False Dawn #8: “Lights Out”
Part Two of Three: Birds of the Flare
Short Story Format
Devin Leigh Michaels
FALLS CHURCH, VIRGINIA
Okay, I still haven’t said why I hate Reger.
Have some patience, will you? I’m getting there.
SO! We’re surrounded by this moshpit of robot-suited commandos and quasi-super federal agents, and out of no where, this flying blue-fire were-phoenix shows up. Now, you’d think Casia would be going crazy. I mean, really, how many of these creatures can there be? (No offense, Casia, but creature, monster, fire-breathing bird—they’re all not good names.)
All she can say is: “Reger?”
Of course she knows him. Why wouldn’t she? I mean, I know all the brown-haired male fourteen year olds in America, too.
And the blue-fire phoenix, of course, glances back at her with this confident and oh-so-suave smirk.
“I always know when you need me, hottie.”
I just know Casia’s going to give it to him. They’ll be nothing left of his blue-fire ass because she doesn’t even let Lance call her “dame.”
But she only smiles hopefully. “Reger…I thought—I had—How could—”
I whirl to Lance, whose face tenses. The blue flames cast a dark scowl upon his features, but a moment later, the tension melts. He says nothing, only watches the exchange between the two were-phoenixes.
Am I the only one lost here?
A green laser zips past Reger, and he hardly avoids the shot. He whirls and points with a blue-fired finger, which shoots dark flames and cuts off the approaching army from us.
“GO!” he screams. “I’ll take care of these people!”
“No!” Casia takes flight as Sierra claps her hands to disperse of Reger’s flames. Casia retaliates with her own fire. “Lance, get—”
“Got it!” Lance clamps his hand down on my shoulder and thumbs backward. “Let’s go.”
“But what about—”
Lance jerks me back and drags me along with him. “Let the birds have their fun.”
Glancing back, I only catch a glimpse of the action as methodically, Casia and Reger work through the forces. One creates a wall of flames; the other melts the weapons in the soldiers’ hands.
They’re really good, better than Lance, Casia, and me when we fight. It’s as if they know what each other’s thinking.
Lance redirects my attention toward him, and I follow him into a used car dealership lot. Tacky flags hang from the light poles while a huge sign stretches across the front of the building, reading, “Clunkers for Cash.”
Lance weaves between the cars as if searching for Bumblebee from Transformers. In this lot, he should be happy if he can find a car that works.
“Lance—LANCE—just pick one!”
Lance shakes his head. “No, it’s gotta be something with…” He stops in front of a red 1990s Mustang. “…power.”
My mom has a saying. “Mustang drivers are insane.”
She’s right. Sure enough, as soon as Lance gets behind the wheel, he guns the engine, and I hold on for dear life.
“WHOO-HOO!” Lance exclaims as the tires peel behind us, and the Mustang mows down the small fence preventing cars from being stolen.
“They really should have better security, get cameras or something,” I rationalize and sit back in the seat.
Lance slaps me on the shoulder. “Now you’re thinking right.”
Stealing cars, blowing up diners and drug stores, breaking and entering—yeah, I can just see my rap sheet growing.
Twin flashes of blue and red lights burn the dark sky behind us. Two heavy thumps dent the roof, and Reger’s face appears in Lance’s window a second later. Lance remains calm, as if he expected it and hits the window down.
“I know a place we can hide,” Reger huffs. “Follow me.”
He takes off and flies before the Mustang. Casia burns the sky next to him, and they soar side-by-side for a long moment before their hands touch. Casia pulls back, as if she burnt herself, which really isn’t possible, but Reger persists until their blue and red flames create purple.
I sit back in my seat with my arms crossed and look at Lance. He looks normal as if we’re just going to another site to look for Mom and Uncle Connor.
“And just like that, we follow him?”
“He’s a friend of Casia,” Lance says evenly, “and I trust Casia.”
“And what they’re doing—it doesn’t bother you at all?”
He meets my eyes for a second, his as innocent as they will ever get. “Should it?”
I redirect my eyes out the window. “…uh, yeah.”
It bothers me.
In the cramped office, a coffee mug barely misses Skylar’s face as it shatters against the wall. A similar projectile shatters a few millimeters before Towne’s nose in mid-air.
Skylar sticks out her tongue. Towne arches an eyebrow.
“You two think this is funny?”
The two agents snapped to attention at their boss. “No, Director,” Skylar replies, “but we employed the best the agency has to offer.”
“And what did it get you? Paterson’s at the garage, thanks to his own suit, and Sierra’s in debriefing. She said there was a fourth with LaCroux, Sterling, and Dawson.”
“Yes, a second were-phoenix,” Towne adds with a smirk, “Agent McClaren.”
The Director fell back into his seat. “Agent McClaren?”
He waves a dismissive hand. “Keep me posted.”
Towne sticks out his tongue at Skylar as she rolls her eyes. “Will do, Director.”
The water’s so cold it burns. Still Lance grants me no mercy as he uses the hose in the kitchen sink.
“Alright, it’s all out,” I growl.
This is so embarrassing.
His rancorous fingers dig into my neck and keep me hunched over the sink. “Stop squirming, or it’ll be green. Is that what you want?”
“Then shut up and stay still.”
I kick back; he knees me in the butt, pinning me between him and the counter.
“Seriously. GREEN. Like puke green. I’m not kidding.”
After what feels like an eternity—my hair will snap off; I just know it—Lance turns off the facet and throws a towel over my head.
“Alright, NOW you’re done. Just don’t wash your hair for the next twenty-four hours.”
The towel scrunches out most of the water, and I take a deep breath, bracing myself. This is not going to be good.
“Oh, just do it already,” Lance leers.
“Least I’m not a wuss.”
I hesitate. “Don’t laugh.”
“Not a chance.”
He steals the towel from my head before I can stop him, and sure enough, he bursts hysterically. I dash to the nearest mirror, hating it before I even see it. Yup, it’s worse than I ever thought.
My hair. Blonde, and oh, no, not a natural blonde color like Bon Jovi or Kid Rock. Nope, it’s Brittany Spears’s blonde.
“I hate this, and I hate you.”
Still chuckling, Lance slaps me on the shoulder and throws the towel in the sink. “If it makes you feel any better, next time we’ll go red.”
“Drew Barrymore red in Charlie’s Angels, right?”
He heads into the living room. “Be good, or it’ll be Carrot Top red.”
The sweet scent of coffee and cookies greet us in the large living space. Having decorated it like a high socialite’s pad, Reger used few accessories for his apartment save an L-spaced couch, a few streamlined lamps, and large, velvet curtains to cover his floor-to-ceiling windows. The hardwood floors chill my bare feet as Lance and I enter to see one of the curtains open, framing Casia and Reger as they talk on the balcony. Tears sizzle as steam off Casia’s cheeks as Reger cups her hands in his and then pulls her head against his chest.
Her face is calm, content, and the way her cheek fits in the clef of his chest—they look perfect.
And so, so wrong.
“Who the hell is this guy?”
Lance follows my gaze before grabbing a remote off the coffee table and flipping on the TV. “You know how Casia spent her first fifty so years a captive of the Skadoian Warriors, right?”
“Yeah, before she escaped and made her way to New Jersey where Mom and Connor took her in.”
“Reger was another captive.” Lance plops down on the couch and crosses his legs on the coffee table. “He sacrificed himself, so Casia could escape. She thought he was dead.”
“No such luck, huh?” I save the cookies from the peril of Lance’s feet stench—farts pale in comparison—but he snatches the coffee from my hand.
“We’ve all lost people we love,” Lance admonishes and replaces the mug with a cup of hot chocolate. “Casia just got one back. Give her some lee—”
The door to the balcony creeks open. “Hey, Ral, Lance,” Casia begins, her fingers laced with the man’s behind her. “I’d like you to meet Reger McClaren. Reger, this is Lance Evans and Ral Dawson.”
“Lance Evans, huh?” Reger laughs, his silky voice a mixture of Brad Pitt and George Clooney. He comes around the couch to put out a hand. “Even I’ve heard of you.”
Lance takes the hand but doesn’t stand. “Who hasn’t? Hey, look, Ral. You haven’t hit Nancy Grace yet.”
Casia touches her forehead, exasperated, before leading Reger to me. Oh, I don’t want to be the nice one. “Reger, Ral’s mom and uncle were the ones who took me in after I escaped from the warriors.”
“Well, I see you’re returning the favor.” He shakes my hand, strong and firm, but not too hard as if to intimidate. Ass. He has to be nice, doesn’t he? “But I am still indebted to your family.”
“Uh…what happened to you, y’know? Being with the warriors? And please do not say you don’t want to talk about it.”
“Ral!” Lance chastises. Lance! Hey, I’m doing your job.
“No, no, it’s fine. I understand his curiosity, especially with his parents currently being held captive by them.”
Yeah, sure, whatever. Not the point.
“They tortured me, held me for a long time in a dark, dank cage, so my fire wings couldn’t even be spread.” As he speaks, I imagine a young, eight year old Reger held in a small metal entrapment in a dark, abysmal room. “If the cage ever dried enough where I could burn, the warriors’ shadows ate my fire.”
“How’d you escape?” I ask, my voice still holding venom. Why do I want to punch holes in this guy’s story?
Reger shows no anger, only reaches to hold Casia’s hand in his own. “A warrior left his post for too long, and he missed one of my watering sessions. The cage dried, and I melted the bars and escaped. I eventually found my way here and was taken in by my own set of saviors.”
Casia leans into Reger, her head fitting naturally under the older man’s chin. “Reger’s going to show me where he escaped the warriors.”
I cross my arms. “Maybe Reger should show all of us.”
“It would be too dangerous,” the male were-phoenix replies. “Even the light of one were-phoenix might be too much.”
“Then maybe no one should go.”
“No,” Casia snaps. She steps in between Reger and me, and now I realize I’ve been inching closer to him. “Reger says there’s a way to get into Skadioa unnoticed. If so, maybe we can get in and find Addy and Connor.”
Lance never glances at her, only waves. “Take your cell phone in case you need us.”
A smile of relief perks onto Casia’s face. “Gotcha.”
“C’mon. You’ve got to be—”
Casia jumps off the balcony; her flames once more burn the night sky. Reger lingers inside the apartment for a few moments, just long enough to wink at me, before his blue flames taint the once lovely view.
Blinking, I look between Lance and the now empty balcony. “I’m totaling missing something here.”
Lance snorts, “You know what the news networks say about that battle? ‘An army training exercise gone array.’ Can you believe it?”
I shake my head and thrust the my empty cup onto the coffee table. “I can’t believe you.”
I can’t even stand to be in the same room as him and leave, too.
As soon as he’s alone, Lance pulls out his iPhone and hits an application. Sure enough, a map pops up with a red dot, and he lets out a tiny sigh.
Casia allows Reger to take the lead through downtown Richmond and about the clocktower. His blue flames seem like a gift as much as a perversion. He glances back at her with an enchanting smile, and her heart flutters like a child seeing a Christmas tree for the first time. They fly over warehouses before coming to a clump of restored homes.
“What happened to your flames?”
He smiles again. “What?”
“Your flames,” she repeats. “They used to be red—and warm.”
“Oh…” He lands in the middle of a garden surrounded by four other homes, all seemingly built in the 1800s. “The warriors—they experimented on me. They wanted to duplicate the blue flames that light their world.”
“Through you? Why?”
Reger shrugs and looks at a bust of Edgar Allan Poe a few feet away. The Poe Shrine. “Because the were-phoenixes originate in Zenith’s Rise, and it’s through them that the light is created.”
“In Zenith’s Rise? Where’s that?”
“It’s one of the three realms connected by the Crossings,” Reger explained and motions toward the broken glass on top of the garden wall. “Zenith’s Rise, Skadoia, and Knightsdale.”
“So the Crossings are here? At the Poe Museum in Richmond?”
“Hey, dude was depressing and scary as hell. He probably met some beings from Skadoia or at least was influenced by the darkness there.”
Casia raised her hand to shed light inside the dark garden. “So where are we? Knightsdale?”
“No,” Reger chortled. “Tonight, you are in Hell.”
Lance blinks as the TV fuzzes with snow before coming back to life. He sits up as it happens again and again until a familiar face pops on the screen—the robot man from the diner.
“Hello, Mr. Evans. The project wishes your readmission.”
Lance gnashed his teeth. “Like Hell.”
“Oh, I’m sure it’ll be just like it.”
The TV explodes.
Man, for a guy who’s really well-to-do, Reger certainly doesn’t like to fill his pantries. He only has some raw veggies in the fridge and some rice cakes in the cupboard. Man, what does this guy do for a living?
I straighten my back and scream.
I wish I could say it wasn’t girly.
Staring at me through the window over Reger’s pristine sink is the silver-eyed chick who attacked Casia, Lance, and me at the diner. She has to be flying ‘cause we’re over fourteen stories in the sky.
She winks at me. “Hello there, kitten. You gonna be a good bloke?”
The glass shatters.
Pain is Casia’s friend as the blue flames scorch her body cold. She battles, lunges forward, but Reger’s cold flames devour her flames’ warmth. She manages to burn her long, red-flames across his cheek, but he snatches her wing and tosses her against the garden wall.
As she collapsed to the ground, she croaks, “Why?”
Reger smirks, a deadly and frightening grin. “Because while you were taken in by the Dawsons, I was taken in by Project: Avatar.” He bends down to be at her level. “Do you know what Avatar truly means?”
Casia narrows her eyes, though her deadly gaze isn’t as intense when she’s cringing.
“It means, ‘a god in bodily form.’” He smirks. “You are way out of your league.”
TO BE CONTINUED…