Pulling the woman slowly but effortlessly from the pile that weighed upon her, he revealed to any onlooker his true strength. But it didn’t matter. Elpis cradled her limp body to his chest and forced himself to jog at human speed to the nearest paramedic. Sure that she was in good hands, he turned back to his original purpose.
He called after her, an escalation in his voice that felt foreign even as it exited his lips. With speed he rarely utilized, he forced his position beside her, overtly aware of the heat from her wrist pulsing with the knowledge of his presence. Gently but firmly wrapping his fingers around hers, Elpis forced a calming breath. It took all his focus to evoke the sensation of flesh to flesh; he hadn’t done this in some time. He was torn between the elation at the reality that he actually stood beside her, his Eleanora, and horror at the fact that she could have stopped this carnage and chose not to.
She turned. Her precise and painful movement was like peeling the bandages from an injury he believed to be healed. Not hesitant in any way, but with a fierce edge of defiance that caused a shock of pain in him.
After two thousand years, her presence struck him with the ferocity of their history.
Her golden hair cascaded around her, the wind lightly lifting it in a dance around her frame. The soft arch of her skin was a perfection that was just as he remembered. It was a beauty that remained subtle and untried. But her expression had changed. The remnants of dimples were a memory, the softness of her mouth pulled tight, unwavering.
“Elpis…” she spoke his name simply; a pupil on her roster. But the weight behind the name poured out of her. The wind blew around them, sidestepping emotions that pulsed between them. Elpis chose anger. “How could you?” “How could I what?” she spoke with irritation.
He let her go, although he could have held on. “How could you be a part of this? It was you who let this happen.” He spoke as much to himself as to the woman before him.
“Why do you defend them? Aren’t you weary of all the missions?” Her questions bit at him. “Over one hundred casualties so far,” he said softly. “I’m aware,” she replied coldly. A smile spread across her lips. It didn’t reach her eyes, but it unhinged Elpis, nonetheless. “At least six hundred have been injured! They never saw it coming. Eleanora, there was a daycare in that building. Were those children the evil humanity you were intending to target?” She took a small step backwards. “Elpis, you know there are casualties of war. You know that better than most. You yourself have turned your back on many.” Her words buried nails in his heart, and her shark eyes refused to release him from their prison. “You know how this works. Don’t pretend this can’t happen. It will happen. It does happen. It must happen.” Her final words were said in a whisper. “Why here?” Elpis couldn’t help but demand answers he knew he would not get. Not from her. He continued, “Nerve gas in a Tokyo subway…the Israeli Prime Minister… Were you there when he was assassinated? Rawanda…” His voice faded as he saw her weak smile return. Her eyes drew ice to his veins. “The Poneros have been involved in all of that just this year.” She met his gaze, lifting her eyebrows and releasing a breath. “Yes, of course; it was all too easy for us.” Her words were simply checks in boxes. The wind shifted at that moment, blowing her memories toward Elpis.
He took the moment to inhale her, but smelled only the blood and smoke that she had caused. He closed his eyes, almost in defeat. But before he could let her go, he spoke: “You’ve tipped the scales, Eleanora.”
“If you think so,” she retorted. As she turned, he pulled her chin toward him, and she felt his aged fingers rub the soft skin beneath her mouth. He spoke before she could pull away: “And we will tip them back.”
“I have learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ―Maya Angelou
As if looking through cloudy glass, Clara attempted to focus on something familiar, but nothing was recognizable. In fact, her memory was as blank as her vision. Where her identity belonged, there was nothing. And yet she felt no panic; only an odd sense of acceptance. Something had brought her here, and it was here that she belonged.
Startled by the sudden presence of another person in such a private moment, she silently accepted that the speaker was addressing her―she must be ‘Clara’. The man standing before her was speaking Greek, a language she was sure she did not understand. Or did she? A familiarity in the man’s eyes reminded her of home, but she had no recognition of where that home might exist. She waited with detached conviction, not knowing how to answer his question about her well-being.
“Protos,” the ‘P’ and the ‘R’ rolled eloquently in the Greek elocution of the word ‘first.’ “The English use the Greek root in their word ‘prototype.’ And you, Clara, are extremely unique―a prototype in your own way.” His fingers softly ran across his thick black mustache, almost in a movement of discovery rather than thought. His matching dark curls matted the top of his head in thick ringlets around his crown, mimicking the swirl of his speech. As his fingers moved, the image of his face fragmented for a moment and then it was gone.
Clara wasn’t giving his etymology lesson much thought. She was still rolling her name around in her mouth like melting ice cubes.
“Clara, do I look familiar to you?”
He knew that he was presenting himself, for the moment, in the image of her father, an image that would no doubt illicit feelings of safety and comfort. He also knew she wouldn’t quite recognize him. For her, it would seem like waking from a dream she knew to be fantastic, an image remained heartlessly just out of her grasp.
She was now taking notice of her form, as if for the first time. She held her hands before her, letting the light filter between her fingers. It was all so perplexing, but she admired her own curious existence. She turned her hands from side to side noting the olive undertone running from the skin that expanded and disappeared under her soft, white sleeves. He nails were blunt and smooth, small crevices winked and disappeared as she flexed and stretched her fingers. The lines on the insides of her palms extended in meaningless patterns.
“Let me start at your beginning...”
Clara tried desperately to narrow her sights on something real, yet her very existence seemed unfathomable.
“Today, we begin your preparation.” His voice was smooth, his speech delivered with a slight Greek accent. Despite Clara’s confusion, his confident manner elicited safety.
“Preparation for what?” Her first words in this new, but not novel, voice came out crisp and clear.
“There’s so much… Where do I begin?”
“I don’t understand…anything,” she said. She felt helpless.
“We are at war,” he said.
“You and I?” Clara spit out. Her right eyebrow arched in a way that suggested both amusement and irritation.
He laughed; he couldn’t help himself. Laughing did not come easily to him. In fact, these days, laughing was something almost entirely foreign to him. He had forgotten how freeing it felt. He had forgotten. “No, not you and I.”
Clara struggled for understanding, bouncing thoughts against him as quickly as he made statements. She needed to understand. Understand something, anything.
“For now, let’s just say there is a right and there is a wrong. And the two forces are at odds.” His face remained stoic, emotionless. His fingers were gently clasped in front of his gray coat. He seemed to know what she would ask before she asked it.
“Does a person ever really know that they are on the wrong side?”
“Let me explain what is happening to you.” With the tilt of an eyebrow, he acknowledged the gravity of this moment. “What you are experiencing might be considered a kind of birth―or perhaps rebirth might be a better term. For now, you are in a period of gestation, for lack of a better metaphor, and once you are prepared for the battle ahead, you will be wholly reborn with the knowledge you have gained. Your body, your life, your very existence on the other side has been compromised for purposes that have been out of your control…until this moment. And for that, I am truly sorry. The only way to enhance the effectiveness of the brain is to tear it down; rewire it for more complex principles. It’s an arduous process, and I am never quite sure how to explain this. You are the first.
“On the other side, you lived your life. A full and giving life, but the last years have shown a steep decline in your mental capacity. Physically, your brain has been shrinking, dramatically. Nerve cell death and tissue loss started years ago. However, the cataloguing of what I tell you now will be stored amongst the now empty shelves of your mind. Here you stand, an almost empty vessel, prepared for recalibration of the mind.”
He waited, feeling a little smug about the concise nature of his explanation. His eyes still watched her closely. So swiftly, it may not have happened, he thought he saw her strain. And then it was gone. Was that pain? He cringed at the thought, but felt his heart flutter unusually fast as the weight of this moment pressed upon him.
“I don’t know what you are you talking about…”
His pursed lips dropped at the corners, again creating incongruity in the image of his face. Had they failed…again?
“Are you trying to tell me that there are two planes of existence?” Clara’s hip turned outward in a stance of opposition. Her head dipped lower, eyes turned up, awaiting a counter- argument. “Who am I? Do I have a family? And what is all this”?
He exhaled sharply, turned away and looked off into the distance, then faced her again. “I’m sorry. Let me start over.”
Her expression was that of a lost child.
“I know that you can’t remember where you came from, but you know that you have a past. This aspect of your existence makes it not only difficult for you, but nearly impossible for me. As disconcerting as that is, you feel oddly comfortable, and you know that what I say is the truth. We are at war.”
She nodded slowly, accepting what he said, though not knowing why she should. Her hand moved to her temple in an attempt to reconnect.
“You taught Sunday school in your other life, and although the specific memories of the classroom are no longer reachable, the lessons remain.” With a nod, he continued: “What do you recall of Genesis?” He was taking a chance, discussing the other life, but he knew no other way.
“Which part? Adam and Eve?” She looked to him for confirmation but still had no understanding. It was as if her mind was simply a search engine, recalling information as it was summoned.
“Yes, yes,” he answered. He had found a starting point. “From the beginning, there was always good and evil. The Jewish and Christian faiths share the tale of which you are speaking. Islam teaches that doing good and staying away from evil brings us closer to God. The Buddhist concept of the ‘oneness of good and evil’ expresses that good and evil are inseparable aspects of life. All religions teach us to triumph over evil. Evil is tangible, and it has many faces. And those faces look no different than yours or mine.”
“But what does this have to do with me?”
“It’s difficult to explain that part.” He gestured with his hands to all that surrounded them, but Clara saw only a kaleidoscope of colors. “For a time, you will waver between your world and mine. We will talk, and meet with others who are reborn for the same purpose. You will gradually forget the details of your other life, and you will come to embrace the lessons that have brought you here. You will be ready.”
Clara tilted her head to the side to catch his gaze once more. “I will die.”
“It’s the only way.”
“Who are you?”
“You can call me Elpis.