CHAPTER 3: RED SERAPH
MARCH 23, 2028
“GET AWAY FROM THE DOOR!” Gurru squeaked and fluttered his wings.
“Uh?” Julie stood in front of the glass door of the A.S.P.T. store, clueless at why the talking songbird Gurru was so alarmed.
“GET AWAY!” the elderly bird’s voice grew more desperate.
Suddenly, a chill ran down her spine. She turned around and in front of her, on the other side of the glass, stood a dark-skinned giant in a black suit and fedora hat. He grinned, his lustful eyes focused on her. She gulped. Her eyes were on the light scar that ran down the side of his face, beside his long dreadlocks.
“H-hello,” she said nervously.
“JULIE, RUN!” Gurru’s voice echoed throughout the store.
Julie saw Gurru flying towards her, gapping his beak in warning. In that instant, seconds became minutes. She could see Gurru’s wings moving very slowly and the endless echo of his voice still resonating around her. She turned around. The giant was no longer on the other side of the glass door, but instead right beside her.
“AAAH! DADDY, HELP!” Julie called out.
Before she could run, the giant’s massive hand clasped most of her face and pinned her in place, muzzling her helpless screams. She could barely breathe. Then her eyes saw nothing but him and then absolute darkness. She could hear the sound of breaking glass and a deep voice rattle beside her, she tried to scream again but she was mute.
“I’m your daddy now, weese!” the voice said.
She whimpered in the darkness, feeling the massive hand running down her body and scratching her skin. Finally, she was able to shout from the bottom of her lungs, “DAAAD!!”
In that instant, the monstrous man was gone and the darkness was tainted by the cries of unseen children and the visage of a billowing red cloak moving towards her.
“These truth-seekers and listeners are the Magical Children…” a different voice, which sounded like two people speaking at once, spoke from under the red fabric. She could make out a wide mouth moving.
Julie became so mesmerized by the ominous being hidden under, it caught her by surprise when six fiery wisps emerged from its backside and slithered upward as they turned the abyss into a colorful nebula.
She tried to cover her eyes but the creature’s furry twig-like arm had emerged from the cloth to jolt her with its ghostly touch. The hooded one stood mere inches from her. She could now make out a pair of dark eyes staring at her.
“So pure of heart, a butterfly can land on their hand…” the voice under the hood said.
Julie spotted a butterfly materialize from the flames and flutter radiantly in front of her, frozen still, before landing on the creature’s hand. It gave off all colors of the rainbow.
“A butterfly can land on their hand, knowing it will see no harm.”
With these last words, the rainbow butterfly vanished from the creature’s hand as if blown out like a candle. Everything grew dim.
“Julie!” Gurru’s voice called out.
She managed to open her eyes at last. To her relief she was back in her bedroom, tangled up in her bed sheets. The elderly house finch stood over her stomach, looking at her concernedly. She felt her heart beating rapidly.
“Are you okay, girl?” Gurru asked, “I heard you screaming for help.”
“I had a bad dream!” Julie cried.
Gurru hopped across to her shoulder. He affectionately rubbed his peanut-sized head against her cheek. Julie gently caressed him with her little finger. She then looked at her father’s radio clock next to her bed and saw the time was 9:35 hours.
“Oh shit! I’m late for school!” she exclaimed.
“Language, Missy!” Gurru scolded her.
Today was an odd day, Julie thought. Usually every morning her father would come in his pajamas, still yawning, at 5:00 to tell her she had to get up. Of course, she would already be awake by that time but due to lack of interest in going to school she pretended to be asleep, hoping she got to stay home to watch the morning cartoons.
Always seeing through her scheme, her dad would sit on her bed and begin rolling around, making low purring and meowing sounds, sometimes accompanied by some hissing and teasing with her hair.
These cat mannerisms would go on for 10 minutes until she became annoyed and got up screaming, “Okay! I’m up already! Jeez!”
“Ya sure, darling?” her dad would ask with a wide smile, at times in a creepy deep voice.
“ARGH!!” she would roar at him discontent and throw a pillow. Sometimes, depending on her mood, she would respond either with something like, “I am! Now, SHOO!” or go along with the game and say, “If you weren’t so darn cute, I would’ve called animal control to get you!”
Her dad would always respond with a loud meow before floating away in a ghostly manner. She would then pack her school uniform, her towel, shower sandals, and her books in her school bag. After brushing their teeth and making funny faces on the mirror the two would exit the store and fly over to the public baths three blocks away. From there they would grab a quick breakfast Groovy Patty before dropping her off at school at 7:30. After that her dad would return to open up the store for business from 8:00 until 16:30, with an hour break at noon, and afterwards pick her up from school and go fetch dinner.
“Gurru, where’s my dad?” Julie asked worriedly, “I haven’t seen him at all since yesterday morning.”
“About that… your father is not awake yet,” Gurru replied and flew out the door.
Julie got up, put on her red shoes, and followed the songbird. The two went from the rightmost corner where Julie’s room and the bathroom were, then passing the wooden counter and merchandise shelves at the front of the store, to the left most part where the storage room and her dad’s bedroom/office could be found. Julie tried turning the knob, but it was locked.
“Allow me, dear,” Gurru said flying over to her arm, carrying a hair pin in his beak.
She moved Gurru closer to the door knob and the bird began picking at the keyhole with the pin. At last they heard a CLICK and Julie was able to open the door.
Unlike Julie’s brightly lit bedroom decorated with animal figurines, posters of cartoon characters and pink curtains, Skye’s room was dark and filled with stacks of dusty books all over the place. The walls were also plastered with old masks, a dozen medals, yellowing newspaper clippings, and photographs of a younger Skye and the people he met throughout his adventures around the world.
Julie and Gurru noticed some of the objects in the room were levitating. Most notably, they saw a genuine battle axe hovering around over a pile of dictionaries.
“Careful with the axe,” Gurru warned Julie, and she kept her distance as she ventured through the room of wonders to her father’s bed.
“I can’t see,” Julie said, feeling her backside bump into a pile of books, which then began to float across the room.
“Here. Try this,” Gurru suggested, hopping over the moving books and showing Julie a flashlight pen levitating over a desk. Julie carefully reached out to grab it and used it to light her way.
Moving aside the stairway of floating books, they found Skye shirtless and lying motionless on his bed facing the wall. Julie noticed dark bruises and cuts on her father’s back side, arms and abdomen.
“D-daddy?” Julie stuttered.
“Skye! Wake up, lazy human!” Gurru flew past Julie and landed over Skye’s bare shoulder, “I see you… GET UP, HUMAN, UP!”
The bird looked down at Skye, whose tired glassy eyes opened and gazed up at him.
“He’s up,” the songbird said.
Within seconds all the levitating objects cascaded to the floor. Julie jumped around screaming, avoiding falling books and the battle axe that landed inches from her feet. Gurru quickly flew off Skye’s shoulder before the bow and arrow bag floating over his head fell on him. Skye moaned, holding onto his nose for a moment, and then angrily pushed his archery equipment aside.
“You look worse than a hangover!” Gurru said from the shelf above the bed, where he stood beside a skull with four eye sockets.
“Dad—hey, Mr. Cat!” Julie called out to her father, placing her hand on his shoulder. Skye grunted, turning over to face his daughter.
“Me-owww…” Skye uttered weakly, closing his eyes, “Cat not feeling so great…”
Julie placed her hand over her dad’s forehead and then on his cheeks and neck.
“You’re freezing cold!” she said wiping off the sweat on her shirt.
Skye then muttered something along the lines of: “How—when did you get home?”
“Anita’s mom brought me. Yesterday was the party at her place after school, remember?”
“I don’t… how was the party?” he rubbed his eyes to keep them open.
“Did you get in a fight or where you hit by a hover car?” Gurru wondered, now landing on Julie’s head and cocking his head from side to side.
“Fight… two guys tried to rob me yesterday,” Skye said in a hoarse voice.
“Oh my Gods!” Julie exclaimed.
“Who won the brawl?” Gurru inquired.
“We—no… me,” Skye corrected himself.
“How bad are you hurt?” Julie asked, “Should I call Aunt Lucinda or Auntie Esme?”
“Call Lucinda; Esme’s the orthodontist!” Gurru clarified. Julie gave a sudden shiver.
Skye held onto her arm, smiled and reluctantly moved his head sideways.
“I had my asklepian locket to heal me… I’m just sore, that’s all,” Skye held the wooden locket around his neck between his fingers so Gurru and Julie could see it.
“I’m going to take care of you, daddy!” Julie said determined, “I will be your nurse today!”
She then took the blanket from the corner of the bed and covered her father up to his neck. She then grabbed onto each of his feet and unzipped his boots.
“Put them back on! They are going to stink the place!” Gurru demanded, fluttering away from the girl.
Julie finally succeeded and tossed aside the heavy boots. Skye closed his tired eyes and felt Julie gently peck him in the cheek.
“It is almost 10:00, don’t you have school today?” Gurru mentioned. Upon hearing this, Skye’s eyes sprung wide open.
“Oh, snap…” he brought his hand to his face.
“What about the store? Are not we going to open today?” Gurru asked.
“I can barely move,” Skye moaned, covering his face with both hands.
“Looks like we get the day off!” Julie looked up at Gurru with a mischievous smile.
“This is coming off your paycheck,” Gurru said firmly.
Upon hearing this, Skye tried to lift himself off the bed despite the strain it put on him to even lift his arms.
“Don’t! You need to rest!” Julie said. She helped her father lie down again.
“Darling, if I don’t open…” Skye began, “We’re gonna starve!”
“Me and Gurru could do it!” Julie suggested.
“What?” Gurru inquired with surprise.
“No-no… you can’t run a store… you’re only 8-years-old!” Skye added, trying to get up once more.
“Dad! I’m almost 9 and besides, you always say I shouldn’t let my age be an obstacle!”
Skye looked away from her in annoyance.
“It’s just—” he paused and remembered Peggy’s words: Believe in your child.
“Okay, but you can’t be alone. I have to be there,” he added, exchanging glances with Julie’s violet eyes.
“But you need to rest! Besides Gurru will be looking after me!”
“At least let me be near,” Skye felt Julie’s disagreement, “But I won’t interfere, I’ll be your shadow! How’s that?”
Julie thought about it and nodded. With this the rest of the day the A.S.P.T. arts and crafts store was run by Julie Travell, only child of its co-manager and owner, Skye Valentia. Of course, Gurru had to remain silent in his bird cage to avoid revealing the family’s magical secrets. Meanwhile, Skye sat in a chair behind the counter to Julie’s right, wrapped up like a taco in three warm blankets on her orders, much to his dismay.
“Aww, you look so cute! Like a taco… a Taco Cat!” Julie teased her dad, who gave in to her charm with a forced smile.
“Oh, come on!” he moaned.
Ha! This is what ya get for playing along with Nurse Julie! Erebus mocked him from the abyss of his mindscape. His sudden reappearance took Skye by surprise.
Whoa! Where were you, Erebus? But the latter did not respond.
Meanwhile, Julie sang to Gurru’s whistling jingle, “Taco Cat, Taco Cat. Does whatever a Taco Cat does…”
Damn, how can she be so freaking adorable? Erebus said, making Skye burst in laughter.
Unfortunately, Skye soon realized even laughing became a painful experience. Julie took notice and ran to his aid with a bottle of water and a box of band aids she randomly picked up along the way.
The first two hours were the most intense for “Taco Cat” Skye, especially with the arrival of five customers at once. Crowding the store meant Julie had to be cautious none of them pick-pocketed any merchandise. Skye could not help to feel the urge to help her, but whenever he thought of getting up, he was met by his daughter’s gorgon glare.
Come noon, things were much calmer and Skye got used to his limited role. Much to his surprise, regular customers respected Julie when she was behind the cashier and some even remembered him and waved. He would greet them and they would play along, possibly thinking he was too. Some would ask Skye about his taco-blanket state, and he would reply with a sincere “I’m cold.”
Look at it on the bright side, chum. She’s happy, confident, and empowered. Old Peg was right; if ya trust her she’ll be tough as steel! Skye was cradled by Erebus’s voice. He then attentively glanced at Julie; amazed at how she had memorized everything he usually did around the store and was actually pulling it off.
“That’s my girl,” Erebus uttered proudly.
“Um, did you call me, dad?” Julie asked while she organized the rolls of paper on the shelves, a look of confusion on her face.
“Oh… eh, I said, it’s time for lunch!” Skye responded in his normal voice.
He felt Gurru staring at him. Oh-oh, ninja birdie suspects of my existence again! Play sane dad! Quick! Erebus told Skye, who immediately forced a smile at the caged bird. Gurru puffed up, his narrow eyes still fixed on him.
During lunchtime, Julie carried her father’s jingling key chain and closed the store. She posted on the glass door her handmade sign, decorated with flowers and a chick, making sure it faced outside. It read:
BRB AT 13:00! LUNCH TIME! ♥ XOXO
“For a child, you handled the job very well,” Gurru told Julie, opening his bird cage by pulling at a cord attached to the door.
“You think so!” Julie’s face brightened.
“Indeed, you were like an expert,” Skye said from his chair.
“I’m really having fun, daddy,” Julie walked up to her dad and gently put her arms around him.
“Thank you,” she said into his ear.
Aaaand… scored awesome dad points! Both Erebus and Skye chuckled.
“I’m hungry! Can I go get us some Groovy Patties?” Julie asked her dad.
“Don’t push it, kid,” Erebus said in a serious tone.
He removed the blankets and leaned over the counter for support as he lifted himself up. The pain around his ribs and backside made him remain still for several seconds.
“Really need to… stretch my legs… and get some damn painkillers!” he grunted.
On Skye’s request, Julie closed the store earlier than usual, at 13:30 hours. The rest of the evening she focused her efforts on being Nurse Julie, but instead of having her father be in his hazardous and dusty bedroom she had him stay at hers and she would sleep beside him in her flower-patterned camping tent.
“I feel like I’m taking advantage of you,” Skye confessed to Julie.
“No, you’re not! You always cared for me when I got sick. It’s my turn to do the same!” she said firmly.
“Where’s Gurru anyway?” Skye asked.
“He’s reading a complicated book I got from your room,” Julie replied, having her dad hold onto her rabbit plush doll.
The rabbit had digit less paws, was yellow colored with a white underbelly, white snout and long feet, pink triangular nose, violet glass eyes, and long skinny ears tied back with a rubber band and adorned with a handmade cloth lavender flower.
“Conejina will keep you company, okay?” she said giving her dad a kiss on the forehead.
“Wait—where’s my Pipo?” Skye inquired, seeing Julie heading out the door and stopping to face him nervously.
“I can’t find him,” Julie said, “Your room is too messy! I have to shovel through stuff!”
“Try under the bed,” Skye suggested making a puppy face at her, “Please, he might get lonely.”
When Julie returned to her bedroom with the dust-covered dog rag doll named Pipo, she found her father asleep with Conejina under his arm. She then cradled Pipo in her arms, knowing she had to be careful holding him. He was an antique after all. According to her father Pipo had been by his side since he was a toddler, much like Julie and Conejina.
Pipo was made from soft yellowing white rag fabric, had round brown eyes with white dots in them, large floppy ears, a large oval red nose, larger digit less paws for feet and smaller digit less paws for hands that held onto a candy cane, and wore a Santa Claus hat sideways. In short, an albino Santa Claus beagle dog.
“Guess you’ll sleep with me tonight, old dog,” she said looking at Pipo’s permanent smile and embracing him, “Waa, you’re so cute!”
Julie went into her tent with Pipo and her lamp, which was the main source of light in her bedroom. Inside the tent she had one of the books her dad used to read to her at bedtime, “Lunar Snail,” by G. Rasputin.
As she lay belly down on her sleeping bag with the lamp and Pipo beside her, she began flipping through the colorful illustrated pages of the book. She instantly remembered the titular snail Petros, who dreamt of going to the larger of their two moons, Luna. When she turned the page again, she came across a dreadfully familiar image.
She sat up, embracing Pipo and studying the one picture that gave her chills: Vesta the Seraph. In the picture Vesta was shown levitating over Petros at a meadow. One could fully appreciate her six wings of fire. The seraph had long-skinny arms, a furry white body and a pair of oval black eyes.
“A seraph,” Julie whispered to herself.
She had remembered her last dream, where she had seen a red hooded creature and a rainbow butterfly. The one from her dream and Vesta had the same fire wings and skeletal arms. They were both Seraphs without a doubt, except the one from her dream was the Red Seraph because of its bright red hood.
“Magical Children?” she pondered again.
Suddenly, Julie’s lamp went off. She tried clicking the button but it would not turn back on. Holding onto Pipo tightly, she made her way to the entrance of the tent and felt for the zipper. As she began to open the tent, a soft thud made her heart race.
“D-daddy?” she asked, but then heard his soft breathing coming from her bed. She heard the wooden floorboard creaking by the door.
“It’s probably Gurru,” she said to herself.
After making a quick bathroom trip, Julie went to check on Gurru at the front of the store. The elderly bird slept calmly inside his cage, covered by a curtain. Beside the cage sat open a large book. Julie went near, curious about what Gurru had been reading. A passing hover car’s headlights gently flashed through the store windows—sometimes vehicles moved on land at nighttime for safety reasons—which allowed Julie to catch a quick glimpse at the subtitle on the page, MENTAL DISORDERS.
She carefully carried the book to the window, using the Lucifer flowers (organic street lights) outside to read better. Of what she could read, three letters stood out for their uncommon usage: D.I.D. Julie shrugged, not making sense of it despite having been the one who dug it out of her dad’s library. Why does it say ‘DID’? Is it asking who DID something? Or is it like A.S.P.T. and DID stands for something else? She thought.
It was common for Gurru to read stuff she did not quite understand yet, though she did find the title on the front cover interesting:
MYSTERIES OF THE HUMAN MIND & CONNECTIONS TO THE PARANORMAL by Woo Maladie Sr., M.D. & Ph.D.
THUD! A distant sound made her jump and drop the book on its spine. The book made a similar thud sound. She looked up, the three doors behind the counter remained closed and the door to her dad’s bedroom had been open the entire time. Her eyes had grown accustomed to the absence of light, but she could not see any silhouettes moving in the dark. There’s nothing there… there’s nothing to fear…
As she cautiously walked to her room, looking around hoping nothing jumped out at her, she noticed an orange glow emanating from inside her camping tent.
“What the—?” she ran towards the tent and opened it up.
She looked inside, her lamp was turned on and Pipo sat on top of the storybook, its head facing up. Julie backed away from the tent; a sense of dread overcame her. How did Pipo move? Who turned on the lamp? She looked at her father. He still slept peacefully, his arm extended from the bed after dropping Conejina on the floor. You couldn’t have made that sound! She picked up her rabbit and held onto it, closing her eyes. It’s just my imagination… it can’t be real… The wood creaked again and Julie slowly looked in the hallway.
There is no such thing… She then saw it again. The orange glow now emanated from the counter. There is no such thing as the Red Seraph! There is no such thing as the Red Seraph!
“Gurru,” she gasped and ran towards the front of the store.
To her relief, the bird cage seemed untouched with its curtain still in place. But the orange glow had somehow gone outside and was now in the middle of the street. Julie got closer to the window.
“Vesta?” she whispered, pressing her nose against the glass. The orange light flashed intensely before her eyes and disappeared into the night.
MARCH 24, 2028
Early that Friday morning, Skye and Julie found themselves waiting in a bench among suits, tourists and other early birds at 16th & Stout Station to ride the newly rebuilt and operational light rail.
Julie wore her school uniform as usual, unlike Skye, who today opted for comfier gray sweats to go with his combat boots; he also had his hair tied back into a ponytail, leaving only his bangs on the sides of his head.
“You know, it’s a shame Union Station remains closed. Guess it has joined the rest of Phantom Town,” Skye said with a sigh.
He then noticed Julie yawning and rubbing her eyes more than usual. He doubted she was listening and lightly tapped her shoulder for her attention.
“Hey, how did you sleep last night? Gurru told me he heard some noises.”
“I heard them too,” Julie admitted with a yawn, “I had to check them out, thought it was a burglar.”
“Ah, that explains it,” he gently rubbed her shoulder as she leaned against him drowsily.
“By the way, I feel better thanks to you, Nurse Julie,” Skye said with a smile. Julie looked up and smiled back, giving a kiss to his scruffy cheek—her dad had forgotten to shave again.
“We’ve been here a long time, why couldn’t we just fly to school? Today’s not raining!” she moaned.
“I’m sorry, darling, but I can’t do that,” Skye said, letting Julie lie her head down on his lap.
“Are you still hurt?” she asked softly.
“I’m not gonna lie to you, but yes. My heart is not doing so well either, and heights would only make it worse,” he brushed her head with his fingers. Suddenly, he stopped and was overcome by the dread and sadness he sensed in Julie.
“Are you going to die?” Julie asked, her voice breaking. In response, Skye held her up to eye level and shook his head.
“No, I won’t! Not yet!” he tried to disguise his scowl with a hopeful smile, “I have to be there for your Quinceañera, prom night, your graduation, your wedding! Damn it, I have to meet my grandkids!”
Julie sniffled. Skye rubbed her cheek.
“I’m not going anywhere, I can’t let my grandkids grow up without their grandpa like I did!” he reassured her.
“What are you going to do?” she asked.
“I have to get in shape and lose the belly,” he replied.
“But then you won’t be the chubby Mr. Cat anymore,” she said.
“That’s true!” he laughed and then added, “But hey, at least nothing will keep us apart!”
“Not even a bad heart?” she inquired.
“Not even that!” he stated firmly and held his daughter close in embrace. He then kissed her head. She was calmer now, much to his relief.
“But this sucks mac and cheese!” Julie exclaimed and crossed her arms, “I wish I could be like you and fly wherever I wanted!”
“Yeah, being earthbound isn’t fun,” Skye admitted.
“Will I ever have superpowers like Aunt Lucinda and you?” she asked.
“Now that you ask… you might!” he revealed, finding joy in his daughter’s blissful reaction.
“Really?!” Julie was fully alert now, she even forgot she was sleepy.
“Yeah, all thanks to your maternal great-grandmother, Eva!”
“She had powers too?!” her jaw dropped.
“She did! Though I never met her… she died when your grandma was 11. I do remember your grandma used to tell me stories about her childhood and Eva’s witchcraft.”
“Hold it! Eva was a witch?” Julie said worriedly. Usually in fairy tales witches were the bad ones.
“Don’t worry, Eva was a good witch! She dedicated her talents to helping others,” Skye clarified.
“Awesome! Could she fly on a broomstick? Did she brew potions? Did she have a black cat?” Julie pondered in excitement.
“Eh… no to the broom and cat, yes to the brewing potions. Eva was a powerful healer who helped others. She was also an empath,” Skye responded.
“Ooh! Like you!” Julie exclaimed.
“Yes! Magical powers, unlike artificial ones, can be passed down in the genes,” he explained.
“Darn it! Does that mean I won’t get to fly like you?” she said in disappointment.
“E-hem! My secondary power is not flight, I control gravity! Flight and levitation are just minor sub-skills of it,” he grinned at her.
“Superpowers are confusing,” Julie inflated her cheeks.
“Yeah, kind of. When I was your age I didn’t know about the gravity thing either, I thought my only power was flight,” he admitted, “Your aunt inherited Eva’s healing power.”
“And that’s why she became a doctor!” Julie added with a smile. Her father nodded.
“And what I’m getting at is like your aunt and I, most likely something was passed down to you. Not necessarily healing or empathy. Could be anything,” he said.
“What happened to Eva?” she asked, “Why was granny an orphan?”
“Well… from what I heard, Eva and her sister Elvira had this feud with each other. They never got along and down the line Eva channeled her sister’s hatred…” Skye began to hesitate, “…and from the negative emotions she developed breast cancer and died.”
“You can kill someone by hating them?” Julie pondered.
“Dunno, maybe,” Skye shrugged.
“Do you think what’s happening to your heart could be…,” she gulped.
“NO!” he said in a serious tone.
“Dad, I’m sorry I ever said mean things to you!” she said alarmed, her eyes becoming glassy.
“Stop it! You didn’t do this to my heart! Stop talking nonsense!” he said in frustration.
Julie rubbed her eyes and took a deep breath. Her father then placed his arm around her, rubbed her shoulder and said,
“Don’t blame yourself, okay?”
“Okay,” she replied in a low voice. Seconds later, both of them sighed in unison.
“So! What powers do you hope to have?” Skye inquired in a lively voice and clapped.
“I really, REALLY wanted to fly!” Julie responded.
“You never know,” he commented.
“The power to shoot lasers would be WICKED! Or telekinesis—that would be the best!” she said.
She jumped from the bench as she said this and stood in front of her father, who smiled. She began daydreaming when she heard the metallic squeal of the light train arrive. She turned around and saw the passengers inside exiting the silver juggernaut.
Aboard the light train, a still aching Skye had Julie run ahead of him to save their seats. The clever girl lay down sideways so she took up two seats and sneered at passengers who passed her. Skye hurried past the crowd towards Julie, who sat up.
“Thanks,” Skye said.
“Daddy, I don’t want to go to school anymore.”
“Huh? Why not? Are you being bullied or something?”
“No, it’s just… boring, I would rather be in Mossland with my Mossytot friends Rose, Bark, Fung, Nightshade and Uncle Esporr,” Julie made a puppy face to her dad, asking for sympathy.
“Fung and Nightshade?” He inquired.
“They’re the new guys. Uncle Esporr said they used to be warriors or something. Fung is the largest of all Mossytots and runs a drink stand. Nightshade looks like a scarecrow with a pointy hat and has creepy yellow eyes. He is also the new bodyguard of Queen Bryonsprout,” she said.
“Really? I have to meet them this weekend… Anyhow, I understand your dislike for school. Trust me, I do,” Skye reassured her.
“You do? Then why haven’t we moved to Mossland yet?” Julie crossed her arms.
“Because we can’t. Listen, when I was your age I also thought about living in Mossland—perhaps the greatest place in the universe! However, I realized I had responsibilities keeping me in Terrathos.”
“You have responsibilities in this world, not me!” Julie pointed out.
“Actually, you’re one of my responsibilities. I promised your mother I would take care of you, and if you left to live on your own now, it would be like breaking this promise,” Skye replied.
“Bloody mac and cheese! Why couldn’t mom agree to raise me over there?” Julie slid further into her seat, arms still crossed.
Skye sensed eyes watching them and realized they were the only ones talking in the train, with fellow passengers listening on them.
“Eh—yes, Mossland, that virtual reality game we play at home on the Wee-U console is sure fun! Isn’t it, darling?” Skye spoke audibly, hoping the passengers stopped staring at them.
“What you talking about?” Julie raised an eyebrow and looked at her father confused, “We don’t have a Wee-U console… I wish we did.”
“Everyone’s listening, play along,” he whispered between his teeth.
Julie looked around, noticing eyes on them and said raising her fist in the air, “Virtual reality’s the shit, man! Woo!”
“Language, Missy,” Skye scolded her and she laughed nervously, apologizing.
With this, people turned away minding their own business at last.
“I think they think we’re insane,” Julie whispered into her father’s ear, and he chuckled.
Suddenly, Skye’s eyes were drawn to a passenger who did not stop looking at them. Skye looked up at him and instantly recognized who that Theo sitting six seats from Julie was; the one who leaned forward with his arms over his knees in silent prayer.
He had short blond hair and sad blue eyes, same as the thug Skye had confronted in Phantom Town two days ago and eventually saved from Erebus’s murderous tendencies: Cedric.
He nodded at Skye in silent greeting. Then his eyes focused solemnly on Julie and he gave her a faint smile.
Leave her out of this, ya bastard! Erebus barked inside Skye’s head and the latter tightened his fists.
Skye felt a lump in his throat. He could not use his empathic powers on Cedric because of all the people present in the train causing interference; they were too many to phase out of his mind and the cascade of emotions was so overwhelming he risked hurting everyone aboard—his daughter included.
Meanwhile, Julie noticed her father’s uneasiness and followed his glance at the three possible people sitting across from her he could be looking at. Was her dad intrigued by the man with the tattooed Symbols of the Hero and shades, or was it the woman with the large fake boobs, or could it be the burly giant with the gloomy blue eyes? At that moment, Julie felt her father gently tap her shoulder three times, drawing her attention back to him.
“What?” Julie inquired with wide eyes.
“Eh—DONUTS taste great!” Skye replied in a lively voice, putting emphasis on the word ‘donuts.’
“Huh?!” Julie exclaimed, completely clueless.
“Your grandpa used to feed Gurru an APPLE slice every morning.”
“Are you feeling okay?” she asked her dad, feeling his forehead. He grabbed her hand and got closer, clearing his throat as he winked at her.
What’s the matter with you, Daddy? Julie pondered.
“NUTS are good for you. GINGER is refreshing. I like my EGGS without RADISH. ICE is crunchy. NECTARINES are sweet. TAPIOCA is delicious. RICE and AVOCADO go well together. ICE is cold. I like my NOODLES hot!” Skye kept emphasizing certain words.
Julie stared at him blankly, until she noticed his winking and “O” mouthing afterwards. Oh! I get it now! She had an epiphany of sorts. It’s our food code we invented! How could I forget! She nodded at her father, letting him know she caught on his message and then remembered the words he put emphasis on. Donuts, Apple, Nuts, Ginger, Eggs, Radish, Ice, Nectarines, Tapioca, Rice, Avocado, Ice again, Noodles.
Then she took the first letter off of each: D, A, N, G, E, R, I, N, T, R, A, I, N.
At last, she made sense of the hidden message: DANGER IN TRAIN. She gulped and gave her father another confused look. He silently nodded at her. She held onto his arm, looking around cautiously at the passengers. I bet it’s that lady with the fake boobs! They do look awful dangerous! She thought.
The light train soon arrived at Evans Avenue, this was not their stop, but Skye still exited with Julie either way. The two found themselves in the suburbs.
“Where are we?” Julie asked.
“I don’t know, but it was not safe in there,” Skye replied as the two walked hand in hand.
“If I’m late for school, could you talk to Ms. Sadira for me?” Julie begged.
“Yeah, don’t worry,” Skye replied calmly.
He still sensed Cedric nearby—he was behind them. They found a bus stop and consulted the map posted on the wall.
“We’re not that far away, about three miles or so,” Skye said to Julie, who calmly fixed sat in the nearby bench, swinging her legs back and forth. She would have opened her book bag and read her textbook when…
“Oh snap! Julie, quick! We have to go!” Skye’s voice was desperate and the two were soon running across streets. Whenever Julie tried looking back, her father would shout, “Don’t turn around! Just run!”
After two blocks, Skye was unable to go further. He coughed and held onto his torso in agony. Breathing became tedious and sweat burned his eyes.
“Daddy, are you okay?” Julie asked, patting his back. Skye raised his hand at her making assertion with his thumb.
He coughed once more and wheezed. When he could finally speak he said, “See… why I must get in… shape?”
However, he soon sensed Cedric catching up to them. We have to do something! He thought, soaked in sweat and tired.
“Julie… hold my hands and don’t let go!” he demanded.
“W-why? Don’t tell me we’re going to fly?”
“Just do it!”
She held onto both of his hands and soon felt herself being lifted off the ground. She looked down at the shrinking suburbs and then at her father, whose face blushed as he hyperventilated. A faint blue aura surrounded them.
Julie then saw her father’s eyes open wide. His scleras were black and his irises were as bright as Lucifer, which peeked from the clouds to shine on them.
“D-dad?” she asked.
Skye, now Erebus, looked at her and smiled.
“Papa’s here, babe!” Erebus said to Julie and added, “Hold on!”
Before she knew it they were moving sideways inside a tunnel of wind, enveloped by streaks of light.
“You did it, Daddy, you did it!” she chanted in excitement.
Erebus smiled and looked on at the skyscrapers ahead.
Mid-air, Skye took back his body and could not remain afloat, forcing them to crash land in the playground of Julie’s school. Luckily, the slide was there to cushion their fall. However, Skye ended up hitting the slide hard with his back, just as Julie landed on top of him.
“Oh, no!” Julie exclaimed, looking at her father lying motionless with his back flat over the roof of the slide.
“OW,” Skye said.
After Skye came back to his senses the two went down the slide together and were throw off unto the muddy sand. Julie picked up her bag and helped her father back up.
“You can still make it—GO! GO!” he made gestures for her to run to her classroom.
She gave him a kiss on the cheek before heading into the main building. The tardy bell rang. Skye let out a sigh of relief and slowly dragged his feet through the sand and out the school grounds.
On his way back home, he finally came face to face with his stalker. Cedric stood before him on the opposite end of the street, looking as imposing and threatening as the first time they met.
“W-Why are you following us?” Skye inquired in frustration.
“Yo, I mean no harm to either of you. I come in peace,” Cedric held both hands in front of him.
Skye looked into Cedric’s eyes. Foremost he sensed his dread, followed by sadness and great curiosity. Surprisingly there was no grudge in the man today; he was being sincere.
“What do you want then?” Skye asked. His voice was calmer.
“I have to talk to you,” Cedric said.