Friday, July 15, 2005

 

the child, eighty-one


It was the fifth day out. Stone was bringing up the rear, as usual. The order of march on their renewed journey had changed little. The level of bickering had changed for the better since Forest and James no longer took offense at every second word each other spoke.

It made a huge difference. Now if only a similar change would happen for Lucy and Linda!

Starr, at this particular moment on this particular day, was walking with Morgen, Mal, and Mac. From the day Stone had ordered her to stay away from Mac, she had quietly obeyed him, saying not another word about it. No, it was Stone who had brought the matter up again, telling her suddenly and unexpectedly three days before, 'Oh, I forgot to mention: if you want to be friends with Mac, it's all right with me. I'm sorry I got jealous.'

And that was that. Still, even as she walked now with Mac and Mal and Morgen - they all knew that in her heart, she was walking with Stone. She was only giving him the space he needed, while he dealt with the demons.

Yes, demons. That was what he was calling this now. Ever since Starr had had the vision of the second wolf and the helmet, Stone had been mulling it all over, and had come to the conclusion that these strange things - her vision, and the wolf attack itself - were speaking of ways that the enemy was attacking him personally. Demons.

The first wolf, the one he had already killed - that, Stone believed, was the jealousy he had felt over Mac's friendship with Starr. And that wolf was dead now for sure. The sight of Mac transformed with all the wings and faces and eyes had killed that wolf!

It was the other wolf he still needed to deal with. And he was sure he knew what it was. It was the thing that had maddened him for such a long time already: the problem of his thoughts darting off in all those different directions, carrying him off with them.

Distractions. Time-wasters. Life-stealers.

And now he must kill that wolf as well. He was glad Starr had had that recent vision and told him of it; seeing the distractions as a ravening wolf ready to grab him by the throat and bite deep until he was dead - ah, that changed his perspective on the problem. Before it had bothered him - annoyed him - embarrassed him. Now, though - now he knew that it was a beast out to kill him.

The helmet - what could that be? Set over his head - Starr had made such a point of that. Helmet - to guard his head, his thoughts? A buffer of some kind, a shield between his thoughts and the enemy?

James' voice ripped through his thoughts just then. 'All right, people! Time for a break.'

Weariness unexpectedly overtook Stone, and he looked for a spot to drop. The others were stopping to sit as well. But not Forest. Propped on his crutches, his left leg drawn up slightly at the knee, he said, 'Already? Come on! I'm good for another hour's walk, easy!'

'Buddy,' James said patiently. 'Look at yourself. You're panting.'

'But...' Forest started. And then subsided. If the boy had learned anything since his leg snapped, it was that when James called him 'buddy,' it meant that the man was doing whatever he was doing because he thought it was for Forest's own good - and that there was no way James was going to change his mind, either.

All right. A break then. Forest found a tall boulder and rested himself against it.

Stone too found a place to rest - a nice thick fallen log. Conveniently, it was the log Starr had already sat down on.

She smiled up at him as he joined her, his fingers curling contentedly around hers. 'Hi, love,' she said.

He smiled. She smiled. They smiled.

How beautiful she was! he thought once again. Not a classic beauty of form and figure, for in fact Starr was somewhat ordinary-looking. Linda was prettier when it came to looks. Why, even Lucy was prettier.

It wasn't Starr's looks, no. Not her outward appearance. It was...

It was the way she looked at him. The glad light that sparkled into her eyes whenever she saw him. It was - the way she trusted him, which was in itself both shattering and exhilarating.

It was the way she was so whole-heartedly given to him, in such sweet simplicity, such child-like completeness. Such radical abandon, such confidence.

Such faith.

Faith in him? He hoped not. For surely he would let her down.

Already he had let her down, more than once. Ugly, cruel that had been, he now saw.

And she had forgiven. And still loved. Still with reckless confident abandon, she loved.

It was the Master that he saw in her. That was her beauty.

'I love you, Starr,' he said. And heard his words echo back to him in her voice, speaking his name instead of hers at the end of it.

Chuckle. Sweet girl! She had said it in the same breath with him!

'So,' said she. 'How's it going?'

He blinked, his mind briefly blanking out on what she could be referring to as 'it.' Then it hit him - his day, his progress. His battle.

He shrugged. 'Same as always, I guess. Thinking about the second wolf you saw, and the helmet, and all like...' A thought struck him, forcibly. 'Hey!'

'Hey what?' she asked, bemused.

'That's all I was thinking about all morning! No rabbit trails, no bouncing here, there, and everywhere. I stayed focused!'

'Great!' she beamed.

But why? he wondered. Started to ask.

'All right!' called out James. 'Break's over. Let's move!'

They stood to their feet, Stone and Starr did, their fingers lingering together, mingled together for another moment. And then, 'I love you, my darling,' said he.

'And I you,' she replied.

And on they went, she with the angels, and he with his thoughts.

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