Leaping away from a fight was not something the Razor Baby did lightly, but the brother godlings and the great fat man had somehow gained the upper hand. The Razor Baby acted on instinct and leaped far and fast with one thought paramount: safety.
It lifted its torn paw and looked at the deep gash. It hurt. It hurt worse than anything…save the talons of the bird women.
The ragged seam of the Razor Baby’s mouth split open and a tongue long and serrated drug over the weeping wound. Blood black as oil and half as thick oozed from the upturned paw and spattered against the crimson red sands below.
Red sands. How long had it been since the Razor Baby had come home to this place? It was the place of red sands, the place of dreams—a place where things not flesh and more ultimately return?
The Red Plain was anything but sanctuary to the Razor Baby. The deep and agitated hum rising from the great tower beyond was proof enough of that. Yet when its tiny mind gave way to impulse, this is where it came. Funny.
The Razor Baby hunkered down upon the red sand, cleaning the wound until the bleeding finally ebbed.
Ask any ornithologist and they will tell you a bird caged too long will inevitably go mad. They need to move about, and even with their wings cropped they require stimulation beyond a ring of bars. They need to fly free if but for a little while.
Ask the ghost of any little dead girl, trapped in the same tiny house for over a decade and she will tell you the same.
The fact that Dawn did not go mad was a wonder. As much a wonder as the supernatural source that gives an afterlife to dead little girls–the same source that returns them to flesh and allows them to fall asleep on the couch and dream, dream for the first time in over a decade…and dream dreams of flying.
Dawn stretched her great gray wings and soared the velvet black sky, the muted light of a million twinkling stars casting a silver sheen over her gray feathers. If she could stretch those wings a mile beyond either horizon she would.
Sliding through the currents, she spiraled and looped—frolicking upon the wind as though it was her playground. Arcing high into the air, she dove up and down in great spinning loops, rising into a mighty spin and then down, down, down, streaking so close to the earth she threw up great whorls of red dust.
When the Razor Baby rose up from behind a low hummock and batted Dawn from the air she careened instantly to earth, her great golden eyes blinded upon impact with the red sands.
The throbbing in Former Coroner Ron’s hand had finally begun to abate. Slumping deeply into the motorhome sofa bench, he leaned his head back against the foam backrest. Staring up he watched the light cast by passing headlamps race over the motorhome ceiling. In the fore of the Itasca, Castro and Paulus were strangely silent. One would think they’d want nothing more than to be clapping together casks of grog and swapping great and terrible tales of the evening’s victory, but they weren’t and Goltry was glad of it. To him, it hadn’t been much of a victory. An innocent young man was dead and his loved ones left terrified and confused in their wake. He wanted to find the Thelema Child and capture it, contain it and…then what? Kill it? Could such a thing even be killed? His traveling companions were made from similar stuff and all they required was a hank of duct tape and they were back in the game.
He also wondered about the woman and her child left to make sense of the absolutely senseless. So much like the Cromwell family and the Boyette family save that they actually survived their encounter. He’d had a hand in that. He then thought about the little girl and how she’d clung to him, her eyes looking expectantly into his. He closed his eyes and wondered what it was like, having someone to look after. He’d never given it a great deal of thought because he never considered it much of an option in this reality…in this World of Hurt.
He took in a great breath and felt his great chest fill like a mighty bellows. He pursed his lips in thought. The godlings tried his patience on countless levels; their glib arrogance and their cavalier lack of propriety, but in that moment he realized he’d become so very frustrated with them because tracking the creature was the last thing he wanted. What he wanted was to stay and ensure the safety of that little girl and her mother. And he wished more than anything he’d asked for their names.
As Dawn’s owl body tumbled over onto the blood red sands she could hear the shafts of several dozen wing-feathers snap in unison. Coming to rest with her talons beneath her, she righted herself and spread her great wings in as threatening a posture as possible. Looking down, she noted the seeping slash across her chest before the dull pain could reach her brain. The wound was shallow, she could tell at a glance, and would not inhibit her ability to defend herself. The broken wing feathers were another story.
She heard the Razor Baby scrabbling up the far hill before she saw it. Topping the mound of sand, her assailant lowered its head and fixed its poison pearl eyes upon her. Dawn immediately noted it was favoring its right hand, a deep slash visible across the elongated palm. Had the creature full use of both sets of talons, the blow that took her down would have left her with far worse than a mere graze.
The Razor Baby sniffed the air with its narrow snout and charged. Dawn gave in to impulse and attempted to take flight, but the effort got her anywhere but airborne. With her broken feathers hampering her ability take flight, she could only hop over the head of the lunging creature. Swiveling about on its stump-like legs, the Razor Baby lunged again. As Dawn beat her wings in an effort to stay aloft, she splayed her talons and raked them deep into its maggot-gray flesh as the Razor Baby let loose a screech that echoed across the dunes all the way to the great and pulsing tower.
As a paranormal investigator, Former Coroner Ron made as much a career of sleeping in precarious positions as he did hunting spectral entities and bug-eyed monsters. Little did he know his dozing off on the narrow motorhome sofa-bench, his sizable bulk nearly spilling over the edge and his head lolling back against the side window screen was truly one of his greatest accomplishments. At any moment the tires of the lumbering vehicle could hit a big bump in the road or round a corner two quickly and the erstwhile forensic specialist would go tumbling to the mildewed carpet below. Former Coroner Ron was beyond caring by this point. Rocking gently back and forth as the old Itasca rolled through the night, his eyes darted back and forth behind his eyelids and he dreamed of a land of red sands.
Former Coroner Ron despaired upon discovering he was without clothing. Looking down over the great roll of his gut, he could just make out the tips of his yellowed toenails. He wriggled them to be sure they indeed belonged to him and not some dwarf seeking shelter from the night. Sure enough, his toes wriggled at his command. He then noted how warm and soothing the soft, red sands felt between them.
Glancing up he took in the odd terrain about him. Former Corner Ron was never one for dynamic dreams, though he enjoyed noting the symbolic significance of the experience. In the past he’d pondered keeping a dream journal but found the process too tedious with the fragments he recalled upon waking too fractious, if not downright absurd. A pigeon that sang to him in the velvet tones of Mel Torme or a rainbow-painted zebra quoting Shakespeare was terribly amusing, but he couldn’t see the point in trying to unpack the images for a deeper message. He’d also found the books specializing in pat interpretations of dream imagery asinine. Yes, he appreciated full-well that human beings were symbol-making creatures, but he couldn’t buy the fact that a sword piercing a pool in the woods is and always will represent repressed sexual urges, or his kindergarten teacher wallowing in a bathtub of grape jello meant he was particularly good at organizing his sock drawer. He easily conceded a cigar was sometimes just a cigar, but he also averred that visits like this one to sandy red ranges of Terra Incognita were simply visits to sandy red ranges of Terra Incognita and could happily leave it at that.
This dream, however, was unique. It was vivid and intensely tactile and once he’d finished wriggling his toes in the crimson sands it was hard to believe this merely was a construct of his subconscious but a place to which he’d been physically transported. It had a pleasant temperature and a light breeze and overhead a teeming pool of stars and, if he was not mistaken, the air held the delicate aroma of sea salt mixed with a dash of cinnamon.
All things considered– the temperature, the scents and the lovely stars above–he didn’t mind so much being naked. Unless, of course, he were to encounter a fully clothed native population—then he would most definitely grow self-conscious and resentful of his predicament.
Former Coroner Ron looked up at the bright stars above and smiled. How very beautiful, he thought. Turning about in a small circle, he took in the velvet black overhead. Though not one for astronomy, he saw none of the familiar constellations. No big “W” representing Cassiopeia or the ladles that stood for greater and lesser tailed-bears. Shrugging, he glanced to the southern horizon and spied what could only be a glowing spire reaching high into the sky. In fact, it reached so far into the sky it stretched clear out of the view of his naked eye. It was then he detected a low, gentle hum. A candle-like glow radiated from the spire’s surface. Though nearly a mile away, Former Coroner Ron grew increasingly aware of the easy throb resonating up through the pads of his bare feet and into the base of his belly.
“I feel beckoned,” he smirked and began gently trotting for the tower.
Puffing up the first of several dunes, Former Coroner Ron paused to better scrutinize the tower. It did indeed run all the way into the firmament. He pondered whether it was indeed a tower and not one of those space elevators that were the hot topic of science journals ten years ago. It was an interesting notion. Instead of spending precious resources on fuel to rocket to the moon or orbiting space platforms, one would simply build a permanent structure with one end anchored to the earth and the other in geostationary orbit. This column was a construct of greater magnitude than a mere space elevator as it appeared to stretch into the stars forever.
Details became more refined the closer Former Coroner Ron came to the tower. Shortly after skidding on his heels to the base of the previous dune, the tower seemed crafted from wood, its surface carved in hundreds, if not thousands of figures and shapes in the smooth, geometrical style of the Pacific Northwest natives. Up and over another rise and the figure forms were now like the Paleolithic paintings that have adorned the caves of Lascaux, France for millennia. Down into another gully and now the figures were long and spindly like the white horse of chalk gauged out of that hill in Uffington. Another crest and it was cuneiform, then Egyptian pictograms, then Sanskrit and Old Arabic. With every passing acre, yard and foot it seemed the surface of the tower reconfigured itself to represent another culture, another time and another place. It was a performance Former Coroner Ron enjoyed tremendously if for no other reason than he reveled in the fact that he recognized every culture represented by each subsequent symbol system. He may be naked, lost and meandering over a strange, red world but he was still Ron Goltry and he still knew a great many things.
Eventually Former Coroner Ron reached the last stretch of flat sands about the base of the enigmatic tower. It was a greater trek than he’d anticipated at a distance and now he felt winded as though he’d just scaled the slopes of Machu Picchu or climbed to the very alter atop of the great Aztec Pyramid of Cholula. Though gently panting, he felt elated and not a little frustrated that he should be reminded of his lack of physical fitness even in a dream.
Padding nearer to the tower he stared deeply at the latest lexicon of imagery etched over the structure’s surface. The inky black images in stark relief against the tower’s sandstone outer hide seemed spawned from a visual style he did not recognize. The silhouettes and shapes were sharp and distinct with a nearly flawless and photographic quality. Drawing nearer his heart nearly stopped for not only were the animated like living things, he recognized the forms moving about the beige surface.
High to his left, he recognized the forms of Paulus and Castro. The brother godlings brandished weapons, sparring with one another clearly to great delight. Down and to the right he saw what could only be he, trundling along behind the wheel of his beloved Mazda, the window down and his inky hair tussled by a nonexistent breeze. And up high and to the center, another shape that could only be himself in his surgical smock. He could even make out the bulk of his heavy latex gloves. He was leaning over a prone female form. Easily anticipating what came next, he stared dumbly as the body split from the center and unmistakable outline of a great winged owl launched toward its observer. The bird spiraled up the surface of the column and out–beyond the scope of his vision.
It was clear the tower was telling his story and in grand and animated detail until the great owl spiraled back into the picture, trailing behind its tail feathers the lanky shape of a young man, hair dangling down about his face with what appeared to be a guitar slung across his back. As the great owl form peeled off into the deep background of the shadow play, the young man sat down cross-legged on an invisible surface and began to strum his guitar. From a distance the owl returned, starting as a tiny black speck and growing into a great strafing shape that an instant later spiraled out of control and collided with the ground.
Former Coroner Ron watched intently as the young man rose, approached and then kneeled before the inert bird. Suddenly, the bird became a woman. She stood, turned and held out her arms while the young man once again took up his guitar. A drifting substance like a vortex of dust motes coalesced before the woman’s outstretched fingers and in seconds resolved itself into the form of a young girl. The young man continued to play and then Former Coroner Ron saw the familiar structure of the great, lumbering motorhome. Before the motorhome made a hasty left-hand exit round the boll of the tower, the bunched over form of the Thelema Child came shuffling into view. Now he was treated to a more detailed view of the fight between demigods and demon, how gallant and full of overwhelming bravado the brothers had been, and how very cowed appeared the long-nosed monster.
Former Coroner Ron’s gut gave a twist at the sight of the Razor Baby and he curbed the impulse to spit upon its image. From behind he heard a scuffling. As he turned the sounds grew louder, rising from the far side of a great mound of red sand. In seconds what can only be described as a giant gray owl, its chest feathers matted with blood and its wings dropping handfuls of broken feathers came fluttering up and over the dune with the Razor Baby loping fast on the bird’s tail.
What had been an interesting and rather intriguing dream had instantly devolved into nightmare.
An owl’s heart rate is nearly 345 beats per minute. An active human’s can reach to 160 beats and above. At present, the heart throbbing within Dawn’s narrow owl chest was pounding at a rate of the two combined.
Feeling the jagged pain across her chest, Dawn gingerly righted herself and scrabbled about to face the creature that had so brutally knocked her from the sky. When her golden eyes locked with the Razor Baby’s inky black orbs she knew instantly what it was.
It was her killer. And she remembered it all…