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faces of david
There's a protective nature that mother's have for their children. David had seen it clearly in his own mother when things first changed for him. She was scared at first, hesitant to even go near him, but then his father started saying things about him. Sure, his father would still pay for the specialists who would try over and over to solve whatever was wrong with David, but the rest of the time, he was one of those that treated him like he was, in fact, something so drastically different that if he'd just bothered to act a little scarier, he would have been a monster, without a doubt. That was when David's mother would step in. She always knew it was her son in that boy who would show up home from school some days looking nothing like he had when he'd left in the morning. She always knew his voice even when he didn't himself. She could see her son in him, no matter how much his looks changed. David loved her for that, and he always would. Often, as he traveled from place to place, he'd think of his mother, and he'd miss her, and he'd want nothing else but to head back home to see her again, damn the people who were afraid of him, damn the people who wanted to make a news story of him, damn the people who wanted to make a science project of him. He just wanted a normal life, like he figured he must have had in the early years, long before his first change, long before puberty when his changes became more severe. But, he knew how hard it had been for his mother. Sure, she loved him. Sure, she defended him. But, in those moments when she didn't think he was looking, she'd have her guard down, and he could see just how much it was taking from her to keep up with it all. The stress of knowing her son was thought by so many to be nothing but a monster tore at her, piece by piece. Protective or not, his mother, with a natural instinct to look after her offspring, or not, there were always those times that the cost was so high that it verged on devastating her. Leaving home, he always hoped, had made her life easier, taken away all that stress he's caused her for so many years. He didn't like seeing her hurting over him.
And, he didn't like it when he saw Lyla Sutton backing down from her husband, letting him get his hands on their little girl, letting him hit her. David hadn't known Kayla long, but seeing how her mother let her get hurt like that, over nothing more than a dog, David wondered how he could be more protective than Kayla's own mother. That he'd been the one to bring the dog around certainly made him feel a little guilty, but even apart from that, he just didn't want to see that little girl hurt, by her father, by anyone at all.
David had had his share of pain growing up. There was the pain of the changes. Those didn't always hurt too much, but sometimes they did. Sometimes, when his face would change, he'd wish for nothing but death, an escape from the agony of it. There was the pain of the kids that would beat him up for being a freak. He'd often end up hiding out in his room at home, or in the local church, but they'd still find him eventually, and they'd beat him up again. And, of course, there was the pain of people's stares, the pain of people laughing and pointing, the pain of kids getting scared and running away from him when he'd fall over at recess and they'd see the bones of his face moving, they'd hear him screaming. He was a monster to them. And, to those to whom he wasn't a monster, he was something like a sideshow freak, inviting ridicule and awe. He couldn't remember ever being able to live like just any other kid.
He was inside the Sutton's house almost before Kayla cried out in pain from the first slap from her father. Such a giant of a man compared to her, that slap sent her to the floor and left a physical mark that would stay with her for at least a few days and a mental one that would last her whole life.
Joe Sutton wasn't one to put up with any intrusion, especially by someone who might try to tell him how to be a husband or a father. When this stranger he'd never seen came into his house and grabbed at his arm to pull him away from his daughter, he wasn't about to put up with it. He pushed David away first, but David came right back, saying something about him not letting him hurt his little girl. Joe had to laugh at the phrasing of it, like this stranger had to let or not let him do anything, like this stranger had any say in how he ran his family at all. That's when Joe punched him the first time. He hit him hard. David lost his balance and fell to the floor.
Kayla was crying, her hand at the side of her face where her Daddy had struck her, but she turned and looked at David and tried to smile, tried to speak, tried to something. David couldn't quite tell what she was trying to do, exactly, but he got the impression she was glad he was there, glad he was keeping her father from touching her again.
As if the fight with David was already won, Joe moved to pick Kayla up from the floor. Her mother stood back, out of his way, too scared to do anything else.
"Don't you touch her," David said. "Don't you dare touch her."
Joe turned on him and hit him again even as he was getting to his feet. David fell back down then rolled over, without even thinking about it, scrambling for the door. But, he stopped himself, kept himself from abandoning Kayla to this man. He looked around for something he might be able to use. His eyes landed on a can by the door with umbrellas in it. For a second, he wondered why they had that there by the door when it was summer and probably hadn't rained in a while and most likely wouldn't for a while longer, but he shook away that thought and made a move towards the can.
Joe kicked him in the ribs then, and David dropped flat on the floor then rolled over, holding his side. Even as his ribs put themselves back into place, not lessening the pain but only the physical damage that caused it, Joe kicked him again. "Nobody tells me how to discipline my child," Joe was saying, but David didn't care to hear it. He just wanted to find some way to stop this.
He got to his hands and knees again and moved for the can of umbrellas. Joe kicked him in the ribs again, harder this time. Hard enough that David was lifted from the ground and rolled over onto his back. He made the mistake of sitting up, and Joe kicked him in the face. David's jaw was broken by it, it hurt like hell, but David had taken a lot of abuse in the past and his face had had more pain than pretty much anyone's. He sat right back up, rather defiantly, his jawbone knitting itself back into place, and he made another move for the umbrellas.
Joe hesitated for a moment, staring at David's jaw, the way the bone moved back into place, the way David's cheek seemed almost to be made of liquid though Joe knew he hadn't damaged it so badly that the bone was shattered that much. That moment was all David needed.
David got to the umbrellas, pulled one from the can and swung it at Joe, striking him in the head. It didn't hurt him much, but it surprised him, and it gave David time for another swing, and that in turn bought him time for a third, and that got him time for a fourth, and a fifth and a sixth and . . .
"Stop," Kayla said through her tears. "Please stop."
David looked at her, confused only for a moment. Then he realized, however bad this man was, he was this girl's Daddy. He was all she knew. It was unfortunate, but that didn't make it untrue.
David dropped the umbrella, which now had blood on it, stepped back toward the door, took another look at Kayla and her mother and Joe Sutton lying on the ground, his face a bloody mess, then opened the door and left.
He hid a short distance off, watching, waiting. After some time had passed and the police still hadn't come, David got up from his hiding place, and headed toward the center of town, knowing it was time to move on. He hadn't had one of his usual changes. He'd had something far worse. What was that his jaw had done, knitting itself back into shape? Had his ribs joined in on the fun? What was going on with him?
He sat down on a bench near what would, in any other small town, be the town square but here was nothing more than a too-small park used by hardly anyone and barely kept up. He wanted to go back and get Kayla out of that house. He wanted to make sure her father couldn't hurt her ever again. Hell, he sorta hoped Joe Sutton was dead, that that umbrella had killed him. It wasn't like David was new at this. He'd killed before. Never anything planned out, just heat of the moment defense stuff. When you're on the run, he knew, sometimes disputes can get ugly, you can do something rash, people can die because of it. Jeremy Fellowes knew this. David had taught him this one harsh lesson in life--sometimes it really is kill or be killed.
Jeremy had been living in Crook'd Arrow, California. His father was the local minister. There wasn't much of a church, just a nondenominational congregation of about half a dozen or so. Of course, that amounted to about a third of the whole town. There was no infrastructure in place, just a few households that hadn't bothered to relocate to larger towns and a councilman who put a lot of effort into keeping the place on the map. It had once been a gold mining town. Most of it had long since died, many buildings torn down, some left deserted. David had liked the look of the place right away. It seemed like such a great place to hide.
But, as with so many other towns he'd passed through, there was trouble brewing under the surface, threatening to destroy everything there. It was nothing big. Just a father and son who didn't get along too well. And an outsider who took to discussing philosophy and religion with the father immediately. It wasn't the first time anyone would be jealous or scared of David, and it wouldn't be the last by any means.
David had talked to ministers back home in Carlton Falls. He'd tried to understand why God would allow his life to be as it was, why he had to suffer the taunts and insults of all the other kids, why he had to be the freak, the outsider. Without even knowing the details of what was wrong with David, why he was on the run, Abraham Fellowes made more sense than those ministers back then. Or, maybe David had just grown up enough to listen. Abraham talked of strengthening of character, the testing of faith, and perseverance in the face of hardship. "You've made it this far, David," he'd said one night, "if the suffering was too much, if God had given you too heavy a burden, how might you have come to now?"
David had put a lot of thought into things, into why he had run away from home in the first place, why the poking and prodding, either from doctors who genuinely wanted to help or from those who just wanted to dissect him, had gotten to be too much but life itself hadn't. There had to be some purpose to it. God or someone or something had to have wanted him to keep going or wouldn't he have lost the will to do so? So many changes, so much pain, so many people that hated and feared him, and he still kept going. He didn't like to say he was searching for anything specific. He didn't like to say he was on the run not just to get away from something but also to find answers, but Abraham Fellowes made it clear. Somewhere out there, he'd find what he was looking for. He'd find something that would make it all worthwhile. He would find his purpose. And, David had to believe that was true. Otherwise, what was the point in all the effort, why keep running at all?
"You ok, son?"
David looked up. A man was standing by him, a man ragged and worn, with the skin of someone who spent too much time in the sun, and the long greying hair and beard of a man who didn't spend too much time around people.
"I'll be ok," David said, though he wasn't sure how true that was. After fleeing Pauper without his things and now what had happened at the Suttons', he wasn't sure if he would be ok, if he could go on. But, Abraham Fellowes words echoed in his mind: "If God had given you too heavy a burden, how might you have come to now?" "I'll be ok," he repeated. And he was more sure of his response this second time.
"You know where a guy can find a bite to eat at this hour," the man asked. David looked at him, noticing his outfit, leather chaps over faded blue jeans, a long duster over a tight t-shirt. If this man didn't look so old, David would guess him to be some sort of biker, one of the Hell's Angels even.
"What do you mean, at this hour, it's only..." What time was it? David realized he didn't know. He didn't know how long he'd been sitting on that bench. Tears, as usual, had blurred the passage of time.
"It's nearly eleven," the man said. "Any of these places still open, or should I take the darkness to mean this town has already closed up shop for the night?"
David looked around. All the shops and restaurants were dark. There weren't any people in sight, except for a couple walking about a block away. The only movement at all closer was a black cat walking along the wall at the south end of the steps leading up into city hall. It reminded him of Crook'd Arrow, silent, dead, but not completely dead.
He hadn't noticed at all that Jeremy Fellowes didn't like him, at least not so much that it would matter. Clearly, Jeremy gave him some dirty looks from time to time. And, hadn't Abraham said something about his son being jealous of their talks? Or was he just imagining that, putting his own interpretations onto the looks Jeremy gave him?
David knew Jeremy had his guns, that he liked his guns. A small group, about four or five in number, went hunting a couple times while David was in town. Jeremy was one of them, and when they were all boasting about their kills, Jeremy was certainly the loudest.
He wanted his father to be proud of him. David realized that even before he realized he might be getting in the way of it. Jeremy wanted his father to be proud of him, of his prowess as a hunter, of his ability in sports--he played varsity football where he went to school over in Baker--of anything about him. But, as Jeremy saw it, his father would rather talk religion with the secretive outsider than bother with his own son.
And, that's where the guns came into play. One night, Jeremy was cleaning a rifle. David was at the Fellowes' house for dinner and he happened to pass by Jeremy's room. "You can't take him away from me, you know," Jeremy said. "I won't let you." As he said this, he ran a rag up and down the barrel of his rifle, the end of it pointed in David's direction. Before Jeremy could make any more explicit a threat, David had gone ahead on his way.
The man frowned. "Are you sure you're ok, son?"
"I'm not your son," David told him. He didn't mean it as harshly as it came out.
"Would you have a name?"
"David, my name's David."
The man put out his hand. "Nice to meet you David. They call me Mad Dog."
David looked at the man. "Really?"
"Well, no." The man grinned. "It'd be nice though, better than what they do call me."
David smiled at the man. "What do they call you?"
"Well, my wife calls me something like 'that irresponsible jerk,' although with much more colorful language. My friends tend to call me 'that greasy pig.'"
"Nice friends you've got."
"You can call me Benson."
"Is that your name?"
"Kyle Benson, but no one calls me Kyle."
Now David noticed the motorcycle parked nearby. He looked at it, then at the man, Benson, then back at the bike. "That yours?"
Benson looked back at the bike, then turned back, smiling like a proud poppa. "Yep, that beauty's mine. I've been meaning to get that sidecar off her since my wife left me, but haven't gotten around to it."
An idea occurred to David. "You aren't staying in town long are you?"
"Just passing through. I'm headed west."
"Could you handle a passenger?"
"You needin' a ride, son?"
David let that "son" slip by. He nodded. "It's time I left this town. I've outstayed my welcome."
"I know how that can be, believe me. You're free to ride with me. Just get your things and hop in. You can point me to some town that's got places open this time of night."
"I don't really have any things," David told him. "Nothing worth going back for anyway. Nothing...wait, there is something."
A few nights after he'd seen Jeremy cleaning that rifle, that barely implicit threat of pointing it toward him, David saw Jeremy with that very gun again. He wasn't readying to go out hunting. He wasn't cleaning it. He was just standing outside the church with it, waiting.
"He's not your father," Jeremy said.
"I never said he was. He's a minister. It's part of his job to council people."
"His job is to be my father." Jeremy raised the rifle a little, holding it with both arms. "You can't take him from me."
"I'm not trying to take him from you, Jeremy. He's your father. I know that. I've got my own father."
Jeremy didn't even seem to hear him. He just raised the rifle higher, pointed it at David. "He's my father, not yours," he said.
David didn't wait for the boy to pull the trigger. He turned and ran. The first shot just barely missed him. He ducked around the corner of the church and ran alongside it to a small cemetery in the back, hid behind a tombstone. He could hear Jeremy approaching. "You can't have him," Jeremy was saying repeatedly. "He's my father."
David looked around for some escape, for something he could use to get that gun away from Jeremy. Surrounding the cemetery was a white picket fence. One board looked loose. David peeked over the tombstone, saw Jeremy looking the wrong way, and crawled over to the fence, pulled on the board. It wasn't loose, it turned out, but it also wasn't particularly hard to detach with just a little bit of effort. With makeshift club in hand, David ducked behind another stone.
Jeremy heard him and turned toward him. "I know you're here, David," he said. "There's no point in hiding." He took cautious steps toward the sound he'd heard, his rifle raised.
David glanced at the board in his hands and noticed there were nails sticking out of it. He didn't want to hurt the boy, only to knock the gun from his hands, buy himself the time to run. He pulled one nail out easily. The second wasn't so easy. And, as he pried at it with his fingernails, he heard Jeremy's footsteps get closer and closer still. And, rather suddenly, he was aware that Jeremy was right behind him, peering over the stone at the top of his head, maybe even aiming the rifle at that point blank range. And, nail or not, he had no choice. He stood, spinning around, swinging the board.
But, he swung too high, missed the gun completely. The board hit Jeremy in the chest, the nail piercing the skin, most likely hitting his heart directly. Whatever damage it did, something about it killed the boy quickly. He barely had time to drop the gun and realize what had happened. And as he fell to the ground and stared up at David, David fully expected him to say again how Abraham was his father and he couldn't have him, but Jeremy didn't say a thing. He just stared incredulously up at David, his right arm twitched a couple times for some unknown reason, his chin quivered, and he looked like he was about to cry. Then, he just stopped breathing, stopped moving altogether.
David stood there looking down at the boy for a long time. When he finally got it in him to run, he got to the abandoned house he'd been using as fast as he could, shoved his things into his bags, and headed for the highway.
Now, there was one thing he had to get before he was out on the highway again, this time in this Benson guy's sidecar.
He'd told Kayla he wouldn't steal Puppy, that he'd just show up claiming the dog was his and they'd let him have him. And, had he the time to wait until the place was open the next day, he was sure that would have worked just fine. But, he didn't have that luxury of time. He knew he needed to be going.
At the local pound, nothing more than a fenced area attached to the police department of all things, David didn't have to do anything more than unlatch one gate and Puppy came running. There was only one other animal there, a larger dog, very old from the look of it. It paid little attention to David or Puppy, just raised it's head a bit then put it right back down and went to sleep. David picked up Puppy in his arms and returned to Benson and his motorcycle.
"You don't mind if he comes with, do you?"
Benson smiled. "The more the merrier."