By Willow Taylor
Child's laughter echoed across the field, barely reaching the dark haired figure who stood, half lost in the trees. Even though he heard it, Victor Shelly didn't look up, lost in his own thoughts. The laughter faded away after a moment, leaving the pale faced man alone. He had always been alone, after all, because the echoed laughter was only that, echoes of a time long past. It had been a long time since he'd come past this place, but it still hurt.
Victor wasn't quite human, but he wasn't really anything else that man had classified. He wasn't a ghoul, he wasn't a zombie, and he wasn't quite a vampire. Magic had little to do with his existence. He was closer to science and religion than to what this world knew as magic. His mother had taken the science she and her husband had developed, and created life out of death. Victor lived. He breathed, ate, slept and all the rest. But this life out of death wasn't prefect. He couldn't reproduce with a human, and he didn't grow, or really age. He would live out the time that God gave him as a short, black haired man with liquid dark brown eyes. That was the body that his mother had found disemboweled, and reanimated. That was his body. When he had woken, Victor had only taken a few months to relearn the ways of the world, as compared to his elder sister, who was still learning. However one side effect of that quick relearning was that he had a few bad habits that Dr. Shelly could not explain. His addiction to Cloves, taste for good wine, and appetites for the pleasures of the flesh. His "mother" Dr. Frankie Shelly, told him all about his sister, and how she had brought Mary, and him, to life. She drilled the procedure into Victor's head. Then she disappeared. Victor was at a loss. He had no friends, no allies, and no real skills. He was competent in several fields, but outcast and afraid to get close to anybody, due to his appearance.
Beyond the simple things of limb and feature, Victor's body had been a vampire, which had preserved it and made it ideal for Dr. Shelly's process. When his emotions got the better of him, the vampire in him was revealed. And despite his many advances in the ways of the world, his emotions so often got the better of him. Incident followed incident. The Vampire Hunter's Guild, who was responsible for his "birth" and, he was sure, his mother's disappearance, was hot on his trail. Victor wanted no part of the Guild. They had abandoned many of their old goals and had set themselves a new agenda. An Agenda that would be greatly helped by a man who wasn't human but who wasn't a vampire either. He ran away from the place he had been reborn.
That was the beginning of Victor's wanderings. He drifted from town to town, observing, learning, occasionally interfering, but never staying long. Victor, by degrees gained control over his emotions but could never quite manage to be completely impartial. Sometimes a feeling seized him, deep in his heart and shook, screaming "this is wrong" over and over until he was forced to help, lest he go insane. Over the first two years, that earned him the nickname "Dark Angel" or simply, "Angel." (A clove-smoking, black leather trenchcoat-wearing, gun-toting, frizzy-haired angel... sure...) People began to look for him, and recognize him, which was just what Victor didn't want. The slim, pale youth never forgot that the Guild had ordered his mother to create another of her 'flesh golems' to be their hired killer. "Angel" wasn't deaf even in his emotion-fueled rages. His sister was being schooled by the guild. If they couldn't have the finished product, the Guild was more than willing to make due with the prototype until they could get ahold of him.
He drifted eastward, away from New York. Trekking across Northern Astoria on foot was not an easy task... but possible. It was far, far eastward that he found solace. The people there were resourceful and not likely to expect help from any quarter but themselves. Half the time, they didn't even depend on the guild to take care of their vampires, which, in its way, suited the Guild just fine. And since the guild had few representative in those parts, Victor felt safe for the first time since his "mother" disappeared. Safe enough to be friendly, instead of the "drifting stranger." Or, as Victor liked to think when he was feeling vain, the "handsome hero." That was how he met Maggie.
Maggie was a widow. She had two children, Adrian and Sarah. Maggie's marriage had been one of convenience arranged by her parents and her husband, Paul. He had died three winters before, and it was getting by measures, harder and harder to get the harvests in on time.
"Pardon me," came a voice. Maggie looked up from her sickle and the grain she was cutting with it, to see a handsome man in his mid to early twenties standing at the edge of the field, right at the fence she was approaching with the end of her row. "There was a sign at the end of the lane saying Help Wanted' is that still valid?" He reached into a pocket and pulled out a red-and gold package, followed by a black lighter, enameled with a golden cross. Maggie was half mesmerized as the drifter lit the brown-papered cigarette and took a pull. She blinked and straightened up, with a cautious smile and an appraising look. He was a drifter, at least he looked like one, he moved like one, with a large hip-bag, to which he was returning the carton and lighter, a good long coat to turn the wind and rain, and sturdy black boots on his feet. He was slight of build, and pale despite the blazing sun. His eyes were a dark, rich brown, without flecks of any other color, and his hair was an unruly haystack mass of black. Other than a charcoal gray shirt, he was clad entirely in black. Including gloves, she realized, despite the warmth of the day.
"Well, yes, it's harvest season and I could always use more help. Do you have any skills?" He exhaled smoke.
"Lots. What sort are you talking about?"
"Well, can you use a sickle or a scythe? Can you bundle grain?" He exhaled smoke again thoughtfully.
"Probably could use a sickle. Could learn a scythe, and I don't think bundling grain would be that much different than bundling anything else. Can run most machinery, if you've got any of that," he paused and took another pull at the cigarette. "I'm pretty good with horses, at least once we've gotten an understanding going. But I'm a quick learner."
Maggie raised her eyebrows and appraised him again. He wasn't built like a prize fighter, that's for sure, but there as definitely an aura of confidence about him. She extended the sickle towards him.
"Go ahead - try," she said. She'd be able to tell if he could use it within one handful, and that wouldn't be too bad if he couldn't. The dark haired drifter extinguished his smoke, tucked it in one pocket, slipped out of the coat, and laid it over the fence. The charcoal gray shirt was sleeveless, so that could have explained some of his apparent coolness. She reasoned as he unbuckled his gun belt and lay that on the fence too. He then vaulted over, into the cleared batch she was standing in. To Maggie's surprise, he was barely two inches taller than her, not including the unruly mass of black hair. He carefully took the harvesting implement, and turned towards the grain.
"Corn isn't it?" he asked conversationally, as he grabbed a handful of stalks, just as she'd been doing. Maggie swung her water flask around from where it hung in the small of her back and opened it.
"Yes," she replied before taking a drink.
"Why take the stalks with it?" he asked. "Wouldn't it make more sense to just take the ears off?" The brown haired, violet eyed woman smiled.
"Not when this field is feed for my stock."
"Perfectly reasonable." He nodded, and neatly cut the stalks off. He lay them on the ground, and took up another handful, cutting them off at exactly the same height. Then he lifted the double handful, and Maggie belatedly handed him the twine. With a twist, it was bound up. Maggie didn't even see the knife he used to cut it for more than an instant.
"Very good," she said. "I guess you do know how to use it."
"Not really, I was watching you for a moment, before I spoke." He smiled thinly. "Told you I learned fast."
"Well, at very least," she said, brushing sweaty hair out of her eyes. "I'll hire you for the rest of the field." His dark eyes flicked over the field, then up to the sun.
"Alright," he said, "what about tomorrow?" Maggie half-laughed.
"It's farther than you think..." she said reaching for a name.
"Victor," he said. "But sometimes people call me Angel."
"Well, I'm Maggie Feild-Ryans."
"You're married?" he asked, and quirked one of his thin dark eyebrows. "Then where's your husband?"
"A widow," she corrected. That scar was barely healed enough to be poked at. "And I'm not sure what you're expecting in pay, but..."
"Not much, it is, after all, heavy labor." He gave that thin half smile again.
"Well, it's some coin, plus bed and board," Maggie said. "I hope that'll do you."
"I shouldn't see a problem." He inspected the edge of the sickle, then extended his hand. "It's a deal then Mrs. Feild-Ryans." He paused. "I'll cut, you bind?"
"Fine," she said, grasping his hand firmly to seal the deal. Angel set off, Grasp-cut, grasp-cut, as soon as she said gave the word. Maggie jumped to work behind him, picking up the corn and binding it in convenient sheaves. Time passed quickly as she got into the rhythm of it, not looking up. Suddenly, she ran out of corn, and she looked up. The dark haired man was perched on the fence, smoking one of his cigarettes. Sweat glistened on his skin, and he'd lifted the hair off the back of his neck, to let the faint breeze catch it. Recognizing someone who was making the most of a rest, she smiled, and looked around. The sky was getting dark now, but Maggie realized, in shock, that the entire field of corn was cut.
"Now what?" he asked, exhaling the smoke.
"We have to stand them up in groups so if the rain comes they aren't ruined."
"Ahhh." He extinguished the cigarette completely, leaving it on the fence post, and went about, gathering great armloads of sheaves. Maggie paused a moment to let herself admire the spirit of the man, and his whip-cord tensed muscles. Then she set about doing the same.
It wasn't even dark when the grain was sheaved. Victor buckled his gun belt on, collected his coat, and slung it over his arm. Maggie collected an armful of corn, and motioned for him to follow her. A short walk brought them to a pleasant farm house. From the chimney trailed a faint plume of smoke. As they approached, a young girl, about ten ran out.
"Mama!" she called "Who's that with you?"
"This is Angel," she told her daughter. "He's going to help me get the harvest in. Where's your brother?"
"Getting the sheep," the young girl replied. "I tended the other stock and stirred the stew like you said."
"Angel," said Maggie, "this is my daughter Sarah." Sarah was a pleasant looking girl in a blouse and blue jeans, reddish-brown hair covered neatly by a red kerchief. Summer sandals were on her feet. She extended a hand shyly.
"Pleased to meet you, Mr. Angel," she said. Victor gave a faint smile.
"Pleased to meet you Miss Sarah," he replied, shaking her hand. Around the corner of the house came a small heard of sheep, in brown, and black, but mostly white. Behind them came a young boy, maybe a year older than the girl, but shorter, with a shock of red hair, tapping the straggling sheep with a staff as he walked. He was dressed in a simple tunic and jeans, wearing moccasins instead of sandals. He was also accompanied by a brindled wolfish looking dog. The small boy gave his mother and Victor a strange look as he passed, but didn't say anything till the sheep were closed in their pen.
"Did'ya get a hired hand Mama?" he asked, looking up at the wiry dark haired drifter.
"Yes, Adrian, this is Angel, say hello."
"Hello, Angel," Adrian said obediently. "You're gonna help us with harvest huh?"
"That was the idea," Victor said with a small smile.
"Pha," said the small boy, brushing hair out of his bright blue eyes. "You're gonna have ta put on some more muscle then, sure enough. You don't look very strong."
"Adrian!" snapped Maggie "That's not polite."
"He don't," scowled Adrian. Victor smiled slightly.
Victor proved to be a lot stronger than he looked, if a bit inept at simple farm chores, like milking. The third time he'd succeeded in getting milk all over himself, Sarah took pity on him, in a way, and traded doing dishes, which at any rate, he could do with a minimal of mess, for milking the cow. Maggie found this amusing. Victor had a minimal of domestic skills, but the one thing he could do, and as the days grew shorter and colder, it was necessary for him to do, was chop wood. Quickly, efficiently, and without seeming to tire of it. As soon as the last of the harvest was in, Maggie set him to chopping wood for the winter, and Victor, after working out an uneasy compromise with John, their plow horse, set to a will.
design ©2001 by Cindy Rosenthal
No More I Love Yous © 2000 by Willow Taylor
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