He Slept Through It All

“What?!”

“Taken!”

“Cake and what? I didn’t hear the last bit…”

“Aargh! Will you just come out of there?!” The angel was really not used to all this stooping. “This is ridiculous! I’m too tall for this…bending and stooping…to look under the bed!” She muttered to herself.

“Err…I’m not sure that’s a good idea. I can’t anyway. I’m, how do you say, allergic, to light,” the monster replied, trying not to sound apologetic.

“What? It is still night. No light out here. Look, we don’t have time. Either you get out on your own, or I pull you out.”

“Yeah, but you folks glow, so…”

“Ugh! Fine, hold on.” The angel snapped her fingers and a moment later her brilliant flowing robes turned a deep maroon like a rich curtain falling in front of a bright movie screen. “Now can you come out?”

After a few minutes, and considerable shuffling and grunting and scratching, the monster finally appeared from under the bed. The angel had never seen a monster before. He was squarer than square, with hands and feet sticking out directly from his torso, it seemed like. His long dirty nails were a tangled mess, with bits of threads and bedding stuck between then. “That explains the scratching sounds,” the angel thought to herself. And there was like a greenish…aura, for lack of a better word, around him.

“You know, it’s rude to stare,” the monster said, looking a little abashed.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I’ve never met a…err…one of you before,” she said, “Anyway, we don’t have much time. As you can see, the child has been taken.”

“Oh! That’s what you were saying – “Taken.” I was wondering what was with all the cake…Hold on, wait – you mean, you lost the kid?! But that’s your one and only job! Being the GUARDian angel and what not.” The monster was grinning, and picking the threads out of his nails as best he could. It annoyed the already annoyed angel.

“Not like you were successful in your duties,” she snapped.

He shook his head and tried to wag a finger. “Well, I’m only supposed to make sure they don’t walk around after being put to bed. So, technically…”

“Look, it doesn’t matter now. The point is, the kid’s been taken by the Zeigls. We need to get him back.”

“What?! You Let Aliens abduct your charge? Hahaha, this just keeps getting better and better.”

“I didn’t Let anyone do anything. And are you Actually happy about this, you…?!”

“Monster? Yeah, that’s what I am. Anyway, I don’t see why you dragged me out of there to tell me You failed at Your job. Aargh! Now I’ve got to report this…and oh! the paperwork. And here I thought angels were not supposed to be cruel.”

The angel was having a tough time trying to control the range of emotions she was feeling: anger, irritation, humiliation…“Look, please. I need your help.”

“Wait, what? Did you say you need my help? Why? You lot are as fast as thought…I’m sure that’s enough speed to catch up to the Zeigls. And then you can do your blinding light thing and…”

“That’s just it. I’m only as fast as the kid I’m with. And proximity is essential. No kid, no speed. Unlike you guys, who are, you know, independent of your charges.”

“Yes, that’s true. We are superior…”

“Different…” the angel tried to correct.

“Superior…like that,” the monster continued, “but what’s in it for me?”

“I don’t know…you’d be helping someone in need. Isn’t that reason enough?”

“Err…no. That’s a good reason Not to do it,” he shuddered and continued, “just think of all the jeering I’d have to face…”

“How about bragging rights? You’d be the monster to get closest to a child And an angel. Without getting burned or crushed or whatever it is that happens to you all when you get close to angels or children.”

“Hmmm….”

The angel brightened up, “yes, yes, appeal to his vanity,” she thought to herself. “Imagine,” she said, out loud, “you’d be the greatest, most fearless, and undeniably, the most formidable…,” here, she paused and looked down at his square one-and-a-half foot form, tangled nails and all, which reminded her of a ball of yarn after a cat was done with it, more than anything else. But she saw that her words were reaching his brain, so continued bravely, “MONSTER of ALL time!”

“Hmmm, yes. That does have some appeal,” he said, “Alright, fine, what the hell. I’ll do it. I’ll help you, out of the…err…superiority of my race.”

The angel cringed. “Great! Thank you!” She said, “Alright. Here’s the plan – you take me to the Zeigls ship, and when we are close enough to the child, I should be able to sense his thoughts. Then, I can use my powers to extract him and bring him back home.”

“Sounds simple enough, except for the logistics of How I’m to take you.”

“Yes, well, I know the height difference is a bit…umm…awkward…”

“No! Not that,” the monster said, impatiently, “the problem…is not…the height difference.” And as he said that, the room filled up with green smog. When it cleared, the coughing, sputtering angel saw the square-shaped monster had transformed into a creature almost as tall as her – still greenish but nice to look at. “Almost dapper,” the angel thought.

“As I was saying…height is not the issue. It’s how to take you without getting, err, sick,” he continued, “and by the way, it’s still rude to stare.”

“Ahem. Yes, s..sorry,” the angel blushed, “well…how about if you touched the very end of my robes? Would that work?”

“I guess so,” the monster said uncertainly, looking at her flowing robes.

“Here, I could make this bit longer…,” she said, holding up one end of her sash, “as long as you wish. I mean whatever’s a comfortable length for you.”

“Alright. Let’s give it a shot.” The monster gingerly held one end of the sash with the tips of his fingers. A jolt passed through him, and the monster hoped he’d keep his dinner down. Thankfully, the feeling passed, and he felt better than he remembered.

“Are you alright?” He could hear her voice asking him, but it sounded fuzzy or hum-y – like a song.

“Yes, I think so,” he said. He was starting to feel a bit confused. “Let’s do a trial. I’ll try to take us out of the room.”

“To the roof, if you don’t mind. Don’t want to scare the parents,” the angel said.

“Of course,” the monster, agreed. “What?!” a little voice said inside his head, “why wouldn’t you want to scare the parents?! That’s what monsters do!”

He shook his head, this was getting very muddly. “Stand still,” he said to the angel. He concentrated, and closed his eyes. The air around him buzzed.

Nothing.

He opened his eyes. They were still standing in the kid’s room. The angel was looking at him expectantly. “Let’s try one more time.” Again he concentrated, closed his eyes. This time there were a few feeble sparks. But, no movement.

“Alright,” he sighed, “I guess you need to be closer.”

The angel inched a little closer to the monster. He shuddered; he felt weaker and stronger at the same time. “We don’t have much time left,” he could hear her saying, or singing. Everything sounded like singing all of a sudden! And that irked him and made him feel good.

He’d never be able to explain what he did next, not even to himself. In a second, he was standing beside her. “Just don’t start glowing,” he said to her as the air around them started crackling. His fingertips touched hers, and then, in a flash, they disappeared.

The angel felt dizzy and then everything, including her thoughts, turned black. She fought through and slowly the darkness started to fade. When her mind finally cleared she found herself, complete with glowing robes, floating in space. She could see the Zeigls ship a little distance away, and more importantly, feel the boy’s dreams. “Good, he’s still sleeping,” she thought to herself, “but where’s the m…”

She turned around to find the monster, as though thrown away from her, face and body contorted with pain. She realized it was her robes, and instantly turned them maroon. She went as close as she dared to the monster, “Are you ok? How can I help?”

“A little better now you stopped glowing,” he said irritably, “gah! It’s the one thing I asked you NOT to do!”

“I’m so sorry,” she said, “sometimes it’s involuntary.” She felt really terrible. He seemed to be in a lot of pain. She wanted to do something to help, but didn’t know what.

He gurgled something. She leaned closer, “Sorry, didn’t catch that. What?”

“Ugh! Didn’t you say something about time running out?” he snapped, with some effort.

“Oh! Yes, of course! I’ll go get the boy.”

“Yes, go!” he muttered, as she flew towards the ship, “Give me some space.” He heaved a sigh. She was now out of sight. “Those Zeigls don’t know what they are in for,” he thought. Then he gathered his scattered, confused thoughts and screamed. As he screamed, he felt strength spread through his limbs, healing his body, toughening his muscles, extending out of his fingertips to form razor-sharp talons; till he was his full glorious self – a monster to fear.

When the angel returned carrying the sleeping boy, instead of the crumpled heap she had left, she found the almost-dapper monster floating about lazily as though on a hammock, whistling a tune, or something that sounded like a tune.

“Took you long enough,” he grinned, “Shall we back to bed then?” And before she could respond, he took her hand and flashed back into the boy’s room.

“Don’t drop him now,” she heard him say through her disorientation, and she just knew he had that obnoxious grin on his face.

She put the boy back in bed gently, pulled the covers over his arms. She turned to look at the monster, now standing a respectful distance away from her.

“Thank you,” she said quietly, and smiled.

“Oh no, thank You for screwing up at your job. Or I never would’ve had this adventure,” he said in a way that grated on her nerves.

Still, she smiled. “Happy to help in any way.”

They stood there for a minute in silence, looking at the boy. He’d, incredibly, slept through the whole thing. Probably thought it was some amazing dream. Both the monster and the angel, in their own minds, thought about how this sound sleeper had changed everything without doing anything.

“My name is Gwoirah,” the angel said, “My friends call me Goopy.”

The monster sniggered. “Goopy.”

“Moanclaw,” he said, a moment later, “I’m Moanclaw. So I guess back to work then?”

“Yes, I suppose so,” Gwoirah said, as the room began filling with green smog.

When it cleared, she found the squat, square, awkward-looking monster standing at the end of the bed.

“What? Work clothes,” he said, “you know, you really need to stop staring.”

“Yes, of course. Sorry, Moanclaw. Will work on that,” she said.

“Also, yeah…ermm…my friends call me Moopy,” he said, and shuffled on under the bed.

Gwoirah smiled. “They’re not so bad,” she thought to herself as she drifted away.

 


In response to this prompt.

Hiding in Plain Sight

“Until the day I die, I’ll never forget those glassy, unblinking eyes,” she said, pausing. Then, after a moment more of looking out of the kitchen window in front of her, she sighed and resumed cutting the vegetables for dinner.

I looked around. I’d heard the story before.

“Come on, Shirl,” I said, getting up from the breakfast table in her kitchen and moving towards the bookshelf. “Let’s talk about something else. Who are the new guy and company?”

She turned around briefly to look at the picture I was looking at. “Oswalt,” she said, “Do you like him?”

“Looks alright. Married, I’m sure, judging by the ‘ready-to-run’ look in his eyes,” I said, turning around. She burst out laughing, and I remembered why I came to see her year after year. It was that laughter. Not that it was elegant, or like tinkling bells, or any of those other mushy romantic things they write about a woman’s laugh. But it was…it was honest, like everything else about her. And after a year of breathing the lie that was my life otherwise, I would crave a whiff of that honesty.

Maybe it comes from growing up together. Technically, we only ever spent summers together. The rest of the year, we lived in two different worlds. But when you’re a kid, your whole life is that summer vacation. We never talked about the rest of the year. Just picked up where we left off, as though someone had just un-paused us. The only time that unwritten rule was broken was when she first told me the story six years ago, over a bottle of vodka and three boxes of tissues.

“Another drink, Dani?” She was standing next to me, looking at my face intently. I realized I’d been staring at the collage of painting cut-outs over her desk.

“Yes, I’d like that, thanks,” I said, smiling at her.

She took the empty glass from my hand and poured me another drink. “Why don’t you sit down? You look really tired.” She handed me the glass and motioned me to the sofa. It was a small apartment, with the rooms melting into each other. The only doors were the bedroom and the bathroom doors. I looked around again. The apartment was full of her, it was her open book.

She sat on the other end of the sofa and started telling me about what she’d planned for us for the next few days. I stopped listening again. Instead, I heard a 17-year-old Shirley sobbing. It was how the summer started that year. I’d just met her parents out on the beach, and they’d said she was in her first-floor room. I found her between the bed and her nightstand on the far side of room, hugging her knees and shivering and sobbing. I felt a sharp pain in my chest and then my heart broke. Later, as I sat there next to her having moved the nightstand more to the corner, holding her, I looked around the room trying to understand what had happened. Nothing seemed out of place.

I snapped back to the present. She was still talking about plans for the next few days, and all I wanted was to sit squeezed between the bed and the nightstand, sobbing, with her holding me close.

“Or we could just stay home,” I said.

“And do what? You hate the indoors.”

“We could talk.”

She smiled. “About what? What do you want to talk about?”

We could catch up. We never catch up. We only meet and do things together. We could talk about what happened in the meantime, I wanted to say.

“You never told me why you stopped sketching.”

She laughed again. “You never asked,” she said playfully. It made me smile.

***

I couldn’t sleep. I got out of bed and found myself once again staring at the collage above her desk. A portrait of the man of sorrows; a pair of hands; the feet of a kneeling man, the portrait of a Venetian woman, another old woman, a few self-portraits of an intense looking artist. And there, almost covered by all the other pictures, was a sketch – a half-finished female nude.

 

More Than a Nightmare

“Lena! Lena! Elena!!”

Lena found herself back in the room, gasping for breath. She sat up straight, trying to steady herself with her hands, coughing and sputtering for air. She could still feel it – the darkness and the water closing in on her. The headlights of the car had flickered before dying out.

“You’re safe. You’re safe now, Lena,” she heard the man saying, “Here, have a sip of this.” He handed her a glass with clear liquid that tasted like burnt orange. “Feeling better?”

She nodded slightly, and handed the glass back.

“What did you see?”

“I…I don’t know.” She started to feel the panic rising again.

“Okay, okay,” he said, trying to soothe her, “Take a deep breath. Just…relax.”

She breathed in a long, ragged breath, and leaned back.

“Now, remember, you are safe here. When you are ready, just start anywhere…”

Elena took another deep breath, closed her eyes. “Think of me; think of this room to come back” she heard him say.

“I have no story to be told,” She began, “they are just…At first, I just thought they were dreams, you know. They seemed so…well, nothing like my life.”

“mmhmmm.”

“I mean, I live in an apartment. In fact, I’ve never lived in a house with a backyard, or a sandbox. I’d see toys, little buckets and shovels. I would wake up at the sound of a cat I don’t have. Flashes of dinners in ovens, open refrigerators, school buses…it was all so strange.

“Then, it started encroaching into my life, you know. I would have periods of time I couldn’t remember anything about, save for these images of a house with a backyard. No people. I never saw any children, or men or women. Just the house, and the things in it.

“Slowly, I started feeling things. A child tugging at my T-shirt, a man caressing the back of my neck, an ache in my stomach, a cut on my finger. I thought I was going crazy. Then it got worse.”

“You had the nightmare…?” he asked, softly.

“It was more than a nightmare. The only time that I’ve seen a full sequence of…of…,” she sighed, “I don’t know what to call it. But it was the only time it was not a series of broken images without a sequence,” she said, “And I didn’t just see it, I…” Elena struggled against the panic that was coming on again.

“Alright, alright, Lena. I know this is not easy for you. But I promise you, this is going to help. Why don’t you have another sip of this drink,” he said, offering her the glass again. “Come on, now,” he coaxed her, “just a little sip.”

“No,” she shook her head. “I can’t do this anymore. Not today. I…I can’t relive it.”

“But it wasn’t real, Lena. You said it yourself,” He said, trying to calm her down. “Whatever you saw…felt. You said, that it was nothing like your life.”

She shook her head no. It was not just a nightmare – the desperation she’d felt, the fear, the screams of agony. No. She shook her head. “No. I can’t. I just…I can’t. I can’t help feeling…”

“Alright, okay, okay,” the man said, “You don’t have to. We’ll stop. Okay? Calm down. You’re safe here, remember? Breathe…take a deep breath. There. Again…” His voice soothed her fraught nerves, and she felt herself calming down.

Ten minutes later, she was walking down the busy street in the fading light. The clouds shifted, casting an ominous shadow on the ground. The city was expecting rains, but that didn’t slow anyone down. Elena was still shaken from the session and just wanted to get home.

She looked over her shoulder. “No one is watching me,” she told herself. She had to believe that. She couldn’t keep living like this. She kept walking till she reached the bridge. She leaned against the railing and looked at the waters below her.

Her nightdress had got caught on the door stop. She tugged it free, ripping the hem, and ran to the end of the backyard. There, near the freshly planted rose bushes, she started digging with her bare hands.

Elena shook herself out of the vision. The bridge, the waters. This was real. She put on her headphones and turned up the volume till the music drowned out everything else.

At the other end, a car’s tires screeched, skidded dangerously close to oncoming traffic and flew off the bridge.

——————————————–

Word Count: 749

Trusting a Stranger

He looked up at the sky. Summer was definitely here. The days were getting longer, and felt like an eternity. Business was slow too. No one had the energy or inclination to deal with the heat any more than they had to. He was used to seeing stony expressions. But in the summer, these faces spoke a different story. The studied arrogance gave way to the tiresomeness and strain of everyday life. He made his way through the crowd, he had exactly 3 minutes to make the most of before he would be forced to get out of the way. With a time frame like that, he had to be very sure who he wanted to spend time on and who pass over.

As a rule, he always passed over the women. They might be stylishly dressed and driving expensive cars, but they almost always hesitated to buy anything without approval. He didn’t have time for hesitation. He’d learnt that the hard way. But sometimes, on a whim, he would stop by some of the women. Not the really attractive ones, never the really attractive ones. They looked through you. No. He’d pause at the mediocre ones, the ones who are too worried to make eye contact, who shift ever so slightly when he approached them. Even if they were in a car, with the windows up.

This woman, for example. She looks about average, but is dressed well. Wears sunglasses and sits behind the wheel of a vehicle you don’t normally see a woman driving – windows up, air conditioning on, looking ahead at the traffic light. He could see that she was listening to music by the way she was tapping her fingers on the wheel. He could say anything to her, she wouldn’t know. He leaned close to her window, held up the roll of sun film he was selling today and said, “I can help you escape the life you are trapped in. If you can just trust a stranger,” in a voice just above a whisper. She startled him by turning and looking straight into his eyes, as though she’d heard what he said. Then she shook her head absently and turned away.

He stood there looking at her for a moment longer, unable to shake the feeling that she’d heard him. Then he pulled himself swiftly away and into the crowd.