Graying the Lines

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Young Adult  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 4 (v.1) - Chapter 4

Submitted: September 06, 2018

Reads: 77

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Submitted: September 06, 2018

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Chapter 4

 

 

Lani


 

 He lead me through the cemetery, passed uncountable moss covered headstones, most of them too faded and worn to read the names anymore. The idea of those names, like memories faded in time, covered in a fog almost, made me uneasy. He stopped us in front of a tall stone monument with the bust of a young woman sitting in an alcove about 4 feet off the ground.

 “So why did you choose ‘Victor?’” I asked him as he pushed back the head of the bust, and pressed his hand against the flat stone underneath. “For your name, I mean.” I studied the stone with intent curiosity.

 “I was 18 when I chose that name,” Victor sighed. “It made sense then, I guess.” He explained vaguely as he led us around the back of the stone pillar. A wall had fallen through in the back that gave way to a narrow stone staircase, leading down. Dust remained floating in the air above the steps. “I was a different person then,” He concluded as he looked around to make sure no one was watching before stepping down into the dust, leaving me no choice but to follow.

“You were 18 then?” He nodded. “How old does that make you now?” I asked, watching the back of his head bob in front of me. There wasn’t much else to look at. Just slabs of grey stone, covered in moss.

“I’ll be 22 in December,” He said without a pause.

"That's not that far off,” I said. December was only five months from now, being mid-July. “Sometimes I wonder what I’ll be like in a few years,” I sighed. I’d been willing my age to come for years, the age when I would graduate and be allowed to live on my own. I’d have to appeal to the housing council, families usually lived in the same house together much of their lives to conserve space, but I was eager to find a place of my own. I guess I’d have to do that anyway now.

He looked over at me as we descended the last couple of steps. “How old does that make you then?” He asked.

“Eighteen,” I answered simply. Since last month.”

Victor paused somewhere in front of me and the strange feeling of something heavy filled the air around him. “Oh.” He responded like he’d just realized something important. I wanted to press him, to find out why that was such a shock. But I let it go, figuring he couldn’t see me in the dim light of the musty hallway anyway.

We continued to walk down the narrow corridor. Victor lead the way, shoulders high, and I trailed close behind him, trying not to step on anything that might move. Not long after we reached the bottom of the staircase, I heard what must have been the cold echo of the stone door at the top of the stairs sliding shut. Considering my state of not-so-mild skittishness, I jumped and instinctively grabbed on to Victor’s arm.  He didn’t flinch at the sound, only froze when he felt my cold fingers squeeze his arm. Then he laughed, once, a deep, low chuckle, at my gasp.

 “What is it, Red? You afraid of the dark?” He teased lightly.

“No, of course not,” I said defensively. “Just loud, unidentified noises,” I surprised myself with the level of sarcasm in my voice.

 He sighed, contemplating this for a moment before responding. “Well, I’m pretty sure I’m the scariest thing in here,” He assured me. “So. . .you can let go of my arm?” He pulled at my grasp a little, but not enough to be rude. I nodded, slowly releasing my grip and returning his sleeve to its original, unwrinkled, position on his arm.

“Okay,” He said conclusively. “Come on,” and began to walk away. I took one large step forward and promptly stumbled into a wall. I pulled myself backwards and stood up, straightening my skirt and trying to regain my pride.

 “There’s a wall there,” he said sarcastically from a few feet ahead. I scoffed and followed him further into the dark. I once again heard his low, dark, chuckle, followed by a mumble that sounded something like; “Maybe you should hold onto me.”

 Not long after, we rounded another corner. I could tell the space had gotten smaller by the way the air pressed in around me and every little shuffle was amplified. My eyes began to adjust to the gloom and the outlines of a stout metal door appeared in front of me.

“Here we go,” Victor mumbled with a slightly reluctant nerve, as he rapped his knuckles against the door. “I don’t think we’ll have too much of a problem here, but you should stand behind me just in case,” he cautioned. Considering the circumstances I didn’t argue with him. I stepped behind his shoulder, just enough so that I could peek over it to see the door swing open and a short-ish, slight-ish man (young, maybe late twenties) with tanned skin and a goofy smile stepped out.

“Hey, man, it’s been a minute!” He laughed at Victor, pulling him into a hug, one hand trapped in between their chests. I watched the man quizzically, his light, carefree character surprised me. I don’t know what I expected from a dark angel, knowing they lived underground. Maybe I pictured them pale and dark-eyed, with tattoos and piercings along every surface. Although I did notice the snake, inked in a spiral down his left forearm and a spike through one earlobe.  That looks painful.

 “You here for the usual then?” he asked quietly, shooting a glance down the dark hall. He hadn’t spotted me standing in Victor’s shadow yet. For a moment I looked at Victor and could have sworn I saw him throw me a panicked glance. But it wouldn’t have fit his character. It must have been my mind playing tricks on me.

“Uh, no, not exactly,” Victor explained, running a hand through his hair. “I’ve got someone who needs a wing fixed,” He gestured towards me. “...And probably a cover-up job.”

 The tan boy, who I now assumed to be this “Skids” looked at me over Victor’s wide shoulder. I shrunk back, suddenly extremely nervous under his stare, and tried to hide my wings behind my back. But my tattered white clothes gave away my status anyway. Skids looked back to Victor with sharp eyes.

 “Hey, man what do you think you’re doing bringing a Pure down here!? You know Lou would kill you both if he found out!” He whispered, tone harsh.

 His voice stayed calm as he replied. “I know exactly what he would do, that’s why I brought her here.”

 Skids looked at me again with reproach and said to Victor; “You said she needed a wing fixed?”

 “Yeah, she can’t fly well, crashed and broke it.” He explained calmly.

 “What do you mean ‘crashed’ you flew right into me?” I snorted impulsively.

Both angels looked at me, Victor with guilt, and Skids impressed.

 “Damn,” he laughed. “She’s a White with bite!

 I didn’t quite know how to take his comment but it felt like a compliment so I straightened my shoulders and looked up at his boyish face.

 “Alright, come in,” Skids sighed, ushering us through the door,” I’ll see what I can do.”

 

The spacious room was still dim but not quite as the dusty hallways. It seemed also to get much more use. Bright lights hung from the ceiling underneath what looked like saucepans above a large wooden table to my left. I examined the layer of green felt atop the table, scattered with fist-sized ceramic balls of different colors.

.

 “Don’t tell me you’ve never seen a billiards table before,” Victor smirked as I stared at the table. “I’ll teach you how to play sometime. If you want.” He finished with a shrug.

 “Okay,” I agreed after a pause, surprised to find myself comforted by the promise.

The walls of the room were painted a deep shade of orange, reminding me of the pumpkins we used to carve every October, to “ward off evil” as my family liked to say. But my eyes didn’t linger on the walls for long. They soon fell upon an odd array of silvery contraptions set up on the right side of the room, one in particular, with large bat-like limbs, the one Skids stood by flipping switches and adjusting the strings, drew all my attention.

 “What is that?” I asked,  without removing my eyes from those limbs.

 “This is gonna fix your wing,” Skids said.

 “Will it hurt?”

 They laughed at me exchanging glances. “Well I’ve gotta break your wing to reset it right, don’t I?” Skids explained. Again they laughed at my widened eyes. I narrowed them and walked towards the contraption.

 “Fine. Just tell me what I’m supposed to do.”

 “Alright,” Skids agreed. “Just stand here and open your wing. Which one broke?”

 I turned around and stretched out my left wing. It had set terribly and one of the support bones jutted out and stretched against the skin on the back of my wing. The intense pain from earlier had worn off but it was still sensitive. Skids took one of the skeletal limbs of the machine and brought it up to set it against my feathers. He laid it flat against my wing as well as he could and closed the clamps over the broken bones. I shivered at the cold metal touch.

Then the panic hit.

I was about to break my wing for the second time today, and intentionally this time. What, was I crazy!? The panic must have shown on my face. I could see Victor studying me out of the corner of my eye. I turned sharply to meet his gaze and held his eyes with mine, challenging him to make a judgement. But this boy continued to surprise me. He nodded at me encouragingly and my muscles began to relax as Skids counted down from three. I caught the image of the snake on his arm again, as he reached to make a last second adjustment to the machine. A thought started to form in my mind but was interrupted by a muffled snap and a grunt. I tried to keep the expression off my face this time. As I looked at the boys' bored faces I could tell I had succeeded. I let out a breath, admonishing myself. What had I been afraid of? The pain? No, every white angel became accustomed to pain. Some more that others. Having to break my wing again? No, I knew it was going to set right. I was rational enough to come to that conclusion. Them? I welcomed the thought because at least it made sense. I still wasn’t entirely sure I trusted either of the boys in front of me, and all of this was against everything I’d been taught…  

 I snorted, shaking the thought from my head. I ran away from them. I wanted nothing to do with it. What should I care about their code anymore?

 Victor and Skids still held their gaze over me, maybe waiting for a bigger reaction. But I noticed Victor wasn’t looking at my face. I followed his curious gaze down to my open wing and it fell upon the pink raw patches spread along the inside. I almost thought the look on his face was recognition and my cheeks flushed. But dark angels wouldn’t know about Plucking, would they? That was just an old world punishment for white angels when we stepped a little out of line. So why did it seem like there was more to his expression than solemn curiosity? I felt the sudden need to break the awkward silence, and whether I meant for it too or not, what I said next made them both laugh.

 “Well?” I looked at them. “Is that all, then?” Skids doubled over with the snake’s arm over his stomach, and Victor’s hard expression faltered as he relaxed back against another contraption, shoulders shaking.

“You’re pretty tough for a white angel, you know that?” Skids straightened, shaking his head. “I like it!” I smirked at that, liking what I thought was a compliment. I thought I saw another one of those flickered emotions pass through Victor’s facebut it was gone before I could make sense of it.

 “Okay,” Skids interjected. “It needs a few minutes to set and then you can take the brace off.”

 “Can I see it?” I asked, nodding towards a tall mirror next to the wall to my left. Victor rolled it over to stand in front of me and angled it so I could see both of my wings at once. I stretched the other one out and examined them. “They look different,” I stated, tilting my head to the side.

 “What do you mean ‘different?’ Different how?” Skids walked over to stand next to Victor. “It’s set right I promise,” He explained defensively.

 “No she’s right,” Victor argued. Skids took a closer look.

“Well it’s set to fix a darks angel’s wing of your height and weight and it’s pretty accurate.”

“I guess white angels and dark angels have different wings?” Victor mused spreading his own out to look at. Skids examined his wings in disbelief. He was right too. I noticed something else looking at his wings. I would have thought that having such dark feathers might disguise some of their detail but I found myself intrigued by the intricacy. I noticed how his wings were sharp-angled, more pronounced, unlike the soft, billowy curves of my own. And underneath that lay tremendous variation among the feathers. They were soft, almost fluffy, at the top of his wings, covering the tough skin over the bone, and they grew longer and rougher down the back of his wings, and softer and shorter once again on the inside. I noticed the layering was different as well. While white angel’s feathers were straight and precise, his feathers were criss crossed and wound themselves into a spiral near the joint of his shoulder, then out again to the sharp points at the bottom. They were beautiful.  

 I looked up from Victor’s wings to look back at his face, and his eyes darted away guiltily. I again took it upon myself to break the awkward silence.

 “Wellsomething tells me this won’t help me fly any better,” I pointed out.

Skids shrugged at me. “Well, what do you want me to do about it?”

 I continued in the same breath; “Break the other one.”

 

 After my wings had both been set and stilled, I was removed from the machine and stood in the middle of the dim orange room. I turned my head to watch the two boys as they circled me, similar expressions of curiosity and puzzlement on their faces.

“So what now?” Skids looked past me towards Victor. He shrugged his sharp shoulders, wings following suit.

 “You can fly again, you should go home now.” He looked at me hard.

 Anger flashed under my ribs. “No!” I said, maybe a little too forcefully. Skids looked taken aback, and Victor looked stressed. “Look, I may not have had a plan coming down here but there’s no way I’m going back.” I stared them down. "I can't do that."

“I know what you mean,” Skids mused. “Wellone thing’s for sure. If you’re gonna be here for any length of time you’re gonna have to blend in. No white angel wants to be in this city very long. There are dark angels all over the world but you, little miss, were unfortunate enough to fall right into the snake pit.”

 “The snake pit?” I echoed, glancing again at the ink on his arm as he scratched at the stubble on his chin.

“You’re in Los Angeles,” He laughed. “You know, the City of Angels?”

“Oh. Right.” I hadn’t studied much of Earth’s geography but every one of us knew of here. This was where the first angel fell to, and how the city got its name. I suppose it made sense that the pool had brought me here.

“So your tattoo then...?”

 “It was supposed to be ironic,” he explained. “I got it shortly after I got here. Now it’s just kinda the sad truth you know? Snakes and Angels. In a lot of ways, they’re kinda the same thing.”

 “I can see that actually,” I responded, lowering my head. “What do you mean by ‘when you got here?’” I said. “You weren’t born here?”

 Skids smiled and shook his head. “No. No, I was born somewhere very far away. A place you might be quite familiar with actually.” In confusion I took another look over him, his straight-cut hair, the tall, rigid, way he stood, his tan skin, which I realized had only the one tattoo. Some habits don’t break.

 “You’re a Fallen One?” I asked in disbelief.

 He smirked as he spread his wings above his head, arms out straight, and bowed dramatically. “At your service,” he said.

“But-I don’t- how did-” I stuttered, not entirely sure what I wanted to ask him. I’d only ever heard stories about the Fallen, and they all portrayed dark eyed monsters, angels that wanted only to cause trouble and pain, angels that were not strong enough to resist the temptations of Satan and therefore turned to worship him. They were supposed to be even worse than the dark angels born here. None of this compared to what I viewed before me.

“They kicked me out when I was fourteen,” he explained, trying to draw a straight line from the jumbled mess of question marks and images in my head. “I started asking too many questions I guess, picked at a wound that some of the people up there weren’t ready to reopen. I started questioning the government, how they ran the place... I only wanted some answers, hey, I deserved some answers. But they didn’t want me spreading ‘false rumors’ and shit, they didn’t want me causing a problem. So they told me to leave.”

“But they wouldn’t really kick you out

 

they? Out of the whole Upper Realm?” I felt I already knew the answer to that question and it was followed by an unfortunate lack of surprise.

“Well I refused to leave at first,” he explained. “I said that it was my home and I had just as much right to be there as anyone else. But,” he paused dramatically. “they disagreed. I remember being bagged and tied, shoved around some. I put up as much of a fight as I knew how to, but next thing I knew I was pushed over a ledge into some water, then I landed on some damp grass and hit some kind of rock. . .” I watched him as his eyes glazed over with the memory. “...I blacked out,” He said. “Woke up in the infirmary here, wings black as ink and wearing clothes I never would have considered before. It was rough for the first couple of weeks, having to lie about where I came from and learning how to fit in. But I think back, and honestly, it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I got my freedom coming here. It was all I really wanted. I may not have made the choice to be here originally, but I chose it again and again every day.” He crossed his arms and sat down on the seat of another machine. “And now look at me. I’ve got my own room, a successful business, all the freedom to do whatever experiments and build whatever I want. I’ve never been better!”

 “So you never think about going back?” I asked him.

He shrugged. “Sometimes I think about going back. I’d go back and tell my family why I left, that I hadn’t made the decision myself. I’d tell them I’m not the awful person they all think I am now for sure. I’d tell them that I’m not really the ‘evil’ one.” I couldn’t even begin to process everything I’d just been told. I never really believed that all dark angels were “evil,” but I thought that the Fallen must be, the ones that chose to leave... but that would make me exactly that.

“We should try to dye her wings,” Victor cut in. I could hear the desperation to change the subject leaking from his hard voice. “If she’s going to blend in then we’ll need to dye her wings.”

“Right, yeah I can do that.” Skids stood up again, adjusting himself to return to the topic. “You’re going to have learn how to look like us and act like us, otherwise they’ll start to get suspicious. It’s not so bad though, I promise.”

 I sighed, the worry must have shown on my face.

 “It won’t be all the time,” Victor explained. “Just if you’re down here. Skids’ space is easy to get to, but being anywhere else under the city is a risk. You’ll be fine once we go up into the streets. Humans can’t really tell the difference without looking at our wings.”

 “And lucky for us they’re too blind to see ‘em,” Skids chuckled.

 Victor continued to watch me, studying my expression, his own had once again grown tight and unrevealing.

 “Okay,” I agreed. “Is the dye permanent?”

 “No,” Skids said. “But it’ll last for a few weeks before you’ll have to get it redone.”

“Fine,” I said. I watched Skids lift his arm to run his fingers through his hair, as he seemed to be addressing the work he had in front of him. And this time as I looked, that black and green spiraled snake seemed to be glaring at me, daring me, challenging me. I stared back at it and hissed inside my head.

 Accepted.

 I turned to look between the two of them. “If I’m going to be on Earth for the foreseeable future, then you have to promise me one thing,” I said.

 “What?” Victor said. “What is it?”

 I threw a last glance in the direction of the challenger and I spoke. “I want a tattoo.”

 “Really?” Skids confirmed. I looked to Victor, who stood there smiling at me. It was a strange but nice thing to see on him. “Yes. I want one,” I stated, looking back to Skids.

 “Are you sure? I mean, let’s not get ahead of ourselves here, they are permanent, you know. And they hurt a lot. I mean I got mine as soon as I could, but I changed my mind about wanting a second one.” I knew I’d surprise him with my request, I guess he expected me to have kept more of my old home values, but I didn’t expect him to disapprove so harshly. Maybe there was a little white angel left in him too. Maybe it doesn’t all go away. . .

“I know what permanent means.” I said. I thought of my father and the similar words he had said to me before I left. Thoughts of home came with a twinge of pain but I let it go. A breath of disgust escaped my lips as I thought about my father, so I turned back to Skids and looked straight into his chocolate eyes.

“I get it, okay? It’s like a scar. It never goes away completely but eventually, it just fades into the background. It becomes so much a part of you that you stop seeing it completely,” I explained with a ruffle of my newly molded wings. They felt different with their tight, sharp, angles. I was surprised to realize that I liked the way it felt, almost as if I had more control over these wings. They felt lighter than a white angel’s wings as I experimented with them, stretching them and folding them back against each other, and suddenly I was itching to get up in the air. BrieflyI wondered if there was a reason for that particular difference.

 “Alright then,” Skids shrugged, moving towards another machine in the far right corner. “But we should start with your wings.”

 “Fine,” I nodded.

“Okay, follow me and wait for the magic,” He said with a dramatic flair, I had noticed was a theme of his. He gestured me in front of what looked like a blue plastic tent. “Now,” he started, while reaching behind the box and inserting multiple colored tubes and wires into the bottom of the mechanism. “This is technically a standing tanning booth I saved from some salon before it went out of business. The ladies down here love it,” he seemed proud of himself. “But I think I can modify it to use other dyes too if I just put the right dye into the filter.” He stood and reached over my shoulder to open a velcroed slot in the front wall of the blue tarp.

“Now, uh, you just want to put your wings through here instead of standing inside it. Like I said, it’s not permanent but it’s good dye, and I think dying your whole body would be a little more dramatic than the look you’re going for.”  Skids laughed, extracting a smile from me too as they each took one of my wings and helped to fit them through the slot in the plastic. Skids secured the openings tightly where there was room. I flinched at his touch. “So as long as you don’t get them wet after the three weeks it should stay on longer.” Skids stepped back to check for the fit of the plastic. When he nodded in satisfaction he gestured for me to extend my wings. Trying not to think about it I obliged. Three weeks. I could be a dark angel for three weeks. Maybe by thenI’d have some idea of what I wanted to do.

 Skids stepped to my left and flipped a switch on a fancy looking panel. After which, I watched as both boys came to stand in front of me, staring over my shoulder as a high-pitched buzzing sound started behind my head. Soon enough I began to feel a cool liquid-gas substance surrounding my wings, gripping them, soaking them to the bone. It hit me then that for the time being, I had no choice. I was stuck here until I figured out what I wanted to do next.

This was it.

No turning back.


© Copyright 2019 Mica L. Rich. All rights reserved.

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