First Week Under Protection
Has my luck turned for better or worse?
Recalling the past month, I had to think that the storm was nearly over. None of the over-eager individuals or teams here had examined me in nigh three months, though I had been expecting it of them. I am certain the reason behind this is that they had wanted me in at least a semi-presentable condition for our guest, Robert. My savior, more or less.
Three weeks. Had it been so short a time or was it that long ago? Time inside these walls confounded me. I could never tell exactly what was quick or slow. What seemed unbearably long was commonly such a short count of hours that I felt too confused to think.
When first I had heard that this man was coming, I was curious as to why but did not consider this. Yes, the possibility of being freed, but the probability? Ha! Nonexistent, from all that I knew.
Two weeks ago, he sent his diagnosis. Beth had stormed about in a rage—something wholly unthoughtful of herself, considering her age. Oh, Helen was thrilled. She had been the one to tell me, against what I assumed were Beth's desires to keep me uninformed. That woman did love to watch my pain, it seemed. Oh, but she would have none of it now!
I was to be released.
Joyous day, I was going to be free! To see the sky again, to feel the wind, to return home. Home...A place that I would likely need to scour the world for. The years would have torn it apart as they had myself. Sadly, home cannot recover so easily by the sound of its liberation.
Oh, and I heard the shackles clattering against the floor. It was the sound of final measurements being taken, the feeling of last minute blood tests. It was the smell of that stale room that was mine melting away to the tantalizing scent of the outside that always lingered near the exit.
That was where I stood, frozen with my shock. Robert was there to escort me out, Beth to fume and seethe and spit fiery daggers for words at me bitterly. Finer details of Robert's conditions for my freedom were still somewhat vague to me. The only one I knew was that he was to become my permanent therapist while I adjusted to my new life.
My old life in new garb, I corrected myself. I had known freedom before. The difference now would be the world and not me. Or could it be a new life, in fact, wearing the old trappings?
“Well, what are you waiting for?” demanded Beth sharply. She motioned at the door angrily. “You've got your freedom!”
I smiled nervously, nodding. “Yes...I do.”
Robert stood at the door, waiting to open it for me. “Let him take his time with this. It's been awhile.”
Over forty years. My heart was beating erratically with both excitement and terror. I motioned to the door handle that Robert held. “May I?”
He nodded, stepping back. “Whenever you're ready.”
With the cool metal in my hand, I half expected to be yanked from the door and forced back into my room. I had no possessions with me other than a thick envelope that Beth had given to me that morning. All I had to do was step out that door, with nothing to bring with me from this place and nothing to hold me back.
So I opened the door.
The first thing I felt was the sun on my skin, warm and gentle. Shirtless as I had been years ago, I could feel the joyous sensation everywhere. The light was bright and hot, sharp enough to make me wince for a moment before it began to fade. For the first time in decades, I laughed without bitterness or sarcasm. A genuine, bubbling laugh that made me feel twenty again.
The next thing I noticed was the world around me. Green—so vivid I began to cry while I laughed. Pine trees surrounded the complex, the glorious green framing the open blue sky. The hot pavement beneath my feet did nothing to make the moment less. To the contrary, the burning against my sensitive skin was a wonderful relief from the cold metal and tile I had grown accustomed to.
A light breeze crossed my face, so softly it could have been a caress. I stretched my wings wide to feel the wind against my membranes, laughing loud with more joy than I thought possible. I could smell the sweetness of August, and it was strong enough in my mouth that I thought I could taste it, as well.
Too overwhelmed to notice anything else, I turned my grin toward the people still standing in the doorway. Robert was startled. Beth's glare sharpened. “Excuse me a moment.”
I sprinted in a straight line, dropping the envelope in my hands as I jumped into the air. My first down stroke was awkward and strained, but it pulled me away from the earth. Two more strong, steady beats and I was airborne. My membranes burned from lack of use, as did my muscles. That unnamed emotion of flight filled my chest, and for a moment I felt close to home.
I circled the complex five times before I thought I might fall from the sky. Lowering myself to the ground slowly, I landed with a thunderous boom as my weight left my wings and my feet hit the pavement. I looked around at the humans that gaped at me.
“I...That...Wow,” managed Robert. He walked toward me, picking up the package I had dropped and handing it back to me. “I have a temporary living arrangement ready for you, Cory. Whenever you want to go, we can.”
My eyes strayed to the building with the woman who had starred in many of my nightmares. I took a deep breath of relief as I relished in my freedom. Turning back to Robert, I grinned down at him. He started, but grinned back.
“Now. I want to see the world now,” I told him honestly, even as my heart pounded with excitement and terror. He motioned to a large vehicle for me to board.
When we were both inside—my wings and tail cramped and shoulders hunched inside the relatively small space—the vehicle began to move. I kept myself from starting, surprised by the abrupt motion. Where was the bellow of the engine? I listened, frowning when I heard the too-smooth sound.
“You need your seat belt on.”
I glanced at Robert. “I beg your pardon?”
He pointed to a strap on my right. “For safety.”
“For safety's sake...” I shook my head to rid myself of my father's echoing voice. With a quiet sigh, I worked to maneuver around myself and strap the belt around me. I groaned, unable to find a way to settle into my seat. Outside the vehicle, the world was racing by in a blur.
“Thank you, Robert.” The motion of the car made me mildly ill, moving at such a pace without physical effort. How disconcerting. I noted him frowning at my words. “For transporting me and acquiring my lodgings. You had no reason to aid me, so thank you.”
He sighed. “You're welcome, I guess. Before we go to the house, would you like to get some clothes?”
I chuckled at that. “I have no money, and where would I purchase anything my size, or for my specie? Have they shops for that now?”
“I was just thinking...” He glanced at me, then back at the road. “Never mind. I'll have my wife take care of that later.”
“You mean to imply...Sir, do you intend to help me more than you already have?” I asked with mild guilt. I had no way to repay him or properly thank him for his assistance. In all of my memory of humans, this Robert character certainly was acting kindly.
“Of course! One of the conditions I had for when you were released was that I become your therapist for a minimum of six months and that you live with me for two weeks to start, to make sure you get the help you need,” he explained. He seemed to feel as awkward as I did at that moment.
We were quiet for a minute while I mulled over his words. One of his conditions for my release? That implied that the facility was wanting to be rid of me and required his permission. I had been told it was quite the opposite, or had at least come to my own understanding that things functioned as such. Perhaps I was the only one who needed permission at all whilst the rest of them did as they pleased.
“How is it I was removed from that...place?” I asked, keeping my phrasing as polite as possible. I could think of more than a handful of vulgar terms that—bitterly—I considered using.
“Oh, just a couple generations of hippies fighting for demon rights,” he sighed, then laughed. “I used to think they were nuts, but...Apparently, they knew a bit more than me on the matter.”
I turned back to the window, reigning in my excitement. “Rights? I have rights?”
“As of two months ago. Congratulations,” he added, his mirth dissipating slowly. “Did no one tell you?”
I shook my head slowly, then stared at my hands in amazement. Rights. Legally, I was now a person worthy of acknowledging my power to choose. Was this a dream? Had Beth tested a new drug on me, something that caused euphoric hallucinations?
“No, I never thought...Truly? I have full rights, like you?” I asked, looking at him trustingly. He glanced at me quickly, face sad.
“Yes, full rights. I read through them myself. You need to go through specific branches if you want to do something like adopt—and some loans are trickier to get—but hey. Can't complain, right?” he ended, smiling again.
“No,” I chuckled, grinning. “No, indeed not. I must find some way to repay these hippies, as you say they were.”
“Support oil or something,” he suggested with a smirk. “Maybe everyone will flock over to green energy.”
“Ah...No, thank you for that...idea,” I phrased delicately. Robert's smirk turned to a grin. The vehicle began to slow. I looked up curiously. “Why is there a riot on the road?”
Robert frowned deeply, still slowing the vehicle. “It's not a riot. See the banner? It's a welcome to the outside. I think,” he added uncertainly.
“I will dutifully walk the path of paranoia and say that those people are rioting, Robert, and we should find a way around them,” I replied, more than willing to avoid a beating my first day free of my cold, concrete cage.
The vehicle was nearly stopped, some hundred or so feet from the commotion. “You know, I was never told that there would be reporters. I hope the car's ready,” he muttered, unstrapping himself with a sigh.
I stared at the numbered vehicles and the individuals near them. “Reporters? Oh, dear. Like a black cat...”
“Well, when life give you lemons,” he said to me, leaving the saying half finished.
I smirked and unstrapped myself. “Make grape juice.”
He frowned in confusion. “What?”
I chuckled, then stopped myself from exiting when I caught sight of my arm. I looked about in a panic for anything to cover myself with, only able to retrieve the envelope from Beth. “Do you have a spare blanket? Or perhaps a tarp?”
Robert shook his head. “I knew I forgot something. I'm sorry, no.”
I sighed sharply, defeated. “Right. Off to the media, then.”
We left the vehicle. After a few strides towards the excited group, Robert swore under his breath. He said in answer to my questioning glance, “It's channel seven's girl.”
“Is this unfortunate?” I asked, finding myself unable to breathe properly. My tail lashed and curled the air nervously. The world would see me once a story was published or televised. Again, I cursed my visage.
He nodded, face somber. “Yeah. Don't make eye contact with her, whatever you do.”
“Of course,” I muttered, unable to focus on any one person. There were too many that were bustling about at once. One woman was speaking to a camera, glancing over her shoulder before making her way to where Robert and I were attempting to pass quietly.
“Sir, sir!” It took me a moment to understand that she was calling me “sir”. She stepped into our intended path rudely, eyes tightening to say that she would not accept no as an answer for whatever her demand was. “Could we get you to answer a few questions?”
I hesitated, unwilling to reject her completely but liking Robert's proposal of evading these reporters. “No, please, I only want to make it home and begin adjusting.”
She continued as though she had not heard my words, in spite of my knowledge that I had spoken clearly. “Are you a male or female demon?”
Robert was kind enough to step between myself and the woman. I stepped back gratefully, glancing around in the hopes of finding an escape. “Miss, please leave my client alone. It's an exciting day, but he really does need some space.”
“You, who are you and how are you servicing this demon?” she continued relentlessly. I winced at the reference to myself, noting how sharp her tone was when pronouncing the word.
“That is my own business and I'm helping him to get by hounds like you,” he snapped, glaring at her. My eyes settled on the camera lens for a moment and my heart began to pound harder when I recalled that there were thousands of people who could be watching me, seeing what I was.
Turn the camera away, I pled silently, averting my gaze nervously. My bland, cold room was very comforting in my mind at that moment, if it meant that these staring eyes would disappear.
“So you're his lawyer?”
“Madam, what would it take for you to allow us passage?” I asked, keeping my voice soft to avoid alarming her. I wanted a quiet grassy yard where I could enjoy the sun and the sky in peace.
She smirked. “Just answer a few questions?”
Robert interceded, looking up at me with concern on his face. “You don't have to. It's your choice, remember?”
“Will she desist any other way?” I asked quietly, hoping the woman could not hear. By the felled expression he then developed, I understood that this was the only way to pass, much to my discomfort.
He turned back to the woman. “Fine. If I feel that the situation is becoming too stressful though, I will have you removed.”
She smiled too sweetly, and for the first time I noticed the armed and armored men scattered in the crowd. All of them were watching me carefully, then scanning the area before coming back to me. I knew that it was sad that I was too used to seeing men such as them, but I wondered now if they were there to protect me or the humans I was surrounded by.
“Of course. Now, were you male or female?” she asked again.
I linked my arms behind my back, an old habit to restrain and comfort myself. “I believe that I am quite obviously male.”
“What's your name? No one knows and it's been a big mystery for the past few years.” Her laugh sounded hollow.
“Cory Charles Lawrence.” My eyes darted across the faces around me swiftly to check for any signs that I would be attacked.
“Do you have a family? If so, what specie?”
“Human,” I replied quietly, eyes stinging as again their memory burned in my mind. “My parents have passed, I believe that my sister is doing well, I do not know how my brothers have fared and—Well, I suppose not...”
She caught my words of avoidance. “Yes?”
“I had a fiancée. I would rather not discuss in detail anything that happened regarding her,” I added to deter her, too stressed to wonder how I had even temporarily forgotten being engaged, or when such a thing had happened. My shoulders were stiff with my tension and I kept my eyes focused on the ground, though I knew it to be rude. I did not feel as though it would help anyone if I met her ruthless gaze.
“Do you take part in any satanic practices? Rituals, sacrifices—”
“Madam, I beg your pardon!” I interrupted sharply, offended for the first time that I could recall. I stared at her, aghast that she would be so blunt. “I do not appreciate such generalized assumptions of my appearance and actions going hand in hand. No, I do not practice any religion, nor do I sacrifice or devour children. Likewise—to avoid further questioning of such topics—religious artifacts affect me as they would you, I do not collect skulls or chains in my attic, and I take no pleasure in torture! Now, I do apologize for reacting in such a temperamental fashion. You were merely doing your duties, however I would rather avoid any other questions based on fictitious writings or assumptions,” I finished, my abrupt flare of irritation dying slowly. The woman was staring at me in shock and a silence stretched on for a few moments.
“Well, I think that this was a wonderful adventure, but that we can be done for today. What do you think, Cory?” asked Robert, not waiting for an answer before leading me gently by the arm past the woman. I followed willingly. “Okay, next time you're under national protection, maybe they can do a better job about keeping the media away.”
“National protection?” I questioned, eyeing one of the armed men as we passed. He nodded at me curtly but did not move or speak.
“Yeah, endangered species mixed with wanting to make peace with the first nonhuman people we meet, I think. Where on earth is that car?” he muttered, scowling in frustration. He walked up to one of the men. “Where's the transfer car?”
“Over there, sir.” The man pointed but never lifted his eyes from me. The weapon he held would have made me nervous had I not been so accustomed to them from within the confines of my captivity.
“A chauffeur?” mused Robert, frowning. “Not very discreet.”
“It's what was sent, sir. Don't worry, either. The home is under protection,” added the man, businesslike. He glanced behind us. “You may like to hurry. We can keep the media from following you.”
“Oh, finally, thank you!” sighed Robert with a grateful smile. He waved farewell to the man. “Come on, Cory. Off to get you settled, hm?”
I nodded, sighing in relief when I saw the vehicle that would take us away from the noise. “Yes, that sounds wonderful.”
“How are you handling?” he asked, striding ahead of me to open the door for me.
“Ah, thank you,” I said as I found a way to force myself into the small space. I strapped myself in, leaning to rest my elbows on my knees for comfort. “I have been free barely over an hour and already the world has me exhausted.”
Robert sat beside me, buckling before closing the door. “Not too surprising. It's going a hundred miles faster than you remember.”
“Oh, dear,” I murmured to myself, frowning. I turned to the window on my right to see the world outside. Again, the car began to move without rumbling, though I could identify the quiet sound of the engine this time.
Outside, another car arrived at the site we were just leaving. An older woman stepped from the vehicle, richly colored skin glittering slightly in the sun. She wore a yellow shirt and blue jeans, making me frown. Even at a distance, I could identify her features. The vehicle began to move, the woman slipping from the sight of my eyes.
“Kate...?” I breathed, leaning in my seat to keep her in my view longer. The confusion faded swiftly to recognition and a sharp urgency to see her. My heart beat faster, excited by the sight of my old friend. “Stop the car. Stop the car!”