Short disclaimer: This novella takes place approximately two and a half years after ‘Cinderlight – a Fay’. This one can be read as a stand-alone, but I still recommend to read the first part here, to get to know the characters. And please keep in mind that ‘Cinderlight – A Fay’ was my first novella I ever had written in English, so please be gentle when judging it.
I was sitting on one of the steel logs, the part of the giant steel scaffolding which would soon become the spine of one of New York’s newest skyscrapers. It was fascinating to watch everyday as the building has slowly grown out of the ground and turned into a steel-brick-glass giant under our hands. And now I was sitting on the huge metal frame looking down on the city, observing its distant streets, and the ant-like passers-by.
From this distance I could be the king of the world. I could pretend I ruled over them. But I didn’t want to rule. I saw everything the better and worst of humanity. So ruling over them? No thank you. After everything we went trough in the last few years, all I wanted from them was just to be left alone, to be able to live our lives together in the shadows.
One more week till the work ends here. One more week till I can go home to New Square to Alexander. We were living there in our one-room apartment we rented from an old couple. We moved in there right after we came home after the war had ended. Sometimes we’ve got strange looks from our neighbors, or we were asked about why we were living together. Fortunately we were always ready with an explanation.
We both had issues since the war, but it was Alexander who wasn’t fit for human company. Not anymore. He could’t bear the noises, the booming voices of traffic or humans. He tended to get aggressive when his nerves got the better of him. And when he got aggressive he was undoubtedly dangerous. Every one of us was. People just liked to forget about the damages the war had caused in our heads. And society expected us to return to our lives unmarked.
No-one could understand who wasn’t there, haven’t fought where we have. Alexander was a lawyer before the war. Now he was a wreck waking screaming and trembling in the dead of the night suffocating on memories. And I was the one holding him through those horrifying moments, I was the only one, he never would hurt even when he was lost in his most terrible memories. So if you looked at our living arrangement from this angle, there was nothing strange about two war buddies living together, helping each other to get over the bad parts.
I was living with Alexander Noble. Sometimes it was unbelievable even for me. How did I made him love me, was a mystery. I was just a former artillery sergeant Thomas Bel, and he was so out of league, he could even cling form the Moon. Alexander Noble, former captain of the US Field Artillery, 101st Battalion, decorated uncountable times for outstanding conduct, he got the Army Overseas Service ribbon, and the Soldier’s Medal and who knew what else. I sure as hell lost count of it, because Alexander kept those medals and ribbons hidden in one of the deepest drawers. He said he can’t stand the sight of them, he didn’t wanted to be reminded of the lives lost getting him those awards.
He usually avoided people, never went outside alone, he was afraid to loose control among them and hurt someone. It wasn’t a rare occurrence among veterans of the war. And this is what it gave him purpose. Sometimes he was taking in defense cases of veterans who got in trouble because of their nerves. He was a lawyer after all. Who would help troubled soldiers if not the one knowing all too well their personal hells?
So this is what he was doing when I left for a two weeks job. Before my departure he promised me a that he will be all right. But I was worried about him, as always when I came to the New York constructions. Could he sleep normally? Would his sleep be haunted by nightmares? If the last few weeks were any indication, it most certainly would.
I will call him later after my shift ended, as I do every night. I will have to find a remote phone box. Well, a more remote one, the construction workers usually used. I don’t want to get on their wrong side, I don’t want them to suspect me anything what can get me a black eye, or in the most unfortunate case can get me dropped down from them metal scaffoldings. Yeah, I don’t want to fall to my death.
The lunch break was almost over, and Salvio – my best friend among the workers – came to sit beside me. He left his meal in the worker’s hostel so he climbed down to get something to eat from the diners nearby. He obviously got what he wanted for lunch, and now he was grinning like the Cheshire cat.
“What’s up, pal?” I asked him.
“With you?” His english was heavily accented, thick with Spanish. Salvio was a refugee, left Europe after the war, after he lost everything he ever knew. We met at the New York docks, he was wandering there aimlessly. I went to get a job on the constructions. He begged to everyone to please give him a few cents or a cigarette. I gave him more. I convinced him to come with me, to get employed together. And we did. And since that time, we went to every construction together.
“I’m fine” I bumped his shoulder, and he grabbed the edge of the metal frame instinctively.
“Easy! No make me drop” he protested indignant.
“Oh sorry” I grabbed his shoulder to steady him. I was fast, and withdrawn my arm, before my touch could become suspicious. Not that I ever wanted anything of him, but you couldn’t be cautious enough. I’ve lost friendships over more innocent touches.
“ ‘ssokey” he grinned. “Hows cousin?”He asked.
He meant Alexander. To the world he was my cousin tortured by war, unfit for living alone. Sometimes Salvio came for dinner to our place. He knew Alexander, but he’d never figured out who he was to me. And I never would let him find out the truth. I’ll protect Alexander, even from him. As from the whole world.
“He’s fine. As much as he can be.”
“Hows sleep?” Salvio was the only one who could ask so complex questions with only two words.
“Still disturbed, but could be worse.”
“Tried tea I give?”
He gave us a blend of tea he prepared based on his grandmother’s recipe. He tried to explain me with fierce gestures that this was the same blend his grandma made to his grandpa to calm his nerves. Apparently his grandpa also was a wreck after the first great war.
“Yeah, we have tried it.”
“It works somewhat. Sometimes, he has no dreams, but sometimes when he’s having nightmares, it keeps him from waking. So I was wondering could we up the dose?”
“Make to him more drink?” He hmmed thinking. I nodded. “No recommend. Gramma never let.”
“Drink more, heart beat lesser till no beat.”
Oh, I understood. Alexander could die from overdosage. I certainly didn’t want that.
“Ok. We’ll do with the original dose.”
And with that the lunch break was over. Workers started to crawl back to their work stations, grabbed their tools and utensils before continuing the work. Singing started as usual after lunch, when the workers were still full of energy. Salvio joined in while climbing to his feet, standing on the metal frame. I did not like that stupid jazz song, or the jazz in general. But observing him torturing everyone with his tone-deaf singing was priceless.
Cast me down where the devil don’t go
Devil don’t go where I make my home
Drown my woes in a lake of fire
Sing a song gonna take me higher
Good lord turned his back on me
Lucifer gonna set me free
It’s a mean world that I’ve known
Never got no good doing what I’m told
It’s a mean world that I’ve known
Now you’ll find me where the devil don’t go
Where the devil don’t go
Still singing, Salvio held out his hand for me, wanting to pull me on my feet. And I gratefully accepted his hand. It was much safer to get help while standing up on the narrow scaffolding. Salvio was a monkey compared to the other workers, he could climb and crawl anywhere with incredible certainty. He never faltered, even strong winds couldn’t shake or unbalance him.
I was almost standing when from the corner of my eye I noticed a worker coming to our direction, holding a heavy looking toolbox in his hand. He passed me and it was just pure luck he didn’t shove me over the edge. We haven’t used safety lines or harnesses, so a careless push could lead to a fall, and falls certainly lead to death.
“Hey asshole, look where you’re going!” I barked at him.
He turned back to me snarling, but with his huge momentum he bumped into Salvio, pushing him off the frame. One minute he was standing before me, and in the next he was falling. I saw it happen in slow motion, and before the asshole could utter a word of obscenity or I could process what was happening before my eyes, Salvio managed to grab the frame, and was hanging over the city. He was clinging for dear life, at the peak of the bare bones of the semi-finished skyscraper.
“Hold on, Salvio!” I yelled at him, and before I knew, I was kneeling above him, grabbing at his wrists, trying to pull him up. He wasn’t especially heavy, but the frame was narrow, and if I leaned too far back, I could too easily fall to my death by unbalancing myself. I couldn’t save him alone, the realization of it terrified me. I turned to the other worker, my eyes were begging even before I’d found my voice to plead with him. “Please help! I cannot pull him up!”
He was staring at us dumbfounded, and I did not realize it until that moment when he dropped his toolbox overwhelmed by the horror of what could possibly happen. The box was falling down bouncing off the lower steel frames with bloodcurdling, metallic echo.
“Please!” I tried again drawing his attention to me, urging him to help.
My arms started to tire out, I was dizzy with the urgent, quick movement. Fat beads of perspiration raced down along my spine, my palm was slippery with sweat. I didn’t want to drop Salvio, I would cling to his hands as much as I could, but God help me, his hand was slipping out of mine.
“Help us!” I screamed at him, the roughness of my voice was hurting my lungs. Finally I managed to snap him out of his shocked gaze. He crouched beside me and grabbed Salvio’s other arm, and together we were strong enough to pull him up on the frame.
When he was on stable ground once again, his arms circled me, embracing me tight and kissing my cheek. He muttered something half Spanish almost unintelligible about saving his life and him being grateful. I looked at the other worker with accusation in my eyes burning into his skin. We almost died because of his stupidity. He did not apologize, but at least he had the decency to look ashamed. He left us, as soon as he had gathered himself and could stand again.
The afternoon shift that day stretched to eternity, I almost started to lose hope it would never end. The building project supervisor asked everyone to stay late until we finished this work stage promising us triple for overtime. Everyone stayed, even me, but I itched to leave and go to call Alexander, as I promised I would. I did my best to call him everyday in the same time to keep his mind calm and his fears at bay. But today, when we could finally call it a day it was way past sunset. And I could be sure that he would panic when I called him later that night.
As usual, Salvio accompanied me to the telephone room in the hostel, not that he had anyone to call. But he always waited for me to finish my discussion with my cousin. He never asked anything, never commented on our phone calls. Sometimes when the call dragged on, he started to talk to other workers making them laugh with his thick accent and strange way of speaking. The others were always wary of him, still they sure as hell loved to mock the poor Spanish immigrant.
I dialed with my heart racing. I didn’t know what to expect. I hoped that he wasn’t worried much, and I was determined to promise to make up to him. But when he answered my call, my heart almost shuttered hearing his anguish-laced, thin voice.
“Tom?” He breathed into the telephone receiver.
“Yeah. Yeah, it’s me” I responded using my most soothing voice I could muster. “Look. I’m so sorry to call you this late, but we got an urgent overtime. And I wanted to call you to reassure you…”
“It’s good you called.” He interrupted me. “I was waiting, but I had fallen asleep beside the phone…”
And he had nightmares. I didn’t even needed him to tell me that, I knew it. His strange, inexplicable nightmares started after the war has ended. Sometimes his dreams were breached by something he called a Fay. It was a woman-like creature with long dark hair, pale skin, blood-red lips and delicate fingers. The Fay touched his forehead with its fingers, and that touch had thrown him in the deepest, the most terrifying realm of bad dreams. His nightmares usually were about losing his men in the battles we have fought, or most often about losing me.
“You had nightmares” it wasn’t a question. Even if it was, I was sure of the answer.
“Yes. I had” he whispered.
My heart ached for him. I could imagine him sitting beside the wall, were he accidentally had fallen asleep and woke with a start when the phone started to ring. He most certainly has woken up shaky, drenched in sweat, not knowing where he was or where I was. He was maybe thinking that I really had died in one of those battles, and everything after that was the dream his brain fed him to escape the pain of loss.
“I can’t be without you” he choked on the worlds.
“And you never will” I promised him fiercely.
“The Fay told me I had to prove myself worthy or I would lose everything.” He rasped. I could hear the masked sniff in his voice.
“You don’t have to prove anything, you’ve already done enough…”
“I’m scared, Tom… Why is this Fay torturing me?”
“Alex. You listen to me.” I needed to be as reassuring as I could be. “I don’t know what that Fay wants from you. But I am absolutely certain, that it has no power over you or when you are awake. It has certainly no power over me. And it can rarely reach you when I’m home. So here it is what you’ll do. Sleep as little as you can afford. Two or three hours each night. It’s nothing new, we’d done it before in the trenches, remember? You have to go only six nights this way. Then I will be back with you.”
“I cannot lose you…”
“Tom, you won’t. Did you hear what I just said?”
“Tell me you understand. Tell me you will oblige.”
“Good. And when I’m back with you, you can tell me what it made you see.”
“I don’t want to. I want to forget it.”
“Then I’ll help you forget it.”
I could hear him shiver sitting on the cold tiles. Jesus, how long was he sitting there? He cannot stay there any longer.
“Alex. Now I need you to get your shit together. You get up, and go to take a long shower or a bath. Preferably a bath. I don’t care the cost. Then you will stay awake like we did when we were taking turns keeping watch. You go to sleep after sunup. Then tomorrow I’ll call you hopefully in our usual time.”
“I’m looking forward to it.”
“And Alex. If the Fay comes again pass on a message for me. Will you? Tell it to go f’ck itself.”
Alexander laughed weakly. It was music to my ears.
“I most certainly will. But I hope it will deliver this answer directly to you.”
“I’ll be waiting for it.”
“No. I would never want that. You can’t be tortured like that. I love you so much more than to let shit like that happen. The Fay must stay in my dreams.”
“We will banish it. We just have to find the how. Do you believe me?”
“You are the only one in this goddamned world I believe in.”
“I love you too.”
I breathed in return, because his words meant not less than that to me. Then I looked around in panic. Who might have heard me? Would I need to explain myself? No-one was listening. So I sensed relief wash over me almost instantly, because Salvio tried to tell the others a stupid joke with his clownish gestures and everyone was too busy laughing out loud, and it kept them from paying any attention to me, and my desperate discussion with Alexander.
I soon finished the call after telling him a bunch of nonchalant nothings. Then I hung up, and beckoned to Salvio. I was ready to return to our room. We left the workers behind and were climbing up the stairs, when he started to speak.
“You and cousin not careful enough. You need cover. I provide. For my life.”
I recoiled then stopped abruptly. Sweet Jesus! Salvio knew, God only could tell for how long, but I surely haven’t had the slightest idea. Salvio did know, but he never said or did anything what could blow my cover. Never called me names, never did anything to hurt me for what I was. Not even now, when he made crystal clear where we were standing. He still did not judge me. Did not judge us.
“Thank you” I whispered and tried to swallow past the lump in my throat.
“For what?” He winked at me but said nothing else. How can I ever repay for this?
- The jazz song is based on the lyrics ‘Where the devil don’t go’ by Elle King
- Source of cover image: unsplash.com (@dtopkin1)