I opened my eyes to the darkness. All I knew for certain was that I wasn’t restrained and I was holding my shivering child in my arms.
“Papa, why does Mommy hate us?” Lucas asked.
“Mommy doesn’t hate us, she’s just upset at Olivia and Jamie.”
“Why did she tell Remy to leave us here?”
My mind started to drift. Jamie was Remy’s boyfriend, he saved Remy after he overdosed. Jamie was literally an angel who gave Remy a new lease on life, yet Remy stood with my wife Azzy and her terrifying cult. Maybe cult was too strong of a word. “Lucas, I need to ask you something.”
“Mommy told me that you were staying with Remy and Jamie while she was away on her special trips?”
Lucas nodded. “They were nice to me. I thought Remy was my friend.”
“So did I,” I said with a sigh. “So did I.” What happened between Remy and Jamie? Had they been fighting? or was Remy playing both sides?
I needed answers but first, I needed a way out of wherever the hell I was. In the distance, I could see a light source. As I stood up, carrying my son, a wave of long hair caressed my cheek.
I was frozen with fear until Lucas gave it a yank. “Papa your hair grew back!”
The pain in my scalp confirmed his observation. I had lost my hair to chemo and had been resided to the fact I would have to be donning a wig at my funeral, but now my hair was back, my muscle strength was back. Everything cancer had taken from me had been returned.
I could hear footsteps in the distance. Someone with a lantern was headed in my direction.
“You’re awake!” said a female voice. “Master Remy will be pleased.”
I followed the girl to a larger cave, lit with spotlights, candles, and even a few colorful LEDs. From the many projects scattered about it was clear, this was Remy’s studio, possibly also his current living space.
“Johnny, welcome!” he said from inside a hammock resting on two stalagmites.
Although I had Lucas in my arms I walked over to him and with my free arm, flipped him onto the hard stone floor.
“Ow,” Remy landed with a smack. “Was that necessary?”
“Yes, ’cause you’re a meanie!” Lucas cried.
“Hi, Lucas, I have your sketchbook,” Remy said as he reached for a notebook on a stone side table. Lucas flailed in my arms, kicking Remy in the face as he forced himself out of my grip.
“I hate you, Remy, you’re not my friend!” he grabbed his book and ran back to my side.
Remy gripped his head, “To be fair, I guess I owe you guys an explanation.”
Remy stood up and brushed off the dust from his sweatpants. “You may have noticed how much better you look and feel, after your run in with the angels.”
“Azzy knew that would happen, it’s why she let them take you.”
“Is my wife at war with God?”
“War is a strong word, I would call it more of a disagreement. He wants her to put a stop to her research.”
“Why? Is she going to open the gates of hell or something?”
“Who knows,” he replied with a shrug. “That information is above my pay grade.”
“Well, what do you know? Are Olivia and Jamie still alive? Do you even care?”
“Jamie is an overpowered jack-off, of an angel and Olivia is his #1 fan. They probably escaped the fire just fine. But you’re right, I honestly don’t care.”
My mouth fell open with a sudden realization. “Did Jamie dump you for Olivia?”
“Screw you, man! What’s happening right now is bigger than my goddamned love life. What Azzy has, the power she created – what are the odds the angels have something similar?”
“A heavenly caterpillar made of human limbs?” I asked with a raised eyebrow.
“A coalition,” my wife’s voice echoed through the darkness, as she entered Remy’s studio space. As she stepped into the light her eyes sparkled with the same innocence I fell in love with. “Johnny you look amazing!” She ran to me and cupped my face.
“Am I cured?”
“Unfortunately no,” she said as she stroked my cheek. “But this body, this beauty, and strength is the form you will take when you cross over.”
“Cross… over?” The words choked in my throat.
“The collation wants you, so I let them purify your body- since my cure did not seem to be working. But don’t worry, my love. Once they’re defeated, once I claim victory over all creation- I will have the power to save you.”
“I’m still sick?” Although selfish, that was all my mind could focus on.
“But you’re strong,” Azzy said as she held my hand. “And together we’re unstoppable.” With her free hand, she reached under her shirt to reveal a golden flask. “Try this.”
“What is it?”
“The next phase of my miracle serum,” Azzy said with a cheerful smile.
Lucas looked over with bright eyes. “Can I try some, Mommy?”
Azzy paused and bit her lip, but her smile quickly resumed. “Sure, we can all have some. It will probably make you big and strong.”
Before I could respond, Lucas grabbed the flask and took a long gulp. “Yummy! It tastes like Redbull!”
Azzy glared in Remy’s direction. “Why does my three-year-old know about Redbull?”
They were laughing but my focus was on Lucas’s now jet black eyes. “Owie!” he cried as his back started to spasm. Lucas’s wings erupted from his back with such force they tore through his shirt.
I grabbed the flask from him, fully intending to pour it out. But Lucas wasn’t in pain, he was giggling with delight. I poured a few drops on my palm. The dark liquid sparkled with an enchanting glow. But within seconds, it started to evaporate into a series of white clouds: clouds that were screaming with human voices. “Um, Azzy?”
Remy took the flask and took a swig. “It does taste like Redbull.”
“Azzy!” I shouted. “I want the truth- what is this?”
Azzy’s smile faded. “For you, it’s a temporary solution to your illness and a way for you to prove where your loyalties lie. Do you trust me?”
“Fine, yes, I trust you. But first, I want to know the truth.” I turned to Remy. “What happened between you and Jamie?”
Remy put the flask down on a nearby table and rolled his neck until we heard a pop. “Oh, that feels good.” He took a breath and sighed. “The truth? I caught him making out with Olivia. So I got drunk, maybe a little high and… I cheated.”
“You cheated on Jamie?”
“Jamie told me that Olivia kissed him. And he…”
“He let did nothing to stop her. Jamie claimed it was all a big misunderstanding, he said he loved me. So I came clean and told him about the three-way I had in a Motel 6: apparently, that was not something he could find it in his heart to forgive.”
Lucas looked at me with his large black eyes. “Papa, what’s a three-way.”
Azzy exploded into laughter. “Sweetie, a three-way is when someone finds two new friends to play with, and that causes the old friend to get mad.”
“Oh,” Lucas said with a nod. “And that’s why Remy and I had to live in a van?”
“A trailer!” Remy added. “Lucas and I lived in a trailer, not a van.”
“Auntie Livy asked if I wanted to stay at the house with her and Jamie. But Remy said he would take me on an adventure we went to the waterpark, to Chicago, and even Mall of America! I watched Remy paint huge pictures; the people were always so happy!” Lucas ran to Remy’s side. Apparently, they were friends again.
My son’s happiness was all the assurance I needed; team Azzy was not evil, she just made a discovery. She was a scientist, a revolutionary. And maybe she was right when the dust finally settles and she’s queen of all creation, she’ll make the world a better place. “Bottoms up.”
I took a long drink until I started to hear strange whispers. A ghostly voice echoed in my head, “… the hallway… the door.”
I looked at Azzy. “What hallway did you come down?”
“I came from the lab,” she said with a slight motion towards the direction of the caterpillar’s lair.
My body started to run. Whatever was now inside me knew exactly where to go. I ran to a rusty metal door that seemed to blend in with the came wall.
“Johnny don’t!” Azzy screamed from several feet away. “I can explain.”
I opened the door to the sight of Jamie’s headless body (wings and all) strung up like a slaughtered farm animal. His blood was being collected in a bucket: blood that sparkled with an enchanting glow.