Wings, Lions, Angels

I was thinking about lions and dragons, due to a poem by my favorite poet and best friend. It reminded me of my 2nd book, Awakening — specifically one chapter wherein the protagonist, Charlie a 13-year-old genius kid, first discovers his lion heart in the land of dreams. I’ll post it here, because it’s long, and I’m hoping this is the place I can post fuller works, because people should only be here because they like my stuff. For the normal, brief WordPress-type material, see my main blog.

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While Robin struggled in a New Mexico memory that was masquerading as a nightmare, Charlie fought against his own – somewhat less personal – demons. As he fought, his attackers grabbed both arms, and the large flaxen-haired man wrapped his massive arms around Charlie’s head, intending, apparently, to finally choke the life from him. Instead, Charlie began to grow. His body trembled and quivered, flesh transformed and muscles thickened. In a matter of ten seconds, he was no longer a boy, but a male lion, huge and fearless, eight feet high at the shoulders, and jet-black from maned head to tail. From his shoulders sprouted large wings with outsized feathers that appeared to be fur. His wingspan was fifteen feet fully extended, and covered the wide hallway from wall to wall.

Charlie looked at the redheaded woman whose hand was still inside his throat. She gulped. Charlie stood, his head held high, and her feet dangled helplessly above the ground. Her golden-hued eyes widened, and she forced out a weak, frightened smile. “Nice kitty,” was all she could say before Charlie bit her hand cleanly off at the wrist. To his great surprise, she did, in fact, taste nothing like chicken. She screamed, her opaline blood spurting from the open wound like vitreous milk. As she fell to the floor, the group of tattooed nightmares screamed in horror, and began scrambling toward the elevator, frantically looking over their shoulder and banging on the call buttons. Charlie threw his head back and gave an ear shattering, sonorous roar that rattled the walls.

The blond-haired man whom moments earlier had nearly choked Charlie to death slid inelegantly off his back. Wearing what appeared to Charlie to be a mocking smile, he ran into the fire and vanished in a burst of white-hot flames. The small redhead, now holding her vacant, spurting wrist, followed closely behind.

Charlie, angry, hurting, and still feeling the stark fear of knowing that he had been close to death, launched himself at the remaining members of the group, and tore them limb from limb. As he calmed himself down, and licked his blood-splattered fur, the elevator door opened, and the hotel’s hallway was eerily filled with elevator music and the woman’s voice saying, “ninth floor, going down.” Charlie swept the tattered, dismembered, and tattooed hellions into the elevator with one huge paw, and lay down in a heap.

As the door closed behind him and left him in the quiet, smoke-filled hall, he transformed back into the boy he was, dressed again from tip to toe in black. His punctured eye had healed, though it hurt, and he consoled himself by stressing once more he was still asleep.

“It’s only a dream, and I need to wake up now. I don’t like this dream. It isn’t real, and I want to be home.” His young mind was reeling with the realization that he had just shredded a crowd of well-dressed nightmares into a pink, bloody mess. He needed desperately for it not to be real, to wake up snug in his pajamas, and to try and forget this dream. Unfortunately, it was not his dream, and he could not wake up.

Charlie sat with his head in his hands, despairing. There was no sadness, just a blinding emptiness, as though someone had removed all the joy from the surrounding air. It was not darkness he felt, but the infinite absence of light.

This is Siri,” Charlie’s right brain said in his head.

Charlie was not sure how he knew, but he was certain that it was so. Evil needn’t grow tangibly to flourish; it was enough to simply remove the good. Charlie had learned long ago from G’pa Joe about the evil in the world, and how often it existed solely because no one stood up against it. Joe and the occupants of the Senior Center would talk about the horrors of the World War Two Holocaust and wonder which evil was worse – that of the murderous Nazi leadership, those who obediently carried out the genocide through misplaced loyalty, or those who stood in hopeful silence as millions died. In its aftermath, once the gas dispersed and the smoke had cleared, there were stains all around that could not be washed clean.

And, likewise, as Charlie wreaked havoc in the worlds to which his mind traveled, there would be stains left behind. His instincts told him this night would not be forgotten, neither the horror of his torment, nor the surety that he had responded with an equal amount of acrimony.

“The blonde, the way he smiled when I bit the woman’s hand off, it was as if he knew that I would lose control. Maybe that’s what he wanted all along, for me to be angry enough to kill.” Charlie felt guilty, despite having prevented his being choked to death in his sleep. “It’s like mom always said when bullies used to pick on me, I could fight poorly, and lose, or fight well, and still lose, or walk away. I never had a clue what she was talking about. Maybe this was a time to walk away.” He shrugged, being wise enough to understand that some things could not be determined.

He also remembered that his dad would always whisper when she left the room, “Fourth choice: fight well, and win.” This night, he had won, and for now, that must be enough.

He sat on the floor of the hotel’s ninth level, and watched the fire creep towards him from two sides. To his right was the bank of elevators. To his left, the single room in the hotel that was not engulfed by fire. Charlie thought for a time of consequences – the consequence of leaving this insanity via the elevators to the relative safety of a quiet night’s sleep, never knowing what had drawn him to this dream in the first place, versus the consequence of staying, and risking even greater horrors.

Being a preternaturally curious lad, it took him less than a minute to rise and grasp the knob to room 913. “Nice try,” he said to the air around him, “I’m not superstitious.” He turned the doorknob, which was cold from the surrounding icy fire, and opened the door.

The room inside was large, and dark, and mostly empty. It was of similar décor to the rest of the hotel, impeccably white and pristine. At one end of the room sat a well-dressed man of around forty, graying at the temples, but athletic and ruggedly handsome. He was watching the financial news on television with rapt attention, apparently oblivious to all of his surroundings.

Behind him, seated on a bed, and also engulfed, but in tears, was a little girl of around six years old. She was dressed in a lovely pink dress, her hair in matching pink ribbons. She had on black tights and black patent leather shoes. Her lovely dress was soiled at the bottom, the hem slightly unraveled, and her tights were lightly frayed. She was sitting with her head bowed, and, when Charlie entered and closed the door behind him, she looked up and met his eyes. She had been crying, her eyes red and puffy; they were the eyes of a child far too used to tears.

At once, sweeping in to hover above her was a woman of great beauty, who was wearing a strange soft, floppy hat that rose some ten inches above her head. The hat twisted and curled, with long strands of blond-streaked brown hair interwoven into the hat. Her hair met her forehead in a large, upswept curl, as if held in place by an invisible oversized curler. Her skin was fair, blanched even more by an uneven layer of white powdered makeup. Her lips were bizarrely turgid, as if injected by far too many collagen treatments, and painted a garish red that made her mouth a gloppy, scabrous mess.

Even though the woman’s face was beautiful, she wore her beauty like a distorted mask, one that made Charlie want to throw up. Charlie could not hear the conversation, but the woman was clearly screaming at the little girl, stopping only occasionally to gesture toward the soiled dress and torn stockings. As she would do so, she would slap the child, who would wince in pain, and scream a sorrowful, empty silence of a scream that no one would ever hear. The little girl would try vainly to stop the blows, and look over at her father, who never turned around. The woman, who wore no wedding ring, would turn, and laugh, her head thrown back. Then she would strike the child again repeatedly.

Charlie screamed for her to stop, swore in his mind to stop her, but no sounds would leave his lips, no movement could he make. The little girl would look pleadingly in his direction, but to no avail. Charlie could neither speak nor act. This was her dream, and hers alone.

After what seemed like hours, but was merely the wink of an eye, the woman turned, and picked up a small box of matches from the table behind her. She struck one, and held it in front of her face until it burned almost all the way down. She then blew it out, and struck another. This time, she walked a step towards the little girl, yelled some silent horror, and threw the match at the child. The little girl screamed, and moved out of the way of the burning match just in time.

To Charlie’s horror, this game was repeated three more times, with the match coming closer to the little girl’s clothing each time. On the fourth try, she waved her small arm, and hit the match, burning her hand, and deflecting the match toward her bed. It immediately caught, and began to smolder. The small child attempted to put out the growing fire, but her arm was caught by her angry caretaker, who violently shook her head “no.” Instead of putting out the flames herself, she pointed again to the ruined clothes, and began a pantomimed chastisement of the child for her carelessness.

As the bedding caught fire, it began to burn slowly, the topmost layer melting as if hindered by a synthetic coating. The woman took a few steps back, and stood with her arms folded. As the fire neared the little girl, who was now frantically sobbing with tears, the woman, at the last possible moment, moved quickly to the bed, snatched off the burning bedding, and stomped out the fire before it could burn the child. Apparently satisfied, she turned, and walked to join the man who was still absently watching television.

The second she left, the little girl, now laying on the bed, wracked with sobs, her arms wrapped around herself, looked at Charlie and cried, “Why you didn’t make her stop?”

Charlie was taken aback, as to this point, despite the repeated eye contact, he was uncertain he could be seen at all. He walked to the child, no longer immobile, and kneeled by her side. “I’m so sorry,” he said, pained. “I could not move. I think it’s because this is your dream, and you have to be the one to act.”

The little girl cried harder, and turned away from Charlie. “You aren’t helping me!” she shouted. “Angels are supposed to help. Daddy always said so. He said Mommy was an angel now, and she would always help when I needed her. Why they sent you if you’re not gonna help me?”

Charlie placed his hand on the small child’s back. “I’m here to help you,” he said, believing that to be true. To this point, he had always tried to think his way out of situations. Now, he would learn from his best friend Robin, and simply feel. “Your mommy’s in heaven?” he asked.

“Uh huh,” she responded, turning towards his soothing voice. “Daddy said so.”

“Is the mean lady your stepmom?”

“No, Daddy hasn’t married her yet. But she said that they were gonna get married, and then everything would change. She said I don’t take care of my stuff. But I do!” she began crying again, and Charlie held her in his arms. “She makes me wear the dresses, then gets mad when I get dirty. I just fell, that’s all. I just fell down.”

Charlie was getting angry, and thought for a brief moment to simply tear the woman apart. However, he had long-since lost the taste for vengeance, and did not want to traumatize the child further. Instead, he asked, “What was she doing with the fire?”

“She said that if I don’t like nice things, maybe she should just burn all my stuff. She says that sometimes if she’s really mad. She never set my bed on fire before though.” She became quiet for a time, comforted by Charlie’s arms. “She scared me. A lot.”

“Do you have this dream a lot?” Charlie asked.

The little girl drew back as if astonished. “I’m not sleeping,” she said, with a frown. “She woke me up.”

Charlie took in the information, but did not know how to process it. He decided to change the subject, and worry about the logic puzzle later. “What’s your name, sweetie?” he asked, stroking her hair softly.

“Emma,” she said softly, “it’s like my mommy’s name. Daddy says I look just like her too.” She managed a painfully pathetic little excuse for a smile.

Charlie was now in a fight against tears, but he felt certain that supposed angels shouldn’t cry, so he forced an empty smile in Emma’s direction. “You do, sweetie,” he said, feigning surety.

“I knew you were an angel,” she said, smiling and hugging him tightly. “Daddy said if I prayed hard enough, I could always find an angel.”

Charlie gulped down a thick lump of emotion, certain his young heart would break at any moment. He spoke in a poignant whisper. “Sweetie, here’s what you do. I want you to tell your Daddy what’s going on, because I know for a fact that he loves you very much. You have to tell him, and help yourself.”

“I can’t,” she whined helplessly.

“Yes you can. You have to be brave, that’s all.”

“But she said if I told, she would really hurt me. She said that Daddy loves her, and he would never, ever believe me.” Emma began to cry softly. “Can’t you tell him?” she whimpered.

Charlie felt a tear leave his traitorous eye despite himself. By now, he was operating purely on instincts, guessing with a certainty as he had done countless times in school. “I was sent to tell you that you must be strong. It’s what your mommy wants.” He thought for a moment. On instinct, he added, “Emily can’t come yet, it’s too soon, but she sent me back to take care of her baby.” Charlie’s eyes began threatening to stage a full-on flood, and he blinked back tears so he could maintain eye contact. “I promise it will be okay,” he added, not at all sure that it would.

Emma gasped, and reached out to his cheek, taking his tear with one finger. “You are an angel,” she said, her voice a breathy whisper. “You knew Mommy’s real name. And Daddy always says that I’d know a real angel because they would love me. And you cried. You did. That means you love me.”

“I do love you,” Charlie said forcing another smile. He let the tears out now, through his weak smile, and he held Emma, looking closely at her small arms. They were covered with small burn marks as if from the point of a dozen hot matches. “Does she burn you?”

“Only sometimes,” Emma said. “She makes her knitting needles hot.”

“Tonight, Emma. You must tell your Daddy tonight.” Charlie stood, and thinking of his previous lion form, produced wings of a rich black like he wore earlier, only smaller.

Emma gasped once again in awe, grinned, and nodded her head affirmatively, giving Charlie one last hug of the evening. As soon as she did, her father’s girlfriend approached from some unknown part of the house, and walked to her bed. She never saw Charlie, all but walking through him as he jumped out of the way. As before, the sound dimmed, and Charlie could just barely make out her voice yell, “Who are you talking to in here? You are supposed to be asleep.” After that, the words were merely pantomimed anger once again.

Emma cowered in the bed, and briefly held her arms over her head. The woman reached into her pocket and produced the small box of wooden matches once again. Then, just as Charlie began to fear the worst, Emma lowered her arms, looked in the direction that she had last seen her now invisible angel, threw her head back, and screamed. The woman looked briefly shocked then attempted to cover Emma’s mouth. Emma struggled against her, squirming to free her voice. She continued to scream, mouthing a single word repeatedly. Finally, as the adult grabbed her forcefully, and began to shake her, Emma screamed, loud enough even for Charlie to hear.

“DAD-DY!” she screamed, and Charlie literally leapt in the air for joy, roaring his delight, and punching the air with his fist.

She screamed the word through the shakes, yelled it past the blows, and bellowed defiantly beneath the worded threats of her tormentor. At last, her father rushed in, saw the scene, and threw the woman forcefully off his child. Charlie saw him grab the weeping Emma in his arms, and kiss her face repeatedly, as his soon-to-be-jailed future ex-girlfriend pleaded her case. The father did not strike and did not scream, but merely held his baby girl, and lifted his cell phone from his pocket to dial 9-1-1 as the scene, and the building itself, faded into the night’s dark fog.

“You done good, Charlie boy,” came the familiar voice of G’pa Joe. “That’s one little bit of Hell that won’t be back.”

Charlie turned, but saw nothing, and spun around once more to check. There was nothing but darkness, and a lifting veil of fog. He was alone, but that was G’pa Joe’s voice, and he would find him once and for all. Charlie flapped his dark wings, feeling very much the avenging angel, and set forth, as his mind slipped from one dream to the next.

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