It had come to him again; in a way he knew it would. The pattern unchanging, the details never the same. He would fight for breath, unable to move, unsure of wake or dream until he found himself again in his room, lying on his bed, swimming in a pool of his own sweat. The way it had been as long as he could remember. How many times, now? He had long since forgotten. The memories of the future past always came in dream. Some said it was a gift from God. Others a curse. For him it was Life.
Rising from the bed, he took a moment to orient himself in the darkness, then dressed in silence. Black, as was his habit, right to the boots. Absentmindedly he reached for the collar on the dresser, fingered it for a moment, then returned it gently to its place. He had always been an enigma to his superiors, anyway. No one would suspect. His old felt hat completed his head, and as he turned to leave, the moon shone silver on the bracelet by the table. “Old friend, how could I leave without you?”
In an instant the memories tumbled unbidden into his mind, crowding each other out and vying for position. So long ago. He had been sent to “save” them, but how much they had given in return. More than he could ever truly appreciate. Likely more than he would ever know. On his last night among the People, the old drunk on the street had pressed this into his hand and stumbled away into the darkness. Thanks? Farewell? Of this too, he was unsure. Who was really playing the fool in that exchange? He had held up his palm to the distant light and so beheld it for the first time – the wolf hammered into the ribbon of silver. The old man had said they would come to him now. Blind muttering? Who would come? Or what?
He could feel them around him again now; they were never very far away. By some unwritten rule, pack law, they had accepted him as their leader and he had come to return their respect and their love. Always just unseen, he could sense them as they entered the room and gathered around. When he had left the northern forest for a jungle of concrete, wood, and steel, he had thought they might be reluctant to leave. He was wrong. Home was. Their pads and claws made inaudible clicks as they walked just above the sidewalk. How the night would end was never shown, and he wondered again how they would react, what they would feel. Would they mourn, howl, or move on with the night?
A good kid, his mother had called him. He had always tried to be, but sometimes life just dumped on you. There was no way around it. It wasn’t his fault, after all. School was hard, confining. They couldn’t expect him to just sit there, all day, every day, listening to one or the other babbling on and on and on. Bored him to tears. He’d rather party! Yeah!! That’s the life. No worries. No hassles. It had started that way, anyway. One night Snake had brought that shit and they’d passed the pipe around. Heaven. He wanted it now. Had to have it. Crack was life! Everything else was emptiness. His insides turned to water and his veins burned his skin. Who’d want that? Sure, he could quit any time he wanted to. Just didn’t want to! Hah!! They just couldn’t understand. Yeah, he’d taken money from his mother’s purse, but it was only a little, and he was going to pay her back. Not anymore. Screw her. Screw them all. He’d show them! All he needed was a little to keep himself going. Just a little touch-up and he’d be fine.
These thoughts all jumbled against each other in his mind, knocking names, places, dates out of order. It was cold in the alley, but the skid provided some shelter, and the papers he took from the dumpster provided a little cushion. Too bad there was no food in there, but he couldn’t much eat anyway. Too dark, though. Too dark. He could use his lighter for a bit, light up the night, but he needed to save the fuel for later. Just a little fix and he’d be okay.
The moon rounded the corner of the alley and illuminated his little piece of paradise. In the pale light he reached his hand into his jacket and pulled it out again. Here the moon shone silver on the cold blue steel. His mother’s new boyfriend had said he needed it for protection. That’s just what he was going to do. Protect his interests. Namely him. It wasn’t like anybody would get hurt. He’d just grab the cash and go. Snake would know he was good for the rest. But what if he didn’t? No, it would work. It had to.
Footsteps coming down the street. A long, easy lope. Not yet. Not yet, not yet, NOW! “Hold it right there! Just gimme your money and nobody gets hurt!” The kid knew that the tremor in his voice didn’t sound convincing, but hey. He was the one with the gun. He had control of the situation. “Oh, there you are. I’ve been looking for you.” The voice rolled out, just above a whisper. “Looking for me? What you talkin’ about? Just give me your damn money” Panic had started to creep into his voice. “I’m sorry, son. I can’t help you. I don’t have any money. And yes, we have been inexorably drawn down this path together.” “Inex what?” His eyes had adjusted to the dimness of the street, and he looked beyond his hands, beyond the barrel to the mark who was standing before him. About six feet, all dressed in black, with flowing silver hair and a long white beard. The brim of his hat covered his eyes. That wasn’t good. Snake always said to look for the terror in their eyes, but this man showed nothing. Meanwhile, he stood shaking in a cloud of his own fear. “I’m not fooling around here, mister! Just fork over the money!” An edginess had crawled into his throat, his voice tense. “It’s as I told you. I have no money. You can check if you like.” “No tricks! Okay, how’s about that bracelet, then. Toss it over!” “Son, this bracelet is an old friend of mine, but it’s not worth much. You could strip this old carcass clean and fetch maybe $20. Is that how much life is worth to you?” “I ain’t your son! And I’m tired of fooling around here!” He knew he was losing control, and a part of him wanted to turn and run. That part was slowly winning. He heard the old man’s voice again, gaining through the fog of his mind. “Look, kid. You have three choices. No one’s been hurt yet, so why don’t you put that away and we can take a little walk. I can get you some coffee, maybe even something to eat. I know some people near here who can help you . . .” “I don’t need no people! I just want your money!” The voice, soft and low, broke through again. “Choice number 2, you’re going to shoot me. That’s possible, your choice, but those wounds will heal, and you know my friends here will find you again.” Friends? What friends? There was nobody around for blocks. That old man was a fool to be walking out there anyway . . . From the corner of his eye he thought he saw movement. Shadow. Must have been a cloud or something. Then another. Then another. He was starting to sober fast, and the pain was rising in him again. “Choice number 3, you’re going to send me to my maker. You don’t want to do that, because the ghosts of those memories will haunt you forever.” The words cut right through him, and he jumped back involuntarily, but cocked the hammer at the same time. “You can’t frighten me! I’m not afraid of you! I don’t believe in no ghosts!”
Very slowly, the head tilted back, just enough to reveal the eyes beneath the brim. A curious mixture of gray and blue, hints of green, but not flat like most people’s eyes. These were deep caverns into the soul. “No . . . No, I don’t believe you do. But I suspect you will, soon.”