|Lost in War
Author: Fogs of Gray PM
It shouldn't have difficult. Asher Williams had lived a simple life for years with his adopted daughter. Life would have gone on. They never should have met. He should never have figured it out. He shouldn't have died.Rated: Fiction T - English - Hurt/Comfort - Words: 2,914 - Published: 03-03-13 - id: 3105604
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
It wasn't complicated. All she had to do was walk into town, buy essential food, and leave without a commotion. That was her only job. She cursed under her breath. It was her only responsibility.
The scene had been picturesque, as few towns were in this country. People rushed into the heart of it compared to the few who left its walls. Odessa had walked with purpose, her bright eyes stalled forward, her white blonde hair bouncing softly with each stride. It wasn't difficult. It wasn't meant to challenge her.
Now, she was pressed against unforgiving brick, her lengthy skirt caught on her thighs. Her basket lay lopsided on the shadowed cobblestone. She looked forward still, into the green eyes of a stranger. His dark hair was windblown, although she hadn't felt a breeze. "Do you know an Asher Williams?" She shook her head slightly.
"Not at all, sir. I think you have the wrong town."
"Do you know where he may be?" She stared blankly at him.
"Sir," she replied slowly, "Asher Williams has never crossed into this town." He nodded. He then backed off, his body fading into shadow. She waited until he left to fill her basket again, and stood straight, brushing the dirt from her skirt.
He stood a few feet in front of her, his back turned to her as he dried his hands. He reached for a glass as she started talking, leaning on his crutch to fill it half way. "There was a man at the market." He didn't react to the new information, opting to keep his eyes trained out the kitchen window.
"Farmer?" She rejected the idea with a wrinkled nose and a sigh. "Odessa, no one comes to town without intent."
She was silent for a long moment. The only sounds from him were his slightly strained breathing and the resistance of glass against clammy skin. "He knew of you." She watched him with interest. His back tensed lightly at the sentence, although she accounted it to the dull throb of pain most likely hitting him. It certainly couldn't be the alternative. "He was looking for you. He's one of those men, the ones you try to avoid." She kept her eyes on him. When he moved, it was deliberately paced. Glass hit wood. "He looked like you." Her voice softened. His shoulders rose a bit, the small angle keeping him from looking at ease. She tilted her head back, letting her eyes roam the ceiling. "Could have been your son, if I didn't know better." Neither of them moved for what seemed like hours. The shadow crept across the pale paint, until she could hardly see. She brought her head forward to look for the man, seeing him in exactly the same position as before. His hands were relaxed, his body loosened more than she'd seen in a long time. She smiled softly and stood, rubbing the crick in her neck. When she moved to light the candle, wood pinned her wrist against the table.
"He didn't follow you, hm?" Her brow furrowed. She opened her mouth to speak, but he held a hand up. A knock resonated through the house. He turned quickly, swiping the curtain closed briskly. As he hobbled to the door, he glanced at her. "Use the back door." Odessa nodded.
"You'll whistle?" He didn't answer, instead turning into the hallway. She stepped towards his shadow once, her body shaking, before she also turned and left.
He kept one hand on the door jamb, his crutch left behind in his haste. The door was now haphazardly swung open, revealing a young man with dark hair and clothed in shadow. "Was Asher Williams here?"
"No. I've never met the man, although I've heard a few words of him. He's caused some trouble a few towns south."
"Alright," the young man murmured. When he moved to close the door, a foot stopped him. "Would you mind telling me about him?"
With a practiced smile, he obliged. "Gladly."
"What's your name, son?" He noticed the brightness in the man's eyes at the endearment.
"Ambrose Peterson, sir. May I ask how you heard of Asher?"
He leaned forward, keeping a firm gaze on Ambrose. "A good friend of mine was personally involved with him. He left, but they kept in touch through the years."
"Who was your friend?"
"Helen. She died a month ago."
"I'm terribly sorry, sir."
"Don't be, Mister Peterson. Death finds us all eventually."
"It does, doesn't it?" A small smile tugged on Ambrose's lips. "He found a way to avoid it, though, didn't he?"
"In some ways, I suppose he did. He joined the military when the time came. I heard he left his sister and nephew behind. In a war that killed so many, he thrived. He was injured badly in the battle that stole his commanding officer. People say he's cheated death." He paused for a breath. "I'll tell you something, though. Most people believe he died years ago. There isn't a trace of him in registration, in the census, in tax books. He disappeared, god only knows where to, and he hasn't been more than a fable, more than a memory, for years. You're chasing a ghost, Mister Peterson."
"I only need to know he exists, sir."
"He lived." He spared a long look into Ambrose's eyes. He'd seen them before, so many years before, when the war was far more simple. "I'm afraid that's all I know."
"May I know your name?"
"Simon Thompson." Simon extended his hand to grip Ambrose's. "Where are you heading after this?"
"I've heard of civil unrest in Asher's supposed home country. I'm hoping to find him in Lancaster."
Simon's eyes narrowed imperceptibly. "Well, good luck to you, then, Mister Peterson." Simon stood with an effort, instantly regretting leaving the crutch behind. "If that was all you needed, I would like to see you out." Ambrose stood carefully.
"If you don't mind me asking, how did you injure yourself?" They began their short walk down the hall.
"I slipped on a wet patch a few weeks ago." He mentally cursed himself. There hadn't been rain for months. He hoped Ambrose didn't catch the mistake.
"You might want to have that looked at, sir." Simon nodded briskly, pulling the front door open. "Thank you for your time."
"Don't mind it, son. I'm glad to help a young traveller. Good bye, Mister Peterson." The addressed ducked out into the humid night. Simon closed the door before leaning against it, focusing on his breathing. He had a hell of a lot of explaining to do.
Odessa's foot tapped time on the wood floor. Her guardian was rifling through the room, haphazardly discarding possessions. "A fake name?"
"Simon Thompson." She shook her head.
"I told you he was looking for you." She breathed a frustrated sigh. "What's the plan now, Simon?"
He ran a hand through his hair. "We're leaving."
"Like hell we are. We just got here." He took a long drink of alcohol from a flask.
"Good. We won't have much to pack."
"People are going to talk." A small smile tugged on the man's dry lips. "No. You aren't honestly considering..." When no response came, she let out a groan. "I like this place, Ash." She tried again. "They're smart enough to know what happened."
"Not if it's an accident." He glanced at the stove. "Where did you put the bags?"
"Under our beds." At his look, she rolled her eyes. "If you haven't noticed, we don't have a lot of furniture."
"Have you put anything in the cellar?" She shook her head. "Move everything necessary into there."
"What are you planning to do?" He didn't bother with an answer.
Odessa sat in the cellar, a candle being her only light. In her hands was a strip of fabric, twisted from her anxiety. The luggage bags were stacked beside the far wall. She was looking around for a way out when he came down the stairs. His hands groped the wall for a crack before the dirt fell way to a wooden door. As he pulled it open, she spotted a long tunnel. "You've been here before, haven't you, Ash?" He nodded absently as he surveyed the room.
"Something like that. Move the bags in a few yards, hm?" She complied, standing just inside the darkened tunnel. A click broke the silence and dull lightbulbs flickered deep into the tunnel. "I need you to run the bags to the end."
"You're coming with me."
"I'll be right behind you."
"No you won't." She pulled the man into a tight embrace. He easily felt the curtain's fabric against his neck. He didn't question it.
"Odessa, I need to keep you safe." She huffed a laugh under her breath. Said who? She knew what his answer would be. Said your father.
"Take care of yourself, Ash." The statement was murmured back to her.
"I will see you at the end." She raised a skeptical eyebrow. "You have my word." The passage was suddenly closed. Odessa turned around and gripped the bags tightly. She hoped he wasn't wrong as she started her silent dash down the passageway.
He placed a small pouch of gunpowder in the center of the room once he was sure Odessa was far enough away. Drawing a trail with oil, he led himself up the stairs. He then struck a match. Shielding his eyes, he ran to turn the stove's gas on, slowly continuing the line of oil. Satisfied, he took one more look around the kitchen before grabbing his crutch and flask. He hobbled out the door with haste. He swore he could hear sirens wailing in the distance. Simple. This town was supposed to be *simple*.
"And if I don't?" The woman leaned across the table, her amber eyes flashing. Her tousled hair was pulled up into a bun. She was wearing far too little for the time of year. Her deceivingly lilting voice was nearly lost in the roar of the tavern. Of course, he heard her perfectly.
The man chuckled under his breath before lighting a cigarette. "Ah, well, you see, Miss...Andrews, is it?" He hesitated enough for a sigh. "I would be forced to intervene. For the good of Lancaster. Unfortunately, this isn't my war. I may very well be the only impartial voice here." A narrow smile played on his lips. "You'd do well to remember that." He took a deep breath. "You should also remember where your loyalties lie, Miss Andrews. Your husband left behind far more than financial debt." You're bluffing again. His hands tightened somewhat. It wasn't an all together unpleasant notion. It thrilled him to an extent. He exhaled slowly. "You have a month to decide. Choose wisely." Her eyes flashed up to his, mortified.
"A month? The last payment was sent in nearly a week ago."
"A month more than you should have, mind you. It's a simple decision, really, Miss Andrews. Will you protect your home or not?" He stood briskly when she didn't answer. As he pulled on a light jacket, he donned a cap. He turned sharply and was about to start walking when she called to him.
"And what is your choice, Mister Orson?" A small smile illuminated his shadowed face.
"You'll find out soon enough, won't you, Miss Andrews?" He didn't listen for her retort. He ducked out into the bitter chill of the night.
He didn't know what kept him around the tavern, but he stayed. He paced down the alley until he saw her leave. He didn't care that his eyes stung. He didn't notice the dangerously pale color of his skin. He didn't care in that moment. All he needed to know was that she was safe. Once she ducked into a cab, he turned away. He leaned against the brick, his head tilted back as he blew smoke rings into the air. The atmosphere was already hazy, thick with drunken slurs and high gasps. He didn't mind. At least, that's what he told himself. He also didn't care about Miss Andrews, if he were following that train of thought. He kicked at the moist ground. Damn it. He was supposed to gather an answer and leave. It was supposed to be idiotically simple. He cursed under his breath. He was gambling again and now the risks were fatal.
She opened the door quietly and crept inside. Goosebumps jumped across her skin. She rubbed her hands together. Pay the heating bills. She didn't bother to take off her coat. Instead, she toed off her shoes and slowly walked up the wooden stairs. Part of her knew she could run up them, but she couldn't find the desire. Her bare soles clung to the wood. She was emotionally and physically drained. Her husband was dead and her daughter was dying of the same disease. She held back a gasp at the torrent of emotions running through her. She had to make a decision for both of them now. If what she thought was true, her decision would effect all three of them. She carefully pushed the wooden door open. There, the bed sheets nearly swallowing her, was her daughter. Her long, curly, blonde hair stuck to her forehead. Her skin was now of a sallow complexion. Her breaths were loud. There was a fine sheen over her skin. Her daughter was dying, and Elizabeth Andrews couldn't do a thing about it.
On the other side of town, a man was pacing the floor. The fire's light had nearly gone out, its embers now flickering. His breath was wheezing. What was more troubling to him were the hills. More specifically, the patterns. He turned sharply and continued his path. The patterns that were supposed to be there in three months time. The patterns that were dedicated to memory. He closed his eyes. His shoulders sagged somewhat. The patterns that should have been reoccurring in their strength. His eyelids tightened. With a shallow breath and shaking hands he turned to the window. His foot nervously tapped. His eyes danced across the expanse, mentally checking himself. Two, one, three, two- His thoughts spluttered. The pattern was off. Minuscule in its error, but an error nonetheless. He turned away from the window, his body relaxing in resignation. A faint smile started on his lips. A half-hearted chuckle escaped him. He ran a shaking hand through his hair.
He saw the pattern. The pattern that wasn't what he was looking for. The pattern that was a repeating error. The pattern with a simple line that was a few inches off, a few meters. The pattern that made his lips twitch.
The young man sat on the porch. He stared out at the hilltop, where a cottage home sat, its windows glowing with warmth. It was dreadfully cold already, he was beginning to freeze through his heavy jacket. He had been sure. He had been so sure that man was him. The man he wanted to find. The man with all the answers. The man of myths. He certainly looked the part. His dark eyes had called memories to the front of his mind. He had been older than he expected, but he appeared to be of the same build. Ambrose let out a sigh, and rubbed his eyes. It had been a long day. That man hadn't even met Asher. He had known exactly what Ambrose knew.
Ambrose breathed deeply. He shook his head. Smoke. His eyes darted to the windows again, noticing the flames licking the panes. He knew what was probably occurring. The fire was engulfing the furniture in a brazen haste, the wallpaper was curling, the smoke was suffocating the home. His thoughts ground to a halt. Suffocating the man. The man who could be his only link to his man. He cursed mentally before dashing up the hillside.
He imagined the townspeople would have noticed the inferno. All he had to do was dash in there to make sure the old man wasn't choking on his breath. It's only a courtesy. You were in the area...and soldiers aid soldiers, right? He cursed under his breath. He didn't even know if the man was a soldier. Ambrose stopped on the doorstep. The door itself was flung open. Ambrose's eyes narrowed. Damn it all. Through the blaze, he could make out the basement door ajar. He was sure it was closed when he first entered the home. The man had made it out.
Two citizens met up again in an embrace of flailing bodies. His collided with hers, an arrow jabbing him painfully in the chest. Once they rightened themselves, he noticed the bags stacked by the opening. Without a word, he swung a bag over his shoulder. She followed suit soon after. Neither of them looked back to see the house aflame.