March 12, 2010

Artwork by Lauren T. Hart

Elizabeth watched Iona's chest slowly rise and fall. She cursed herself silently. She knew that if their situations had been reversed, Iona wouldn't be sitting in the dark watching her sleep. She would be doing something. Fighting. Iona had always been the strong one, the daring one. Elizabeth would have envied her had she not admired her so much for it.

She considered her options.

There was only one other way out of Iona's bedroom and that was the window. She knew that Iona had climbed out the same window more than a time or two; those had been the nights she'd showed up at Elizabeth's bedroom window and climbed into bed with her. Nightmares had always been her excuse, and until the night Iona had kissed her she'd believed that's all it was.

Nightmares were something they shared, though Elizabeth could barely remember hers, as soon as she woke the dream would slip from her mind, leaving her terrified, and often in tears, but without the recollection as to why. But Iona remembered her dreams, and they stayed with her long after she'd woken. They had talked some about the dreams, but as soon as Iona discovered that Elizabeth had no memory of them, she had been reluctant to share.

"Some things are better left forgotten." Iona had told her, and that had been the end of it.

Elizabeth crossed to the window. It was already open about six inches. She turned the latch securing it in place and as quietly as she could, opened it the rest of the way. She poked her head out of the window and looked down. It looked far. She looked around the window to see if she could figure out how exactly Iona had managed to climb out the window and then down the side of her house so many times before, but there was nothing that she saw. How had she done it all those times?

Iona moaned, then whimpered softly behind her, but Elizabeth couldn't bring herself to turn and look at her. "If your angel is there, I'll bring him to you." Elizabeth said.

She knew that if she allowed herself to think about what she was doing, her fear would get the best of her so she went without thinking. First one leg, then the other, gripping tightly to the edge of the window, she quickly lowered herself out and down. When she had lowered herself down as far as she could she paused for just a moment, securing her grip then she kicked away from the house and let go of the windowpane. She hit the ground with a thud, and an unintentional "Ooof!" but she was unhurt.

A noise from inside the house caught her attention. She righted herself as quickly as she could, seeking shelter against the side of the house.

"Hello?" a weepy voice whispered exiting the back door and coming to a stop on the small porch.

It was Mrs. Dearing. Elizabeth held as still as she could hoping not to be seen in the dim light.

"Are you there?" Mrs. Dearing's voice and eyes strained through the darkness. "I was so worried. Please... please forgive me," she buried her face in her hands.

It was then that Elizabeth noticed that Mrs. Dearing held what looked to be a necklace between her hands. The pendant was a large medallion with a sizable blue stone in the center. It looked like a sapphire, but the stone was rounded and smooth, not cut the way she had seen other sapphires. The markings on the medallion looked to be the same as on the wooden box she'd found under the mattress of Iona's bed. She moved her head for a closer look.

Mrs. Dearing turned with a start. "Elizabeth?" she gasped, her eyes darting about the yard, then up to Iona's window, then back to Elizabeth again. "How did you get out here?"

"I... I climbed out the window." Elizabeth confessed, defeated.

"Why?" Mrs. Dearing shot a nervous glance toward her daughter's bedroom window.

"I... I told Iona I would find her... Angel," she bit her lip, ashamed by her own foolishness. "I had to do something," she explained. "I couldn't just let her die thinking I hadn't done everything I could."

Mrs. Dearing raced from the porch, coming to stand close to Elizabeth. "Do you think you can do it?" her eyes pleaded.

Elizabeth took a sharp breath in, trying to accept the odd non-reality of the situation as complete fact. As if it were some kind of game. "I have to try." Elizabeth said, feeling very dutiful. "Iona is my dearest friend," she added.

"I was scrying to find his location when I heard you. All I saw were iron bars. You don't think?"

Elizabeth nodded. "Iona and I used the OuiJa, it told us he was in the Whitacker basement."

"Dear God." Mrs. Dearing's hand went to her throat. "I can't let you to do this," she said after a moment. "It's too dangerous."

"I won't let you stop me." Elizabeth said. "If there's even the slightest chance of saving Iona, I have to take it."

"Iona is lucky to have you." Mrs. Dearing said. "Here, take this with you." She raised her arms, slipping the necklace and sizable medallion over Elizabeth's head. "Bring it back when you bring the Angel, and may God be with you both." she said, then turned abruptly and rushed into the house.

The medallion was large and heavy, it caught the moonlight and reflected a bright blue. She quickly stuffed it down the front of her blouse. It clinked softly against the gaudy cross as she darted across the yard.

She tried to look as inconspicuous as a young girl walking alone at such an hour could look. She did her best to keep out of sight and walked as quickly as she could, even breaking into a full run a time or two, then slowing again to a walk, panting and cursing herself for being so soft. She picked up her speed again as she neared Walker Lane and rounded the corner onto Ashby Court.

At least half a dozen motorcars were parked in front of the Sheriff's house. And Elizabeth recognized more than a couple of them, including her father's.

She crouched down, as if this would some how make her less visible and tiptoed as quickly as she could toward the side entrance of the house, the servant's entrance. She tried the handle. It was unlocked. She opened the door and slipped quietly inside, just as another vehicle rounded the corner.

She was surprised to find the kitchen empty and dark, but perhaps Sheriff Whitacker had given his house staff the night off.

The house had been originally built to serve as both a home as well as a police station, but was now used only as a residence.

Elizabeth moved silently through the kitchen, and down the servant's hall that led to the stairs. Stopping when she heard voices in the room next to her. The front door was opened.

"This way," said a voice she would have sworn belonged to Lyle Dearing.

The voices in the other room, all male, exchanged pleasantries, "Are you sure it's not dead?" asked a voice she didn't recognize.

"Of course I'm sure," said another, whose distinctive inability to say his R's masked by a British accent could only have been Dr. Stanley. "It had no pulse, no blood, no breath, but the damned thing lives,"

"Perhaps you should let me have a go at him." Boomed the voice of Sheriff Whitacker.

Elizabeth's stomach turned, and for a moment she thought she was going to be sick. Every part of her wanted to turn and run, but she couldn't. She had to save Iona. She had to find the angel. She swallowed her fear, and hurried as quick as she could toward the basement stairs.

Her heart nearly leaped from her chest as she spotted a broad figure standing at the bottom of the stairs. It was Randall Quigley. His back was toward her but he turned, crooking his ear in her direction, squinting in the dim light. She held as still as she could, not daring to move even an inch, for fear that he might see her.

Randall held a gun in one hand and a lantern in the other. Elizabeth looked around for something she might be able to arm herself with. She saw nothing but stone steps and wood railing.

"Randall?" she whispered.

Randall turned with a start, raising both his gun and the lantern at her.

"For lands sake, it's only me." Elizabeth kept her tone low. "Put that gun down."

"What? What are you doing here?" Randall eyed her as he wedged his gun into the front of his pants.

"I sneaked in." she shrugged and continued down the stairs. "I was supposed to wait in the kitchen, but I overheard them talking and..."

"And what?"

"And..." she shrugged, casting her eyes around the small space, catching site of a supply of garden tools piled in one corner. "I want see it. This thing they've captured."

"I don't think that's a very good idea, Lizzie, now you go on back upstairs."

Elizabeth pouted. "Oh, come on Randall, Please?" she stepped toward him, "You're not scared are you?"

"Course I'm not scared." Randall grimaced. "I'm the one down here guarding it aren't I?"

She smiled at him.

"It's too dangerous Lizzie."

Elizabeth stepped around him toward the garden tools, and picked up a heavy shovel.

"What are you doing?"

"You've got a gun, I've got this... What could happen? Come on Randall. I promise not to scream or act all girly. I just... want to see it."

Randall shook his head at her. "I don't know."

She slid up close to him and put her arm on his shoulder, sliding it down the length of his arm. "Besides, you're so big and strong, I know you'll protect me." She met his eyes and flashed a nervous smile.

"Okay." Randall said. "But you'd better not make a peep, or else we'll both be in trouble." 

"Not a peep. I promise."

Randall managed a smirk as he grabbed a set of keys from the wall and started toward the far end of the room. He unlocked a barred door that led them down a short hallway, which then turned back so that they were headed in the direction they'd first come from. Strong wooden doors, with heavy hinges and iron bars bolted over small windows lined one side of the hall.

A pungently sweet smell assaulted her senses.

"Smell that?" Randall smiled at her over his shoulder. "That's its blood."

"Whu - Where is it?" Elizabeth stammered.

"There." Randall motioned with the hand that held the lantern. "Last one."

She crept past him and peered into the dark cell. Two small brown orbs, glinted in the darkness, like the eyes of an animal caught in a flicker of dim light.

"I-" Elizabeth gasped. "It's too dark." She turned to Randall, reaching for the lantern.

She held it up next to the barred windows and peered inside. It was still quite dark but she could make out the form of a man chained to the far wall. His head hung down, his clothes tattered and soiled with blood and dirt."

"It's just a man," she grumbled.

"He looks like one." Randall said. "But trust me, that's no man. He has fangs-"

"Fangs?" Elizabeth shook her head at him. "Well, so does Rory Pike."

Randall snorted a laugh. "Not like these. And his eyes... I've never seen anything like them, they shine like metal, like a dirty penny.... except dirty pennies don't shine."

She'd seen his eyes, but lied. "Well, all I see is a man." Elizabeth said.

The man lifted his head to her then, his eyes glinting in the dim cast of light. His features were worn, but strong and solid and even beautiful.

"Are you the Angel?" Elizabeth whispered.

"That's enough, Lizzie." Randall pulled at her. "Look, you wanted to see, I let you see, now we'd better get back before they come down here and find you here, now come on."

"I guess you're right," Elizabeth conceded, biting her lip.

As soon as Randall's back was turned she set the lantern on the floor, hoisted the shovel above her, and brought it down as hard as she could on his head. The shovel clunked loudly against his skull. The blow caused Randall to drop his gun. He turned toward her, staggering, he grabbed at her neck, pulling at her blouse. She felt something like a popping snap on the back of her neck as she took a step back and lifted the shovel again. This second blow first smacked Randall's raised arm and then his head. He fell to the ground, moaning. She hit him one more time for good measure before reaching to her neck to insure that blue stoned amulet was still there. Then she bent forward and retrieved the keys from Randall's side. Her fingers fumbling through them, trying each one until she found the one that unlocked the heavy door. She had to put all her weight into it as she heaved the door open.

The sickly sweet smell was even stronger inside the room. The walls were covered in dark sprays of liquid, she was sure it was the source of the sweet smell, It was on her shoes, thick and dark, like molasses, but the smell was far sweeter.

"Angel?" she said as she crossed the room.

"Who are you?" the man growled.

"I- I'm a friend of Iona's," she managed. Then remembering the pendant, she pulled it out from under her blouse.

"Where did you get that?" he said, his voice cracking.

There was no longer a doubt in her mind that he was their angel. "Mrs. Dearing," she said, setting the lantern down on the floor, trying to avoid the thick layer of sticky molasses, as she unlocked the shackles at his ankles and wrists. "I promised Iona I would come and find you. She's-"

"She's dying," he finished. "Poisoned would be my guess."

"Can you save her?" Elizabeth asked, reaching across him to unlock the final shackle.

The man jumped to his feet, pulling her up with him. "Stay here," he said. "Don't follow me and don't touch anything I will be back for you in a moment. Do you understand?"

Elizabeth nodded.

"Promise me." he grumbled.

"I promise."

He took the keys from her and crossed the room in long strides. She kept her promise and didn't follow, but she strained her ears to listen. She heard Randall groan, the clinking of keys and the door of the next cell over being wrenched open. It was quiet for a moment, a long moment, she strained her ears but she heard nothing except the sound of her own breathing. And then he was there, at the door.

"Come," he said.

She picked up the lantern and started toward the door. She held it up between them, hoping to get another glimpse of his strange metallic eyes, but they were just eyes. Brown and simple, just like hers. He took the lantern from her, and tossed it back into the room, which immediately erupted in flames. In the light of the fire she saw that the thick liquid couldn't have been molasses. It was red and apparently highly flammable.

The man grabbed her by the arm and hurried her down the hall and back to the small room at the bottom of the stairs. It was dark in the basement with no light other than the blaze he'd set in the cell, but she could tell that he was tall, broad shouldered and strong, with dark hair.

"How did you get in here?" the man asked.

"Servant's entrance."

"Stay close," he ordered.

She nodded, taking his hand in hers. He met her eyes for the briefest moment, taking her in, and then they started up the stairs together, down the hall, through the kitchen and out.

Elizabeth breathed a sigh of relief.

"We're not out of the woods yet," he said, pulling her away from the house, away from the street and down an alleyway between two houses. They traveled as fast as Elizabeth could go, slowing periodically for her to catch her breath. Elizabeth noticed that the man never seemed to need to catch his breath and she worried that she was slowing him down. Her lungs ached, her legs burned, and she was sure her feet were blistered and probably bleeding. "This way," she panted, pulling him across the neighbor's yard. "Mr. Dearing. Is on the landing. Outside her room. With a gun," she said breathlessly.

He nodded. "Wait here," he said as they crouched at the edge of the yard.

"The window is the only way," she said, grabbing hold of his hand. "I pushed the couch in front of the door."

"And then you climbed down?"

"No. I had to jump. I don't know how we're going to get back up there, maybe a ladder."

"Come," he pulled her to her feet and they started across the yard.

Elizabeth gasped when she saw it, the wood and rope ladder hanging down the side of the house from Iona's bedroom window.

"What is it?" the man froze.

"That wasn't here before." Elizabeth said.

"Wait over there," he said, motioning toward a larger shrub. "I'll make sure it's safe. Watch for my signal."

She nodded, hurrying to hide. When she turned back, the yard was empty. Her eyes went immediately to Iona's window. It occurred to her at that moment that perhaps she should have gotten more information about the signal she was supposed to be watching for.

The window was dark, and then, a moment later he appeared, and motioned her for her to come. She didn't hesitate, crossing the space between them as quickly as she could. She climbed, trying to move as quickly and as quietly as she could.

"Give me your hand." Came the stern voice of the man, reaching out of the window toward her.

She grasped a hold of his hand and he lifted her almost effortlessly into the window.

"Pull up the ladder," he instructed, "I'm sure she hides it in that bottom drawer." He motioned without looking. "Then fetch me some water for her."

Elizabeth did as she was instructed, while the man went carefully to the edge of the bed, where Iona was laying at an odd angle on top of the covers. Elizabeth watched him, as she secured the ladder, feeling a little bit stupid that she'd leaped from the window when there had been a ladder all along. And poor Iona, it had probably been such an effort for her to put it in place she hadn't had the strength to even lift the covers and climb back into bed properly. She kicked off her shoes near the dresser, her feet sore, but happy to be free of the confines of her shoes. Then hurried across the room for the water.

The man held Iona's hand to his face, breathing her in deeply, Iona gasped then sighed as he pressed his mouth against the palm of her hand, almost as if he were kissing her palm. Elizabeth watched him intently.

"Can you help her?" Elizabeth whispered.

He didn't acknowledge her, except to reach out his hand for the glass of water. He took the glass from her, then took a drink from it, and then another, he swirled the water around in his mouth then spit it back into the glass.

Elizabeth grimaced at the sight. But she had no idea how Angel magic worked; all she could do was trust him.

"Iona," he lifted the glass to her lips. "You must drink this." He turned to Elizabeth when Iona didn't respond. "Help," was all he said. All he needed to say.

She climbed up onto the bed, "Iona please." Elizabeth whispered. "It's the Angel, he's come to help you." She took the glass from the man and held it to Iona's lips. "You have to drink this."

Iona stirred, her eyes fluttering briefly and then she did drink. After a few minutes, Iona opened her eyes and smiled at Elizabeth, and then noticing the pendant she reached out and cupped it in her hand. Elizabeth slipped the necklace from around her neck, and Iona pulled it close to her chest, turning then to look at her angel, with tears in her eyes.

"She'll be alright now," the man said. "Make sure she drinks all of it," he added.

Elizabeth nodded. "Thank you," she said to the man.

His face took on an odd expression, and he nodded, then he leaned across the bed, and cupped her chin in his hand, lifting her chin toward him, his eyes warm and inviting, and then he kissed her, coaxing her lips apart with his own, and gently touching her tongue with his.

The taste of him was intoxicating, sweet, and savory at the same time. Passion swirled in the pit of her belly, causing her to feel lightheaded. He pulled away from her and stood. She held his gaze for a long moment then turned her attention back to Iona. When she turned back, he was gone. Gone as if he'd never been there at all. Elizabeth set her attention back on Iona. Maybe she was just imagining it, but she could have sworn that the color was coming back into Iona's cheeks. Iona woke enough to drink the rest of the water, and then she asked for more.

"It's not as sweet," Iona commented.

"Everything alright in there?" Mr. Dearing tapped on the door.

"Yes, everything is fine." Elizabeth called back. "Iona just needed some water."

It was a long moment before Mr. Dearing responded and Elizabeth wasn't sure if he was still standing at the door until he did. "Come open this door." He growled.

Elizabeth hurried across the room, yanking the blanket from the couch and draping it over her shoulders before pushing the couch out of the way. She wrapped the blanket around her and opened the door.

Mr. Dearing shoved past her, scanning the dimly lit room. "Why is this window open?" he demanded.

"Iona was hot." Elizabeth responded. "She tried to open it her self." Elizabeth continued as Mr. Dearing's eyes traveled to Iona lying on her bed atop the covers. "She was delirious. I suppose she didn't realize I was here and could open it for her, until I got up and helped her back to bed."

Iona played her part by pretending to be unconscious. Mr. Dearing eyed Elizabeth, and the blanket wrapped around her.

"You were hot huh? Then what's with the blanket?"

Was he was trying to catch her in a lie? Dolt. "No sir, Iona was hot. I'm cold." Elizabeth pulled the blanket tighter around her. "I suspect she may have a fever."

Mrs. Dearing came in the room just then. "Has something happened?" her brow furrowed toward her husband. "I heard you on the telephone."

"Never you mind." He said. "Tend to your daughter."

Mrs. Dearing nodded, then hurried to Iona's bedside, feeling her head, and tucking her legs back under the covers.

Mr. Dearing stormed past Elizabeth and down the stairs.

Iona lifted her hand from beneath the covers to reveal the large blue pendant and offered it to her mother. Mrs. Dearing took the pendant, and slipped it over Iona's head, then cradled her daughter in her arms, as they both cried. "Thank you Lizzie, thank you." Mrs. Dearing repeated to her at least a dozen times.

Elizabeth sank back onto the couch, tired and relieved she slipped into a dreamless sleep.

 

Chapter 11 - A Chance In Hell

(c) copyright 2010-2016 Lauren T. Hart