Prologue: Long-term Influences
Please don't use in any way without permission.
Nikki, her family, Amos the dog, Monique, Carl and sub-plot belong to me (MissUnashamed).
Brooklyn, Hudson, Gargoyles Universe and canon plot belong to Disney/Greg Weisman.
One piece of paper can lead to a ton of changes. Nikki thought to herself, rotating the ticket and the envelope between her fingers. She sat on the queen size bed, which would normally be covered with home sewn quilts. Now it served as a perch for the young woman, and was stripped of everything but thin covers and a pillow. Two large suitcases and a carry-on bag sat on the floor in front of her. She sighed, dejected and opened the envelope for the second time. The feeling of dread had gone, now that she knew what lay inside. She pulled out the paper and, despite the pain that the words brought- reread the letter from Montana State University. She had applied five years ago, and had sobbed the whole night when the letter rejecting her application arrived.
She then turned to the other piece of paper, and read every detail with weary hesitation- the plane ticket to New York. It would take her from the ranching town of Jackson, Montana to live in the bustling city of Manhattan. Looking out the window, she looked over the pastures. The noonday sun showered down on the herds of cattle, not a cloud in the sky.
"Beautiful day, huh?" the door creaked open and Nikki turned to see her father walk in. A tall man with grey hair, her father's age was deceptive. The years of ranching stress and occasional financial snag had etched an extra decade into his face.
"Yeah, yeah it sure is." Nikki stuffed the letter back in the envelope.
"I thought you planned on burning that." He noted, spotting the letter.
"I'll get rid of it. I just wanted to remind myself-"
"Of the past?" He finished. "Honey, if it can't be resolved, let it go and move on."
"Which is why I'm leaving, Dad." She responded, a slight edge in her tone.
"I miss when you called me 'Pa'. Just because you're going to live in the city doesn't mean you have to start talking like them." A sad glaze flitted through his chocolate eyes. "You don't have to go at all. "
"Yes, I do. I can't stay here, Dad. I have the ticket, and since the last cougar got to the herd, we can't afford-"
"I value my daughter's well-being over cattle." He locked eyes with her, eyes filled with pleading.
She stood up abruptly, leaving the ticket on the bed. "Dad, I'll be fine." She walked briskly over to the door, stuffing the letter in her pocket. "I'm taking the pea shooter and Amos out." Her father didn't hesitate to stop her, and she raced down the stairs. She went to the closet for ammunition. She grabbed a pack of ammo, her Carhartt cap and her concealed carry holster. The 8mm inside was empty, but she never left the house without it. In the garage she grabbed a bottle of root beer from the refrigerator, slipped on the cap and put her equipment on the red Honda Trx300 ATV. Hurrying to escape, she went to the gun storage cabinet, entered the combination and took her old rifle, the "pea shooter", off the rack. As she fastened the gun to the front of the ATV, a canine whine met her ears. The old, deaf Collie was looking up at her, tail wagging. Don't worry, Amos. I haven't forgotten about you. She crouched down and stroked the dog, gently lifting him and placing him on the back of the ATV.
She stroked the dog, not bothering to speak, seeing as how he wouldn't be able to hear her. Dad's not right. Dad's not right. He is about a lot of things, but this isn't one of them. It can't be. These anxious thoughts flooded through as she started the vehicle. She then hit the button, opening the garage door, hoisted herself onto the ATV and rode down to the pastures.
Despite her gentle speed, Nikki and Amos bounced through the grassy fields. Cows occasionally mooing at them, annoyed. After a twenty-minute ride and unlatching four gates, she brought the quad to a stop. She lifted Amos off of the vehicle and let him wander around the family shooting range. As Amos marked his territory, Nikki went to the board at the end of the range, and extracted the letter from her pocket. Amos had laid down next to the ATV and Nikki returned for her root beer, having just secured her rejection letter to the board. Sitting in the grass next to the beloved old dog, she sipped from the bottle, staring down her target. Wiping her mind of her father's pleas, her mother's busy fussing over packing, the funeral... A lump threatened to lodge in her throat. It had been months since the funeral, but she couldn't seem to complete the grieving process.
Tossing aside the empty bottle, she loaded the rifle, took aim, and blasted holes in the letter. Approaching the target, she saw the neat holes all in the relative center of the paper. Smiling with satisfaction, Nikki traced the bullet holes. I'm not the prettiest around here. Or the smartest, or the most athletic... But man alive, I'm a good shot. She stood to turn, keeping the gun barrel aimed at the ground.
"So why're you down here when you should be with your family?" A familiar voice called. Nikki whipped around in surprise, involuntarily giving an annoyed groan. Several yards behind stood Carl. A young man not much older than Nikki, with chocolate hair and a well muscled build disguised under a flannel shirt. Carl was a handsome man, a neighbor, and a helper around the ranch... And an ex-boyfriend. The young man strode over in front of the old dog and gave him a gentle pat; Amos returned the favor with a wagging tail and a few licks to his hand. "So why're you here instead of shoveling manure?" she spat, crossing back to the ATV.
"That would be your job, right Niks?" he cooed jeeringly.
"Well, I'm leaving and somebody has to do it. And I really wouldn't tick off a girl with a gun if I were you." Nikki avoided eye contact as she reloaded the rifle. "And I told you not to call me that." She hoisted the rifle to her shoulder, taking careful aim and firing at the letter once again. She turned to see Carl lower his hands from his ears. "Thanks for the warning," he quipped. "So why're you leaving? Is it because of college?" Nikki shuddered. I hate it. I hate it so, so much when he reads me like this. "I-It's not that. Th-th-the time c-came for me to m-m-m-move on." Carl crossed his arms and snickered.
"See? You're doing it again." He strode up to Nikki. "When you get nervous, you stutter." I could just smack that smug grin off your face… "Listen, Niks. You're running away from your problems." Keep pushing, Carl. I would love an excuse to lash out. "First the university, now your b-" Nikki whipped around, her open palm making contact with his cheek. The blow wasn't hard, but Carl stumbled back out of shock, Nikki turned and shook her open, stinging palm. Nikki hefted Amos onto the ATV and turned to Carl, her index finger pointed to his face. "Don't you DARE talk about that. N-never talk a-about that." She took the rifle and secured it to the ATV hood. "THIS, Carl. This is why we never worked out. You're inconsiderate, r-rude and you CRUSH my self-esteem." Not turning back to him, she fired up the ATV and started to rumble back to the house, desperate to leave and hide her tears.
"How much longer, Hudson?" Brooklyn strained against the weight of the metal bars. The two gargoyles were struggling to realign the fire escape that had just been desecrated. As the vermilion gargoyle held up the frame of the structure, Hudson slipped the metal bars back into their slots. After a moment of struggle, Hudson relinquished his efforts. "Eh hang it all! These blasted rods refuse to fit. Would be best that we leave it be, let the repairmen fix it. We may be making it worse." Brooklyn loosened his grip, allowing the stairs to dangle. "Yeah, they're pretty good at fixing these types of things anyway." Brooklyn lifted his head to gaze at the sky, the inky gap in between buildings. Allowing the wind to catch in his wings, the young gargoyle was lifted to the rooftops, Hudson gliding alongside him.
The gargoyles continued over the illuminated city, scouring the streets for signs of trouble. Brooklyn found himself looking to his patrol companion, peering at the scar over Hudson's eye.
"You know Hudson, I remember when you got that scar." He mentioned nonchalantly. "I was 26 when that happened."
"Aye, right you are. That was around the age that you, Broadway and Lexington starting getting into real mischief. Sneaking into the castle, taking the guards' horses for a night ride."
"Heh, hate to break it to you," Brooklyn chuckled. "But that was only me. I was just showing off." He was silent for a moment. "Hudson, is it weird, not being able to see out of that eye?"
"Eh, ye get used to it, lad. A dog doesn't mourn a lost leg, but learns to work with the remaining three."
"Yeah. I'm not sure I could do that." Hudson took a moment to ponder and spoke quietly, just above the sound of the wind.
"Lad, do ye feel a change?"
"A change?" Brooklyn inquired, bewildered.
"It might be just me. But I think that I feel a change- in these old bones, in the wind maybe." Brooklyn absorbed the words, shrugged and continued to scan the alleys for crime.
She let her fingers slide along the smooth, frigid surface. Kneeling in the grass, her bulky cell phone in hand and Monique sitting next to her. Nikki felt her best friend's hand on her shoulder; Monique had always been a motherly friend. She involuntarily stroked the phone with her thumb; her worried mother had just given it to her earlier that morning. "Nikki, are you ready? The plane leaves in-" Monique's green eyes flicked to her wristwatch. "In less than four hours. You still have a three hour drive." Nikki turned to Monique, her best friend's black hair pulled into a French braid, her porcelain skin blurred slightly by the exhaust coming from the running truck. Nikki's father sat in the pickup, luggage in tow, waiting to leave.
"You can get back in the truck. I just need one more minute." Monique nodded and proceeded to the pickup. Nikki looked over every detail of the tombstone, carving a mental image into her memory. She spoke softly to the tombstone. "I'm going now. I'm going to miss- well. Actually I still miss you, even though the funeral was months ago. I guess I'll be back, but not for a while. I love you, Brian. Take care." She stood up, curly blonde hair whipping in the sudden breeze. She stepped over to the left a few feet, set her sights on one particular grave, and sneered at it. I won't miss you, Grandpop. She then turned away and jogged over to the truck, ready to go to the airport in Bozeman.