I managed to convince Leo to stop in Moab, on our way to wherever the Air guardians of Utah lived. It was nice to sleep in a bed for a few hours, even if Matty was still too weak to walk on his own. Leo checked us in at a roadside motel. It was one of those places with a bunch of rooms circling a parking lot.
The space itself smelled like sweat and cocaine and looking out the window I couldn’t see anything other than the colorful sky (odd since we were on the ground floor.)Leo placed one key card on the nightstand while putting the other in his pocket. “Where are you going?”
“Get some rest, Elena.” He said as he exited out the wooden door. “I’m just going to bring in our luggage.” He left back to the truck and returning with his inter-dimensional backpack in what felt like mere seconds.
“Leo?” I barely had a chance to close my eyes.
“You comfortable?” he asked as he plopped his backpack down on the bed. Opening the flap caused all of our animal friends to emerge.
First came Ari, the baby rabbit. “Elena you’re alive!”
Next was Lucas, the spider the size of a basketball, who looked just as delighted to see me. “We saw you get taken by the history man!”
“Ghost. I told you it was called a ghost,” said Lenny the scorpion, riding on his back.
“Nice to see you too.” I was expecting the next creature to be my little boy. I was only half correct.
A small bear was dragging my unconscious son’s body. “Where should I put him?” the bear asked in a voice that sounded like that of a preteen human female.
“With his mother, please, Erica,” Leo directed.
The bear nodded. I watched in awe as the little bear, made her way to the bag, securing her grip. Although the size of a human toddler, she pulled Matty’s substantially larger body by the neck of his shirt.
His body was limp, cold, but there was still breath in his lungs.
Lenny the scorpion scuttled over to his side. “Matty?” he crawled on to Matty’s body and stung him in the neck.
Matty started to cry.
I wanted to scream, but Leo placed his hand upon my shoulder. “Maintain your focus.”
His words caused light-bulb to go off; crying equaled breathing, Lenny was saving my son’s life.
My little boy’s eyes opened as he smiled. “Lenny!” It took him a few seconds to see me and give my name the same level of enthusiasm. “Mommy!”
I laid by his side, holding his hand. “Yes, baby I’m here.”
I turned to Leo hoping he had a logical, reasonable answer.
Leo nodded. “Matty, you daddy is missing. We think we know where he is but finding him is going to be a long journey.” He got down on one knee, lowering his face to Matty’s level. “Do you remember the last time you saw your Daddy?”
Matty nodded. “The plane,” his voice went soft. “T-The plane broke in half.” He started to cry.
“Broke in half?” I asked.
He nodded, motioning with his hands. “It broke like this.” his hands were together, then apart, like a bird losing its wings. “I couldn’t see Daddy or Lenny.”
“What did you see?” Leo asked, sitting a distance away, as if he truly did not expect Matty’s reaction.
Matty started to sob even harder. “Birds, so many birds.” His eyes went white, as blood dripped from his lips. “Too many birds.” My son went catatonic, trembling with fear.
I shot straight up, rushing to put my arms around him. “It’s okay, baby. You don’t have to talk about it.” I glanced at Leo. “He’s still alive, right?”
Leo nodded. “Let’s just try to get some sleep.” He got off the bed, making himself comfortable on the small dirty cloth sofa. “I’ll sleep on the sofa, to keep watch over the room.”
That sounded fair. “Thank you.” With my still breathing son in my arms, I closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep.
In my dream I was sitting on a cloud; a soft, cold, bright white semi-fluffy surface. No, clouds are made of vapor. But this felt wet and cold. Standing up I could see this wasn’t a cloud but rather a ledge overlooking a ski resort. Birds flew over my head sweeping past like a wave upon an ocean. “Wow.” The world was so beautiful, it almost felt like a victory. But no, of course not.
A gust of wind knocked me backward, landing hard on my tailbone. That was when I confirmed the bright white cloud was in fact snow. And I had been pushed towards a very solid spot. I groaned in pain, screaming profanity. Every part of me wanted to stay down, but that was not an option. My body ached as I forced myself to stand.
Dusting myself off, I looked at the sky. It was unbearably bright, like something out of a videogame. I blinked until I could locate the sun. Looking directly at the central point of the sky, I saw the birds forming a figure. It was a human female.
“Long way down,” muttered a familiar voice. the sound echoed all around bouncing through the mountains.
I almost laughed this was hell. I was in hell. “Why hello, Kaylinani.” How long was this going to go on for?
The birds started to fly in a strange formation; pushing wind and ice, until what stood before me was a human body made of loosely packed snow. “Hello.” The creature had no mouth, in fact, she looked like a high-end mannequin.
“You look good, Kay!” I said with a shrug. My brain was fried. part of me just wanted to rush up to her and give her a hug.
“And you,” she held the last vowel as if making a stereotypical ghost howl. “You look like a cocky little shit.”
“I think I’ve earned your respect!” I don’t even know why I said that. I covered my face, already knowing the wrath I just unleashed.
The figure started to laugh, first like a human and then a wolf, then a series of birds that usually did not live in Utah; vulture, macaw, seagull, each more screeching than the last. “Pitiful human, you’re not even halfway done.”
“You’re lying!” I shouted over the roar of the wind and the layer upon layer of animal sounds.
Suddenly the animal noises stopped. I looked up to see the female figure standing with her arms out, like an angel, or a bird. She wanted me to be able to hear what she had to say. “Think of all the body parts you’ve recovered, versus what’s still left.” She started to move closer. “Skin, hair, arms, legs…” the final word caused her to giggle like a schoolgirl who had an inside secret.
“Let me guess, the remaining parts are in your possession and you’re drawing from their power?”
“Well duh.” Kay seemed disappointed by my guess.
So I tried again. “Are you in Utah?”
“You’re not even worth my breath.” the birds shifted their positions, making the figure nod like a puppet.
Fine, if this is the way you want to play it. “Is Utah your stronghold?”
The figure nodded again, the movement making a sicking crunch. It was clear, she wanted to talk more.
“I’m listening, Kay, speak your peace.”
“Right now, you could probably guess how I took down the plane.”
the pieced fit, I knew Isiah’s last flight had been headed to Utah. the presence of Lenny the scorpion was just a coincidence.”
“Yeah you sure had me fooled,” I said with noticeable sarcasm. “What the fuck do you want with me?”
“I want my revenge; on your my brother and your freak of a child. count your blessings but not your points, fore the game has just begun.”
I stood up, trying to steady my footing. “forgive me, your highness, if I think you’re full of shit.”
Kay scoffed. “Well, pray tell, What is it you want?”
I knew exactly what I wanted. “I want to speak to Isaiah.”
“Oh, you do now? The same way as the last few dreams? yeah, I’m afraid that’s not possible.” Although she had no facial features I could practically hear her sticking her tongue out.
“And why is that?” I asked calmly, hoping to prompt more information.
“All the previous times I allowed you to see him. And clearly, that didn’t work out in my favor, so I’m revoking the privilege.”
“Really now?” I started to laugh. this was too much. “Why don’t you just kill me wouldn’t that be so much easier than dragging me all over the southwest?”
“You don’t think I haven’t tried? Your little army of superfans have you protected.”
Was she referring to the animals in the backpack or more? were there entire tribes protecting me? the idea filled me with a temporary ounce of courage. “Really, you don’t say?” I had a plan, but my really shitty idea relied heavily on this being a dream. I stood up and before Kay could say anything I got a running start and dove off the ledge. I felt light, weightless as if I was just floating in place. or caught in a net. “crap.”
Birds flew in formations all around me, easing my fall like something out of a Disney movie. Fuck.
Until we reached about twenty feet, then they birds scattered like dust in the wind, dropping me on my shoulder. “Ow!”
The wind whispered, “Since you’re so eager for pain, let me tell you how it all went down.”
My eyes were focused on the sky. Above me was the sound of hundreds of birds coming from all directions, until they blackened the sky. Well, not entirely.
From the corner of my vision my husband’s plane came in to view. the birds headed straight for the engine killing themselves one after another. But that was just a distraction from the main event. The cloud of birds started to devour the middle section of the plane, cutting it in half.
Before i could scream or even cover my face to protect myself from what was going to inevitably happen, fire and debris rained down from the sky. This hell was quickly accompanied by a thick cloud of ash.
The burning particles caused me to close my eyes missing the majority of the crash until the backdraft knocked me on my ass. I covered my face and head just in time to avoid getting hit by part of what used to be a wing or a pipe.
It didn’t matter, nothing mattered. My whole world was burning all around me. “Isaiah! Matty!” My voice was horse, unable to shout without coughing.
In the distance, I heard a groan, and then a scream. I could see the shadow of my husband’s injured body. He looked like he was trying to walk but promptly fell to the ground.
He was bleeding badly as he tried to drag what was left of his body away from the crash. The scream had been him fighting his way out of the rubble. “Matty!” Isaiah was shouting, sobbing. “Where are you?” He was crawling, one arm at a time, in my direction.
For a moment I shared his questioning concern; where was our son? He must have been so scared. And how the fuck did Matty’s body end up encased in snow, in a cave in Colorado? But as soon as Isaiah was clear of the wreckage. That was when I saw his legs. My organs felt like they wanted to escape my mouth. And I truly wanted to die.
My husband’s left leg had been torn off, and not cleanly either. No not by a long shot. The flesh had been physically ripped, the way I imagine a lion, bear or even an alligator would devour their prey. The muscles and tendons looked like a cross between raw ground beef and spaghetti. Clearly, this was injury represented where he had gotten stuck and forcibly mutilated himself in an attempt to save his own life.
His other leg fared a little better. it had been blown off in an explosion or fire, keeping the blood loss to a minimum. He collapsed about a meter from where I was. He was sobbing, asking god for mercy and to protect his family.
I was about to rush to his side if only to see if I could touch his face and hair one last time. I was distracted by the sound of a hawk. I looked up and saw the location of (part of) my husband’s missing leg.
Nearby, a large vulture was devouring the leg that had burned off, while a flock of smaller birds seemed to scavenge the crash site, looking for any other pieces of flesh. With every passing second, more birds arrived. It was layer after layer of creatures of all sizes and colors. It looked like a feeding frenzy. within seconds the wall of feathers was too thick to see through.
And the sound, oh god, the sound was deafening. I covered my ears, falling into the fetal position. Wake up, wake up, please for the love of God wake up!
God seemed to answer my prayer but not the way I expected. The sound fluttered away as frenzy seemed to calm. I looked to the sky, to see the birds flying off in a lovey heart formation. My gaze stayed in the sky, too afraid to look down.
Isaiah had stopped screaming or even moaning. He was gone, that much was certain. Ideally, I wanted to look down and see an empty space, a hole where Isaiah’s body had once been. There could even be a bloodstain, maybe with chunks of hair. After all I had been through, I could handle that.
“You have to look down eventually, little girl,” Kay’s voice cackled all around me. The bitch was mocking me.
I blinked my eyes once then twice. just look, Elena. you can handle anything. But I could not handle the sight of a skeleton.
Cluching my chest I screamed, over and over. “Please let me die. I can’t do this anymore.” I collapsed backward. My vision was blinded by the sun until my body convulsed.
Suddenly there was a blast of wind, one after another like flapping wings. If this was another bird, I hoped it would just rip my head off and get it over with. Instead, I felt two arms grip me pulling me backward.
“It’s me, don’t worry I got you.” Leo was carrying me liek a bride, which occupied both his arms. The only weapon he had to defend us with was his wings.
“I need you to wake up!” Leo shouted.
“I can’t!” I was biting my tongue, tearing into my palms with my fingernails, anything to cause physical pain. But I knew the skeleton was still there and that was all I could see.
Leo flapped his wings again, blowing away the rubble and the remaining birds. “You have to shut your eyes, and let me take you back!” he shouted over the roar of the wind. the birds were leaving because soemthing far worse was comming.
“Close your eyes, Or else we’re both going to get stuck here!”
“I’ll try.” I shut my eyes as hard as I could, hoping that the next time I opened them I would be anywhere else. Even the fires of hell were preferable to what happened that day.
“Deep breaths, ok?” Leo wrapped both us in hsi wings formng a cocoon. “i’ve got you.”
I awoke in bed, covered in sweat. I was sobbing so hard I pulled my knees to my chest, desperate to find the ability to breathe. My husband was dead, my son was… “Matty?” I looked up to see my son standing over me.
My heart change from horror to joy. He was standing. he had a bandage on his shoulder but the color had returned to his face. “Mommy?” Matty’s voice was his own; human not a bug or a rabbit, just purely human.
I cupped my hand over my mouth annd blinked tear from my eyes. “How?”
“Leo did it,” the little boy replied cheerfully.
I nodded, forcing a smile. This was good, this was a victory. “Can we just go?”
Leo looked at me with confusion but maintaining a smile. “What do you mean by go?” His tone was that of a preschool teacher, trying to not upset me while also showing his disappointment. “Go to the Sky temple Ski resort?”
“No.” I pursed my lips, glancing around at all of my animal friends. “What would be the worst case scenario if I walked away with my son?”
“And go where?” Leo asked calmly. “Where exactly do you think you can go to be safe from a Kaylinani?”
The baby animals looked at me with concern, crowding around Matty. Clearly, if i tried to run I would not be taking Matty with me without a fight.
I nodded. “I see your point.” The sky was a vast kingdom that could allow Kay to find me where in the world. But worse, my rival controlled the creatures of the sky. And although I never thought of birds are being more frightening than the monsters of the sea, my dream shot them to the forefront of my conciseness. “Is Kay even able to be defeated? or are we just going to keep runnign in circles untill we’re all dead?”
“I assure you Kay can be taken down,” Leo nodded. “But not by you alone.” He motioned for Matty and the animal friends to come closer. “I’m not saying I have a plan or that we will even survive an attack on the air temple… sky temple. I don’t even know what those psychotic birds call it. But we have to try because what Kaylinani wants for this world will be far worse than anything history had thrown at us.”
The animals made nervous rustling sounds. “Worse than the trail of tears?” asked the bear. “My momma told me about that.”
“Unfortunately, the loss of life will be on par with that event,” Leo replied.
“Worse then the Holocaust?” asked the scorpion. “Or even the plague?”
I was more than a little disturbed. For whatever reason, the idea of a bear from Colorado knowing about the Trails of tears seemed normal, acceptable even. But a scorpion with knowledge of the Holocaust? Kinda creepy. “Um, yeah, Lenny. Probably.”
“Oh!” Lucas the spider raised his furry little hand. “Worse than season eighth of Game of Thrones?” This caused a chorus of gasps, as all the animals seemed to agree.
Except for Matty, of course. “What’s Game of Thrones?” He asked, pronouncing it with an adorable lisp.
Leo facepalmed. “You all are too young to be watching Game of Thrones. I don’t care that half of you are ancient spirits…”
I couldn’t help but smile for the first time in days. “Uh, yeah, exactly.”
Leo looked at me, probably assuming that I was backing up his opinion of Game of thrones.
“We’re going to kick ass like the characters of Game of thrones.” I motioned for Matty to sit on my lap. “The Games of Thrones is a tv show for grown-ups but there’s one character who is very cool. She’s called the queen of the dragons.”
“Dragons?” Matty asked. “Dragons are scary.”
“Some people think scorpions are scary.” Or spiders or bears…”Well, the important part is that the queen, she lost the man she loved. Just like how we lost Daddy. But just when everything looked hopeless she found the love of three baby dragons. That’s what you are, my baby dragons.” With a renewed sense of confidence, I turned to Leo since he was the one with powers. “Can we destroy Kay the way she destroyed Isaiah.”
“Yes and no,” Leo said as he petted Lucas’s head. “Or rather no and yes.”
This caused me to raise an eyebrow. “You know you sound like a Johnny Depp character, right now? One of the really crazy ones from later in his career.”
“If I recall correctly, those were the best of his performances; Captain Jack, Tonto… Anyway, as I was saying, No, Kay cannot be destroyed, one of the perks of being a goddess. But Yes we can do to her what she did to Isaiah.
“We can dismember her and feed her to the animals?”
Matty and his team looked at me with confusion. The little bear giving me a particularly disgusted look. “No way.”
Leo chuckled. “I meant we can trap her.”
“You mean Isaiah isn’t dead?”
“A demi-god cannot be destroyed but the can be trapped in an artifact or two or the case of your husband sixty-ish.”
Matty pouted his lower lip, hugging the bear close. “Daddy is in sixty pieces?”
Leo patted Matty on the shoulder. “But mommy is quickly collecting them, kind of like a puzzle.”
“Yeah, exactly.” I noticed Leo didn’t want to say what exactly the final prize was going to be. A puzzle can result in a flat image, a multidimensional form or anything in between. And what would his mind be like? “So, how does one go about trapping a bird?”
Leo stretched his back, yawning in exhaustion. “As I said, before we need a cage, in the form of an artifact. But before that, we need …bait. But that’s something we can discuss in the morning.”
“Angels get tired?” I asked.
“No, but I know humans and animals do,” Leo said with a yawn. “I’m not going to sleep, I just need a little rest after pulling you out of the dream realm.
“Right,” I said with a nod, resting my body down on the bed. “But just so we have an idea; what’s your plan for bait. Just so I can dream about it.” I had a feeling I knew where this was going, but anything was better than seeing my husband devoured alive.
“The best pawn enters the battle without knowing it’s final fate.” He closed his eyes, relaxing in bed beside me. He started to stroke my shoulder, then my neck, to my cheek.
Soon I was asleep again. At least this time I wasn’t dreaming. I just felt a calming darkness. I felt cold, yet warm. As if I was back home in Hawaii. I awoke on a beach, under the full moon. “This is kinda nice.”
The beach was not one I recognized but it seemed like one of the many places I used to go to gather trash (a hobby I picked up after the death of my first husband.)walking along the tidepools always brought me a sense of peace.
I walked along the beach, admiring the scenery, the world seemed so quiet. Too quiet.
At the end of the beach path was a strange shape. It was humanoid and appeared to be a crucified man. Not that couldn’t be correct, the figure’s feet were on the ground.
“Hello?” I walked closer until I could see Isaiah’s long hair blowing in the breeze. “Isaiah? is that you?” Something was very wrong. he was standing way to still.
And yes, I remembered what Kay had told me; seeing Isaiah was a privilege granted to me by her. I knew I shouldn’t have come any closer but I had to. I stroked my hand to his hair.
And as soon as pressure was placed upon the surface, his head collapsed like an underinflated rubber ball, the kind that kids played with during recess. And much like a child who had just been handed a damaged ball, I was more pissed off than anything.
“Very funny, Kay.” I got the joke; my team had Isaiah’s skull but her team of psycho birds had the muscles and skin.
the figure before me was a scarecrow made up of all the parts that I did not have. They were showing off their collection. Whatever, I turned around to walk back to the water, when I heard a voice.
“Elena?” Isaiah’s voice sounded like a deflated balloon.
That was when I awoke, screaming for a second time.