CHAPTER 2: THE BATTLE OF PHANTOM TOWN
MARCH 22, 2028
“Something troubling you, darling?” Skye asked.
Julie, who had been staring at her reflection in the puddles on the sidewalk, gazed up. Her father held the umbrella over her, letting heavy raindrops land on his shoulder instead.
“Just wondering,” she said.
“About what?” He placed his hand over her shoulder.
“At school… I noticed other kids have the same last name as their parents,” she looked up at him. They quietly exchanged glances.
“Yeah, usually in a family the mom and the kids have the dad’s name,” he replied with a smirk.
“But not me! Am I adopted?” her eyes widened.
Skye’s smirk broadened into a smile and he responded,
“No, silly! You’re not adopted.”
“Why is my last name not Valentia like yours?” she inquired.
“Well, your mom’s name was Daisy Travell, so I figured giving you her last name would be like honoring her,” he said.
“That makes sense!” she exclaimed in relief.
“Well, here we are… school!” Skye said.
The two stood before a tall brick building with stone archways and long windows. Skye led his daughter to the entrance, where he was quick to adjust her stripped tube socks so they would be the same length. He also adjusted the neck of her shirt.
At Searise Elementary School uniforms consisted of a white polo shirt and khaki pants for both sexes, although girls had the option of wearing a dress, like Julie had. She did not mind the uniform as long as she could walk the halls in her signature red shoes and curly pigtails. She loved to adorn her pigtails with the frozen flowers she received as birthday present from the Mossytot Rose the year before, after she had told her about foreign human customs such as giving presents on birthdays.
“You have a nice day, okay?” Skye said.
He then held her in embrace and gave her a kiss on the cheek. Julie did the same. After letting go, he offered his umbrella to her.
“I won’t need it, daddy” she said.
“Hold on to it, you never know when it could come in handy,” he insisted.
“Really? How is it useful inside?” she inquired.
“Use it to beat up bullies?” he suggested.
“Oh yeah!” she laughed.
Julie waved at her father and entered the building. He waved back at her and then put on the hood he kept under his jacket.
The sidewalks were damp. Colorful hovering cars soared above pedestrians with their head lights on. Suits talked on their mobile ear pieces and camera-clad tourists hurried to find the nearest roof.
With occasional gusts of 60 miles per hour that comically snatched parasols, any expert would tell you it was not the best time to fly. Ironically, the sun still managed to push its way through the masses; it was not dark and gloomy as expected.
“Man, I love that rain smell!” Skye said with a wide smile.
He had arrived at his destination, Peggy’s Hair Salon. He pulled down his rain-stained hood and knocked on the glass. The lights were on but he could not see anybody inside. Suddenly, a modestly dressed Homptilian woman with wet pink hair came running towards him from the side of the street. He moved aside, afraid she would collide with him.
The woman carried a mangled parasol on one hand and shivered in her soaked gray dress and black platform shoes that contrasted with her long-skeletal legs. As she hurriedly looked for her keys, Skye noticed she had tried to cover the dark green spots on her neck and face with a heavy layer of peach-colored foundation, which the rain had now dampened, leaving thin trails of her natural greenish skin underneath.
She opened the door and he followed her inside. The moment she shut the glass door a whistling windy sound howled and the fumes of the barbershop upset his nostrils. Some bells jingled above them.
“Dear, it’s bad out there!” the pink-haired woman said.
“I can see that,” Skye replied, noticing the damage on the parasol as it got tossed into the trash bin.
From the back room came a stocky woman with vibrant bleached locks and round face, prominent brow, wide nostrils and a distinctive pair of horns protruding from each of her head temples. Despite her advanced age, her arms were muscular. Peggy the Theo Lioness, Skye thought waving at her. Peggy greeted him with a hug and led him to his preferred seat by the window.
Peggy tossed a towel at the pink-haired woman from her spot 20 feet away. The woman clumsily caught the towel rather surprised.
“Nice arm, Peg,” she said.
“In the name of the Gods, go dry yourself Tatiana! You’re dripping all over!” Peggy barked at her co-worker.
Tatiana cursed, realizing her foundation had begun to wash off. Skye politely held back a twisted smile. With a chuckle, Peg placed a blue drape over Skye, who patiently sat in the barber chair.
“What’s it gonna be today, Hon?” Peggy asked turning the chair around so Skye faced the mirror.
“I want to try something new,” Skye replied, eyeing his own reflection, “The curl is too 1970’s, I’m going with long bangs now. Split down the middle.”
“No more Clark Reeve?” Peg asked, holding a spray bottle and a comb.
“Nah, I’m going for Hugh Logan as Van Hellsing,” Skye replied with his eyes closed and felt the misty spray on his face.
“Ooh, Hugh Logan! Somebody’s gonna look handsome!” Peg commented.
The woman gently sprayed more water on Skye’s hair, and then tamed its wavy ends with her comb. Skye’s dark locks were usually straight but when grown past the 5-inch mark began to naturally coil rather wildly, specially the tuff over his forehead which made him similar to the late actor Clark Reeve in the 1978 superhero flick “Uberdude,” based on the popular caped superhero who debuted in the comic book Tales of Justice #1, published in June 1965.
As a child back in the late 1990’s, Skye had been fascinated by the legacy superhero largely due to both sharing the ability to fly. In fact, when still training in his teens, Skye would seek inspiration from his trade paper back with the reprint of Uberdude’s origin.
According to the story, Uberdude was born Troy Kent, a farm boy raised by a single mother, a widower from World War II. When Troy’s mother was only three months pregnant she found a crashed spaceship and received incredible superhuman abilities from its dying extraterrestrial pilot. It was not until a tornado hit the Kent Farm that pre-teen Troy discovered he too had inherited the pilot’s powers by surviving being crushed by debris without a scratch. By the time Troy was 20, his mother succumbed to cancer and they were bankrupt. Desperate, Troy used his powers to rob banks so he could pay off their debts. Unfortunately, the discovery of her son’s criminal career made Troy’s mother lose the will to fight and she died in less than a month. Shortly after her passing, Troy would find a letter from her, pleading he ceased being a criminal, and he finally opted to use his powers for good and became the universally beloved icon of the 20th century: Uberdude.
As an adult, Skye had come to fully understood what drove Troy to put on his suit and risk his life for others. He also noted parallels between his life and the fictional hero. Both Troy and he had lost their loved ones. In the comics, Troy’s wife, Lois Stacy, got thrown off a bridge by Uberdude’s archenemy. Despite successfully catching Lois midair, the hero realized to his horror she was already dead.
“Going a date or something?” Peg asked excitedly.
Skye then came off his daydream and laughed weakly. He had not dated anyone in the last nine years, ever since Daisy passed away during childbirth.
“No, I’m not ready to start dating,” Skye said melancholically. Peg caught on to his dramatic change in tone and swiftly changed topic.
“How’s the little Missy?” she asked.
“Julie’s at school right now,” he responded.
“Does she still go to Searise Elementary?”
She carefully trimmed the curled ends of Skye’s hair, shaping the bangs to his sides and then combed it once more.
“She does,” he sighed, “She’s the one who told me I needed a makeover, because my hair style was outdated.”
“Well, you’ll look handsome, Hon,” Peg said.
“How’s your family doing?” Skye inquired.
“Grandkids are rowdy but gotta love them!” she replied, “They really are lovable.”
“Don’t your grandkids go to Searise too, Peg?”
“Two of them do! Maybe your daughter knows them? Logan and Ronald,” she clarified.
“I’ll have to ask her. How many grandkids do you have?”
“Lucky number 7, Hon!” Peg proudly stated.
“All of them Theos?” Skye wondered.
“Two of them are mixed, half-Homptilian from the mother’s side. Always seem sickly to me, but that’s how all Homptilians look!” Peg rubbed her hands on Skye’s scalp, “I love ‘em all the same!”
“All boys?” a curious Skye focused on Peg.
“Yeah! I thought lucky 7 would be a girl. I keep telling my boys ‘I want a granddaughter!’” Peg said.
“In my family boys are rare. In fact, I’m one of only two males born in the last five generations, my nephew Bastian being the other,” Skye laughed.
“Hon, lend me some of your genes!” Peg removed the drape.
“Yeah, everyone expected Julie to be a girl from the start!” Skye rose from his chair, and fixed his long sleeves over his hands after he dug into his cargos’ pockets for money, “But I always wanted a daughter so I’m grateful.”
“Lucky man,” Peg said firmly and then went to the cashier.
She gladly took Skye’s 20 pesos (two large silver coins of $10 each) and reached for a copper 5 pesos coin from the cash register.
“Wait—keep the change!” Skye insisted. Peg looked at him reluctantly.
“You have money problems, Hon, you don’t have to tip,” she reassured.
“Please, take it,” he insisted and handed Peg a perforated card. She took it and added a twelfth heart-shaped hole to it. According to the card he now had earned one free haircut, courtesy of Peggy’s Hair Salon.
“Ever gonna use those? You have, like, 11 free haircuts already!”
“Maybe next time,” Skye said with a smile.
“You don’t have to be a gentleman all the time!” Peg insisted.
“Okay… Hey, can I let you in on a secret?” Skye asked a bit nervous.
“Sure, Hon,” she replied expectantly.
“Ever since I was a boy, I’ve wanted to be a Theo!” Skye said with the widest smile.
“Really?” Peg replied with surprise and confusion.
“Yeah! I’ve always looked up to every Theo I saw on the street!”
Skye was having a geek moment. He liked Uberdude the super-Homme, but the real life super-humans, Theos, fascinated him even more.
“That’s random… and something you don’t hear every day. Why in the world would you want to be like this?” Peg asked.
“Well for starters, Theos are tall and strong! And those horns just look plain awesome!” Skye said.
Peg blinked and stared blankly at Skye. He was worried he may have offended her. All he could sense in Peg was uneasiness. Suddenly, she burst into laughter and startled him.
“You’re something special, Hon! If the whole world thought like you, everything would be different!” she said, patting Skye in the shoulder.
Each pat caused him to nearly fall on his face due to her immense strength. He felt the massive hand bruising his skin but tried to hold back the urge to holler in pain.
“Also… I-I needed some advice,” Skye divulged between shaky breaths wiping off a tear from his eye.
“I’m worried about Julie (hope this doesn’t sound stupid)…” Peggy was attentive.
“I’m afraid of her growing up! What am I gonna do when she’s off to college?” Skye felt dumb.
“Hon, listen… I raised six Theo boys all on my own! I know what it’s like be worried sick 24/7!” Peg patted Skye in the back once more. This time Skye let himself fall on his knees. Peggy took notice and picked him up like a rag doll.
“I don’t know what to do!” he rubbed his sore shoulder.
“Hon, it’s normal for every parent to want to protect their cubs, but if you don’t trust them they won’t make it on their own. Look at mine! At 15, I kicked them out of the house and they did fine!” Peg was met by a look of astonishment from a wide-eyed Skye.
“B-But weren’t you worried about the anti-Theo bigotry out there?” Skye inquired concernedly.
“I always knew my boys were smart,” she added confidently, “Plus, if I worried every time there was a lynching on the news, I would have gone insane!”
“How do you do it?” Skye was amazed at what a strong woman she was.
“Just have faith. More you hold onto them, more vulnerable you make them!”
Suddenly, Peg’s attention was drawn to her assistant Tatiana, who came out of the back room a new person. She had removed her makeup, exposing her natural dark Homptilian spots and pale greenish skin. She had also changed into a more flamboyant and colorful dress that matched her extravagant hair.
“You look gorgeous dear. Don’t hide ‘em spots! You’re beautiful as the Gods intended!” Peg said to Tatiana, who returned a shy smile to her.
“It does feel… better,” Tatiana admitted, feeling her bare face and then setting up the barber chair for the next costumer.
Homptilians, best known for their incredible regenerative abilities and ability to breathe underwater, were as discriminated as Theos. Unlike Theos, Homptilians were always seen as weak and not a real threat to anybody. Also, despite being excellent swimmers, Homptilians lacked the advantageous bulk and visage to stand out. This meant they could blend among crowds of Hommes like Julie and Skye with relative ease, all it took was a good disguise.
Skye thought it was unfair how Hommes viewed Theos and Homptilians as monsters. To make matters worse, existing Nazi and Klan followers believed Hommes were the only true humans worthy of living in their world, Terrathos, and invested their efforts painting Theos and Homptilians as storybook monsters by dehumanizing them in as many ways as possible.
The most infamous of myths being that Theos were beasts from another planet. Of course, any educated person knew genetic studies showed Theos, Homptilians and Hommes shared a common ancestor as well as 90 percent of their genes. Hommes were classified Homo sapiens sapiens, whereas Theos were Homo sapiens dei, and Homptilians as Homo sapiens reptilis.
Skye often felt ashamed of his Homme heritage and when asked in forms for his subspecies, he would always opt for the option, PREFER NOT TO ANSWER.
Suddenly, another jingle came from the barbershop door. The sound made Skye come off his trance and catch glimpse of two giants in black suits coming in. Both stood easily seven or eight feet tall, much taller than Peggy who was already taller than Skye. At 5 feet and 7 inches, Skye was officially the shortest person in the barbershop. I’m gonna have issues with this, I know it! Skye sighed as he turned to face his stylist.
“I feel… small, could I please hide in your bathroom?” he whispered to Peg. She instantly let out a guffaw.
“I love this guy!” Peg exclaimed and placed her arm around him.
The two men took notice and eyed Skye. One could tell, even if they wore hats, that these brutes in suits were Theos from their massive build alone. They removed their hats as they sat down in the bench inside the barbershop, revealing the horns at the sides of their head temples.
One of the men wore shades and was balding—this made Skye wonder if he had just come to chat instead of getting a haircut, or perhaps to get his beard done. The one beside him was much younger, had darker skin and bore dreadlocks. He also sported a jagged scar that ran down the left side of his face.
“Hey, you hear about that bus accident on the news?” The balding Theo said to his dark-skinned partner, loud enough for everyone to hear.
“Yeah, said nine Hommes got crushed ‘because their bus stopped flying all of a sudden! That heavy shit feel and got rammed by an 18-wheeler on land!” the dark-skinned Theo said as he eyeballed Skye with a grin, his front fangs showing, “Them weesesoans got squashed!”
Weesesoan (or weese): a derogatory term coined by Theos to refer to Hommes and their anatomically smaller skulls and brains. It was a clever and ironic way to use Nazi propaganda to insult Hommes, although in truth most Theos had average intelligence despite having larger skulls and brains.
“Hey, punk! We don’t tolerate that ugly word here!” Peg barked at the dark-skinned Theo, showing her own fangs menacingly.
“My bad,” the dark-skinned Theo said as he walked towards Peg and sat in the chair. Skye could see him eyeing Tatiana with aversion.
So it’s not just Hommes you dislike, jerk… Skye headed towards the door, trying to avoid further eye contact.
“I have to get going, Peg! Take care, Tatiana!” Skye said reaching for the door handle and waving back at the two women.
“Take care, Hon!” Peg said. Tatiana waved silently.
“Party hard!” Skye said.
“We will, sir!” Tatiana replied.
Skye rubbed his shoulder and stood at the door a few moments. He tried not to look back at the two men in black, but it was inevitable. How could he dismiss the cold void in their hearts? Their lack of remorse disturbed him. D-did they really kill all those people in the bus? Why did they say this out loud? How can they be calm like this?! A chill ran down his spine. It made no sense, and he knew he was not mistaken about them.
He sensed their predatory eyes still on him and gripped the door handle tightly. He wanted to do something, call the cops or confront them, but it was too dangerous. The hatred in those men in black was too much. It was clear they wanted him dead, like all Hommes in the city. Perhaps they did it out of vengeance for their people after centuries of persecution, or just sheer delight for the sight of chaos. So that’s how it must feel… to be like them… a cold-blooded, heartless, murderer. He shivered; another chill ran down his spine.
“Everything okay, Hon?” Peg asked Skye.
“Yo, gonna do my hair or not?” the dark-skinned Theo said.
He grew impatient, and in response Peg tightened the drape around his neck. Even with his back turned, Skye could sense the stares. He closed his eyes and smiled.
“Yeah, just remembered something. See ya!” His voice was calm and much deeper than usual. Finally, he stepped out the door into the welcoming, cool noon air.
The rain had ceased outside. Long-thin streams dripped down the roofs. If someone had died recently, the rain would have washed any blood stains clean. Pedestrians had yet to swarm the streets and even few cars hovered up above.
“’twas none of ya business, bub,” Skye uttered to himself, his voice still deep. His irises were pitch-black with no visible pupils in them.
“If you say so,” he spoke in his regular voice again.
His irises went from black to a haunting gray, the color of the clouds. He gazed up. Above him he could make out various abstract shapes, usually faces and hands, but this time, he saw a serpentine sliver of clouds billowing above him. He narrowed his eyes. It was moved faster than the other masses of clouds. Could it be?
“Trust me, they’ll get their due,” Erebus said. His deeper voice coming from Skye’s lips and his irises black again. “Ya seem distracted, found something?”
“N-nothing, just thought I saw… something,” Skye said. He glanced up again; the thing in the clouds was gone.
He then stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, across from a street crossing sign that read DON’T WALK beside a flashing orange hand. He found it interesting how people still waited at stop signs despite most vehicles no longer traveling on land, with the exceptions of heavier vehicles used for trash pickups and transport of commercial goods. The latter even had their own land roads separate from the abandoned highways.
The world governments had no idea what to do with all the unused roads built over a century, until they added land magnets to keep hovering vehicles from running stop signs in the air. They also told people not to walk on the roads, and occasionally they saw why… the recent bus accident, for example. A vehicle malfunctioned midair and fell intact on the ground only to be ravaged by a passing land truck. Luckily no pedestrians were hurt.
“Unlucky bastard whoever walked ‘em roads, eh?” the deeper voice said mockingly. “Hey! Not even ya can fly freely like ya used to, ‘cause of air traffic! How funny’s that?”
“Erebus! Could you leave me alone?” Skye demanded in his regular voice, his irises gray again and his head looking down at his reflection in a puddle, “Just leave me alone!”
He disregarded the looks of passing pedestrians. In the water, he instead saw a bald corpse-like humanoid wearing the same clothes he did and glaring back. The sinister entity opened his lip-less mouth but hesitated to speak.
Suddenly, a passing biker cut through the puddle. In the distorting ripples, Skye saw himself reflected at last. He sighed in relief, but his face was still grim. The biker had already crossed to the other side of the street and the sign read WALK.
Skye took a deep breath. The WALK sign changed to a countdown. 20… 19… 18… He stretched his leg over a large obscure puddle on the edge of the sidewalk. 15… 14… the thick soles of his boots gently loomed over the water without disturbing its serenity, without a splash, and without getting wet. 10… 9… 8… With more ghostly steps he marched down to the pace of the timer, his hazel eyes as golden as the heavenly honey of deadly horned bees. The pleasant scent of rain filled his nostrils, but it did not soothe him like before. 3… 2… 1… DON’T WALK—the crossing sign blinked.
Inside a nearby alley, Skye put on his hood again, and then adjusted the strap of his aviator goggles around it to secure it in place. Wearing the goggles Julie gave him as Yule present two Decembers ago had become customary and they did keep direct sunlight and wind from his eyes.
He then leapt and was pulled upward as if by an invisible rope. His dark silhouette shrunk as he got higher. No pedestrians seemed to take notice, as they were too focused talking and texting.
Skye zipped through the cool air. He had never technically broken the barrier of sound, as tempting as it sounded, due to fear of going deaf. His back was arched forward and extended arms to his sides, akin to a double-crested swallow in flight. His pace was steady; he had long passed the air traffic jam. Go on, I know ya want to. Skye heard Erebus’s low voice hum in his head, and for once he reluctantly agreed with it. Whenever he flew, he felt truly free and empowered. He was an unstoppable force of nature.
“WOO-HOO!!” he shouted, feeling his body light as he rode the roller coaster wind in a loop.
All was going well until a drop of rain fell on his cheek, followed by three smaller ones that blurred the lens of his goggles.
“Oh, snap! Rain again?”
Skye turned to his right. There it was again, the billowing sliver of clouds from earlier. It slithered up and down as freely as he did. And when he turned his shoulders to glide into a loop, the invisible atlas made a misty ribbon formation. It seemed to be playing with him. Amazing! It has to be you! He thought with a smile, until…
The sound of lightning roared beside him. Wide-eyed, Skye realized he was falling. He could see for a few seconds the cloud entity coil up and looking down at him. His heart was racing, there was tingling on his left arm. And then a slight cold wind began to cradle him in the air and slow him down.
What’s going on?! Erebus exclaimed in surprise.
Skye could make out the serpentine entity getting closer, trying to reach him as he fell. Unresponsive but conscious, Skye saw a misty face above him, controlling the force that embraced him, it was almost human but with a snout and whiskers.
When he finally blinked, he realized he was suspended midair. Skye!! What the fuck’s that thing?! Erebus cried out, but soon realized something was not right. Skye held onto his arm and gasped. What’s the matter, dude?
Skye felt his fingers were going numb until they did not respond to his commands anymore. Desperate, he looked up. The entity that had saved him had dissipated back into the clouds and he now levitated on his own.
He immediately removed his goggles and closed his eyes, taking rapid deep breaths. He found himself making an emergency landing on an abandoned neighborhood filled with barren-down centennial buildings. He could not turn to anyone for help.
“N-no… not now,” Skye said in frustration.
He massaged his arm. Desperate to get sensation, he carved his own nails into his flesh, but felt nothing still.
“No please, no…” he pleaded with his eyes shut and held onto his dysfunctional arm.
“I-I can’t be having a heart attack!” He stumbled against a brick wall, looking up at the cloudy sky.
“Hey!” Erebus called out from inside him.
“Don’t panic, it ain’t happening yet!” Erebus insisted.
“You s-sure?” Skye nervously asked him.
Skye then felt blood slowly rushing back to his arm and the tingling going away. The deep red marks of his nails began to sting at last, much to his relief.
“See? False alarm.”
“T-that was freaking s-scary!”
“Nothing happened. Calm down,” Erebus said firmly.
Skye closed his eyes and sat on the pavement, his head against the wall. His knees were shaky and his stomach ached. Ice-cold sweat ran down his forehead. And then… a distant sound caught his attention. It grew louder…
Steam locomotive… had no idea those still existed. He opened his eyes once again, he was calmer, but his irises were black.
“Ah, damn it! What now?” Erebus said.
He had noticed two men approaching them. Like all Theos they were of monstrous size with a prominent brow, wider nostrils and larger canine teeth (called fangs), and a pair of sharp horns protruding from each of their temples.
Look like thugs! Erebus warned to a quiet Skye.
“What a dump! No wonder they call this hole Phantom Town… Hey, look!” one of the Theos exclaimed, drawing attention to Skye.
He was as tall and imposing as an upright polar bear, with short blond hair, thick eyebrows, muscular build, broad tapered shoulders, and the saddest blue eyes Skye had ever seen in a living person.
He immediately followed with the question, “Think he’s dead, bro?”
“Nah, he fucking ain’t,” the other Theo replied.
This one of shorter stature and skinnier build by comparison. His head was completely shaved, had menacing dark eyes, hawkish features, scarred-thin eyebrows and several skull and dagger-themed tattoos over his face, neck and arms.
The two moved closer, their shadows preying on him. Uh-oh. Those two look like trouble, Erebus told Skye, who looked at them weakly, his arms shaking. He tried to talk, but no words came out of his mouth. He could hear his slow and irregular heart beat as well as his labored breathing.
“Yo! Give us all you got!” the blond-haired Theo demanded, aiming his handgun at Skye’s head.
“Yo deaf, fucking weese? Give us yo fucking wallet!” the tattooed Theo kicked Skye’s foot. The latter kept his head down and coughed.
Skye, ya too weak right now, let me handle these morons! Erebus suggested.
In response, Skye silently moved his head sideways. Argh! Don’t give me that ‘tude! Let me out! Erebus’s voice grew impatient as he fought Skye’s consciousness, trying to reemerge from a vortex of memories.
Suddenly, Erebus found himself at a pier in front of a black and white sea, or a mental representation of one. In contrast to the neutral landscape, Erebus’s corpse-like hairless body was a light gray tone. He tried running into the water, only for a crashing tidal wave to push him back. Stupid tide! Ya idiot!! Another wave crashed onto the pier, dragging Erebus into the water at last. AHHH!! I can’t swim!! He realized to his dismay.
Meanwhile, the two surprised Theos only saw Skye moving his head sideways.
“I don’t think he knows where he is, Paco,” the blond-haired Theo told his tattooed partner.
“Don’t give a fucking shit! If he doesn’t give out, we’ll just have to get fucking rough!” Paco said, cracking his knuckles.
“You… d-don’t have to do this…” Skye spoke at last, his voice hoarse.
“What’d he say?” the blond-haired Theo lowered his gun.
“Told yo mutha fucker was pretending!” Paco chuckled and grabbed Skye by the shirt. He lifted him up above his head,
“Give up the pesos, puny brain!”
“You’re… good person… don’t…” Skye choked. His hazel eyes turned to the blond-haired Theo.
“Shut up, fucking weese!” Paco said.
He slammed Skye’s backside against the brick wall. Before Skye could say another word, Paco’s fist jabbed him in the stomach. The latter grunted as his eyes gave off a radiant hazel glow.
The blond-haired Theo dropped his gun and feel on his knees, screaming in pain. He saw Skye’s eyes fixed on him, as every nerve in his body imploded with sensation. He grabbed onto Paco’s leg and implored,
“Stop! Put him down!”
“What’s fucking gotten into you, Cedric?” Paco turned his attention to his partner, noticing he was in agony, “What the fuck’s going on?”
Skye and the blond-haired Theo, Cedric, exchanged glances once more.
“Don’t… do this…” Skye whispered to Cedric.
“I said, shut the fuck up!” Paco slammed Skye against the wall again, but at the same time Cedric let out a wail as he held onto his torso. Skye’s eyes were still glowing.
“Stop it!” Cedric plead.
Paco had no idea what was going on. Skye used the diversion to hold onto Paco’s arm.
“What the fuck you think you’re doing?” Paco wondered. Suddenly he felt sharp pain where Skye’s hand met his arm.
Holding himself up with both hands on the ground, Cedric was relieved the pain had ceased. He looked up, hearing Paco swearing non-stop and Skye free from his grip at last. Paco’s forearm had double composite fractures. Two sharp lumps of bone rose above his flesh, bleeding in opposite directions. Cedric saw Skye teetering away and jumped at him, screaming,
“What’d you do?!”
He could still see Skye when he charged his massive first at him, only for him to slip out of the way at the last second, causing Cedric’s hand to viciously punch through the brick wall.
Cedric cried out, unable to get his hand out. Above him, Skye levitated momentarily, before descending behind him. But then… WHACK! Cedric swiftly flung his left arm backwards and clubbed Skye across the chest. The arm alone was strong enough to knock all the air out of him. Skye spat blood and collapsed on the ground, twitching.
In the mindscape, Erebus noticed the water disappeared and everything around him flashed bright orange and red. Tsk. Dumbass! What did ya do?! He barked at Skye, but got no response. He instantly grew worried.
At last, Cedric pulled his massive first off the wall. Only the flesh had peeled from his knuckles but there were no broken bones or significant bleeding. Higher durability being one of the defining qualities of a Theo meant Paco’s injuries at the hands of a small Homme like Skye should have been virtually impossible.
“Paco, answer me, bro!”
Cedric saw his partner stand still and stare at his horribly broken arm in shock.
“Fuck… he ain’t human…” Paco uttered between teeth.
Just then, both heard a rumble. A shock wave knocked them back. A crater formed on the street and above it a rigid Skye levitated himself. His scleras had turned into a pair of black marbles with glowing golden irises. Dry blood still trailed down his chin and his breathing was back to normal. Cedric glanced in horror and tried to get Paco to move, but before either could run for it another shock wave was unleashed and asphalt debris flew everywhere.
The two colossal men were lifted off the ground. Skye grinned, aiming his open hand upward, his obscure eyes focused. Far above, the two men kept falling up helplessly. Their screams were mute to the world. Soon they vanished from sight, into the gray clouds.
“Pathetic fucks…” Erebus spoke through Skye’s lips, “To think something so big could… cause so much…”
He coughed, trying to swallow as blood began to pool in his mouth. Skye had begun reclaiming his body. His scleras turned back to their normal white, with only the irises remaining black.
“Stop! We’re gonna die!” Erebus exclaimed.
He lowered his hand to clutch onto Skye’s chest; his left arm had begun growing numb again.
WHAT HAVE YOU DONE? Skye’s raging voice echoed from inside the mindscape. His psyche could be found in an abyss, surrounded by shadowy tentacles that ensnared him, Erebus’s way of restraining him. However, every time Skye yelled—WHERE ARE THEY?!—the dreadful tentacles cowered back into the void.
“I had to do it! They were gonna KILL ya!” Erebus said, desperately holding onto his head with both hands.
“WHERE ARE THEY?!”
Skye overwhelmed Erebus at last, and his irises changed from black to bright red. He looked up desperately. Answer me, Erebus?! And then, he spotted a pair of falling silhouettes. The two men were coming down, their massive bodies building momentum rapidly.
“Shit!” Skye exclaimed and flung himself in the air like a speeding cannonball, forming a larger crater.
Midair, he reached out both hands upward and finally caught them as they came within inches of his palms, which gave off a faint blue aura.
It’s impossible, chum. Let them go. Erebus hummed into his ears
“N-NO!” Skye responded defiantly as he held their immense weight mere inches above him.
“Ya really think ya can stop them? Don’t be a fucking imbecile!” Erebus scoffed.
“I-I control gravity,” Skye responded with a weak grin as painful tears ran down his face, “I can stop them!”
Erebus became silent. A triumphant Skye spread the blue aura from his hands around the two men, enveloping both completely in a controlled gravitational field. Within seconds, they decelerated until fully immobilized. He then was able to safely cradle them until they reached the ground.
On land, however, Skye noticed their skin was pale and their lips were colorless. Yep, they’re dead.
“No! You’re not gonna turn me into a murderer!” Skye yelled.
One at a time, he began applying pressure with both hands over each man’s chest. 1… 2… 3… 4… 5… 6… After 60 compressions, he looked down at them, his lower lip quivered. 28… 29… 30… They were not gasping for air yet.
He then tilted their chins up and manually held open their fanged mouths.
EEW! Don’t tell me ya gonna put yer mouth in there! Erebus said in protest.
“Yeah!” Skye replied and pinched Cedric’s nostrils shut.
He had almost no air in him, and his cracked ribs jabbed onto his flesh whenever he tried to breathe, but he kept telling himself to ignore the pain. He placed his mouth over Cedric’s and breathed into his throat twice, the brute’s chest inflated lightly. His breaths did not seem to be enough to fill such enormous lungs. Skye gasped for air.
Yer fucking gross! Erebus said.
“It’s CPR, damn it!” Skye said firmly.
Tangy sweat ran into his eyes. He shook his head and repeated the rescue breaths with Paco until he sensed a faint spark being lit. A pulse. Color rushed back into Paco as he gasped for air. Skye then moved towards Cedric. Yer late, chum. He’s dead.
“NO! He’s not!” Skye said, trying the rescue breaths again. He could not sense the spark yet, but kept going.
Every breath grew weaker until only wheezing sounds came out of him. He began to feel cold sweat roll down his face and the aching in his chest worsening. Both his hands had grown cold and numb as he shivered. He felt a tap on his forehead. Soon, one rain drop after another befell him from the roaring silver sky.
“Come… on…” he gasped, pressing his hands against Cedric’s chest, which felt like pressing on concrete. He still sensed nothing.
Quit it, ya nut! Erebus demanded. He’s dead stiff!
“N-no…” Skye gasped again, pressing his mouth against Cedric’s. One… two…
And then, Cedric gasped for air at last. Skye collapsed over the giant’s body in exhaustion. His arms hanging loosely around him in embrace and his head pressed against his chest, listening to his heartbeats.
Skye closed his eyes, momentarily dozing off as each of Cedric’s breaths gently carried him up and down. With a chuckle, Skye then rolled beside the massive body only to splash into a muddy puddle. His head rested and gazed up at the sky, it was chaotic yet serene. He felt the rain gently fall on his face.
Minutes later, he was well enough to get back up. He crawled towards the unconscious Paco and reached into his damp shirt, gripping onto his locket of healing asklepian powder. He hesitated.
No way! Let this fucker suffer for what he did to ya! Erebus said indignantly.
Skye laughed and rubbed his hands together. He placed them on the sides of the misshapen arm and grunted. Suddenly, the brute’s bones began to crackle until they were reset in place. Paco let out a painful moan. Skye then sprinkled the orange powder over Paco’s arm to close the remaining wounds.
Erebus looked up from the mindscape abyss in surprise. Guess I was wrong.
“Ugh… no more pinches tamales…” Paco said weakly.
He held onto his forehead after vomiting. When he came to his senses he realized his arm was no longer broken,
“How… the fuck?!”
He looked up. A light drizzle sprayed the deserted Phantom Town. There was visible debris around him.
“Cedric?” Paco called out, “Where are you, bro?”
He then looked around and saw Skye sitting next to Cedric, who was still unconscious. Paco’s eyes opened wide. Skye took notice.
“Y-you killed him! You fucking killed him!” Paco said hysterically.
Skye moved his hands in denial and said,
“HOLY MOTHER LUX!!” Paco exclaimed, sprang up and dashed away.
“NO—WAIT!” Skye hollered, but Paco was already two miles away. He looked down at Cedric, who had opened his eyes at last.
“W-where… am I?” he mumbled.
Skye glanced at Cedric and sighed in relief. Cedric sat up and saw Skye levitate away from him.
“You ain’t going anywhere, asshole!”
Cedric said as he yanked at Skye’s leg and flung him down into the muddy asphalt. He then got on top of Skye and twisted his arm over his back.
“OW! Don’t hurt me!” Skye begged.
“What the fuck are you?” Cedric turned him over.
Their eyes met again. Rain dripped from Cedric’s chin and nose, he held his fist above Skye’s head. In pain, Skye whimpered and shut his eyes. In the darkness, he sensed foremost Cedric’s fear. Julie… he thought instantly.
“W-we’ve all hit rock bottom… at some point in our lives,” Skye said calmly.
Cedric shivered. Skye opened his now amber eyes and saw deeper into the man’s frightened blue eyes.
“But that doesn’t mean we should lose hope…”
“What’s that supposed to mean?!” Cedric showed his fangs menacingly.
“Your life… turning to crime wasn’t in your plans,” Skye clarified.
“What do you know ‘bout my life?” Cedric asked as he gripped tightly onto Skye’s neck.
In that instant, the pain Skye felt was transferred over to Cedric once more. With Cedric having dropped his guard, Skye followed with a direct kick to the face. Free at last, he flew from under the massive brute and out of his reach.
“To answer your question… I know enough to realize you aren’t a bad person… after all,” Skye responded.
He hunched forward and held onto his stomach. Blood dripped down from his mouth, staining the concrete below. As he descended back on the ground his eyes changed from amber to their natural brown color. Cedric looked up confused, the left side of his mouth red from the kick he took.
“What a-are you?” he repeated weakly.
“I am just like you, pal,” Skye turned around and picked up his goggles from the ground. Cedric then witnessed Skye take off in flight.
Atop a nearby rooftop, a badly-injured Skye was unable to keep himself afloat and landed on his shoulder. That was a close one! Erebus said.
“Why… kill, huh?” Skye inquired discontent as he sat up.
He pulled up his cold damp shirt to his neck so he could rub healing asklepian powder from his locket over his abdomen, soothing the pain. His guts and ribs no longer felt mushed and he could breathe better.
“What would you get from it?” Skye asked.
“Survival,” Erebus replied.
“These are people! You don’t do that!”
“Why not?” Erebus raised an eyebrow.
“You don’t see what I see in their hearts!” Skye raised his voice, “Their desperation and their pain… with how bad things are I could end up like those two any day!”
“Stop feeling pity for monsters! They were gonna kill ya! How many times do I have to tell ya, moron?!” Erebus snapped.
“I can’t hate them!” Skye said, pulling down his shirt.
“What bullshit is that?” Erebus exclaimed.
“That’s my curse! It’s the empathy! I read them… and once I do, I can’t bring myself to hate anymore. I start to care about them!”
“Ugh, talk about cheesy!” Erebus said, “By the way, something’s wrong with yer heart, chum.”
“Don’t you think I know that?” Skye rubbed his cold hands against his shivering lips, trying to warm up.
“Look, if I took over, it was for her! Okay?” Erebus’s voice was more serious than usual.
“Who’s her?” Skye inquired.
“Julie, duh! My daughter! I could never live with myself if ya died on her!”
“No, Erebus! She’s MY daughter! I sired her!”
“Ya have to be such a jerk?!”
“She’s mine! You don’t even have balls to father your own kids!”
Skye’s voice echoed throughout the quiet Phantom Town. Some pigeons fluttered away in fright. Everything grew silent again.
“Heh, ya still clueless, aren’t ya?” Even if he had no lips, one could tell Erebus wanted to smile.
“Yeah, I’m clueless! What else am I supposed to know?” Skye said, frustrated. He never seemed to understand Erebus. “You’re just a stupid voice in my crazy head…”
“I’m more than that, cretin!” Erebus roared.
“Sorry, but… you are nothing, you never were. I just... went mad and poof!” Skye said.
“Poof yer ass! I'm real!” Erebus snapped.
“You're NOT real!”
“Oh, but ya can believe in the goodness of others? Give me a fucking break!” Erebus growled.
“That's different!” Skye said between his teeth.
“I’ve saved yer life too many fucking times! What kind of lame-ass imaginary friend does that?!” Erebus said. Spit flew out of his mouth.
“Reality check. Hurts, doesn't it?” Skye sniffled.
“‘When I looked around I saw and heard of none like me. Was I, the, a monster, a blot upon the earth from which all men fled and whom all men disowned?’” Erebus said.
“That was Frankenstein’s creature. How’s that relevant?” Skye inquired.
Erebus blinked and looked down, saying,
“‘All men hate the wretched; how then, must I be hated, who am miserable beyond all living things! Yet you, my creator, detest and spurn me, they creature, to whom thou art bound by ties only dissoluble by the annihilation of one of us.’”
“Ugh, never mind,” Skye responded and turned away.
“Coward! Can't face the truth so ya pretend it ain't real and diss on it!” Erebus said.
“Yeah ya do. Remember that time, how after ya lost everything in the 2024 floods ya wanted to end the pain so ya flew up to space?!” Erebus hollered loudly, wanting Skye to hear his every word.
“SHUT UP!” Skye exclaimed.
“HEY! Who stopped ya before ya left the stratosphere? I DID! And for the record, I've lost more than ya ever could imagine and I’ve NEVER considered something as selfish as suicide!”
“Why do you keep s-saving me? You c-could have let me d-die and t-taken over my body long ago!”
“Wanna know why I keep saving ya, Papa?”
“P-please, do tell! After 30 years it should have been clear my empathic powers don’t work on you!”
“Funny, ain’t it? Ever wondered why?” Erebus said with a mocking grin on his face.
He then stood up and turned his back to Skye, who watched as shadowy tendrils pulled him into the abyss of the mindscape.
“Wait—Erebus, come back! Erebus!” Skye called to him.
I know you’re still in there, Erebus. You always are. What are you trying to tell me? But instead he got an unnerving silence, one he had not had in a long time. He was alone at last and Erebus was nowhere to be found.
That evening, a violent storm befell the dead land of Phantom Town, in what 20 years ago still used to be part of West Denver. Meanwhile, back home at the A.S.P.T. store, Skye would find Gurru asleep in his cage and he would head to his own bedroom, where he would sit in bed, relishing the quiet. His mind in a blank state. Finally, he lay down and lost consciousness.