A reincarnation of a story I have worked on before
Thomas Remington was sleeping off a Scope binge from the day before. He didn't remember much of what he'd done but his burning guts and throbbing skull told him it had ended badly. The minty vomit choked him from sleep. He sat up slowly but even the most minute movement caused his ears to ring, head to throb in the most divine pain he had ever experienced. He heaved up on the closed lid, heavy with snow. The light above scorched his eyes. He gulped at the fresh air, fighting a fresh urge to vomit. He hoped he wouldn't puke up any blood this time. Scope burned you stomach pretty bad, gave you ulcers. If you bled to much you could find your self in the hospital drying out in the worst way. First you start to sweat, then you’re cold or hot but then the shakes starting and that usually meant the mind fuck shit was going to start. The shadow ones would come, all talk’n to him at once, mocking him, jeering and he could make them go away 'cause he was tied to the bed. Every hospital in the city knew Rem by name, they new to lock him in a safe room tied down or he'd bolt at the first opportunity. He would be left there at the mercy of what horrors his mind could imagine while the booze left his symptom. He would scream for days but no one would come except to change soiled sheet and fix his fluid IV. He knew the game now and stayed far away from doctors even if he was spewing blood. Anything was better than the nightmares.
Someone was looking down on him but he could not make their features out because the glare. The skis had cleared during the early hours and now the sun was white hot the deep blue cold of a winter sky.
"Hello Rem." Said a cheerful voice
“Yeh." The young man with the matted beard grunted. He squinted but he still could not make out the man's featured.
“My name is Mr. Ashe. I was a lawyer for your uncle."
“O.K. Do I get something?"
“Yes, yes I've been looking for you for a very, very long time Mr. Remington. Your uncle was adamament that you be found but that proved to be very difficult, very difficult.” The voice was that of an excitable child talking about a really big adventure." It would seem that foster records can be difficult to track when the child is shuffled through as many homes as you, Rem."
"Yeah." Rem shrugged. Where ever the agency sent him, he always got sent back to the group home in shame. He tried to be good but something always happened and he would end up in Ms.Edith's office, where the social worker would stare him down for a good half hour with her black beady eyes behind black horn rimmed frames. They made her look like a praying mantises. When he was small and more prone to being afraid he would piss him self right there in the blue padded chair. She would click her teeth in anger; he would wear those pissy pants for a week, two if he shat.
“We need to talk Mr. Remington; I saw a coffee shop around the corner. I'll buy you a meal and we can discuss the business with your uncle."
A free meal was never a thing one should pass up in the best of circumstances; Rem did not have the luxury so he hauled himself out of his stinking home and jumped to the pavement to face his new found friend.
Mr. Ashe was possibly the tallest man that Rem could ever remember encountering. His hair was the palest blond, thinned to the point that his white skull shone through but his feature said he could be no more than thirty. Rem would have guessed him an Albino, except that Mr. Ashe had eyes the color of the winter sky above. There was great warmth there that the sky did not posses, Rem, who rarely trusted anyone, felt at ease with the stranger trudging through the grayer alley slush, humming happily.
"Is there a particular cafe you enjoy Mr. Remington?" The toe headed man said without turning to see if Rem followed. He was following, though he couldn't say why, usually he would tell the do gooder types to go fuck themselves but in the end it was his stomach that won out...
"Of course Rem, may I call you Rem?"
"Yeh." There was a long expectant pause, Ashe finally spoke.
“Good... Then where would you like to go?"
"Carnegie is around the corner."
"Community center, there’s a coffee shop with a deck. Buy me some smokes?"
Mr. Ashe stopped, sliding in the slush. He turned, hand extended with a pack of Jackson reds in his hand.
"I guessed at the brand, these are ok?"
“Perfect." Rem snatched the pack up and wasted no time lighting up. The red pack disappeared into one of the dozen pockets of Rem's moldering army Jacket. It stank of piss but kept the cold out most of the time. Hardly ever snowed as it had for the last week, city was shut down for the most part. The Carnagie never closed, in the first days of the freak blizzard it had been the only thing that stood between death for Rem and the others living rough on the East side.
Rem had gotten him self fairly fucked up the night before and had been denied a bed in the Carnagie’s emergency shelter do to his state. They gave him a sleeping bag and the front hall for the night. Sending him out would probably kill him, but the hall was barely warmer than the outside and at some point he had staggered out into the open, crawling into the dumpster for shelter. It was clear out, warmer than it had been for days. As the two men rounded the corner a city bus crawled by and even a taxi inched its way into their sights. After five days locked up the cities junkies were hurting for a fix and warmth was as good a reason to celebrate as any. An ambulanced screamed its arrival, the East Sides first O.D. of this new morning. There would be many more before days end, the back alleys wept death day in and day out. You came down here to die, fast or slow, either way it would happen if you lost your self in "Lotus Land”, as it was called in the papers, there were no happy ending to be had.
The Carnagie was open and "T's Coffee Bar" had a line spilling out onto the side walk.
"The "Ovaltine" is across the street, everyone’s hates that place, but the coffee isn't bad. Shit for food, but I want a coffee... come on." Rem grabbed Ashe's arm and led/dragged him across the icy intersection.
"Perfect. Some privacy will be good."
Terry Lim granddad had opened the Ovaltine in nineteen fifty, selling malts and soda fountain fair to the local Asian teens. There was a jukebox blasting the latest Rock'n'roll and a small dance floor for the kids to dance to Buddy Holly or The Big Bopper. The neighborhood had been different then, mostly middle class Asian families, a Buddhist temple and tranquility garden. Some how "Lotus Land" became a place where lost should congregated, wandering aimlessly, lost in chemical bliss. The world outside had changed, the "Ovaltine" had not down to its ancient but refurbished soda fountain and retro Formica counters. The place had fallen to shit in the last few years, Terry's brother, Mike, was using it as a tax shelter but running it into the ground. Grandfather Harry, ninety-three but still terrifyingly sharp, had given the "Ovaltine" over to Terry, though he had bitched about the decision for ever afterward. Handing his business over to his least favorite grandson tore at the old man and he reminded Terry daily. When Rem and the stranger entered Terry and his grand father were engaged in a heated battle of insults.
“Retro? Place looks like a monkey's asshole."
“Harry...." Terry was rolling his eyes at the ceiling
"Hungh...Disrespectful. Grandfather to you."
“You said you wanted me to run the place, so I'm running the place."
He looked toward the jingle of the door but the old man spotted Rem before Terry. He raised his cane and came at the two men swinging.
"No, no, no! Out fuckhead monkey ass! No money, get out." Ashe stepped back as the old man raised his gnarled walking stick to strike. Mr. Ashe smile his strange smile and produced his wallet from the air it seemed, presenting the billfold to man named Harry.
“My friend and I are hungry and as you can see I have coin to spare."
“Thirty minutes maximum unless you buy." Ashe continued to smile, though the old man thrust his cane into his face.
“That would be fine Mr...."
"Harry, assface donkey fart."
"Grandfather!” Terry shrugged his shoulder and waved the men over to the corner booth, mumbling an apology under his breath. Ashe nodded, still smiling.
They ordered coffees and breakfast plates while Harry glared from his counter stool across the room. Ashe barely touched his plate, while Rem inhaled four pancakes with all the trimmings within minutes of them being set down on the faded robins egg Formica. When he was done he found Ashe staring at him intently.
“Rem what do you know about destiny?"
Rem leaned in ,the few teeth he had left gleaming blackly against his raw, scaled lips of a corps, "You got something to show me the way?", he lay a grimy fist out on the turquoise Formica table. Ashe's generous mouth stretched into a beatific smile, but shook his head.
“What I have for you can not be taken in pill or smoke, but it will take you to places that you can not imagine Mr. Remington." The black case Ashe carried appeared on the table, opening with what sounded like a woman's sigh. Rem could not see what it held but the air had suddenly become hot and thick in his throat, every hair on his body pricked up in a slow crawl up his body. Somewhere deep in his brain a voice he rarely heard, that whispered. Run, if you see what is on the other side of this table you are lost. Before he could act on these frantic whisperings Ashe's hand was on his own, Ashe pulled roughly revealing the start of a tattoo in the shape of roiling clouds billowing up Rem's arm, disappearing into the frayed sleeve of the army jacket the man wore.
“What would you think if I told you I know what has been inked onto to you skin Rem? I know what you dream about, I know why you hide in the fog of oblivion and I know what makes you scream when the drugs can't chase away your dreams."
Rem pulled his hand away as if stung. Run from this man, the voice told him, you can still turn back. Ashe's hand closed over his vice like.
"You can't leave know Mr. Remington, there is far too much to discuss."
"Fine," But Rem didn't want Ashe to speak, Rem wanted to run. Something was about to happen, something bigger than anything he had experienced before. Before he could flee Ashe's hands placed something on the table between them. White hands receded and the scent of new cherry blossoms filled the air around them. Harry's narrowed eyes widened suddenly and Rem heard the whisper of wonder in the old man's voice but could not make out the words he said.
In the center of the table lay an intricately carved box of highly polished cherry wood the color of blood, its center embossed with a great golden dragon eating his own tail. Forms and faces writhed in and out of being in the sea of red. Leering demons with flashing eyes and wicked teeth glared, while laughing Buddha’s winked at Rem before sinking beneath the surface. Rem looked up at Ashe.
"Nice box." The last word fell from his mouth like a lozenge with the last of its flavored sucked clean, “Can I pawn it?”
“No, this treasure isn't one that can be measured in paper money Mr. Remington, no what I've brought you is...special.” The man chuckled, his own private joke lost on Rem, " So very wonderful." Ashe's spidery hands traced the circling dragon, his eyes bright like a junkie about to be blessed with healing fire in his veins.
"Open it." Rem was seized by the need to see, more than anything he had ever wanted before. Ashe smiled knowing but did not take his strange eyes from the box on the table.
"Yes. Open it. Open it and see..."
Terry had been watching the men but mostly he was puzzled by Harry, who had been motionless for a while know, his eyes on what lay between the two men on the table. Looked like a jewelry box, but Terry couldn’t' see what it looked like exactly but he could certainly smell cherry wood even from his place at the counter. Harry occasionally mumbled to himself in Cantonese but what Terry could understand seemed nonsense to him. He did not like the look of the well dressed man. His eyes, pale storms, had sent Terry's skin crawling. Terry watched his great grandfather begin moving towards the two men, Terry went to stop him but found fear had cemented him to his place at the counter.
"Harry..." He had meant to call the old man back, but his voice came out barely a whisper, like a crushing hand halting his words in his throat. The old man was before the two men now, Terry watched in horror as Harry reached for the box with trembling hands.
Ashe looked up; the old man was reaching, whispering rapidly in an old language older than Ashe, old as the earth. Ashe smiled his strange eyes aflame.
"See Mr. Remington? Even old bones can recognize the value of power, Right Old Tan? "
The old man's eyes snapped from their blissful dream, narrowing their gaze on Ashe.
"I know your true name old man, yes. My old friend Tan, will you help us open it? Mr. Remington is afraid but you are not are you old friend?"
Harry's black eyes were lit with a dangerous flame, Rem felt himself cowering against his seat.
"Demon." Tan hissed.
Mr. Ashe smiled the smile reserved for the old and infirm.
"No, just a lawyer conducting his business with a client."
“Eats garbage. Robs old ladies for their pennies. What you have is useless in his hands." The old man leaned into Ashe until there faces were a breath apart.
"Never robbed anyone ass hat."
"Never asked you shit snot asshole." Old Tan's gaze shifted back to Ashe, who was still grinning serenely at the old man but his eyes were grim.
"I am running out of time Tan..." The old man paled, “He is the only one left and we are beggars at this table." Ashe's smile had finally fled.
“We? No you and I are not we, demon."
"My name is Arthur. I pay taxes, I’m nice to puppies, except on High Holiday of course and I've been married to a lovely woman for ten wonderful years."
“Still stink of demon, even in monkey suit. Infection runs deep."
“Do you feel it Tan? The change in the air or have you been steeped in the human condition to long? I can taste it Tan, there’s blood in the air. What's coming is...Far greater than ..."
"Why betray your own?"
"Why not. I'm a demon."
Rem watch the two war with thinly veiled threats, innuendo and decided that at some point someone had dosed him with a powerful good with high grade CIA acid. Only he wasn't having fun. The two men bickered like an old couple and the guy in the suit thought he was a demon. It was always the suits who ended up being really crazy. Run from the homeless guy with the smelly clothes but mean while Bob next door had been dining on his wife's intestines for a month.
"He thinks he's losing his mind." Ashe was grinning madly. The old man watched, but his face was unreadable for the moment, “I can read your thoughts Rem, demon thing."
"O.K....so...The old guy's a...Angel?"
"You’re like ninety."
"Add about nine more zero's." Ashe piped in cheerily.
“Basically your both nuts so I think I'll take my shiny box and leave."
Rem pulled the box toward him. Ashe's hand shot out and stopped him from leaving.
"Did you go to Sunday school Mr. Remington? Didn't they fill you with the fear of hells fiery pits?"
"Hell is very real Mr. Remington. All too real."
"O.K. ...So what does this have to do with me?"
“Nothing monkey ass. I don't know how the demon got that box but I'll destroy you both before that happens."
“I came for the food old fart. What’s in the box anyway?"
“A key." Ashe did not take his gaze from the old man or the old man from his.
"What's it a key to?"
The two men ignored Rem, who sensed for the first time the crackle in the air. The room felt hot then plunged into the sub zero. Rem watched his breath turn to misty gray plumes. The ancient " warrior didn't look to be much of a match even for Ashe, who was more on the soft side than not. The air sang and a flash of metal passed his Rem's face, the old man danced backwards, the sword pointed at Ashe, who sat looking amused from his booth. Old Tan's grandson gasped and the sound of broken glass cut the air in a thousand pieces.
“Hey, Terry man your granddads got a sword and I think he intends to use it."
“I haven't killed a demon in a long time Ashe; your people have obviously blended well." Tan raised the sword effortlessly over his head.
Rem pushed him self against the booth.
“He’s really serious!" Rem screamed but Terry stood statue behind the strange tableau, his brain unable to reckon with what he was seeing. "Ashe!"
Ashe rose from his seat and walked toward Tan, arms out stretched towards the old man.
“I do not wish to fight you old friend. I was sent to bring you Rem, you must prepare him for what he must do.", Ashe was now face to face with his executioner, placing fragile hands on the blade," Why don't we drop the pretenses?", A blue glow began at his hands, spreading across the blade, traveling up Ashe's arms until his body was lit from the inside with a blinding white light. This fire spread to Tan, now open mouthed in horror as the light consumed them both. Rem and Terry shielded their eyes as the diner was consumed in the light of a thousand suns. Rem had met death before but now find himself wanting to live and found himself praying to a god he had never believed in for many dark years. The light faded as quickly as it had appeared, Rem sat up but fell back when he saw what had been left in place of fire.
The man who had been Ashe was no more, dark oily skinned creature covered in ember colored scales stood at seven feet. Its body was powerfully built, but it was Ashes face that made him scream. It was the nightmare of all nightmare bogeymen. There were no features, not human ones. A foul mouth filled with wicked razor teeth, a wet hole where it nose should have been and red amber eyes peering through slits. The creature turned and spoke in Ashe's cheerful, calm voice and smiled. Rem screamed.
The old man who called himself Tan had been changed as well, a young man with dark features and a warrior’s body stood before them. Light came through him and from him. He still held the sword but did not move to strike his enemy. Terry had come from the kitchen but froze several feet from the strange scene playing it self out.
"Grandfather?" the two plates balanced on Terry's wrists began to quiver. Ashe the demon smiled, bearing razor teeth.
“I have brought you the boy. I do not know that there will be enough time but you must prepare him for what comes."
Tan's sword lowered slightly but still pressed against Ashe's belly, "He is weak. He has chased death for to long demon."
“All souls can be redeemed, Tan."
“Even a demon."
“Even a demon. First you must take him from here; he will not be able to defend himself."
Rem looked from the demon to Warrior and then to the other terrified human still quaking several feet over.
“If he is not killed, he will betray us." Tan spat, “A putrid street maggot living in his own filth."
Rem leapt from his booth seat. "Fuck you"
“Donkey shit asshole. You would sell the world for a needle. Don't think I don't know. I see you all, undead walking the streets, lost in dreams."
The mention of the needle brought on the most terrible hunger in Rem. They talked and Talk while he lived in hell. His skin burned, even the gray winter light made his eyes scream.
“Lucifer’s army will breech the gates. There is no stopping this Ashe."
Ashe snarled, teeth snapping angrily.
“So we should lie down and die. Hell is coming Tan and there is still time to stop it. You have been given your orders." Ashe bowed slightly at Tan and in a flash of green light disappeared. Warrior Tan turned his obsidian eyes towards his trembling charge who had returned to fetal position on his side of the bench.
"Get up rat." Tan had returned to his ancient form, his thick bamboo cane came down on Rem's legs. He screamed. "Get up rat."
"Fuck you." Rem screeched as he cradled his left leg, "It’s broken."
“Then perhaps we should remove it." Tan turned slightly
“Terry, get the big knife and some rubbing alcohol."
Rem leapt from his seat but fell to his knees when his leg gave out.
“See, not broken. Terry, clean that up and help Mr. Remington up stairs. We have much to discuss." The old man followed behind as they made their way to the apartment up stairs.
The apartment was a large one but every space was piled with old porn magazines and dust books left long untouched. Several cats of varying shades had perched them selves on various piles. A large male, the color of smoke glared up at them with hard yellow eyes. The old man spoke softly in greeting to his pets, laying a withered hand on the gray male’s large head. The cat stretched out, flipping over smoothly to bear his pale belly to its owner.
“You sit, Terry sit. I will make tea."
They sat down on shabby wooden chairs. The table was ancient, more likely something that had at one time been used in the dinner below. Terry and Rem watched each other cautiously as they lowered themselves into the creaking chairs. Harry was humming an old song as he bashed several jars onto counters. The kettle whistled. Rem felt his ears would explode with this torture.
“You know he was...that thing." Rem asked in a low voice.
Terry shook his head, eyes on the old man in the kitchen.
“So you don't know what they were talking about, this war coming?"
“Half the time he can't make it to the store to buy food or get to temple with out getting lost."
Rem watched Harry hobble over with a steaming pot and three cups. He hated tea; one of his foster homes had been with an English couple. They had thrust the foul drink on him every morning.
“Lucifer means Satan right?" Terry asked as Harry passed him a thick earthy cup.
"He has many names but Lucifer is his true name. Mean's light bringer." Harry lowered himself into a padded chair, “Once he was the most beautiful of creations angels, in the bible he is the greatest of all. Creation created man and demanded that all submit to your species. Angel Lucifer would not and for that he and his brethren were locked into the darkness. Now he will come to take his revenge."
The tea smelled of Jasmine flowers, it had a sweet taste and brought on a calm Rem had forgotten. His body had cleared the poisons he inflicted but now he no longer felt his skin would leap from his bones.
“How do I end up in this... war?"
Harry looked down at the table, weighing his thoughts. A soft knock at the door made the two younger men to jump. Harry rose slowly, motioning for them to stay quite. A muffled voice came from the other side of the red door. Harry said something back and flung open the door. He gasped audibly.
"Terry-ah come help."
Terry ran for the door, where the sounds of something heavy falling to the floor followed alarmed voices. Moments latter Terry entered carrying a young woman, pale as a death mask into the dim room. Her hair was like fine silver cascading over Terry's arms. She wore gray colored robes embroidered with a golden dragon twisting down the arm. Eyes of hell fire glared from the dragon's bulging eyes. There was something strange about her form but Rem's could not place what this was. Terry laid the girl gently on the bed, Harry mumbling and muttering as he looked over the frail body. Rem took in a sharp breath.
"Wings. She has wings." He whispered.
Harry knelt down beside the bed, mumbling softly to himself, to Rem it sounded like a prayer. Its breath was labored, clotted with blood. What ever had come at her it had not meant for its prey to live. Tatters of a dull gray robe clung to deep wounds across its torso and chest.
"Pit demon." the old man whispered as he began to peel way the blood slick cloth from the winged creature, who called out in its sleep the pain was so deep. Terry shuddered to himself.
"Pit demons are the foot soldiers of hell. Their venom is deadly to humans ...She is a youngling, not fully formed... I will need Bah's help.' The old man stood up slowly and began to shuffle towards the filthy kitchen. “You will go Terry, bring her this..." Harry tossed a note at his grand son." take this one with you." He nodded his head towards Rem.
"Be aware, the demons may have followed. They do not let those they hunt get away..."
Terry led Rem out the door and down the back to the alley way. Neither men spoke, Rem's mind still reeling from this strange night. Melting snow crunched under their feet, the stench of the back ways dulled by the layers of white. Rem had felt the twinges of withdrawal for some time now but the nights events had stolen his awareness of the creeping sickness growing in him now. His hands had begun to shake and his bowels gurgles and twisted painfully.
House of Two dragons
The streets of China town seethed with broken souls and drug maddened screams. No one noticed them pass swiftly down the slush slick sidewalk or as they ducked into a dilapidated red brick building. The sweet scent of jasmine and sandalwood churned Rem's stomach as they entered the apothecary. Row after row of ancient shelving holding jars a strange description, while at the center of the room stood a high desk. The shop appeared to be empty.
Terry shook his head and called out. There was movement at the back of the store a scuttling walk and a round face, with thick lenses perched at the end of its nose appeared. The woman looked older than Harry, bent and twisted with long life. To Rem she resembled a turtle but moved swiftly across the room. Her eyes were wide, anger giving them an unnatural light.
"No drugs here!" She bellowed, raising an ancient toothless broom to strike down her intruders. "No money! Out!"
Terry stepped in front of Rem, still sprawled on the clay tile floor.
The old woman stopped mid swing, her wizened moon face breaking out into a wide smile.
"Terryah! Come to see Auntie Bah."
"Grandfather has sent me Bah... we have a visitor."
Bah's large eyes narrowed and fell on Rem.
"Mister stinky here? I prescribe bath."
Terry spoke rapidly in a dialect Rem could not place. Bah's eyes slid over to Rem, a fox like smile barely concealed from her lips.
"The veil of creation has been pulled aside for you friend? Seeing all and not knowing what we see, yes?" she said, pushing her withered face close to his. "Not knowing what will be or not be?" Bah backed away suddenly and scurried over to the dusty shelves in the shadows of the back wall. Rem watched as she climbed a rusted ladder with surprising agility and began to pluck curious jars at random. "Terryah bring me the bags under my desk, we must hurry."
Terry went around a tall oak desk and emerged from beneath with two plain black canvas bags with white rope draw string bags. Rem pushed himself to sitting, a wave of sickness promising to send him back to the cool tile floor. Bah paused, peering down at him with bright black eyes swimming behind thick yellowed lenses. With out looking she reached out for a rose colored jar and tossed it down to Terry's waiting hands.
"Have no time for his creeping sickness, make him drink." The old crone ordered shortly. Terry went to the still reeling Rem and thrust the bottle at him." Take it; don't want to make Auntie angry." Rem opened the bottle, the scent of sweet flowers and sweet honey filled the air. It churned his stomach but he threw back the bottle and took a long pull of the cloying liquid without argument. To his surprise it was carbonated the bubbles tickling his throat as it went down. It reminded him of Mountain Dew but with a bitter medicinal aftertaste that was not all unpleasant. It did not take long for the waves of nausea to subside and the weakness in his limbs to dissipate. Bah looked down, her reptile face broken open in a wide grin.
"Good, now get off the floor and help Terryah with the other bag." She said turning back to the endless shelves, filling the seemingly bottomless bags with her potions. Finally the old woman made her dissent and waddled to the entrance wordlessly, the two men followed suit. she led then back up the alleyway and through the busy streets with out incident though Rem took note that her eyes roamed through the crowds as if looking for someone or someone’s who may be waiting. His stomach knotted with apprehension. He was not sure what form a pit demon or demon of another sort would take but he knew this venture would end quickly if they had been found out.
The musty apartment was still when they entered but then Rem caught snatches of the old mans murmurings. Bah surged ahead of them into the bedroom. Harry made no attempt to greet his old friend, kneeling at the Angel creature’s side chanting rhythmic prayers over her sleeping form. Harry had pulled back the blood slick robe revealing deep jagged wounds that ran across the angel’s chest and torso. Bah hissed at the horror of it, speaking softly to Harry who only nodded, face grim. The old woman knelt down awkwardly and began to examine the damage done.
"Terry ah brings me your bag." Bah held out her hand without looking back." Pit demons venom can burn the soul from a man but they can not destroy a pure soul of the angelis. She will survive but the scars will be hers for eternity."
“She is a newling, I was not sure she could resist the venom."
Bah placed her withered hands over the creature forehead, closing her eyes.
"This is really fucked" Rem said quietly so only Terry would here.
Rem turned slightly.
"Yeah? There's an angel on your grandpa's bed and you say yeah?"
"You see this stuff a lot?”Cause this is new to me."
“Grandfather told me stories..."
Bah and Harry argued in hissing whispers over their charges prone form. Living in the depths of china town allowed Rem to catch the rare phrase or word but it amounted to nonsense.
“They are afraid." Terry's voice was low and flat; fear eroding the edges of his words, “What attacked our guest is still coming..."
“The old mans a supreme being, he can turn into kick ass warrior guy..." Terry shook his head, eyes trained on the elderly pair.
“What you saw before was merely illusion; in this world Harry is weak."
"What about the old woman? She's like a wizard or something right?"
“A healer, a very gifted healer but a human one."
" How long?"
Before Terry could reply Bah looked towards the door, Harry's black eyes narrowed.
Bah took a green vial from an ancient black leather bag while Harry struggled to raise the angel's body to sitting. Bah uncorked the bottle, pouring it into the sleeping creature’s perfect mouth. Amethyst eyes met the world, settling on Rem who was suddenly over come with a feeling that had abandoned him long before. It was the sweet calm of happiness but more than that because the drugs could bring that, it was love. He would die for her, tear what was coming with his own hands.
“Dummy! Love later, for now we run." Bah barked beckoning himself and Terry to the bed. The creature sighed, a sound like the sun dappling still waters. The each took a side and hoisted the jewel eyed angel to standing. Harry tisked and threw a large black rain coat over the Angels slender shoulders but it did little to hide the wings sprouting from the small of the newling's back. This shambling group made their way to the back stairs, Bah taking the front and Harry taking the rear. No one spoke as they slunk down urine stained stairs into the rankness of the back alley. The rain had stopped but now the day’s snow had become a cruel sludge the oozed its way into Rem's battered black sneakers.
“Shit ass portal!” the old turtle woman spat with surprising ferocity “Ass hole of the other world…hate it.” She had stopped, turned dramatically to the struggling men and wounded angel lurching towards her. “Hurry up slow pokes. I would let them take you but she says you’re both important.” When they reached the glaring old ones, Harry tapping his walking stick impatiently on the pavement, both struggled for their breath.
Rem stopped, Terry skidded and Rem stared down the old man, obsidian eyes piercingly sober.
“What is she talking about? Who are the they she would leave us to?”
The old man blew a wet raspberry and rolled his eyes. “Stand and find out dummy. Keep moving and you keep breathing.” The two men lurched faster, finally stepping out to ravenous streets where no one would take notice of any of them. This was were the lost souls of the city congregated in the darker hours, when the straight world went to sleep in cozy condo’s on the west end. Except this felt different. It was the feeling you got when you were a kid coming down into the dark basement. The back of the neck tingling ‘cause down there in the dark something was watching, hungry and waiting for you to come just a little further. Of course once you’ve fumbled with the light switch, those “monsters” flee with you perception but this time it was real. Something had found them, something so filled with hate Rem was near vomiting. He did not know what it was tracking them but he could certainly feel it reaching through the dark. It was a familiar sensation, one that overcomes him often during his childhood going from foster family to foster homes. Some people just felt wrong to him and Rem always new what kind of home he was being placed into. It was the ones that doubled him over, filled him with piss inducing fear were the ones to dread. Right now he was barely able to hold up his share the Angels weight, but his legs kept moving them forward.
They reached the top of the old underground public toilet, Harry leading now with Bah in the rear down into the foul darkness. The sick feeling came in horrific waves now. No person had ever felt this. He did not hesitate and was nearly dragging the Angel and Terry down the stairs behind him.
“Hey dumb, dumb! You not more important than her, try not to smash Angels head in… Bad luck.” The old woman added matter-of-factly. “ Give me the key “guardian shit face”’ Bah sing-songed acidly. Rem flung the lacquered box at her stooped form as if the key burned his hand. Twisted hands ripped at the seal and words were spoken from a frail looking scroll that fell from a dusty red silk casing.
He was falling in the dark, he had been falling for a very long time but it was not an unpleasant feeling. It made him feel sleepy to tell the truth. He was alive, he could hear his heart beating in the void and he took in several great gulps of air when he first startled awake in his current free falling situation. He was also very alone but strangely unafraid of this, also, in fact he felt very happy about this current situation. If this was death and Rem had in fact O.D.’d in some rank corner of his favorite alley way then so be it. This was what he had always been looking for, heroin brought him close but this was what he had sought. Peace. No sick feeling, no fear or hunger and best of all no voices. When he was little he had only gotten impressions of what those around him were feeling. Happy, sad, angry and only in the vaguest sense at first, but several months after his third birthday the impressions became something more. Family services brought him to the Wright family, his third placement in two years. He didn’t remember any of that and he wasn’t sure he had ever been with his birth mother or father at anytime in those early years. A case worker finally told him his mother had died in some psych ward, tethered to a urine soaked bed so she wouldn’t gouge out her own eyes. He was twelve. An old bitch named Allison who hated the kids she was in charge of placing into homes, said they may as well drown his bunch at birth. “Kids like you are a waste of resources. Your type have poor genes, are poor producers except when it comes to producing another inferior generation on an all ready strained society.” She talked like that. He bit her that day thing shifted, he could remember the flowery bitter taste of hand cream on her skin when he bit into her arm. Allison had tossed him at the Wright’s when he turned two, but the had never really bonded with the quiet toddler with the large gray eyes. The husband ignored the kids when he was home, staring into the TV night after night with the occasional slap to the kid who dared make to much noise while Del was “relaxing” or napping after work. Thel, his wife was all right, yelled a lot but there were her four biological kids and four fosters in the house. It got noisy while Del was at work. This day was what he knew now was Allison monthly visit, the other three fosters were her clients as well. Rem, (Bobby, that’s what the called him then) “felt” her coming several minutes before he heard her heavy steps clunking up the metal stairs. It was strange, Allison was talking to herself and she wasn’t saying nice things at all. She Thought the Wrights were slobs and particularly disliked Thelma Wright. The Wright woman’s obesity was particularly offensive to the needle thin social worker but they were on her clients “level”, poor. Put kids like the ones under her care into a better home only gave the child false hope to be anything better than what they were, inferior. Momma Thel didn’t seem to hear Miss Allison saying these nasty things and Bobby (Rem) had seen her cry at the slightest mean thing Poppa Del said. Poppa Del was mean to Momma Thel but he didn’t like anyone else even looking at her different, the air around him got really dark nasty red when Poppa Del thought another man was looking at Momma. Some times he’d yell at Momma to cover up better when they went out to church or grocery shopping.
That day when Allison came through the door little Bobby had screamed, because that was the first time he saw a persons true face. The social worker was ugly and twisted on the inside as her thoughts. One of the older kid had whisked out of the kitchen whispering about what an Ass beating he would be getting later for having a fit like that. In true form Miss Allison did not come into the room to check on her client’s welfare. He looked healthy or at the very least fed and that was enough for her. Cloe, older girl who took him into the living room, had a nice inside face but she had to hold him for a long time before he stopped shaking. He could block out the voices sometimes but he had to be pretty blitzed to not see everyone’s secret selves shining through. He’d learned to just run from the nasty nastiest. They’d tried to give him drugs in the psych wards when they cops had him thrown in for a seventy-two hours when it got to cold or he raved a little too much on Granville.
He felt him self hit the hard ground suddenly, panicking when he could take in a breath. His lungs screamed and then like a dam breaking he felt cool air fill his lung in a painful rush. Grass, the smell of fresh grass crammed up his nose. He tried to open his eyes but shut them against the burning sunlight. A vicious kick to his rear snapped his eyes open.
“No time for sleeping.” Barked the old man… no he had changed back to his ideal form of great warrior. Rem fought the urge to strike out, knowing “old” Tan could rip his spine clean from Rem’s drug raved body. “Get up!” Another kick only in his side this time followed by a heavy black boot rocketing a Rem’s face. The younger man rolled with surprising agility away the wicked steel toe about to mash his nose into his face.
“Jesus fuck!” Rem was on his feet now, face blazing. Tan stared back impassively. “Stop kicking!” The towering Arch angel suddenly laughed out loud.
“A chosen soul who will face far worse than mere taps whines like a two year old.” The voice was female, low and sweet. Terry goggled at the heavenly form of Bah, willowy creature with warm blue black eyes and a waterfall of obsidian hair that fell to her waist.
“Where are we?” Rem demanded haughtily. He had had enough of this Dungeons and Dragons quest shit, even the sight of a perfect female was not enough to distract him. The bitch thought it was funny. She was smug. Her lips pressed into a lop sided smile.
“Where we are supposed to be.” Bah answered with infuriating superiority.
“Are we on earth?
“Then where?” Rem’s voice tightened.
“Plains of Sorrow.” Terry answered, voice slightly awed.
“Of course.” Rem growled. Terry smiled sheepishly.
“Most souls know where to go when they leave the body. Heaven or Hell calls to them and they go but there are times when fate has not decided.”
“Fields of sad ghosts?” Rem couldn’t keep the sarcasm from his voice.
Bah smiled coldly. The fine black hairs on the young man’s neck crept to standing, the way she bared disturbingly sharp teeth at him made his bowels feel hot and loose.
“The creatures here are not harmless vapor as in your world, some will strip layers of skin from you body for days before they tire of screams and rip your tongue from you mouth.”
“ Do I have to fight them?”
“What?” Tan choked, face flushing angrily.
“ I figure if I’m a “chosen” Then I must have powers or something to fight off what ever fucked up shit comes at us.”
“ Eventually you may learn skills but for now tan and I must keep you alive long enough to reach the golden temple.”
“OK.” Rem said slowly “Then what? What happens at the golden temple?”
“You learn to shut your trap and not ask to many questions.” Tan barked angrily
“Keep moving, we have to get to a sanctuary before the suns fall.”
“We have to get to a healer before she begins to change.”
Rem almost dropped the angel.
“Into what?” Rem asked “Is she going to freak out?”
Tan had reverted to his aged body; he shrugged and turned around abruptly. Terry and Rem stumbled forward with their charge at arms length.
“What does the bite of a demon do to an angel?” Rem demanded under his breath.
“Can’t be good. Angel blood is…no human can survive a pit demon bite. Our souls are too fragile. Angelis are pure souls; the venom corrodes the soul but does not kill the Angelis.”
“But it makes them into something else.”
“Yes.” Terry glanced over. “You look like shit.”
“I’m detuning for one and demons with soul corrupting venom are chasing me through the nether world…I’m not even sure this is happening. Maybe I got some bad dope and now I’m dying in some ward. Except that I don’t think that’s what’s happening, I’m pretty sure this is real, fucked up but real!”
“You look like shit your self.”
“So is she going to freak out and grow fangs or claws?”
“Maybe. No angel is the same, the venom …”
“Yeh. You notice how far ahead the old farts are?”
The two men halted.
“If she goes off, we’re the first offering.” Terry’s voice was matter of fact.
“Your Grand dad is a bastard.”
They lurched forward.
“Fuck’n heavy for an angel.” Rem growled.
“No shit.” Terry agreed.
“How do we find a healer?”
“I think the healer is supposed to find you.”
“That’s dumb. We’re the ones carrying a time bomb, isn’t there a way to call a healer?”
“No cell service here.” Terry sneered.
“Shut up. I meant Harry/Tan guy is a wizard or something so he probably just has to wave his stick…
A terrible scream ripped the air and Rem found him self hurled into space. Rem heard Terry squeal in terror and then terrible pain. The sound of something tearing sent a sick cold through his bones. Tan raised his arms and a heavy black door appeared beneath their feet. Bah heaved the door open and disappeared. Terry staggered towards the hatch, bloody but alive, the old man pushed him into the hole before he could hesitate. Another bone chattering scream from behind but Rem did not turn to see what thing pursued him.
“Move faster lazy donkey ass. They can’t get through here.” With a violent push Rem was sent into absolute darkness. There was no sound in the void and he sensed no one near by except cool air rushing past his face. Some times he caught the scent of grass or damp soil as he traveled downward and there was a point he felt the presence of another. He reached out then but found only soft darkness in his graft. Though Rem fought it his eyes finally closed in exhaustion. He slept for a very long time.
TAVERN AT THE END OF TIME
Some one was talking. A woman’s voice but it was not old Bah’s, it was younger
and well sexy. She was asking him to wake up and he struggled to oblige. A voice
like hers was worth meeting. Finally his lids pried open and he was immediately
blinded by the light flooding the room. The sexy voice laughed, deep throated but
softly feminine. At first he saw only white. Slowly it faded to reveal details around the room. The first was a giant fox’s head looming over him with great green eyes filled with concern. It jumped back in surprise. The fox was dressed in an old fashioned nursing out fit, the ones you saw from the first world war. A frilly white hat perched on her ears, for it was most definitely was a her having breasts and wearing a plain blue and white striped dress. The Fox smiled, sharp teeth with wicked canines protruding over her lower lip.
“So are you a man or a ghost?” The soft, sexy voice asked brightly “ You look alive enough to me but the doctor is better at determining these matters.” Abruptly the Fox woman left the room through a worn red door. The room was sparse, only the simple bed he lay on and a plain wooden chair set beside his bedside. A small black table with several vials and old fashioned brown bottles with hand written labels in flowing script was on his right side. His blanket was made of rough blue wool but kept him warm enough and a thin white sheet kept it roughness off his bare skin.
The door opened and this time a towering creature wearing a long gray robe and the head of a ram entered the room. It hobbled forward, leaning heavily on a long walking stick similar to Tan and Bah’s. The goat man pushed his face close to Rem’s, prodded here and there before grunting with satisfaction.
“Definitely alive.” Proclaimed a gravely voice. The Goat man turned and left with out another word. The female fox entered carrying a tray covered in a silver lid. She sat down carefully and smiled her frighteningly sharp smile.
“ Just some broth but the doctor doesn’t want to shock your system to much. Falling from the sky can be a big adjustment for a person unaccustomed to such things.”
She lifted the lid and a gamy meat smell filled the air and Rem felt his stomach surge with hunger.
“How long have I been sleeping?” Rem rasped.
“A few days.”
“I was with others.”
“Eat first.” The fox nurse said firmly. She forced the spoon through his lips. There was a faintly medicinal taste to the broth, bitter herbs but it was not unpleasant. Her paw, surprisingly soft, felt his forehead. “No fever.”
She only allowed him a small amount, though his stomach screamed for more.
“The doctor doesn’t want you getting excited. Complete rest for another few days.”
“Are they alive.”
“Yes, the angelis is very sick but the doctor thinks he pulled the venom from her blood in time. Your state was far more concerning. Now rest.” He was pushed back down and found that he was very tired indeed. He felt the blanket pulled up around him as he fell back into unconsciousness.
It was dawn when he woke again, the she fox asleep in the rocking chair beside him. She woke instantly and jumped to his side.
“Awake again! Ha! See I was thinking you were dead but there you are making a fool of me!” The she fox exclaimed. “Better to be alive then dead, though really it all the same when it comes down to it. The soul moves on and there you are at the beginning again.” It smiled, razor teeth glittering pearls in the dark.
It happened before he new what was wrong. A strong arch of gray vomit spewed from his parched lips onto the nurse maid’s apron. She clucked with sympathy and went to get a bed pan from the storage closet across the room.
“ Bah told us that you have not encountered a species such as myself and the doctor. I mean you no harm. I also suspect that traveling between worlds may have upset your tummy a bit.”
“Where are we?”
“Lie back.” She trust several pillows behind his back to prop him up to sitting. “Now where you are is difficult to say because we aren’t really anywhere.”
“Do you understand quantum physics?”
“Neither do I but the doctor tries to teach it to me so I’ll understand but numbers make me sleepy.”
“ Am I in hell?” Rem asked matter of fact. He was getting tired of this game the she fox was playing.
“No, but the twelfth gate isn’t far off from here.”
“The tavern. I should take your temperature for the Doctor.” He watched her bustle from the room and return swiftly with an old time mercury thermometer stick. Where ever he was it was not as advanced as where he came from. The equipment and dress were from over a hundred years ago. “See you went through a door right? You came out on the Plains of Sorrow, I like it there but far to many demons lurking in the shadows.”
“How do the demons get out of Hell?”
“Over the eons the gates have weakened, some demons have escaped through these cracks and until a Hunter can apprehend the escapee the demon is free to hunt.” The nurse pushed the thermometer between his lips and under his tongue in one swift move, “Some Gashes had caught your scent and the stalked you through the reeds. Gashes like to eat their prey alive but luckily this was a pack of juveniles and Tan was aware of their clumsy efforts. You were unfortunate enough to have been bitten by one of the faster Gashes, leapt on you back and began to eat. Rufus, the house man, he heard you screaming as you fell out of the sky, fighting that thing with everything you had.” The she fox paused for a breath. “ Rufus ran to the spot you landed in the garden, the demon was dead and you were standing there like you just finished a fine walk.” She smiled fondly. “Then you vomited and fell in a dead paint. That when your friends arrived with the angel.”
“Oh.” Rem tried to remember what had happened after falling into the hatch but could not draw up a single moment, “Demons can die?”
“Lower ones and there are plenty of those. Gashes are at the same level as Pits. They are pure violence, pure rage and malice in the flesh. Their bodies are fragile and you crushed the Gash when you landed. We burned it to ashes in the back. If you don’t burn them completely their bodies can regenerate stronger each time.”
The room was beginning to spin and Rem felt his eyes roll in the back of his head before his mind went black. In his dreams he was alone in the dark, long grass rustling in a warm breeze around him. He could feel eyes watching but found he was paralyzed where he stood. He could not escape what hunted him. A scream, a terrible wail and then fire… he was on burning.
“Tis you should not have excited his blood!”
“I’m sorry doctor.”
“Well you should be! Last of the line my girl. Last of the line… He dies and we are all lost.” The deep voice growled threateningly.
“I was only trying to cheer him up, telling him about all the excitement of the last few days…”
“After I expresedly told you complete rest… Complete rest!” the doctor roared in fury. There was a loud clap, a cry and shoes clacking down the hall hurriedly. The door flew open and a immense shadow filled the door way.
“It is awake. Good, I was going to beat that ninny if you had died.”
“She meant no harm, I asked her to tell me. Shouldn’t hit a woman.”
“The severity of the situation warranted punishment.”
“I’m alive so you didn’t need to do it.”
“I’m sorry I have offended you, I forget that where you come from that sort of treatment of lesser…”
“Lesser? She’s a fox. You’re a goat.”
“My species is considered to be superior. Now lie back.”
“Ha goat thinking he’s superior!” Harry brayed from the hall way. He had returned to his frail form, hobbling into the room with theatrical flare. “Huh! Creations blunder to give you mouth to speak so much horse shit.”
“ A drunk old man who sleeps in his own piss should talk to bold to one who helps him in a time of need.”
“Fuck you goat ass!”