It was a cold morning. Delias sat by the window looking out in the distance. Rain pelted against the glass, and outside, the winds howled. But even as the land shuddered and the heavens seethed, the city remained quiet. Not a soul roamed the walkways. The market had long since been packed up. The merchants. The warriors. None with a trade or service to sell.
Delias’s eyes shifted to the ceiling. The endless white canvas… No. Not entirely white. There were yellow blotches, indicating decay and age. Delias sighed. He remembered when he first moved here. He remembered how new it was. Now? Fourteen years had come and gone. For more than fourteen years Delias sat on the same bed, looking at the same four walls.
Delias closed his eyes. They hurt, but the pain grounded him. The feel of the cold cut grass in the park and the morning dew; the scent of a woman — his woman, or the cool air off the riverfront; all now but distant memories. Memories that had lately become all too precious.
Bringing up the piece of paper in his hand, Delias read the message once more. Mom’s dead.
Delias’s hand tightened, crumpling the paper.
Laying on the nearby stand was an envelope. On it, it was addressed from the Department of Veteran’s Health. His caretaker had come in late yesterday morning to deliver it. Delias had not opened it. He did not need to. He knew what it said. The DVH provided funds for injured veterans to live for up to thirty years, fifteen if the veteran needed a caretaker. Now, those fifteen years were almost up.
Delias glanced at his withered right hand; withered from long years in bed. He compared it to the stump of his left. He didn’t even dare to glance at the mangled things beneath his sheets. When it was cool, the chill irritated them fiercely, and he had no wish to trouble them now. At least that’s what he told himself. In truth, he just didn’t want to look at them.
Delias unfurled the message and read it again. Mom’s dead. Two words. The first two words his brother had said to him since he was injured.
Delias roared and threw the paper. It twisted and fell a foot away from him. He looked at how weak he was and a fury, a fury he had been holding back, holding back because he knew it would do no good, erupted forth.
Delais banged the bed, swiped the nearby desk clean of all its things, knick-knacks and pictures falling on the carpeted floor. He grabbed a nearby cane. A cane that was a gift by the DVH when he moved. A cane that he could never use and smashed it into the window. He smashed it over and over until the glass shattered out, rain and wind coming through the broken pane. The curtains fluttered.
Delais roared till his throat was sore… and then broke down in sobs. Sobs no one would hear in the drowning wind. He did not care for the pain of his injuries. Delias could not appear at the funeral. He would never leave this room alive, he knew. He looked at his only good hand. It was bleeding from a large gash on his palm. He did not even feel when he had cut it. He did not know how he cut it, but he did.
After a half-hour, Delias stopped staring at the wound, at the blood rolling down his arm, and he reached behind him. Tucked beneath his pillow was a thin card. He took it out and stared at it. Grey spots blotted the black crystal-like surface. It was a nice sheen when it was first given to him years ago. But now, like him, it aged.
Time passed. The cold grew. Delias closed his eyes again. He had thought long and hard. He knew the risks, but he was done hesitating.
Back then, Delias was fifteen when he was injured. He was scared and young, and not young and bold. He had believed — had faith — that one day he would get better. That one day, his doctors would come and say: “The department head has discovered a new medical procedure that would make you well.”
Of course, that was mere fantasy. But he truly believed things would get better, after all, looking at him, who could think they could get any worse? But as the years ebbed away like a roaring tide, and his front door seemed to only allow passage for a burly, old man, who tended to just his basic necessities, that fantasy, that hope, blew away like a dandelion bud in a storm.
Taking the black card, tight in his hands, Delias squeezed. He squeezed so hard that the sealing gash on his hand welled up again and blood ran over the card’s face. Delias did not care that his blood spotted his white sheets, nor did he care about the oncoming pain. He had to do this.
Moments passed, and soon, the blood absorbed into the card. The grey spots vanished, and the black card glowed a deep shade of red. As if the card was alive, veins bulged out and wiggled. They squirmed and wormed, pulsing intermittently… then they went still. The veins subsided, leaving a smooth surface, and the red glow dissipated.
If it weren’t for the fact that the card appeared as if new, Delias would have thought it was all but his imagination.
“So, you have finally decided.”
Delias bounced, his heart skipping a beat. It was not even seconds gone that a pain hit him like an oncoming wave. His sudden rush of movement was too painful, flaring up his old injuries. Delias turned his head to look, and standing beside him was that man. The same man he saw almost fourteen years ago. The man looked no different than he did then. A fresh green robe hung off him; and the smell of mint in the air, the edge of his face, that youthful look; and those eyes, those warped starry eyes, all made Delias’s scalp go numb.
Unlike then, this time there was a clear fierceness within the man’s gaze. Like a starving predator with prey lying in wait right in front of him. Delias’s heart trembled. His palm was clammy, and his throat was dry. He coughed and looked at the man dead in the eye. Though Delias’s inner self was shaken, by the look of his face, he seemed placid. He refused to show weakness.
“I have.” Delias finally answered, though the man had not asked him a question. The man’s tone was more of a statement, an observation. It was as if the man knew Delias would agree to his proposal. Right now, for Delias, once the DVH aid was gone, he would end up dead in his apartment. It was do or die!
“Well?” The green-robed man prompted.
“Make me whole… No, not just whole, but powerful. I want the glory that was taken for me. The future I lost. I want it all!” Delias shook. He coughed and hacked. The cold from outside had crept to his lungs.
“Maybe in the past, you could have survived the procedure, but now? Do you believe you are strong enough? I don’t. I would just be wasting materials and my time-”
“Stop!” Delias was now breathing hard. The surprise, along with that sudden outburst of desire, left him drained. “You wouldn’t have come if you didn’t see any value in it. Before you said you could fix me in exchange for being a part of your experiment. I don’t know why you chose me all those years ago, but I have asked around, and you have not offered that deal of yours to anyone else of similar circumstance.”
The green-robed man just smiled. That same smile those long years ago that had not reached his eyes. And just when Delias thought the man would remain silent, the man spoke, “Your value has diminished. I am not sure if you will survive. I give you a point one percent chance. Are you still willing now?
Delias’s gut flip-flopped. He was not a bold man. Even after the promised honors and rewards, he only joined the army after someone told him he would get placed in a division that was not in the front lines. To him, life was precious. And after his legs were taken from him, his cautiousness turned into fear. But a life like the one he lived, the one he imagined would happen a month from now when the DVH revoked his aid, including them taking away that burly old caretaker, scared Delias more than anything. He knew he would die slowly in his bed as someone who could not even leave his room, let alone work. And the anger at his inability to do what he needed to truly live, to not even see his mother before she died or visit her grave was just enough of a push to make him willing to do anything.
He had lost much. His girlfriend, his early years, his family’s respect… his mother was the last straw. Delias was not going to go back.
“I am willing.” His voice was now no more than a whisper, but it was unwavering. Delias steadied himself and looked back out to the quiet city. The unceasing rains pooled below, the sewers drains not enough to cope with the onslaught from heaven. “So… stop stalling and get this over with.”
The green-robed man’s smile deepened. Now it truly touched those eyes of his. As if it were saying, ‘I know something you don’t, and I will enjoy every moment of it.’
Delias shivered, but remained undeterred. He steeled himself. He did not know what the green-robed man was going to do, but he did not care. He was letting go. Putting all his hopes and dreams of a better life in this one endeavor. Should it fail, at least… At least I can have the dignity to take a s*** by myself in the afterlife.