The Roslyn Chronicles: Grey
White light exploded overhead, arcing out in violent, spider-webbing crags across the sky. A symphony of rolling thunder accompanied the display, setting the car trembling beneath the might of the storm.
In the passenger seat, Ben Roslyn cast a worried at his father, dark brows knit together in concern. Charles had returned home just an hour before, his green eyes dilated with fear, rugged features unnaturally pale, demanding that Ben grab his things and get in the car.
Watching as his father flicked another anxious gaze at the rearview mirror, Ben finally broke the silence. "Dad," his voice was quiet and reverent in the ominous midnight. "Where are we going?"
Fairly humming with tension, Charles spared a quick glance at his son. "You're going to stay with your Uncle for a few days."
"What about you?"
Charles sighed, blowing out a long, frustrated breath. "I've got some business to take care of, Ben. Don't worry, Jack will look out for you."
Ignoring the fact that he was nineteen now and didn't need a baby-sitter, Ben scowled, bothered by his father's strange, evasive behavior. "What's going on?" He demanded quietly.
Releasing the steering wheel from his death-grip, Charles ran a calloused hand through his dark, greying curls. "We had to leave, Ben," he growled shortly. "I told you that already." The tense snarl that hardened Charles's low, rumbling voice made Ben flinch, but he was stubborn.
"Dad, I'm not stupid," the young man growled, his grey eyes bright with frustration. "There's something that you're not telling me, and I want to know."
This had happened before. Several times, Charles had come home from one of his strange business trips, and a few weeks later they were quietly moving out of whatever house or apartment they'd been living in. Ben never questioned it, it was just something he'd grown up with. They had to travel a lot. But there was something different tonight, something that gnawed at him and sent worry creeping down his spine. They'd never taken off like this before, in the dead of night and on such short notice. Ben knew something bad was happening, he'd read it clearly on his father's face.
Charles was scared.
Sitting in the driver's seat, with his jaw clenched so tightly that his teeth might crack, his features drawn and haggard, and his bloodless fingers wringing the steering wheel, Charles had silently confirmed Ben's suspicions. They were running.
In the dim glow of the headlights he stared at his father's stony profile, watched as Charles clenched and unclenched his jaw, struggling silently.
A flash of something dark and predatory wormed its way into Ben's mind and he stiffened, eyes wide. The shadowed creature reeked of danger and fear and mindless, reckless hate. It was fire and pain and anger and darkness. And, God, he felt like it was consuming him. Shaking his head, Ben tucked a lock of dark hair back behind his ear, and when he spoke his voice was soft, barely a whisper in the cacophony of the storm. "What's coming after us?"
Charles opened his mouth, but Ben cut him off.
"Don't lie to me, Dad. I saw whatever it was. I know you're hiding something." His lilting voice became hard, filled with accusation and a burning desire for honesty. "What are we running from?"
A pair of bright green eyes fixed on him, wide with terror. "Where did you see it?" Charles demanded.
"In your thoughts…" Ben admitted quietly. "I saw it. It's dark and evil, and it felt like fire and hate." He stared at his father with insistent silver eyes. "I want to know why it's after us."
"It's after me," Charles sighed. "It's a demon."
Normally Ben would have scoffed at his father's confession. He knew that the stories his father had told him when he was small were just that, stories. Angels and demons didn't exist. But the term demon certainly suited whatever it was he'd seen in his father's mind. "Why's a demon after you?"
"Because of my job," Charles said, his voice low. "What I do, what I am."
Ben gave an incredulous bark of laughter. "Dad, what're you talking about?"
A flash of lightning exploded outside the car, and Ben nearly screamed as a dark figure surrounded by swirling smoke and smoldering ash appeared, standing in the middle of the roadway, directly in their path. "Oh, God!" He gasped, breathless with horror.
With a startled cry, Charles jerked the wheel violently, slamming his foot down on the brakes. Tires screeched, scrabbling for traction against the wet road. Ben screamed. The demon's hands came up, palms out, fingers splayed, and a single thought crossed Ben's mind. Dear God, we're going to die. And then Charles and Ben were screaming as an invisible juggernaut slammed violently against the car, sending the dark Cadillac careening wildly off the road. The vehicle tipped as Charles struggled against the wheel and they rolled over and over. The sounds of the storm lost among the crunch of metal and glass and the screams of the dying.
Bits of metal and glass scraped his skin, and Ben found himself bludgeoned by the crumpling car as they rolled, toppling down the steep embankment. Helpless. He was going to die. He knew it. He could feel the dark, clammy hands closing around his heart, squeezing tightly and beckoning him to sweet oblivion.
The car landed with a sickening crunch at the base of the wet, muddy hill and suddenly everything was silent. Nothing moved, no one breathed, except for the storm's endless symphony.
Ben opened his eyes slowly. Something warm and wet trickled down his face. Every muscle ached and burned, thousands of small cuts stinging and vicious. It hurt to breathe, his ribcage felt like it was on fire and white spots danced in front of his eyes. With trembling fingers he reached up to wipe away the hot liquid, his hand came away smeared scarlet and he gasped, trembling helplessly as the reality of their situation struck him. He was upside-down in a wrecked car, there was a demon out to kill his father… His father!
Despite his body's protests, Ben squirmed in his seat, effectively bashing his head on the collapsed car roof as he struggled to face his father. What he saw made him feel sick.
Crumpled in the driver's seat, Charles was completely limp, his eyes open and blank and his face bloody. More blood stained his grey t-shirt, a dark, expanding blossom. Reaching out, Ben fisted trembling fingers in his father's shirt, trying to shake Charles awake. "Dad? You have to wake up," he whimpered, his voice small and tentative. "Dad?"
He received no response except the sound of his own sobbing pleas.
Outside glass crunched and wet leaves and mud squelched as someone approached. Ben froze, his heart racing as he struggled, squirming and desperate to escape the metal prison. He was going to die, he was going to die, he was going to die.
Struggling desperately, he could see the demon standing beside the car, silent and predatory. Just waiting.
He was going to die. He was going to die. He was going to die.
The demon raised its hand slowly, a wicked smile hidden beneath the shadow of its tattered hood. For a moment Ben was frozen, terror turning his blood to ice. And then darkness clouded the edges of his vision as dark fingers clenched around his soul, twisting and squeezing tightly. Agony blossomed in his chest, raw and red-hot, and Ben screamed. Throwing back his head he howled as claws raked his torso, tearing into cloth and flesh and setting rivulets of blood running free.
He screamed until he was sure his skull would crack, his blood turning to a poisoned slurry. Death beckoned, threatening to drag him down into the abyss. "Please," Ben gasped, his voice raw and painful as his chest heaved. "Please…"
Golden light flared. Unnatural. Beautiful. The gentle glow hummed, enveloping Ben in a soft embrace. And then it was the demon who was screaming. The dark, tattered shadow smoldered, burning in the warm light.
A voice quiet and gentle as a whisper, and yet as loud as a roar of thunder spoke, coming from everywhere and nowhere at once.
Leave, the voice demanded. Go back to the shadows, you will not harm him.
As the last echoes of the words dissipated, Ben felt the demon's vicious grip release him, leaving him cradled in the light. With a wild, twisted shriek that echoed the cries of the tortured, the demon fled, evaporating into the midnight storm.
Calm down, the voice told Ben softly, and he felt gentle fingers stroking his blood-soaked hair. Help is coming. You're going to be all right, I promise.
"B-but… what… what's happening?" Ben whispered, struggling to form the words with his leaden tongue.
Be at peace. The voice admonished tenderly. You're hurt. Just calm your mind.
Ben tried to speak, his lips moved frantically but no sound escaped. In the distance he could hear wailing sirens and for a brief moment, his pain-hazed mind wondered just how the authorities had managed to respond so quickly.
I'm watching over you, Ben, the lilting voice promised softly. Please just calm your mind.
A peaceful feeling washed over Ben, enveloping him in a warm, hazy embrace. The pain felt distant, unreal, until it had all but faded completely. His frantic breathing slowed and darkness encroached upon the edges of his vision.
As the first of the flashing emergency lights and shouting voices appeared outside the wreckage, Ben managed a weak cry of distress… and then darkness claimed its victim.
Was he dead?
Ben moaned as fierce, hot pain speared through his chest. No. He hurt too much to be dead.
Monitors beeped and doctors relayed information in sharp, worried voices. Ben groaned, shifting feebly as he was wheeled down the sterile, white corridor. Blinking, he struggled to focus his eyes, staring up at the fluorescent lights that blurred above him.
"He's regaining consciousness,"
"What're his vitals?"
"Put pressure on that wound…"
He was strapped to a gurney, being rushed through the hospital. Doctors wearing surgical masks moved in and out of his unfocused view, harried and frantic as they bustled around, holding up IV bags, checking vitals, and trying to stem the flow of blood coming from his wounds.
How…? He groaned, struggling to force his way past the mental fog, to remember why and how he'd ended up in a hospital. Fragmented memories returned, shattered and glittering on the dark canvas, shards of broken glass littering the rain-soaked dirt. Dad coming home. The storm. A tattered wraith waiting in the road. The crunch and shriek of metal. Burning, ferocious agony clawing his chest. A golden light and a soothing voice, that slipped him into oblivion. The flash of red, white, and blue emergency lights. The flurry of activity and frantic voices, hands carefully prodding his body, stemming the flow of crimson life. Hazy fragments of a desperate race against time, laying in the back of an ambulance as paramedics fought to stabilize him.
Car crash. Demon. Blood. Pain. Dad.
"Dad," Ben cried. His voice was faint, weakened by blood-loss. "Dad," a little stronger this time, tight with anxiety and pain. Where was his father? Why wasn't Charles answering? He tried to struggled, felt the ragged claw marks along his torso scream with protest as he pushed up against the gurney straps. "Dad! Dad!"
Latex covered hands pushed him down, urgent voices demanded that he stay still before he hurt himself. All he could think of was his father, how Charles had been beside him in the car, unresponsive and bloody and limp. He struggled harder, fighting the firm, but gentle hands, gasping as the wounds reopened, staining through the gauze pads and soaking his chest with warm, fresh blood.
"Calm down, please!" The doctors were demanding, their voices rising and anxious as Ben continued to struggle. "Sir, you have to calm down! You're going to hurt yourself!"
"Dad! Please," Ben pleaded, gasping as he struggled around the pain and paramedics. "My Dad, where is he? Where's my father? What happened to him?"
"Calm down!" The doctors ordered, just as desperate as Ben. "Please, we're trying to help!"
Off to the side, Ben caught sight of more doctors, fluttering like white and green birds around a second gurney. "Dad!" He screamed, desperate to make his father hear him. "Dad! No!"
The paramedics fought to contain him, but Ben wasn't listening. Blood roared in his ears, screams welled in his chest. And, as the motion around his father suddenly froze, his heart stopped. One of the paramedics turned away from Charles' gurney, face hidden by a surgical mask, urgency pulled tight in her voice.
"We need a crash cart!"
Oh, God. Not his father, not Charles. Charles was invincible. He couldn't be dead… He couldn't be.
Time stopped. Everything else was frozen while Ben watched with wide, horrified eyes as the defibrillator paddles were laid on his father's solid chest. The paramedics were talking, using those clipped doctor tones that tried to mask their anxiety. As electricity jolted through his body, Charles seized violently, his back arching off the gurney. The doctors paused. And then they increased the voltage, pumping charges into Charles in a desperate attempt to bring him back. Ben knew it was in vain, they all knew, but they kept trying anyways.
Something bubbled up in Ben's chest, squeezing tightly into his throat. Something between a scream and a sob wrenched itself past his lips. Horrible and unnatural and completely animal. This was grief. True pain that no doctor could ever heal. Ben screamed and screamed and salty tears rolled down his cheeks. The paramedics fought to hold him down, spoke in those urgent tones, but nothing else mattered. Just the sad, monotone voice of the doctor who announced, "time of death, eleven o'six a.m."
Ben lost it. He screamed and fought and sobbed, and blood and tears flowed freely. The doctors were speaking again as they pinned him to the gurney with all their strength. And then something pinched his upper arm and he felt a needle stab deep into the taut muscle.
Ben moaned, low and mournful. And for the second time that night, darkness spirited him into an empty, dreamless world. One that was as cold and lifeless as Ben's heart had become.
"I am so, so sorry," the soft voice sniffled. The same wise, young tones that had addressed Ben during the car crash. "This wasn't supposed to happen…"
Ben frowned, barely conscious, his mind buzzing with the numbing haze of painkillers and sedatives. Managing to entertain only snatches of near incoherent thoughts, he frowned, wondering muzzily if he had gone crazy. Or maybe it was just a side-effect of the painkillers…
"I was supposed to save you," the voice whispered, devastated. "This… I didn't want you to die. I couldn't let it happen…" A small sob. Ben wanted to reach out and comfort the speaker, to soothe the keening cries. He frowned, a line furrowing between his brows as his body refused to respond to the silent commands he had given it. "But you're still hurt… And your father-"
His father. Charles. Dead. Ben felt limp, the numbness of the painkillers could do nothing to soothe the vicious ache that roared in the emptiness of his heart. A silent tear slipped down his cheek and he found that his limbs felt far too heavy to be able to brush it away.
"I just wanted to save you," the boyish voice whimpered, and Ben felt a twinge of sympathy for the phantom. "But now the demons know, and… and everything just turned out wrong!" With an angry sob, the phantom slammed his fist against the wall and Ben's frown deepened. If the voice was in his head, how had it managed to hit the wall?
With immense effort, the young man groaned, prying open his leaden eyelids to squint at the fluorescent-lit ceiling. He felt detached, oddly floaty, as though he were a balloon hovering in the air, barely tethered to his prone body. His movements felt loose-limbed and decidedly floppy as he rolled his head on the crisp hospital pillow to catch a glimpse of whoever was speaking. And as his bleary eyes traveled up and down the unfamiliar figure they grew progressively wider until he was sure they would fall out of his head.
Good Lord, he thought, blinking incomprehensibly at the deceptively small creature. I'm hallucinating… Silently cursing whatever anesthetic the hospital staff had used to put him under, the young man gaped unabashedly at his unique visitor.
Seemingly unaware that Ben had regained consciousness, a young man, a boy really, paced restlessly up and down the length of the stainless-steel and white tile room. He was thin and gangly, all angles and long legs moving with surprising grace as he retraced his path across the floor, impatiently brushing tousled sand-colored hair from his eyes. Scrawny and freckled and fairly unremarkable.
Except for the wings.
Yes, wings. Shimmering and vague like a mirage through the haze of painkillers, a set of full-sized wings were folded against the boy's back. Tawny and speckled, with feathers as long as Ben's forearm. Beautiful and wild. Ben blinked, attempting to clear his blurry vision. He had to be hallucinating. There was no way the sight before him was real.
Still apparently unaware of his observer, the angel continued pacing, a soft, hazy glow shimmering around the edges of his body as he moved. "I'm sorry," the boy sighed, hanging his head miserably. His shoulders slumped and he looked like a dejected little boy. Lonely and heartbroken. "I just wanted to save you… you couldn't die. I… It wasn't your time. I wish I could have saved your father, but…" he shook his head, glancing at Ben's prone form on the bed. "I had to save you."
Striding over to the bed, the angel placed a long, slender hand against Ben's cheek, careful of the nasal cannula. There was a knowing smile on his bowed, pink lips as he studied the injured man's face. Ben felt his heart lurch as a deep emerald gaze met his own. The same shade of green as his father's eyes. "I'll be keeping an eye on you, Ben Roslyn," the angel murmured, stroking a tender thumb against Ben's cheek. "I have a feeling we'll be seeing each other very soon." Maintaining his unblinking eye-contact, the boy stepped back, inclining his head thoughtfully at Ben. "Stay safe."
And then, with the soft flutter of wings and a gentle current of air, he was gone.
Ben lay back, sinking into the pillows, left breathless by the strange encounter. With trembling fingers he reached up to touch his cheek, feeling the lingering warmth from the angel's hand. He struggled to conjure answers in his hazy mind, to create some understanding of the ethereal vision he had just witnessed. But none of it made any sense.
His silver eyes traveled dully around the room, sliding over the cool steel equipment, white tile and colorless walls. Everything seemed suddenly and incredibly lackluster in the absence of the angel's presence. The room felt lifeless, empty. Like the void that had grown to engulf the place where Ben's heart had been. He felt hollow, alone. His father was gone, and he'd taken Ben's whole world with him.
He was too tired to think anymore. Too exhausted to conjure up some logic to explain everything away, too tired to hurt, to cry, to feel anything more than the numbness that had swallowed his soul.
Ben stared listlessly up at the ceiling, his silver eyes unfocused as he drifted in the icy currents of a frozen sea, lost and cold as the spark of life leeched from his battered body. And he tried to banish any thoughts of bright green eyes and demons and death and angel wings.