He sees her long black hair and flowing blue dress, and even through the static and blur on the cheap monitor he can see she's got hands that have only a few years at most of waiting tables and punching keys in them. She must be the youngest thing in that dilapidated club by a good two decades. He notices her eyes. He's seen them before in guys who'd been inside too long, looking up at him from underneath newspapers on a park bench, maybe one other place. She's eighty in the head if she's a day.
He's got the shades pulled down tight and all of the lights off. He knows it isn't necessary; no one's looking for him. He comes to others. To the clinic where they give him ineffective pills to sleep at night; to the gray warehouse downtown where there are never any job openings; to the parole officer who barely even looks at him as he checks the boxes on the form once a week. He comes back each day to roost in a building he's sure would be ugly if the streetlights weren't missing their wiring. Up the stairs he goes, a boarder haunting a room for a couple of months, a man sharing a face with a thousand janitors, night attendants and strangers riding the bus.
Someone with a mangled e-mail address sent him a message a few nights back. This is a man who opens everything, even the stuff from the crooks with the ads for pills and wire services. He knows he shouldn't, but you just don't know when one of those messages will be for you. The attached video file should have made him pause, but what was a scavenged computer to him? It was a victory if the thing played. The evenings keep stretching out, like endless freight trains, thwarting any attempt at moving along, parking him right where he is and making him stop and think. Sure, why not. Anything to kill the time while he listened to the click-clack of railcars on tracks below his window.
And anyway, who wants to think about what he's got to do tomorrow? The best you can say about a man who gets sent to the can for five years is that he's a cautionary example, but even he knew, then as now, that you don't do a job with someone you don't know. And especially when it's the kind of stunt these guys were trying. But here he was. That he agreed to something while knowing better didn't surprise him. What did surprise him was the desperation that drove him, welling out of him like something out of a pinprick wound that's stained half your shirt red in the time it took to look around. He'd told himself he doesn't bleed anymore, and that he doesn't lie to himself anymore either, and a failure on both counts.
So a video, sent just to him? Why not. He clicks the attachment, "lana_neal_sings_the_blues.mov". The address and the subject are gibberish, but the message. "for milton". To his shame, his breath catches at the sight of his name. Not a soul left on this Earth still calls him Milton. His true name. He can't remember the last time he heard it. Who could possibly know the secrets that this message held?
The video loads, and there before him is the raven-haired woman with the fresh face and the impossible age in her downcast gaze. The recording looks old, maybe from the 70's. It reminds him of something on tv in the background when he was a boy in distant times. It's just her in an empty club, the house lights dimly illuminating a tattered, threadbare stage that can't ever have seen the bright lights it was meant for. Somewhere off camera, a single piano plays, a late-night number for when the last patrons are leaving. Low, quiet notes that fall like a slow rain, almost a whisper as they cover the nighttime streets in diamonds.
Languidly, she raises her head and looks into the camera, transfixing him from a different time and place with her dark blue eyes, and unbidden thoughts come rushing to him that this must be the first time someone's looked right at him in months. Who is she? His mind reaches back, into neighborhoods obscured by a haze of years, landscapes that only partly exist in the real world as he knows it now. He can't possibly know her, there's no way he would have forgotten. He doesn't know her, but she's the ghost of something he does, something calling to him from places he knows he can't go to anymore. Does she know him?
She joins the ethereal piano player, and if she has eyes that have seen an old woman's troubles, she's got a voice that puts those troubles to shame. She keeps her eyes on him as she sings, and he hears someone from out of time, beyond the world of old broken-down hoods and beyond the burdens of worldly girls who dance with the night. He can't understand the words of her song, but it doesn't matter. Her voice rises from her slightly parted lips like smoke, spiraling up in its own time, hanging in the air to dissipate slowly and stinging his eyes. She sings, and he forgets. She sings, and he remembers. She entwines her song with the quiet piano, her voice clear in another tongue as she stays with the high notes. She never takes her eyes off the camera, and he knows that she knows him.
Her song ends, and he marvels at the woman who doesn't exist, the woman from nowhere who just took hold of him and stopped him dead in the tracks of his life. He plays the file again, trying desperately to kindle some sort of definite recollection, some way to make sense out of what he just experienced. Each time he sees it, it's different somehow. He hears the same song and she moves the same way, but he's spellbound anew for the first time, each time. By the time morning comes, he knows that he'll never be able to understand a woman who sings with a voice beyond time, but he doesn't care. No one is meant for eternity, he thinks. But he figures he's okay if he found just a little piece of it.
He's no stranger to the sunrise closing out a night vigil. The dawn has never brought hope, not for a long time, anyway. This one's no different. He knows, always knew, that today is it for him. He's done jobs like this one before, and he knows who walks away and who doesn't. A week from now, his meager possessions will be scattered, a parole officer will make a check mark before closing a file, and a new boarder with the same face will attempt to sleep in the place where he couldn't. Not a soul existing will mark his time here, his monument a John Doe tag in the morgue if he's lucky. But one soul, beyond existence, he's certain has witnessed. Through the regret, through the failures and the days gone by, the wounds that bleed in places where no one can see, he's got something to hold on to, and today, it'll do.
Before he raises the shades, Milton closes his eyes and meets the gaze of a beautiful woman in a blue dress who has eyes heavy with a life outside of comprehension and sings like someone beyond the angels.
"Some other time, kid."
He walks out into the sunlight, and in thirty seconds, he's gone from view.
|SCP-1229-37||12/16/2013||Transmission depicts Ms. Neal singing a song while standing on a stage, accompanied by piano. Original transmission appears to be 5 minutes and 38 seconds in length; however, an additional 10 seconds of footage are present at the end in an alternate version recovered from the ██████ file-sharing service on 12/22/2013. To date, this is the only observed instance to manifest in multiple versions.||Researcher's Note: Original song by Ms. Neal is in French, and has been translated into English by research staff. "<No matter what's waiting/ When the future is in ruins/ And the water's all gone/ Through the rain on the window/ No one sees no one/ Before night moves us on/ But I'll remember you/ Yes I'll remember you>"|