Two hours and twenty-nine minutes of freedom and counting. That’s how long it had been since Reznik’s release. The world had changed in the intervening years and any life he’d meagerly scrapped together of his few remaining memories was fragmented. He could shape nothing of substance from these disquieting glimpses but he recognized the danger of inquisition.
He had neither home nor the means necessary to acquire one. Faceless shadows were both friends and victims. As for the town, it was familiar but it was not his place of origin. The world around him seemed false though he could not name the aberration that rendered it so. By all appearances the people were content. At some point he’d known a secret so shocking it would’ve thrown their little white picket fence worlds into chaos. Now that he couldn’t remember the secret he was happier for it. He would’ve been happier still if he hadn’t known of its existence at all, for now it was like a forgotten trauma needling away at the back of his brain. Perhaps it was just insanity he’d been locked up in the madhouse for a long time after all.
He’d been given a bottle of pills. The pills were meant to assuage his paranoia. He’d already thrown them away, after having taken a half-a-dozen, so he could sleep without the tragedy of dreams. Sleep he did on the park bench for about an hour. Scraggly beginnings of a beard, unwashed hair, tattered clothes, he would’ve looked like a bum if his body hadn’t been so solidly built.
He hadn’t been much more than a boy when he’d been locked up at twenty-two. Now at thirty-two the years had been kind to him, kind enough to make his actual age difficult to discern. His smile was just the same roguish lopsided grin it had been all those years ago when he’d become a soldier of good intent.
He had no money and his ID card no longer bore the name he was born with, he could no longer be his given name Reeve Kushnir (not that he’d went by Reeve since childhood) instead it bore a more innocuous name, one that would allow him to live as a stranger. This name had nothing attached to it, nothing or no one belonged to it, he did not know who “Gabriel Raisian” was nor who this man would become but it didn’t matter because Gabriel was free, Gabriel was an innocent man that bore no memories that might distort or corrupt him. Gabriel may not have borne the weight of his former name “Reznik” but he still bore the instincts and appetites of his former self even if his former self was just as elusive and untouchable as “Gabriel”.
In any case Gabriel or Reznik had wanted for the touch of another human being for ten years. Had he lived an ordinary life he probably would’ve been married by now with a few brats, maybe a dog and some sort of job, probably manual labor because his body was made for manual labor. Fate was a cruel mistress, she’d woven a harrowing tale for him, an interesting but virtually unlivable life. He’d survived somehow but without accomplishing even the prerequisites for living in society, a diploma, a job, a spouse, offspring. Without these prerequisites he was not only alone but alienated and suspect.
Reznik knew that there were adults that couldn’t be trusted, knew what horrors they were capable of, felt it in his bones, in the back of his skull, but children were different. Children he’d never had a reason to suspect of underlying malice. He was just naive enough to believe that the world hadn’t yet run its dirty fingers all over their souls. So when the youth bounded up to him he regarded the child with only a smile and a raised brow. The boy was young, only five or so, cute with an agreeable face. Trailing behind the child was a young woman in a wheel chair. Sister or mother he wasn’t sure until she’d caught up and he saw the subtle lines around her eyes. When he stood to greet the woman, the boy gripped his wrist pointing at the colored balloons a several feet away.
“Do you mind taking him up? I’ll pay your fare…” The woman offered, no more cautious than the boy but such was the nature of small town people. “Why not…he seems like a good kid…” Reznik answered, Gabriel he imagined was a respectable man who helped other people, atonement for “Reznik” perhaps. No sooner did the words leave his mouth did the boy start to tug on his arm impatiently.
“Come on Mister…hurry…” The child said unable to budge the man with the force of his feeble arms. Smiling apologetically at the woman he took the offered money but only because he had none of his own. Being rather old-fashioned he imagined himself working around the woman’s house doing odd jobs as compensation. He wasn’t sure if he was the handy sort, he just assumed his big hands must’ve held some more noble purpose than murder. He didn’t remember the blood but he could still feel it on his hands, those memories could never be washed away completely.
Once inside the wicker basket, several feet above the ground the fearlessness in his companion dissolved and the boy buried his face into his clothing. The exhilaration had become fear and he thought any moment the boy might cry, which he couldn’t bare.
“Come on kid…your safe…you think I’m gonna let you fall?” He asked placing a hand on top of the boy’s dropped head in what he surmised was a gesture of reassurance.
“I-I’m scared…” The boy said voice small, stuttered, fingers curling into the rough material of his green jacket.
“There’s a cloud that looks like a mouse and that one it kind of looks like an elephant with giant ears and a stubby trunk…” Gabriel started nonplussed describing each cloud in turn one after another. After a few minutes the boy looked up.
“What about that one…its looks like a dog with a hat…” The boy said pointing up at the sky. This boy could’ve been his son, this could’ve been his life, his lovely wife down on the ground straining up to see them shrinking into the atmosphere. Not Reznik’s life but Gabriels’. The exhilaration of the precariously swaying basket was lost on him. Nightmares had subjugated much of his life, there was not much left that he feared, that he could fear but what wasn’t lost on him was his newly acquired freedom (even if it felt leashed). Now he could live, innocuously, like these simple town’s people, amongst them, one of them in time. So long as he did not remember or succumb to delusion, whichever was the true state of things. Up here awash in blue sky and disheveled breezes he really did think he could forget, lose himself entirely and like the ever shifting clouds form a new identity.