The Long Road Home
Bishop Victor Rios
“Ah yes, the name Julio Espinoza. That is a name I have not heard in a long time. It used to be mine. Once I was a man like any other. I worked as a plumber. I trained under my father, who trained under his father. I carried my family business to another generation, and looked forward to teaching my sons my craft. My wife and children lived in relative comfort in our four bedroom house in the suburbs. Lived…. No, they still live there. Julio Espinoza still lives there with them. He teaches my now teenage sons the knowledge of my craft. He is simply no longer me. I have not known that name for a decade now.
“I was taken one day, about ten years ago. A creature, more powerful and alien than imaginable, saw something in me, and took me. It left a false me in my place to raise my children and love my wife. The creature saw a humble man and imagined it to be raw clay to be molded. It kept me and changed me. My form was altered. I was left to stand over its mantle as a trophy. It hosted lavish parties where it paraded me around. When it would grow bored with me, it would alter my appearance again.
“Days turned into years. I soon forgot who I was. Thoughts of home vanished into the fog of memory. My life was that of a statue. The creature called me its “inspiration”. All of this changed when the smell of lavender, my wife’s favorite scented candle, drifted across my nose. I didn’t understand it fully then, but I knew that this was not who I was. I had a home. Fear gripped me as I slipped from my perch as the master was away. I ran from that labrynthine estate into the hedge.
“I do not remember much from the briars, other than the pain and agony of each step, but I do recall waking up. Voices gathered around me, and for a moment I was back at one of those lavish parties. Pain coursed through my entire being. I feared that I had been caught, beaten, and returned to my place on the mantle. My tongue tasted blood, but also dirt and oil. I started to get up, and a voice told me, ‘Lie still. An ambulance is on it’s way. Did you get a look at the guys who did this?’ I could only groan a response, but something soft and smelling of old leather was placed under my head. My eyes were swollen shut and I smelled only my own blood. I soon drifted back into merciful unconsciousness.
“Eventually I awoke in a hospital bed. The constant hum of technology and the choking smell of antiseptic enveloped me. Panic gripped me, and once again I made to escape. I acted as swiftly as the pain and tubes connected to me would allow. I slipped down the hall to a staff locker room and stole some clothes, then made my way outside. I had no name, no identity, and only the vaguest sense that I needed to get home. I walked for days, hitchiking when I could, and depending on the kindness of strangers to get food. I arrived at a neighborhood that felt familiar, and sought out a home that I knew so well. The mailbox said, “Espinoza Family”, and in the yard the dog I recognized as a puppy played, fully grown and well into adulthood. I watched as my wife and youngest son pulled into the driveway. She was greying slightly, but still as beautiful as ever. My son stood tall, and had the bearing of an athlete. Soon, another car pulled into the drive, and out stepped my other two sons, the oldest near fully a man. To my horror, I watched as ‘I’ stepped out of the driver seat.
“I watched from hiding as they went about their evening, and crept in close to watch them that night. Suddenly I caught sight of a stranger in the reflection of the window and turned to look. No one was there. It was then I realized that the reflection was me. My face was that of a stranger. This news hammered me in the gut. This abomination was living my life, and there was no way I could take my life back. My family would not know me. My life could never be my own again.
“I fled back into the city proper. I fell in with a small troupe of actors, and found that I had an affinity for it. We soon gained a modicum of success, and I managed a small apartment and a reliable car. I also found others like me, who had escaped capture as I had, and I joined them in what they called a Freehold. I’ve been learning to control and influence the world around me, and have even joined an organization calling themselves the Bishopric of Blackbirds. I have since taken the name “Victor Rios”, both to find a new identity for myself and as a play on words to signify my victory in escape."