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Dust on the Wind
All it took was a flood. A rush of water and wind, so bitter in the warming winter months of agony, tore apart her ramparts and drowned her flag. Sweeping up like feathers fallen, it left her as the sun leaves the earth. It had been fleeting, coming and going as the twinkling of stars throughout history. She could have lived a thousand years and that breath would still be the only glimpse of brilliance she ever had. The mediocrity had been something to be suffered and tolerated at one point. Now it was the air she breathed, the blood in her veins.
A universe swirled inside her. Within its arctic barriers, a storm raged. She had long been aware of this storm, the beat of its winds; the pulse of its poisoned tears. The hurricane sang inside her, a dirge she hummed in moments of idleness. Some time ago, she had stumbled across the tempest, the levies falling briefly in a fit of fury. Destructive white, like the glaring summer sun, it had laid waste to the reservoirs of calming water still left in her soul.
The water had been so important, she thought. Blue and violet, blended with green and something darker, it had swept away all the pain and fed them to the storm. It was powerful; a healer at best and a weapon at worst. It kept her stable when the chiming tarnished bells sent out their tolling warnings far too early. Washing over rocks and reducing them to dust on the wind, it had taken all her pain away for a time. It had protected her for so long from the gilded cage holding her within the rotting core of superficial smiles and painted affections.
Painted, like the clouds on the sky and the gold along the wooden palace. Dark and musty, she had lived there for so long, a piano crying just beyond her reach. Such a delicate thing, that piano had been. She had wanted to give it aid, fix the dissonance in its song. The broken cannot fix the broken, however. A candle can only light another when its flame is burning strong. She had never had the fortitude needed. So instead she had lay there, broken on the ballroom floor like a marionette with severed strings. The dream had ended only when the vaulted ceiling filled with angels and demons had caved in under the weight of its own fallacies.
She turned a page in her book, sipping her coffee and trying to ignore the man staring at her.
Sometimes she liked to compare it to drowning. It was like standing in a canyon when the cavalry of clouds swept in with blaring trumpets and a flash of silver bayonets, spraying their chosen battlefield with a rush of a fluid dragon determined to devour all in its path. Floating in the water with no destination, she was slowly being robbed of her breath. The lightning burned her breath away and she had once pondered calling for help. What use would it have been? Underwater, her voice was silenced with the oppression of her beloved element. Who could have heard her, even if they had cared to? She could have been the lighting that tore apart the sky, the fire ravaging the land, and not a soul would have looked to her and truly look at her.
The break in the silence had come once in her eighteen years of life. Like walking inside from a bitter winter day to be embraced by the gentle allspice and cinnamon, it had been a supernova for her. Able to say the words that danced on the tip of her tongue like ballerinas in an eternal dance had been a relief. It had only lasted a moment. A star shining its last breath before the fall, that was all it had been before the darkness swallowed the fly again. The show must go on, someone had once told her. Suffering was a show for whatever pantheon or lonely throne watched the pathetic beings of Earth. It could never end, for a marionette is still a marionette, even when the strings are torn apart in a momentary fit of rage.
The coffee washed down her throat, bitter and vile, but still she took another sip.
She had been a diamond once. Precious and protected, she had been handed to a jeweler filled with greed. Cutting her away bit by bit, she had gone from one shape to something completely unrecognizable to her. Bits of her soul had been lost in that long process, carried away as dust on the wind. They had tried to fit her in a setting of tarnished gold, but she had not fit, had not looked the way they wanted her to look. She had been cast aside once they were done with her. She was something they had destroyed when they had tried to polish her. She missed the days of being a diamond, just a little. It had felt nice to be admired and cherished. She would have traded the moon for that feeling to return.
'Can I sit here?' the staring man asked; his hand on the chair across from her.
She nodded, taking in the way his dark hair fell in a mess about his handsome face. His crystal eyes were dangerous, filled to the brim with mischievousness and cheek. He was young, but still old enough to threaten her tiny world.
Once, she had been restricted to her tower by the sea. She had measured her afternoons with coffee spoons she dipped in bitterness. She had fought against the coming night with a valor she had long since lost. Her tower had crumbled one day when the wind had pushed too hard. Left alone in the world she had struggled as the light struggles to reach the floor of the forest. She had followed the stars too closely, burning as they had shed their skins.
'Can I ask what you're reading?' he tried after too many breaths of silence.
She glanced over the top of her cup, 'How about we skip the small talk and you tell me why you've been following me for the past month?'
She had noticed, as the mouse sees the cat before the pounce, that she had acquired a new shadow. He had been good, letting her see him only when she needed to. The young man before her was by no means an amateur, she had long known. She was no amateur either, however. Her hunting-obsessed ex-boyfriend from a tragic freshman year had found her ability to move silently and invisibly absolutely astounding. To him, her only fault had been her environmentalism.
Her shadow grinned, 'I'm impressed. I've never been caught before, and yet you actually managed to lose me once or twice. I feel that I must point out that you're a little off with your timing, Miss Lewis. I've been following you for roughly six months, not one.'
'Why?' she mentally made a note about his accent. It was clearly Northern, a sharp contrast with her heavy Ozarks drawl, 'I can't imagine why anyone but a stalker would want to follow me, and even then I'm afraid I'm incredibly dull. Even a stalker would become bored with me after a while.'
'Then it's a good thing I'm not a stalker,' he reached into his coat with measured movements. Not bad, she thought. He recognized her unease, for all the calm she displayed. Her heart rate was only slightly above normal, her breathing steady and only through her years of self-discipline. His hand'wearing a signet ring of silver and red, she finally noticed'withdrew a small book of obsidian leather. Perhaps the size of a passport, he flipped it open and pushed it towards her, 'Though you might consider a fed to be worse.'
The unease that had been building behind her calm exterior, a front sneaking up on the hills and hollows of her homeland, managed to get the better of her. Her breath lost the steady flow of the tide she had been maintaining. Her heart quickened and her voice rang higher, though to the untrained she seemed perfectly normal, 'A fed? I don't recognize the ID. Care to explain?'
He laughed the sound pleasant as he withdrew the identification, 'Relax. I'm just a recruiter. I work with a different branch of the government. We're more interested in cleaning up the messes left by our government and others.'
'Right,' she nodded, fighting a cough as she swallowed too much coffee, 'And I'm supposed to believe you?'
'We'd be on World War Nine if not for us,' he deadpanned with a congenial smile, 'We avoid disasters. Unless you haven't noticed, other branches of the intelligence sector don't really use the information that they learn to their full advantage. That's where we come in. We do the work the others are too afraid to do.'
'So the genocide in Darfur is what, exactly?'
He grimaced, 'Beyond our jurisdiction, unfortunately. We've handled cases like it before, but our higher ups wouldn't let us step in.'
'And I fit into this how?' she let her eyes stray to the people milling about them in the caf'. A couple of women laughed, their matching bleach blonde hair shimmering the light. Their noses were perfectly alike, their skin tones the same copper that came from spending afternoons beneath a fluorescent sun. A man ate a late lunch just beside them, his eyes trained on a newspaper. The headlines in her direction screamed atrocities both home and abroad. They told one line stories of dreams deferred and dreams stolen after the fact.
He was whispering to her, the wind through the trees as his words ran past her, 'You see things differently. You're not like others. You're the odd one out because you see the world for what it is. When others are shown the great city where everything is perfect, you see the corruption and the rotting core supported by evanescent lies. You, Miss Lewis, are the incandescent star that refuses to bow down before the coming night. That's what we need. That spirit and tenacity is what makes you so valuable, because it gives you the ability to take control of your own potential. You're a very special girl, Miss Shirley Lewis. Out of six billion people, there will only be a hundred like you.'
She wasn't unique, it slowly registered. He had carefully stated that, charily given her the numbers. A frown settled on her lips, her brow drawing in with confusion. Why was he not telling her she was one of a kind? She understood that she couldn't sound like a spoiled child, and so she chose her words with care, 'A hundred of what?'
'We have many names,' he explained with that Cheshire grin back in place. His eyes, a perfect crystal blue, slowly shifted to brilliant amethyst, 'We call ourselves the Folk, mostly. It's simple and it doesn't rouse suspicion with the Others.'
'Miss Lewis, welcome to the Realm of the Night, home of vampires, werewolves, witches, and more,' he stood abruptly, holding out his hand, 'If you, little Clair, accept this offer, then''
He never finished that sentence, for she took his hand boldly, standing as well, 'A Clair? Do you mean Clairvoyant? As in, you should step to the right?'
He did as she told with no question and the incoming cupcake, thrown by a child behind her, splattered gracelessly on the cement behind him. He chuckled, 'Well, the tempest is willing to help the little people after all. I'm touched.'
'What next?' she mocked.
His hand tightened around hers, 'You may call me Catcher and I will be your tour guide this lovely evening.'
Shirley Lewis left behind her coffee and her book without a second though. She was dust on the wind to all but those who were waiting.