"Okay fine, I admit it," I told Christine. "I'm bitter. There, happy?"
Christine tousled my hair. "Awww, poor baby."
I growled. I did not like having my hair tousled, or being called baby, no matter how warm and squishy and affectionate it made me feel inside. We were in a midtown Detroit liqour store- she to get her dose of Djarms lung crystalizing clove cigarettes, and me to get dill and pickle potato chips, because that was what I was craving. Really badly. I was also craving strawberry flavoured candy, chicken soup, and a portabello mushroom sandwich. I sighed. The food only served to remind me that I was going to be a single mother in a month. I had to face the music some time.
Josh was a nice person, really. He was sweet, funny, cute, had soft blond curls and the most adorable boyish face. He played the bass guitar for a local funk band and had a day job that apparently paid well but I knew nothing of it because he'd never talked about it. We first met at the Cadieux Cafe where his band was playing on a Hoot'n'Nanny Sunday. You could say it was love at first sight, because I bought him a shot of Tequila and then introduced myself. And then we ended up kissing in the parking lot later that night.
I sighed again, thinking of the sweet memories.
"Aaw. You'll find someone better," Christine said.
"He didn't say he was breaking up with me. He just said he had to go, and didn't know when he'd be back." I sulked. Or if he'd be back.
"Do you think he's married? I mean he seemed like such a good guy."
"Oh God, I hope not!" I shuddered at the idea. And then when I thought about it, it really didn't seem possible, unless he didn't really have a day job and spent the five hours he was away at work with his "wife and family", when I couldn't reach him even on his cellphone. I was usually with him or in touch with him the rest of the time, and we almost always spent our nights together, and he slept like a long for hours once he got back from work. I missed the sight of him sleeping on my bed, looking so peaceful, just like an angel. "Maybe I scared him away when I told him I was pregnant."
He had been gone for a whole six months. After the initial four months of crying 24/7, I decided I had something else worth worrying about, like eating for two, dealing with nausea, sore breasts and backaches and trying to keep up with school work.
Christine wanted to be my baby's "crazy aunt", even though we weren't related. "One more month," she said, sounding really excited and patting my belly.
"If my baby pops out of my belly addicted to clove cigarettes, you know who I'm blaming."
After the liqour store, we went to the Campus Restaurant for breakfast at four in the afternoon. Today was one of our breakfast days. I ordered one scrambled egg, grits and coffee, and she got herself a bagel with cream cheese, and kept stating how gross my breakfast looked.
"So where do you think he went?" she asked when she finally stopped complaining about my breakfast.
"He wouldn't tell me."
"I know!" I agreed. "But, he was nice enough to leave me some money...I mean if he was leaving me for his 'wife', one would think he'd have just given me some white carnations and a box of chocolates, or nothing... but instead he left me money." He had also left me complete access to all three of his checking and saving accounts, and his two vehicles, as well as his house.
"Right... and told you to contact his lawyer, if you ever needed to. Ooh."
"Right, his fancy lawyer with his own TV commercial. Mister call 1 800-FAIR-LAW Bernstein."
"That's so creepy!"
"I know! I feel so dirty. And there I was thinking we could live happily ever after- me a starving artist and him an unappreciated bassist in a mediocre funk band."
"Meh. Having money sure is good though.."
"Yeah. But I'd like someone to enjoy having money with."
"There's always me." Christine blinked at me.
"Uh huh. Go have sex with your boyfriend, hooker."
After breakfast Christine and I hugged and parted ways. She went to her man's house and I walked over to the metalshop. It was snowing outside and the ground was already covered with four inches of snow.
It was a sunday evening. I was the only one in the shop, and I liked it that way. The shop, however, was a complete mess because some students just couldn't be bothered to clean up after themselves. Tools were lying around on the desks, the floor was dirty, there were containers of used chemicals that had not been disposed of and the plants looked like they hadn't been watered for days. I brewed myself a fresh pot of coffee and took on the job of cleaning up the mess.
I swept the floor, cleared the desks and was in the process of watering the plants when I thought heard something. Like wings. Really large wings. In between the loud clanking heaters and ventilation and Janis Joplin blaring in the CD player, I convinced myself that perhaps I'd heard nothing.
Then I heard it a second time. I looked outside the window. It was dark and snowing heavily. My eyes were tricking me into seeing shapes in the the falling snow.
But there was something. In one of the trees. Up in a branch.
A very large bat?
Then there was an ear peircing shriek. The glass in front of me shattered.
I found myself on the floor, facing a pair of bloody feet in broken sandals. I looked up.
Red eyes glowered. Fangs bared. The air was swirling with black feathers. I tried to move, but its red eyes had me paralysed. I couldn't even scream.
Blood dripped on the floor. I could hear it.
Then the creature collapsed.
I got up. I was not as scared as I should have been. I looked at it. It was about 7 feet tall. It was a man. Definitely a man. Not a very human looking man, with his black wings, goat horns, red eyes and fangs. "Holy shit," was my first reaction when I realised he looked like a demon. Bit I still didn't scream. I didn't run out. Instead I knelt down beside him. Perhaps he was just wearing a costume. A very well made costume, like Superman, except real. "Hey Mister?" I said. "Are you alright?"
I shook him. Blood seeped through his thick leather armour and onto my hands. There was no way anything in the first aid cabinet could help him. I reached for my cellphone.
Just as my finger was about to press the last number, a hand grabbed my wrist.
"No." The voice was harsh and in pain.
"I... but..." his grip was hurting me. "Let go..." My attempt at yanking away my wrist failed.
He pulled me closer to his face. I could see the blood on his fangs. "Don't. Please." He let go of my wrist and took my cellphone. He proceeded to crush it like a cookie.
"I... what... what am I supposed to do... who what-"
"Shh! I'll be fine..."
I looked at the blood that was pooling around him. "But-"
"Shh... Susannah..." He closed his eyes.
I gasped. "How... did..." I shook him. "Mister?" He didn't reply. He was still breathing. And he looked surprisingly peaceful... so peaceful. I took a closer look at his face. Soft black curls framed that demonic face... a face that would have been cute- if only it were more human... I shook the thought out of my head.
"Okay, girl." I forced myself to think straight. I got up and looked around. Blood, shattered glass, black feathers, broken pots and potting soil. The metals professor was not going to be very happy. I went back to get a broom.
When I returned, the blood on the floor began to dissappear. As did the feathers. The shattered glass, broken pots and potting soil reamined however.
I looked at the demon. He was still there. But his wings were disappearing. The black curls turned into goldern curls... and that demonic face... "Josh?" I ran to him. "Josh!" It really was him! "Where were you, fucker?" I kissed him and held him in my arms.
I don't know how long I held him. His wounds had stopped bleeding. The Janis CD was over. The heater was still clanking really loudly. Freezing air was sweeping in from the broken window, and I hadn't even noticed.
Johsua opened his eyes. He looked at me, smiled, and then moaned.
"What have I done?"
"What's wrong?" I asked.
"I'm a fool." He took my hand, rubbed it against his cheek and then kissed it.
"That you are," I said, smiling and trying to lighten up the situation- whatever that was. I just couldn't bear to see him so sad.
"Remember when we first met... we walked around in a circle, seven times... and you said, "We're bound... we can never be apart, not through time, not through space...?"
"I would never say anything that cheesy!" I was almost offended. "What are you talking about? You're delirious! Remember, I shoved a shot of tequila in your hand, and said, 'hey, my name is Susannah, and I want to mount your face'."
Joshua laughed, and then coughed painfully. "I love you, you know that?" The look in his eyes was dead serious. He meant it. "And it's cold in here... I'm freezing."
I helped him up, grabbed my stuff, and led Joshua to the loading dock where my car was parked. "I'll just pretend I was never down at the shop," I said.
"Hey-" he stopped and held me by by my shoulders.
He was looking at my swollen belly.
"Yeah you bastard, you're partially responsible for it, too. Now I'm fat and ugly."
"Tsk." He knelt down and kissed my belly several times. "Ooh! It says 'hello, daddy! You old fart, going away and making momma sad. Bastard'."
I laughed and wiped away tears from eyes at the same time.
"You're still driving this piece of crap, even after I said you could have my SUV?" Josh got into my old Cadillac, which, for the fifth time, tried to die on me when I fired it up.
"Hey, I'm a poor starving artist, dude." I said. "I have a reputation to keep." I hit the dashboard, which, miraculously, made the car start.
Josh laughed, and then coughed again. I didn't like the sound of it, at all.
"I'm fine. Are you?" He traced his finger long a cut on my forehead. I hadn't even realised I was covered in cuts and bruises, mostly minor, from the shattered glass. "I'm so sorry," he appologised. "I'll never be sorry enough."
I gave him one of my "you cannot lie to me" looks. "What's going on, Josh?"
* * *
"So... you're from another universe, you say?"
"Ah. And so... what are you doing here?"
We were back at my apartment. I made us some hot cocoa, made sure he was warm and comfortable on my couch while I sat on the carpet next to him.
He smiled cryptically. "Like you said, we're bound. We can never be apart. Not through time, not through space."
"Either I never said that, or I was totally drunk and can't remember."
He was still smiling. "I should get going." He got up.
"No!" I got up too. "You just got here. You're not going anywhere."
"I have to-"
"No! Please... don't leave me. We're having a baby..."
"You listen to me!" I yelled at him. "I've had enough of this shit. You either stay or you take me with you! You're not leaving me like this again."
"Remember when you tried to stay with me the last time?" His eyes pierced me. "Remember?"
I didn't know what he was talking about.
He bared his fangs. "I had to kill you," he said. His eyes glowed red. He then growled. "Remember? I killed you!"
A cold chill went up my spine. I backed away from him.
He sighed, as through he regretted what he had just said.
"I had to... where are you going...?"
I closed the door of the apartment behind me. Then I ran as fast as I could, ignoring the hot tears on my face. When I looked around to see where I was, I realised I had travelled quite a bit from my neighbourhood. I could barely see through the snow. I sat on the pavement, cold and tired and utterly miserable.
"Ah there you are." A man with an umbrella walked towards me. I recognized him. It was Mr. Bernstein, Joshua's lawyer. He seemed to magically produce a blanket from behind his back. He wrapped it around me and sat next to me, covering us with his umbrella. The blanket was really warm and blocked the outside world away from me. I felt so safe. "He had to kill you. A worse fate awaited you had you lived in that world."
"Like what? Certain death?" I said bitterly.
Bernstein smiled. "His is a different world. It has different rules. It is a vicious world with vicious rules. Look." He pointed to a frozen puddled of water in a pothole. I saw the other world, one divided by angels and demons and humans. "They're fighting for souls," Bernstein whispered.
"Josh is a demon?" The dark winged ones were brutal and merciless.
"Not necessarily," said Bernstein. Then I saw an angel rip the soul out of a demon, just as mercilessly and brutally. "Souls are souls, neither good nor evil... until you give them conciousness. And cosmic mistakes do happen," added Bernstein.
I saw my Josh, Lord Drakmoor, in all his demonic glory standing in a field of dead people, his armour dripping with their blood. He proudly wore a necklace of Angels' heads around his neck. He was a powerful warlord in his world, a demigod even. Then I saw myself. I was an Angel. I had white wings and white hair that seemed to magically float around me. I flew to him, a sword in hand, ready kill and take his soul. I looked just as vicious as he did, my eyes glowing blue, a cold smile on my lips. My gown too was stained with blood.
Josh and I circled each other, daring and sneering. And then something happened. A small human child appeared from nowhere looking for her mother, and ran right to me, calling me "mama" and fearlessly latched herself onto me. The glow in my eyes faded. I was confused.
"No... go away." I pried the little girl off my leg. I could not get myself to kill her.
The creature that was Josh would have taken this chance to kill me, were he not amused by the whole incident. "You cannot even kill a little child yet you dare challenge me?"
"Papa?" The little girl then ran to Josh. "This world is rotting, papa,"she whispered and took his hand. Now it was his turn to be confused. He could not kill the child, either. And his eyes were no longer glowing. The little girl pulled him towards me. "The world is so ugly!"She wrinkled her nose. "Rotten!" The anger that had blinded us both was no longer there. We stared into each other's eyes.
"I know you," he said, his face lighting up in recognition. His demonic features seemed no longer demonic.
I was looking at him with that same recognition. "Yes... so do I... from a different time."
"And a different place."
We circled each other again, our eyes locked. Seven times. And the words slipped out of my mouth: "We're bound. We can never be apart. Not through time, not through space."
I looked at Bernstein. "So what are you trying to say?"
"Nothing," Bernstein smiled at me.
"Who was the little girl?" I asked.
He shrugged. "She was never seen again after that night. Perhaps she was sent by the one of the forgotten gods, or even by Chaos himself. Looks like a new age is should be dawning on that world- its about time anyway."
"And then what happened... after the little girl? Josh said he had to kill me."
"The little girl triggered memories of the past, of other times and other worlds. You couldn't kill each other- not out of anger anyway, never out of anger." In the frozen water, I was being chased by the Demons. And I was captured... and tortured, with Joshua looking on. There was nothing else he could have done. I looked away from the water. "They came for your soul, Joshua's kind. They would have taken it, and cast it into their hell for all eternity, giving them more power. I gave Josh the knife he killed you with." Bernstein smiled. "He killed you while you were unconcious. That was the best he could do for you, in that world." Bernstein pulled the knife out of his pocket.
It looked like a cheap little kitchen knife. The words "Made in China" were stamped on the rusting steel.
I couldn't help giggling.
Bernstein smiled and then shook the snow off his umbrella. "Laugh if you will. But that little thing freed your soul from that world. Many people in our world died to get this knife." He took it back from me. "Unfortunately, when we accquired the knife, the hole between that world and this could not be closed, and still can't. In fact it's growing. That serves the demons and angels very well." He lowered his voice to a whisper. "I can feel their influence here already. I fear for this world. I've grown rather fond of it. It's so simple! You don't need souls here. Just money! Gold! Diamonds! Imagine that!" Then he looked thoughtful. "Though people would sell their souls for money and gold and diamonds. That's sad." He sighed and looked really tired. And then he smiled. He pointed at the water again.
Lord Drakmoor was looking at a puddle, with a man behind him pointing at the water. In that puddle I saw a dark haired little girl being born. She smiled with her first baby teeth. She learned how to ride a bicycle, skinned her knee and cried until her mother kissed it better. She went to school, excelled at art, didn't have a date for the highschool prom so she stayed home and cried and drank hot chocolate and then read a book. She tried to learn how to play the piano, failed miserably, and then decided she was more suited at hitting things with a hammer. Lord Drakmoor smiled, and then reached out to touch her face, his fingers rippling the water.
"He never lost sight of you."
I looked at Bernstein. "You... who are you, really?" He was the same man standing beside Lord Drakmoor. "You can't be just a stinky rich lawyer from the city of Birmingham."
"Erasmus, in the service of Lord Drakmoor, amongst other things." He bowed. He looked at his pocket watch, and then at the sky. "Time to go home, m'lady."
When I got home, Joshua was gone.
I looked around. "Bernstein, what's this?" The plants in the house were dry, as though they had not been watered in a while. I could have sworn they had all been healthy and happy when I had last left the house.
"I was hiding you, m'lady. I had to protect you."
I then remembered the blanket. Bernstein was holding the blanket, really carefully, rocking it gently. He smiled and held my baby out to me. "Congratulations, it's a little girl."
"I... don't remember..." I held the baby in my arms. She was so small and fragile. "But I was talking to you the whole time."
Bernstein shook his head. "If you think again, slowly, you'll remember everything. I was only making it easier for you. If you chose to remember, you will."
"Oh..." There were tears on my cheeks before I knew it. A wave of emotions and recent memories came back to me- the pain of labor and of birth, the joy of seeing my baby's face for the first time... all had happened elsewhere- where I don't know and it really didn't matter anymore. She was safe. Nothing else mattered.
I kissed my baby and gave her to Bernstein. I then wiped my tears. "Take me to Joshua."
"I swore to protect you..."
"I don't care what you swore. What's he doing anyway?"
"He's been trying to protect you and the child, m'lady. The Demons- and the Angels have been after the both of you."
"And how does he intend to do that?"
Bernstein looked nervous. "He made a deal with of the Angels' supreme god. They get his soul for all eternity, but you'll be safe."
"What?!" I wanted to shake Bernstein and slap him around. "I can't let him do that! Take me to him!"
"Don't worry, m'lady. The Angels are known to keep their word, for the most part, though they're still bitter about losing you to him."
"Please... Erasmus..." I tried begging. "I can't live without him. This is eternity we're talking about!"
"My lady... I can't-"
"If you don't take me to him, I'll find a way, by myself!" I glared at him. "I mean it!"
The lawyer looked at me. He then smiled and suddenly seemed to be at peace with himself. "Thank you, m'lady." He kissed my hand. "I'll take good care of the little one," he said, and then he whispered a secret in my ear.
In a blink of an eye I was in the other world, flying. It was a dark world shrouded in twilight. It was different at one time. There were fragments of what were once grand cities, farms, orchards. Now there were just ruins, burnt houses, fallow fields and stunted trees. I flew past a shabby little village, with people walking around. Then someone pointed at me. Screams followed and all the villagers ran indoors, like I was a terrible creature to be feared. Something happened a long time ago, something terrible.
I followed my instincts and flew south, where I knew my ancient home was. I was close when I saw Joshua standing inside the gates of the Angel City. He was surrounded by Angels, ready to sacrifice his soul to the Angel's god.
I screamed out his name. A few spears flew at me. One ripped through my arm.
"Susannah!"Joshua yelled, baring his fangs. "What the hell... go back!"
"Fuck you!" I yelled back at him. I flew right into the flock of Angels. The Law of the Light forbid the death of an Angel by the hands of other Angels inside the sacred city. They were afraid to touch me, even as my white gown turned red with my blood. "Joshua, this is the last time I'll let you do anything for my own good- behind my back!"
He took a hold me me, shook me with frustration, and then embraced me tighly in his arms. "Damn you!" he said. He was crying. "I love you so much."
We kissed. Lightning flashed, followed by deafening thunder. "When I die," I whispered in his ear, "I want to look forward to meeting you in different lives, over and over again, even if I don't know who you are."
"Oh, you silly girl." He kissed the tip of my nose. "I made a pact with the Angels' God." He sighed. "I'm going to hell and I'll never see you again."
I shook my head. "Even if you were going to hell I'd come with you." It was now my turn to kiss the tip of his nose. "But that won't be necessary."
"What?" He looked puzzled.
"You don't exist here anymore.," I said. "Nothing exists in this world anymore. Not even eternity." Everything around us was beginning to disappear.
"What are you talking about?" He felt my now flat belly. "Where's our child?"
"She's here." Erasmus walked towards us in the growing darkness. He held the baby up to Josh.
Our baby gargled and smiled at her father. Joshua gently took her from Erasmus. "Aaw, she looks just like her daddy," he said and kissed her tiny hands. "Not for too long, hopefully," he added. He looked at me. "I make an ugly girl."
I kissed him. Once for being so silly, and twice just because. "Let's go home." I said.
"Yep," said Josh, holding me and the baby close to him. "So what's going on again? I must be getting senile or something. I mean I just forgot what happened a few seconds ago... hmm." He was his old blond self again, the one I fell in love with, though I always loved him, whereever, whenever and however.
"Oh nothing," Erasmus said, leading us through the darkness with a candle. "I feel so much lighter now, as though I don't have the weight of the world on my shoulders anymore. You start something good, you lose control because you're a kind old fool... and you can't do anything about it until the right person for the job comes along and does a complete rehaul."
"Oh? What's up, Bernie?" Joshua asked. "Problems with your law firm? Trouble with bigshots and upstarts?"
"Yep," said Bernstein. "That just about sums it up." I couldn't see him in the darkness , but I knew Erasmus winked at me. I winked back.
Minoti Baro is 26 years old and comes from northeast India. She majored in English literature in Delhi and is now studying metalsmithing at Wayne State University in Michigan. This is her fifth story to appear in Aphelion.
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