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  • My name is Angelina Cruz and I wanted to post a story. My story, about the worst mistake of my life. And the one person who made my life worth living. I was a twenty-year-old kid, straight out of nursing school with bills to pay. And Remy Desilva, well, in addition to being unbelievably fine- the man could spin one hell of a story.

    Remy Desilva was in his early thirties but could easily pass for twenty-five. I knew from my BFF, who went on a trip to India with the guy, that he claimed to be something other than human.

    'Whatever,' I thought to myself as I joined him in a van heading to the middle of nowhere. 'We're all just children of the universe.' Starting out in California there were ten of us. But one by one people left for jobs, relationships, etc, until it was just me and Remy.

    "You hungry, Angel?" He had the looks of a young Charles Manson or maybe a sexy Jesus, with the voice of a hippie flower child or surfer.

    It was a little creepy when he called me Angel, the way he said it with such a tone of sexuality and love. "Nah, I'm good."

    Driving through the empty roads of Wyoming, I stuck my head out the window to admire the scenery. Part of me wanted to avoid conversation. However, the wiser part of me realized that I needed to learn as much as I could about the real Remy Desilva. Or 'Remy-D', he loved to pronounce it in a way that sounded like 'Remedy.'  "So, Remy-D, are we heading to Canada?"

    "No, why would you think that?"

    "You said something about opening a medical marijuana dispensary. This far north, Canada's the only legal option, right?"

    Remy chuckled. "For the uncreative. I have plans, Angel Baby- big plans." 

    We drove to a remote town in North Dakota where Remy was able to purchase a plot of land using the cash in his bank account. There was already a small house and an impressive backyard. But Remy got to work planning his renovations. "As long as we're not serving customers we don't need a business license."

    "You were planning on getting a business license?" I asked as I helped him clean the front room.

    "I told you, Angel, I have plans as big as the sun and twice as powerful,"  he replied, taking off his shirt in the North Dakota summer heat. "You speak Spanish, right? I figure we can swing by the home supply store and find some help."

    "Yeah," said with a nod. I was glad he had been planning on getting some cheap help, to make the house looked semi-livable. "But don't you speak Spanish?" From what I knew Remy had lived all over the world.

    "I was kinda expecting you to manage while I was applying for permits, bank loans and the like."

    The way the light caressed his tan skin, the way his sleepy eyes glanced at me with a dreamy gaze: I couldn't help but smile. "That'll be cool."

    "Good, because I consider you my partner." He walked closer. We were both sweaty, and after nearly a week of living out of Remy's van, we both stank to high hell. But f--k was he sexy. He placed a hand on my shoulder, looking into my eyes. At 6'2" he towered over me.

    Well, not really.  I mean I'm 5'7", not exactly short. But when Remy lifted my chin and kissed my lips, I knew it was all over. I was his. We made love, or at least I think we did. I remember his breath on my skin, the feeling of him inside me as he slammed my body against the wall. But most of all I remember how badly I wanted it, how badly I wanted him.

    Over the next few weeks, Remy brought in armies of day laborers. He seemed to be able to talk people into helping for little to no money, some even paid him. By the end of October, we had a marijuana dispensary parading as a holistic temple/spa/ hospice clinic.

    "The bank thinks I moved here for my little cousin."

    "The artist?" I asked as I helped him set up the supply cabinet. Remy had some family in North Dakota; an eighteen-year-old cousin who had been left homeless after refusing to give up his dreams.

    "Johnny's actually coming to visit."

    "He's staying here?" I asked. The finished facility had three patient rooms, in addition to an upstairs office/examination room, so it wasn't out of the realm of possibility.

    "No, he's living in a halfway house. It's part of a church program that gives scholarships to teens willing to go to college for public service jobs."

    "Are you close to his parents?"

    "Not really. I mean, if they didn't approve of their son wanting to go to college in New York. So they sure as hell don't approve of me."

    At the time I assumed Remy was referring to his life choices. "How is he your cousin?"

    "My dad is his brother, I told you that."

    "Oh, yeah. I remember." That reply brought up more questions the answers. Remy's came from a military family, born and raised in Hawaii. But somehow he had a farmer Uncle in North Dakota? I figured I could wait until Johnny arrived to ask more family related questions.

    Johnny arrived two days later, under the cover of moonlight. He had apparently hitchhiked from a town I had never heard of. I accompanied Remy to the door to meet him. When the two hugged, they looked practically like brothers. "Johnny, you've grown up! Last time I saw you, you were just a kid."

    Johnny ran his fingers through his long dark hair. He had Remy's hair, his eyes, even his sun-kissed skin. "Yeah, it's been a while. I'm grateful you came all the way out to North Dakota." His voice was soft, with hints of a midwestern accent.

    "Did you really hitchhike all the way here? I mean, I could have driven out, man."

    "I-I didn't want to bother you. I mean you have your business out here and your girlfriend."

    "Nah," Remy said with a smirk as he put his arm around my waist. "She ain't my girl. We're just business partners. Right, Angel baby?"

    "Right," I said calmly. "Johnny, let's get you set up on the couch. We can talk more in the morning."

    That was when I noticed that Johnny only had the clothes on his back. He sat down on the sofa in what would soon be the waiting room, as Remy seemed to simply vanish. 'Ok, whatever,' I thought to myself. I was a trained nurse who graduated high school at sixteen and college at nineteen, I could take watch over one patient. "We don't have central heating yet, but I have a few blankets."

    "T-Thank you." 

    "Are you ok? Do you need anything?"

    "I-I haven't eaten for a while. D-Do you have any crackers or chips? Or just a cup of water?"

    "Yesh, sure." I volunteered to boil some water for instant oatmeal and tea. "I hope you like cinnamon. Be careful it's hot."

    "Thank you for your kindness, miss." His hands were trembling and struggled to wrap his fingers around the cup.

    "How badly did they beat you?"

    "It was my fault, never take a ride from a trucker with no license plates." He lifted his shirt just enough to show me his bruised ribs. "I'm lucky all they took was my backpack."

    'Is that all they took?' I knew better than to ask such a question. "Are you saving up for a car?" That question wasn't any better, given his current situation. "Maybe I could get Remy to give you his van, so you'll be able to get around safely."

    "I actually don't even have a license."

    "What can you tell me about Remy's family?" I asked if only to change the subject.

    Johnny didn't ask 'what do you mean?' After taking a sip of tea he seemed to have a preloaded answer. "You ever heard of Harry Potter?"

    "The children's book?"

    "Well in that book Harry's mother got to go to the wizard school, but she had an older sister who didn't have powers. And later when she died Harry went to live with her family."

    "Are you saying..."

    "Remy's father is not a wizard exactly. I'm not sure what he is or was. But my old man used to call him a cult leader, anti-christian, devil worshiper. I mean. I'd never seen him do anything supernatural, but he had kind of a reputation in our family. I attributed it to him being in the service. You know?"

    "Experiencing new cultures, outside of North Dakota."

    "Yeah, he was a real inspiration for Remy. Makes me wish I had a dad like him."  Johnny took a few more bites of oatmeal before attempting to remove his boots.

    I got on my knees and started to help. "So, Remy told me his father died of cancer?"

    "Yeah, that's what I heard too."  Johnny's feet stank but what was more noticeable were the bloody sores.

    "So anyway, what's the deal with you and Remy?"

    I got up and walked to the nearby restroom to grab a pack of wipes. "As he said, I'm not his girl." I started to wash his feet, feeling like a modern day Mary Magdalene. There was something so sweet and fragile about Johnny.

    "So where do you do sleep?"

    "I sleep in the van, with Remy. Just until the central heating is turned on." Wiping off the blood and dirt from his feet seemed to also help with the smell. When I looked up I saw there were tears in his eyes. "Johnny?"

    "W-Will you stay with me? I mean I know we just met, but you seem like a nice person and..."

    "Yeah, sure. I'd like that."

    Johnny scooted over, giving me enough room to lay in his arms. I fell asleep to the sound of his heartbeat.

    But I awoke to the smell of barbecue. This was strange since we didn't have a barbecue or grill, as far as I knew. I was on the sofa, along with the blankets. Looking at the wall clock I could see it was already eleven in the afternoon.

    "Good morning sleepyhead," said a female voice.

    I turned to see a pretty, petite blonde with pink streaks in her shoulder-length hair. "Hi, I'm Angel."

    "I'm Cindy, but my friends call me Syren," she said in a perky, flirty voice. "Syren with a Y."

    "Ok....um, Syren with a Y, where is Remy?"

    "He's outside, with his cousin. The poor kid, I'm so glad those a-holes got what they deserved." Syren wiped her hand on her jeans, leaving behind a dark red stain.

    "When did you get here?"

    "I followed Johnny, tracking the human traffickers who beat and robbed him," she answered in a calm voice as if I had asked about her makeup.

    "You knew he was taking a ride with human traffickers?"

    "No," she chuckled. "I just drew that conclusion from their belonging. For all I know they could have been pedophiles that worked with the church Johnny was staying at. I mean, that could make sense; a church that houses homeless teens, even offering to pay for their education, sounds a little too good to be true."

    "But WHEN did you get here?"

    "After the men dumped Johnny's body off the side of the road I got him dressed and made sure to get him back on the right path, so," she bit her lip as she glanced at the clock. "I got here around four-ish. It was still dark out, so I was able to get the grill started." Syren started to walk to the backdoor, leading out to the garden.

    Immideadlty I was hit with the smell of burning flesh. Roasting on a crudely made grill were human body parts; arms, legs, even some organs. Frozen in place I scanned the backyard for Remy. He was sitting with Johny, smoking cigarettes. "I-I thought you were vegan."

    Remy doubled over in laughter. "We're not eating them."

    "Yeah," added Syren, as she took a seat on his lap. "We're going to dry the meat and sell it as jerky."  She was holding a freshly charred skull in her hand. "Wholesome," she broke off a piece, "organic," she crushed the skull further, "all natural jerky."

    Johnny chuckled nervously. In the afternoon sun, I could see bruise that had not been fully visible the night before: mainly around his neck. "They stripped me of my clothes," his voice was breaking.

    I watched as he pressed his lit cigarette to his wrist. I could tell; whatever physical pain he was in, didn't hold a candle to his psychological damage.
    "Those truckers didn't like what they found," Johnny was laughing maniacally all while tears flowed down his cheeks.

    "They thought they'd picked up a girl," I said in a soft voice as I held his hand. With his long hair, slender build, and innocent eyes, I could him being mistaken for a female.

    "They made me lay face down and then they all took turns. I was never restrained, they all just made sure to choke me until I was too weak to move. I was crying for my mother. There was so much blood." Johnny cupped his hands over his mouth as he cried. "The last thing I remember is them pulling to the side of the road. I was so cold and in so much pain I knew I was going to die. then I saw her." He looked at Syren with such admiration, it almost made me forget the fact that there were bodies being destroyed, possibly to be later sold to customers.

    Remy took a long drag off his cigarette. "I hired Syren to watch over Johnny and once he was safe, I was going to give her a job as our receptionist."
    "Our receptionist?"

    "So you could focus on teaching Johnny to drive, so he can get his license and I can transfer the title of the van."

    "You would really do that?"

    "He's family.  Plus you two look cute together."

    I was smiling. The plan seemed logical, even kind. Remy seemed to have everything under control. And then Syren handed Johnny a cup of dark back tea. "What is that?"

    "Blood of our enemies." Syren took a quick sip. The liquid turned her mouth a deep red.

    "I thought Remy said we weren't eating them."

    Syren giggled. "What he meant was we're not eating them as a food source, thereby maintaining our vegan way of life."

    I was certain that veganism did not work that way, but I kept my mouth shut since I was outnumbered.

    Johny held the cup, glancing at Syren. "This smells nasty. Do I really have to drink this?"

    "This tea has been blessed."

    "Um, ok." Johnny nodded and chugged it down in one gulp. He gripped his stomach, looking like he was about to vomit.

    Instinctively I held him. "Johnny, look at me."

    His eyes glazed over, as he fell limp in my arms.

    Remy sighed. "Syren, help Angel get him into one of the patient rooms."

    Syren cheerfully stood up. "Sure, I'll grab his legs, you carry his upper body. Since he's already passed out." Her level of calm was downright creepy.

    We managed to get him up a flight of stairs, into a bed. I promptly stripped him of his clothing to examine the extent of his condition. "Oh, God." I was on the verge of tears. His body was covered in horrific bruises, that appeared to be pulsating. "Get Remy in here now!"

    I carefully rolled Johnny on to his side. His back was covered in lesions and sores. There was no way he wasn't in pain. I put on gloves and started to examine him closer but as I did, his flesh started to crack open. The wounds were long, deep gashes as if he had been whipped with a sharp object. And then the wounds started to bleed.

    Johnny gripped his head, burying his face in his hands. "Please, Papa! Please stop! I'm so sorry!"

    "Johnny, there's no one here." I gently grabbed his hands. "It's only me, Angel." I carefully moved his hands to reveal his now bloodied face. His mouth was cut up, his lips bleeding badly, and his eyes were both swollen shut. 'What the hell did Syren give him?'

    Remy came in the room, looking as calm as Syren. "Hey, Johnny," he said as he took a seat and held his cousin's hand, "you're doing great. This will be all over soon."

    What did he mean by that? Did he expect Johnny to die? "Remy, please, he needs a doctor."

    "I am a doctor."

    That was technically true. "He needs an actual practicing, medical, doctor, preferably in an emergency room!"

    "No," Remy said in a soft, soothing tone as he pulled the thing blanket over Johnny's body. "All he needs is you."

    "I don't understand. He's just a kid, he doesn't deserve this!"

    Remy cupped my face in his hands, forcing me to look into his eyes. "Lay with him and you will understand." With that command, he and Syren left.

    "Ok." Although it went against every moral fiber in my body I laid in bed by his side.

    "Mom?" Johnny asked in a whisper.

    "No, sorry.  It's just me, Angel." I started to cry uncontrollably. He was young, so innocent, and I had to be the one to watch him die.

    "Will you hold me?" he asked in a weak breath.

    "Of course." Fully clothed, with my gloves on, to prevent further infection, I wrapped Johnny in the blanket and held him close. I could smell his flesh decaying. Was he literally decomposing?

    "Please, Mommy, it hurts so much. I want to die. I want the pain to go away. Please make the pain go away."

    Having no better ideas I rocked him in my arms, gently. "What did your mother call you?"

    "Blue Jay," he said in a weak whisper. "She said I was her little bird, and someday I would fly far away from North Dakota."

    "She would have let you go to art school."

    "She always believed in me." Johnny blinked once, as tears of blood streamed down his face. "If I survive this, can I draw you?"

    "Of course." I stroked his hair until we both fell asleep.

    Hours later, I awoke to a remarkable sight: Johnny appeared to be shedding his skin. The injured, bloody, skin and flesh seemed to have dried and was flaking off in large chunks. Since I was still wearing gloves I felt brave enough to remove a piece from his shoulder. I was greeted by perfect, unbruised skin. With every piece removed, I revealed more and more beauty, until Johnny opened his innocent brown eyes.

    "It's over!" he said happily. "I can't believe it! Remy, I did it!"

    Remy burst through the door, with tears in his eyes. "I knew you could do it!" He hugged Johnny, dusting off more dead flesh from the teen's face.  He glanced at me and suddenly changed demeanor. "Johnny, maybe you and Angel would like something to eat. Could you head downstairs and put on a pot of coffee?"

    My mouth fell open in horror. "I can do it. Johnny just woke up, he needs to rest."

    "Actually I feel pretty good." Johnny sat up, dusting off his lower body. "I should probably take a shower first."

    Remy directed him to the patient shower and the complimentary robes. Johnny's body was muscular, strong, even a little more tan than before; he looked like Remy.

    "Someone's got a crush," Remy teased. "It's fine, he's eighteen."

    With Johnny out of the room, I slugged Remy as hard as I could. "Did you set this up? How did you know he was going to get attacked by truckers?"

    "Because he looks like a girl," Remy replied with a smirk. "And the kid's just too damn polite for his own good."

    "And you knew he would survive the ritual."

    Remy only shrugged. "I had faith."

    "Because Johnny is not your cousin, he's your biological brother." I was stone-faced. I needed the truth.

    "He doesn't know," Remy said with a sigh. "But his father sure as hell did."

    "His mother cheated?"

    "No, Johny's mother is the sweetest person you could ever hope to meet. My old man raped her." He nodded and pursed his lips, clearly apologetic.

    "But she kept the baby?"

    "She and my Dad's brother had been trying for a baby for a few years. So she convinced him that this might be their only chance. But ever since the day he first came home from the hospital my uncle made Johnny's life a living hell. Is that enough truth for you?"

    "Fair enough. So what now?"

    "You can stay or you can go. If you stay you'll teach Johnny how to drive, how to have self-confidence, etc. And you'll have my protection."

    "And if I leave?"

    "You'll be leaving with only the clothes on your back."

    I knew what he was implying; I would be forced to hitchhike back to California, and along the way, I would likely get butchered by Syren and cooked into jerky.  "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

    Yes, I stayed.

    It's been a few days, and I don't know what to do. The clinic, 'Rain Down temple' opened for business.

    We serviced mainly people searching for enlightenment, and cancer patients looking for medical weed. But everyone agreed, receptionist Syren's 'homemade, organic, vegan,' jerky was to die for.

    I couldn't believe that people thought this stuff was as vegan. It was clearly meat. But I wasn't about to out her. Saying it was man-made was so much easier than having to explain where a vegan holistic temple would get their hands on a supply of beef.

    "I'm going driving with Johnny," I said to her as I left for the communal van. The boss's eighteen-year-old cousin/brother (a secret I managed to keep even as we grew close,) had his learner's permit. I was only twenty but in the state of North Dakota, I could legally teach him.

    "Wait to say goodbye to Remy before you go," she said in her usual sweet, little-girl voice.

    "Sure." I glanced at the clock on the wall. I knew Johnny was waiting for me int he van. But looking around, the lobby was filled with patients waiting to see my boss. Remy had to be out soon.

    "My dear children of the light, welcome to Rain Down Temple," Remy Desilva greeted his morning appointments. With his long hair flowing loose over his shoulders, paired with his full thick beard, he looked like a sexy Jesus.

    This was especially true when he turned to me with his salesman smile. "Good morning, Miss Angelina Cruz, did you sleep well?"

    It was a rare moment when he called me by my full name. "I did, thank you."

    He greeted his patients with a bow and the usual yoga teacher-like greetings. I assumed he was speaking Hindi. He then introduced me as his nurse. Sometimes I was his physical therapy nurse other times I was an RN. It didn't really matter to me since I wasn't actually getting paid. (My 'compensation' was room and board.)

    I wore a fittest t-shirt with an over-sized flannel worn as a light jacket: In short, I didn't look like a medical professional, but neither did Remy. As long as Remy said I was to be trusted, his patients all gave me the benefit of the doubt. "I'm going driving with Johnny, as part of his therapy."

    "Yes, Johnny, my little cousin from the big city," he explained to his followers. "Angelina has been helping him adjust to the peace and tranquility God's country." He turned back to me. "Johnny's an amazing cook. You two should go on a picnic."

    "That was the plan." From the time we spent together, I learned that Johnny's mother had taught him how to cook at a young age. It was truly his passion.

    I exited out the back, to the old, retro, wood-paneled van. Johnny was waiting, head down, arms crossed over his chest as if sleeping.

    I stroked his cheek, brushing a lock of his wavy brown hair. His skin was warm in the morning sun. "You ready to go driving?"

    "Just waiting for you, Angel."

    We made the hour long drive to the nearest grocery store and bought all of the cheapest cuts of meat and ugly vegetables that could double as seasoning. He wasn't rich by any means but after Syren recovered his backpack he had over a hundred dollars that he didn't remember packing when he was kicked out of his childhood home. (So clearly the money belonged to the now deceased attackers.)

    But their loss was our gain. Johnny bought a camping grill and on a sunny North Dakota day, we took a drive into the vast prairie and under a tree for a picnic. "Johnny, this is safe right?"

    "Huh?" he asked as he lit the camping stove filled with rubbing alcohol.

    "I don't want to set the tree on fire."

    Johnny chuckled as he ran his fingers through his long brown hair. "I thought you were going to ask if rubbing alcohol would alter the taste of the meat." His voice was so sweet and innocent. Born and raised in North Dakota, he sounded like a cartoon cowboy, the kind that would end a conversation with 'Aww, shucks.'

    I sat by his side, taking a sip from my water bottle. I was wearing denim shorts, letting the sun warm my skin. I suddenly felt Johnny's hand on my leg, his rough fingers moving slowly up my thigh. I could feel my heart flutter. I wanted him to touch me, to hold me.

    "Can I draw you?" Johnny asked. His focus was on the fatback, chicken parts, and root vegetables cooking in a small cast-iron pan. He turned and smiled, his dark eyes locking with mine.

    "Did you bring your sketchbook?"

    "Of course." He tossed me a worn, leather-bound book.

    I had seen it before, but for whatever reason, I never thought to flip from back to front. Was greeted me were a series of detailed portraits; men, women children. But their clothing, hair and even certain facial features were all from different time periods.

    "Are you designing characters for something?"

    "Those are my friends. I can talk to the dead." He said it so casually as if it was a truly unremarkable thing to say.

    "Any dead person?"

    "The ones who come to me."

    "Like guardian angels?"

    "I wish. I mean, I would like to assume guardian angels would have stopped me from getting kidnapped, and beaten into a coma."

    "There are so many."

    "A few don't talk to me anymore."

    "Because they crossed over?"

    "I don't really know. I mean I've been seeing random ghosts ever since I was a kid."

    "Does Remy know?"

    "He doesn't believe me, never did."

    I couldn't help but laugh. "The prophet Remy doesn't believe in ghosts?"

    "It's not that he doesn't believe in ghosts, he doesn't believe in the afterlife. Growing up he always tried to convince me that I just had a lot of imaginary friends."

    "You're not safe," said a small child-like voice.

    I looked around to see Johnny's hands frozen in place. "Johnny?" I gently turned his head to face me. His eyes were glazed over and he seemed to be staring straight into the sun.

    "We're not safe," he said in his own voice.

    "We're not safe here?" I repeated.

    Johnny blinked his eyes, returning them to their normal shade of brown. "Not safe?"

    "Do you remember when you were in a coma?" I asked, hoping to coax out more information about his strange condition.

    "Kinda, I mean I know Syren put me in a magic educed coma to heal my body and mind."

    "Do you remember what you called me?"

    Johnny blushed as he paused and bit his lip. "I think I called you, 'Mom?'"

    "You do remember."

    "Yeah," he said softly with a shrug. "They told me you'd make a great mother one day."

    "They did?"

    "Can I draw you?"

    "Maybe after the food is done," I said, turning our attention back to the camp stove. After all, the last thing I wanted was to start a fire on some random farmer's land.

    "Fair enough," Johnny poked the contents of the pan with a metal spatula and paused to taste. "I'll just sit back and enjoy the view."

    He looked at me with bedroom eyes.

    Now I was the one blushing. "Tell me more about your friends."

    "Sure." Johnny happily told me stories of Woodstock hippies, civil war soldiers, families crossing the country during the era of Manifest Destiny (or Oregon Trail for the gamers out there.) There were even a few Native American spirits that seemed to roam freely throughout the Midwest, searching for meaning in an unjust world.

    "Phoenix was born dead, we put his soul back into his body," this voice was a male, and seemed to whisper on a gust of wind.

    "Phoenix?"

    Johnny glanced at me. "How did you know my middle name?"

    "Your middle name is Phoenix? That's kinda cool."

    "My mom wanted to name me Phoenix but my Dad insisted on a normal name. But why did you say it just now?" A smile crept across his face. "Is someone talking to you?"

    "I guess, maybe I'm just hungry."

    Johnny finished the stew, serving it up in paper bowls lined with foil. The taste was spicy yet sweet and smoky/earthy tones that seemed impossible to achieve from the small camping stove.

    "Can I sketch you now?" he asked as he put out the fire. He reached for the sketchbook, turning to a fresh page. From his pocket, he pulled a few ordinary-looking pens like something one would steal from a cheap motel.

    "Do I need to hold still or anything?"

    "No, I'll make up the pose. I just want to observe your features."

    I couldn't help but observe his hands. Each line seemed to come from muscle memory. "How do you do that?"

    "We share a room," he said, not looking up from his work. "Whenever I can't sleep I look at you, sleeping on the floor on that plastic thing."

    "A yoga mat," I said with a laugh, "I sleep on a yoga mat."

    "You could be sleeping in my arms." Johnny rolled his shoulder back, flexing his bicep.

    "...and that's why I sleep on the floor." My voice trailed off. I put down my food. I needed to touch him, I needed to hold him. My body felt like a puppet, being controlled by strings. I reached out and grabbed Johnny's hand, causing him to drop his pen.

    He said nothing as I turned his wrist, exposing a strange tattoo. The word, 'Mystical' written in cursive. "My first attempt at a tattoo."

    I kissed his wrist, then licked it. My heart was fluttering. The emotions in my soul were more than sexuality. This was love?

    Johnny closed the sketchbook. "Do you want to go to the van?"

    "No, right here." My body felt hot like I was an overheating battery, desperate for a release.

    I sat on Johnny's lap, and we started to kiss. I felt my hands slipping down my jeans, my underwear. Then I went for his zipper. Johnny was already hard.

    He looked at me with his innocent eyes. "Are you sure?"

    I nodded, no longer able to speak. I positioned his hands on my waist as we made love, deep and slow. My vision blurred, as my body was overcome with emotion. It felt like an orgasm but so intense that my legs felt numb. There were tears in my eyes. My mind was lost in one beautiful moment.

    Suddenly I felt a pair of rough hands grip my neck. "What do we have here?"

    A second man struck Johnny in the face. "What's a (gay slur) like you doing with a hot piece of (Hispanic slur)?"

    "Can we get a turn, or does she charge by the-"

    'Bang! Bang!' Two shots rang out in quick succession. Syren stepped off her motorbike, holstering her small pistol. "Were you two having sex? Aww, you're so cute!"

    I quickly got redressed and stood up. "Were you following us?"

    "Remy told me to," she admitted casually. "Plus I needed to go hunting, anyway."

    I expected her next words to be 'And you guys took the van,' or some kind of explanation of why she was out on just a motorbike. How did she plan on carrying back two dead bodies?

    What happened next was something out of a video game. Syren removed her tote bag, waving it in the wind like a kite. The square-shaped bag transformed into a long army-style duffel bag. "Little help?"

    Her words shook me from my catatonic state. "Sorry, I'm still a little shaken up," I said, grabbing my sore neck to demonstrate that it was the attack that had me flustered, not Syren's magic. "What do you need me to do?"

    "Just hold the bag open, so I can toss stuff in."

    "Toss stuff?" The words barely had a chance to leave my lips.

    Syren's small, petite, body started to transform. Her arms became large wings, like that of an eagle, and her hands became claws. I had never seen an eagle up-close; the claws were terrifying but accurate. Long talons, the size of butcher knives, protruded from leathery yellow skin. With impressive precision, she butchered the bodies into pack-able chunks. But even her swift cuts could not prevent the bodies from leaving behind a substantial amount of blood. "Oh dear," she said in her usual sweet tone, "we can't leave such a mess in this beautiful place."

    I was about to ask if she needed assistance, but she clearly did not.

    Syren opened her mouth, revealing a reptilian tongue that flowed nearly to her feet. Crawling on her hands and knees she licked the ground clean in a matter of seconds, swallowing up random rocks, dirt, and plants. "All clean!" She stood up, flexing her back. And in a matter of moments, Syren's body returned to her human form. Her clothes weren't even damaged. "Don't worry, Angel, once I get the meat on the smoker there will be plenty of blood and bodily fluids left for BOOE tea."

    "B-o tea?"

    "Blood of our enemies, tea. Duh."

    Johnny stood up, putting his arms around me. "I think we just need to get back to the clinic and rest."

    I was grateful for his presence. "I-I want to go home."

    "Home? Like California?" he asked.

    Syren had been packing her motorbike and magic bag into the van. "You want to leave Rain Down Temple?"

    The way she asked was so innocent, now I was afraid. "No, I just need some sleep."

    Syren's smile returned. "Sounds good, I'll drive."

    I feel asleep on the rode back. I remember Johnny carrying me into our bedroom and laying by my side. Eventually, I fell into a deep sleep.

    But when I awoke Syren was watching me. "I made you some tea."

    I could smell the rot from all the way across the room. "Um, thanks. I'll drink it later. I'm still pretty tired."

    "Oh, ok," she replied cheerfully. Syren left the mug on the nightstand.

    I waited until I heard her footsteps leave down the stairs (and then 100 seconds after that) before getting out of bed and flushing the 'tea' down the toilet.

    Now, as I type this, I can't help but wonder who the spirits were referring to. 'We're not safe'- yeah, we were certainly not safe in that field.

    Or are we not safe HERE, in the temple?

    And what will happen when Syren and Remy realize that I didn't drink the tea?

    In another week, the answer became undeniably clear: 

    I need to get out of here, that much is certain. The problem is, I'm the only one who seemed to feel this way.

    Johnny is happy. During the day he's painting the most beautiful landscapes. And at night, we make love.

    It's been 14 days. I think I might be pregnant. I'm just not sure with what. And I have no one to go to for help.

    "Angelina, Remy needs you to take his next patient," Syren shouted from the main floor.

    "Comming," I replied as I struggled to get dressed and get downstairs. As a nurse, I knew in my heart something was seriously wrong. My legs felt weak, tired and I felt genuinely sick to my stomach.

    Syren snickered as I approached. "Someone could use some tea."

    "What room is the patient?"

    "Room Power, Gail Myers: a seventy-five-yearold female with back issues."

    Instead of numbers or letters, the rooms of the temple/clinic were given inspirational names; "Hope, Power, Love, Compassion, Truth, and Destiny (the room I was staying in.)"

    "She's seventy-five?" 

    "Yeah, and she requested a female."

    I took a glance at her paperwork. This elderly woman had traveled all the way from Montana and didn't even want to be treated by Remy, the holistic prophet of medical cannabis? I knocked on the door as I entered the room. The lights were off and Gail was sitting up, facing a window which overlooked the parking lot.

    "Hello?"

    "We're not safe here." The voice was the same one as before; female, young, and not coming from any direct source. 

    I walked tot eh window, closing the blinds. "Miss Myers? Gail?" 

    Her eyes looked milky. As she blinked, the color started to radiate- like a projector bulb. "I'm sure Mrs. Meyers won't mind if we borrow her for a moment."

    "Who are you?"

    "If you haven't figured that out yet, perhaps you don't need to know."

    "Whatever." I considered leaving the room when the woman's eyes started to project a silent movie on to the blinds. "Is that Johnny with Syren?"

    I had to ask since it looked like Johnny was having sex with a woman with bird wings whose face was not visible from the current angle. 

    That angle changed really quick as the cameraman put down the camera, the joined in on the action. Syren gave oral to Remy while Johnny continued doggy-style. 

    "Turn it off."

    "Why?" The voice asked in a calm, mocking tone.

    "Because it's sick," I replied in a whisper, choking back tears. Was this a scene of something that was going to happen? did it already happen? Or was it happening as I stood there like an idiot?

    "Because you love him?"

    I fell to my knees in pain. I had to be sick. There was no way I could feel such physical agony over an image. "How do I save him?"

    "What would you give?"

    "Screw you and your dumb-ass riddles." I picked myself up and walked out the door, fully intending on washing my face in the nearest bathroom. But passing by the glass door to the garden I spotted Syren (in her human form), sitting with Johnny. She appeared to be braiding his hair. 

    I opened the door. I had to know the truth. "Hi, Johnny."

    Johnny stood up, pushing Syren off him. "Angel?" He lovingly cupped my face. "Have you been crying?"

    There was nothing but innocence and love in his eyes. That was the truth; the image, the sexual corruption never happened. "I-I don't feel well."

    Syren stood up, dusting off her jeans. "And the patient? Did you just walk out on Miss Myers?"

    "I-I..." I looked at Johny nervously, hoping his face would hold the answer. 

    "Syren, maybe You can check in on her?" he suggested. "and I'll get Angel back to bed."

    "Sure," Syren said with a shrug. "I need to get back to my post anyway." She stuffed her hand in her pocket. I knew she had to pass me, to get back indoors so it came as no surprise when she shoved my arm forcing a small object into my hand. "There's more than one way to drink the tea."

    I tried to ignore her comment. "Johnny please take me back to the room."

    "Of course." Without even asking he scooped me up in his arms and carried me like a bride back to our bedroom. He placed me on the bed and cuddled close, stroking my cheek. "do you need to go to a doctor? I mean a real doctor- not Remy and his holistic crap."

    His words made me smile. "You think it's crap?"

    "I man, I like it here. I feel calm, at peace. I- feel safe. But I don't believe in what he believes in."

    I turned to Johnny, looking into his eyes. "I think you should go back to school."

    "Yeah, eventually."

    "Eventually?"

    "Remy says he'll give me the van, he just wants me to stuck around a little longer."

    "Why?"

    "I think he wants me to convince you to stay. But..." Johnny's voice trailed off. 

    "I kinda want you to come with me."

    "I need you to take me to the hospital. I need to know for certain why I'm sick."

    Johny drove me into town, to the emergency room. The first thing the asked was if I was pregnant.  I guess I just looked like the type. "Maybe."

    The nurse sighed and gave me a urine test. It came back positive. "You mentioned you don't have insurance, but if you'd like I can give you a follow-up appointment for an ultrasound."

    Johnny had his hand on my stomach. "No thanks, maybe another time. We're actually from out of town." He spoke, fast and nervous as he dragged me back to the van. We left so fast I'm pretty sure we didn't pay the examination fee. 

    I got in and attempted to close the door as he peeled out of the parking lot. "Johnny?"

    "The baby, it's Remy's." 

    It was more of a statement than a question, but I felt the need to respond. "I'm so sorry, I'm a piece of shit."

    "No, you slept with him before we met, right?" Johnny's voice was trembling. "I felt their spirit."

    "They? As in two?"

    "No, 'they' as in I can't tell a baby's gender telepathically!" Johnny slammed on the gas, boosting the van forward like the world's weakest rocket.

    "I'm sorry." I started to sob uncontrollably this wasn't fair.

    Johnny slowed the van and pulled to the side of the road. His hands were trembling as he spoke. "Marry me?"

    "What?"

    "Come with me? We can move back to California."

    "I-I don't have any family in California." It was the truth, it was why I had been willing to leave with Remy. My parents were estranged, and the one sibling I had lived somewhere in Europe. 

    "Then we can go to Canada! I'll protect you," Johnny turned to me, looking into my eyes,  "I just want to be with you."

    I screamed as the truck came barreling towards us. The collision was head-on, but for whatever reason I was thrown forward, my head crashing through the windshield, allowing me a 'soft' landing in the tall grass. I opened my eyes. My arm was in pain and I could barely breathe, but that was more terror than anything else. "Johnny!"

    My legs were in too much pain to stand, but I could crawl. The driver of the truck was already dead. I knew this because he had no head. And this wasn't a matter of him getting decapitated in the accident. There was little to no blood, and his head was nowhere to be found. "Syren! Where the F--k are you?!"

    She had to be with Johnny. I crawled as fast as I could. The van had been knocked on its side. Since the van was so old nothing was automatic so I was able to open the door. 

    Johnny was not pinned to the steering wheel but he was unconscious. My focus was on getting him out, so I didn't hear what must have been the sound of Syren's wings until she tore the side of the van off. "I just wanted to make things easier."

    Hearing her human voice with her eagle form was jarring, but I assume that was the point. "You did this?"

    "Yup," she said casually. With one swift motion, she stole Johnny's body from my arms. "When I told Remy that you were going to the emergency room, he advised me to follow you. And boy am I glad I did. I mean I thought you were going to get an abortion." Syren cradled Johnny's body like a child. "But no, this innocent little angel, he wanted to do the right thing." 

    "How ironic," said a chorus of spirits. "Care to make a wager?"

    "What kind of wager?"

    "One that will please both you and your master," said the female voice from earlier. It was the same woman who had possessed Gail Meyers. It appeared she was their leader. 

    Syren chuckled. "I'm all ears."

    "A life for a life, a soul for a soul."

    I gasped for air. "I can't, please. I can't." 

    Syren laid Johnny's body in front of me, before transforming back into her human form. She stroked his cheek and glanced at me. "But, wait," she said in her little-girl voice. "Angel's knocked up with Remy's baby."

    "You may bring Angel back to the temple to birth the child if that is the life she chooses to keep. If not, there is a chance Remy will fall in love with you and you will give him the child who will heal his soul." 

    It was clear by her wicked smile, Syren was down with the idea. 

    I looked at Johnny's motionless body. From the way his head sat at such a harsh angle, it was clear how he had died. I wanted to fix his neck, to position his face to look up at me, instead of away. 

    "My little blue jay," said the spirit. 

    Johnny's mother? I was certain he told me his mother was still alive. 

    "I am alive," the spirit said, replying to my unspoken question. "I'm speaking to you from a place of great power."

    "Than why can't you save him?"

    "I never could. I watched as his father beat him without mercy; destroying his confidence, and crushing his dreams. He needs someone truly selfless, someone, willing to risk their soul."

    "My soul?" I knew what she meant. Johnny would not want me to kill an innocent child. Hell, he was willing to run away with me and help raise Remy's child. "Remy's child..." This was Remy's baby, how truly innocent could it be?

    What kind of mother would I be? I would be alone, or worse forced to raise the baby with Remy as a partner? This child, this life would tie me to Remy for all eternity. The choice was clear. 

    I reached for the closest piece of metal that looked like it could get the job done. I knew I had to do it in one swift motion before I changed my mind. 'One, two, three!' In the blink of an eye, my hand was now deep inside my abdominal cavity, carving at my organs with the sharply serrated chunk of metal. As I slowly removed my hand to get a look at what I had done. It was clear the silver painted chunk of metal had been part of a door, or perhaps the frame of a windshield. Either way, it now held my baby's tiny dismembered body. I had read about women who got abortions and later found pieces of the fetus on their maxi pads or even in the shower drain. I could never imagine the level of fear and disgust. This was a human life. I felt numb from the chest down, as if my body was simply shutting down like a computer.

    At that moment I wasn't afraid of dying: I was afraid of eternal damnation. "I killed my baby. I killed my baby!" Tears filled my eyes as blood dripped down my lips. 

    I needed Johnny. I needed someone. As I fell forward I landed face to face with his body. With what little strength I had left, I moved my hand, to turn his face for one last kiss. 

    His lips were still warm. I felt his mouth opened ever so slightly, allowing me to gift him my last breath. 

    I awoke in darkness with a heavy moist sensation caressing my skin. I could feel my skin, that meant I had skin, muscles, nerves, maybe even bones. I willed my body to sit up. dirt fell from my shoulders, neck, and face. Apparently, I had been buried in a shallow grave. I blink my eyes to adjust to the sunlight. "Where am I?" 

    Was I dead? My hand drifted to my stomach, giving me my answer. There was nothing there, literally. It felt like a portal, or maybe a black hole. I, of course, wanted to stick my hand in. 

    A gust of wind knocked me over. As I stood up on my weak, shaky legs I was now facing a church.

    "Don't touch your stomach, not yet." The spirit of Johnny's mother stood before me. She looked like a naked woman made out of glitter and light. 

    "Um, why?"

    "Just think of it as a cosmic eject button."

    "Oh." I followed her since she was already moving towards the entrance of a church. 

    The church hadn't been there a second ago. Looking down at my feet, I was now standing on pavement. The shock was more than a little disorientating. I figured this must be what video game characters must feel like before the level backgrounds render in.

    Out of the abyss came Remy's van, pulling in to a parking space. Johnny stepped out of the driver's seat. He stretched his back in the warmth of the sun.

    I cupped my hands over my mouth at the sight; the van was undamaged, but more importantly, Johnny was undamaged.

    He ran his fingers through his hair and chuckled as he looked up at the sun. 

    The sound of retching could be heard, as Remy vomited out the passenger side door. "You drive like a freakin' maniac."

    "No one asked you to come along," Johnny replied. "Syren would have kept me safe."

    "Syren's not the one selling you the van."

    Syren was here? I watched as she got out of the van, putting her arm around Remy's slumped shoulder. "You ok, baby?" Wearing a simple denim jacket and shorts she looked genuinely sweet. but her eyes were anything but innocent.

    "Can she see us?" I asked the spirit. 

    There was no reply.

    Syren locked eyes with me and giggled. That was my answer. Remy and Johnny couldn't see me but she could, and she was planning on enjoying the show. "Just remember, Johnny, you are always welcome at Rain Down Temple."

    Remy stood up and shook Johnny'ds hand. "You're family and family means everything. I want to help you find your path; if you want to go to art school, I'll make it happen."

    "That's very kind of you, but I truly believe this is where I belong. I'm going to apply for the youth ministry scholarship, go to a trade school, maybe become a paramedic or nurse."

    The way he said nurse made him smile. It was as if it brought back a memory.  

    "Well don't forget your sketchbook," Syren said as she picked up the book from the floor of the van and started to flip through the pages. "You have such a fertile, vivid, imagination. Like this one for example- such a pretty girl."

    It was the picture of me. 

    Remy glanced over with a noticeably awkward chuckle. "Is she one of the spirits in your head, little cousin?"

    "No, actually I don't know why I drew that. I guess she's just my dream girl."

    I cupped my hands over my mouth, to emotional to speak. I needed so badly to hold him. I approached Johnny, first caressing his cheek, then his shoulder. 

    He seemed to be moaning. "Oh, the sun feels so good today."

    He could feel me. I threw my arms around him, my tears soaking the back of his t-shirt. Just as quickly the scene started t fade away. "No, please no!"

    "This isn't for you. your sadness is only making Syren stronger."

    "Can you at least tell me what happened, I-In this reality?"

    "You never made it to North Dakota. Remy raped and killed you, abandoning your body in the South Dakota badlands."

    That explained why seeing my image in Johnny's sketchbook made the creep nervous. "How did Johnny know my face, if we never met?"

    The spirit shrugged. "As he said, you're his dream girl. Here, I have something for you." Her hand caressed mine, leaving behind an iPhone. "That phone is your last chance to tell your story. how and Where you tell it, is up to you."

    And when I'm done, I press the escape key?

    "Or enter key, it depends on how you want to look at it."

    "Can I at least go back to North Dakota?"

    That brings us to today. 

    Johnny, standing in front of a mirror in the communal bathroom, was cutting his hair. It wasn't as clean as it could have been but it looked more 'medical student' and less 'artist.'

    "Can you hear me?" I place my hands over his. 

    Johnny's hands are trembling. He puts down the scissors and makes the sign of the cross over his chest. He's afraid, but he's strong. 

    Time to say goodbye. 

    I hope someday you'll find this; I love you Johnny... and yes, I would have married you.

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