Reprise or A Hard Rain's A'Gonna Fall'
by Kiss Off
The sun decided to hide from Shepherd's Glen. It was still that time of year when it didn't get truly dark until nine and even then the sunset had a way of lingering, setting the sky aflame like that time when a house in the neighbouring town burned down. The heavens were red for a week, eddying out for miles, and if you stared too long, it was suddenly like heaven and hell were the same. That was before Alex can remember though, but he'd heard stories, awful stories that made him stare across the lake until the horizon went black, hoping to see something — anything — make the imagination real. He never did.
He never will.
Tonight the sky was gray and dark and thick with fog, reminiscent of old souls.
They'd all agreed to go back. Just for a few days, get their bearings. Elle insisted and Alex was beyond caring enough to argue. What was a few more days in comparison; a highly optimistic point of view after the horrors they'd experienced, and a few more days could very well mean the end of everything, all their suffering and growth a waste. The physical lesions were already scabbing over, leaving gruesome relics on display, telling a story no one in the outside world would believe...if there was still an outside world to consider. They're not quite out of the fog yet. The allegorical pain — the worst kind — was still a battle caught in stalemate, personal demons very much a part of their individual consciences, manifesting in a different shape for different sins. But they all coped in their own way.
Regardless, Wheeler was grateful for the prospect of rest. They all were.
The trio commandeered a boat, ashen, probably belonging to the Order but no one had any moral qualms with stealing from an occult. Wheeler commented on the observation and Alex smiled, humourless, feeling cold and impossibly old as he pulled the boat out of dock and into the thinning mist, leaving the Otherworld behind. The weight on his shoulders shifted to an different kind of discomfort but it was just as heavy.
They were silent, caught up in the moments of peace as the wind swept their faces. Wheeler drifted.
"Do you think it'll be different?" Elle asked him when their consciouses were alone and Alex wasn't entirely sure of what context she'd meant. He didn't look at her; her hair was dyed a strawberry colour after Curtis had come at her with the saw, not to mention it was tangled and knotted into a bird's nest on her head. Stress and blood and fatigue aged her beyond her mother's years; she was tired, ugly, and he couldn't meet her eyes, couldn't see his own exhaustion mirrored back at him.
He wondered when he stopped loving her.
"Yeah, I do."
He agreed because it was what she wanted to hear and maybe he believed it.
She didn't speak much after, not until they could see buildings, which was something other than fog and rustic industry. "Suppose we should do a clean sweep." Wheeler took the responsibility of verbalising what was on everyone's mind (although it wasn't so much a suggestion as an inevitable observation) and the group simultaneously felt a shudder through their spines. "What's a few more monsters?" Elle prompted, her voice on the verge of breaking, but Alex didn't feel any better about the circumstance. His body ached and he felt every bruise, every cut, every wound reel on him ten fold as he stepped onto solid ground, the weight of a pistol feeling one hundred pounds more burdensome in his hand. Running his tongue along the inside of his mouth, he tasted copper.
They'd walked, hand-in-hand like a brigade, down humid streets. Alex was faintly reminded of a fallout. 'So far, so good' didn't cut it in the best possible sense.
The streets were empty and the radio static was nonexistent, an almost eldritch alternative considering Alex nearly went blue in the face from anticipation, expecting to hear unworldly murmurs or the barking of a hellhound resounding off the gravel and interim tombstones.
He'd been right.
"We'll leave in the morning."
It was the Shepherd's Glen Alex remembered… before his 'deployment'. He could see the sun on the lake, reflecting warmth he'd long forgotten existed and was heartened to find he hadn't imagined that aspect of his childhood— temperate sunlight outlined his cheek like how his mother's delicate fingers used to when he would cry, void emotion threading her eyes, frightening him. Alex supposed he wasn't afraid anymore, but when the door to the old house was beneath his palm, he realised he'd lied to himself.
There were other monsters, ones not made of flesh and wire but could cut him just as deep.
The door gave and Alex found a house unchanged. It wasn't so in the sense of an anti-climactic revelation; he hadn't walked in expecting to see wraiths of his family, although it wouldn't have necessarily been a surprise if the notion had proven to be real. There was nonchalant relief that nothing slipped out from the shadows to gut him, causing his grip on the pistol to slacken. Slightly. That would have been familiar, at least.
The house screamed alone.
Waning daylight casted odd rays through the cracks between the boarded windows. Thick particles of dust drifted lazily in the sitting room, suddenly interrupted by his presence from what appeared to be years of settling idly. His mother's rocking chair rested in a long shadow that stretched from one wall to the other, a vague water-stain blemishing the oak finish. It was knocked over. The only sound was the ticking of the grandfather clock down the hall. Adam had bought the clock for Mother's fortieth birthday. Alex hated it.
He hated this house.
But he remained in this house and night painted the windows with white brushstrokes; a canvas illustrating a world where roads led to nowhere and dogs went missing. He climbed the stairs and took a right, trailing his hands against pastel walls that gave and took away memories with detached photographs. There was a stranger in the mirror; who did those eyes belong to? The water was still running and it blistered his skin. The porcelain bath was red, oxidised.
He dove and fell away, thinking about God.
And woke to faint kisses on his eyelids.
He felt heavy, clambering out of the bathtub to chase ghosts again, old, damp clothes clinging to his bruised soldier's body like a second skin. The mirror did not lie to him again— his eyes were no longer gray and it was a matter of belief that led him to look again, acknowledging this was real. The boy disappeared into the hallway as he approached but Alex didn't feel any of the urgency— I'll wait for you, it told him. When you're ready. He sauntered, almost drunkenly, following the watery footprints the apparition had left behind. This dream was different from the others, he noted.
Alex found him on the porch step, knees tucked into his chest, black hair ruffling slightly in the dawn wind. He looked like a child and the sun was bright on the lake.
The soldier took a seat beside the ghost, mimicking his posture and watching him. He didn't expect anything but received anyway— "Mom and Dad are proud of you."
An escaped breath breaks the silence; it is volatilising. Looking out onto the lake, at a town that would be embedded in his mind until his final moments, Alex forgets. He understood the phantom's intent and perhaps he felt it but he didn't believe it. He recalled smiling at the effort though, and yes, perhaps he could live with this.
They sit in silence, watching the sun rise.
He had no more tears left even though the grief and regret caught in his throat and choked him into quiet sobs that raked his body with a kind of violence that you can't ever shield yourself from, no matter how many years you put in between fits. The boy places a small hand on his shoulder and warmth blossoms from his touch, rippling into Alex's gut and painting his cheeks the colour of the sun. The phantom smiles, knowing.
Josh rises and extends his hand, sunlight catching in his hair. He is young and beautiful. So Alex takes it and follows him into the lake, engulfed in forgotten tears and forgiving hands.
Elle finds him the next morning, eyes cloudy, distant, tracing patterns in the bathroom ceiling.