DISCLAIMER - Well, guess what, folks? After spending time with my father, observing how old he has become through his ordeal with his back and shoulders, and wondering how much time we really have with him, an idea for a second chapter to this story took root. I had to write it. I wanted to make it as a one-shot, but, I honestly cannot make this addition a separate story. It goes too well with Ecce Cor Meum and so to avoid having someone accuse me of breaking some sacred FF rule, I've added to it.
Once again, it's anyone's guess who is who. It's rather fun to write this way, but I promise, that if I add to this again (and I think I will, as ideas form), I will eventually reveal who is who and in what order. :0).
Oh, and I've re-tooled the genre selection. In other words - um - beware of tragedy and angst.
My thanks and appreciation to all who read and to those who took the time to read the first chapter.
And, if I owned the turtles and Splinter, none of them would never have to worry about fighting again. Alas, I don't and so the struggle continues.
Chapter 2 - Vigilo
It was inevitable. Everyone silently knew it would happen one day.
Just not - THAT day.
When I think back to it, with all that we've been through, all the years of fighting, struggling to survive, if I were to say who would fall first...it wouldn't have been him.
No, I think all of us would agree, even if we didn't voice it, out of the four of us he would have survived. He would have found a way, just like he found a way around every difficult problem, every near impossible situation. His wit always seemed to rise above the struggle.
It's been two years, now and it still gets to me - and why shouldn't it? He was my brother, my comrade-in-arms…my friend. I loved him with a fire in my soul hotter than the sun. I would have even taken the hit, if I could.
"WATCH OUT...BEHIND YOU, NO - NOT YOUR LEFT, YOUR..."
By then, it was too late, and my world - OUR world - collapsed and shattered into a million pieces. The rage we felt then, watching our brother fall, his blood spilling liberally along the ground, fueled our resolve to a level we haven't felt since. The carnage we left behind as we carried his body home, the trail of tears - and blood - in our wake, rocked our world like nothing we had ever experienced before.
Then, to present our brother's body, broken and bleeding, to our father, crushed us almost beyond recovery. Although Master Splinter said nothing, the quaking of his form as he tried to resolve this tragedy, to come to instant terms, told us that this was an outcome he had feared most of all.
No parent wants to outlive their child and Splinter wasn't any different. Regardless of our species, he was our father; we were his sons.
Later, we realized it was in that that moment when he began to die. Splinter's decline was slow, at first, but with every conflict we had against our enemy, our father seemed to age more, grow more feeble, until one day, he took his last breath.
Yet, it was not too many days before, though, when he told us to flee, to leave the city, before another of us succumbed to our enemy's wrath. His voice had been weak but in that moment, he had found a strength that both surprised and impressed us. The battles had become more frequent and harsher and it was only a matter of time before another of us fell. He had grown tired of the fighting, tired of worrying, and maybe a little fearful that he would live long enough to see one more son die. In that way, I believe that was why he told us to leave and when he finally gave up and relinquished his life.
And the moment we realized he was gone, we agreed that we would execute his last wish, too.
With Casey and April's help, we buried Splinter at the farm, right beside our fallen brother, a year almost to the day when we had dug that first burial hole. Then, we made plans to leave New York. It's hard to give up all that you have always known. Fighting is all we knew, struggling was what we did best, but the decision to blaze new trails for our lives was strong. Other than retrieving our personal affects - our extra weapons, our technology, our mementos of our fallen family members - we never returned to the city. With Casey and April's help, we found a place to live that was too remote for even the most formidable explorer. It is warmer there during the winter months, too, which greatly improved our lives, and it frustrated us that we hadn't done it years earlier.
There have been times I think that if we hadn't experienced such loss as our father and brother, we never would have made that decision. Can it be that it had to take something so terrible like that, to force our hand to that end? I really don't know and I'll never express it, because I highly doubt any of us would consider it worth the price paid.
As I stare at their graves, at the head of each plot, I study the pile of stones. Upon each, we had carved our names. We then placed the engraved side towards the ground, as if turning our backs to the world and facing the one buried there, protecting them. We cemented the stones together, using drops of our own blood with water, binding the concrete together. Four rocks on the first grave, representing three grieving brothers and one bereaved father. Then, for Splinter, we placed three on the second one. When the next of us dies, there will be two stones, then one, and then - well, we haven't decided how to handle THAT problem, but I'm certain Casey and April will think of something; that is if they outlive us.
As I sit here, I can't help staring at the graves, the two of them lying under the Mimosa tree that our friends planted when we buried our father. With our brother's violent and sudden passing, we were all too numb to think of things like that. After our brother's burial, however, April had evidently given a lot of thought to it. If one of us could die, then it made sense that the rest of us could, also, and she wanted a reminder of who and what we were. I think her choice with the Japanese Mimosa was a fitting tribute, too.
At Splinter's internment, she said it best that the tree would bloom in spring and all through the warm months of summer, the season that our father - that we - loved best. In the fall and winter, the blooms would then rain down like tears, representing our loss. With the following spring, though, the pink and white blossoms would return once again, reminding us about the renewal of life, the hope that we have where one day, in the next realm, we would be a family united again. Although the tree is currently small, over the years it will grow tall and majestic. It's broad, umbrella-like canopy will shade our gravesite in shadow, an honor and a tribute to the way we lived.
I shake my head slowly, take in a deep shuddering breath, and allow my eyes to fill with unbidden tears. I then reach out and gently touch the rocks in front of me, caressing them. I swallow back a cry and suddenly, a sense of desperation takes hold. I have all I can do to keep from ripping the rocks from their resting place and hand digging my brother, my father, from their graves. I want to breathe life back into them again, I want to hug them, laugh with them, - and argue with them. I want them, I need them. Even after a year, I can't fathom how I can go on without my father and brother. It just doesn't seem right not to have my family complete and whole and standing beside me in unity.
"Hey," a gentle voice beckons from behind, interrupting my grief.
I had felt their presence a moment before, but I stay where I am, keeping my face hidden, quickly wiping the tears from my eyes. A sudden shudder runs through me, though, betraying my present mood. In response, I feel a body sit down beside mine, as an arm drapes across my shoulder. Nothing more is said. Silence these days is often all we need, especially here at Casey's farm, especially with where we're kneeling.
As if he has to ask, my brother's question breaks the stillness between us, "So, how're they doin'?"
I smile, because he knows my answer. It is the same one I give to him each time he asks his question, whenever he finds me here.
"So far, it's been a one-way conversation."
"Yeah, figured as much."
Another stretch of silence spans between us. Within it, we can hear the rustle of leaves from the trees above us, as a soft wind plays through them. Birds call from a distance and the buzz of late summer insects add to the symphony. I can't help but sigh again and I hear a similar intake of air follow mine. As he exhales deeply, he breaks the quiet, his voice soft and thick with emotion.
"Still doesn't seem real, does it?"
I have to agree with him on that one. It seems surreal, like - a nightmare.
He stays there with me, one arm across the top of my carapace, quietly supportive, yet needing support himself. We stare at the graves, side by side, like our father and brother, who had gone on before us. Years earlier, in our youth, we had argued who would lie next to Splinter. We were in agreement to having Splinter in the middle, but we argued as to who would be to his right and left. Realistically, though, how could we predict who would die first? Ah, the follies of youth.
"Still can't believe they're gone, can you?" My brother turned his head to me and I nod a little, refusing to meet his gaze. I can't because I am afraid. I'm afraid that maybe he will be next and that my last memory of him would show a face filled with grief.
"No," was all I could say.
What else was there to say? It's was done and over with, a thing of the past, but a thing, nonetheless, that kept piercing my heart each and every time we came here - and I wonder about the wisdom of doing so. Casey's farm will always be to me, now, a cemetery and nothing more. In the beginning, it was something else of course, before the first of us died. Now, we only sojourn here on their anniversaries. Where we presently live southwest of New York State where it's warmer and more humid, it takes a few days of travel to get to Massachusetts, thanks to Casey and April. Without them, we could never make it, not without hiking for several weeks through more populated territory. They had upgraded from their van to an RV, too. It was an old RV, but it helped a lot and gave us the kind of cover we needed whenever traveling through the various cities, before ending up at the farm.
At first, we thought of moving to Florida, but April said there wasn't much in the way of wild wood left. She helped us find a spot that was too inhospitable and rugged for developers or trailblazers, and where it's protected, thanks to the preservationists, April said that if we were discovered, who's to say that we weren't indigenous to the area? The laws governing the protection of the preserve would protect us. Hopefully, though, the day of our discovery will never come.
"So, you comin' in for dinner?" Once again, my brother's voice interrupts my thoughts with another repeated question. I guess the others had designated him for the task of getting me to come back to the house.
I shook my head, "Not hungry."
"Hey, ya gotta have something to eat. It's been two days, bro."
"I know, but I'm not hungry. Maybe later."
He sighs and then gets up, his hand still on the top of my shell, and before he turns to leave, he rubs my head, "They're not really gone, ya know, so long as we don't forget them."
I swallow then, feeling his hand as it drags along my carapace and pulls away from me. Before he leaves to go back to the house, where the remainder of my family and friends await, I murmur softly, "But, who's going to remember us once the last one is gone?"
He sighs, but doesn't say anything, and then he turns and heads back to the house. I resume my vigil, my personal fast, my need to pay homage to my fallen family members. It is what I did the previous year and what I will continue to do, so long as I am able to make the trip to honor them.
Yet, think about my last words and wonder who will indeed bury the last of us, who will morn us once we are gone? Whom could we entrust! We can't be certain that Casey - even April, will out last us, for who knows how long we have to live? If our mutation allows us a small bit of immortality - and the youthfulness of our present health says as much - then it's quite possible that Casey and April will succumb to the effects of old age before we do.
And if that should happen, who would then bury the last one?
After a moment, I realize that when it happens, it's not really going to matter. I hope that whoever it, their death will happen in our home down south, hidden and undiscovered. There, the body will decay and decades of compost will cover the remaining shell and carapace before anyone finds our home.
Before I stand up and make my way back to the house to join rest of my family, I finger the journal tucked within my belt. I wonder if my brother had a premonition about his death. To think, moments before he fell, that he had wished for calmer, safer days like what we have been living these past several months, it still amazes me. His words were more prophetic than just the ramblings of a frustrated soul. I wonder, if he really knew, and if he's now watching over us from where he is.
I hope so, because if he is, then he's not really gone. By remembering him and our father, they will continue to live within our hearts, until that day when the last of us breathes our last, and unit together as a family once again.