For the record, my name is Johnathan Phoenix Desilva, and, as of December 24th, I’m thirty-one-years-old. I only say that part because I feel like my age justifies how, ‘off’ I feel.
New Year’s day I proposed to my longtime girlfriend, Jenessa ‘Jen’ Quinto-Foster. I should not have been as scared as I was. everyone present knew what I was going to do. Maybe that’s why. I asked her, in front of an audience of family, friends and my ex-wife.
Ok, that will require an explanation. You see, our family tree is kinda twisted into a knot. My first wife, Sara Foster was the sister of Jen’s late husband Sean Foster.
Sean was my friend. He truly cared about me and tried to warn me about my drug addict cousin’s blatant attempt to break up my marriage. He was a good man, too good for this world.
“And too good to take my meds correctly.” The words appeared on my screen.
“I’m sorry, what?”
“Turn around.” Again, the words appeared on the screen as if I was in a chatroom. I almost didn’t want to see who or what was behind me.
Sean died in his mid-twenties. Even at the time of his death, the guy had long blonde surfer hair and a muscular 6’2″ build. He worked as a model, and if it wasn’t for being born with Cystic Fibrosis he probably still would be.
I stared for a moment, awestruck at the figure before me: it was Sean.
“Just use speech to text.” Sean’s voice was the same as it was in life; calm, casual, cool. “And stop describing me, it’s creepy.”
“Says the ghost.”
“Excuse you,” Sean said in a mocking tone. He flexed his back, causing massive white wings to erupt from his back.
“Ok, you’re not a ghost, you’re an angel. Why are you here? You died five years ago. I kinda thought you crossed over.”
“You’re about to marry my wife, the mother of my child. I know that’s why you’re writing this.”
“So, you came back to give me a lecture?”
“There’s that insecurity, again,” he sighed. “Even when I knew you, Johnny you were always so down on yourself.”
“Let’s see, I was kicked out of my parents’ house when I was 18 for wanting to be an artist,” I said as I started to count on one hand. “I was homeless,” two fingers, “Until my cousin Remy- my childhood best friend, came back to North Dakota to give me hope, a sense of family,” three fingers, “I work hard, finish school, meet the love of my life only to find out she is a ball-busting b***h.” I couldn’t even raise the fourth finger, my soul hurt too much. My wife and I lost our baby, I was diagnosed with testicular cancer, and then she cheated with my cousin, at her brother’s funeral. Did I mention I’m 31! 31 is too young to be this f****d up. Tears streamed down my face.
“Hey, at least you lost your balls to my sister long before you lost them to cancer.” Sean laughed hysterically.
“Yeah, really funny.” I would never be able to have children of my own.
“My little girl calls you dad,” Sean replied.
“What?” I could only assume he heard my thoughts. “Maybe she shouldn’t.”
“Man, don’t even say s**t like that.” He ran his fingers through his hair. “My daughter loves you, you’re all she has. I mean except for her mom, obviously.”
“It’s just sometimes, I feel like I’m cursed.” I expected Sean to laugh, to make fun of me the way he always did. He was confident, strong, but at this moment he looked genuinely afraid. “Sean?”
“About what, being cursed? Am I cursed?”
Sean shrugged. “I met someone on the other side. She knows you but you won’t know her.”
“Ok…” Prior to opening a food truck with my future wife, I worked as a paramedic and then a tattoo artist. I’ve met a lot of people, so it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility.
“Let’s just say my sister is not the first girl Remy stole from under you.”
“What are you talking about?” This was about Remy? Remy was dead. He had wrapped his car around a tree the night he was caught screwing my wife.
“This girl.” Sean paused, pursing his lips. “In her words, she was given a choice.”
“According to Angelina…”
“Angelina?” A gust of wind blew through the room, which was strange since there were no windows or even air vents in my studio office. A plastic IKEA shelf shook, then out of nowhere it toppled over. Someone was here. “Why can’t I see her?”
I walked to the mess of papers. Ever since I moved in with Jen, this space had been a storage room for all the art supplies I had been hanging on to. There were sketchbooks that dated back from my teens. One book, in particular, had been given to me by my grandmother. She told me to use it to draw my ‘imaginary friends.’
I kinda had a superpower: the ability to speak to ghosts. I say ‘kinda’ because the ghosts had to choose to come to me and for the past few years I have not experienced any ‘imaginary friends.’ The book was now on the floor, open to a drawing of a beautiful Hispanic girl. I knew I had drawn that image, but I had no idea who she was. “Her name was Angelina?”
The wind caressed my neck and seemed to echo a single word. “An-gel”
“Her name was Angel?”
Sean was absent-mindedly braiding his hair. “Yeah, that’s what she says.”
“Why can’t I remember her?”
“Because sacrificed herself to save you,” Sean replied. He was looking at an empty space. “She- oh sorry. Angel doesn’t want me to say the next part.” There was a pause. “Ok, then what can I tell him?”
There is something there; I feel hands, breath, warmth. I did know this person. “Prove it!” I shouted, wiping tears from my eyes. “Prove you’re not just screwing with me.”
Another pause. Sean nodded at the empty space (which was now directly behind me.) “Angel says I can show you where she’s buried. The cops never found the body.”
I truly wanted to say yes. Every fiber of my being wanted to know the truth. “I’m getting married in less than 24 hours. I can’t risk driving all over the state North Dakota.”
Sean looked away with a smirk.
“We’re not even staying in North Dakota.”
“You trust me, right? I never steered you wrong before.” Sean was pulling on his wings, the way someone would scratch an itch. It was clear he was here on behalf of the invisible spirit of Angelina. “Find the body, lift the curse. Or at least find out what she wants to tell you.” Sean stood up, the next words would be his own truth. “Plus, you’re marrying my wife and my little girl loves you. I won’t let anything screw that up. You have my word.”
His eyes sparkled with emotion.
“And, Johnny, I swear, if you don’t stop writing that poetic s**t I’m going to punch you in the d**k.”
I couldn’t help but laugh.
“I don’t even care if I get in trouble with the ‘head boss’,” he added with a finger point to the ceiling. “Close the damn laptop. Are we going or not?”
Sean had a point, I had to go. Whoever this Angelina was, I needed to know the truth.
I’m recording this on my phone as I drive my slate grey Honda Accord, following Sean’s verbal directions like a ghostly GPS.
“Do you seriously need to do that?” Sean said with a sigh.
“Yes, in case this all goes south, I want the police to be able to find a record of why I drove out into the middle of nowhere right before my wedding.” In truth I wanted a record for Jen, if I died I wanted her to know why, even if she would never believe it. And Sean couldn’t argue with my logic since we were literally heading south.
We crossed the border to South Dakota, heading deep into the badlands. I always knew the badlands as a massive open prairie, an ideal place to hide a body where it could become lost for all time. But I never thought I would be hunting down an actual body that had been hidden for well over a decade.
I rolled down the window to get some air. The car was sweltering in the late summer heat. My phone is vibrating; I have an incoming call, from Jen. I glance at Sean, then answer. There was no way I wouldn’t answer. “Hey, Jen.”
“Johnny, where are you? Dad says he saw you take the car?” Dad referred to her Dad, Diego Quinto a man in his sixties who lived with us after getting released from prison (a story for another day.)He was a nice enough guy, I had even recommended him to Remy’s clinic where the two became close. “Johnny, answer me!”
“Sorry, Jen, I zoned out. I’m in South Dakota, there’s something I need to find.” I knew Sean was staring at me but I couldn’t lie to her.
“Ok, I guess,” Jen’s voice drifted off. “I mean, I have plenty to do…”
Oh, God! She thought I was running. She thought I didn’t want to marry her. I was about to pull a u-turn and head back. Curse or no curse I wasn’t going to hurt Jen, she had been through enough.
“Do you want to talk to Shauna?” she asked.
“Hi, Daddy!” Shauna shouted from the background.
“Yeah, put her on the phone.” I looked to Sean for strength and continued to drive.
Shauna was eleven-years-old, but with her late father’s model height and her mother’s golden complexion, she could easily pass for a teenager. “Hi, Daddy,” she said again. Closer to the mic her voice was a unique combination of her father’s laid back California surfer tone mixed with Jen’s sweet, Midwestern accent.
“Hi, Shauna, you know you don’t have to call me that.”
“I like to, you’re my Dad and after the wedding, you’ll really be my dad, like officially.”
“Yeah, I guess.” Her name was Shauna for a reason; Shauna Campbell Foster. Cystic Fibrosis is known to cause infertility in men, but somehow Sean got Jen pregnant the first time they had s*x. No matter how much I loved her as my own, she was Sean’s daughter, Sean’s miracle- not mine. “I’m taking a little day trip, but I’ll be back in time for the wedding. I can’t wait to see your dress.”
“And Mommy’s dress too, right?”
“Yeah,” my voice trailed off as tears welled in my eyes, “I know your mom is going to look beautiful. I’ll see you soon.” I hung up before I could say any more.
“Did you just hang up on my kid?” Sean asked with a chuckle.
“No worries. We’re getting close, anyway.” He looked at the empty seat behind him. “She says to park the car. We need to go the rest of the way on foot.”
I pulled over, parking on the side of the road like someone who simply ran out of gas. In South Dakota, this would appear perfectly normal and draw little to no attention. “Which way, now?”
“This way, I guess.” Sean walked ahead of me as we walked further and further from the main road.
The sun started to fade behind dark clouds. I groaned at the thought of hiking back in the middle of a downpour. “Is it about to rain?”
“No,” Sean said, in a whisper, “we’re here.”
We were standing at a series of stones. To the untrained eye, it could pass as a natural formation, but I knew it wasn’t. I knew I had to dig. I moved one stone after another until I exposed a body shaped plot of land where no plant life grew. I stroked the dirt. “Are you here?”
“I’m here,” the voice echoed on the wind.
A soft touch caressed the back of my neck.
I was expectation hands to grab me from behind, so to see a skeletal hand emerge from the dirt caused me to scream in terror.
And Sean to double over in laughter.
I took a breath, forcing myself to relax. I wasn’t going to die, I had no reason to be afraid. “Angelina?” I started to dig, scooping the soft dirt with my hands. Little by little I uncovered a skull, arms, legs, an entire skeleton, and a perfectly mummified fetus. Knowing that a fetus would not usually be found in skeletal remains I reached in and touched it.
In a flash, I now knew everything.
I had been eighteen years old, homeless and scared. I contacted Remy about my situation and he offered to come to North Dakota and set up a business. I could stay and work with him at his new clinic. When I arrived I met his partner, Angelina.
A beautiful Hispanic girl who now stood before me in a red gown. She truly did have the face of an angel. “I was never his partner. I was his lover, his toy.”
“Did he hurt you?”
“You don’t even know what he was. Remy was not human. His father was a powerful demon and his mother was a siren, a seductress. That was why he was able to manipulate people. Just ask my son.”
With trembling hands, I reached in further, scooping up the mummified fetus. In the light of the overcast sky, it looked like carved stone. Suddenly it crumbled in my hands.
I could now remember the night she told me she was pregnant. I already knew it was Remy’s because she was Remy’s. “I offered to take you to Canada.”
I was just a kid but I knew I loved her. I wanted to help her, I wanted to be with her. But I still couldn’t remember why.
“But do you remember when you drew me?”
The picture in the sketchbook. I always assumed I had made her up. She looked innocent and demure, yet tough like a street kid who had seen some s**t. “It was the day after I arrived, we went on a picnic. We talked for hours, and…”
Before I could finish my sentence I felt her kiss. Warm, real. I was back in that moment. Eighteen years old, sitting under a tree. I put down my sketchbook as the girl on my lap removed her oversize t-shirt, revealing her luscious curves. “Do you want to go in the van?” I heard my voice say. I never realized how different I sounded as a teenager.
“No, I want you,” she said as she slipped off her jeans, then her plain white underwear. “I need you.”
I was a homeless teen, abandoned by my family for wanting to pursue my dreams. But Angelina, she made me feel loved. I could feel the softness of her skin, the silkiness of her long wavy hair.
I could remember what it was like to make love to her. She placed my hands upon her breasts, moving them down her stomach to her hips.
And then she kissed me.
I could remember everything about that day.
But I was left to wonder- why did she her ghost appear to me in a red dress?
An invisible object stuck my head, knocking me backward. I was thirty-one again, covered in dirt. And blood?
“Get back,” Sean said, wrapping his arms around me. We both watched in horror as the scene unfolded.
Angelina was holding me in her arms, it was clear we had just escaped a fire or maybe a car wreck. She is sobbing, as a woman on a motorbike approaches.
I recognize the woman as Remy’s receptionist. “Master Remy says it’s time for you to come home,” she said in her sickly sweet voice.
“I won’t leave him, he’s just a kid.”
“Johnny proved where his loyalties were when he decided to try and steal you and the prince that rides within your womb.”
A light came down from the heavens. “What if we make a deal? A wager of sorts.” The voice sounded calm and comforting, like a true angel. “A life for a life, a soul for a soul.”
A glowing blade appeared in Angelina’s hand. “What is this?” she asked, her voice trembling with fear.
“You are out in the middle of the Badlands,” the angelic voice explained. “Johnny is going to die from his injuries before help arrives. Do you love him? Do you have faith that his life is worth more than your own?”
“And the life of my baby?” Angelina asked.
It was a valid question.
“The unborn have no souls.”
“Well, that’s not true,” said a new voice, this one sounded like a crackling fire and seemed to come from below the ground.
“Sean,” I looked to my angel friend for guidance, “please tell me you heard that.”
Sean’s eyes were focused on Angelina as she plunged the blade into her chest, dragging it down to her stomach.
I mentally prepared myself for the horrific sight, but instead of blood and gore, Angelina bled red silk. Ribbons of shiny fabric covered her body, forming a long elegant gown.
That explained the ghost in the red dress.
With her dying breath, she looked to the heavens, “What now? W-Will Johnny be alright?”
“Johnny will survive, but his mind will be wiped allowing him to be a loyal friend to Remy. His friendship will put into motion a love story that will heal two broken lives.”
I knew what the angelic light was talking about. I was the one who introduced Remy to Diego, and the love they shared was something powerful enough to heal both their hearts. For a while anyway.
The fiery voice cackled, “And now you know why you’re cursed.”
“The angels took your memories, so I took your courage, strength, self-worth- and added a touch of bad luck, just for fun.”
“I’m sorry.” That was all I could say. “I’m sorry you had to die. I’m sorry you didn’t have a choice.”
“I made the only choice available to me: I followed you like a cloud, savoring every moment of pain and embarrassment. If I couldn’t live happily neither would you!”
“W-What can I do? I want to make it up to you, I want to make things right.”
“My father is dead- I want to take his place.” Glowing embers emerged from the ground, pulling together into a child-like shape.
“How?” I asked cautiously.
“Give me your hand.”
I wanted the creature to trust me, so I willingly reached in tot he fire’s heart of the figure. It was an actual fire. I steadied my breathing, trying not to cry out in agony.
The fire-child laughed. “With my power, you will be able to call upon my father’s soul and banish him to the depths of hell.”
I yanked back my bloody, pain-stricken hand. “There has to be another way.”
“I’m not going to banish my cousin to hell!” Yes, I was taking the moral high ground, as opposed to admitting I was too much of a coward to sacrifice my hand.
“Why not? He hurt you! He stole from you! and worse of all he lied to you!” He fire child roared, his energy flying high into the sky. “Remy is not your cousin he’s your brother! His father r***d your mother: you share the same demon blood!”
“Even more reason why I cannot and will not send him to hell.” Remy died after sleeping with my wife, but he also died knowing how much Diego loved him and how badly they both screwed up. “But I have another idea. You wanted to be born- can you make that happen?”
Sean chuckled. “Are you seriously asking the demon baby to restore your balls?
“Fertility,” I muttered. “If you, demon baby, can restore my fertility, I would be honored to be your father.”
Now Sean looked worried. “Are you sure about this?”
“You had a miracle baby with Jen, why can I?” I asked jokingly.
There was a pause, as the creature rendered a final decision. “Take our hand.”
“Our?” The hand in question was Angelina’s skeletal hand. Her arm was rising from the grave like a flower. Her fingers looked like gemstones, pure and ivory white. I held her hand, giving no thought to the consequences.
The last thing I remember was my entire arm going up in flames.
I awoke in my studio, laying on my sofa. I was back in North Dakota. Had this all been a dream?
“Nope!” Sean was sitting cross-legged on the floor. “Check your hands.”
I had not noticed the searing pain in my arms until he mentioned it. Looking down, both my arms appeared to be bandaged up to my elbows. “What happened?” I asked, more curious than concerned.
“I left your recorder app on, your phone captured the whole thing.” Sean didn’t look concerned, in fact, he looked seconds away from laughter.
I turned on the phone and listened to the contents of the recording. Apparently, the cost of repairing my fertility was the skin of my hands, wrists, and forearms. As I attempted to move the bandages to examine the full extent of the damage, I was greeted with an appropriate level of pain.
Despite the fact that I had little to no mobility in my arms, I took the pain as a good sign; I still had nerves, muscles and in time my body would heal.
Sean seemed underwhelmed by my lack of a freakout. “What are you going to tell Jen?”
“The truth, after all, I have actual proof.” Unless the recording suddenly got deleted. “I’ll tell her the truth, about everything, and when it’s all said a done, hopefully she still wants to marry me.”