I jolt awake to find the pub’s owner staring at me from the door. For a moment I can’t even react to his presence. I feel the cold sweat that must have broken out at some point during that dream. That dream. Always that one. I’m never going to get away from what I’ve done.
“You all right?” the man at the door asks.
“Nightmare,” I say, hoping my tone would ward off any more questions on its own. I stand and dust myself off, slinging my bag onto my back in the same movement. “Thank you for letting me stay last night. I’ll be off to work now.”
He gives me a nod before walking past me to begin setting up for business. Nothing more.
The walk back out to the house from town seems a lot longer than the walk away from it the evening before. I tell myself that’s because I’m walking uphill. I know that isn’t the reason but, really, I have to at least make some effort to keep the dark thoughts at bay.
Nothing much has changed about the place since my last visit. Same laneway. Same average looking house. Same infected girl in the house who I have yet to see but whose presence I am aware of.
I decide to give them another chance to do this the easy way. Maybe the mother might have changed her mind. Or maybe another family member might come to the door. One with sense.
There’s a long pause after I knock on the door. Long enough to make me think they’ve cut their losses and made a run for it before a Cure breaks in. I’ve seen that before. A family abandoning a sufferer so no-one else gets into any trouble with the Cures. Until the next family member ends up sick, of course.
I’m about to start looking for a window to smash when the door finally opens. Not the mother this time. Someone who actually succeeds in recognising me.
“Sorry about the wait, my sister’s pretty sick today and-” he says as he opens the door. Then stops. I’m clearly not someone he expected to see. But he knows who I was. I could see that in his eyes instantly.
“Hi,” I say, cutting him off before he can say my old name. I don’t like hearing that name. It has too many memories attached. I don’t even remember his name, but I know we were friends. Possibly more. It was a long time ago, either way. My memory no longer considers him important enough to store any more detail than his face, either way.
“I thought you were dead,” he blurts out.
“You weren’t that far wrong,” I reply, completely taking advantage of his shock and walking in past him.
He makes another attempt at saying my name, probably calling me back. I stop him again.
“That’s not my name anymore.”
“Oh. Right. You changed it?”
“Not as such. I just don’t use it anymore. I don’t like people knowing who I was.”
“So… what do people call you?”
He really is in shock. Completely ignoring the big, major, ‘why are you here’ style questions in favour of this line of, unimportant, questioning
“Nothing, for the most part. I go by Elthia sometimes.”
Sometimes it’s necessary for a Cure to adopt a name. Like when people start asking for one. You wouldn’t believe how much more trusting people are of you once they have a name.
A lot leave a particular name any time they manage to cure someone without any attempts on their life. The idea is that the name will get a good reputation. I don’t think it’s ever really going to work out though.
Most, myself included, choose a name connected to healing if asked for one. Just a symbolic thing. It isn’t your actual name, not by any means. You change it often. I’m quite fond of Elthia as a name though, so I use it more than I really should, only occasionally deviating to Althea if I want to cover up something.
“Elthia?” he asks, bemused by the unusual name.
“Yep. How sick is your sister, out of interest?”
I see the wheels starting to turn. He’s looking at me properly for the first time since he let me in. I’m a bit unkempt to say the least. Not to mention scrawny. And I’ve mysteriously dropped my old name. And suddenly turned up after a year or more away when his sister happened to fall ill…
“You’re a Cure,” he says. It isn’t even an accusation. Just a statement. A tired, disappointed statement.
“Very good. Where are your parents at the moment? I know your mother doesn’t want anything to do with me…”
“And what makes you think any of us do?”
There’s a long silence in which we both try to stare each other down. I’m not happy with this turn in the conversation and he’s just not happy full stop.
“We know what your kind do,” he tells me, “Cure whoever’s sick, gain the family’s trust then start the massacre.”
“Massacre. Wow. I don’t think I’ve ever conducted a massacre before. If you think I’m that dangerous then why are you standing here having a chat with me?”
“Well I can’t leave. You’d just head straight for my sister.”
True that… “Of course I would. I’ve been trying to get to your sister to cure her since yesterday evening.”
“Just leave, we don’t want you here.”
“You seemed happy enough to have me here until you worked out I was a Cure. Such discrimination…”
“I thought I’d got one of my friends back.” I almost feel sorry for him at that. Sometimes I want my friends back too. Then he has to go and crush any sympathy I might have for him.
“But I haven’t,” he says, his face hardening, “I’ve just found out that one of my friends is a monster. Now get out.”
“Fine. I’ve never argued anyone into treatment yet. But please tell me how far progressed she is. Please. I can tell you how long she has left.”
“Oh, going to try and guilt me into it now. Just leave… whatever your name is now. Elsie?”
I snort. “Elthia. Fine then. Have it your way. Please do invite me to the funeral so I can say I told you so.”