BITTER SWEET SYMPHONY
Joe hadn’t broken his daughter’s heart...
She had broken his.
The way daughters always do, when they give their heart to another man.
Joe had stayed with Martin until the ambulance arrived.
Then he had stood guard, while the attendants loaded Martin— naked and shivering— into the back of the bus.
Joe waved them on, and had spent nearly two hours scouring the street. Searching for the silvery thing that had been around the wolf’s neck.
But, he had come up empty.
All Joe could think was the impact of the bullet must have shattered the necklace to dust.
At least that’s the story he would tell himself in the days to come, just so he could sleep at night.
When Joe finally arrived at the hospital, to his surprise, he saw that his daughter was already there.
It took a minute to work it out. But then, he realized that she must have heard the call for the ambulance over the radio.
Joe silently entered Martin’s room, hearing his daughter talking up a storm.
Martin lay in the hospital bed, passively listening.
Joe cleared his throat, and Emily looked up.
“Emily,” Joe said quietly. “I need to talk to Martin for a minute.”
Emily nodded, and got up.
She paused to hugged him, whispering a tiny “thank you” before she left the room.
Joe walked over to the bed, and then sat down in the visitor's chair.
“Long night,” Joe said. He took off his hat, and rested it on his knee.
The boy blushed, and turned his head away.
“You should have killed me,” Martin said. His voice sounded raspy and tired.
“Sorry,” Joe said. “Just didn’t have the heart.”
“I’ve done terrible things,” Martin cried.
“As far as I’m concerned, it was a giant wolf that did those things,” Joe said quietly. “And that’s how my report will read: a wolf attack, and nothing more.”
“I’m a monster,” Martin sobbed, hiding his face behind hands.
Joe put an arm on Martin’s shoulder.
“You know what I see, Martin?” Joe asked. “I see a good kid, troubled though, because he had it tough growing up. A guy who got into something that nearly destroyed him, but still came out okay in the end. How many horror movies have you and I seen like that?
Martin wiped his eyes.
“And maybe you’re a little wiser now because of it.”
But, even Joe had to admit that he’d never look at Martin the same way again.
“Do you think there’s going to be a twist at the end of this story?” Martin asked.
The question took Joe aback.
“Honestly, I don’t know,” Joe confessed. “It depends on whoever is behind this. And whether or not they are setting up a sequel.”
Martin nodded, solemnly.
“So, I guess the question I need to ask you,” Joe began. “Do you know who’s behind all of this?”
“It was a man in the park,” Martin confessed. His voice reaching an almost frenzied pitch now. “He gave me a necklace that had an Ouroboros.”
“That’s a snake eating its own tail, right?” Joe asked.
“Yes,” Martin answered, laughing nervously. “The Midgard Serpent, like in Thor.”
“The man said it would help me with girls,” Martin said now. “And, it was fun and exciting at first. To have that kind of power at your fingertips. Then things started to escalated, and it was never enough!”
Martin was practically screaming at this point, and Joe almost told him to stop.
But, the cop part of him told him that he needed to let Martin talk, because he may never get this chance again.
“And it tried to hurt Emily,” Martin said. “But I wouldn’t let it. I love her. I love her so much. But it kept pushing and pushing…”
Martin began to tremble.
Joe got up out of his chair, and now stood over the boy.
“What was the name of the man?” Joe asked. “The man who gave you the necklace.”
Martin began laughing—a high, nervous laugh.
“Give me the name of the man, Martin.” Joe shouted.
“Wouldn’t you like to know,” Martin said. Only it wasn’t his voice, anymore. This one sounded almost feminine.
“I remember you, Joseph,” Martin said. “You were at my house. My house in the woods.”
Joe pulled back, and gasped.
No, he thought. It couldn’t be her.
“Come close” Martin cooed. “Let me tell you all my secrets.”
Joe shook his head, and squeezed the dreamcatcher in his pocket.
Martin sat up in bed, and hissed, “You think you’ve won some sort of victory? You haven’t. I was the serpent that tempted Eve in Paradise. You are nothing little man, but a speck of dust...”
Joe tore the dreamcatcher from his pocket, and now held it out in front of him like a cross.
Martin hissed again.
But, Joe pressed forward, pushing the dreamcatcher into Martin’s hand.
Immediately, Martin’s eyes rolled back.
His body, wearily, fell back against the bed.
Joe forced himself to look again.
Martin looked peaceful, and now slept the sleep of the innocent.
Joe exited the room, pushes past the nurses who rushed in to check on their patient—altered by the constant beeping from one of the machine close to the bed.
Joe felt like he was in some sort of dream.
But it was his daughter, who brought him back from the brink.
“What did he say?” Emily asked. “What did he say, daddy?”
Joe hugged his daughter, and kissed her on the forehead.
“He said,” Joe began, unsure of what to say next. “He said, he loved you very much.”
Emily was already starting to fall asleep, even before she got into the car.
And, it wasn’t long after she buckled herself in, that Joe heard her lightly snoozing in the passenger’s seat.
For a moment, she was his little girl again.
That made Joe smile, but the smile quickly faded.
He looked up into the rear view mirror.
“Please,” he said. “Please, whoever you are, I don’t care what happens to me, but don’t let my daughter be in the sequel.”
“Deal,” a voice said at the back of his mind.
Joe couldn’t be sure if that meant “Deal” as in deal with it, like kids say now-a-days.
Or, “deal” as in “You’ve got a deal.”
Joe chose to believe it was the latter, but he’d always have that doubt in the back of his mind.
He couldn’t let that worry him now, though.
Soon, there would be a lot to do.
Things that a father, a good father, would do for his children.
Emily had talked about getting her GED, and Joe felt certain that she could talk Martin into getting his GED too.
If Martin did that, then Joe could him get a job scanning old records for the city.
It was a shit job, with terrible hours and bad pay...
But, it would be enough for a young couple just starting out.
Plus, it would allow Joe to keep a close eye on Martin, and make sure he didn’t step off the beaten path again.
Although, Joe thought Martin wasn’t likely to do that now.
And maybe a little responsibility would be just the thing to keep him on the straight and narrow.
Well that and Emily.
Plus, if Emily got a job waitressing at the diner then they’d be alright.
Not only that, but Joe had bought Emily a car at a police auction. He meant it as a graduation gift, but maybe now it could serve as wedding present.
Yep, he’d get them all setup, and after they’d have to figure it out on their own—just like everybody else.
But, he’d promised himself that he’d always be there to offer whatever advice he could.
It was the best a father could do.
Joe started the car.
Today, he just wanted to drive.
Drive until he ran out of gas.
Drive so far until he reached a place where no one knew who he was.
So, he could feel, for a moment, like a teenager again…