Feeling desperation coil around his neck like a snake crushing its prey,
the man looked up to the sky and asked if anyone was listening
—anyone at all— that could show him the way.
The reply then fell down upon him like
the crash of thunder as all the gods,
the Old and the New alike,
replied in unison.
“Try writing in italic for dramatic effect.”
Feeling desperation coil around his neck like a snake crushing its prey,
DATE: JULY 7TH, 1992
Sunny let out a sigh of relief as her husband and mother left the hospital room. She was finally allowed some time alone with the two pink sacks of meat she had just given birth to.
Her twin babies.
In her left arm Sunny held her firstborn; a big-headed, grinning miniature of a person who seemed happy just to have made the cut. Though Sunny would never admit this out loud, he looked like one of those spermatozoids that had gotten lucky; much like a one-flippered seal who beat all the others to shore because he was coincidentally at the right place and time to catch the biggest wave.
In her right arm, Sunny held her daughter, who, in contrast to her twin brother, seemed calm and poised. Less than two hours had passed since her birth and she already seemed bored out of her mind. Like she had already been here before.
Again, in stark contrast to her big-headed brother, who was staring at the white and sterile ceiling with unabashed awe.
Sunny had already tested her twins just as her mother had instructed her. She had gently placed a finger into the palms of each of her newborns’ hands to see how they’d react. The girl had answered with a firm grip. Hello there, mama, her grip seemed to say. A pleasure, I’m sure.
When Sunny did the same to the boy, however, his eyes shot wide open and he started floundering like a flamboyant fish on dry land. Oh my God, what the fuck is that?! Get it off me! Get it off me! . . . .Wait, no! I change my mind! I think I like it. Please, come back! Put it in my mouth! Please! Come bahaaack!
Sunny couldn’t help but being distraught. She had done everything right. During her entire pregnancy, she made sure to eat a lot of fish. She hadn’t allowed herself so much as a sip of alcohol; she hadn’t touched a cigaratte. Hell, she had even made sure to stay away from people who did. Basically, she had been as healthy as the human biology would allow. So now, as she looked at her baby boy, a single, terrifying thought wormed its way into Sunny’s mind – one she wouldn’t dare share with anyone.
What if, despite all my precautions, I’ve still managed to bring yet another idiot into the world? What if—
Her train of thought got derailed as the lights in her hospital room suddenly went out. The howl of the wind outside was suddenly deafening now that darkness and dead silence reigned inside. Sunny turned to the window, where the wind seemed to howl the loudest, and that was when she noticed him; a figure outlined by the lights outside. A man squatting on the hospital’s window frame; his long leather jacket gleaming as it whipped behind him.
How long has he been sitting there?
‘Hello, Sunny,’ the mysterious man said, in a deep, bottomless voice. He jumped off the sill and landed with a thud. Heavy boots echoed into the room as he approached the bed with steady, determined steps. He was an odd sight; a giant with nothing but a leather jacket wrapped around his muscular upper body. He wore crimson shades, even though it was night. The giant came to a stop at about four feet distance from Sunny’s hospital bed and clasped his hands behind him. With his square jaw set into place and his eyes hidden behind the shades, he was an imposing figure indeed.
Sunny felt the wind get knocked out of her as she thought she recognized him. ‘Are you . . . Arnold Schwarzenegger?’
He nodded with a perfectly square grin. ‘Yes,’ he said, with a deep, emotionless tone.
Sunny frowned. There were so many questions she felt needed to be asked. ‘But, Arnold, you look much older in person than you do in your movies. And why do your pants appear to be a couple of sizes smaller from the knees down?’
He scratched his head. ‘I . . errr. . . these are skinny jeans. They haven’t been invented yet in your time. But in my time, everyone wears them. Those who don’t wear them . . . well, they don’t get to be governors.’
Sunny didn’t understand what any of that meant, but she somehow doubted it could spell anything but bad news for her and her twins. She made a quick sign of the cross and whispered a prayer under her breath.
‘What is it you want?’ she then asked.
‘I came for the child,’ Arnold said, without hesitation. ‘Many years from now the world will be thrown into chaos. I am among the last of my kind, and in a last-ditch effort to reverse our misfortunes, I have traced the desolation back to its origins. It seems that everything leading to the great desolation had started here, with this creature you’ve birthed today. Your child was already too powerful for me to stop in my time and that is why I’ve traveled back into the past – to make sure I stop this madness before it even begins. For the good of the many, your child will need to be sacrificed.’
Sunny brought her hand to her mouth, eyes wide with horror. ‘You’re talking about murdering an innocent child, you monster! . . . No! I won’t let you get to her!’ She pulled the girl closer to her breast.
A cold grin wedged its way into the man’s square jaw. ‘It’s not her I came for,’ he said. ‘I came for him.’ He raised a finger to the boy, whose head was currently lolling around in the nook of Sunny’s arm at the complete mercy of the forces around him, much like a bobble head on the dashboard of a jeep trekking up the Andes. The boy still wore that dumb grin on his rounded face as his head rolled in his neck’s joint, drool seeping out the corners of his mouth. His sister, on the other hand, was giving Arnold a hostile sneer.
‘Are you sure it’s him?’ Sunny asked. ‘I mean – Lord forgive me for even saying this – look at him. I can’t imagine him ever growing to be a threat to anyone but himself.’
Arnold took yet another step closer. His jaw clenched in anticipation, and in his intensity, he spoke in a barely perceptible accent. ‘There is no doubt in my mind. Your son may look like an idiot now – yes, he will look like an even bigger idiot ten years from now – but that is because he is a slow grower. And that will be his greatest disguise, because his off-the-charts incompetence will cause everyone to underestimate him. Puberty won’t hit him until he’s well in his mid-twenties and when it finally arrives, the potential that had laid dormant all this time will finally surface. He will turn into one of the most influential writers of his time. He will join arms with a beast that is half-shadow and half-light. Together, they will destroy the world with parodies and puns.’ Arnold’s eyes glazed over in horror. ‘So many puns . . .’
‘You’ll be doing the world a great favor if you just throw him out the window right here and now. The future will be a much better place without him. You have to believe me on that.’
Sunny looked at the baby in her arms and still had a hard time imagining him ever accomplishing anything remotely close to what this man from the future was suggesting. She could only envision her son going from a glue-sniffing boy to an armpit-sniffing teenager to a forty-three-year-old single man still living with his parents while working the drive-thru at mcdonalds. Anything beyond that seemed like a stretch.
But still . . . this was Arnold-freaking-Schwarzenegger. And if Hollywood movies had taught her anything, it’s that he’s usually the good guy. And that’d make the little idiot she now held the bad guy in this story, wouldn’t it?
Arnold took another step forward. He was now so close she could practically smell the protein shake on his breath. His jaw widened even further as he grinned in anticipation, his lips parting slightly as he sucked in a deep breath. A lion, ready to pounce.
Seeing this as her last and only chance, Sunny reluctantly let go of the boy, who bounced off the side of the bed before tumbling and falling to the ground. With her freed hand she reached under her pillow and grabbed the bag of fun-sized snickers bars she had stashed there (having been on a strict diet for so long, she had been planning on enjoying a hell of a cheat week). With one swift flick of the wrist, she tore the bag open before slinging it at Arnold’s agape mouth. The sack of snickers hit target as it sailed right through his open mouth and lodged itself into his throat. She prung to her feet, and with the girl still in her other hand, Sunny used her free hand to punch the bag of candy so far down his throat that he was forced to swallow it lest he choked on it. Arnold grabbed his throat while collapsing to the ground, and Sunny – with the momentum of her attack still carrying her forward– followed suit.
‘Nooooooo!’ Arnold screamed. He folded on the hospital tiles and started convulsing in terror. He clawed at his face. ‘No! No! No!’ His words were edged with agony; it filled the room with a cry that sounded more animal than human. Suffering in its most primal form.
Tears started rolling down his chiseled face. ‘My gains . . .’ he whispered. ‘You’ve ruined my gains . . .’
It was a strange and uncomfortable sight; to see such a big, powerful man reduced to tears. It took him a good while to gather himself and clamber back to his feet. Arnold was now towering over Sunny, who had remained on the floor. ‘I’ll have to return to the future,’ Arnold said between sniffs. ‘I can’t – I won’t – allow any more losses to be made. Ugh! I don’t even want to think about how many empty calories I’ve just consumed. Tomorrow I will head back to the gym and start the long process of reverting the damage you have inflicted on my cutting-phase today. I know I was about to kill your baby and all, but still. Not cool.’
He turned his back to her and started walking away before stopping dead in his tracks. He looked back at Sunny over his highly defined shoulder. ‘It’ll be back . . . day,’ was his final words, as a bright beam of light flashed all around him, enveloping him before taking him away. Sunny was left alone on the floor with only half of her twins in her arms.
Sunny turned around to the boy she had dropped – the one who’s supposedly going to turn the entire world on its head one day – only to see him sprawling on the floor like a tortoise turned on its shell. He was clawing at the air above, seemingly frustrated that he was unable to get any purchase on it. Sunny brought her hand to her mouth in horror as she now noticed a huge dent in his forehead. It hadn’t been there before, had it?
She started to fear that by dropping him she had broken her own son. But then again he had acted imbecilic from the moment of birth, so it was
hard impossible to tell whether the damage done by the fall was responsible for his current behavior.
In the end, Sunny thought, only time will tell. Till then, all I can do is be the best mother I can possibly be. She was dragged from her thoughts as she noticed the boy put his own foot into his mouth. She smiled at the adorable sight – for about two seconds, because he then started to choke on it. But even as he was choking, he kept trying to shove the foot further down his throat. Sunny sighed and carefully and patiently removed his foot from his mouth.
‘I’ll love you unconditionally,’ she whispered as she wiped his drool-covered toes off with her hospital gown. ‘I’ll love you always, my darling, because Lord knows if anyone else will.’
in a small nobody café located in a small nobody town, the ladies of the Secret Red Ribbon Society of Doom were holding their annual brainstorming meeting.
They were the only costumers, and a pensive silence had befallen the table while the winter wind outside howled into the night.
‘I got it!’ Edna, the fifty-nine year old tea shop owner by day, said.
Jacquelyn placed her tea cup on the saucer and squinted at the old gal, her eyes narrow out of general disbelief as well as a dire need of stronger prescription glasses. ‘And what is it you’ve got, Edna, besides a bad case of arthritis?’
Edna wanted to bite back but she held her tongue out of common decency. Also, it was hard to defend herself when she’d spent the last fifteen minutes trying to pry her fingers away from a tea cup she was still clutching awkwardly. ‘Well, have you heard about this whole Facebook craze these youngsters are on these days?’ Some nods of faint recollection here and there. ‘Well,’ Edna continued, ‘let me tell you, first of all, that the Facebook is not even a real book.’
The table stirred with gasped of outrage, but Jacquelyn motioned them to silence with a raised finger. ‘Go on, Edna.’
‘It’s true,’ Edna continued. ‘My granddaughter, Cindy, is on her laptop from sunrise to sunset, mostly to do the Facebook. She says she uses it for socializing with her contacts. From what I’ve gathered, Facebook is just one of many computer books out there.
‘Ebooks, they call ’em.’
Edna paused in order to savor this moment. The floor – or rather the table – was now entirely hers. The Red Ribbon ladies stared at her with awestruck expressions as they awaited her final revelation; just one of the many perks of being the Society’s tech genius. ‘You probably already know this, ladies, but computers can in fact spread viruses across continents.’
She paused a moment for the anticipated gasps to die down.
‘I assure you that this is all true. And my granddaughter alone has Facebook friendships in the hundreds. Hundreds! This means that we can, theoretically, engineer our own lethal incurable virus and inject it into The Facebook, thereby starting an epidemic of unprecedented proportions; a worldwide outbreak in a matter of nanoseconds! Imagine, if you can, ladies, a wave of utter devastion washing over millions of victims before they even knew what hit them. The apocalypse, finally upon us.’ Edna’s tea cup and saucer rattled as her arthritic hand trembled with excitement.
The table broke out into applause.
‘Excellent,’ Jodie said as she wiped her teary eyes with a crimson handkerchief.
‘Brilliant! Just brilliant!’ Wendel echoed.
‘Deliciously ruthless,’ Ronda added.
While the rest of the ladies of the Secret Red Ribbon Society of Doom showered Edna with praise, Jacquelyn seethed, clenching her dentures harder than her dentist would recommend. These useless, senile old bags, she thought. They are absolutely clueless when it comes to today’s modern world. She would know, being the Society’s youngest member at the ripe age of fifty-four.
‘You can’t infect people with computer viruses,’ she said, interrupting the ongoing celebration. ‘It doesn’t work like that. Computer viruses can only infect other computers. They’re utterly useless against the living and breathing.’
The mood that had been so full of hope a moment ago had died. An awkward silence had taken its place -or would have, had Rosie not been coughing her lungs out.
The silence lasted for almost fifteen minutes, and with the morale dead and beyond resurrecting -not to mention several of the members dozing off – Jacquelyn reluctantly decided to conclude this year’s meeting.
Another year had passed with nothing to show for it.
Jacquelyn flew back home the next day, to an ungrateful son and his bitch wife who thought keeping her in their dusty attic was a Jesus-esque act of kidness, and their asshole children who were always too busy on their phones, tablets and computers to spend time with grandma.
She fell asleep that night, clinging to the hope that by the same time next year the ladies of the Red Ribbon Society of Doom would finally come up with something remotely resembling a competent plan to bring an end to the world.
Before the world brought an end to all of them.
Afterwards, Mike couldn’t quite recall how the rest of his conversation with Jay had gone. It all blurred together into a dream-like incoherence of moments. Mike remembered the way Jay looked into his eyes, and realizing that this stranger knew everything about him.
Jay knew the name of his son. Right now, little Micheal is waiting for his dad to come back home.
Mike remembered how Jay seemed to know his hopes and dreams. You always wanted to be a journalist. A life is not truly yours if it is not lived in pursuit of your own passion.
But what Mike remembered the most was what Jay said about his future; what he was going to do tomorrow. Tomorrow you will sell this place for whatever you will get for it, and you will live in pursuit of your dreams.
The one thing Mike couldn’t quite remember was Jay leaving. He couldn’t remember Jay ever getting up and walking out the door, and yet he was no longer here. His friends, however – the fat man with a beard white as . . . cotton, and the kid with his drum sticks – were still at the table. And there was a twenty-dollar bill in front of him too. They sat there for a moment in perfect silence.
And then Nick stole it.
‘That guy has a flare for dramatic exits I’ll give him that.’
‘And entrances too,’ the kid added, his lips curving into a faint smile.
‘Who is he?’ Mike asked.
The fat man – the one they called Nick – grinned a secretive grin. ‘He’s a retired fisherman.’
Mike frowned. ‘He doesn’t strike me as the fisherman type.’
‘I guess he’s not exactly of the Viking mold you see on the Deadliest Catch, but he had given his life to fishing, and he used to be a damn good one, too.’
‘So what do you guys do?’ Mike asked.
Nick flashed a wide grin between his beard. ‘Well, I’m currently working in Coca Cola’s marketing department. And we already established that Aaron here’s a disgruntled failure of a musician. We’re all distant – and I mean distant – relatives who only tolerate each other during holidays, ‘cause we’d probably end up killing each other if we saw any more of one another.
Mike nodded, slowly. He couldn’t think of anything to say, his mind was still trying to make sense of the fog of moments that had remained of his conversation with Jay.
‘You guys wanna hear a joke?’ Nick suddenly asked.
Mike was hesitant. He really just wanted to get home and see his family. ‘I don’t know, is it any good?’
Nick scuffed at this as he puffed his chest proudly. ‘Doesn’t matter if the joke’s good or not, it’s all about the delivery. And let’s not forget, I make a living selling people black death in a bottle.’
After Mike’s approving nod and Aaron’s patented shrug of aloofness, Nick started.
‘So Santa Claus, the little drummer boy and Jesus walk into a bar . . .’
Nick was almost furious at Jay’s refusal to cooperate. ‘C’mon! Why won’t you do it for me? It’d save us some money and—’
‘I said no,’ Jay insisted. ‘Cheating is a direct violation of not one, but TWO commandments. Thou shalt not steal, and though shalt not bear false witness.’
‘And they call me the saint,’ Nick grumbled. He then barked at the bartender. ‘Barkeep! Cancel the waters and make it three whiskeys instead why don’t you?’
(Un)luckily, Nick’s sour mood had sweetened considerably once their drinks had arrived, and he now slurped gingerly on it like it was hot tea. He waited for the bartender to return to his station before addressing the boy, who was still dealing the table with thunderous taps.
‘So tell me, Aaron, what’ve you been up to lately?’ Aaron didn’t seem interested in responding, instead he kept on increasing the pace of his rat-tat-tat further beyond human limits, his hands blurring and seemingly multiplying tenfold. ‘Aaron? Aaaarooon!’
Nick frowned and was about to give up when an idea struck him. ‘Hey Aaron,’ he whispered almost imperceptibly between his wide grin, ‘how’s your girl doing?’
The boy’s eyes grew wide and his body jerked upwards. The beat stumbled to an awkward halt as one of the drum sticks flew out of his hands and towards Jay’s face. To their relief, Jay caught it effortlessly without diverting his eyes from the boy. Aaron offered him a quick apologetic frown before emptying his glass. Mike the bartender had already started pouring his drink behind the counter.
‘Make that two!’ Nick howled as he gave the bottom of his empty glass a sentimental look.
‘I still remember the first time you played for me,’ Jay begun, as he now extended the drum stick to its owner. ‘Even though you were just a boy back then, I could tell that you were born to create music.’ Aaron snatched the stick almost aggressively and seemed like he was going to continue his play, but then he changed his mind and ended up placing them neatly in front of him.
‘Finally,’ Nick said, ‘I was afraid I’d be spending tonight trapped in a restless sleep while that banal hammering you call a beat echoes throughout my nightmares.’
‘— No, I mean it, Jay. This brat used to play music that resonated with the Universe. His music could materialize rainbows, move mountains, awaken volcanoes and conjure Angels from heaven itself if he so desired, and yet he’s toiling his days away relocating his royal ass from one hellhole to the n—’
Nick fell silent as the bartender (whose approach had gone unnoticed by the old man) placed his order in front of him in a clumsy clunk. His face widened into an apologetic grin. ‘Ahem – sorry for that, old pal.’ Mike waved him off with an awkward smile. Nick could’ve let the conversation end there, but that would’ve meant that the awkward silence had won.
‘Come, sit with us. We could use your take on the manner.’ Mike looked at the jolly old man and saw he hadn’t been given much of a choice.
‘It’s just these kids today, you know?’ Nick continued, stabbing a fat finger at Aaron. ‘They don’t know how good they’ve got it. They don’t understand the value of hard work. Aaron here used to be something of a child star back home. But talent is nothing without perseverance. And unfortunately, when the going got tough he folded like cheap linen, and so all that talent amounted to nothing.’
Jay had noticed Aaron’s hand moving across the table towards his drum sticks during Nick’s rant. He now clutched them with a clenched fist, his knuckles whitening under suppressed rage. And Mike saw this too.
‘I think he’s extremely talented,’ Mike interjected.
Nick snorted, took a fat tug at his glass and wiped his beard with the back of his hand. ‘He used to be much, much better. What you heard today was a castrated cat pissing into a jar compared to the music he used to play. I don’t know why he ever gave up.’
‘I never gave up,’ Aaron hissed between clenched teeth. His stick-wielding hand trembled violently, ‘But ever since she left me . . . I’ve been unable to make music.’
Jay reached over and laid his hand on top of Aaron’s just when Mike thought the boy was about to jab it into the fat man’s ass. The trembling had stopped immediately.
Jay had seen enough human misery for one day.
He looked up at the ceiling, his eyes glittering in the bar’s dim lighting. Or perhaps, Mike thought, he is looking past the ceiling. To something beyond what the eye can see.
‘I often find myself perplexed at how people can be so smart and so stupid at the same time,’ he begun.
‘Man’s greatest asset is his brain, with which he can grasp and learn novel concepts. But the brain is a double-edged sword that will inflict wounds on its wielder if it is allowed to overwrite the ancient truths carved into the heart. While the brain can learn new things, it is your hearts that bear universal knowledge on things you have always known. Truths that can never be shaken or altered. But if you no longer listen to your hearts, you lose what makes you human, and so you lose yourselves. Your brains can convince you that it is okay to hate and judge one another because they’re different, while your heart cannot. You brain can argue that it is okay to cheat and lie and steal and even kill if a person is evil enough to deserve it, because your brains can reason beyond reason. It can distort reality to suit its own goals, while the heart stays true to its only mission: to love unconditionally.
Jay lowered his gaze and turned to Aaron. ‘The reason you used to play so beautifully as a child was because you would not think about the music you made, you just echoed the rhythm you found in your heart. But after Sarah broke it you stopped all communications to your heart, because you grew afraid of what you would find there. It is okay if you still love her, and it is okay if you are still hurt. Moving on does not mean that you are suddenly healed. It just means that you no longer allow your wounds to immobilize you. You should listen to your heart, because it is where we store the magic that enables us to do amazing things. If your heart can still love someone who has hurt you so badly, then surely it is also capable of turning your hands into heaven’s voice once again.’ Aaron nodded a slow, somewhat unconvinced nod. Jay knew it hadn’t completely sunken in yet, but it will.
‘And Nick.’ Jay now turned to Nick, who had already finished his second round and was now holding Jay’s untouched drink to his lips. Jay relieved him of the glass and placed it gently on the table. ‘Drinking will not solve your problems. Neither will picking on Aaron. So what if your own kids no longer take you seriously? That does not diminish your worth in any way, and it should not stop you from trying to take care of them. That is what fathers do. They insist on loving and giving everything they have to their children – even if they get up being rejected in the process. Kids are in such a hurry to grow up nowadays, but you are able to make them want to remain young for a little while longer, and that is the magic you have in your heart.’
Nick shrugged and reclaimed the glass. ‘Now I remember why nobody hangs out with you anymore,’ he said, before swallowing its content in one giant gulp.
But Jay knew that somewhere deep down, Nick didn’t enjoy the drink as much as he would’ve liked.
‘And now you,’ Jay said as he turned to Mike.
Click here to discover how the rest of the story unfolds..
This is the second installment of a four-part Christmas short story series. Word count: 2nd part (800) and all four parts combined (3895). Click here for part 1.
Mike the bartender stood behind his counter, hoping that either some more costumers would come along or that the current one would hurry up and leave (although he’d prefer the latter). He knew his bar wasn’t the most popular one on the island – hell, his bar wasn’t even the most popular on the street. That honor went to LickHer Liquors; a bar opened up two years ago by a euro-douchebag owner who had barely legal waitresses slithering between tables in tight shirts and short skirts serving cheap food and sexual suggestion. Mike’s own bar, however, was a rundown shack that smelled of nicotine, rum and general human sadness.
Though he normally dreaded his line of work, he especially hated working on Christmas. If it were any other day the place would’ve been empty and he would’ve closed shop early without anyone to notice he was gone.
He turned to the round table in the far corner where the object of his imprisonment sat; a dark-skinned boy with long, curly hairs falling over his shoulders in an untamed tangle of defiance. He had arrived shortly after the place opened for business and hadn’t moved from his table since. Mike figured he must’ve been some kind of musician, because shortly after having his whiskey served, he pulled out two drum sticks and started tapping on the edge of the table in a rhythmic pattern Mike hadn’t heard before, gradually increasing his speed till he could no longer keep up. The kid seemed to be playing some kind of drinking game where he would penalize himself with one shot of whiskey every time he screwed up. Ninety minutes and six drinks later, the boy still didn’t show any signs of slowing down. Mike was just about to walk over to ask him if he wouldn’t mind moving to another bar when the entrance door flew open.
Two men looking like each other’s polar opposites walked in. The man on the right – a fat stump of an old white man – looked around, his eyes wide in mock bewilderment. He communicated something to his partner − a middle-aged lanky fellow with a bronze tan − in an alien tongue while gesturing to the interior. The fat one then bellowed savagely at his own apparent joke while holding both hands on his protruding stomach. The man on the left seemed unimpressed. At least that’s what Mike initially thought he saw. Or perhaps, he now thought, it was pity that resided in the man’s eyes.
Mike would’ve much preferred indifference.
The fat one seemed to have recognized the musician sitting in the corner because he quickly joined his table. The boy quickly nodded the fat man’s due acknowledgement without diverting focus from his play. The lanky fellow stood by the door and seemed unsure on whether he should enter or not. Reluctantly, he joined the table after some insistent hissing by the fat man. Mike approached the trio sitting at the table.
‘Can we have three glasses of water please?’ the fat guy asked, not in their alien tongue but in the flawless English Mike could understand. He had the look of someone who had developed an unbreakable bond with firewater over the years; the same look you’d see on men who’d never order water at a bar. But Mike also thought the fat man bore the smirk of a con artist who’s about to pull off one of his better rues. Watch me closely, his blue eyes seemed to suggest, because I’ll be getting away with this regardless. Yes, it was a look Mike knew all too well. As a bar owner he had met his share of shady characters. The musician kid also had a dark side to him, his heart seeming much too heavy and worn out for his young age.
Their lanky friend on the other hand, seemed completely out of place. He had a neatly trimmed beard and his hair – though fairly long – brushed into a single wave. He wore a khaki shirt that was buttoned all the way up, and tucked into a pair of mom jeans he had pulled up comfortably above the waist. He looked like the kind of guy who would knock on your door at nine a.m. to ask if you’ve heard the good news (and when you told him that yes, you have heard the good news, he would insist on telling it to you anyway). Mike couldn’t put his finger on it, but something about this man seemed vaguely familiar in an odd sort of way.
Mike nodded to his customers and walked back to the bar. Great. I’m working on Christmas and these guys come in asking for water. I wonder what kind of generous tips tonight has in store for me.
This is the first installment of a four-part short story series.
Word count:1st part (1237) and all four parts combined (3895).
Jay sat in front of the television watching the Jesus Live Network. Some pastor had been ranting for the past hour on how physical contact is the most atrocious carnal sin of all. He was of the strong opinion that it was not only indecent, but also utterly immoral in the eyes of God. The pastor then followed up with a quick prayer to ask God to cure the disease-ridden souls of the world. No, he didn’t pray for cancer patients to find reprieve, or for those suffering from malaria to be cured, because those diseases are all natural and are therefore part of Gods divine plan. He was talking, of course, about the homosexual epidemic. They have all invited the queer demon inside, and they won’t stop until every last of one of us partake in the same abominable sin. Jay heaved a sigh heavy in disappointment.
He turned off the TV and was about to make himself a tuna sandwich when his doorbell went off. He looked at his watch and saw that it was already past eight. Who is knocking on my door at this ungodly hour? An unnerving feeling came over him as his mind answered its own question. He shuffled to the door in his casual attire (which didn’t differ much from his work attire) and peered through the peephole. He let out a deep, disappointed sigh, and found he didn’t have enough breath in him to exhale all of his displeasure. The swollen face of his old friend Nick appeared as the porch door swung open.
‘Jay! My God, it’s been way too long, man. How are you doing?’
‘I am doing just fine, Nick, thank you for asking,’ Jay said in that matter-of-fact-but-yet-polite way that only he could pull off.
‘Good, good.’ Nick cocked his inquisitive head from left to right, trying to steal a glance at Jay’s legendary residential situation, but Jay made sure to sidestep with him each time. ‘Well, aren’t you going to let your old buddy in?’ Nick finally asked after realizing the pointlessness of his quest.
Jay studied the plump old man of a friend standing on his front porch. His eyes were two blue marbles, bright as crystals and surprisingly youthful. His swollen cheeks held the rosy blush of a fresh infection, though his infections were never bacterial or viral, but poured into him straight out of a bottle. Behind him snow fell in a mad flurry, filling a dark and empty world outside. Jay cringed when he – despite himself – took note of parasitic snow that had latched itself onto the shoulders of Nick’s jacket. The same could be said for the man’s jeans, the top of his black boots, and his red beanie. The only part of him that seemed devoid of snow was his scraggly beard, though with his beard being the color of snow itself, it was hard to tell for certain.
‘What brings you to my door at this hour?’ Jay finally asked, his body still barricading any view or entrance into his house.
Nick’s feet tapped the floor impatiently. ‘Do you know what day it is?’
‘Of course I know. It is December twenty-fifth.’
‘Soooo?’ he asked, an eyebrow raised in anticipation.
‘Geezus Christ! That means it’s your damn birthday you old fart!’
Jay fixed a gaze at the movement of Nick’s arm, weary that any hostile attempt would be made towards a hug. Nick ended up digging his hand into his coat pocket and pulling out an envelope instead, which he then extended to Jay. ‘This is for you,’ he said, with his jolly old grin plastered onto his face.
Jay looked at it and said soberly, ‘But today is not my birthday.’
Nick cursed under his breath. ‘Well, when you refuse to tell people your date of birth, you in fact allow them to choose for you. Now hurry up and open the damn thing.’
Jay nodded politely and started the long and precise process of opening the envelope. He tried to get a nail in between the cohesive seal but his nails were impeccably trimmed. They always were. ‘I will fetch my letter opener,’ he then announced.
‘Geezus Christ!’ Nick exclaimed impatiently. ‘Jay, I’m begging you, for the love of God! Please just tear the damn thing open already!’
Reluctantly, Jay held the envelope with both hands, pinching it between thumbs and forefingers as if handling another man’s dirty underwear, and tore into the side in a painfully slow manner.
‘I cannot accept this,’ he said – almost cold but not quite – as he pulled out the twenty dollar bill.
‘You didn’t even ask me what it’s for,’ Nick said. A short silence followed, and when Nick realized Jay wasn’t planning on holding up his end of the conversation, he continued.
‘It’s for you to buy me a couple of rounds at a bar downtown.’
‘—No buts! You need human contact, Jay. You can’t stay cooped up in your little Kingdom forever. Now of course, if you’d rather stay home, I’d be more than happy to keep you company.’
There was a sinister grin on Nick’s face. He knew that Jay didn’t like to go out, least of all for drinks (the last party he attended had been ages ago, and he didn’t recall it ending well). But then again Jay also shuddered at the thought of Nick intruding and contaminating his perfectly sterile home with all of the outside world’s filth. ‘Actually, I am not supposed to be going out – not yet, anyhow.’
‘C’mon man, what’re you afraid of?’ Nick said, his voice in a mocking tone. ‘Afraid daddy won’t approve? You’re a grown man, Jay, and you should be allowed to go out when you damn please. Besides, I told Aaron you’d come.’
Jay remained silent for the longest time as he thought about Aaron. He then spoke just as Nick was about to open his mouth to further strengthen his case. ‘All right,’ Jay said, ‘but just one drink.’
He slammed the door shut in Nick’s face and reappeared moments later wearing his jacket, his sandals replaced in favor winter boots. As they dropped onto the sidewalk below, Jay realized how long it had been since he had actually gone outside. He had to admit that the crunching snow – a white sludge of nature’s sins he usually refrained from – felt good beneath his feet, the cold chill somehow adding to the night’s crisp charm (it also helped that his boots were military issued, which meant that there was a good impenetrable layer standing between his toes and the snow). Perhaps the world is not all bad—’
‘—Hey, are you even listening to me?’ Nick had stopped walking and he seemed agitated.
‘Yes,’ Jay said, ‘you were saying that House of Cards is extremely overrated.’
‘Don’t do that.’
‘Pretend you were listening when you weren’t. It’s unbecoming.’
‘As you wish,’ Jay conceded.
They resumed their walk in silence, something that Jay cherished for its rarity as well as its assured brevity. Silences tend to have a short life expectancy around Nick.
‘But yeah,’ Nick continued on cue, ‘House of Cards really is overrated. I mean – it’s basically Game of Thrones if you omitted all the cool action scenes and replaced all the female breasts with saggy manboobs . . . ’
As he was trudging through the dark forest he stumbled onto the most beautiful thing he could’ve ever imagined. Never had he seen the likes of her and yet he knew what she was the moment he laid eyes on her. An angel.
It was a sin for monsters like him to even gaze upon something so pure and yet there she was, lying on the ground, so weakened from previous battles that she had fallen from the sky and landed into the realm of the cursed. She was covered in cuts and bruises, her face buried in putrid soil and still such divine grace had never been so apparent. The first thing he wanted to do was help her get back on her feet and nurse her back to the divine creature she’s meant to be.
But then he realized that once her strength had been restored she’d surely escape from this forsaken place and disappear into the heavens.
And it was with this thought that he dug his claws into her wings and tore them off, making sure she won’t ever leave him.