It was a Tuesday when a bolt of lightning shot down from a clear blue sky and changed the world.
The stratosphere over Baltimore was cloudless, a stunning blanket of perfect blue extending across the horizon. So what could have passed in front of the sun, casting shade across all of downtown?
Maggie was nearing the end of her shift, inching along, following traffic in front of Lexington Market. She leaned forward and gazed up through her windshield, trying to find the source of the sudden shade. It was that exact moment that an impossibly bright lightning bolt streaked from sky to ground.
The bolt flashed repeatedly, rooted to one spot. Maggie slammed on the brakes. Her unmarked sedan screeched to a stop as the powerful bolt strobed again and again. She heard the squeal of other cars stopping around her. She was covering her eyes with one hand when she felt another car tap her bumper from behind.
Finally the lightning ended and the moment it did, the sun shone as if nothing had happened. Spots in front of her eyes, Maggie opened the car door and stepped out. The sharp scent of ozone greeted her. From the sound of alarmed pedestrians around her, she could tell that others were staggering about as well.
Whatever freak weather had just happened would be for someone else to sort out. She shifted into work mode, thinking of how to detect accidents or injuries until her eyesight normalized. It was starting to clear a little, but everything was distorted by bright yellows and greens.
She grabbed the radio mic clipped to her shoulder. “Dispatch, we’ve had a—a meteorological disturbance down by the Market. Should probably get a couple of responders down here to check for injuries.”
The guy in the pickup truck behind her launched out of his car. Furious, he lobbed a tirade of obscenities in her direction. She could just make him out, a silhouette standing beside his car, his movements a caricature of outraged gesticulation. Until he suddenly froze. Maggie assumed his eyes must have cleared enough to see that she was wearing a dark blue uniform with a silver badge affixed to her chest. She wasn’t sure, but thought she might have heard him mumble one last curse under his breath. In the next moment, he swiveled his head to the right, landing on something not far from Maggie. Was his mouth hanging open?
Maggie spun. A tall figure stood just inches from her front bumper, in the center of the street. Was it a man? It had to be. She couldn’t make out any details yet. She had to fight the urge to yell at him to get his butt onto the sidewalk.
Professional, Maggie. Keep it professional.
“Are you alright, sir?” she asked, moving in his direction.
As she drew nearer, her eyes cleared, and she willed herself not to gape at him. At first she thought maybe he was an actor in costume. The guy could have walked off the set of a remake of The Ten Commandments.
Maggie prided herself on her abilities as an officer. Other officers were excellent marksmen, or particularly skilled at driving. Lieutenant Rajan was an excellent negotiator. There were five or six Ph.D.s throughout the precinct. BPD was a huge force, employing hundreds of officers, and each of them brought something unique to the job. Maggie’s skill was discerning the truth about those she encountered. If someone was lying or trying to trick her, she could tell. There was nothing magic about it; she simply had a knack for reading people.
This odd man in the street, as strange as he looked, struck her as authentic.
He was remarkably tall, probably approaching seven feet. He was old, probably late sixties or early seventies, with wavy salt-and-pepper hair draped from his head to below his shoulders. A thick beard of the same color and similar length hung from his face. His complexion was the dark red of someone who’s spent his life working under the sun. He wore a robe made of a rough weave, like burlap; it was brown and spotted with old stains that looked like dirt, and… Was that dried blood? The robe was calf-length and sleeveless. His feet were bare, spotted with hard callouses.
He clutched a gnarled tree branch in one hand. It took Maggie a moment to realize it was a walking stick.
The man gazed at his surroundings, taking in every detail from the cars inching by, to the street under his feet, to the brick sidewalk and the young trees sprouting along its edges. He wasn’t fearful or angry like the rest of the pedestrians surrounding Maggie. He seemed calm, and… curious.
“Sir?” she asked again. “Are you hurt?”
His gaze fixed upon her, noticing her for the first time. He studied her with great intensity.
“You will help me,” he said.
That didn’t sound like a request. But she had to admit that there was authority in his voice, the full-throated confidence of someone used to giving orders. His intonation was deep, but not growling.
“You need assist—?” Maggie stopped short when her vision cleared enough to see his eyes.
She found herself staring into his bright, sparkling blue eyes. There was just… something. Something there, deep within those eyes. Their blue created a profound contrast to his dusty, mud-colored skin. They were young, vibrant, and beautiful.
“I must find him,” the man said, staring unblinkingly at her.
“Who now?” Maggie blurted.
“Him,” repeated the man.
Maggie blinked. Was this guy for real?
“Okay, sir,” she said, “I’m going to need you to come with me.”
Maggie braced for an argument; complaints and disputes were almost always given after an officer decided to bring someone in.
The man didn’t move, but he didn’t look disagreeable, either.
“I do not know this place,” he said, his eyes swiveling slowly to take in the buildings, the cars, the people. A dozen or more pedestrians had stopped in their tracks to stare at the strange man. Cars passing by slowed down as drivers gaped.
The tall man’s expression was a combination of confusion and curiosity.
“This is Baltimore,” said Maggie.
He continued surveying his surroundings until his eyes finally landed back on her.
“What is your name?” he asked.
“Maguire,” she replied. “Officer. Maggie Maguire, BPD.”
He studied her for a moment. “I will come with you, Officer Maggie Maguire.”
She turned away from him halfway, and spoke quietly into her radio. “I’ve got a—a vagrant down at Lexington Market.”
“Red-lights are en route,” replied the dispatcher, a woman named Rona.
Maggie glanced sideways at the strange man. He didn’t look like he needed an ambulance. “I don’t think this one’s hurt. Seems lost. I’m gonna bring him in, run prints, try to find next-of-kin.”
“Your shift’s almost up, ain’t it?” asked Rona.
Maggie eyed the man. “This won’t take long.”
The man managed to stretch the eight-minute trip to the Downtown station into over twenty minutes. First came the nightmare of getting him into the car. He never resisted, never turned hostile. He simply couldn’t seem to grasp the concept. She wound up having to demonstrate how to sit, slide, and turn.
He mastered most of this this, but wound up sideways in the seat, his feet still planted on the pavement outside. It took several minutes of explaining to get him to understand why he had to put his feet inside the car, too. And he insisted on never turning loose of the big walking stick. They finally had to lay it down the car’s center, lengthwise, between the two front seats. Only after she’d buckled his seatbelt for him were they able to get underway.
The drive took longer than usual because the man braced himself on every available surface, anytime she tapped the brakes. And the gas. Sometimes he would grunt or make a sound sort of like a “hm.” Maggie wasn’t sure if he was reacting to the car’s movements or what he was seeing. More than once he’d grabbed the steering wheel; she wanted to be frustrated, but couldn’t quite manage. It was bonkers, but she believed that he genuinely didn’t know that the steering wheel was controlling the car.
There was something about this guy. She couldn’t put her finger on it, but it made getting angry at him very hard. Despite his bizarre behavior, even though he had in fact now delayed her from ending her shift on time… She couldn’t get mad. If anything, she felt at ease — more calm than she’d been in months.
At the station, she walked him carefully up the steps and through the front door. The lobby was full of men, women, and children stirring about, more than there were chairs to accommodate. At the front desk sat a graying, overweight man named Mick. In his late fifties, he stared blankly at the computer screen in front of him, ignoring the lobby’s chaos, reading the screen over the rim of his transition lenses.
Mick made fleeting eye contact with Maggie, but didn’t acknowledge her with so much as a nod. Maggie fought the urge to roll her eyes. Mick’s tastes where she was concerned changed like the phases of the moon. And it wasn’t like he was the only one. Everyone but her partner Jack seemed to have it in for her. She tried not to think about it, and certainly refused to let her frustrations show. She was a professional and would act like one, no matter how others behaved.
Maggie led her strange companion to one side of the front desk, but stopped, doubling-back to Mick with a passing thought.
“Jack report in yet?” she asked.
“Gone for the day,” said Mick, not looking up.
She nodded, mostly to herself. Good.
“Oh honey, no,” said a loud, slightly nasal voice behind her. “No, no, no… I want to cry this is so wrong.”
Maggie turned to find a pair of familiar faces standing between her and the strange man she’d brought in. Teena, a six-foot platinum blonde in four-inch heels, and Cherry, an equally tall black woman with hair died the color of her name. Both were dressed in flashy, sequined outfits made of too little material, with too much makeup and loads of gaudy jewelry.
“Sweetie,” said Teena, examining the man in the robe, “you have got to move out of mommy’s basement.”
Maggie was about to break it up when Cherry butted in, talking fast.
“No, honey, look at him. He’s — what are you? Fifty-five? Sixty?”
Before the man could answer, Cherry kept talking. “This ain’t the basement. This is a Winnebago still parked at Woodstock. Baby, it’s time to step out of the 60s.”
“The sixty—?” the man tried to respond, but Teena interrupted again.
“Although… Wow,” she eyed her cohort conspiratorially. “Honey, wait, look at him. No, look. There might just be a silver fox buried under there.”
Cherry laughed. “You’re crazy, girl.”
“No, look!” said Teena, holding up her hands to block parts of his face. “You cut that hair, trim the beard… Baby, mmmmmmm!”
“Oh wait,” replied Cherry, “I see it—”
“Okay, that’s enough you two,” said Maggie, grabbing the man by the arm. As she led him away, she leaned in and said quietly, “Ignore them. They’re… regulars.”
“Honey,” shouted Teena from behind, “You get him a makeover and you take him home.”
“Or let me do it!” called out a sassy Cherry, before the two of them burst into laughter.
The man’s even expression never changed. He merely watched her.
“Come on,” she said, leading him.
Beyond the doors was a large, high-energy space filled with cubicles and desks. Maggie had been here long enough to have earned an office of her own, but so far it hadn’t materialized. Benefits were hard to come by since the department captain had it in for her.
As they passed through the bullpen, Maggie noticed an increasing number of faces turning in their direction. Suspects, officers, complainants — everyone seemed to turn and stare at the tall man in the dirty robes with long hair and a long beard.
She’d barely sat down when a muffled electronic melody emerged from her pocket. Maggie slid her phone out and saw the caller’s name and number.
Her shoulders fell.
“I’m sorry,” she said to the strange man. “Excuse me for a moment.”
Maggie spun her chair away from the desk, attempting to speak in private amid the loud noises of the officer cubicles. She placed her thumb on the phone to answer it, dispensing with the usual pleasantries.
“Is everything okay?” she asked.
“Well hello to you too, dear,” said her mother.
“Is he okay?” Maggie asked, her volume raising slightly.
“He’s fine, it’s just—”
“Mom, I can’t really talk, I’m in the middle of a thing.”
“Of course you are, dear,” replied her mother in her most patronizing tone. “You promised to leave on time today. Do you know what the time is currently?”
“Yes I know what time it is,” Maggie hissed, rolling her eyes at this old argument. “Mom, unless you actually need me for something, I have to go.”
“He won’t take his medicine again.”
Maggie froze, closed her eyes and lowered her head. There it was — the familiar, ice-cold ache in her chest. Once more, he needed her and she wasn’t there. She sighed.
“I told you what to do, just put it in—”
“He says he won’t take it unless you give it to him.”
A stab to the heart. She wanted to die.
Maggie glanced behind her at the strange man waiting silently on the other side of her desk. He was watching her, listening to every word of her conversation and making no effort to hide it.
She turned back to the phone, realizing that her mother was mid-tirade and she’d missed most of it. She was sure it was the usual: how Maggie was working too much, wasn’t there when she was needed, wasn’t taking care of herself, etc.
“Mom—” she tried to break in. But her mother continued, a steamroller plowing downhill.
“Mom!” said Maggie, trying again. Her blood pressure was rising, the room was loud and annoying, she had a crazy man to identify, and all she could think about was the pain of the one person in the world she loved more than any other, who needed her right now. “Mom, please… Mom… just shut up!”
The phone fell silent. Maggie saw that a handful of nearby officers and clerks had turned to stare.
She sighed again. “I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
“Alright, dear,” her mother quietly replied.
She could tell from the resigned tone in her mother’s voice that she had an appointment with guilt later tonight. The woman wielded guilt the way Maggie’s coworkers might aim a sidearm, with greater precision and accuracy than a sniper.
Maggie hung up and turned back to the matter at hand.
“Sorry about that,” she said, almost under her breath. “Again.”
The man never looked away, but said nothing.
She took a deep breath and refocused. All she had to do was identify this guy, and she was done for the day. It was turning out to be a taller order than expected. According to the report displayed on her computer screen, the man’s prints didn’t match any on file.
Okay, then. The old fashioned way.
He stared at her.
“What name?” he asked.
“What about my name?”
Maggie closed her eyes, and tried to let out a long, calming breath. It didn’t work.
“We’ll just go with John Doe,” she mumbled, typing the words.
The man was gazing all around again. He examined the walls, the floor, the ceiling with great curiosity. What, was she supposed to believe he’d never been in a building before? She hated these kinds of cases. She should have listened to the dispatcher and gone home.
Why do I always get the crazies? she thought. Jack never gets the crazies.
“Okay, age?” she said, trying to start over fresh. She stared into his eyes, thinking again about how exceedingly deep and blue they were. Who was this guy?
“Age?” he repeated.
The playing-dumb act was getting old. His eyes might have been remarkable, but everything else about him was infuriating.
“How. Old. Are. You?”
A look of understanding blossomed across his face. With complete sincerity, he replied, “Six hundred and seventy-two.”
Maggie face-palmed on her desk.
Did I accidentally maim someone? Commit tax fraud? Cut somebody off in traffic?
She couldn’t imagine what she’d done to deserve this, but she was sorry for whatever it was. Maggie glanced at the big, round, black-and-white clock on the wall. 5:19 P.M. She was so late. She hated getting home late. He always tried not to act disappointed, but she knew him too well. And he needed her more than ever just now.
“Are you unwell, Officer Maggie?” the man across from her asked.
She looked up. Still he sat, calm but alert, in the straight-backed chair on the other side of her desk. This had to be a joke, a trick, or one of those hidden camera pranks on the Internet…
Maggie waved his question away, decided to soldier on.
“You said you’re in town, um, looking for someone?”
“I must find him,” the man said.
“Right,” replied Maggie, eying him sideways.
“I have three days,” he added. “No more.”
“Three days,” she echoed. That was certainly specific. “Who is this guy you have to find?”
“He is a man.”
“I do not know him,” the man said.
“Right. Because that would be—”
“No!” croaked a voice from the other side of the room.
Maggie’s frustrations were boiling over when she turned toward the door to the bullpen, where the sound came from, as did the strange man.
“Dix?” said Maggie.
Dozens of officers stopped what they were doing, turning to see Dixon, a local homeless man who found his way in every month or so, usually drunk. They called him Dix. But he was harmless. Middle-aged, no relatives they could find. His clothes were filthy, from the ragged baseball cap on his head to his fingerless gloves. A profound odor filled the air around him, making him unpopular among BPD officers.
Maggie had booked him several times — usually because no one else wanted to go near him.
Dix was staring at Maggie’s companion with a bizarre expression. His eyes grew huge until he slowly stretched out a finger and pointed it at Maggie’s vagrant.
“No, no, it’s you!” he said again, his voice sounding like it hadn’t been used in weeks.
Dix crossed the room with surprising speed and leaned over the old man seated at Maggie’s desk. He was becoming more agitated by the second, gesturing arms wildly and hopping in place.
“No no no no no! Keys and boxes, boxes and keys!” he rambled.
Maggie rounded her desk and tried to gently pull Dixon away.
“Dix, let’s calm—”
“It’s wrong!” he cried, wrenching away from her. “No no no! Keys, Maggie! Boxes! Boxes and doors and keys and dreams and doors!”
Maggie reflexively put a hand on her pistol. She’d never seen Dixon so unwound; he drank far too much, but he was a quiet, gentle man.
“Dix!” she shouted, trying to snap him out of it.
Dixon’s eyes were glued on the old man, but he suddenly grabbed Maggie by her navy blue uniform’s shirt. “You ask him!” he screamed. “You have to find out! You ask him!”
Maggie brought her arms up between Dixon’s and forced him to turn loose, just as a pair of patrolmen appeared and grabbed him.
“Don’t hurt him,” she told the officers. “Let him sleep it off.”
As they dragged him away, Dixon was undeterred.”Ask him, Maggie! Ask him! Ask him!” he yelled back to her. Over and over, long after he was out of sight.
Maggie realized that the entire bullpen had screeched to a halt amid Dix’s bluster. Every eye was turned toward her oddball vagrant. And Maggie was reminded again just how out-of-place he appeared. Yet he was unbothered, sitting perfectly still and staring back, his eyes wandering around the room.
Maggie had never heard the station this quiet before. It was as if every person in the building was holding his or her breath. Unable to look away from the man.
She looked all the way around the room, a full three-sixty, in awe, with her skin crawling.
Finally she joined everyone else in staring at the man seated across her desk.
“Who are you?”
At last, a new expression washed over his face. It was the first outward sign of emotion he’d displayed. His eyebrows bunched together in confusion. Unless Maggie was reading him wrong…
He was actually astonished that she didn’t already know his identity.
Maggie caught her breath in her throat when the man gave his three-word reply. His words would ripple outward through space, touching the very fabric of the world in ways she could not yet fathom. There was no going back after this strange man uttered his three, fateful words.
“I am Adam.”
From nearby, a pair of obsidian eyes watched. He was sitting across from a police officer at a desk made of metal. She asked questions; he answered. The Watcher found their conversation insipid and revolting, like everything else about these surroundings.
The dark eyes closed, and an external voice spoke that only the Watcher could hear.
A voice from Elsewhere. A piercing sound that would have crushed ordinary ears.
“You have found him?”
“He has come,” the Watcher replied with a guttural, barking voice.
“And does he—?”
“He has no idea,” growled the watcher with immense satisfaction, “that I have come, too.”