THE LORD OF THE WINGS
This story was a gift to my wife, Cassie, but it also happens to be a part of a larger secret side project. There are few things she loves more than her cat, Batman, delicious wings, and relaxing on a sunny day. One of those things is obviously (not) battling a horde of demons from another realm, but luckily I'm always willing to step up and take a beating on my family's behalf.
For reference: in every debate on the subject, she adamantly argues "death touch" to be the most super of super powers. I find this alarming, but we do have fun together and I wouldn't be me without her. Enjoy!
The Lord of the Wings
Sunlight poured through whipped marshmallow clouds on the patch of grass and trees that waited like a quiet sanctuary in the center of the town. Cassie, Devin and Batman (the cat) sat side-by-side-by-side on the carefully spread blanket and soaked up the warmth of the late spring day. A cross-hilt longsword stood in the soil, its blade reflecting the afternoon light onto the field of smaller green blades beneath it.
Tiny speakers in her ears, Cassie listened to music through her phone and hummed to herself, occasionally bursting with irrepressible energy to sing the words of a chorus or verse. Her feet tapped with the rhythm of her favorite tunes as she nodded her head back and forth. Batman curled up between his human companions and soaked up the light, his black fur shimmering with heat. A contented smile spread across his feline face as he stretched his long limbs to flex his pink toes and sharp claws. Devin leaned on his side, scanning the pages of a well-worn copy of The Count of Monte Cristo. He scratched his beard absentmindedly, then smoothed the hairs that framed a faint grin.
Devin looked up from his book to stare off into the distance at nothing in particular, as if an important thought had just occurred to him and he was trying desperately to puzzle out its intricacies. He turned in Cassie’s direction, but continued staring at nothing.
“Why do you think that alien looked like Benedict Cumberbatch?” Devin mused. He waited for a reply, but upon hearing none, closed his book and faced his wife. Eyes closed, head thrashing back and forth with a song, Cassie was a whirlwind of awesome energy. Devin smiled, then poked her in the shoulder, eager to have her attention. Cassie opened her eyes, glared at Devin, and removed an earbud. The dance pop sounds of Madonna wafted into the afternoon air.
“Yeeeeeesssssss?” Cassie asked in comic exaggeration. Her voice betrayed a mild disinterest. She touched her phone and Madonna paused her performance.
“I was just thinking… Why do you think that alien looked like Benedict Cumberbatch?” Devin asked again.
“The one who gave us our whacked out powers?”
“You familiar with a super power-bestowing alien I’m not?” Devin raised an eyebrow.
“What’s your point?” Cassie sighed.
“I was thinking. To appear to us as an actor we like... What if this is all just a game to them? What if the things they’ve tasked us with destroying are actually the aliens’ pets and we’re nothing more than pawns – actors in an interstellar soap opera? Have you thought at all about what this could mean to humanity’s collective understanding of its nature, its future, its place in the universe? We’ve been given fantastic gifts and yet… I feel as though they are as much a means of enslavement as liberation. What if our cooperation with the alien creatures is but a signal of the demise of our free will? Did we ever have free will? What if we are nothing more than cosmic servants; organic wind-up toys set on a path and told what to do for the rest of our species existence?”
With every word, Devin’s face grew more tense, his voice more grave, his thoughts more urgent and dark. Clearly he was agitated and worried to a near-overwhelming degree. Cassie listened without interruption, but upon her husband’s silence a menacing, devious smirk spread across her lips.
“Yeah, Devin. What if?” Cassie said, her voice dripping with playful sarcasm. Devin fixed his eyes on his antagonist’s in concerted disapproval and all-too-familiar exasperation.
“You’re just annoyed that the alien didn’t give you death touch,” Devin remarked, waving a hand in dismissal.
“No. I’m just hungry and want you to find me some food,” Cassie said as she poked her wincing husband in the stomach with a long, needle-like finger. She sat up and pet Batman on the fuzzy brow between his eyes, which were now open and interested after the mention of food. Cassie and Batman stared hard at Devin, who said nothing. Cassie exhaled a breath of impatience. “Well, what did you have in mind? It’s lunch time!”
“I’m not hungry. And why is it my responsibility? If you two want some food, go find it!” Devin said. He turned away to return his attention to his book. “I’ve got big, ultimately meaningless existential questions to consider anyway. You guys go on ahead without me. I’ll catch up.”
“I want wings. You want wings, Batman?” Cassie looked down at the handsome tuxedo cat that now stood between her and Devin. The young feline threw its jaws open wide in a long yawn, then nodded at Cassie.
“I was wondering when you two would shut up. I’d kill for some wings. Doofus,” the cat meowed. He raised a paw to rub an ear, then leaned over and stretched his fore legs and hind legs. “I’m ready. Let’s go.”
Cassie nodded in agreement and rose to her feet. She stowed her phone and earbuds in her shoulder bag and slung it over her shoulder. Batman trotted off the picnic blanket spread beneath them and into the grass, bouncing with every step over the vibrant green turf. The cat barked as a monarch butterfly fluttered by his head and off on its gravity-defying business.
“Well, we’re not getting you any. You change your mind, you gotta go get them yourself,” Cassie threatened in Devin’s direction. For his part, Devin grunted in reply and waved over his shoulder toward his beloved family. Cassie rolled her eyes and started on her way toward the edge of the park, Batman trotting along ahead of her. As they walked away, Devin glanced back toward his wife and cat and smiled again, obviously pleased to enjoy such company.
On the blanket, Devin continued to read his book. The cool spring breeze ruffled his hair and flicked at the pages, in which the mysterious Count of Monte Cristo was in the midst of ruminating on the metaphysical implications of murder and execution. Devin nodded imperceptibly to himself, thinking again on his alien nature rant a moment before. Minutes after his wife’s departure, a long shadow cast from behind Devin blocked out the bright afternoon sun and drowned the pages of his book in sudden darkness.
“You find wings already?” Devin asked without turning to face the obstruction he presumed to be Cassie. Seconds passed without reply and yet the shadow did not move. Finally, Devin twisted back to look his gawking weirdo of a wife, but the monstrous thing that greeted him was nothing at all like what he expected.
“Ah, crap,” Devin muttered to himself...
* * *
Cassie and Batman made their way from the park down Main Street, the cat blazing the trail with his nose. In moments the hungry pair stood before their favorite chicken restaurant: “Lord of the Wings.”
Cassie chuckled as she always did when she looked up at the neon sign above the restaurant’s door. The sign depicted the Tower of Sauron as depicted in the Lord of the Rings movies, except in place of an enormous, menacing eye wreathed in flame, a brightly lit chicken wing adorned with cartoonish, flickering fire stood atop the dark structure. Batman meowed impatiently and his human companion opened the door. The smell of fried chicken and grease wafted out of the portal as the adventurers stepped inside.
Standing before the counter and a phone-focused, indifferent teen employee, Cassie and Batman poured over the menu board tacked to the wall. Beside some of the options there lurked a bright golden ring encircled by flames, which indicated the dish’s apparent heat. The only customers in the store, Cassie and Batman debated the appearance and temptation of various tenders, sandwiches, and salads, but in the end both of the bird-lovers knew they were there for one purpose only. When Cassie spoke the word “wings,” Batman nodded in agreement.
“How many should we get?” Cassie asked the cat.
“You know me. I could eat my body weight in those damn things,” Batman asserted. Cassie smirked.
“Maybe 12 for me, 12 for you, assorted flavors…?” Cassie put a hand to her face and agonized over the delicious combinations of tender chicken that waited in her future. Her mouth set to watering as she stepped toward the counter and the dead-eyed kid waiting beyond to place her triumphant order.
Suddenly, a rumbling explosion shook the ground and rattled the windows of the restaurant. Batman crouched low and dashed toward the window to look outside as Cassie regained her footing.
“Uh-oh. Better get a look at this. Don’t know what that moron’s doing, but he might need our help,” the cat said. Cassie strode toward the window, while the barely stunned teen typed ever more furiously into his phone. When Cassie put a hand to the glass and peered out, she gasped. Beyond the window, a cloud of billowing dust and debris was erupting from amid the trees of the park blocks away.
“Devin!” Cassie shouted. She bolted to the door, threw it open, and sprinted down the street toward the park, Batman galloping fast ahead of her.
When the pair made it to the formally peaceful space, a wave of fear, relief, and apprehension washed over Cassie. Pedestrians screamed and ran for their lives, while some curious onlookers snapped photos and video. In the center of the grassy expanse, Devin stood surrounded by a group of three tall, 10-foot-tall looming shadows. The demons looked as if they were monstrous humans dipped in oil, their dripping black arms and legs and heads always swirling, always devouring themselves and the light around them. Their abyssal mouths groaned and screeched and roared in turn, ever eager to destroy those tasked with Earth’s defense… As Devin was, as Cassie was, and as Batman was.
As the shadows dashed and strafed around Devin, he brandished his sword and it shined with a brilliant white light. In a moment the blade had extended to three times its size and nearly consumed his arm, its cutting edges now composed entirely of crackling energy and appearing as an extension of his body. Within seconds, one of the monsters was upon him. Devin shouted in defiance and sliced at the wraith’s outstretched tendrils. The thing doubled over in pain, moaning and crying out to its comrades. One of its smooth arms dropped to the ground. The two remaining demons ceased their hunting and exploded at the swordsman in a writhing net of impossibly dark appendages.
Cassie had seen enough. Afraid for Devin’s life, she sprang forward and swiped her hand toward the demons. A wide, singular circle of blazing light materialized in the air in front of Devin like a shield. Before the creatures could reach him, they hit the barrier and were flung back from its glimmering energy. Cassie cheered in celebration as she watched the things twist and squirm in apparent suffering in the grass.
Surprised, Devin turned back toward his wife with an enormous smile on his face and threw her a vigorous thumbs-up. Devin then snapped his blade out to his side and sprinted toward the incapacitated demons, intent on their immediate destruction. Cassie breathed a sigh of relief, certain Devin could manage, but from behind her she heard the scolding sarcasm of her feline friend.
“Turn around, idiot!” Batman shouted frantically.
Cassie whirled to heed the cat's sarcastic advice, only to watch him hiss with back arched, fur puffed at a looming shadow-born demon. Cassie screamed in shock, and without thinking a small shield of light burst into existence, smacked into the attacking monster, and sent the thing hurtling fast through the air.
It was a long moment before the roaring mass of oily shadow crash-landed on Main Street and tumbled into the Lord of the Wings restaurant. As Cassie watched in horror, the blinking neon Tower of Chicken collapsed to the street amid an explosion of dust and rubble, not unlike the tower’s original film fate. A tear of sadness and disappointment rolled down Cassie’s face as Batman admonished her.
“Ah, come onnnnnn… The wings! Watch where you’re aiming next time!” The cat hissed.
Face scraped, sword shimmering in his hand, Devin trotted up behind his wife and cat. Looking past Cassie’s shoulder, he chuckled when he saw the wrecked chicken restaurant.
“I wanted pizza anyway,” Devin joked. Cassie turned and glared at her husband, then stepped back in surprise when over his shoulder she saw a new group of demons slither forth from the shadows amid the park’s trees and foliage. The demonic beasts flicked their shade-soaked bodies back-and-forth, hissing and growling as they stalked forward in the light of day. Soon the creatures would be upon them, but Cassie declined to inform Devin. Arms crossed, her mouth set in a disturbingly deep frown, Cassie dropped to the grass beside Batman.
In a second a bubble of white energy surrounded the space around the pair. Devin looked on in confusion, his eyes narrowed in dismay.
“Hey, what the hell’d you do that for?” He demanded in surprise. Cassie pretended not to hear him, then fished among her bag. She found her earbuds and phone and in a moment her music had again set her head to thrashing and feet to tapping. Devin put a hand to the bubble and rolled his eyes. As stubborn as his wife and refusing to give in to her protest, Devin resolved to fight the creatures himself. In moments, he returned to Cassie’s bubble, breathing hard and desperate. Cassie sang at the top of her lungs, a wide smile of amusement on her face. Devin shot his wife a pleading look, but she only shook her head as Batman lounged lazily beside her.
“Alright! All of the wings you and that monster can eat! I promise!” Devin shouted. The demons closed in behind him as he put a hand to Cassie’s bubble of energy. His wife looked at him, interested but still unconvinced. Devin sighed, lowered his voice, and spoke quickly. “And I love you and you’re the greatest and I can’t fight these things without you I’m gonna die so would you please help me I need help you’re the best.”
At this, Cassie smiled wide and put Batman down in the grass. Slowly she rose to her feet, brushed off her pants, and straightened her clothes. With each second that passed, the demonic creatures creeped ever closer to her desperate husband beyond the bubble. From behind him, Devin heard a monstrous roar. Sword raised, feet spread, he turned and prepared to engage his foes in mortal combat once again. But as he stepped forward to rush the creatures, a hand settled on his aching shoulder.
Without a word, Cassie walked past her husband and cat to face the oncoming demons. Cassie glared at the gang of shadow creatures writhing amid the ruins of the once-peaceful park. Slowly the things gathered together. Their inky, vaguely humanoid figures slinked and creeped toward the shield-wielding warrior and as they did, each hummed and flickered and screeched with murderous intent.
“No one beats up my husband but me!” Cassie spat at her enemies. A menacing tone crept into her voice.
“Hey, they didn’t—“ Devin tried to interrupt, eager to reiterate his valiant efforts.
Before he could finish the thought, Cassie threw her arms up and silenced all protest. She stretched out her hands to the opposite edges of the park and two enormous white circles of light blinked into existence. Like the others she’d created before, these were bright and shimmering, but now crackled with unbridled energy. With a shout of triumph, Cassie clapped her hands together and the walls of energy followed her command, quickly closing in around the unsuspecting creatures trapped between. A blast of wind and spiritual power ripped through the park, twisting branches and knocking Devin and Batman nearly off their feet.
Cassie parted her hands and the shields obeyed, separating to reveal the struggling remains of her enemies. Still they twitched and reached with their amorphous black tendrils, trying to destroy the human warriors and drag them to oblivion, but Cassie would not have any of it. She clapped her hands again, separated the shields, and then smashed the walls of light closed yet again. After the third attack, the walls parted to reveal little more than smoldering shadow corpses. The demons lay lifeless amid the churned up dirt and grass of the battlefield. Devin beamed with grinning pride as he watched his wife’s incredible demonstration.
“DEATH TOUCH!” Cassie screamed with an irrepressible smile of pleasure on her face. The young warrior was victorious. Cassie lowered her hands and the incandescent shields winked out of existence. When she did, she stumbled as if exhausted, and Devin rushed forward to catch her.
“That was amazing!” Devin proclaimed in hushed tones of awe.
“You owe me some wings,” Cassie muttered. She looked at Devin and kissed him on his scraped up cheek.
“I owe you some wings,” Devin agreed. He pulled Cassie to her feet and looked her over. “You OK?”
Cassie took a deep breath, then hopped up onto her feet and nodded energetically. Devin released a breath of relief and leaned forward on his sword, exhausted by the battle.
“I’m dying here,” Batman complained. His human friends looked down at the monster and laughed. As the sirens of ambulances closed in on the park, Devin stowed his sword within the picnic blanket and tied it in a bundle. Cassie picked Batman up and caressed his ruffled, dirty fur, cooing and cajoling the feline.
Together the three set off in search of late afternoon chicken wings.