Whispers

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Chapter 5

Chapter 5 — Break of Silence

 

Present Day

 

Has time passed,or has it merely stood still, lingering before Henry’s eyes? It was a sunny Monday morning, and early fall hinted at the remnants of a summer past. Birds were singing gentle chants, and the sound of humming traffic vibrated through a partly opened window. The streets were covered with kids happily chatting and striding to school. Bits and broken pieces of echoes mixed with traffic and birds created a pleasant harmony all too familiar. A nineteenth century mansion stood out in the midst of a modern city, the only remaining relic left in a fast-growing technology-infested metropolis. The freeways and high -rises were not around when Henry and Pa moved here. This was the home they had known for years and the only thing remaining of their past. Yet the old home never looked its age; it was rather very well taken care of by the butler, Duke. The floor always glistened, and the dust was never to be found. Duke was turned during the Great War, and ever since he had remained loyal to the White family. Even though he did not have to, he chose to stay.

 The house was filled with priceless antiquities collected for centuries, from extinct wall- mounted taxidermy species of all sizes, to signed and framed handwritten letters from people who played significant roles in history. The colonial furniture had been preserved rather well for its age. Sometimes, Henry roamed around the mansion aimlessly. There were many rooms, hallways, and underground facilities. Getting lost in there was rather easy for him, and doing so created a temporary piece of mind. One thing was certain: during any part of the day, Pa could be found playing his adored piano in the library quadrant. His fingers moved eloquently across the piano keys, flawlessly giving Beethoven’s final masterpiece true justice. He played with closed eyes, head slightly tilted upward while his fingers moved perfectly. No notes needed; he must have played that piece a thou-sand times. The heavenly symphony gave a positive vibe to the lonesome house.

 

Bright sun rays beamed, illuminating the right side of Henry’s body. He spent a great amount of time sitting in that chair beside this window; it was reclusively ideal. That very spot allowed him to absorb just enough of the ever-changing world outside, but it did get lonely, regrettably, often. And the usual visitors were mere fragments of old memories, as the unfortunate past had its way of revisiting at any hour of the day.

 Henry’s room had become something out of a history book. The furniture had remained well maintained for centuries; like him, they too had not aged. The only modern thing in that room was his dear friend Les Paul, a 1950s acoustic guitar that was starting to show age; the once-bright glossed black surface was discolored with uneven faded reflections beneath layers of dust. The company of that instrument had kept his sanity intact, but it had gone untouched for several months. It lingered on the side of the bed, firmly standing upright, looking at him, impatiently waiting. And the one thing that haunted him the most hid dormant on his desk beneath a dust grave stacked with scattered papers. Unlike the guitar, many years had gone since he last touched it, but the daily recurring memories had finally summoned his attention.

Henry pulled out a journal from the pile of dust. He carefully picked it up with both hands; its fragile condition felt like putty. The relic was more than a journal to him; it was like a heavy mass, a blinding sun ray making it difficult for him to look at. Or was it the shame of hiding from it for all these years?

He blew off remaining debris from the cover and exposed the faded remnants of a once-vibrant journal. But there was clearly something odd about it; the cracks on the leather cover and the gashes weren’t all from wear—certainly an act of aggression was involved. He took a deep breath, gathering enough courage to finally open it. A familiar scent filled up his nostrils from the lingering remnants inside the cover. It was the scent of her per-fume, renewing a painful glimpse from the past. He brushed his fingertips across the old ink-dried scribbles.

 

June 29, 1779.

 

We spent the entire weekend at the beach house. The best day of my life. Perfection could only be defined by her eyes, lips, and smile. Her beauty makes sense of every moment’s madness. Impatiently, I wait for tomorrow. I hope she accepts.

 The final sentence ended with a half-written word gashed across the yellowish page. The grotesque presence of the last word nullified the penmanship in which he had once taken pride. And until that very moment, a profound pain had not allowed him to continue writing any further. But the memories had surfaced once again, occupying his mind with dark thoughts. He attempted to compose himself as a powerless fury began to drum once more.

 Breathing quickly, anxiety had struck as he pleaded, “Focus! Focus! Focus!” A haze of sorrow was starting to clear up. He lost himself in complete emptiness as he fell unconscious.

 A barely audible faded laugh from a distance echoed closer with every giggle. It was a young woman standing in the middle of a meadow, dressed in a white colonial summer dress. She was smiling at Henry with those beautiful big eyes. The sun was bright as ever, creating a heavenly glow around her. She and Henry are standing on a stone bridge above a lake; tall trees were scattered everywhere, and the birds chirped. A fountain of a young woman pouring water from a vase created a soothing ambiance in the park.

“Now, Henry, you have to promise your eyes are closed this time.”

Henry pretended to cover his eyes with an open hand, but disregarded the rules at any chance just to make her smile.

“My love, you cannot fashion new rules,” she playfully pleaded with him. Yet the only thing Henry could focus on was the ador-able resonance of her tone; it was like his favorite instrument of which he never grew weary. “All right, mister, don’t move!” She hopped behind him with her arms stretched out, reaching for his face. She wrapped a white handkerchief with her initials, ET, over his eyes. Her lips pressed against his ear. “Try peeking through this,” she whispered and then softly kissed his cheek. Holding up the front of her dress, just enough for a half stride, she ran away, taking cover.

 

Henry started counting out loud. “Ten.”

 

Just as he did, he noticed an odd presence he had never sensed before. It was different than a human’s scent. Mysterious fully hooded men were moving in closer from all around. Henry remained calm but cautiously continued to count. “Nine.”

There it was again!

The odd presence was getting stronger. Crisp sounds of leather shoes filled his senses; they made less sound than the rest of the people around them. Their shoulders slid through traffic perfectly—just enough not to hit the people around them.

Henry felt something strange as he counted. “Eight.” Noticeably, the playful tone changed. He ripped the cloth from his face. There she was behind the fountain, looking at him. Her smile disappeared as she noticed the panic in Henry’s eyes. The sky dimmed with a thick cloud. A hooded shadow appeared directly behind Elinore. Cold shining crimson eyes glared at Henry as it whispered into her ear, “ One!” An open- mouthed assassin revealing its enlarged fangs quickly bit into her neck, cutting off her scream. Several more assassins appeared in front of him, blocking the way to Elinore.

In a blink of an eye, Henry charged toward her, disregarding the trouble ahead. He lost complete control as he slashed through them like a sharp sword; they stood no chance. The assassin who drained her blood was not at all concerned with Henry, even though it had a chance to turn around and defend itself. It was evident that only one task was given. Henry regained sanity just as the last assassin fell lifelessly, mouth covered slop-pily with blood dripping down its chin. The creature’s body fell like a theater curtain at the end of a play, revealing Elinore. She was barely standing.

Henry caught her as she struggled, choking with each breath. His hands shook while holding her delicately. He looked at her in a state of panic. She was losing too much blood. With tears and panic, he screamed while pressing on the wound, gushing blood from her neck. Nothing was helping as it continued to ooze out. He pleaded while struggling to save her, “Please slow down, please!” His voice changed to tones he never made before.

It was no use; the wide-eyed bystanders were afraid of what they just witnessed him do. With every second passing, Henry continued to panic. “No, no, no, no.” Tears ran down his face like the fountain beside them as he tried to stop the blood flow. She placed her weakened blood-covered hand on his face, get-ting his attention. Eyes barely open, she slightly smiled at him in peace. With the last bit of energy, she wiped his tear with her thumb. Even in her final moment, she tried to calm him. Her eyes closed one last time.

 Henry stayed there for hours, holding her tight in disbelief, hoping she’d wake up. The handkerchief was still bound around his left hand, completely soaked. 

A sudden jolt snapped Henry awake. He leaned back in agony; the wooden oak chair creaked. Remembering the past wasn’t the best of ideas. “Great, now what do I do?” Pacing back and forth, the creaking orchestra couldn’t be avoided with each step. He walked past his Gibson guitar, eyeing it with every stride. And for a moment, he stopped beside it and tapped the neck a couple of times. Maybe if he just stood there, something would come.

He slowly looked around the room, but nothing seemed to come to mind. After so many years, everything in this room had lost his interest. Everything but…He looked back at the idle leather-bound journal, a place he once considered a home for thoughts.

 He had left it untouched after losing Elinore.

The old thoughts were calling for attention; fond memories sought a visit. For a while, he stood in the same place, in the middle of the room, stuck in a trance; suddenly, he looked back at it. He blinked in front of the paper-cluttered desk. Dust-covered papers were blown all around him. Disregarding where they fell, he quickly grabbed the blue ink jar and white feather quill. Webbings and dust must have covered them for years. His chest noticeably rose with each breath, becoming more difficult. Without looking, he placed the ink jar around a dried outline beside his feet, the same place where he used to put it years ago. Holding the quill revived familiarity, something stored away until this moment. After so many years apart, the mere touch brought back old memories he could no longer face.

The quill hovered over a blank sheet of paper. His eyes glossed with wet pouches, mouth slightly open with nothing to say; he started scratching the paper with every stroke.

My heart is drowning in an ache of eternity. Silhouettes of your smile bind my splitting heart. Perpetual daggers are consumed and buried within, slicing each memory parting from sin. I embrace the past as the place I adore and the place where I rest, a place that’s no more. Each moment there sublime and it paints my heart darker in time. Be day, be night, it matters not. For one tiny thought is all I’ve got. Clear reminiscences of your kisses are not in vain. Not a single deed, lone word, sole sound is without your touch. Barely holding descending thoughts are nothing more than fading shadows and whispers. My love I so dearly adore. I will never have failed more.

Each written word bore a heavy loss, crushing him within. The quill rigidly pressed against the page. With a sense that his body was resisting, he held the quill, straining to go on. The emotionless face could not hide the sorrow held in hand. Bloodshot glossy eyes refilled with wet pouches. It appeared as though every word ejected a tear, a temporary stain of wet evidence. And each fallen drop felt like a heavy damp mass, crushing anything it made contact with.

The quill fell as his fingers lost control. The gliding feather ignored gravity, bleeding the remaining ink on the wooden floor.

“This was a bad idea,” Henry mumbled in dismay as he stared at the mess below. He leaned back against the creaking chair. His right arm rested against his chest, firmly holding the journal. The left swung back and forth, scraping against the floor and stop-ping after a few swings. The beam of sunlight simmered his face with direct precision. For a while, he remained completely spaced out, silently watching the endless blurred movements of modern theater just outside the window.

Vivid hints of giggles alerted him. It must have been a few hours since he spaced out; the sun was directly above. He spent over a century staring outside this window, observing the same street, the same people walking, riding horses, driving cars, and going to the same places at the same time, like clockwork. He found a bit of a mental asylum in losing himself, watching humans and their routines, going through life. At times, it was just the mere curiosity of how they interact with one another, laughing, arguing.

It was always expected.

No more than repetitive acts, they remained consistent.

A group of teenagers across the street didn’t seem familiar. That crowd wasn’t moving anywhere, huddled in a circle. Appearing to be what they called punkers, they were possibly from the local high school. Tight-jeaned villains were surrounding a couple of undersized kids. The two were just tiny kids, couldn’t be more than fourteen or fifteen. Henry could sense their little hearts ready to burst. They were panicking at what was unfolding around them. But Henry’s focus was not outside; his thoughts were stuck inside. The dark-blue ink had dried on the antique wooden floor-ing. And if it did, wouldn’t Pa have a fit or two.

Henry scratched at the crusted ink, but the resilient stain appeared to have been a new permanent addition to the old wooden floor.

I doubt this will come off, Henry thought as he reluctantlyreached for the quill. But just as he pressed the quill on the page, a flood of memories began to rush in his head once again. He leaned back against the chair in agony, rocking back and forth. The constant thoughts remained as he attempted to clear his head, yet nothing helped. He slouched down, elbows pressed firmly on knees, the only two obstacles stopping his swinging head from falling over. The journal rested on his lap, and he held the quill barely in the midst of a couple fingers. 

Henry was stuck, and no matter what he tried to do that moment, nothing allowed the lingering thoughts to leave his head; they became a daily norm of contradictions.

The mocking noises of punishment started in the background: hateful laughter and innocent cries. Children could be so cruel toward one another. Some loud thumps and the clatter of obvious punishment was taking place at that very moment. The continuous sound hindered Henry’s fragile mind-set from focusing. His spaced-out eyes wandered slowly, moving toward the sound. He couldn’t focus like this, but it was not his place to interfere.

Henry turned away from the window with quill in hand, but before he was able to form a single word, a cry erupted. “No! Mommy, g—” The boy wasn’t able to finish as he was shoved to the ground. The impact of those two very delicate words caught Henry’s attention.

This has gone long enough.

On the way out of the room, Henry caught his angered stride in the mirror, the journal still clutched in hand. But before he was able move any farther, an old memory resurfaced, the very thing his beloved Elinore calmed him with. And as though she was still right next to him, Henry heard a faint whisper. “Be calm, Henry.”

The sound of her memory snapped Henry out of an angered state, and he noticed the ghostly reflection staring back at him through the mirror. It had been a while since he last looked at himself. His hair was a complete mess—straight black and all over the place, covering eyes and ears. He pressed the journal gently against his lips and then placed it back on the dust-infested desk.

But just as Henry rushed out of his room and in the mid of his stride down the stairs, Grandfather Pa was already waiting for him in the living room; he looked up at the boy, concerned.

Even after so many years, Henry had a tendency of forgetting that Pa had access to his thoughts. Pa always made the constant point ever since Henry could remember: “We do not interfere with human measures.”

 And once again, Pa began the lecture. “Henry, my boy, are you aware of…” With a smile, his eyebrows lifted as he looked at Henry’s old buttonless shirt. The once-white shirt was ruined with holes and stains of aging gray shades.

“No time to change, Pa,” Henry quickly responded while making his way downstairs.

Surprisingly, Pa didn’t object as young Henry strode past him. It had been several years since Henry set foot outside the front door. The rocks beneath his feet felt warm and foreign. He

couldn’t help but squint, almost completely shutting his eyes, as he slowly adjusted to the intense brightness. Much to his sur-prise, the bright sun was stronger there than in the room.

His left hand shook from nervousness, and adrenaline began to flow in his bloodstream once again. He couldn’t recall the last time he felt so alive; the remote feeling was foreign and discomforting. Barefoot, Henry slowly walked toward the group of proud imbeciles pushing around defenseless kids. Their backpacks dis-armed and thrown to the ground, they playfully kicked at the boy, appearing to amuse the shallow minds. A punker laughed while plucking out the contents of the backpack: books, papers, and objects Henry had never seen before. Kicking whatever fell, they chuckled at the suffering of another. This group of cackling mongrels was outfitted with very tight, torn, ladylike jeans, drooping low enough that it showed their entire bottom; long frazzled hair, beanies, and armed with skateboards, they were quite the sight.

A glaring punker looked triumphant as he held up an object. “Looks like I gots maself a new iPad. Thank your mommy for me, fool. Try k-correcting me in class again.” The punker spit on his index finger then stuck it in the little victim’s ear, and at the same time he began to mockingly sing, “I before e except after c.”

“Word!” another punker shouted from the back. The rest of the scoundrels chuckled hysterically.

This has gone long enough. Dark thoughts overtook Henry asrage rushed through his veins. He appeared as if he was about to lose complete control; the inner demon seemed ready to come out once again. My apologies, Grandfather. You forbid this, but they must be taught a lesson.

He stood a short distance behind the loudmouth holding the iPad. Henry observed the punkers’ disgusting posture as they taunted the kid on the floor. And as Henry was about to utter a single word, her voice once again rushed into his head.

“Calm, Henry. Be calm, my love.”

With just a memory of her voice, his noticeably dilated pupils went back to normal. In this condition, even mere talking was difficult for Henry; his lip quivered as he attempted to form a single word. Eyes closed, he slowly exhaled remnants of angered fumes and calmly asked, “Are you done here?”

The scoundrel turned to Henry with a violently ignorant look and shouted, “What, fool! Get lost!” As the punker uttered those disgusting words, a loud crack erupted across the side of Henry’s head, and a warm steady flow of blood ran down his cheek. One of the punkers swung a skateboard against Henry’s head. The audible distractions did not allow Henry’s senses to adjust quite yet; he wasn’t used to the cars, planes, and cell phone rings.

Taken by surprise, Henry appeared shaken. I’m bleeding? He pressed against the wound and then looked at his fingertips covered with blood. A pungent aroma of fear filled Henry’s nostrils; the scent came from the punker holding the broken piece of skateboard. Before Henry was able to react, her gentle voice resurfaced once again: “Be calm, my love.” She would always whisper those words. The memory of her gentle, loving voice relaxed his white-knuckled fists; even now, she helped him.

In a split second, a loud thump echoed as Henry caught the villain’s shirt behind him. It would have been worse had Henry not controlled it. Violently, he twisted the clenched shirt. The wringing fabric cut off all circulation and choked the punker in all shades of pink. The two boys on the floor gasped as they were now more frightened by Henry’s presence.

All the voices of anger fear and concern began to downpour into Henry’s mind; he began to question his own actions. What am I doing here?

The punk in Henry’s grip was getting heavier; he was about to lose consciousness. The punker’s hands released the broken board above Henry’s head. Without judging strength, Henry slapped the cracked skateboard, splitting it in half. One half launched in the direction of a red -haired kid recording the scene, hitting the phone and instantly obliterating it. The red- haired kid looked at his hand in pain as he watched the pieces of his phone fall.

“Oh my god!” he screamed and dropped on both knees. The lit-tle filmmaker was on the floor, scrambling and whining while looking for the broken bits of the phone. “Crap, crap, crap, aah… shh.”

The other half of the skateboard flopped before the rest of the punks. They looked up at Henry with frightened eyes. One of them screamed, “Bad vibes. Run, dudes!”

Just as I thought. They were nothing but cowards when faced against a hint of opposition. Henry looked at the punker still in his grasp, attempting to gasp for air. Henry released the oxygen-deprived scoundrel; he fell like a sack of potatoes on his back and immediately gasped for air. With large dilated black pupils and a firm whisper, Henry cautioned him in a deep voice, “Leave!”

The frightened punk nodded and ran away.

The two kids were still sitting in the same positions those goons left them in. Henry thought, Maybe I should say something. What do I say? Should I just smile? I haven’t formed one in years, not sure I know how to. Henry said the only thing that came to mind,but years of absence from communication with humans showed awkward rust in his speech. “They’re gone…Safe you are.” Henry sensed they were no longer frightened, but shock was evident in wide eyes.

“T-t-t-t-thank you, uh…you’re bleeding,” one of the boys stuttered.

With a straight face, Henry attempted to form a smile but was still unable to do so; he awkwardly nodded and walked away.

The fluffy red-haired kid was still picking up the broken pieces. He screamed at Henry, “Crazy guy, what the…What’s your problem? Violent much?” He continued ranting and rav-ing with courageous disdain, but he had noticed that he had also exposed himself to a potentially unsavory situation. 

Henry looked down at the little boy; he curiously observed the strange angry little person bellowing his heart out.

“Yeah, you! Are you gonna play—pay for this? I’m not afraid of you or those cherry-mohawked guidos.”

Henry frowned at the kid and silently walked toward him. The kid panicked, squirming. “Um, why are you looking at me like that?” The kid adjusted his glasses with a trembling hand. “Don’t walk toward me, I didn’t do anything.” Henry knelt down. “My apologies for your hand, and…” He gestured with his eyes at the broken pieces.

The little boy exhaled a loud sigh and then began lip flapping. “Psh, hurt me? And”—he gestured with wide frustrated eyes as well, pointing at the broken pieces—“ya, that was my brand-new phone! Thank you for breaking it in for me. Now I know who to ask the next time I get something.” 

Henry took out a golden coin from his pants pocket and handed it to the kid. “For your trouble. Please excuse me,” Henry politely spoke. And without another word, he stood up, turned around, and walked away—but not toward his mansion. Both hands in pockets, Henry casually strode as if nothing happened.

Confused, the little boy stared at the coin. “Thanks, I guess.” He observed the coin closely. The edge encircled a broken embossed circle, and in the center was an indented W logo. He flipped the coin on the other side, and it was same thing. He complained to himself. “Ooh, Jiminy Crickets! My phone! There rests the remains of what used to be, dispersed in irreparable pieces, possi-bly the priceless footage compromised.” He clamped both hands together in a nerd prayer. “Dear electronic gods of Transformania, here lays my—crap, Mom’s gonna be mad.”

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