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An Idolwood story
Start at the beginning of the Idolwood series
Grey wrapped the handkerchief around the pistol, warm and comforting in his hand.
"What are you going to do now?" Alex's voice heralded a storm. "What do we do, now that he's dead?"
Grey turned, his eyes calm and bright as he cast them over the bodies below. "I'm going to keep all of us safe." He glanced at Edie and let his mouth split into something resembling a smile. "All of us, and all of Idyllwood, until something or someone shows up stronger."
"How?" Edie spat. "With Alex's DNA all over the foyer? With the neighbors and God knows who else watching when we leave? This isn't a movie, Grey!"
"You're right. It's better." He moved to the stairs and led the way, leaving the carnage behind him. Edie looked to Alex, who was already moving forward, carried along like a leaf on Grey's current; and she shook her head fiercely.
"Glamour," she whispered, "God damn it, he killed a man. He killed a man in front of me. He's not a man to trust..."
Still, the voices in her head had Grey's inflections. "Not a man, a plague; a sorcerer and a devil, a killer and a curse. We did what had to be done to keep everyone safe. To keep you safe..."
She shook her head, realizing that she had already taken three steps from the basement, Alex's broad back filling her line of sight as he trailed after Grey.
At the top of the stairs, the light of day streamed through the shattered door, highlighting motes of dust floating gently along the breeze. Grey stepped into the foyer and lifted the pistol, like a conductor with his baton. The bloodstains peeled from the hardwood floor, wafting upward like shredded plastic bags caught by an errant breeze. The splinters of the door, the muddy tracks of Alex's running shoes, swept up in a dust-devil funnel with a flick of Grey's wrist.
The detritus floated forward and settled on that wrist, replacing the compact Edie wrought only the evening before. The mark was red and grey and brown as earth, trailing about his wrist as he held the gun to Alex.
"Alex. You have done so much." Grey's voice was quiet in the dawn, underlaid by the songs of sparrows outside the Hanged Man's door. "You, more than anyone but Isaac, deserve my protection. Accept this new covenant, Alex. Let me be your shelter for some time."
The big man stepped forward, caught himself, and shook his head. "I don't like it."
"You don't have to like it, Alex. I don't like a thing I've done, but it's done because it's right. You're strong but over gentle. I don't think prison would suit you well, would it? I think it might let too much of you escape into the real world—too many of the things you try so hard to hide. You might make a king inside those walls, but you'd lose more than you want to give."
Grey extended his hand. "I can keep you from that decision by making it for us both. I pulled the trigger. I made the choice. I can save this covenant from destruction because I made that choice. I thought you all were broken. I know now I was wrong."
He licked his lips. "It's choices, Alex. It's all about the choices, and I've finally made one. I'm going to keep us all safe. I can keep Isaac, and myself, and both of you safe if you can accept it. Be my arms and ears and I will be your shield.
"I don't want you to suffer."
"Alex," Edie placed a hand on his arm and leaned in close. "He's not thinking straight. He's killed a man."
"I've cut out a cancer," snapped Grey. "You saw what he did, what he was doing. What he would have done to Isaac. You remember Isaac, Edie? You gave him a flower to keep your eyes on him, to try to keep him safe. Who kept him safe in the end, the one who watched over him or the one who made a choice?"
She stepped back, nostrils flaring—then pursed her lips.
"Alex is not going to suffer for what you've done here. You listen close. If anything happens to him—if he's even questioned by the police—then you're not as strong as you think you are, Grey Jordan.
"But if you can keep him here... keep us here..."
Grey nodded, his voice calm. "I can. Nothing is going to happen to any of us as long as I stay put." The ring around his wrist fragmented, took on the pattern of a shoe's tread. "And as long as you stay true."
Edie stepped in front of Alex and took Grey's hand. The tread, mud, blood of his wrist crawled across her work-tanned skin and swallowed her covenant whole, marked her fresh as she pulled away.
"I could still tell them," said Alex, slowly. "You killed a man, Grey."
"I killed a thing that killed a boy, whose puppet shot at you and shot at children. You saw what they were, Alex. Are they worth spending time in prison for?"
"Alex," Edie's voice was soft. "I won't let you throw your life away. Take this chance. Look at him, for God's sake. He's already pulling us along."
"Because he killed a man when he thought it was right." Alex spoke in a low tone. "And the magic thanks him for it. Why would I want anything to do with that?"
"I'll do it," he said, stepping forward and extending a hand. "But I'm not doing it for me."
Grey clasped the strong man's hand. The covenant extended between the two, flowed like water, bound them together like a trio of dolls dangling from the rafters.
Grey led the way out the door. There was no sign of neighbors, no papers to be collected, no garbage to be seen to. It was too early for some, too late for others, too unimportant for the rest. Who cared what the big man and his emaciated girlfriend got up to, who came or went, at what hour of the day? It wasn't any of their business. It hadn't been for years.
The Hanged Man had woven his concealments well, and Alex's blood, his footprints, and every sign that he had been within the house climbed into the Jeep with Grey.
Isaac had been awake all night, a baseball bat clutched in his hands. His eyes were heavy as he slumped against the front door, visions of Brandon and Gamine and his father swimming across his dreams. All he could hear was the squeal of tires, the woman's manic shouts, Brandon trying to save him after all their hard words.
He screamed at the sound of the key in the lock, falling forward and rolling onto his back. His father's face filled the doorway, the bulk of Alex looming behind him, and Isaac sobbed in relief.
"Dad... Dad," he scrambled to his feet, hands shaking as he pulled away the chair he'd wedged beneath the doorknob. "Oh, dad..."
Grey opened the door and fell to his knees, grabbing the boy by the shoulders and pulling him into a tight embrace. Isaac was shaking with a mixture of fear and relief; the nerves which had kept him awake trailing completely from his trembling form as he welcomed the protecting embrace.
"Isaac," Grey whispered, "Isaac, for you. It was always for you, it's always been for you. You're safe now, kid. You're always going to be safe as long as we're together."
Isaac surrendered completely, all the adolescent bluster drained from him. He became a child again, welcoming his parents' embrace.
"Dad, what about Brandon?"
"I'm sorry, Isaac. God, I'm sorry, but... we were too late for him. He saved you first. He did the right thing in the end, Isaac. I'm so sorry. But he saved you."
Hot tears poured down Isaac's face. "Don't go, dad. Don't go to work today. Please. Stay here, please stay here..."
"I'm not leaving, Isaac. I'm never leaving your side."
Alex turned, casting his eyes into the street. Edie had turned her back already, walking slowly back to the house and garden where her ears and eyes resided. She was rigid and pale beneath her weather-beaten skin, and Alex made his own decision, jogging to her side.
"You all right?"
"I don't know, Alexei. I'm half sure I'm going to hear sirens in a heartbeat and I'm half convinced that would be the better thing."
"I don't want to go to jail, Edie."
"You shouldn't have to. You didn’t kill anyone," she whispered, an edge creeping into her voice. "But you left the signs behind. There's something in that blood, Alexei. Something serious gets under your skin when you bend so far you break your rules. When you take another life. You saw how strong the doll maker was."
She looked up, color returning to her face. "What did you mean when you said you weren't doing this for yourself, Alexei? If not for yourself, then who did you make this covenant for?"
"Isaac," he said shortly. "That kid... Grey's not all right. I know that, you know that. Someone's going to have to keep one foot in the real world if Isaac's going to have a chance of turning out okay."
"We have to watch Grey. That's our covenant, yours and mine. I don't know what a killing does to someone but I know it can't be good, and I know I couldn't erase your presence the way he just did."
"He's protecting us," Alex shrugged. "Or thinks he is. You and me, we see things. The two of them did things. Maybe that's the difference. But I know he's not going to let anything happen to Isaac, no matter what."
"Don't feel too safe." She worried her lower lip between her teeth. "We need to watch him."
"I'm right next door, Edie. Nothing's going to happen that we won't know about."
"No, it won't," she muttered.
The moon slipped behind the clouds as Edie slipped from her house, black shawl around her shoulders, black knit cap covering her close-cropped hair. She held a baby fern in one hand and a terra cotta man in the other, strolling casually toward the duplex.
The fern she planted in the hedge alongside Alexei's rearmost windows, where the soil was good. She took a plastic bead from her pocket and thrust it into the wet earth alongside the plant, then circled to Grey's side of the house.
The slats of the porch still lay half-open from his initial discovery. She wrestled only a moment with the idea, then used her trowel to dig a small hole instead. The terra cotta man was buried in a heartbeat, covered over with a scar of moistened soil.
Covenant or no, she would know what happened in the house where the men slept, Alex deep in dreams of prison bars and prison fights; Isaac curled up against Grey's bare back, whispering and whimpering in his slumber.
Grey alone slept soundly, one finger tracing the new tattoo across his wrist as he dreamed of what might come, calm and confident in the power he had found.
Across the street, a wizened hand gently replaced the corner of a curtain and took up a china cup of weak tea. The other hand took up a pen and began to scratch in a spidery hand: She doubts them. We should talk.
Story by Ivan Ewert, Copyright 2011
Image by Amber Clark, Stopped Motion Photography, Copyright 2011