“Are you sure this is safe?” Bethany asked hesitantly, firmly gripping the outer rail of the bridge behind her. She dared to lean over, peering four miles down into the Atherean Ocean below. Vertigo set in quickly as the water challenged her; rising and receding quickly. She leaned back against the cold, iron railing, checking the multi-colored elastic rope fastened to her waist. Jayce, her older brother, was on her right. He looked into the clear blue ocean as though he couldn’t wait to dive–again. Shirtless, wings pinned at his back, he was nearly hyperventilating with excitement. “Yes, Beth.” He replied, trying not to show impatience. “Look, this was your idea. If you’re scared…”
“I’m not scared …” Beth objected, shaking her head. She jabbed a finger at the water below. “But you heard what Jayden said…”
Darryl, her other older brother, was flanking her. He looked to Jayce, and then nodded. “…about something in the water. Yeah, we heard him, Beth. But Jayden hit the water pretty hard. He probably imagined it.”
Beth whirled on her brother. “He didn’t imagine the teeth marks on his arms.”
Darryl reached down to Bethany, placing a hand on her shoulder. “Honey, listen. Jayden slipped off of the railing, he admitted that. Chances are he surprised some of the fish when he landed and they took a bite out of him in self-defense. Nothing wrong with that.”
Bethany didn’t look convinced.
Jayce stepped beside his brother, smiling down at her. “Look, Beth. Why don’t we try this again next year, when you’re a bit bigger? Maybe it won’t look so scary then…” His tone was blatantly condescending, and Beth scowled. “I said I’m not scared!” She lied, “Watch, I’ll prove it!”
Darryl and Jayce watched with astonished horror as Bethany threw herself from the bridge, plummeting headfirst towards the sea. They leapt after her, arms outstretched to catch her even as she placed her arms at her sides and began plummeting.
She closed her eyes and smiled, enjoying the wind frapping against her face, the scent of fresh sea-salt, and the seagulls calling in the distance as though welcoming her…for a moment, she understood why her brothers did this for fun.
Then she nearly forgot what she was supposed to do.
She opened her eyes and outstretched her arms–the water was now yards away and closing fast–she had to focus, focus…thirty yards, twenty yards, ten yards…
Now she could feel her brother’s Reaching into her head, yelling at her in genuine terror, screaming at her to loose her wings; the water was so close that she could perceive life just below the surface…
Something burst from her shoulder blades; her descent leveled out and saved her from what would’ve been a disastrous belly flop–why didn’t the rope break?–and she quickly found her self arcing upwards, forcing her wings to flap, pushing the wind behind her, and rising to safety–
A deafeaning, bone-crunching impact was heard below as something hit the water with so much force that droplets shot several feet up. Instinctively, she Reached out to her brothers even as she turned…and could only feel Jayce. His attention was now entirely focused on Darryl, and Bethany realized with horror that she had been given the wrong rope; Darryl’s rope swung lifelessly in the breeze, hanging from the bridge.
Bethany heard Jayce use the knife he kept at his ankle to cut his own rope and fall freely into the water.
Then all was silent.
Not even the seagulls could be heard after a moment. The world went still.
Bethany Reached; nothing conscious came back; only wrenching, horrible agony from deep within the water. She stifled tears as she tried not to imagine how much pain the fall had caused Darryl. Strangely, she could no longer feel Jayce.
Suddenly exhausted as she realized she had not stopped flapping her new wings, Bethany hung in the air and dropped slowly towards the water. She frowned, certain that her eyes were playing tricks; the water appeared discolored as she drew closer, opaque and…
…by Yang, is that a leg…?!
Something exploded through the surface, something that stole the breath from her body. It was Jayce.
He was being swarmed by at least a dozen fish that clung to his body, hungrily wagging their tails as they burrowed into his him, tearing pieces of him away, oblivious to the blood darkening the water around him.
His face was pained desperation as he reached up towards Bethany, who couldn’t neither blink nor breathe as she slowly descended towards her brother, reaching for him, desperate to save him while not being consumed in the process…
She shuddered, tears forcing their way to the surface as she drew closer. They’re eating him alive!
“Jayce…” She sobbed, arm outstretched several feet above Jayce’s bloody arm. For a moment, he appeared to be stretching as he reached for her, and Bethany had dropped another inch before Jayce screamed.
“–STAY AWAY!!!” He forced.
One of the small fish leapt from the water and dove into his open mouth. Jayce first clamped a hand over his mouth, and then winced as he clutched his throat. He opened his mouth, expelling droplets of blood, gurgling and weakly coughing before finally falling beneath the surface.
Paralyzed by what she had just seen, Bethany hovered several feet above the water. “Jayce…?” She whispered.
Nothing. The water had become still again.
No, they can’t be dead. That doesn’t happen here!
You just saw it happen. They’re dead.
Bethany began to sob openly, unable to fly home and tell anyone, equally unable to abandon her brothers to the monsters in the sea.
Something burst from the water again; another fish, like the one that had leapt down Jayce’s throat. As it drew nearer, it opened its mouth, revealing dozens of finely sharpened teeth, all of which were coming for her.
Bethany began to ascend, holding onto the only thought that kept blind panic from setting in. It can’t stay out of the water, it can’t stay out of the water…
As the creature closed the distance to mere inches, it suddenly grew a pair of wings from each side of its body. With a sharp, downward motion, the wings flapped, rocketing the creature towards Bethany, who suddenly had no way out.
No no no no no…
Everything seemed to slow down for her as she frantically turned, opening her own wings, trying not to think about what she had just seen, and how badly she didn’t want it to happen to her–
Something bit into her wing, setting the right half of her body on fire as the wing was torn almost completely off. Screaming proved impossible as even opening her mouth was agonizing. She could no longer feel her right arm, although she could see it was still there, covered in her own blood. The fish, satisfied with the half-wing it clenched in its teeth, was satisfied enough to fall back to the water.
Bethany’s vision began to swim, her head pounding as she forced her good wing to flap. Her flight path was erratic as she exerted the last of her strength, commanding her one good wing to get her back to the bridge. Once there, she nearly lost consciousness as she pitched forward, reaching her good hand to the railing. Wincing, grunting, the world going gray, she hoisted herself over the railing and fell to the road on the other side. She could hear hooves clip-clopping against metal as horses moved towards her. She tried to see who was coming towards her, but the world was steadily going black. “Please, help me…”
“You’ve got to be kidding me.”
Reginald lowered his axe, exhaled, and looked back at Jayden. The boy held his axe in both hands and was starting to wear down, his breath coming quickly. Reginald smiled; the boy had worked hard that morning, but there was still much to do. He shook his head. “Afraid not, Jayden.” Reginald replied. He held out his axe and pointed to the one, two, three pine trees that had become the bane of Jayden’s existence. “All three of those need to come down.”
Jayden released an exasperated sigh as he glowered at the trees, and looked back Reginald. “Reginald,” Jayden began patiently, “They’re a town of six people. They couldn’t possibly need all that wood. You’re just trying to keep me busy.”
“They’re five hundred people, Jayden.” Reginald corrected, “And all that wood will get them through next year’s winter.”
“You mean all of this hard labor is for something that’s three hundred and sixty five days down the line?!”
Reginald smiled, returning his axe to the tree he’d been working on all morning. “Yes, it is. The longer the wood seasons…” He swung the axe into the tree, noting that he was at the halfway mark, “…the better it burns. But I’m not trying to keep you busy, Jayden. If you’d rather return home and continue that discussion with your father, you’re welcome too.”
“No, sir. Chopping the wood, sir.”
Reginald repressed a chuckle as he heard the resounding thunk of Jayden’s axe cutting into the tree.
“Think of it this way, Jayden.” Uriel said as he rose over the cliff face behind Jayden. “By the time you get finished with all of this wood, and your father finishes the addition to your house, you guys’ll be too tired to argue.”
“Thank you, Uriel. That makes me feel a lot better.”
Uriel smirked as he passed by Jayden, who glared at him in between swings. Reginald smiled at the two and returned to his own work, noting the height of the sun. It was still early, but half of the forest would have to be down by nightfall, and they were already behind.
Odd, the thought flashed through his mind as he took in the sky, it’s not usually this red out…
“Dad,” Uriel began, stepping through dry pine needles as he approached his father, “The boat to Briton is just about full. I think we should send it off.”
Jayden looked at Uriel knowingly. Reginald swung his axe one last time into the stubborn pine tree he had been working on all morning. He turned to his son, smiling, and wiping his brow with the back of his hand. “Really? You certain of that, Uriel?”
Uriel froze. “Yes.”
Reginald smiled. “Is that right? Because you don’t seem sure.”
“No, dad, trust me, I’m sure.”
“I tell you what. Let’s go take a look.”
Jayden chuckled, returning to work, taking downward swings into the trunk of his tree. Reginald glanced at him as he passed by; the boy was making good progress.
Uriel nearly stumbled over himself to keep up with his father. “No, dad, really, trust me, please. It’s fine. It’s full. I mean it’s really full.”
Reginald nodded quickly as he approached the edge of the cliff, rotating his right shoulder as he rubbed out an old ache earned from years of hard work. More than a hundred feet below, the water flowed audibly and powerfully towards the west, where it would open into the Atherean several miles away. Tied to the stone wall were three wooden rafts, each bearing the flag of the village they belonged too. Eudoras, the smallest of the three villages, ironically had the largest raft. Even from there, Reginald could see that the boat wasn’t even a third of the way full, but it wasn’t the first time that Uriel had tried to get out of the day’s chores.
“How about this, Uriel.” Reginald offered, spreading his wings, “Let’s go down there. If the boat isn’t completely filled up, you chop up the rest of the wood on your own, okay?”
“No, it’ll be fine!” Reginald insisted, “You’ve been wanting to use an axe for a long time, right? Today can be that day! We just won’t tell your mom!”
Uriel pursed his lips. Reginald cocked his head, looking down at his son. “Unless you’d like to tell me something?”
“You’re mean, dad.”
“I know it’s hard work,” Reginald said, squatting to be closer to his son, “And I know you’d rather be doing anything else. But if we don’t do this, a lot of people are going to be cold throughout the winter. We don’t let people down once we’ve promised to do something, do we?”
After a moment, Uriel shook his head. Reginald smiled proudly, standing up and embracing his son. “Load one more cord,” Reginald said to Uriel, “and then you can go home. Jayden and I will take things from there.”
Reginald looked at Jayden, who had stopped working long enough to watch the exchange between father and son. Without saying anything, Jayden nodded in agreement. Reginald ushered his young son away, and Uriel dutifully took two of the triangular logs from the nearby pile and dove fearlessly from the cliff, spreading his wings as he took flight. Reginald stepped past Jayden, who had returned to work purposefully, and took his axe in hand. As he returned to the tree, he stole a glance at Jayden, who didn’t notice.
There had always been a longing in Jayden’s eyes when he observed Reginald with his children. Although Jayden would never admit it, Reginald knew that the boy hoped for the same type of relationship with his own father.
Reginald used to joke with his wife that Jayden’s first word must’ve been “no”, because it seemed that he and his father had been clashing since the day Jayden could speak. Jayden had made friends with Uriel, despite their age difference, so he had become welcome in the St. Morias home. Reginald had always wondered; conflicts between parents and children were rare before the Great Divide. In fact, everything had been different before Yin’s exile. Even the third dimension had begun to war with itself.
Not all of life’s changes were for the better, it seemed.
Someone can racing through the forest towards them, moving so fast that he nearly tripped on the uneven terrain.
“Jayden,” The young man forced between rapid breaths, “You…need to come home right now.”
Jayden dropped his axe almost at the same time Reginald did, and the two approached the young man, concerned. Behind them, Uriel alighted on the ground and jogged towards them.
The young man had braced himself by placing his hands on his knees; he been running for miles, obviously. The sole thought resonating through Reginald’s head as he approached the adolescent was wondering what could’ve been so urgent to come so far, so fast?
“What is it?” Jayden asked warily, stepping past Reginald.
“It’s your sister.”
The young man had been crying.
Jayden’s mouth fell open. “What about Bethany?”
“She’s…she’s hurt really badly, Jayden…I think she’s passing on.”
Jayden didn’t wait to hear the rest of the sentence. Spreading his wings, he bolted into the sky, followed closely by Reginald and Uriel.
It felt like the entire town of Jordan had crowded into the Zeneca family’s modest five-bedroom home. A throng of curious Angels was stacked outside the house, funneling their way into the front door. The young man who had brought the news quickly rejoined his family outside as they arrived, and Reginald led Jayden and Uriel through the crowd, which quickly parted when they realized who had arrived.
The front room of the Zeneca house was a testament to the patriarch’s hunting ability, as there were two eight-point bucks facing one another in a homemade mount that must’ve taken months to complete. Above them was an eagle with its wings spread, also mounted and equally dead. Reginald remembered John, Jayden’s father, being reprimanded for striking down an animal not intended for food. His own family had objected to the stuffing, but John had been proud of the shot. Reginald found it macabre, and tried to avoid looking at the display.
There were nearly thirty people jammed into the front room, all of them conversing, wanting to know what happened, and crying. They became silent as Jayden passed them, beelining for the staircase at the end of the room. “It’s her older brother,” one of the Angels said as Jayden took to the stairs. Reginald instructed his reluctant son to stay downstairs and find his mother; there was no telling what happened to Bethany.
The wide, wooden staircase was lined with Angels who had arrived to see what had happened; they parted as Reginald and Jayden approached. Their wings propelled them as they took the stairs six at a time, bounding to the top in two leaps.
Five bedrooms lined the long, rustic hallway; all of the doors were closed but the one at the end of the hallway, to the right; Bethany’s room. Reginald and Jayden pushed their way through a narrow crowd of Angels, who parted and pressed themselves against the wall to let them through. Jayden burst into the room first, scanning for Bethany first on her bed–and finding her on the floor.
The sight caused him to gasp, and Reginald brought a hand, immediately looking away. The girl had been butchered.
She was being cradled by their mother, Marcee, whose shoulder-length blond hair looked ratty and disheveled, as though she had spent many nights sleeping in the wild. Her face was patchy and red from so much crying, and she rocked her daughter gently, humming a lullaby she had sung to them when they were children.
Bethany lay motionless in her mother’s arms, hands at her sides, head listed to the side, eyes closed. She was sickly pale, and her breathing was rapid and shallow. A pool of blood had dried beneath her, and a pile of reddened towels had been haplessly piled in a corner. Jayden felt a rush of rage pass over him as he observed his sister’s badly damaged wing, more than half of it missing.
Both Reginald and Jayden stopped breathing as they realized what what was happening; no effort was being made to save Bethany. There was nothing else anyone could do.
Almost involuntarily, Jayden collapsed to his knees at Bethany’s feet. “Beth…?” He managed, forcing tears back down his throat, he took her hand; it was cold. “Beth…can you hear me…?”
His mother either ignored him or didn’t notice him at all.
Something came storming up the stairs with enough force to bring the entire house down. Jayden was too engrossed with his sister to notice. Reginald looked at the open doorway just in time to see John, their father, explode onto the scene.
A big Angel with full facial hair, Reginald was almost surprised to see his face crack with emotion at the sight of his daughter dying. “Bethany?” His voice was still deep and rumbling, “Bethany? What’s the matter with you?”
As his eyes drifted towards Jayden, they changed from shock to pure rage. “You…” He growled.
Jayden still hadn’t noticed him.
John began to charge him.
Reginald blocked his path, staring the larger Angel in the eyes. “John, what’re you doing?!” Reginald hissed.
“Get out of my way, Reginald.” John threatened, “Don’t stand between my daughter and I!”
“I’m not.” Reginald shook his head, “I’m standing between you and your son.”
“My SON?!” John bellowed, shaking the house, “Tell me, son!” John now looked over Reginald’s shoulder to address Jayden directly, “Where were you when this happened?! Why weren’t you looking out for your little sister?!”
Jayden slowly looked up, tears coming down his face. It was as though he was just then becoming aware of his father’s presence. “What…?” He replied, his voice ragged.
“WHY WEREN’T YOU OUT THERE WITH THEM–” John’s bellow was loud enough to shake the house, but an unspoken thought hit them all at once. Wide-eyed and terrified, Marcee looked up at John, who had suddenly frozen.
Reginald was the first to say it aloud. “Where are Darryl and Jayce?”
“No!!” The word exploded from Bethany, who suddenly sprung to life. She sprang from the floor, scrambling to Reginald and clutching his shirt with such ferocity that he was forced to his knees. Inches from the girl’s face, Reginald found it impossible to look away; the girl’s eyes were wide, bloodshot…and utterly horrified. Her entire body was quivering; it was taking everything she had to hold on.
Looking in her eyes, Reginald understood; it was taking the last of what she had.
“They’re gone, they’re gone…” She managed, her voice shaky and determined, “They got eaten, okay?” She shook her head. “Don’t…don’t go after them, please, please, please…they’re gone, nothing’s gonna save them, they’re gone, they’re just gone…”
Reginald couldn’t help but feel sorry for the girl. What did you see out there? He Reached, pushing his thought into her mind so she could save her strength.
Blood. Death. Death like they do in that other place, with all that blood.
Other place…you mean in the third dimension, Bethany?
She nodded, although she didn’t speak.
Yeah, yeah, like that. Reginald, they ate my brothers, they ate my brothers…please, please tell Jayden.
Her entire body began to quake, and Reginald wrapped his arm around her back, taking her hand and nodding. “It’s okay, Bethany.” He spoke aloud, lowering her gently to the floor. “It’s okay. Rest now, please…”
She closed her eyes, going limp in his arms as her listed to the side. “You rest now.” He whispered. “Rest–”
Her breathing had stopped, as all movement had. Reginald, stunned, looked her up and down before clutching her wrist. He then repressed tears.
“Rest.” He whispered one last time before standing up.
Marcee was the first to begin sobbing, quickly picking up her daughter and holding her close, rocking. Other cries broke out across the house.
Jayden, who hadn’t blinked in nearly two minutes, slowly stood up, unable to take his eyes away from Bethany as she was cradled in her mother’s arms. He staggered backwards before falling against the wall.
Reginald was in such shock that he didn’t see John move until it was too late. The large Angel had crossed a third of the room in a single step, raised his hand over the unexpecting Jayden, and struck him to the ground with an open-handed slap. The crack reverberated throughout the entire house, snapping everyone out of their shock.
“DAMN YOU, BOY!” John bellowed, “WHERE WERE YOU?! WHERE WERE YOU WHEN YOUR BROTHERS AND SISTER WERE FOLLOWING YOUR LEAD?! WHERE WERE YOU THIS MORNING?”
Reginald pinned John’s arms behind his back and began to drag him away from Jayden, unaware that the boy was getting up. “John!” Reginald urged, “He’s still your son!”
“HE SHOULD’VE BEEN OUT THERE WITH THEM!!” John declared, loud enough to be heard two towns over.
From nowhere, Jayden barreled into his father, catching him at the midsection and knocking them all the ground. Pinned beneath them, Reginald had to struggle to get out from under John even as Jayden climbed atop him, and began throwing fist after fist into his face.
“Where was I, old man?!” Jayden seethed, “Where were you?! Or were you out looking for me again, looking for a way I had failed you yet again? Where were you when your children snuck away from your house?!”
Jayden was bloodying his father’s face and showed no signs of stopping, a dark red aura enveloping his body as he continued the assault. John was barely moving, although Reginald imagined that John was raising his hands in an attempt to fight Jayden off.
Jayden, now firmly pulsating a red aura, stopped beating his father and reached down, clutching him by the shirt and hoisting him upwards. “It should’ve been me?” He slammed his father back into the wooden floor with enough force to crack a rib, “It should have been both of us.”
Jayden seemed to become aware of his Luminescence only as he rose, and found all eyes on him. Reginald saw the emotions pass through the boy’s eyes; anguish, pain, shock, disbelief, and the color of his own aura; sheer, unadulterated rage.
Reginald wondered how long that had been building up.
“Reginald.” John was speaking, spitting up blood and teeth as he slowly rose from the floor. “I only have one son left. Get this thing out of my house.”
Jayden’s mouth fell open, but only for a moment. His father turned to the door and slowly plodded from the room, the bystanders making way for him.
As Jayden’s Luminescence faded, Reginald approached him, putting his arm around him. “Come.” he invited. “You can stay at my house until we get all of this worked out.”
(c) Avery K. Tingle for Akting Out LLC
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