CHAPTER 7: ONE AND THE SAME
The Lucifer trees illuminated every corner of 16th Street. In the far distance, hover cars hummed across the bridge. While some businesses slept, others still kept their neon lights on. The clock tower served as beacon for the marauders. The street performers and the homeless had taken over the night.
The A.S.P.T. store was among those missing on the witching hour. Hanging at the glass door a sign read SORRY WE ARE CLOSED! Inside, the only light came from the bathroom far behind the counter. Skye had finished brushing his teeth and now contemplated his own reflection in the mirror.
His dark hair was past shoulder-length and wavy. His scruffy beard made him look much older than 36. Dark rings had formed under his brown eyes. His belly had grown an inch and a half, surprisingly making him look stockier.
“Uh, I look awful,” he muttered to himself, rubbing his hands against his cheekbones.
Psst! He heard. Psst! There it was again and he shook his head.
“What do you want now,” he asked his reflection with annoyance.
Ya still mad at me, papa? Erebus responded with his unusual accent. Skye remained silent and glared back.
Ah, come on! I was only kidding! To this Skye’s irises turned red.
“Only kidding? You threatened my friend in public!” Skye raised his voice.
Keep it down, stupid! There’s a sweet angel and a neurotic bird trying to sleep! Erebus pressed his bony index finger against his lipless mouth.
Skye then placed his hand against the mirror, his eyes glowing crimson. A pair of toothbrushes, a white one with navy blue stripes and a green one with pink flowers, levitated over the sink as the mirror wobbled under Skye’s touch. He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. His eyes changed from crimson back to brown. He put the toothbrushes back in their paper cups.
It was in that moment that Skye reminisced about the events of that evening at the Hungry Mole restaurant in the subway station.
Customers had looked concerned at Skye, who continued to weep in Cedric’s arms for 10 minutes. The dark-skinned Theo waitress asked if they needed anything else. Cedric said no and then gently rubbed his friend’s back until he was calmer. Skye felt embarrassed at the scene he had made, but was glad at least Cedric understood what was going on. After some gulps of water, he was ready to discuss how they were going to fight back a certain someone they could not name.
“You have to tell Gurru, dude,” Cedric said, “Someone else has to know.”
“I-I can’t…” Skye sighed.
“Aren’t you two business partners? At least that’s what Julie said,” Cedric rubbed the back of his neck.
“That freaking bird… I can’t tell him, he is too judgmental and… scary,” Skye gulped.
“Really? That wee little bird?” Cedric furrowed his brows.
Skye then angrily rolled up his sleeve to show him the peck marks and scratches on his skin. The Theo gave him a nervous gaze.
“Gurru, you awake?” Skye asked in a low whispering voice at the cage lying over the counter with a violet curtain on top.
“Yes. With that light and your lunatic rants sleep has become improbable,” the songbird responded from under the cloth.
“I’ve been thinking…” Skye slowly lifted the drape to look at Gurru in the face.
“That ought to become custom,” Gurru shook his plumage.
“Listen to me. I have thought about it… why we can’t get along,” Skye rested his elbows in front of the cage.
“Go on,” the bird yawned and wiggled his tiny triangular tongue.
“I now realize why you’re so grumpy, mean and bloody annoying all the time…” Skye began.
“Is this an epiphany or an excuse to insult me?” Gurru narrowed his beady eyes at him.
“Epiphany… Don’t you remember when we were younger, how we could get along?” Skye responded defensively.
“Ahem! You were always a stubborn brat and we never got along,” Gurru corrected him.
“You’re right… I did wrong back then. From the start all you did was try to help me, guide me, be my conscience,” Skye lowered his glance.
“And time after time, you blew in my face and antagonized me,” Gurru slightly tilted his peanut-sized head sideways.
“And for that, I’m truly sorry… I know I’m neither the best nor the most likeable person that’s existed. In fact I’m a… I’m a douchebag.”
“Indeed you are.”
“See! That’s what I don’t want from us any longer! The hostility! The insults! I want to trust you… I want someone to tell me where I can do better. I want the old Gurru back!” Skye held onto the cage. Gurru angrily pecked his hand to back off.
“Let us be realistic here… every time I tried talking to you, every bit of advice, of constructive criticism, every time I tried to help you make objective choices… they were meaningless to you,” Gurru responded coldly.
“I listened, I did! My stupid self couldn’t appreciate your wisdom and I only wanted to do things my way back then… I was so wrong!”
“Oh, hush! Even if we pretended to be friends—something we never were to begin with—I would only be wasting my time on you…” Gurru turned away from him,
“My days of being your damned Jiminy cricket are long done!”
“But I want to change,” Skye frowned.
“It’s too late! You are far from help, you have fallen far too low and you are dragging Julie with you! She deserves a better example, a true role model! Not some vile, selfish, secretive, lazy, mentally ill, arrogant and short-tempered… fiend!” He looked back at Skye breathing heavily.
“Oh… okay, you are being honest and I appreciate it,” Skye’s irises turned gray.
“Enough, Skye, go wallow about your pathetic existence and your cheap pathos to your boyfriend and… leave me alone, please,” Gurru hopped back on his nest, now facing the wall,
“Unlike you, I still have responsibilities around here.”
“First of all, Cedric isn’t my boyfriend… I just happen to have a man crush on him… second, I’m truly sorry I did this to you and I hope one day you can forgive me,” Skye said in a weak voice.
“Not a chance, Skye, not as long as I continue to live under this curse you put me in… the day I can finally die like an ordinary bird, that day all will be forgiven,” the bird responded softly.
“How old are you now?” Skye asked.
“25 in human years but 3,527 years old in bird years,” Gurru responded.
Skye finally lowered the drape over the cage.
Yer an idiot! Erebus snapped. Forget that loser Cedric! He smells like trouble to me!
“Shut up already,” Skye turned off the bathroom light, and quietly made his way to his bedroom.
Am always right! Ignore me and ya will be sorry! Erebus then gave Skye a sinister grin which melted into the murky void of the mindscape.
“Get lost, Kan.”
That ain’t my name anymore! Erebus hollered.
Tonight Skye would not close his door. He sighed, looking across the store at Julie’s bedroom. As he stood at his doorway, his eyes morphed to violet, the color of his daughter’s eyes. He then turned away and stepped inside his dominion. Meanwhile, the young one lay in her bed wide awake and quietly wiping her eyes dry and embracing both her yellow stuffed rabbit Conejina and her dad’s albino rag dog Pipo.
APRIL 1, 2028
At dawn silence broke throughout 16th Street. Few pedestrians roamed the sidewalks, all neon signs went dim. The bright star Lucifer rose above all and kissed the metropolitan landscape with warm radiance. Its sunrays brewed the dew on plants and lullabied the soft glowing-white flowers of Lucifer trees into hard brown coils. Blackbirds and streaked sparrows fluttered about the trees chanting their morning songs. A gull ran through the vacant streets holding hostage bag of chips big enough its beak and rapid webbed feet could support it without losing balance. Two spotted squirrels skittered and dashed about; one grabbed its nuts and sat over the homeless lady sleeping over a bench.
The sounds of hooves clicking onto solid stone tailed down the street. An elderly Homptilian charioteer swayed the reins of his chimera. His short white curls flowing under his blue hat to his sides—he also wore a matching blue vest. Though clearly of advanced age, the man’s face had no wrinkles, instead his pale greenish skin was laced by numerous dark spots in the shapes of expression lines. His gloved hands pulled the reins again, and the beast picked up its pace.
The chimera was the size of a horse but with a bear’s build, had scaly skin save for fuzzy patches of black mane over its shoulders and tail, its thick legs had four hoofed toes, crowning its head were two fleshy crests that ran along its snout and met at an elegant cross-shaped horn. It also had three beady eyes, one between each crest and its powerful jaws met at a curved beak.
The charioteer patted the chimera’s back. The tame animal gave a low purr. His attention was then drawn to a large Theo that came jogging and panting down the street, an unusual sight considering most Theos stayed away from densely populated areas. The horns on his temples glistened with sweat and two inch locks of golden hair ran down his forehead. He wore green jersey shorts and a black tank top. The charioteer was even more amused when the gentleman turned his way, smiled and waved at him. Never in his life had an immoral beast like a Theo done such gesture to him. The rider was quick to remove his hat and return the young man a wide smirk, mostly concealed by his bristly moustache. The Theo had crossed the street before he began slowing his pace. The charioteer looked back; the young man walked steadily looking at the stores he passed.
Seeing the friendly charioteer continue its journey ahead of him, Cedric then glanced at the wooden sign above him. It was black with painted golden margins and the worlds ART SUPPLIES & PAS-TIMES. He sighed and gently tapped the glass three times with the tips of his knuckles. He hoped he had not knocked too loud. A minute passed and there was no response. Cedric moved to the glass window next, he looked inside. The store was dark.
At that moment, he heard a loud chirp. Inside, Gurru was now awake and had hopped down his nest. The bird flew to the door of his cage and with his beak pulled at the string that opened up his small door. He hopped over the wooden counter, again chirping loudly at Cedric, who waved at him through the window.
The finch then flew up to the wall above his cage, underneath his pipe that connected to the roof, where he had a small wooden shelf filled with straw, strings, ornaments and other rubbish. Here the old wise bird kept his spare key. Gurru then pecked at the key until it fell down over the drape of his cage and then pushed it down further. The key jingled as it hit the wood below.
Gurru yawned and then gave a series of continuous chirps to Cedric, who pressed his lips together and whistled in response.
“HE IS HERE!” Gurru announced.
In that instant, Julie came dashing out of her room to the left of the counter, barefoot and wearing her mauve and pink pajamas. From behind the front desk she waved at Cedric. Gurru then jingled the keys on his beak and dropped them. The girl gladly took them and then ran to the front door.
“Hi! Good morning, Mr. Cedric!” Julie opened the door and put her arms around his waist.
“Morning, kid! Up early? On Saturday?” Cedric caressed her back. Julie nodded.
“Cartoons started at four in the morning!” she divulged, “Wanna come watch some anime?”
“Would love to, but I’m here to take your dad exercise,” Cedric responded.
“Oh, yeah, you’re starting that routine thingy!” Julie held onto Cedric’s hand with both hands and led him behind the counter.
“For his heart problems, right?” the girl asked.
“Yeah, he wanted to get in shape,” Cedric responded.
“For helping my daddy you’re the awesomest friend ever, Mister Cedric! Thank you!” Julie put her arms around Cedric’s waist again. In turn, the giant could not help to smile at the girl’s comments.
“Oh, this is dad’s lair,” she added, turning the door knob.
“His what?” Cedric asked in amusement.
Seeing the door open, Gurru tried flying to Cedric's shoulder but could not get enough altitude and rested over Julie’s head instead.
“Hey, watch your step, colossus! The floor is not safe!” Gurru warned and then flew back to the counter, atop the cash register.
Until he was inside, Cedric could not help wondering why Skye’s bedroom was kept locked or why Julie called it a “lair.” He hoped she was joking. As soon as they went in, Julie and he pushed through stacks of floating books, boxes, and other stuff. A planetary globe brushed past his head. Every step he took he felt he stepped on something important like sheets of paper, clothes or more books. Had it not been for Julie holding onto his hand, he would not have dared to proceed through Skye’s lair.
“Eh… your dad sure has lots of… stuff,” Cedric said.
He gulped nervously, noticing a pair of blue underwear boxers floating close enough to one of his horns he feared it would get stuck.
“Oh, watch out for the Orcish battle axe… it’s from our weekend trip to Middle-Earth but it’s really sharp,” Julie pointed at the large weapon hovering over a briefcase, its grip just the right fit for Cedric’s hand. He imagined orcs would be larger than Theos, not the same size.
“That place is real?” he pondered, looking at some of the wooden tribal masks on the walls.
“Of course! The real one is not like Tolkien’s books but more like the Warcraft world!” Julie tugged at Cedric’s wrist.
“How did you get there?” Cedric inquired, his eyes now glued onto Skye’s journalism trophy. The plate read:
FRONTIER HIGH SCHOOL
OBSERVER EDITOR 2010
“Easy peasy with the White Tunnel,” Julie picked up a red backpack and blue travel mug along the way.
“The white what?” Cedric glanced at another trophy; this one had an archer figurine on top.
“It’s this awesome place outside our world, where all other worlds mush together into this web thingy,” Julie tugged at Cedric to keep walking while still carrying the red backpack, with the travel mug now inside one of the external pockets.
However, the giant did not budge. She turned around and saw Cedric with a face of astonishment and morbid curiosity.
“That one… it’s the head of one of dad’s alternate reality dolphin-gangsters,” the girl poked at Cedric’s arm to get his attention.
“Doppelgangers,” he corrected her.
“Whatever,” Julie turned away, leading Cedric to her father’s bed at last.
Cedric’s eyes widened. Another skull, this one larger with four eye-sockets, hovered above Skye’s head. He quickly reached out and cupped it in both hands, wanting to keep his friend safe. He then brought the skull close and would have tried to peek inside it, when a sudden loud snore startled him. Skye had turned over and gaped his mouth wide open, still asleep. Julie went near and softly tapped him on the forehead.
“Dad, hey dad,” she called out.
Skye’s face twitched. She tried again, but now shaking his naked shoulder. In response her father groaned and his body gave off a faint blue aura. This caused the girl to get pushed away from him by an invisible gravity field. Julie could not go near him and began growing impatient.
“Dad!” she raised her voice, but Skye was still sound asleep.
“Wow… lemme try,” Cedric suggested clearing his throat and handing Julie the alien skull. She stood beside him expectantly.
Cedric came closer, cleared his throat again and let out a loud roar. Instantly, Skye opened his eyes, bolted upright and shrieked. At the same time all the floating objects were expelled against the walls. Julie quickly knelt down on the ground and covered her head with both hands. Cedric was not so fortunate and got caught by the explosive invisible force that lifted him off his feet and pinned him against the brick wall to his left. Julie looked up; her father was wide awake but still alarmed.
Cedric then saw in terror a scimitar sword approaching. He closed his eyes and screamed. Fortunately, Skye heard him and reached out his glowing blue hand. This stopped the sword midair and attracted it by the handle to his grip. Seeing the frightened Cedric unharmed, Julie sighed in relief.
“Bad idea,” she said.
“Don’t EVER do that again!” Skye hollered, tossing the scimitar aside. He finally sat back down, clutching onto his bare chest and trying to slow down his breathing.
“I have to admit that was a mighty impressive roar… like a lion’s,” Skye smiled at Cedric.
“All set, I packed your goggles too just in case,” Julie set the red backpack over the counter. Gurru cheeped sharply.
“Thank you, darling,” Skye poured some orange powder from his asklepian locket into the green tea inside his blue travel mug.
“What’s that for?” Cedric inquired.
“Asklepian powder, it’s the same stuff I used on you, remember? The regenerative properties of the asklepian powder are on par with those of Homptilians, but the only way the powder will heal my narrowing heart arteries will be to regularly ingest it to fight off plaque buildup,” Skye took a quick sip from his mug.
“Makes sense… And how far do you wanna go today?” Cedric asked standing by the door.
“Since it’s the first day just around 16th Street,” Skye put the backpack over his shoulder and kissed his daughter in the cheek.
“Good luck boys!” Julie waved from the counter. Skye and Cedric headed out the door.
“Don’t open to anybody but us, okay?” Skye said from behind the glass, locking the door from the outside.
“I won’t daddy,” Julie responded.
“There are breakfast quesadillas on the microwave,” Skye added. Julie impatiently waved to him.
Once they were gone, Julie heard fluttering Gurru in her bedroom.
“Hurry up, girl! Poké-Animals already started!” the songbird hollered excitedly, “This is the episode Pika, Casey, Misty and Brock meet the legendary electric bird of the island!”
“Oh shit!” Julie exclaimed, putting on her oven mittens and running to collect a plate of steaming hot quesadillas from inside the microwave oven sitting over the table beside the counter, where buyers usually stood to make purchases.
“Language, missy!” Gurru called from her room.
Julie sat in her floor mat watching in her small television a cartoon about transforming robots.
“Bleech! Boy cartoons!” she changed channel and realized Gurru was no longer roosting beside her on a cushion.
“Gurru?” she asked.
“I am grooming… please do not disturb,” she heard the elderly bird respond from outside her bedroom.
“Oops, sorry!” she turned off the TV, gave a loud walrus yawn and stretched her arms in a feline manner.
She eyed her clock. It had been more than two hours since her father and Cedric had left. She then picked up her stuffed rabbit, Conejina, from her bed and smiled.
“You silly old rabbit… if only you could talk,” she then bit her lip and looked around. A wild idea had crossed her mind.
Gurru would be doing his bird things and her father and Mister Cedric were still out. No supervision whatsoever. She had already learned many fun things from her mentor, the entity who called himself “God,” such as reanimating dead animals and making doodles move. She even knew… sort of… what her power was:
The ultimate power—bestowed upon ya by yer mother’s dying wish, belongs to ya, my child… to create and nurture a life—any mother can do that. But what if ya could do more with a life… control it? What if ya could decide what lives and dies? What if… ya could keep someone ya love alive… forever?
Julie heard God’s words echo through her mind. She then looked at Conejina once more; in the stuffed rabbit’s glass eyes she saw a glint of violet much like those of her own eyes. Similarly to the eagle statue at school and the doodle she crumbled from her notebook, she felt the eyes were watching her.
“Can you hear me, Conejina? Are… are you alive?” she asked the yellow rabbit in her hands.
Suddenly, there were loud and desperate knocks at the glass front door that startled not only her but Gurru as well. The old bird gave a low chirp and looked up, Cedric was at the door… but where was Skye?
“Julie… Cedric is back!” Gurru called to the girl, who immediately tossed her rabbit on the bed and ran out with the key to the store.
She could see Cedric looked upset. He was hunching forward, carrying someone on his back. She noticed a pair of arms hanging loosely around the giant’s neck and gasped as she turned the knob.
“Daddy?” she asked, holding the door open for Cedric, who came in holding Skye over his back with both hands.
The Theo then stood with his back against the couch, where he let the unconscious body of his friend fall safely. He then turned around and fixed the little man so he comfortably rested across the furniture and set down the red backpack he carried over his shoulder on the floor. Gurru looked from afar.
“What happened?” the girl asked desperately, looking at Cedric, who could not bring himself to make eye contact with her and then at her father, who had a dark bruise on the side of his head. Cedric looked at Gurru; the bird was focused on him and moved his head sideways.
“I-it’s my fault… I should’ve…” Cedric gulped mid-sentence. Julie noticed his eyes looked bloodshot, making his bright blue eyes appear darker—almost gray.
“What happened to my dad?” Julie inquired louder.
“We had just finished going around 16th Street… your old man was fine… he was feeling great and he… he wanted to do more,” Cedric rubbed his hand over his face, at last making kneeling down so he would be closer to eye level with Julie.
“And then?” she asked, her violet eyes pooling tears.
“I’m so sorry, kid… I tried, I did… but he wouldn’t listen, he was stubborn and wanted to race… we ended up at the railroads bordering Phantom Town, four miles away… by then he was no longer moving,” Cedric brushed the tears from Julie’s cheeks and sniffled. The girl would not stop shivering.
Julie turned to look at her father, he was breathing but did not move and his eyes remained wide shut. Gurru flew over and landed on Skye’s chest. He gently pecked at Skye’s nose, making the latter wince lightly.
“Did he hit his head?” she asked, noticing again the dark bruise on her father’s head.
“He fell flat in the middle of the train tracks… I tried shaking him and he was back right away, but I got scared… everything around us started to float, the trains, rocks… and then his eyes changed,” Cedric explained.
“He is fine, people. He is just sleeping!” Gurru responded cheerfully.
Julie moved closer to her father, he had opened his mouth lightly. She held onto his hand and closed her eyes for a minute. Meanwhile, Gurru flew over to Cedric’s head and looked down at him.
“There, there big man,” Gurru said to him softly.
“I’m a terrible friend… I-I hit him!” Cedric, still on his knees, sobbed.
“He is fine. You can stop crying now,” the bird rubbed his tiny head against Cedric’s forehead.
“He’s right, you tried but dad’s just cocky like that,” Julie admitted. Gurru flew off so she could put her arms around Cedric’s neck and hold his head close to her shoulder.
“Daddy told me… he showed me how worried you were about him and he said…” she then whispered into Cedric’s ear, “My dad said that only a true friend would do what you did.”
“I-I held back… so I wouldn’t hurt him bad,” Cedric responded.
“But what was my dad talking about? What on Terrathos was he doing?” Julie inquired.
“Something very reckless,” Cedric sighed.
Gurru stood over Skye’s belly, staring at the little girl comforting the mortified giant. Unknown to them, they were being watched. The bird could sense it, but when he turned to look at Skye, he saw his eyes were shut the whole time.
Buncha idiots! Ya never lemme have any fun! Erebus snapped from within the small mirror above. He then vanished.
APRIL 2, 2028 (SUNDAY)
At noon, Julie heard knocking at the door again. Cedric waved at her with sad blue eyes. Today he wore a size-XXXL flannel shirt and denim pants. By contrast, Julie was still in pajamas with her amber hair hanging loosely below her shoulders.
“Hiya! Welcome back!” Julie greeted him with a hug.
“How’s everybody doing?” Cedric asked rubbing the back of his neck.
“We good and dad is still in bed,” she divulged.
“Is he awake?” he asked furrowing his brows. To this Julie nodded rapidly.
Cedric and Julie walked into Skye’s lair, where no objects were floating around dangerously this time. The man sat in bed with his blankets covering his bottom half and wearing a gray t-shirt with the design of a gas mask and the words DOC BETTLE printed at the top. He looked up from his graphic novel, Tales of Justice IV: Alter Egos, at his visitors.
“Hey, big man!” Skye greeted. Cedric noted half of his face displayed dark knuckle marks and he also had a black eye.
“Sorry about the face, dude… brought you something,” Cedric had in one hand a light turquoise get-well card with a beagle dog wearing a pet cone and on the other a Surprise Choco Egg.
“Aw, man, you shouldn’t have!” Skye said with guilt.
“Oh, the egg is for Julie. I got you a card,” Cedric rectified.
The girl happily accepted her confectionary chocolate egg, which she did not hesitate to unwrap. She held both halves of the egg and separated them, revealing inside a plastic bag with several small jigsaw puzzle pieces. The interior of each chocolate half was colored pink.
“Mmm… Nom-nom-nom! Strawberry!” Julie said with delight as she bit into the chocolate egg and licked her lips. Skye looked at her disillusioned with arms crossed. The girl then ran up to Cedric and gave him a peck on the cheek, making him smile.
“I’ll get you some chocolates after we get you in shape, okay?” Cedric told Skye, who then looked inside his card. Beside the picture of the beagle dog chewing on a bone was a message written in pen in what looked like the handwriting of a child.
THANKS FOR BING A GRATE FRIEND.
SORRY BOUT YESTERDAI. GET WEEL SOON!
YUR BUDDY, CEDRIC
Skye looked up with a scowl. He could see Cedric’s look of remorse. He then nodded and without hesitation put his arms around the large man, his head resting against his chest. Cedric also carefully placed his arms over his small friend’s frame and rested his cheek on his head.
“Thank you, buddy,” Skye said.
“You welcome, dude,” Cedric responded.
“GROUP HUG!” Julie gave a hyperactive holler and jumped over the two friends with her arms spread wide.
Later that morning, Julie overheard her dad talking to Cedric outside the store.
“I don’t think we should do the exercise thing,” Cedric said uneasy.
“Why not? Don’t let yesterday’s incident get to you!” Skye responded.
“But… you know who was there at the train tracks… he was mad,” Cedric gulped.
“I don’t… I can’t let that parasite control my life any longer… I have given up on many things before, I don’t want to give up again,” Skye sighed.
“I don’t wanna hurt you, dude…” Cedric placed his hand over his friend’s shoulder, “I could kill you!”
“That would make you a hero and the world a safer place… if that guy’s in charge, we’re all doomed!” Skye knitted his brows together and clenched his fists.
“Please, don’t give up on me too,” his irises turned steel gray.
Cedric wanted to say more, but as he delved into his friend’s multichromatimorphic eyes he found himself speechless.
“W-what’s wrong?” Skye asked with concern. Cedric’s bright blue eyes were wide in awe.
“Man, you’re scaring me,” Skye then realized it had to do with him. He looked around for a mirror, his reflection on the glass being too dark to distinguish anything.
At that moment, Julie opened the door and handed her father the small circular mirror above the couch. He looked at himself and finally saw it.
“Dad, your eyes…” Julie began and then turned to look at Cedric, whose mouth was wide open.
“They’re blue,” Skye said still holding onto the mirror. He then looked up at Cedric. In the glint of his blue eyes he could see himself now.
“Why did your eyes become like mine?” Cedric asked.
“Same reason they turn violet around Julie,” Skye responded.
Julie excitedly grabbed onto Cedric’s arm. The trio returned inside the store. Gurru, who had been grooming under his wing, looked up.
“What is going on, humans?”
Cedric and Skye both stood close to him, showing their matching blue irises.
“Good for you,” the bird then resumed his activities.
“So… what does this mean?” Cedric eyed the father and daughter duo.
“It means we are family now!” Julie interrupted her father. The latter silently nodded. Cedric had his puzzled face on.
“Oh, I have an idea!” she exclaimed again, filled with excitement.
“What is it, darling?” Skye inquired raising his voice above hers.
Cedric looked at Julie take a piece of colorless chalk and draw a circular door on her bedroom wall. As soon as her hand parted the surface, the chalk lines came together and dissolved the wall before them into a white portal.
“This is the tunnel I told you about,” Julie reassured the giant.
“This is a wormhole, the actual tunnel is on the other side,” Skye explained.
Cedric came closer and slowly reached his hand into the white space, initially startled when his hand went through and found it went beyond the wall of the girl’s bedroom.
“Amazing,” Cedric uttered, bringing his hand out of the portal and seeing it was still intact. He then felt a hand patting his backside.
“It’s alright, we’ve been in and out of there countless times,” Skye gave Cedric a warm confident smirk.
“Where are we going? Which world?” Cedric quizzed expectantly.
“Mossland!” Julie jumped in before her father could speak. She then grabbed onto Cedric’s arm with both hands and led him into the portal. Unfortunately, the girl had drawn the circle too short, forcing both adults to have to bend down to enter.
“This is why I do the circles, missy!” Skye scolded his daughter.
“Sorry!” Julie responded.
Once inside the trio stood in a vast white space. Underneath their feet, it looked like there was no floor to walk on. Cedric jumped in fright.
“You can’t fall, silly!” Julie reassured him.
“Now, since this is Cedric’s first time here, we will take it slow,” Skye informed them.
“T-thanks,” Cedric muttered, his eyes nervously darting around in search of anything he could hold on to. He slowly took a step forward, tapping with his foot the non-existent yet solid surface.
“What a weird place…” Cedric said. Julie led him as they followed Skye.
After walking through nothingness for a while, Julie pointed at an immense tree floating in the middle of nothing, its roots webbing downward and the branches spreading upward, despite there being no such dimensions. Every one of its leaves glistened with the colors of the rainbow. Cedric noticed the tree towered over him and that in front of him was a deep chasm running along the natural curves and coils of the bark. Julie came closer and tapped at the wood several times in broken intervals, as if playing a specific melody.
Tock… tock-tock… tock… tock-tock-tock… tock-tock… tock-tock-tock… tock-tock… tock!
The girl then took a step back and waited patiently with a wide smile. Before his eyes, Cedric saw the magnificent tree split in half. The chasm along the bark opening up wide enough so a person of Cedric’s size could fit inside. Golden rays of warm soothing light emanated from within. Julie sighed and then ran back to hold onto Cedric’s arms.
“Come on, Mister Cedric! Don’t be afraid!” her big violet eyes set upon him. Cedric turned to his side, where Skye patted his shoulder again with a reassuring smile.
“Watch your step on the way in… there are stairs,” Skye mentioned. Cedric nodded at him and followed Julie. The trio soon vanished into the radiance within the tree.
“Is that a…?” Cedric quizzed, noting a flying insect buzzing as it flew out of the tree.
“A cicada. They can naturally tune into this realm with their tymbals… the thingies that make the noise,” Skye explained.
Cedric noted the stone steps under his feet and above his head the entrails of the tree had morphed into a coiled archway. Next the trio stepped out from within another tree that looked similar to the other one, except its leaves were emerald green akin those of an ordinary tree. They then walked through a dense forest, along a path of flat stones.
“We’re almost there, champ,” Skye told Cedric, whose gaze navigated his surroundings with marvel.
“This is Mossland?” he then sighted what looked like ordinary moss on a tree take a humanoid shape and glance down at him with a pair of large brown eyes. He gasped but then realized he was looking at a small monkey. The animal had a long viny tail and was covered in fuzzy moss instead of fur. The monkey then leaped onto another tree several feet away. Cedric guffawed and clapped his hands.
“See? Isn’t this place the best?” Julie asked jumping around him.
“Yeah!” Cedric responded overjoyed. The girl extended her arms at him and he picked her up by the waist, holding her above him. Julie looked down and laughed. Cedric then let her sit over his shoulders while he used both hands to keep her from falling.
“Come on! There’s a place I wanted to show you!” Skye signaled from afar.
Cedric ran towards Skye with Julie on top of him, extending her arms and pretending to fly.
“Over there!” Skye pointed at a waterfall in the distance.
The roaring water cascaded over a circle of rocks and replenished the pond below. Sitting along the edge they could see several plant humanoids with their feet submerged in the water. The larger ones looked more alike Esporr and Rose, while the much smaller ones had thin viny trunks with equally thin-long arms and bulbous heads with dark beady eyes and crowns of flora.
“What are those?” Cedric asked.
“The Mossytots!” Julie responded from his shoulders.
“They are the people of this world. These are mostly children basking and having lunch. The adults resemble us most,” Skye explained, waving at the Mossytot children.
“So these are… baby aliens?” Cedric asked Julie.
“Yep, aren’t they cute?” she brushed his hair with one hand.
“Technically we are in their world, so we are the aliens,” Skye mentioned putting on his black aviator goggles.
“Why does your dad wear those?” Cedric asked Julie.
“I gave them to him. They’re my Yule present from two years ago,” she divulged.
“They also come in handy,” Skye added, walking ahead of them down the stone path. The polarized lens of his goggles grew foggy in seconds.
“Oh, mist!” Julie exclaimed as Cedric and she walked past a cool veil of moisture.
“Nice court, didn’t know aliens played basketball,” Cedric looked around at the four trees surrounding the stone field.
The trees were straight as poles. In two opposing corners one of the trees stood taller and had vines that twisted into a firm hoop. Around the field were also seven rows of flat mossy boulders where Julie and several young Mossytots sat.
“They don’t, I asked Nightshade if we could borrow the royal courtyard for the evening,” Skye removed his goggles and took out of his backpack a large black and white basketball.
“Nightshade? Royal courtyard?” Cedric pondered, his eyes set on the adult Mossytot standing behind Skye.
The being stood firm and showed no emotion. It held onto a long-viny staff with sharp white crystals. Unlike other Mossytots, the guard reminded Cedric of a living scarecrow with two bright yellow eyes and what looked like a pointy triangular hat on its head. From the humanoid’s wrists came out long leaves or sleeves, matching those that ran down the woody vines over its chest, which strongly resembled a human ribcage.
“Cedric, this is Nightshade the guard of Castle Bryonsprout, home to the avatar monarchs of Mossland,” Skye waved at the guard and then returned his blue-eyed gaze to his Theo friend.
“By avatars I mean, literally… this is a sentient world and the monarchs are select vessels the planet uses to communicate,” Skye was quick to add.
“Damn… is it safe to play? I mean, no arms are coming out of the ground to whip us, right?” Cedric looked at down with concern, raising his foot.
“Nah, we’re good! Let’s play!” Skye threw the ball at Cedric, who caught it effortlessly.
The Theo then unbuttoned his flannel shirt and took it off, revealing his immense muscular chest and bulging arms. His body hair was so light at first glance it seemed he had none.
“Gonna whoop your ass, little man,” Cedric gave Skye a sharp glance and smirked. Both men had matching blue eyes and the same smirk.
“We’ll see about that!” Skye said.
Cedric then tossed the ball up and before Skye could catch it, the giant’s immense hand had reclaimed it. He bounced the ball towards the closest vine hoop. Skye ran towards him.
The large man suddenly turned sideways and blocked him with his backside. Skye collided into the muscular wall and fell back with a grunt. Cedric then leapt with the ball, passing it over the hoop.
“10 points for Mister Cedric!” Julie announced from the top of her lungs. The young Mossytots looked on in silence at the spectacle, following both men from one side of the court to the other in unison.
“You can do it, daddy! Wooh!” Julie cheered, seeing her father dash and jump over Cedric’s shoulder. The giant responded by shaking him off his body, which made Skye fall face first on the ground.
“Son of a…” he huffed, seeing Cedric score again on his hoop.
“Another 10 for Mister Cedric. The score is 30 against zero,” Julie said with diminishing enthusiasm and increasing concern for her parent.
Skye got up and ran around the large man, with his body arched forward and arms to his sides. Cedric turned around, exclaiming in surprise as he had not seen Skye coming. Every step Skye took made his boots heat up, their fibers expanding rigorously as if about to explode. He was moving as fast as he could. He now had encircled Cedric, moving in front of him. At last he made his move and slipped his hands underneath the giant’s arms, hitting the ball up and making him lose his grip. The ball then bounced off and Skye now dashed behind his opponent, towards the object.
Suddenly, a blur brushed past Skye and next thing he knew, Cedric had the ball again.
“Shit!” he growled between his teeth. Cedric gave him a teasing smile that showed his fangs.
“Okay, ya wanna play rough, kid?” Skye’s voice grew deeper. His eyes morphed from blue to golden with black scleras.
“Ya messed with the wrong weese!” In his voice Erebus could be heard talking at the same time he did, making his voice sound dual. He then dashed towards Cedric at greater speed, his feet barely touching the ground and his body leaving a blue streak behind him.
Cedric then saw Skye sneak up on him again and blocked him with his back, but Skye flew over his head and came down in front of him.
“No powers!” the Theo shouted.
“What’s the matter, big boy? Can’t take on me?” Skye spoke in his dual voice, snatching the ball.
“I ain’t afraid of you, little man!” Cedric had a look of determination.
“Then catch me!” Skye flew up with the ball in his possession.
Cedric looked up and bend his knees down. He inhaled deeply. Suddenly, the Theo leapt off the ground with enough power he was able to reach Skye and touch his foot. The smaller man became so startled he let go of the ball. Cedric landed on his feet, his body bent forward and arms stretch out.
The Mossytots and Julie were now frozen still with their mouths wide open. Cedric ran to catch the ball as it fell until… the object ceased falling down and began falling up. From above, Skye chuckled mischievously and reached his glowing blue hand to attract the ball to him.
He then flew above his side of the court and tossed the ball down from several feet in the air. Cedric dashed towards it. The ball hit the hoop but did not make it in. Skye cursed. Before the giant could get his hands on it, the ball was pulled upward again.
“I rule gravity, no matter the world!” Skye laughed and held onto the ball. He began dancing in the air, shaking his body and the ball from side to side.
“Hey, play fair!” Cedric barked from the ground.
Skye bit his lip. Cedric was about to make another super jump towards him when he reflected the ball away from his epicenter and back into the field, just behind his Theo friend. Cedric ran towards the ball and Skye followed from above, laughing.
“I… I lost track of score,” Julie told the excited Mossytots around her.
“Fun game,” Nightshade said, now standing beside her.
“They’re not even playing by the rules!” Julie laughed.
Suddenly, the basketball froze midair just in front of the surprised Nightshade and Julie. The object was encased in a blue aura.
“My bad!” Skye held one hand up; it had the same blue glow as the ball. He was drenched in sweat, his shirt had turned a much darker color and his golden eyes glowed so brightly they appeared white. His long dark locks were stuck against his blushed face.
He waved his hand and the ball flew back in his direction. Along the way Cedric jumped and caught it. He showed his fangs as he laughed, sweat streamed down his face and bare chest.
After a long game, both friends decided there would be no winner, much to Julie’s relief. The young Mossytots cheered on them and tried making their own ball out of a hollow fruit. Unfortunately, their makeshift ball could not bounce. Skye then grabbed his own ball and gave it to the children, saying they could hold on to it until his next visit. The Mossytots jumped in excitement.
Julie then went to visit Hugo at Esporr’s farm, along the way she met with Rose, who had just feed the moss bunnies. In the meantime, Skye and Cedric headed to a smaller waterfall under a cave.
The two men stood with their backs to each other and disrobed. Skye finished first, he had dressed light today. He turned around and was met by Cedric’s nude backside. The Theo had just pulled down his boxers and bend down to remove his socks. Skye found his eyes quickly wandering down to Cedric’s muscular buttocks and legs. He turned around and was speechless. He had been naked around other men before for months, the Upendo Theos to be exact, but for some reason this time he was uncomfortable.
He looked down at his own groin and sighed in relief. His penis was still flaccid, so he could rule out any latent middle-aged homosexual attraction. He had always been sure of his sexuality, so why was he acting like this now?
“It’s real nice, dude,” Cedric said.
“Excuse me?” Skye asked turning around with an indignant look.
“This world… the whole scenery,” Cedric smiled.
They both stood facing each other. Skye gave a nervous laugh and his eyes were drawn to Cedric’s flaccid penis. Damn it! Damn it! DAMN IT! He shouted repeatedly in his mind, comparing it to his own smaller one. Oh well… at least our foreskins are the same length. Cedric noted the long frown on his friend’s face.
“You okay, dude?” Cedric asked, folding his clothes and shoes over a boulder.
“Yeah… just tired,” Skye sighed and did the same. The two then walked to the falling stream of clear water.
Skye reached out his hand, the water was cold but tolerable. The liquid also felt much softer in his fingers; overall a lot better than the public showers in his planet. He moved over so Cedric could have room to maneuver and then closed his eyes, letting the water fall on him. His long hair was flattened out by the water and covered his shoulders. His bangs covered most of his face, except his mouth. On his back the water massaged his spine and soothed his tired muscles.
Okay, just keep your eyes to yourself and don’t… Skye then looked to his left, where he saw Cedric washing his armpits. ARGH! Why can’t I stop staring? His eyes were absorbed into the detail of how his muscles biceps flexed whenever he moved his arms. Damn, that’s just… gorgeous! Skye’s eyes grew wide and he began rubbing his face rapidly. That’s ENOUGH! STOP IT!
AHAHAHA! I could give ya a hard on if ya want! He suddenly heard Erebus in his head and all blood drained from him. He looked down at his penis. It was still flaccid and had shrunk with the water. He sighed and smiled. Ha! Just kidding! Erebus chuckled. But seriously, ya homo or why ya looking at him like that?
I don’t know he’s just so… Skye responded in his mind. He looked for the right word to describe Cedric.
Handsome? Whatever ya say still sounds weird. Erebus gave him a disapproving glare.
I’m not gay, you should know better! We have slept with the same women! Skye snapped at Erebus.
True, ya such smooth lover! Does that mean ya bisexual then? Erebus stuck his tongue out.
No, I think this is called… man crush. Skye soon realized something odd. For over a minute, he had not felt the water on his skin.
“Skye! Dude, answer me!” He heard Cedric shout. He gasped again and felt someone shake him. His lower body rested over the rocks.
“Please, dude!” Cedric called out again.
Skye looked around, he was now in his friend’s arms, but had no idea what had happened. When had he gone from conversing with Erebus to this?
“What… happened?” Skye wondered.
“Dude, you fell unconscious! Good thing I caught you, otherwise…” Cedric suddenly grew silent.
“I would have died,” Skye grimaced, a knot formed on his stomach.
Don’t lose yer head! Erebus chuckled from the depths of his mind.
That night back home, Skye sat calmly over a terrace. In the sky, Luna and Concordia were not full but waning. He looked down at the half-eaten bowl of salad on his lap. He then glanced to his right at his daughter. She helped herself to a bag of corn ships shaped like bugles and put them over the tips of her fingers, where she looked at them for a while, pretending they were claws. Next to her sat his friend Cedric hogging down a hamburger. This had been his fifth one. Cedric then slurped from his large milkshake. Overall, an understandably high amount of calories for someone his size.
“Rawr, I’m a sophisticated cougar!” Julie said holding out both hands. Each of her eight finger tips and two thumbs was adorned by a bugle-shaped corn ship. She moved her fingers in a feline manner.
“Julie!” Skye raised his voice, until he heard Cedric laugh out loud and he did the same. Julie joined in, eating her crunchy nacho-flavored claws one at a time.
Ah, kid’s amusing, ain’t she? Erebus said.
Hearing him, Skye closed his eyes and was transported to the mindscape. There he saw Erebus sitting alone in the darkness, holding onto his own skeletal legs. He saw Erebus wiggle his fingers similarly to how Julie had, to his surprise he noticed something unusual.
“Hey, you have six fingers!” Skye came closer and sat beside the mummified entity.
“Always have… surprise ya hadn’t noticed, bitch,” Erebus stuck his tongue at him and showed him both hands, in each he had one thumb plus five fully functional fingers, unlike Skye and every human in Terrathos who only had four. His fingers were also considerably twice longer. Skye looked away and sighed.
“And here I thought you had a change of heart,” he mentioned fixing his hair behind his ear.
“Proves yer THAT stupid!” Erebus wiggled his tongue.
“No, I know this isn’t the real you… I think I finally met the real you today,” Skye looked at Erebus.
In his empty eye sockets he could see a small glint of golden. Skye moved his hand closer to touch Erebus’ face, but the latter slapped it.
“Don’t touch me!” Erebus snapped.
“I really think I felt you with me earlier… it was like you and I, we were one and the same person,” Skye tried coming closer.
“I hate ya… back off!” Erebus pushed him away and got up.
“I know you don’t… even if you have tried to kill me,” Skye gulped. He rose to his feet.
"I ain't trying to kill ya!" Erebus turned to him, his skeletal face visibly enraged.
"Well you do a fine job at trying NOT to!" Skye raised his voice.
"Ya don't understand, am only showing ya what a waste of time... how futile this fight has become!
“Tsk, so annoying… ever wonder why ya bond to others so quickly. Or why ya break down like a sissy when ya lose someone close? So… freaking… annoying!” Erebus clenched his fists.
“It’s a stubborn little thing called love. Whenever I have contact with another soul, I fall in love with that person… but in a spiritual kind of way. Happened when I first met Cedric at Phantom Town. Also when I first met my newborn daughter,” Skye responded.
“So ya saying… ya feel complete around others ‘cause ya love ‘em?” Erebus grimaced, “Even me… ya love ME?”
“Yes… I do,” Skye placed his hand over his heart.
“Ah, thought so,” Erebus chuckled again.
“What?” Skye pondered in surprise.
“What ya felt all along… it ain’t love! It’s been yer soul’s plea!” Erebus crossed his arms.
“My soul’s plea? What?”
“Breaking news! Love ain’t real, retard! What ya been feeling around others… that’s yer need to compensate… for something ya lost long ago!”
“Fuck you… love is real! I’ve felt it!” Skye snapped. Erebus chuckled again and shook his head.
“Are you saying I never loved my family and friends?”
“Precisely. Ya see, yer this vampire… this fucking little leech who feeds on emotions but is never satisfied… no, not ‘til he finds what he’s looking for,” Erebus spat.
“Oh yeah… and what is that? What am I looking for?” Skye inquired, his eyes a fiery red. But Erebus said no more and returned to the shadows.