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BF4L: Old Habits Die Hard • London Calling ||| CIMZ: R.E.M. ||| Cloud: The Way BackThe Shadows FallBattle the DarkThe Fourth LifeThe End of BlameDiamond in the RoughHope from the OceanFailings of the FathersChasing the Monsters (in progress) ||| Karena: To Journey's EndPort Charles ChroniclesTodd's SagaMemories Unlocked (in progress) • The Mysterious Samuel Toddman (Reissue) • Who's the Real Todd? (Reissue) • Thomas Lord: Cloaked (Reissue) • Enigma (in progress, reissue) • Don't Shoot the Messenger (Reissue) ||| MONICA ANN: Dance with the DevilThe Devil You Know ||| MARIA: Spidey Sam


Sunday, July 31, 2011

Todd Revisited: I Am (Chapter 16)

Time to shave.  "I've been here before, eh?"  he said to himself, taking a razor and shave cream from John's medicine cabinet.  He stopped for a moment, before making the first drag with John's razor, and caught his own eyes in the reflection.  Something was haunted and hopeful at the same time.  All he could think of was seeing Blair.  Being in the same room with her, and the rest of his family.  Possibly touching her.  Her recognizing him.  He knew he would see it in her eyes that she knew him.  He drew the razor up his neck and under his chin.  Slowly, his face took back the appearance that she and his daughter had last seen him with.  Of course, Jack was too young to remember him this way.  Jack.  He was concerned about what Jack had learned being The Impostor's son.  Since the night he eavesdropped on Jack and Starr at the poolside, he had been worried.  His heart sank when he thought of what Jack had become.  He splashed the water in the basin by dipping the razor in and shaking it off.  He would fix it.  He would fix everything.  He just needed her to believe him.

The queasiness in his stomach that was there earlier returned when he stopped and imagined Blair standing within arm's reach.  He had seen her on the red carpet.  She was stunning in white, always was.  Well, she was stunning, period.  How he had missed her, and his children.      

With the last swipe, he was ready to dress.  He carefully put on John's tuxedo shirt, which was seeming a pretty close fit, draped the tie around his neck and took the jacket with him into the main room of the apartment.  He remembered how Blair had once given him a tuxedo for a party for the upper crust that they were not invited to, and that they crashed it.  They were on top of the world, that night, just she and him.  It seemed no one could touch them.  Of course, it did not take long before he learned how very wrong he was.  The bump on the back of his head was sore, and touching it made him remember his fall and subsequent memory flash.  "Don't have time for this right now." As he worked the last button at the neck, there was a knock on the door.  Assuming it was the policeman that was posted, he went to the door without a second thought and pulled it open.  The young policeman fell backward into the apartment and there, in front of him, was Baker, eyes seething with anger, a black gun nozzle in his face.  With an artificial smile, Baker said, "Going somewhere?  Back inside."

As if unfettered, he stood, face to face with the rogue agent, and continued fixing his collar.  "You know, I would, but I've got somewhere to go."

"Let me guess, the movie premier, to see Todd Manning?  I'm headed there myself, so if there is a message that you would like me to deliver . . ."

"I prefer to deliver my messages in person," he said, grasping the jacket to the tux.

"I'm afraid you're going to be otherwise engaged."  The gun was still pointing at his chest.  He went about his business as if Baker wasn't there.  He knew in doing that, he was probably angering him further, but heeded the words of Peter Manning in his mind's eye.  Never show your cards.

When Baker said he had "other loose ends," Todd began to fear he would hurt his family.  Without showing that fear, he cooperated in dragging the policeman into the room, and while doing so, he pocketed the mace in his holster.  The next few moments were almost unclear; Baker explaining that after killing him, he would do the same with Tomas Delgado and John McBain.  He really did not want McBain to die, after all, the guy was a pretty cool character and a snappy dresser.  Baker, sneering, reminded him again he was not Todd Manning and held the gun pointing in his direction, and this time, no bulletproof vest.  On his way out the door with the agent, his ego deflated.  He was truly not sure how it would pan out, or that there was a way out of this one.  The officer on the floor stirred, and in that moment's distraction, he forced a last effort to change what seemed to be his fate.  The mace streamed like snake venom into Baker's eyes, and they fought, to the death, over the gun in Baker's hand. 

Using every ounce of strength he had, Todd forced the gun away from Baker and turned and held it on him.  Not willing to have another death on his conscience, he forced Baker into a chair, and tied him still.  At that point, the policeman stirred again, making grunting noises.  Todd helped him to his feet.  "What happened?" said the officer.

"You were ambushed, but I haven't got time to talk with you right now.  I have a party to crash.  Keep that guy under wraps, or better yet, call your boss."  And with that, he flitted from the apartment, headed on foot to the Palace Hotel for the premier.  He had to get to her, he had to prove himself, and more importantly, warn them all about The Impostor.  

As he rounded the first corner, he hoped Baker was not right behind him, and the horror-theater back chill went from spine to head.  He didn't want to run, to be too suspicious, but he almost could not bear the wait as he was in transit.  How would he make her see?

As his feet carried him closer and closer, he reminded himself to go slowly.  Anything too abrupt or intense could frighten her.  He would make certain not to come off . . . crazy, try not to . . . touch her.  Of course, there was that voice that doubted his own sanity.  The same one that was always there.  The same one that had spoken to him throughout most of his life.  Was he sane?  Sometimes he wondered with burning puzzlement.  He knew the voices in his head were only quieted by her, and sometimes, not even then.  In the past, not even sleep had taken them away.

Aman had decided not to fish that day.  Lilly was too spooked and he was worried for her, as well as about the guest.  She still could not put into words what she had seen and heard, and he let that go . . . for now.  But he knew she needed him around, so he stayed at the cottage that day to see for himself.

It was noon when he started his typical thrashing in the bed.  His head would whip from side to side.  Sometimes, he would say things, other times he would not.  His dreams would come every time, sometimes the glen and the woman with the child; sometimes a different woman handing him a Celtic Cross; sometimes The Man sneering, or burning him, or holding his hand over the flame of the lighter; sometimes himself holding a gun, yelling, hurting someone.  Each time he dreamed, something more and more horrific pulled at him.  In every nightmare, the one common thread in all of the nightmares was The Man.  And this bright, frigid afternoon, he awoke to see the man standing at the foot of the bed.

He stopped running when he saw the entrance to the Palace Hotel.  The area was buzzing with the traffic of onlookers and passersby, as well as well-dressed folks heading home.  Puzzled by the early departures, he skulked cautiously about, just in time to see two men carting off a third, who yelled, "Hey, it's not porn, it's art," followed by a shorter man crying, "You stole my movie!  You're not getting away with this, I'm telling you..." and they moved down the sidewalk out of sight.  

He brought himself out from behind the awning's leg, and entered The Palace, which had not changed much.  The location of so many times of his own life.  He was almost overcome by emotion, but gathered his wits about him, and pressed forward, almost running directly into Dorian and Vickers.  The two were exiting, arm in arm, dressed to the hilt.  "She's aged well," he said to himself.  Sarcasm.  He hid himself behind a potted plant, and held his breath not to be discovered.  They passed him in a flurry of red and black and talk of lawsuits.

Making his way into the main ballroom was not as hard as he imagined it would be.  Everyone was either busy, tired, or just not worried about a guy in a tuxedo with a scar.  He sauntered in, happening upon a scene that would be burned into his mind.  A circle of chairs; Blair, Jack, Starr, and Delgado; her brother Tomas, pointing straight ahead, and all attention focused on The Impostor.  He heard Tomas say, "That man is not Todd Manning."

He took a few steps forward and, fixing his tie, simply said, "I am."

Todd Revisited: Birth (Chapter 15)

Then, it happened. Blair flipped back her hair, and the interviewer asked her about her earrings. His eyes soaked in the little, pearly danglers hanging off her lobes, and for a moment, nothing registered. "They were a gift from my ex-husband." 

"Which one?"  he thought, thinking of their past, and suddenly, a feeling of recognition came over him.  Jumping from his seat, he ran to find the photo.  The photo of The Gold Balloon Wedding, the one he took from where Blair left it.  He ran to find it, and putting his hands on it, brought it into the light and focused his attention on the details.  

"The earrings.  I gave you those earrings."  A feeling of overwhelming validation came into his heart, and traveled up through his shoulders like a wave of relaxation.  Encouraged, he began to think of what it could mean.  Did she remember him?  Did she KNOW?  One thing was certain, she kept them.  They meant something to her, which lead to him meaning something to her.

"I think maybe I'm going to a party," he said aloud, picking up John's discarded tuxedo.  

Heading into the bathroom, he felt like he did the day he planned the airplane ride for her after the fiasco with Vickers and Dorian.  He had taken his mother's diary then, and spent time reading it while Blair was off helping Dorian bring David to his knees.  Literally.  His stomach felt slightly queasy, in the way it did when he was waiting for her in the limousine that night, Halloween sixteen years earlier.  Sixteen years, and he still could remember every feeling and every moment he was with her.  How she wore Marilyn Monroe's costume, down to the beauty mark on her cheek, her hair surrounding her face with loose, large curls that danced on her shoulders.  As he looked into the mirror at his reflection, his eyes still skimming the scar even today, his eyes clouded over.  

It wasn't long after that he ended up in the Irish sea, without her.  It was by his own doing, that he went off and left her.  He'd never fully given himself admonition for it.  Never, even after he returned, and saw her . . . with Patrick . . . it had given him an excuse to hate her, but he loved her more, and everything seemed to crumble in front of him, until he met his baby girl.  But, not even Starr, reaching out with her little hands, could take away the darkness he knew he still harbored inside himself.  That darkness, he knew, started long before Ireland, and even before Marty's rape.  That darkness was inside of him and probably always would be.  And, it had taken a near-death experience to comprehend and label it, but he knew what it was now, and even so, had difficulty reconciling it within himself.  

Looking into his own eyes in the reflection, he suddenly saw a young boy, an image of himself, years before.  He tilted his head to the side, smiling in a welcoming way.  He reached out and touched the reflection briefly, then said, "it's been a while, buddy.  Where ya been?"  The room began to swirl about him and his lost his balance, stumbling back against the tub, where he fell into the basin of it, and knocked his head against the back edge.  

One morning, Lilly came into the kitchen, glanced over to the bed by the window, and saw something very strange.  Their guest was propped up on one elbow, looking outside.  Curious, since he had been unable to move much, she approached him.  "Son?"

He did not respond at first, just continued to look outside.  

"Son, are you all right, lad?"

He turned to her, and she never forgot what she saw or what happened next.  In a tone barely distinguishable from a growl, he snapped, "What do you want, old woman?"

Lilly stumbled backward, and rested against the stove.  Confused, she decided to wait.

He continued, "You're lucky I can't get out of this bed.  Tired of your prayers, your praises, your face."

She did not know what to do next.  He looked the same, in some ways, but was literally transformed in front of her.  She looked directly into his eyes.  Slowly, "Son?  It's Lilly."

The sneer he made toward her then was enough to stop her heart for a second, and she crossed herself, closing her eyes.  When she opened them, the guest's face had changed, softened, and he said, "Lady, I'm really, really sorry!" and then lay back down and closed his eyes to the world. 

Lilly was shaken.  Her hands could not be steadied, and her skin was paler and greenish when Aman walked into the room, just having risen.  "Lilly, what's the matter, woman?"

She looked at him with tears brimming in her eyes.  "My God, Aman."  She broke down, and fell against his shoulder.

"There, now lass, tell me what's the matter?  For the love of St. Peter."

But she couldn't talk.  There were no words to explain it, she just knew something was terribly wrong.  She knew something was torturing their guest, could have been his past, or his dreams, or both, and she also knew that soon, both of them would meet it face to face.

He startled himself and sat up in the bathtub.  "What the hell?"  He scrambled to his feet.  Feeling the back of his head, he could touch a small bump that had formed on the back of his skull.  Before getting ice for it, he glanced himself in the mirror again, certain he should shave to look the best he could for his Blair.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Todd Revisited: Discovery (Chapter 14)

Time had passed without him realizing it, when lost in the memory of his Ireland experiences, and it was getting late.  McBain had protested about attending the Black Tie Affair that Todd had volunteered him for in the phone call with Tomas Delgado.  Of course, he left his tux in the room and went off, telling Todd to "channel surf."  That was getting old, but what else was there?  He'd read enough about The Impostor online and was afraid he would be tempted to do more of the same if he got near the computer, besides the fact that McBain had cautioned him against using it, since it was police-business related.

He turned on the television with a great amount of disinterest, once again.  Cooking shows.  "Who needs a cooking show?"  He thought about it.  People who know how to cook care about cooking, but don't need the show.  People who can't cook, like McBain, don't want the show, or obviously, they would learn to cook.  He heard his own voice, "TV sucks these days."

He did channel surf, being a "good boy" like McBain had warned him.  Of course, this made him drowsy and detached, and wanting to think more.  For some reason, even though it was not a good time in his life, the easiest thing to think about was the time he was in Statesville.  All of that flowed back simply, like water, and it was clear, never muddled or hazy.  In fact, that period of his life, all the way through to when Jack was born was like Lucite; he could see through it perfectly with no distortion.  It was after Jack's birth and return to Blair that he began to face troubles remembering.  Some things stood out, like the day Blair sang to him on Valentine's Day, or when Jack got sick from aplastic anemia.  Even when he went to That Damn Desert Island, as he had referred to it to this day, was pretty clear for him.  But following that, things he would remember, or try to, either had a hazy film over them or brought him immense, intolerable anxiety and pain.

Of course, he still could not explain why his mind, whatever was left of it after 8 years of torture, went back repeatedly to Ireland.  And here it was again, looming ahead in its verdant mystery, calling him to explore.  He sat back on the couch, and let the mute button bring silence, as he went into his head.

A few hours later, silence came over the cabin and sleep finally came.  Aman and Lilly were out doing whatever it was they did and he rested.  In his mind, he was dreaming.  Again he found himself standing at the edge of the glen.  And there was the woman, her face so beautiful, but not quite recognizable to him.  And again, she drifted  across the mist, smooth like a spirit.  He wanted to cry out to her in warning, but did not know how to get her attention without being able to speak.  His throat was dry, he could not talk.  And like before, he knew, from the other dreams, that soon the shots would ring out and he would see her drop the child and fall.  Except this time, he knew where the shots were coming from.  They were from his own life when he had been shot in the back.  Suddenly, unexpected, he ran across the glen as fast as he could, and halfway across, he stopped short, unable to move.  His legs, were paralyzed.  Looking down, he saw them as two tree branches, ragged and lifeless.  He panicked, and looked up to see her facing him head on.  One her face was recognition and love.  He looked away because it hurt to see her, and when he looked back, she was gone.  In her place stood the man.

"You wanna try your luck, boy?" the man sneered, and his hand went to his pocket, leaving Todd knowing what was next.  And out it came.  The lighter.  It was silver, rectangular and seemed to have its own evil.  "Let's see how you fare today."

This time, the man started approaching him.  Of course, he could not move, his tree-trunk legs were idle, as they always would be.  His heart raced and met with a fever pitch that pounded in his chest painfully.

Back in his mind, he image of the man loomed closer.  The lighter was flicked open and the flame was high, light yellow with a piercing blue base.  The pounding of his heart was so fierce in his ears it was louder than any sound he had ever heard.  The man reached out and grabbed his arm to bring his hand up over the flame when he shrieked and woke up, breathing as if he were just avoiding drowning.

"There, there lad!"  Lilly had a slight panic in her voice.  "It's all right.  You're with us now, it's all right.  No more shaking."  She ran her hand over his head repeatedly, with a gentle firmness, to calm him.  "Start tryin' to breathe slower now.  Try."

Try as he might, he realized just then that he was in hyperventilation.  Lilly realized it too, and gave him an old sack to breathe into for a few moments.  "See?  It's all right.  You just gotta slow down, Son."

Later, Lilly told him what had happened.  She had come in the door to see his head moving back and forth a bit in his sleep.  He also was mumbling.  Thinking it might help them learn something about his identity, she sat by his bed quietly as not to interrupt.  And then, she had heard him mumbling various protests, and announcing "I won't cry" with certainty.  All this she had relayed to him before the most important part.  He also had said, "I won't cry, Dad."

Things being revealed little by little, one piece at a time, and memories flooding back in droves, alternating with bits and slices and flashes.  But if his mind continued to move back to Ireland, wasn't there something there that he needed to know, or to remember, or to experience, to make him whole today? 

Just then, he realized the emotion and power behind what he had just remembered had left him overwhelmed.  TV would do the trick; the mindless, empty chatter of talk-show hosts, the sounds of supposed stars dancing in competition, and the occasional interesting prime-time drama.  Clicking the mute button again, the sound came back, and he surfed.  He stopped when he saw Dorian and David Vickers on the screen. "Vickers," he said, laughing a little to himself. "Dorian, you're looking elegant." Sarcasm.

What transposed following this was hard for him to track when he thought back on it later. Various Llanview biggies and smallies came across the red carpet for the premier. It was when he saw the Impostor that he began to take some interest. "Delgado, what happened to that big brain of yours?" He said aloud. She always was a thinker.

Then came Blair, stunning in white, Jack, Starr, and ... Tomas Delgado, who was pawing his daughter like there was no tomorrow.  He felt a surge of rage come in his chest and pushed it down, continuing to watch.  "Get your hands off my daughter."

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Todd Revisited: Confidante (Chapter 13)

He pulled the towel from his head and felt his face screw up with puzzlement.  Roxy had NOT CHANGED AT ALL.  Natalie's mother was always a bit of a nut.  He was fortunate she did not recognize him or, for that matter, remove the towel from his head.  He'd grunted to sound like John McBain.  "Let's face it," he said aloud, "he's the tall silent type."

The day went along as pretty much normal after that.  He's sat, thinking, or reading The Sun, or watching television daytime drama.  "Who writes this stuff?  And what the HECK is 'The Chew'?"   He was considering a nap, or at least some rest, after last night's interrupted sleep, when the phone rang.  It was Tomas Delgado, calling to speak to John McBain.  He took a chance, scrambled to the phone and answered it.  His best impersonation of McBain landed the cop with an appointment to talk to Tomas at the premier that evening.  He'd have to break it to McBain when he got back.

He found himself hungry, hungry enough to raid McBain's pantry without asking.  Not the nicest thing to do to someone helping you out, but it had been a long couple of days.  The last thing he'd eaten was the apple that McBain had given him the night before.  Before the dreams.  "Manning, you sure have been through it all," he heard himself say, "and to think, Ireland used to be the worst of it.  Until 8 years ago."  A sharp pain shot through his temple, and he immediately stopped.  He took a deep breath, and opened his eyes again.  He was still in McBain's apartment.  "I might be crazy," he said again.  "I just might.  How do I know I am not?  Those dreams, the memory flashes . . ." he paused. "Damn I'm hungry," and his thoughts went back to another time.

There was nothing better he had experienced that he could remember (which was not far at all) than the breakfast he ate that morning.  The eggs, lightly salted and peppered, the bacon, perfectly done, and the coffee, nothing but black - but although not fancy, it was the best.  Even though he had to be fed, by Lilly, bite by bite and sip by sip, he felt alive and priviliged.  For that moment, he felt a bit of grace come over him, in some way, and the sun helped by peeking through the window and bouncing off the mounds of snow.  

The coffee was the hardest part.  He could not, at this point, lift either arm to grasp the cup.  Lifting his head too far off the pillow made it hurt profusely.  He and Lilly, over the last few hours, had developed a system of how exactly to help him ingest liquids and it did not include an IV drip.  

Aman sat at the kitchen table, eating in silence.  He could see the man from his bed, serious-faced and strong.  Everything seemed simple.  Their clothes, their home, and them.  So easy. Lilly began to clean up the kitchen and scrape the leftovers into a pail.  

"Okay, someone has a promise to keep."

"I don't remember making a promise, lad."  She answered, her back to him.

"You did."

"All right, the two of ya, cut this out."  Aman said.  He was sucking down the last of his coffee.

"Aman," his voice got serious and softer.  "please.  Tell me what happened to me."

Aman pulled a chair by the bed.  He rolled up his sleeves, as if digging into a deep, dirty job.  "All right, lad."  He stopped for a moment, and pulled out his pipe.  Todd could smell the cherriness before he even lit it.

"You had a concussion.  You had a fever, that put you into a deep sleep for two months.  You broke your collar bone.  You broke your arm.  You cut open the other one.  Both your legs are broken in several places.  You broke your pelvic bone.  You broke 10 ribs.  And, you were shot in the back."

He didn't respond.  Instead, he turned his face away, toward the window.  The sun was still peeking, and the glare of the snow diamonds was bringing him some head pain.

"You're alive, boy.  That's the biggest thing."

His eyes stung with tears.  He couldn't imagine being better, or being able to walk.  His legs were dead to him.  He felt Aman's hand on his shoulder, tentatively and light as not to injure him.  "You're alive."

He closed his eyes.  Letting the tears fade a bit, he turned back to Aman.  "Thank you for telling me this.  Who shot me?"

Aman didn't know how to explain, or even if he was right.  "I don't know for certain, lad, but a friend of mine was outside behind the Wild Swan, relievin' himself, when it happened.  We think it was the Men of 21."

"Who are they?"  He thought of the man's sneer in his mind-pictures.  Somehow, he knew that man had nothing to do with The Men of 21.

"Let's just say, you don't want to know them.  A kind of evil, I guess you might say."

Confused, he asked politely, "Aman, can I rest a while?  I didn't sleep last night."

"Of course, lad.  And I know what you're thinking.  But you're wrong.  You will get well.  If you could make it this far, through all of that, and whatever came before, you can get well."  And with that, he got up, leaving Todd with stinging eyes that turned back to the window's gateway to crystal snow.

He trapsed into the kitchen and noticed that there was practically nothing there.  In the freezer, he found a tray of mac and cheese, and decided it would have to do.  Thinking of eggs and bacon, he hit power on the microwave.

Short #1: Blair's Memory by SCOUT

Blair settles into her favorite chair on the poolside patio of La Boulaie with a glass of wine in one hand and an old photograph in the other. She leans back into the cushion and sighs. She is still amazed, and maybe even the teeniest bit doubtful, about Tomas’ story. The coincidence of him finding her wedding puhoto at some back-alley flea market in Paris…it’s nearly unbelievable. Blair gently runs her fingertip over the image of Todd’s face. Todd’s old face. A slight smile tugs at the corner of her mouth. That night is singlehandedly the greatest memory of her life. God, she was so happy then. The happiest she had ever been. If she were to close her eyes she knows she can still feel his hands around her waist as they danced. He was gripping her so tightly, as if he were afraid to let go of her even for a moment.
They sway slowly across the dance floor…moving almost as if in a dream. Todd’s hands are warm and solid on her hips. She can feel the blood-warmth of his skin even through the fabric of her gown. Her stomach does a little flip as she thinks of the tiny spark of life deep within her. She tries to send their baby all of the love she feels right now. This new baby is going to make everything ok. Give them both back everything they lost after the miscarriage. The memory of that pain is still so fresh, a sting which never truly eases, but Blair knows that they will love this child all the more for it. She wants this baby to grow up happy, and healthy, and strong, and very, very spoiled…
“Do you have any idea how much I love you?” Blair murmurs.
Todd watches her intently.
“This is all I’ve ever wanted,” she says.
Todd smiles at her, but she can see a shadow of pain cross his green eyes. He seems sad, as though the idea of her wanting only him isn’t good enough. Like she deserves better somehow. Blair places her hand on his cheek and sighs. Then she places her hand on his other cheek, the scarred one. She wants him to know that she loves all of him…the darkness as well as the light.
“I love you Todd.”
He leans in and covers her mouth with his lips, their bodies fitting perfectly together, the spark deep inside growing warmer…

Blair gives her head a little shake as if to clear her mind. That was a long time ago, she thinks. Everything is different now. So many lifetimes have passed since that wedding night…nothing is the same…not even Todd’s face. Things had never been the same between them after that golden wedding night, but the contrast of Todd as he was then to the man she knows today is staggering. So much of her wants to believe that he is the same man she used to love…but uncertainty nags at her brain…
A noise from behind snaps Blair from her reverie.

“Mom? What are you doing out here?”

Blair looks up to see Starr, worry etched all over her pretty face.

“And what are you doing with that old picture of you and dad?”

Blair gives a sad smile. “I was just looking at this and remembering…remembering old times…and thinking…maybe your father really was the great love of my life.”

Starr looks distressed for a moment before launching into a litany of reasons why Blair should most definitely not be thinking thoughts like that. But Blair is only half listening. She realizes that after all of the things that have gone wrong since their wedding night, she and Todd got one thing very, very right. Their baby did grow up healthy, happy, strong, and so beautiful.

Blair’s heart fills to bursting. She feels such love for her daughter in this moment. And for her father too…wherever he might have gone.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Todd Revisited: Sleepless (Chapter 12)

After a tiring day, he wondered if he could sleep.  Being shot at on the dock, Tea, being in the apartment for a near miss (what was it McBain had said, he was baking a pie?) and trying to adjust to his new surroundings in a small, humble flat left him feeling as if he should sleep.  He was, as always, not certain he could.  

Sleep was something that he had alternately chased and run from most of his life, or at least, most of it.  He settled himself onto the couch in McBain's living room, and set his head back against the armrest.  It was dark, McBain had turned in hours ago, and he went over the events of the day with slides flashing through his mind.  He knew what he heard in Tea's voice; she was afraid, but also curious, and clearly in love with the impostor.  He turned his thoughts to the docks, and the shooting; how the sound of the bullets punctuated the air with reminders; how he had escaped unscathed and somehow made a connection with this McBain character.  For a cop, he really wasn't a bad guy.  A far cry from Bozo Buchanan, or the Irish police.  

The glow from the computer was not a distraction; somehow a bit of light was a comfort.  The scene from the docks earlier in the day continually played through his mind, and he made himself  focus on the sound of the water lapping the pier, and before he knew it, he found himself back near the ocean in his mind.  Except, this ocean was not as calm or controlled.  This ocean was the gripping, frigid Irish sea.  He allowed himself to drift back to that time, when, like today, he was being protected in someone's home from forces he didn't have full understanding of.  Somehow, even his painful time in Ireland felt like a relief to him now.

"You've not slept, Son."

Lilly made her way into the kitchen in a long, flannel nightgown, furry slippers and a bathrobe. She rushed to put a kettle on and threw wood on the fire. He had recognized how cold it was, but ignored it. He'd been up since last night, and she was right, he did not sleep a wink.

He turned slowly to her.  "How did you know that?"

Lilly banged a few pots and pans before answering.  He saw her taking eggs from the refrigerator.  Everything in the cabin was modest, nothing seemed new.  Heck, the fridge looked like it was from the 50s - boxy and a weird mint green.

"I knew because you have not moved even an inch.  And, I checked on ya during the night.  Can't have something bad happenin' to ya on my watch."  She puttered around more.  "Are you all right, lad?"

"I can't move.  I'm in a lot of pain.  I could use some more pain medication, if we have it."  He thought for a minute and said, "I can't feel my legs.  Everything else hurts."  He stopped.  "Bad."  He wasn't sure how much longer he could keep up the pretense that he was not in the most intense pain of his life.

She approached the bed, holding a glass of water to his lips, and placing two pills on his lower lips, which he had found an interesting way to move into his mouth using the tip of his tongue and some good, old-fashioned leverage.  She put her hand on his forehead and paused.  "Nope.  No fever.  That's a good sign.  The Good Lord has brought you down from the levels of hell."

He looked up at her from his lying position with an eyeful of disdain.  One arm was scarred and had been roughly stitched.    The other was bruised and still cast.  His good ear felt plugged with water.  His legs were like empty, hollow things he couldn't even detect.  His head hurt badly when it was still, and pounded and pained intensely when he moved.  He was having a hard time breathing, which meant he probably had ribs that were broken or worse.  He didn't know his name.  And, he was having horror-films for bedtime stories.  He hadn't even seen himself in a mirror.  "Are you sure, Lilly?"

The woman smiled, in spite of herself.  "Yes, I am sure, lad."

"Is my face . . ."

"No.  Your face is all right.  Despite that scar you already had, looking at your face, you'd never know what happened to you."

"What did happen to me?"

"A lot." She walked away, headed back to the stove to make breakfast.  "We can talk about this later."

"How did you keep me alive all this time?  How did I eat?"

Lilly kept working.  She wanted to make this discussion matter-of-fact, as not to plague him with any more emotional stress.  "That IV right there, that the doctor set up.  Gave you all your nutrients."

"What did the doctor say about my . . . my injuries?"

"You've broken almost every bone in your body, just not your neck, not your skull, and not your fingers.  Son, you were very fortunate to live through this.  Thank God and Mary."

"What happened to me?"  

She could tell by his tone that he was being as demanding as he possibly could.  She continued to fix the meal.  "Son, later.  Let me do my work."

He could smell morning smells.  Thankful for that, he closed his eyes, not giving up on finding out.  "I'll find out, you know.  Aman will tell me.  Us guys understand each other."  

"I will tell you, just not now.  I want you to eat a good breakfast, for the first time in a while, and then we can discuss it.  Agreed, lad?"  She turned to him, hand on hip.  In an odd way, she reminded him of someone.  He didn't know who or how to even classify the feeling.


"And, if I tell you, you're going to tell me why you scream like a banshee sometimes in your sleep, right, Son?"  She feigned a pleasant, teasing exterior, but he could tell she was more than concerned.  A black veil seemed to fall over her eyes.

"Not sure, Lilly.  I don't remember much about my dreams after I wake up."  He flashed on the man's leering face.  "I hardly remember any of it."

She turned back to the stove.  He knew the smell of eggs and bacon, and it connected with him in ways he couldn't really decipher.  He was hungry, for real food and he knew it.  Coffee noises were happening now, in an old silver percolator type of pot.  He closed his eyes and soaked in the aromas.  

At this, Lilly came to the bedside rather quickly.  "Hey, Son, hey now?"

He popped his eyes open with alarm.  "I'm not going anywhere, Lilly.  It's okay."  He wanted to lift his arm and reach her, but he couldn't mobilize it.  "Besides, I gotta stick around for that breakfast and the story of my death."

He said aloud, "My death.  Guess one was not enough."  He turned over, and tired from the strain of memory, he closed his eyes, and of course, he dreamed.

He was seated in a chair unlike those he'd ever seen, metallic bulbs on each side of his head.   Panic filled his chest and it was almost impossible to breathe.  He wanted to call out, but words would not come.  In all white, his hands and legs were strapped to the chair arms and rungs, and the smells and sites were familiar.  Bare walls, overhead lights, sterile environment, a small bunk, no air, no light, no escape.  A hand-reader was on the wall in front of him.  He couldn't place where the panic was coming from, but it was strong.  As footsteps neared the door, he became more and more agitated.  He could feel his heart race more, and lift, as if in his throat.  His breathing quickened, and his brow became speckled with sweat.  This was terror and what was worse was knowing it was some horror that he was going to face, but not know exactly what that horror was.  

As the door opened, he strained to see who it was.  Try as he might, the face was shrouded in a black cape, not unlike the one that a figure had worn in his dreams all his life.
"Who are you?" he heard himself cry out.  His voice sounded small, young, lost.  "Who are you and what do you want from me?"

The figure approached slowly, and he cursed it and fought against the bonds holding him still.  His head whipped side to side, and all his strength was mustered in his attempt to break free.  "If I can just get my hands around his neck. . ."

What did this tormentor want?  What did he hold, shrouded under his long cape sleeves?  A gun?  A belt with a bright glazed buckle?  A shining cigarette lighter?  A needle?  Some electrical device that brought insurmountable pain?  A ragged, bony hand . . .

He sat up and gasped for air.  Realizing where he was, he controlled himself.  McBain, parked at the computer behind him, simply said, without turning around, "Bad dreams?"     

"Yeah," he was undoubtedly more unsteady than he was ready to show.  "I dreamed someone stole my entire life and I lost everyone that I ever loved."  And then, "Oh wait, that's real.  What are we going to do about that?"

"This."  McBain held out a DNA test kit.  

After a few quips and some discussion, he found himself acknowledging his own self-doubt.  What if I am crazy?  What if the impostor is right about me?

McBain was matter-of-fact and ignored his emotions with a business-like, professional air.  He liked the guy.  McBain just assured him that this was the only way to find out, and he left the apartment.

Todd sat down, still confused.  He still had all of these memories flowing in and out of his mind's eye.  But he also had dreams like this recent one, and they talked to him about what was in him; his darkness.  He had no way of knowing, not truly, that he was not some crazed maniac who wanted to be this rich guy from Llanview.  Not truly.  He had no way of knowing, not truly, which of the things in the dream were real and which were not.  Not truly.  He could take a guess, or try and deduce the truth, but he was apprehensive about trusting himself.  And the doubt was because of his inability to remember more recent things, while being able to picture, recite and relive older things.  

All of it scared him.  Why couldn't he remember the last time he was in Llanview?  In his experience, if he tried, it hurt so badly he'd not be able to keep going.  His mind would shut off.  He recalled a time when he pushed himself so much that his Dark Mass completely ingested him, and he woke up weeks later.  He told himself that he would try again later, but first, a shower, hot, comforting water, was all he could think of exploring.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Todd's Dilemma

He sat there thinking of everything he had found out in recent days. He had been so sure the man posing as him was a fake, an impostor. Now it appeared the man was as in the dark as he was. He had so many questions and Baker had only managed to add to them.

Baker said he wasn't Todd Manning, but of that he was certain. He was Todd Manning. Still Baker talked like he was someone else entirely. Was Baker trying to fool him or was Baker under some misconceived notion he was someone different. Baker thought he had something and he had no idea what Baker was looking for. Todd thought back to those few moments just before Baker shot him. It was like Baker thought he was an agent of theirs. That he had been sent on some mission and failed to complete it without being seen. The guy was clearly mistaken, but why was he acting so certain. Could the other Todd Manning actually be the man they were looking for? Why had they protected the other Todd Manning? Why had Baker said it was a shame and that he had had high hopes for him?

God it was so confusing. One thing was sure though. Agent or not, Baker had come with the intention of killing him. If he hadn't had the good sense to buy the vest he'd be dead now. Todd's ribs still ached and were bruised from the shots he had taken at close range. Whoever had held him prisoner for eight years had decided to cut their losses.

Todd's thoughts returned to the other Manning. He had held a gun to the man's chest and Manning hadn't retracted his statement that he was Todd Manning. The guy really believed it. Why, and where had he come from eight years before. The news show said he had arrived as Mitch Lawrence's brother. Could Mitch have planted him in Llanview, and if not Mitch, then who? Todd really didn't want to think too much about Mitch. He recalled his last view of Mitch but when he did it, he got dizzy. The agency said he had been catatonic for eight long years. Todd just had this feeling it had to do with Mitch. Todd tried to remember some of his other enemies and only managed to come up with two other names: Powell Lord and Carlo Hesser. Powell Lord was dead according to the news story. Could Carlo be behind this? Why such an elaborate switch? What would Carlo gain by putting someone else in his life?

Todd leaned back resting. Louie had left, but not before giving him someone who might help. That help was going to arrive soon and Todd found himself wondering how he had gotten to this point. He had hated cops for a long time, stemming back to his days following his rape of Marty. Now here he was getting ready to ask for help from a cop. When Louie had said the cop's name it had rung a bell. Baker had asked if he had given it to John McBain. Baker had wanted to know why McBain was looking into the man on the file and Todd had wondered why his picture was on the file. Todd had tried to tell Baker he didn't know anything, but it had been useless, and then Baker had sent electrical volts through him. That electricity had really done a number on him for a while. He had struggled to remember who he was and it had finally come back to him. If Baker didn't like John McBain then Todd sure as hell would. He needed help, who better than the cop the agency didn't like. His thoughts came back to the present when he heard the footsteps.

"Come out, Come out wherever you are."said McBain.

Todd peeked through the crates he was hiding behind and recognized the guy from the airport where he had seen the other Manning for the first time. So that was McBain. Well Louie said he could be trusted. "It's now or never." he thought and slowly stood up "Here we go Todd. It's time." he walked around the crates and stepped out so McBain could see him.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Todd Revisited: Awake (Chapter 11)

Without warning, he found himself staring at the end of a golf club that was suspended from above him.  Somehow, he felt fortunate because he was losing his ability to stay afloat and had gone under a few times, tired.  Of course, with his hands tied, it would be difficult to grab the golf club's shining end.

"Hey!  Hey you!"  A voice called from above.  He searched up with his eyes, and then, realizing his legs were giving way from bicycling under him, he put his head back and descended again.  His Dark Mass was creeping across his vision.  He fought it, almost commanding it to leave him, and he found himself almost unable to return to the surface this time.  The water, cool and dim, surrounded him, almost a relief from the dank, hot weather of Pennsylvania summer.  

No.  He must not get too comfortable in this comforting cool.  He knew, from experience, that would be his final mistake.  Looking up, he saw the edge of the water, hitting the dock.  He had drifted inward, and a strong, black hand was reaching toward him.  Once more, he lifted his tied hands, and the man, literally lying across the dock to have leverage, called to him.  "Hey!  You!  Come on, grab hold."

He was certain that the last two pumps of his legs that he struggled to complete were the last two.  Hoisting his hands, the man took both of his large paws and put them under the ropes tying his wrists together, and hoisted him part way out of the water.  Then, with an audible grunt, he lifted him onto the pier, where he lay, face down, before unconsciousness took him.

When he woke, the man was nearby.  He stirred and heard, "Don't even THINK of moving."  He coughed and spit, and water came from places he did not know could hold it.  Soaked through, he found a way to look up at the figure over him.  He was burly, black, and carrying that golf club he had spotted earlier.

The conversation took an interesting path right away.  Louie, as he was named, was John McBain's "eyes and ears" on the docks.  And when all was said and done with their first and possibly only talk, he found himself believing in this man who was currently the only person believing in him.  So, he decided, however hesitantly, to do what Louie had instructed.  After all, the guy saved his life and believed him.  Believed him.  He knew, in no uncertain terms, that even his family, who he still loved, would never believe him.  They would call him an impostor, and fawn over The Impostor like they always did.  How could they?

Before departing, Louie taught him about the payphone on the dock, and handed him a quarter and went on his way.  Somehow, he knew he would see Louie again, and eventually, if things worked out, he would make it worth his while.

So he made the call.

John McBain answered.  "Hey, Louie."  

"No.  Guess again."

"Is Louie ok?"

"Yeah, he's fine.  He said I should call you."

"And you are?"

"I think we should talk, alone.  I'll know if you bring backup."

"Ok.  What's this about?"

"Todd Manning," and he hung up the phone without waiting for McBain's response.  So unlike him to trust a policeman.  In fact, so unlike him to trust anybody.  In his life, he'd rarely trusted anyone, and those he did, he trusted sparingly.  Look where that got you?

He made his way around a stack of cartons, and sat to wait.  His clothes were still wet, mostly because of the humidity in the air, for it was hot enough this day to dry them.  As soon as he sat down, he realized just how tired he was, and how close he was to the end, once again.  Wondering momentarily if it was a mistake to call a cop, he rested his head back against the cartons and closed his eyes.  His mind took him to a far away place, again, and he faded into a memory.

Lilly rushed to his side, and Aman stood by her.  Both of their faces, when he opened his eyes,  looked like a combination of pity, joy and horror.  "It's all right now, lad.  It's all right.  You're safe." 

His head crashed back to the bed.  He was still gasping and covered in sweat.

Aman, taken aback by the emotion of the scene, crossed to the kitchen to get water for the visitor.  He knew the guest was in good hands with Lilly.

"Son."  She said quietly, then even softer.  "It's over now.  You're all right,"  and she found herself drying a solitary tear from his cheek with her apron.

He looked up to her.  "Thank you."  Something had grabbed hold of his guts and twisted them, or at least that was how it felt.  Aman arrived at the bedside and gave him the water.  He drank it in almost one swallow.

Aman found words.  "Do you want to tell us what spooked ya, lad?"

He didn't know how to answer.  Did he want to?  Maybe.  Did he KNOW?  Not sure.  He did remember parts of it; the glen, the fog, the man, the lighter.  The lighter.

He finally spoke, "how long . . .?"

Lilly smiled softly.  "You've been here for two months already.  This is the first time we saw your eyes since you got the fever and went into the deep sleep.  You were in another place, lad, for two months and 6 days."

He turned his head to the side and closed his eyes again.  "Two months, in a coma?"

"Yes lad.  And by the way, do you know your name, now?  We've been calling you Son."

Lilly put a wet cloth on his forehead.  "There there now, doesn't that feel better?"

He closed his eyes and admitted to himself that it did.  It felt better than anything he could remember feeling for a long time.  He didn't dare move, because he was certain that would bring immense torture.

"I'm crippled?"  he asked

"No, lad, just can't move for a bit.  Sure as the night is long you'll be walkin' soon."  Aman chimed in, then got up and went back to his nightly reading.

"You had a bad fall." Lilly simply stated.  And for him, right then, it was enough.  "Do you want to talk about it, Son?"

"What the dream?"  He asked.

"Yes, do you want to tell me about it?  You've had it often, sometimes you would sweat, other times you didn't; sometimes you would twitch, or your eyes would move under your lids.  Once your fists clenched.  This was the first time you opened your eyes . . . and screamed."

Embarrassed by his weakness, he simply looked away.  "I can't remember much, I'm sorry.  I'm still tired, and I think I need to sleep."

"All right," she said, pulling a blanket up over his chest gently.  When her hands brushed against his chest, the pain was almost unbearable.  He didn't cry out or let her know.  He was not sure he had legs anymore.  

Out of the corner of his eye, he quickly mistook a candle for the lighter's flame, and his heart skipped a beat.  "Thank you.  I really want to be alone."

"All right.  We're here if you need something."  She paused.  "Goodnight, Son.  And I'm Lilly, if you want to know."

"Goodnight, Lilly," he said, and turned his head slightly away.  He kept his eyes open, however, as not to see that man's face again.

A few minutes later, he found himself back at the dock, and opened his eyes, knowing now very well who the man was.  There was not time for this now, he had to maintain his focus if he were to get his life back.  He waited, until he heard the familiar voice from the phone.  "Come out, come out wherever you are."

Without a sound, he moved slowly from behind the cartons and stood face to face with John McBain.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Todd Revisited: Dead Again (Chapter 10)

The white cloth used to gag him was cutting into the sides of his mouth, it was tied tight enough to curtail his efforts to talk his way out of this one. Baker stood over him, holding a gun, talking nonsense to him, or at least words that made little sense. He was Todd. He was Todd. The Impostor was not Todd.  Baker was wrong, or lying.

Less than an hour before, he stood opposite The Impostor in the offices of The Sun, and exchanged unpleasantries.  His old office, changed but his.  Just 45 minutes ago, he stood outside The Impostor's home, with Blair, the kids, and Tea right on the other side of that door, and fought for his identity.  He was Todd Manning.  But, to his surprise, The Impostor believed he also was Todd Manning, and The Impostor did love his family and children, which was shocking as well as certain.

Just 30 minutes ago, he had taken The Impostor "hostage" and held him around the neck, and pointed the gun at his gut, and threatened him.  All he wanted was to be with them all again, and have Blair know right away that he was her Todd.  That was all he wanted.

And now, he found himself slumped against the docks, hands tied, mouth gagged, somehow he fought the impulse to give in to a moving mass of darkness that was coming to his mind's eye, the memory of being bound and threatened was at the edge of rememberance, and he, usually searching for any clues, fought not to remember it. 

Agent Baker seemed to really mean it this time.  What were his words outside The Manning's house?  "He's suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome?"  He almost laughed in spite of everything.  His whole LIFE had been PTSD.  Somehow, right as Baker pulled the gun back and moved to shoot, time moved slower than he expected, and the glint from it caused him to flash on Peter, standing with that silver lighter, gleaming.  He heard a small noise escape from him, reminiscent of a child fearing a beating, and then, the shots rang out.

Deafening his one good ear, he was immediately overtaken by two things.  The pain of the impact of the bullets against the bullet-proof vest that he was stealth enough to grab from Agent Kent's closet, and the movement over and around his mind's eye of The Dark Mass.  That was the thing he wanted to fight more, as it caused him to retreat inside himself and become still and blank, as he was for the last 8 years.  

With all the strength he had, as his body drooped back, his eyes fixed above him on the moon's light, he fought.  The Dark Mass had a one remaining corner of light.  He knew his only recompense was to fight that dark and peel that corner back, with every ounce of his cognizance, and deal with the pain and what was happening later.  So he focused, life and limb, on defeating the dark and stopping it from consuming him.  With all his concentration, he peeled the corner back slightly, then took an inaudible breath, as his body sagged and slid to the left.  Baker and the other agents were still talking, sounding light years away.  He knew time was slipping.  He concentrated every bit of force left in his soul and wiped the dark off his mind's eye like a white board.  At that very moment, one of the agents reached down and tumbled him off the dock and into the ocean.  And, without realizing, his Dark Mass, in its hunger to blank his mind, had actually saved him from being discovered as alive.

The water was not a surprise to his body.  It was nowhere as cold as the water in the Irish sea, or even the water in the river by the cabin when he was shot in the leg during a conflict with Bo.  How CLEAR that all was in his mind.  Strange that the more closer memories were so hard to access.  The fact of having no free hands to swim did not surprise him either; he once survived all of this without legs, he could survive water without arms.  He remembered telling Blair once, "It's all water under the bridge.  And me, well I know, because I'm an expert on water now."  

Was that what he had really said to her, when he had the chance to hold her as she cried, and tell her how he missed her and what she had meant to his recovery after Ireland?  A dark time rooted in deep, bitter waiting; endless pain and hopelessness; and being lost to himself, as well as the world.  

He looked up at the water's surface, where he could see the reflection of a streetlight against the river.  He thought, "That was the darkest time, of what I can remember.  Months of not knowing my own name, months of trying to heal."

He used his legs to propel himself under the dock and quietly break the surface to gain air. "That," he told himself, "was my first real death.  I am Todd Manning.  This," he stopped and gulped some air, "is a piece of cake.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Todd Revisited: Waiting (Chapter 9)

He sat, in the dark of The Sun's main office, behind the desk, and in the moon's light that came in through the window, he got the eerie feeling of the past sneaking up on him like an unexpected wave of nausea.  The place had changed, in many ways, but he found himself leaning back, feet up on the desk, as he might have done in the past, when it was his office; Blair walking through the door, her skirt moving in sway to her walk; Kelly bickering by the window with him; Gabrielle putting her hooks into his sensibilities; Dorian with a huge-brimmed hat; Moose flying in the window.  He was overwhelmed with these mind-pictures, as he waited for him.

He rubbed along his temples, one hand still holding the gun, in case he needed protection.  Under his shirt, the bullet-proof vest he borrowed from his old friend Agent Kent felt slightly heavy against his skin.  Still reeling from what he had just seen, he scanned his thoughts.  Blair.  She had been next to him, in the crook of his arm, right there, and he could not touch her or tell her anything.  How he had left off with her in 2003 was muddled and sketchy to him still, but something in him told him it was not all hearts and flowers.  The voices, spun and swirled around his mind, and he shut his hands over his ears to stop the noise.  He'd rather think back, further, if he had to think at all.  He closed his eyes, waiting for The Impostor to come and meet him.

It was night.  He was again at the brink of the foggy glen, the blonde woman with the child across from him.  This time, he was determined not to let it end the same way; he wanted to know her, find out what drew him to her in all of the dreams he had conjured up in his time away from the world.  Today was going to be different.

This time, he watched her lilting across the mist, as if she had no feet.  She appeared confused, lost, and he wanted to cry out to her, but did not know what to say to her.  His throat seemed parched, and no words would come.  Instead, he decided to cross the glen to get to her.  He knew, from the other dreams, the repetitious images of his mind as he lay away from the rest of the world, that soon the shots would ring out and he would see her drop the child and fall.  He saw his arm reach out in front of him, and felt himself moving closer.  She turned to him this time, facing him head on.  Her face was one of recognition and love.  She began to hold the child out to him and he had almost reached the halfway point of the glen, when behind her, he appeared.

It was the man.  The tall, frightening man, who grabbed her around her shoulders from the back and held a lighter to her face in threat.  She screamed and dropped the child again, and this time, it dropped and rolled to the side, a lifeless doll.  The man sneered and belittled her fear with taunts he could barely hear. 

He was almost to her, and to the man.  A courageous dread came over him; he knew that he wanted to run away as much as he wanted to save her.  Almost upon them (his feet were moving painfully sluggish, as if in slow-motion), the man threw her to the side and held out the lighter.  He stopped short and almost toppled over into the haze.  

The man held the lighter out in front of his eyes, grabbed his hand and said, "You wanna try your luck, boy?"

He jolted awake with a scream in the bed by the window in the cabin that Aman and Lilly had brought him to.  Lilly scurried across the room as fast as her legs would carry her.  In her panic, she turned over a bowl on the table, spilling peeled potatoes onto the wooden floor.  "Aman!  Come quick!  He's awake Aman!  I see his eyes!  I see his beautiful eyes!"

Back at The Sun, his eyes flipped open in immediacy as he heard a noise at the office door.  There, at the door, was The Impostor, shrouded in moon blue, with the most blank, confused but shaken look he had ever seen.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Todd Revisited: Lapse (Chapter 8)

On the walk back, he thought to himself if there could be anything worse than what he had just been through and what he had been forced to do. Of course, he knew the answer to that; indeed, there was much worse. But, it had been bad enough on its own. To stand by and watch him be with his own family, it was almost too painful to bear. And, as they walked, the weight of the Birthday loot tugging at his forearm, and the hand of a little boy squeezing his other hand seemed to weigh on him immensely.

The kid was named Sam. Almost a gratuitous show of some kind of dedication to Sam Rappaport, the man he loved as a father. The man who was the closest thing to a father he ever had. Clearly, this impostor had chosen the name for obvious purposes. But, the kid was cute, and the kid was hanging off his arm like no tomorrow, and the kid was talking. He had not stopped talking since they left the impostor's house.

Though not fully intentional, he started to drift into his own thoughts, not entirely meaning to block out Sam's little voice, but doing so. They continued to walk, and soon he found himself lost in his own thoughts again. He needed to think. The more he remembered, the clearer things became.

Aman came through the door just as he had uttered the last of his feverish rant. "Find me!"

The doctor trailed not far behind, carrying a black leather bag that notoriously screamed medic.

"Hurry, doctor, he is burning alive with fever." Lilly said, wiping the splashed water from her brow.

Aman went to her side, "Are you all right, dear heart?"

"Yes, yes, don't fuss now, Aman. Don't fuss."

The doctor continued his routine of examining the patient. Lilly and Aman stepped away from the bedside. She continued, "He was saying such strange things, Aman. Asking if I knew him, and asking who he was."

Aman looked concerned, a dark cloud passed through his eyes. "He's delirious, ay? The poor lad. I looked and looked, no sign of papers or identification. American?"

"Definitely. He's got to be with that accent."

"What else did he say?" Aman poured himself a glass of dark beer, and they sat at the modest kitchen table. The doctor still proceeded to do his doctoring.

"He said something about finding him. Oh it was terrible, Aman, terrible. How he shook! And, he cried out horribly, tossing and turning like his skin was on fire. Something was hurting him, or has been hurting him, something bad." She rested her head in her hands. "Maybe we shouldn't have taken him here? If the Men of 21 are after him..."

Aman reached across and took one of her hands. "Now, now, we couldn't very well leave him, could we?"

Lilly glanced over to the bed. She could see the long, chestnut brown hair sprawled across the pillow, the side of his face had a majestic profile. She remembered all too well the other side, marked forever with a scar. And his eyes. As much as they implored her, they also softened her heart somehow. "No. We couldn't."

The doctor returned his instruments to his bag. "He's lost consciousness, possibly lapsed into a coma. There is nothing you can do now but wait. I'll come back every few days to check on him. Lucky I like those blue fin tuna you're about catching these days, Aman, my friend. I'm sorry, there's nothing more I can do without a hospital. I did give him some medicine to bring the fever down."

The constant tug on his hand became more furious and he finally stopped, resting against a tree. "Spiderman, are you ok?"

"Yeah, kid, I'm ok. Are you ok?"

"Yeah, I am ok." Then, "What kind of adventure is this?"

"Hmm. Well this is the Destruction of the Impostor Caper."

"Wow! That's a lot of words."

"Yep, it is."


"Yeah, kid?"

"Why did you stop against that tree? Don't you have superpowers? And why does your voice sound sad?"

He brought himself eye view with the boy. "I stopped against that tree because I was tired. I do have superpowers but they don't work all the time, and they really get weaker when I am around mean people or The Impostor. And I guess my voice was sad because I felt a little sad."

"You don't have to feel sad, you're Spiderman. You can do anything you want."

He thought about this thoroughly before saying, "You know, you're right. I can do anything I want. And that's just what I am going to do." And with that, he took Sam's hand and headed back to the Minuteman.