Mister Smith hated goodbye. It was one of his least favorite words because it was the most frequently used. He was a wanderer, not by choice but by design. He didn't get to have a home. Didn't get to settle down and have friends and a family. He never stayed in any one place long enough to be considered part of a community. His life was a series of missions dictated by the Voice in his head. Not that it was always there. Sometimes it gave him a few days off without any purpose or directive. But it always came back. No matter where he was or what he was doing. The Voice always returned with a new message to be delivered or task to be undertaken. It didn't matter how much he protested or how settled he'd become in the weeks during its absence. When it said go, he went. To do otherwise – to disobey or delay – was to invite some very ugly consequences.
For that reason, Mister Smith rarely, if ever, said goodbye. It was too final. It closed too many doors. In a sense, he hoped that not saying the actual word would mean that one day he could return. Perhaps become a part of something. Apermanent part of something. So he would slip away and simply leave. There one day, gone the next. Less painful that way. For everyone else if not himself. In his heart he carried with him the faces and voices and memories of all the people he'd met and helped. All those he had longed to have as a permanent part of his life but knew could not. Because there was the Voice. He was Chosen whether he liked it or not.
As the helicopter landed on the grassy sward just beyond the woods, a safe distance from the sealed doors of Valhalla Sector, Kurdy and a few of his men ran to greet it. They held their weapons close and at the ready should there be any more of the military complex's defenses left to threaten the new arrival. Mister Smith ran with them, a little behind and to the left. A few yards short of the helicopter, as the occupants began to disembark, he peeled off and continued to run into the woods, away from Kurdy and the others. Unnoticed and forgotten in the urgency of the situation and the need to plan the next course of action. The Big Death was loose in Valhalla Sector, sealed off for the moment from the living, breathing world, and Kurdy's partner Jeremiah was trapped inside. Kurdy had more pressing matters weighing his mind than keeping an eye onthe unusual stranger who had miraculalously appeared in the nick of time to save his life. Twice.
Running into the woods, Mister Smith slowed his pace but did not stop. He didn't even pause when he came abreast of his battered old knapsack, tossed aside before the melee of the night. He simply hooked one of the straps in passing and picked it up, slinging it over his shoulder with practiced ease. His life was in the bag. Everything he owned but very few things he cared about. Only one item was precious to him, else he could easily have left the bag behind and gone on his way instead of risking further discovery. But now that he had his sole possession safely in hand, he angled off in a direction away from the soldiers, Valhalla Sector, and Kurdy.
It was Kurdy that he couldn't say goodbye to. Kurdy that he secretly hoped he might one day meet again and maybe, just maybe, get to know as a friend. He'd immediately liked the cynical but good natured, muscular black man. There was a joy inside him that appealed to Mister Smith. A love of life and a burning desire to see the good in the world. To make the world a better place. There was warmth and caring under that gruff, sometimes brooding exterior. He would have liked to get to know Kurdy better.
The Voice was silent, offering no comfort or solution. Mister Smith had fulfilled its directives. It had yet to tell him where next to go or what to do. So he simply continued walking in a random direction, away from the activity behind him. Toward the sound of rushing water. It was shaping up to be a beautiful day. The morning sun burned through the last lingering wisps of grey fog, shining brightily in a storybook blue sky and bathing the wood in warm, golden light.
Mister Smith stepped out of the forest and into the presence of an Angel. He froze in mid-step, his breath literally taken away by her beauty. Dressed in a diaphanous white gown, as light as gossimer, she was tall and slender, her delicate fingers reaching to pluck a daisy. Long, raven-dark hair flecked with grey fell softly about her shoulders and framed a heart-shaped face. A face full of compassion and wisdom and sadness. A tired face. Worn.
When she looked up at him over the bright yellow petals, she offered him a little smile. "I used to dream about days like this," said the Angel in a melodious voice.
"It's beautiful," he agreed. Afraid to move. Afraid that he might startle her into running away.
"I'd forgotten," she sighed, lifting the flower to her face and brushing her cheek with the soft petals. "Not just the sights but the feel of it. The smell of it. The wind in my hair. The sun on my face. Flowers. Grass under my feet." She wriggled her bare toes and smiled. It was a sad, mournful smile. A smile of goodbye.
The Angel opened her hand and the flower drifted lazily to the ground, landing on the grass beside her bare foot. "I'm going home now."
"To heaven?" asked Mister Smith softly.
"I don't know." Her gaze drifted across the meadow, coming to rest on an outcropping in the distance. She smiled at the sound of water falling, tumbling, splashing over rocks. "I suppose I'll find out when I get there."
"Can I --?" he began, offering a hand, but she shook her head and stepped backward.
"No. Don't touch me. You don't want to touch me." Tears glittered in her eyes. "There's been enough for one lifetime."
"You can never have enough," he answered, misunderstanding.
"Unless your touch is death."
It was then that he realized who she must be. "You're Meaghan."
"No. I am Death. The last of the old world. But I'm leaving now." She looked over his shoulder, back toward Valhalla Sector and the distant sound of helicopters and shouts. "I wish I could have said goodbye."
"You still can."
"No," she shook her head. "It's better this way."
"It isn't," he replied gently, understanding more than she knew. He'd heard Kurdy talk about the woman from the old world. She was a carrier of the virus that had destroyed the world. Alive and undead. Untouchable but touched. In love with Markus Alexander, the leader of Thunder Mountain. And he with her.
The Voice stirred within Mister Smith.
"Wait," he urged, his voice pleading. "Just a little longer."
"I have to go now."
"Please, not yet. Wait. He'll come."
"Markus?" Her expression was one of surprise but her voice was hopeful.
Mister Smith nodded. "He'll come. Don't leave without saying goodbye."
"Do you think --?"
"I know," he said with a certainty and a sadness all his own. "He'll be here. Soon. Give yourself that moment. Give him that moment. You owe it to yourself. Besides," he continued, encouraging,"You've waited so long to enjoy a day like this."
"That's true," she said with a wistful smile. Turning her face to the sun and feeling its warmth bath her. "I think maybe I will. For just a little while."
She turned slowly, as if in a dream, and began to walk across the grass toward the precipace and the waterfall. To Mister Smith it almost seemed as if she floated, an ethereal figure. An Angel.
Meaghan paused and looked over her shoulder. "Are you a friend of Markus?"
He began to answer in the negative. He was leaving, after all. He'd not met Markus and probably never would. But it was the Voice that answered, taking his intended words and gently brushing them aside with a new reality. A new purpose.
"Yeah. I'm a friend," he replied. "I'm Kurdy's partner."
"Good. That's good." She offered him a beautific smile then continued to glide toward her destiny. Toward Home.
Mister Smith watched her a moment longer, then turned and headed back the way he'd come. Into the forest. Toward Valhalla Sector and Kurdy. He had a new calling. A new assignment.
I'm Kurdy's partner.
Not yet. But he would be in time.
"Good thing I didn't say goodbye," Mister Smith murmured to himself as he trotted back toward the action. "He'd probably think I was crazy."