Demon Rising

Terror is my world. I have yet to accept it, to kill my yearning for a brighter future. I am uncertain I will ever destroy that desire. Though I look the part of a demon, I do not intentionally reap and sow fear, hatred or chaos. To the contrary, I am rather...gentle. Now, I imagine you must be puzzling over what I mean, wondering which piece fits to which. Sit, if you have the time, and I will tell you. **Note: This is book one of four in the series and IS published and available for those who prefer physical format! Buy the full paperback here by copy/pasting: http://bit.ly/15bYDCy ! Or for the Kindle here: http://www.amazon.com/Demon-Rising-Gravity-ebook/dp/B00CPF0DEQ/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top ! Please enjoy, share it if you love it, and let me know whatcha think! ^.^ ~Karma @};-

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4. Chapter One: Darkest Hour, pt. 2

 

Some say there are people who can dream the future. I have come to believe this, not as anything supernatural, merely the slightest temporary overlap in time when the subconscious can completely comprehend the separate time and occurrences. The first time I experienced such an event was that day while I slept, anticipating the visit with Katelyn.

It was the most vivid dream I could recall ever having. I was flying—that sensation was too obvious—and it was black outside. There were no stars and no moon, a thick storm blocking out the sky. The wind was difficult to overcome, but I managed. My body felt larger than I knew it to be, and stronger. It was incomprehensible to me then, but I know how to control such mass and strength now.

Rain was spattering across my skin infrequently, but I knew that I had only minutes to reach my destination before it became too dangerous. I understood in the logic of dreams that I was off to meet with Katelyn and that she wanted to show me something. Or perhaps I wanted to show her something? It was a different place than our usual, but I was willing to go farther and explore. I had planned to...

There was a flash of lightning behind me, the force of it jostling me slightly. Then thunder rumbled and rolled through the air. I could feel it in my bones, and that frightened me.

A deep, dark sense weighed on my chest. It felt as though I should not have been able to breathe. Beneath me, I could see Katelyn’s old truck parked next to a grove of trees. I circled and landed easily, grateful to be out of the sky.

Katelyn rushed over to me, tiny when wrapped in my arms as we hugged. She pulled back with an elated smile, face wet from looking up into the rain.

Don’t worry, I checked with the ranger about you coming out and he said it was sa—”

Her voice was drowned out by a loud bang that we thought was thunder at first. My back ached suddenly—sharply—and this time I genuinely could not breathe. My mouth worked silently while my body struggled, fought to bring in enough air to stand as another two thunder claps came and two more cores of pain shot through my back.

I fell to the ground as I was crushed by the agony while I listened to her panic, and then startled awake on my bed, gasping. My smaller body was mine again, mind free of the nightmare. I could then understand that the last three claps of thunder were gunshots in the dream, leaving me sick with leftover fear and pain.

The light of the setting sun brought me back to myself as it seeped in through my open window, reminding me that I had someplace to be. I dressed nicely, which meant I wore a shirt with my worn jeans instead of going without one. Rubbing a muscle cramp from my neck after sleeping on my too-small bed, I went downstairs to eat before meeting with Katelyn. Her address was safely tucked into my pocket, a smile on my face.

Mother had already set the table and was serving the plates when she looked up at my entrance. “What, no shoes?”

You remember what happened to the last pair I had, Mother. We agreed it was safer for the shoes if they stayed away from me,” I reminded her, smile broadening. Nightmare forgotten, the world was glowing to me. I was ecstatic and nothing could ruin my night.

Dinner was wonderful. Mother had prepared her famous stew with pie for dessert. For the life of me, I cannot remember how they tasted exactly, only that then I had thought nothing could taste better. I was always in sharpest tune with the moment however, and anything could be the best if I had nothing to compare it to right then. Heh, a silly young man. I would learn just how silly, and what it means to truly treasure anything.

Dark fell faster than I would have expected. I yearned to fly to Katelyn’s house, but I knew that would be foolish for only a half mile’s walk. So I set off on foot.

The night was different now; the wind on my face felt softer. The evening was warm and smelled richly of the orchards and farms in the area. That strange emotion I had felt the first time I had seen Katelyn was taking me over again, refusing to allow me coherent thoughts. I felt very much alive as I listened to the crickets and frogs and watched fireflies blinking in and out, like stars on earth.

I took a deep breath to keep myself from shaking. This was my first venture beyond the farm alone in nearly a decade. There was no parent to protect me or kind human to hide behind for safety. I was wandering out into a world of angry, frightened people in search of kindness and hope. Anyone could have told me that it was a doomed mission.

I was happy, though. I felt safe. I felt invincible. I was not going to be foolish or arrogant because of it, however. It was nice to feel strong and like nobody could hurt me. After straying and being attacked too many times, the peaceful night was a welcomed relief.

It shocked me when I saw the small yellow house with its porch light on, little black numbers on the mailbox telling me that this was my desired location. Katelyn smiled and waved from where she sat on the porch swing. She patted the seat beside her eagerly and I hurried my stride, careful with my claws on the wooden porch.

I inspected the structure and condition of the swing. Still uncertain I asked, “Will I break it?”

She took a moment to think about what I had said before grinning suddenly. “Oh, my three cousins who play baseball can sit safely. I checked with my mom just in case, since you looked so huge yesterday! You look even bigger when you’re standing! You’ve grown, like, twelve feet!”

One,” I corrected, taking my seat. “And a hundred pounds.”

Her eyes bulged and she blinked, giving her an even more adorable face. “Wow…You really are huge. And…”

I tensed, ready to be turned away if I frightened her. “And?”

She reached toward me slowly, touching her fingertips to my brow gently. “Your face…”

It has gotten worse, hasn’t it?” I sighed heavily, pulling my face out from under her fingers. My skin tingled slightly where she had touched me.

No!” she gasped in horror. “It’s fine, just different is all I meant. I’ve seen the face of ugly before and you’re not it no matter how hard you try.”

How do I know you’re not just trying to comfort me?” I asked skeptically, leaning forward to rest my arms on my knees. In spite of being beyond the farm's boundaries, I felt myself relaxing as I fell into the familiar rhythm of her company.

I’ve seen newborn babies,” she answered me grimly. “They’re wrinkly, little and ugly. They’re only cute after a few days to deprune.”

I laughed. “So if I got pruny…?”

The baby would still be ugly,” she snickered. “And you would just look like a big red prune.”

Rather hard to imagine,” I muttered with a grin. It was easier to be improper with her, knowing that I would not offend her no matter what I said.

We were quiet for awhile, swinging slowly and listening to the nighttime sounds. I watched moths gather around the porch light eagerly, fluttering about aimlessly. I was content where I was. Everything was perfect.

It’s so short,” whispered Katelyn forlornly. I looked over to see tears in her eyes. She turned to me with a frown, brows creased. “Life. This last year feels so long, but I know it’s not. And I know tonight’s going to be over soon and it won’t ever be like this again.”

Why does that make you so sad?” I asked quietly. It made me sad, too, but why did it upset her? I loathed to see tears rolling down her cheeks and would bear whatever pain caused them for her. That new emotion spiked through me, intensified by her grief and fueling my determination.

Because that means that eventually we won’t be friends anymore,” she sniffled, the lighting poor enough to make her eyes a depthless black. “Promise we can be friends forever?”

I promise.” Even when I had no inkling of how to fulfill my end of the bargain, I knew that I would. Any obstacles would be overcome and I would ensure the survival of our friendship.

She scooted closer to me on the swing to lean her head on my arm. I smiled and lifted my arm to hug her. She smiled back and readjusted to rest her head on my chest instead before jerking away in surprise.

She poked at where she had put her head. “I know you look like you have lots of muscle, but you feel it too? What on earth have you been doing, Cory, bench-lifting tanks?!”

I chuckled softly. “Farming. It would be a bit of a strain to push a tank, let alone bench-lift one. Maybe in another hundred pounds of muscle.”

Another?” she gasped, replacing her head. “No. Bad. No more growing for you, mister.”

I rolled my eyes, not that she could see or discern the action. My eyes look similar to a cat’s as you can well see, making many eye expressions difficult. It appears more like I am crossing my eyes than anything.

Katelyn groaned in irritation, shifting. “Have you ever wanted to not be tired?”

I thought of every time she came to visit during my regular sleeping hours. “Yes. Are you tired, then?”

She yawned pointedly. “Sorry. Maybe we should make coffee.”

Wonderful idea, give the energetic man with wings coffee. You can have some, I would rather stay sober.” I was grinning enthusiastically, glad to be spending time with a friend off of the farm.

She looked up at me with a smile, grasping at my meaning. “You can fly now?”

Last night, I was airborne for a full minute, the first time ever,” I told her proudly. Boasting to her made me feel secure, tied with the undefined feeling. I was beginning to suspect its true nature by then, however.

Can you show me, or would that not be safe?” she inquired. There was a hint of hope in her voice that was poorly concealed.

I sighed and shook my head. “No, it would be too dangerous. Come by the farm some night, though, and I would be happy to demonstrate.”

Thanks,” she sighed, settling back down. A moment later she was snoring lightly, breathing more deeply and evenly in sleep. Moving slowly, I gently lowered her head to my lap for a more comfortable sleep.

I was saddened that she would be asleep for the rest of the night we had, yet I was content. The night was calm, lazily drifting by and granting me a wish of mine. Light inside the dark I felt on the fringes of my perception. A tempting, bribing darkness that I was afraid could consume me.

Was that the insanity Father had mentioned men possessed without a woman? An empty, greedily consuming shadow? It did not feel as if this were so, not then and not now that I know what that darkness is. Untamed...

I pondered Father’s words further to pass the time with a smile, all the while I watched the moon move across the starlit sky. Katelyn would shift now and again with a moan or a sigh. Once, she grabbed my hand and would not let go. I imagine she had mistaken it for a favorite stuffed animal or pillow. It amused me greatly at the time.

As she had said, the time was over very soon. It felt like an hour’s passing when the sky began to turn gray and weigh me down. I suppose I had lied to say that nothing could ruin my night, since the coming of morning would always shatter my peaceful dark.

Sighing heavily, I began to shake Katelyn awake gently, unthinking of the car driving down the lonely road until it turned into Katelyn’s driveway. The windows were open, allowing me to hear the argument inside.

“…you we should have left sooner. We lost our reservation, and all the other hotels were full!” snapped a female voice.

So it’s my fault, not yours for talking so long with everyone? How generous of you! Maybe next time, I’ll take a taxi to keep the reservation!” a male voice shouted back.

My heart raced and I trembled in fear. Katelyn groaned and stirred slowly at the sound of her parents’ voices. I was frozen. Katelyn was still on my lap and if I moved too fast then I would hurt her with a claw or too much force. If I moved slowly, they would notice the disturbance on the porch faster than if I stayed still. Terror of many things locked me in place to wait for whatever wretched thing was to come.

That’s a good idea! Next time you can also—Oh, Jeff, what’s on the porch?!” Her shouts of anger turned to screams of fright.

The gray sky lightened slightly.

Holy—!” The driver’s door opened and a man stumbled out. He wore glasses over near-black eyes. Clearly Katelyn’s father.

Is it a bear?!” demanded the woman in the car before exiting as well. She was small, with soft features that contrasted with her...forceful personality. Katelyn’s mother.

Whatever it is, we should scare it off,” replied her husband.

The woman nodded and then froze with a gasp. “Jeff, it’s Katelyn!”

What? But Kate’s not that—Oh, no! What did you do to Kate?!” shouted Jeff. He charged at me, face corrupt with rage.

I moved swiftly to cover my head in a moment of panic, begging, “Do not hurt me, please!”

Jeff’s blows only stung but drove me further into my fear. If he could attack me so easily, what act of anger would he stop at, if he stopped at all?

Daddy, stop it! You’re hurting him!” I heard Katelyn scream. The attack halted and I dared to see what was happening, peering between a crack in my arms.

Katelyn’s back took up much of my vision, though I could guess that she was keeping Jeff from continuing his assault. I saw a drop of scarlet fall onto her shoulder from her cheek, staining the soft pink dress she wore. I gasped in horror, guilt welling up in my chest. I had hurt her in my haste to protect myself.

You let that thing onto our property?” demanded Katelyn’s father.

His name is Cory, Dad, and he’s the Lawrences’ third son.” I heard the stubborn undertone in her voice. She would not back down now that her mind was set.

Right, but that still doesn’t change that it’s an animal!” he barked back. “Now get out of my way so I can scare it off.”

Please!” I cried out, panicked. The sky was only getting brighter and more people were bound to join in to beat me. “I never meant to anger you and I will leave if you would let me!”

Katelyn did not move and her father fell silent. Her mother came up then, demanding what was going on and why on earth I had been allowed on the furniture.

Please,” I said again, voice shaking. “Let me go.”

Oh, it talks! Katelyn, get the talking thing off the porch swing,” commanded her mother.

I stood immediately, lowering my arms cautiously. Katelyn’s father straightened abruptly, horrified by my size. Her mother’s glare dissolved into a smile and she thanked me for obeying. I nodded and stared around myself in confusion. The world was different in the minutes before the sun rose.

Accented with gold, pink and orange the sky was a gorgeous masterpiece. The houses, road, cars, trees, everything was cast into soft grays. I had never seen this previously, not from outside the farm. A chuckle escaped me before the sun’s light exploded from the horizon to light the world and blind me.

I exclaimed at the sudden pain. My eyes felt burnt, inside and out, my skull throbbing excruciatingly. Meanwhile, my entire mind panicked that this was the end of my time. I was away from home, facing hostile people, surrounded by houses filled with everyone who hated me for no reason.

I fell to the floor with an arm around my aching head, fighting to keep from hissing at the pain and the threats. I wanted to speak coherently to ask for a place to stay or hide for the day, but my body would not cooperate with me. It refused to do anything but stay curled on the floor and growl.

Quick! Mom, open the door, Dad, move out of the way!” Katelyn cried out urgently. Hurried footsteps told me that they were following her lead. Katelyn’s small hands guided me to my feet kindly and she put her hand in mine to lead me into her home.

I gasped and sighed in relief, blinking my eyes open. The pain lessened slowly as my sight came back to me. I heard the door close behind me and turned to find a disgruntled Jeff.

I truly am sorry for disturbing you,” I apologized sincerely. Jeff nodded curtly and stepped past me. I felt shunned, as always. It was more pronounced now, however. I was unwanted in their home, on their lawn or in this world. I was excruciatingly different and it had never been so painful as then, when I realized that without the approval of her parents I truly was doomed to loneliness for however long I lived.

Kate, Cory, freshen up for church,” called Katelyn’s mother from another room.

Jeff went to find her, asking, “Jasmine? We’re taking Cory?”

May I call my family to let them know where I am and that I will be safe?” I asked, a heavy feeling settling in my gut. A demon surrounded by hundreds of persons on hallowed ground was not my idea of entertaining. Far from. It was one of the scenes from some of my worst nightmares.

Tell them to meet us there, too!” replied her mother. My shoulders slumped. This was not going to end well.

Katelyn showed me the phone before going to tidy up for church. My hands were shaking, heart pounding the fastest I could recall in years. All I could see was more evidence that a demon is in fact my specie. Demons are evil by make, and any good god worthy of worship could have planned this series of unfortunate events.

Father told me that I was in good hands with Katelyn’s family before I told him where to meet. He then swore things and words I still am astounded he said. He was commonly such a mindful man, and here he was calling women names I never thought existed. He was in a foul mood, but he said that they would be there. I felt somewhat reassured, knowing my family would be waiting for me there.

Katelyn came back to where I was with a comb and blue ribbon, smiling apologetically. “Mother said tidy up, so I thought we should tie your hair back. This is all I have, sorry.”

I nodded and found a place to sit on the floor out of the way, so that she could “tidy me up”. It felt ridiculously humorous that I should be fancied up for what would likely turn into a beating. Putting a ribbon in my hair...Oh, that still amuses me. She was gentle with my hair, careful to not pull it or yank through knots. It felt...nice.

Your hair’s so fine,” she commented, making me laugh. “It’s thick, too, and such a pretty color…”

Black is pretty?” I asked in curiosity. I had been told her favorite color was yellow. Was it still or had it changed?

This black is,” she told me. “It looks like it has blue in it.”

I think that would be the ribbon,” I told her.

Are you two ready yet?” asked Jasmine from behind us.

Yes, Mother,” answered Katelyn. I felt a slight tug on my hair. “There. Don’t play with the bow or it’ll come out.”

Yes, madam,” I said quietly, standing.

Jasmine came close to straighten and smooth my shirt in a motherly fashion. “There. Now hurry on out to the car.”

May we eat?” asked Katelyn, face sincere as she followed her mother to the kitchen. I went to step out the door, praying the sun would not hurt my eyes now.

It did not, and I found that the homes and world were gorgeous. Green, lit brilliantly by the bright sun, covered the trees, the grass, the porches. Red roses bloomed in the yard across from Katelyn’s, so rich in color I thought I might cry. I stepped off the porch, off the walk and into the grass. It tickled my feet and felt so spry and alive. The sun on my face was warm and filled me with a hope I had never known. It sprung from my chest to run through my veins, making me smile and tears fall from my eyes.

For a moment, I forgot my imminent doom.

You can cry?” asked Jeff, startling me.

I nodded. “Yes, as much as anyone. I feel everything the way anyone would. Sad, happy, sorrow and joy. The only thing I do not do is look like everyone.”

Jeff nodded thoughtfully, empathy in his frown. “I know what that’s like.”

Apple?” asked Katelyn with a smile, offering me two as she came up beside us.

Kate, I don’t think that’s going to be enough,” admitted Jeff, eyeing me with interest.

I accepted the offer with a grateful smile. “It will suffice until I may return home. Thank you very much.”

Jasmine came out to examine our small congregation with a frown. “I don’t think he’s going to fit in the car.”

He can fly, though!” exclaimed Katelyn excitedly. “Right? You can fly?”

Yes,” I answered, unnerved by the idea.

Or we could walk,” suggested Jeff, noticing my slight terror. “It’s only a couple miles. We’ll be on time for the service, if not to help Paul set up.”

Will you be alright walking, Cory?” asked Jasmine politely.

I nodded. “Of course.”

It was a pleasant walk. The road was strange to my bare feet. After a mile, it became somewhat painful to walk on it. My feet were accustomed to going without protection no matter the season, though it was commonly only across the fields and the occasional young briar plant. The road was sharp, even to my toughened skin. Small stones got caught beneath the claws on my toes, and with every step they scratched me and dug deeper into my flesh.

It was only when we arrived at the porch of the church that Jeff noticed the black pooling from my toes like tar. I had noticed the pain and endured it, thinking that it was nothing. After a few moments of deliberation, we wrapped my toes so that they would not bleed across the entire church floor.

I will never regret that pain, or the hours it took for the local doctor to remove the pebbles surgically. What happened in the church that morning was miraculous, a morning I could never forget. We took our seats in the back, in the section labeled “Coloreds”. My family sat a few pews away, with the other whites. I did not see it fit to sit with them, however. I would be a rude guest then, in addition to my skin being a rich, bright red!

The expressions on the peoples’ faces are still fresh in my mind. Horror, fury, blatant shock. Someone even cried out that “the coloreds shouldn’t be forced” to sit with me. The pastor was outraged by my presence.

A demon should not be allowed onto hallowed ground!” he cried, picking up a metal bowl and coming toward me with it.

People stood, shouting their approval and glee.

That’s it, splash it with holy water! That’ll teach it!”

Don’t hurt him! That’s my son!” screamed Mother, being restrained by Father and Ethan. If she attempted to aid me, she would have been attacked by the entire church. “You can't hurt my son!”

That is the most frightening thing to experience, that I have witnessed. When you are surrounded by people who would love nothing more than to torture you for evil you never committed, and to know that no one you love or trust has the power to protect you. You are at the mercy of these hateful people—all equally blinded by their prejudice—and when you think you will be murdered in cold blood, you know the worst of what is to happen is only beginning.

I cried. As I understand it, crying in front of anyone is an extreme act of trust, yet that still did not halt them. They only grew angrier. The pastor splashed me with the cold water, then pulled out a crucifix he wore around his neck. He pressed it to my arm. I assume he expected me to be burnt and cry out as I revealed my true nature at the holy symbol’s touch. I did not. I continued to cry, staring down at the man in terror.

The Smiths kept their heads down during this, avoiding the encounter. I saw that they were all ashamed, but I could understand their aversion. It was why I avoided the day as well as the people. They were unstable and would have attacked anyone who would think to help me.

I came in peace, please let me be in peace,” I sobbed to the pastor.

He jumped back in shock with a gasp, “It speaks!”

I am no animal that cannot speak or feel, sir, only misinterpreted as one,” I laughed shakily. This idea seemed alien to the pastor. The number of times I would have to explain that I was not a monster were endless.

What evil trick are you?” he demanded, crucifix held out to fend me off.

My name is Cory Charles Lawrence, sir,” I explained, standing still. My toes were burning and all of me ached to sit to relieve the pain. “I have no recollection of being evil as you accuse, nor of Hell or the Devil. Please, treat me as you would any sane person, for I am sane as well as a person.”

Don’t be fooled, pastor, it’s a devil from the fiery pits of hell!” shouted someone.

It’s cursed and will bring along its evil!”

Kill it before it can kill our children!”

I would never harm children!” I cried out, aghast that they would think me so cruel. “Never!”

Now it lies! Blasphemy in the Lord’s presence!”

The pastor stared at me, blue eyes the darkest and coldest things I had ever seen. “All are welcome in the Lord’s house, so you may stay. If you practice any of your demonic ways in our town though, we’ll burn you back to where you came from.”

I nodded, smiling nervously. “Thank you for being so gracious.”

I took my seat with the Smiths, heart thumping and hands shaking from the encounter. I sighed quietly and wiped my tears away. Katelyn took my hand, squeezing it and smiling at me reassuringly. I smiled back, still alive.

The pastor took his place at the head of the church and started off by apologizing for the disruption, saying that today’s service would be different than how he had planned. He asked us to relax, to forget the tensions between people and be together as a family under the Lord.

I am not Christian, nor do I follow any religious path. I find that it would be unproductive with how I look to attempt to follow any religion. It would also be irresponsible. I have considered practicing a faith, but I always come to the same conclusion that it would only create unnecessary dramas. If I—an image in many religions—followed a specific one, that religion would then be likely to claim itself as the true faith or be accused of falsehood. Chaos would only be the result, and I am not in such desperate need of hope that I would be reckless like that. After all, I am uncertain any deities exist at all, since time as I understand it is, in itself, an entity. I do not think that any being could possess such cosmic powers as described, nor would they aid us mortals with them.

It was when we came to the songs that I was stumped. Jasmine insisted that I sing with them, and I insisted that it would be a mistake. She gave me a threatening look which I cringed from, but followed her instruction.

I knew the songs from my sister, Lisa. In earlier years she would come home from church singing, and from that I knew every word and tune. I had never before attempted to sing them however, as my voice is too deep and rough to make the words sound as light and free as Lisa had.

Within a minute, the rest of the people singing fell silent. I petered off sheepishly, keeping my eyes down as I mumbled an apology. I could frighten a snake half to death by my face and silence a room faster than a rabid bear. It took me a moment to grasp what they were murmuring.

That can’t be…”

It sounds like an angel.”

That voice…”

Sing again,” whispered Jasmine in wonder. Katelyn nodded enthusiastically at her mother’s words.

I was nervous. I had the attention of all present and they were staring at me as others began to repeat Jasmine’s request. I breathed deeply, trying to steady myself. I sang, and no one stopped me. They all held their breath, eyes wide. Some of them had tears in their eyes by the time I finished with the song. It was silent for a long moment afterward. Mother was crying with a smile, Father was holding her. Lisa was grinning at me while Ethan was astounded.

How…?” faltered the pastor. He wiped tears from his eyes. “Are you an angel?”

I shook my head, stunned as well as any of them. “I do not know what I am, sir.”

What else do you know how to sing?” he asked, eyes filled with wonder.

The remainder of service, I sang while all of the faces turned to me were frozen, enthralled. My voice began to crack by the end of it, somewhat sore, as I rarely spoke to begin with. The pastor sent a woman to warm some water for me to drink, after which he concluded the service and dismissed us. Nobody moved until I stood and limped out of the building.

My eyes adjusted to the sun easily, to my relief. The bandages on my feet were soaked through and leaking black across the pale, bleached wood. My feet throbbed in pain, too, but I stood and stared at the blue sky, watching the birds fly from tree to tree.

People were chattering excitedly as they came out of the church, smiling at me as they passed. Mother, Father and Lisa surrounded me, congratulating me. Ethan stayed away, put out by the sudden acceptance I had at least temporarily gained.

That was quite the performance, Cory,” said a man. I turned to see the pastor smiling at me. His blue eyes were knowing. “How would you feel about coming to sing for us every Sunday?”

I was uncertain of what to say, and when I could speak all that came from my mouth was a pained snarl. My feet were burning, the pebbles rubbing against my nerves so much that it was difficult to focus on anything but the pain.

The pastor leapt back, some of the passersby rushing to stand between me and him. Some were shouting at me, something that sounded like “Burn him!”.

Jeff and Katelyn hurried over to me. I was wheezing, fighting to keep from expressing my pain any other way as I leaned against the porch railing to relieve my feet of some of my weight. They helped me to sit and I sighed as the pain eased.

What’s wrong with him?” demanded the pastor, pushing by the people who stood between us.

His feet started bleeding, but they’re just scratched,” explained Katelyn. None of us knew any better that seven of my claws had collected stones that were cutting into me.

May I?” asked the pastor, hand hovering above the bandages on my right foot. I nodded, wincing and hissing quietly when he agitated the pain. He studied the black covering my toes for an instant before commanding someone to get him water.

When I gave him a questioning look he explained, “I’m the doctor as well, Paul Ericson. You have full claws on your toes?”

Yes, sir.”

Mm,” was his reply, a deep frown crossing his otherwise youthful face. He appeared to be in his late twenties, with pale blond hair.

When a man returned with a pitcher of water and Paul rinsed away most of the blood, he discovered the problem and demanded that someone help me to the back of a truck. It was amusing, three grown men straining to lift me over to the vehicle. I would have shown them mercy had Paul not very sternly insisted that I must not walk until the stones were removed.

I thanked the men who carried me, feeling awkward. They were all out of breath, shaking their heads confusedly. The truck started when Paul was seated in the back with me. He began checking my condition, explaining that an infection can hit at any time and he wanted to make sure that one had not begun with me.

He frowned after taking my pulse and murmured, “Seventy-three beats.”

It took only a few minutes to arrive at his small blue home. I was carried again, this time to a rather empty room. It had two beds, two chairs and a small table on wheels. There was a desk with several drawers on one wall. In one corner, I saw a worn leather bag. I had read of but never seen a town hospital. I was amazed by how bare and clean it was.

I did not fit on either bed, of course, and so sat back on propped up pillows against the wall. I cringed at the black liquid that spread across the starched white sheets. It seemed criminal to disturb anything that looked so perfectly peaceful.

Paul was quick, collecting bright lanterns, alcohol and sedatives. He pulled over a chair and the table, setting out some tools he may need. Scalpel, mirror, tweezers. I was embarrassed for being so…careless, and such a burden to transport. I apologized after voicing these to Paul.

He laughed and said, “You certainly are the strangest creature. Apologizing for accidentally injuring yourself on your way to a building filled with people who hate you? What word do I want…? Unique. You’re very unique.”

I nodded slowly, watching him bring out a needle. He injected the anesthetic and waited a few minutes, watching me carefully. I felt nothing, no changes in my condition or senses.

Are you feeling drowsy or numb?” he asked hopefully. I shook my head honestly and he sighed heavily, picking up a glass bottle of whiskey. “Alright, we’re going to have to improvise. I thought you might not be affected by the anesthetic, but I hoped. Here, drink that.”

I drank the burning alcohol quickly. It tasted strange, alien, and it hurt down my throat. Paul instructed me not to cough, that it would only make it worse. I sighed after a few minutes, dizzy. I cannot recall much after that, other than distorted aches being translated by my groggy nerves.

It was a very strange experience. Black covered my vision, I remember. I know that I was frightened by the blood. The unnatural color made my heart throb in fear and I know that through the haze I was aware of myself sobbing that I hated what I am. It did no one any good, I only caused fear. I was overwhelmed by the alcohol’s effects, admitting truths I never thought I would speak aloud.

I woke the next morning with a throbbing skull. My feet were mildly sore, but not near as pained as my head. My body felt heavy, like I had not slept enough even though I had slept through a day and a night. Someone placed a cool cloth on my forehead. I moaned and blinked my eyes into focus.

Mother was in a chair beside my bed, a bowl in her lap and a cloth in hand. She smiled at me as I began to stir and look around. Katelyn was sleeping on the spare bed and Paul was taking a seat at the end of my bed to change my bandages.

I’m glad to see you made it through the procedure just fine. How do you feel?” asked Paul without looking away from his work.

I winced as his finger brushed my sensitive skin. “Different. Almost wrong.”

That would be the alcohol,” he explained quietly. “And I do apologize, ma’am, for giving your son whiskey without consulting you or your husband. I felt it could quickly turn into an emergency, however, should there be any delay in treating Cory, and the anesthetic didn't work.”

Mother nodded, smiling gratefully. “I understand. Thank you for caring for my son.”

I remained at Paul’s home for two more days, to ensure that my feet would not be put under any unnecessary stress. I was back in the fields after a week, happy as a clam. My life was turning to the sun. I could see Kate whenever she had the time. I was also the first member and inspirational founder for our church to form a choir.

 

~~ * ~ * ~ * ~~

 

Cory paused, seeming hesitant. “Do you know what a wonderful accident is, sir?”

Robert considered his words for a moment before nodding. “Yes. Why?”

That is exactly what happened at church that day. When I crashed my first time, that was also a wonderful accident, because it caused me to meet Kate. Have you lived enough to comprehend exactly what a wonderful accident does?” asked Cory, glancing at the door.

No, I’m afraid not.” Robert shook his head, following Cory’s gaze. “What are you looking at?”

Oh, I apologize. Dinner should be soon and I am quite famished. Hence my impatience. I find it amazing, however, that a man wearing such a snappy suit would be able to set aside any hubris he may possess to speak such a humble statement. Bravo, sir,” applauded Cory and he gave a slight bow of his head.

Robert frowned slightly, unsure of whether this strange creature was being condescending or genuinely congratulatory. “Thank you. What does a wonderful accident do, then?”

The demon chuckled and sighed, “It dictates what happens to one’s life. The best any of us can do is enjoy wherever we are, whenever we are, however we can.”

But I thought that we all had control over what happens, and we can do whatever we want to,” replied Robert, trying to be polite. He gave a slight smile.

Cory startled him by bursting into raucous laughter. After a moment, Robert heard the bitter undertone to the sound. “No, no, good sir. Although, that is a rather humorous theory. No one average person can do anything to shape their lives. Those who can are by no means limited by such a simple title as ‘average.’ They have a strong, durable character that can make a king’s palace from sand or the finest wine from pathetic and rotted berries.”

Robert scowled defiantly, unwilling to admit such a huge weakness in his life. “Everyone has character, though.”

Only the illusion of, sir, and I do not say this to insult anyone,” replied Cory evenly. “True character is as unstoppable as Nature herself. I have seen the glimmering potential for such a rare gift in many people, though it has always been crushed before it can fully blossom. Sadly, when one’s character is destroyed, that person then seeks to dominate others’ potential.”

Robert was frozen by the honesty and beautifully laid out thoughts that this visually savage man provided. “Why are you telling me this?”

So that you might make use of the wisdom when you return home to your family, and see your wife and children in a new light. Maybe you will be able to nourish their abilities and they you in return, or maybe you will be horrified by the notion and crush whatever they have. I am unaware,” finished Cory with a wave of his tail. Robert was amazed by how the demon could emote—physically and linguistically—with a certain gentlemanly manner that he had thought imaginary.

Huh…So, wait. No one has control of their life, except those with character?” asked Robert, his mind on the verge of grasping some grand new concept.

I do not recall having said that we do not control our lives,” murmured Cory, eyes distant again. “We cannot control what happens in the world, unless we have character. We always have control of how we live, however. We can live happily in the mud, or be dissatisfied in a mighty castle. That we can control, if we have the awareness of our power to do so. What happens…Can you control when you become ill?”

Robert nodded. “Yes, with vitamins.”

Oh?” Cory smiled slightly and looked up at Robert. He leaned forward to rest his elbows on his knees. “You can take a vitamin to remove illness and another to cause it?”

No, we can take vitamins to make sure we don’t get sick,” said Robert slowly.

Ah, see there—the difference. You use caution and preventative measures, but you do not genuinely have control, do you?”

No…I guess not.” Robert frowned at this new thought, writing the base concept in his notes. “What are you saying?”

That without character you cannot control what happens, only what you do with it. You can be happy when ill or not, that is yours to control. Whether you fall ill is not yours to control, in fact, but some nameless cosmic coincidence.” Cory grinned, startling Robert. He barely reigned in a cry of fright at seeing the monster-like teeth in Cory’s mouth.

Robert recomposed himself. “Erm...My apologies. I didn’t expect you to have such sharp…fangs.”

Oh, no, the fault is mine. I have grown so accustomed to people not being frightened by the sight of me. I was rude.” Cory closed his mouth, glancing at the door again. “Also, sir?”

Robert lifted his head in interest. “Yes?”

A little secret,” said Cory conspiratorially, smiling knowingly. “Anyone has the capacity to create their own character.”

Would you continue your story?” asked Robert, desiring to know what happened after the incident at church, making mental note to remember Cory's words.

Cory began to nod before faltering, a deep frown saddening his face. “I would, but ah...” He laughed, the sound ringing falsely while tears touched his eyes. “I cannot recall what happened next.”

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