Wanted: Dead or Alive.
It’s my own face sketched over the paper, but my eyes are too small, my nose is too straight, my mouth is too flat. They cannot fit me on paper, they never could.
They see in shades of gray, their sight blurring from such lack of depth. The world is stale on their tongue. They think it is better this way, and they wonder why life feels like so much less.
The sun is touching the edges of the rooftops, the sky blushing in pinks and oranges.
I find the children, playing in an empty street. They are at once lost, curious, and searching, though most of them don’t know it yet. Such things are a dangerous combination.
“Shall I tell you a story?”
Just like that, I have their attention. They forget their play and draw closer, questions in their eyes. One of the older ones is glancing around, deciding if they dare to ask what? or do you know any?. They are deciding if they dare to answer me with yes.
“Don’t close your eyes.” I draw out a deck of cards. Inside, each card face is painted with fantastical colors. “If you do,” I flick a card into my hand, holding it up and then with a snap of my wrist–
“You’ll miss it.”
They are staring at the card in my hand, the painted magician gleaming in the golden light. I lift my other hand, empty, and they see too late that the deck of cards has vanished.
They draw closer now, and I lower my voice. The magician card flips between my hands.
“Don’t be deceived.” Their eyes are following the card, back and forth and back and forth. “Not all is how it seems, and some–” I flip up the card, except the magician is gone, and in its place stands the midnight assassin.
“Some will try to keep you from the truth.”
The children are full of wonder. I remember when I was one of them, when my aunt whispered these stories to me. That look on their faces, that gleam in their eyes . . .
They make me daring.
“Don’t forget what I am about to tell you.” I pull the assassin out of my hand, revealing the rest of the deck hidden beneath. I slip him back into the stack and I start shuffling the cards. They tumble over themselves, falling from my thumbs. “Stories are a living thing,” I push them up, and they arch in my hands before collapsing into one stack. “and to forget them–”
A card springs out from the shuffling pile, landing face-up in front of me. The midnight assassin once again shows his face, and silence cuts through the air.
“It is a killing blow.”
There is a pause. I have seen the death of stories, I have felt them like knives in my chest. No more.
I start shuffling the cards again, leaving the assassin on the ground. “Shall I tell you a story? Here is a better question,” I fan out the cards, offering glimpses of more yet to be revealed.
“Are you prepared to hear one?”
The sun is sinking, too weary from its march through the sky. The light pulls away, leaching the colors from our sight, until everything is in shades of gray.
Everything, that is, except for my cards.
They glow in the fading dusk, their colors growing more vibrant with the growing night. The edges sparkle like the edges of dreams, drawing all focus into another world, my voice becoming a backdrop to guide them through the story.
The story is alive, and it wants to be known.
By the time I leave this city, the story will have spread like the first frost of winter. Slow, quiet, unstoppable. Children have ways of spreading things, most of all if those things are secrets. Especially secrets that want to be shared.
Wanted: Dead or Alive.
It takes them too long to find me. News of my coming spreads in concepts and riddles, and they don’t know I’m there until I am gone. They want to catch me, but they cannot see me. They never could.
They are looking for sunset colors through lenses of gray.