Shadows of the Past - Part Nine
It was late afternoon the following day when Brandon Ward, holder of destiny, champion of fate, the Wielder, opened his eyes and rejoined life.
At his bedside, Buba turned his attention from the window looking out over the busy street corner and blinked. "Brand," he said. "You're back!" His eyes glanced down at the bandaged shoulder wound, noting the lack of ugly green veins.
But something was different.
When it comes to a person's ability to change, there are two schools of thought. Buba was of the school that believed it was possible for people to change. That's why he'd fought so hard to be there for Brand and to help him when he was younger. There was a potential just begging to escape the inner-confines of Brand's soul and Buba saw that.
The face-splitting grin Buba wore started to falter as he looked into Brand's eyes, though; he saw a distance that wasn't there before. It was as if Brand had lived his entire life before waking up. He seemed older, more withdrawn than normal, and above all else, there was an edging of distance coldness that caused a shiver to shake Buba to the core. Could the poison be responsible for such a change?
"Brand?" Buba asked.
"I'm here," he replied. "All well?"
"Yeah..." Buba shifted his feet uneasily. "How're you?"
In response, Brand sat up on the bed and rolled his shoulders. "I'm alive," he said. "It's a start." As he lowered his feet to the ground, Buba gasped and reached out to try and stop him.
"You need to rest! You've been-"
The blood drained from Buba's face as soon as Brand ripped the bandage off his shoulder. The skin was smooth and pink but there was no sign of the wound, nor was there any sign there had ever been a wound. Well, except for the pink patch of skin surrounded by Brand's normally deep tan color.
"Shot," Brand finished for him. "I know. I heal fast now."
He slipped off the bed and stretched, his bones popping and crackling like some psychotic Fourth of July display. All of this startled Buba into silence. He could think of nothing to say and nothing to do. So he just sat there and watched as Brand did a couple squats, rolled his shoulders and arms and twisted this way and that.
A quick scan of the room told Buba that he had, in fact, not dreamed the entire scenario of Brand getting shot. It'd happened all right. But you surely couldn't tell by looking at Brand now.
"Say, old man," Brand said. "Did you see the guy in the tree? Did he come with you all?"
"What-" Buba started, but he was interrupted by a terrible, ear-shattering shriek courtesy of the nurse with the big nose and the warty chin.
"The Wielder is up!" she cried out. Then she promptly fainted, crashing into the ground like a human accordion.
Eyebrows reached for Brand's hairline as he spun toward the woman. Buba waited, feeling time tick and tock like a steady, reliable clock in his head. Any second now Brand would say something completely... Brand-like, something along the lines of 'I hope everyone faints at the sight of me, that would rule'.
Such a comment never escaped Brand's lips.
He turned back to Buba with an almost apologetic smile. "Let's find Lisya," he said. "It's best we all talk together."
And that was that. Brand headed for the door, leaving Buba to stand there in utter shock. He could do nothing but stare at the muscled, bare back of Brand and watch as his hair brushed back and forth across his shoulders like a built in shoulder mop. It was still Brand, but he had changed. Someway, somehow, something happened between getting shot and waking up that altered Brand on a deep, very deep, level.
The regrouping of Team Brand was nothing out of the ordinary. Somehow Brand had made it from the hospital through the main square and into the inn without getting noticed.
Greg Johansen found this highly suspicious, not to mention unlikely, but he said nothing. Instead, he just sat on the rough, wooden dresser in the old guy's room and sharpened his hunting knife with long, scrapping arcs against a whetstone.
The good-looking one, Lisya maybe, had told him a few things about this supposedly impressive Wielder but so far, Greg didn't find himself very impressed. He saw a fairly normal guy who just happened to have a metal arm. Wow. He couldn't wait to write home to his mother.
He was introduced to Brand as the guy that saved the day and they shook hands. There was a tinge of fear that that mechanical hand would crush his hand, but nothing of the sort happened. It actually felt like a normal hand, warm with a firm grip. The only real different was the smoothness, smoother than even a soft, womanly hand. That he was not expecting.
"No," Lisya said. "There was nobody there when we found you. I couldn't even get a glimpse of anyone in the surrounding area. You sure there was someone there?"
"I'm positive," Brand said.
On the bed, Buba chewed through a bright pink fruit that was most likely from the orange family. But his thoughts were obviously elsewhere. There was tightness about his shoulders and face that Greg had seen before but he didn't even bother to consider Buba anymore. That guy was too much of a simpleton for him.
So his eyes drifted back toward Lisya as she paced back and forth near the door. When she stopped and looked to Mr. Brainless, she smiled a sweet little smile. It nearly brought Greg to puking level. His eyes shifted between Lisya and Buba for a moment. Nah there's no way.
The talk of the humvee and its arrival to this town caught his attention, however. He needed that vehicle and he wasn't about to let it slip through his fingers. How it got here was anyone's guess, where it's going next is already decided.
With brow pulled tight, Brand finally asked, "Where is it?"
"Behind the hospital," Greg said, speaking up for the first time. He locked target on Brand, an eerie, unsettled feeling poking at his guts. He shifted his bottom on the dresser causing the keys to the Hummer to dig into his hip from within his pocket.
"All right. I'm going to take a look at it, then find that doctor and get checked over once more. Once night falls, we leave." As soon as the last word escaped his mouth, he was out the door. Just a little too bossy, in Greg's opinion. But he had the keys, so whatever.
Cool wind brushed across Brand's face as he walked through the town's square in the direction of the hospital.
It was a busy afternoon judging from the locals moving about. A tavern stood open with people flowing through the doors in both directions. A mother with her hand clasped firmly in her little girl's hand walked toward Brand as she traveled in the opposite direction. Another woman, with fiery hair, wandered around in small circles as she sniffed madly at the air, her face scrunched in deep concentration. In front of what was probably a general store, two old men lounged on the long bench next to the door, enjoying their final days with rest and relaxation.
And through it all, Brand was not noticed.
While not entirely true--he was noticed--the attitude of the people had changed since his first arrival here. Having the Wielder in your town was a call for joyous celebration. Having a dying Wielder in your town was practically Armageddon. Once the novelty wore off, though, the people returned to their normal lives and gave the Wielder and his companions the space they needed to perform their tasks while here in town. There were still looks and whispers, mostly behind Brand's back, but he wasn't bothered. Not too much, at least.
"Wielder," a short, chubby man said as he nodded respectfully while passing in the opposite direction of Brand. He was a celebrity and not because he killed someone! Never would he have thought that would ever be a reality. Well, technically he did kill someone. But that's another story.
As he reached the hospital, he turned, traveling around it toward the back. His mind was still processing many things. The temporary coma, if you will, left a whole lot of information imprinted on his mind. Meeting with the first Wielder had been rather enlightening. So much was discussed, so much revealed, so much he knew he didn't want to know as soon as he heard it. That voice and its words were locked firmly in place now. Brand was sure he was going to be haunted by them for many, many years to come.
Once his eyes came in contact with the humvee as it sat like a giant lump of metal the likes of which nobody from this world had ever seen, Brand stopped in his tracks and sighed.
Shadows of the past will haunt you for centuries to come, Brand. Be aware of them, acknowledge them, but do not be sucked into them. For you shall surely be tempted. You live in the now, stay in the now and leave the past where it belongs.
His whole life was beginning to feel like one giant shadow from the past, but the words of the first Wielder hammered his mind like no other and he would not soon forget. The Hummer before him shone like a huge beacon of light, calling him back to his world before his work here was complete. To return home, to be normal again, these options weren't open anymore. They would never be open again. He was put on this path against his will--he no more wanted to be the Wielder, than Megan wanted to die, or Buba wanted to kill her--but it was a journey he finally came to accept. There was no glory in being the Wielder. In the end, all that he knows will be dead and all that he comes to know will die too. All he has is himself and his place in the footnote of destiny's journal. But it was his burden now and he would see it through to the end.
Brand pulled open the driver's side door of the Hummer and took the big step, sliding into the driver's seat. His hands rested on the steering wheel with the familiar easy of riding a bike. He couldn't help but chuckle at this, the cliche of the century actually turning out to be true.
Maybe he can't go home just yet, but this piece of home found him and he wasn't about to let the small opportunity to feel home surge through him. His heart ached for that crappy little apartment that needed to be nuked clean, that harassing look police officers gave him as he walked the streets, and that boring little bookshop that hardly anyone ever shopped in. It wasn't home, but it was-
"Hey, shit for brains," the Sword said. "We've got-"
Brand heard the soft puff of air--how he heard it he would never know, but he heard it--and he felt the tiny prick that hit his chest. At first he thought it was a bug or something, like a bee, so he looked down. A sharp frown collapsed his face. He yanked the dart out of his chest, then jumped out of the Hummer in time to see three men dressed in army greens as they approached the humvee with guns pointed directly at Brand. He looked down again, taking great note of the three red dots painted on his heart, then looked back toward the oncoming assault force.
"This isn't good," the Sword said in all its state-the-obvious glory.
Brand couldn't agree more. But he didn't have the strength to agree. His legs were turning to Jell-O, his arms were becoming heavier, becoming more impossible to lift. As his eyelids rose and fell in slow motion, he realized consciousness would once more be taken from him. And his last fleeing thought, before he found himself once more in that place of darkness where weird things seemed to be home (Buba in a tutu), was hope that someday he'd be able to last more than a day without getting knocked unconscious.To be continued...