By: Gerard Valencia (Christian Valencia-Vasquez).
Copyright 2012-2013 © MrV
CHAPTER 1: THE EMPATH
MAY 21, 2027
From the top of her lungs 8-year-old Julie shouted as she stood, waving her thin arm, in the billowing meadows of the homey garden world called Mossland.
Tears swelled up around her violet eyes and plummeted down her soft pale cheeks. Then, with the kind touch of the late mother she had only met in photographs, the tepid draft brushed her tears dry from her heart-shaped face.
Her blue dress danced to the passing breeze that exposed her stripped tube socks. The winds obscured patches of grass, revealing delicate yellow flowers hidden in the tall grass and around the girl’s bright red shoes. Her smooth amber locks flowed to the rustle of shaking leaves. Her raspberry lips tucked into a scowl.
“I’ll miss you, Hugo!” she said between sobs.
Then inhaled, her human lungs taking in the clean air. Unlike her polluted blue planet, Terrathos, this green planet was wholly inhabited by plant-like organisms; even furry animals could undergo photosynthesis.
She sighed, longing for the young creature that skipped away into unexplored freedom. Its gray-violet fur dispersed into the meadow like a blot of paint into wet canvas. The creature’s long and fluffy antennae faced down over its plump body. Its short clawed feet made their way uphill. Its oval onyx eyes caught glimpse of the shining golden star above, blending into cirrus clouds onto a deep matte of indigo and green. It then spotted fellow moss bunnies nibbling at the grass on the other side of the hill and excitedly hopped on.
She could not take her eyes from it, a knot formed on her throat. Fond memories bloomed in her head; all of her beloved alien pet the moss bunny, innocently crawling up her arm. The tickling of its claws against her skin was like a caterpillar’s march. Its smooth fur gave a pleasant whiff of moist soil and in the spring tiny white flowers bloomed on it. The moss bunny would also perch on her shoulder and brush her neck with its feathery whiskers, giving her the giggles.
It was then Julie noticed a feminine child-like being looking over the meadow and the moss bunnies. She waved at her from afar. Her plant-like appearance made her blend into the green with ease. She was around the same age as Julie, but instead of hair she had long wavy vines down to her waist, her eyes had bright emerald irises and dark scleras. Her nose looked human except for slit-like nostrils. Her skin was of a pale shade of jade with broad leaves covering her chest and waist, forming what looked like a skirt. Her and hands and feet looked mostly human with pointy fingers and toes similar to roots. What stood out most to Julie was the red cord around her neck, which supported a golden locket with an oval-shaped ruby at its center; this was the only inorganic part of her.
She wiped her tears on her sleeves and then turned around. Two sentry figures stood behind her. One was a man similar to the plant girl she had just seen. He was of thin build with dark hollow eye sockets and no recognizable irises or pupils, a fleshy dome formation with dark spots over his head similar to a mushroom cap, and skin of a darker shade of jade. Instead of body hair he had ark vines coming down from underneath the mushroom cap, and also covering his shoulders and chest. Wooden coils adorned his back, giving him a slightly arched posture. Some smaller and broader leaves clustered in layers over his forearms and groin. His bare feet had muddy roots for toes.
With his leafy right hand he scratched his stubby chin, from which more vines came together into a goatee. He smirked, revealing inside his wide mouth two rows of triangular pebble-sized teeth.
Beside the plant man stood Julie's father, a human from Terrathos, like herself. He was of the same height as the plant man, but of a stockier build with a lumpy belly and broader shoulders. He was of light complexion with an arched nose, short black hair with a visible curly tuft falling over his wide forehead, thick eyebrows and sideburns running down his jawline.
Most notably his evenly spaced almond-shaped eyes and heart-shaped lips were identical to those of Julie. He also sported tall black combat boots with one-inch soles, brown cargo pants, and a navy blue shirt with long sleeves that covered the palms of his hands. Over his shirt he wore, fully open, a black and gray polyester motorcyclist jacket.
Julie's dad glanced at the plant man to his left, and then turned back to his daughter, who walked towards them. As Julie's arms embraced her father's waist, his neutral face soon melted into a frown. He knelt down to look at her tearful eyes. He pressed his lips on her cheek as he put his arms around her.
“Daddy, is Hugo going to be alright?”
Julie’s dad turned to the leafy humanoid for reassurance. The plant man nodded.
“Your uncle Esporr and cousin Rose will take good care of Hugo, darling,” Julie’s dad replied, his hand on the back of her head as she leaned against his shoulder.
Julie let go of him and headed towards Esporr, looking up at him with a faint smile and sniffing. Esporr looked down at her, she reached his midsection.
“Thank you, Uncle Esporr. We don’t have room for Hugo at our store, and he kept pooping over the merchandise,” she said.
Esporr’s wide mouth split into a smile, letting out a deep chuckle.
“This is a moss bunny farm. Your Hugo will be free to roam and mate. Visit him whenever you please,” he said in his deep voice.
Julie turned to her dad, knowing his warm smile meant approval, and ran up to kiss his rough cheek.
“I love you, daddy,” Julie said.
Her dad sniffled. His eyes were glassy, and the dark brown of his irises had changed to a cool gray. The sides of his mouth were stiff, trying to conceal his sobs. All he could bring himself to do was nod silently.
“Why are you crying?” Julie inquired, curious. Her dad gently rubbed his eyes and cleared his throat.
“Remember what I said about how empathy works?” He calmly asked his daughter. Her mesmerizing violet eyes widened.
“Ah, yes! You can feel what I feel!" she replied in assertion and then lowered her head, “I’m sorry I made you sad. It won’t happen again.”
“No! Never hide your feelings for me or anyone, it shows you are alive! Besides, it’s comforting to know my girl has a pure heart!”
Julie smiled, placing her arms around her father’s neck. She could see the pride in his now violet eyes, the same color as hers.
“I won’t then,” she said.
Both smiled at each other simultaneously. Julie’s dad got back on his feet, his knees sore. He walked towards Esporr and patted his wide-leafed shoulder.
“You never have to thank me,” Esporr uttered, turning to face Skye with a serious face. The latter blinked in surprise.
“That was 30 years ago, friend!” Skye replied humbly. Esporr slowly turned his head sideways.
Skye narrowed his eyes at Esporr. Beyond the veil of his dark eyes the whole planet responded; every flower, cloud, and pebble. He could taste the vast ocean miles away and feel new grass emerging from the mud.
“What your sister and you did for Mossland is timeless,” Esporr said. “We, the Mossytots, are eternally indebted to you and every one of your descendants.”
Despite being an individual, Esporr, like every living creature born in Mossland was only an extension of the land; itself a sentient living organism whose collective mind was shared by all. No matter whom Skye used his empathic powers on, he would get the same result.
Every time a wave crashed sea or a gust of wind whistled, it was a heartbeat from Mossland; one shared by every beating chest on its crust. Solely mismatched were Skye and Julie, the foreigners from Terrathos, the visitors the planet always welcomed back.
Skye looked down at his boots, noticing a lone red flower beaming back at him. He looked up at Esporr and nodded. Then he beamed at his daughter, her small hand held onto his.
“Come on, Julie, lunch break is over,” he said.
Julie turned to wave at Esporr, who waved back. His broad leaf-like fingers close together, resembling a single large rainforest leaf. Rose came closer to her progenitor, tailed by the herd of curious moss bunnies that munched on grass.
Julie and Skye walked down a stone path into the nearby forest. They stood in front of a large tree with branches that crawled upward like spider legs. The trunk suddenly split along one of numerous coils on the bark, revealing inside the fissure a brightly lit white tunnel. A wild cicada flew into the chasm. Julie and her father followed the tymbal sound and disappeared inside the tree.
“Are we there yet?” Julie asked. “How about now?”
“YES, darling,” Skye responded.
The pair of voices echoed from inside a colorful spiral, as it formed over a rough brick wall in a dirty, empty alley in the 16th Street Mall of Denver City, in the United Republic of Anthos. From its otherworldly radiance Julie and Skye stepped out, holding hands. Pedestrians walked past the alley, unaware of their presence. Julie covered her nose and sneered at the black trash bags beside them. Her dad looked at her and mischievously kicked the bags with his boot.
“Home sweet home,” Julie said, checking her dress pockets for a piece of colorless chalk.
Skye gently took the chalk from her and began to trace over the glowing spiral behind them, watching it vanish from the brick at the notion of his hand, leaving no trace it ever was.
“When will I get to do that?” Julie asked impatiently.
“When you’re tall enough and can draw perfect circles,” Skye replied.
His grin quickly faded from his face at the sight of his own crooked drawing. Julie lifted an eyebrow. He gave her back the chalk.
"When you're tall enough," he said and then patted her head.
The girl crossed her arms and gave her dad a disillusioned stare. She slowly headed for the exit to the alley, noticing not far from them an elderly woman and girl around Julie's age, stood under a wooden sign that read:
ART SUPPLIES & PAS-TIMES
“Dad, we’ve got costumers waiting.”
Skye peeked from behind the wall, above Julie’s head, with a desperate look as his eyes morphed from violet to dark brown.
“Think anyone will notice if we fly?” Skye asked. Julie excitedly looked at him.
The two walked back inside the alley. Skye knelt down again, allowing Julie to grab onto his back in a piggyback pose, her arms around his neck. Skye made chocking sounds and Julie moved her arms lower. He then helped lift her feet, and ensnared her legs around his ribcage. The two looked up at the bright sky from the dark shaft between the two buildings.
“Ready?” Skye inquired.
"Hold on," she said.
Out of her front pocket she took out a pair of black airship goggles, which she put over her father's face, covering his nose. Skye quickly fixed them over his eyes instead.
"Okay, ready!" she said impatiently.
Suddenly, she felt a slight push of wind and everything below them move back. They were moving closer to the silver clouds above. She looked down, the stained concrete floor and the trash bags were swallowed by darkness. Skye narrowed his eyes, his irises changed from dark brown to golden hazel.
Meanwhile, at the front door of the arts and crafts store stood the pompous elderly woman and her impatient granddaughter in overalls, still itching from her recent haircut.
“Ugh! How much longer are we waiting, Obaa-san?” the girl stomped her feet.
“Hush now, Emma!” barked the elderly woman and then glanced at her watch, “He’s only five minutes late!”
Emma rolled her eyes. The nearest Groovy Patty restaurant was only a couple of feet to their left and to their right, across the street was the Casey’s department store. She really wanted a Groovy Patty with a toy in her kid’s meal, no matter if it was a repeat, as long as she did not have to wait beside her grandmother. It was then that something in the sky caught her curious eyes.
“NANA, LOOK! A FLYING MAN!” she chanted in excitement, only to be met by her grandmother’s glare.
“Be quiet!” Emma’s grandmother said showing her teeth menacingly.
Indeed, Emma had caught glimpse of a man ascending from the alley with someone on his back. He smoothly rose in the air like a feather and vanished atop the roof of the building. It was Skye, who leapt from rooftop to rooftop with Julie on his back, his boots barely touching the slippery solar panels underneath. Pigeons fluttered away in startled coos. Julie shakily saw the next roof ahead and said,
Skye huffed and puffed as he air walked, Julie’s weight keeping him from elevating higher. Finally both stood at the leftmost edge of the bakery’s roof. Julie could see a generous portion of downtown Denver as well as the colorful amusement park looming in the distance past the river. She then looked down the side of the roof at egg-shaped hover cars passing mere feet above the heads of distracted civilians crossing the streets.
Covered in sweat, Skye removed his goggles and passed his hand over his wet forehead, shoving his curled tuft of hair to the side. He leaned over his knees and took in several rapid breaths. The city air was so polluted it was unpleasant to breathe. His chest sharply ached but he did not want to worry Julie.
“Damn… I am so out of shape and I’m not 40 yet!” Skye said between labored breaths.
Julie approached him, noticing the slippery solar panels under their feet and the squeaky sound her red shoes made when rubbed against them. Skye turned away from her, hoping she quit the squeaking soon. Luckily for him she did and they exchanged glances in truce. Julie smiled.
“What now?” Skye asked.
“Could we go to the amusement park?” she inquired enthusiastically and then added, “Please, Daddy?”
Skye looked at her with difficulty, a tangy combination of sweat and cool wind was getting in his eyes. He coughed and tightly closed his mouth, forcing himself to breathe through his nose. He felt pulsing on his temples.
“Can we?” Julie asked again, more insistently.
“Not today,” Skye replied in a hoarse voice.
“Please! Daddy dearest, handsomest, nicest!”
Skye shook his head sideways and cleared his throat.
“It’s too far away… I can only carry you so far,” he responded, rubbing his sore back.
“Can’t we take a cab?” she suggested, her wide eyes still hopeful.
“It’s a work day… next Sunday. Deal?”
His voice was full of fatigue. Julie moaned in disappointment.
Skye held onto her hand and they walked towards the deep shaft between the buildings behind them and then jumped into the deep alley below. Their fall was slowed down by Skye, whose eyes were hazel again. Upon landing, they ran around the corner and down the street, just in time to call out to their customers.
“I’m very sorry, Mrs. Cho, traffic jam,” Skye said.
He avoided eye contact with the scary grandmother as he struggled to reach into his pants pockets for his keychain. The metallic hoop had over a dozen distinct keys of varying shapes and colors. His hand shook and the jingling bulk fell to his feet. Julie beat him to them and handed them back with concern. She noticed her father looked pale.
“My, get a hold of yourself, young man! You look like you’re about to have a heart attack!” Mrs. Cho said. Skye sneered at her.
“Sorry for the wait,” Skye sighed in relief when the right key went in and he heard the lock click.
Julie danced on her spot, with her arms behind her back. She then froze upon noticing Emma giving her an ill look and could not help to ponder: What the heck is she looking at? Emma continued to eye her with disgust. Her eyes moved up and down. Julie looked down at her own attire; there was nothing out of the ordinary, only mud stains on her red shoes. She glared back, pressing her teeth tightly. No way this is tacky compared to what you’re wearing, shit face! She said to herself as she gave her a distasteful look. Emma stuck her tongue out; she wore a dull maroon uniform.
Inside the store Mrs. Cho was drawn to the elderly songbird roosting in his nest inside a golden bird cage over the wooden counter. The finch bird shook his feathers and with his beak groomed under his wings. The silver in his feathers faintly gleamed under the light and elegantly decorated his body like engravings on a king’s armor.
“My, what a beautiful bird!” she said.
Hearing this, the bird cocked his head and puffed up. He began to warble cheerfully.
“His name’s Gurru and he’s my dad’s manager,” Julie said to Mrs. Cho with a wide smile.
“How adorable,” Mrs. Cho replied. She still listened to Gurru’s melody as she looked through shelves of colorful cloth.
“Do you need assistance, ma’am?” Skye inquired. The elderly woman made swift hand gestures for him to back away.
“Gurru is a dumb name,” Emma said.
Her voice broke through, making Skye and Julie turn to face her in unison. Gurru suddenly stopped singing, the tuft of feathers on his head rose menacingly as he glared and gaped open his beak at the child.
“Gurru’s not dumb!” Julie snapped at her.
“YES, he is! Look at it! Just an UGLY OLD BIRD!” The obnoxious brat enunciated.
The offended bird shook his body rigorously. Julie tightened her fists. Skye quickly leapt from behind the counter and stood between both girls, holding his daughter close.
“Julie, why don’t you get Mrs. Cho a bag?” He suggested between his teeth.
“Yes, father,” Julie replied.
He could sense hostility all over the store: his daughter’s anger at the breaking point, Gurru taking offense at being reminded of his true age, and the annoying brat Emma looking at the handmade gift cards with condescending malice. He moved closer to Julie’s ear and whispered,
“Remember: customer, not punching bag.”
Julie walked behind the counter and took out a paper bag with floral patterns. Skye then noticed Gurru still eyeing Emma. The girl was purposely folding the edges of the cards and mixing them up with the wrong envelopes. He could also sense Gurru silently growling and unknowingly began to do the same, showing his teeth.
“I will be taking these,” Mrs. Cho said to Skye.
He seemed confused at first, unaware he had spaced out.
“Lavender thread and quilt. Good choices, ma’am,” Skye said between sighs.
He reached into his jacket’s pocket and took out a small black notebook he used for writing receipt slips. From under his left sleeve, just above his hand, he pulled out what looked like a foot-long tree branch with carefully engraved leaf patterns and a sharp golden tip. He moved the tip close to his mouth and licked it. Then brought it down and began to scribble. He then inputted the prices into a vintage cashier machine at the leftmost corner over the wooden counter.
“My, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen one of those. I didn’t even think they existed!” Mrs. Cho said.
She looked attentively as Skye filled a receipt and had her sign the copy. He hummed while doing this. She noticed how legible his print handwriting was—his wyes in particular had a curl at the bottom and his aes were well rounded.
Julie stood beside the elderly woman and handed her dad the bag with floral patterns. Skye placed his handwritten receipt at the bottom of the bag and the merchandise on top. He then took out two rolls of ribbon from a box under the cashier, green and pink, and slid them to Julie along with the bag.
“My, what a talented little Miss!” Mrs. Cho said amazed.
The speed and dexterity at which Julie crafted a bow out of the two colors of ribbon was uncanny.
“Here you go!” Julie said, giving Mrs. Cho her customized bag.
“This is one of the reasons I love coming to this store! The attention to detail!” the woman said with a smile.
She then turned to her granddaughter and her grin faded instantly. Mrs. Cho grabbed Emma by the arm, but the girl clawed onto the shelves. The woman’s face morphed into a demonic frown and pulled again. Emma yanked harder, bringing several bags of buttons, small boxes, and rolls of paper cascading to the floor. Cho muttered something foreign between her teeth and pulled at the girl’s arm one more time, making her wail.
Three small bells atop the wooden door jingled as the two customers exited the store at last. Seconds later, Julie and Skye both sighed in relief, leaning their heads over the counter. Gurru also cheeped in distress.
“Mother Lux! Hopefully she doesn’t bring that brat here again!” Skye told Julie who nodded in agreement.
“That ugly girl said mean things about Gurru and my dress!” Julie replied, walking closer to the bird cage and opening the door. Gurru hoped down from his nest and landed on her finger.
“Don’t say, I wanted to pluck her eyes out!” an elderly male voice said. It had come from Gurru’s beak.
“I know! Me too!” Julie responded, “Want an apple dice?”
“No, thank you,” Gurru said firmly.
He hoped onto her shoulder and cocked his almond-sized head. Julie gently rubbed her cheek against his fluffy down, but the bird moved away and stretched his thin neck at Skye.
“And you! You kept the customers waiting for 10 minutes!” He flapped his wings at Skye.
“Should have made them wait longer, right?” Skye said jokingly.
“Maybe… yeah,” Gurru closed his eyes, lightly bobbed his head, and grinned.
“Gurru, guess what? We’re going to the amusement park on Sunday!” Julie turned to the elderly finch, who rubbed his beak clean against her shoulder.
“Hold it, Missy! Whether we go or not will depend on how much money we make this week,” Skye clarified.
“But you’ve already agreed we would go!” Julie whined.
“Child, understand we are almost bankrupt,” Gurru spoke into her ear.
“You too? I don’t believe this!” Julie felt betrayed.
She grabbed the finch and removed him from her shoulder, only to place him over her father’s.
“Julie, don’t make a fuss over this, you know how tight our weekly budget is,” Skye said.
Clearly upset, Julie crossed her arms and frowned. Skye could feel her anger.
“Hey, settle down,” he warned her.
“I hate this store!” Julie uttered.
Skye’s heart began beating faster and a lump formed on his throat.
“Julie, that’s enough!” His voice grew deeper.
“Cheater!” She raised her voice defiantly.
“C-calm down,” Skye stuttered, his tone dropping. Julie’s irrational anger overwhelmed him.
“Child, you listen to your father!” Gurru whistled.
“No! I hate this store! I hate this city!” Julie’s voice broke, turning to her father, “You always ruin everything!”
“I am trying, okay?” Skye gulped.
“I hate you! We never have money to do anything! You don’t try enough!” her words struck Skye like a sword through the chest.
Gurru could feel Skye’s body shaking. The man’s left eye twitched.
“Julie, behave!” Gurru implored her.
The talking finch then flew off Skye’s shoulder and hid behind the cashier machine. He could see Skye’s irises changing from their gloomy gray color to a fiery bright red as he tightened his fists.
“I-I…” Skye stuttered, his unstable voice rising in volume.
“Mom wouldn’t be so unfair!” Julie said.
She stomped her feet on the wooden floor. Every hit from her soles echoed inside Skye, making his lip twitch.
“Skye, don’t!” Gurru called out, trying to calm him down.
Suddenly, a porcelain vase exploded beside them. Gurru squealed. Shards bounced off throughout the store. Julie flinched, letting out a short scream.
“I TRY MY HARDEST!! CAN’T YOU SEE THAT?!” Skye roared, his face as red as his eyes.
Suddenly, the store trembled. Shards of porcelain and other small objects on the store began to rotate aimlessly in the air. Gurru found himself helplessly looking up at his cage hovering above him. Pencils and shelves rattled nonstop. Small fissures formed on the walls. Cornered, Julie stood frozen and wide-eyed. She felt something push her against the glass window, which her back felt pound like a massive heartbeat.
“S-STUPID BRAT! EVERY D-DAMNED DAY… I WORK MY ASS OFF FOR YOU!!” Skye snapped.
Julie couldn’t remember ever feeling so scared in her life. Her feet had left the floor and she found her hand could reach the ceiling.
Instantly, the spinning floating objects froze midair. Julie no longer felt the building shake or her ascending, but the glass behind her cracked. Her father’s chest tightened and he could barely breathe. His eyes had widened, his body temperature rose dramatically, his knees shook. Warm tears began to drip from his cheeks. His nose grew wet and he sniffled. The moment the first tear drop feel from his chin and hit the wooden floor, all the floating objects crashed down with a rumble. Gurru squealed, his cage nearly crushing him.
Julie came down too. Luckily, she managed to land on her feet, only to stumble and fall on her rear. She felt sharp pain on her right palm; a shard of broken porcelain had torn through her delicate skin. She brought both hands to her eyes and hid in her knees.
“I-I DO THIS FOR YOU!” Skye said.
His voice softened. He no longer sensed Julie’s anger, instead he sensed fear. His mind had clouded momentarily and now he glanced at the collateral damage around him. W-what just happened? He could not believe what he was seeing; chaos throughout the store: a shaken Gurru looked down at his cage, shelves were about to collapse, and his daughter sat curled up in front of him.
S-She is afraid of me! She acts like I’m a monster! He looked around, intrigued at the sight of porcelain shards everywhere. The glass on the door and windows had long cracks webbing from the sides.
Mute from the knots on his throat, he dropped to his knees. His body could not stop trembling. He sniffled again; his tears had stained the wooden floor. What have I done?
Gurru finally calmed down and saw the store no longer storm around him. He cocked his head and flew off the counter to land on Julie’s head. He concernedly saw blood dripping from her hand.
Skye rose from the ground, quickly losing his balance and holding onto the counter beside him. Gurru became startled and meet the man’s teary gray gaze. Skye turned around and wobbled on to the back of the store, his boots leading on with heavy footsteps.
Upon reaching the dark storage room, he collapsed onto the wooden floor with the thud of a falling tree. He had burned himself out and only sensed chills crawl over him like spiders from every corner of the room.
“E-Erebus… Erebus,” Skye muttered in soft painful whispers.
“Way to go, papa!” A familiar voice, cold as ice, crackled into his ear with sarcasm. Skye shut his eyes tightly and whimpered.
“Way to go, ya lazy wimp!” The voice repeated.
“I-I tried, Erebus. I did!” Skye replied.
“I’ve known ya for 30 years. I can tell when ya ain’t!” Erebus said.
“She needs her mother… I-I can’t do this alone!” Skye sobbed.
“Ah, yes. Our beloved Daisy,” Erebus said.
“I can never take her place…” Skye said.
“Indeed, old friend!” Erebus replied and added, "Wanna know why? Cause ya let her die!"
“No!” Skye shook his head.
“It’s cause of yer incompetence that Julie doesn’t have a mom!” Erebus said.
“Daisy bled to death, there was nothing I could have done!” Skye turned around, following his adversary’s voice.
“Ever occur to ya to use Conscientia water?” Erebus asked.
“I-I never thought of that… you’re right, it was my fault,” Skye said in surprise.
“Conscientia gave a small songbird the ability to talk! 30 years later, bird’s still yapping and runs a store! Imagine what it could’ve done for her!”
At that moment, Skye held onto his stomach. Memories came flooding in. All about that eventful day, nine years ago. He remembered being nervous at the hospital and holding Daisy’s hand. Her amber hair soaked and spread over the pillow like a cobweb. Her steel gray eyes looked only at him and weakly drew a smile on his face.
Her smile had always been soothing. And then, the contractions came and he too shared her pain. He flinched forward, clutching onto his stomach. Daisy let out a holler. The pain was unbearable. Color drained from both Daisy and Skye’s faces; the man could barely remain on his feet. He was lightheaded.
Voices echoed around him, something was wrong. There was blood, lots of it. A man about the same age, the doctor, then told him that given the situation, they could only save one of them. Before Skye could respond, Daisy implored for her baby to live, and was met by Skye’s sorrowful stare. He shook his head, tears running down his eyes. Daisy nodded at him, her smile did not calm him.
Before he knew it, the medical staff pushed him aside and he let go of his wife’s hand. In that instant, she began to drift away from him. He heard more screaming until… the dreadful silence came. A soft beeping sound broke through, and with it the chants of a newborn.
When the doctor handed a small bundle of blankets to Skye, his heart had gone numb. He could only stare at Daisy, who lay across him with her eyes closed. She was pale and her smile was gone. He no longer sensed her iron will nor felt her splintering pain.
The beautiful woman he had met three years ago; whose cheerfulness and sense of humor could mend his soul time after time and angelic touch that made him want to soar above the clouds, was gone. She would never embrace him in bed in the cold mornings nor would he ever feel her lips on his cheek and neck.
Then, for the first time in his life, his dark brown irises were drained of all pigment and turned steel gray; the color of Daisy’s eyes. Sudden movement in his arms brought his attention to the delicate being he now cradled in his arms. Her wide violet eyes were fixed on him with curiosity. Sadly, her eagerness was met by apathy. Skye’s heart had withered, incapable of loving her back. He was a living golem.
“Julie deserves better,” Erebus interrupted.
Skye opened his eyes. The memory was still resonant as he searched the darkness for Erebus. He could not find him; only hear his disembodied voice ensnaring him with the merciless grip of a python.
“I could do it for ya,” he chuckled.
“What?” Skye exclaimed.
The hollow sound of footsteps approached him. He still could not tell where Erebus was.
“Over my dead body!” Skye snapped.
The footsteps got closer and then stopped abruptly.
“Give her to me, Skye!” Erebus hissed.
His voice sent a chill down his spine. He was behind him, somewhere.
“No! She’s my daughter!”
“From what I recall, ya don’t even love her!”
Out of the darkness Skye made out a pair of glowing eyes preying on him. He was mesmerized and vulnerable, like a magus deer at the steady bright lights of a truck.
“Stop it! Quit messing with me!” Skye demanded.
“As ya wish, Papa,” Erebus said.
The glowing eyes moved closer, tailed by the disembodied sound of footsteps. Skye looked on expectantly, mildly frightened. The last time he had seen Erebus, he had the visage of a decaying corpse with parched gray skin and hollow black eyes.
“Where are you?” Skye inquired.
He only saw his own reflection sitting on the ground across from him, waving and showing off a cynical smile.
“Right in front of ya, idiot!” Skye’s reflection spoke with Erebus’s distinctive voice.
“NO…” Skye uttered.
His reflection glanced back with malevolence and nodded. He then remembered had been absorbed into the darkness of his mind, where Erebus wept in silence, when his eyes became two black marbles. Monstrous thoughts obscured his judgment. Among them was the urge to toss the newborn against the wall, then crush the doctor like a can with his power over gravity, and finally bring their moons Luna and Concordia down to smash the hospital and everyone inside… all as he laughed nonstop.
“Do it! Kill ‘em!” Erebus said to him, “C’mon, SNAP!”
Suddenly, the doctor and nurses were flung across the room and slammed against the walls. The lights above them began to flicker. Some screamed in horror, not knowing what was happening. At the center of all stood Skye, twitching his head sideways upon feeling Erebus stand behind him, his corpse hand over his shoulder.
“How do ya feel now, empath?” Erebus asked.
“Angry… sad,” Skye responded in a monotone voice.
“What about them?” Erebus pointed towards the medical staff, “How do they feel?”
“I… dunno,” Skye said.
“C’mon, dude!” Erebus held Skye from both shoulders and shook him, “I’m showing ya this for a reason! Tell me, what did those tasty cowering fools feel?”
“I-I don’t know… I didn’t care how they felt,” Skye admitted.
“Ah! What about her?” Erebus looked down at his arms.
Skye looked down as well, realizing he still held onto his newborn daughter. Her innocent cries echoed inside his head. He then remembered it; midst his murderous rage the sight of the baby in his arms had brought him back to his senses. He saw the people around him and down the halls of the hospital had been immobilized by his gravity power.
“NO!!” He shouted and let go of his invisible grasp on them.
“Good, ya still remember well,” Erebus said as he gently rubbed the baby’s head with his dead index, “Will ya be the father she needs?”
Skye stood in silence. He pondered and then remembered the baby still crying afterwards. Seeing her unusual violet eyes again made him feel something… It had been the same feeling he had when he met Daisy, of something new growing between them, a bond—one powerful enough to thaw his frozen heart.
He held lovingly onto his child, and calmed her down with a soothing voice and a kiss. Her small hand then reached out to him. He brought his face closer and felt her grip around his nose. He laughed and she smiled back at him. At that moment, his gray irises were tinted in violet, the color of Julie’s eyes.
“I love you, Julie,” he said.
With the memory over, Skye saw his reflection transform from a dark mirror of himself back into Erebus’s haunting corpse visage.
“So tell me, Skye… Will ya?” He asked again, “Will ya be the father she needs?”
“Yes, I will!” Skye responded firmly.
“Why?” Erebus asked.
Skye then saw Erebus transform into a reflection of Daisy, himself and present day Julie together—a family at last. Skye beheld the beautiful sight before him and said,
“Because if I don’t… Daisy’s sacrifice would’ve been in vain.”
Suddenly, a flash of hazy light blinded him. An echo resonated inside his head. He could not make out what it was at first.
“Daddy!” Julie’s voice called out to him.
He felt tapping on his shoulder. The left side of his face lay flat against the wooden floor and dust fluffs gathered to sneak their way up his nostrils, making him sneeze. His eyes sought Erebus, but only found the glaring light of a charming Lucifer flower.
The plant had unraveled its coiled earthly-colored petals in the absence of light and chemically achieved bioluminescence, turning a soft pinkish-white and lifting the veil of darkness from his surroundings.
He then noticed Julie knelt down beside him holding the flower, a look of concern and fear drawn on her face. She held her right hand against her chest, thin lines of dry blood visible around it.
Skye quickly sat back up; this sudden action made his head throb and blood rush back to his temples, making him dizzy. He held onto his head with one hand, taking a few moments to recover. He placed his other hand over Julie’s shoulder.
“You’re hurt!” Skye exclaimed with concern.
“I cut my hand,” Julie uttered timidly.
She reached out her hand in the dim Lucifer’s light so her father could take a look at it. A thin jagged cut ran across her palm, stained by webs of dry blood. Skye focused his eyes on her, guilt and sadness weighed on him.
“This may hurt a bit,” Skye reached into his shirt and pulled from underneath a wooden locket with a white asklepian symbol (a serpent-entwined rod) on it. Julie fixed her eyes on her dad’s locket.
He twisted the top of the asklepian perpendicularly to the bottom part. He asked for Julie’s bloodstained hand and sprinkled a wisp of glittering orange powder over her cut. Ah, burns! Burns! Julie thought, feeling the powder crawling into her skin. Within a few seconds the pain was gone and her cut had vanished into a small scar.
“You should be fine now,” Skye said putting the asklepian back together.
“Daddy… I’m sorry I hurt your feelings,” Julie said in a low voice, hiding her eyes from her father. Skye brought his daughter closer to him in embrace.
“No. I did more wrong and got you hurt,” Skye’s voice was soft like a whisper.
“Gurru explained everything to me, why we are poor and all stuff you do so I can have food and a bed to sleep,” Julie said as she looked at her father’s scowl, “I don’t hate you, daddy. I love you. I always have.”
Skye felt relieved at these words. Unfortunately the image of Julie’s fearful eyes still haunted him. He did not want her to see him as the monster he truly was; he loved being her superhero instead.
“Julie, I want you to promise me something,” he asked.
“What’s that?” Julie inquired innocently, feeling her father’s chin against her forehead.
“Promise me you’ll never fear me again,” Skye kept his eyes shut, his voice holding back his sorrow. He could perceive Julie’s confusion at his request but said no more.
“Oh, yeah, we have customers waiting at the front,” Julie added calmly, “Two guys and their baby, said they were looking for party stuff.”
Skye opened his eyes wide, let go of Julie and literally flew out the door, exclaiming, “OH, SNAP!”
Julie stayed behind in the storage room, the glowing flower beside her. Never fear him again? She pondered.