Black Tears and Falling Leaves

by Justin Hardwick

Black tears and falling leaves

James stared down from the heights on the second floor of his home as his son walked into the small stand of trees that blocked the houses from the street. His mind reviewed the boy's short life and with a murmur of disgust he turned from the bay window back into his office. The room held three walls of bookshelves filled to the breaking point and an old fashioned desk made of cherry wood. The oak flooring was covered with a rug woven in some country he had never bothered to learn the name of.

With a sigh he settled into his huge leather chair and laced his fingers before his face in his normal musing position. What am I going to do with him? Every time I try and push him into sports or well, any activity he shuts down. He's just like his mother. As the thought filled him his eyes flitted to the picture of three people playing in a park. A blonde boy swung happily from his parent's arms. Arion had been four in the picture and Cassie had been alive then. The old wound left when she died surged into life in his chest. It sent a chilling wave of nothingness up and into his heart.

Arion felt the eyes on him as usual, he turned into the safety of the trees behind the house. His dad was always willing to watch him but never willing to talk. Silence was the golden rule in the house. Since his mother had died. His heart ached with longing to see her face or smell her hair when he hugged her.

All through the day, silence. Deep into the night no sounds echo in the halls, not even five years ago the house had been filled with sound. Music and laughter, friends, fun, and even love, one and all they filled the big building to bursting. The hospital had been full of sounds too. Beeping and gasps, little squeaks from the nurses shoes and the soft sound of someone sobbing far in the distance. Arion shivered as he remembered that and nearly tripped on an exposed root that caught his toe.

With a sigh he turned back to the trail he'd made over years of walking to his bus stop. The wind through the trees sent a small shiver down his spine as he hugged the purple and black striped hoodie to tighter to his body. All his clothes were of the two same colors. Black pants that fit snuggly against his skin, his shirt was a darker purple under the hoodie and even his hair was dyed to match his colors as it shifted in the breeze. His brown almost black eyes peered from inside the darkness of the hood readily looking for more obstacles to avoid now.

The bus was filled to capacity, kids sat two to nearly each seat. Arion moved down the rows looking for a place he could slip into without making himself more noticeable. His body was tiny for his age so he could slide in anywhere as long as the occupant wasn't two seats wide. With a little sigh he moved down the row and sat with one of the only other people he could.

The flame red hair of the girl on the seat next to him made his eyes hurt a little. When he looked at her white skin and sky blue eyes he was unable to see anything but the flames that danced on her skull. He sighed again as the girl drew in a rather large breath.

"So how have you been Arion?!" She paused long enough for her words to penetrate then began the long bombardment on his sanity that would last until they pulled into the lot at school. "I looked up the story of Arion, he was a minstrel or something right? He's the one who jumped overboard and used his lute to charm dolphins into carrying him to shore, right? I love dolphins they are my favorite mammals, you know they are mammals right? They have babies vaginally and care for them. But they live in the sea, so they are sea mammals. Weird right?! You know I once saw the ocean, it was beautiful"

Arion nodded every so often to let the girl think he was listening and blocked her out. He slowly readied himself for another harrowing day in high school.

The bus pulled into the normal spot at the end of the other buses and the door flew open as the disgruntled looking driver leaned back in his seat to watch the kids get off. Arion flowed with the rest neither trying to be first no falling to the rear.

Mediocrity is safe. Don't stand out and you won't be noticed. Harsh lessons that high school teaches an unlucky majority.

Arion followed the masses inside, one of the herd just another head in a crowd of cattle. The entry hall was lined with lockers like every other hall throughout the building, all of them painted in the school colors of Blue for loyalty and Black for death. He humored himself with this as the mascot dressed in the guise of a fluffy Hyena gamboled past, an odd squeaking laugh left in his wake as well as the smell of someone sweating profusely.

A smothered smile flitted across his face as he turned a corner heading for his locker when an arm landed on his chest as a foot caught his ankle. Panic filled his mind as his hands grasped after empty air. With a thud his back hit the ground and for once he regretted not having his heavy backpack. The thought vanished as he realized the air had been forced from his lungs, an aching chill filled his chest.

The arm above him fell to the owner's side. The big wrestlers arm shivered as someone came to his defense. There was a flash of flame hair just before Arion felt a throbbing in his temples and his lungs started to shrivel with their need for air. Everything slowly darkened like black paint tossed over a T.V screen.

Arion's eyes slid open and he sighed as his eyes were filled with the ceiling of the nurse's office, again. He opened his mouth and let in a deep breath. The headache that had woken him lessened a little but he needed some kind of headache reliever to get rid of it all together.

"So you're awake now?" The voice was one he knew but he couldn't place it. Arion looked over at the flame haired girl who spoke in a way he had never heard before.

With an internal sigh the boy nodded and without meaning to one of his hands raised to his temple and began to stroke it. The girl rose and disappeared behind the curtain. A moment later she returned with the nurse who carried a small bottle of Advil. "Th-thanks" He looked from the girl to the nurse not really sure which he was addressing.

With a hurried motion he tossed the pills into his mouth and paused remembering how much he hated swallowing pills dry. The flame haired girl smiled and offered him a paper cup holding a small amount of water. "Thanks," His eyes shifted to the side a little uncomfortable at the girl's kindness.

"Derek is suspended for three days. And he may be prosecuted for physical abuse." The flame haired girl spoke evenly. Her normally high pitched and grating voice was smooth and gentle as she spoke softly to him. "I reported him to the principle when you passed out." She said this with a smile and Arion smiled back as evenly as he could manage. He knew now Derek would be after him even more, and now maybe even the rest of the wrestling team.

James turned back from the picture and realized his leg was fully asleep as well as his whole left ass cheek. With a rather dramatic sigh he rose and tried to make it around long enough for his leg and ass to return to normal. Spent the whole fucking morning daydreaming. I need to get this chapter done or my editor will fly in just to remove my skin, whole.

After walking around enough to return blood to his leg he sat at his desk and turned on his laptop. The lights danced on the tiny screen and soon he had to reach into his desk drawer, he took the glasses from the drawer. They made his eyes look enormous but they allowed him to see the tiny script on the screen.

Now fully ready to begin he cracked his knuckles and ran his finger down the cheek of his wife in the picture and spun in his chair once completing his ritual. He settled his mind to the task, and imagined his world in full.

In his mind the shape of his own personal universe coalesced. A reality much like ours trapped in the hell that was the dark age. People suffered under the rule of others and monsters preyed upon the innocents as well. There was no respite, no safe haven for the people of his world. Just as in the real world.

Just as his current work took shape in his mind he was shaken from his near trance by the ringing of his cell phone.

Arion sat up as his father stood over him. The man had a medium build and golden blonde hair. His had once been trim and muscular but now his belly had a layer of fat over his muscle. His clothes like everything on him was a little disheveled. From the top to bottom he was a wreck. His clothes looked slept in and his hair was sticking up in every direction.

"Come on Arion." Without further speech the young man was led from the school.

In the parking lot Arion's father climbed into his car and buckled up. Arion followed suit tossing his bag into the back seat. He climbed in and buckled himself to the seat trying to sink into it. This was the first time he had seen his father all week.

"So" James turned to look at his son for a moment then pulled his eyes away and back to the road. "You got beat up, again?" The slight twist of the last word made it an almost mocking question.

Arion felt tears beginning to build so instead of speaking and letting his father know just how much he was hurting he turned to the window and pulled the hood further over his face. The swirls of color that flew by his window made his head spin. Green and brown for the trees light grey for the cement and more color. James sighed heavily and turned on the radio.

The first song was an old love ballad. The heavy bass line and the guitar riffs added another level of pain to Arion's aching head. To lessen the noise he rolled down his window and let the cool air rush into his face. The rushing wind cut the music and brought him the smells of the trees. Earthy and clean, as well as the scent from the road.

Before Arion realized it they were home and James parked his car in the garage beside the old, custom silver Mustang Cassie had driven. Both Arion and his father avoided looking at the vehicle as they hurried into the house by the adjacent door. The house was quiet as usual the ticking of the wall clock seemed to fill the empty time between each of their breaths.

Arion dropped his bag beside the kitchen door and sat at the table after grabbing a carving knife from the wooden knife holder. The bowl of fruit on the table was close to going bad as it had been there for nearly four days without anyone bothering to take one of the Granny Smith's or the Golden Delicious apples. The knife sliced through the skin with ease and soon Arion had a single string of spiral skin the color of new leaves.

James stood near the center island and watched, thinking furiously of something to say. Over the past four years James and Arion had drifted from loving father and son to friends to distant acquaintances. Memory was a heavy burden, James saw his wife in his son, and Arion saw the lack of his mother in James.

The silence continued and grew from uncomfortable to unbearable, Arion stood and tossed his tortured apple uneaten into the trashcan next to the pantry. James opened his mouth as Arion headed for the door, but no sound left him. Expecting nothing else the teen headed for the stairs wondering if his mother would have hugged him. Cassie had been one for hugs. Her red hair and fiery eyes could easily have been fierce. But Arion could only remember kindness from her.

The dream spun quickly. Flashes of light fading into darkness and hands grasping from the mixture of opaque mist and solid looking darkness. Sensations mixed in a freaky dance of color and light.

Then through the mess and mad mixture of colors and textures she came. Her image was the only clear thing in the depths of his hauntingly insane dream. Step by step she drew near, her face visible as if her hair actually held the fire her color claimed. She smiled as she drew near, her arms spreading in invitation. Without the need of thought the barely human mass was there.

The embrace was warm and comforting the arms of his mother snaked round him in a way that said he was safe and would never hurt. Her sweet scent was as it always had been, her perfume subtle and not overpowering. Her skin was pale white with oddly few freckles and her short cut nails were each colored differently as was her style.

The dream boy closed his eyes and settled into the loving embrace. All the damage done by the shadow shapes and hands was melting away. Soon he was whole and reluctantly pulled back from the embrace.

He looked up at the one responsible for his comfort and a ragged moan was torn from his throat.

The image ripped him from sleep and into a bed with sheets covered with sweat. Tears fell silently down his cheeks. Flashes of the dream seared into his mind.

The image itself was nothing new to him. In fact, he had come up with it. After four years in the grave the skin would be nearly gone and almost all of the hair would have been gone too. But those eyes Green and sometimes blue they would be crossed and dried like grapes left too long in the sun. But even under the rotting dried disgusting decay that is death she had been there.

Arion saw a beautiful woman standing beside the small pond during one amazing summer in Massachusetts. Then over that image he saw what he imagined to be left of his mother. He rolled to the side of his bed and grabbed the trashcan he left there for this exact purpose and let loose.

He slowly removed his nightclothes before the mirror in the bathroom. His skin was pale and waxy, he looked so ephemeral even to himself that he feared a sudden wind. His fear and grief were slowly changing as the dream melted away as was normal. He dropped his underwear and turned to the marble walled shower. The glass door closed behind him with very little sound as usual and the cold of the floor made his skin prickle into goose bumps as he turned on the hot water.

The sweat that made him feel so very dirty was the first thing to be gone. Next Arion grabbed his body-wash, it smelled a little like leaves, and went about washing himself till his skin was red and raw, but somehow he still felt dirty. No matter how hard he scrubbed he felt the same and eventually when his arms got tired he lay in the shower and let the streams of water pelt him from above.

James rolled over in his bed and sighed as he heard the shower. He turned to the clock beside his bed and groaned. The blue display read 3:27am. The sounds from the bathroom down the hall changed after a while and when the clock read 4:07am James could hear the strangled sobs of his son.

Third time this month Sometimes I just wish he'd fucking grow up. Cassie was my wife I was the one who fell in love with her. She wanted to marry me! This is just pathetic. He realized how his thoughts sounded and with a shudder he pulled himself from the edge of anger. With some measure of guilt he climbed out of bed and headed for the kitchen.

James flipped on the lights and found the golden box of cocoa in one of the cabinets he didn't look into anymore. The directions on the back made it a simple process so he put the box back in the cabinet and headed to the second floor bathroom with the two mugs clasped in his hands. He knocked and didn't hear a response over the sounds of splashing water. With a little hesitation he turned the handle and pushed the door in.

Steam hit him in rolling waves. Moist air filled his lungs making him feel a little wet inside as well as out as the air so thick with moisture it clung to his skin. The sweet scent of shampoo and body wash filled the room. "A-Arion?" his voice came out haltingly as he tried to breathe in the hot moist air. "H-hey I brought you some cocoa. Just like mom's." He peered through the fog of hot air and saw a blurred shape behind the glass of the door. Arion lay on the floor of the shower the water falling on him in a spraying shower of heat.

James put the cups on the sink and grabbed a towel from the towel rack. He pulled the door open and turned a little so he'd not see what his son was doing. "Come on Ari, come have some cocoa with me. I made it just like your mom used to." When Arion made no sound or move James turned to him and realized his son was no longer conscious. He stuck his hand into the shower and pulled it back as he felt the hot water sear his skin red. A little scared now he turned on the cold water so he could reach the hot water knob. The cold water had been off all together.

"Shit. Shit, shit!" James ignored the water and tossed the towel over his son's naked body then picked him up and stumbled to his son's room. He had to be very careful not to bang Arion's head on the frame as he grasped for breath holding the prone and slippery wet body as best he could.

When he had his son on the bed he placed a hand on his son's face and felt his own whiten as it drained of blood. He turned to the door and hurried to the phone on his desk in the office. He punched in numbers he hoped were right and waited impatiently for the phone to be picked up.

When the phone eventually was answered a groggy voice on the other end demanded a reason, as James screamed into it with a high pitched voice trying to explain what was wrong. Doctor Matthew Borgesson got the gist and hung up. Within fifteen minutes the door was flung wide and the man dressed in nightclothes came into Arion's room.

The doctor turned around and smiled comfortingly to James. "He's fine. Just passed out, the heat from the shower, and you said he was crying?" James nodded once a little emotionally numb after the fear. "He just got overheated and... um fell asleep. He'll be fine James. Trust me." Matt rose and pulled his friend into a tight hug. "And don't worry about waking me. I'll add a few hundred to my bill to make up for the late night house call." He paused and frowned a little as his attempt at humor fell on deaf ears. "Listen James. He'll be fine, it was an accident, you said he has nightmares? Well he probably just wanted to feel warm and what better way to warm your bones than in a shower? Now you just go on to bed and I'll bring you something to drink." The doctor paused, his friend stared at his son, a mixture of emotions flashing across his face.

Defiantly gunna have to drug him. Otherwise he'll be in here all night and probably scare the boy when he wakes up. Matt grabbed his friend by the shoulders and steered him to the bed room. "I'll make sure Destiny knows everything is alright when I get home. So now, just rest." He smiled pushing James into the master bedroom and into the bed. He'll definitely benefit from some sleep. Probably still working through Cassie and now this.

"Don't worry, I'll stick around for a bit." He put on his best brotherly smile and left to find something to drug so James would sleep through the night.

Arion woke up all at once his body feeling oddly sore all over. Destiny sat beside him with a warm smile on her naturally pink lips. Her green eyes watched him with barely concealed worry and her brown-red hair hung down her skull slicked back in a way that made her seem more business-like than her sister had been.

"Morning, Matt told me what happened and made sure I didn't disturb your sleep. He is such a worrier. But I don't mind." Her smile warmed her normally brusque manner till she was nearly beautiful.

"S-" Arion paused to clear his throat then take a sip from the cup beside his bed. "So where's Uncle Matt anyway?" His eyes fell on her boobs and he thought idly of too large hills on the horizon.

"Oh he's at work." Her smile grew a little mocking. "But you mister, are to stay in bed for a while. Matt said you need some rest and maybe an energy drink to return some of the minerals you sweated out. I brought some over they're in the fridge down stairs." Destiny looked at his face intently and her smile became a little sad. "You look so much like your mom." Her hand brushed at his black and purple dyed hair.

Arion bore this and nodded trying to inspire confidence in his aunt, though inside he felt a little harried and desperate. "Umm, Aunt Destiny I need to put some clothes on" He looked down at his towel and sheet covered body and didn't need to pretend to blush.

With a moments apology Destiny rose and went to the door then paused to return to Arion's side and lean down to kiss him on the brow. "I love you so much," he responded with a fake smile and a loose embrace he dropped as soon as he thought he could.

As Destiny left his room Arion rose and dressed as quickly as he could. It was only eleven by his clock if he hurried he would make his favorite class at one. He walked as quietly as he could trying to hide his grunts and sighs as his clothes settled on his still tender skin. He remembered his bag was beside the garage door and nearly left it behind.

With a casual air he left his room carrying his shoes and socks. In the kitchen he stopped at the fridge and listened for anyone nearby. Destiny's voice drifted down the open stair that led to the second floor. With a slight nod for his luck he grabbed a sports drink from the fridge and took up his bag nearly running from the house. His heart was pounding as he took his first step.

The room was still a little mobile spinning a little with each movement. James watched Cassie move through the door and he smiled at her. Her normally long hair pulled into a bun.

Then his perceptions shifted and Destiny stood before him. "Hello Destiny, Matt at work?" The clock read 11:08am. James turned to check the clock again and felt his head roll more than his neck would physically allow.

"Yeah he mentioned something about a late night drink and I thought I should come make sure he didn't put you into a coma." Her voice was light and a little more loud than it should have been from the room but James ignored it as he stared a little too long at his sister-in-law.

"So that's why I feel made of fluff and head pain." He mimed a fainting damsel and Destiny laughed. "Tell him thanks when you see him will you? I was a little upset last night." He looked at the hands fiddling with the sheet on his lap. "Sorry Destiny, I still see her when I look at you W-would you mind?" James felt horrible asking it but Destiny seemed to understand his request.

"Sure James, I just wanted to make sure you were both alright. I'll leave now You know He's still going through it too maybe you should try and deal with it together?" Destiny turned to the door and paused lines creasing the corner of her eye. "He probably dreamt of her last night. And he'll never get past it alone" With that she left him alone to his semi intoxicated imaginings.

The door loomed for a moment but he took a breath and pulled it back giving him a clear way into the class. Each step was a major ordeal as he forced himself to continue into his dreaded and loved history class. The other students were mostly ready to start the class. Some eager to begin and some not caring enough to even look up as the teacher entered the room.

He was perfection. Mr. Tanner was thirty-five and not married. He wore clothes just barely what someone might call appropriate. No ties, or slacks if he could get away with it. He wore what any adult might if he had a very casual meeting. His dark brown hair was the exact shade of wet tree bark and he even used a woodsy scent as a body spray or cologne. His deep hazel eyes seemed to change form brown to green with every different angle of his head. He was well muscled, but not grossly so.

As the class ended Arion felt his heart nearly stop as Mr. tanner called his name. "Arion, would you mind staying after class for a moment?" His smile seemed so very genuine and inviting.

"Y-yes sir," Arion's voice was low and he felt a shiver running up his spine as he smiled shyly at his teacher. Though Mr. Tanner had already turned to erase some of the notes from the board.

When everyone else was gone Mr. Tanner closed the door and sighed quietly. "Right," Mr. Tanner turned and moved a little closer to Arion. "Uhm I had a question" He stroked a hand over his head and smiled at Arion.

Arion froze and noticed Mr. Tanner leaning in a little as if he had a secret to share. The boy could feel his blood pumping in an odd way. He felt as if a river ran in each vein, torrents of rushing liquid. He hoped no one could hear but the rush of blood should have been audible to anyone within a two block radius.

"So your parents are into English Literature? I always wished I had the guts to go into that instead of this. I mean the story of Arion was really funny. I always had a thing for that man and then you came to my class I have been wondering if you know what a great story it is."

Arion froze again this time in horror. His favorite teacher the man who he wanted to be around more than anyone else in the school had just broken some dream he'd had. "Yes, sure I know about it. Mom read it to me when I was a kid, but I have class I should go now, okay?" He tossed his bag onto his back and tripped a few times as he ran for the nearest exit. On the verge he turned and saw the puzzled face of his teacher.

Arion didn't pause in the hall. Instead of heading to the very real Algebra class he ran to the restroom and entered the last stall. The room stank of cleaner and urine and the once blue walls had been scrubbed so many times the paint needed a new coat in several places. But the stalls had locks and with a shaking hand he bolted the door and pulled his legs up to his chest.

Not like I should have expected him to feel anything, but all those stories about teachers. I just wish I had an escape. I'm so tired, my life is shit, and no one cares enough to see how much I need something, anything to help me change who I am. No one sees, my mom would have though. A fresh image of a rotting corpse entered his mind and slowly tears welled in his eyes. Why is it me who's so alone? Why me? What the hell did I do to deserve to be, his mind failed to mentally voice what he felt, to be me. He closed his eyes and let the sound of his own crying lull him to sleep.

The door slammed shut and Arion jerked awake letting one of his legs fall from the rim of the elongated oval toilet with a crack. He stood wiping dry tear tracks and the residue of sleep from his eyes. Arion left the stall and the bathroom at a run his bag barely swinging onto his back before he cleared the door. The boy who had entered stared at him as if he'd gone crazy.

Arion's shoes pounded into the tiled floor as he ran through the nearly empty halls. At each crossing the echoing sounds of his steps returned to him. Through the windows to his left he saw the buses pulling out of the school lot. Huge aluminum cans packed to bursting with dunces and dicks, he tore his eyes away from the buses and back into the hauntingly empty corridors.

The stairs to the first floor were just around the corner and at the foot of them would be the door to the outside. Just as he reached them a head appeared around the bend on the landing below connecting the first to the second set of stairs. Derek grinned at him and gave a slight wave.

"Hey there, fag boy!" Derek nearly flew up the remaining stairs. His strong legs hopped them two at a time. "I got expelled for you snitching on me. And you know, I was only playing then. Now that I have a few days off I might need some company. So you and me are going to go have a nice long chat." Derek tossed an empty sack he'd been carrying into a corner and pulled Arion into a half hug with Derek crushing the smaller boy to his side.

The trees of the small wood were more tightly packed than anywhere else in town. Arion often came to escape school when he could take no more of the disgusting atmosphere of desperation and sadness. The leaves blew gently in the wind while Arion was dragged under the sun filtering boughs. Spots of light danced on them both as the wind made the trees sway.

Arion was close to collapse now. His heart was pounding in his chest and for some reason he was a little aroused. A memory popped into his mind.

His mother sat on the bed wearing a pair of jeans and a loose fitting tee shirt. The room was Arion's from childhood still decorated in the bright painted sky scene with a few rain clouds still off in the distance.

She turned to him and smiled her white teeth seeming to glimmer next to the baby blue on the walls. "Ari, I love you so much. But, you need to promise me something okay? Don't be gay, okay? I want grandchildren, I want you to be happy." She let her smile relax. "I have seen how those gays are treated. I don't want that for you." With a warm smile she pulled her son into her lap and tossed the dress he'd been draped in onto the floor.

Derek didn't feel too pissed anymore. He had figured out a long time ago he picked on Arion because he wanted what the other boy had. Arion may have been hated but he was also known to be a fag

"I have been wanting to talk to you for a long time Arion. I mean talk to you alone." Derek tried to ignore the pleasure he got from hugging the smaller boy closer to him. "I've been wondering if you could see in me what everyone else sees in you?" He turned his head to the side and waited for a response. When none came he continued, "I mean I I like guys too." His voice trembled as he finally admitted aloud what he had hidden for years.

Arion seemed to have frozen against his side. The little guy was so stiff Derek had to poke him in the arm to get his attention back. "I'm not really too mad for being expelled. I mean it was the red head who told on me right? You wouldn't do it, right?" He looked hopefully at the boy beside him.

Arion had lowered his head and the hood hid his face in a shroud of shadow. "I-I'm not gay."

Derek stopped for a second. The rumors and stuff couldn't have all been wrong. His mind settled on that thought and decided to go with what he knew. "Well I know you have a major crush on the history teacher. Well, everyone but the teacher does." Derek paused to remember his too short time in that class. "Yeah he's something But anyway, I like you more." He pushed the smaller boy against a tree. "And I know how much you must want this." A muscled hand slid across Arion's stomach and pulled back the band of his jeans.

Arion could feel his mind starting to freeze. One side of him wished for what Derek offered and more, while the other side grew wild with the need to not be what he was. In most fights the wild usually wins.

A thrust knee left the big wrestler on his knees gasping and moaning in pain as Arion rushed ran away from the situation. Derek's hands were clasped to his crotch. Arion felt a lot of guilt for kneeing, him but not for the act; more for not having let Derek do what he, Arion, had wanted.

The leaves under his shoes crackled and added their music to his blind escape. By now tears were running down his face. This is wrong; this is not how things should be! I shouldn't like a guy and I shouldn't even think of letting no this is not right. Something about me is not right. The trees he couldn't see stayed in his path and he fell often. His clothes were ripped and stained with dirt and decomposing leaves. Blood ran from his nose and a large cut in his scalp made red drops fall into his eye.

James smiled softly as he wrote a sentence he found unbelievably witty. The current book he was working on was a simple one about a man alone in the wilderness of Canada. The anchor to the work was a relationship with what he called the spirit of life which in reality was little more than what the man perceived to be a god.

The icon blinked on and off as he read it again. "The maiden of life enclosed the man in leaves; the very forest crying colored tears as he lay beneath the branches." The image of a man resting on the cold earth breathing his last breath while the wind knocked the leaves from trees colored for fall made James laugh so hard he teared up.

If he were some dopy sci-fi writer he might add a little bit there to inspire belief in the afterlife. But as he didn't believe in that kind of thing his character died alone covered in dirt and leaves. James smiled one last time and highlighted the last fifteen pages of the story then hit delete. No publisher would allow such a depressing and real ending.

No one is interested in real. Insanity needs a reason in people's minds and living in a forest alone' would be a useless story without some kind of force for good. He sighed heavily and turned back to the story to finally introduce the living spirit of the forest if only in the subtle turnings of leaf and wind.

Derek stood when he could bare the pain of it and followed the smaller shorter legged boy. He dodged as well as he could around the many trunks of the trees working his way through the wood while trying to avoid the trees he would surely have tripped over. After some time he came to the edge of the wood and peered down into the drop off below. Trees had sprouted about teen feet from the base of the rocky wall and continued until all he could see was a hazy green line on the horizon.

On the ground below just at the edge of the trees something out of place caught his eye. The splotch of black on the grey-tan stone below made his knees give out below him. He moaned deep in his throat and stared at the mass of black and bright spreading red below him.

James sighed as the phone near his laptop rang for the twelfth time. His hand darted to the phone and he took a deep breath prepared to give a long and painful lecture to the person on the other end if it was not an important call. After the first few seconds he held his breath and then his body went limp. Sudden tears filled his eyes as the blood drained from his face.

Within minutes of the call he was speeding down the road toward the cliff face. When he arrived the army of rescue personnel mobbed his car and nearly carried him to the ladder that connected the base of the cliff with the top where everyone had gathered. There were a mass of men below too and with a sudden sinking feeling James found himself next to the broken and bleeding body of his son.

A voice spoke to him but he heard nothing. His eyes fell on the slowly dying boy before him and he went to him. The blood had spread a bit and he settled into it letting the liquid seep into the fibers of his jeans.

The I.V. in Arion's arm was dripping something clear into him as James leaned in to stroke his son's cheek. "I'm sorry," the weak voice was wavering and a red froth fell from the edge of his mouth as he moaned a bit to expel enough air to speak. His mouth opened again but nothing came out this time.

James sat in silence. His insides churned with fear and slowly it was building. With shaking fingers he tenderly wrapped his hand around his son's. "Don't leave me please." he stared down into his sons eyes ignoring the trail of dried blood that looked like nearly black tears running from his son's eye. "I can't do this alone!"

Arion smiled enough to be noticed and with a last rattling breath, was still.

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