“Bela? Bela! Don’t fall asleep on me now!” Azal’s voice slowly penetrated my sleepy mind. Getting old was still no fun, even with medicine much improved over the millennia I had walked the earth now.
“Look at this, I think I found another one,” Azal shouted, shoving the newspaper in my gnarled fingers. Squinting, I pushed my reading glasses in front of my failing eyes before slowly deciphering the words.
NY Daily News, August 18, 1960
Panic spreads among New York’s citizens after a giant viper of an unknown origin has been sighted in Central Park. Zookeepers have tried to find, and catch the animal, but it has vanished from sight. We implore all citizens to stay clear of Central Park, and its immediate vicinity, until the snake has been caught.
“You might be right,” I rasped, before a coughing fit kept me from finishing my sentence, making me wait patiently until my failing body had stopped shuddering, before I could draw another shallow breath at last.
“You have to go without me. It won’t be long now. The next time, I’ll be able to come along again, or we can just speed up the process if you shoot me now.”
Azal looked at me with hooded eyes.
“I’m not a murderer, no matter what was said in the past. I didn’t kill anyone. I’m not starting now, even, if I know you won’t stay dead for long. I’ll manage. I promise to bring him home.”
“Take Dante with you. He’s felt a little cooped up lately,” I advised, “and be careful. I know you don’t age, but we still don’t know what happens when you die.”
My eyes drifted close as Azal left the room. Soon, another Fallen One’s descendant would join our little community to live in peace. Maybe, I’d even be in a better state to greet him when they returned.
Forty-five years later, our little community had grown from four to more than fifty. All descendants of Fallen Angels cast out of heaven. Like me, some of them had been accused, then condemned for all eternity, for crimes committed in their youth. The world had been different then. Violence had been commonplace, but with our tainted heritage, the Angels had sought out every opportunity to keep us out of heaven.
As descendants of Angels, even Fallen Ones, we technically had the right to get our wings when coming of age, but they had done everything possible to curse us for even minor offenses. Twisting our powers, or ripping them from us, condemning us to eternal life on earth with some punishment attached.
As times changed, the Angels had just stayed away. Bijou had been one of the last ever to be visited by one. Those born later never even got the chance to get their wings, making us call them, lovingly, the Forgotten Ones. Maybe, the Angels considered having to live as Half-Demons among humans curse enough. Most of us had been stoned, buried alive, drowned, killed by sword or spear, burned at the stake, shot, or otherwise killed by scared, superstitious humans several times. Azal was the only one who’d never died.
I could still clearly remember my first death. After being cursed, I had aimlessly wandered into the desert to die. I had taken no water, or food, with me. I had seated myself next to a solitary rock, waiting for two days for the sun to do the job, finally fainting from dehydration. The last thing I remembered was pain, excruciating pain, when some desert scavenger decided to turn my right leg into its next meal. When consciousness returned, I awakened to a tingling sensation, gulping in a breath. It was night, cool air caressing my skin. I felt my leg regrow within minutes. The new skin and bones itched for weeks afterward. Stumbling through the night, I had sought shelter in a cave that became my home for the next years.
One day, a group made camp near my cave. They were a ragged, sorry band of people. I was curious. What had brought them here, far away from any habitation? It turned out they were outcasts like me. I decided to join them when they moved on. It was a bad decision. Listening to their stories at the campfire in the evenings, I realized they had raided some villages, burned the houses, raped the daughters. Sick at heart, I tried to leave, but with everything I had heard, I was a threat to them. In the night, one of them dragged me away to cut my throat. When I came to my senses again, they were long gone. That day, I decided to leave the land of my birth behind in search for a better place.
Many would say my life has been an adventure of epic proportions. I, however, feel it would bore people to death listening to my excursion across time. So many of my lives were similar in so many ways. I left the place of my birth, certain that finding a new home would not be difficult at all. Never in my boldest dreams would I have imagined it would take me two millennia, and the crossing of an ocean, to find a place to call home again!
Home! Yes, this place was home. A safe haven for those like me. A shelter from the world outside. I hadn’t just found it. I had created it, with my hands, my sweat, and my love, backed by enough gold to never be at the mercy of others again!
Our home, or “The Farm” as we called it, was self-sufficient. All of us taking turns tending the crops and the animals, doing the cooking, washing and cleaning.
We were also still searching for others like us. I was sitting in front of the PC again, reading the latest US news on the NBC homepage, when my gaze fell on a new topic in one of the paranormal chatrooms I was watching.
MERMAID SIGHTING IN PADILLA BAY NORTH OF SEATTLE.
“We have another one,” I told Boris, who lounged on the couch, intent on the newspaper he was scanning for mysterious happenings.
“Mermaid south of Bellingham? That’s almost in Canada,” he rumbled, making me nod in confirmation.
“A woman? That’s rare. So far, we only found two, Phoenicia and Bijou.”
“Care to come?” I asked, seeing Boris flinch.
I don’t really care about water. I like it hot and dry. Why don’t you ask Kuno, and maybe, Bijou? Shouldn’t you take one of the ladies along for this?”
I had deserved the taunt, suggesting to the son of a Viper-Demon that he accompany me on a water mission, but my good mood made me continue the banter.
“You really think I’ll need two to accompany me?” I grinned, making him avert his eyes.
“Your body is technically sixty-one years old already. I thought it might be better if…” Ashamed of the suggestion, he let the rest of the sentence hang in the air.
Giving him a bear hug, and thumping him on the back, I laughed,
“Come on, you know me better. Have I ever taken offense when one of you commented on my age? I’m not as feeble yet, despite what Azal says in the stories he likes to tell. You’re lucky, being stuck in your mid-twenties forever!”
“Yeah, sometimes it’s just hard to act that age when you’ve lived more than a millennium…,” he grumbled.
“I’ll get the car, and our fishing gear, please tell the others to be ready in twenty minutes,” I replied turning back to business before leaving the room.
Fifteen minutes later, the boat and trailer were attached to the Ford pickup truck, with the fishing net secured. Bijou’s and my diving gear lashed down on the platform. Kuno didn’t need any. His Half-Demonic form was a giant Sea Horse. An ability he had learned to use at will, up to the point of only sprouting gills when needed.
While I waited, I pondered once again what my powers might have been. I didn’t know my demonic father. My abilities had been ripped from me before I even knew what I’d inherited. Most of the others had retained some sort of control over the abilities they had since birth.
The curses the Angels had inflicted were subtle, designed for continued suffering. Their meaning only becoming clear to us much later. The punishments, as I liked to call them, involuntarily triggered our inhuman appearance most of the time. In my case, I appeared as a horned Demon, clad in smoke and fire. However, unlike the others, I couldn’t change to this alternate form at will.
Phoenicia for example, had burned down a temple, killing all the priests inside, after she’d turned into a fiery Phoenix when they had refused to help her sick little brother. After the Angel had cursed her, she couldn’t come near any kind of fire without turning into a Phoenix again.
Back then, it had meant she was always cold, and in the dark. She wasn’t able to join others at the fire in the evenings, or even cooking a hot meal. Today, the challenge consisted mostly of staying away from people lighting a cigarette. After she’d almost burned down one of our storage sheds, we had banned all open fire, and smoking, from The Farm.
The slamming of the passenger door ripped me out of my musings.
“Ready, Boss?” Bijou asked while buckling up in the front seat. Kuno slid silently into the back.