"He's the one?"
"He's one of many."
"We can't be sure which 'one' he is."
"There's cross pollination happening on a universal scale."
"He may not be the one we took her from, but he is one that had her taken from him."
"An infinite number of hims running into a infinite number of Columbias searching for an infinite number of hers."
"How did he get here?"
Silence. Comstock turns to the Lutece twins.
"I said how did he get here?"
"The multiverse is wounded, bleeding."
"We've broken the way everything works."
"It shakes and writhes, trying to fix itself."
"But only makes it worse."
"He came through a tear, he must have. From his world into ours."
"We should expect more tears to appear."
"Should we expect more of him?"
"…It's a possibility."
"Definitely a possibility."
"But in the infinite, what isn't possible?"
What a wholly troubling and yet comforting thought.
They had taken his wife away already, put under a blanket cover as if that was enough to hide a dead body. The room was dark and empty now, he remained by the bedside because he didn't know where else he was supposed to go. The staff was kind enough not to disturb him. He waited in the silence and the shock. He wasn't sure what he was waiting for until they reappeared to him. When they were sure that she was going to live through the night they came. She was so much smaller than he had expected.
He wasn't sure what to do when he saw the nurse holding her. He felt a sudden sensation of fear, realizing all at once he alone could not raise her. He didn't even know how to hold her. The nurse bent over, expecting him to take his daughter, but he hesitated, looked up, his anxiety written on his face. The nurse, the blessed nurse, put her in his arms and positioned him in the right way. He sat up, putting all his attention into this moment. He was instructed to lift her head, hold her close, be soft and gentle. He wants to tell the nurse, I don't even know the meaning of those words. Yet, miraculously, he holds her, she stirs, but doesn't complain.
He feels her in his arms and can't believe his life. Joy and horror mix into ambivalence. The emotions rise up, threaten to take him over, and then fade into nothing. He holds his daughter, numb.
The bed is empty, his wife is dead. He is eighteen-years-old, and so very afraid, afraid of himself, of what he was capable of, of what he was incapable of. A weight came down over his shoulders, a shadow crept over his soul, he suddenly knew he was going to fail.
His daughter stirs, he feels her against his chest. He looks down at her. The nurse said she won't open her eyes, not for a little while, but she'll get to know him nonetheless, and when she finally looks at him, he won't seem like a stranger to her. The nurse said she was going to sleep a lot and eat a lot and cry a lot. The nurse said she was going to grow quickly, and twenty years from now he'll turn around and she'll be a grown woman. His daughter stirs, he feels her against his chest. He looks down at her. He thinks, Anna, I'm going to fail you.
Perhaps sensing the horrible truth, or perhaps simply thinking he needed consoling, the nurse lingers in the empty room. She asks, as politely as she can, does he have any family. A mother. A father. Someone who can help. He looks up at her, and his eyes say all that needs to be said. The nurse, with no more answers or soothing words, leaves, wishing there was more she could do. But he's alone. They are alone. Booker and Anna against the world.
The bed is empty, his wife is dead.
He is so very afraid.
He grips his daughter tighter.
This will end in tears. He knows it.
It might as well start with them too.
Anna cries and he doesn't know why. The nanny's gone, she's been gone for days. He can't pay her, there's no more money. He's got milk for the rest of the week, but that's it. Anna's just a few weeks old, he knows that means she needs food, she needs it to grow big and strong. He's got milk for the rest of the week. He gets leftovers from the woman down the hall, she pities him, he can see it in her face, but he can't deny the table scraps.
Anna cries and he doesn't know why.
He needs to get a nanny, he needs to find another job. Get a nanny, find a job, get some money going, work, come home to Anna. Yeah, he can make that work, he thinks out loud, but inside he feels the oncoming storm, the inevitable failure. It feels like the half empty flask in his jacket pocket. It's only noon. He prepares a bottle. Anna's on the floor, crying. She's on her back, kicking and scratching at the air, and he doesn't know why.
He goes to her, bottle in hand. She squirms in his arms but he forces the bottle in her mouth. She takes a sip of milk, he takes a sip of whiskey. She whines and cries a bit more, fed, but still upset about something or other. Police sirens blaze by, the loud noises scare her and she's in full swing again. Someone knocks against the wall, a disgruntled neighbor who lacks the pity of the woman down the hall.
They burned his wife at the hospital. He had no money for a funeral or grave. He has no relatives to report back to. They were vagrants together, him and her. Carving out a life for themselves after being kicked out of the ones they had before. But now that life can never be. Maybe that's why Anna cries. Even she can tell there's something missing here.
He stands then, holding her to his shoulder, he sways a bit, shushing her. Please, he keeps saying, please, I'm sorry, I'm doing my best. I'm sorry my best isn't good enough, but it's gonna have to do for now. Just for now, we'll do better, I'll do better soon enough.
Lies, says a voice in the back of his head. Another taste of whiskey brings silence.
Hush up, he says, you got nothing to cry about.
More lies, says the voice. Whiskey fights it off.
You got nothing to cry about. You got me, and I've got you, and that's all we need. Well, some food would be nice, but that's all right, we make do, Anna. You and me, we make do. Come here, come here.
She's opened her eyes by now, they're big and blue, and she looks at him like she knows him. It breaks his heart.
Slowly, the swaying finally gets to her. Yeah, there you go, he says, he adds a bit of a step to his sway, he's dancing with an invisible partner. Your mother taught me how to dance, I'll teach you someday too. He sways, steps, Anna seems to like the stepping part. He adds a hop to the step, and she smiles. Thank God, he looks to his cracking ceiling. Another hop, another smile. She tries to look up, but she can't yet. The nurse said she wouldn't be able to for a little bit. So he puts her head into his shoulder, sway, step, hop. Sway, step, hop.
There you go. No more crying. Seems silly now, doesn't it, crying like that? I bet you don't even remember what you were crying over.
Sway, step, hop.
Next time you feel that way, you can just tell me, you don't have to make such a fuss. Just tell your daddy and he'll do his best, okay?
Sway, step, hop.
We could use some music, huh?
The bed is empty, his wife is dead. He places Anna on the bed, propped up against a pillow. He sits across from her at his desk, turns around and pulls out a guitar from the corner of the room. It's old, older than him by the looks of it. Anna watches with what he guesses is curiosity. She's always watching when she's quiet, always looking around. The nurse said once she can move and walk there will be no stopping her. Suddenly though, she focuses on him, sensing the importance of this moment. He feels a strange sense of stage fright.
Okay, he says. How's this?
He plays a bit, she smiles. It warms his heart, then breaks it into pieces. You will fail her. Whisky settles the voice, makes it a bit easier to play too. He plucks the strings, trying to figure out how to play that lullaby his wife would hum in the morning while setting up the crib. Back then they were dreaming about tomorrows that will never come. He hums it to himself, figures out the notes. Okay, he says.
He plucks away, gently. Anna smiles and calms. She waves her arms in some attempt at expressing herself. Perhaps joy, perhaps excitement.
If I could just make this moment last forever, he thinks.
Anna, he sings a bit, I'm trying, and I know you're trying too. Anna, he sings a bit. The bed is empty, your mother's gone. I'm so afraid. I'm so fucking afraid all the God damn time. Anna, he sings a bit. I feel so young and so old all at once. I've seen such awful things, Anna. I've done such awful things. There's an anger inside me, I don't know where it came from. Anna, he sings a bit. Like a sickness in my bones. Sometimes, most of the time, I am cruel. Anna, he sings a bit. Anna, I love you, and I wish there was more I could do. I wish I was better, Anna. I wish I was better for you. I wish I knew what I was supposed to do.
Anna, he sings a bit, I met your mother on a cloudy night, in downtown on a street I never want you to go to. She was swindling the boys with card games. I spotted her trick, I thought I could win some money, I was so happy that night, thinking I'd be able to buy a drink. Then one of those boys struck your mother, and I beat his teeth in with my boot. We took her money and we bought ourselves a hotel room. I'd never been in such a warm bed. I'd never been loved so much.
Anna, he sings a bit, things were gonna be different once you came along. We were gonna grow up. We were gonna change. Get real jobs, leave the wars we fought behind us. Now she's gone, Anna, and I don't know how to do it by myself. Anna, I'm gonna try, I'm gonna try my best, and I'm gonna love you with all my heart, but I'm scared that's not enough. Anna, it's just you and me, and I don't know if that's enough.
Anna, he sings a bit. Anna, I love you. I love you with my whole heart.
She was asleep half way through his confession. He took her in his arms, she stirred but did not wake. He laid on the bed and put her on his chest. He watched her sleep and he breathed. His chest rose and fell, carrying her with him.
The next morning he sold his guitar to a pawnshop. It was enough to pay a nanny and get some food. He got a job as a Pinkerton that week.
Fink had been working on the Bird for some time now, he had offered it to Comstock as a guardian for the little girl in the tower. Comstock saw no need for it at the time. For a Prophet, Fink found Comstock to be incredibly short sighted. Comstock's logic, of course, was that who in all of Columbia, his new Eden, his new Ark, would want to bring harm to the Lamb? Fink scoffs, there's always someone out there in the world who wants to take something, who wants to hurt something, doesn't matter who or what it is. Fink thinks, doesn't Comstock remember what happened to society's last Messiah? That didn't end well for him, why was this all going to end well for the girl?
A couple of years go by and Comstock suddenly makes the Bird top priority. Fink curses himself, he should've known better. He's going back to old notes, trying to piece his breakthroughs back together again. He'd dissected what he had observed through the universal tear. He'd watch the scientists on the other end turn a man into a machine. He studied their methods, did his best to replicate them, he guessed where he had to in order to fill in any blanks. The Handymen were the first real big break through, but they weren't perfect. They got the job done and were excellent hands in the field as it were, but they weren't really the men they used to be. They couldn't think, they couldn't feel, at least not beyond the pain.
The Bird was different. The Bird had to be a self-sustaining, self-sufficient creature. It had to not just protect the girl, it had to want to protect the girl. It couldn't care about Columbia or her politics or her wars. It needed only to be concerned with the girl. But in order to make the machine a feeling creature there needed to be a man inside it. Men are fickle and such an unending duty would wear away in time. How do you take the mind of a man and focus it on one thing? It was easy with machines. Clockwork and gears made machines work. Motivations became a much more difficult manner to program. Mental conditioning the scientists in the other universe called it. It was an apt name for the concept, Fink thought.
The mechanics of the Bird came through trial and error. Most "volunteers" never survived even the preliminary stages. A few made it into the prototype suits, but never survived after the second or so surgery. The idea was that the Bird wouldn't need to eat or drink, so once the man was put in the suit, there had to be procedures in place to change his biological needs. Fink resolved, they didn't need the man's body, they just needed his heart and his head, everything else could get lost in the wash. Perhaps it was this recklessness that was the root cause of all the deaths.
They were getting closer though. Bit by bit. The latest volunteer survived for two more days than the last. He died from blood loss, not starvation or suffocation. The actual Bird suit was proceeding quite nicely. Fink understood the suit, it was all mechanics and gears. He had a much better grasp on that than any of this mechanical-biological merging nonsense.
"So the subject is situated here, in the chest of the machine. In this apparatus. Here, he's connected to these, ah, we'll call them, levers, see? They'll be connected to his joints, so when he moves, the whole thing will move." Fink explains.
Comstock watches with his deep and unsettling gaze, judging and feeling pity for everyone and everything around him.
"His eyes…well, there's parts of the brain that are…in charge of the eyes." Fink tries to explain this part. "So, the eyes of the machine…will be connected to that bit of his brain."
Comstock nods, not needing to know the science behind this creature.
"The rest is like that, the subject has to feel everything the suit feels, and that's all a matter of getting the wiring right, just like any other machine. Well, a bit more complicated, but that's what I keep telling myself."
Comstock walks on, looking up to take in the full scale of the Songbird. Teams of men were suspended from the air, bolting this and that together, doing the finishing touches on the monstrosity. The fabric for the wings had just come in, made of the latest parachute material, it was practically guaranteed not to tear for at least a decade.
"Comstock." Comstock turned, unable to hide his anger from being addressed so informally. Fink didn't care though; he shrugged off the look with ease. "We've never had anybody make it to the final stages necessary to make this work. I don't know if your deadline is reasonable given our rate of 'R' and 'D.'"
"You told me you saw creatures such as this through a window into another world." Comstock says, calm and foreboding.
"The men of science called it 'protector.' But what did the children it protected call it?"
"…They called it 'Daddy.'"
Comstock nods as if the answer to this conversation is obvious.
"I think that's what you're missing, Mr. Fink. I think that's exactly what you're missing."
"ANNA!" He screamed to the Heavens. "ANNA!" He screamed until his lungs were on fire and his throat felt like asphalt.
He punched the iron walls until his knuckles bled. He threw himself against the doors until his whole body was bruised. He cried and cried until he had no more tears. He fought and fought until there was no more fight in him. He leaned against the door, crying without tears, coughing up phlegm and blood. He weakly punched against the doors, trying and trying.
The room was dark and empty now, he remained by the bedside because he didn't know where else he was supposed to go. His wife was gone. Anna was gone. The bed was empty. The crib was empty. His life was empty. The emotions rose up, threatened to take him over, then faded into nothing. He was numb. Absolutely numb.
The voice laughs at him, rattles the inside of his head, there's no more whiskey to make it stop. The room is silent, his heart is empty. There's a knock at the door, he realizes there's someone on the other side who has been knocking for quite some time. A woman's voice calls his name. He's drunk enough to think it might be her, but he snaps out of it and curses himself for making such a stupid mistake. Finally, the door is pried open by the landlord and the woman from down the hall. She looks frightened, he can see her through the door.
The landlord is screaming about the rent and the mess he's made of his apartment, or something like that. He doesn't know, he's not really listening. He screams back at the landlord something fierce and terrible. He isn't sure what but it's enough to get the landlord off his back for now. He leaves with a little warning. The woman from down the hall doesn't go. She has leftovers from dinner in her hands and she's staring at him like she's seeing for the first time. He turns towards her, kicking empty whiskey bottles as he does so, he looks down, surprised to see the whole floor nearly covered by those bottles.
The woman from down the hall brings him table scraps. This is the last time she will ever do so. She lays a plate on the floor and looks at him.
"Where's Anna?" She asks.
"Get out." He hears himself say.
"Where is she? I haven't heard her for days. What have you done?"
"I said get out!"
Then it gets quiet and empty again. He knows he's made a mistake he just prays he has the strength to right it.
He'd searched and searched, scouring the streets of New York day and night, until finally he came across a tear into the other world. A sliver, a broken doorway between here and there. He'd gone through knowing Anna was on the other side. The whole process took the wind out of him and he wasn't sure if it was because he hadn't eaten or slept for a few days, or if the tear did something to him, but he wasn't the same. He didn't know how he was different, but he knew he wasn't the same. Thoughts didn't come as quickly or as brightly, he had to focus to get the words out right. Sometimes it felt like his head was being cracked in two and his nose would start to bleed.
He'd feel Anna in his arms, but she wouldn't be there. He'd look around and see their apartment, but he was in a prison cell. He could hear his wife humming down the hall but she was dead. He was in two places but one. He was thinking two thoughts at once, but only meant one.
He'd gone through the tear and heard Anna crying. He tries to think but the world is spinning and he can't think. He just hears her crying. He has a gun in his hand, he's firing it wildly at anything that moves. He takes Anna from the man who took her. He holds her close, firing wildly. People are screaming, the world is spinning, his nose is bleeding. Eventually, the world spins too fast, and knocks him to the floor. He twists so he lands on his back, holding Anna to his chest. She cries and cries and he holds her close. He squeezes her, he won't let them take her again. He'll kill them. He'd kill the whole world before he let her go.
A woman comes then, she seems gentle and knowing. She speaks with authority.
"You're holding her too tightly." The woman says.
He knows he is, but he can't let her go, they'll come and take her away again. Anna cries, but he can't let her go.
"You're going to hurt her." A man appears, the man who took Anna away. He recognizes the man, lifts his gun, kicks and screams.
"Get away, Robert!" The woman cries, and the man disappears into the shadows.
"They'll take her." He cries. "I can't. I can't let them take her."
"I know." The woman says. "I know, but you can't hold her like that."
"I hold her up, keep her head up, like the nurse said."
"Yes, all right. Well, do that then."
He does so, shifting his daughter in his arm. She cries nevertheless. He looks down at her, suddenly overwhelmed by the sight of her. She's bigger than he remembers. How long has it been? How long have they been separated? How long have they been on the floor?
"Anna…" He says.
"Elizabeth." A man says.
Another man, the man with the beard and the familiar eyes, emerges from those shadows. He stands tall, his words are laced with venom and hate. He looks down to the floor, disgusted by what he sees.
"Her name is Elizabeth." The man explains.
"No." He shakes his head, that doesn't make sense. "Her name is Anna. Anna DeWitt. Her mother named her Anna."
"Her name is Elizabeth." The man explains.
"Sir," the woman tries, "I insist you stay back. After interdimensional travel the subject is prone to erratic behavior."
But the bearded man, Comstock, does not relent. He gets closer, too close. He holds Anna tighter, she starts to cry. Comstock kneels down to them, he turns away, keeping Anna away from him. Comstock grabs her, holds her.
"Give her to me." Comstock says.
"No!" He cries. "You can't – she's my – she's my little girl! She's all I have!"
"And what will you give her in return, DeWitt?" Comstock asks. "If I let you keep her, what will you provide for her? A broken, motherless home? Can you feed her, DeWitt? Can you clothe her?"
"She's mine. She's all I have."
"I can smell the whisky on you from here."
"I can't let you…"
"Let her go. You can't take care of her anymore."
"I can do it, I can do it…"
His grip loosens. The room keeps spinning, his nose keeps bleeding. He feels lightheaded and Anna's crying throbs in between his ears. Comstock's hands reach around her, and pull her away. He tries, but he fails. Comstock stands, holding and quieting Anna. Elizabeth. Anna. He wants to get up but he can't. He wants to lift his gun but he can't.
Comstock looks down on him.
"He's the one?"
"He's one of many."
"We can't be sure which 'one' he is."
The world goes black and he doesn't hear anymore. There's nothing now but the prison cell where he punches and scratches and screams. Sometimes he can hear Anna crying, sometimes he can hear his wife humming down the hall, sometimes he can see his apartment. Sometimes it's just the cell. Time goes by, he can't tell how long. He forgets the minutes as soon as they pass by.
The woman comes every now and then. She asks him some questions but he doesn't remember what. Her brother comes with her, she says he's suffering from the interdimensional travel, it's downright broken him, she says. See how he flickers in between here and there? He's young, her brother says, young and fragile. Heartbroken. Already sick with grief, the travel did him no good. Another one showed up the other day in the labs, he died as soon as he got through. Just dropped dead, something with his heart.
Anna, he tells them. Give me Anna. He holds up his hand, bearing her initials in his scarred skin. He shows them as if this will help them understand him better. Give me Anna. The other one had that mark as well, the brother says. Perhaps he did it as some sort of penance, the sister says. Perhaps they all are doing it.
One night they took him out of his cell and brought him to Fink Industries.
Comstock was reviewing the latest "False Shepard" posters to be set up around the city. A clawed and devilish hand with the burning mark of "AD". If these dimensional tears were going to spit out a Booker DeWitt every so often he would have to prepare his flock to be aware of them. The people had to know of the dangers they would be facing, because Comstock knew at that point, such a confrontation was inevitable. Eventually there would be a Booker DeWitt who would come and fight his way through Columbia, he'd seen it in the future, through the tears.
He knew then it was imperative that he build a knight, a guardian, a protector for the Lamb of Columbia. A mechanical creature that would never tire, never stop. Something that would be bonded with Elizabeth, something that would fight for her until the very end, and keep her there in the city, safely. The Songbird was closer to a reality than ever before. Comstock understood how a father's love would fuel the Bird.
He went to Fink Industries next, where the Bird was in its final stages. Comstock approached the monstrous thing, Biblical in its size. Fink turned to him, proud of his work. At the center of the Bird, in the chest apparatus was Booker Dewitt, or at least what remained of him. His outers and his innards were stitched into the mechanics and the fabrics of the Bird. His limbs extended out and ended in metal encasing, his arms and legs became the arms and legs of the Bird. His chest was covered in what looked like leftover Handy Man parts, iron chambers encasing his internal organs, preserving them, or at least his heart and his lungs, he didn't have much need for a stomach or intestines anymore. A tube was shoved down his throat, connecting him to the Bird's breathing machine, a pair of iron lungs, in taking oxygen through a gas-mask like filtration system. This was best suited for high altitudes. Finally, his eyes were gone, a leather blindfold was attached to his face, containing wires that stemmed from where his eyes should have been and melding into the greater mechanics of the bird.
Comstock looked at this Booker DeWitt, emaciated, his arms held up, his head inclined towards the sky. Comstock smiled, he looked like Christ himself on the cross. Comstock approached the false Christ, and after a moment, slapped Booker straight on the face.
The Bird's head moved, having felt the slap. It reacted oddly, Booker looked up, and the Bird looked up, unsure. Finally it moved its head to the side, looking down on Comstock.
"Does it recognize me, Fink?" Comstock asked.
"I doubt it." Fink laughed. "I don't think the fella even remembers his own name."
Booker slightly moved his head, and the great head of the Bird moved as well. Fink laughed and clapped at the marvel. He waved up at the Bird's giant eye.
"Hello there! Hello there, you beautiful thing, you!"
Booker breathed in and the Bird breathed in. Fink kept laughing and clapping, celebrating to himself at the work he'd accomplished.
"Let's close her up, boys!"
Men came and started sewing together the Bird, hiding Booker DeWitt from the rest of the world. Comstock looked into Booker's face one last time before stepping away and allowing the final touches to be made. They sewed with giant sewing machines and needles, and then screwed the metal armor over the leather. In mere minutes Booker was gone, hidden under leather and iron flesh.
Fink approached Comstock.
"And finally this. A little cocktail mix of the stuff Vigors are made of."
A giant tube like that of a firehouse descended from the ceiling, men coordinated their efforts and were able to connect the hose into the back of the Bird's neck. The liquid poured into the Bird, filling it up, giving it a little extra girth.
"Sort of like…the amniotic fluid for unborn children, it'll keep this thing alive for generations to come." Fink explained.
A few more minutes and they could see the eyes of the great Bird fill with this liquid, an almost glowing yellow color. Finally, it was done, the hose was taken away, and men ran off to the designated safety corners.
"All right, let's give this a go."
A golden statue of Comstock suddenly rang with life in the back of the room. It was a whistle, singing out a haunting tune. Comstock recognized the notes. C…A…G…E…again and again…C…A…G…E.
"Part of that mental conditioning I was telling you about. We communicate with the Bird with song, that's its command song, as it were, lets you tell it what to do." Fink explained.
Comstock turned back to the Songbird. The whistle continued in its shrieking high pitch way until finally this seemed to summon life into the bird. It began to move slightly, learning how to breath and move again. Finally its head looked up, recognizing the tune, knowing that it signified it was meant to do something. It looked down at its hands, having to command itself to move. It moved its fingers, bit by bit, slowly gaining the courage to try and stand. It fell forward a bit, but landed on its hands. It lurches, its wings stretching up. It just realized it had wings. But then it thinks, of course it has wings it has always had wings. It moves, discovering the weight of its own body, it feels heavy but it feels familiar. It wonders why this feels new, it knows how to walk and move, it knows already. It just feels different, like it was a long time ago. It stretches. It was in pain for so long, wasn't it? Everything hurt but now it doesn't, is he better now, is he fixed? Was he dreaming and now he is awake?
The tune keeps playing, it wakes him up, focuses his attention. C, A, G, E, again and again, it rings through the air, into him, through him, through out him. He hears it and knows it means something, he knows he has to do something, he must, there is no choice. C, A, G, E, plays and he knows he's heard it before, a hundred times before, through out his whole life, it's bred into him, in his blood, in his lungs. It's the voice in the back of his head.
"Bring out the girl."
Lutece appeared, holding the hand of a little girl, a precious little thing in a precious little dress. She couldn't have been older than four. She had intense blue eyes that seemed to look straight through you. She smiled happily, skipping along with the Lutece woman. Comstock and Fink were nowhere to be seen, they had retreated into a control room, unseen by Lutece or the girl. Finally they approached the Bird, and the girl became nervous, ceasing her skipping.
"Come now, child." Lutece said. "This is what I wanted to show you."
"What is it?" The child asked.
"You told me that you were lonely on your own and that you wanted a friend. So we have built you one."
The Bird was still getting used to its new eyes, which were a distorted, almost unreal sight compared to what he had been used it. Like he was watching an old movie of the things he was seeing. However, he saw the child and felt a sudden sensation of fear. He did not know why, but he knew that child. He knew that child's name. It didn't know why, but it terrified him. He crept away, into the shadows of the Fink Warehouse, pushing his size against the brick walls. The child, it kept thinking, it had come for the child, but not like this, it wasn't always like this. What if he frightens her? He's a monster now isn't he?
"It's called the Songbird." The Lutuce woman said. "It speaks with songs. It can sing you to sleep at night."
The child looks towards the shadows, seeing the outline of the bird man. She took a few steps away from Lutuce, looking back at the woman, who only nodded, encouraging the girl. That's all she needed to know. The child runs over to the creature, it reels away, trying to hide but unable to. She grabs its massive hand, tugging at the fabric that made up its skin.
"Hey!" The child yelled. "Hello!"
The Bird wanted to leave, it wanted to go away, but it couldn't. It wanted to get away from the child, but it couldn't. It didn't want to be seen like this. It moved its hand away, trying to escape. It moved its hand, and the child fell to the ground.
"Ow!" She screamed.
Oh no. The Bird knelt down, its head emerging from the darkness into the light. Its head went to the floor, to the child. It wanted to see, it wanted to see if she was hurt. It couldn't believe it had hurt her. It felt such shame and guilt, it never wanted to hurt her, why had it hurt her so? The child stared back at its big eye, dubious now if it really wanted to be her friend.
"That was rude!" She told the Bird.
It laid its head beside her, wanting, needing to be forgiven. Oh, God, it couldn't live with itself if she did not forgive him. It turned, now laying the side of his head on her lap. It hummed with life, like it was breathing, like it was warm. Please, it begged without words, please forgive me. The child finally smiled, petting it on the head.
"That's all right, I know you're sorry."
Yes! That's the word it had forgotten. It was sorry. Its head leaped up, overjoyed at the rediscovery of the word and concept of "sorry." The child laughed, got up to her feet.
"Hey, come back!"
She held her arms out, it knelt its head down. She grabbed its curved head, where its beak should have been if it were a real bird. It lifted her off the ground a bit, she laughed and screamed, letting go and falling to the floor with a thud. Oh no, it thought again, but she was laughing so she must have been all right. She got on her feet again, wiping any dust off her dress. She tugged at the tubing that came from its mouth, pulling at it.
"Come on out here."
She tugged until it crawled out, on its hands and knees it revealed itself to her, the giant Songbird.
"Wow!" She said.
She put her hand on its head, and it felt such an overwhelming sense of calm and happiness. It loved her, it thought. It always had. It loved to see her so happy, it loved to be felt by her, to be loved by her. Why had it been so afraid before? Why did it think it might frighten her? He would never frighten her, she knew him, she knew him like he knew her.
She went over to its eye, looking into the glass, and it looked back up at her. She was so beautiful and small.
"My name is Elizabeth, what's yours?"
The eye twitched.
No. No, that's not right. It thought, or it tried to think. That wasn't right. The child wasn't named Elizabeth, it was Anna. He had come for Anna hadn't he? He needed to get Anna? Is this Anna? He realized suddenly the child was bigger than an infant. He could hold Anna in one hand if he had to. This was a child, not a baby. This wasn't Anna, could it be Anna? It had to be, it had her eyes, but Anna was a baby, Anna was still a little baby, he'd come to take his baby home. Anna DeWitt, he came to take Anna DeWitt home. He'd failed her once, he wasn't going to fail her again. He was going to quick drinking and gambling, he was going to get a respectable job, he was going to help people and help her. He wasn't going to let himself lose her again.
Clink, clink. The child taps against his glass eye.
"Hey, I said my name is Elizabeth, what's yours?"
No, no, no, your name is Anna. You're Anna. You're my daughter.
It reaches for her with its massive hand. It doesn't understand, it doesn't remember. It remembers only bits and pieces. Anna. The crib. The empty bed. The lullaby. Just pieces, impressions more than actual memories. The memories got washed away, washed away in the bath, the water, they cleaned him in the waters that cleaned his head. He came from somewhere else to be with her. He had lost her and failed her but he had returned to make things right. She was his daughter and he had come from somewhere else because he had lost her and now he had found her and he wasn't going to let go. He couldn't let them take her again. He'd kill them if he had to. Yes, he remembers, or think he remembers. There's comfort in the half-memories, things are different, he can feel it, but he doesn't care. She is here now. He is with her. He'll always be with her.
But he thought he did something wrong. He thought he messed up before and got hurt. He was hurting but not anymore. She was gone but now she was here. She was different though like he was different, but he couldn't tell how. He was broken. He was sleeping maybe or he had woken up? He wasn't sure anymore. Was this child Anna? Elizabeth? Was she real? Slowly, as gently as a giant Bird can muster, it touches her with the very tips of its index finger. It wanted to touch her and ask her, are you real? But it can't put the words together. She laughs from such a big thing trying to be graceful. It wants to hold her but it can't, its too big. She instead takes his finger, twirls around with it, dancing.
I'll teach you how to dance, Anna.
It lets out a deep moaning noise. She laughs.
"That's not a name!"
It reels its head up, she holds onto its finger as it pulls and leads her, dancing with her. It screeches, trying to tell her something, but forgetting how words sound. She laughs and dances, he watches her. It remembers, or thinks it remembers. It's been a long time since she was a baby, it's been a long time since it last saw her. Time passed. She got bigger. That's what they do, they get bigger. Twenty years will pass and he wont' recognize her.
It remembers, or thinks it remembers. Anna. Elizabeth. This is home now, he wants to take her home. He wants to be with her, and hold her and be loved by her. He can't fail her again, he mustn't fail her again. He gave up drinking and gambling for her. He came with her to the other side of the tear. He's here now, he's supposed to protect her. He's supposed to protect her from everything. He will kill to protect her. He'll kill the men who took her away if they come back. When they come back. He will spread his wings and fly and chase them all over this new home if he had to. He would crush them beneath his foot, maul them with his clawed hands. He is different now, he understands that. Different, better, stronger, all to protect Anna. Elizabeth. Anna.
The Lutece woman approaches.
"Keep her safe, take good care of her."
Yes. Keep her safe. Elizabeth. Anna. I'll do my best. My best is enough.
"Elizabeth. The Songbird is your friend now and he loves you. If you want anything, anything at all, you just have to tell him and he'll get it for you."
Yes, anything she wants, she deserves it. His little girl deserves whatever she wants. He just has to keep her safe. Safe from harm. Safe from the outside. They'll take her again if he lets her go. That man. He'll take her again if he lets go. He won't let go. He can't let go. He can't fail her again.
They took her to the tower, he followed, sprouting his new wings and learning to fly. They showed him her home, and where his perch was. They showed him how to get food and books and toys and whatever else she'd need. They showed him how to enter her tower, how to be with her.
Sometimes the men would come to take her away. The False Shepards with their devilish marks. Returning no matter how many times they would die. But he would stop the men. Every time. He would protect her. He would never fail her.
They played the nights and days away. She read him her books. He got her dolls and dresses. They made forts out of the sheets together. They laughed and played and danced. She grew bigger, but he didn't really notice. Days turned to weeks turned to months turned to years, but he didn't notice. Memories faded as time pressed on, but he didn't care, he was with Anna. Elizabeth. Anna. He was with her, that's all he needed. That's all he cared about.
Sometimes they'd dance. It sang with its new voice. Anna, it sang a bit, Anna I love you with all my heart.