21 Apr Journey into the Manenverse: Part 4 (Finale)
I don’t know why, I don’t know how, but Olivia got out of her chains and she’s looking reaaaal angry. I think I might need to bail after this post. Uhm…I’m sure that uh…that third arm’s going to come RIGHT off in a few weeks, it’ll be like nothing happened!
Quick recap: we’re concluding the adventure into The Manenverse, where Will Grant now has everything at his disposal to exact sweet, sweet revenge.
This is part 4 of 4, and before each part, I’ll list out any related stories. While I don’t think you need to have heard/read them to follow, the series might be more enjoyable if you know who’s who. It’s kind of like getting a rescue cat and knowing once upon a time, that cat was a kitten. Sure, it would have been nice to cuddle up that adorable little kitten, but you still love your cat even if all he does is sleep all day.
- He who listens for wishes: Audio – Text
- I thanked the man who murdered my only friend: Audio – Text
- The Serpent of Bourbon Street: Audio* – Text
*This one wasn’t narrated on the podcast, but since it was done by the NSP’s own Jeff Clement, I think I won’t get in trouble for sharing it. ; )
Part 4: The Call of Wishes
The air was cold at the top of the skyscraper, but there was no better place in the world to go to listen for wishes. The wind carried them in from all directions, but Will had no intention of answering the closest, the loudest, or even the most amusing ones like he normally would. No, he was keeping an ear out for the littlest of wishes, because those would be the ones that would lead him to where he needed to go.
Darlig wasn’t an easy creature to track. It wasn’t as simple as following the birds: he and his murder had a way of disappearing and reappearing when and where they needed to be. Will could do it too, the, for lack of a better word, ‘teleportation’. It wasn’t really teleporting at all: he would follow the call of wishes through shortcuts between dimensions, an alternate way of traveling that humans were unaware of, to get closer to his prey. ‘The Altway’, that’s what most called it. He had no doubt Darlig had the ability to tap into it, too. In the past, they’d only crossed paths by happenstance, but all that had changed the night he’d been attacked. That’s how he knew exactly how to draw Darlig out.
An upswing of air brought with it a frail little voice that uttered, “I wish I didn’t have to go to school tomorrow.”
“Bloody bingo,” whispered Will.
He leapt from the building and into a haze of wandering shadows. They were all going in different directions, all walking through one another. He’d often wondered what would happen if he stopped and tried to communicate with any of them. Could they even see him? He figured everyone here was on different frequencies, using the same highway but in separate space-time, unable to acknowledge one another, only able to see a fragment of blackness cast on the white fog.
I wish I didn’t have to go to school tomorrow.
The voice created a kind of tunnel through the smoke, pointing the way for Will to go. One had to be used to this kind of travel to know how to do it. You had to look at the direction of the haze. His destination was outlined by the subtle twirl of the smoke leading southward. He followed it back to the real world, where he found himself sitting on a dresser in a room illuminated by a star-shaped nightlight.
A young boy, maybe 6, was sitting in bed with a teddy bear tucked tight between his arms. “Who are you?”
Will pointed to the nightlight. He wasn’t here on ‘official’ duty, so he had no intention of following the rules. “Star light, star bright. First star I see tonight. I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight,” he cooed softly. “I’m the Wish Granter, and I’ve come to grant your wish, Francis. I heard your call: you don’t want to go to school tomorrow, do you?”
The boy stared at him in bewilderment. He nodded.
They were rarely scared of him, the children. Probably because of the preacher’s outfit he wore and his overall lack of an imposing presence.
“I have something for you, dear child,” his voice was kind and soothing. “Harmless vitamins that will make your tummy icky so you don’t have to go to school tomorrow. Would you like to try?”
The boy nodded.
William jumped off the dresser and walked closer, reaching into his coat pocket. “That’s a good boy,” he murmured. He was quiet, lest he risk waking the boy’s parents. “These vitamins are extra special, you know. They’ll make you big and strong. In fact, the more you take, the stronger you’ll feel the next day, after your tummy gets better.” He stared at the child, keeping his smile to a normal, non-threatening width as he pulled out a bottle of pills and rattled it. “You might even be able to fly if you take them all.”
Francis hugged his teddy bear tighter. “Mommy says I shouldn’t take candy from strangers.”
This was Will’s cue to back off. He raised his arms defensively and took a few steps away, feigning indifference. “Of course, if you don’t want them, that’s okay, too.” He did his best to hide his smirk in the shadows. His large, lower eyelids curled upwards, making his eyes look like half-moons in the dim light of the room. “I’m sure school can’t be that bad.”
He could hear the boy swallow in apprehension. “Are they really gonna make me big and strong?”
William leaned a little closer. “Oh, I guarantee you they’ll give desired results.” He rattled the bottle again, and then set it down at the foot of the bed. “How about I just leave these here, shall I? If you want to stay home from school tomorrow, take these. All of them. You’ll never have to worry about school again.” He winked. “It’ll be our little secret.”
He was sure the boy would fall for it: if he’d been a ‘good boy’, he would have screamed for his parents by now.
“Okay,” stuttered the child.
“Take care, little Francis. Remember. This is our. Little. Secret.” He gave a flourish of the hand, and then slowly stepped back and disappeared into the highway of smoke and shadows.
To be safe, he played his trick a dozen more times with a dozen more children, all simply to catch Darlig’s attention. His favorite wish to fulfil was the twins who wished they didn’t have to grow up. Now, they wouldn’t have to age a single day ever again.
If he’d had a soul, perhaps he’d have felt bad for doing what he did, but as it was, he didn’t feel so much as a morsel of remorse.
William noticed the crows first. It was always the crows that clued him in to Darlig’s presence. Even at the spookiest of haunted houses, there were never as many around as there were wherever Darlig went. Bloody pests, thought Will as he watched them watching him. He’d chosen to wait however long it took for Darlig to come for him at an abandoned train station. The decision was purely strategic: when the crows attacked, Will intended to run into the tunnels. There wouldn’t be as much room for the birds to dive-bomb him there. They were gathering, dozens at a time, covering every inch of the platform and staring at him in judgement. Their caws echoed and were amplified by the nearby tunnel. It wouldn’t be long now. His fingertips drummed along the length of Leviathan’s bone, which he’d sharpened and crafted into a dagger. He’d passed the time carving a little Hellscape on the handle. Darlig had taken longer than anticipated, giving him enough time to etch hundreds of tormented faces all over it. Their first meal would be Darlig’s wings. Then, maybe, just maybe, if he was still angry enough, he’d feed them his heart.
William spun the knife around, admiring his craftsmanship. “Looks like your murder has gotten quite larger recently. I can’t imagine why,” he said mockingly.
He could feel Darlig’s eyes on him, hiding somewhere among the murder of crows. There were so many, some were hanging off the bricks in the walls. He wasn’t afraid. Why would he be? He had a powerful weapon at his disposal. He was ready: he’d set the stage this time. He wasn’t going to get caught off-guard.
The beat of heavy wings – heavier than those of the crows – pierced through the symphony of caws, and the murder fell silent. Darlig’s trench coat fluttered to the ground and landed on the train tracks. The man landed on the other side of the platform, his full-moon eyes watching Will’s waxing crescents.
“I see you’ve taken up a new hobby.”
Will smirked. “Yes, well, bird watching just hasn’t been the same since your murder violated me last time. I get flashbacks every time a pigeon flies over my head. Thanks a lot for that, by the way.”
Darlig crouched and placed the palm of one hand against the ground. “You should have taken up knitting instead. It would have been safer for you.”
William laughed heartily. “Darl, honey, there’s nothing you can really do to stop me, remember? I can’t die.”
“Have you ever heard of Prometheus?”
“The Alien prequel? Eh, it was so-so. I honestly cannot wrap my head around why those silly humans didn’t just bank to the side at the end,” replied Will.
Darlig didn’t smile, didn’t blink, didn’t frown. His face was as stone cold as a statue, and as lovely as one. “What about Sisyphus?”
Will gasped exaggeratedly. “I’ll have you know, I always wear protection!”
“One was chained to a boulder, and every day, an eagle ate his liver. Every night, it would grow back, only to be eaten the next day.” Darlig paused. “The other was forced to roll a heavy boulder up a mountain, only to have it roll down the other side, leaving him to have to roll it back up for all eternity.”
Will smiled. “You and your Greek mythology are so cute. What’s your point?”
“You may be immortal, but there are fates – there are punishments – worse than death.” He glanced briefly at his thigh.
William’s grin stretched wider. “Ohh yes. Punish me, baby. I’ve really been a very naughty boy.”
Why don’t you come over to this side to play, Darl? he thought, Let me stab you with one of my pointy things. He hid the dagger behind his back and got ready to dash to the tunnel at a moment’s notice.
“Sorry to disappoint, but I won’t be the one doing the punishing today,” Darlig said dully.
“What the bloody Hell is that supposed to mean?” snapped Will.
William felt a sharp prick on his hand that made him drop the weapon. He whipped his hand forward to check the extent of the damage. It was just a little cut. He twisted back to look at which bird had had the audacity to bite him, and saw Gale holding the dagger in its beak.
“No! Bad crow. That’s mine!” Will screamed.
He swiped at it, but Gale jumped back a few feet, forcing him to crawl closer and swipe again. After doing this a few times, Will lost his patience and threw himself at Gale, grabbing the dagger by the sharp end. Black blood trickled from his palm, but it’d heal. He wrestled Gale, who was as tenacious as a puppy playing tug-o-war.
“Give. It. Back!”
He finally managed to free it after a few good yanks. As he brought it up to stab the large crow, he felt cold, sharp fingers wrapping around his wrist and holding it in place. A wave of approving caws erupted to life all at once, like spectators at the coliseum waiting for the kill.
Darlig’s calm, stoic voice was almost lost in the mix. “Drop it, and go now. Do your job, and perhaps it won’t be too late for you.”
Will let out an animalistic grunt as he struggled against Darlig’s firm grip. The birds merely watched him as he thrashed around like a fish out of water. The knife slipped out of his blood-slick palm, but not voluntarily. He growled even louder. There was no point trying to calm him now, he was only seeing red. Darlig’s free hand set itself on the back of Will’s neck, squeezing it tightly and holding it in place. The grip was firm, yet somehow not aggressive.
“You’ve lost. Go now,” said Darlig. He kicked the dagger away.
William felt his face burning red with anger. “I will NOT be humiliated by the likes of you AGAIN!”
He wasn’t built for strength, but he still fought against Darlig’s deathly strong grip. He fought as hard as he could, to no avail.
From the corner of his eyes, he spotted Gale swooping down and flying off with the dagger. He heard a light thunk as it hit the ground on the other side of the platform.
“Go,” Darlig’s voice faltered. If William didn’t know any better, he’d almost swear it sounded worried.
Darlig shoved him forward and released him. Will felt a gust of wind as the crow demon took flight. By the time he’d spun around, Darlig was standing on the other side, holding the dagger in his hands. He glanced at the tunnels, eyes narrowing in what had to be mock concern.
“Instead of trying to hunt me down, you could have used this to dig out the piece of silver in your leg,” Darlig said sadly.
Will was on all fours. The realization dawned on him, adding more insult to injury. More fuel to the fire. From the other side of the platform, Darlig watched like a hawk. He reached up and tapped his ear gently, mouthing the words “Listen” and “Go”.
Even if he stopped to listen, all he heard was the rush of blood going to his head. “Oh screw you and your stupid flying rats, Darl. You know, I never liked you!” He made to kick the nearest cluster of crows, but they flew away before his foot could make contact. “You act so high and mighty, but you’re just a follower, you know that? Just a damn follower incapable of independent thought! There’s no originality in ANYTHING you do. Oh ho ho look at me I’m Darlig the fucking bird demon and I run around feeding child murderers to my crows. HO HO HO. I’m so good and strong. Pfft. You make me sick.”
Darlig looked at the tunnel. There was a low fizz coming from it, but it was drowned out by the caws of crows. Will heard a thought coming through, loud and clear: I wish you’d leave now. Will’s nostrils flared and ejected a huff of air like a bull about to charge. He pushed himself to his feet, wiping spittle from his lips.
“I’m not granting any wishes toni-” his words were cut short when he noticed something spilling out of the tunnel.
Black smoke billowed out, unfurling and spreading as columns of it touched the ground like the feet of feline sending dust clouds with every footfall. William felt his unnatural, black, viscous blood turn to blocks of ice in his veins. Darlig crouched down and watched him.
“No,” William stuttered. “No. No. No. No!” He stumbled back, the crows parted like the red sea around him. “No!”
He’d heard of these creatures before, he’d seen what they could do. He tried to turn and run, but he felt a rush of air brushing past him, and one of them landed in front of him. He felt the other’s breath behind him, closing in fast. They were at times large, at times small. Two towers of smoke, the density of which changed depending on the needs. The one in front looked like a panther, the one behind, more like a human with extra limbs. Both had piercing amethyst eyes rolling around, untethered to the ocular cavities on the silhouettes within the smoke.
“Deserter!” One hissed. The voice was less of a voice and more of a huff.
“No, no! I’m not,” he glanced at Darlig, who motioned to his ears again, “I’ve not deserted anything. I promise. I uh, I fully intend to do my job. I assure you. There’s no need to-”
William whimpered. “Please, there’s been a misunderstanding. I haven’t deserted!”
They didn’t care about the kids. If he’d done it in his own time, if he’d kept up his work, if he hadn’t abused his powers to get to them, they’d never have come for him.
“I’m sure we can come to an understanding, please!”
Another glance at Darlig. Damn birdman wasn’t doing anything except pointing to his ear. He was just watching it happen. He was going to watch them drag him straight to Hell and eat away everything he was, hollowing him out into one of them: into a mindless sack of smoke and shadows. No silver tongue, no individuality, just an afterlife of servitude, like a supernatural lobotomy. He was shaking. He’d take being trapped in Madame Sherbert’s pendant over this.
He backed himself into a corner, the two smoke creatures followed him at a painfully slow pace, as though trying to draw out his horror.
“Darl, DO something!” he screamed in desperation.
His ear. He was pointing to his ear.Ear? Hear? No, listen. Listen for wishes. They were coming after him for not doing his job. If he proved he’d obey, maybe they’d back off. Still trembling, he closed his eyes and tried to focus, but every hiss of air coming from the creatures pulled him back to reality. He found himself repeatedly begging ‘No’ more than putting feelers out for wishes.
His eyes were closed when they touched him, but he immediately knew they had. Their touch had the kind of coldness that left him feeling as though he were floating through empty space, alone for all eternity. He whined and groaned, desperate to hear a voice calling from the void.
I wish my girlfriend wasn’t such a fucking bitch.
“Good enough!” he shouted, opening his eyes wide.
He couldn’t help but smile: he was going to be all right. Just had to behave for a bit, and everything would be kosher. He’d do his job, the smoke creatures would leave him be, no biggie. Deserter. Hah! As if! He’d never desert his job; he enjoyed toying with humans far too much.
He followed the call of the wish into the Altway, but as he did, he felt an odd tug. There was a physical tug, from the shadow creatures which were already holding him as he entered, and a different tug, a worry deep inside of him warning him something had gone terribly wrong. The blinding pain that followed confirmed his instincts. He’d never walked into the Altway with someone in tow before. Now, he had two. Two others matching, no, scrambling his frequency.
He looked back, bit his lip. The shadows were in his arms, their intangible form somehow fused to his skin. Two sets of bright purple eyes rolled back and forth in…agony? Desperation?
He tried to hit ‘undo’; he tried to exit the Altway.
There were thousands of creatures travelling in that moment; thousands of shadows in the small pocket of empty space between points A and B all over the world. Thousands who heard the blood-curdling scream that seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere at once, but not a single one of them who knew what had produced it.
Jazz music played softly in the background, not nearly loud enough to drown out the caws of hundreds of crows in the alleyway outside in the streets of New Orleans.
A man with skin painted to look like a skeleton set another drink in front of Darlig. He adjusted his feathered top hat and stroked the snake hanging around his shoulders. “My friend, are you going to tell Papa Étienne what’s wrong?”
Gale cawed loudly and head-butted his cheek in encouragement. Darlig scratched its feathery throat.
“Just waiting for the right time to strike.” He motioned to a drunken couple making out in the corner. Fifteen crows were waiting for revenge.
Papa Étienne leaned closer. “Yes, yes. But you seem a little exhausted. Is it true you flew all the way here last night?”
Darlig took a sip of his drink. “Yes. Most of us are going the long way around now.”
“So the rumors are true?” he asked.
“That something is lurking in the Altway, pulling travellers out of their transit and absorbing them?” He glanced at Étienne, who nodded. “I don’t know. As far as I’ve heard, no one has actually seen anything.”
“Friend, no one lived to say they’ve seen it. That doesn’t mean it’s not real, yes? A lot of good people have gone missing lately.”
‘Good people.’ Right.
“I go where the flock leads me.” Darlig finished his drink. “And they don’t want to go anywhere near that place. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a job to do.” He stood up, placed the dagger on the counter, and headed towards the couple in the back.
Papa Étienne called out, “Hey, you forgot your knife.”
Darlig gave a dismissive hand gesture. “You have it. Doesn’t feel right to keep it.”
The bartender grinned broadly. “Thank you, my friend. Good luck with your hunt.”