Aphelion Issue 265, Volume 25
September 2021
 
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Black Sparrow

by D.A. Cairns




Turning his Triumph off the highway and onto the emergency lane, he rolled to a stop, killed the engine and kicked down the stand before dismounting. Darkness caved in around him as his headlights went out but almost immediately the moon took up the mantle and bathed the scene in soft luminescence. In the still of the night he surveyed his surroundings.

"Lovely night for it," he said as though someone were listening. "Perfect."

He had left the road where it straightened out after a sharp bend and before it proceeded across a narrow bridge. The gurgle of a creek below was joined by an owl's haunting call. Looking down over the bridge he noted the drop was probably only five metres but the water was shallow and permeated with jagged rocks. On the side where he had parked, a stout gum tree stood like a sentinel halfway between the edge of the emergency lane and the creek. Lifting the visor of his helmet, he looked once more from the bend to the tree, to the creek and back again, before nodding and returning to the Triumph.

Sitting sideways on the seat he stared back up the road. A cloud swallowed the moon and rain began to fall as he looked up. Large drops beaded, and then caressed the well-worn leather of his jacket as they ran down and off him to crash on the steaming bitumen. A car approached at speed and zoomed past, followed by another. The biker glanced at his watch.

I'm ready when you are, my friends.

The rain increased its intensity and the temperature dropped ten degrees but he sat still like a rock and watched and waited.

A new set of headlights poked through the driving rain as a car rounded the bend. He recognized their shape and size but geometry and knowledge of cars were only needed as confirmation. The hair on the back of his neck bristled and he tensed as he stood and walked out onto the road into the path of the oncoming Falcon.

"Show time!" he yelled as the lights temporarily blinded him before suddenly being wrenched in an alternate direction. He dived clear as the car spun and slid off the highway. Rolling to his feet, he turned to see the Falcon bounce and bump its way through the low shrubs at the side of the road, eventually holding a steady sideways trajectory towards the tree. The beating rain barely drowned out the snapping and cracking of breaking branches and glass smashing. He heard screaming and smiled. The Falcon clipped the gumtree and flipped, rolling down the incline. Once, twice, three times over then splashed silently into the shallow creek caught by the crooked hands of the rocks.

"Beautiful," said the biker as he quickly looked around before strolling over to the side of the road and making his way down the slope. "Nice work."

As he neared he could see the slumped, motionless figures in the front seat. The driver's head forward, the passenger's back, the Falcon a pathetic twisted wreck. The rain eased a little allowing a duet with the bubbling creek to be heard. He went to the driver's side first and crouched to peer in through the smashed window. The man's face was covered in blood from countless lacerations but the biker noticed little bubbles forming, and foaming at the corner of his mouth. He reached out a black-gloved hand and felt for a pulse in the man's neck. Very faint.

He leaned in close and whispered in the driver's ear. "It's time to go."

The driver gasped and gagged and breathed his last.

Turning his attention to the passenger, a thin brunette with long wildly tossed hair, he reached for her but stopped when she suddenly opened her eyes. Wide, shocked, whites blindingly bright in the darkness. They closed again as her head, momentarily strong on her neck, slumped back against the headrest. Had she seen him? Could she see at all? It did not matter. The last movement had taken her head out of the biker's reach so he withdrew his hand and walked around the back of the Falcon to the passenger side.

As he squatted by the door, he paused and turned his head quickly, looking back up towards the highway. Without further movement or noise he stared into the murky shroud of the gumtree, squinting as though that action might magnify and brighten the object of his attention. Was it his imagination?

He stood and studied the ever-sharpening contours of the gumtrees branches and leaves. There was someone watching him and he knew for certain who it was.


* * *

In the gumtree, Daniel wiped the hot tears from his eyes and extended his right hand out into the rain. He cupped it and gathered some water then splashed it on his face. He felt gut-wrenching misery, helplessness, and anguish as he watched. All the awesome power of the entire Heavenly Host rendered impotent by the Lord's edict. Leave them to their work. There was never any question of his obedience but Daniel still burned with impatient zeal, still wanted not to be hamstrung, still yearned for the unbridled freedom to save the lost wherever he found them, whatever the cost.

He knew he had been seen but it did not matter. Both of them had a job to do and neither would interfere with the other's business. This too angered Daniel, as did the knowledge that the other would enjoy Daniel's rage, would feed off it ravenously and joyously. It was evil beyond measure. Why did the Lord have to tolerate it? Daniel sat still, and waited, never taking his eyes off the biker as he went about his devilish duty.

Satisfied with the knowledge he would not be interrupted, the biker refocused on the skinny woman in the front seat, and stared for a second at her bulging stomach.

"Disgusting creature," he said as he spat in her face.

In a flash of clarity she revived for an instant and turned to look directly at him He saw the confusion and horror on her face and relished it. The moment passed and she lapsed once more into blissful unconsciousness. She would probably survive if he called an ambulance immediately, but that was not part of the plan. Her time was over. There was no way of knowing how long it would take for her to die but he reasoned he had sufficient time to watch. He wanted to. He stared at her, studying her, touching her and poking her. Laughing at her as her breathing grew shallower and blood boiled from her open mouth, he was entranced.

Sirens wailed in the distance. Getting louder. Closer. The biker took a last look at the woman as she died finally. He cursed himself for being careless and unprofessional then glanced up at the road and saw red and blue lights dancing in the trees. At ground level hard white light stabbed into the flesh of the night. The biker placed his hand over the dead woman's perfectly rounded stomach and nodded before standing to greet the emergency service workers as they picked their way down the incline.

Someone else must have witnessed the crash but where were they? The nearest town was a good hour away. How long had he been here? He checked his watch. Seventy-one minutes. Who had called the police? He had a few questions but the police would no doubt have many more.

The approaching officer directed the paramedics to the car as if they needed help finding it, then asked the biker if he had called the accident in.

"Yes."

"You witnessed the accident?"

The repeated use of the word accident amused him. Ignoring him for a second, the officer called to the paramedics.

"Both dead," came the reply. "But we got an unborn child here. We gotta act fast."

"What's your name?" said the officer to the biker.

"Joseph Smith."

"You got I.D.?"

"Yes," he said as he reached into his back pocket for his wallet. He tried hard to cover the smirk. The choice of Joseph Smith as his alias was inspired and he was very proud of himself. What a wonderful servant of darkness that man was, he thought. Before he could remove his licence and show it the officer, the latter was called away by the paramedics.

"Hang around, all right. We're not done yet," he said as he left.

Joseph nodded. "I'll wait up by my bike."

The officer did not seem to hear him. As he walked back up the slope he noticed another man coming down, striding purposefully towards the wreckage, seemingly untroubled by the uneven and slippery ground. Joseph would have admired his confidence and balance if he had not recognized him first. He was dressed simply in jeans and a brown overcoat. A red baseball cap covered his head while a large black umbrella protected him from the rain.


* * *

As they passed each other they stopped and stared. Two tall strangers. No words were shared. They weren't necessary. Joseph noted the look in the other's eyes and as always found it disturbing. Like all of his kind, his eyes were large and brilliantly green in colour. Joseph knew both what he was doing there and that he knew the reason for Joseph's presence, and consequently expected to see something different in his expression. Anger? Hatred? Contempt? But the windows to his soul were pure like his mind, holy and focused. They showed Joseph the worst, the most vile and destructive of all the emotions the Creator had ever implanted in his beloved beings: love. Joseph turned away.

Daniel was praying because he needed to quell or at least conceal the torrent of rage inside and because he felt compelled to by the encounter with Ishmael, or whatever he called himself these days. It was not easy for a saint to ignore evil. They had met once before, and would no doubt meet again. He had heard that Ishmael was now a Black Sparrow and that fact would certainly lead to their paths crossing many more times henceforth. Daniel watched him walk away and studied the patch on the back of his jacket. It was sick. He felt sick.

Although he prayed, it was not for Ishmael but for himself and especially for the unborn child. He was the last of his family and would be called Michael by his adoptive parents. His road would be hard and long and he would face seemingly insurmountable challenges. His enemies would be numerous and callous, his friends difficult to find and impossible to protect, but he would succeed. He must succeed. Before his destiny could unfurl, Michael must first fight to enter the world of men. His was to be a violent birth followed by a violent life, but one which justice demanded.

At the side of the car, Daniel asked the paramedics permission to stay and pray for the child.

"What? Are you some kind of minister?" asked one of them over his shoulder.

"Something like that," conceded Daniel as he watched them work.

The passenger door needed to be cut off as did the A frame so they could attempt to remove the woman. The roar of the grinder and the shriek of metal being torn by it was an unholy symphony which made Daniel wince. Four men now gathered by the car where a stretcher had been prepared and together they carefully lifted and dragged her out. An argument erupted.

"She's already dead.," said one. "The child's life is all that matters now."

"We don't have the equipment," protested another.

"Just cut her abdomen and remove the baby."

"We don't even know how old it is. Whether it will survive."

"It will die anyway. Stop wasting time. Let's do it!"

Finally, action. A careful twenty centimetre incision was made, the skin and fat retracted, the baby removed, the umbilical cord severed and tied off, and the newborn, its fate still uncertain, was wrapped in a blanket and hurriedly carried up the incline to the ambulance. Daniel took one last look at the two victims. Timothy Gray, twenty years old. An only child whose parents had died in a car crash three weeks ago. A bright young man who had fallen in love with a beautiful sweet girl. Vanessa. They had married two months earlier despite the protests of Timothy's parents. She was just eighteen years old, a high school drop out, abandoned first by her good for nothing father when she was five, and later by her alcoholic mother when she was sixteen. A broken soul who had found some love and healing in Timothy's arms. The child she carried was not an accident and would have been loved and cared for, the way all children should be, if only given the chance.

The tears surged in his eyes once more as Daniel turned away and trudged up the slope back to the road. The merciless rain continued its drenching assault. With every step his anger grew, seething and snarling. He saw Ishmael's face in his mind and imagined it disintegrating to dust as he crushed it. A voice came from somewhere, a voice he recognised speaking words of comfort and peace, pouring ice-cold water on his fiery rage. Daniel unclenched his fists and his jaw relaxed as he walked on.

"So," said the officer to Joseph continuing with his questions. "You said your name was Joseph Smith?" He paused for the nod of assent then proceeded to ask Joseph about the exact circumstances surrounding his presence at the crash site. The latter dutifully answered his questions including the risky assertion that he had telephoned for help.

"Could I see your cell phone please?"

Smart cop, thought Joseph, as he pretended to search his body for it, patting and feeling his pockets.

"I can't find it. It must have fallen out when I was down by the car."

The officer seemed quite willing to accept that. "Were both occupants of the car alive when you reached them?"

Joseph said that he could tell they were still breathing but as he did not have any first aid training, and because they looked so bad, he did not know what else to do for them other than call for help.

"Did you realize the woman was pregnant?"

"No," lied Joseph.

He raised his eyebrows before shaking his head and saying, "Damn shame. If the kid makes it, he'll never know his parents. Another poor orphan comes into the world. Born in tragedy."

Joseph was appalled by the officer's sentimentality. He knew some expression of sympathy was required and would have been appropriate but he simply said, "Can I go now?"

The officer stared at him again but Joseph remained impassive so he changed the subject and asked some questions about the Triumph which Joseph answered impatiently. He put his hand on Joseph's shoulder and pushed it forward gently, glancing at the patch on the back of his jacket while asking, "Who do you run with?"

Joseph allowed the officer to view it. It was made up of two concentric circles. The inside circle was red, the smaller outside one was black. On the red one was a black sparrow pecking at a cross lying on the ground. One claw was placed on the cross, the other held aloft a small dagger. Above the picture, inside the black circle was written the word Black, while below it, also in white cotton, was the word Sparrows.

"Never heard of them," said the officer.

Joseph smiled, hoping it appeared sincere, and asked again if he was free to leave. The officer waved him away with a troubled look on his face so Joseph turned and walked to his Triumph.

Daniel had been watching calmly from the shadows but with Ishmael's back turned he saw an opportunity. He leaped forward and broke into a sprint that carried him across the thirty meters that separated him from Ishmael in the blink of an eye. Ishmael spun around, suddenly aware of Daniel's presence but too late to prevent the first blow to his head. He tumbled off the bike and was immediately beset by the wrathful saint again. More punches to the head, striking harder and harder, as hard as he could until his energy was spent and he stopped, exhausted.

Ishmael lay still beneath him as Daniel removed a small gold knife from his pocket and clicked the blade open. It gleamed in his hand as he lifted it high and drove it down deep into the heart of his adversary. As Daniel tried to calm his breathing, shame began to seep into his spirit and he wilted physically, suddenly overwhelmed by grief. A tide of nausea washed over him. He heard a voice and turned to see the police running towards him.

Ishmael was already fading out of existence and Daniel realized he would have to leave immediately. Summoning what last reserves of strength he could find, he sprung off Ishmael's body and raced into sanctuary of the forest.

The baby, Michael, survived and Daniel was present at the hospital when the doctor took him off the critical list. He prayed for Michael and also asked forgiveness for his own disobedience and healing for his wounded heart. He wondered if he would do it again though and at the very thought of the Black Sparrows, Daniel gnashed his teeth and clenched his fist.


THE END


2016 D.A. Cairns

Bio: Heavy metal lover and cricket tragic, D.A. Cairns lives on the south coast of New South Wales where he works as an English language teacher and writes stories in his very limited spare time. He has had over 50 short stories published. He blogs at Square pegs http://dacairns.blogspot.com.au and has authored four novels, Devolution, Loathe Your Neighbor, Ashmore Grief, and A Muddy Red River that is available now from Rogue Phoenix Press.

E-mail: D.A. Cairns

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