“So what do we know?” I asked Job and Regina. We were at an Chinese restaurant. We were full and smoking.
“Shadow, Guardian, Shush,” I said.
“Servant, Teth, and Assassin,” Regina added, “and that one who came out last night that we couldn’t get anything out of, do you remember that?”
“I do,” Job said. “He seemed angry. Like he wanted to hit someone. What was that he said?”
“He said, ‘You all need a lesson.’ Then he was gone,” Regina said. “I don’t know what that was about.”
A twitch and a sigh. “Did he hurt anyone?” Guardian said.
Job shook his head. “No, no one got hurt. It was just a bit off.”
“Were you scared?” Guardian asked.
They both shook their head no, but in fact Regina was scared. She told me later that it was the look in his eyes when he said it, a kind of plotting that made the whole thing ominous.
We were up at the register a few minutes later and I got an image. It was a hulking thing, enormous in height and girth, draped in chains and standing just out of sight in a shadow that my eyes could not penetrate.
“He is called Pain,” I said.
Job turned with a toothpick and grinned. “What did you say?”
“There is another in there. Not the one from last night, but a different figure all together. He scares me and his name is Pain.”
I couldn’t tell you where I was getting this information. It was impossible by the text book definition of the disorder. There was supposed to be no recollection of what was going on outside of the personality shift. But this was not a typical case. My therapist Steven had told me not to expect normal, said that in his work he had given treatment to many people with this disorder, and with each of them, it had been different. I trusted him, so when I got an image like this, I embraced it.
“What does he do?” she asked. “Why was he created?”
“He takes all of our pain.”
And my mind went back to when I was a teenager with a broken hand, a knuckle out of place and a doctor that warned about pain.
“This is going to hurt,” the doctor said.
“What are you going to do?” my mother asked.
“I have to press my thumb on the displaced knuckle and push it against the bone. I need to scrape the knuckle up the bone to the notch in the hand where it goes and hold it there. Then I need to put a cast on it. It will hurt. It will hurt badly.”
He wanted to numb it and he did. Needles and doses, but he looked at me and shook his head. “We did all of that, but it won’t make a difference at all. What I just did won’t even take the edge off. Are you ready?” he said. And that was all I could remember.
Mom later told me I had made not a face and hadn’t shown a bit of strain. I had taken the bone being set with no sign of pain whatsoever, and she and the doctor had been shocked.
Now I was thinking on that moment, and the many others when I had been in pain and had not felt it at all.
“He is immune to pain. He is called Pain,” I said as we walked out to the car.
“I want to meet him,” Regina said. Job mumbled something under his breath and we drove off.
I was getting drunk that night. It was a weekly ritual, a thing I did every Tuesday. I would call Regina, or Bekah and we would get to talking. We would tell of things that had happened to us back then. Things we were thinking of then, and they would write things down and talk to us, asking us questions and delving deeper into the puzzle that was slowly consuming all of our lives.
I remember that night we found out that different types of drink affected each of us differently. Shadow was a beer guy. When he drank beer, he got drunk fast. He was one of the first to get wasted. He would talk for a while, while he drank another drink, and soon someone else would come out.
Guardian was a bourbon man. A few shots of that shit and he was out. Gone round the track and beyond. I remember that night Shadow and Guardian had been at odds. Before she left for the night, Regina was telling them what the other had said and they were each getting madder and madder. Their secrets were being told to their enemy, and they were raging. Shadow sat on the edge of the bed, slamming one glass after the next of bourbon.
“Take your fucking medicine, you bastard. When you are out of it, I’m going to work on your bag!”
We each had a bag of belongings that were vital to us, items that we cherished above all. Shadow intended to destroy all of Guardian’s things. And that night, when the great guard was asleep, he did just that. He had told her he was going to do it.
She left. She said nothing.
They were all deep into their cups and talking. They called Regina after she had gone home.
“He is a beast. He needs to be put down. He did things to my knife. He threw it in the toilet. He hates me and I want him punished,” Guardian said. He begged her to do something about it, and when he got her to promise she would, he hung up and called Bekah.
“How are you tonight?” Bekah asked.
“I am furious. Shadow is a monster, and I want him dealt with.”
“He is your brother,” she said. “He deserves your respect.”
“He threw my knife in the toilet. He is trying to drive me insane! He works against me at every turn. He—”
“He needs you; you need him. Try to think when he comes at you. Try to get him to talk to you and you talk to him. You are on the same team. Love one another,” Bekah said.
“Some people can’t be loved.” He did another shot of Jack and he growled.
“No one in that body can’t be loved. Do you know why?”
“I don’t want to talk about Shadow anymore,” he stated.
“Just one more minute. Stay with me. Do you trust me?” she asked.
The answer was yes of course, more than anyone, he trusted her, and he let her talk.
“Shadow helped keep the Child pure. What would he have become if Shadow had not shown up? What would that kid be doing right now if not for him? The Child is pure. That is all you need know. Shadow did that. Try to remember that,” she said. “Now how is it going with Pain? Have you seen him?”
Shuddering breath. Twisted neck and the phone was dropped. Sobbing and Bekah was calling out for me. Soon a fumbling hand gripped the phone and there was breathing.
“Hello,” she asked. “Are you there? Who is this?”
“It’s me,” a voice said. “I’m here.”
“Is this Pain?” she asked.
“Yep,” he said. She told me later that the word made her take pause. It didn’t sound like the word a hardened monster would use.
“Are you OK?”
He sobbed. It was not what she expected at all. She sat on the other end of the phone and listened.
“I’m gonna, I have to, I gotta run away,” he said. His voice was strange, husky and off. He had a lisp of sorts, a strange growl to his voice that seemed to be pleading with every word he said.
“If you have to go, I understand. But Pain, before you go, please listen to me, OK?”
“K.” The word seemed grunted and whined. It was not right. She could tell something was not right at all. This was no monster immune to pain, hulking and massive with destruction on his mind. This was not going as she had expected at all.
“If you ever need me, Guardian can get ahold of me.”
“He hurts me,” the voice said. It was a little voice. A shy, wounded thing.
“Guardian hurts you?”
“Not on purpose. But he hurts me. He asks me to take hurt. He hurts so much and gives it to me. He—” The voice cried out in terrible agony and sobbed.
Bekah waited until the cry had quieted before she continued. “Pain, do you want me to come over?”
No answer for a long time until, “No, you can’t. Don’t hurt me. I’m sorry.”
“I’m not going to hurt you, Pain. I would never hurt you. I love you. I want to be your friend.”
“I’m not what they think.” He sobbed.
“What do they think?” she asked.
“They think I’m a monster, but I’m not.” He went quiet for a long moment before he sobbed. “I’m a child, too.”
Pain had been crafted the day when our body had withstood enough punishment that it was overwhelming and The Child could not take any more.
On that day, we had been three years old. My mother remembers the day perfectly.
I was rocking in my room. When I was a boy, I was so scared all the time that I would lie in bed and rock myself back and forth to calm down. I was rocking myself and my father had had enough.
She told me that he went into my room and closed the door. She heard me screaming and him yelling. When he walked out of the room, he was wiping blood from his hands.
That was the day Pain was created. He had sucked up every morsel of pain we had taken since that day. Our entire life we had been sending all of our pain to a child.
He was out now. A sobbing wounded thing that had been beaten and abused all his life. The horror of it all was too much to bear. It would be a long time before he would know any peace, before he was healed.
It would be still longer until we forgave ourselves for hurting a child. I’m still waiting for that one.
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