Seth stared at Conan standing in the corner of his office, mumbling to himself.
Conan walked over to the desk Seth stood in front of and straightened out a stack of papers.
“I’m sending you on this new project because I know that you are capable of completing it.” Conan started, his voice scratchy and intimidating as ever.
“Your job is unique, yes. But crucial. And we both know that.”
Seth nodded and sucked in a sharp breath, the nerves rising in his throat.
Conan handed him the papers and Seth’s eyes jumped around the pages, names and places he’d never heard of jumping out at him.
“This little girl needs our help and I’ve decided to bend the rules a bit considering she didn't write the letter. Either way, when I see someone in need I would think to send my top-notch guy.”
Seth could feel his heart jump at Conan’s words. Bending the rules? He had turned down people before? What was special about the girl?
“So,” Conan started again, cutting into Seth’s thoughts. “She’ll be a little tricky to get to cooperate. But I know I can count on you Seth”
Seth skimmed over the papers, trying to find something that could help him figure out why the girl was so special.
“You best be getting to work then,” Conan said.
Seth gripped onto the papers and didn't take his eyes off of them as he walked out of the office. He flipped through the pages looking for the letter and felt his heart speed up when he found it. Scribbled in loopy handwriting was the illegal note that should've been disposed of as soon as it reached the grounds. Conan made it specific that he didn't offer help to anyone who didn't personally ask for it.
Seth sped up his pace and put the letter face down on top of the stack. He hurried outside and found a car waiting for Seth to take him out of the Forges that protected The Bind. Seth, once safely in the backseat flipped over the letter and read it over.
I’m not quite sure who this note will go to. My friend told me she wrote a note similar to this and left it out and her troubles were solved. At least that's what she thinks happened. Her memory is getting quite foggy these days. Anyway, back to the reason I’m writing this. My neighbor's little girl, Celena, is struggling. Her parents and siblings were murdered in front of her and I hate to see a child struggle. She says she’s fine, says she got over it, but I know something is wrong. Her name is Celena. Not sure who this note got to, but could you do something? Please help this little girl. This is the only option I have left to help her.
Sincerely, a neighbor who wants this little girl to be happy again
Seth pried his eyes away from the note and leaned back in his seat.
His mind swirled with questions and thoughts as he tried to grasp onto what he had just read. Seth closed his eyes and resisted the urge to crumple up the note and rip it to shreds. Why did Conan let it slide? The neighbor clearly states in the note, that Celena says she's fine. It says it right there in the neighbors handwriting that Celena doesn't want help. What was in it for Conan? We don't get points unless we follow the rules. Did he know her?
Seth felt the car pull to a stop after his eleventh time reading and looking through the papers.
He folded up the letter and stuck it in his pocket, stuffing the rest of the notes in the compartment under the seat.
As Seth began walking on the bumpy sidewalks he had an unsettling feeling that someone was watching him. A shiver went up his spine but he clenched his fist and forced his nerves out of his head.
He turned on to a new street and was overwhelmed by the smell of gunpowder and metal.
Seth gagged and blinked a few times before forcing his eyes wide open.
His hazel eyes immediately identified the broken down house in the center of the cul de sac as the one he was looking for.
Seth walked closer to the house and stood in front of it for a few minutes, taking in every small, disgusting detail.
He straightened out his black coat and sucked in a breath, stumbling through the door.
Seth’s eyes darted around as he stepped into the house, the smells and scenes making his stomach churn and the world start to spin.
His eyes shot up to the sound of footsteps above him.
He leaned on the wall of the foyer, trying to focus.
Once he could see clearly, Seth listened for the footsteps again.
He climbed up the rickety stairs stepping over chunks of the ceiling and could feel his heart racing.
He felt for the letter in his pocket and his attention was drawn to a door on the far right of the hall.
Seth took a deep breath and went with his instincts to the right door. He rested a calloused hand on the cold, smooth handle and pushed it open.
Seth’s eyes darted around the room until falling on a little girl in the middle.
The girl turned around and her entire face formed into a petrified look of fear.
Her pale pink eyes grew wide as she sat up, her book falling to the ground.
“You must be Celena?” Seth asked.
Celena nodded, wringing her pale, snow-white hands together.
“Who are you?”
“My name’s Seth.”
“What do you want?”
“I-uh-I’m here to help you.”
Celena tilted her head and looked Seth up and down. She fiddled with her long, braided, white hair hanging over her shoulders.
“Did Ms. Delilah send you?” Celena asked.
“Is that your neighbor?”
Celena sighed and slumped back onto her bed.
“I don't need your help.”
“You don't even know how I’m going to help you. Maybe it would be beneficial?”
Celena shrugged and Seth could see the exhaustion in the little girl's eyes. She was tired. She was hurting. She was losing hope.
“I really think you should just leave. I need some time alone.” Celena whispered.
Seth waited for a second to see if she would say anything else before opening the door.
He heard a sniffle and Celena’s small voice behind him.
“Could you uh, tell Ms. Delilah you helped me? It’ll make her feel better since she’s always worrying.”
Seth nodded and shuffled out of Celena’s room, not sure what to do.
Celena didn’t seem like she would resist help. She just seemed so hopeless. Exhausted.
Seth felt like he could breathe again as he stepped outside, the somewhat clean air filling him up.
He took the path to the house next to Celena’s and knocked on the door.
It swung open to a tall thin woman with a confused look on her face.
Seth started to explain and she nodded cutting him off.
“You got my letter?” She beamed at Seth’s nod.
“I’m Delilah, and I’m so glad you could help little Celena. She really is struggling.”
Seth could feel a lump of guilt rising in his throat as Delilah thanked him.
“Come in, won't you? I can make some sandwiches and explain a little more about Celena.”
Seth could feel the curiosity in him building up and he couldn’t resist nodding and stepping inside Delilah’s roomy house.
Delilah hurried into the kitchen, leaving Seth by himself in the foyer.
He looked around, the house structured exactly the same as Celena’s except still standing and in one piece.
The living room was littered with little glass antiques, leaving a lingering musty smell around the house.
Delilah came bustling back into the room with a plate filled with pastries in her hand. She set it down on the table and waved him over to one of the cushioned chairs. Seth nodded his thanks and scooted in his chair before waiting for Delilah to start.
Delilah smoothed down her black hair that was perfectly curled to neatly rest on her shoulders, and let out a sigh.
“Well, I uh guess we should start from the beginning. Celena and her family moved in next door about four years ago, all the way from Angola. Adelina and Mateus, Celena’s parents, spoke a good amount of English. That little girl though.” Delilah stopped and laughed quietly. “She was a bubbly little girl, always smiling. I volunteered to teach Celena how to speak English until Adelina and Mateus finished their job hunt. So Celena started spending her afternoons in my living room, jumping around and calling out words in Portuguese. After months of teaching her, she had learned a lot of English, but she had a few words she just didn’t like in English. She preferred the Portuguese version of them. Her favorite word she always told me, was Nuvem. She would watch the Nuven’s from her home in Angola. She would call me out of the kitchen to show me her forts. She would use a blue and white blanket and drape it over two chairs in the living room. Celena would bring me under the fort and tell me to lay down. She would point up at the white circles on the blanket and say, “nuvens. Watch the nuvens.” She would pretend they were clouds like the ones she would watch at the beach. Celena could spend hours under there, watching the nuvens.”
Delilah cleared her throat and took a bite out of one of the sandwiches.
“A few weeks ago a terrorist group that calls themselves the Myriad came and murdered Adelina and Mateus.” Delilah slammed her hand on the table, tears rolling down her cheeks. “They went to thousands of houses around town murdering and causing destruction, just to scare people. Celena’s only here now because she was with me. We were out shopping for her mother’s birthday. And I-uh I guess you know the rest.”
Seth watched as Delilah wiped the tears off her cheeks and smiled weakly.
“That's horrible.” Seth managed.
How was Celena still in that house?
“Thank you for taking the time to tell me. It must be hard.”
Delilah nodded and stood up out of her chair.
“I don't mean to kick you out, but I have a load of work to do today.”
Seth nodded and stood up and walked out the door, Delilah's house filled with a suffocating silence that made it seem like the walls were caving in.
He felt like screaming. Screaming for the entire world to hear.
Seth walked up the street trying to wrap his mind around the story. He stopped halfway up the hill and turned back around to see Celena, running up the hill behind him.
She stopped and took a shaky breath.
“I um, I was wondering if we could make a deal?”
Seth did a double-take, “what kind of deal?”
“Well, if you let me look at the letter Ms. Delilah sent you, I’ll let you erase my past. I’m not sure I want to remember.”
“I never told you about the letter, or erasing your past. How do you know that?”
Celena shrugged, “I just put the pieces together.”
“But you didn’t have those pieces in the first place?” Seth pressed.
“It doesn’t matter. I need to see the letter.”
Seth sighed and pulled the letter out of his pocket. “Fine, but you have to promise that you’ll cooperate and listen to what I tell you.”
Celena swallowed hard and nodded, her small hand reaching out for the letter. She grabbed the letter out of his hand, her pink eyes darting around the page.
Seth watched as Celena’s pale hands started to shake as she handed the letter back to Seth. Seth looked her up and down, and raised an eyebrow.
“Are you ok?”
Celena covered her eyes and shook her head.
“You have to stop them!”
“What do you mean?”
Seth’s heart picked up as Celena stood there and shook violently.
“They’re coming for me.” She shouted again.
“Who’s coming for you?”
Celena moved one of her hands away from her face, heavy tears rolling down her cheeks.
“You have to stop them.”
Seth felt like grabbing Celena and shaking her.
“They know where I live, Seth. They know who you are.”
“I barely know you!”
Seth’s eyes darted around like he could feel eyes watching him from some, one-sided mirror. “Who is “they'' Celena?” Seth asked, pleading for answers.
Celena stood there, frozen in place.
“Please Seth, you have to help me.”
Her voice grew quieter and quieter as she repeated the words.
Her small, fragile body started to fade and Seth’s eyes widened in fear.
He stood there feeling helpless as he called out her name.
Celena managed one last thing to come out of her pale, faded lips before she completely faded away.
“You have to find me, Seth.”