I didn’t know what to do. I drove back to Sky Tuttle Tours and pack up supplies, but in less than an hour, the police arrived. How? I still have no fucking clue. I didn’t call them and we had no neighbors. Someone else was out there.
Friend or foe? I had no idea, I just knew I had to leave. “Elena, Don’t panic, take this one step at a time.” But what steps? I grabbed all the money in the cash register, which didn’t amount to much. I also grabbed a container of water, putting it all into my sand collecting bag. Anything else I would have to find on my own, using my one pathetic little knife.
I hopped on my motorcycle, picked a direction and drove. I know I passed police cars with their lights on (two, maybe three.) My husband and son would be reported missing, but after the police found our records, so would the past victims of their night tours. I needed to find help, a sign, something before my world went (even more) to shit.
After what felt like hours my gas tank was running low. I thought I was heading into Utah but nothing seemed familiar. With the sun, high in the sky, I was starting to feel lightheaded. “Yeah, it’s just the heat.” I tried to force myself to breathe, but it felt like I was sucking in water. My heart was racing, I knew I needed to find shelter before I suffered a full-blown panic attack.
I pulled off to the side of the road, reaching into my bag for the water. That was when Lenny the scorpion crawled on to my hand. “Hey, little guy.” He looked more like a normal black scorpion, the kind that will sting on a whim. I hesitated for half a moment, but since he did not appear to be in attack mode, I took a cap full of water and allowed him to drink. “Here, I think we both need a break.”
I took a small sip of water myself, just enough to wet my throat, before placing Lenny on the ground to enjoy his cap full of water at his leisure. I had never seen a scorpion partake in a sip of water, but he drank at a speed similar to video-game avatar drinking a health potion.
“This way!” he said in a squeak. He spun around, catching the sunlight in a way that made him look like a piece of reflective glass.
I watched as the shiny bug raced off in a very specific direction. “Wow.” I found myself too awestruck to even move. I watched the glimmer of light scurry off until he was nearly disappeared over the horizon. Oh right, I need to follow him.
“Shit,” I grumbled. I rushed to turn on my motor. As tail him on my bike, I couldn’t help but feel like I was a cat following a laser pointer. Lenny was moving at about forty miles-per-hour, taking me on a route that went over rocky formations, down steep hills.
I followed as close as could, desperate to keep track of the light. But with my helmet on, I lost sight of him more than a few times. I had to keep going, there was nowhere else to be.
I followed until the light disappeared. The terrain was too rocky for my bike, so I had no choice but to walk. “Lenny where are you?” I shouted, hoping against hope that he would reply.
The sparkle scurried over a rock face, like a water droplet moving against gravity. Although I was sick with exhaustion (and really did not want to abandon my bike) I started to climb. My hands hurt, my chest hurt. After my foot slipped, cutting my leg from my knee downward, death would have been preferable.
After making it over a wall, I was lead to an oasis (of sorts). There was plenty of shade, water and even plant life. I took a seat, on a comfortable bed of soft sand, using my riding jacket as a pillow.
I was under a rather stable rock face, that jetted out to protect me from the sun even as the day progressed. I still had my water and was tempted to clean out my cut. But I was too tired. If I lost my leg, I lost my leg.
Lenny appeared by my side. “You are safe, my Queen. Rest now. We will travel by the light of the moon.”
He had a point, traveling by moonlight would be much easier. I pulled my knees to my chest, wincing in pain. “My leg.”
“I can help!” Lenny scurried to my open wound and made a series of stings.
I would be lying if I said I was comfortable. But somehow this action caused my skin to scar over, creating a scab. The new scar tissue felt comfortably numb. This made it the highlight of my day. “Thank you, Lenny.”
“My pleasure, dear Elena.” He did a small bow. “Rest now, I shall return.”
“Ok, talking bug.” I closed my eyes. Exhaustion quickly took over, allowing my mind to drift off to sleep. But in the realm of dreams, I appeared to be stuck in a massive acrylic drip painting.
It was like the Youtube videos where someone mixes different colors of paint in a single container, before pouring it on to a surface. The process usually creates blob-like abstract shapes that resemble, land, ocean or even space. In my world, I saw only colors, all around me; red, blue, purple and green, against a background of midnight black.
As I attempted to move, I realized I had no physical form. I had no legs, yet I was floating. Reaching for my face, I had no arms. I likely also had no face, body or skin. It felt like I was in one of those retro computer games where the player only has use of the arrow keys.
But in those games, the player could also click on things. Right? I had no mouse or arrow to guide me, so I focused on a single color; a bright patch of metallic purple. “Um, click,” I said with as much focus as I could muster. And that was when the colors started to vibrate. Was this a way of showing me what was clickable?
Certain colors quivered like jello, while others roared like ocean waves. I was about to attempt to telepathically click when I started to hear voices. It started as a series of squeaks, roars and piano keys. The longer I listened, the clearer the voices became.
“Please!” The purple spot shouted, in a small digitized voice. The sound was distorted but I recognized it as Lenny. “I n-need your help! The mighty one needs your help. I beg of you!”
A low guttural vibration came from a patch of greenish-blue. “If the mighty one is truly worthy, they will be the one asking.”
What did that even mean?
The other colors seemed to agree. They all rippled, in unison. But this was not applause. They were scolding Lenny. “They must ask! They must find! Unworthy! Unworthy!”
The purple started to scurry away, sobbing.
“Lenny!” Please don’t leave me!
The purple spot ran straight into a blob of deep red. The red did not ripple, but rather it flowed with a rhythmic elegance. It was dancing, growing, mocking, “Your loyalty is endearing. Funny how you’re the only one who still takes a knee to that human.” Was this Kaylinani? I would have pictured her taking an ocean-blue form.
“She is m-my…” the little purple blob quivered as if it was trying to search for a means of escape.
“Your queen?” The red blob asked with a snake-like hiss.
“E-Elena is my friend.” The purple was surrounded by the red, like a mouse in the grip of a predator.
I wanted to scream, but no words came out. Would I be trapped here? Apparently, I deserved to be. I was a worthless little human who couldn’t even fight for herself. I stood no chance of saving my family.
A cloud of spray paint puffed in the air; once, then twice. It sounded like a spray bottle, dispersing a fine mist. This ‘paint’ seemed more like a dry metallic pigment, or glitter.
The sound was so calming, peaceful, and the paint, itself, felt refreshingly cold. I opened my eyes to the sight of a campfire. I was no longer at the Oasis, but rather in a cave. Looking around, I saw a strange man, wearing what appeared to be a purple, scorpion themed, costume. He looked like he was on his way to a music festival. The man had skin the color of coffee and long black hair like the ocean under the moonlit sky.
I already knew it wasn’t Isaiah. When he looked at me with his light green eyes, my theory was confirmed. “Who are you?” I pulled my knees to my chest. But as I scooted backward I noticed the walls of a cave. “Where am I?”
The man tilted his head like an owl, gazing at me unblinking.
“Do you understand me?” I asked, trying to remain calm.
His eyes glowed in the light of the fire.
“Where is Isaiah?”
“Four Corners Monument,” the man spoke without opening his mouth.
“The four corners monument?”
The man nodded, as he gently placed another stick in the fire. “Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico.” He took a handful of sand, tossing it into the flame.
The fire shot up, forming a figure. Although the image lacked detail, I could tell it was Isaiah. He was badly injured from the crash, but somehow still able to walk.
He was limping as cupped his hands to his mouth, calling out for Matty. But someone else was answering.
This was why Kaylinani’s color was blood-red. From off-screen, she was talking, laughing. I couldn’t hear her words, but clearly, she was making him upset.
‘Bang!’ A bright light came from a source outside of the scene.
Isaiah screamed profanity as his form fell forward. He was gripping his stomach. His blood appeared to be the color of ashes. And his voice went silent as he fell to his knees.
I rushed to his side, desperately trying to find the source of the shot. Somehow he had been hit in the back with the bullet exiting his chest.
At first, Isaiah seemed angry. He coughed and spat, as he desperately tried to stand up. But he was in too much pain. After a few seconds, he started to cry, his voice creaking like a dying animal.
“Isaiah?” I reached out my hand.
He was crying, begging the unseen gunman to spare his life. He was all alone, scared. At least that’s what I assumed.
No. My Isaiah was too brave. He wasn’t begging for his life, he was begging for Matty.
What did Kaylinani do to Matty? The idea made me scream. She killed my little boy. I was sobbing so hard, all I could see was lights and shadows. I needed someone, anyone.
I ran into the fire, desperate to save him, to hold him. Or maybe I truly wanted to die. At least then I would be with my family.
Unfortunately, for me, the fire was not normal. I felt no burns or other injuries as I fell to the side with a body in my arms. “Isaiah?” The body had my husband’s hair, skin, even his tattoos. “Is that you?”
I cradled his head, stroking his face. The body was staring at me with vacant eyes. Not dead but not quite alive. This was Isaiah if he had a brain injury, his mind wanted to speak but the connection was lost. I swallowed the lump in my throat. This was still his body; his flesh, bones, his eyes. His emerald eyes, sparkling green like seaweed washed up by the ocean tide. It was enough to convince my heart Isaiah was still there.
The scorpion-costumed man cleared his throat. “What you see is only a shell. She cut his soul into pieces and bartered them to the four animal tribes.”
What? I froze, unable to breathe. There was one thing keeping me from losing all hope: my utter confusion at the statement. “Animal tribes of this area?” I had to ask. I knew the animals of the southwest, or at least I thought I did.
“The southwest represents only one of the four kingdoms,” he explained.
“Oh, ok. That makes sense.” I forced a nod to make myself come off as something other than a frightened little princess. But in truth, that fact actually made my situation potentially much worse.
“The other three are the ones who side with your enemy.”
“So, you’re telling me, every other tribe has decided to hate me without ever even meeting me?” I kind of wanted to know why. Was it just because I was a human?
“If my knowledge is correct, your enemy, also known as your sister-in-law, is a demi-god? People in power have ways to covert their enemies.”
“I guess that explains a lot.” I held Isaiah’s body close, like a security blanket. Even if it was just a shell, it was still his skin, his hair, his smell. That alone was comforting.
“The desert trial, here in Arizona, will likely be your easiest since you already know the area. For the Ice trial, you will search in Colorado. For the water trial, New Mexico.”
“New Mexico?” I had to assume that was because of the rivers. “Does Kaylinani have a stronghold there?”
“That I do not know.”
“And finally for the trials of air, you must journey to Utah.”
“I kind of figured that out, since I know how to count to four.”
That caused the man to crack a smile.
“What’s your name?” I asked, assuming he already knew mine.
“You can call me Leo.” He pursed his lips, nodding his head. He seemed genuinely concerned about my emotional well being. “This will all make more sense when you awaken.”
“When I awaken? I thought I was already awake.”
“I’m truly sorry,” the sound of his voice echoed in the darkness.
I blinked my eyes once, then twice and on the third try my eyes opened. I was back in the desert, with my head on my jacket-pillow. I brushed the sand from my face as I sat up. The cool night had fallen, making the air temperature slightly more tolerable.
The sky was dark, devoid of stars, making the brightness of the full moon even more evident. It was shining down like a beacon or a spotlight. The beam appeared to be pointed someplace just beyond my visual range. I stood up, ready to make the journey. I was lost, alone: I needed to know where the light led.
I started to maneuver the rocks, climbing, walking until I saw a figure from about twenty feet away. “Isaiah?”
There was no reply. He appeared to be standing, looking out at the desert night, with his hair blowing softly in the wind.
As I came closer I could see that it was, in fact, my husband. But he was naked and he was in pieces. Chunks of rusted metal (that appeared to be from the crash site) were embedded in his flesh, holding his limbs to his body like giant diaper pins.
I cupped my hands over my mouth, trying not to vomit or scream.
Isaiah was posed, standing up with arms outstretched, like a mannequin or a puppet. His arms and legs had been broken and threaded together with pieces of pipe. I understood the ‘joke’; Kaylinani had collected his remains and put the pieces on display. It was as if to say, “Let’s see how you like being trapped in the form of a plane.”
I approached slowly, I just had to know if he was still alive. Despite the tears in my eye and the bile twisting my stomach, I got close enough to see his chest move. It was a slight quiver.
I didn’t know how to feel. If Isaiah was alive, he would be in a horrible amount of pain. But at least I would get the chance to say goodbye. “I-I’m so sorry. I failed you, I failed our family.” I wanted so badly to touch him, to feel his heart. But something stopped me.
All at once, it dawned on me, I realized what I was looking at. She turned him into a scarecrow! What I thought was movement was actually the quivering of insects under his skin, devouring what was left of my husband’s flesh.
I screamed at the sky. “Kaylinani, you’re a God Damn bitch!” Still, I took a walk around the body, to see the extent of her handy work. I was half expecting her to have carved a message into his skin. But no, there did not seem to be any clues left on his arms, legs or chest.
Suddenly, a gust of wind blew, hitting Isaiah so hard I could hear the rattle of metal. My husband’s head tilted forward, parting his long hair over his shoulders. This revealed a mark; an oddly shaped cross that spanned his shoulders, ending at his neck. It was the symbol of the four corners monument, carved into his back.
Did Kaylinani do this? Was she mocking me? I closed my eyes and touched the cross as if the current state of the wound would lend any clues. The blood was dry from being out in the desert heat, but there was no doubt he was dead.
“No, oh God, no!” I fell to my knees, sobbing. My chest hurt so bad as I gasped for air. My body wanted to fold into the fetal position, to sink into the ground and let the desert swallow me whole. “I can’t do this, I can’t.” Then I felt a hand on my shoulder.
“Have you ever read ‘The Little Prince’?” A voice asked. He sounded calm, friendly and kind, sort of like a preacher. It was Leo, the scorpion-costume man from the cave.
I turned to see a much more human version of Leo, dressed like a typical extreme sports nature explorer. He wore a suede jacket, over a plaid flannel, with his long wavy hair pulled back in a loose ponytail. On his back was a massive pack, common for hikers.
“I watched that one Netflix movie,” I replied, truthfully. It was a rather sweet retelling that even Matty had enjoyed. But in all honestly, I was partial to the modern version, K-Pax (a 2001 movie about a mental patient who believed himself to be a space traveler.)
“Well, you know the scene when the snake tells the space-traveling boy HOW he can get him home?”
I knew. The story was that the boy came from a faraway planet and he needed a way to get home. So, a snake offers to help by biting him. The logic was; a spirit can travel farther and faster than a body. “Are you saying Isaiah’s spirit is still alive somewhere?”
Leo nodded. “That part of him can still be saved.”
I took a moment to wipe the tears from my eyes. “Of course.” I tried to stand but my legs were too weak. My mind went to the image of the last scene of K-Pax when the metal patient’s body was found. He wasn’t dead, but catatonic.
“Elena?” Leo reached out his hand. “I know your heart is heavy with grief, but you can trust me.”
As I reached for his hand, Lenny the scorpion, in all his holographic glory, appeared from inside the cuff of Leo’s jacket. “You can trust Leo, I promise! He’s a powerful being, he can help us!”
Leo chuckled, confirming that he too could hear the talking insect.
“Ok, I guess. Where to?” I asked. I knew the answer was ‘Arizona’ but the state was rather large. Travel alone could take days. “What will become of the body?”
“We’re going to head west to find the first artifact, maybe make a few allies along the way.” Leo paused, glancing at Isaiah’s scarecrow form. “Your husband will be safe. But our time is limited.”
“Because of Kaylinani?”
“Yes,” Leo said with a sigh. “She’s a high-ranking witch who goes by many names. And right now she’s about three steps ahead of us.”
“In doing what?” I asked. Did he actually know Kaylinani’s master plan? “All I knew was that Isaiah kept her soul attached to his plane. I’m sure that pissed her off to no end since she was an ocean demi-god. Is she trying to trap Isaiah’s soul somewhere? And what about Matty?”
The mention of Matty caused Leo’s expression to fall. “I honestly don’t know the whereabouts of your son. That’s something I hope we can find more clues about.”
I pursed my lips and forced a nod. Even if Matty was dead, Leo was my best chance at finding the body. And I needed to find my little boy’s body.
Leo placed his hand upon my shoulder. “The people I work for are invested in her defeat.
“Ok.” That answer brought me a little comfort. “Let’s go.” Leo and I walked back to my bike. It was parked on the side of the road next to his red pickup truck.
“If you want to ride with me, I can put your bike in the truck bed. But I’m not going to force you.”
“Thanks.” I knew why he presented the option. It was in case I needed some space. “I think I’ll take you up on the offer of solitude, at least for a little while.”
“Sounds good,” Leo said, shaking out his wrist. “Did you want this guy to travel with you?”
Lenny dropped down and waited patiently on the back of Leo’s hand. The scorpion’s dark blue and purple color palette seemed to compliment Leo.
“I’m good,” I tried to sound confident but my voice was trembling. Looking at Lenny reminded me too much of Matty. I needed to stay focused, and stop being a typical over-emotional human.
Leo nodded, with kind understanding. He shook the scorpion back into his sleeve, letting Lenny ride inside his cuff. “Well, let’s roll.”
I waited for Leo to start his truck, giving him a thirty-second headstart. Otherwise, I was afraid my bike could easily outpace him, leaving me lost without a guide.
We headed west, in the direction of the Grand Canyon. I followed his truck, keeping a few car-lengths behind on the desolate road. I didn’t know what was to come, only that I needed to keep my options open.
There was one question searing my mind like a hot iron: Why now? My family had been safe for years but the one time I allow a scorpion on to the plane, everything goes to hell?
But that would, of course, mean a certain oceanic demon bitch was right. I didn’t want to believe that betrayal was just in a scorpion’s nature.
And what about Leo? The stranger seemed friendly enough. But what exactly was he? How did he show up in my dream and Arizona? Leo was obviously not human, but was he here for me, or did he have a larger goal? Did I want to stay to find out?
As if on cue I spotted a sign indicating an exit, in just two miles. I could turn off, arriving in whatever truck-stop town. Maybe I’ll get a job at a Walmart, save up enough money to start an Etsy shop. I could start a new life without my husband and my son. Just like a human; a normal, weak, cowardly human. Or I could follow the scorpion across the river.
I revved my engine, gripping the bar tight. I knew what I had to do.