Wounds All Around
Pain is a strange thing. There are many poetic appellations, but only one word for pain. And yet everyone knows that not all suffering is the same. There is the sharp pain, more hyper-awareness than actual injury, that comes from slicing your skin with a knife. There is the throbbing agony of a migraine, which only those who have experienced it can properly appreciate. Cancer patients know the slow drain and ever-present aches of dying by inches. And those who dare to love risk the crushing, icy sensation of a broken heart.
Rameses experienced all these at once, and many more that he had never imagined. He relived the stupid things he said at parties when his tongue outran his brain, when he stubbed his toe or cut his hand, the break-up that drove him into the arms of the Church, the death of his first cat, and the burst of divine fire that accompanied his acceptance into the Watchtower of the Golden Key. And when those pains were insufficient, he witnessed new ones, ones that he had never dared to imagine for fear of the heartache they would engender.
He saw his parents weeping over his sister’s casket, friends killed in car accidents and military engagements, failure and poverty spreading through communities he loved. But he knew those were not real, that those could be prevented. The worst pain came from seeing an event that he knew had already happened, that was happening now, and that would happen again. Somewhere, a little girl was dying in the snow, and no one did a damn thing to save her. It was everything wrong with this world, everything that poisoned the soul and shattered faith. And he knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it was his fault.
And then it was over, the snow turned to ash, the air still warm from the burning cars and the lingering electric discharges. Rameses was lying on his back, staring up at the sky, trying to regain some sense of equilibrium. He felt and dimly heard the explosion, followed by angry shouting and splashes. Automatic weapons-fire; maybe it was Dio? He staggered back to his feet and saw the new hole in the bridge where the Lucids, Brick, and the Demon, no, the Mastigos, had been standing.
The rest of it was a blur, staggering over to the motionless bodies of the cultists, his cabal-mates shouting at him that the portal had re-opened. He briefly tried to drag a cultist with him, but the nearest ones were dead, killed by shrapnel. Numb, he turned from the ruins and walked to the re-opened portal.
His room is unlit, and chilly. There is a hint of snow falling just at the edge of his, for lack of a better term, sight. A light flares in the dark, a match lighting a cigarette.
“How does it feel, your red badge of courage?”
“Awful. Did you see her?”
“The little girl? Of course I did. There may have been some among the cars that got hit. Happens all the time; you know that.”
The background flashes to a view of the bridge, the wrecked cars and motionless bodies standing out, as though spotlighted.
“It shouldn’t. It should never happen.” He notices that the Doppleganger is fumbling with the cigarette. It isn’t the cool, relaxed pose that he’d seen before; it is needy, nervous.
“Yeah, and how will you fix it?” The Doppleganger steps close and angrily jerks the lamp’s chain, causing Rameses to flinch. “Will you go out and bleed yourself dry for everyone you can find? Will you sell off all your belongings for charity, fight every drug dealer and human trafficker, spend all your time checking up on reports of child abuse? You’ll be dead in a week!”
“I can’t just stand by anymore! That worked before, when I was a Sleeper, when I had no hope of something greater. Now, I need to use this power; I need to be worthy of it!”
The Doppleganger grabs Rameses by the shoulders and forces him back, rocking the chair onto its rear legs. The cigarette falls from his lips as he roars, “You need to survive! You need to keep your head down, your nose clean, and your back free of fucking bullseyes!” His hands clench tight, grinding cloth against skin, skin against muscle, muscle against bone; Rameses is keenly aware of it, even if it doesn’t actually hurt. “You [i]can[/i] make a difference, you [i]can[/i] make the world better, [i]you can save her[/i]! But only, [i]only[/i] if you are careful, if you stay alive, and if you gather your resources.”
They lock eyes for a moment, and Rameses sees the truth of it, the warnings he has been trying to give himself. The sacrifices made today to ensure a tomorrow. Rameses and his double look away, unhappy with what they’ve seen. Rameses feels the pressure on his shoulders ease up, his feet touch the ground again.
“Thank you, for helping me, even when I try to deny you.”
“Don’t thank me. We both know this is going to hurt.”