Azzy, the beautiful black-haired girl wearing the dress made of bloody flesh looked at Luke with eyes filled with kindness. “Allow me to prove the value of our alliance.”
Luke sucked on the wound where his tongue used to be. He had already followed his cats through a portal into what appeared to be hell, at least he seemed to have made a friend. What did he have to lose by trusting her? Luke nodded. ‘Sure, go ahead.’
Azzy tore a chunk of bloody meat from the skirt of her dress. The piece looked like a typical cut of raw beef, slightly larger than her palm. But it was squirming, like a goldfish that had been taken out of a tank and was being held in the air. “Open wide.”
Luke felt a sudden nausea in the pit of his stomach.
“Look, I know the people who took your family also cut out your tongue. The only reason I can even understand you is because of my telepathy. Trust me, this will work.”
‘Ok, I trust you.’ Luke took a step towards her and closed his eyes while opening his lips. He fully expected her to force the thing into his mouth, but instead he was greeted with a long passionate kiss complete with the girl cupping his face.
When she was finished he gasped for air.
“Well?” she asked. “Did it work?”
Luke opened his mouth. He now had a tongue. It was sure as hell not his tongue; it felt hot like he was in a constant state of post-spicy Indian food pain. But when he bit down there was a strange numbing sensation. All of that meant nothing if he couldn’t speak. “I…I can ta-lk.”
Azzy smiled sweetly. “Yes! I’m so glad.”
When she opened her arms for a hug Luke took a step back. “I’m married. I mean, you know that.”
“Yeah,” she replied with a shrug. “The demon worshiping gang lead by your girl’s deadbeat ex, kidnapped her and her kid.”
“My wife and my kid.”
“I just want to help you.” As she touched Luke’s cheek a single tear fell from her eye. “You remind me of someone I used to know, someone I used to love.”
“Oh,” Luke replied, wanting to swallow his new tongue. He knew the pain of losing someone. Perhaps her friendly demeanor was only meant to hide her fragile emotional state. “I’m so sorry.”
“I know where to find him, but our relationship hasn’t been the same.”
“Uh what? You know where to find him?”
“Yes,” she replied calmly. “My husband is dead but he was a good soul, all he ever wanted was to be a doctor; to bring hope to people in their darkest hours. So now he works as an angel, assigned to (or rather ‘trapped in’) a hospital in Wisconsin.”
“Oh, ok,” Luke said with a nod, trying to be as nonchalant. “Where do we begin our new team up adventure?”
“The source of my power, my caterpillar.”
The cats call lined up next to Azzy. “This way,” echoed their hypnotic voices. The cats and Azzy lead Luke down a series of stairs and corridors each darker than the last.
Luke’s eyes were adjusting the light. But he wished he didn’t. The caterpillar was a giant mass of human parts. Everything was writhing, squirming, and somehow screaming. First, it sounded like a million undead souls. And then the massive creature opened its mouth. The hole was a pit of darkness, like a metro tunnel in itself.
Azzy and the cats stepped towards the entrance. “Come on.”
“Wait! We’re going inside it?”
“Once you learn the truth of my story you will know that you can trust me.”
Luke followed behind her but was soon lost in the darkness. “Azzy?” He could feel hands grabbing him, pulling him into a chair of body parts. Terrified he dared not resist. He closed his eyes, becoming one with the darkness. A sense of calm and peace washed over him, followed by an odd feeling of sadness. When Luke opened his eyes he was in his father’s hospital room.
He stood up from the white plastic chair to look around. This was not the hospice room where his father died, no- this was the radiology clinic where he received (or rather endured) chemo for over two years. “Dad?”
“He can’t hear you.” Azzy suddenly appeared out of nowhere. “This is the past: a wormhole with a window- if you want to think of it like that.” She moved closer, passing her hand through his father’s chest like a ghost. “Carlos Roberto Vargas; he was so strong, so kind, a truly good soul.” She glanced at Luke. “I read the obituary you crafted for him, truly a masterful piece of writing.”
“Thanks, he was a great person,” the words choked in his throat. “I really do miss him.”
“He’s your inspiration, why you want to find your family,” Azzy said as she walked towards Luke. “Your father gave up his dreams to work in a factory, so your mother could live the life of an artist. And when she died young, he continued to work there to assure you a future; healthcare, college fund- all at the cost of his health. But I’m certain he would do it all over again because that’s the kind of man he was.”
“Yeah,” Luke replied with tears in his eyes. “He lived and died for his family, I can only hope to be that brave, courageous, loving, kind- I just…”
“I already know that to be true. What to know how? Take my hand.” In the blink of an eye, they were now in a different hospital room. The patient in the bed, reviving chemo through an IV, was a man in his late twenties to early thirties. He was Hispanic, or Italian- maybe he was bi-racial, like Luke himself. The man’s facial features were so similar to Luke they could have been brothers.
“Who is he?” Luke asked in a whisper.
“My husband, he wanted to be a doctor-” Azzy paused, her expression slipping into one of happiness as a little boy came in the door.
“Papa?” The little boy had Azzy’s black hair, round cheeks, and big blue eyes. He appeared to be around five; old enough to be independent but still small enough to be a cutie-pie.
He was followed by a man with a long ponytail and hipster facial hair. “Your Papa is very sick, he might be too tired today.”
Azzy stroked the little boy’s cheek. “This is my son, Lucas.”
“Your son’s name is Lucas?” Luke chuckled. His own birth certificate said ‘Luciano’, not ‘Lucas’ but the coincidence was too adorable.
“Do you want to know who the Hipster-Jesus is?” she asked while pacing around the strange man.
“Remy Desilva: my childhood best friend and Lucas’s biological father.”
“But I just heard him call your husband ‘Papa.'”
“My husband knowingly raised a baby that was not even his. He loved Lucas with every fiber of his being. That’s just the kind of person he was.”
“The kind of person I still am,” said a new voice. The scene became static, like an old television as an angel appeared. It was the man from the bed but now he was strong and displayed large white wings.
“Hi, Johnny,” Azzy said sweetly.
“Azzy, what are you doing in a time rift?” asked the visibly frustrated angel.
“Just getting to know my new friend; Johnny this is Luke, Luke this is my husband Johnny.”
“Hi,” Luke said with an outstretched hand.
Johnny shook his hand. “Can I speak to my wife privately?”
“I honestly don’t know,” Luke replied, looking around nervously. “The last thing I remember is entering a giant tunnel made of human body parts. I honestly don’t even know where I am right now.”
Johnny turned to Azzy. “Seriously, Azzy? I can’t believe you’re doing this.” He turned back to Luke. “Do you even know the full story?”
“Full story? Um, no, we just met today.”
“Well let me fill you in on my wife’s situation: my wife is a very powerful demon queen who pissed off some even more powerful forces.”
“To save your life!” Azzy cried. “I went against the forces of God and heaven for you, because I love you. And look where it got me?”
“You’re on probation! The forces of heaven are watching your every move.”
“When I rule the heavens there will be no injustice or pain. Only the wicked will suffer- the riotous and pure of heart will live on for eternity!”
Luke had stepped back into a corner. He had no idea WTF was happening and wasn’t sure if he wanted to know.
Johnny grabbed Azzy’s arm. “You are supposed to be running a hospital in Wisconsin, living a normal life, to avoid getting sent straight to hell.”
Azzy looked him straight in the face, her eyes filling with tears. “I’m not abandoning my work or my family.”
“No, you’re just choosing your demon-caterpillar power over our relationship.”
Luke knew he needed to speak up. “My family was taken by a gang of demon worshiping meth heads!” The blurted out the words before properly forming the thought in his head. “She’s not after power she just wants to help me. And I-I need help. I’m just a freelance writer from New Jersey.” Apparently in the presence of a demon and an angel.
Johnny sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. “She’s trying to help you? Azzy, is that true?”
“Yes,” Azzy replied with a nod. “Full truth: I know for a fact that Luke’s family was taken by followers of a young demon with even more royal blood then myself. This individual is someone trying to take my power, and if they were to succeed Hell would reign down upon both earth and heaven.”
The angel paused for a moment as if to take in the new information. “I want you to keep me in the loop. I’ll do what I can to help you from Wisconsin.”
“You trust me?”
Johnny put his arms around her, pulling her close. “Because I love you.” He kissed her forehead as he started to vanish from the scene.
Azzy wiped tears from her eyes. “Goodbye, my love.”
The scene faded to black and suddenly Azzy and Luke were back in the caterpillar. She grabbed his hand with a blast of energy they were forced out, back into the cave.
Luke dusted himself off and got to his feet. “Did that thing just vomit us out?”
“Time to suit up,” Azzy muttered. “We’re going on a recon mission.”
“Suit up?” Luke was still wearing the clothes from when he washed up on the beach.
“Yeah, now that you’ve been inside the source of my power, you will be able to draw from it.”
“Watch me and do what I do.” Azzy stroked her hands down her torso, transforming her dress into a plain black t-shirt and jeans.
Luke took a breath and attempted to do the same. But his clothes would only turn light blue, like hospital scrubs. “Um, now what?”
He expected Azzy to have a plan; make him some clothes using her powers, or maybe at least laugh at the fact that he was not as magical as she was.
But Azzy stood frozen with an expression of terror.
“What?” Luke asked.
“Nothing,” Azzy replied with a forced smile. “It’s nothing. Y-You look fine.” She tapped her leg, calling the black cats to her side. “Let’s ride.”
The cats formed a circle, a portal to a parking garage. Azzy waved her hand like a saleswoman seemingly offering Luke his choice of vehicles.
“What are you taking?” he asked. “I mean, I can ride a motorcycle, but I’ll only take one if that’s what you’re going with.”
Azzy nodded with a smile, “I don’t know what’s going on- if this is some kind of test but holy f–k you look so much like him.”
“Like your husband?”
“Now let’s see if you can ride like him.”