Heroes And Martyrs


s_joseph_icon.gif nightmare_icon.gif

Scene Title Heroes and Martyrs
Synopsis Joseph is forced to relive past and present trauma at the whim of the Nightmare Man. Once more, all Teodoro Laudani's fault.
Date September 24, 2009

Oh, my baby, when you're older…

The soft twang of a guitar plays over the radio, accompanied by the warm southern-tinged sound of a woman with an angel's voice. The small radio rests in a sunny spot near the window, antenna covered with tinfoil, sun playing a yellow-gold on the windiw panes, reflected in the stained glass sun-catcher hanging in the middle, casting hues of blue, green and yellow on the kitchen walls. "What did you think was going to happen? How did you think I was going to feel! Did you even think about that for a minute!?"

Maybe then you'll understand.

Her voice cuts through the soft music like a knife, her voice also like that of an angels, also tinged with that southern comfort. But like an angel, she knows wrath and judgment. She crash of her coffee cup hitting the linoleum floor comes with a slosh of dark liquid and a chip of the corner. "This is because of you, because a'what you did to me! This ain't what God intended!" She's got her back to the living room, shouting angrily into the kitchen with her face red and hands on her hips. The way her shirt stretches over the gentle curve of her swolen stomach indicates that some of her child's first subconscious memories will be of her anger.

You have angels to dance around your shoulders

"Can't you take some responsibility once in your life for somethin' you done wrong?" A hand goes up into the air, flailing as she steps into the kitchen where the focus of her anger resides, back to her, shoulders slouched and hands palm-flat on the counter. His head is hung, swimming, in the sensation of dizziness that comes from nearly blacking out for a moment. That was, perhaps, the first and only time he's ever had a vision of the future involving himself. A concrete cell, the bald, cadaverous-faced man, the bars and threats of violence. Somehow this is a welcome respite for Joseph Sumter.

'Cause at times in life you need a helping hand

"Joseph!" The shrill voice of the woman behind him comes louder, the stomp of her feet, the lay of a hand on his shoulder wheeling him around from his stupor, followed by a slap across his cheek. "This is your child! You did this to me! You an' that— that thing inside of you!" Her eyes are reddened around the edges, bloodshot, but still such a soft shade of blue. The way her hair hangs, honeyed tresses of blonde spilling down over a goldenrod colored shirt, the stain of tears on her cheeks. This was the lowest of the lows, five and a half months after finding out she was pregnant.

Oh, my baby, when you're prayin'

In a way, this was their darkest time together, and yet somehow the stain of coffee on the kitchen floor, the redness of her face, even the daggers of her voice slicing through the soft fabric of that song rolling out of the radio seems to be a warm welcome back to simpler times. Knowing then what he does now, there's a way that perhaps Joseph could've lived a different life, could've done something more, changed something, become a different man. Maybe what he saw— the prison and the deep sockets of that horrible man's eyes— maybe that wasn't a vision, and wasn't real. Maybe that was Hell, and this— maybe this here is something else.

Leave your burden by my door

Maybe the golden rays of sunlight beyond their kitchen window doesn't go as far as the horizon, maybe it just reaches the edge of how far he can see. But maybe this is what heaven is, a second chance, a better chance at a life lost to the passage of time.

You have Jesus standing at your bedside

"Joseph!" Her neck tenses, lips pressed firmly together to snap off the ends fo her words, shoulders rising and falling sharply in the heaving and emotional breaths she takes as one hand slowly moves to rest on her stomach. Maybe this isn't Heaven, maybe this is still some level of his own personal Hell, but in some bitter irony…

To keep you calm, keep you safe,

…it doesn't really matter. He's here, and Claira's here. Heaven or Hell, it feels like real.

Away from harm.

To say this is the lowest of lows— it's been a while downhill, and it's dark down here. It feels real, and his cheek still smarts from the slap, and his heart still aches from everything else. The words spill scripted from his mouth, and to his ears, they sound useless - like yelling at a tidal wave. "I ain't gonna apologise," he says, his own voice rising - not because he's inclined to yell, but because he has to keep up. "There's nothin' to apologise for."

It's always been the kitchen. When marriages go wrong, battle lines are drawn. The bedroom becomes his, the living room becomes hers. Out of necessity, the bathroom is theirs, a neutral territory they don't have to share. But the kitchen, where they mingle, where they clash.

"What do you want me to do, Claira? I can't cut this thing outta me anymore than you could cut your child out of you."

He always regrets what he says, here, and he's not sure she does. Where had he been, with his head bowed low and the sunlight hitting grey concrete instead of bright tile? The scratch of handcuffs and the scrape of chair legs. Who'd been the man with the colourless eyes? Claira's eyes aren't colourless. They're bright with fury.

The hurt from his words stings her enough that new tears are shed. There's times when regret feels something like physical pain, and that look in Claira's eyes always inspires both. She's silent only as long as it takes for her throat to loosen from the choked back sob that threatened to make her show a sign of weakness.

Claira's mouth goes dry with heat, her brows lower and furrow together; hell hath no furty indeed. "You're a bastard, Joseph." The tears finally dribble out past her lashes, rolling down her cheeks in heavy procession to drip off the edge of her chin. He hurts her with his words, she hurts him with her body language and her reactions. It's not to say they're choreographed, but she knows where to twist the knife.

She doesn't offer a barb back, maybe that's why it hurts more. Claira just turns her shoulder, wrap sher arms around herself and starts to head for the doorway into the living room. One of her shoes treads in the dark stain of coffee still wet on the floor, leaving tracks that blurrily mirror her sneakers treads. Somewhere in the murky reflection, something is watching. But like a shadow in peripheral vision, one moment it's there and one moment it's not.

Just like Claira from Joseph's life.

This is where she leaves, and just like then, just like now, Joseph isn't sure what to say. "Claira…" His voice is gentle and follows her out, but it's not enough to stop her. I'm sorry would ring hollow, and needs to be saved. For now, he only turns back towards the kitchen counter, resting his hands against the edge, and sharply driving his palm into the edge in both anger and some roundabout version of punishment that is sharp against his palm and drives soreness up his wrist.

Not that Joseph needs to punish himself; Claira has that covered. So does karma, if that vision of the future has anything to do with it. Rings of bruises about his wrists. Head bowed, he darts a glance back to the spilled coffee, gaze lingering there before he snags a cloth off the sink.

In a way, those echoes of the future disturb the past, like ripples cast in a too still pond. Claira's footsteps haven't even crossed beyond the living room before the sound of shattered glass elicits a sharp scream from her. It's not a scream of frustration, not a scream of anger, and the punctuation of gunshots and thundering boots ona hardwood floor mark that it's a scream of fear.

Black dressed figures in through the windows, the clatter of plaster falling from warning shots fired into the ceiling. Black ski masks conceal ambiguous identities, and Claira's backpedaling squeak of wet sneakers on polished wood comes right before she slips and lands on her hip with a crash. It all happens so fast, the three men who come in through the window, come storming into Joseph's memory like unwanted invaders. But the voices, the voices are echoes of that future. "Get 'er 'round the back! Grab 'er! I'll get th' Pastor!"

Blurry, foggy, indistinct shapes of memories come drifting back. The scent of greasy food, the soreness in the side of his head, he knows that voice. But it's Claira's panicked screaming that seems louder here, that seems more terrified as she's grabbed by the hair by one of the men, hauled up to her feet and forced to endure the still warm muzzle of a gun pressed under her jaw. This isn't how it was supposed to happen.

"Claira!" In sharp contrast to the way he'd gently sent her name like a plea across the room a moment ago, Joseph's voice goes raw. Out the corner of his eye, there's the fly-screen window that leads out into the modest backyard of their home, and it would be easy— in theory, who knows how surrounded they got their home— to power his way through it, to get away. Instead, Joseph's feet carry him across the tile, slipping in coffee as if this memory— reality— thing had truly gone this way. Had gotten every detail right, from the way his foot slips from under him, falters his run.

But not much more than that. He knows this, some kernel of inexplicably known knowledge. They're after him. They'll be after her. Because of what he did to her. "Get off her, you son of a— "

Said the same thing not so long ago, and the world had tilted crazy upon the cracking blow to his head. Spilled food litters the ground from this angle, and his arm hurts sharply from the impact downwards. There's no time for that now. No time to think. They have his wife. The familiarity of the voice isn't focused on, even if Joseph knows that someone is after him too.


"Well you know… if we line up enough martyrs there ain't much'a them left now is there?"

For just a moment that voice echoes wrong in the back of Joseph's mind. There's a tremor of something weak in the way it reverberates thorugh his echoing skull. But the boots that clomp in Joseph's direction are too close to his head where he lay on the hardwood floor— hardwood, not concrete— sometimes it's hard to tell one from the other when one side of reality is just as dirty and blurry as the next. Claira's screaming comes muffled as a hand wraps around her mouth, one of the men with masks leaning in to whisper a soft shhh into her ear. She struggles, and he enjoys it, slinging her around before slamming her shoulder-first into the wall by the stairs. His gun goes down, no longer pressed to her jaw but her stomach. Joseph's mind is ill-prepared to pull together the litany of unflattering whispers he offers her.

"Pastor Sumter." The approaching boot winds up to stomp down on his shoulder and force him from his side onto his back, a heel ground between pectoral and deltoid— right where it hurts. "You know, we ain't been spendin' much time lookin' for you. But I gotta' say, when you told me about your pretty little thing that left you… I never imagined she was such a sweet thing." Blue eyes stare from beyond the black of the mask, that bitter pill of a voice dripping venomous down onto the prone pastor's form.

Nearby, the third of the masked men racks a round into his rifle, aiming the shotgun down at Joseph as the other finally lifts his boot off of his shoulder. Dropping to one knee now that Joseph has the business end of a Mossberg leveled at him, that familiar voice oozes back to clarity. "What was it you said t'me back in that cell…" Back in that cell. The words ring bitter and confusing in the back of Joseph's mind, dissonant to the narrative logic in a dizzying way. "No one marries w'out expecting it'll work out?" Blue eyes narrow coldly, "How's it workin' out for ya, Joseph?"

Joseph flinches, as if that boot had returned and bounced its toe off his ribs, but here, while he lies sprawled on the hardwood floor, that doesn't occur. Just a leveled gun, and the man crouching beside him. Joseph's hands are up, spread. There's a bright smear of blood drying on his palm. "It ain't how it was meant to go," he says, a plea, though he isn't sure as to what he's pleading, exactly. "Not like we could see it comin'. It don't work that way. Oh, god, please don't hurt her."

He shoots a glance towards where struggle, like maybe he could tell her it's all going to be okay. His words are angry, again, directed back up at the man crouching over him. "This ain't how it's meant to go."

Unless it is, unless his vision is coming true.

"Hurt her?" There's a quirk of the masked man's head and what Joseph can only imagine is a smile behind it. He knows the mannerisms, knows the voice, the tone, the scent of confidence rolling off of him. "I dunno, Douglas' is a pretty chipper fella'. I don't think he'd hurt her— not first at any rate…." Reaching out to grab Josepg by the collar of his shirt, the masked member of Humanis First yanks him to his feet, all while Claira lets out these simpering, muffled sobs of fear as her assailant slips in close, breathing in the scent of her hair through the black fabric of his ski mask.

"No…" The round-bellied man standing tall over Joseph as he's hauled to his feet echoes, "no I think Douglas 'as other ideas in mind for that little one." His head cocks towards Claira, but blue eyes are leveled towards Joseph, fingers curled at his collar, pulled in close enough to feel damp breath filtering out through the front of the black mask, "she is awful pretty, ain't she? Well— " his laugh is dry, bitter, "not for much longer a'least."

His hands cage around his assailant's beefy arm. Joseph isn't a weak man, but he feels he is, quite suddenly - slack and helpless in his own home, face flushed from the fight just previous and the impossible words being spoken right now. The lack of ability to protect her, protect her child, is painful, selfishly emasculating, his jaw shut like a steel trap as those pig-blue eyes stare out at him from the woolen black mask.

All at once, Joseph's hand moves. It's a motion braver than anything he feels, but there's a logic in it. His fingers curl, and in a movement he hasn't done in something like a decade, he swings a fist around to clip and bruise past the man's cheek, the rough feeling of fabric doing little to buffer the clash of knuckles and flesh.

There's no room for dignified fisticuffs. It's his wife over there, and as soon as the blow lands, Joseph has both hands out towards the man's face, clawing, wrenching. If he's gunned down, then, well—

It's either dying a hero or dying a martyr. The two are distinctly different.

The sound of a racking shotgun isn't in reality, nor is the thunderous explosion of it firing. It's in the haul of a more bitter memory, one tinged with smoke, and fire. A memory painted with blood and broken glass in a courtyard where a single tree goes up from the ground. Where gunfire comes under an afternoon sun much like today. In that memory, the shotgun is in Joseph's hand, and he uses it to protect lives. In a way, it's both so far and so close to where he is now.

Except the shotgun is not in his hands.

As the masked man stagger back, head jerking to one side and his fingers unwind from Joseph's collar, it's the pastor's hand that finds purchase around the cloth mask. It pulls forward, slides away from eyes, nose and mouth and detatches like some black parasite from the unruly tufts of blonde hair and reddened face. As the scowling countenance of Bill Dean is revealed to Joseph in some startly contrasting nightmare of past and future, the resounding explosion of a shotgun going off at near point-blank range shakes the house. Somehow, right after his ears start ringing, Joseph can hear that radio's song still playing in the background.

Worry not my daughters,

Everything moves slower now, even tinged with white the way it is. Droplets of blood hang dark and motionless in the air, slowly undulating on their path away from his body, even as the world seems to spin of its own accord. The panicked, terrified cry of Claira's voice rings hollow like some wail from beyond the grave as Joseph lurches back and away. His fingers slack, the black fabric of the mask falling away from his grip as he tracks away from the flash of smoke at the barrel of the shotgun.

Worry not my sons

By the time Joseph hits the floor, the droplets of blood fall like tiny droplets of rain, pattering down on his forehead in soft blotches of crimson and across the floor in irregular blotches. Claira struggles with her captor, fingers clawing at the air, watching Joseph's head tilt to the side and towards her, his hand slowly falling down to meet the floor after his body has bounced once.

Child, when life don't seem worth livin'…

They say when you die in your dreams, that you die in the real world. Perhaps it would be easier that way, to feel no more that mortal sting. But when hardwood floors turn seamlessly to concrete, when the scream of Claira's voice in the air turns to the distant groan of rusted metal doors creaking and slamming, perhaps it would be better for that old adage to be true. Somewhere in the back of Joseph's groggily waking mind, the vision of Bill Dean's face still lingers, with something far darker clawing at it hungrily.

Come to Jesus…

Dying a hero or dying a martyr. The two are distinctly different. Neither of which, Joseph finds solace in the finality of tonight. Only the cold, unrelenting sting of reality, and knowing she's even further away than before.

…and let Him hold you in His arms.

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