The Gaunt

Discussion in 'THREAD ARCHIVES' started by Jack Shade, Jun 25, 2012.

  1. It always begins the same. The dock stretches out from your feet across the glassy water, no ripple or wave to disturb its surface. Above you the sky remains a perfect mirror of what lies beneath the docks, dark and infinite. Beyond, there are mountains, maybe, shapes that rise from the horizon like the prows of static ships. It is calming here, unnaturally so. You cannot feel wind upon your skin or the kiss of sea-salt on your cheek. Perhaps it is because this dream is recurring, but you feel as though you’ve been here before, stood where you now stand and looked out at the same scene. Ahead of you, a figure stands forlornly, silhouetted against the harsher colors of sky and sea. It, like you, does not seem to move. For a moment you hold a dreadful sort of communion with this phantom, can feel its sorrow and, perhaps most disturbing, the underlying current of rage…pure fury. You cannot speak to it, scarcely have time to. It steps forward over the open water, as if expecting the dock to stretch beneath it. You almost think it’s going to walk across the air, but the foot dips low, the body pitches forward, and the figure is lost to the placid water without a ripple.

    But there is a moment, a single glimpse of something beneath the still surface. And when you wake, cold sweat beading your forehead, you can never remember what it was…only that it felt familiar, terrifying, and that it was looking at you.

    Chapter 1: Hoarfrost and Holly

    You take the highway through the mountain, cut stone and snowcapped peaks pressing urgently against a stormy sky. The road is meticulously plowed, snow piled up along the shoulder to prevent busy travelers from careening over the guard rail. There is familiarity here, in the cold mountain air, the way your vehicle hugs the turns of the road, like navigating the back of a serpent. Mapquest can only take you so far, and service on your smart phone is never consistent. You take the Exit 43 turnoff and keep left, following a white-slick road south. Your road companions, smoke spewing machines all heading for different destinations, do not accompany you here. For a time, you travel alone. Pine trees crowd along your journey, opening like verdant curtains to show a nestled cabin or farm before closing again. You find yourself slowing, despite the preparations you took for this trip, snow tires struggling against the heavy drifts. Furrow marks of those who came before you lead the way onward, but at this point you need no direction. As you continue, you find yourself thinking back to when you moved from this place, the little paradise in the mountains. Much like before, your attempts to clearly remember your past is shrouded in doubt and incomplete recollections. Something about Sanctuary kept your memories when you left, tucking them away as if to preserve your echo even when your voice was gone. It’s always frustrating to try to remember. It feels like your thoughts are incomplete, that some things are clearer than others and only when you think about THIS place, only when you try to remember.

    It begins to snow, a light dusting on the trail you left behind and it continues as you crest the lip of the valley, looking down into the quiet place of your childhood. Sanctuary, Colorado. Church bells echo across the roofs and along the icy streets, piercing your eardrums with painful nostalgia. As you slide over the edge and down the road into town, you promise yourself that you’re only here for the night and tomorrow, the service, the burial. The envelope, open, sits on the seat beside you or tucked closely on your person, its careful calligraphy branded on your mind.

    My Dear Friend,

    It troubles me to tell you this, but your former caretaker, David Ashburn, died suddenly of a stroke. Efforts to revive him were regrettably unsuccessful and so, in accordance with his will and last wishes, I would like to request your immediate return to Sanctuary in order to receive his inheritance and attend his funeral. Failure to arrive will forfeit the property left to you and so, for his sake, and the sake of what he left you, I implore your hasty arrival. The Funeral is scheduled for December 15th, more than adequate time for your journey. I apologize for inconveniencing you in any way with such little warning, but we were equally caught off-guard. That said, we are eager to welcome sons and daughters of Sanctuary home. We promise to make the visit short, but enjoyable. Enclosed you will find a key to David’s manor, you remember the place, and a room will be made up for you by the time you arrive. Again, I cannot express how sorry I am to deliver this news so suddenly. You are in my prayers for safe travel and I look forward to seeing you again,


    Robert Daske
    Mayor of Sanctuary

    Behind you, the grey sky grows darker and the snow comes down harder. The houses blur together into wood and snow, color and whiteness, but some instinctual force guides your vehicle into the Our Lady of Sanctuary parking lot. The bells continue tolling, an invitation…or a warning. But you’ve come this far. Note clasped, you step out into the snow and make your way to the door.

    It springs open at your touch, eagerly, suddenly.

    As if awaiting your presence.

  2. Snow.

    White cold snow.

    A change of pace from L.A. especially when it blurred everything in your vision.

    But Chris held steadfast, after all he was raised in these conditions. And although he hadn't seen this town in many years, he felt as if he knew the roads like the back of his hand. Every mark or bump was a small landmark to his eyes and it guided him to the Our Lady parking lot. He turned off the ignition, his car quieting slowly. His windshield wipers stopped and snow piled quickly on top. The toiling of the bells wouldn't stop, each note raising the hairs on his arms and the blood to course faster in his chest.

    The envelope sat on the passenger seat, partially open; Chris tried to forget it was there during his journey. As the cold from outside slowly seeped into his car the man leaned back against his seat, thinking. The same questions came flying through his head, like why was he here? Who all was coming? Would he know any of them, or remember their faces? And why in the hell did he have this reoccurring nightmare?

    Rage surged through him. The cause was unknown but suddenly Chris' fist came flying out and contacted with the steering wheel. An atrocious honk blared though the parking lot, lasting several seconds before Chris retracted his hand. This car wasn't his, it was a rental... His mouth became tight and his eyes turned serious. That same hand grabbed the envelope - almost crushing it - and stuffed it into his coat pocket.

    He got out of the car and stalked his way up to the door. All of a sudden he froze and became unresponsive. His muscles tensed and the blood that so happily coursed through his veins turned cold. It was then that gravity of this event hit him full on.

    David Ashburn was dead.

  3. Small fingers tapped in rhythmic pattern on the steering wheel as Tori navigated her wave through the snow. Normally, the car would be filled with an assortment of music; perhaps an exotic african beat followed by classical Mozart. But not today. Today the only sound were that of the soft hum of the engine, and crunch of snow beneath tires. She wasn't in a very musical mood today, which was rare, but expected considering the event that she was heading to. The letter felt heavy as lead as it rested in her jacket pocket. She had had to read it over and over when it had first arrived at her home, not wanting to believe those beautifully written, horrible words. Those words that had her heading back. Back to the home she had left so many years ago, with a new sorrow in her heart. David Ashburn was dead. It didn't seem fair for such a wonderful man as he to have been taken so suddenly.

    The young woman blinked rapidly, drying the tears that had built up while she had been lost in thought, taking a deep breath to steady herself. It really would do little good to turn into a blubbering mess while she was trying to navigate these treacherous roads. She'd hate to have to repay her parents for the car they had so generously leant her for the few days she would be staying. That would just pile more negativity on to an already dismal occasion. The first signs of Sanctuary appeared in her sights, a small smile playing on her lips as she advanced forward. She had forgotten how beautiful it looked when covered in snow, the light winkling like little specks of diamond. Of course she had seems snow since leaving, but the city didn't have the same charm as a small town, secluded from the pollution and noise. Almost like a separate world, she thought briefly. Her dark mood alleviated slightly, Tori turned down the road, a soft tune humming in her throat.

    The further she drove, the harder it seemed to snow, the young woman having to lean forward slightly to peer through the blanket of white it was creating. She wasn't accustomed to driving through such weather, and the sensible part of her mind asked that she stop. But this was David Ashburn, the man that had always been kind and good to her. She needed to be there, so on she pressed, finally coming upon the Our Lady of Sanctuary parking lot, coming to a halt as close as she could to the door. She sat a moment, collecting herself, the bells distant in her mind, before opening her car door. The cold hit her hard, a soft gasp leaving rose lips as she hurriedly locked the door, and headed for the warmth of indoors. There was someone ahead of her, but the snow made it difficult to see who it was until she was right next to them. They looked familiar, but she couldn't put a name to the face. Still, that didn't deter her from approaching the other.

    "You're going to catch a cold if you stay out here." She spoke, voice slightly muffled, as all sounds were, by the white surrounding them. A hand reached out towards to other in a friendly nature. "Here, let's go inside, yeah?"
  4. It seemed like the cold penetrated far deeper than just his body. It was numbing his mind. But then again that could also be the effects of grief. Whatever the case, the words of a stranger sounded at first far away. A second later, his synapses fired, the words rushed through his mind at break neck speeds and Chris turned to look at this person.

    But he couldn't make out a face, not through this snow.

    He could make out a silhouette and from that he deduced that he was talking to a woman. Immediately he started to run through his memories, trying to remember if the orphanage had a woman. But he was going about it all wrong... Back then they were all kids. For Chris to even touch at his memories he would have to identify this woman as a little girl. But everything was so foggy. His memories were like this snow storm, blanketed and hidden. When he closed his eyes to think, he would see the pier and the same unknown man. If his eyes were open he would see the orphanage in place of the basketball court, or the creek in place of the highway. If only accessing his memories weren't so god damn frustrating!

    ...A hand extended out from the body.

    He exhaled hard. The lines that appeared so quickly on his face eased away. He had become mad once more without realizing it. Too many sleepless nights did this to him, could do this to anybody. The corners of his mouth eased into a smile. Without really thinking, Chris took the offered hand in his. He gave a nod to this woman and opened the doors.

  5. The snow was beautiful, it really was, but all that beauty seemed to be suppressed under the heavy weight of the dark, dreary, depressing cloud that hung over everything. The rental car's radio blared loud, violent music from it's speakers. Brian did not really like this kind of music. It sounded like metal grating on metal and the singer's - or more accurately the screamer's - voice sounded like two boulders grinding against each other. But this kind of music helped. The pure anger and hate that came through the radio was almost therapeutic in a way. It fed his own anger and, strangely, sated it. But why was he so angry?

    He sat in the car, idling in the Our Lady parking lot, staring at the note in his hand. He was not reading it. He had already read and reread it enough times to know word for word what it said. No, he just stared through the words, at the paper that the perfect handwriting rested on. He was so angry at everything, but he was mostly angry at David Ashburn. Angry at him for dying.

    How could someone who just seemed so... immortal die just like that?

    As a child, Brian had never really liked the caretaker. In fact, hate might have been a better word for it. He always used to see right through Brian's flattery and tall tales. But as Brian grew up, he realized that the man was only tryin to take care of him, to teach him, and Brian was thankful for that. For some reason, that fac was really one of the only things he remembered about Sanctuary. Everything else was as lank and blurry as a snowstorm. The long honk that cut through the noise on the radio shocked him out of his stupor. He shook his head, shoved the note in his pocket, and opened the car door. The cold air blasted him in the face and he cringed, almost withdrawing back into the safety and warmth of the vehicle, but he got out. Two others were already halfway to the church, he noticed. Pulling his coat around his body, he followed in their wake.
  6. Tori's smile widened as the man reached out to her, taking her hand in his. His skin felt cold, colder than it should have been. Just how long had he been standing here? Tugging gently, the young woman led the way into the warmth of the indoors. It wasn't until the heat touched her skin and stung her cheeks that she realized how cold she has been herself, a shudder running through her body to shake off the cold that clung to her bones. Taking back her hand, she went to work brushing the snow out of her hair before it began to melt. "Now this is much much better, right?" She chirped, spinning on her heel to come face to face with the man again. A small giggle left her lips, seeing the snow that had started to pile on his shoulders and head. "Here, let me..." With light fingers, Tori set about brushing the snow from the man's hair, being careful not to leave it in too much a mess.

    "There we are." Her hands were shaken slightly, melted snowdrops falling to the floor. Taking a moment, Tori let her eyes travel over the features of the man again, the familiarity and nostalgia compelling her to remember how she knew him. "Say, have we met before?" She took a step forward, inspecting the man's face more carefully, trying to see that of a child she might have known so long ago. "We must have. I remember your face." She felt rather annoyed that she couldn't remember a name to put to his face, but she was sure it would come to her. Eventually. "I'm Tori, if you remember me at all... You do remember me, or am I just sounding out of my mind to you?"
  7. [size=+1]

    The motel is a dive. Harsh, but there’s really no other way to describe it; the walls are coated in dry-rot, the rooms probably haven’t seen a decent cleaning in years and the smell of sweat, stale smoke and desperation all form together to create a miasma so thick it could almost take form to reach out and choke you to death. It’s a place for truckers, lonely salesmen and adulterers on a budget.

    And washed-up rockstars on the run from the paparazzi as well, I suppose.

    If the motel is a dive, then my room is a bombsite. Empty bottles that once contained every alcoholic beverage sold nearby are strewn across the surfaces and floor, or else shattered in front of the wall they were flung at in a drunken frenzy. Torn notebook pages have been crumpled up and hurled all across the room, half-formed mutants aborted before they could ever be fully conceived into songs and poems. The bed is a tangled mess of covers and sheets wrapped up into a twisted horror show.

    Only one surface remains clear of debris and clutter, a sanctuary amidst the chaos. It remains completely empty save one item, free of bottles, note pages and dust. Upon it rests an opened letter, carefully written and painstakingly presented. The words are concise, sympathetic and tell of a terrible and unwelcome truth.

    It tells me that David Ashburn is dead.


    For me, driving into Sanctuary is like wandering into a postcard depicting a place you once knew so well but now can only half-remember.

    A veil seems to lift from my mind as I drive the Chevy through these snow-covered streets and my mind slowly begins to recollect memories that have not been accessed in well over a decade. The road we used to walk along to school, the places we once hung around in, the shops and stores that seem to have barely moved or changed despite the years it has been since last I was here.

    Let me correct my first statement; driving into Sanctuary is like wandering into a postcard depicting a place you once knew so well and discovering that it’s barely changed since you were last here. Stephen King would call it small-town syndrome or something along those lines.

    I call it coming home.

    Slowly I drift along familiar roads towards my destination, the letter enclosed in my jacket pocket. The car’s warm but memory tells me that I’m probably not dressed appropriately for Sanctuary in the winter; I recall bracing winds and knee-deep snow, but given how hazy my memory of this place is that could be an exaggeration. The only thing I can truly recall vividly of Sanctuary is David. David Ashburn, my caretaker and oldest friend, the only father-figure I ever really had or wanted. I feel my throat begin to tighten and my eyes begin to water as memories of him rush over me; the sound of his voice, ever calm and reasonable, the violin he’d play when I was scared or nervous. In the hazy rush of fogged memories that is Sanctuary David Ashburn is the rock in the midst of the river, steady and unflinching.

    The fact that I am here to see him put six feet under is something I’m still having a hard time accepting; I’ve been drifting from denial to furious grief since I first learned of his demise. With all that’s happened to me lately David’s passing just feels like the nail in the coffin life seems intent on burying me in. Much like the one he’s due to be buried in soon. But he would want me to be here, and given everything he has done for me it’s the least I can do.

    The Chevy drifts into the parking lot of Our Lady of Sanctuary and I look up to see a building I have not seen in nearly ten years. As I haul open the door I discover that unfortunately my memory of the weather is pretty spot on; the wind cuts right through my thin clothes and right into the bone. I’m shivering almost instantly as I make for the door of the building, eager to be out of the weather but apprehensive as to who might be within. If there’s other people around these parts the snow is ensuring that I cannot spot them; I can barely see the door through the haze.

    Whatever happens, this is going to be one hell of a trip down memory lane.

    The door is familiar to the touch, and brings with it a flurry of fogged childhood memories. I force it open, assisted by the wind, and haul myself inside before I catch my death, now battling against the wind to get it shut. Turning I find myself face-to-face with two faces that seem intensely familiar, though the names associated with them do not come right away.
    “Jesus Christ,” I exclaim with a chuckle as I brush snow from my hair, “Weather round here sure as hell hasn’t got any better since I was last here!”

    Sure Eddie; humour will make sure they don’t know you’re terrified. That always works.[/size]
  8. The double doors swung open at his touch, expectantly, hungrily. All the snow and ice crowded in with them, sifting into small piles on the floor and stifling the candlelight. A thousand tongues of light buckled, guttered, sending mad shadows leaping across the ceiling and walls. Stained glass windows caught the light in eerie refracted discordancy, shattering colors upon the pews. All of Sanctuary seemed to be in attendance here, packed shoulder to shoulder and spreading out into the aisles. Organ music somberly held them all in quiet reverie, and only the children were undisciplined enough to turn at the new entrants, their eyes searching for familiarity. The steps to the altar were lined with lilies and orchids, bright and vibrant despite the killing cold just beyond the walls around them. The coffin, sleek mahogany and lined in red, lay closed at the top of the steps. David Ashburn greeted the new arrivals with frozen warmth, pictures of him smiling from beside and on top of his tomb. A man stood at the pulpit, thin and dressed in finery. His pale skin seemed vibrant, despite its pallor, and his expressive dark eyes held the crowd in rapt attention. As Chris and Tori stepped into view, wordlessly seeking a safe berth among the familiar strangers, he caught their eyes, smiled, and motioned them to approach.

    Eyes turned on them then, the distant murmuring of opinions, the twitter of gossip.

    If the man at the pulpit was aware of it, he did not address it.

    “Tori Avalon, Christopher Moore, Brian Cundwell, Edward Manson," He nodded at each in turn as the names fell off his tongue like prepared poetry, eerily on mark despite their long absence, "I’m elated to see you. Not too much trouble with the roads, I hope,” his grin drooped apologetically, “Winter chooses the worst times to surprise us with his weather.” The organ music continued behind his words, lending them almost unsettling rhythm “We have reserved the front pew for you and the others,” he motioned in front of him, “We’ve been eagerly awaiting your arrival.”

    His face brought back no memories, maddeningly familiar and yet defying recognition. Dark eyes held them in focused interest, coy, even playful despite the occasion. Now the all of Sanctuary were focused upon their deserters, the heavy weight of opinions boring between the former orphans' shoulders, the back of their necks.

    Only David’s smile seemed genuine, frozen in a photographed memory. It, alone, welcomed them to come forward, to sit, and to remember.

    To try and remember.


    The mailbox tipped and toppled, felled by the rock carefully hidden beneath packed snow. A car passed by without stopping, throwing up a flurry of muddy slush that poured over David's patch spotted jacket as he turned. Behind him, four children stood perfectly still, like deers caught in a headlight's crossbeam. No one moved. The three little boys, one sporting crutches to keep aloft close together and white faced. The fourth, a little girl trailing behind them, only looked shaken from some far off world, as if rising from a dream.

    David brushed the slush away from his jacket, a scowl darkening his otherwise cheerful face. No one had yet come out to examine the commotion, and the boys' eyes darted to the door of the little cottage and back to Ashburn with guilty speed. Sighing, David let the scowl drift away from his face. Motioning for the children to follow him, he picked up the mailbox and reached inside, gently pounding out the dent as best he could before shoving it back down into the frozen ground. It took several tries, but finally it stood without assistance.

    He crossed his arms.

    "Who's responsible?" He asked, his voice authoritative, but quiet, like the mountain breeze. Soft, with an edge of winter. The middle boy, brown haired with a lopsided orange cap, pointed back at the girl. His face worked through the emotions he felt he should feel, shock, fear, almost outrage. It was almost comical to watch the little boy try to wrestle with the act. To anyone but David, it might have worked.

    "Tori did it." Brian tattled insistantly, "I think she was trying to hit me."

    Tori shrank away from the accusation, almost folding into herself. So much of turtles in her, retreating into her heavy purple coat till only her eyes, dark hair, and her green frog hat was exposed.

    "I saw it," the boy with crutches confirmed, wiping his nose against the orange racer stripes along his black coat, "Cause it couldn't have been me." Brian betrayed himself with a smile, glancing at Chris. Chris wouldn't look at David directly, nor at Tori. He focused his attention on the ground, as if the weight of the world were held in one patch of slushy earth.

    "Yeah," the last boy said, "It was Tori. I think she put the rock in on purpose." Chris lashed out with one of his crutches, tripping Eddie into the snow with a surprised yelp.

    "Copycat!" Chris growled, "You did not!"

    "Did so!" Eddie retorted from the ground, hurling an armful of snow at Chris. Both boys started kicking and throwing snow at each other, Brian ducking out of the way in a panic. Tori retreated farther into herself and started sniffling, expecting punishment.

    Eddie and Chris hadn't gotten along, since the accident with the tree. Despite it being a 'boys will be boys' accident, Chris was slow to give Eddie any sort of a break. Sometimes it even seemed the sporty child was after some sort of recompense.

    Regardless, David brushed past Brian and between the other two boys, holding out his hands. "Enough! Enough. Eddie, Chris, apologize. You've been taught better than this. What did I tell you about fighting and lying?"

    Eddie muttered under his breath and Chris kicked the snow irritably, but both could not meet David's eyes.


    "It was Brian," Chris said at last, "He threw the snowball."

    "Did not!" Brian retorted, stamping his foot. "You're an unreliable witness! Perjury! Perjury!"

    David chuckled, despite himself, swallowing his laughter and shaking his head. "Up late watching court tv as well?"

    Brian was pale, eerily so against his lime green Northface coat. "N-No. I mean. Um, maybe the-the once that you let me and I-"

    David stared at him, a look reserved for only Brian.

    The boy quailed.

    "I didn't mean it to have a rock in it!" He confessed, swinging his arms dramatically, "It just happened! I didn't mean any harm, honest!"

    Eddie had gotten to his feet, putting his hands behind his head. David shook his head at the three of them.

    "Dishes and dusting when you get home...for all three of you." The boys groaned, "And you'll have to cancel your playdate with the neighbors this weekend. I think I can find a few more character building chores for you three to work on while Tori eats her ice cream."

    "What!" Eddie yelped, stamping his foot, "Why does SHE get ice cream?"

    "Simple," David said, motioning the little girl to approach him. She did, in her flighty waddle, and he patted her on the head as she clung to one of his legs, "Tori never lied. Shame on you three for trying to blame her. Now I want you to apolo-"

    "Good afternoon, Mr. Ashburn."

    David wheeled around, fast, impossibly fast and the children following his gaze. Mayor Daske stood on the other side of the road, black hat on his slicked hair and the light almost glowing off his pale, handsome complexion. His eyes were not for David. Instead they held each of the other children, one by one, with an appraising smile.

    "Mayor," David answered, stiffly, "I didn't hear you approach."

    "I'm not surprised," he laughed, "You had quite the distraction."

    "Kids," David turned to them, pushing Tori gently off his leg, "Go play in the snow for a bit while I speak to the mayor. I don't want to see any snowballs. You play nice...or I'll extend your punishments." The boys nodded sullenly, and Chris tugged Tori with them to the shoulder of the road.

    David passed across the street and began speaking.

    All the while, Daske watched the children, a smile curving along his lips.

    At the time, the words had meant nothing to the children, who began building a snowman. Remembering now, the snippits of conversation heard over the wind was almost...alarming.

    "Are they the ones?"

    "This has nothing to do with you, Bassel, we have an agreement."

    "I'm simply interested. Is it a crime for a mayor to take an interest in his citizens?"

    The wind rose again.

    "-care what you threaten. These are sacred grounds. Contracted grounds."

    "Ease yourself, Ashburn, you jump to conclusions. I simply wanted to have a look at them for myself."

    "Keep your distance."

    "How unfortunate," Daske replied, feigning a frown, "I wonder if they know how long you have?"


    Daske turned away from David, giving a short wave, "See to your affairs, Mr. Ashburn. You know not when the bell tolls." He chuckled, as if sharing a private joke, "But it will toll, old friend, it will toll. And sooner than you think."

    The memory faded, falling back into place like a puzzle piece...and one with alarming implications. Daske had not changed since that day. He looked as young and vibrant as ever. And that smile, those white teeth cutting across his face, it was the same smile as before. Appraising, interested...knowing.
  9. Tori's question remained unanswered by her old friend (whom she was still having difficulty remembering the name of) as a familiar face burst in from the cold, bringing a sour note to her already low mood. Brian Cundall, now there was a man she would rather had never seen again. Scathing words might have been exchanged between the two had Eddie not broken the tension with his entrance into their little group. She didn't remember much of this man, only that she had known him once, but who couldn't recognize the front man of Seattle's favourite group of musicians? Eyes of clear blue searched the man's face a moment, something seen there causing the expression on her face to soften, motioning the other forward to come join them as they all walked forward into the ceremony. The hush that hung over the people, siting in perfect lines in the pews, layer thick and heavy, and even Tori, her comfort in speaking and speaking often, fell silent in its presence. What could she say, when faced with the infallible truth that this was his funeral. David Ashburn lay still and silent inside a closed coffin. Wasn't that wrong? Weren't they meant to leave coffins open during the funeral? Perhaps he had wanted it this way.

    The man at the front motioned them forward, the small group shuffling their way down the middle aisle as the crowd erupted in whispers at their presence. It was somewhat unnerving that their entrance had broken the silence that hung so heavy before. It made her feel watched, and not in the way that she enjoyed. She relished in being the centre of attention with people that she knew, or acquaintances that she had past relationships with. These were people that she had no recollection of, and she was fairly sure that most of them she had never met. Why would they get into such a tizzy over them to break the respectful silence they had been keeping. This felt wrong, and it angered her slightly. Their thoughts should have been with David and his life, not on the four people who had just walked into the building.

    Her wandering thoughts, broiling with well hidden resentment and indignation, were brought to focus by the man who had ushered them forward, polite words on grinning lips dripping out. He was familiar, as was most of sanctuary, but also lost in the fog of her memory. As though someone had placed a thick piece of nylon over her memories of him. Of this place. It was aggravating, having someone speak to them as if they knew them, as if they knew her, and yet not be able to place a single memory to them. She couldn't even remember the man's name. All she could do was force a sad smile to her lips, nod limply, and take the seat that he offered. She tried her best to ignore him, the way he stared at them. Maybe he's just strange, she tried to tell herself. But their was something in his smile that seemed so off, almost knowing. She didn't like him. Hopefully, this ceremony was the only time she'd need to see him.

    Besides, this was a time for remembering David Ashburn, in all of his splendour, and she's be damned if some creepy bastard she couldn't remember spoiled this day. She focused on the centre photo they had chosen for the ceremony, her frown turning into a soft smile, tinged with the edges of sorrow and grief. Oh how she would miss the man, his kindness and warmth. Such a gentle heart. The picture brought back a memory of childhood, innocent and fun (for the most part). It still made her chuckle to think on how David had come to her aid, when others would have taken the other children at their word. The memory was brief, and its ending, at the time unnoticed by a child's mindset, sent a pit into her stomach. Tori shook her head lightly. No, she didn't want to think like that. Not now. Today was for David, and that's where her thoughts should be. Yet, she couldn't stop her fingers from fidgeting in her lap, the only sign to the world that something bothered the young woman.
  10. In spite of the situation, Brian smiled wide as Eddie walked into the church. He felt like this man was something of a best friend, someone whom he got along with very well, and he was right. Eddie was one of the few things about Sanctuary that he remembered. It was a foggy memory, yes, but a memory nonetheless. He turned back toward the other two and followed them to their designated spot. He could not place a name to the girl quite yet, but he seemed to be able to place a... role... a use. Something nagged the back of his mind, at the same time balancing on the tip of his tongue. He knew this girl's name, but it would not come to him.

    He would have easily remembered Chris as well, but time and change had twisted everything, and the face would not match the name. He took his seat and looked up at the mayor. This one was not a face who's name he could not place, but a name who's face he could not see. He honestly did not remember the man at all, not even a glimpse in all the foggy haze of his childhood. His gaze drifted toward the closed coffin and locked in place. In lieu of his gaze drifting, his thoughts began to slip away. He remembered white snow, three other children, a promise of punishment, and a painful reminder of their dead caretaker.

    He frowned in concentration. Now he remembered the authoritative man standing in to front of the church, but that was not what puzzled him. His mind immediately latched on to the cryptic words that he had spoken, searching and scrutinizing for a meaning. Or at least,words that Brian had thought he had spoken. Too much nighttime television is what he attributed it to, or maybe he had been spending too much time at the station. Who knew? Right now, he needed to focus on his reason for being here. He could chat it up with his long lost friends later, right now they were here to mourn the passing of a good man. A short chuckle almost escaped him as he went over the fresh memory in his head once more. He had really been a little jerk back then. Especially to the girl, Tori.
  11. Someone had to have punched him. All of the air was knocked out of his lungs as his eyes took in everything in that woman's face. This person who so gently brushed away the snow on him sent Chris back in time to his childhood. He immediately placed a name, Tori, the kind and abused girl at the orphanage. A tinge of guilt and regret attacked his heart. Looking back, he wished he said more, did more for her. It wasn't right for her to be picked on, but what choice did he have? All of the guys would have picked on him for being kind.

    Tori's words were lost as the doors opened and Chris saw the many eyes and faces turn towards them. It wasn't the strange faces that made Chris tense up. He was used to a crowd of people watching him. It was the fact that some of these people were people he once knew, but forgot. Was he supposed to say hi? Should he reintroduce himself? How rude would that be?

    The questions were halted as a man spoke.

    The organ music penetrated deep into Chris' being - it irritated him because it was so loud and obnoxious. The words of this man - whose face was starting to jolt Chris' memories - fell to almost deaf ears. Chris only had eyes for one man, and his photographed face smiled back at him, at Tori, and the other orphans who stepped inside.

    Hypnotically, Chris' legs moved forward down through the pews, past the many faces. His eyes were glued onto David's face, the only face he could remember. Automatically he sat down next to Tori, wrapping his coat tighter around him. ​
  12. [size=+1]The truth of what has happened had not really set in for me yet; even as I was travelling to Sanctuary, or when I received the letter, I think there was a part of me that was holding on to the hope that this was some elaborate ruse, that someone had fucked up somewhere and I was going to be arriving in my childhood home to find David Ashburn, still alive, his smile unfailing, his gaze unflinching.

    Yet as I walk down the pews to the organ music to the front row and stare at the closed casket the reality finally hits home. Here lies David Ashburn, a look of tranquillity about him, a certain peacefulness… but that smile I loved so dearly is gone and I will not see it again. I can only see caricatures of it in the pictures that surround the coffin, but none of them do the David Ashburn of life justice.

    As I find myself a seat between the girl (Tori, I think?) and Brian (one of the few figures from childhood I can still faintly remember) and the organ continues to blare. The name of the man who welcomed us into this unhappy place is on the tip of my tongue. He’s someone important round these parts… Brastel? Brussels? No, that’s a country you tit. His name just escapes me, but then the same can be said for most people in this room… so familiar, yet they might as well be strangers.

    Here’s somewhere I never wanted to be again. Trapped in a room full of familiar strangers.[/size]
  13. “Ladies and Gentlemen, we are gathered here today to mourn the passing of a beloved man.” Daske’s voice rose over the pulpit, crashing out into the crowded mass of black coats and somber faces. “David Ashburn never asked for much. His passion was for the children, to care for the unfortunate and abandoned. We knew him by many names. Caretaker, Friend, Charity Organizer…all merely titles.” He looked down at the coffin, his eyes lingering on the way the light caught the grains of the lid. “Regrettably, he was taken from us too soon. As a community we will mourn his passing, we will remember his name. Although he was not born here, he was as much a citizen of Sanctuary as everyone else.”

    Stepping around the pulpit, he put a hand on the land, spreading out his fingers and taking a deep breath. It almost seemed he held back a sob, swallowed and digested. He breathed regret. “Goodbye, David, you left us too soon. May you find peace in this final rest.”

    Subtle organ music swelled and then tapered, Daske shook his head and stepped out to the pew where the former children sat, all wrapped in their own worlds, held captive by the picture’s gentle smile. “I’d like to ask that those who knew him best step forward, say a few words in his memorial.” Both pale hands wrapped over the wall separating them from him, his dark eyes boring into their skulls, one by one. “David was not a complicated man. In the end, all he wanted was for you children to have a home, to have a chance to better your circumstances. Let the last things he hears before burial be the voices of those he cared for most.”

    Turning away, he gestured up to the pulpit, “No one knew him better than you.” But he lied as he spoke, the edge of an irritatingly knowing smile breaking his otherwise doleful frown. “Will some of you speak on his behalf?”

    Outside, the snow began to fall faster. A wind picked at the drifts and piles of silent, white tombs. Sanctuary was silent, vacant. Ghosts of ice and wind prowled the streets, stirrings of a storm that roiled above the small town. But it spoke with no thunder, attacked with no lightning. Silently it poured frozen tears upon the rows of squat homes. Wordlessly it buried them all, bit by bit.

    And above the town on the only road away from the valley town, a tree listed carelessly, crashing into the snow with barely a thump. Behind it, a figure, almost wraith-like between the flurries, looked down at Sanctuary. Its eyes roved the roads, the alleys between homes, settling on the Church.
    It smiled hungrily, its teeth like jagged glass.

    They had come.

    And now they were trapped.

    The ice continued to fall around the Church and the funeral.

    Listless, lazy, inevitable.

    And the only smile in all of Sanctuary belonged to David Ashburn, frozen on his photograph.

    The figure above the town was gone…leaving no trace of its passage among the falling snow.
  14. Brian was only half listening to what the Daske was saying. He was still trying to fully grasp the fact that David had died, desperately denying it in his mind. David had been something strange back then, he remembered. Something he wanted to avoid, but simultaneously, an obsession. When he heard the part about saying a few words, he snapped to attention. Public speaking was something enjoyable for him, something that he was comfortable with and something that he enjoyed to exploit. Perhaps saying a few words really would set his thoughts straight. He stood and walked up to the podium, taking a strong stance behind it and staring directly at his audience, contorting his face into a look of somber contemplation, trying to remember what he could about the dead man.

    "Come in, Brian." The calm, soothing voice did nothing to calm Brian's nerves as he slowly stepped into David's office, acting as if it were the lair of a dangerous predator. David motioned for him to come closer and sit down in one of the chairs in front of the huge desk. David, sitting behind the desk, folded his hands. The warm summer sun shined into the room through the window, unrestricted by curtains or drapes. "Come now, Brian, it's not like I am going to hit you or anything." Brian walked forward and sat in the soft, warm cushioned chair. David in turn stood, walked around the desk, and sat in the chair across from Brian. It was just like David, never putting a barrier of any sort between himself an anyone else, be it physical or emotional.

    "Now I think you know why you're here, yes? he asked. It was a question that needed no answer, and one that Brian was too scared to answer anyway. "You should never lie to anyone for any reason, whether it be your friends, teachers, guardians, or to keep out of trouble, or to get someone to do something for you, and especially not to get someone else in trouble." Brian could not help but wince at the emphasis on that word. David had a strange way of making him feel guilty even when he was not in trouble, but when he was in trouble...

    "Now do we understand each other?" Brian nodded weakly. David smiled warmly, a smile that even made Brian feel at ease. "Good! Now let's go back and apologize to Tori, okay? I'm sure she's had her feelings hurt by what you tried to do."

    "David was my mentor, my moral compass, one of my best friends, and someone whom I looked up to as a guide, guardian, and father. Neither I nor anyone else gathered here today will be able to accept his passing with ease. But we must remember, he did not live in vain. He took care of many like myself and my four friends" he waved a hand at the people he barely remembered, "and he, in turn, taught us to lead a life of selflessness. Other than that, what have I to say that has not already been said?" With that, Brian left the podium, put a gentle hand on the coffin of his guardian, and returned to his seat.
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  15. Unlike Brian, Chris wasn't one to enjoy public speaking. The man was notorious for being quiet and a funeral was no exception to this rule. However, this was David they were talking about, the man who had somehow filled a void in Chris' life.

    After Brian sat down, Chris adjusted his tie; it was a nervous tick of his. He stood, and swayed on the spot. His eyes had gotten a good look at the people in the pews earlier, and another look at them now made his heart skip a beat. The man swallowed, and strode up to the podium. His gait lumbering and back hunched over, it was obvious Chris hated every minute of this. He grasped the sides of the podium none too gently, and exhaled slowly.

    "I um... Heh." He paused, licking his lips. Frantically he racked his brain for soulful words to describe his feelings for David, but all he could come up with were tears. His eyes instinctively looked at the audience, trying to find a gentle soul to encourage him to continue. Instead, he could have sworn he saw David sitting in an empty space. He was smiling, or was that the same smile Chris saw on his photograph?

    Blinking furiously, Chris realized he had the words in him all along. Immediately his posture changed: he stood straighter, his grip relaxed and his eyes were filled with purpose and pain. There was a message for David to receive.

    "David is the only person I knew who I can say was my father. Not like, not close to it, but was. He provided for me in more ways than anyone I've met. He wasn't my blood parent but because he acted like one, I believe he was just as good. Probably better. I'll miss him and mourn his passing like a real son would."

    Reflecting on what he had said, Chris was unsure if his words had done this man justice. Knowing that he probably couldn't have done better, the NBA star moved back to sit in the pews, desperately wishing he could shred ever ounce of his fame to become like everyone else.​
  16. Snowflakes fell like many wandering souls. Piece by piece, flake by flake. Never speaking of their impending doom only accepting the fate bestowed upon them. Fate- the same thing that brought her back here. Fate. Nothing but an idle dream such as religion or god. All fate leaned toward coincidence. Nothing more than an odd series of events. The unexplained was only revealed through logic’s lens.

    The parking lot the red Mercedes pulled into was decorated in a glittering coat of white gloss. Reversing and parking, nestling itself between another car and the side of the lot. Fingers clutched the steering wheel, as if grasping it for safety. Soft tears fell from cold rosey cheeks as the ignition to the car subsided to a dull roar before shutting off in its entirety. She was here. Chairese had returned to a place once forgotten in memory. Lost away to childhood, but always lingering like a dream. This place, this sick and beautiful all at once; this place had not changed. And here she was, no longer the small innocent girl she used to be, now grown, there she sat - a woman still dappled with the same spirit she had held in her childhood.

    Quickly she went about reapplying her makeup- dark smudges of eyeliner dotting her face, no doubt from silent mourning on the long drive here. How she had forgotten how far this place was, quiet. It was always like that. A sanctuary to them, a haven as children. It was a place she recalled of safety- never of threat and David kept it that way. Her hand stopped, nimble fingers trembling at the thought. A father, always there- watching.

    Then came tears again. Strawberry lips parted as Chairese chuckled to herself through cursing beneath breath, laced with false tidings of acceptance. Even through the years of being gone she had still written to him. She always kept in touch with David, sending him letters until college became too much. Time was lost and forgetfulness took hold as she became wrapped and absorbed within her own life.

    Regret, disappointment, guilt.

    Stray Golden locks lay scattered about her face as a hand came and smoothed them over allowing herself time to regain composure. Chairese adjusted the mirror, her eyes racing over her own complexion, checking and rechecking for flaws, for errors. Nothing, once more she was perfect. Her expression was that of melancholy as she opened the car door, letting in the biting cold of winter, dainty feet slipping out over the side of the car lingering over the freshly lain snow.
    Freezing- with each breath she took the cold stinging air filled her lungs as she exhaled causing a shiver to run down her spine. The woman reached behind her seat, snatching from the back a pair of heels matching the black coat she wore, fabric clinging tightly to her body and shaping her delicate frame as it turned back to face the white wonderland.

    "Here we are again..."Her voice trailed off; her frame adjusting as slowly she slipped her feet into each shoe before standing. She swallowed, the lump of sadness still caught in knots in her chest. She couldn't believe he was gone- she didn't. He wasn't. It couldn't be. No. The pain swelled as she clutched a hand over her chest making a conscious effort to hold back the flood gates of emotions. A cool breeze went by her, catching her person causing her to shift positions abruptly. Chairese was not ready for this, she wasn't. There were so many things she had left to say- so many conversations she had yet to have. She was not ready to deal with loosing someone important, not when everything else was so wonderful. Hesitant strides fought against the falling snow as slowly she made her way to the towering doors that seemed to only seemed to get more intimidating the closer she approached. Touching the handle of the door allowed the biting spidery embrace of the cold to creep up her fingers and along her arm. For David, it was the least she could do to say goodbye. To repay him even just a little for the kindness he had shown. The 'click' of the handle brought the woman slowly back to reality as with effort to make her presence unnoticed. Slowly she pulled the door open with a resounding 'creak' before stepping inside.
    ((Apologies for the EXTREME lateness on this. It was convention week for me so that means a convention every weekend for the past two weeks.))

  17. [size=+1]Oh shit.

    Mayor-boy wants us to speak.

    I haven’t found myself in front of an audience in months, not since my accident, and I have no wish to bring such a streak to an end. Nor do I have any wish to share what existed between David and I with a room filled with strangers. My memories of the man are some of the dearest I still possess, deeply personal; these people would not understand, and I do not wish to cheapen his memory trying to make them.

    Fortunately for me, my old friend Brian has me covered. Rising to the podium, he knows exactly what these people want to hear; hearing him speak confirms that he’s certainly not lost his edge. If anything it’s only grown sharper in the years we’ve been apart. I flash him a quick smile of approval in recognition of his little speech as he returns to his seat. Though the circumstances really couldn’t be worse, the chance to catch up with my friend acts as a small silver lining to this gargantuan cloud.

    Next to the podium is Chris, of all people; he looks uncomfortable, to say the least, as he delivers his eulogy, but the fact that he’s willing to even speak tells me that things have changed for him. There’s now a quiet confidence to the nervous little boy I faintly recall in my head.

    Silently I remain in my seat, all too aware of the eyes that are currently upon me. We orphans have said our peace, and I have no intention of adding to it.

    I just want out of this miserable place. I hate funerals, and the added burden of having to see David Ashburn committed to the earth is just a bit too much for me.

    And I really don’t fucking like the way the Mayor keeps smiling at us. I can almost see past the sombre façade he has up, and I’m not sure I like what’s peaking out from underneath.[/size]
  18. Tori's lips were pressed together in a thin line, fingers working a rhythmic pattern of pressure on her knees where she had rested her hands. This felt so strange and so wrong, sitting in silence as this man whom she hardly remembered spoke to the rows of people about such a man as David. It felt cold and shallow, and she could not bring her eyes to focus on anything but the smiling photo. Remembering each line of the man's face, the way the corners of his eyes crinkled when he'd laugh. It was lamentable how little she truly remembered of the time she shared with the man, a strange guilt at forgetting gnawing away at her. When it was asked of her and the other orphans to speak, it grew. The thought of standing in front of all these people, these strangers, and try to tell them about a man she had trouble remembering, made her stomach flip. It was a great relief when someone else moved to take the stand, leaning back against the pew in relief.

    That relief was short lived, realizing it was Brian who had stepped up to take the first words to be spoken, annoyance settling in as she realized she'd have to listen to him speak about David, have it pushed into her face that he remembered more of the man than she did. Cold eyes turned upwards, studying the man as he readied himself behind the podium, watching as his face moulded into one of perfect sorrow. There was a flicker of movement to her right, but she steadfastly ignored it, listening to see if Brian's honeyed words would do David the justice he deserved.

    Even the bitter resentment inside her conceded that Brian spoke well under scrutiny, giving a small huff as she made herself content to wait. The man she had been speaking with earlier, still infuriatingly nameless in her mind, took to the podium after Brian, stumbling over his words near the beginning. Everything that needed to be said about the life of David Ashburn had been done, eloquent and thoughtful. Anything that she might have added on would have been unnecessary, cluttering up the memorial with her selfish want to bring back something of the man, before she would have to let go of him forever. Her chest pulled tight, gaze dropping down into her lap again as she fought for composure. She could cry later, in the safety of her room. Away from pitying glances and fake comfort. Later. She'd break later.
  19. In the wake of their words, the population of Sanctuary heaved a collective sigh. The wind whispered in the aisles, curling around pews and buffeting the hair of the newly arrived. Such love for the man who had cared for them, it bolstered his memory. Sanctuary was a simple town. Nestled in the mountain, the community relied on each other to get through the long winters. The children had come to Sanctuary outsiders, had left family, and no one quite knew how they would return. At least in the case of the two men, their words and sincerity rang in the crowded church. It was enough, it seemed, to ease some of the tension out of the strangers who had known them as children. At once, the atmosphere warmed, thawing the sorrow of loss into a celebration of life. Men and women pushed forward to speak on David’s behalf.

    Daske stood aside to allow them room, his cold eyes lingering on David’s picture, an almost bemused smile touching the corner of his lips. Most spoke memories, times of selfless simplicity, of honest intentions. Still others speculated on the character of a man who would take in five children, and further on how he let them go. No one spoke much of him after the children had left. Those days, leading the five through slushy streets and rusty playgrounds was his most animated time.

    When they had finished, they rose to help bare the coffin to the Churchyard. Old Chris Manslow had braved the oncoming storm to dig a hole with his Bobcat. It stood quietly in the graveyard, a frozen monster dusted with snow. The procession was almost surreal, marching in time Sanctuary bore a friend from the Church to the grave. All four children were called to help, no one noticing the last arrival in such a swell of emotion. She trailed at the back, lost and outside the collective experience.

    “A bit late to the show, my dear,” Daske jibed without malice, slipping from the crowd to give a brief bow, “Well, that can’t be helped. I’m glad to have you here.” He indicated the coffin being lowered into the hole, hymns piping up from the choir boys and then the rest of them, twisting slowly amid snowflakes as the notes soared toward the heavens. Daske saluted the grave for a single moment before turning and passing the last again.

    “Pay your respects and say goodbye,” he muttered, “You should hope not to see him again.”

    He was gone in the snow, swallowed by Sanctuary itself. The snow ate the noise, leaving only the purity of song or intention to drift over David’s grave. One by one, the townsfolk took a shovel of the freezing earth and poured it over the coffin. One by one they said goodbye, as was their custom.

    One by one, they buried David in the cold and the snow.

    Ooc: One more post here from everyone saying their last goodbyes. My next post will bring you to the house and to another flashback. Sorry for the speed of this roleplay, let me know if anyone is losing steam or focus and I’ll work my best to remedy.
  20. "Pay your respects and say goodbye. You should hope not to see him again."

    Those words sent a jolt of anger through Chris. They sounded too nasty, too vulgar. How could anyone say such a thing? Yes it was true Chris would never see David in the real world but who's to say that he wouldn't see remnants of his former care taker around the town? The NBA star shot the mayor a glare, moving his gaze away once the townsfolk started piling snow onto the coffin.

    The lump appeared in his throat again, hard and painful.

    The hymns did nothing to quell Chris' growing heartache, if anything it amplified it. This was torture, the worst kind any human being could inflict upon Chris. David couldn't be dead, he couldn't be rotting away in that coffin. In Chris' eyes, the man was immortal. But he had to do something, least his tears started to flood. He tapped gently on a townsfolk shoulder, and held his hand out. The stranger paused, but handed Chris the shovel and stepped back into the group of people.

    Chris began heaving snow and mud onto the coffin, the physical exertion enough to keep his tears at bay. He wasn't going to say goodbye because David wasn't really gone. He was going to be back in the orphanage because this was some sick dream, not reality. If this was denial, then so be it.

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