The nerve of that girl…
I didn’t expect Ava to welcome me back with open arms. I didn’t even want her to.
But she didn’t even want to admit that I was alive, and to attack me? I slammed her down to the ground, and didn’t regret a thing. I didn’t care who Ava was anymore, I wasn’t going to let her stand in my way.
That mentality… It was one that Ava and I now seemed to have in common.
She didn't run when confronted with a threat, which was a complete shakeup from her previous self. Now, she stood up for herself, and even found enough courage in herself to strike me.
She was going out to auditions again, and reclaiming her old life. Even then, it was clear that love didn’t matter to her anymore.
Just as I suspected…
After I died, Ava learned her lesson. She wasn’t naive anymore.
If somebody had asked just a few short months ago, Ava would state that she couldn’t live without me.
And now look at her! There wasn’t a doubt in my mind anymore, the world would be a much better place once everybody thought like that!
...I needed to calm down. Maybe a break would do me some good.
After a bit of flying around, I landed in the soft grass of the Auburn city park. I saw only one other man there, an older man, sitting on a bench.
I hid away my wings and dagger, approaching the wooden bench.
The man saw me first, and tried to strike up a conversation.“Come to enjoy the scenery?” he asked. Not expecting to be approached, I didn’t respond at first.
Moving to stand next to the bench, I replied, “It’s a good distraction from the rest of the world.”
I stared out toward the water for a moment before I spoke again.
“Are you married?”
The man leaned back on the bench, and answered, “No, my wife passed away two years ago.”
So he had already learned…
“Some say that it's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”
“Do you believe them?”
“Whenever love is lost, a lot of other things are lost along with it. You lose your hope for the future. You lose your faith in the world. Is a life without faith, hope, and love truly a life at all? Is it moral to live a life not worth living?”
“It’s not always like that.”
“Correct. You could die first. You could spend your whole life building connections with those around you, only for them all to be severed at once. It’s dominoes. The only domino that doesn’t collapse the rest is one that is alone.”
There was a moment of silence between the two of us.
Somewhere inside me, I suppose it felt good to talk to someone after all this time. I would never look to form a bond with this person, but I only killed to make change for people. This man didn’t need change, so I didn’t need to teach them anything.
“You’ve suffered a great deal of tragedy, haven’t you?”
“More than you could ever imagine.”
“Well, you’re not wrong about love. When my wife passed on, I felt like I couldn’t go on without her. It was like my entire world crashed around me.”
“You’re still here, though.”
“The world has been good to me since then.”
“Me as well. The world clearly wants me to stay, I’ve still got a purpose here. Now I want to prove that I am worthy of that trust.”
After another second of silence, the man looked back out toward the open water of the lake.
“What’s your favorite thing about the world?” he asked.
“Humanity. Despite all of their flaws, there has never been a situation that they haven’t had a solution for.”
“Having a solution is only half the problem. You also need someone with the drive to get it done.”
I returned the question, “What’s yours?”
“The stars. Almost all of them don’t do anything… But they’re just beautiful.”
I didn’t know how to respond to that… I never found the time to appreciate the finer details of the world.
“Is there something else you wanted me to say?”
“Actions speak louder than words.”
“Then is there something you wanted me to do?”
“I want you to enjoy the rest of your life.”
“I will, old sport... Thanks for the chat.”
On that note, I turned away from the bench, bidding farewell to the old man.
As I walked away, I thought about all that we had talked about. I can’t remember the last time that I had a normal conversation.
Whenever I was talking to him… I didn’t feel like I was dead. I didn’t feel like I had these powers… I felt like Travis Montgomery. No matter how much I try to convince myself otherwise, I was still a lot more human than I originally thought.
When you’re a human, you’re naturally going to be flawed. Even though I have wings, and can do pretty much anything I want... I’ll still always have those flaws that come with being human.
All of us do. Just because I was able to push the limits of humanity doesn’t mean I’m less of a human. I see that now. Even then, the rest are ignorant. I want to help everyone. If I can see a problem and fix it, then so can the others, wings or no wings.
Who knows, maybe somebody else could even receive the same gifts as me, and help right the world’s wrongs. But for now, the weight of the situation rested on my shoulders alone. It was my job to fix it.
Tick, tock. Tick, tock.
Despite the circumstances, the white noise of the ticking clocks managed to soothe me to sleep. It also woke me up the next morning.
I sat up on the cot Penny set up for me and was finally able to get a good look at the room I was in.
It held mostly what you’d expect a clock shop’s back room to have: spare and broken clocks, extra tools and parts… But there was a large wardrobe in the corner of the room that I got curious about.
I debated just staying in bed, but my curiosity got the better of me.
After crawling out of bed, I opened the doors to the wardrobe and immediately recoiled. Inside were a collection of sabres, a few looked like traditional fencing equipment, but some were genuine blades, like a buccaneer would wield.
Why on earth would a clock shop owner need a bunch of swords?
Well, at least I knew I would be safe if… It showed up again.
All of the memories of what had happened the day before immediately came rushing back.
No… No, I refuse. That wasn’t Travis. It couldn’t be.
The man I loved would never hurt a soul…
There was something supernatural afoot - that’s the only explanation that I could think up. It had to have been just using Travis’s body as a host!
The demon had long purple hair, but Travis’ was always short and brown. Travis had emerald green eyes, but the demon had one green and one purple.
Its voice, though, its face… I couldn’t deny it. It was Travis’s body.
Why… Why did this have to happen to me?
Needing a distraction, I closed the wardrobe doors and stepped out into the main clock shop. Penny wasn’t there. I didn’t have the energy to think of an explanation to where she went.
I peeked around the corner and up the stairs. Even through the ticking, I could hear someone shuffling around. Once again, I was guided by my curiosity and soon found myself at the top of the stairs.
I was amazed by what I saw. There were a bunch of different machines with papers and parts scattered around. Tockman was focused on a few documents on his desk.
The doctor looked older than Penny and I, probably in his thirties. He was pale, with black hair going down to his shoulders in the back, topped off with a brown fedora.
He wore a burgundy trench coat over a white button-up shirt and black pants. What really caught my eye about him - no pun intended - were a pair of goggles, which had moving clock hands on the lenses.
Tockman looked over and scowled, “What are you doing up here?”
I didn’t answer him. I was too mesmerized by all of the machines and gadgets covering every inch of the room.
“This is amazing!” I thought out loud. “You’re a scientist? What are you working on?”
“It’s complicated,” Tockman firmly answered, trying to guide me towards the stairs and back down into the main clock shop.
But as soon as Tockman got close to me, I got a closer look at the goggles that he was wearing. They were so cool, and they even seemed to be ticking, just like all the other clocks!
I tapped on the glass of the goggles, my hand being quickly swatted away by Tockman. Grinning wildly, I began to rattle off questions about what I was seeing, much to Tockman’s dismay.
“Did you make them? Do they actually tell the time? How can you see over the hands? Are they see-through or something? How do they move? Are they battery-powered? Powered by time itself? They’re so neat!”
I couldn’t help myself as I wrung my hands together in an attempt to control my excitement. Seeing functional clock glasses wasn’t exactly normal in my book, so they were fascinating, to say the least.
Tockman was getting more and more agitated. Finally, he took the goggles off and set them inside a drawer, not allowing me to get a step closer to them.
I could tell it had been a while since he had taken them off; there were circular imprints around his brown eyes.
“What is your problem?” Tockman shouted. I jumped a bit at the sudden change in volume, backing off.
After an awkward moment of silence, I whimpered, “I don’t have anywhere else to go…”
Tockman averted his eyes, then turned over his shoulder to look back at his desk. He had the purple dagger there, hooked up to some sort of computer system. If I had to guess, I would say that Tockman was collecting data on it.
The sight of it caused tears to run down my cheeks again.
“I just want to get my mind off of it,” I explained in a shaky tone, receiving a sigh from Tockman.
“You don’t even believe me…” I sulked, and went to head downstairs.
I was just going to go back to bed. Maybe I’d wake up in a world that didn’t hate me. I would still have Travis by my side whenever I needed him, and we wouldn’t have to worry about any demons.
Tockman put a hand out to stop me. “Maybe I should tell you about this.”
This situation has got to be one of the most peculiar things to ever happen on this planet.
With all other experiments I had ever done, even though my goal seemed to be impossible, I was determined for it to be true. But now, even though all signs pointed to it being true, there was a part of me that didn’t want it to be.
I am a scientist. My beliefs didn’t matter, I had to face the facts.
Reluctantly, I pulled up a chair for Ava to sit in and looked over the data I had extracted from the dagger. After briefing her on everything she knew about the Auburn Demon, I began to publish my findings.
“This isn’t possible.” I started. “It shouldn’t be. All the laws of science that have ever been proven state that this dagger couldn’t exist, but it does.”
“What are you talking about?” Avalonia inquired.
“I… Did some studies, and… I don’t believe you’re lying anymore. As much as it pains me to admit it, the Auburn Demon is truly a force that can only be described as… Paranormal.”
“How’s that possible?”
“As I said, it really shouldn’t be. That being said, I have a proposal.”
To demonstrate a point, I brought a finger to my goggles, “What do you think these are made of?”
“I don’t know, probably steel or somethin’. What does this have to do with the demon?”
“I’m getting there. Now, you’re not wrong about the goggles. They’re made of stainless steel. Do you know how I know that?”
“Tockman, you’re losing me.”
“I know they’re made of steel because they have certain properties. If atoms are arranged in a certain way, they turn into steel. My goggles have that arrangement of atoms.”
“Right, your goggles are metal, what about the dagger? What’s it made of?”
“…I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?”
“Mock me all you like. I can’t get an accurate read on its composition. I can’t get any kind of read at all. So either the periodic table is a lie, or…”
“Or this didn’t come from our universe.”
I couldn’t believe those words were coming out of my own mouth. It couldn’t be true. Over thousands of years, generations of scientists had built up an explanation for how everything was supposed to behave.
That agreed-upon explanation had not been disproven by anything. Now a single dagger was going to render all of that work meaningless. I didn’t want that to be true!
I wanted to help the scientific community, but could I be the one to destroy it?!
I didn’t sleep at all the previous night. I was running test after test to try and prove myself wrong. But no matter how many times I looked over the data or challenged the dagger from a different angle, the result was always the same.
“This isn’t science anymore,” I spoke. “This is something far more powerful than that.”
“W-wait…” Avalonia stammered, shifting in her seat. “W-what’s going on?! Not from our universe? Then where did it come from?!”
“I have a guess, but you’re not going to like it very much.”
“There’s… Remnants of human DNA in here. But not on it. Literally woven within it. Now, you said everything the demon made was purple, right? Can you think of any possible significance that may have?”
“…It was Travis’ favorite color.”
“Thought so. Whenever the demon creates something, he gives it a little personal touch. A dash of his own soul, if you will.”
“I didn’t understand it at first either, but… I’ve already seen for myself. Whenever Penny is exuding the most passion, there’s a machine that can generate power from it. Energy, created from her creative soul!”
“What’s that mean for us?”
“It means…” I brought a hand to my chest. “There’s a potentially limitless source of energy locked inside us.”
“And if it’s unlocked?”
“It’d be powerful enough to manifest into the real world. Powerful enough to save a man from death and give him the strength to soar above the clouds.”
I had no choice but to believe it. Who would’ve known that a random girl off the streets would be the key to unlocking the supernatural? Her story must’ve been true. No matter how unbelievable it seemed, I had to accept that it was the truth.
There was something out there. Something which had the power to alter the very fabric of space and time. A million more questions popped into my mind at once. Could Ava’s betrayal have been the key that shattered the barriers of the soul? What did the creature want? Why were they only killing couples?
Finally, just as I was about to get back on track with my work, Ava spoke up. “I… I want to kill it. I’m going to kill it.”
“Good for you,” I responded, not looking up from the research I was doing.
“I can’t do it by myself!” Ava replied. “I’m not strong enough…”
I sighed, “Is this supposed to concern me?”
“What if it comes for someone you love next?”
“There is no one I love.”
Ava hesitated. She seemed shocked by my answer, similar to Penny’s reaction when I told her the same thing.
“…I need your help…”
“How could I possibly help?”
“You have a bunch of science-y stuff around here… Could you… Unlock my soul, or whatever you said…?”
“Maybe. But any possible solution I could think of would be extremely dangerous.”
“Letting a supernatural killer run around is even more dangerous!”
“Buy a gun.”
“It’s a demon, Tockman! That won’t work!”
“Call the police.”
“They haven’t done jack shit!”
“Then call the army.”
“Tockman! You clearly don’t understand what’s at stake!”
I looked over to Ava, and saw the desperation in her eyes.
“You’re not going to let up, are you?”
“Of course not. I don’t care if it’s the last thing I do, I’m going to end these killings once and for all!”
She’s persistent, I’ll give her that much…
I thought about Ava’s pitch. There was a way. If I could manage to extract the limitless power from within that dagger and transfuse it into her…
It seemed insane. Nobody before this day had an opportunity to study the capabilities of a demon… But if this worked, then I could learn everything there is to learn about the powers of the supernatural. Maybe I wouldn’t even need a machine to bend time to my will…
“I hope you’re right about this.”
Zinovi proved himself to be an… Interesting guy. Now that we were officially a couple, he was more himself and less trying to make a good impression. Neither side of him was bad, mind you. Some days I preferred his more formal side, but most of the time his usual personality was a breath of fresh air compared to those of Doc or Ava.
Zinovi tended to be really goofy and awkward. There wasn’t a dull moment when he was around, that’s for sure! He never failed to make me smile or laugh. Sure, sometimes we disagreed or bickered about stuff like other couples did, but for the most part, it seemed like we were meant to be together! At least it did to me, that is.
While he certainly could be silly and a bit lazy in comparison to my work ethic, I sometimes saw a more serious side of him. When it first happened, it caught me off guard. Zinovi was flirtatious and whacky and a bit of a mess normally, so this first time he really opened up to me and let me in almost gave me goosebumps. It felt so real and personal. I could practically feel the trust in his words as he spoke about his anxieties and stresses… And even his worries that the relationship wouldn’t last. He asked me if he was annoying a lot, mentioning he’s been told to cut back on things before. I couldn’t help but feel sympathetic. I knew how it felt to be told off like that…
After we talked things out, we just sat and cuddled as we watched a movie. I liked to call him my teddy bear to my friends and family once I told them about him. They all raised an eyebrow when they eventually met him and saw how “clingy” he was. They even asked me how I could “stand it.” I didn’t get what they were talking about at all. Getting hugged and held all the time was great! And after everything going on with this ‘demon’ and Ava and the family I kept checking on at the shelter, I needed all the hugs I could get…
“I just wish things could go back to normal…” I finished saying as I sat on Zinovi’s couch. I came by to update him on everything that was happening recently, and he had me wrapped in a knitted blanket with a cup of tea in my hands. He knew just what I needed to destress. Everything was happening so quickly with regards to the demon and Ava, and it was driving me nuts. I couldn’t do much of anything to help other than pat the girl on the back with a little ‘there there’ every once and a while!
Thankfully, Zinovi had noticed how stressed I was as soon as I walked in the door and went into “Supportive Boyfriend Mode.” I didn’t know how much I needed a day away from the clock shop until I wasn’t surrounded by its ticking and listening to talk of possible demons.
“That sounds messed up…” Zinovi frowned, taking a spot next to me on the couch.
I looked over to him, “Thanks for this… I needed a distraction.”
“I’m lucky to have a guy like you…”
I scooted over to be closer to Zinovi and rested my head against his shoulder. He held me with an arm and rubbed my shoulder soothingly.
We just sat there for a while, comfortable. Eventually, I broke the silence with, “Do you like music?”
“Yeah, who doesn’t?”
“Could you play some…?”
“Sure. Any requests?”
Zinovi got off the couch and got a speaker that he hooked up to his phone.
I curled up in the blanket, enjoying the warmth of it as I took another sip of the tea that Zinovi prepared for me. One of his cats jumped up next to me and I began to stroke her.
Music soon filled the room, and I was greeted with a catchy pop tune that I recognized.
“♪ Don’t think about it, just move your body. ♪”
“♪ Listen to the music, sing ‘Oh-ey-oh’. ♪”
“Meghan Trainor? I didn’t know you were into her.”
“I’m not, really. But I know you kinda like her.”
I smiled at the gesture. I was happy to have some background noise instead of just silence. The idea of there being absolutely no activity at all was enough to unnerve me. Zinovi wasn’t finished yet, though.
He smirked as he did some goofy and cheesy dance moves along to the song. I couldn’t help but laugh at him.
“♪ Show the world you got that fire. ♪”
“♪ Feel the rhythm getting louder. ♪”
Zinovi held his hand out to me.
“Come on and dance with me.”
“♪ I don’t know about you, but I feel better when I’m dancing. ♪”
I accepted Zinovi’s hand, letting myself get pulled to my feet. I had taken dancing for ten years when I was a kid, and I loved it. The technical stuff was way different than the dancing meant for dances and balls in high school and college, though. Despite that worry, I just let myself go and moved to the rhythm.
We goofed off for a bit, me laughing at Zinovi’s obvious attempts to get me to laugh and smile. He grinned when he found that his plan was working.
The song started to pick up again, and Zinovi and I were really getting into it. I spun him around and dipped him. He tried to lift me up, but that didn’t go too well.
With the music in the background, Zinovi leaned down and whispered in my ear, “Are you ticklish?”
Completely aware of what was coming, I made a run for it, but only made it a lap around the couch before he caught me. I was giggling even before he caught me, and once he did, we were both laughing as each of us tried to win the tickle war Zinovi started.
The song began to wind down, and we both collapsed onto the couch. We were out of breath, but still laughing just as hard, and still in each others’ arms. I smiled at him once we caught our breaths.
“Thanks. I feel much better now.”
“Then my plan worked!”
I giggled at the proud smile he had on his face before pausing and biting my lip as a question popped into my head. I chose my words carefully, asking, “Do you think this will go anywhere?” Zinovi’s smile faded a bit into a look of concern and confusion. “What do you mean?”
“Us. Do you think our relationship will last?” I was going to stop and wait for his answer, but my big fat mouth wouldn’t allow that. “Because even though we’ve only been together for a short time, you’ve made me so happy and everything… I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
I immediately paled a bit at what I had said. Surely he would run for the hills now… I just started what sounded like a marriage proposal, and in terms of dating, we were only just seeing each other!
He seemed to pause in thought for a moment. I remembered his worry that I would dump him and understood—he was just processing the fact that I shared that same worry. I was shocked when Zinovi looked me dead in the eyes with an understanding look and a small smile. “Took the words right out of my mouth, Penny.” And then he kissed me. Just like that. He could be a goofball, but this man knew how to make fairytale moments.
We just sat there on the couch, holding each other close and kissing. It was every bit of cutesy romantic cheesiness that I had dreamed of before. I’m a hopeless romantic. Sue me.