Upon finding Jamie’s headless body being drained of blood, I knew I had to get the hell out of there.
Azzy grabbed my arm. “Please, Johnny, this isn’t what it looks like.” Her long black hair framed her delicate features.
“It looks like you killed an angel, strung him and collected his blood.” I pushed her away and reached for my son. But the little boy clung to Azzy’s side.
“I’m staying with Mommy and Remy!” he shouted his black demonic eyes growing larger on his cherub face.
Remy, my wife’s bodyguard, and childhood friend, the long-haired artist had a look of concern. Perhaps even sympathy. “Lucas, maybe you should go with your dad.”
“No, you’re my real dad!”
Now Remy looked nervous, possibly ashamed. “Um, who told you that?”
“When we were in Minnesota and you were smoking your special medicine with those girls, I heard you tell them! Don’t lie, I know it’s true! Remy, you’re special in the same way Mommy is special- you have real magic, real powers- Papa is just,” Lucas looked straight at me, “Human.” The word rolled off his tongue with a demonic hiss.
He wasn’t wrong. The only reason Azzy had been able to get pregnant was that Remy sexually assaulted her when they were both very intoxicated. I could remember a time when she resented him but now she stood by his side with THEIR son.
Remy shook his head. “Give Azzy a chance to explain herself. Then if you want to leave no one will stop you.”
Azzy shot him a look, she was clearly not okay with this compromise.
Remy stood strong. “What happened after I left with Lucas and Johnny?”
“Jamie offered himself as a sacrifice,” she muttered.
Remy appeared genuinely shocked. “What exactly did he say?”
“His forces were outnumbered, and after only a few minutes we had killed so many. Jamie offered a surrender in exchange for a sacrifice.”
Jamie’s voice echoed in my head. “Ask about my last words.”
“What were his last words?” I asked Azzy. “I want the truth!”
“He said to tell Remy he was sorry; sorry for not forgiving you when he should have.”
Remy cupped his hand over his mouth as tears filled his eyes.
“He said all you ever wanted was a friend and he should never have turned his back on you. He said he never stopped loving you.”
Remy now had a look of horror which was reasonable since Jamie’s corpse was still hanging right in front of us.
Lucas put his arms around Remy. “We’ll be your friends! Me, Mommy and maybe even Papa!”
“No…” Remy made the sight of the cross over his chest, causing a portal to open behind Jamie’s body. “Johnny is human, he’s too pure of heart for the likes of us.” He raised one hand, and as he did, and energy blast shoved me and Jamie through the portal.
We landed back in Heaven, North Dakota or what remained of it. The church was practically destroyed but I knew that was where Jamie would want to be laid to rest. “I wonder what happens to angels when they die?” I said out loud as I started to dig through the rubble until I found a place to lay Jamie’s body. “A while back you told me your mother died of cancer; she was called back to the head office.”
“True,” said Jamie’s voice.
I looked at the body but the voice was coming from a glowing piece of stained glass attached to one of the few standing walls.
“Angels live on Earth, like God’s national guard, but spirits are like the energy; they do the work you can’t see.”
“From the head office.”
“I’m headed there soon. I just wanted to stop by to thank you for giving my body a proper burial.”
“No problem, you were always a good friend. But before you go- do you know what happened to Olivia?”
“Your sister is alive; that was part of the deal of surrender; she was allowed to leave. She didn’t want to, of course, but I told her to. You can find her at a diner about twenty miles north of here.”
With that, the light faded. “Goodbye Jamie.” Now, how the heck was I to walk twenty miles in the North Dakota summer heat?
It took me a few hours to find the diner but I knew it right away. ‘Ella’s‘ a small red building with gold trim- like a Chinese restaurant. It was as if Olivia had designed the place.
I opened the door to find a girl with Olivia’s face, hair and more importantly, peeking out from under her long-sleeved uniform shirt was Olivia’s golden prosthetic arm. “Welcome,” she said, “Table for one?”
Remy cleared his throat. He was sitting alone at a corner booth. “He’s with me.” He tapped his chest, motioning for me to look at Olivia’s name tag.
Her name was Ella? Was this her Diner? I had so many questions but my legs were killing me so I took a seat opposite Remy. “Thanks, man.”
Olivia/Ella dropped a menu in front of me before making a snort as she turned away.
“So what are you doing here, Remy?” I asked from behind my menu. I’m not sure who I thought I was hiding from, the dining room was empty. “Where are Azzy and Lucas?”
“Back in the caves, I guess. I kinda walked out on them.”
“Oh, great,” I said with a sigh. I had been upset, but the fact that Remy was with them, taking on the role of a father figure, it gave me a sense of hope.
“I needed to find you, to tell you my plan.” Remy leaned in close. “We need to release the caterpillar.”
“Releasing a massive daisy chain of captured souls; what would that accomplish exactly?”
“It would strip Azzy and her forces of their powers. I mean, think about it- that was the only reason they were able to defeat Jamie; her army draws power directly from the caterpillar, though whatever contraption Azzy is using to keep it contained. We free it, they all become normal foot-soldiers.”
“What about…” I motioned at Ella/Olivia. “What’s the story?”
“I’d say Jamie wiped her memory, maybe gave her one last dose of his powers to start a new life.”
“I can hear you,” Ella said as she approached. “And as usual, Remy, you are a complete idiot!”
“Olivia!” I pulled her close to take a seat. “I was so scared.”
“As scared as I was when an army of demons, kidnapped my sick brother and little nephew? – All before beheading one of my best friends?” she asked, with a fake smile and trembling hands.
Remy only chuckled. “So, how did you get the diner?”
“Jamie’s last gift; he infused my arm with his magic. All I had to do was find an abandoned building to take shelter in. Here, I’m Ella; I waitress, cook, clean,” she picked up a sharp knife, stabbing it into the table. “And I can make a mean chopped salad.”
“Hey, relax,” I said as I grabbed her wrist. “We’re all in this together.”
“Like hell we are,” Olivia rolled her eyes. “How do we know boy-toy over here is not a double agent, he could be wearing some sort of black magic transmission device and whatever we’re planning will go straight to Azzy.”
“I thought you’d say that, so I brought a peace offering. Remy pulled what appeared to be a stick from his hair. It was a wooden paintbrush, possibly handmade. “This is our key to sneaking into the caterpillar’s lair.”
I picked up the brush, stroking the strange wooden handle. I looked at Remy as I stabbed my fingernail into the wood.
“Ow,” Remy flinched in pain as if something had poked him in the neck.
“That’s what I thought,” I said as I placed the brush down gently. “This brush contains the remains of your powers.”
“As you may recall, I gave up my clan’s soul collection in exchange for my humanity.” Remy paused to light a cigarette. “For all the good that did.”
“Whose hair is that?” Olivia asked, petting the bristles of the brush.
“How?” I asked. “I thought your mother died when you were born?”
“My demon father cut me from her body. But before he devoured her flesh he removed her head and kept it around as a trophy of sorts.” Remy took a long drag from what I now know, from the smell, was a marijuana cigarette. “When I was six I stole a chunk of her hair. I kept it in a locket, then when I was old enough to move to California I found the prettiest branch and made it into a brush.”
Olivia was smiling. “That’s really sweet. Was your mother an artist?”
Remy shrugged. “Maybe someday I’ll find out.”
“When do we ride?” I asked.
Olivia chuckled. “Ride? What are we, a biker gang?”
Remy put out his cigarette into the palm of his hand causing a sun-like black tribal tattoo to form from the wound. “Whenever you two are ready.” The black lines covered his fingers and wrist like tentacles. When he picked up the brush, the bristles became animated, as if filling with living ink.
“I’m ready right now.” Olivia waved her arm, causing the diner to vanish. A cloud of golden energy returned to her arm resulting in an ethereal glow.
I was now sitting on a rock what used to be a chair. “Must be nice having powers.”
“You have powers,” Olivia said in a condescending tone.
“From the baptism waters- when you saw Mom and Dad.”
“I have my muscles, I have my hair, despite the fact that I, apparently, still have cancer. If I also have hidden superpowers I’m going to need a little help…” The words barely had the chance to leave my lips, as I felt a massive weight on my back. “What’s happening?” I couldn’t stand up, it was as if I was being crushed.
I felt Remy grab my left hand and Olivia grab my right. With their powers coursing through my body I felt like a marionette puppet. Their energy was pulling my body into a comfortable kneeling position, but I was unable to turn my head.
“So,” I heard Oliva mutter, “Any ideas, Remy?”
The weight on my back was getting larger, it was orb shaped so now I was starting to feel like a greek statue of Atlas holding up the world.
“I think we just need to go for it,” Remy replied. “On the count of three; one… two…”
I really wished I could see what they were talking about.
On three, I was pulled backward into the massive weight, which was apparently a portal. All three of us landed in the caves at the base of the caterpillar’s lair.
Olivia helped me to my feet, “That thing is the size of the Great Wall of China.”
“What was on my back?” I asked with a pain-stricken groan.
“A portal, that’s how we got here.”
“I know but why was it in the shape of a ball and why did it feel like it was trying to crush me? Is this my superpowers?”
“More likely Jamie’s power,” Remy explained. He was stroking his hand along the metal cage that held together Azzy’s ‘caterpillar blood’ siphoning system. “He has a master plan and we are just pawns.” Remy’s voice seemed strangely distant.
“Pawns?” Olivia laughed. “Speak for yourself, I’m a queen or at least a knight.”
The room trembled with the pain of a million souls. I could feel the temperature drop. “We can’t release the caterpillar. This thing is pure energy it could destroy a city maybe even a country.” I could see a wall of limbs; arms, legs, even a few torsos, and heads- but they were all writhing in agony. The sound it was making was a ghostly howl of pure anger. The caterpillar was hell itself. “Remy we can’t do this!”
Remy was painting. With his magic brush, he drew a series of lines that glowed with the fire of the sun.
“He’s breaking the cage!” I shouted.
Olivia grabbed Remy’s torso.
I went for the brush, ripping it from his hand. “What have you done?”
“I did what was necessary,” his voice quivered. “I did what Jamie would have wanted me to do.”
The room started to shake as the mass of souls struggled to separate and escape. There was nowhere to run, we needed a portal- fast. I closed my eyes to try to summon one when suddenly I felt a hand on my shoulder. “Come back to us.”
“Azzy?” I opened my eyes to see my wife standing inside the safety of a portal. Behind her was her army. Men and women raised their hands and began to s**k and pull in the escaping souls, like an army of vacuums.
“Come to us, my husband, my love.” Her soft hands caressed my face.
“No!” shouted Olivia. I turned to see my sister with her glowing arm, standing with an army of angels. “Choose a side brother, this is where it all ends.”