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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10. Chapter Two: Freedom Rings, pt. 4

 

The tears never seemed to stop. My sobs quieted after awhile, somewhere near noon telling by the light that poured in through the window. I stared around the room through watering eyes and sighed, thinking that I might be ready to face the world again, when there was a knock on the door. The sound startled me, and I hurried to stand and move away from the door.

Are you alright, Cory? It's been three hours since I last saw you,” called Robert, concern heavy in his voice.

I sighed. “As fine as I can be, I suppose.”

Can I come in? I need to get some measurements for Anne...” He sounded hesitant.

I opened the door and stepped back for him to enter. By the change in his expression, I was sure he noticed the moisture on my face. He did not question it, however, seeming to read my nervousness.

Turn around? Alright, I need to measure the space between the wings and then...” He sighed heavily. “Would you feel alright coming out to the study so she could see everything? She's bound to need to know more than I can say.”

I nodded. “No, I would not mind. Just...Allow me a moment?”

He stepped back outside into the hall. “However long you need.”

The door was closed behind him, giving me privacy. I dried my face and took a deep breath to calm myself. I caught sight of my tail and the precise scars that stretched across it, suddenly enthusiastic about something to cover myself with.

I left the room, a conversation wafting down the hall to me.

...think you should have gotten something green. I mean, then he would be all Christmasy. Instead of being a roulette table, what with all the black.” I recognized Bailey's voice.

Well, the options are incredibly limited for his size,” defended her mother, sounding playful. They both quieted and looked up at me from piles of clothing and sewing materials when I entered.

Robert said you needed me,” I explained, not knowing how else to banish another silence. I was finding their relentless numbers tiring.

Ah. Right,” said Anne slowly, as though just recalling what she was doing. She looked at a dark brown shirt she was holding. “I need to know where to cut on the back of the shirt and where to put the buttons.”

I blinked back more tears, though now they were grateful. “I know most of my measurements, if you would like my assistance.”

Okay, but you have to forgive her fashion sense,” replied Bailey with a grin, holding up a black button up. She made a face. “I told her green.”

I smiled and sat near them, finding a measuring tape and pins. “I do not mind. Thank you, Anne, for helping me.”

Her smile said that she understood that I meant more than the clothing. Bailey remained clueless. “You're more than welcome, Cory.”

We were quiet for a minute while I began to mark where to cut on a rather attractive blue shirt. Bailey cried out in horror, holding up a strangely printed dual colored shirt of black and white. She turned to Anne in disbelief.

Mom, Hawaiian shirt?” she gasped, glancing between me and the article fervently. “He's a demon, not...not...Not!”

I think it'll look nice on him,” she commented calmly.

Hawaiian shirt?!” Bailey continued to speak as though I was not present, making me smile quietly. “Nuh-uh. Ew. Bad. Leather jacket, good. Button up, tolerable. Hawaiian print? Old tourist guyish! Bad!”

Anne and I laughed, amused by her joyfully defiant youth. Anne cleared her throat, smirking. “Get the tags off of it and set it in the pile. Cory, have you got that shirt ready?”

I nodded and relinquished it. “That should fit once cut. The neck appears open enough for my horns to fit through.”

She scowled abruptly and glanced at some of the shirts. “I hadn't thought about that. Oh, well. We'll just have to do extra work on some of them.”

Bailey groaned, but I was content. I had done this with Mother before and enjoyed the task of stitching hems and attaching buttons. It was familiar and comforting to me, even amusing when the two women helped me into the shirt. They had me test the range of it, and Anne beamed proudly when it was declared to fit.

Where could you find anything my size?” I wondered aloud, pulling it off as commanded.

Anne handed the shirt off to Bailey. “Wash that and then put it in the dryer, please. Plus sizes store,” she added, in answer to my question.

I see.” I glanced at another shirt and began to measure for that one.

Oh, wow, it's late,” sighed Anne, looking at her wrist. “Well, at least the shirt should be done on time.”

On time for what, if I may ask?” I reached for pins to mark my measurement.

Dinner. We were going to go out tonight...” She faltered, frowning.

Burger place, very tasty. Accepts demon patrons,” added Bailey brightly, sitting beside her mother again. Her mother sighed quietly. “Honesty, Mom. Total, brutal honesty.”

I smiled to myself but said nothing as my frayed nerves failed to react, continuing my work patiently. It was sometime after I handed the shirt to Anne to cut that there was an obnoxious buzz. Bailey jumped up and bustled off, then came cackling back in almost as short a time as it took to blink. She gave me the blue shirt we had finished. I held it, surprised.

It is so...warm,” I said, pressing the warm fabric to my arm.

Dryers tend to do that.” Bailey sat beside me, grinning. They both seemed amused by my total fascination with the warmth.

I laughed quietly. “It seems Mother was unable to halt the conversion.”

Conversion?”

She insisted upon hand washing and line drying,” I explained, righting the article in my hands. I stared at it for a moment before Bailey crawled over and helped me into it again. The warmth of the shirt was soft and comforting.

Anne turned her head this way and that. “I think the color suits him.”

Well, he doesn't look like a tourist.” Bailey shrugged. “He makes purple instead.”

Vanessa entered the room from the direction of the stairs. When she saw the clothes strewn across the floor, she glanced at me and made a face of disgust. “Mom, I have three words: Walking roulette wheel. Anyway, Dad called in, we've got a reservation for six. So, chop-chop, people.”

She left back the way she had come, all of us staring after her silently. I glanced at Anne, who appeared wounded by her daughter's words.

I am grateful and rather fond of many of your choices,” I reassured her quietly, smiling and lifting a deep maroon shirt with long sleeves.

They both began to laugh while I was cleaning our work space. My smile was broadening, even while the shirt rubbed strangely against my skin. I felt content, although I was anxious as well about going into public. At least I was covered, shielded partially from the narrowed, judging eyes of humans.

What's taking everyone so long up here?” called Robert, entering as the last of the sewing supplies were placed neatly aside. He blinked and frowned. “Wow, uh...Nice shirt. What's with all the black...?”

Anne sighed while Bailey snickered. “I thought it would match, and don't you dare say anything about a roulette wheel! Come on, let's go.”

Bailey hopped to her feet easily, watching her mother and I move more slowly and carefully. She paused and frowned. “Wait...How are we going to fit in the car? I mean, yeah, five seat belts, but it's a really little sedan.”

I shuddered subconsciously, dreading being confined in another small space just yet. Robert noticed and sighed, frowning as well.

Um, well, I was thinking that you could fly over the car, Cory,” he suggested. “If you feel comfortable with that.”

Wait. Fly?” Bailey looked at me with wide eyes, gaping. “You can fly?! Right, wings. Wait. No. I don't think he'll be able to keep up with the car. Not with you behind the wheel, Dad.”

I can keep pace,” I assured her, relieved by the proposal that kept me outside of a small vehicle. “And yes, Robert, I feel quite comfortable with flying.”

He smirked. “Right. Sorry about the abruptness of the plan. Would you rather stay home?”

There was that word, home. “Oh, there is no issue. I would like to adjust as quickly as possible.”

He smiled. “Right. Shall we go see if Vanessa's hot wired the car yet?”

Bailey gazed at him gravely. “Don't give the universe ideas.”

 

~~ * ~ * ~ * ~~

 

Following after the silver vehicle was simple and exhilarating. Chasing the Smiths made me laugh, though the sound was lost in the wind that rushed around me. The speed at which we were traveling made me heady. My muscles and membranes burned from the effort to keep pace and stay airborne. Yet every second I could only cherish the hot pain, as it meant that I was flying and free.

When they pulled into a lot dotted with other cars, I circled in search for a place to land. There was a convenient grass strip across a small road from the lot, so I began to lower myself as I slowed from the blitzing speed I had flown to follow them. In spite of my precautions, my landing was still clumsy. Perhaps I was getting too old for such excitement.

Glancing about to ensure the way was clear, I strode across the road to the lot. Robert waved with a welcoming smile while his family entered the building. He met me halfway, keeping stride with me with slight trouble. I slowed my pace, finding myself pleasantly winded from the flight.

So, you're ready for this?” he asked uncertainly.

As ready as I believe I may ever be,” I replied, opening the door for him politely. I motioned him through, but he hesitated and watched me with concern. I smiled kindly. “Yes, if I find myself without proper restraint or overstressed, I will remove myself from the situation.”

He relaxed some. “Alright.”

I followed him through, needing to duck through the door. Inside, the ceiling stretched high above even my own head. My tensions eased, knowing that we were in a relatively open space. Robert approached a young, heavy set woman behind an eclectically decorated desk. Her back was to us as she organized what I could only guess were pamphlets.

Hey, Chris, could we get private seating?” asked Robert. The girl behind the counter turned around, her eyes going wide when she spied me.

Robert, what are you doing?” she hissed with a glance at me. I shifted awkwardly, knowing too well why she stared. I did not have acceptance.

What? I called ahead of time, like you asked!” he replied in a hushed voice. He smiled to me apologetically.

Yeah, and I thought you were kidding!” She sighed, looking up at me with a cringe. “Well, I guess we've gotta...But you, Robert, if I get fired you owe me.”

Fine and thank you, Chris,” he replied, relaxing. He noticed the large pamphlets she was grabbing. “He's a senior, by the way.”

She groaned, but replaced a pamphlet. “Okay, everyone, this way.”

Oh, right...” muttered Anne, halting mid-stride before we approached the full entry into the dining area. She pulled sandals from a large purse she carried and gave them to me with an apologetic smile. “I almost forgot.”

I returned her smile and slipped my feet into the simple design while refraining from wincing. I enjoyed feeling the ground beneath me, but I was more concerned for the poor materials that were sure to be destroyed in just this wear.

Thank you, again.”

We followed after Robert and Chris to a closed off alcove with plenty of seating. I sat furthest in and I assumed that this was to reduce the likelihood of strangers viewing me, although it was far too late for that. Anyone we passed by through the restaurant stared, conversations dying no matter where they were and the instant they thought I was out of earshot they began to whisper furiously. I heard one man swear that the manager should be called so that I could be removed.

When we were all settled, Chris hid a wince. “I'll go get your waiter.”

Robert sighed when she left. “Well, it's still going good so far.”

I think they should have rejected us,” said Vanessa stiffly, throwing a narrow-eyed glance down the table at me. She was seated as far from me as was possible, on the other side of her father.

Robert turned to her and I was sure he meant for me not to hear his next words. “Remember what we talked about last night, young lady?”

She smiled tightly. “I'm just being honest, like Bailey.”

He sighed, and when his face was visible again it appeared as though he was forcing himself to calm down, relieving his features of a threatening expression. He smiled again, clearly attempting to lighten the mood when a young hazel-skinned man appeared at the alcove. His expression was hesitant but friendly. It was clear when he saw me, as his eyes widened in shock.

Uh, hi. I'm Elijah, I'll be your server this evening,” he managed to speak clearly. He smiled politely and avoided staring at me, though he still cast curious glances at me. “What can I get you to drink this evening?”

Lemonade!”

Ew, um...pink lemonade.”

Which is lemonade dyed pink,” muttered Bailey with a smirk.

Whatever cola you have,” said Anne. This seemed to be nothing more than habit for all of them.

Root beer.” Robert looked to me with a questioning expression.

Ah, water please, Elijah,” I replied, softening my voice and features as much as I knew how to. Still, he jumped slightly when I spoke.

Right. Water, lemonade, pink lemonade, cola, and root beer,” he recited easily, smiling at us all. “I'll be back in a few minutes with your drinks.”

Vanessa turned on Bailey the moment he was gone. “Pink lemonade is not just dyed. It's sweeter.”

Read the ingredients list,” countered Bailey. “Yellow five in one, red forty and bleach in the other.”

Girls, behave,” interrupted Anne quietly, giving them each a stern look. I felt awkward and intrusive.

Bailey's attention was quick to turn, and she looked at me with a grin. “So, what's it like to fly?”

Her parents seemed to tense at the question, but I was thankful for her natural innocence. “Wonderful. Incredibly...peaceful but invigorating. I think it is a pity that others may never experience it.”

My words were met by cold silence, clearly exuded by Vanessa. Bailey and Anne stared at me in confusion. Robert appeared to be the only one who understood my meaning.

Okay, pink lemonade.” Elijah materialized from nowhere, setting an iced glass with pink liquid in front of Vanessa, distracting her glare. He set a bubbling pop in front of Anne, again iced. “Cola. Root beer. Lemonade. And water,” he finished, coming to me last. I could smell the light tang of fear in the air but he did not shy away from me just yet, maintaining a polite and welcoming atmosphere.

Were all of you ready to order?” he asked, voice strained. He looked at us all for at least a moment each.

Bacon cheeseburger, medium well, add guac,” chirped Bailey, first to announce her words.

Again with the cheese,” muttered Vanessa. “Um, chicken salad, Italian dressing.”

Just a regular burger. No pink.” Robert's choice suited him, in my mind.

Anne sighed thoughtfully. “Chicken sandwich, no onion.”

Elijah looked down at me expectantly. I stared at the pamphlet in front of me, grasping that the menu choices were there and that I should have been considering my meal while he was fetching drinks.

Ah...”

Bacon cheeseburger, medium well, add guac,” a stage whisper came from my right.

I glanced at Bailey hesitantly. “I do suppose so...”

Great! It'll be a bit, but I'll be back to check on you,” said Elijah before hurrying away. With the sharp scent he was creating, I was guiltily glad when he left and the air began to clear.

What exactly is 'guac'?” I asked, the word queer in my mouth.

Guacamole!” She grinned at me. “Avocado plus salsa equals yum.”

She's never been the best at math,” chuckled Anne playfully.

Ah...” I remained quiet while the family bickered playfully, hopefully melting back into the shadows behind me. None of them seemed to notice my silence either, for which I was grateful. I could collect my thoughts and assess my condition.

I had never been to a restaurant before, even before I had been taken. Stepping outside during the day was not too strange for me, however. There was a vague sense in my memory that it had been acceptable and perhaps even common for me to be out in the day. With all of the strange people I knew were surrounding me, I felt weak and vulnerable, however. Out of place among all of these humans. Although Elijah was a comfort, with how he struggled to treat me as human.

Oh, yeah, Cory.” Robert turned to me, disrupting my thoughts. I glanced over, frowning curiously. He grinned at me. “Happy birthday.”

I blinked in surprise. “What?”

Happy birthday!”

Happy birthday.”

Vanessa was glaring at her glass silently. I wondered if there was anything one of us could do to lighten her mood, knowing one of the simplest ways would be my leaving. Would my absence cure the bitterness? From how she spoke to even her family, I thought not.

Her father was watching her expectantly. “Vanessa?”

I'm not going to encourage another one of your mental failures,” replied Vanessa sharply, barely glancing at me.

Robert suppressed a sigh, clearly annoyed by her persistence in stating her dissatisfaction. “There's no mental illness involved this time.”

Really? Last time I checked, your motto was still 'there's a pill for everything'.” Her own words seemed to bite her hard, making her purse her lips against obvious tears. She took a deep breath to calm herself.

He was torn suddenly between defending himself and his work or comforting his daughter. I cursed him silently when he did not choose his own child. “Vanessa, you're not being—”

And you've got those 'national security' guards doing crap like dressing up like citizens so they don't cause a riot at a restaurant!” she cried out in frustration, interrupting him. “But you know what? I think they're really here to protect the rest of us from it, not the other way around and it's one of the first things I've seen go right in a long time.”

If I am intruding, I can wait for all of you outside, so you may have privacy,” I said quietly, keeping my eyes down in shame and guilt.

No, Cory—”

I think that's a great idea,” said Vanessa snidely. Without looking, I knew she was expressing happiness at the idea of me leaving. “If you could never come back that would be better, but I'm not too demanding.”

Vanessa!” scolded Anne sharply. She placed her hand on my arm for comfort. “It's alright if you stay. We'll just have a talk when we get home.”

No, now's fine with me,” offered Bailey lightly. I sat back in my seat, pulling as far from the anger as I could. “As long as Dad and Vanessa can stop bickering for five seconds, we should be fine.”

Robert narrowed his eyes at her. “That's enough of that, young lady.”

I stared between the faces of the family sadly. I could not recall my own family having fits like this where we would antagonize and be angry with one another. With a sigh, I stood and set my napkin on the table.

Please, excuse me. I require fresh air,” I muttered sharply, turning away quickly so that none of them could see the unbidden disappointment I felt on my face.

Weaving between tables was of no difficulty, until an unobservant woman in heels clipped my tail. I groaned but continued forth, sighing in relief when I was able to breathe in the outside air. It was heavy, of course, and smelled putrid but was oddly still more refreshing than the too-clean gas indoors.

For a moment, I was rendered immobile by absolute grief for that little family. I knew it was inevitable that people would be angry or aggressive with one anther, but within one's own family? With only the future of worsening over time, like an infection in a wound. It was no difficult task to understand which part I played while I wondered if the wound could heal without any outside influence. Or had it been cut too deep and left to sit too long?

I shook my head to clear it and ambled off to one side of the entrance to sit, barely hidden by bushes. People still passed, staring or making a point of ignoring my existence. I thought on what the girl Chris had said about losing her job by servicing me. Perhaps she was right in fearing that. After all, who in this world could stand to tolerate a demon, without substantial payment? The idea brought me back to the scientists...

Sighing heavily, I shook my head in disbelief. Had it truly been little more than a day since I left that place? Was the world out here always simultaneously unbearably short and agonizingly long? Looking up at the darkening sky, I was glad that the day was ending. It meant that my ever-loyal companion of darkness would come to shield me from the stares and bring me dreams, beautifully sweet dreams of what I might do with my freedom.

Kate...

There was a light breeze that rustled the leaves of the bushes beside me, and it seemed to whisper her name. The leaves as well, and my heavy breath. Everything spoke of her to me. I knew deep within myself that she was where I needed to be. I knew that what Robert had said about injuring those around me was both right and wrong.

I was tired, my restraint weak with it. If I could go to her—see her again and maybe hold her—it felt as though I might finally rest at ease. I would be capable of controlling my strength properly then. I could be free of these constant stresses...

Of course, what if Robert was indeed correct? What if I was near mentally shattering after all this time of enduring? It had to happen at some point during my time, and today was my 68th birthday. Perhaps it was too soon. Should I risk waiting? Should I find her now?

Oh, the cruel choices placed before me.

Cory?” Bailey peered around the bushes at me. She smiled shyly, made-up eyes wide. “Uh, Rob—Dad sent me to see how you were doing.”

Ah.” I patted the space beside me for her to sit, leaning forward to rest my elbows on my knees. “I need longer to recover. Sit, if it would be no issue.”

Oh. One sec.” She was gone into the restaurant for a moment and returned just as swiftly. “Okay, they know we'll be a few.”

That was rather...speedy,” I commented offhandedly. She sat beside me and I moved my tail to my other side so as to not disturb her with it.

Yeah. I've been wondering. Um, if it's not too personal, does your tail ever stay still?” she asked in a forward and childlike manner that made me laugh. “What? Oh, sorry, was that offensive? Is there a politically correct term I should use or something?”

'Politically correct'? Oh, dear. No, calling my tail what it is was not offensive,” I assured her, smiling to myself that she would even consider it such. An amusing young woman. “To be honest, I have never paid mind to it. It is as much a part of me as your arm is a part of you.”

She stared at me with a strange expression for a moment. “I don't get what you mean.”

Are you always consciously aware of whether your arm moves, or is it instinctual for the most part?” I asked, motioning to how she was now picking a hole in her jeans without seeming to notice. She froze, glanced down at her hand and then shook her head. “Similarly with my tail. If I think it may become a nuisance, then I move it aside but then do not mind it.”

Oh...Is it the same with, erm, those?” she asked, pointing to my back awkwardly.

I shook my head, smiling at her. “Not quite so much, no. My wings are much larger limbs, after all. It takes a bit more concentration to keep them in check.”

Oh.” She bit her lip and then stared at her hand as though it was the most fascinating thing she had ever spied.

Your questions are not intrusive, Bailey,” I told her with a chuckle. “Contrarily, I find them relaxing. If I recall correctly, only three other individuals have ever asked me these questions.”

Really? Who? When?” she asked, looking at me with wide eyes again.

I laughed and shook my head. It was wonderful to see such an insatiable curiosity. “Another time, I do believe. We have kept your family waiting long enough.”

She stood with me. “Okay. What are you turning today, anyhow?”

Sixty-eight.” I held the door for her to enter.

Wow, you're old.”

I chuckled, ducking inside after her. “Yes, and you are very young.”

Bailey grumbled incoherently and led the way back to the table. Anne was smiling cheerily while Robert and Vanessa both bore repentant expressions. The remainder of the evening passed uneventfully, though I again flew over the car. The air was much more palpable at night. It was also incredibly enjoyable to fly with the cool air whipping against me, the nameless emotion of flight swelling and filling me. There was plenty of laughter when we arrived back at the house, and we all departed to our rooms for sleep. Thankfully, I was again able to rest easily.

 

~~ * ~ * ~ * ~~

 

Wednesday

 

The adventure of the morning took place in the bathroom after a shower, when I struggled to find a way to don one of the new modified shirts. The trick that I had difficulty in discovering was how to not cause my crippled right shoulder pain, removing many of my former methods for dressing. Thus, some half hour later, I finally left the bathroom fully dressed to be glowered at hatefully by Vanessa before I slipped back into the room.

Staring out the window, I found myself yearning to be outside. I made for the bottom floor, passing no one. Truthfully, I was relieved that nothing stopped me from reaching the back door and stepping out.

I smiled when I breathed in the fresh air and felt the cool grass beneath my feet. The sun was halfway up its climb to the middle of the sky, smiling down at the world patiently. Its warmth on my skin was exuberant, as well as the happiness it caused me. I stood and felt the breeze for a long while, humming to myself absently.

Sometime later, I laid myself down on the grass with a content laugh to myself. Birds were chirping back and forth to one another somewhere nearby. I stretched my wings out beneath me to rest them on the ground and warm in the sun. There was a foolish, youthful grin on my face while I stared up at the soft blue sky in wonder. Clouds littered the vast expanse of open space, cottony or misty in nature.

I closed my eyes against the world and breathed deeply. Thoughts and images dance behind my lids playfully. It was only a moment later that I was caught up by them and engulfed in the past.

 

Momma, look at the baby!” I breathed, eyes wide with wonder. The little eyes in its round face stared up at me. I giggled.

She's your sister, Cory. Her name is Lisa,” said Mother with a smile. I grinned.

Wow. So she finally came out...Hi, we were waiting for you,” I told the baby. She closed her eyes and I looked up at Mother to shush her. “Shhh, Lisa wants to sleep now, Momma.”

Mother laughed quietly and made room for me to clamber up onto the couch beside her. I cuddled into her side and she wrapped an arm around me warmly. I yawned widely, falling asleep with Lisa.

 

My smile was satisfied, like myself.

 

Mother, you said once that all people have soul mates and guardian angels,” I hedged quietly, staring at the fairytale book in my hands. The story about the evil devil being slain to save the princess had me in a fright.

She looked over at me from her cooking, smiling softly. “They're the same thing, Cory, guardian angels and soul mates. But yes, everyone has one. It's impossible to not, like the day existing without the night.”

The notion that she was proposing was romantic and hopeful. I stared at my hand and memorized the color of it. “Do you think I could have one, in spite of what I am?”

Mother paused, setting aside the spoon in her hand to kneel in front of me, meeting my gaze. “Yes, Cory, of course. And what do you mean, in spite of what you are?”

A devil, Mom,” I whispered tearfully, keeping my eyes downcast. I sniffled. “I'm evil, the book says so.”

No, no, no, honey, you're good,” she contradicted, taking me in her arms warmly. I trembled while I struggled to reign in my tears. Why was I crying? The devil never cried. “You're good. It doesn't matter what you look like. Inside, you're a perfect little angel. And the world's learning, Cory. Someday, you can go out with the rest of us and the only reason anyone will look is because you're adorable. You'll even have your own princess to rescue from the real villains.”

Mom,” I complained, embarrassed. I grinned at her telling of how the world could be. She kissed my forehead and returned to the stove. “Thank you.”

 

The sky above me was still clear and flawless, so I allowed myself to drift again into memories. They were distant but sweet. Lush but simple.

 

Katelyn sat beside me near the pumpkins, yawning widely. It was unsurprising that she was tired now, when my day was just beginning. The moon was low on the horizon, just rising for the evening. I motioned to a full plate that she was welcome to partake from. It was my lunch.

She lifted a carrot and snapped off a piece, setting the larger portion back on the plate. “Sorry I haven't come by in awhile. Paul believes that as a choir member I should know where every song originated, memorize the music, and is an overall pure follower of the Homework Faith.”

Blasphemer,” I muttered with a smirk. She smacked my arm playfully, nibbling at her carrot. I retrieved an apple from the plate, staring at it a moment. “So, your excuse is too much homework?”

Yeah, what's yours?” she asked, grinning at me.

Can I pretend I broke my leg?” I bit into the apple, savoring the flavor.

She shook her head. “You used that last time.”

I nodded in acknowledgment, thinking. “Has it truly been two months since last visit?”

Yes, it has,” she sighed, that sad look crossing her face. I remembered the porch swing, wondering how often she thought of time and its countless instances of grief. She was the one to distract herself this time. “You look different. Did you grow again?”

I stiffened, blood chilling. I set the apple back on the plate and stared at the ground, shaking my head slowly. “No.”

She frowned, watching me carefully. “Hm...Are you getting hooves or something?”

No.” Again, the single word to avoid the matter. I wished she had never noticed in the dim silver lighting of the half moon, slowly rising higher in the sky. She was far too observant.

Can you tell me?” she asked after a long moment of silence. The world had quieted at some otherworldly instruction that provided an ominous silence.

I breathed in deeply, glancing at her. The passion inside me was dying, realizing that there would come a time when she would no longer return to the farm. She would move to a city and likely marry a human man while I stared out my window, alone.

Still, she had given me a few years worth remembering.

My face has gotten worse again,” I relinquished reluctantly, not wanting to look at even the moon. Nothing could console me while my chest felt hollow.

What?” She moved nearer me, shaking her head slowly. “I don't see it.”

The plates, slits down my cheekbones, my nose—My face!” I repeated sharply, pulling my legs close to me. “The entire thing is just vile.”

Her fingers traced over my face but I did not stop her. I loved feeling her skin against mine, and her touch was so gentle that I thought I might fall asleep. When I knew she had to leave soon, I was more eager to experience her, as well. Her fingertips ran over the indentations I had told her of, the thin and precise slits in my very bones that had developed of their own will.

She smiled at me. “It's not that bad. You could be growing fur.”

I laughed once, amused abruptly by her statement, then I paused. She was indeed correct. I frowned deeply. “I hope that never happens.”

Don't worry. I won't care,” she assured me quietly. For a moment, I wondered if she was sincere in her statement. But then, even if she was she could only see in time that her future was better not entangled with mine.

 

~~ * ~ * ~ * ~~

 

I moaned and stretched as I woke, blinking and sighing deeply. Had I genuinely fallen asleep? Yes, it seemed so. I was cold, as well. I looked about, blinking in disorientation when wet droplets began to fall on my face and body.

Then I saw the dark sky above me, a grin spreading across my face easily. I laughed and settled in for a storm, stretching my wings as far a I could. Rain droplets tickled my membranes. From within the house, I heard the Smiths wondering as to my whereabouts. They would find me sooner or later, meanwhile I would enjoy my first rain in too long. All I had been allowed were cold or boiling showers. This would be a natural event where I would not be pressured for time.

I would savor every second of my freedom to be soaked and mud-covered once again.

Which is precisely what I did. As the rain became heavier, the yard became wetter and the mud was easy to press between my fingers. The substance was rich, thick and moist. Nothing could have felt better, I thought. Nothing available to me at that moment, at least. But the cool water in my hair and running across my skin was wonderful. I was in a great haven.

I do not know how long it was before Robert opened the door, standing in the space and staring at me. He laughed incredulously, shaking his head slowly.

So, Cory, felt like being ten again?” he asked, still inside. The rain was pouring, allowing me to rinse the mud from me easily.

I grinned at Robert, laughing again. “It is a glorious rush of liberty to stand in the rain. I have always loved—”

A clash of thunder cut off my words and made me start violently. I reeled back before falling to the earth, clutching my left shoulder. I was gasping, the memory of a different thunderstorm making my faded scars burn uncomfortably. I stifled a hiss of pain. What on earth was wrong with me? What unknown memory caused this?

Before I could regain control of myself, Robert rushed out to my side. “What's wrong?”

I shook my head and groaned, righting myself awkwardly. “Nothing, nothing. Only the thunder. It startled me.”

Again, the terrible force boomed overhead. I shuddered as the memory drew nearer. I bit back my irrational terror, telling myself that there was nothing around to fear. Even so, my shoulder continued to burn.

Is your shoulder okay?” he asked in concern, examining it as though he could see through the shirt I wore. “It looked like you were in pain.”

Just a memory,” I gasped, making my way to the open door. In my mind, I could see eyes staring at me and only me. I kept myself from falling too deeply into that mirage.

I succeeded in stumbling through the doorway, dripping generously onto the living area's carpet. Robert followed me inside, closing the door behind himself. I stayed where I was, uncertain of whether I should continue further into the house while I was soaked.

Robert called for Anne to bring us towels, looking at me with a frown. “It's alright, you know.”

I nodded slowly, relaxing enough to drop my hand from my shoulder. “Yes, I am aware. I was surprised, and it seems that my body is as skittish as I am, with an even sharper memory.”

Well, let's see what we can do to help, hm?” Robert smiled and Anne came back to us with a large bundle of towels. I smiled back tentatively, but a sure feeling filled me even as the thunder rumbled and shook the house again. I was beginning to believe Robert that eventually I truly could be safe here.

 

~~ * ~ * ~ * ~~

 

August 22nd, 2010

 

Today marks the end of my second week outside. Soldiers still stand out on the front lawn, where I am now. It is not so strange or threatening as it first was. Rather, I have found them to be quite cordial and welcoming of conversation. Although, when Henrickson is on shift all are in agreement that if we annoyed him with our idle chatter he may become...How had Santos phrased it? Trigger happy.

Not because he is an overall disgraceful or bitter man, but Henrickson is older than the others, appearing to be just a few years my junior at youngest. I imagine he is seeing the similarities that I see and they stir disturbing memories for him.

Regardless, the last two weeks are a blur in my memory, although as I live through even today the events are long and tiresome. To think that the days to come may very well still be high in number is exhausting. I find it difficult enough to struggle through this moment. How will it be next week, or next month? Not easier, certainly. Oh, it is rather pointless to expend my energy thinking on this now, though. What comes, comes. The only thing I may do is endure it.

And thinking of enduring, I have been told by Robert that I am doing extremely well thus far. I am uncertain that I feel so confident, but I do suppose that I am finding my balance, at least in the days' schedules. My erratic moods have calmed some as well, which saddens Bailey. She enjoyed calling me manic-depressive and claimed that it could work for a catchy opening to her show and tell performance, when she would bring me to class. Robert denied her permission to do so, of course.

Which reminds me of Vanessa. She is still bitter and somewhat vindictive, although now I am curious as to who she is attempting to hurt. If she is as hellbent as she displays, I would have been murdered in my sleep already. An unnerving notion, but a very true case according to some of her increasingly sharp glares. She only verbally assaults me when another of her family is present, however. It makes me think that something occurred—or did not, as the case may be—that has left her wounded or scared.

I wish I could help. Truthfully, even though I am technically the patient, I do believe that this family could benefit from an outside voice. All of them hold one thing or another in the dark, out of sight from the others so that they will not see. The behavior creates tension. Even the sweet, open-minded Bailey is hiding something. What, I am unable to tell, but it is apparent only when her parents are near.

Is this genuinely my business? Am I intruding further? Even if I am permitted to aid them, am I capable? I cannot tell when I am going to fall to pieces. I suppose it would be unwise to begin deciphering when others will. I will allow things to play out for now, but if I am asked for assistance I will find a way to give it.

 

~~ * ~ * ~ * ~~

 

Thursday

 

Robert smiled at me invitingly as I took my seat for our weekly formal session. I sighed heavily but was otherwise able to relax.

How have you been this week, just to check up on you?” asked Robert, smile taking on a slight hint of irony, likely at the fact that we did live together.

Reminiscing,” I replied quietly, lost in thought. “I have found that things I could not recall before are becoming quite...vivid.”

Instantly, Robert's attention was rapt. “I see...Well, are you ready to discuss any of it?”

I focused on my hand, nodding slowly. “Yes, I do suppose I am.”

Whenever you're ready, then,” said Robert gently, waiting for me to begin.

I smiled slowly. “Of course, of course...Well, I remember that my sixteenth winter was the coldest I had ever known. The ground was frozen against my feet, but I continued to tend the fields for the winter crops. I regretted that I had no warm shirts that fit properly while Mother was busy knitting me things to keep me warm. I remember that the moon was clearer in winter than in any other season, and at times I would stop my work to stand and stare at it...”

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