An eleven-year-old girl walked down the banks of the Mississippi River. She made a detour and slunk up behind a man seated on a painted wooden bench.
Aiming, she shot forward and pounced at him.
At the last possible minute though, the man ducked, and the girl caught a handful of air.
The girl pouted. "Aw, why do you keep dodging like that?"
The man got up and petted her lightly on the head. "Y'know, Kylie? In 'bout twenty years or so, ya might be able t' catch me."
The girl pretended to be angry. "Yeah? In ten years Sidus, I will be dodging you!"
"Really." The man answered without so much as a question mark in his tone. Turning around and walking towards the banks, he added "grow up first."
Kylie laughed and chased after Sidus.
The two were alike in some ways, and unalike in others.
Both had their father's black hair and mother's pale complexion.
Kylie had her mother's Gothic features and an adorable sparkle in her emerald eyes when she smiled, which was often around her favorite, one-and-only big brother.
Twenty-year-old Sidus on the other hand looked like an old man who had witnessed every war in existence, and his brown eyes were quiet and expectant.
Since Kylie's birth, they had lived and grown up together. Sidus had seen more pain than his sister had, since he was already a teenager at that time. Unable to go for the city life that got his parents so insane, Sidus had joined the army for a living. But he never left Kylie alone to live with pain if he could help it.
Sidus was the only real family Kylie knew. At least, he was the only family that gave her love.
Finally, Sidus halted and stooped down a bit, allowing Kylie to leap and jump onto the small of his back.
"Hn. Yer heavy." He grunted.
"I am a growing girl, y'know!" Kylie retorted, mimicking her brother's way of speech.
Sidus straightened up and balanced her on his muscular shoulders. "Whatever. Time t' go."
Sidus turned around and tramped away from the Mississippi River, back to his motorbike and the drive to the place where they lived.
"Do we have to go back? I mean, what if they are fighting again?"
Sidus stopped. He knew what she was so afraid of. Reaching up, he wrapped his well-worn hand around her small one.
"Don't worry. No matter what happens, I'll be here for ya."
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
A loud crash followed by cursing proved Kylie right.
They were fighting again, just as they had been doing since Sidus was nine.
"THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT!!!!!"
"NO, THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT!!!!!"
Kylie watched the two monstrous shadows hurling insults at each other as she silently made her way across the living room. The father was carrying a freshly emptied whiskey bottle, while the mother was waving her hands in exasperated manner. None of them acknowledged the presence of their children.
"TO HELL WITH WHATEVER POSSESSED ME TO MARRY YOU, SCUM OF THE EARTH!!!!!"
"YOU GO TO HELL, BITCH!!!!!!"
The father hurled his bottle. Drunk as he was, he had terrible aiming. The bottle sailed past the mother and flew straight for Kylie.
Kylie screamed and shrunk towards the floor.
The sick sound of glass shattering against flesh filled the room.
Held fast by the magic of shock, the father and mother ceased their argument.
Kylie felt no pain. A shadow loomed over her while something pattered on the floor in steady drops.
Kylie opened her eyes, and saw Sidus kneeling over her, his hands pressed against the wall to support his body. Blood that didn't soak his jacket splattered onto the floor.
He had managed to shield her from the dangerous bottle, but took the blow full impact.
Sidus slowly opened his eyes and lowered his head toward his sister. "...........Ky.........Ya okay?"
Kylie nodded mutely. Sidus stroked her hair with one hand, then shakily stood up. Grabbing a towel, he pressed it against his bleeding head and neck. He glared at the parents, daring them to stop what he had in mind. They backed off fearfully.
Sidus extended his free hand to Kylie. "....Let's go, Ky."
Kylie took the hand and let Sidus lead them out of the house.
Neither of them looked back.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
Sidus had foreseen it all. The day had finally arrived when his parents went too far. So he was not surprised that it had happened. He was only surprised that it did not happen sooner.
He had already helped Kylie prepare a bag of necessities, plus one for himself. But his would no longer be needed.
They finally arrived at their Grandma Rose's house. Sidus had often come visit her in his childhood years, but this was Kylie's first time.
/At least Grandma Rose will treat Ky more humanely./ He thought.
The towel still pressed on his neck was already bright crimson and damp with blood. Releasing Kylie's hand, he dug inside his jacket pockets until he found a notepad, a pocket diary and a pen. Struggling, he started to scribble as legibly as he could manage.
Dear Grandma Rose,
It has finally happened. The parents I once knew no longer exist.
They succeed in killing me, so there is no reason for them not to try and kill Kylie as well.
If they make trouble, give my diary to the police. It has every single detail of the fights between them that caused my injuries as a kid, including the last one that caused my death. But if they don't bother you, then let them alone.
Kylie is a good girl, Grandma Rose. Please take good care of her, for my sake.
Your grandson, Sidus
Sidus tore the paper out, put it on the cover of his diary, and tied both together with a rubber band. Then he passed it to Kylie.
"Give this t' Grandma Rose. She's th' old lady with green eyes. Tell her yer name an' give her this book an' paper. Got it?"
Sidus turned to leave.
"Aren't you coming with me?"
Sidus stopped. He was tempted to enter the house and live with them. But he knew that was not possible. He was feeling weary, and Death was starting to whisper in his ear.
He shook his head sullenly. "Sorry Kylie. Ya hafta go in on yer own. Grandma Rose won't let them hurt ya."
"But...But Si...I'm scared..."
Sidus looked back. He was scared too. He did not want to leave. But....still....
Sidus let go of the towel, letting his blood continue to soak his jacket, and hugged Kylie.
"Don't be scared, Ky. Ya gotta be strong. Yer gonna be a lady soon, an' yet gotta be able t' take care of yerself."
"Will you be here for me?" Kylie pressed on.
Sidus gave Kylie a man-are-you-dumb look. "Course I'll be here. Even if ya can't see me, I'll always be here."
Finally reassured, Kylie her death-grip on her big brother. Sidus pressed the doorbell, and staggered away as fast as he could behind a wall. He heard the door open, heard Grandma Rose say something, and then heard the door close again. When he looked back, he saw Kylie look out the window just once before Grandma Rose took her further into the house.
Sidus smiled. He knew Kylie would be safe.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
He last wish fulfilled, he struggled away, as far as he could from notice.
He finally arrived at a misshapen alley behind a rundown rent-out shop. It was dark and gloomy. As he sat down propped up against a wall, the black body of a wolfish dog moved. The animal had come to die in peace as well.
/Great. I have to share my deathbed with a dog./
Sidus closed his eyes, waiting for his strength to leave him. It took an eternity, and it confused him. This was supposed to be the end. He was supposed to be seeing the legendary tunnel with the light on one end. He was supposed to see a light. There was nothing but darkness because of his shut eyes.
/I can't let go. No matter how hard I try, I can't let go. Or is it because I don't want to let go.....?/
With just that one thought, all his passive will to die was washed out by a torrential wave of regret.
The dog opened its eyes and watched the human struggle futilely to get up.
Sidus gritted his teeth as his stiff and disobedient joints demanded him to stay put. "What am I doin'? I ain't goin' nowhere but home! I wanna take care of Kylie! I wanna watch her grow up and graduate! I wanna see her get married! I wanna baby-sit my nephew!" Beyond his control, tears started to fall onto his lap. "I wanna......see the d.....day that she.....finally.....d...dodges me!"
His strength suddenly started to fade at lightning speed, as though it was taking sadistic pleasure in his earlier heroic battle against the forces.
Sidus refused to give in. "I.....don't wanna......die li....like this....."
The last bit of strength finally left him, and he slumped down again.
The dog appeared to pity him. It rose and gingerly made its way to where he was. With its head on his lap, it lay down beside him.
Sidus finally submitted to the unpleasant truth, and gazed down at the dog. Slowly, he reached up and removed the chain around his neck and put it around the dog's. It had a silver star medallion, which bore his name, hanging from it. As he recalled, Kylie had earned money by running errands all over the neighborhood for an entire fortnight in order to have it custom-made for him.
The dog thumped its tail twice. Then it whined and shut its eyes for the last time. Sidus also closed his eyes, and let his life drain away and stain the concrete scarlet.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
The next day:
"Hey boys! Don't clock out yet!"
Police officers Eugene and Don were stopped and passed a note. "You guys are needed to stop by this area."
"Aw MAN! Our shift is, like, long over already!" Eugene complained.
"Look, I'm sorry about that. But you're the only lot left until the night shift comes in. And the guy says its urgent."
Don groaned and stuffed the note in his pocket. "Okay. We're going."
"Thanks a lot. The guy said to bring a body-bag."
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
"Blech!" Eugene gagged and held his nose. "This thing's gotta be, like, about a day old!"
Don too clamped one hand over his face as he surveyed the scene. Blood stains covered the lower part of one wall and the floor beneath it. Amidst a crimson background lay a dead man in his twenties with dried blood all over his clothing.
/Join the copper force, they said. It's a man's life, they said./
Eugene studied the gruesome wounds on the back of the man's neck and head. Where the blood hadn't crusted over, slivers of glass stuck out and shone against the light of the setting sun. "Yet another bike gang war martyr. If these people enjoy fighting so much, why don't they, like, join the army or something?!"
"Let's just get this over and done with, okay?" Don whimpered. He couldn't stand being there one minute longer.
As they quickly evacuated and watch the body bag make its way to the body, a long thin mournful sound echoed through the evening air.
"If I'm not wrong, last night was Midsummer's Night." Don subconsciously put a hand to the brim of his hat. "Do you think....?"
"Naw! It's probably just some lovesick dumb animal. Let's hit the road! I promised my wife I'd be home on time!"
As the police car drove off, a distant shadow watched them go. Then it turned around, and disappeared into the park as the sun finally disappeared.
= * = * = * =