I tried my damnedest to save Madeleine from the demon part of herself, but the moment I saw those black eyes and blue lips and my nostrils filled with the acrid scent of her burnt soul, I knew I was too late.
The newspaper ad read:
GET YOUR BIOLOGICAL NEWBORN BY CORRESPONDENCE
Want a baby but also want to keep your firm body? Now you can reap the benefits of motherhood without the need for pregnancy or leaving the safety of your home! Want to select the gender? No problem! Want twins or triplets? No problem! Want to splice helpful traits from the animal kingdom to progress human evolution and secure our place in the pecking order? No problem!
Each transaction comes complete with DNA confirmation and sonogram photos to show off to your friends and neighbors! So, what are you waiting for? Get your swab kit today! 100% money-back guarantee if not completely satisfied!
Order now and get a second baby ABSOLUTELY FREE (just pay additional shipping and handling). Operators are standing by!
“Let’s just talk about this some other time,” she sighed in exasperation. She being Lexi, my once and future girlfriend who is currently merely an ex. Don’t tell her I said merely, that’ll only set off another unnecessary argument.
“Why not settle it now?” I asked.
I watched the topography of her brow change as Lexi bit back her honest response. After a controlled exhale, she offered, “Because I don’t have your full attention.”
“Don’t be silly. Of course you do.”
“Can you please not lie to me, just this once?”
“I’m not lying, I swear.”
Lexi rolled her eyes. “I can see the movement behind your irises.”
I wanted to turn away from her, but that would have been an admission and I wasn’t in the mood to be caught in a lie. Again. “That’s nothing but a trick of the light and your overactive imagination.”
“My overactive imagination? Seriously? Project much?”
“That’s you all over, isn’t it? Creating drama where none’s present.”
“There wouldn’t be any need for drama if you simply cut the shit and tell me what you’re thinking.”
“If I was thinking something, and I’m not saying I am, what business is it of yours? We’re not a thing anymore, remember?”
Lexi threw her hands up. “Precisely why we’re not a thing, because of you and your secrets.”
I craned my neck and peered over Lexi’s shoulder, scanning the server area behind her. “Where’s our server?”
“On his lunch break if he has any common sense. Probably duped some poor unsuspecting clod into covering his tables.”
Wouldn’t it be great if people, much like good short stories, came with prefaces since sometimes the inspiration for how someone came to be the person standing before you is far more interesting than the stories they choose to reveal? Like glimpsing the person behind the curtain. The problem with that logic is a good introduction can’t be composed until the story is completed and we can’t very well write our own prefaces after we’re dead. Which I guess makes it more of a postmortem than an actual preface.
“You hold my very moment.”
“What does that mean?”
“Simply that you keep me here, grounded to this spot at this moment in time. When I am with you, I am nowhere else. My mind does not wander, I do not desire being anywhere else than with you, right here, right now.”
“You say the oddest things at times, but thank you, I suppose. It is kind of a sweet thing to say, actually.”
You may not know it to look at me, but I’m a real estate tycoon. I own more acres of land than I know what to do with, complete with property, some with sturdy foundations, other less so. Where, you ask? You should be asking when.
All my property exists in the past. Acreages of failed relationships with family, friends, and lovers, all abandoned before they could reach their full potential. Some were cut short by circumstances beyond my control, but the majority were absolutely avoidable if only I had taken time to till the soil.
Stories are the creatures that forage in the wilderness of our minds. Their claws pierce our curiosity, digging in deep to prevent our escape, as they force us into their maw, past razor-sharp teeth of conflict.
Kathryn’s gift, her one unique talent, had always been projecting a calm demeanor that she expertly layered like cosmetics over all her various and sundry rough patches until her public life appeared positively silken. Her deceptive doe eyes and counterfeit, rouge-cheeked smile helped the ruse remain balanced.
Despite the fact she called it an early night and how utterly exhausted Mayra was when she slipped between the sheets, sleep simply would not come. Every time she closed her eyes she saw the digital display of her pregnancy test reading:
It would have been called fitful if she actually managed to fall asleep even for an instant, instead she tossed and turned, trying to force her mind to relax, dreading the effects of a sleepless night on her ability to get through the work day tomorrow, or later today if she was being accurate. Mayra eventually realized she was achieving little more than gnawing away at her sanity, so she closed her eyes, sighed heavily and when she opened them, she found herself in a dream.
One, two, three, shoot! Scissors. One, two, three, shoot! Paper. Mayra’s right hand, balled in a fist, pumped at subliminal speed, slamming into the flattened palm of her left as she shot rock, paper, scissors in a seemingly random order that somehow anticipated her opponents’ throws and eliminated them one by one. That was how she knew this was a dream because all her life she had been absolutely shit at playing roshambo.
She was at a public pool, one she knew very well. It was located in the heart of Claremont Park in The Bronx, a mere fifteen or so long blocks from her childhood home. Her nose was filled with the scent of chlorine which was how everyone knew when the pool had officially opened for the summer because the smell burned nostril hairs and stung eyes from a city block away.
Mayra wore her first ever and favorite floral two-piece swimsuit, the one her mother let her choose by herself which fit perfectly when she was eleven years old but not so much now that she was a full grown, fully developed woman. It still served its purpose by covering up the bits that needed to be covered but she was showing off way more skin that she was comfortable with which made her self-conscious. A quick glance around the pool confirmed that no one was staring at her so her anxiety eased slightly.
It was summer recess and most of Mayra’s friends were here, both from school and her neighborhood. She was an adult but her friends were children which wasn’t bizarre seeing as that was how she remembered them, all except for Bethany, also an adult, who was the only person she managed to stay in touch with throughout the years. Incidentally, Bethany was also wearing a two-piece swim suit and hers fit perfectly which she found unfair to say the least.
Mayra had been a lucid dreamer from the time she remembered her first nightmare and certainly before she knew the ability had a name. And she was quite familiar with this particular dream because she had it many times before. The pool was some sort of anchor point for her, probably because it represented some of the happiest times of her life, when the summer was the best time of the year because it was fresh with the promise of childhood freedom and full of adventurous possibilities.
They were gearing up to play Sharks and Minnows and as Mayra demolished the competition during the selection process, she was the shark. Kicking off her rainbow flip flops, she dove into the water and took a position in the center of the shallow end while her minnow friends formed a line along the lip of one side of the pool.
“Fishies, fishies, cross my ocean!” Mayra challenged.
The minnows jumped into the water, some diving straight in, some cannonballing, and Bethany, who wanted to make the biggest splash, took a running start, jumped high in the air and pulled one leg to her chest, the other one sticking down toward the water as she bent back at a 35-degree angle. The minnows started swimming to the opposite end, giving the shark as wide a berth as they could in the crowded public pool. Mayra remained still until the first minnow was about to swim past.
“Shark attack!” Mayra yelled and began swimming at a frantic pace. The school of minnows shrieked, laughed and paddled as fast as they could trying to reach the other end of the pool, the safe base, without getting tagged. But the shark knew which minnow she was after, the one who lagged behind all the rest and Mayra caught up with Bethany easily but didn’t tag her immediately. The shark swam past her best friend and placed herself directly in the minnow’s path.
The minnow crashed into the shark and before she could back away Mayra lifted an index finger out of the water and booped Bethany’s nose, smiling, “Tag. Guess who’s shark chow?”
“That’s so unfair,” Bethany slapped the surface of the water. “You always pick on me cause I’m the slowest!”
“I pick you because you always do that stupid can opener dive to try and splash-blind me. Don’t hate me just cause I’m a water baby.”
“Oh yeah? Well, have some water, baby!” Bethany’s hands flew to the top of Mayra’s head and dunked her underwater.
Oh, am I going to make her pay, Mayra thought as she play-struggled beneath Bethany’s hands but wasn’t worried. Luckily, she managed to hold her breath in time and the water was shallow, that is, it was shallow until the pool bottom dropped away quickly and water began rushing past her and she realized she was plunging straight down like an anchor.
And then the water wasn’t water. It was more like mud. Mud that stopped her descent and left her floating for a moment before propelling her back up the way she came but when she resurfaced, she was no longer in the park pool. It was suddenly twilight but not eigengrau, the dark grey color seen by the eyes in perfect darkness, this was an inky darkness so pitch she couldn’t tell where mud-water met sky or whether she was facing a swimming pool edge, a shore or some other land mass or simply more water. She was completely adrift, disoriented and had no means of navigation, not even the faint light of night stars. Her world was now liquid and gas black in every direction. A strange and illogical thought hit her, Was I in the deep end of the pool? followed by, How long was I underwater?
“Okay, Bethy, joke’s over!” Mayra’s head was on a swivel for a sign of somebody, anybody else in the water but there was nothing. “Bethany, this isn’t funny!”
“Polo,” a voice called out but she couldn’t tell if it was Bethany or one of her other friends because it was so distant.
“Bethy? Is that you?”
“Polo,” the voice said again still far away but Mayra knew the direction it came from this time.
“Marco!” Mayra shouted and when she heard Polo confirm the location, she began swimming toward it. She paced herself because she had no idea how far out she was or how long she needed to keep up her strength. She occasionally called out “Marco” and listened for the “Polo” reply to make sure she was swimming in a straight line in the dark.
Then her swimming became labored, something was pulling her in the opposite direction. She was caught in a rip current! She forced herself not to panic because it took a clear head to escape. She knew, despite the sensation, that the rip current wouldn’t drag her underwater, it would only pull her straight out to sea. She was a decent swimmer so she wasn’t in immediate danger of drowning unless she exhausted herself by trying to fight the current that was stronger than she was. Normally, she would have either swum in the direction of the nearest breaking waves, which marked the current’s edge, or parallel to the shore to escape the current, but as she couldn’t see the shoreline in all the blackness, Mayra swam perpendicular to the current and prayed for the best. With any luck, the current she was in was an average one, less than thirty feet wide, and not a larger one that could have reached up to two hundred feet.
After a while she began getting tired so she floated on her back to conserve energy. This was usually when she would have woken herself up, during a lull in events, but this time it wasn’t working. Mayra remained inside the dream, staying afloat and attempting to relax until she drifted past the breaking waves. She felt the rip current becoming weaker. When she felt confident that she was ready to give it another try, she rolled over in order to begin swimming diagonally away from the current. Her face was momentarily beneath the water’s surface as she turned over but when it emerged she saw that it was no longer dark. The sky was unusually clear and the deepest blue she had ever seen in my life. The water was no longer dark, in fact, it wasn’t blue or green or clear or any color she had ever seen water be. It was a pearlescent white whose texture was liquid silk soft against her skin. Off in the distance she could see what looked like a shoreline but she couldn’t be sure as it reflected an intense white light even though there was no sun in the sky.
“Marco!” she called out and waited for a Polo that never came, so Mayra swam toward the shore hoping it wasn’t some sort of water mirage. Turned out it wasn’t. The water began getting shallower and when it was chest-deep, she planted her feet and walked to shore. The ground beneath her feet wasn’t soil, sand, gravel, pebbles, cobbles, rock, or shells, it was soft, almost as if she was walking on air—no, not quite that—like the fluffiest cotton as to make her feel nearly weightless. Just then, the silliest thought crossed her mind, The reason there are no clouds in the sky is because I’m standing on top of them.
Suddenly, with what should have been a start, Mayra realized she wasn’t alone on the shore. There was someone else standing directly behind her. Normally, she would have recoiled but she somehow sensed she wasn’t in any danger. She turned face to face with a being bright enough to cut the eye. Their face was in a constant state of flux, shifting from the familiar faces of people whose names she couldn’t recall, to images of other things that existed beyond her understanding and therefore defied description. From their body (their because the being standing before her was neither male nor female so she automatic used the nonconforming gender pronouns, they, their and them) which was pure light, a series of wings protruded at odd angles. She counted at least thirty before giving up but there could easily have been a hundred or more. The wings were emerald green, covered with saffron hairs, and appeared to be liquid by the way they reflected the light and by the faint brush strokes they made in the air as they gently flapped. On each wing were different faces of various hues and genders with unblinking eyes full of intelligence and understanding that spoke innumerous languages, none of which she understood but found beautiful nonetheless. She could have stood there motionless for the rest of her life, staring at the marvel she knew to be an angel, enveloped in wave after wave of peacefulness and contentment and acceptance and unconditional love.
Without warning, Mayra was slammed in the back by some sort of wave of vibration that knocked her off her feet and pressed her into the soft ground as if it had its own physical weight. She thought it might have been an explosion but there was no thundering boom. But she felt a vibration in her chest, shaking her so hard it made her teeth rattle.
She looked up stunned and glanced around and saw a crack appear in the distance of the silky milk white waters. An impossible crack that became longer and longer, stretching and slicing through the waves, traveling toward the shore. She watched as it divided the waters and the cotton soft shore, branching off along the way like ground lightning. Anything that got in its way became cracked as well as it went on through and kept going. Although it was impossible to tell how, she knew it was alive, sentient, angry and on a mission.
Unable to move, pinned to the spot in fear, Mayra watched as it snaked slowly in her direction for a moment then shot out rapidly! She squeezed her eyes shut and screamed. Then she felt something grab hold of her wrist and pull her along. Opening her eyes she discovered she was no longer on the ground but flying. No, not flying, being dragged through the sky by the angel, a pale thin hand emerged from the white light body and secured itself around her wrist. Her body whipped up and down and left and right like a flag in a gale storm but she felt no pain as if divorced from the stress of the physical demands on her ragdoll body. Perhaps it had something to do with being within the angel’s aura. She ventured a look behind and saw with astonished terror that the crack had leapt from the shore and was forking its way through the air itself. As the angel flew faster, the crack not only matched speed but it was slowly gaining on them, plotting an ominous path toward her flapping feet. She tried to call to the angel but found it hard to breath with the wind whipping in her face.
Mayra turned her head back to the crack that was now only mere inches away. The angel began flying in an evasive pattern and she quickly lost sight of the crack. She twisted her head desperately, this way and that, but was unable to see where it went. It wouldn’t remain a mystery for long. The crack had zigged and zagged until it was above and behind the angel and herself. It plummeted toward them. Then Mayra felt a sharp pain in her left heel and heard the horrifying sound of flesh tearing. She let out a blood curdling scream and shot a glance down to her leg and her mind froze. The crack was cutting through her flesh, muscle and bone and traveling up her ankle, calf, thigh…
The angel stopped, hovering in midair and pulled Mayra up by the shoulders. The mouths on their shifting faces opened and closed, speaking to her but she couldn’t hear anything over her own screams as the crack separated her crotch, her torso, her breasts, her neck and finally her head.
Mayra sat bolt upright in bed, shivering. Her nightshirt, drenched in sweat, was now see-through. She wrapped her arms around herself, trying to stop the shaking. She immediately became aware of a voice that struck like a shaft of light through the fog clouds existing between her dreaming and consciousness state, illuminating a series of images which flashed at an ultraliminal speed. The voice, not her own though it came from within her, translated these images into a thought, a single phrase that repeated itself. As it rose in intensity and severed the last tether of sleep, she parted her lips and whispered, “Heaven is dead.”
To Be Continued…
©2017-2020 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys