Aftermath Guardian’s War 9: Shade

He shifted out and Siren set a plate of Hamburger Helper in front of him. He looked around and did not know where he was. He looked at the chair he sat on, the bed with the sheets he had slept on for a while, and he saw the TV, the stereo, and the coffee table. All things he recognized, so he assumed he was in his own apartment. He looked up at Siren and knew her from before this. But now she looked different. Time had done something to her.

She had begun to look desperate. The relationship was wearing on her. Let’s pause for a moment and back up to earlier that day. I’ll give you a small glimpse into what we are talking about.

She came to the house around three in the afternoon after she got out of class. She had two hours before she had to be at work and she would spend it here. She had walked in and I was sleeping. She told me she wanted to take a nap, but I had not moved for her to climb in the bed with me.

Siren knew this meant she was on the couch, and she took off her shirt to try to entice us to let her in our bed, but there was no response. She laid on the couch but kicked around a lot and finally woke me up to hang out with her before she went to work.

I had a coffee pot that was designed to be used at a camp site. She made us coffee and I tried to remember what time I had been to sleep. I knew I had gotten into bed at sun up, but then I also knew Smilin’ Jack had been walking around my house for a while. I did not know what time he had finally gone to bed or if anyone else had gotten up after, but the remote was not where it was supposed to be. It was sitting on the side of the coffee table where Shadow liked to leave it when he was done watching TV on the couch. As I looked around the room, I was beginning to see I had gotten maybe two hours if I was lucky.

She took off her clothing and stood in the middle of the room. This was not allowed because Shush could shift out at any point, but she pointed at the shower. “Do you mind if I take a shower?”

“No, go ahead,” I said.

She was out in a flash and getting dressed. “After my poetry class today, a guy followed me out of the class and pulled me aside and asked me if I wanted to go out for coffee with him.” She came out of the bathroom wringing her hair into a towel.

“Was he cute?” Shadow asked.

“Not bad,” she said with a smile.

“Are you going?”

She paused. She looked at us with shock and shook her head. “No.”

“Why not?”

She stormed across the room and pointed at me. “What are we doing here?” she snapped. “Where is this relationship going?”

“We are not in a relationship. I told you at least a year ago that I was too fucked up to be in any relationship any more complicated than friends. You said you wanted to stick around and here we are. I also said many times, including this one, that you need to get away from me. I am only going to hurt you.”

“One day you will be ready for a relationship.” She was still drying her hair but now she was thinking. Her mind was buzzing. “One day you are going to look around and see that when it was all going down and you were in the most need, I was there when no one else was.”

Then she looked at me. And we both knew that was not right. In order for that to happen, she needed to get rid of Bekah. She needed to get me all to herself. She needed to be the only one I called on when I was in trouble, and that was just not the case yet.

So, I am sitting in front of a plate of Hamburger Helper. It was the Cheese Burger Macaroni kind, the good stuff. But the alter who was sitting in front of it had never eaten it. He had never eaten anything at all.

Siren scooped with her fork and blew on it.

He stared confused.

She slid it into her mouth and he watched her chew. This was the first time he had ever seen eating before.

He picked up his fork and she did not notice him holding it, then changing his grip, then holding it differently as he stared at her hands. I’m going to give her the benefit of the doubt that she didn’t see it. When he scooped what he could get on his fork and held it to his mouth to blow on it, he watched her to see if he was doing it right. Then he stabbed himself in the mouth.

She barked out a laugh. “Did you just stab yourself in the mouth?” She laughed and he was gone.

When Shadow came out, he was furious, and she stared for a moment before she pointed at him. “Who was that?”

Shadow did not answer. He did not know to be honest, but part of it was that she had laughed at him. Whoever he was had been laughed at and now was gone.

“Who do I have?” she asked. It was the question we loathed, the one we had begged her dozens of times never to ask.

“Shadow.”

“Who was that who just left?”

“Well I have no idea, do I? He was here and he was new, I think. But now he is gone and we are not going to see him for a while.”

“Oh my God! I’m so sorry,” she said. “Get him back out here. I want to meet him. I want to apologize.”

“No, I’m not going to just shove him out. He is gone now and that is where he stays. Eat your meal then get out,” Shadow said.

She scraped her food back into the pot and grabbed her stuff. She knew she could not argue if we asked her to leave. It was a law that could never be broken. She grabbed her stuff and stopped at the door. “Tell whoever it is that I want to meet them when they are ready and that I will apologize. Tell them I didn’t mean to hurt their feelings.”

I walked her to the front door of the building in silence, then back up to eat. Shadow ate a confusing meal. Not knowing what had happened, but knowing it was new. He stepped back and grabbed the phone. “If you want me to call her, I will,” was all he said. After a few minutes, he dialed Bekah’s number and slipped away.

“Hello,” Bekah said.

Nothing.

“Shush, is that you?” They had a system. Shush was still not speaking. If he needed her, he would call at all hours of the night and say nothing. He was after all incapable of speaking. She would ask this question and if it was him, he would push a button.

She would ask if he wanted her to come. If he pushed one button it was a no and she would just talk. If it was two buttons pushed, then she got dressed and came without pause.

“Is that you, Shush?”

Silence.

“No.”

“Okay. This is Jesse though?”

“Kinda.”

“Do you need to talk or do you just want to hear me talk?” she asked.

“I could talk.”

“And what would you say?”

“I know nothing. Nothing at all.” He sighed and his sigh became a sob. “I know that this is my house, but I don’t know where it is.”

“You are in government housing in an apartment building downtown called South Towers in Springfield,” she said.

“I can’t eat.”

“Are you hungry?” she asked. “I can get you some food.”

“No, Shadow ate for me, but I can’t eat. I tried to eat some dinner tonight and I stabbed myself in the mouth. I just don’t know how to work a fork. I never have before.”

“Okay,” she said. “What else?”

“I don’t know what I like.”

“Can you give me an example?”

“I don’t know what kind of music I like. I don’t know any movies. I don’t know if I like sports. I don’t know how to read. I don’t know how to act around people. I just don’t know.” He was weeping now, nearing the point of uncontrollable sobs.

“But you know me,” Bekah said.

“Yes.”

“And you know Siren?”

“Yes, she just left. She laughed when I stabbed myself.”

“Okay,” Bekah took a deep breath. “Okay, more about that later. Can I ask you a question that might sound a little rude?”

“Sure.”

“What is your name?” Bekah asked.

“Pain.”

Okay. This is not what any of us expected. Maybe a few people who have dealt with this disorder can recognize what is happening here, but not unless you have been through extensive therapy and are making great strides. I do not know what is normal. I can’t tell you if this is unique to my case or if any others have been through this. But I want you to sit back now and listen. Try to remember that this disorder affects people in many different ways, and it is as varied as those different people and the circumstances.

“Can I ask you another question, Pain?” Bekah asked.

“Yes.”

“How old are you?”

“I’m about 15. I don’t know how I know that, but it is what Informer is telling me, so I guess that is how I know it, huh?”

“I would say,” Bekah said. “How did you get so old, Pain?”

“I’m not sure. We have been talking in therapy a lot about the physical abuse and the pain in my life, and I guess I just ended up here,” he said. “Is that bad?”

“No, no, I don’t think this is bad at all. I think this is a good thing,” Bekah said. “Do you want me to come over? I can just sit and listen.”

“People are going to make fun of me,” he said.

“No one is going to make fun of you. If they do, we will tell Shadow and watch him make a mess. How about that?” She was thinking about Siren now.

But Siren would not mess this up again. She was on a mission the next time she came over. She handled it all with kid gloves, talking and maneuvering until she could get time alone with him. She would join the party.

Because what happened next was a party.

He knew nothing, so he had to experience everything. First thing Bekah did was after work the next day bring over a massive stack of CDs. Sunshine was introduced to him and she brought over bags full of movies, everything from Pretty in Pink to Bagger Vance. She sat with us and watched some of them. Some of them she just left with us to watch.

We had to try every kind of food we could find. Fast food first, then nicer restaurants. When he was finally fed Pizza Hut, he cried. Said it tasted like home. He was made Hamburger Helper Cheeseburger Macaroni, and he loved it.

He had a mind for working puzzles. He had Bekah read him the first chapter of the first Harry Potter book, then when she left, he started decoding the act of reading. Taking words she had read, breaking them apart, and putting them back together. He got out a comp book and scribbled notes. He worked on the punctuation and he struggled with the entire act of reading.

The first ten pages took him twenty hours to read. The rest of the book took him six.

A few days later, Bekah was sitting in our living room and they were listening to Garth Brooks when she asked him about his name.

“Pain,” she said. “I was thinking about your name.”

“Yeah, me too.”

“Do you like it?”

“I earned it,” he said. “But it kind of bothers me when I hear it. Reminds me of bad things and bad times in my life.”

“Have you thought about changing it? Maybe picking something that you do like.” She smiled. “Something a little more fitting to how you live now.”

He nodded. “What would you call me?” he asked.

“That is up to you. It’s your name. You can choose it. You can name yourself after anything. Anyone. Or just make up a name for yourself,” Bekah said. “You can take your time. I just wanted to talk to you about it because I noticed that every time someone calls you Pain, you kind of make a face.”

“What if I wanted to name myself Shade?”

“I think Shade is a very cool name.”

He laughed. “That is funny.”

It took her a second but she got it.

“Why would you pick Shade?”

“Because Shadow is, well he is just so, powerful and he protects me, and no one messes with him. I want to be like that but softer and more comforting.”

And that is how we got him. That is how we got the man who would one day take over the day-to-day running of everything. He was eventually the husband, the father, he led us in our fight against Char. He is one of the greatest people I know. An inspiration to me every day. He is the model I use to run my family and my life.

But more about that later.


This chapter is from Reality of the Unreal Mind, Vol. 2: Normal Street.

Vol. 1: Teardrop Road is available now on Amazon.

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