comes with scales and an unlimited amount of power. The consequences
of her actions unfold with crippling events, shifting the Realms.
Shades cross the Death Realm, and an Angel, determined for answers,
clips her wings.
The streets are quiet at this time of night as my sneakers pad against the sidewalk. My apartment isn’t too far from the gym. The walk is a short one—it’s the only thing that keeps me from buying a car. My home may be a pile of shit, but at least it’s in walking distance to everything I need.
Off in the distance, a train wails a warning in crossing. There’s only one train track I know of that still runs and it passes through the forest outside the city, crossing under a bridge before it reaches the edge.
My foster family used to play there and my foster father, Harold Tiller, still drives that train. Mr. and Mrs. Tiller are good people, but they could never love me as much their biological children. That train wails every night I walk home and it’s a constant reminder of the love I’ve never had.
Blankets of clouds crawl across the night sky, brightened by the lights of the city. I smell the oncoming rain and inhale it, calming my sour mood. My eyelids flutter as the aroma passes through my nose and swirls in the pit of my stomach. That one breath—that one inhale—relieves the weight pressing against my chest, and for just a moment, everything feels like it’ll be okay.
A noise reaches my ears, a scuffle. I frown and quicken my pace, my ‘hero’ complex getting the better of me. I stop when I reach a certain area. Recognition hits me like the brick walls I stand next to. My dream . . . This is the place my dreams take me.
Taking pause and hesitation with my next step, my brain works frantically as I remember the swirls of unnatural, cold fog and the embrace of the motherly woman, Jane. My breath hitches when I feel pressure on my shoulder. It’s comforting, warm. The smell of roses mixed with the oncoming rain.
The pressure tightens and I feel each finger as they squeeze. I glance at my sweatshirt-covered shoulder and see nothing. No hand, fingers, or body belonging to the rose-scented woman. I blink, my eyelashes brushing my high cheekbone, and my muscles tense. What the hell? I feel her, I smell her. I know she’s here. But I can’t see her.
Slowly, I shift my head back in front of me and take a careful step forward. My inhales and exhales are exaggerated as my adrenaline pumps, replacing gripping curiosity with taunting slivers of fear.
A muffled cry for help bounces off the brick walls in the nearby alley before spilling into the street. The sound is just around the corner, and I can hear threats of life being muttered with anger by a male voice.
I take another step, the pressure on my shoulder still there as the invisible hand urges me to remain calm.
My ankle joint cracks as I lift my foot and slowly place it on the cement, taking another step. A sprinkle of a cold raindrop hits the bridge of my nose before traveling to the crease of my nostril.
One more step. I turn my head in a surreal sort of way. Two men have a petite woman, about my age, pinned against the brick wall as they search her pockets and purse. Her skin is mahogany in color, a large afro circling around her head, and her coat barely covers her green scrubs, evidence that she’s on her way home from a shift at the hospital. Her wild, wide eyes catch mine before the two men notice I’m even standing here.
Breath tickles my ear before soft words are spoken. “Save the girl,” the voice of Jane speaks before the invisible hand squeezes my shoulder and releases the pressure, leaving me on my own.
So, she was here, right? I wasn’t imagining that? I heard her clear as day, as clear as the thunder over my head. I felt her breath brush past my ear with each word. So . . . if she’s here, or was here, but I couldn’t see her, does . . . does that make her a ghost?
Snapping back to reality, I give a little shake of my head and fight the goosebumps freckling my skin. “Hey!” I yell at the men, anger and menace dipped in the word.
Their heads snap to me. Shock, like frightened deer discovering a set of headlights, cross their faces before I take a step forward. I’ve seen the look before, fear is an easy one to recognize in the boxing ring. It means one of two things: I’ll win the fight, or my opponent is about to become irrational.
“Hey!” I shout again. A longer, wider step. Another raindrop hits my face. “Let her go.”
The two men pause, considering, their eyes the size of saucers before they glance at each other, then back at me. Shit. Irrational frightened deer.
I quicken my pace as my broad frame lumbers in their direction. Their eyebrows dip as they narrow. Small, wicked smirks tilt their lips into false, minute smiles.
Gripping the brown leather purse from the first one’s hands, I effectively yank it from his grasp before he pushes me into the brick wall. My shoulders hit with a thud, but my sweatshirt protects me against scraping the skin. The woman now forgotten, they advance on me, taking tactless, wide steps. I blow out a breath and momentarily hold it, centering myself and sharpening my senses.
Avoiding a punch, I duck, my sweatshirt snagging on the brick as my knees bend. His fist lands on the wall where the back of my head just was. He yanks it back with a grimace, cradling it with his other hand while hopping on his feet. He groans in pain but doesn’t scream as I expected he would. That was a square punch—I wouldn’t be surprised if he broke his hand.
I fling the purse to free my hands and it lands with a thud at the woman’s feet. I shove the man around the waist and he staggers from the force. Glancing at the woman, I shout for her to run, my arm flinging out in my desperation to snap her from her stupor. She breaks of her fear, blinking at me in rapid succession. I get a glimpse of her nametag dangling around her neck; Dr. Cassandra Grant it reads. She grabs her purse and takes off down the alley.
The other man hits me in the jaw but my head doesn’t move. There was no weight behind the punch. I grab the shoulder of his coat, striking his face three times before releasing him. My knuckles throb as his feet shuffle back. He holds his face, moaning, as bright red blood oozes between his cupped fingers.
I turn to face the other and my foot stops mid-step. His sneer the only thing I see. Sudden, slicing discomfort the only thing I feel. Hot, searing pain, spreads across my chest and I frown, confused by the reason. A warm dribble tickles my skin under my sweatshirt and I glance down in misunderstanding.
A handle pokes out of my chest, just above where my heart beats in a frantic rhythm. As I stare at the handle, a raindrop falls, splattering against the tiny black etches across its surface. It happens at such a slow pace, my head tilts to the side as I watch the single drop turn into dozens of tiny dots, scattering in every direction.
My heart beats again, constricted and forced, promising the end of life. I lift my head, the world moving in slow motion, and I look into the eyes of the blade’s owner. His sneer fades, his eyebrows raising high into his forehead. He stares at the knife with wide eyes, then at his hand, then returns them back to mine.
The strength leaves my legs and I drop to my knees, clutching the handle of the knife. Blood seeps from the wound, spilling onto the crook of my thumb and pointer finger. It’s hot, warming the chill of the skin on my hand. My chest is slippery, my sweatshirt soaked with thick, red moisture, and the pain blooms to regions of my body I didn’t know existed. It’s as if it crosses through every nerve, like throbbing electricity.
The other man curses and comes in my line of sight. I breathe, the sound loud to my ears, the pain all-consuming, the chill of my skin frightening. The other man rakes a hand through his hair before shoving his shock-still friend—whose hand is still mid-air, suspended out in front of him.
I blink, slow, exaggerated, time standing still. Thudding against the concrete, it takes a moment to realize I’ve fallen to my side, just as the purse did a minute ago. My hand jostles the knife, sending it a little deeper into the wound, into my heart. I feel a pop come from within my chest, the pain searing deep within before spreading to the surface, stealing my breath away.
The men hesitate, shifting their weight from side to side. “Take his shoes,” one squeaks.
Frightened, irrational deer, I briefly think.
My feet are yanked before the chill of the air licks their soles, my shoes now in the hands of their new owner. I hear the patter of their feet as they take off down the alley.
My mouth hangs open and I suck in air, desperate for more time, for this to not be real. I blink, hear the silent pop as my eyelids separate from each other. I hold them open too long and tears begin to form across their surface, spilling out of the outer edge of my eyelids.
A transparent figure steps into my line of sight and my gaze shifts to it. Her eyes hold such grief, such sadness, as tears stream down her slightly-aged cheeks. Jane, my slow brain provides me.
She bends to her knees, placing them on the cement. “It’s almost over,” she whispers, brushing the back of her hand against my cold cheek. She places the other over my fingers, holding the handle of the knife with me.
Shushing in soothing whistles, her sounds of comfort mingle with the raindrops as they pick up their pace, splatting against the pavement, against my exposed face.
My body shivers and my muscles tense from the lack of blood as it drips from my wound, down my side, and seeps through my sweatshirt onto the concrete. Muscles cramp, begging for the very thing they need to keep them alive. I grow weak, the effort to breathe becoming a tedious task and I watch Jane blink again, another tear mixing with the moisture.
“That’s it,” she comforts. “You’re almost there.”
I’m dying. Is this what it feels like?
I breathe, slow, leisurely, my life flashing before my eyes. A motherless boy. A life in a foster home. A young man on his first date—his first kiss. The joy of buying my first car. The feeling of freedom as I stepped foot inside my first apartment. The echo inside the gym. Feeling my muscles burn with each step in a jog. The smell of the trees as I ran. A pat on the back—a job well done—and the feeling of joy as I held up a trophy when I won my first boxing match.
“Shh,” she soothes, another stroke against my cheek. My eyelids flutter, my heart stops, and then I’m weightless. I feel nothing—pain or emotion—except an empty freedom. The breath leaves my lungs, working its way past my tongue in a sluggish, effortless slither.
supportive husband, and an owner of two hyper sock-loving dogs and an
attention seeking fat cat. Together, they live in a quiet little
corner in a state that’s located in the middle of the great USA.
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