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Dave ST

IC: Mel - 'Deb By Dawn'

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He'd stretched his legs. Sure, he didn't have much to do today but he made it a point to head to the little coffee shop down the block and get him something to take the edge off the day. Besides, the 34DD the cute little barista had certainly encouraged him to keep coming back. With the loss of his wife and being AdSepped from the military his life had taken a harsh downward spiral. Suicide, drinking, drugs... he'd thought of it all. Anything had to be better than the life he was living now. There was no color. Sounds had become noise. Scents had grown rank and everything he saw reminded him of all he'd fought for, almost died for, and then lost. The world had cast him aside and he no longer had a use for it.

He'd traded the nicer apartment he and his wife had lived in for several years for a more affordable, run down apartment that looked like it should have been condemned years ago. It was home though, for whatever that was worth. The radio was the only thing he ever listened to these days. He kept it turned on almost everyday, soaking up the news, sports, current events. He plopped down on the his coach, an old thing held together with duct tape and some unknown force. It should had fallen apart years ago. "Hey folks. Deb here, and you're listening to Dawn of the Deb, the only radio show that's got your back, all day, every day. Looks like you're brooding again, Mel. Sleepingon the couch and drinking coffee, huh? Tell y'what, this one's for you sweetie. How Did You Love, by Shinedown. Get out more sweetie..."

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Mel raised his head up, startled. Had the DJ just dropped his name? No, he must have misheard. But he pulled up to a sitting position as the song played.

You can have a sound of the thousand voices calling your name
You can have the light of the world blind you, bath you in grace
But I don't see so easily what you hold in your hands
'Cause castles crumble, kingdoms fall and turn into sand

It was a truism. Mel had grown up in a world where life - well, life wasn't exactly cheap - but it would be spent readily for the right thing of value. Be it in the tenements of Wicker Park, the sands of the Middle East, or as Cecilia had found, within the Big Apple, the red-head had always found himself haunting environments that soaked up blood with regularity. Peace seemed like a foreign concept.

You can be an angel of mercy or give in to hate
You can try to buy it just like it every other careless mistake
How do you justify I'm mystified by the ways of your heart
With a million lies the truth will rise to tear you apart
Woah

Except where his wife was concerned. Where his role models had been uniformly masculine, from his abusive father, the DIs, or senior non-coms and officers leading a fresh new Ranger, all steeped in conflict and violence, Cecilia had been something different altogether. A toughness that he could respect, yet mixed with a personality that could extract joy from the viewing of a successful new romantic sit-com, or cooking wonderful meals. She made peace and 'ordinary life' a reality when they were together.

No one gets out alive, every day is do or die
The one thing you leave behind
Is how did you love, how did you love?
It's not what you believe those prayers will make you bleed
But while you're on your knees
How did you love, how did you love, how did you love?

Nothing ever feels the quite same when you are what you dreamed
And you will never look at anything the same when you see what I see
How we forget ourselves, lose our way from the cradle to the grave
You can't replicate or duplicate, gotta find your own way

Of course, she was gone now, and indeed, everything felt dull. He had always lived life in those sharper, finer senses, and truthfully, Mel had to admit, deep down, to live a quiet humdrum life, fitting within society as such had ill-suited him. The one person who might have changed that way dead. And the police's statement of 'still investigating' kept him from having the benefit of closure - or a target to direct his wrath upon.

No one gets out alive, every day is do or die
The one thing you leave behind
Is how did you love, how did you love?
It's not what you believe those prayers will make you bleed
But while you're on your knees
How did you love, how did you love, how did you love?

This ain't no cross to bury
We are the judge and jury, we are the judge and jury

No one gets out alive, every day is do or die
The one thing you leave behind
Is how did you love, how did you love?
It's not what you believe those prayers will make you bleed
But while you're on your knees

How did you love, how did you love?

Every day had been do or die. Now, the loss of his position had taken that from which he might have been able to submerge his pain and apathy, given a little more time. Not soon enough for the high standards of the Rangers. Finally, Mel got up. Well, he couldn't spend all day on the couch. For now... he'd settle for a run. Through one of the parks. Closest thing to PT now.

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Mel ran to the half mile mark and could still hear the Fitness Coaches screaming 'on your six pack!'.  He hit the ground and knocked out thirty push ups like they were nothing.  He rolled and could hear 'two pack!' and had to bite back the urge to scream it out loud as he knocked out thirty crunches.  The Army Ranger's had their individual PT times, of course, but two days each week they trained as a unit.  They PTed as a unit.  They succeeded or failed as a unit.  Now here he was, on his own.  Fifteen years in the military wasn't easy to shake loose from the mind and living a 'normal' life wasn't easy, especially without Cece around to help him adjust.  He was slipping... and he knew it.

He sprang up and took off.  Just four and a half miles to go.  His phone was on the local radio, bluetooth ear buds kept him from being worried about a cord as he ran and did his exercises.  Local news, sports, sometimes some political gibber-jabber, it was all the same to him in New York: noise.  A more pleasant noise than the city around him.  At the moment it was news about Trump, doing something Trumpy...

"...and we're back listeners, thanks once again for joining me, Deb, the only woman guaranteed to spend all her time with you and disappear by the time your wife gets home.  Oh... sorry, too soon?"  The sultry voice on the other side of his ear buds giggled seductively.  This was a different station from the one he was listening to earlier.  How could the same show be on it?  "Look at him run, Manhattan.  Sergeant First Class all alone in a world that doesn't make sense any more so he hides in the park, hoping everything will go away.  Well, keep your head up, Soldier.  There he is Manhattan, a guardian of freedom and the American way of life.  An American Soldier.  Taking you back to good ol' 1997.  I tell ya, I loved that year, the second edition of White Wolf's Changeling: The Dreaming hit the shelves and it rounded out my collection of books for Saturday Night Angst in Mom's basement.  It was also the same year this golden oldie hit the airwaves, enjoy.  This one's for you, Ranger.  Lead the way."

Through his ear bud's The Offspring's 'Gone Away' began to play and the voice calling herself 'Deb' was silent.

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Mel turned around, scanning the perimeter. Open space and greenery, one or two trees, but no sign of anyone spying on him. Just the occasional other jogger or people over at the bridge. The prickling at the back of his neck insisted there HAD to be someone watching, or following him. After all, the first 'Deb' mention he'd passed off as mishearing. This was far too specific, explicit about him, his actions...

Stalker-worthy, yet in Mel's experience the stalkers only waited long enough for the right opportunity to shoot or knife their targets. Either way, there was something distinctly wrong, and Mel knew it.

For now, he kept walking, until he found a large rock where he could rest, in the form of leaning his back against it and thus allowing all possible approaches to be part of his field of view.

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Seconds became minutes... minutes into nearly an hour.  Nothing.  Earbuds in hand, he waited, quietly observing everyone and everything that seemed out of place.  His training had taught him many things, how to fight, how to kill, how to cope... but it never covered having to use all those skills on his home soil against what seemed like dog walkers, joggers and people playing with their kids on the grass. He scanned the area, feeling for a moment that he was suddenly in some poorly directed Ben Affleck spy, conspiracy theory movie.

Nothing. With a deep sigh Mel returned to his run.

His door opened and he stepped through, making a b-line for the fridge where he grabbed a bottle of water and twisted off the cap. The radio was on.  Did he leave it on?  No, he usually wasn't that careless.  “Good run, Soldier? I hope so. Running is good for the soul, helps you focus, helps you think. I don't know about you, listeners, but on a treadmill at the gym I can go for an hour or so and just let the worries of the day just fade away... but enough about what Deb's does, let's get back to the music. This one's for the runner in the park, a little 83' in the house, with Rockwell, Somebody's Watching Me. Here's looking at you, kid.”  He could almost feel the wink in her words.  What the hell was going on?

Spoiler

Move your day forward. The torment of the radio is just something to set the stage for what comes a little later. What would Mel do in a typical day after his work out? Sit and watch TV? Nap on the couch? Go get groceries? Hit a local bar and swap war stories? Show me what you got.

 

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Mel eventually set aside the radio issue as something fucking weird and concerning but settled on the rest of the things he needed to do for the day as a distraction. It was an old trick, the variant of the basic purpose of discipline and training: to give men something to concentrate on and not the fact that people were dying in battle, potentially even them. He checked the fridge. Food was running low. He'd need to shop for more.

There was a market within reasonable walking distance, so he could set out after a quick shower.

What Mel went through picking in the aisles was not particularly planned, save for the basic criteria he used. Meat, some veggies and fruits. Canned foods. Some pasta for easy cooking. Calories were not a concept of concern, since he was used to burning them off quickly. The whole modern diet fad thing ignored the simple answers. Just having a good balance of foods, ignoring saturated fats, excessive salt and sugar, and exercise kept one healthy.

It was what Cecilia said after all, and she wasn't wrong. She'd rarely been wrong.

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"Woah!" Came the sudden shout from next door, so loud that Mel almost thought someone was in his own apartment.  "Dude, that was killer!  Follow up with a spell, while we have it's central eye on us!  We so got this!"  It was the guys who lived next door.  They were a band of room mates who wasted their time on fantasy games, loud music, video games and a slew of other mind numbing activities that didn't involve healthy living.  Not that Mel was judging them, to each their own, but they had a tendency to get way to loud, way to often.  Like 3am often.

With a sigh and a grumble he went next door to ask them to quiet down.

After a few raps at the door he heard one of them approaching.  "Pizza bros!  We're gonna ghost this beholder bitch while munching on New York's finest slices of pi-," the door swung open and Deacon stood there looking stupid with a twenty in his hand.  He was bike courier, not a bad kid, just had a smart ass streak a mile long.  "Pie?"

He composed himself in the stern glare of Mel's expression, running his hand through his hair to pull back his dark hair from face.  It quickly just fell back to where it was.  "Yo' uh, Mr. G," he said loudly.  Mel could hear the scared whispers behind Deek.  The 'oh shits' and 'it's the guy next door' and the 'I hear he eats babies'.  "Wow... we uh, didn't know you where home.  Thought maybe you were out stealing Christmas or something...," Mel could hear the snickers and laughs behind the door.

Before Mel could begin his tirade Deacon held up a hand.  "Mr. G, Mr. G... I'm just kidding dude, geez.  Look I'm sorry about the noise, we didn't know you were on the prem, for reals.  We'll keep it down, just let us finish up, bruh, kay?  We're battling the beholder and shit's getting real because some rando orcs just entered the fray and our spell caster in the best position to blast it's ass with a...,"  Mel just looked at him.  "Aaaand I see you have zero chill and no fucks to give.  We'll try to keep it down, dude, kay?"

It was good enough for him and Mel just went back to his apartment.  It was the first time he'd dealt with Deacon and not had to say a word, those 15,000 other times he'd gone over there to complain must have been finally sinking in.  Still, everything about that boy made him want to throttle him.  With a sigh to collect his calm he twisted the knob and walked back into his apartment.  What he saw paralyzed him with confusion.  Beyond the threshold was not his apartment at all... it was his living room from where he'd lived with his wife, Cecilia.

When she poked her head around the corner that led to the kitchen he felt a sensation of relief mingled with disbelief.  "Hey," she said with a smile.  "I was so busy at work today, I just picked up Chinese, hope that's okay..."

Spoiler

I've no description for Cecilia or what she looks like... so I gave no description for her.  I assume you know what she looks like.

 

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"No... that's fine." Mel got out, seeing that tall brunette love of his life. Well, so the big Section 8 had come at last. If he'd finally cracked up, he might as well enjoy the hallucination. He came over and pulled into his arms. "Just glad to see you Cecilia. Just glad to see you." He leaned in and kissed her hard on the lips.

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Cecilia embraced her husband, her hands cupped his cheeks as he impassionedly kissed her.  Despite the warmth and joy that was elevating Mel, he quickly realized her hands were not warm.  They weren't cold, they just weren't... they just weren't... feeling?  If sorrow had a texture, her touch was it.  "I'm glad to see you too, Mel."

She took him by the hand and led him into the kitchen.  They crossed the threshold from the living room to the kitchen and Mel's world dissolved.  They were no longer in his old kitchen, or his new apartment.  What lay before him was a field of blackest grass.  The wind, though soft and more of a breeze, still faintly howled, playing an ominous chord as it passed listlessly across and in between the pitch blades.  The sky was grey, with nothing but massive, overcast clouds billowing by so fast it felt like he was watching a documentary on storms and was watching them fast forward a front.  He realized he was the only thing that had any color.  It was cold, but he didn't feel uncomfortable.  In the distance, as far off as he could guess, was a single structure that seemed to rise up from the infinite, all directional field of grass he was standing in: a massive tower.

It was massive in comparison to the distance away that he way.  By his estimate, were he standing in front of it, given how large it was at this distance... its base was probably the size of... Texas?  Alaska, maybe?  I was nothing more than a towering structure of bone aimed straight at the heavens.  Storm clouds gathered at the spire, or maybe they were obscuring the spire?  It was so hard to tell.  Bolts of white lightning struck the side and the rumbles of thunder echoed throughout the land.

"We don't have much time, my love," Mel's attention was suddenly pulled back into the moment.  He looked upon his wife, who was now nothing more than a bluish-white apparition.  He could see through her, and the clothes she'd been wearing she'd traded for a billowing diaphanous gown that seemed to be being carried off by the gentle breeze.  "I don't have much time.  Mel, you have to let me go... things are happening.  The balance has shifted.  You're in danger."

A massive boom of thunder roared on the horizon.

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This wasn't the Section 8 crackup that he expected. This was something like some fantasy story. Then again, Mel hadn't read many of those. Cecilia certainly never wore any big Cinderella type gowns like she did now. "Danger, from who or what?" Letting go though, was something he found inexplicable. Perhaps it was some part of his mind pointing it out for health's sake, but there was no balance.

That was the whole point, his life was unbalanced utterly and as that Deb had said, the world he'd known didn't make sense any more. Even if Mel got over the melancholy, the depression, his job experience amounted to killing people for his country, and that harsh intensity inside wouldn't accept pushing a mop around.

It actually made the absurd possibility that this was all real, and that he was in danger more preferable... downright palatable.

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"Nothing, Mel."  She said solemnly.  "It's coming."

There was another crash of thunder and the ground rumbled and shook.  It was less of an earthquake and more like a tremor of something heavy hitting the earth.  Cecilia looked back behind her, panic painted itself upon the canvas of her translucent, yet beautiful face.  Another tremor shook the ground upon which they were standing.  The blades of blackened grass swayed on the breeze as it picked up into a wind.

"I've been gone to long," she screamed over the howling of the wind.  Her grown blew all over the place in a chaos given symphony by her loveliness.  "There are others like you!  Spine and stone, Mel!  Spine and stone!"  The earth exploded into blackened and grey dust and dirt.  He could smell the scent of freshly turned earth as chains erupted from the soil.  Despite her incorporeal state the thin, almost stylish, iron chains wrapped around her wrists, her waist, ankles and finally throat.  Mel attempted to move, but couldn't.  It was all too weird, and his mind having such a had time keeping up with what was live and what was Memorex.  He reached for her, lunged but everything slowed to to a crawl like his world dissolved into an action movie sequence.

She smiled at him, resigned to her fate.  "I'll be waiting for you in Death's halls, My Love."  Where his world had slowed to a crawl, her sped up to impossibly fast.  Her words were clear, he could see the expression of woe painted on her face.  And she was gone.  Tore away from him at light speed while he was powerless to act.  She streaked backward and was pulled into the torn soil which promptly sealed itself.

His moments caught up with him and Mel ran full tilt to the spot where she was pulled into the ground.  The wind howled as lightning crashed and slammed into the side of the tower as Mel tore into the earth, digging, scratching, clawing his way into the soil until his fingers bled.  She would not be taken from him again!

Frantic breaths and heaving in his chest were nothing as sweat poured into his eyes, the salt hazing his vision.  He wiped it away and continued claw, tearing, churning into the soil...

The soil...

The soil...

The living room rug...

The hardwood floor...

"Mr. G!" Came a shout from beyond his door.  "Yo, Mr. G!?  It's Deek the Geek, bruh.  You okay!?  You get a dog or something?"

The throw rug was worn clean through, a large hole shredded into it to expose massive scratches soaked with blood on the floor.  Three of his finger nails were lying in their own grisly puddles of blood, having been torn off completely by his 'digging'.

"Yo, Mr. G... you okay?" His neighbor pounded on his door a few times.

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The haze lifted, Mel taking deep breaths. Deek hit the door another time and Mel growled out loudly: "Stop that pounding!" Another breath and back to the controlled voice he'd used when needing to communicate despite the pain of a serious wound. "Everything's under control, kid. Get back to your beholder."

"Uh, ok Mr. G." Deek sounded a tad unsure, but the footsteps confirmed his desire not to pry into his scary neighbor more. Mel took more, shuddering deep breaths, before rising up to wash, clean and bandage those oozing wounds. He'd suffered far worse injuries before in the heat of battle. But what made everything feel so heavy to Mel now was that the real damage wasn't physical, it was his mental state that was really bleeding.

He could and would try to find a shrink, but Veteran Affairs was more interested in its own bureaucracy than doing its job. Mel would not become some patient in a mental ward or someone wandering the streets. He couldn't.

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Mel was finishing bandaging his finger tips and walking down the hall to the kitchen to start something to eat there was another knock at the door.  His blood boiled momentarily at the thought of Deacon next door bothering him some more until a voice declared that it certainly not Deacon.

"Mel?" The person in the hall tapped on the door a few more times.  "Mel?  It's Conners."  Conners was an old service buddy of his.  He'd gotten out years ago and started a private security business here in New York keeping the rich and powerful alive so they could keep being rich and vapid.  "Grimson," a few more taps at the door echoed in the apartment.  "Open up, soldier, I came by to talk."

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"Gimme a minute Connors!" Mel took the time to quickly fold up the throw rug and throw down a towel so that the blood and the scratches were concealed. He did not want to have to answer painful questions. Mel smiled for once in the past few days when the door swung open."Sorry, my idiot neighbor's been bothering me. Thank god it's you." He didn't recall if Conners had called after Cecelia's death.

He reached out to shake Connor's hand firmly. "Long time, no see. How are you?"

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"Doing well," he replied.  "I heard about Cecilia, Mel.  I'm sorry.  I was in Bahrain when I got the news, I'm sorry I couldn't be here for the service."  Conners took Mel's hand, gripping it tight and pulled him into a hug.  "Been awhile, man."

"Too long," was Mel reply.  It was a weird night for the guy, so it was no surprise was  currently a man of few words.

Brent (which was Conners's first name), broke off the embrace and Mel ushered him into his apartment.  It would be more suspicious if Mel tried to hide behind his door, so he figured if the guy was gonna notice something off, he may as well face the music standing tall.  "Wow," he investigated the obvious downgrade from the home he'd visited the Grimson's in before Cecelia's passing.  "Okay, I ain't gonna lie, Mel... I've known you a long time, and I gotta say... you look like shit, bro."

As Mel rolled his eyes with a sight, not really in the mood for a lecture, Brent continued.  "When was the last time you were out of here, barring a workout?  Look, hear me out... my guys are booked for a gig in a couple'a weeks.  Security for some art show, or something.  I want the best for this one, it's a big deal for my business and, well, Grimson... you're the best.  I want your eyes there, man.  Plus, and I'm saying this because I love you, bro... you really need to get out and meet some people."

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Mel opened his mouth to say something, anything... and then his mind flashed back to the torn fingernail hidden under a towel. Perhaps he really did need something. "An art show, though?" It sounded sharper than he meant, so Mel amended. "I mean I'll take it Brent. But what do you expect? A daring heist? A band of gunmen storming in to take the assembled upper crust hostage for ransom?"

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Brent laughed.  "Yeah, honestly, I wish, sometimes.  These things are dreadfully boring, but they pay a lot.  We won't be packing.  Tasers and batons only, and so far the most we've had to deal with was a disgruntled ex we had to carry out after she took an exacto to an exhibit one evening.  She was off her nut, drunk and probably on something too.  They can get interesting, but ninety percent of the time, they're dull and as much fun as standing watch on Christmas."

"Here," he handed Mel a business card.  "Call me in the next few days, I'll have Suzanne, my PA, get you measured for a suit.  On me, I still owe you for spotting that fake Rolex in Taiwan, you saved me a bundle."

"You know everything in Taiwan is fake, right?"  Mel shot him a look from a raised brow.

"Well, I do now."  He laughed.  "Get in touch and uh, get your hand looked at man, You're uh, bleeding a little bit there.  You're supposed to wear gloves when you hit the bag, old man!"  Brent laughed again and let himself out.  Mel could hear him already on his phone setting up some other deal before he even hit the staircase.

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Mel looked at the card, then at the towel on the floor. Tasks, clean up the floor and dispose of the blood and fingernail. Call Brent tomorrow and get the monkey suit handled. And investigate this art show so the situation was understood. Just because nothing never really happened at these events, did not mean Mel Grimson the ex-Ranger would forgo his reconnaissance.

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