“Last time someone said that to me, I drew their entrails.” My smile was full of derision as I added in a whisper I didn’t think the boy could hear, “Death is never pretty.”
The room lay in shadowed darkness, though I suspected he’d been standing there for some time and his eyes adjusted so that he saw me clearly. He looked at me with brown puppy dog eyes, twirling a twenty-sided die in his hand as if I were the monster. In my world, he was the demon.
“Do you have a name?” I asked, hissed more apt. I extended a hand, retracting the claws at the expression on his face. “I am known as Arch.”
“What kinda name is Arch?” His nose twitched like a cat, and I involuntarily let slip a fang. The next he spoke, “You’re not human,” came out in a quiver. His fear smelled of anise.
“With seven-foot wings, claws of steel, and fangs, I’d say not. Nor am I something to be feared. You cuddle Charlie.” A hint of sulfur tinged the air at my sarcasm.
The boy I had no name for tried to hide the surprise that I knew he slept with a purple stuffed bear named Charlie. He shifted foot to foot then looked at me with renewed strength. In the years I’d been a part of his life, I’d yet to learn his name, and thus felt a measure of guilt. I waited.
He stood taller, still barely reaching my chin, and puffed his chest out. No longer a frightened little boy, nor quite a man, he was ready, while I was still trying to figure out how he’d gotten here.
“Elijah. I come from a line of heroes.”
“Humph.” The sound slipped before I could recall it. “Do you know what it means to be a hero, boy?” A beat passed and I lifted my wings. “To stand against those who will surely try to kill you, in defense of those who might as soon spit on the ground you walk, under other circumstances.”
“More than you.” He looked at my feet, bird-like with talons of carbon blades, then met my stare.
Deep in the windows of his soul, I saw a truth I’d not expected. He knew the breadth of me, knew what I was and how he’d come to be in my world, even as I did not.
“Tell then.” It wasn’t something I wanted to admit, that he was correct, but vain as I am, I am not stupid. “How did you come to be in my realm, and more immediately, why?”
Before me, he shot up my equal in height, shoulders broadened and jaw wide, aged. I took a mental step back. The Spiderman pajamas he’d been wearing when I’d first found him, when he’d insulted me, were replaced with a suit that in another text I’m sure would have been of armor, as it were: cloth, blue with navy pin striping.
“You’ve been absent. I thought you dead.” His voice, deeper than a scant moment ago, gave me pause. “You were my friend. The one I counted on. Someone I trusted. And the warrior I fought. You taught me to stand for myself.”
“And tried to kill you more than thrice.”
“Then you were gone.” He aged again, silver hair edging his temples, bags forming beneath eyes that had dulled, a sadness covering his very countenance. “You deserted me.”
“You left me behind,” I said, sure it was this and not the other. Years had expired, and I’d been negligent in my duties, I could see that now, but times shift. “What do you wish of me?” That was the pressing question. I’d been sleeping when roused, and irritated at the wakening. Now I worried what travesty had befallen, if he’d sought me in this domain. Before he spoke, I knew words of death would follow; somehow he wanted me to return and make it better. I could not.
“What the heck do you care,” he said instead. The boy stood before me again, and I realized, as I in his world, he in mine, appeared as I wanted, not as he truly was. He was a boy, scared, searching me out for my prowess.
Stunned, I woke to my temerity and found that which I’d dismissed. Day had risen, not decades traversed. Hurriedly, I dressed. An ink black feather wafted as I leapt to my station, bounding into his dreams. I, the monster under the bed, his utmost fear to face, that comrade who’d stand at his side before being dismissed and called to charge again at his night’s fall, had overslept.
about the author
Reader, writer, wielder of wrenches. By day, a mild-mannered postal mechanic turning wrenches for the USPS; by night, a purveyor of stories to tempt your imagination.