Ang held Hatch's shoulders and nervously glanced back at Riu. Riu nodded at him as Midge just watched in disbelief. Ang closed his eyes tightly and pinched his face into determination. His large white wings showed up, even though it was light out from all the windows, and they expanded from the relaxed heart shape on his back when they were folded. Air whirled up from under Hatch and Ang. Hatch swallowed a lump in his throat and nervously asked, "Uh, Ang? Are you okay?" Ang's nails started to yellow and grow gnarled and sharp. They grew two inches in a few seconds as his teeth pointed and became crooked. His wings faded to black and they kept getting darker. He growled, as the air under them started moving faster. Then he stopped and swayed. His wings faded back to the white color and his teeth and nails became normal again as Riu rushed forward and caught him. Hatch looked down at the locket. It chipped and cracked before it fell apart and disappeared into black specks. Hatch smiled broadly and grabbed Midge in an overbearing hug.
Midge laughed, "Wow! We got rid of it and you're actually hugging me!" Midge had shaggy blonde hair that came down to about his shoulders and it was under a faded and worn brown fedora. He had on an old brown suit with a white button down and a faded green tie. He had dark blue eyes and a pack of cigarettes in his breast pocket. Hatch was a little taller than average height with messy mud brown hair and ice blue eyes. He was in a white tee with faded blue print on it. He was in light blue jeans with holes in the knees and strained parts in the legs. He had a tightly woven yarn bracelet with beads on it around one wrist like the one on Midge's. Riu had straight and flat dark brown, almost black, hair that was short and pulled up a little in the front under a backwards baseball cap. He was a light blue striped polo with the collar up and black cargo shorts. His younger brother, Ang, had on a Kumm tee with dark washed jeans. He wasn't wearing a jacket like usual, so there were large holes in the back where his wings and forced through. He had dusty brown short and curly hair and teal eyes like Riu.
Ang stood up and shook his head to clear the dizziness. Riu asked, "You okay, li'l bro?" And nodded and smiled at Hatch and Midge.
Hatch happily said, "Hey, thanks guys. Now I can come back!"
Riu laughed, "Yeah—why didn't we do this in the first place?"
"You said you didn't want Ang to get all dark again, but then he said it'd be fine. Plus, I didn't tell you guys until a month or so after I left." Ang fell backwards suddenly and crashed against Riu. Hatch asked, "Is he gonna be okay?"
Riu nodded and answered, "Fine. It was a really dark curse, so it sucked a lot of his energy and changing scale like that really zaps him. It's no biggie though. Well, I should probably get him in bed. You know how angels like to nest." Ang smiled a little and laughed. Riu whispered as he left, "Ang gets grouchy when he doesn't get to." Hatch and Midge exchanged looks before Hatch shrugged. Hatch yawned and scratched his arm slightly. Midge gave Hatch a sidelong glance, making Hatch slow to a stop.
Hatch cried, "Oh c'mon! I haven't gotten to do anything since the stupid curse moved me. Dad wasn't cool with it and there's nothing to off on the stupid beach!"
Midge sighed, "Fine. Go ahead. We're taking a job when you get back."
"In eight months." Hatch scowled. "What're you standing around for? You've got a mouse or two to kill, right?" Midge smiled and shook his head as Hatch retrieved his knife from his drawer and a light jacket before going outside. Midge took off his hat and jacket. He rolled up his sleeves a little above his elbow. He opened the window in their room, which faced the dense woods in the back of the house. He lit up and smiled a little as he saw Hatch cautiously look around before readjusting his grip on the hilt of the knife and walking in to the forest. Sienna knocked on the door and waved at Midge.
She excitedly said, "Hey, Hatch is here!"
"I know. He's staying too."
"Really?! Wait—does that mean Nex is coming back?"
"Well, eventually, she probably will be back, but not immediately. Why?" Sienna shrugged and smiled lightly. "You still got a thing for him?" Sienna's face turned bright red. She gave Midge a flustered and embarrassed look that was supposed to be angry, but was more caught off guard than anything.
She stamped her foot and cried, "N-no! Gross! Hatch is—he's gross!" Midge chuckled. Sienna defiantly swept some of her long brown hair over one shoulder. He lilac eyes narrowed as she shot back, "Well you like my sister, old man."
"I'm only 33! Did Hatch get you thinking that I was old too? And your sister likes Riu anyway. You should try Ang so you and Hatch don't fight again."
"He's older than I am."
"By one year."
"So what? You think I like Amy and I'm like 12 years older than she is, right?" Midge smirked as he tapped some ash off the end of his cigarette and put it back in his mouth. Sienna scowled and left. Midge glanced back out the window to see Hatch coming back from the woods. Midge smothered the tip of his cigarette and went down to the bulletin board. He rubbed the prickly blonde stubble on his chin as he took down a bright red flyer. He read it over and went back upstairs. Doug caught him in the hallway. Midge smiled and said, "Hey Doug."
"Hey Midge. Case is letting me summon a being for an assistant."
"Really? Wow. Well tell me how it goes. I'd like to meet him or her when they get here. Cool?"
"Yeah. Oh, Hatch is back. It seems that curse he had over his head is gone. Ang's actually stopped double checking the halls before he walks down them."
"He was doing that?"
"Well yeah. I mean the kid's a neutral angel. As much as he's not a saint angel, he's still pretty scared of curses." Midge shrugged and nodded. "Case was really excited that Hatch came back. She was scared your shell would form again, y'know."
"Yeah, I know." Doug had short and spiky black hair and dark brown eyes. He had light freckles and sleek glasses. He was in a beige palm leaf Hawaiian shirt and khaki cargo shorts. "So I'll be seeing you around then. Oh, and if you see Amy, tell her I'm sorry about the fork accident. I'd apologize myself, but she won't talk to me without punching me first."
"No prob. See ya." Doug went downstairs and Midge continued up to his Hatch's room. Hatch came in a few minutes later and wiped off his wet knife with a dirty shirt.
Midge asked, "Did you just put blood on your shirt?"
"What? No. 'Course not. I just dipped it in the pond to get the blood off and all the bone—"
"Alright. That's enough. I found a job. I guess there's a dead horse that's been wandering around the old owner's stables."
"Like the body or the ghost?"
"We'll just have to wait and see, won't we?" Hatch shook his head and left it. They got their things together and went down to the van. Hatch's nose wrinkled in disgust as Midge put a classical CD in. Hatch turned it off. Midge turned it on. They went back and forth a few more times before Midge just left it off. "I don't get your problem with this stuff."
"Uh, how 'bout I know all of it by heart against my will? Normal 12-year-old boys get to climb trees and throw rocks and chase girls. I got to sit inside, learning how to tie a tie, balance a checkbook, and memorize the complete works of Bach and Beethoven."
"You're saying you were into girls?"
"Well, no…" Midge raised his eyebrows and looked at Hatch in the rearview. "Oh shush. At least I've got the game to get an antichrist's host, a death folk, and a succubus. What'd you get? An ex-wife and a dead commie."
"I had Tallia too! It wasn't just you."
"But she was only into me. She didn't really care about you other than you were like putty in her hands."
"I would still be putty in her hands."
"Oh gross. Ew, Midge. You've got problems." Midge smiled and chuckled. Hatch sneered, "You're immature."
"I never said you were."
"Yeah ya did. Or am I just hearing things?" Midge sighed. "I'm not crazy."
"You still haven't learned how to filter other people's thoughts out from things they say, have you?" Hatch mumbled something that sounded like a no and sank further into his seat. "You're grouchy today."
"It's too hot."
"It's late spring. It's nice out, not hot."
"It's hot." Midge just shook his head as Hatch picked up the flyer from the seat. "So what exactly does a dead horse do? It doesn't seem very menacing. Maybe annoying, but all you need is a shotgun."
"This guy was probably really close to his horse." Hatch snorted. "I know you probably don't get it—"
"What? That he's whacko?"
"No, that he can't shoot something he loves."
"Even if it's a walking rotten glue factory?"
"Yes, even then." Hatch and Midge exchanged glances before cracking up. Hatch fell asleep soon after, so Midge turned the music back on. Midge sighed and glanced at Hatch. He was jealous of Hatch's ability to be able to fall asleep whenever he pleased to do so. Midge cringed at a large screech and the van rolled to a slow stop. Midge got out and took off his hat as he scratched his head. There was a spike strip in the middle of the road. Midge looked around at the surroundings. It was a large flatland with lots of grazing pastures and cows and horses. Midge noticed a few sheep and goats mixed in. He looked up at the large wooden sign over the road. Sundance Ranch. Midge opened the backdoors on the van and got his and Hatch's things along with some equipment. Hatch woke up to Midge shaking his shoulder.
Hatch asked, "We're here?"
"Yeah, but we've gotta walk a little bit." Hatch groaned. "It's just a little walk."
"Sure. At a creepy ranch in the growing darkness. Not a problem, right?" Midge stuck his hat back on and tightened his tie a little bit, leaving his jacket between his arm and chest. Hatch slung his backpack over his shoulder and tied a little purple velvet bag to his belt loop. He glanced at Midge and they started to walk up the gravel road to the house at the top of the hill. There were a few men and women starting to herd the livestock into stables and barns. They reached the house sooner than expected and Midge knocked on the door. A skinny man with a large mustache and beard combo and a ten-gallon-hat opened the door.
He spit some chewing tobacco a little past the porch railing, making Hatch give him a disgusted look. The man laughed, "Woo boy, you folks ain't from around here, are ya?"
Midge smiled as politely as he could and answered, "No. We came about a dead horse. Happen to know anything?"
"Sure I do. Come on in. Jean made some extra food for extra mouths, y'know." Midge took off his hat and pulled Hatch in after him. "Well I'm Billy Tom and Jean's my beautiful wife. My kid's Carla and Joe ain't around this week, if you wanted to talk to 'em. My wife and I are always open to talk though."
"Great. Smells great."
"Always does. Hey Jeanie baby." Jean was a short, but very broad shouldered woman in thick jeans and a plaid shirt. She set some plates out on the table and served Midge and Hatch some potatoes and what looked like steak.
Jean smiled and pinched Hatch's cheek saying, "Ain't you the cutest boy I've ever seen? Such a handsome man." Hatch smiled back, but stopped quickly. "Well, dig in boys. There's plenty more if Bill doesn't eat it first." She snorted as she laughed at her joke and Billy Tom laughed loudly along with her. Hatch and Midge sheepishly joined in.
Billy Tom said, "Oh wait! You should put this seasoning 'ere on your potatoes. It's real good." He dumped a generous amount of the sauce on Midge and Hatch's plates before excusing himself for a beer and leaving.
Midge stopped Hatch from taking a bit and explained, "Did you notice he didn't take any?"
"So what? Maybe he doesn't feel like it. What's your rule about fancying the clientele?"
"I just think we should investigate a little more." Hatch just shook his head and mixed his food around. Midge sighed and took a bite anyway. Hatch noticed a bug of some sort in his food and immediately lost his appetite. Midge swallowed slowly and shuddered. "Maybe we're better off waiting until we leave."
"Yeah. I'd agree with that." The lights flickered in the dining room and went out as thunder rumbled outside and rattled the windows. Midge and Hatch saw a flicker of candlelight enter the room. It lit up Billy Tom's face as he lit the candles around the room. Hatch asked, "Did the power go out?"
Billy Tom nodded and answered, "'Fraid so. You boys mind stayin' here for the night? Caty, one of the ranchers, says that the roads are starting to flood. I don't think the power will be on for a while. It always takes 'em a long time to fix out 'ere." Hatch scowled at Midge who shrugged and smiled apologetically.
Hatch grumbled, "No problem." Jean took them and showed them to separate rooms right next to each other. Midge sighed as he put his bag in a chair. He suddenly started to feel very dizzy and very…happy. He smiled goofily and teetered before falling back against the wall and sliding down. Jean smiled and flicked off the lights in the room before shutting the door. Hatch shut his door before anyone else did and stared out the window and up at the stars. He sighed and threw his bag on the bed before dropping down in a chair. He ran his hands through his hair and glanced at his watch. It was starting to get late. He thought Midge would've been knocking on his door by now. He wanted Midge to knock on his door and chase away the fear growing inside of him. Hatch was terrified of falling asleep on his own tonight. He didn't know what would happen now that the locket was gone. He wasn't used to being alone at night with Midge around. He had his little twin bed at the House and Midge had one on the other side of the room.
Hatch saw lights go on outside. He snapped out of his head and whispered, "I thought the power was out?" He looked and saw Billy Tom calling out for an animal of some sort. Hatch ducked under the window as Jean turned around. He let out a puff of air and glanced back over the sill. A pale and translucent horse was slowly meandering its way to Billy Tom and Jean. Hatch saw the darkness resonating off of it and realized it ate flesh and it was hungry. So Midge…Hatch got up and grabbed his back, dashing into Midge's room. He turned on Midge's light and saw of Midge giggling in the back corner of the room. Hatch cried, "Oh c'mon! I just got back!" He picked Midge up under the shoulders and dragged him out of the room. He caught his breath and looked down the stairs. He had no idea how to get Midge downstairs. He sighed, "I'm really sorry if this hurts." He picked Midge up under the shoulders again and pulled Midge down the stairs with him, grimacing at the loud thuds being created by Midge's legs hitting the boards.
The front door opened. Hatch pulled and tugged Midge out the backdoor. He stood Midge up and asked, "Midge, buddy, can you focus? Midge?" Midge smiled at Hatch. "Great, listen, you need to walk with me."
"Where are we going?"
"Far away from here. Hurry up!" Midge heavily walked behind Hatch as he was pulled harshly into the surrounding trees. They were almost to the car when Hatch heard voices and saw flashlights. Lightning cracked the sky and a sudden downpour hit. Hatch slipped over a slick root and caught himself on his hands and knees. He wiped some blood off his face from a cut caused by a tree limb he'd hit on the way down. Hatch felt the mud stamp onto his skin. Midge was about to say something, but Hatch covered his mouth with a dirty hand and pressed them against a tree as a flashlight beam swept where they'd been standing. The rain had already washed away their footprints. The voices moved past them and to the other side of the tree line. Hatch pulled Midge into the clearing and came face to face with the ghost horse. The horse snorted and licked Hatch's face. Hatch felt a burning sensation on his cheek where the horse licked him and nearly screamed, but stopped himself. He wiped his face to find lots of blood had come off on his hand.
Trying not to cry form the pain, he whispered, "Nice horsy. Just let us pass." He moved quietly past the horse. The horse followed them with its eyes and head, not moving its body. Hatch let out a relieved breath and stopped as the horse let out a loud whinny. Voices rushed forward from the forest with the flashlights coming up on Hatch and Midge. Hatch blocked the intense and sudden light out with a hand. Hatch, not really caring about shooting the horse or the rancher's feelings, quickly pulled out his revolver and shot the ghost horse. Billy Tom screamed swear words.
Jean stepped forward and shouted, "What did you do?!"
Hatch shrugged and offered, "The job I was sent here to do." He smiled briefly as the ranchers all pulled out a weapon of some sort. Hatch grabbed Midge by the collar of his shirt and started to run down the hill. He tipped and Hatch and Midge rolled down the rest of the way. Hatch tried to lift himself up, but something was holding him down. He screamed in pain as an acidic substance like the one the horse's tongue had been covered in, coated his skin. The vines the venom was coming from wrapped around his arms, abdomen, and legs. They left Midge alone since Midge was unconscious on the ground next to him. Hatch cried, "Midge! Get up! I need your—ow—help!" He felt the barrel of the shotgun against his neck.
Billy Tom laughed, "Nice try. You shoulda ate the seasoning I gave ya. Then you wouldn't have to go through all this pain."
"Shut up! What was the point?!"
"The vines promised me power. I never wanted to be a rancher! I wanted to be a great ruler! You two will be the first slaves." Hatch pulled against the vines. His charms on his necklace started to glow with the effort he was putting in. Hatch suddenly felt no pain and everything stopped around him. He opened his eyes and pushed himself off the ground. He was transparent.
Hatch cried, "Hell! I'm not dead again, am I?!" He spun around to face Billy Tom. Billy Tom was staring at him in disbelief and Hatch's body was on the ground. Hatch's eyes were closed and he looked more asleep than anything.
Billy Tom asked, "What in God's name are ya?" Hatch shook his head with his mouth open wide. Billy Tom fired at him and Hatch braced up for the shot, but it went through him and didn't do anything. Hatch touched the smoking barrel of Billy Tom's gun. Billy Tom dropped it, complaining about the sudden sub-zero temperature. Hatch's vision blurred and suddenly he was back in his body. He opened his eyes to the pain, mud, and blood. He fiddled with his gun in his pocket and blasted apart the vines holding him. He staggered to his feet, struggled to pick up Midge, tipped his head to Billy Tom. He put Midge in the passenger seat of the van, barely managed to change out the flat tire, and drove away. He didn't make it far before he had to pull over and stop for the night.
Midge woke up to sunlight coming in through a crack in the heavy motel curtains. Midge rubbed his temples to get rid of the oncoming headache and grunted when he smelled stale mold. He looked to the bed next to him and saw Hatch sleeping soundly, covered in mud and blood. Midge immediately stood up and swayed, regained his composure, and went to his bag in the chair. He pulled out a first aid kit and went to the bathroom. He got a washcloth wet with warm water and staggered over to Hatch. Midge started to gently clean the mud and flaking blood off Hatch. Hatch made a face in his sleep and opened his eyes. Hatch smiled and asked, "How do you feel? You were drugged like a kidnap victim last night."
"Well my head hurts beyond belief, but other than that I'm fine. What the heck happened to you?"
"Eh. Acid, creepy vines, a horse ghost…you know, the usual. Can I go back to sleep?"
"Why don't you go clean up first and let me take care of all these burns and cuts first, okay?" Hatch nodded and grimaced as he sat up. He glanced down at his clothes and let out a puff of air.
"I guess we did more than the usual." Midge snorted and helped Hatch stand.
"It sure looks that way, huh?"