Free Fall
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Free Fall

Undici: Vita

54
Free Fall
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It was a beautiful day that there was a particulfigure walking down a city sidewalk; sunglasses perched atop his nose, glinting in the bright sun. He walked at a brisk pace; he wished to get to his deployment train on time; he had recently enlisted and already was needed; he was not afraid for he was faster and stronger than others could even imagine. He arrived at the train station and climbed aboard. Immediately, another recruit walked up to him. "Hi-de-ho. What's buzzin', cousin?"

"Good. You?"

"Same. So what brings you here?"

"A strange feeling."

"Alright. Well, you know why I'm here? I had some stuff go down at home that made me have to take a powder."

"Oh, that's too bad."

"Maybe combat'll do me some good."

"Well, maybe there's something about getting out of this city and following strange feelings."

"Or we're both fat-heads...."

"Or that." The two started laughing. The train whistled and they were off.

***

Bullets streaked through the air; smoke coated each oxygen molecule; artillery fire accompanied every heart beat; blood spurted inside and out, hot and heavy and coating every surface it could find; barren land found its very first vegetation in the form of entrails; screams of agony were masked by more tortured shrieks were masked by that great executioner, the most fearsome of wardens, war. There was no respite to be had as wounded were carried back, barely healed rejoined the front line and more often than not, soldiers peeled back, falling to the ground never to rise again. Boys went to war, men fought, and then boys died. Back at base, things weren't much better; disease thrived, rations ran low and morale even lower. Every day new recruits arrived, every day bright eyes were replaced by dull, lifeless, hopeless orbs.

One day like all the others, two soldiers like all the others were at a part of the front line like all the others. One had fled from home and one had followed a strange feeling; both regretted their decision but were determined to at least make it worth something. They would help the effort if it killed them. "That chrome-drome fuddy-duddy sure gave a gobbledygook today. Think any of it means anything?" The fleer asked the man who had become his best friend.

"Above my pay grade." Despite their situation, the other man laughed.

"Fair enough." The two did not speak any longer as they were barraged with artillery fire. Ducking into the trench, the two joined their comrades in shooting at the enemy behind trench walls. At long last, they were relieved for the night. They nodded at their replacements and left the trench. Back at base, they got their rations and sat to eat. After a while, the man who had left vocalized his desire to return. "I think it's time I pass the buck of fighting to someone else."

"You want to go back?"

"Affirmative. Don't call me doll dizzy but I've got a sweet belle waiting for me back home. I left her when I left the city and I left the city because of drama she had nothing to do with. My sweet got the raw end of the deal and after being here, I think it's high time I fixed things."

"Did you ameche?" His friend asked after swallowing.

"Thinking maybe I should surprise her...."

"I'm all for you making things right as you say, but she may not be waiting for you. Letters go home every day; maybe she figured hers got lost in the mail-"

"Or maybe she hoped. I know what could be but I know it won't be. I know her. I know she's waiting. And I reckon she's done enough of that."

"Hey, you want to go back, go back- I'll vouch for it. But good luck getting Lt. Chrome-dome to validate it."

"I'll deal with him."

"Alright, good luck."

"What about you?"

"What about me?"

"Are you leaving or...?"
"I think I'm gonna stay. My feeling hasn't changed. It's strange but I feel like I should stay."

"If you're sure."

"I am."

A few moments passed. "I know you don't have a contact, someone they would send your letter to if..."

"If I die?" A smile quirked at the lips of the man staying.

"Yeah. And I wanted to let you know that even though it's only been a year, I think of you as a brother and would be honored to be your contact."

"Thanks man. I'll take you up on it. Though I wouldn't expect a letter- I'll be fine."

"I hope so."

The man who would leave rose and searched for the Lieutenant General so that he may get leave to go home to his sweetheart. His companion stayed and stared at the lamp they were sitting around, his blue eyes revealed something hidden in their depths; he upper lip quirked slightly at the corner and there was something haunting in his aspect as a whole.

Soon, camp began to grow darker still; the few lamps hidden under tents were extinguished and conversation dimmed until it blended with the other noises of the night; were battle plans being decided or were the crickets singing their eternal song? In the silence and stickiness of a summer's night, one lone figure crept out; he could faintly make out the battle at the front lines but that wasn't where he was headed. Sustaining himself and maintaining a shred of decency wasn't easy here, but he had to do it. He moved quickly, far quicker than any vehicle back to the nearest town where he found a group of young men pilfering as he always found them- well either pilfering or harassing. He justified his deeds in that he never killed them, just took enough to keep himself alive and it spared the townspeople from having to endure them even if only minimally. Stepping into the shadows behind one particularly adept burglar, he drew his victim-for though he victimized, he was a victim- towards himself and silenced him. He then sang his fangs into his neck and drank, feeling that nourishing liquid wash over him, purify him. He then repeated this process with the rest of the gang; if he wanted to avoid killing anyone, he had to drink from everyone. His task done, he crept back to camp, moving so fast that none saw him. One child thought she noticed a dark silhouette but when she blinked he was gone. Fearful of missing out on pleasant dreams, she closed her eyes and fell onto her bed hoping the Sandman would not skip her head as a result of her spying him. Her sister also saw the same silhouette and stayed awake all night, fearing the nightmares the monster would bring if he knew she had seen him.

***

The war ended; the man went back, feeling changed. Perhaps, that was the reason for the strange feeling; he had been unchanged too long. The first visit he paid was to a grand manor by the bayou belonging to the man who had wanted to learn of his death. He did not write ahead, though he knew that was largely against the standard of this time- for one thing, it was not against the standard of his time and for another it was not against his friend's standard either. Born wealthy, he had lived his life rebelling against the social class that claimed him. On this particular night, he was seated with his sweetheart- and even after years of being one she remained his sweetheart- in the drawing room of their abode. She was dressed in a cream- colored dress, undoubtedly part of the New Look with its narrow shoulders, cinched waist, full length and hem... whereas he was dressed in a khaki Continental suit evidently imported from Italy with its sharp shoulders, narrow lapels and short, fitted jacket. He glanced down at his own dress uniform; he had worn it on the ship for the docking and had come straight from the harbor to his friend's house, as they had agreed upon. He reached up and pulled the knocker back, then he gently let it fall back and strike the door. He heard someone inside the house hasten to answer the door, but it wasn't his friend or his sweetheart; he wondered what they were to each other now.

"Hello, how may I help you?" A graceful woman seeming to be in her sixties answered the door. She had looks that stated she must have been beautiful in her youth. Her face wa beginning to show the lines of old age and her grey hair was tucked into a neat bun.

"Hi. I'm a friend of James Jordeaux."

"I'll summon him right away. Who should I say is calling for him?"

"A friend from the war."

"I assume he'll know who I'm referring to."

"Yes."

"Just a moment. In the meanwhile, please come in."

"Thank you." The figure from the night removed his 'cover' as he stepped inside and tucked it in the crook of his arm. He was shown to a tastefully decorated waiting area. The lady from earlier disappeared and reappeared with his friend in less than a minute.

"You survived after all!"

"Yeah, man, yeah I did."

The two embraced in a brotherly fashion.

"Is this the man who you say kept you fighting?'

"Yeah, love, it is."

"Honored to meet you. I'm Florence."

The man and his friend's wife exchanged introductions.

"Now that everyone's acquainted, how about we show you some southern hospitality?"

"I'd be much obliged."

"C'mon then. Now, be aware that here we don't bother with no delicacy about eatin'- not in the Jordeaux residence."

"Wouldn't expect you to."

"I expect you're longing for some real food after eating mess food for a long while- I know Jay got tired of it in the time he was there."

"Jamie did hate war food. Said it was worse than battle."

"I said it made battle worse not that it was worse than battle."

The small party entered the dining room where they were served 'real' food. Once dessert was finished and they had retreated to a lounge for coffee, the man just home proclaimed, "I had almost forgotten what food tasted like! In fact, I still think I didn't know what it tasted like until tonight."

"Well, Bertha, our cook, is an internationally recognized chef. Remarkably though, her cooking still tastes like home. Speaking of which, where are you from?"

"I live nearby."

"But where are you from? You never said, even when I regaled you with all sorts of tales."

"Well, I hail from a land not too far from here; then again, nothing is far in this modern world."

"Indeed."

"You're not getting out of it that easy, man."

"Alright. Alright. It feels like I haven't been there in a long time but I was there a few years before the war- it had changed a lot from when I was a kid; then again, I'd changed too."

"What was the land of your childhood like?"

"It was beautiful; it had clear skies, crystalline waters, emerald hills... I could go on forever. It was serene and beautiful; everyone minded their own business and took care of their own affairs. It was a place where you never really had to worry; you had to earn every penny you had, mind you, but you never had to worry about not getting what you had earned."

"It sounds amazing. Almost too good to be true."

"It seems so now. But I love here too; it will never be the home I hail form, but it has become a second home; a place that took me in and let me grow. I smile when I wake up here and feel so lucky to breathe this air and learn what I could be. I've learned so much here and I've met so many people I never would otherwise have met."

"Sounds like you wouldn't go back."

"I can never go back to my childhood, can I? I can only enjoy my present and chase my future."

"That's certainly a way of looking at it."

"What are you going to do now?"

"Not sure at the moment. Might go back to school or somethin'."

"Well, good luck doing that. I'm just gonna manage my estate with my beautiful wife at my side."

"You married. Congratulations. To you both."

"Thank you. It wasn't a big affair. We united shortly after he got back."

"A fact our families and friends never fail to despair."

"Which is why we have decided to host a party to commemorate it. We would be honored if you would stay until then."

"I would be honored."

"You must stand by me as my best man."

"It would be an honor."

"Thank you, brother. Now, don't worry about accommodation; you will stay here as long as you wish."

"Thank you...for everything."

"I shall retire...please continue to catch up."

"Thank you, but I think I shall retire as well...if you do not mind.'

"Of course not....the journey must have been long."

"No shorter than yours was."

"I am sure. Come, I will show you where you can stay."

"Thank you."

The two men exited and after a moment, the lady of the house did too. She headed towards her own chambers with aa soft smile on her face; her husband was noticeably happier now that his best friend was back; she understood that war changed people and those who were with you during those horrific moments were people you bonded with irreversibly. She smiled as she readied for bed; they were one and if he was at ease, it helped her be so as well. He had been understanding of her decisions when she was in a tough position. She recalled those dark days when she had to turn her back on her family for everything she held dear when she discovered some of the less than savory tasks her loved ones were undertaking. Deciding to leave them and denounce the family name had been tough- not because she didn't know it was the right thing to do but because she had to muster up a lot of willpower to do it; it wasn't a time she liked think back on, but it defined her and she accepted that. Her family had not gone quietly though; they had taken everything pure, innocent about her and dragged it down. She knew now that they were not truly family; they never loved her the way James did; she was grateful though; she had grown in ways she never thought she would; she knew that if they had not been so vile, she would have become senseless and vapid; she would never be the woman she was now- and so she smiled as her husband entered their room.

***

The ceremony was beautiful; the 'best man' looked dashing, but the happiness evident in the married couple made them shine like no other. The weather was fine so the party was outdoors in the grounds of the estate; decorations were hung from trees and around bushes; chairs and tables were set up, but the majority of guests convened in the center, standing to best showcase their gowns and suits, their pearls and gold, their . In wishing to evoke wedding vibes, it was decided that speeches would be given.

"When I first heard of Florence, I had no idea that I would be able to stand her, much less fall in love with her; the Glost's were known to be exceedingly lavish and I have never been shy about my disapproval of certain things. I knew that they had a young daughter, rumored to be lovely and that made me ill. I was sure she would be just like her older siblings and parents. I was so sure of this that I did not bother to change out of my riding gear when they arrived, but one look at her, and I saw the truth; it was written in her eyes- she sensed something wrong with her family and she acted it too; she was gentle, calm; she saw beauty in nature, thought of the sky as the world's finest cloak, the stream as the supplier of the finest drink.... She smiled at the bird's song and the frog's call. When she had proof of her families extracurricular activities, she made the right decision; I was with her; I know how much it cost her, but she did it. I learned of how wise she was, and how smart; she built another empire in the Glost name, one built on foundations of honesty and decency. When it came time for me to face the world's harshness, I ran. Running off to war was easy; fighting war was not and I soon returned. Upon my return, I found that Florence had made my hard decision easy. I cannot say how much she means to me; it lies not solely in what I have described; she is my everything in the small moments as well as the big ones; you would have to live my entire life in my shoes to glimpse what she means to me; you would have to be me to truly know. Florence, you're everything to me; you're all that is good about this world condensed into a single person. I love you. Never forget that."

The lady in question had tears in her eyes.

"I won't. As long as you don't. James Jordeaux, a man who is unlike any other; a man who, from the beginning, denounced overly lavish living; a man who had no reason to take a stand; he could have lived quite comfortably if he hadn't. I know it seems as though he now lives that lavish lifestyle, but he does not. He earns everything he has; he works day and night; he treats himself, but doesn't everyone to what they can with what means they have? And yes, this estate has been in his family for generations, but his obtaining it was a tough decision to make, the nature of which is very personal. Know though, that he did not inherit all that he has. I have always admired his philosophy; before we met, I desired to fall in love with him and have him fall in love with me. And when I did meet him, my wish was bolstered; he was always so brave, courageous; for it takes immeasurable amounts of courage to rage against a system that serves you well- in fact, I would call it honor, altruism, all that is good. There come times when the mantle becomes hard to bear, heavy. And that time came for James, but he came back. And that makes all the difference. He is a hero; he fought the war valiantly and he fought at home honorably. My wish came true and I could not be more content. You, my husband, are such stuff as dreams are made of."

The couple embraced.

"When I met Florence, she was a lady who had denounced everything she had; she walked into the store I worked at, vulnerable and in need of work. I spoke with my manager and soon, Florence Glost, was working with me. I was a little star-struck, but that faded as I got to know her; she was everything a person should be- and more. She became my best friend, and I learned she was working multiple jobs and in talks t develop another Glost empire which she eventually did. She also fell in love along the way. But, I'm not here to talk about either her success as a Glost or her becoming a Jordeaux; I want to talk about Florence, my best friend. She's the kind of person who makes you want to be working with her at three in the morning, she lights up every conversation; she offers insight and wit, but there's also someone who really likes to laugh in her. She's wise and fun-loving, passionate and easy-going, determined and open-minded. She isn't afraid to be feminine; she wins over people by being herself; she's built an empire from rock bottom, but that hasn't hardened her. She's kind and gracious and fun-loving. She never abandons people for others; she has so many pursuits- professional and personal- and yet she has never made me feel like she does not have time for me. She can balance countless things at one time and never have anyone else be any the wiser. She takes on more than one would think she can handle but one never knows it unless they know all that she is doing. Even then, it is the sheer volume that shocks one, not how she does it. She moves through life with grace; she has not let her past define her negatively. She's a model person, a class act."

The friends exchanged smiles and hugs.

"I met James on a train going to fight a war. He was jocular despite the circumstances and while we were fighting, he never failed to boost morale; everyone in our unit respected his positivity and drive; there was something about the man who was cracking jokes before the rest of us could crack our eyes open that was extremely endearing. Even after he left many of us remembered him. Personally, he was the bet friend I've had in a long time; he's my best friend, the man I grew with on that battle field, the first person I visited when I got back, the only man I would stand next to on his wedding day. He's the one who taught me that you can always be happy, can always lighten the mood; he taught me not to take life too seriously and even if we grow apart- which I don't plan on letting happen0 - the impact he has made on my life will never change. I also got to know his wife; she's every bit as lovely as he described, and I could not imagine two people more suited for one another. I wish you both every happiness. They both exude happiness and I've heard many things about her imparting it in others and I've observed some of that. As for James, I know exactly how he works regarding that subject; I've stood next to him on the front lines and had him joke. Bullets flying at us, comrades dying, and he kept me fighting; it was never in bad taste; it was always elegant and classy; he kept us going without offending or disgracing those that had made the ultimate sacrifice. He's a one of a kind person, a belief only solidified by what I have learnt about his deeds at home. All I can say is go ahead and live the life you want; you''ve more than earned it."

The two gentlemen exchanged nods and a handshake.

***

Time passed; the man with the blue eyes haunted by the war enrolled in college again; his friend with the curly hair and brown eyes lived on and managed an estate with his wife with blonde hair and green eyes; she also worked on her maiden empire. Eventually though, they realized that at least for the estate, they needed a co-manager; this was not because they had aged considerably for not four years had passed, but because their assets had grown considerably- since they did not live as lavishly as their predecessors and counterparts, they had managed more effectively. The owner of the estate knew his friend was soon to finish an education that would leave him particularly well-suited to the occupation of co-manager. Upon discussion with his partner, he decided to offer him the job at graduation.

"So what do you think?"

"I'm - wow- that's an amazing offer."

"That's not all of it; part of the package are the perks which include housing on the estate and companionship of your best friend, moi."

"I have to say that's a very tempting offer."

"I know. I mean, you would basically be equal to the owner- except you don't own the estate."

"And that's not an issue for me."

"Yeah. It's pretty much custom made for you- I would know I made it. So, what do you say?"

"I'll think on it and let you know by the end of the week." The man had also received job oofers from companies around the country- and world. He knew he could always explore later and that his friend was here now and would not always be. However, he also had to consider that he would not age and while there would not be concern soon, there would be much concern later- and suspicion. He could find a way around that, but he had to carefully evaluate his priorities.

"Sounds good man. Congratulations!"

"Thanks."

***

Eventually, the man decided to take the job at the estate. He wanted to enjoy a life with his best friend; he wanted to see what that meant- and he would figure out the details as he had to over the course of a lifetime. He worked hard and saw real results; the estate grew bigger still. He saw his friend's children grow into replicas of their father- all variable though; they were nothing like the one they were replicas of; he found it quite interesting. When asked about his own progeny- or lack thereof- he cited heartbreak and misfortune earlier in life; claimed he had reasons for not wishing to continue his line; his friends were understanding; on more than one occasion, he thought about how he had lucked out in that department. Over the years, his friend's skin grew lined, his hair grayed; for many years, the blue-eyed man remained unchanged; he explained it as luck in genetics, mentioning his family had a history of slow-ageing. Eventually though, he knew he had to show signs of the natural process all life undertakes; he began to buy bleach for his hair and lined his face with instruments his kind often used in these situations. he also began to take potions that would create the effects of ageing. He knew however, that death would be something he would not simulate; that was something potions were useless for, something he had to do on his own, but he could not do that to his friend. he had watched him collapse with sorrow at another's passing, one much younger than him much less ready to die; he had helped his friend through that and knew that his loss would not be nearly so devastating- it would not fall on the same spectrum really- that it would hurt his friend. And he did not want to hurt his friend; he was tired of hurting others because he had to leave. He knew that what he was doing now was not something that he would want to often do, or something he should often do; it took a lot of strength- physical and mental, as well as a great connection to work- and the laws were tricky on what the connection could be; true love was something that would only work if the other person knew of his nature; friendship was easier; the other did not have to know; they just had to want him to be in their lives; he was humbled by this- it was the way the materials were made. he was determined to not waste this chance and let his friends e; he would leave the estate soon after; he would stay for some time, help his heirs get everything in order, then say he was an old man and it was time for him to retire.

When the time came to say goodbye to his fried, he was overcome with emotion; he had not let himself feel for a long time, but this man had become his brother; he had bent to his ear and said three words, "What's buzzin cousin?" before he had left the room so husband and wife could say goodbye. Not long after, the wife had passed; it was said mourning had played a part in her demise. The children were almost inconsolable so he held the wheel of the ship; he gave them time, but then he passed the baton.

"Your father once said to me that it was time for him to pass the buck of fighting to someone

else; today,, I pass the buck of his legacy to the ones it belongs to- you all. Do him proud. Do your mother proud; you were already given that responsibility. Do them proud. Do yourselves proud. you come form great people and I've seen you become great people. Stay true. Good Luck."

his departure was met with tears and emotion; he had truly become a part of the family, but he was allowed to leave.

That night, he reversed the effects of the potion and left the estate, identical to when he had first set foot on it.

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