previous: Charmanderchar ch11
‘Why did the axolotl cross the road? To escape the fires of hell.’ All around me I could hear laughter; Claire’s laughter. My mind was spinning. I knew I had to keep walking, just keep going and don’t look back.
‘Yes, that’s it. Don’t look back.’ Maybe the forest wouldn’t be burning, maybe I could make it back to the safety of the hotel.
I could also see the massive hotel signage with the vacancy portion lit up in the glow of morning. The beacon of hope was just past a Walmart and two gas stations. Would I even get there before the entire town went up in flames?
My baby clung to me. Alexa’s hands pinched through my sweaty shirt with unnatural strength. It was like she could feel my arms growing weaker. “Don’t worry, I’m not going to drop you.” I shifted the baby in my arms. “I swear to God.”
Alexa seemed to be gumming on my shirt, as if trying to breastfeed through the fabric.
“I’m so sorry, you must be exhausted. I’ll get you something to eat as soon as I can.” It was all I could do not to cry. This wasn’t just about me. Why did I have to bring a baby?
‘Vice’s baby; you brought Vice’s daughter to him. Why?’
I knew what I had done, and how fucking ridiculous it was, but before I could contemplate more, my baby suddenly went limp, tilting her head towards the sky.
“Ga,” she squealed with glee.
“What?” A crackle of thunder cut the otherwise clear sky.
“Ga!” she repeated, lifting her little hand as a passenger jet fell from the sky.
I sat in a fetal position, bracing myself for the impact, and the inevitable aftershocks. The crash itself wasn’t right in front of me, but the pieces were coming down the road in my direction, propelled by the force of the impact. Pieces of gravel flew by my face. My mind instructed me to flinch in pain, but I felt nothing. Not even the wind has any tactile effect. it was as if I was in a protective bubble. How? Why? The baby held all the answers. “Did you say the word God?”
She smiled, nodding ever so slightly as if she understood. “Ga!”
I attempted to stand when I suddenly felt a sharp pain in my chest. At first it felt like a bee sting; a tensing of the muscles, followed by an odd coldness as the air touched my blood.
“Vice’s father started the whole thing.” Claire was standing behind me. Her voice was audible but muffled. “He called himself a prophet, a saint.”
“I’m not fighting you, Claire!” I shouted, unsure if she could even hear me outside of my protective bubble.
“I know.” She took a step closer, pressing her lips to my ear. “Oh, trust me, I know.” With one quick motion, she twisted the blade that was now firmly inside my lung.
With each breath I could taste the steel, the gore. My lung was filling with blood. I’d watched enough movies to know, the moment she pulled the knife out I would fall forward and slowing choke to death on my own bodily fluids. (If I was lucky, it would just be blood and not a mixture of vomit.)
And yet that was not happening. I looked down at Alexa. her chubby little face was stuck in an aggressive scowl. If I wasn’t about to die, I would have been tempted to take a picture to show Henry. “Your grandpa was right. You’re something special.”
Alexa grunted, looking like she was about to cry and/or poop. There was a moment of intensity when I could practically feel the raw energy of her rage. “Ga!”
The blade moved out of my chest, floating around before reappearing in my hand. I was meant to kill Claire, because that was what my baby wanted. I was completely ready to turn around and engage her, when two arms gripped me, throwing me into the tall grass.
Knocked free of my safety bubble, I could feel the blood filling my lung. “Why?” I could’ve taken her, now I was going to die off the side of the highway.
Alexa was crying. I knew I had to get back up.
“You cursed demon! How dare you!” her words were not meant for me. There was an opponent somewhere behind her, approaching fast. Soon, Claire was fighting a tall muscular figure clad entirely in black.
The pair went further and further away. I sat down on the road, attempting to breathe.
A car rushed by. I could hear children screaming, crying, but their cries were not for me. Something was thrown out of an open window. The small metallic red object made a clicking sound as it bounced down the road. It was clearly made of a lightweight plastic, like a free item from a McDonalds meal or perhaps a box of breakfast cereal. “Is that a Pokémon?” It had to be. I couldn’t remember all the cheap toys Pokémon had released over the years. For all I knew this could be a brand-new figure for the recent anniversary celebration. The very thought of it made me want to move closer.
Not wanting to drop Alexa, I held her close with one arm while dragging myself with the other, until I was directly over the toy. It was a Charmander. The cute little red lizard, my old name, my true spirit animal. I had no freehand to pick it up, but perhaps I wasn’t meant to. The figure had its arms up in a cheering pose. The figure was pointing the way to safety. Yes, that has to be it.
I turned my head, looking in the direction of the forest. I could get up, I could run, maybe I could make it to a hospital, maybe not. If I was to die, I would make it a point to place Alexa someplace safe.
I started to crawl, one step after another, until I felt a pair of hands grip my throat. ‘This is bad.’ If my attacker was Claire, that meant whoever she was fighting had lost. I was going to die. “Please don’t hurt my baby.”
“Your baby?” the voice was female, but distorted as if she was speaking through a very old radio signal. Before I could scream, the hands moved to my mouth. “Don’t worry, Charli, you are not meant to die here.”
My body was frozen as the darkness filled my vision. I awoke inside of an airplane. The world seemed out of focus, slightly pixelated. All around me people were talking, their mouths and hands moving but instead of voices I heard radio static. The crackly sounds faded in and out. I could distinguish voices; men, women and children. And then the plane fell out of the sky.
First, we lost gravity. I was flung towards the ceiling. Crossing my hands over my chest, I realized I no longer held Alexa in my arms. ‘This is a dream,’ I recited over and over. ‘Don’t panic, you’re going to wake up.’
I could feel the impact. The plane landed nose first, shattering in to pieces. Bodies flew in every direction. This was followed by a rush of fire. I could feel heat, pain; so much pain, oh God, so much pain. Why wasn’t I dead? I could see the dead bodies, missing limbs, faces frozen in screams of pure terror.
‘Please God. I want to die.’
“What?” I awoke with Alexa in my arms, she was laughing. I was in a normal bed, my bed. I was back in Canada. “How?” My heart was racing. What if this was a dream? What if I was still falling?
“How about a thank you?” A female voice said with a giggle.
I wasn’t alone. I turned to see Alicia sitting cross-legged on my bed. Her long elegant, black waves were pulled back, in a high ponytail. She was wearing a plain black sports bra paired with metallic silver boxer shorts, as if she just came from a yoga class. “How did you get here?”
“I think you mean, ‘how did we’ get here.”
I noticed she was bouncing the baby on her lap. “Ok, we can start with a thank you.” I knew better then to reach for the baby. The moment was beautiful, sweet, and it belonged to her. “Thank you for saving me,” I paused, pursing my lips. “And your daughter.”
“You are very welcome.”
“Since I got the right answer, perhaps I can get some information.”
“Like what?” she asked, repositioning the baby in her arms.
“Was this a dream?
Alicia tilted her head like a confused doll. “Was what a dream?”
I was at a loss as to how to rephrase the question. “Did a plane go down? We can start with that.”
Alicia nodded. She pushed her tongue to the inside of her cheek. “I know it was a little harsh, but it was what needed to be done.”
She seemed to be at least somewhat ashamed. Now I needed to ask a question that would act as a guarantee to make me feel better. “Where’s your father?”
She rolled her eyes, holding the baby like a marionette. “Well, my father is dead.”
“You know that’s not true.”
For the first time, Alicia’s smile faded. “Are you serious?”
“Um, yeah,” she said in a condescending mean-girl tone. “The rich sugar daddy watching over you is not my father.”
“Why would you say that?
“He does not fully support my dreams.”
“Of world domination?”
She just shrugged. “I have big dreams, some, of which may come off as offensive to certain individuals.”
I had to admit her answer was more than reasonable, given the circumstances. “Are you taking the baby?” I asked, attempting to hide a tinge of fear.
“You couldn’t stop me,” Alicia replied rather casually. “But don’t worry, I want you to have her. I’ve seen how devoted you are; not everyone would be willing to use their body as a shield, some would just hurl an innocent baby to save their own ass.”
Thanks, I guess. “You’ve been watching me?”
“Yeah, of course. I’m never going to be out of sight.”
“Ok.” I sat up, realizing I was wearing just an oversized t-shirt. “I can live with that.” Did she take my clothes? “I mean, Alexa is your baby.”
“She is our baby,” Alicia replied, placing emphasis on the ‘our.’
“You and Vice?”
“Vice is no longer on this earth, as his spirit has ascended, leaving a trail of his power.” Alicia’s eyes did not blink even once. “I will use that trail to guide me.”
“To what end?”
Alicia giggled, placing the baby in my arms. Apparently, I had passed her test. she crawled closer to me, but before I could say anything, she kissed me on the lips. This was not just a brief kiss. No, this was a long, passionate moment that left me frozen in an expression of awe and confusion. I aim to resolve the greatest mystery of all time.”
“Resolve?” What did that even mean?
Alicia kissed my neck, whispering in my ear, “The highway of tears.”
“You plan on resolving the highway of tears?” The name referred to an area of Canada known for many, many deaths of first nation, native people. The majority of the cases were allowed to go cold simply because of the fact that natives (like Alicia herself) were treated like second-class citizens. I could only imagine what she had instore.
Alicia looked at me with a pouty lower lip. “Are you really saying you don’t want to have sex?” she asked in a baby-doll voice.
“I’m sorry, what? Are you getting turned on by Canada’s history of unsolved murder?”
Alicia smiled. She leaned back, finally taking the hint. “I have big plans. When this is all over, I will go down in history.”
For what? “Are you saying a passenger plane didn’t crash in upstate New York?”
Alicia sighed, pulling her knees to her chest. “That wasn’t me.”
“Then who was it; Vice, Claire?
“That,” she theatrically paused for dramatic effect. “That was an act of God.”
“An act of God?”
“Are you an echo cave?” she said with an air of sarcasm. Licking her lips, she closed her eyes, as if engaging in meditation. She was moaning, giggling,
I imagined she was visualizing the glory of her vision of ‘God.’
“Yes, I am speaking of the one true God, a force we cannot hope to best, equal or even fully understand but rest assured the passengers on that plane gave their lives willingly.”
Her words induced a gurgle of nausea. “I seriously doubt that.”
“Doubt all you want, just know in the end it’s only HE who matters.”
I wanted her to leave, even if that meant I had to play along. “What should I be doing?”
Alicia shrugged. “Keep your eyes on the news reports and stay out of my way.”
“Will do.” I gave my best, sincere smile with a hint of flirtation.
Alicia stood up, stretching her back and walked towards the door. “I will be using my newfound gifts, my rightful place in the animal kingdom, to avenge my people.” With that, she finally shut the door and left.
“Well, ok then.” Holding my baby in one arm, I went to my laptop to see what answers I could find. Was there a crash? Was anyone actually dead? And what about the high security mental hospital? I fully expected to find no evidence of the past few months, leading me to question my sanity. Thankfully, that was not the case.
I got all the answers I could, via the surface web. (No matter how curious I was, I was not about to allow my only laptop to be infected by the dark web.) According to an article on Yahoo News, an Alaska Airlines passenger jet crashed over upstate New York. Upon investigation of the radar, evidence was found that supported the theory that the billion-dollar jet simply dropped out of the sky. This was despite being fully fueled and operational.
“American and Canadian investigating authorities suspected human error. Yeah, that makes sense.” I nervously shook my leg, bouncing Alexa in my arms. “However, investigations are still ongoing.”
Alexa giggled, followed by a fart.
“Does someone need to be changed?” I hugged her little body, kissing her cheek. I was ready to stand up and go to the changing table when the current tab auto-reloaded.
It was a news article with a live feed of the hospital; long story short, it was still standing, but there was no mention of a certain tattoo artist getting attacked by a tall redhead. Now I was not entirely convinced that I had accidently accessed the dark web, but I yanked the cord just in case.
I walked to the nearby window, letting Alexa look out at the clear autumn day. It was beautiful, peaceful, but knowing what I knew, it felt wrong. Heaven and Hell were at war and I was at home in my underwear. Was I meant to stand by and watch?
That concept did make sense, on some level. Sane people don’t run headfirst into a burning building. Especially not when they’re holding a baby. Plus, after the dust settles, someone has to be alive to tell the story. Right?
That could be me.
It would be me. At least that’s what I could tell myself to relive the guilt over being an NPC in my own story.That moment didn’t last long.
I turned to my unplugged laptop to see a familiar text box. This wasn’t Facebook messenger or even Yahoo. This was an ancient AOL text prompt. In red was a username made from asterisks. ‘Hello? Can you hear me?’
It was then I realized that unplugging a laptop does not result in a complete loss of power. “Yeah, hi, who is this?”
‘Is anyone there? I see you on my radar.’
I moved my curser to the text area to type a reply. ‘Hi. Who is this?’ My letters were in black, flicking for a moment before a reply appeared.
‘Get away from the window.’ This caused me to drop to the floor. There were quite a few windows to choose from. In a matter of seconds, sunlight became more terrifying than any horror movie. Holding Alexa to my chest, I crawled as flat as I could until we made it to the windowless closet of my bedroom, shutting the door with my foot.
I leaned against the backwall, comforted by a layer of hanging fabric. I could feel the soft polyester blend of a dress brush against my cheek. It felt so soothing. I yanked the item down; it could probably prove useful in calming the baby, or myself. I sat in the darkness for what felt like hours, rocking back and forth on my legs, until my feet started to fall asleep.
Alexa whimpered. Her warm tears kissed my skin as she cuddled close.
“Are you hungry little one?” I asked in a whisper.
Alexa whimpered even harder, starting to sob.
I figured I could give her my nipple to keep her quiet; skin to skin contact, maternal comfort, and all that.
Without my phone or laptop, I had no way to know when it was safe to emerge from hiding. staying put was not a viable permanent long-term solution. I needed to be brave; I needed a weapon.
What did I even have on the floor of my closet? I reached around in the darkness, until I felt a force grab my wrist. Before I could scream, the figure made its presence known.
‘She’s trying to destroy me.’ The voice was a male presence; a spirit speaking directly into my mind.
I took a breath, focusing my mind. ‘Vice? Is that you?’
Vice spoke with a true sadness; the broken heart of a husband and father who had been robbed of everything he held dear. ‘She never wanted me. I know that now.’
I knew he was speaking of Claire.
‘I wish I knew that before I allowed her to take our daughter’s life.’
‘Did you find Annaleigh?’ I asked. Vice’s connection to his daughter seemed to be the last time he was mentally stable.
‘In the afterlife, I mean?’
‘I like to think she’s at peace, but Annaleigh’s not the one I can save.’
‘She wants the baby dead; she believes the folklore.’
‘The folklore?’ This was some Michael Myers crap; the idea that one bloodline needed to be completely erased.
‘The child of a demon and a whore will bring about the end of times. pretty fucked up if you ask me.’
‘So true.’ When I shifted Alexa in my arms, the voice suddenly went silent. Was that the last I’d see of Vice? I knew better then to think that. Part of me kind of missed him.
Outside the door I could hear footsteps, followed by low, melodic chanting. “Vice?” No, it couldn’t be. Unless I, too, was actually dead.
I slipped my hand into a shoe. It had a thick rubber sole, so I assumed I could use it as a shield if necessary (although I doubt it would save me from a bullet.) After slowly scooting myself to the door, I felt confident enough to take a glimpse outside.
There was silence. From the small crack I could see there was nothing broken or damaged (in the immediate area.) As I opened the door further, the outcome was like nothing I’d expected to find. “Hello?”
I emerged to the sight of Henry, and a crowd of other modified individuals kneeling before me. There were faces I recognized and others I did not.
“This isn’t happening.” It can’t be happening. There was no logical way for all of these people to be in my apartment, I would have noticed. I would have heard, or saw something. No, I was in the closet.
The people were of all trades, ages and ethnicities. As their mouths opened, all I could hear was a humming sound. This had to be a dream; a really weird, psychedelic dream.
From outside the window, I could hear a bombardment of sound, like a thunderstorm contained entirely around my apartment. A hail of (what I assumed were) bullets rained down, but the humming caused the solid projectiles to stop just short of my window. Instead, blood splattered like a water balloon.
“Ok, this is all ok.” I must have taken some sleeping meds, or cough medicine, or both. Yeah, that was it. I was going to wake up in the hotel, not even having visited Vice yet. All I had to was wake up. ‘WAKE UP!’
I turned to Henry, it took me a second, since instead of bowing like the rest, he was standing directly behind me. “Henry, what’s happening?”
“What do you want to happen?” He got down on one knee, reaching for my hand.
“I don’t know.”
As he kissed my fingers, his eyes rose, to meet mine. “Just know I have faith in you.”
He smiled, lowering his head as he laughed. “I’m already dead, there’s no place for me to go. Even knowing the path my daughter has taken, I have no dog left in the fight.”
I tried my best not to flinch, but his words made me feel strange. Taking a step to the side, I suddenly felt a rush of cold.
A young blonde girl stood up. She was angelic, pale, like a doll, but dressed like a typical college student. She wore an oversize blue letter jacket, t-shirt and jeans. “This is a place between worlds; a place where all answers lay waiting to be found.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Every mystery has a reasonable explanation.”
“A what?” I asked with a giggle. I’d watched enough true crime to know that wasn’t remotely true.
Her expression remained unchanged. “You can think what you want; live and die to your beliefs, your human version of faith.” She tilted her head, blinking her eyes. Her body started to fade, disappearing into a cloud of television static. “Just remember, it was not long ago when the most brilliant souls on this planet believed in magic.”
Once again, I laughed nervously, hoping to God I did not offend the ghost. “So, what do I do, then?”
The girl slowly reached out her hand. When her arm was at a ninety-degree angle, she dropped a digitized flower at my feet. “You were supposed to catch that,” she muttered as it floated down elegantly, carried by an unseen breeze.
As it floated closer, the flower took on the likeness of a typical dandelion. A stronger breeze entered the room, shooting like a bullet from a gun. This caused the snow-like petals to blow in all directions. It was actually kind of pretty. That was when I finally heard the screams.
Every sound that had been muted onboard the passenger plane was now surrounding me. Every death, every soul, their cries echoed through the particles; begging for their lives, begging for God’s mercy.
“Ok, thanks,” I blurted out quickly. The girl had vanished, but the rest of the crowd remained. The choice was mine; did I want to attempt to save hundreds of innocent lives or did I want to protect my daughter? Somehow Alicia, or Henry (or both) were going to take control of one or more airplanes, sending them crashing to the ground in tribute to the unsolved murders of the Highway of Tears. At least that’s what I assumed. For all I knew, I could be completely wrong.
Alexa looked at me with a giggle. “Ga?”
Aww, my precious little antichrist. “I love you too, my baby.”
Whatever I chose to do, it was painfully clear, I would not be waking up anytime soon.
next: Charmanderchar ch13