Once again, he was lost. Somewhere far away from there, from her. He was howling and crying, but it wasn’t her Simon, it wasn’t her son. It was the other one, the Miracle, the one they had grown to love while her little boy was dying slowly. Figuratively.
There was nothing figurative about it now.
The man was still clad in blue spandex, but he had lost the mask. And it was a small comfort, seeing the face of her child beneath it all. Eyes that seemed a little too big for his face, a bleeding nose and so much pain. His knees were buckling, and she had to close the door behind him, make sure that every window was darkened, before turning on the light and taking a look.
It wasn’t pretty.
When he was the Miracle, she had discovered, Simon was almost perfect. He talked in a higher pitch, smiled constantly, stroked her hair and kissed her cheeks. He was polite and interesting and generous, he looked out for anyone that may need him, anyone he could help.
He also went up to fight. Against the shadows, the ones only he could see, and he was bound to get into real trouble at some point. And people liked him because of that, and every time they cheered, every time they asked for more, she could see him losing some part of himself.
“Mom,” he said, and she shuddered. He didn’t call her Mom. He’d never called her that, and she’d learn to accept it, to live with it. It was a foreign word. Mom, mother, ma. And part of her was grateful, distancing herself from such a man, from such a creature.
There was something of the real Simon in his gaze. He was hurting; she could see that. But there was no visible wound: only gashes in the fabric of his brightly colored suit, blotches of black and red that turned the shiny blue into a soulless purple. His nose was no longer bleeding; he was healing. But there was something wrong.
There had been a time when things were easy. Or so she told herself: there had been a time before Simon, when she was young and the world was safe, when there had been no Wall. Borders had been drawn in maps, maybe sort of protected, maybe more than a word but less than a reality, she wanted to believe. The outside hadn’t always be dark and dangerous and hellish. She had told her son her stories, back when he’d been a child. Tales about those times when people like him had still been, well, people, when there was hope of a bigger house and a bigger car and she hadn’t worried about food everyday. And Simon, bright young thing that he was, had asked her the question she’d feared. And she’d tried not to answer, and that in itself had been enough.
You happened, my dear, she had thought then, she was thinking now. You may not have built the wall, you may not be guilty of changing the shape of those who still lurk out there, but you made me grow up. Old. Sad.
With a swift motion, she placed herself next to him, tried to support him with her body. She was tiny next to the Miracle; not so much when he was just plain Simon. It was, perhaps, due to the attitude. The way he hunched over when he was being himself, when he wore gray clothes that cost only a tiny fraction of what that blue thing he liked to put on was worth. The way he spoke more softly, as if he were afraid someone would listen, and see him. You’re so special, Simon, she may have said to him sometime.
She walked alongside him all the way to the small mattress that took up almost half the room. His room. He slowed down halfway through, but ultimately limped there, groaning softly and letting himself fall to the floor. “Mom,” again, and it was a pitiful whine, a child’s cry for help. It was still the Miracle’s voice, but, for the first time, she could see him as her son.
“What happened?,” she asked. Slowly, she kneeled next to him: her joints were starting to hurt. A whole life of bowing down, of getting back on the floor when all she wanted to do was get up, and leave, a life wasted on caring for the man that cared for their city.
“I saw them.”
There was not much more to say. Simon’s eyes were still blank, his gaze incapable of staying anywhere, but his hands were searching for hers. And she let him find them, squeeze them with a strength that seemed out of place in anyone even remotely human. A strength that started to falter a second later, too. Slightly surprised, she looked again to him. The wounds were healed, she noted. Every last of them. All that was left was dried blood, but his skin was turning pale, sort of yellowish, and he was sweating and moaning without even realizing.
“What… What happened, Simon?,” she asked again. He didn’t correct her. My name’s the Miracle, he would usually say, but this time he looked at nothing and licked his lips and lost grip of her hands.
“I saw them, I told you. I saw the Shadows.”
She was silent for a second. Then, “I’ve told you, too. They’re not–”
Real. They were not real. They could not be.
People like Simon, they tended to compensate. Good packaging, perhaps: he would do wonders, just like his father before him. Punch through walls or lift a neighbour’s car, things that people loved because they hadn’t had to pay for repairs every time they happened. But he was so much like his father. Seeing things and hearing things and being unable to understand things.
“I’ve seen them, Mom. I swear.”
There was a gasp and his body curled up in a second, and his skin was clammy and his lips were red. And he coughed, blood this time.
“They’ve killed me,” he muttered. For the first time since he’d gotten there, he looked up at her. “Mom. I’m sorry.” And for an instant, she thought she could see the future. Minutes, hours, days of agony, her little Simon turned into the Miracle turned into a mess, soiling and vomiting and bleeding all over. “How can I help you?,” she asked, though she knew the answer.
“Go through the Wall,” he said. “Go to the other side. Find the Watchmaker and ask her to fix… this.” She had been the one to tell the story. Once upon a time, when there was a little kid who did not talk to anyone, a single mother working to find a way for them to survive. When the Wall was as young as she would have liked to be, when the scarring from everything that happened on the other side was still fresh.
The Wall is there for a reason, she remembered saying. She could not bring herself to tell him again.
“I’ve tried, Mom,” he whispered. And then there was a scream, and his arms seemed to come alive, strange creatures attached to his body and trying to destroy everything around them. And, for a second, she could see it – the shadow lurking behind his eyes, inside his body. Something malicious, a poison expanding and taking control.
He was so much like his father. Like the others outside of the Wall.
“You have tried,” she admitted softly before getting up to her room.
Sooner or later, they’d told her, while trying to take her baby, sooner or later he’ll have it too. He’ll be one of them, they’d said, and she’d begged and cried and, when that hadn’t been enough, she’d run. With him. Simon. Her miracle. “I did tell you that story, huh?,” she mused, opening the safe that was always closed. There were some earrings in there, and a golden ring that was way cheaper than it looked. And a picture, and a gun.
“The Watchmaker outside the Wall. The one that made time go back,” she said out loud, thoughtfully closing the safe again. In the other room, the man’s flailing had stopped. I wish I could go see her. Talk to her. Beg her to go, where? “Before this,” she said to herself, pointing to the man’s head, once again still. And she pulled the trigger, and Simon’s dark blood seeped through the mattress and stained the walls. “Sometime before any of this took place.”