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December 12th, 1941: Somewhere in Eastern Russia
The screams woke him up again to a room dimly lit by flasks full of glowing liquids. As usual, Declan had to backtrack to remember where he was. But the memories stopped abruptly before his arrival in Siberia.
He knew that he had done something to piss the Soviets off, otherwise he wouldn’t have been shipped into sub-zero temperatures in the back of a freight train cargo hold. Shortly after he and the other dozen exiles were emptied from the car, he had been drugged. He woke up strapped to the table he was on.
At first, Declan hadn’t panicked, figuring that it was some kind of physical. But then the needles came, and so did the psychosomatics. Whatever had been released into his body caused severe nausea, muscle seizure, and burning eyes. Declan always tried to scream, but he was always stifled by the “doctors” trying to keep him from drowning in his own vomit.
Declan lost count of the days somewhere around eleven, and after that, he noticed his eye sight beginning to fail. When he closed them to keep them from burning, he saw bright colors and flashes floating around behind his eyelids, his nerve cells over stimulated from the introduction of whatever substances he’d been subjected to. Finally, all Declan could see were the vague outlines of the fluorescents above him turned on while he was being experimented on.
Finally, and seemingly months later, Declan awoke and was not strapped to a table. He couldn’t see, but he could move around and soon learned that he was in a prison cell. He could hear other guards and prisoners speaking in some form of bad Russian, mostly talking about battlefronts and “bloody Americans”. At least he wasn’t belted to a cold steel plate.
After several unsuccessful inquiries, he finally found a sentry that could tell him his sentence and location.
Three years later, Declan walked into the freedom of Moscow, with nothing but the clothes he wore, a few rubles, and a pair of sunglasses.
June 9th, 1973-February 8th, 1974: A suburb of Phoenix Arizona
Maria watched yet again as the man from down the street walked down the sidewalk with his pole. She didn’t understand why a grown up would walk around hitting things with a stick; adults just didn’t do things like that. But this wasn’t why Maria watched each day as he walked past her window at dusk.
Just as they had for six weeks before, the street lights above the man went out as he passed them, flickering back to life a few seconds later. Maria was only six, but she understood that it wasn’t normal. In fact, it frightened her. But curiosity kept bringing her back to the window pane that summer.
Mentioning the man to her mother had turned out to be a waste of time for Maria. She worked two jobs to make ends meet for Maria and her twin brother, Israel, and dismissed Maria’s jabbering as a juvenile obsession with an imaginary friend. However, Israel listened with interest, and he began joining her each evening at the windowsill.
Israel was equally frightened by the man with sunglasses. But child curiosity again triumphed. Watching the man trudge down the sidewalk became a scheduled event, Maria and Israel peaking through the blinds every day at 5pm.
The summer passed, and the twins went back to school. They were never home in time from after-care to see the man, but they still watched him on weekends. Always at 5pm.
That February, Maria had come home early with Israel, who had been sent home sick. Israel had gone to lie in the hammock out front, moaning of a stomachache, while Maria drew with chalk on the sidewalk. Neither realized what time it was.
Israel had fallen asleep in the hammock, and Maria was down to her last piece of blue chalk. The street lights had just come on, and Maria was about to wake up her brother and go inside, but then she heard the footsteps. She immediately registered who it was, and dashed across the street to hide behind the nearest parked car. In her panic, she didn’t look both ways. The UPS truck driver never saw her.
Israel awoke suddenly to the sound of Maria’s scream. He watched as a big brown truck continued on, disregarding his sister as a speed bump, or maybe a random sink hole. Then he too heard the footsteps. Except this time it sounded like running.
As Israel hid behind the tree his hammock was tied to, he watched the man with sunglasses come jogging down the street, lights going out behind him. It would later occur to Israel (much later), that the man didn’t run as if he couldn’t see where he was going. Israel readjusted his angle as the man knelt beside Maria’s lifeless body, her legs half crushed by the weight of the truck. The man took off his sunglasses, dropping them on the pavement, and gently lifted Maria from the street.
All the lights on the street dimmed, and Israel started seeing spots. He closed his eyes to rub them away, but even the shelter of his eyelids couldn’t protect his eyes from the brilliant light. He opened his eyes again, and saw that all the spots were moving inward, seemingly gathering at the hands of the man in the street. Then, instantly, they were gone. Israel rubbed his eyes again, and then looked at the man. Maria was standing up in front of him, no worse for the wear. The lights had returned to normal.
Israel approached, and the man heard his feet on the cement behind him. He turned quickly, and walked back up the street, lights going out behind him. Israel raced over to his sister, and picked up the sunglasses. The twins never saw the man again.
Maria now lives in a small town in New Mexico with her husband and two daughters. She never has mentioned the man, and never plans to.
Israel lives in the same house, he and Maria’s mother having passed away in 1993. The sunglasses are wrapped in a cloth on the top shelf of his childhood closet, and they haven’t moved in 18 years. He talks to Maria once a week, who always asks if he’s seen the man. The answer is always no.