. Jeffers. Mr. Allen Jeffers, a quiet, unremarkable, and ultimately forgettable weed of a man.
His daughter had been ill, deathly ill by all reports, until Dr. Song had worked what many regarded as another miracle. Undoubtedly he had brought Marissa in to play assistant which likely had bought some sympathy with the man. It was a crafty game they were playing. Dr. Song had created a culture of dependence with himself at the center.
It was most certainly a brilliant move and one Eissen could appreciate, but Dr. Song one who could play that game. Eissen’s followers were small in number but growing. All he needed was one event, one show of leadership, and he would turn the tables. They would be dependent on him. That was what tonight was about. Tonight was his moment and to make it all the sweeter it would come at Dr. Song’s expense.
Eissen blinked rapidly to bring himself back to the moment and more importantly to that issue at hand. He opened his mouth to answer, but was cut short by a loud scoff from the gallery. He swallowed his words and readied himself to leap in if necessity required.
“Necessary?!” came the harsh reply in a deep alto. “Of course it is necessary. Just the other day I saw with my own eyes. When I asked them what they were playing, they said they were summoning fairies. Fairies. The couldn’t have been more than eight or nine and where do you think hey got that idea, hmm? This has gone on long enough. Marissa must be stopped.”
Eissen let a smile course over his lips. Young Heather Korbin was a fiery girl who shared her birthday with Marissa and hated her more than anyone. Even from a young age she made sure no one would ever confuse the two nor mistake them for friends.
Inviting her had been a risk, although a calculated one, Most found her off-putting, however she was willing to say what others would not and he could not. He also was not in a position to be selective. Each and every body he could muster was needed.
Eissen nodded. “Today it is dancing in the woods. Can we afford what tomorrow will bring?”
“But this is Dr. Song,” interjected Allen Jeffers. “Who here hasn’t gone to him when our backs were against the wall?”
“Who said anything about Dr. Song?” Heather fired back. “We’re talking about Marissa.”
“Well, yeah, I know. But if Dr. Song trusts her, shouldn’t we? Offered Jeffers practically whimpering.
Eissen leaped in to regain control of the discussion. “Allow me to clarify something. We are not questioning the good Dr. Song has done for us all. We are simply distinguishing between his good and the harm Marissa brings to us. Dr. Song will be welcome to stay.”
Heather scoffed loudly. How do we know of Doctor’s ‘good’ intentions? He is the one who made Marissa in the first place. We should toss him out along with her.”
Eissen cringed as the hall erupted in a chorus of yells, each attempting to drown out the next. Yes, Heather had always been a liability. She was overzealous and it fell to him to temper her. That would come later. Now he had to limit the damage. Eissen called into the caterwauls and din only to have his voice to be drown out and join the chorus.
He could feel his collar heat. He needed control. Control not only over the crowd, but over himself as well. Deliberately he curled his fist around the gavel and brought it down with such force on the granite slate it shattered the aged wood. He held the splintered handle as a scepter and pointed t slowly at each member of the now silent crowd.
“I will have order,” he said in a tone much gruffer than he intended. “You will conduct yourselves in a matter befitting to this place. Now, Dr. Song will be permitted to stay. It is Marissa we need gone and we need to remain focused on the matter at hand.
We can ill afford to fight amongst ourselves when we stand against corruption, when we stand for justice and virtue. Untold generations are depending on us. When they look back at this moment, will they see people with the courage to act and make a stand or cowards who balked at responsibility? How will you choose to be remembered?”
Eyes cast downward in reflection. He almost had them. He was so close he could taste his impending victory. One last push and they would be his.
“And just today Marissa paid Mrs. Porter a visit. Not two hours later she was diagnosed with cancer of the brain. I received word from a relative that she elected to have her life ended while she was still herself and before degenerating any further.”
“Mrs. Porter… is dead?” came the question from the gallery.
That gave them pause. It was a tenuous connection at best. But it was another to add to her crimes. They were adding up and every additional coincidence became harder to ignore. Each was another nail in her coffin.
Eissen laid the remains of the gavel on the desk and wrapped his fingers around the lip of the desktop. “We are at a crossroads, ladies and gentlemen. The lines have been drawn. Our way of life is under attack and we are left with a choice: to surrender at the smallest of challenges or to fight to preserve our heritage I, for one, will not abide this assault any longer. Who will stand with me and defend us all in our most desperate hour?”
Eissen pumped his fist into the air and struck his pose. However the cheers, applause, and rally cries he had imagined did not come. The small gathering sat in stunned silence. Each had their eyes on him expectantly. Slowly one of the figures lurking in the back stood.
“You should be ashamed of yourself,” muttered the figure as the tossed their cloak around them and stalked to the door.
He threw the door open and into the wall with a loud bang and stormed out into the night air. Eissen held his breath as a second scrambled after. His heart stood still but none of his other guests moved. He nodded to himself as he looked out the open door.
Eissen worked his brain for the names of the departed. He remembered looking into their faces, but could not connect a name nor recall the face of either. He would ask around. Surely betrayal would have to b repaid. Undoubtedly after tonight anyone present would be more than willing to offer their names to curry favor.
Eissen straightened his lapel. “That is their loss,” he said in a smooth voice. “This time tomorrow people who were not with us tonight will say they were.”
“So, uh, what happens now?” came a voice from the gallery. “It is not like we can just knock on Dr. Song’s door and tell him to send Marissa away.”
Eissen’s lips curled into a smile. Seven remained. He could work with seven. Soon everything would be different. Soon he would take his rightful at the head of the Elders.
“Actually, that is exactly what we are going to do.”
Dr. Song slid a steaming dish of cooked vegetables between the stuffing and ham already laid out on the table. Marissa set a place for Dr. Song and rounded the table to set her own. She quickly folded her napkin in a standing triangle and looked to Dr. Song. They returned a small nod to each other and sat in unison. Outside an out broke the icy silence while they dished themselves their own plates.
Dr. Song set if dinner plate on the table once more and folded his hands into his lap. “I have given it some thought”
“Excuse me?” Marissa squeaked.
“I’ve given it some consideration, our conversation from this morning.”
Marissa’s heart sank. With everything that had happened today, she hadn’t had time to conceive a fitting argument. She thought she would have a week at least if the conversation was revisited at all. Marissa froze, unable to produce even an unintelligible stammer in reply.
Dr. Song cleared his throat and continued. “Upon reflection, I must agree with your suggestion.”
Marissa’s body unlocked as the words poured from her “But Dr. Song, I–” Marissa fell back into her chair as the realization of his words struck her. She slumped down in a huddled mass, dumbfounded. “Really?”
Dr. Song gave a curt nod. “Yes. Though I believe your ulterior motives for wanting to leave are strong, the fact remains that I, in all likelihood, have shown you what I can or at the very least reached the point of diminished returns. If it is really your wish to study medicine, then for me to deny your request would be to do a disservice to you and society as a whole.
I took the liberty of writing Dr. Schilling, a colleague I have worked with in the past. He is a good man and will know of your arrival should you remain steadfast in traveling to the city. You will need a place to stay until you can get your feet underneath you and Dr. Schilling has always been kind to travelers. He will be a good choice to start even if you decide to study elsewhere.”
Marissa sat stunned, her head spinning with more questions and emotions than she could hope to process. Her fingertips and toes tingled with anticipation. Everything welled up inside her threatening to burst. She could feel her face heating and her hair curling to stand on end.
“When did you decide this?” she wheezed.
“While you were on your errands for the day and Mrs. Porters subsequent return. It has become evident that you are increasingly independent and capable of making your own decisions. I must accept this and not hold you back.”
“Dr. Song… I don’t know what to say.”
“Nothing needs to be said. The decision is yours to make and whatever you choose to do, I shall support you. Just do me a favor. Before you go, there is a letter for you on my desk. Consider it some light reading for the road.”
“Yes, Dr. Song. I will.”
“Stay as long as you like and remember that my door is and will forever be open to you.”
Marissa pushed herself from the table and bounded to her feet. She beamed at the older man and rounded the corner of the table with her arms open. She struggled to hold back the tears beginning to forming in her eyes while Dr. Song’s aged face cracked a small smile. Before Marissa could reach her mentor, both froze at a sudden knock at the door. Dr. Song’s expression fell back to its natural stoic form and abruptly stood to straighten his jacket.
“Visitors? At this hour?” he sighed.
Marissa wilted. “It could be an emergency.”
“True. Marissa, Stay here. I shall see to the door.”
Marissa gave a quick nod and followed as far as the open archway to the foyer to watch from the wooden frame. Quietly she poked her head around the corner. Her fingers tingled as she flexed them anxiously. Late night visitors were never good news. However rare, they usually signaled an emergency or a drunk making the trek up the hill to confront Dr. Song over the loss of a loved one.
But something disquieted her on this occasion. The pounding was firm but not frantic. It possessed a rhythmic and deliberate quality that felt terribly out of place. Marissa wanted to run to Dr. Song and pull him away from the door. She wanted to take him back to the table and their diner so she may show him her appreciation for releasing her and more importantly for the years of care he had given her.
Suddenly Marissa flushed. She was looking for reasons for him not to answer the door because she wanted tonight to be about her. On the other side of the door there was someone in need and she was only thinking of herself. Sheepishly she peeled away from the wooden archway and hid herself against the wall as she heard the click of the door.
“Ah, Dr. Song,” came Eissen’s voice from the hall. “Punctual as ever I see.”
A small silence permeated through the still air before Dr. Song ventured a response. “Eissen, what is your emergency?”
“Emergency? Oh, no. No emergency here.”
Dr. Song leaped in before he could continue. “Ah, I just assumed there was a reason I was being disturbed well past the time any rational man and his fellows would consider prudent.”
A cold shiver ran down Marissa’s back. This was a tone she had heard from Dr. Song infrequently, but always glad it was never directed toward her. It was the voice of the storm themselves. Slowly she crept along the wall toward the frame she had just abandoned. Her heart sank as the feeling of dread returned.
Eissen let out a harsh and forced laugh. “My good doctor, we are only visiting to have a civil discussion with you. The polite thing would be to invite us in. The night air is biting after all.”
Dr. Song let another wall of silence hang over the foyer. Marissa made it to the arched passageway and angled herself to look around the corner utilizing a mirror at the end of the hall. She quickly raised a hand to her mouth as she saw Eissen and a group behind him with stern looks and crossed arms. Dr. Song stood defiantly in the door but his small frame did little to block the sight of Eissen’s satisfied sneer.
Dr. Song folded his arms across his chest to match. “Discussion? My original question point still stands, Eissen. What do you folks wish to discuss?”
“A matter of vital importance and security.”
“This is foolishness. It is late and this has already gone on long enough.”
“And all the longer if you do not permit us entry.”
Marissa’s heart dropped further. She wanted to shout inward to reject them. She wanted to rush to his side to beg them to leave. She wanted to slam the door in their faces. But she couldn’t. She was frozen.
Dr. Song stepped to the side and led the way to the sitting room. The sitting room often doubled as a waiting room and thus had seating available to a party twice the size. Eissen’s entourage took advantage of the seating while Dr. Song and Eissen remained standing. The two men have eyes only for each other.
Dr. Song venture first to break the silence. “Now that you have intruded into my home, perhaps you will now tell me why you are here.”
A new voice, a female voice that Marissa could not place, snapped in with an audible scoff. “Intruded? You led us in, you old fool.”
Her interjection earned her a stern glare from both Dr. Song and Eissen. Marissa crept forward in time to see her wilt into her chair under the twin stares. Eissen slowly turned to lock eyes with his adversary once more. This was a battle between the two of them and interruptions would not be tolerated.
Eissen halted to straighten and smooth his fine suit cut and tailor in the current fashion. Dr. Song remained still and stoic in his plainer counterpart. Eissen wrapped himself in finery while Dr. Song emitted it.
We have come to discuss your ward,” resumed Eissen in an overtly practiced tone.
“Marissa is not up for discussion,” flared Dr. Song.
“So you say, however I am afraid we must insist.”
“Then I am afraid this will be a rather one-sided discussion, Eissen.”
Eissen feinted a study of his fingernails. “Well, as I said, I must insist.”Eissen paused to offer Dr. Song a window in which to respond that he was unwilling to take. Eissen hastily cleared his throat and stumbled on. “Well, when it comes down to it, this is a matter of posterity, the future.”
Eissen fell silent for Dr. Song and yet again Dr. Song did not indulge Eissen. Eissen’s shoulders tightened as his script continued to be ignored. The tension in the air began to grow thicker and thicker.
“Marissa will need to be leaving,” said Eissen with strain beginning to seep into his voice. “As soon as humanly possible.”
Marissa felt a sudden grin slide into place. No longer did the scene seem terrifying but comical. She liberated herself from her crouched position against the wall and stood up strong. She turned to the sitting room and clenched her hands into fists. Courage coursed through her veins.
“Well, she called into room as she entered to a chorus of turned heads and made her way to Dr. Song’s side. “It just so happens–”
Dr. Song quickly raised a hand to cut her sentence short. “It just so happens we are quite comfortable here and shall be staying for the foreseeable future.”
“Well, I am afraid I must insist,” repeated Eissen yet again.
Marissa lost focus on the conversation. She was aware of the dull murmurs as the words washed over and past her, yet the meaning was lost to her. She instead had become fixated on the faces of Eissen’s supporter. Amongst the nine faces, there were a myriad of expressions. There were two sitting only a short distance away from Eissen offering silent signals of support; a periodic nod or pump of the fist. A third, a younger woman, had her eyes locked on Marissa burning with rage.
That was not surprising. She had expected that. What took her off guard were the four sitting quietly with hands in their laps. Their heads bounced along in unison from Dr. Song to Eissen as each spoke in turn. Each had come into her home with fire in their stomachs and hate in their eyes, but now regarded the two men with equal measure. Now they waited to be convinced either way.
Slinking further behind were the last two. They squirmed hunched in their seats attempting melt away into the chairs. They looked truly ashamed to be present, to be associated with Eissen and his intrusion. Marissa stared blankly at them with her jaw slack and her shoulders loose. She had been prepared to ignore them and see them as little more than the hate she had been accustomed to, but this made her uneasy. She couldn’t help but see them as people; people that were afraid, true, but only wanted what was best.
“Well, I am afraid I must insist,” came Eissen’s now all too familiar line in his practiced speech to shake her back to the moment.
“So you keep on saying, Eissen. Perhaps if try it a little bit louder and sternly, it may shake me to my core and terrify me into obeying,” replied Dr. Song in a fiery tone that was growing stronger with each passing salvo. Yet, even with the creeping strain in his voice, his physical demeanor remained calm and collected. Eissen on the other hand had kept is tone level and unwavering, but his body language was tease. His neck tightened, his fists clenched as his knuckles shown white, and his body trembled.
“Now Dr. Song, there is no need to become rude.”
“Rude?” well if it is your desire to make this conversation circular, perhaps we should revisit the hour of your visit?”
Eissen gave a small huff. “I shall not allow you to derail this. It is far too important. This is about the future. Not just the future, but that of our children. Nothing could be more so.”
“The last I am not contesting, Eissen. I question that being your aim, whether this being the proper forum and time, and the true nature of the ‘request’ that is upon me and my own.”
“Ah, well, that is simple enough. I suppose it is to ensure out security, posterity, and well being. Marissa must go.”
“Yes, so you have said before. This is not something I desire to nor will I comply with.”
“Now that is a shame. I was so hopeful we could handle this matter quietly. However, if I must, I shall seek other tools at my disposal.”
Dr. Song let out a deep, loud, and hearty laugh. “Those are some strong and carefully chosen words, Eissen. Those I suppose they were not meant for me, but rather your marry little band here. I must say, I was unaware a roofing hammer held such power. It would appear I chose the wrong profession.”
Eissen’s hands slowly curled tightly into fists and released. “Funny. Cute even. Joke while you can, Song. I imagine it will be difficult to salvage such cunning wit and charm after faced with banishment.”
Dr. Song raised a finger. “Exile,” he corrected. “The laws we have in place are for exile, not banishment.”
“Banishment, exile, whatever you want to call it, the end shall be the same. The word makes no difference.”
“Words are important, Eissen. You would do well to remember this given you current ambitions.” Dr. Song flipped a second finger alongside the first. “Exile requires nine of the eleven counsel to consent. It is difficult enough to get a simple majority to agree on what color to paint the municipal building should be let alone to send their only medical doctor into exile.”
Oh, not you Dr. Song. Just Marissa.”
Dr. Song raised an eyebrow incredulously. “What you do to her, you do to me as well.” Dr. Song unfurled a third finger. “Let us say, for the sake of argument that you are able to bribe, bully, and intimidate your way to make good on your threat. We already live outside the city. All it would accomplish is that we would no longer be able to offer out goods and services directly to town.”
Eissen’s voice cracked with rage. “Just a minute, Song. Who said you would be permitted to leave?”
“Permitted? You are and may become many things, Eissen, but my master will never be one of them. I am well aware of your tools: fear, intimidation, and manipulation. They will find no purchase here.”
“You have made a grave mistake. I am a dangerous enemy to make. I forge my own destiny and shall not be denied.”
“I am well aware of your ambition to become the next Elder. I will not roll over and allow you to use this act of cowardice to advance your political standing. In fact, the events of tonight have only shown me how duly and truly unfit you are for the post and will do that I may to see you are never installed into the seat.”
Eissen’s face was flushing deeper and deeper. The vein in his neck bulged and throbbed in rhythm of his clenching fists. All eyes were affixed to him and she took two large steps to Dr. Song and raises his hand high in the air. With a blur, the back of his hand thundered into the doctor’s face. Eissen stood over him and he churned in the air, flying off his feet and hurtling into the standing dining room chair.
The two tumbled together in a mass of flesh, cloth and wood. Marissa stood petrified at the sight in horror. Time slowed before her yet she could not move a muscle. She saw his neck meet the chair leg. The wood splintered in a maelstrom of chaos. Dr. Song’s head snapped into the chair and back in rapid recoil. His eyes stared into her and lost their sincere warmth and determined focus. His body clambered onto the floor and the room stood still.
She fell to the floor and crawled to the body of the man she called father. The tears were welling in her eyes and she didn’t care. She cradled his head in her lap and fumbled at his neck, looking for the pulse she knew she would never find. She felt the lump of his vein and pressed harder and harder into it pleading for something, anything. But it wouldn’t come.
Marissa let her emotion erupt from her. She trembled and clung to his body. She buried her face into his jacket and felt the fibers moisten. Her howls poured into his corpse and echoed within. She had no words, no expression available to her that felt adequate. She had nothing left to her. It was all taken from her in a moment.
The room stood in icy silence. None dared look at the girl and her once loved father. Some cast their eyes in shame to the floor and others to one another, looking for solace and forgiveness. Eissen stood over her, his jaw slack.
“I—I didn’t mean to,” he stammered. “Is he… Is he… How is he? Is he alright?”
The question hung in the air and churned the quagmire. It was thick and rancid, threatening to overwhelm the space. It was choking and none present sought relief.
Marissa let his body slide from her grasp and fall to the floor. Time had escaped her; it offered no meaning to her. The girl with no home had no concept of how long she was cradling her father’s still body. Something snapped deep within her and suddenly had no more tears to give. She stood and let her feet carry her away.
Eissen turned his attention to those at his back and spoke pleadingly. “I didn’t mean to do that. I just wanted to scare him a little. Get his attention. You all heard me, right? You know I would never do something like this, right? It was an accident.”
She was devoid of emotion. Devoid of thought or feeling. Nothing mattered. She was a hollow shell. Why him? The man who had saved all in that room countless times, the man who took her in and gave her meaning, the man she owed everything to, gone. No more.
She came to a desk in the corner, inconspicuous in a house with a writing surface at every turn. Yet this one held only one drawer that she now gripped and opened. It was the drawer she had promised never to open. She didn’t even have to look inside. Her hand dove inside of its own accord and grasped the smooth wood of the handle. Her fingers ran along the cold steel barrel. Gently she caressed the trigger.
Marissa palmed the firearm in her trance. She held the butt of the long barreled revolver into her gut. She rounded the corner and took the requisite time to stare long into the souls of each. They only were able to stare wide eyed and their mouths open. She aimed at the mass of human refuse gathered before her and pulled the trigger back slowly. The hammer lurched back agonizingly and the cylinder rotated. Smoke erupted from the muzzle and the room was concussed with and earth-shattering wave of crushing sound.
The deafening echo had yet to subside when the panic rippled through the crowd. All rushed for the door and trampled all in there was to reach it. All it did was funnel them tighter together. Marissa pulled the trigger again. And again. Over and over she squeeze the trigger until there was no more screams and no more explosions, only the sound of the clicking hammer.
The rhythmic clicking dragged Marissa back to reality. She coughed on the smoke filling the room. The air felt wet as a gently mist: the mist of mourning. The floor was slick with the crimson pool leeching toward her feet. She forced her eyes down at the bodies strung across the floor and lodged in the doorway. Her grip grew slack as the gun shivered from her fingers and splashed with a spray of blood.
She bent down and fished the murderous device from the growing lake and looked at horror at the glistening red abashed on her hands. Tears reformed in her eyes and she snatched them away by clenching her eyes closed. Marissa turned away from the gruesome scene. She needed to get away. Her feet began to struggle under her weight and traveled of their own will. She labored up the stairs and clambered down the hall and fell against the door frame of her father’s study.
Her body was growing heavy and she so tired. Everything that had happened was a blur, smeared together in a frozen fog. She didn’t want to believe what she had done. She didn’t want to believe they were now gone.
Marissa pushed her weight from the wooden frame and stumbled through the doorway, tears welling in her eyes. Her legs were threatening to give way from under her. Weakly, she made her way to her masters table and beside the dried inkwell was a note in the familiar hand of Dr. Song addressed simple as Marissa. With a trembling hand she reached for the letter and unfolded it. Her hand hands left a dark stain of blood on the once pristine parchment.
My dearest Marissa,
It is beyond time I told you the nature of my experiments that I performed on you. My experiment was designed to discern what it meant for someone to be truly exceptional. I desired nothing more than to see greatness incarnate; to see the pinnacle of human perfection. It was through you that I hoped to see my dream realized. I sought to draw out the best of humanity.
It was necessary for me to not only convince my subject that there was something unique about them, but for others to see this as well. Only then would they truly believe that they were different, exceptional. Therefore I had to fool you through the placebo effect into something had been done to you to separate you from everyone else.
This is to say that you, Marissa, were my subject and what I have done to you is nothing. You are you and nothing more. Everything that you are and that you have done is you and you alone. You are my greatest joy and my greatest hope.
Live well Marissa,
Marissa was up late into the night as she was most nights. She found herself staring at the door waiting for the thing to burst from its hinges as hordes of men poured in to take her away. Long ago she had expected it, but now she only longed for it.
A part of her had always wanted to be caught. She had changed her name to Clarissa for that very purpose. She had justified it thinking the similarity would help her adjust and acclimate, but she had deep down wanted someone to make the connection. She just wanted to face judgement for what she had done but in its own way hiding had been its own punishment.
Had she been stronger may be would have turned herself in, but instead she had fled and started a new life. She had lived in fear and never truly felt peace. She had even moved back to the sleepy village where Dr. Song had raised her, but no one had recognized her. No one liked to talk about it and seemed content to pretend it never happened at all.
The old farm house now lay abandoned. In some ways it was fitting that the only place she had ever thought of as home now crumbed and decayed with each passing sun. She had often traveled to the site of her immortal sin to offer penitence that she could never pay.
Though she had tried; a life time she had spent attempting to atone. So many illnesses remedied, diseases eradicated, limbs and lives saved, and children delivered, but in her heart she knew she had still come up short. She had cut so many lives short, taken parents from children, and sullied her master’s legacy. She had tried, but she had failed.
She knew this was the end. This would be the night from whence she did not awaken. Her health had been fading for years, but she had struggled on. She fought hoping that she could right the wrongs and sew the wound she had left, but it was all for not. People had marveled at her spirit. If only they had known. She had saved her last life and it was not her own.
Marissa pushed herself from the bed despite her body’s protests. She would make the hike along the Old Road and through the forest that once held so much joy to her. She would go to the old farm home and offer a final and pleading cry for forgiveness. She knew there would be no answer but that did not stop her.
She had come to terms that after that day she was no longer alive. She had died with the rest of them. It was time to join them. Not by her own hand, not by the hand of justice, but by the creeping hand of time. She knew she had been in a race against it to atone for her crime and, despite falling short, she held no regret; shame, self-loathing, and remorse, but not regret. Regret was for those that deserved to be forgiven but neglected to try. She had tried and in the end that is all anyone can do.