Saturday, January 08, 2005

 

the child, twenty-eight


'Walker?' said Starr. 'Who is that?'

'Well, he was my best friend,' said Stone. 'I met him back when I first got here. And for quite a while there, we hung out together - we studied our sword-work together...' He smiled nostalgically. 'Man... I miss that. We were the best of friends, Walker and me. And we were making plans that, when it was time for us to go back to the enemy's dungeon, we would go together, as a team. Well, you know the Master often sends us out two by two. And Walker and I had in mind to be a team like that.'

Stone sighed and looked up through the tree limbs overhead. 'Well. That was the plan... Until this one day, when we got to talking about the past, and what we got rescued out of. And when I told Walker the part of the dungeon I used to be in... Man! I could see it in his eyes! It was like a door came up between us and was slammed in my face. And Walker leaned back away from me, like he was afraid of becoming contaminated just by being next to me.'

'Surely he didn't think that!' said Starr.

'Didn't he?' said Stone. 'Because the next thing he did was to tell me that no one who has ever been in the part of the dungeon I was rescued from, is ever completely free from it. And then he said that he couldn't possibly return to the dungeons with me along, because when we got back there, I would inevitably go back to what I was before - and I would betray him in the process.'

'No, you wouldn't!' Starr protested.

Stone smiled. 'Well, thank you for believing in me, Starr-girl. Not everyone does. Walker sure didn't. And... he still doesn't.'

'He doesn't?'

'Nope. You see, every so often I will spot him - maybe across the yard here, or perhaps across the dining room inside. And when I see him, I will watch him, to see what's going to happen when he spots me. And it's always the same.'

Stone held up his hand before them. 'This is what happens,' he said. 'This is what Walker's face does.' And Stone curled his fingers up tightly, making a fist. 'That's just what his face does - it closes, just like that. Like an angry fist. And then he turns and gets away from me as quickly as he can.'

He sighed again. 'You know, Starr! I wish - but I hate that word wish - I wish I'd never told him. But then, it wouldn't have been fair or honest to hide my past from him much longer. Anymore than,' and he took her hand into his, 'it would have been fair of me to continue to hide it from you.'

Starr felt a blush coming on. Her heart was full, but words she had none.

'And it's just like the Master,' Stone was saying, pointing at the sheaf of papers in her other hand, 'to prepare you ahead of time to hear what I was going to say. Which makes me wonder...'

'Yes?' said Starr.

'Oh, I wonder did I speak too soon, when I told Walker? Maybe I did; maybe I didn't. It seemed to me that the way the conversation was leading, was the Master's leading for me to say what I said. But maybe I was wrong...'

'He was not wrong,' said the Master. Suddenly he was there, standing just beyond Stone. 'One day Stone will see and know that he was following my leading. He follows me already far more than he realizes. And one day, he will see that too.'

'And now...?' said Starr.

'Now?' Stone replied, thinking her question was to him. 'Now - I don't know. I would like to have his friendship back. But I can't make the first move. Not yet. Not when he can't even abide to be in the same room with me.'

'Now,' said the Master, knowing the question was for him, 'fear nothing, but be at peace. I will work out all according to my own timing. As you know. Simply tell Stone this...'

And what he told her, she nodded and repeated in Stone's hearing. 'His friendship will be returned to you, Stone. In the Master's timing. He's good at that, you know.'

Stone looked away. And in doing so, he looked straight up at the Master. If only he would see him! thought Starr.

But plainly Stone did not. For he merely glanced back at her again and said, 'Yes, I know. It's just... this waiting for his timing - it can drive you right up the wall.'

And then he gave a sigh and a smile. 'Well... Guess I should go now. Catch you later, Starr-girl.' He gave her fingers a gentle squeeze as he was releasing her hand. 'I'm glad you're my friend,' he added seriously. 'I hope nothing ever changes that.'

'I hope the same thing,' said Starr.

And as the big man loped off towards the house, she glanced to the Master. And felt a sudden chill.

'Don't be afraid, Starr,' the Master said as he wrapped her in his arms. 'No matter what happens - do not be afraid.'

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