Missing Letters

Christian sat puffing a cigarette on the edge of a rumpled double bed.  Smoke circled up to the ceiling, making an already dismal room murky and grey. A neon vacancy sign blinked outside of the window, barely visible in the dull morning light. He’d stayed at Goodmen’s Inn before, years ago, when the linens were new and the paint was fresh.  Now the G, D, and O were missing from the road-side sign and cigarette smoke had yellowed the curtains. Christian smiled as he took another drag. He rarely thought about time.  It was good to be human again.

He’d been many things in his life: dogs and droplets, winds and words. They all had their purpose and could get the job done in one way or another, but none compared to being human.  It was the action he loved most, the control. Wind could whisper in ears and prickle the skin but a man could walk up and spit in someone’s face if the situation called for it. There was no need for subtlety. More often than not, subtlety was lost anyway. Many of his kind preferred to work from the side-lines with symbols and signs.  Others retired into the beyond where myth and legend lived.  Christian found it ridiculous.  Why hint and hope when a human hand and a human voice could bring each and every one of them to exactly where they needed to be?  Today he wore a handsome face with a day’s worth of stubble and a silver chain around his neck. Being handsome usually made his tasks easier. The cigarettes made them worthwhile.

The shuffle of bed sheets and the warmth of her lips on his neck drew him from his thoughts.  She was no one special, only a broken girl looking for some meaning at the bottom of a vodka cranberry. He’d found her in a dive bar a couple towns over, sitting alone in a musty booth.  Her brittle blond hair fell across her face and her eye-liner was smeared by tears.  The Celtic cross tattoo on her lower back made Christian laugh.  Her breath smelled like whiskey and menthol.  He liked that too.  It wasn’t hard to get her to follow him–a few nice words and a sip or two of wine. She was happy to leave.  Most were.

“I thought you’d be gone,” she whispered. “I don’t ever do this.”

Christian nodded, knowing the words were lies.

“You saved me last night.” She leaned her head against his shoulder and wrapped her arms around his chest. “I was in a real bad place. Everything was a mess, and then there you were, out of nowhere. Taking me out of that dark, miserable dump. You don’t know how much this means to me.”

He kissed her, letting the passion flow through them. He knew. This girl believed. He could feel her devotion as she grazed his chin with her lips. She wanted him. She wanted to hear his words and spread his stories. Time and again he heard people call to him when they were lost or afraid, but few spoke when times were good. Christian was sure this one was willing. She needed him, though she didn’t know how much. There would be no lacklustre words, habitually repeated out of fear or boredom, only love, and that was worth so much more.

“I’m just glad you followed me.” Christian glanced at the alarm clock, fascinated as a minute clicked by.

“I’d follow you anywhere, Christian.”

He let her kiss him one more time and curl up against his bare chest. If she spoke the truth, he had already succeeded.

A knock at the door made the girl jump and she dug her nails into Christian’s wrist. For a moment he watched the blood glisten on the surface of his skin before wiping it onto a dirty sheet. He patted her hand and whispered some comfort as he slipped a clean white robe over his shoulders and stood.

Angry words drifted through the thin wooden door. A deep voice spit out threats and accusations and all of them were true.  The girl had confessed the previous night in a dark corner booth, covered in red vinyl and red wine.  It would be a short trip, he realized.  His work was already nearing the end. Pity, he would have liked to have stayed another night, found another girl, and smoked another cigarette. He poured some leftover wine into a coffee cup as the girl opened the door.

The boy stumbled into motel room, drunk on rum and rage. Christian carefully sipped his cup. “Who are you?”

It was a formality or course.  Christian recognized the boy from the bar.  His eyes were bloodshot and his hands were shaking.  The words on his tongue were vile and slurred with booze.  Christian didn’t know him specifically, nor did he care. A boyfriend or ex-boyfriend or something of the like. It made no difference.  Someone wronged by the girl’s actions.  Someone angry enough to drive blindly through the night, but cowardly enough to sit in his car and wait until morning. Christian listened and watched as the boy ranted, knowing it meant nothing and everything all at once.

“What are you doing here?” The girl stammered.

“Me?  What am I doing here?” He yelled. “I followed him. It wasn’t easy, but I followed him. And he led me here. He led me to you.”

The gun was a dull grey and the blonde screamed when he pulled it from his jacket. She stumbled back against the bed as he pointed the barrel. The boy wasn’t normally the killing type but anger and fear can do funny things to people. Christian could see the sweat tripping from his brow and the tears in his eyes as he struggled to aim. The boy swayed slightly with his finger on the trigger.

Christian closed his eyes as the neighbouring church bells rang out crisp and clear. They were beautiful and frightening and more than the boy’s nerves could take. His finger twitched, releasing another sound into the morning air. The sound of anger, and death, and fear mixed with the sound of hope, and strength, and love. Christian opened his eyes. Quicker than light or though or reason he stood in front of the girl, shielding her from the hot mistake. She sobbed as the bullet pierced his human flesh. Christian only smiled. This was merely one of many endings. Not the first and not nearly the last. But, humans viewed death quite differently, and Christian knew it. It had a knack for stirring up emotions and emotions were exactly what Christian wanted. He watched as his human frame fell to the floor. Blood and wine mixed with the dingy carpet. The boy dropped to his knees, unsure of what he had done or how it had come to this.

“He saved me.”  The girl whispered, clutching Christian’s robe. “He saved me and I will never ever forget.”

She would remember. She would tell others. Soon the patrons of Goodmen’s Inn would hear the sounds of sirens and crowd around eagerly to hear the story of a jealous man, a pitiful girl, and a saviour named Christian. His work here was done.

*

A dog barked, and yipped and ran back and forth across the lush green field. He was big and black, with a silky hide, and a silver chain around his neck. He had many names. A stray, they thought, but when he licked their hands they said they loved him and gave him what they had. In turn, he gave them comfort and friendship. He gave them what they needed. As he ran, children followed, calling out the names they had given him, and squabbling over which one was better. He never ran too far ahead and always let them catch him as their parents clapped and laughed. Soon they too were chasing him. The black dog led them all over the grass.

Originally published by www.barebacklit.com

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