“We all float down here,” those words convince a child to trust a sewer-dwelling clown. As far as I know, anyway I’ve never been partial to horror movies. Especially since I’ve been living one for the past five years.
All I know is my husband’s company motto sounds creepily similar. “Sky Turtle Tours: We all fly up here.” Even our kindergarten-age son.
I sat at the register of the gift shop, baking alive in the Arizona heat. I was given a fan, but I always tried to conserve power from the generator.
I heard the sound of a flock of crows getting spooked from the perch. That could only mean one thing; Isaiah’s plane was back. I wanted to rush out into his arms, to hold him close like I used to. But I knew better than to leave the shop.
She was watching, she was always watching.
The bell on the door rang as my little son ran in. “Mama, we’re back!”
I put on my cartoonishly enthusiastic smile. “Oh, Matty! I’ve missed you so much.” I hugged him, already knowing what I would find. The bones in his back were still mutating. He was growing wings, just like his daddy.
The door chimed again, as my husband entered.
“Isaiah!” I stood up to greet my stunning, beautiful husband.
His hair was black with hints of purple and blue, betraying his non-human ethnicity. Isaiah pulled his waist-length cornrow braids into a ponytail, as he wiped the sweat from his neck. “Beautiful day for flying.” Isaiah spoke with what could only be described as a ‘surfer’ accent, like someone accustomed to smoking weed on the beaches of California (or Hawaii.)
The average desert resident always assumed that he was Navajo or perhaps even Apache. His once olive skin had turned a deep tan in the Arizona sun, giving him a native American look, possibly bi-racial African American (especially when he wore his hair in braids.) But the truth was more than anyone could comprehend.
Back in Hawaii, his appearance hinted more towards Greek or Italian ancestry. He had the face of an angel and the body of a Greek statue. Apparently, that’s just what Oceanic sea-gods look like when they take human form. (His real form was another story.)
Isaiah stood in the doorway, with his usual s**y smile. His metallic, mermaid hair shimmering in the light of the setting sun.
“You’re leaving again?” I assumed since my husband made no effort to come inside.
He big his lip, hanging his head with a guilty expression. “Yeah, sorry, babe, I got a late-night run. I’m going to need you to close up shop and watch Matty for a while.”
“Close the shop?” I asked. We rarely got much walk-in traffic. To ‘close up shop’ meant that we needed the protection.
“The job’s a flight out of Vegas, I don’t imagine they’ll be much interest in postcards and cold drinks.” He chuckled as if it was a joke.
But I read between the lines. “Las Vegas?” This wasn’t a tour.
“Yeah, Babe, hence why Matty can’t come.”
Matty pouted his lower lip. “You never let me go to Las Vegas.” All Matty knew of the city was what he saw in postcards and picture books; Las Vegas was magical sparkling land of neon lights and rollercoasters that wrapped around buildings.
Isaiah took a step closer, patting him on the head. “Maybe when you’re older. Wouldn’t want you picking up bad habits.”
Matty turned to his father giving him an emotional hug. “But I’ll miss you.”
Isaiah ruffled Matty’s hair. “You be good to your Mama. Ok?”
Matty nodded, looking down at his feet. “Yes, Papa.”
I came forward to retrieve my son, “I have some school work for him to complete. Have fun in Las Vegas, my love.”
Isaiah kissed my cheek and turned to leave, causing the bells to chime once again.
Matty squirmed out of my arms running for the door. “I wanna watch Daddy’s plane!”
“No!” I gripped him harder than I should have.
Matty cried out in pain. “I can fly but I can’t watch? Why?”
The fact that Matty was half-human, gave me some semblance of hope. I wanted to hold on to that hope for as long as possible. “Go to your room, now!” I knew Isaiah was already gone. And even if he was close enough to hear his son’s cries, he would be too far into the take-off process to rush to his son’s aid.
But you’re probably thinking; how does a pilot (of any size aircraft) take off and get airborne that fast?
The inside of the plane looked like a typical aircraft; if it was for a tour it looked like a tour plane if it was a sky diving trip, it looked like a sky diving plane; nothing out of the ordinary. Until it took to the sky, then it looked like what could only be described as…
She was watching me, waiting, plotting. It took me a few years but I think I’m finally ready to face her. Just not when I also have to protect my family. “Matty, I’m sorry for yelling.”
My son was frozen in place, with tears streaming down his face. He tried to reply but it came out as nothing more than a blubbering sob.
“Come on, sweetie, let’s go upstairs, I’ll make you some cocoa while you work on your spelling book.”
Matty wiped tears from his eyes. “Up-up?”
“Sure.” I carried him as I did all of my closing activities. Although he was the size of a normal child, he was abnormally light, like a bird.
I got him to his room in our upstairs apartment. He agreed to be locked in his windowless space with a cup of cocoa and his books, as long as I promised that Daddy would say hello when he came home.
“I tell him, Matty,” I said as I closed the door. “I promise.”
I took a seat by the window, waiting for my husband to return. I dared not sleep in our bed without him present.
That’s just how it was, and how it always would be.
Kaylinani was winning.
I fell asleep on the windowsill, for as long as my mind would allow. The space was wide enough to comfortably sit with my knees pulled to my chest. I did not dream, so the time seemed to pass in an instant. The moon was still high in the sky when two strong arms lifted me. “Isaiah?”
“Yeah, babe, it’s me.” He placed me on the bed and started to undress, removing his stained t-shirt.
That’s how screwed up my mind was. While being presented with my beautiful husband with his perfect, slender muscular body, all I could see was the t-shirt. Was that blood? Again? “You should take a shower and give Matty a kiss goodnight.”
Isaiah shrugged. “Sure thing, Elena.”
I could read the disappointment on his face. “I love you.”
“I love you too.” Isaiah brushed a lock of hair from my cheek and did as I asked.
I was alone to plot my next move.
Kaylinani was here.
I went outside to the plane. It was back in its normal form. I walked up to it, placing a hand upon its nose like that scene in Matty’s favorite movie about Vikings and dragons. “I know you’re there.”
Do you now? If I still had a mouth, I’d be laughing at how ridiculous you look.
I knew she had done plenty within the limits of her current form. Somehow she was the reason Isaiah stopped helping people. Years ago, he grew food and medicine in the desert. He had followers, people who wanted him to stay. Somehow she destroyed them all. “Please, stop.”
I’m not doing anything, I’m just an airplane that, apparently, has a voice that only you can hear. What do I even sound like?
“I-I don’t know.” In all honesty, she sounded digital, like a mix of every female accent asking you to ‘push a button to make a selection.’ Perhaps she was digital; that’s how she got them to leave, by making the warning sound official.
You don’t know? Learn how to make a f*****g decision.
“Like Isaiah did?” Isaiah made a decision when he killed her to save me. He also made the decision to keep his sister’s dead remains around and forge a plane.
Remains? I am NOT dead remains: I am his sister. I was always the stronger one.
Isaiah adored the fact that his plane retained his sister’s shapeshifting power. But never did he realize what that truly entailed; it meant she was in control, and she has been for years.
“Please don’t hurt him.”
Oh, I wouldn’t hurt my sweet, darling, Isaiah. I only want what’s best for him; to return to the sea with the rest of his kind. And once the police realize what your little ‘tour facility’ actually does he will be escorted back home by force.
A blot of lighting echoed across the night sky.
You’re the only one hurting him.
“You’re wrong.” I went back inside, up the stairs to check on my family. I opened the door to the sight of Matty asleep in my bed, resting in Isaiah’s arms. He was a good father, a good man. Even if he was- what he used to be. This was my husband and that was all that mattered. I wanted so badly to lie beside my family and go to sleep. But I needed to find the bodies before sunrise.
“What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” Lucky for me, Isaiah (or more likely his sister) kept to one of three possible flight patterns, when headed in the direction of Nevada. After so many years, I had it down to a science.
I put on my black-holographic riding gear and headed to the basement garage for my bike. Isaiah knew about my retro Harley Davidson motorcycle. He just assumed I bought it to go into town on occasion.
Isaiah still kept his surfboard and his art supplies, even though it’d been years since he last painted. And when he last surfed; a lifetime ago. He had his passions, and I had mine. I also made sure to remove the odometer before I brought it home from the Craigslist seller in Utah.
I filled my tank from my gasoline stash and rode into the desert. I had a system in place; I followed the tracks of scavengers and predators; birds, lizards, wolves, even bugs. No matter what direction Isaiah and his sister headed, the flightpath always started in the same place.
From there I would always find a clue; a follower still loyal to my family even after all his human worshipers went extinct.
And once I found a body, I took only what I needed. My first stop was a pile of rattlesnakes. They shimmered in the moonlight, beckoning me. I parked my bike.
They approached. “Elena! Elena! Come to us!” Even with their low hissing voices, their chanting was more of a cheer than a threat. “We have a gift for you, dear Queen!”
The remaining snakes parted like a viscous liquid, top reveal a body. It was a male in a suit. I approached the figure, turning his face to examine his eyes. The man was no older than thirty; strong, wise but still nice and fresh. I pulled out my pocket knife, it was a simple foldable blade that I ordered from online shop. Its faux-wood cover seemed to shimmer like glass, as I made my first cut.
I needed the eyes. They always came out easily. Popping like a stress toy, the squish was so satisfying. I tossed the eyes to a nearby snake who gulped them down like candy. It was actually kind of adorable. Now it was time for my treat. I took a handful of sand, pouring it into the bloody sockets. “Some say the eyes are the window to the soul.” And they’re just as easy to remove. That’s what I was; a burglar coming in through a window.
“You are so funny, dear Queen. We truly love and appreciate you.” The sound of their voices was like harp music; stoking my fire, soothing my soul.
I placed my hands over the eye sockets of the corpse and began to remove the sand. I start by stroking the face. And then, ‘something else’ does the rest.
The first time it happened, was an accident. I had been trying to destroy the bodies, cutting off pieces to feed the animals and replacing said pieces with rocks and sand. I’d been sobbing, gripping my stomach in pain (since I was six months pregnant at the time.) That was when I heard the singing.
“Searching for the king, searching for the king, we angels of the fire, we are searching for the king.” Birds, snakes, buzzing insects; their voices sounded like wind chimes, echoing in my head.
A wolf approached me and gave me a quick lesson. All I had to do was stroke the face. the sand would come to me. But when my hands were covered in the dry material I, of course, needed someplace to collect it. The wolf presented me with a beautiful beaded leather bag, a relic that has never left my side.
Back to tonight. I asked the snakes, how many bodies I could expect to find.
“SSSSeven have fallen from the sky,” one snake said. Judging by its metallic coloring it appeared to be the leader of its clan.
“Seven? Wow, this is going to be a long night.” I closed my eyes to focus. If I did the ritual correctly the now sparkly silver sand would stick to my hands like one of those magnet toys. Once I felt the weight of the material, I could wipe it off, into my saddlebag. The remaining corpse would be smoky, with meat that was fall-off-the-bone tender. And the animals would be ever so grateful.
I located the next six bodies easily, each time I looked for the feeding frenzy. At the seventh body was covered in shimmery scorpions. From a distance, they looked like glittery jewels of sand.
But up close it was a little terrifying. In all the years I’d been collecting sand, I’d never been aided by a scorpion clan of this size.
The animals parted, giving me room to extract the soul sand. But that action resulted in them forming a C-shaped wall that threatened to collapse on me. My heart pounding but I was on a time crunch. I had to trust that they wouldn’t hurt me.
With my blade in my left hand, I placed my empty dominant hand on the chest of the corpse. “D-Do I have permission?”
“Yes of course!” The little scorpion voices scowled. “We just want to see!”
I carefully removed the eyes, by stabbing then twisting and pulling. I moved slowly, careful to not harm and of my ‘audience.’
When I was done, I made my way back to my bike. In my exhaustion, I paused for a moment to take a breath.
That was when I heard a small voice. “Your majesty!”
I looked down to see a scorpion holding a blue pebble in its claw. “A gift- for you!”
I paused, knowing better than to accept a gift without asking the proper question. “What do you seek in exchange?”
“Only safe passage to visit the King. To gain his favor.”
“Sure,” I said, picking up the bug and tossing him (I assumed it was him) into my bag atop of the ‘soul’ sand. It would be a comfortable ride, and I urgently needed to get home.
We rode back to Sky Turtle tours just in time to see the sun just starting to rise. “F**k!” I started to panic, driving faster. I was barely able to stop my bike, choosing to let it fall to the ground as I opened the door and ran up the stairs.
The sun was the ‘active’ ingredient. I had only moments to dispense the contents of my bag. I threw it on to the bed, making sure to shake out every last grain before laying myself down next to my son, sandwiching him between myself and Isaiah. The sand dissipated like water into steam.
“Thank, God,” I moaned as I closed my eyes and fell asleep. Even if I did have to awaken in a few hours to open the store I figured I could survive on coffee and the occasional nap at the register. By the time I’d awoken the blinding light of the desert sun, it was nearly nine, and I’d completely forgot about the scorpion.
“Mama?” Matty shook my arm. “Look what I found!” The scorpion was resting comfortably on his shoulder. I was surprised by the insect’s calm nature but even more surprised by the little guy’s holographic coloring.
I had assumed its color has been the result of the desert moonlight. “Who is this cute little guy?”
“This is Lenny!”
“Why hello, Lenny.” I wanted to ask the meaning behind the name. Did my son make it up or did the creature speak to him?
“Papa made breakfast, and then we’re going to Utah!”
“Utah? That sounds like fun.” I went downstairs to speak with my husband.
Isaiah looked undeniably s**y, wearing only sweatpants while preparing a breakfast of coffee and Pop-tarts. “Good morning, Babe.”
“Good morning, my love.” I took a sip of his mug in exchange for a kiss.
“I got a short run from Utah to Arizona, I figured I’d take Matty along, give you a chance to get some sleep.”
“Thank you.” Over breakfast, I packed them a cooler of snacks; water, isotonic drinks, chips, and cookies. Mostly snacks, since I knew they would eat a proper meal and refuel when they reached their destination.
“Can I bring Lenny?” Matty asked, looking up at his father with innocent eyes.
“I think we should leave Lenny with Mama. He might not be too happy up in the sky.”
“No, I think he’ll be just fine.” This would be the first time an animal rode in the ‘aircraft.’ I was a little curious as to the result. It could be uneventful or it could be the secret weapon I had been looking for. “Let me just give it a kiss for luck.”
“Ok!” Matty placed the scorpion in my open palm. As expected, it did nothing more then look around with child-like curiosity. “Kiss Mama goodbye!”
“Such a beautiful creature,” I said with a smile. “You will be my little spy.”
Lenny appeared to nod.
With any luck, I will find a way to destroy Kaylinani once and for all.
I looked at Isaiah, with passion in my heart and a sparkle in my eye. “Lenny seems well behaved for a scorpion. See for yourself.”
My husband reached opened his hand to receive the scorpion. “Did it just bow?”
“It is a special creature, I have a feeling it will bring you luck on your journey.”
Isaiah smiled his s**y smile and laughed.
“Mine!” Matty reached for the bug. His fast grabbing caused the scorpion to get knocked off Isaiah’s hand, falling to the floor.
Lenny’s jewel-like body suddenly had beetle-like wings. He fluttered back to Matty, resting on his shoulder.
Matty squealed with delight. “I wanna show Lenny the inside of the plane!” He ran off before Isaiah had a chance to react.
Isaiah kissed my cheek. “I guess we’d better get going.”
“Yeah, you better.” I walked outside with him, watching the plane take off.
The landing gear acted like legs, with muscles and joints. Instead of rolling it ran, leaping into the air like a gymnast.
That should have been my first clue: she was showing off.
A few seconds passed. My focus was broken by the beep of the phone. Our landline was a later 90’d model phone. I picked up the candy-bar shaped device. “Hello?”
Static screeched in my ear, followed by a message in a series of digital voices, “Do you know the story of the scorpion and the frog?”
“Don’t trust those who will only break your heart.”- dial tone.
I heard an explosion. It sounded far off, high in the sky, but somehow the force was close enough to shake the building.
I ran outside looking for the source, and I felt ash. My husband’s plane was in view. The engine had just blown up and was raining down a cloud of black ash.
I saw the plane go down.
I saw the fire.
I needed to scream but no air would enter my lungs. I ran back inside, slamming the door behind me. “Oh, God!” I cupped my hands over my mouth rocking back and forth as I sobbed. I don’t know what to do. The phone rang again.
Once, then twice, eventually it went to voicemail. It was the same static, screech, “Here at Sky turtle tours, we all fly and we all fall.”
I ran to my bike, not even bothering to fill up the tank. I needed to get to the crash. Maybe they were still alive. Maybe I could find them. I just needed to find something, anything.
I drove in the direction of the billowing smoke. I didn’t call 911, although I’m sure some of my neighbors did. The fire department couldn’t save my family, the most they could do was steal (archive) whatever clues remained.
When I reached the scene of the crash all I could find were pieces; chunks of what used to be my husband’s plane, covered in a cloud of grey dust. It was like I’d stumbled upon an ancient civilization.
Where was my husband? Where was my son? Where was- “Lenny!”
The scorpion’s metallic body shimmered like a beacon in the wreckage. He seemed confused, scurrying around in a panic. “Y-Your-high–ness?”
I cupped my hands lifting the creature to eye level. “Lenny, what happened?”
Upon looking into my eyes, the scorpion emitted only static. “Plea-ea-se–H-Hel-p–m-me.”
“Where are Isaiah and Matty?”
“g-o–ne… is gone.”
“D-don’t think so.”
“What did you see?”
“Did you do this?”
“N-no…” Lenny seemed saddened that I would even suggest such a thing. “They; everyone. Too-ok.”
“Someone took my family?”
“They… so many. Fish in the sky.”
“Fish in the sky?” I really had no choice but to believe him. “Did these fish take the plane down?”
The scorpion did a longbow, which I chose to interpret as a nod. “Where the f**k do we go from here?” I had my bike, the contents of the shop (food, water, a place to sleep.)
Hopefully, some of my other animal friends would have answers.
To be continued…