Footsteps

The child has to die. Tis the phrase not one was willing to vocalize, allowing silence to settle like fine dust until they were but a desert. The prophetic child has proved to be nothing but a curse, and his powers can only grow disastrously if he should continue to live. And, Horace understood that, feeling the stump that was his right arm, still aching, throbbing, though he found that his tears were the only water in this Sahara.

He tore out of the room and went for the boy, whose blissful ignorance of his own fate allowed him to be conversing with a fine plant in the waiting room. Looking up from his new friend, Seth was alarmed that his guardian was in tears, and a mixture of concerns, fright and anger marred the boy’s features.

“What’s wrong? Did they hurt you?”

No, no, no…he was supposed to protect him. He told him that once he get better, that he take him to a beach to watch the sunset once he’s well.

He couldn’t find the words, so just scooped up the child in his arm.

“…Horace, what’s wrong…?”

“We…” he choked back a sob. “We are going to the shores, Sethy. We are going to watch the sunset.”

The boy was hesitant to celebrate, but he still did. When he carried him down the corridor towards the execution room, each step brought him further from the doors at the end.

Step.

The boy was shivering, uncomprehending the concept of gentleness and frightened of its unconditional love. Horace told the first lie that all would be fine, then the boy cried and cried and cried himself to sleep in his arms.

Step.

The little one was like a worm, snaking into his sheets and snuggling against him as he pretended his protector could shelter him from thunder and nightmares.

Step.

His eyes sparkled, smile brighter than a thousand suns surprisingly didn’t melt the ice cream cone offered to him. As Seth took his first lick he dissolved into tears. “I’ve never…no one’s ever bought me anything before. Thank you…thank you, Horace.”

Step.

The creatures from the dark were endless. Horace cursed under his breath as he emptied another round of bullets. Seth clung to his leg in a violent shudder. “It’s okay…” He patted the boy’s head. “I will protect you.” And, he delivered.

Step.

He watched Seth observe the sparrows and pigeons resting at the railings. The boy was speaking to them, making gestures, and ran away dutifully to fetch a box of cereal, which he opened and offered to his friends before Horace could stop him.

Step.

When the coughs started Horace didn’t think much of it besides banishing Seth from sleeping on his bed in fear of infecting the little thing. Then one morning he felt so sick that he ran to the bathroom, vomiting everything he had eaten for dinner into the toilet. Perhaps a little worse than a cold…he was caught in a fit of coughs that made him retch, then cough until dark blood came out. He flushed the toilet again and again, and he struggled to even breath until a hand rested on his shoulder. “Get away, Seth…I don’t want you to get sick…” The child spoke, but he couldn’t hear. The world spun and the marble floor came up to meet him.

Step.

“Your exposure to this child’s power is killing you, Horace.” They’ve came for the child…his boy…Seth was too scared that his friend would die to know whose help he called. “It doesn’t matter…” “If you continue like this, you would die.” “I am fine with that,” Horace felt the slight squeeze at his hands for that rhetoric. “Thank you for your help, but Seth and I are fine.” When he got up, he heard the clicks of gun safeties, “You’ve done your part, Horace. We have no more use of you.” A click and fire paralyzed him with pain, and Seth screamed.

Step.

The earth shook, and he yelled. No one would listen since all were too engulfed in the immense power of the prophetic child. The world swerved beneath his feet, the gunshot wound was still crying for attention, yet he shushed it and ran head first into the storm. “Seth!” Debris and glass slashed at him, tornados of rage swept up bits of civilization. His boy had went ahead and done it after the guards shot him. Seth must had thought him dead…and that undid him. “Seth!” He roared into the winds, tortured yet steadily advancing. The core of the storm was visible now, the dense clouds of dark magic swarming about a center. Seth. He didn’t think besides that his boy was in there. He could hear the child’s screams with each attack the guards threw at him. “Stop! You idiots!” Shouting did nothing but draw mouthfuls of blood and another fit of coughs. “Seth…” The world was blinking, yet he heard it clearly. “Horace…save me…Horace…” He shoved against the ground, against his life, and dragged himself towards the dark clouds. “That’s enough, Sethy…st-stop…it…” The storms weakened, the clouds thinned, yet he still sees no Seth. “I am…right here, Seth…don’t be sc-scared…I am still here…” The darkness was taking a form…his boy…Out of nowhere a shot rang out, disappearing into the darkness that hissed and swallowed it whole. Other cannons followed, and the dark cloud grew to disintegrate all, “SETH!” He reached out to stop him, yet the boy couldn’t stop and all Horace remember was a searing pain blinding and paralyzing him, running down his right arm, as he fell against the floor. The storms died, and a distant voice cried his name over and over.

Step.

He woke to so much pain that he almost forgot his own name. By the foot of the bed was the boy, too scared to get too close yet too worried to be absent. When he called the boy he shook his head, “I hurt you…I…am a monster…” “You idiot! Come over here.” The boy dared not disobey the authoritative tone and scooted to his side. Horace seized the small hand and placed it against his chest. “Do you feel that?” The boy nodded, eyes watering. “You can’t hurt me as long as that heart beats unless you call yourself something like that, okay?” “…okay…I am sorry, I am sorry…” For the first time in years Horace thanked God. Thank God that he still has a hand to embrace this poor soul.

The doors were immediately before them, and Horace stopped, his head too heavy to see beyond the tips of his shoes.

“Horace?”

“…I am sorry…” Guards crept up from the shadows and took hold of his boy. “Seth…I am…”

A coward, useless trash…the worst…a frequency of dark magic flared and all retreated out of fear as Seth and Horace were circled by fright. “I couldn’t protect you…I…you trusted me yet I…I…” He buried his face his hand, and yet, he heard Seth’s quiet approach and felt him tug at the corner of his coat.

Horace lifted his tear-stained face to find a smile more brilliant than a thousand suns, “It’s fine…I’m fine…” He hated the way the little one bit at his lips to maintain the smile even when large beads of tears crossed it, cracked it and his voice. “It’s time…”

Horace stooped down to his boy, wrapping his arm about him while the boy wept into his shoulder. Why is the world so unfair? Why…why…why…

The boy quieted, sniffled, and stilled, until he pushed him away with a gentleness that had no conditions, “It’s time for me to go…”

As though it was just occurring to him the extent of the nightmare, Horace was snapped back to denial, “No…no…you don’t have to go…”

The guards approached again, closing in on their circle.

“No, Seth…I can…I…”

The boy was still mustering a smile, his little hand squeezing Horace’s one last time before he let go and stepped back. A guard seized the boy by his wrist immediately, and Horace sprang at the man.

“No, let him go!” Another guard restrained him while his boy didn’t even stir, entering the room being led by the guards. “Let him go!” His struggles only renewed old wounds, and tears burnt his eyes.

At the threshold of the execution room Seth turned around, his smile brighter than Horace could ever imagine, “Horace–”

The doors banged shut like a nightmare, and Horace screamed for Seth and wrestled the guard until he was breathless, agonized. Then all the sudden the floor rumbled as though a great shudder wrecked through the entire building. Horace’s eyes widened: it was the execution, the opening of the void in space and time to drain the child’s power until he is nothing…not even dust.

“No…” He tried to struggle, but his legs gave way, his voice gave way. He shrugged off the guard and crawled towards the locked doors and wrenched at the handles like a madman. No guards were insane enough to approach his unquenched rage and sorrow. “No!”

The rumbling stopped. The deed was done. The doors automatically unlocked and he fell forward into the empty, bright room. There was nothing but a wholesome white. “Seth,” he rasped. A guard caught him by the shoulders and started to steer him away. “Se…th.”

From the corner of the white room a breeze remained, and it rushed with a child’s excitement to the opened door at its favorite. The winds brushed through him and chilled the guards, leaving Horace a gentle whisper.

“Thank you…thank you…”

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