She-Demon

Reads: 193  | Likes: 2  | Shelves: 0  | Comments: 0

More Details
Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
‘Come upstairs, quickly!’ she shouted at the top of her lungs. ‘Lou’s having a fit!’
‘Lou’s acting really weird? Think you should come, comfort her, while I call Dr Mushtaq.’
He sagged in the ascender’s bouncy cradle as it rode up the balustrade. ‘Why Mushtaq?’
Claire glanced edgily over her shoulder. ‘She’s catatonic, Rog, regressed into her shell.’

from forthcoming online anthology: 'is It Today?'
Photo by JoelValve on Unsplash

Submitted: March 09, 2019

A A A | A A A

Submitted: March 09, 2019

A A A

A A A


She-Demon

It was a sultry Saturday afternoon in late July when the angel descended on Scraley Marsh. The sky turned soot black, illuminated by intermittent displays, celestial pyrotechnics. Rumbles of nearby thunder drowned out the tormented deluge. Swathes of rain hissed insistently at the battered cream clapboard cottage, gusting through open windows, saturating torn net curtains.

Inside the sticky heat of the kitchen, a fat man sat forking mouthfuls of sea-farmed sardines, genetically-modified salad. There was a ping: the bread-baker informing him that his garlic-butter hoagie was ready. His tongue tingled as he chewed on the greasy treat. The hoagie scalded him, dripping hot fat down his folded chin. Right on cue, the dishwasher extended its arms to take his dirty plate. And a coffee-maker whipped him a chilled, refreshing Frappuccino.

The scream was as shrill as a stationmaster’s whistle. A fearful, pained scream hollering to be heard. The din came from the conjugal bedroom upstairs, a past-it potpourri of faded forget-me-not curtains, threadbare rosy rugs, cheerless cherry-bud wallpaper. Its screamer sounded hell-bent on screaming herself hoarse. Claire? Lou?

Delgado wiped the foamy milk-froth off his face. ‘Claire, s’that you?’

‘Come upstairs, quick!’ she shouted at the top of her lungs. ‘Lou’s having a fit!’

He hauled himself up and trundled to the hall. Replaced by auto-pilot, retired from service, by English Airways and unaccustomed to haste, he’d gotten lazy, a rotund meathog who’d rather squat, watching tv than work his blubber off in the downtown auto-gym. After the robotic revolution there was little else for middle-aged misfits to do. Other than make portable jet packs from scrap metal for individual high flyers in their garages. Jet packs were his salvation, his obsession, since he grew big to fly. 

‘What kind of fit?’

He waited, patiently, at the foot of the staircase for the bulk ascender to arrive. A deathly pale apparition appeared behind a stanchion on the landing, waving, all of a flummoxed frenzy. He appraised Claire Dexter’s sweat-soaked, navy-velvet shirt, khaki culottes - and beige thighs, as she sank to her moly, freckled, reddened knees.

‘I don’t know!’ she confessed, a tortured convict.

‘What do you mean, don’t know? Meant to be her sister, aren’t you?’

‘Lou’s acting really weird? Think you should come, comfort her, while I call Dr Mushtaq.’

He sagged in the ascender’s bouncy cradle as it rode up the balustrade. ‘Why Mushtaq?’

Claire glanced edgily over her shoulder. ‘She’s catatonic, Rog, regressed into her shell.’

The stairlift coasted into the landing platform, a domestic funicular railcar, its weighted safety-gate opening automatically, allowing the bulky human cargo to disembark the cradle hold in some comfort. The heat upstairs was unbearable. Claire un-clung her saggy breasts from her wet shirt as Delgado, sweating profusely, itched his copious folds of flab, scratching his sore manboobs.

‘Did you speak to her?’ he asked, mopping brine slush off his bristling brow.

‘Of course, I did, idiot!’

Delgado felt his scalp prickle, like skin nettle rash in the heat. ‘And?’

His muse shook a drape of sodden chestnut hair from her eyes. ‘She didn’t say anything.’

‘She wouldn’t, would she, mutton head?’ she added, stamping her dainty foot, ‘She’s mute.’

‘You know what I mean,’ he said, irked by her petulance. They knew damn well that Lou was trained to communicate using facial gesticulations, hand signs, and general body language.

‘She didn’t let on! She was too petrified!’

Claire shivered, shaking like sick lime green jelly, pulled out her phone, frantically jabbed in Mushtaq’s contact number. Delgado felt sorry for her. Years of caring for Lou had inured him, left him devoid of emotion, desensitized him. Claire really struggled.

‘Well? Did you get through?’ he asked, gentler this time.

She sighed, ‘The call went to voicemail.’

‘What did the voicemail say?’

‘It said: please call back outside clinic hours.’  

Delgado stared up at the thundery heavens, incensed.

‘I’ll call him tonight, okay?’ Claire added, expediently.

Being pedantic the big man asked, ‘When does his clinic finish?’

‘Eleven-thirty.’

‘Eleven-thirty on Saturday night? No way!’

She stroked his cheek. ‘I’ll call him when I get back from work, okay? I must shower, get changed, fly. I’ll have to jet-pack in. I’ll be late for my team briefing otherwise.’

Why do you always have to work, Claire, it’s the weekend? Delgado grilled himself. He knew why. She earned the money that paid for Lou’s care. Still, he tried to make her see sense.

‘I’m not letting you jet-pack in this weather. You’ll be struck by lightning.’

‘Can if I want to!’ Claire retorted.

‘Don’t be so bloody unreasonable! You’ll get yourself killed. Then what’ll I do?’

‘Oh, I see! This is about you, is it? Now you listen good.’ Claire sucked her cheeks and stabbed his paunch with her index finger, ‘If I say I’m jet-packing into work then I am, okay?’

‘Okay,’ he conceded, ‘But only if you sleep with me tonight.’

Claire softened in his burly arms. He studied her pale cream face, lined with worry. Her fly-in-your-eyes mousy hair, streaked with grey. Her smudged red lipstick. Savoured the subtle aroma of her deliciously decadent scent. Delgado sought comfort in Claire’s soft caress, felt for her, was fond of her, found solace in her embrace. His sister-in-law was eager and willing to give him a try. She fed his suppressed desire, wetting his voracious appetite like a re-instated chocolate fetish, or juicy steak served raw. Lou was his partner nineteen years. He adored her, worshipped the ground she walked on, but fell for Claire when she moved into the granny flat. His polyandry had a quirky appeal. Claire controlled him, dominated him. Whereas he loved Lou in a tender way, caring for her, devoting himself to her. He couldn’t imagine love without both Dexters.

‘Now, go in and see her,’ Claire insisted, squeezing his pudgy hand to give him strength. 

The screaming stopped. The storm crossed the estuary to the Broads, terrorising several tiny Suffolk hamlets. An eerie, chilly silence descended on the marshes of Scraley.

‘Do you really think I need to?’ Delgado asked feebly, ‘She’s probably asleep.’

Claire nagged him. ‘Go on! For crying out loud!’ 

She was right, of course. Claire was always right. He had to go in. Had no choice. Hell, Lou was his little lady, the love of his life, wasn’t she? They were due to marry in September, assuming she lived that long. If, as they expected, Lou died before their wedding day then he’d readily accept Claire’s firm hand in marriage. He made up his mind: I can do this!

‘Alright, I’m going in!’

Claire muttered under her breath, something like: ‘Really? Oh, well done you!’

Ignoring her mild sarcasm, Delgado made himself big, which wasn’t difficult, edged as far as the door, paused and looked inside the bedroom - which was filled with steamy white vapour. The bed was empty. Something huddled in the corner. Something wicked floated past.

Claire shrieked. ‘Look out! It’s behind you!’

Delgado jumped out of his skin as the hideous beast brushed against his cheek, feeling its cold aura hover next to his face, pummelling his skull like a sledgehammer. The angel flitted briefly around his head like a lamp moth, then disappeared. He slumped to the floor aghast.

‘Don’t just stand there watching,’ he grouched, ‘Go fetch me a fresh flat white.’

His sister-in-law seemed affronted. ‘Don’t tell me what to do. I’m not your robot. Get your own coffee, pig-face.’

Undaunted by Claire’s scything rebuttal, he bundled the protesting suffragette into the bulk-descender and sent her hurtling towards the virtual reality playroom, out of harm’s way. She could go play with her curly-haired Companion 500 for all he cared. The bulk-descender glided downstairs. Satisfied she no longer presented an immediate threat to his chauvinist ego, he took a deep breath, faced the door then, without further ado, stepped inside. Entering the bedroom, the first thing he noticed was the blisterful heat, even hotter than the swelter on the landing. He went to turn the heating down. The dial on the wall was set to cool. Strange, he thought. What’s that disgusting smell? He couldn’t make out the stench at first, then he realised: Oh, my God! Something died inside him. He buckled at the knees. Fell like a split sack of spuds. Retching. Wetting himself. Rolling around, Lacking his composure. This can’t be happening, he deduced.

She crouched in the corner of the bedroom on the bare wooden floorboards, changed beyond recognition. Her beautiful auburn-blonde hair, a greasy, tangled mess. Her skin, sickly olive-green. Heavyweight bags pulled out her bloodshot eyes. Her inner steel, that incredible fighting spirit she once showed, was washed out with exhaustion, rinsed in stagnation, crudely hung out to dry. She hadn’t bothered to make an effort at all today. Her face wasn’t made-up. She hadn’t showered. Still wore the same dirty white shirt. Might as well be waiting for the undertaker to open her coffin lid. Perhaps she was. Perhaps death was the only escape from her pathetic short life. He didn’t help, controlling her like a stuffed marionette, addressing her rudimentary needs, leaving her to cry her eyes blank in her bed. What she needed most was his companionship not the precision time-management and physical manipulation he subjected her to every minute of the day. He’d become her control freak, a once house-proud-husband who’d lost the will for her to live. Still, he loved her loads, though.

‘What is it, Lou?’

Slowly, she pointed up at the moth-being hovering above her head. Delgado crumpled as the angel descended, enfolding her paralysed prey under her wings, eager to escort Lou to her grave. The angel, the classic image of deathly beauty with her gorgeous jade dress, long, fine fingers. She was ever-young, imbuing a cool green tinge to the mist which surrounded her. Her cloak of thick, black, beating, velvety wings epitomized morbid elegance and refinement. She rose, enticing her subject to follow her, upwards, upwards, then receded into the dark voids.

Lou looked like death warmed up by the time he'd folded her back into her bed.

He was on the edge, struggling to control himself. That’s right, I look after Lou. She needs my 24-hour care, see. I’m her Carer. That’s all I’ve time to do, ok? he told himself. Are you feeling alright? Fine, why? It’s just that your shaking like a leaf, Rog.

He wondered how Lou felt, having her independence taken away. He controlled her every bowel motion, stool motion, meal-time, bath-time, bed-time. She tried hard to push herself, to cope without help, failed miserably. Because he never gave her an inch of space to succeed. At least, that’s how Claire summarised the situation when they met on the launch pad.

‘Quite frankly, I don’t know how you manage,’ she moaned, ‘I’m not letting you carry on like this a minute longer. You’ll give me a nervous breakdown. Just look at the state of her! Can’t you see she needs round-the-clock professional care? She should be in a hospice, for heaven’s sake.’

That’s rich coming from you! What happened to the Samaritan who appeared from nowhere at the hospital, when Lou received the dreadful news from Mr Hill. Since then, Claire had imposed herself on them, taken control of their lives.

‘I’m acting out of the kindness of my heart. Everything I do for her is in her best interest.’

‘Is it now? Is it really necessary to confine Lou to bed, ban her from leaving her room? What are you trying to do, Claire? Kill her off? You seem to forget, she’s your sister. Show her some damn respect, won’t you?’

‘You know what? I don’t care anymore. I’ve had enough.’

Here we go, the emotional blackmail kicks in.

‘And what’s that supposed to mean?’

‘Either she goes or I go.’

He told her to lower her voice, nodding imperceptibly towards the house, acutely aware that Lou was watching them through the grubby shutters of her narrow, oval portal.

‘Please, don’t say that, Claire,’ he pandered, ‘I’m sure we’ll work things out. Everything will turn out fine.’

Truth be told, he felt anything but fine, found it impossible to cope, ground down by Lou’s illness. His life became increasingly intolerable as she turned: disturbed, unpredictable. She’d driven him mad. He couldn’t cope with her, realised, deep inside: he too was in desperate need of help. His predicament came as no surprise to Claire. Was it any wonder when she considered all they’d been through? She stood in the back garden, staring him out, hands on hips, shaking her head, trembling with frustration. She’d heard it all before.

‘Please, let me help,’ she whispered at his hairy ear, ‘You know how much I love you, Rog.’

‘Course, I know!’ He glanced up, waved, blew kisses at the inert mask - which turned away.

‘Well, then. That’s settled. I’ll hire the Carer on Monday. Then we’ll find Lou a hospice, so she can see out her final days in peace.’

Was that a crocodile tear I just saw you weep, Claire?

*****

Lou was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 35. The news scared her half to death. Her mother died of cancer. She immediately requested surgery. After a radical procedure she fervently hoped her battle was over. She won through eventually, but not before the she-demons had manifested themselves inside her: swelling in their unwilling host, like two starving tapeworms. In her words: ‘Those she-daemons drained the living shit out of me, made me feel like death, chewed me up inside, till I ached deeply inside, ate right into my bones.’

In the end, God bless her, she'd made the ultimate sacrifice, endured the final cuts, had those stinking daughters of bitches cut out of her ulcerated body. He’d marvelled at her defiance, the contemptuous disrespect she showed those bloody she-demons. Then she came out of hospital and tore those thick lint dressings off her lacerated chest, right in front of his very eyes, in the bedroom where he would always be, waiting to comfort her. God, she was brave! How he loved, admired, her. How he wanted to eat her all up, a woman sundae, there and then. How she screamed out in anger and rage as she ripped off her bloody swaddling clothes. There was no sign of her hideous she-demons, nor of those beautiful breasts he’d first fell in love with. In the bluebell woods. In the happiest years of their lives. Those she-demons were cut right out, for sure. Leaving her with nothing. Just the tearing, tear-jerking wounds, stitching, sewn up by Mr Hill. He’d taken her breasts away forever. At least she was neatly stitched-up and given the all-clear. Thank heavens for small mercies, she thought bitterly.

‘I hate you she-demons, you daughters-of-bitches,’ she screamed, ‘Hate you!’ She’d broken down, burst into tears, reached out for him.

He’d held her close, stroked the wet hair from her frightened face, cuddled her and consoled her, kissed her flaming cheeks. Anything, anything, to please quell her shaking fury, her soul-pain. He felt her for the first time since, since, God knows when. Felt that unfamiliar sensation of her bones, pressing, hard as armour, to his manly chest. Felt helpless for her. Felt completely lost for words. What does a loving husband say to his still-young, thirty-six-year old wife when she’s had two thirds of her femininity removed? When she’s told she’ll never be able to suckle her baby? When she’s told by the kindly nurse how much prosthetics have developed since her mother died, slayed by the self-same she-demons? She called the beast her she-demons because the call-name helped her cope. With the cure she’d dramatically requested of Mr Hill. With the fact that, one day, her infernal curse might return to plague her into an early grave.

Breast cancer killed women. Women who were early-diagnosed, successfully treated, then re-diagnosed, cautioned they might not live to see two years, to see their babies become infants, children grow into teenagers. Ironically, most cancers would soon be curable. Viral infections would be eradicated. The world would be a better, safer, place in which to live. War would be over, deemed by all nations to be commercially pointless. The nuclear threat would lift. Famine would be no more. The universal acceptance of genetically modified crops, introduction of systematic, cyclical, robotic farming meant the starving millions would no longer sit and wait on the savannah for a few grains of rice to feed their swollen bellies. Global Space Federation, a union of US, Russian, Chinese, English and EU space agencies, would colonize orbiting artificial globes in inner space, lunar domes. The commercial excavation of Mars for habitation would commence. Meanwhile, there was no definitive cure for breast cancer.

So, what does a loving husband say? He started with what he considered to be a positive suggestion: ‘Keep fighting, darling.’ Too late for that, surely? That battle was over, wasn’t it? He thought again, tried to reassure her: ‘Don’t worry, my angel, we’ll beat this curse together.’

‘Beat what curse, baby?’ she quizzed, tired out, ‘She-demons not coming back are they?’

‘No, of course they’re not. Never. Not ever. You look so well now, honey,’ he flattered.

‘You really think so?’ she asked, ‘Without my tits?’

He ran out of patience. Couldn’t she see how hard he tried, for her sake, to understand? To sympathize?

‘We’re all praying for you,’ he said unwisely.

‘Oh, thanks for that!’ she exclaimed, dripping sarcasm, ‘Why, may I ask?’

Taken aback, he attempted to answer. She interrupted him, sparing him the angst, soothing his pent-up frustration, reading his troubled mind:

‘Please don’t, babe. Just tell me that you understand me, and you’ll always love me.’ 

‘I understand you. I’ll always love you, Lou,’ he repeated dumbly, sighing with relief.

‘Well then, there’s nothing left to worry about is there?’ she replied, kissing him on a cheek.

She turned to face the mirror and inspected her scars, licking her wounds. Lou, the love of his life, was crying, again. Suddenly, she vented her full fury, swallowing hard, screaming at herself, like a woman possessed:

‘You lost this time she-demons! I won! Now fuck off out of my life and never come back!’

He was shocked. He'd never heard Lou swear before. At least he understood her now. Following her ordeal, he vowed to stay by her side, always and forever.

After a year in the clear, Hill confirmed the devastating news: Lou’s cancer had returned. Recurrent stage IV cancer had fully manifested itself in her scar tissue where growths proved exceptionally hard to treat. A sentinel lymph node biopsy revealed that the cancer had quickly spread, in the form of painless swellings under her armpits, into her lymph nodes, leaving Lou with swollen dead man’s arms. Everything had been going so well, all things considered, when the dreaded she-demons returned out of nowhere, attacking her with a vengeance, spreading bloody mayhem up and down her spine into her lungs, her liver, threatening to invade her brain.

Hill delicately explained to Lou that her condition had worsened considerably. She should, therefore, embark on a new course of treatment expediently. He and Martinson, the radiation oncologist, strongly recommended a course of chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Why didn’t she go along with chemo? Was her hair that important to her? Perhaps, Roger reasoned, it was because she regarded her beautiful hair as sacrosanct, her last stand, so to speak, against cancer. Her final normality statement before she faded away.

Hill and Martinson suggested that she consider alternatives: herbal, holistic, stem cell, laser-invasive, new invasive CRISPR-CAS9 cell and DNA mutation therapies. Advised her to attend clinical trials for radical new drugs: untested, controversial Posi-interferons, equally lethal cell-busters. Following consultation with UCH London and colleagues in America, Russia, China’s leading bio-medical research institutions, they even went so far as to propose highly invasive, Nano-surgery. The theory behind Nano-surgery being that micro-robots were injected into a patient’s bloodstream to seek out, excavate and destroy the cancerous cells. All new cancer technologies carried distressing potential side effects, with the same ultimate risk.

‘Angel, the way I see it is: none of us are immortal, we all have to go sometime. So why don’t you give it a try? What have you got to lose?’ Roger argued tearfully as they clinched, trying to come to terms with the enormity of the challenge facing them as a couple.

In her own words, throughout her fight with cancer, ‘Roger has been amazing, fabulous.’ Every day he cooked her all the right meals, did the shopping, cleaned the house, washed up, laundered, ironed, took her to the clinic, the pool, a gym where Lou quickly adopted a punishing exercise regime every morning and afternoon.

Inexplicably, she refused further treatment, other than sedatives and pain-killers to help her cope with the excruciating pain. The somatic pain, the constant dull ache which got worse when she moved. The visceral, deep, aching pain which cramped, twisted and tore at her insides. The pain that was frequently unbearable, only compounding her abject misery. She felt nauseous, suffered bouts of diarrhoea, constipation, lost her appetite, lost weight, exhausted herself. Most of the time Lou was bed-ridden, or hobbling aimlessly around her bedroom.

She seemed hell-bent on dying with a heavy heart. Hill suggested that she made plans for the future. When she asked him the ultimate question, he looked Lou straight in the eye and replied, ‘Without further treatment? Six months?’

Lou fell into a deep malaise, an inescapable pit of helplessness, withdrew down a mystery-spiral of her innermost fears, entered the lair of the black dog, the shadowy doorway of despair. The door that led to eternal damnation, behind an impenetrable wall of catatonic silence. She was struck dumb by the shocking prognosis. Six months! She saw a psychiatrist, Mushtaq. He prescribed the most advanced medication available to him, starting with those old chestnuts: electroconvulsive therapy, lithium and risperidone.

‘Come in, please sit down, Mrs Delgado. May I call you Lou? I see you brought husband,’ Mushtaq laughed, trying to relax the couple.

Silence.

A bony, angular, soul of spritely disposition, Mushtaq smelled of Old Spice, Beef Madras, reminding Lou of the Fay Maschler-recommended Indian restaurant in Brick Lane she used to frequent before she met Delgado. The wiry waiters there told the most unbelievable children’s jokes as they served up Chicken Balti with Cobras, she recalled.

‘Lou? It is Lou, isn’t it?’

‘Sorry, Doctor, explained Roger, ‘Lou’s mute. Has been since she was re-diagnosed. And we’re not married. I’m her partner.’

‘Please, what appears to be problem?’

Mushtaq beamed graciously, taking notes on his tablet as they spoke, especially during the many pregnant pauses in the conversation, never once taking his eyes off Lou. Roger saw him print off a prescription. Bit early for that, he thought. Lou stared blankly at Mushtaq, wincing, smiling.

‘Lou’s not well, are you?’ he said, flexing his sweaty fists. Psychiatrists made him nervous.

‘Are you feeling alright?’ Mushtaq asked, ‘You look tired. Perhaps a sedative might…’

‘I’m fine, thank you, Doctor,’ Roger replied.

‘That’s good, that’s good.’ Mushtaq nodded, sucking the leaky tip of his NHS biro. ‘May I ask you to come to the point. I have next appointment in five minutes.’

‘Sorry, Doctor. Lou gets depressed these days, don’t you? Can’t sleep at night. Doesn’t want sympathy, just understanding. Gets distressed. She’s frightened of dying, naturally. Worries a lot about, you know, what will happen when she’s gone? But you’re not suicidal, are you, love? I think we thought, when Mr Hill operated, that would be the end of her cancer. But we were wrong. So wrong.’

Silence.

Lou nodded, shook her head, nodded again, bursting into floods of tears. Mushtaq proffered his red polka dot silk handkerchief - which she gratefully accepted.

‘Now, you must take these tablets, Lou, one in the morning, one at night. Please, to keep you on an even keel and help you sleep, you understand? You do understand, Lou, don’t you?’ Mushtaq decreed over his horn-rims, trying not to sound patronizing. She nodded, like a nodding dog in a car rear window. He looked across the table.

‘Mr Delgado?’

‘I’ll make sure she does. Thank you, Doctor,’ he bowed, religiously.

‘Mister, please. I am Mister,’ said Mushtaq, irritable, wearily glancing at his watch. Eleven o’clock, soon be home-time.

‘Sorry, Mister Mushtaq.’

‘No worry. Please, arrange appointment for six months’ time with my receptionist.’ 

Electro-convulsive therapy made no difference to Lou. Interestingly, treatments for mental illness were transferred to a self-help basis; the new NHS slogan said it all:

Mental Care and Support in the Home:

24-hour online access to free medical advice given on a triage basis. Self-help prescriptions: £35 per item.

Lou, now 39, needed professional palliative care, accepted she might have to go to a hospice. Roger saw the hospice as a wonderful place but, marvellous as the care nurses were, they were his wife’s last resort. Dare he say it? Her final resting place.

*****

‘Ever thought about flying for charity?’ Claire asked one day, ‘Think you should, don’t you?’

‘Charity? Which charity?’

‘Any human, humane, charity,’ she stressed. Claire spent most of her time under stress one way or another these days, ‘You know, hearts and minds, bodies and souls? That sort of thing. Look, Rog, if you must know I was thinking of poor Lou. How is she these days, by the way?’

Poor Lou? Roger fumed, you don’t give a damn about her, do you? You only care about yourself. Me too, sometimes, when it suits you.

‘Lou’s bearing up well, considering all she’s been through. Some days are better than others. She’s a fighter. I’m with her every step of the way. We’re not going to let this beat us.’

‘You still love her to bits, don’t you? You worship the ground she walks on.’

‘You know I do, Claire.’

‘Then why don’t you do something that will make her really proud of you? Give something back for once,’ she shouted.

He read her like a book, Claire. The schemer, deliverer of promises, the woman who made things happen. Truth be told, he admired her ballsy strength, and more. Claire Dexter was the youngest, most brilliant Managing Partner in the short history of Blossom, Prosper and Wynn, the latest legal sensation in the Magic Circle of prestigious City law firms.

‘Sounds like you have something in mind,’ he said.

She grinned. ‘Haven’t I always? Sunday 15th November: I’m flying Canary Wharf Circle in aid of cancer research. I want you up there, flying next to me, if you please.’

‘November’s months away. I’ll check the diary.’

‘I already did. I hacked your Outlook. You’re free all day. So’s Lou. She can watch us from the comfort of the air-line cable car as we fly over the docks.’

‘You hacked my Outlook! How dare you…’

‘That’s settled then.’

The couple were married at Our Lady of Equality Cathedral, Chelmer Valley New City, on a sun-drenched, sweltering, September Saturday afternoon. Rupert, Roger’s best man, took his side, dressed in top hat and tails, holding onto the two simple gold bands for dear life. Nina, adorably attired in an off-the-shoulder full length strapless silk pink number and an auburn wig, was the magnificent Maid of Honour. And Stella, the beautiful, bald Bridesmaid, was equally dressed for the occasion. Lou looked absolutely stunning in an arresting fairy-tale princess pink silk gown with a sweetheart neck, lace bodice and layered train. The female vicar, assembled choir-children, the congregation, even the collection box person, dabbed tears from their eyes as she walked, arm-in-arm, down the aisle with her proud father, Reginald, to the inevitable strains of Here Comes the Bride. Roger swooned at the sight of his bride, and had to be revived with some holy water from the chalice. Nigel handed the vicar the wedding rings. The exchange of marriage vows was, in biblical parlance, a latter-day revelation, Stella and Nina made the vow together, on behalf of Lou:

‘On this day, I give you my mind, heart, body and soul. I promise that I will fly with you, hand in hand, wherever our journey leads us, together, living, dying, loving, forever and ever.’

Stella had organised a fabulous wedding breakfast for afterwards in the huge lemon-yellow striped garden marquee at the back of Rupert’s country manse in nearby Purling. The Bride and Groom, both keen ballroom dancers once, attempted to dance an Argentinian Tango and jived, delightfully, into the night. All too soon the wedding ball came to an end. The crowds gathered outside on the dewy lawn at dawn, chewing Parma ham and Emmental croissants, crudely swigging bubbly from greasy magnum-necks. Then the beaming Mr and Mrs Delgado flew spectacularly away, over the horizon in the direction of Aldeburgh, dressed as Black Angel and Kitty Hawke, to spontaneous, rapturous applause from their startled, goggle-eyed guests.

That was the happiest night of their lives…

*****

He clutched her to his manly chest, her bony breastplate pressing on him, a lump swelling in his throat. Lou had felt lumps, painful ulcers, in her breasts, once. Her loving husband ran his hairy hand over her bald scalp to stay the cold wind. She looked up into those clear blue-sky eyes, glittering tears trickling down her pallid cheeks: cascading diamonds of shining pride. Lou kissed him: a long, lazy, lingering kiss farewell. He was all she had. She didn’t want to let him go. He soothed her, hugged her. Told her he wouldn’t be long. Told her he’d soon be back in her loving arms. He had to fly.

He rolled over, pulling the dog rose-decorated duvet behind him to keep himself warm. Savouring the decadent aroma as his face brushed Lou’s feather pillow. Eager to curl his much-thinned, manly, six-foot body tightly around her diminutive five-foot form so she could relish the divine pleasure of her clinging angel. Dying to wrap her up in an intimate bundle of passion; a soft, downy, little human ball of fire. Any minute now she’d smile back at him, all snug and cosy in his big, burly, hairy arms, sliding her slender fingers up and down his tingling spine.

God, he loved Lou so much. And she loved him. Kitty Hawke was his universe, his galaxy, his soul-mate in a sensuous solar system; all blended into one big cosmos of never-ending love. He’d be lost in a void, an eternal vacuum of cold empty space, without her. Space was too dark, too vast, for him to bear alone.

‘Lights,’ he commanded. The strawberry nightshade centurions, mounted on shiny plinths of onyx, guardians to the galactic gateways of their private universe, shone out in the night.

She wasn’t there. Just a lick of mouth-damp here, lurid slash of lipstick there and her moult, gossamer strands of golden-blonde scattered on her pillows, her faint body imprints hidden in hairline creases on the crumpled sheet.

What have you done today to make you feel proud? That old song played on Roger’s mind like sweet angel dust. He was so proud today. To think, he still had what it took: The Right Stuff!

‘To boldly go where no charity jet-packer has ever gone before,’ he cried, ‘To fulfil my ultimate mission in Inner Space.’

Well, something like that. He lay awake, his head crammed with dreams, propped up on one vein-numb arm in Lou’s boudoir, legs akimbo over her gigantic, candyfloss-pink bed. Full of jumping jelly beans. Unable to contain the tremors of excitement that coursed through him, like vibes off a reviving foot-massager. A smiling, luminous, chrome-plated, silent sweep globe span down and flitted around his head like a firefly in the dim gloom of his little lady’s cherry-lined sleeping capsule. How much more bliss could he possibly take this morning?

‘Mission update, please Cedric,’ he commanded, positively, ‘And try to be honest!’

‘Commander Eagle,’ Cedric responded, in all seriousness, ‘The time in the East is now six-fifteen. The weather today will remain bitterly cold and raw in the biting north-easterly wind. But, and it’s a big but, it is expected to stay dry with long spells of sunshine. Wrap up well!’

‘Thank you, Cedric.’ Roger couldn’t resist a wry grin. Cedric, his flying robot! Whose idea was that?!

It was still early, still dark! Woo! Remnants of chilly-cold frost clung to rusty-dry crisps of leaves in the densely-overgrown back garden, and the sugar-frosted circular landing pad.

Today, Eagle (Roger’s snazzy solo flight-call name) would proudly fly high over Canary Wharf in an OM-24 organic mega flow jetpack he’d assembled himself from the broken TV sets and gadgets in his cluttered garage which he repaired for a living. Hidden under his comely figure-hugging jumpsuit, warming his undoubted heart of gold, lay a thick black tee-shirt with distinctive orange and white lettering:  

We Will Beat Cancer Lou!

Roger hoped to raise £400 towards cancer research, as a gesture of his undying commitment to eradicating the evil she-demons, the blood red curse, that blighted his woman’s world, once and for all. [Only £400? Is that all? Let’s cross our fingers, and hope he does better than that.]

Now, this 45-year old kid was bulging at the midriff, bursting at the seams, greying at the temples. His face, set hard like tomb-granite. His nose, big and boxer-flat in polite deference to his rapidly advancing years. However, his hands and arms were still strong: all the better to hug Lou with. The eyesight and hearing were good, didn’t need spectacles or hearing aids. But Roger’s fat right leg was a veritable knotty ash of bulbous blue varicose veins that forced the old space warrior to wear thick-soled, regulation army boots in case his ankles swelled like hot air balloons on landing.

And yet, the Eagle would still fly.

*****

Roger raised a cheer from the small crowd of spectators: dealers in futures, cyber-merchant bankers, dressed down for Friday. Caught a few admiring glances from girls in clootie-bobble hats, candy-stripe scarves, knee-length stiletto boots, sipping Pinot Grigio, sucking cracked-ice cubes. Standing clustered outside the trendy bar, glass in hand, braving the biting autumn wind that blew chilly gusts off the open water. Cheering, waving wildly, laughing at him as he turned, and walked out wharf-side to South Dock. He prepared himself for take-off.

‘Go on, Old Man, show us how it’s done!’ pouted Bryce, a profligate ponce in an expensive cashmere sweater, faded jeans and red-framed specs. [Less of the Old Man, if you don’t mind.]

‘Lost Robin did you Batman?’ Ayhan, a Turkish trading genius, jeered, to roars of laughter.

They all meant well, at least he thought they did. Laughing at him like that. Gloating. Lou felt embarrassed by their unfeeling barbs, heart-broken for her hapless husband. Why didn’t they understand, the clowns? she asked herself. My man’s a good man, a kind man. Show him some heart, please? They offered no respect, only juvenile mocking, barely disguised contempt. Why? Because nobody likes a loser. Because every minute of their trumped-up, high-tech lives was about winning, out-performing the odds. They had no place in their hearts for charity, as Roger discovered.

‘Get on with it, you stupid old tosser,’ Cameron, a freckle-faced, ginger lout yelled, waving a fat joint in his merry mate’s face.

‘I’ll show you lot.’ Roger muttered miserably under his breath.

‘Careful you don’t do yourself a mischief in those tight trousers!’ screamed Chantal, one of the girls, a spotty brunette, burping plonk with her giggling cabal: Blair, Cyd, Debi, Shazza…

He smiled warmly at them, raising a stiff middle finger. Bored, the group scoffed, scuffled, swore, then turned their backs on the human blackbird and meandered back into the warm bar.

‘Ladies and Gentlemen, I am The Black Angel!’ Roger cried in a rasping, breathless, voice, like Darth Vader at a Christmas pantomime. Laughing out loud, he climbed up the steps to the platform, to a polite smattering of applause from Sidney and Else, an elderly couple out walking their fancy toy poodle. He looked back one last time at Lou, smiling fondly at him, and waved. She coughed and turned to go. Claire Dexter hurtled past nodding her encouragement, ‘Go on!’

Roger pulled the toggle. His chest screen flashed: jetpack engine ON. He took a deep breath, held the jump key, and leaped. At first, he ascended slowly in hover mode, like an angel. He selected boost mode: to increase horizontal flight speed. Then he was flying! Free! Awesome! Invincible! The Black Angel! A titanium halo floated over his head, a twin-hydro jetpack clung to his back: his only lifelines. Roger soared through the sky at sixty miles an hour, like James Bond in Thunderball when he escaped Colonel Jacques Bouvard’s chateau. His enthusiasm, impossible to subdue. He gazed down proudly at the mere mortals scurrying around Canary Wharf, like ants, hundreds of feet below, startling them as he buzzed past overhead.

‘I am master of all I survey,’ he boasted grandly.

He shouldn’t be doing this: he was fat-middle-aged, slowed down, out of shape. His GP said he had high blood pressure. He said: ‘I’m doing this for Lou. In Her Everlasting Memory.’ 

Had Roger gone completely mad? A jetpack only lasts thirty minutes. He turned off hover mode, and immediately lost altitude, falling like a stone. Claire swooped by, ‘Pull up! Pull up!

Lou looked up, spotted her black bird-man coming into view, zooming over Royal Victoria Docks, hurtling towards her. She could read his face now. His craggy, rugged looks. That frown of determination. His face, so tiny in that huge, reinforced, ebon helmet. So vulnerable. Kind though. Warm, loving, generous. His eyes twinkled with tears. The angel was ever-young, imbuing a cool, green tinge to the sky which surrounded her. She beat her thick, black, velvety wings, enticing her subject to follow her, downwards, downwards…

His ruddy cheeks squashed.

His nose bled.

He was coming her way.

‘God, but I love you, Lou,’ he screamed.

I love you too, babe.

No!

*****

He lay still, under intensive care, fully sedated, intubated, ventilated: a mass of tubes, wires, immovable plaster casts. He looked dead, but his brain was active, dreaming, hallucinating. His mind, a sea of fragmented faces, haunting screams, flashing blue lights, crews in green holding his head still, reassuring voices, his descent into darkness.

Ruth, the ICU doctor looked down compassionately, checked the screen, undulating peaks and troughs, flashing, beeping lights, for vital signs of life. The signs were encouraging. The patient was critically ill but off the danger list, making painfully slow but sure progress. The man stirred, tried to move his head but couldn’t. Ruth gently placed her hand on her patient’s neck, felt the needle, and very slowly inched it out. His eyes were closed, he felt no pain. She looked at the young Indian nurse, Hema, hair tied in a black ponytail, her brown hands soft and caring. Hema peeled the sticky tape off the man’s eyelids, brushed the hair off his face, felt tension in his stubbly cheeks ease, mopped his brow. He was still dreaming. The doctor gripped the thick, corrugated feed protruding from his mouth, and pulled it out of his throat. He awoke with a start and coughed, his breathing stilted, frightened. Hema stroked his brow, calming him. He looked so frail, stretched out on the bed, arms and legs pointing at the sky, like a dead fly on its back: unable to move or feel, paralysed from the neck down, his spine in splinters, his limbs stiff, swollen, shattered. The man had suffered severe head injuries and could hardly speak.

‘Where am I?’ His throat was parched dry.

Ruth smiled. ‘Hema, I think our patient would like a sip of water.’

The nurse raised a tube to his lips. He sucked on the tube like a baby sucking on a teat, felt better, nodded imperceptibly. His heavy, weary head sank. He felt tired: the strain.

‘This is the East London Hospital ICU. You have come out of an induced coma after four months. I’m afraid you suffered severe head injuries, bruising of the brain, multiple fractures of your neck, spinal column, pelvis, arms, legs. You’re very lucky to be alive. Your chances of survival were less than 50:50 when you were admitted.’

What on earth did he think he was doing anyways, careering around Canary Wharf on a Friday lunchtime, anytime for that matter? His carelessness, his senseless actions, injured a disabled little boy, his mother and an Australian tourist, all of them disfigured for life when the cable car window imploded, embedding shards of glass in their terrified faces.

Ruth remembered the detectives waiting patiently outside, Chris pouring their third cup of syrupy tea, doling out chocolate bourbons, pink wafers. They’d have to wait a little longer to interview him. He had a visitor.

She wondered how she’d break the news, the consoling words. He’d been through so much torment since the collision. Since their fleeting kiss, his zephyr on her frozen cheek, their final endearing, enduring embrace. Ruth appeared and asked her if she’d like to come through. She sat beside the bed, the man she loved with all her heart, as he lay asleep, dreaming of her. Then, incredibly, she spoke:

‘On this day, I give you my mind, heart, body and soul. I promise I will fly with you, hand in hand, wherever our journey leads us, together, living, dying and loving, forever and ever.’

Hill and Martinson suggested she considered invasive cell mutation therapies, advised her to attend clinical trials for powerful, new, untested drugs. After the accident, she finally took their advice.

Lou Beat Cancer.


© Copyright 2019 HJFurl. All rights reserved.

Add Your Comments:

More Science Fiction Short Stories