CHAPTER 9: BIRTHDAY OMEN
APRIL 22, 2028 (3:45)
Skye opened his eyes to the cracking and rumbling sound of wood collapsing underneath him. He shrieked, flailing his arms and legs around. He felt his foot smash through a wooden bedpost and his elbow fracture in half the surface underneath.
“DAMN IT!” he cried out.
He leaned over the debris. The crash of his solid bed had rattled throughout the room, knocking down several of his frames off the wall, piles of stacked hardcovers and something metallic that jingled.
“We never get earthquakes in Denver,” he felt a bump on his forehead.
Suddenly, he froze still. His size XL t-shirt had been shredded apart, exposing his bare chest. His boxer briefs felt unusually loose around the waist, as if the elastic had burst, and his briefs flowed in strips, fully exposing his hairy thighs. Only the heels of his socks clung onto his feet.
“Oh snap!” He gasped, his hand feeling something pointy protruding from the side of his temple.
He sprang up, his head crashing through the wooden shelf above, knocking down his alien skull and some jars with body parts floating in formaldehyde solution. He jumped as the glass shattered at his bare feet and then held onto his head, moaning in pain.
“FUCK IT!” He roared, tossing the remains of the shelf against the wall where it turned into splinters.
Skye mouth fell open and he glanced at his arms. They were muscular and much larger than he remembered. He looked down at his feet, they seemed too far away. He grew dizzy, stumbling back and holding onto the wall.
“Uh, I feel like a skyscraper!”
“DAD!” He heard Julie’s voice, followed by Gurru’s incessant cheeps.
Skye looked down at his body. His massive bodybuilder physique was nude, save for the tattered remnants of his briefs, which still left his privates exposed.
“Oh, snap! Don’t come in!” He hollered, his voice sounded much deeper than normal.
His eyes darted around for something to cover himself with. He carefully made his way around the smelly puddles of fluid and broken glass, to a tall wardrobe previously concealed by piles of fallen books. He stood still, observing he now towered over the furniture. He shook his head and pulled the door open.
“ARGH! DAMN IT!” He cursed, seeing he had torn the door off its hinges.
“Daddy? Are you okay?” Julie and Gurru came inside.
Skye remained out of view and quickly reached into the wardrobe, where he found a bathrobe just big enough to cover his new body. He then stumbled and knocked over the cabinet with a swing of his arm.
Now I understand why Cedric hates napkin holders! He thought.
“Oh my Gods! Dad!” Julie held her hands to her face.
Skye slouched over, nervously showed his fangs in a grin and waved at her.
“Morning, darling,” he said.
“You big fool! You broke your bed again!” Gurru said from atop Julie’s head.
“Broke my bed again?” Skye winced at this statement.
The last time he remembered breaking his bed was back when he was a chubby 180 pound 15-year-old. He looked back at the remains of his bed, intrigued.
“Geez, dad, you scared the shit out of me!” Julie said putting her arms around his waist.
“Language, Missy… oh, when did you get so small?” Skye looked down at her.
Usually when they hugged she reached his stomach and could wrap her arms all the way around his torso but now only reached his sides.
“What are you talking about?” she inquired, giving him a confused stare.
“Gurru, something happened to me… I’m huge!” Skye pointed at his immense frame.
“No need to brag, human,” the bird puffed up and flew off the girl’s head, heading out the door.
“Julie! Look at me, do you see anything different about daddy?”
He knelt down to her eye level. She cupped his scruffy cheeks and made pensive gestures, moving her head around as she furrowed her brows.
“Nope,” she responded.
“What the bloody--?” he began when suddenly there was knocking at the front door.
“Guess who’s here?” Gurru called out.
“Uncle Cedric!” Julie ran out her father’s lair excitedly. Skye looked around nervously.
“Oh, snap! I can’t let him see me looking like this!” He went to his drawers. What he found there made him take a step back.
“Hey, dude!” Cedric came into his room. He wore his usual tank top and shorts for exercise.
“Ah, damn it!” Skye looked up. His friend gave him a concerned glance.
“You okay, big man?” Cedric asked.
Big man? He usually calls me ‘little man.’ What’s going on? Skye held onto his head. He could feel the horns on both sides of his temples.
Cedric came closer, and Skye stepped back until his heel felt a piece of broken glass. He no longer towered over him, their eyes met at the same level. He let out a soft wail and frowned.
“Aw, what’s wrong, babe?” Cedric responded, putting his arms around his back and patting it.
“I don’t know,” Skye began to cry.
He brought his arms upward and caressed Cedric’s back, surprised he could now bear hug his friend with ease. He could also feel Cedric’s breathing on his neck as his head rested over his shoulder.
“I’m here, everything will be okay,” Cedric reassured him.
“I’m so confused,” Skye sniffled. Cedric held him by the shoulders and smiled at him.
“Nah, you just the cutest thing ever!” Cedric showed his fangs in a wide smile.
Whoa! I’m what?! Skye thought surprised. His dear friend would never have called him cute. He was too macho for that! Wait… did he call me babe earlier?
“Come on, get dressed! I’m taking you and Julie out!”
“To go where?” Skye inquired hesitantly.
“Breakfast… and we can go look at some beds too, if you want,” Cedric looked over Skye’s shoulder at the mess.
He then walked out the lair, leaving his friend in privacy. Skye gulped. Is this where I’m supposed to hear creepy music in my head and Rod Serling shows up to provide narration? He thought, holding in his hands a pair of monstrously large briefs with duck patterns.
He sighed, sliding the ducks up, and got dressed in cargos, a hoodie and a pair of brown hiker boots. These clothes fit him perfectly. He then pulled a mirror from behind a desk and contemplated himself. He was unrecognizable save for his face; for a split second he thought he was looking at an image of Cedric’s full body with his own head instead.
“So… this is me now?” he asked his reflection.
“Then that means… Oh my Gods, I’m a Theo!” he grinned, his eyes twinkled, appreciating his pearly white fangs.
When he came out of his room, Skye could not stop smiling. Cedric and Julie sat at the couch in the lobby waiting for him. His beautiful daughter looked the same. She wore her favorite blue dress with stripped tube socks and her signature red shoes. Her amber locks of hair flowed down to her waist and her head was adorned with a tiara made out of vines.
As for Cedric, he had somehow changed into cargo pants and a flannel shirt. Skye pondered for a moment if he had brought these, but then brushed it off and went to pull his friend close as he rose from the couch.
“I love you so much,” Skye said into his ear.
“Me too, dude,” Cedric then chuckled at Skye giving him a kiss on the cheek and another on the lips.
“What no sugar for me?” A woman’s voice said from behind the counter. Skye broke off the hug and turned around.
“I-it’s you!” Skye exclaimed overjoyed. He beads of tears pooled in his eyes.
He ran towards the Homme woman in the white dress, standing beside Gurru’s cage. Her lean body accentuated her natural curves. She smiled at him, her steel gray eyes giving him a feeling of serenity. A white Aztec marigold flower adorned her long wavy hair; like her dress, it also billowed to an unfelt wind no one else seemed to be affected by.
“Daisy,” Skye held her close, his massive arms fully enveloping her smaller frame. She leaned her head over his chest, putting her arms over his shoulders.
“I’ve missed you too, hubby,” Daisy said.
“I thought… I thought I would never see you again!” Skye said, meeting her warm gaze. She then leaned forward and kissed his lips.
“I’m proud of you. Our daughter is so big now… and you’ve moved on at last,” she added, brushing her husband’s scruffy cheek.
“Are you okay with Cedric and me together? I mean, it’s not weird to you?” Skye inquired.
“No, I guess I kinda knew all along you were different… in a good way,” Daisy smiled.
“I swear I never realized what I was…” Skye felt his wife’s finger pressed against his lips.
“Nothing to explain, hubby. I could never think of you as abominable. I know you loved me, I could feel it when you held me,” she nodded at him.
“And you need to shave, my burly caveman,” she laughed. Tears flowed down Skye’s face and he too chuckled. He then held her close again.
“This is the happiest day of my life,” he closed his eyes.
“Except, none of this is real. Not yet,” Daisy responded.
“What?” Skye looked at her with pleading eyes.
“I’m dead, remember?” she responded.
“Oh no…” He looked down and sobbed.
Daisy brushed away one of his tears. Skye gently held onto her hand, having longed for her soft touch for nine years.
“I never stopped loving you,” he said.
“I know. Thank you,” she kissed his lips once more.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t save you,” he sobbed again.
“There was nothing you could have done. If you had given me the Conscientia water to drink… I would’ve been cursed! Like what happened with Gurru when you tried saving him. And like that little bird, I would have sat alone, watching you and everyone I loved die before my eyes,” Daisy said with a frown.
She caressed Gurru’s deceased carcass, which lay stiff over the counter. Skye looked up at her with a pensive look. He saw glimmering silver streams flowed down her eyes.
“Is this a dream or is it more?” he asked her.
“It’s more, hubby,” she said.
“What is this?” he tried holding back more tears but they kept coming. Daisy stared at him with a painful expression.
“Oh… Am I going to die?” he asked her. She nodded at him.
“Will it be soon?” he held her face between his hands. She nodded again.
“How… how much time do I have?” he inquired, a knot had formed on his throat.
“Just enough for one last birthday, his…” Daisy then stretched her arm over the counter. Cedric stood there, his sad blue eyes on Skye.
“Cedric,” He muttered. Daisy looked back, a bright light emanated from a rift on the wall behind her.
“Do you remember that story about the girl who sold matches on the street?” she asked him. Skye nodded silently.
“And how in the end, just before she died, she could see her grandmother and this beautiful place in the fire of the matches?” she looked into his eyes. His irises were gray just like hers.
“I get it,” Skye responded. Daisy gently let go of his embrace. She parted towards the rift. Her shape being swallowed by its otherworldly radiance.
“Don’t be afraid, my love. I’ll be here when you come. The Sentry said so,” Daisy last spoke.
“Who’s the Sentry?” Skye inquired. Daisy then pressed her fingers over her lips and blew a kiss at her husband.
Skye reached out his hand to her, his sad eyes longing for her to stay by his side a while longer. Daisy looked down and for a moment, Skye could see a tall winged figure step out from within the light. It brought its wings around her, and held her in its arms. Skye tried running towards them but he found his feet had become one with the wooden boards. He finally saw the winged entity fly away with her and vanish into a blinding flash.
Skye then found himself back in his bed, wearing his intact sleeping clothes again. He was no longer a Theo. He held his hands over his face and let out a loud sigh, his eyes were burning. Suddenly, he heard screaming coming from across the hallway. He jumped off his bed and ran out the door.
“Julie?” He heard her screaming again.
“Julie!” He flew into her bedroom.
Hovering beside her bed, he could see his daughter still asleep, tangled on her bed sheets, flailing and groaning. He moved closer, placing his hand over her forehead.
“Julie,” he said. Suddenly, the girl moved her head in his direction.
Daddy, is that you? She looked around, her surroundings becoming wisps of darkness that fell and stained the blank vastness of her mindscape.
“Focus on my voice, pretend it’s a door at the end of a hallway,” he gently rubbed her forehead and closed his glowing golden eyes.
Suddenly, Julie saw a red door materialize in the distance and she ran towards it. The dark wisps began to shrivel around her, exploding into arachnid ripples. Daddy, I’m scared!
“Julie, I want you to open the door,” He instructed her.
Listening to her father she turned the knob and tried but then the wisps caught up to her, weaving together a room around her, making the red door vanish. She was now inside a child’s bedroom. Julie shook her head and moaned, trying to end the vision.
“What is your happiest memory?” Skye whispered into her ear.
My happiest memory? Suddenly, the mirrored silhouettes of their faces came together, at their center opening a ghostly window into a deep memory…
Julie and Skye were visiting a wildlife reserve by the sea. Her father and she were surrounded by a flock of small black seabirds with white spiral patterns on their plump bodies; their little webbed feet taking them where their curiosity led them. She knelt down and reached out her hand, she held a tiny fish from the tip of its tail, slowly moving it closer to the nearest puffin bird she saw. She laughed, seeing the young creature gapping its beak to gratefully accept her treat with gusto. Not far, Gurru stood by a window, looking inside a building at an incubator with eggs. The songbird let out several low chirps. He soon heard a response: the high-pitched cheeps from a puffin hatchling breaking out of its egg. Julie came to sit beside Gurru and shared his delight. The elderly finch turned to her and rubbed his tiny head against her knee. That day, Gurru confessed his desire to start a family…
At last Julie opened her eyes. Thanks to her father’s empathic power she was calmer. She then saw her dad sitting on the side of her bed, holding her in his arms. She glanced at her clock; the time was 7:02 in the morning.
“How are you?” Skye asked her as he brushed her hair gently with his fingers.
“Dad… I saw them, the men in black,” she said.
“It was only a dream,” Skye reassured her. Julie shook her head.
“They kidnapped a girl… she looked a bit like me, but her name was Lana,” she glanced at him concerned.
“You are safe, I promise,” Skye whispered to her. He thought about the name Julie mentioned and then kissed the side of her forehead. A girl named Lana?
“What was the ruckus about?” Gurru asked flying into the bedroom, where he perched over Julie’s knee.
“I had a bad dream,” she responded, her voice trembling.
“Are you feeling better?” the elderly bird asked.
“I’m okay now,” Julie responded softly, she still rested her head against her father’s lap as he continued to brush her hair.
“Hey, cheer up. Today is a special day,” Skye announced and then eyed Gurru.
“It is indeed. Happy birthday Julie!” Gurru chanted.
“And many more, my big-little princess,” Skye told her. She sat up to accept her father’s kiss on the cheek. She smiled at last.
“I love you, my sweet girl,” he smiled back.
“I love you too, daddy… and thank you,” Julie replied.
She heard a gentle whistle and turned to Gurru. She extended her finger so the finch could climb on. She brought the bird closer and pressed her lips together.
“This how birds kiss,” Gurru reached over and softly pecked her mouth. Julie giggled.
“Love you too, Gurru,” she added. The songbird then let out a happy yawn.
APRIL 22 (10:27)
“Oh, ain’t Missy gorgeous, Hon?” Stylist Peggy spun the chair around, as Julie raised her arms up in joy.
“She has always been,” Skye grinned.
“You’re one lucky papa, Hon,” Peg patted his back, her Theo strength making Skye cringe in pain.
“WEEEE!” Julie chanted just before the chair stopped circling. She then stood from the chair, stumbling in her dazed state.
“Careful there,” Skye said holding onto her.
Julie then proudly admired her brand new schoolgirl bangs. Ever since she had seen a picture of Yuki’s cousin Satsuki from the eastern nation of Neo Nihon-koku, she found the hairstyle cute and wanted to try them.
“Yuki is going to go loca when she sees them!” Julie proclaimed with a gentle laugh.
“Excellent,” Skye responded, suddenly feeling Peggy’s hand pulling him down into the chair.
“Your turn, Hon!” she grinned and winked at Julie.
“Please, Mrs. Peggy, make my dad look handsome. Dad you look like a hobo!” the girl turned to her father.
“I do not!” He protested. Peggy put the drape around his neck.
“So what’s it gonna be, Missy?” Peg asked. Julie rubbed her chin and then made a decapitating gesture across her neck with one finger.
“So off with the beard then!” Peg spun the chair around, making Skye flatten himself against it as he grabbed onto the armrests.
“You’re one sneaky child of the candy corn!” Skye exclaimed at Julie, who happily skipped away to the back of the hair salon.
“Oh, Missy, the twins are in the back! Have fun!” Julie froze still at Peg’s mention of her two grandsons, The Castle Twins.
Julie walked calmly to the back of the salon, past the bathrooms and the storage closet. The light on the ceiling of the turquoise hallway flickered. Her eyes darted from side to side. Ahead of her she saw a door-less room, its walls stained yellow by the dim light within. Her red shoes clicked against the floor tiles. Those morons better not be planning to scare me!
“And then when granny goes for her coffee, we switch Tatiana’s cream with shampoo!” She heard a voice said followed by snickering.
Julie moved her head into the archway, making herself known to the two overgrown twins who despite being her age had already begun their growth spurt into rowdy adolescents. Had she not known them, she could have sworn she was looking at a pair of high school guys sitting around the video game console.
“Hello, boys!” she chanted.
“Ah, crap! It’s Nutty J!” Ronald moaned.
“Don’t call me that! It’s my birthday so respect me!” Julie responded in protest.
“Oh, then congrats on getting old!” Logan snorted.
“Look who’s talking… overgrown gorilla,” Julie stuck her tongue out at him.
“Hey!” Logan exclaimed.
“Oh, getting owned by a girl!” Ronald mocked his twin.
“Dear Ronald, Yuki said you had to wear the pink bracelet she got you or she was going to think you didn’t love her anymore,” Julie crossed her arms.
“Ah, damn it!” Ron said.
“And by the way, you better drop your shitty little prank on Tatiana or I’m going to tell your grandma!” Julie said in a more serious tone.
“I ain’t afraid of a stupid girl!” Logan rose up and walked towards Julie.
He easily stood two feet taller than she did. She also noticed his frame had begun to widen and his arm muscles were gaining definition. Despite him still wearing a child’s t-shirt of anime mechas he had the body of a young man. At last there was a way to tell the twins apart, with Ronald being much leaner by comparison.
“Whoa,” Julie uttered. Logan smirked at her amusement.
“What a shrimp!” the boy showed his fangs at her.
Psst! Julie! She heard a voice beside her.
God! Great timing! She thought.
Time to have some fun! Erebus grinned at her. She nodded.
“Oh, Logan, what was that you said earlier about me being a girl?” She inquired.
“A stupid girl,” Logan reiterated.
Suddenly, Julie reached up and slapped him in the side of the face. The clap had echoed through the walls. Ronald looked at them wide eyed. She had left a red handprint on the boy’s cheek.
“You moron!” Julie said holding onto her hand.
“Ow!” Logan held onto his cheek, tears beading on his eyes.
“You may look all big and buff but you’re nothing but a naughty little boy!” she added.
“That didn’t hurt!” Logan feigned, still rubbing his cheek.
Hehehe! Show him who’s boss! Erebus whispered into her ear.
Julie walked up to Logan and stomped on his foot. The boy’s eyes widened and he let out a low roar.
“Oopsie! Did that hurt?” Julie asked with her hand to her face. Logan shook his head, unable to talk as he held back the urge to cry.
“Geez, bro, I’m ashamed! You got your ass kicked by a girl!” Ron sighed.
I got it, kick in the nuts! Erebus suggested excitedly.
“Kick him in the nuts?” Julie repeated in surprise.
At the mention of this, Ron burst into laughter and Logan gave her a frightened look.
“No! Stop!” Logan plead, moving his hands over his groin area.
See? It worked! Erebus chuckled.
“I won’t prank anybody ever again! I swear!” Logan held his hands in front of him. Julie walked up to him with a small grin. The large boy took a step back.
“I will be watching, Mr. Castle,” Julie said in a deep raspy voice, raising both eyebrows at him. Logan whimpered.
As she proudly walked out the room, she said to herself,
“Justice has been served.”
APRIL 22 (13:12)
Skye knelt down as he searched through a brown trunk he had kept hidden under a pile of books. He nostalgically turned on his still-functional Game Kid Color handheld game console, and then looked over his father’s instant camera. He eyed some blank VHS tapes, played with a laser pen, and tried on a pair of black leather gloves. At last, he moved aside a tin box full of centennial coins and found what he was looking for.
He held up between his hands a golden locket with a stylized flower engraving. He clicked it open; inside were two small circular portraits. To the left side were Daisy embracing her husband Skye, his head shaved, from behind with her arms around his neck. To the right were Skye holding Julie as a toddler.
“Perfect,” Skye said with a smile. He closed the trunk and sat on the floor, pushing his treasure chest back against the wall with both feet.
He was headed to ask Gurru his opinion when his nose caught a whiff of smoke in the air. Intrigued, he levitated quietly to Julie’s bedroom, staying out of view by peeking from the doorframe. She sat over her circular rug, beside her bed, with a box of matches and a candlestick in front of her. She held up a match and lit the wick.
He observed the girl contemplated the flame, visible on the glint of her violet eyes. She began to blow on it, making the wisp of fire quiver and shrink. She continued to do this until the flame went out, the wisps of smoke billowed in the air like hands picking cherries off a shrub.
Now… let there be light! Erebus muttered into her ear.
She gently put her hand over it and with a light frisk made the wick lit up again, the flame rising three inches and much brighter than before.
“Wow,” Julie whispered in awe.
“Julie, what are you doing?” Skye asked from the door in disbelief.
Quick! Put it out! Erebus ordered.
The girl immediately blew the fire out and set the candlestick down. She eyed her father surprised.
Papa’s gonna ask questions… do ya have remember what to tell him? Erebus asked.
She gave a slight nod. Her father raised an eyebrow, wondering what she was agreeing to.
“Uh… magic trick!” she said with a wide grin. Skye gave her a sharp suspicious look.
“Fire is not a toy, Missy,” he bend down and picked up the box of matches from the floor, and slid it down his pocket.
“Ah, come on, daddy! I was being responsible!” she moaned.
“Unless you can prove you’re a level three magician, the answer is NO!” he gave her a look of distrust.
“Please, it’s my birthday!” Julie made a pouty face.
“Don’t use that as excuse,” he said heading out the door.
“Party pooper!” Julie snapped at him and crossed her arms. Skye took a deep breath and said no more.
He turned to Gurru, who sat atop the cash register grooming under his wings. Skye took out the matches from his pants’ pocket and placed them high on the shelf above the bird’s cage.
“Hey, Gurru, don’t let Julie play with the matches, please.”
“You change your mind quickly. Half an hour ago you came with your weird accent and asked for matches then went to her room,” the bird shook.
“I did not!” Skye took defense, but then winced upon realizing what had just happened.
From the mindscape, he soon heard disembodied laughter echo throughout the murky void. Erebus was nowhere to be seen, but Skye knew for sure he was responsible for what just happened.
Erebus, knock it off! Whatever sick game you’re playing, it has to stop! Skye furrowed his brows.
He did not know what infuriated him more, Erebus not responding or being his puppet and having no recollection of it.
APRIL 22 (16:29)
“This is so cute!” Julie said, cupping in her hands Gurru’s birthday present: a tiny knitted cap large enough to cover her thumb.
“I should have asked for measurements,” the bird sighed.
“That’s okay! It’s so adorable!” Julie kissed Gurru’s head. Suddenly, there was knocking on the door.
Julie ran to get the door, seeing Cedric wave at her from behind the glass. She had excitedly awaited his visit.
“Hey, kid! How you been?” Cedric asked. Julie noticed he was no alone and looked at his companion.
“Hi… I like your hair,” the girl stretched out her hand to the Homme lady with spiky orange hair with green streaks that Cedric held close.
“Thanks sweet, I’m Ellen!” she leaned over to wave at her with a warm smile.
“I like yours too!” Ellen added, noticing Julie’s bangs.
Julie kept her hand stretched out and gave her a confused stare. The woman seemed to be in her mid-20s, but standing next to Cedric, who despite being only 31 appeared twice her age, she looked like she could be his daughter.
“You must be the dynamite gal Uncle Cedric talks about all the time,” Julie grinned at him.
“Aw, you really talk about me?” Ellen asked Cedric with a curious smirk.
“Yeah,” Cedric responded, eyeing both ladies.
“Uncle Cedric speaks highly of you!” Julie gave him an elbow nudge.
“That’s so sweet!” Ellen held Cedric’s face between her small hands and kissed his lips. Julie stuck her tongue out.
“Uncle Ced! When is your birthday?” Julie gently tugged at his sleeve.
“October 16,” he responded.
“Oh, that means you are an Autumn Boranima! The protector beast that helped the Orkan warriors fight the wicked Psi-Mites!” Julie hopped and raised her fist in the air.
“Wow, you’re such a smart girl! Do you read a lot?” Ellen asked.
Not far, Skye stood at the threshold of his lair, leaning against the doorframe with his head down. He frowned, as if sensing Ellen’s kiss with Cedric had caused him severe heartburn. What the soot is she doing here? He sighed.
“Is the gorilla drumming?” Julie laughed.
Cedric and Ellen both wore matching black tops with the same design of a band of three monkeys and a gorilla playing musical instruments.
“Oh yeah, it’s Ellen’s band… the real drummer is such an ape!” Cedric chuckled. Ellen nudged him in the stomach.
“You have a band?” Julie asked with awe.
“Yep, are you into alternative rock?” Ellen inquired.
“I dunno. I’m only nine!”
“Ellen plays the cello like a pro!” Cedric jumped in.
“I’m not that good,” Ellen said shyly, holding her arm.
“Nonsense! You’re amazing!” Cedric smirked at her and caressed her cheek with one of his large fingers.
Skye could not take anymore and made his presence known at last. He stepped out feigning to look happy to see both, despite wanting to throw Ellen out of his store.
“Cedric, my man!” he said with open arms.
“Hey, dude!” Cedric happily accepted his friend’s lengthy embrace.
“Are you a Collector? My fourth grade teacher has colorful hair too, but it’s because she is of the Wefan faith,” Julie moved closer to Ellen.
“Nope, just think it looks fun!” Ellen responded, she suddenly noticed the hug between both guys had been going on for a while.
Julie walked towards her father, noticing the frown on his face as Cedric held him. She seemed confused at first. Why is daddy sad? He should be happy his best friend is here! She thought.
Why did I ever let you go, big guy? Now you’re happy with her… and I’m no match for that! Skye gulped, finally releasing his beloved giant from his grasp and feeling a sharp pain spreading through his heart.
For a moment, Julie rubbed her hand against her chest, feeling discomfort as well. She then turned around and saw how upset her father was. Did they get in a fight or something? She pondered.
Bah! Yer such an idiot! Erebus stuck his tongue out, putting his invisible arm around Skye, who let himself fall onto the couch where he instantly closed his eyes.
“Dude, you okay?” Cedric’s concerned voice echoed as he drifted away.
Soon he was in the mindscape, sitting beside Erebus. The entity was missing more chunks of flesh, exposing his bones.
“I hate this,” Skye confessed.
“It’s yer fault, lover boy. If I were ya, I would use my powers on that skank so I could have Cedric all to myself!” Erebus gazed into the dark abyss.
“I would never do that. It was me who wanted him to be happy and not end up bitter and lonely like that old man from the restaurant,” Skye leaned over his arms.
“But ya never thought it would hurt this bad… his happiness at the expense of yer own… tsk, ya need to be more selfish! Fuck everyone else!” Erebus clenched his bony fist at him.
“I’ve been thinking about what you said before, about being me incomplete… explain it to me,” Skye glanced at Erebus pleadingly.
“Ah… well,” Erebus rubbed his chin, “Yer a broken soul… a hollow man, to patch up and survive ya became this mosaic of bits from people around ya.”
“Go on,” Skye nodded.
“Think about it… everything about ya is borrowed! Let’s see… ya like to collect things but wait, ain’t that Lucinda’s thing? Then ya have this annoying sense of justice… bingo, that’s mom! Distrust and short temper… oh, sounds like yer old man did more than abandon ya as a kid! Let’s not forget the courage to overcome the fear of heights… ah, sweet sis Esme! And last, we got Daisy’s optimism and Julie’s kindness!”
“And Cedric… What about him?” Skye frowned, rubbing his eyes.
“Oh, about that… yer one of ‘em Hommes, right? Means boys are rare in yer family. When ya were born, being around ‘em bitches instantly made ya the alpha male and the baby… the fucking lion king! Ever wondered why ya became so aggressive around their boyfriends? Why ya hated dad so much?”
“I get that! But why did I fall in love with a man? I had never been attracted to men until I met him! Why?” Skye said between his teeth. His irises had turned crimson.
“Whoa, chill dog! Am getting there! So… when ya met Cedric and I almost killed the bastard…”
“Don’t insult him!” Skye interrupted.
“Oh, hush! Ya so lovesick for him ‘cause of a fucking fluke!” Erebus spat.
“Cedric’s more macho and that got ya super excited! Yer brain then tried to copy him but couldn’t 'cause ya two are too similar! Blew a fuse and poof! Turned queer overnight!” Erebus licked the side of mouth where his jaw muscles were showing. Skye turned away in disgust.
Usually, he would have been mad but this time he accepted this truth calmly. He adored Cedric, not just for his strength and impressive body, but for his determination. Cedric had always worked twice as hard as he did and was now a better person than he ever hoped to be: a truly beautiful and lovable human being, while Skye still perceived himself as the monster living in the shadows. On top of all, they were mirror opposites, two halves of the same coin, and had many things in common: both men had lost their wives at childbirth, both also lost a son, they both raised their offspring alone, both experienced tragedy during the 2024 floods, strayed away from their dreams, and hit rock bottom at some point in their adult lives.
The more he learned about this man, the closer he felt to being whole. When speaking of a broken person seeking fulfillment, could Erebus have been referring to Cedric the entire time? Perhaps. His most recent cardiac episodes had occurred when around this man. The last one in particular, the result of emotional heartbreak. Even his late wife had acknowledged this relationship. What if Cedric was to be key during his final moments alive? He would die sometime in late October, after his friend's thirty-second birthday.
Suddenly, he heard Ellen’s voice. His eyes opened and he shrieked at seeing her checking his pulse.
“What you doing?” he mumbled.
“Oh, he’s awake!” she announced holding a cup of water in front of him.
“Daddy! Are you okay?” Julie came running towards him. Skye managed a nod.
“You gotta see a doctor, dude. This heart shit’s getting bad!” Cedric had a cell phone in his hand.
Skye leaned forward and shouted, “NO!”
With an invisible force he knocked the phone from Cedric’s hand. Skye managed to get back on his feet, holding onto his forehead. He gladly accepted the cup of water that Ellen handed him.
“It’s my girl’s birthday! Let’s celebrate!” Skye said firmly, the cup slipping from his under his fingers and bouncing as it hit the floor.
“Um… that’s nothing,” Skye added calmly.
Gurru stood at side of the counter, nibbling on the frosting of the birthday cake. It was banana-yellow with cherry-pink blossoms and green leaves that tasted like limes. The spongy inside was a tres leches cake. A colorful wax number 9 rested at the center of the pastry.
“This is from both of us,” Cedric told Julie.
The giant stood next to Ellen’s chair in the middle of the lobby, his hand over her shoulder. Meanwhile, Skye rested on the couch, avoiding eye contact with them and only focusing on his daughter and how happy she looked.
Julie accepted their small bag with a picture of a chicken holding colorful balloons and wearing a cone hat. She turned around and set it down over the wooden counter. Gurru fluttered his wings and hopped to the side with his beak still covered in cake frosting. She then reached inside the bag and tossed in the air pink tissue paper. Gurru shrieked at the mess she was making.
Skye sat up, trying to look at what she got. Julie then turned around, holding an oversized baseball cap. Her smile was sincere. She happily removed her viny tiara and tried on her hat, despite knowing it was too large to ever fit her.
Did he just give her one of his old hats? Skye raised an eyebrow. Regardless of it being old or new, Julie seemed to relish it and she danced around to prove it. She thanked her beloved uncle with a warm hug and Ellen with quick thumbs up.
“Now’s my turn… come here, Missy!” Skye gestured his daughter.
She moved closer and extended both hands at him, she grinned expectantly. Her father then reached into his pocket and took out the golden locket he had custom made for her. Julie’s eyes widened. As her father put it on around her neck, she was speechless.
“Open it,” Skye sat expectantly.
Julie beamed at him and did as instructed. She clicked the side and got it open. Inside she found the pair of pictures, showing her as a baby with her dad and one with both her parents.
“Mommy,” Her voice trembled. She cupped the locket in her hands in admiration.
“Thanks daddy, you are the best!” she put her arms around her father and he gladly accepted her kindness.
“No, thank you… for being the blessing of my life all these years,” Skye closed his eyes, concealing their grayness.
Julie continued to admire her locket. Looking at her mother’s picture she could not help to wonder: If I bring this picture to life, will mommy be able to talk to me?
MAY 5, 2028
The clock read 4:49 in the morning. The store was still dark. The only sounds heard came from Skye wheezing as he stumbled out of his room, pressing his hand against the doorframe. With his other hand he felt the center of his chest. Beads of cold sweat ran down his face.
“Oh snap… can’t be today… not today,” he muttered.
He continued to walk across the hall, passing Gurru’s cage over the counter with its violet curtain on top. His breaths were not filling his lungs. He rested over Julie’s doorframe now.
“J-Julie!” He called out in pain.
Suddenly, his daughter sat up on her bed. Looking around for his voice.
“Daddy? What’s wrong?” She got out of her bed and walked towards him.
“I-I’m c-cold…” He managed to say, pressing his back against the side of the wall and sliding down.
“Dad!” She flicked on the light and ran towards him. Her hands felt his cold moist skin.
Suddenly she cried in pain, feeling her own heart. Skye looked up at her mildly surprised.
“Can you feel it?” He wheezed.
“It’s your heart!” She exhaled, pulling the blankets off her bed and wrapping her father with them.
Julie hopped over his legs, leaving her room. She began looking under the counter for something.
“It’s… the white bottle with red sticker…” Skye coughed, his voice growing weaker.
He then reached under his shirt for his asklepian locket. He twisted it open and pressed his lips over it, tilting his head back to swallow the orange powder. He coughed again.
Julie came to him with a small white bottle that read acetylsalicylic acid, 81-mg. She clicked the lid open, rattling the tablets as she fished out one. She then placed one tablet over his tongue and stood on her knees beside him.
“We have to call Aunt Lucinda! She is a doctor, she will know what to do!” she insisted. Skye lowered his head, his eyes closed.
“She can’t help me… even if she heals me, it won’t stop,” Skye gulped.
“Uncle Cedric?” Julie sobbed.
“He won’t come…” He responded.
“Yes, he will! Why would he not come?” she protested.
“He’s had enough of my drama and he’s kinda busy tonight… Ellen,” he smirked, his eyes had turned blue.
“But he is your friend! Friends are supposed to be there for each other!” Julie was then pulled by her father towards his embrace.
He wanted to tell her about his dream and her mother telling him he only had months to live, but he could not bring himself to do it. He knew the news would break her heart.
“I’m okay now,” He whispered to her.
“No, you are not!” She responded, her arms around his body.
“For now,” He reassured her.
“I won’t let you go!” She insisted. He would have to be honest with her one day.
I’m going to die soon, Missy. I’m sorry… I can’t keep my promise. A tear ran down his cheek.