An Origin of the Ringbearers tale by Brother Grimace
We're running with the shadows of the night
So baby, take my hand – it'll be all right
Surrender all your dreams to me tonight
They'll come true in the end
- from 'Shadows of the Night', by Pat Benetar
The young, dishwater-blonde waitress whose nametag read 'Molly' slid the empty dishes off the table, giving the man that sat there alone a smile. "Want some more coffee, hon?"
"Thank you, no." He was always so polite, she thought, especially for a Black guy – the ones who came in were usually the 'young thug' wannabes who cursed instead of talked - and his voice & manner just didn't match up with his clothes. Threadbare denims, a faded blue button-down shirt, sneakers so worn that she'd offered on a couple of occasions to give him a ride down to the outreach center to get new things – he'd always refused, in that polite but firm way that she had learned to associated with poor people who hadn't been down on their luck long enough to have lost their pride - and that old black overcoat that he always kept with him, as if afraid that someone would take it...
It must be one of the last things from his life before he hit the streets, she thought, remembering the label she'd seen inside one time and noting that brand new, it would have probably cost in the mid-four figures. Poor guy. Lots of folks end up washed out and camped out on the streets of L.A. – lots of folks who were something once, with nobody to take care of them or even care...
She gave him his change, and was surprised when he shook his head. "Keep it."
"But it's a ten-" She felt almost offended by the way he turned back to pick up his cup of coffee, but pressed on anyway. "You know, you've been coming in here for a few months – you're all but a regular here."
"I like the biscuits and gravy."
"That's probably one of the few things I know about you."
"Nothing about me worth knowing." He sipped from the cup, set it down, and Molly refilled it from the glass coffeepot on her wheeled tray.
"I don't even know your name."
The man was silent as he took six packets of sugar by their ends and shook them, then tore them open gently and emptied them into the coffee; the waitress watched as he started to open up the tiny containers of coffee cream, knowing from past experience that he would empty at least ten into his cup.
"Well, I'll let you enjoy your coffee."
Now, what was I thinking? Oh, yeah. Of course I don't date Black guys.
The man began to stir his coffee, and Molly turned away.
The waitress turned back, smiling as the man looked up at her with those brown eyes that she found sad and fascinating. "They call me Michael."
"Well, then – you have a nice day... 'Michael."
A smile on her face, Molly Preston pushed her tray of dirty dishes across the floor and through the swinging doors that lead to the kitchen area of the '247 Diner'. I mean, he's not bad-looking, he's got those huge hands, and the whole 'big dog with the lost puppy' feel can draw a girl in, but he's homeless – and some things are just not done-
"Stop staring at the man, Molly," a flip voice spoke up from behind, and the twenty-something waitress turned slowly to see Dana Hu standing just behind her, huge eyes (for a girl of Asian descent, Molly always thought) twinkling as she gave her a smile. "That your latest hard-luck project, Molly?"
"He comes in once a month," was the reply. "Always orders the same thing – large order of biscuits and gravy, waffle fries with side orders of ranch dressing and cheese – separate cups – a large Sprite, and he goes through coffee like it's about to get taken off the market."
"That's the guy – Mister 'lotsa sugar, lotsa cream'?" The wispy Asian beauty peered on tip-toe over Molly's shoulder at the man, now draining the last dregs from his coffee cup. "You've been talking about him for six months, Molly. Tell me that you at least know his name."
"I barely know anything about him, except his name," Molly countered. "The only think I've ever been able to find out is that a couple of times a month, he goes over to Drennel's A-to-Z Pawn. I guess he hocks something there for a few bucks - or gets them to give him some cash for the food stamps – and shows up here exactly a day later to eat his usual."
"You'll have to put your latest potential fixer-upper out of your mind for a minute," Dana said, smiling as she turned her friend's head in the direction of two handsome young men, sipping coffee as they sat in the booth next to the front door of the diner. "Time for you to remember that the only spoon you need to work with is one you're gonna need to eat that yummy boy out there up with! Guess who's gotten us both dates – and they can get us into the party at Tommy Sherman's place in the Hills!"
Molly squealed. "No!"
"You need to go in that washroom, scour off the scent of the meatloaf special, and get ready to have some fun tonight!" Dana squealed back. "Those NBA types have the craziest parties – remember how the Lakers nearly suspended him because he missed a game because he had one party going until an hour before game time? Come on – we can't miss this!"
Fifteen minutes later, Molly emerged from the kitchen area behind Dana, a totally different appearance that made the two young man waiting look up in surprise. "Molly – this is Chris," Dana said, nodding towards the tall, athletic man who towered over her. "He's mine. That's Troy. He's yours."
The handsome, muscular young man rose from the table, and Molly forced herself not to stare as he shook her hand. "Molly, right? Dana's told me a lot about you."
"Not everything – I promise," Dana giggled, Chris' hand firmly in her own. "He's gotta find out some things on his own!"
Molly glared at her friend, who smiled and breezed past, boy-toy in tow. "Come on, Molly. Time to be a girl for a while!"
None of them noticed Michael as they left – or noticed the expression on his face as his eyes followed out the door.
There was something about the way that Michael moved, slipping into his overcoat as he headed towards the front door, which made the diners who noticed him shudder inwardly and promise themselves that they wouldn't come back for a long time.
"The fastest way to the parking lot is down this way," Chris said, leading Dana down a darkened alley as Molly followed, with Troy bringing up the rear.
"I can't believe that you're getting us into a Tommy Sherman party!" Molly gushed. "It's going to be so cool!"
"I think that we can have ourselves a little party right here, right now," Troy growled, and Molly shrieked as she felt his hand slide beneath her arm to grasp at her right breast.
"Get away from me!" she cried out, jumping away from the leering Troy as Dana suddenly felt Chris' hands grip her shoulders; the world spun around her as she felt him push her hard against a brick wall, and she cried out as she fell to the ground! "Leave her alone!" Molly screamed, struggling in Troy's iron grip as Chris pulled a stunned Dana to her feet. "Leave us-"
Molly's scream of terror as a man dropped from the sky in front of them – on his feet, without making a body-wide splat – echoed through the deep artificial canyon of the alley. "That's not going to help you," the new arrival said, holding up his hand so that the blonde could see the coppery band on his right ring finger. "In this alley... no one can hear you scream."
"Hurry up, James – I'm starving!" Troy said, causing Molly to go white with terror, screaming as he jerked her head back to see his face contort, his pupils turn blood red, and his incisors extend into fangs. "Do your thing, so we can eat!"
Dana gasped as James pulled her from Chris' grip, and the scent of urine was suddenly strong in the area as the young woman soiled herself at the sight of James' eyes; as he curled his right hand into a fist and pointed at her face, his pupils began to glow with the brilliant hue of burning copper. "First I get your life-force, and then, my friends get what's left. Don't worry, boys – I'll leave enough to keep them warm while you eat."
"Excuse me – waitress – can I get some more coffee?"
The five persons in the alley turned as one to see Michael, holding a coffee cup out in his right hand as he walked towards them. "I gave you a tip, and I drank my coffee, and you didn't come back to give me a refill. I thought it was supposed to be the buck-forty-nine all-you-can-drink cup of coffee..."
"Get lost, Mandingo," James growled, as Michael walked towards him – stumbling a bit, as the loose sole on his right shoe caught on the street – and came up to him. "Soup kitchen's closed. Carry your black ass on before someone forgets where they are and hangs you from a tree somewhere."
Michael stopped, drawing back slightly as he saw the way James eyes glowed with copper fire; for his part, James recoiled as he smelled the strong scent of alcohol on the man's clothes. "Damn, my brotha – those is some messed-up contacts they hooked you up with. You need to take them bad boys back to Wal-Mart and have them set you up right – me, I'd be slapping fire from somebody's ass, 'cause you look like something straight off late-night cable."
Disgusted by the way Michael reached out to try and touch his face, James pushed Dana into Chris' arms and turned back to punch him-
James grunted in pain, stumbling back with stars in his eyes as Michael smashed into his face with a solid right cross; Dana whimpered in pain as she was suddenly released from Chris' grip, the girl falling forward as a savage forward kick sent him flying back against a wall!
Throwing Molly aside, Troy rushed Michael as Chris immediately leaped up from the wall and charged him from the opposite direction – and both vampires let death-shrieks escape from them, impaling themselves as he held his hands out like claws; a momentary flash of copper light was blocked by their bodies as the air around his hands transmuted into wood... and their hearts ripped from their chests, dissolving into dust mere seconds before their bodies followed suit.
The gory gauntlets dropped away from Michael's hands as he turned and grunted in pain as the pipe James swung dropped him to his knees. "Not a good life decision."
James stepped back, stunned as a pair of shimmering copper eyes stared up from the floor of the alley; he felt himself being tossed through the air on a vicious wave of telekinetic energy, bones in his body being broken in mid-air by the violent concussive force that radiated through the sudden, burning light – and as he hit the edge of the open dumpster and screamed with pain as his body dropped to the ground, it was only then that he felt the burning in his right wrist, and realized that his hand was missing.
A copper light flashed from the ring now visible on Michael's hand as the severed hand on the ground and the wooden mittens dissipated into gas, and the two young women watched as he picked up the ring from the ground. "Oh, God," Molly whimpered, her eyes full of fear and yet brimming over with gratitude. "They were going to – we were – God, I don't – thank you..."
Michael kept his back turned away from them. "Go home."
"You fought those – whatever they were – you saved us-"
Molly stepped back by reflex as Michael turned – and she felt her breath catch in her throat as she looked into his eyes of burning copper. "Get away from me."
Wordlessly, the girl stepped back when she noticed the coffee cup, undamaged as it sat on the ground, and she stooped down to pick it up; as she did so, she failed to notice the way Michael scooped a handful of water from inside a rusted-out half-barrel and tossed it over James.
The putrid-sweet scent of burning flesh and the sound of James' scream filled the alley as the fluid began to rapidly dissolve his body into nothingness; a clap of thunder echoed through the area, drowning out the pitiful death gurgles as lightning split the air overhead.
The two young women stood in the alley, holding close to each other in the rain as they watched the man who had saved them walking away, disappearing into the flash-and-black of the storm and the artificial canyon of a Los Angeles alley.
They would never see him again.