Monday, May 2, 2022

MY FICTION: A Night Like This

by
Al Bruno III


…it began as it would end, with an abrupt transfiguration and a sound like the fluttering of wings…



* * *


The air in Mitchell and Michael’s Tavern was thick with cigarette smoke. The patrons were college students and middle-aged bohemians; both groups were lured here by the promise of cheap beer and easily ignored acoustic bands. Barry Moore tried to look casual as he directed Jimbo and Mike to a corner table.

When the waitress brought the menus, Barry watched while his friends debated over the exchange rates between American and Canadian currency. They didn’t have a lot of either after pre-paying for the motel room and they still had to have enough left over to make the trip back from Montreal to the River City University Campus. Barry grimaced a little at the thought of more hours crammed into Jimbo’s Dodge Charger.

“Well?” Mike Proctor straightened his glasses. He was the tallest of them; his face was far too small for a head so large. He preferred to wear tie-dyed shirts and heavy boots. Barry liked to say he looked like the Frankenstein monster had collided with a hippie commune, “Where is she?”

Barry made a show of scanning the crowd; he caught a glimpse of his reflection in the mirror above the bar; plain looking with shaggy hair and an easygoing smile. “I don’t see her. She must be running late.”

“I can’t believe you’re making us do this man.” Jimbo Zot wore mostly black, because he’d learned that black was slimming. He never listed when Barry and Mike told him that diet and exercise were even more slimming. “I mean we’ve come all this way, can’t you just admit it?”

Barry shook his head, “Admit what?”

“You’ve been telling us about this girl for almost a year.” The waitress brought over a bowl of popcorn and Jimbo dug in, “This perfect girl. Come on. Admit it so we can drop this charade and hit some strip clubs.”

“Topless…” Mike half-spoke, half-sang, “…and bottomless. Oooooo yeah.”

“Guys she’ll be here.” Barry said. The waitress came back and took their drink orders, two beers one soda.

Mike looked over the menu again, “What are the wings like?”

Barry shrugged. The door opened with a long drawn out squeal as another group of college students filled the air with raucous laughter. The band finished their first set to scattered applause and made their way to the bar.

“I thought this was your little love nest?” Mike asked, “How can you not know what the wings are like?”

“I never tried them all right? They’re her thing. She gets wings I get a burger.”

Jimbo shook his head sadly, “Look. Just repeat after me… There. Is. No. Ophelia. Boggs.”

“You can tell her that soon enough.”

“Lord have mercy. We have got to break you of this.”

Barry took a drink of his soda, “Break me of what? She’s real.”

Mike shook his head, “I need evidence. We have not seen one picture of this girl and you have not received one phone message in all the time you have been telling us about her. Not even an email and believe me we’ve looked.”

“Guys…”

“How far do you think he’s going to take this?” Mike wondered aloud, “Should we settle in and order something?”

Jimbo nodded sagely, “Even in the midst of an intervention, there is always time for curly fries, and wings.”

Mike smiled, “You’re like the Sun Tzu of junk food.”

“What intervention?” Barry scowled, “I don’t need an intervention.”

In his third year of college Barry had moved off campus, of all the applicants he’d looked into for a roommate Mike Proctor had seemed like the one least likely to murder someone in their sleep. Jimbo Zot had come to help Mike move in and he’d never really left; when he wasn’t working or trolling for ‘babes’ on the Internet, he was planted on their couch. It didn’t take very long for them all to become friends, and it didn’t take Mike and Jimbo long to figure out that their newest friend didn’t have much luck with the ladies.

When the waitress returned to their table she asked, “More drinks?”

Mike and Jimbo ordered curly fries, hot wings and more beers. Barry ordered a burger but he wasn’t hungry.

“You know what I think?” Mike smiled, “I think what you need Barry, is a night with a professional.”

“Hey!” Barry said.

“Hang on a minute here.” Mike continued, “I don’t mean some skank, I mean a night with one of those high class hookers you always see dead on CSI.”

“So many things were wrong with that last statement...” Barry said.

“Look, you’re among friends here.” Mike frowned and looked around the bar, “Friends and Canadians. Just admit you made her up so you wouldn’t seem so lame.”

“Yet in doing so you became lamer.” Jimbo said.

The door squealed again and in the silence, everyone at the table looked up at once. Barry felt his entire world tilt sideways. A woman stood in the doorway, she wore jeans and a bomber jacket covered with faded patches; her dark hair was pulled back in a knot. Her smile practically glittered as she waved and headed over to sit down at their table. It was Ophelia, there was no mistaking her.

But that's impossible, Barry thought. She doesn't exist.


* * *


…They congealed in the forgotten places: those abandoned or given over to entropy and solitude. Freshly scarred and squealing like newborns, they meandered from burnt-out houses and empty storefronts through the alleys and side streets. No one saw them, no one dared…


* * *


“Sorry I’m late. You wouldn’t believe what it took for me to get here.” Ophelia shouldered out of her jacket and bulky purse and sat down beside Barry. She touched his arm with easy familiarity and kissed him on the cheek. She extended her hand to the men across the table from her, “You must be Mike, and you must be Jim.”

Mike shook her hand, “As I live and breathe… heavily.”

Jimbo kissed her hand, “Please call me Jimbo.”

Ophelia’s giggle sounded just the way Barry had imagined.
The band made their way back to the stage, spent a few moments arguing about a chord and then started playing. Several of the bar’s patrons took this as a signal to leave, the door squealed again.

Both of Barry’s friends had dated extensively through college. Mike tended to specialize in damaged goods. He’d just recently broken up with a girl with attention deficit disorder- in truth she hadn’t so much broken up with him as simply wandered off. He’d rebounded quickly enough and was now dating a bi-polar political science major with a passion for student protests and flicking lit cigarettes at strangers.

“So you’re Ophelia…” Mike said.

The waitress had brought over their food but none of the men at the table seemed to notice. Ophelia looked over the hot wings before choosing a particularly plump looking one, “That’s what it says on my birth certificate.”

Jimbo leaned forward, “You didn’t happen to bring it along did you?”

Dating was different for Jimbo, he found all of his girls on the Internet, he used all the relevant dating apps and a few message boards to boot. He frequently convinced women to come and visit him with his mastery of the written post. Jimbo’s most recent conquest had presented herself as a bi-curious nineteen year old African-American college student. When she’d arrived she’d turned out to be a thirty-something white woman with badly died hair and prison tattoos. Since Jimbo described himself online as a ‘John Stamos-type’ he really didn’t have the right to accuse her of being a liar. Somehow they really hit it off anyway and she spent the weekend with him- everything was going great for Jimbo until her husband showed up.

“So…” Barry watched her eat, “So…”

“Sorry. I’m starving.” Ophelia spoke with her mouth full. She set the bones from one wing down and grabbed another, “You know how I get when I’m working Honey Angel.”

Barry flinched at the nickname he’d imagined her calling him, He’d never told anyone that, it seemed too silly.

Jimbo laced his fingers together, “And what do you do for a living again?”

For all their misadventures at least his friends were out there in the trenches, Barry tended to keep his head down and concentrate on studying for his anthropology degree. Oh he’d tried his hand at meeting girls on campus, but somehow they sensed his fear of rejection. The only girl he’d managed to get two dates with had ended up trying to recruit him into a cult- as if he had that kind of time and money.

There were plenty of bars around campus too and Barry had tried the scene but no matter what he did he seemed to just fade into the background. Except of course for that one day he’d worn those new shoes on a rainy night. Barry still cringed at the mental image of him walking into the bar, slipping on a patch of wet floor and crashing into the trio of stewardess at the bar. Sometimes he could still hear their bilingual cursing.

“I’m a commercial artist, mostly boring stuff like ad copy and signage.” She explained, “But I make a lot of extra scratch doing Star Trek themed oil paintings and selling them at Sci-Fi Conventions and online.”

Mike gave Barry a disbelieving glance, “Really?”

The lead singer of the band paused, his brow furrowing as he tried to remember the next lyric of 'Stairway to Heaven.' The drummer launched into an impromptu solo to try and drown out the heckling.

“Oh yeah, and you would not believe what some fans would pay to have themselves painted in as a member of the Enterprise’s bridge crew. I mean I’m no Dru Blair but people seem to like my work.”

How could she know all this? Barry wondered Am I going crazy?

Almost one year ago he’d invented Ophelia Boggs to make his friends stop trying to send him off on blind dates with girls they didn’t want. It wasn’t that Barry hadn’t tried his luck a few times. The guys always told him that at the very least he could look upon these as ‘practice dates’; but after one of the girls brought him to her high school reunion and introduced him as her fiancé, Barry had had enough.

One winter weekend he’d gone to a science fiction convention in New York City, a semi-annual ritual- weather and funds permitting. When he got back home he told his friends he wouldn’t need any more blind dates. He’d just met a girl named Ophelia, and his heart belonged to her. She was the perfect girl. The only drawback was she lived in Canada but Barry had told Mike and Jimbo that he knew he could make it work.

“... isn’t that right Barry?”

Barry started, “What?”

Mike smiled, “Earth to Honey Angel. Your sweetie was just telling us the story about how you met.”

“Oh?” Barry looked at her, at the quiet affection in her eyes, “Oh yes.”

“Love at first sight.” She said, “And to think if you hadn’t held the elevator door open for me I might have ended up going to dinner with that fan-film guy.”

“Everything…” Barry paused, his mouth felt full of saliva, “…everything happens for a reason.”

Jimbo asked, “Barry said you were thinking of branching out into other styles of art.”

“Well I’ve gotten a few requests for Babylon 5 stuff but I can never get the spaceships right…”

In a matter of a few months Ophelia Boggs became more than a cover story- she became a talisman against the lonely grind of study and work. She became an excuse to pull back from the dating scene for a while. So what if the girl at the coffee shop might have smiled at him? She was no Ophelia.

Well not really but he had the idea of Ophelia, the idea that the perfect girl was somewhere out there waiting for him.

But she was here now; living, breathing and unconsciously running her fingertips along the length of his arm. For Barry the whole bar had ceased to exist, Jimbo and Mike were like phantoms. Ophelia caught him looking at her from the corner of her eye and blushed a little; she brushed a stray lock of hair aside and said in a stage whisper, “You’re staring.”

“They didn’t think you were real.” Barry said.

Mike said, “And for that we apologize, we just thought you sounded a little too good to be true.”

“She is.” Barry stroked the curve of her chin, like he’d always imagined he would.

Ophelia caught his hand and nibbled on the ridge of his knuckle, “You’re sweet.”

Barry started, he hadn’t imaged that move.

Jimbo leaned back in his chair, “You two need a room?”

“We have one.” Barry said, dangling the motel room key before her.



* * *



…They slowly found each other and began traveling in groups. The cool March wind fluttered over the mutilated black wings that were nothing more than gnarled fists of cartilage and bone that sprung from their backs. They were dressed in tatters and rags; every scrap had been scavenged or stolen. They were the Unfinished and their minds were as broken as their bodies…




* * *



Mike and Jimbo had been left behind. When Barry had held the door of Mitchell and Michael’s Tavern open for Ophelia he had glanced back at them, the envy in their eyes was almost physically palpable. They looked like they couldn’t believe what they were seeing.

Barry could understand that, especially now when she was snuggled against him in a cab, her hand on his knee. Her body was soft yet toned, a dancers' physique- but not the kind of dancers Jimbo and Mike were planning to go see tonight. Ophelia described herself as a ‘lapsed ballerina’, she hadn’t taken a formal dance lesson in years but she still kept up the routines of practice and exercise. It still made her sad sometimes that she had never had the money to continue her studies.

But she never said any of this, Barry thought, I said it. I imagined her saying it! None of this makes any sense.

“Ophelia.” He said, “What was the name of that school in Europe you were going to go to?”

“We’re here.”

“What?”

The cab slowed to a stop, Ophelia rummaged around in her purse until she found her wallet. She overpaid the driver and flashed him a mischievous smile, “I can’t believe I’m paying for your booty call.”

“Booty?” Barry let her pull him from the cab and lead him back to his room. He hardly felt the chill wind or the half ice, half slush that splashed around his feet; he hardly felt anything except for the terrified thudding in his chest, “I just wanted to talk.”

“Suuuure you did.” She steered him along to the side of the motel until they were at room number 77, “Open up.”

“How did you know what room I’m in?”

“You showed me your room key remember?” She gave him a little kiss

“Uh…” Barry blushed, found the room key and led her inside.

She caught his hand as he reached for the wall switch, “Do we really need lights?”

“Do you want a drink?” Barry asked as she moved closer, pushing him against the door, “We fridge.”

“There are just two beds in this room. Was one of you boys going to double up?”

“I brought a sleeping bag. I was going to sleep on the floor.”

Ophelia pulled her blouse over her head; the bra she wore was powder blue lace. The clasp was on the front, she took his hands and led them to it, “Did you miss me?”

Barry was shaking, he felt like a teenager again, all clumsy and cornered. She kissed him and pulled him down onto the bed.

They didn’t pull the covers back; they barely thought to nudge Jimbo’s luggage onto the floor. “Why are you here?”

“How could I stay away?”



* * *



…the Unfinished knelt clumsily in the melting snow and ice. Their faces were like smeared paintings, somehow wizened and beatific at once. When one shuddered from the cold, they all shuddered. They waited for the last of their numbers to arrive

Soon they would hunt. Soon they would find the rogue thoughtform…




* * *



The first bar they had gone to had left Mike wondering if Canada had a Better Business Bureau he could complain to. The gaudy neon signs had promised 'EXOTIC DANCERS' but none of the women that had graced the stage had been able to dance very well and neither Mike nor Jimbo considered stretch marks or missing teeth to be exotic.

The wind and the cold were even worse than before; it battered them as they crossed the street to the car. “Where to next?” Jimbo asked.

“Let’s call it a night.” Mike waved his hands, “The only person having a good time right now is Barry.”

“I still don't believe it.” Jimbo said, “No one can be that... that... Wow.”

Shivering and miserable they climbed into the car. Mike sat in the passenger side, trying to warm himself by flapping his arms. Jimbo started the car and turned the heater and defogger up full blast.

“Man, that girl had the prettiest eyes didn’t she?”

“The stripper? The one with the razor burns?”

“No! I mean Barry’s girl. Jeez, it doesn’t even sound right saying that…”

“Yeah.” Mike smiled, “I’ve always been a sucker for green eyes.”

“Blue.” Jimbo corrected, “Her eyes were blue.”

“No. Green. You colorblind or something?”

“They were totally blue, they had bits of gold in them. They almost shone, it was like…” Jimbo frowned, “… like they weren’t even real.”



* * *



Barry stirred with a smile. He had forgotten about this part, about the good part after the other good part; to fall asleep holding your lover close, to gently doze off feeling someone’s heat radiating back at you.

I can’t let this end. I’ve got to get an engagement ring. I’ve got to find a justice of the peace. Do they have those in Canada? He smiled and reached across the bed to draw her in close again. Hey! Where is she?

Barry sat up and saw her in the bathroom, standing naked before the mirror and preening. She kept turning on her heel, trying to examine the reflection of her back. Her skin was smooth and flawless; it reminded Barry of a statue. The perfect girl cast in marble. Remember this, Barry thought to himself. Keep this memory it someplace safe where nothing can tarnish it. Remember this.

“Awake?” Ophelia grinned at him, her dark eyes flashing, “You’re beautiful when you dream.”

“Come back to bed.”

Switching off the bathroom light she climbed back onto the bed and draped herself over him, “You know, we should get dressed before your friends come back.”

“Maybe they won’t come back.” Barry kissed her shoulder, “Maybe they lucky.”

“Lucky?. From what you’ve told me I wouldn’t be surprised if we have to bail them out of jail tonight,” She started to laugh and then stiffened, “Did you hear something?”

“Hear what?”

Ophelia got out of bed and peered out the motel room’s bay window, “What was that?”

“I didn’t hear anything.” Barry got out of bed and put his arm around her, “What’s wrong? Hey you’re shaking like a leaf.”

“Too soon,” She crossed her arms over her chest, “Too soon.”

Ophelia started to cry, Barry tried to hold her but she pushed him away. Hurt and a little stunned he watched her rummage around on the floor for her clothes. She got dressed quickly.

“What’s wrong?” Barry asked again.

She sat down on the bed and drew her legs up to her chest, “Do you know that saying about being careful what you wish for?”

“I like the one about dreams coming true better.”

“I’m not real.”

“You’re beautiful and fun and the greatest sex of my life.” Barry fell to his knees, “Please don’t be crazy.”

“You wished for me, you believed in me, you prayed for me until I was real. Some people call what I am a Tulpa, others call us Rakshasa.”

Barry felt dizzy,“Hold up. Hold up.”

But she didn’t “My Poppa called me a thoughtform.”

“I don’t want to hear this,” Barry kissed her hard on the mouth. She responded to his touch losing herself in the moment just like he knew she would.

When the kiss broke she said, “You were so different. You believed so much. Usually one dream means so little.”

“You’re real,” Barry said again.

She pressed herself against him for a few moments more and then began to hurriedly get dressed, “You know better than that. Until tonight I was just a story you told yourself at night before you fell asleep.”

“But you’re here.”

“I know. I’m sorry.”

Barry ran his fingers through his hair, “This is insane.”

“At first I was just going to make my own way in the world, loose myself in it, but as soon as I had this flesh… it ached for you.” Ophelia said, “I put you at risk. I should have run far away.”

Barry started pacing the room, “All right. Let’s say this is true. Let’s say that my wanting you to be real made you real. Then who cares? I love you. You love me too… right?”

“From my very first breath but do you really think the Unfinished will allow this?”

“Unfinished?”

There was the sound of a commotion outside. It almost sounded to Barry like a crowd making its way up the street, bickering and laughing as it toppled trash cans and clamored over parked cars. But this commotion was punctuated with strange howls and stranger curses.

“Barry.” An edge of panic crept into her voice, “Walk calmly out to the street and then start running. Find your way back to your friends and your old life. They don’t want you.”

He approached the window and parted the curtain, “If someone’s trying to hurt you I won’t let them.”

Ophelia pulled him back, shaking him in her urgency, “No. No. I didn’t even exist until tonight. Run away. Run away home and find a girl that loves you a little more than you love her and be happy.”

Barry stared disbelievingly at her. The tears in her eyes were genuine enough but was she really just a ghost created from his loneliness?

The howls were louder now and he could make out whole words. Vows of cruelty and lust. The motel room door started to shake and rattle. The glass of the bay window squealed and cracked, it bowed out pushing the curtains aside. Barry saw them, saw the desiccated bodies and empty faces. If Ophelia was birthed in a single dream then these creatures could only have been pieced together from the choicest nightmares.

Barry grabbed her by the hand and dragged her back into the bathroom. There was a window there made of frosted glass and painted shut. He locked the bathroom door as he heard the bay window give way to a chorus of eager howls.

“Please don’t do this.” Ophelia begged.

“These monsters…” Barry grabbed a towel off the rack and hefted the plastic trash bin.

“Unfinished, They’re called the Unfinished. They’re half-imagined and jealous. My Poppa thought they were gods.”

“These things- what will they do to you if they find you?”

Ophelia looked away, “It doesn’t matter.”

The bathroom lights flickered and faded in time with the voices of the creatures. The bathroom window was shoulder level, Barry smashed out the glass, clearing the fragments away as best he could and laid a towel over the sill. “Come on.” He held his arms out to help her, “Climb.”

She climbed up, for a moment she was close enough for an embrace; the scent of her fresh sweat and fading perfume wafted over him.

How can she not be real? How?

The bathroom door was shuddering on its hinges, pushing away from the frame with a riot of cracks and snaps. Filthy, misshapen hands tore at the air. Barry watched Ophelia slip from the window and land on the ground below with a pained yelp. He moved to scramble after her, and felt the damaged edges of the window bite at his clothes and the skin beneath.

For a moment he was tumbling end over end, then he hit the ground and there was a flash of light. Barry’s vision swam in and out of focus. His head ached; his body was alive with a cold itching. He had landed in a snow covered shrubbery, crushing it.

Ophelia pulled him to his feet, “We have to keep run.”

Barry started to move, his first footstep was wobbly. “We need to find help.”

Snarls filled the air; Barry looked back to the broken window. Ophelia said, “No one can help us. No one dares.”

They started running.



* * *



…outrage knotting their faces the Unfinished threw themselves out the window, ripping out sections of the wall in their zeal. They were used to Thoughtforms that were weak and terrified. The Thoughtforms never ran. The Thoughtforms never had the chance to hope.

Why should this one be different? Why should this one dare to escape the same cruel indoctrinations they had been inflicting upon each other for a thousand lifetimes?

They would not allow this…



* * *



Two blocks later their bare feet were numbed by the snow and ice. They tried to flag down a car but the drivers wouldn’t even slow down for them much less stop. Barry jumped in front of an oncoming care but it wouldn’t slow down and he had to dive out of the way, “What the Hell is wrong with people?”

“Its the Unfinished, they’re too close.” Ophelia said, “The human race prefers to look away from its broken dreams.”

“This is nuts.”

“Just go, leave me.”

“I said no.” Barry offered her a quick desperate smile, “I meant no.”

Ophelia smiled back, “I never could win an argument with you.”

The streetlights began to flicker and fade, familiar snarls filled the air.

Suddenly a tan dodge Charger screeched to a halt half on and half off the sidewalk. Mike opened the passenger side door and leaned out, “Get in!”

“What are you doing?” Barry pulled Ophelia into the backseat the Dodge. She slammed the door closed.

“What am I doing?” Mike scrambled in beside her, “What are you doing?”

“There were these things at the motel. They were tearing everything apart, even the people.” Jimbo hit the accelerator and sped off, he kept glancing back in the rearview mirror. “Especially the people.”

“I’m sorry.” Ophelia was hunched over in her seat, “I’m sorry.”

Barry looked from her to his friends. He clenched his fist and stared at it. He knew what he had to do. “Jimbo. Remember that parking garage where we got pulled over?”

“What is happening here?” Mike demanded. “What are those things? Why are they killing people?”

Ophelia said, “They’re getting closer.”



* * *



…despair had made them relentless, loss had made them cruel. Their prey was being helped when no human in their well honed blindness should have been able to do more than cringe and swoon.

The Unfinished vowed they would pay, humans and Thoughtform alike…


* * *


“I said what are they?” Jimbo sounded hysterical.

The ride had been brief; no police cars gave chase even though they had abandoned the rules of traffic lights and speed limits to the wind blocks ago. “They’re monsters.” Ophelia explained, “That’s all you need to know.”

“This just gets better and better.” Mike said, “I knew you were too good to be true. I just knew it.”

The parking garage was a long rectangular structure of worn gray stone; the lights were dimmed and the gates for incoming traffic were locked down. During the day the garage handled the overflow of cars from the nearby hospital but at this hour of the night it was deserted.

“We’re here.” Jimbo stopped the car and turned in his seat to stare, “Barry?”

Barry was still staring intently at his clenched fist; his mouth was a thin bloodless line.

Ophelia touched his shoulder, “Honey Angel?”

He glanced at her, his expression softened, “I was thinking.”

Mike said, “We’re here. Now what?”

“Ophelia and I are getting out of the car and you guys are going to get back home.”

Jimbo breathed a sigh of relief, “Sounds good to me.”

“Shut up!” Mike snapped, “That does not sound good.”

“I don’t have time to argue.” Barry opened the car door.

“I don’t know what’s going on but I don’t trust her or any of this.” Mike said.

“Save yourselves.” Barry took hold of Ophelia’s hand and dragged her from the car; she winced as her back brushed the upper part of the Charger’s doorframe. There was a patch of red between her shoulder blades. It was slowly expanding.

“Guys, I have to do this alone.” Barry said, “You can’t help me.”

“We’re not leaving you.” Mike walked around to Jimbo’s side of the car and pushed him aside so he could retrieve the tire iron from under the seat.

Jimbo said, “Are you sure about this? He sounds pretty serious.”

“God damn it.” Mike said, “He’s our friend.”

The Unfinished burst out of the darkness around them, shadows bleeding in their wake. Howls filled the air. Barry pulled Ophelia towards the parking garage. “Run!” He shouted.

A gnarled hand caught Jimbo on the bare flesh of his arm. He mewled and tried to twist away but it was already too late. They clawed at him drawing blood, so much blood. His voice rose for a brief piercing moment and then became silent.

Mike swung the tire iron catching one of the Unfinished on the side of the head and hitting another in the chest. Each blow brought a satisfying crunching sound. He made his way towards the parking garage. One of the creatures caught the sleeve of his jacket, tearing it all the way to the shoulder.

Mike brought the tire iron down on the attacker’s skull and slipped around to the other side of the Charger. He could see Barry and Ophelia receding further and further into the parking garage. It looked as though they were making their way to the stairwell.

“What does he think he’s doing?” Mike wondered aloud.

One of the Unfinished scrambled across the hood, tackling Mike from behind. He felt the creature’s hand grasp the back of his neck. He struggled but to stay on his feet and fight but more of the things swarmed him.


* * *


…the human’s head came away from his shoulders easily. The Unfinished whooped as the blood sprayed across.

There was only one more rebellious human left to cull, then they would turn their attention to the Thoughtform.

The Unfinished were already shuddering in anticipation of the torments and degradations it would suffer. Those delights would only be surpassed by the moment when it began to crave that suffering as much as they did…



***


My friends are dead.
Barry thought as the sound of Jimbo and Mike’s screams faded. The realization was enough to slow Barry’s pace on the stairwell. My friends are dead.

He looked ahead to Ophelia, her pace had slowed as well, but that was because the wound on her back was spreading and swelling. Barry knew what that meant and it gave him the strength to keep moving. He hurried to her side and gingerly slipped his arm around her waist.

“Come on.” He said, “Almost there.”

“Something’s wrong.” Ophelia said, “…it hurts.”

“I know.” Barry said, “I know.”

The door to the stairwell crashed open two floors below them. Impossible and hateful voices echoed up after them.

“It’s not too late.” Ophelia said, “Just leave me.”

Barry put one arm around her back and another lifted her up by the legs. There was another flight of stairs to go, could he carry her that far?

I have to. He thought as he felt the swollen, weeping mass between her shoulders pulse and shift.

“Something’s wrong.” She said again, her voice a whisper.

Barry thought to tell her not to be afraid but he choked on the absurdity of the words. Instead he kept his breathing steady and counted the steps until he reached the topmost level of the parking garage, the rooftop level. The voices of the Unfinished were close behind them now. There was a smugness in their cries and taunts now. Was it his imagination that made him hear Jimbo’s and Mike’s voice in that chorus?

Don’t look back. Keep moving. Almost here. Concentrate.


Ophelia looked around, the dark cloudless sky seemed to press down on them; this entire level of the parking garage was empty and full of shadows.“What are we doing here? We’re trapped. Why did you-”

Barry reached out and tore her blouse off with a single tug. She started to protest but then a spike of pain robbed her of her breath. The ever-swelling growth began to split apart.

It was just a few more yards to the edge of the parking garage’s roof. Barry was carrying her now. Twin appendages folded out Ophelia’s back and clawed feebly at the air.

“Don’t fight it,” Barry risked a glance down at the sheer drop from the upper level. It was nothing spectacular but enough to kill a man.

The pain began to fade, but Ophelia was still gasping, “Fight it? Do you know what’s happening to me?”

“Of course.” Barry kissed her one last time before standing up and shielding her. The door to the stairwell crashed open and the Unfinished spilled out. They moved forward as one; their certainty made them slow, made them relish every footstep.

Ophelia’s new wings stretched wide and shook the moisture of their birth away with a single shudder. “What is this?” She whispered.

“If I could imagine you in the flesh…” Barry began, “…then I can imagine more. If I can call you out of longing then I can long for something better than these monsters for you.”

“Honey Angel.” She breathed. Barry felt her arms touch his back.

“I think you’re the angel now.” Barry laughed, it was a crazy sound, a sound he had never heard himself make before.

“I can try to carry you.”

“No you can’t. Just go. Otherwise this was all for nothing.”

Barry stepped away from her moving towards the Unfinished. He needed to buy her just a few more moments. He was empty handed but he wasn’t afraid.

He had aways thought he would just dwindle away and die in a hospital bed or drop dead in the street of a sudden heart attack or aneurysm.

Wasn’t it better to be in love and die on a night like this?

He found himself surrounded. Barry thought of Ophelia in the bathroom, staring at her reflection in the mirror. He gave the Unfinished a grim smile and told them, “Nobody messes with my girl.”



* * *


…it ended as it began, with an abrupt transfiguration and a sound like the fluttering of wings…

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