A Ripple in the Pond
"In death...all life's questions...are answered"
The Sun had set hours ago, and it had taken the summer’s warmth away with it. The night was chilly, damp and thunderous. Try as it might, the full moon was unable to peak through the thick layer of cumulus clouds.
A tall young man walked down Elm
Street, passing by all the closed doors and all the faceless
strangers. Not a person said a word to him or even looked his way,
with the exception of the occasional beggar here and there.
The streets of New York were bathed in a layer of water mixed in with whatever detritus that had lined the pavement before the last rain fall.
It was well past midnight, in one of the city’s most dangerous regions. Most had already run home seeking shelter from the storm within their comfortably warm and dry beds. That was only if they had a home and bed to run home to. Many locals were forced to make do without the luxury of a roof on top of their heads.
Caleb DeGrau tipped his hat towards his nose before he took it off, holding the bowl within the palm of his hand. The sky was angry tonight. It sought to punish all the wrong doings of this city by unleashing its wrath on everyone, not caring to spare even the random poor innocent soul out of the masses of the filthy that lay around. That’s not to say Caleb himself was amongst those few…
His nice leather boots were wet and muddy. His oversized raincoat was a tad worn and covered in droplets of rain. He looked up at the dark, gloomy sky. Luckily, Caleb had a home to go to himself. He had just left the local orphanage, after another hard day’s work. It’s where he spent a lot of his time away from work. Away from the demanding life of a soldier, mercenary for hire. His grip on his hat tightened as he placed it back on his head. Deciding to make the most of the period of interrupted rain fall, he dug into his left pocket with one hand to take out a cigar, and used the other to bring out his lighter. His hands made the familiar motion to bring fire to the tip of his smoking stick, and placing the lighter back in his pocket, he took in one deep breath, revelling in the relief the instant dosage of nicotine offered him.
“Bliss is brief and can be taken away from you within an instant.”
As soon as he took his first step, the clouds roared above him releasing another salvo of rainfall. The rain snuffed out his cigarette even before he could take in his second breath. He sighed, but left the remaining stump in his mouth. The feel of it alone would have to suffice for the moment.
His hands remained in his pocket as he continued on his promenade. Something shiny flickered and caught the corner of Caleb’s eye. It was a coin. He bent down to pick it up, letting his hands penetrate the muddy water.
It was only a dollar. Caleb flicked it up into the air and caught it while still walking. The splash the coin made with his hand on impact was drowned out by the thundering splashes on the streets by the rain. The clouds cried out again, seconds before lightning slashed through the sky bright enough to fool anyone into believing it was day.
A beggar caught sight of him with his newfound prize, and walked towards him, hand outstretched. The sight of him alone, was enough to evoke pity within Caleb. The beggar cried out in a low pleading tone. “Some change please, to buy a morsel of food.”
Caleb looked out at the hand that was pointed towards him. It was covered by a drenched fingerless woollen glove that had long ago exceeded its use. The man was not that old, maybe within his forties. He was obviously drenched to his underclothes. His hair, if dry, would have been a mess. His face was crying out for a blade to caress its pores. The clothes he wore were torn and old, and had a rather disconcerting smell attached to them.
Caleb placed the coin in his pocket. When the beggar saw this, all hope of getting any money flushed out of his face. As he turned around to find a more generous pedestrian, Caleb withdrew his hand, offering a mosaic of change. “Hey!” He called out. “You forgot this.”
The man’s eyes lit up with surprise, his hands swallowed the money even before a word left his lips. “Thank you,” he said earnestly. “God bless you.”
Caleb tipped his hat in response and walked off again, leaving the older man to count up his latest pay.
He turned into an alley, in order to take a shortcut home. The rain wasn’t as fierce as it was elsewhere. If it had been, he probably wouldn’t have heard what he did next. Something… someone was crying. It sounded like a child. He could barely hear the sobs over the rain, but they were there as sure as the Moon was there behind the dominating clouds. He turned from side to side, but all he saw were windows, covered by overdrawn shutters, and the thick brick wall of the buildings surrounding him.
“Where was he- or she?” He thought to himself as he saw the outlining figure of a little girl. The rain created a thin layer of silver around her, making her not too hard to pick out amongst the darker surroundings.
She was dressed in a small black skirt, with a white blouse. Her head nested rather uncomfortably around her arms. Her hair tied neatly in a braid behind her head. She lifted her head and caught sight of him.
Caleb smiled at the young face. He had always been fond of children. Unfortunately, the sight of him did little else but frighten her as she rushed to get up and run away.
“Hold on,” Caleb shouted over the thundering rain, stretching out his arm. If the girl had heard him, she didn’t show it. She continued to run towards the other end of the alley, and managed to slip on the wet surface of the floor. He looked at her feet. The poor thing was wearing nothing over her muddied socks. He ran out towards her, losing his hat in the process.
But she was frantic and pretty light on her feet. She had gotten up and run out the other side of the alley by the time Caleb reached the spot she had fallen. His long legs only needed two more strides before he was looking out through the opening. There was no sign of a little girl any longer. He looked from one side to another, but she was nowhere to be seen. He ran out onto the bare street, wiped the rain away from his ebony hair, and looked again. But there was still no sign of her.
His whole face was now completely wet, in the absence of his hat. Drops of rain fell from the point of his nose and landed either near the apex of his chin or on his jacket. He chose one direction and ran towards a flight of stairs. Maybe she had looked for shelter there. He ran down towards the cold, looming darkness beyond the stairs.
A surprise awaited him there.
What he saw there, was no little girl dressed in a black mini-skirt. Instead, in her place was a fully grown woman sprawled over the little pond of water that had formed during the storm. She lay on her side, with her legs bare, bent by the knees and spread apart as if in pursuit of something. Her dark hair lay covering half her face. All she wore was a simple white shirt with a pair of black shorts.
She didn’t move. He couldn’t tell if her eyes were closed or not. She could have been dead for all he knew. He walked towards her, creating one ripple after another, and knelt beside her, brushing her hair away from her face. Her eyes were closed. She looked about his age, maybe a little younger. Her face was simple yet still elegant. He lifted up her head and placed his hand over her forehead. Her skin was cold to the touch but a quick check at her carotid artery proved her heart was still beating, although faintly. He withdrew his hand from underneath her head to find it sticky and stained with a dark red substance. She was hurt and unconscious. Leaving her there almost guaranteed her untimely death.
Caleb took off his Jacket and wrapped her within it. He lifted her into his arms and looked towards the stairs. The woman needed help and fast, but he didn’t live anywhere nearby.
“What was she doing there anyways? Who was she?” He felt himself ask. He could see the gentle rise and decent of her chest as she laboured to breathe. “Well,” he thought to himself. “If she survived the night, he could ask her himself.”