You've been running as long as you can remember. Not in the metaphorical sense--none of that emotional cowardice (although there’s been plenty of that, too.) But the more conventional definition. Late night runs, laps on the track, hours on the treadmill on the highest setting you can take. Self-structured marathons that leave your heart stampeding in overdrive up in your throat, legs gelatinous, nose runny, face glowing red hot.
You're running now, weaving through the trees, veered way off a trail in the middle of some national park that Dave loved to visit more than his family. The trail is a sinuous, uneven strip that snakes through the park for miles, but you're not on it. You've only seen the end of it once, for completion's sake; something else has always caught your eye and lured you off the path whenever you take this route.
Four years ago, Dave had started vanishing more than usual. He'd always been flighty, always off hunting for some prime photo location or for the "right spot" to compose another brilliant piece of rhythm and rhyme. Then he somehow had become even more scarce, leaving earlier and coming home later (and sometimes not coming home at all.)
"Dude, you should come with me one of these days," he'd said one evening, on one of the rare occasions he'd been around for dinner at home. "There's this place called The Overlook--it's amazing. You wouldn't believe what I saw--"
"Not interested," you'd told him flatly. A lie. You were so interested you'd have cremated and snorted your own teeth to finally be a part of anything your brother was doing. But it rankled you too hard to be forgotten whenever Dave would lose himself in the moment, which was always; you're still sour from being left behind, always playing second fiddle so Dave could highlight something else, always waiting for him to finish gushing about another rock or tree or random pedestrian that he'd photographed a thousand times before. He never took pictures of you, oddly enough, which made the camera that much more aggravating; but it was his passion, and he was your brother, so you'd learned to tolerate it and turn a blind eye long enough for you to work your way out of the picture entirely.
You'd never been jealous. You were just tired of being neglected. Tired of not existing right in front of Dave's eyes.
What you wouldn't give now for the chance to be ignored one more time.
Your foot snags against some obstinate rock jutting out of the ground and you stumble, catch yourself on a nearby tree, and find your footing again. You're bounding over twigs and stones and clods of earth again, unruly masses of weeds and vines scraping against your legs as you forge a path through the brush.
You've been looking for weeks. The Overlook is supposed to be quite the sight, imposingly grand and mounted high on some prominent bluff, with mesmerizing views of the sunsets over the treetops. By the way Dave wrote about it in his journal, anyone would think it an explorer's wet dream, a fantastical place ready to take your breath away. But you're starting to wonder if The Overlook is a code for something else--a thing of symbolism, maybe--because you've been up and down every trail for over a month now and you still can't find anything that even resembles so much as a hill.
It's ironic, how desperate you've been to find it, now that Dave isn't around to show it off. It makes you clench your jaw and push yourself harder, to run faster, to think of how you'd had your chance and had wasted it. Now you're just trying to make up for lost time, even though you know that you can't; and even if you find this magical cliff, you doubt it'll contribute a lick of anything towards finding some closure. But if you don't try, you'll carry the guilt of being the neglectful one for a change, and you absolutely cannot handle that.
You've scoured every conceivable inch of the territory, from sunup to sundown, in the dead heat of the summer, obsessively committed to finding this place. You're winded and aching and vexed beyond description--why the hell is it so impossibly hard to find a gigantic pile of rocks?--and you're actually considering writing this off as a defeat. There are countless other things to keep you up all hours of the day and night. You could just as easily be sifting through more books and photo albums and carefully preserved letters. But you've never been one to sit still very long, and you're more restless than ever before, so you continue to find yourself out here, racing through the trees, because you don't think you can take another minute in the stifling, empty room of memories and silence.
The Overlook finds you before you find it. You crash through a bush and lose your balance, tumble down an avalanche of stones and mud, and you land facedown in a pile of sticks and rope. The heap of materials breaks your fall, but not enough to prevent you from bruising on the spot, and not quietly at all.
You pick yourself out of a jumbled length of rope and brush dirt off your front, out of your hair and off of your face. Your shades are surprisingly unharmed; they're sturdy things that have seen you through tougher things, but nothing is invincible. Blood smears onto your glove when you rub your cheek with the back of your hand, and your legs feel like they've been run through a shredder and into boiling water, but you're otherwise intact.
As you turn to inspect the treacherous slope behind you, it hits you like a brick in the face: The Overlook. A cliff, with an enormous rut carved out of its belly, tall and admittedly stately for a bunch of rocks. A ramshackle structure, mostly wood accented with twine, is built into the earthen wall, and a disconnected collection of earthenware pots, firewood, cloths hung out to dry, and antiquated contraptions litters the ground around you. It's evidently inhabited, although you can't fathom who would live in a shack out in the middle of a forest these days, but weirder things have happened.
Briefly, you wonder if Dave was seeing someone out here. And if he was, were they still here?
You wait until you can feel your legs properly again, take the time to drink from your canteen for a minute, and then pick your way over--traps? cages?--to the door. You knock, despite the absurdity of disturbing someone out here, because while you're unabashedly an asshole at times, you're not a mindless savage.
Unsurprisingly, there's no answer. But there are small windows, one on each side of the door, and you peer in through the scratched panes. It's a single room, a tiny space, but it's thoughtfully decorated with rustic and meaningful furniture. A slender bed against the wall, a wood-burning stove that seems more like a fireplace, a hutch and some cabinetry, a table with two chairs. All wood or organically crafted, like some lumberjack decided he was going to ditch town and live off of the land here a few hundred years ago. There are a few birdcages, all vacant. Half a dozen books line a shelf. A single picture frame hangs over the bed. A few pots and glass jars, some simple dishes, and a towel here or there are the only other things you can see.
Disregarding privacy, you try the door, and it invites you in with a gentle squeak. Your steps are heavy and out of place across the wooden floor; you're a trespasser, and you know it, but it doesn't stop you from looking around. The ceiling is low and the quiet is thick, and you feel a little claustrophobic in here; but somehow you can imagine this being a place Dave would have liked--loved, really--a cozy shack filled with character and simplicity, cradled by a killer view.
You let yourself wander to the bed, to the picture mounted on the wall, and you freeze. You see Dave with a face you've never seen before--not because he's not wearing his aviators, although you're pretty sure the only day Dave hasn't worn them was on the day he was born--but it's his smile, wide and free and full of teeth. He's been caught midlaugh, eyes warm and vibrant and alive.
Footsteps appear behind you, and you wrench yourself around, tense and startled.
It's a man, as visibly shell-shocked as you are, eyes wide behind square-rimmed glasses, mouth ajar. He's draped in some sort of unsensible hooded attire that's far too warm for this oppressive summer heat, but he's still somehow anything but flushed and sweaty and grimy. If anything, he looks delicate, with a certain youthfulness that's difficult to assign an age to; you'd guess that this guy can't be much older than you, if not younger.
Not that you're that old or mature yourself. You're all of eighteen, a wild and rebellious adolescent, caught invading some stranger's hut on the underside of a cliff.
You blink at this greeting, opening your mouth to respond--to ask what the hell is going on here, and why the intimately-captured face of your brother is on the wall--but you suddenly only know one word.
"You aren't who I was expecting, but make yourself at home!"
You notice how blue this guy is then. From head to toe, he's dressed in cobalts and indigos, with teal and pastel blue trims. Some wavy sign you don't recognize is pasted on his chest. It's like stumbling across a fictitious character, but you get the feeling that this guy genuinely wears this stuff around his--well, you guess it's his house.
Then you realize that there's something moving in Blue's hands. It's a bird, a frail and tiny looking thing, covered in down feathers and comically bald. Its face is inquisitive at the sight of you, but lacking distress. Suddenly the cages make sense.
"You like birds?" You ask, though you don't know why. You aren't here to make pointless small talk. But it comes almost effortlessly, and you let the words leave you freely.
"Yeah," Blue smiles, his fingers--they're slender and graceful--ghosting along the neck of the young bird in his grasp. "I like to make sure they get lots of love."
There's a darkness in his eyes as he speaks, a distant look on his face, and it's like he's remembering something else. Someone else, maybe.
You cut to the chase.
"How do you know my brother?"
Blue startles at that, his eyes large and surprised. He moves in from the doorway and hides his face, turning to set his feathery guest in one of the bird cages.
"Yeah. Dave. There's a picture of him on your wall. Why?"
"Oh. Um. We're close."
"I'd hope so." You don't actually hope so. You're getting angry again, hands curling and uncurling at your sides, thinking of how this… guy was closer to your brother than you had been--had seen more of him, had been part of his sensitive little photo hobby, had seen him smile and laugh and had a picture of him doing it.
You blink at that, as Blue straightens from the cages and looks you straight in the eyes--or would, were you not wearing your shades. You're grateful for the cover now, unable to decide what you think of the forlorn haze in this guy's eyes, or how you're supposed to respond to it.
"No," is all you can say.
The reality of things stings you, sets you on edge, makes your blood boil so fiercely that you don't say another word. You stalk out of the room, away from The Overlook, and don't look back once.
You've seen more than you wanted to see in your short visit last week, but you're back again on a stuffy Saturday morning, climbing through the dirt and weeds like a disgruntled badger. Now that you knew where you were trying to go, you'd chosen a safer way to get there; you loop around from the end of the trail and work your way up this time, throw yourself up over the ledge onto The Overlook's entrance instead of perilously bouncing down the cliffside like a helpless doll.
Blue is already in the middle of a big project, rags and cages scattered everywhere about the ground. He's cleaning them, oiling them, running his hands along the wires and metal strips in search of cracks or sharp protrusions.
There's no small talk this time. You plunge into deep water right off.
"What kind of relationship did you have with Dave?"
You know you're being rude and demanding, probably even harsher out loud than you feel in your head, but you left politeness behind long ago. Yet it doesn't phase Blue, and he barely lifts his head from his work.
"We're close." It's the same answer as before, infuriatingly vague and still more than you ever had for yourself.
"Yeah, I got that memo already. How close? Were you friends? Fellow hobbyists? Lovers? What kind of close are we talking about here?"
What kind of closeness had robbed you of Dave before he'd really disappeared?
There's a lack of response for a long time. Minutes pass, and Blue just buffers and oils and lines up his cages, his back turned.
You're about to close the gap between them and kick every one of the cages off the cliff when you finally get a reply.
"It's not something I know how to explain."
"Why the hell not?" You're indignant over how you feel brushed off, though you're not sure if it's more for Dave's sake or your own right now. "How were you 'close' if you can't even say anything about him? Did he spend all his time out here for nothing? Do you not actually give a shit about him or what--"
The cages clatter away and go flying, some into the trees and some off the precipice, as an agitated flurry of wind interrupts you. It's like the start of a cyclone, a furious and invisible force of nature, and you have the surreal impression that it's coming from Blue.
Eyes blazing, overcast with cold rage, Blue suddenly seems a terrifying and formidable force, especially with the wind whipping around him so hard that even the trees are groaning as they bend.
"Don't you dare begin to suggest that I do not care, or I will rip the air out from your frangible lungs so quickly that they’ll disintegrate!”
Blue’s voice sounds like a distorted demon, booming and everywhere all at once, and yet so sharp and ominous all the same. The closest thing you've ever heard was when you'd caught Dave scribbling in his journal once, and your brother had shooed you off like an overprotective child.
Private. Protective. Possessive.
Alright, so that clears up something more than just the air.
“My bad,” you say with more indifference than you feel. Your voice is barely audible as you strain against the howling wind, willing yourself not to piss through your pants. It’s terrifying how apocalyptic such an oft unassuming element like air could really be, especially when wielded by someone about to go on a rampage. “Won’t happen again.”
You have a feeling that Blue is not an ordinary cliff-side dweller.
At your acquiescence, the wind abruptly dies out, and the ensuing silence is almost deafening in contrast. Blue, sufficiently mollified, regains his composure, a calm about him again. His voice is even and unnervingly quiet, but still somehow so loud in the absence of a young hurricane. The storm is still in his eyes.
“I don’t mean this as an apology, but I hope you at least understand my intent.”
“Yeah, I think I do.” Your eyes study the symbol on Blue’s chest more closely now. There are three of the wavy lines, pale against the cobalt chestpiece; it’s such a basic bunch of squiggly lines that a preschooler could have designed it, but the symbolism is pretty clear after the gusty display. “So, you’re one of those wind spirits, huh?”
Blue seems particularly gratified by that observation, a wide smile breaking across his face, a slight overbite peeking into view. It's disorienting how seamlessly he switches between a furious justicar and casual conversationalist.
“The wind god, actually. Are you familiar with me?”
This causes Blue’s smile to retract somewhat, but you're not about to lie just to spare a god's feelings. The truth is that sometimes you'd tune in to whatever Dave was constantly going on about, and now and then you'd catch something or the other about mythology--gods and elements and all of that supernatural madness. You're not totally removed from the concepts, and you aren't so blind as to be unable to interpret some mystical being's performance; you just… never cared. Was never into that stuff.
Apparently, Dave had been really into that stuff after all.
"Hm. Did… someone... tell you about me?"
It's unnatural, the way he says "someone," like the words are stilted, like his mouth is sore from being pried open after dental surgery.
"It's not hard to figure out when you almost started a damned hurricane in front of me."
"I guess I did, huh?" Blue looks a bit sheepish then, one of his hands raking through the thick of his dark hair. "Well, what do you think?"
You aren't sure what to say to that, and it's a tastelessly ambiguous question. The disorganized mess strewn across the ground isn't exactly impressive to you, and you have an unusual lack of opinion of personally meeting a deity. Even the threat of evisceration had dulled, a dimmed notion in the back of your mind.
You'd always been somewhat apathetic, and apparently your flatlined perspective applies to the mythical realm as well. It might be because you'd come with a different, predisposed focus; you've been hunting for the missing puzzle pieces regarding your brother; and whether or not Blue is a wind spirit, a wind god, or a windy fraud, is irrelevant to your cause.
Still, there's an undeniable intrigue in picturing Dave with a literal god, as opposed to some affrontingly ordinary mortal who you'd unfairly compare yourself to until the day you died. There's a small comfort in thinking that at least he'd deserted you for something genuinely special. With it comes the needling insult that you evidently weren't special enough.
Maybe, if this wind god proved himself to be the absolute apotheosis of all gods to have ever existed, a flawless executor of values and logic, an entity in which you could find no fault after trying him with the ultimate gauntlet of your bitter grief, you could begin to entertain the idea that you'd eventually understand why Dave had done it--that if there was someone so wonderful and perfect out there, it would be impossible not to have wanted to spend every waking minute and more with him.
The problem with that line of thought was that it was utter bullshit. No one was perfect, not even a god, and you fully blame this guy as much as Dave for the absence of your dear sibling.
"I think Dave spent too much time here," you state bluntly, your opinion on their relationship painfully clear. You don't approve, probably never will, and you're contentious enough to broadcast it loud and clear.
Decidedly oblivious, Blue's face melts into a softer smile, his eyes as fond as his lips bittersweet. Dimples pronounce themselves on his cheeks as he pulls into himself and looks past you, towards the weathered siding of the shack.
"I'd never complain about that." Then, as your chest kindles with agitation, he peers at you questioningly, brows knit together perplexedly, his eyes piercing. "Do you know where he's been?"
The answer to that question squeezes your throat shut at once, makes it hard to swallow, causes your stomach to flip flop with such anxiety that you think you might retch.
"Not here," you spit out, snarling, and you pivot on your heel and abscond from The Overlook, away from Blue and his unsanctioned ties to your brother.