JB Lacaden’s Picture Choice: 1
"You were always the talented one."
I placed the brush down on the table and wiped my hands on my pants, smudging the blue with green. I gazed at my finished painting. It was that of three Vietnamese women standing waist deep in the sea, holding fishing rods taller than they are.
"I would definitely buy that. Too bad it's not real."
I turned around and there he was, smiling. He was many years older but otherwise he looked the same as the last time I saw him. He was leaning on the doorway, a cane in his hand. Him being here meant my time of running was over.
"Hello, M," I said.
He stood up straight and started walking towards me, the sound of his cane hitting the wooden floor filled my small abode. The pain on his face every time he had to use his left leg was very visible even though he tried to hide it with his smile. He stopped beside me and raised four fingers.
"You can paint exceptionally well, you're a prolific writer, you are a monster at hand to hand combat," he started enumerating them, putting down one finger for each one, "and you're the best Psionic I've ever met."
I could see the wrinkles that ran all over his face, like tiny roads that intersected and met, and his hair had started thinning. Fifteen years definitely did a lot on him. I wonder what fifteen years did to me.
"Amazing," M said, his eyes on my painting, "you know you made it pretty damn difficult for us to find you. You're very good at hiding yourself." He looked at me for a moment then his gaze wandered all over my house.
"Apparently not good enough with you being here," I sat down on the table and watched him explore the place.
"It's been what? Twelve years?" He asked.
"Fifteen," I replied.
He laughed. "You've been keeping count."
"I didn't mean to."
"You know I almost thought this wasn't it. That, when I first arrived here, it was another dead end. Then I started walking, and walking, and after ten kilometers of traversing through a dense forest I knew we've found you. I walked all the way here. It wasn't an easy task, mind you, walking twenty kilometers with this," he said, giving his injured leg a pat. "I'm sure this place is much larger than that. Hell, I haven't even explored the sea! How far it goes, how deep it is," he looked at me, his eyes showed awe and pride and...fear. There was always fear when people looked at me. "You made all of these. How long?" "How long what?"
"How long did it take you to create this place?"
"Three years. With the help of Exceed."
"Three years..." M was now by the window.
Outside, everything looked serene. The sun had just broken free from the horizon and was shedding gold all over the gray sky. The sea was like glass, transparent and flat, and beneath it were the seaweeds swaying left and right, dancing a dance only they know of. From somewhere distant came the sound of a rooster announcing the arrival of a brand new day. My last day here.
"We need you back," M said. A look of seriousness had taken over his face. His blue eyes had become steel.
"No," I said.
"You don't know what it's like out there," M said.
"And I don't want to know. I'm happy here."
"And how long do you think you can stay in hiding, huh? I found you. We found you. It won't take long for the others to do the same."
"I'll just go deeper, create a much larger place. I'll hide better," I said, meeting his gaze.
M laughed. "You're one of the greatest Psionics, I'll grant you that. But even your mind has its limits. You can't possibly think you can create a world much larger than this and hope to sustain its stability. You'll destroy your brain."
"I have Exceed," I was trying hard to keep myself from shouting. I knew M was too. Behind M, past the window, I saw a ripple disturbing the calmness of the sea. M was making it hard for me to focus.
"What happens if you run out, huh? What happens then?" M sighed. "We've allowed you to play your little game here without any problems. You announced you were retiring and, as much as we didn't like it, we allowed you to. You were our best guy and we allowed you to walk away. That was then. Times have changed. There's this Psionic killer on the loose and our best agents are being killed like they're damn trainees. We need you back, Stephen."
Fifteen years of being away, of solitude and peace. Fifteen years of being free. I looked at M and the world behind him, a world I created with my mind. "How many has this killer killed so far?" The moment the words left my lips I saw the sky outside crack and splinter into a thousand pieces.
"Sixteen and that's only our agents," M replied.
I sighed and the sky shattered and the sea started to fade. The house began crumbling to nothingness all around us and in a heartbeat we were standing in a vast place filled with nothing but darkness.
"Thank you," M said.
I gave a nod. Bright light enveloped us and it consumed us.
I lifted the visor off my head. The sound of machines beeping and wheezing filled my ears. I was back in my lab and M was standing in front of me, leaning on his cane with a smile on his face. I proceeded on pulling wires out of the sockets implanted all over my arms.
"Welcome back, M said.
My body felt cold. I took one step and my knees buckled at my weight. M caught me.
"Fifteen years of not using your body will do that to you," he said. "We'll have the medic team fix you up in no time."
I tried speaking but it was as if I've forgotten how to use my mouth. M helped me back to my feet and on to a waiting wheelchair.
"The Company has changed a lot since you left," M said. "But I'm sure they'll all be relieved to finally see you back."
Back. I closed my eyes and allowed my mind to drift. I felt everything around me. I felt the Psionic energy emanating from M, I felt the machines behind us back in my lab, I felt the city throbbing with life above, and from the very edge of my mind's periphery I sensed something dark and powerful waiting.
Welcome back, it said to me.
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JB Lacaden dreams of someday being a published writer. He currently resides in Manila, Philippines. He's a lover of comic books, science fiction, and high fantasy. Check out some of his works at http://www.jblearnstowrite.com/ and follow him at @jblearnstowrite.