I have entered a new phase which is called the Writing Prompts. Get set for something extraordinary from your guy GreatGee.
[WP] He is called simply The Surgeon, and everyone knows that his OR is neutral ground. Heroes and villains alike seek his aid when injured. You're a hero, just in for some stitches, but waiting in the lobby is a villain you've tangled with before, and they're weeping.
Right now, I’m the person that he wants to see the least. If he can see anyone. Sometimes he can’t, when he’s like this.
Traveler’s eyes are all pupils, a wave that ebbs and flows across the white. Tides in that, shimmering wrinkles. Like disordered black silk sheets thrown across a bed— I’ve heard it said that way before.
Traveler is a lean man, tall when he sits up straight. He’s bent so far forward now, doubled upon himself as he stares out, out, and out again, his mind traveling to places nobody else’s can reach. He’s turning an object over in his hands. Over and over and over. It glints sharply beneath the harsh hospital lights. It hurts, to remember what that is.
There’s a moment when I almost turn around. Traveler hasn’t seen me. He’ll sit here outside the Surgeon’s OR, rocking back and forth in that hard plastic chair, until someone forces him to leave, or until he finds his answer in whatever Beyond he’s searching. The nurses know, the Surgeon. They like me too, or so I’d like to think. Most people like Heroes, and besides, Traveler is a hard man to like. For most people. If I left, nobody would have told him.
But I’m the very last person that Traveler wants to see. There’s a certain responsibility in that.
So I say, “I just heard,” and he looks up. His eyes clear from the center out, rings of palest green peering through the disordered, silken black.
“Gesso,” he says. His voice is high, odd for him. It cracks around the edges, and if I listen just a little harder there will be something else peering through. In his own way, Traveler is a complex man. A traveler, yes, but also a sort of waystation for what lies beyond.
He’s turning the object over in his hands. Faster and faster. Now clutching, white-knuckled.
“What are you doing here?” Traveler asks.
“I heard,” I say again.
Traveler’s body unfurls, half a foot taller than me, broad across the shoulders. He’s wearing an old brown jacket, stained and tattered. There’s blood on the collar, spattered across the front. Too much blood. “No!” he says, “Why the fuck did you come?”
I hold out my hand in answer. The office is quiet, there’s a nurse nearby, staring too hard at her screen like she isn’t listening. The Surgeon will be praying. He always prays when he loses one. Come morning, the whole city will be praying. But right now, here in the waiting room outside the OR, the city doesn’t matter. For once since we all grew up, it’s just me, Traveler, and her. Again, like it was supposed to be.
Traveler chokes down a sob. He raises his hand and stares at it, the hand that holds the object. White-knuckled. He stares and stares, and the fingers pry themselves away one at a time. The locket drops into my palm.
This morning, it had belonged to Lily. The city knows her by another name, Starlight, sometimes Lady Starlight, sometimes Starfall when she's in a mood, but I can only call her Lily. Lily, who’s dead on an operating table in the OR now. Who’s death had caused the Surgeon to call me, and to curse me if I didn’t come. Forty years he’s been the Surgeon, the type of man who prays; even in the worst times, I’d never heard him swear.
“Why the fuck did you come?” Traveler whispers.
“Because I had to,” I say softly, “because she’d have wanted this. And because… because maybe, I can help.”
And Traveler’s eyes go black, edge to edge. The silken sheets have drowned the bed. No sight left in the man, only the Beyond, chasing Lily down the twists and turns of memory and love and loss into places that might exist and might not, and other places that we— Lily and I— had always wished didn’t.
There had been a time when Traveler and I had names too. When Traveler meant Micah and Gesso meant Grant, and Lily was still Lily, and we were all content in the stilted, three-way love affair of youths the world round, when a girl can love two boys, and not have to come to terms with loving one just a little bit more. Or not be forced to. A time when our world and so many other people’s hadn’t flowed from a late night we had over stolen beers, playing hooky while exploring our rapidly actualizing powers. Powers to look beyond, to look above, and to render what was found permanent. To paint other people’s truths across the landscapes of the world.
I’ve often thought, since those times, that’s it funny how it all turned out. In a better world, we’d have all fit perfectly.
Traveler doesn’t think it’s funny. He’s staring into the beyond, shaking in the middle of the waiting room, one hand still clutched tight to the little metal chain that trails off the locket in my palm, the locket that we’d bought Lily one day when we were all so young, Traveler’s money and mine pooled for a birthday gift. A locket, the kind meant for a sweetheart’s picture, though we hadn’t known it yet.
“Go away,” Traveler groans.
He’s shaking harder. The nurse stands, there’s a gun in her hand. She’s shaking too. She’s young, fresh out of school. In the Surgeon’s OR everyone has to defend the peace, and people know the things that can follow Traveler back from the Beyond. She raises the gun. Anyone could see that she’s never done this before.
I shake my head. She lowers the gun, then drops it. It falls with a loud, echoing clatter, and she lets out a little shriek before falling back into her chair, staring at the drama playing out before her eyes. If she lives she’ll tell everyone. Or take it to her grave. Sometimes, there is no in-between.
“Traveler,” I say, “look at me. Look at me!”
“I’ll find her,” he says.
“No, you won’t.”
“I’ll find her!” he says, pulling the locket out of my grip.
He tries to, at least. The chain breaks. It was cheap brass. Links scatter across the floor and I reach out to take his hand, pulling him closer to me. There’s a dead woman we both loved on a table in the OR, and when I look at the locket I can see it glowing faintly. It used to be so bright. A star plucked out of the heavens.
“You don’t have to look,” I say.
“Traveler, you don’t have—”
I slap him. Once, hard. I’ve wanted to do that for so long.
“Micah!” I shout, “she’s right here!”
And Traveler’s eyes snap open. Black edge to edge, with little streaks of green struggling to peek out. I can still remember the first day Lily really talked about his eyes, told me about the black silk sheets, disordered on the white bedspread. Told me about the green at the center, his natural color. Pale green, like a flower struggling to grow. Trying its best, she’d said. We were sixteen, she was in love. We all were. It was the day she realized, the day she had to choose, the day that she filled the locket. The day that broke all our hearts.
I open the locket.
When Traveler and I bought it for her, we didn’t know a thing about love. We knew that girls liked hearts. We knew that the locket was shaped like a heart, that it was pretty, shiny. Cheap engravings chased themselves around the heart’s curves, and for another five dollars, we could’ve gotten Lily’s name engraved.
Instead, she did that. It was the first real magic that any of us did, that day at sixteen when all our hearts were broken. By then, Traveler and I knew a little more about girls. We knew that sometimes, a girl might put a little picture of her sweetheart in her locket. We hadn’t spoken of it, but both of us wanted to fill that locket very badly.
And Lily, realizing that she loved him in a different way from me, and that I loved her, and that Traveler and I loved each other too, in our own strange ways, did the only thing she could to try to make it all right. She didn’t put either of us into her locket. She put herself, staring up at the sky as the stars shone out across a clear fall day. It made headlines worldwide, Starlight In September, as Lily set a little bit of her heart into the locket that she always wore. Her love for us, for what we all were, in the time before it broke.
Starlight shines out of the little brass locket. A beam of light in the darkness, pale white tinged with yellows and blue, hints of midnight black around the edges. Silken. It reaches out towards both of us, not sentient, not really, but powerful. My skin tingles. My hair stands on end. It smells like her. Like lavender and cool Fall nights, and all the good things in the world.
She reaches towards both of us, but finally, finally, I push her soul towards him.
Traveler’s eyes clear. He’s shaking now, for the right reasons. He’s crying, he hasn’t cried since we boys. He takes the locket from my hands and holds it up to his eyes, his nose, his lips, his heart. He makes a broken, high-pitched sound as he falls back into his hard plastic chair, and when I look up I see the surgeon’s graying hair disappearing in the window of the double doors. Lily is dead on a table in his OR. Lily.
And then, because I’m Gesso, who used to be a boy named Grant, and who loved a boy who became Traveler, when everything was so much simpler, I crouch down his side. I take Traveler’s hands in mine. He bows his head towards me, eyes closed, the last gasps of Lily’s light tingling across his skin.
I gather Lily to me, whatever of her power is left in this world, and I paint a streak across his forehead, a single character that is her. Lily, on a level that no other being in the world can capture, painted across his soul deeper than any memory could ever be.
Traveler reaches up, stops me at the end of my stroke. “She was your friend too,” he whispers.
And at that, a little piece of Lily seeps back into me.
In the OR, Lily, Starlight, Lady Starlight, Starfall, a lover, and a friend and so much more, lays dead on a table. An old gray-bearded man hunches over her, praying.
In the waiting room, a nurse is crying.
In the waiting room, two old friends are leaning against each other, almost embracing but not quite, not able to, though a deeper bond is forming. Reforming.
In the waiting room, Traveler says, “Thank you.”
In the waiting room, I say, “Thank you,” too.