Angel Maker – Part Two
“I was enjoying the night air.” Michael didn’t question how she knew what he was. Like recognized like.
“No you weren’t,” she countered, not looking up from her drawing. “Those headphones were blasting bad alt music so loud even the violin guy could hear it. You were having a crappy teen girl coming-of-age-movie moment.”
“I don’t have a single ‘bad’ song in my playlist,” Michael grunted, ignoring the rest of that ridiculous sentence. He pulled the phone out of his pocket and paused the music.
“That’s debatable,” she muttered, sweeping eraser shavings off the page. “But whatever it was, it can’t be worse than that.” She gestured behind her to the violinist that had moved on to mangling a new top 40 pop piece. “So, bad day at the Reaper office?” Her expression was full of benign curiosity that said she didn’t particularly care whether he answered or not.
“No.” Michael focused on scraping the last bit of grit out of the earbuds.
“That means ‘yes’.” The sound of tearing paper brought his focus back to her as she removed and folded the drawing she’d been working on before presenting it to him. “Bad days get you free sketches, but first time only. I even signed it.” She jerked her chin towards his hands. Frowning, Michael opened the paper, not expecting much. He’d seen plenty of artists come and go, some lauded as geniuses, but he’d never been very impressed. She was hardly likely to impress him.
He was right, of course. The drawing wasn’t anything special. He could see that the girl had talent, and had definitely been taught the techniques, but the image felt cold, and not personal to the subject at all. He almost didn’t recognize it as himself, except that she’d taken care to outline the tattoo that started high on his collarbone in bold, black lines, and traveled beneath his right sleeve to wreath his wrist. One thing did bother him though as he squinted at a few thin and blurred lines on the page. He checked over his shoulder at the space behind him just to be sure.
“You gave me wings?” he asked once he’d identified just what was on the page. That was the only part of the sketch that seemed out of place or imagined. Large shadowy wings extended from the sketch’s back and fell into the grass behind the bench. Unlike most wing drawings he’d seen, these seemed heavy and bulky, dragging the ground wearily.
She shrugged. “Seemed like you should have ‘em.” Michael stared at the drawing a bit longer, something niggling at the back of his brain, slowly working it’s way forward like a worm. This image was way too detailed to have been done since he’d been sitting there.
“When did you start drawing this?” he asked, the hair on the backs of his arms standing up.
“Yesterday. I knew you’d be here, just like I know you won’t ask what I am.” She pushed the beanie off her head, exposing tawny curls, the left side shaved close to her skull, to the chill night air. “What do you think I am?” The hat dangled between her knees as she squatted on the sidewalk and stared at him, unnervingly direct. “Take a guess.”
Michael ignored the strange fizzle tracking along his skin, and looked for her soul. Don’t let anyone tell you that the uncanny beings in this world don’t have souls. They have some of the most colorful souls you could imagine. Well, all except the Reapers, whose souls never seemed to hang on after the change. Michael had seen souls in every hue, but he preferred the quietly glowing souls of the humans.
The girl had an interesting soul. There were swirls of blue and green that warred in her chest and sent tendrils spider webbing out into her arms and legs like an artery map. His eyes almost hurt from the pulsing colors.
“Siren,” he murmured, pulling back from the intense light and rubbing his eyes to rid them of the accompanying ache. Only ocean dwellers had such and intense blue aura, and she was a pure blooded one if her soul was that bright.
Her lips pursed. “Oh, so close, Pretty Boy,” she sing-songed at him. “It’s ‘korrigan’ actually.”
“I didn’t realize there was a difference.” He blinked to get rid of the blue clouds floating in his vision. “Do you have a name, Miss Korrigan?” It was always best to be polite to Sirens. They tended to bite.
The Korrigan shook her head. “No. Just call me Korri.”
He extended his hand. “Michael.” A thought struck him. “But you knew that already.” Korri arched a brow and smirked at him, ignoring the offered hand.
“I know a lot of things,” she said, condescendingly examining her nails. “ I also know you’re gonna follow me to this little place I know.”
“And why would I do that?” If a Korrigan said it, it was true, but Michael had no problem dragging his feet. He’d always hated being told what to do.
“You’re lonely.” It was a blunt response that would have twisted like a knife, if he had the time to be anything but shocked. “So ditch the emo tunes and come on.” She didn’t wait for him to react, just wandered off to the sidewalk and down the street.
Michael watched her go, confused as all hell, but curious. Korrigans hardly ever offered their visions so freely. The red headphones were placed in his jacket, disappearing back into the pocket dimension he’d pulled them from as he rose from the bench. He had a month-long break after all. What better way to start it than by following a mysterious siren that could also tell the future. Nothing could possibly go wrong in that scenario, he thought ruefully.
They wound up in a hole-in-the-wall bar by the Mississippi River, one with names and phone numbers scribbled on the walls of the alley that led to the door. Between the expletives and various political slogans interspersed beneath names, there was a line of poetry painted in bold, black script.
“‘And without a backward look, she swam once more. Swam towards nothingness, swam to her dawn.’” Michael frowned and looked at Korri. “Pablo Neruda?”
“The owner’s a bit nostalgic.”
The inside was dimly lit and coated with a thin layer of fog from cigarettes and burnt out lanterns, just enough to blur the image a little. There was no central lighting, the ghost-like quality of the oil lanterns filtered through the smoggy air to keep the place bright enough to see but dim enough that it wouldn’t offend the eyes of the more light-sensitive patrons there. Everything from vampires to pixies dotted the tables and booths. The occasional human moved between sections, but Michael could only tell because of the bright gold color of their souls. The rest of the bar was lit with a rainbow of colors from the other residents. He quickly blinked the images away to save his now limited eyesight.
Korri deftly lead him through the crowd of creatures milling around with long necks and beer mugs, their presence not as strange as the complete ease with which they exposed their natures. Each being was wholly themselves, whether that meant seaweed hair, sparkling green skin or a walking tree stump with mushrooms for hair and vines for clothes.
“What is this, a dive bar for the supernatural?”
Korri nodded. “We have to go somewhere. Why not somewhere with alcohol?” Michael hummed and let himself be dragged along, taking in the sights as he went. He could have sworn he caught a Selkie doing shots of Patrón with a gnome in one corner while a Naiad cheered them on. The people flowed around him as the bar top loomed closer, a hulking troll wearing a beret and a flowery apron while he mixed drinks.
“Dearest,” Korri called. “I bring you a new customer.” The troll looked up, the light catching his tusks where they curled over his top lip. He gave Michael a brief once over before turning back to the White Russian he was preparing.
“He smells of death.” His voice was low, and grated like rocks rubbing together. Korri’s blithe smile didn’t falter.
“He is a Reaper. They tend to do that.”
Before Michael could get offended- Reapers did not smell, thank you very much- the troll passed a small tumbler across the counter, cowboy saloon style. The liquid inside was a dark brown and had a faint vanilla scent. Another glass, this one filled with green liquor, slid over to land neatly in front of Korri.
“All hail the Green Fairy,” she said before taking a sip. Michael picked up his glass, observing the way the heavy liquid seemed to cling to the sides. “You’re gonna wanna drink that,” Korri informed him. “Don’t ask what it is, but I guarantee it’ll hit the spot.” Michael shrugged and decided to chance it; it wasn’t like human alcohol could get him drunk anyway.
One sip later he was changing his mind about that. The drink was scorching its way down his throat and settling warmly in his stomach as he coughed at the fumes. There was definitely vanilla and another spice he couldn’t quite make out, but beyond that it just tasted like a campfire, hot and smokey.
“Good, right?” Korri asked.
Michael coughed once more. “Great,” he croaked, and took another sip.
They stayed at the bar for hours, both drinking whatever the bartender, whose name he’d learned was Mandrake, decided to set in front of them. By the time dawn began to break and the other patrons had cleared out, Michael was feeling buzzed for the first time in his grotesquely long afterlife. He and Korri had covered everything from ages to the wildest time periods they’d lived through and had moved on to their favorite places in the world.
“Definitely the Plitvice Lakes in Croatia,” Korri sighed. Michael was amazed in that fuzzy-headed way that drunk people often are that she could say it without slurring. “You?”
“I don’t have one.” He knocked back the rest of what was probably his fifteenth or sixteenth drink of the night. It took a lot to get a Reaper drunk, but by God Mandrake was trying his best.
“I don’t believe you.” She popped him on the shoulder. “Korri powers activate!” She made a buzzing sound while pretending to read his aura, wiggling her fingers around his head. “Let me see… If I were a two thousand year old Reaper with a stick up my ass, where would I hang out in my down time?” She hummed buzzed some more before yelling ‘ding dong’ and shoving a finger in his face. “You, my emotionally repressed friend, your favorite place is a place that shouldn’t exist.”
“You’ve lost me.” More like dropped him over a cliff into open water. Korri was beginning to grow on Michael, but she’d constantly led him down the rabbit trails of her own thoughts in the last few hours and being lost was becoming a familiar feeling. He didn’t understand her most of the time, but it was nice to hear something other than his own thoughts.
Her face lit up. “Exactly, we gotta get lost!” She waved her empty glass in the air. “Hey, Mandrake, my love. Add this to my tab. I’m gonna go get lost with Pretty Boy here!”
To his immense discomfort, Mandrake looked just as confused as Michael felt, but following along with Korri felt like taking the path of least resistance. So he went. He figured, at worst, they may wind up on the other side of the globe, maybe at those lakes she’d mentioned. There was no way their two drunken selves could do much damage.
Korri dragged him down to the river, mumbling under her breath as they went. Michael was content to watch New Orleans wake up as she plowed through the roads taking turns and back alleys at random.
“Alright,” she yelled. The liquor must be wearing off because the bright sunlight and the sound of her voice made his eyes hurt and ears ring. “We are lost!” She said it like it was some grand accomplishment. Maybe for her it was.
“Ok, so now what?” She ignored him, drawing signs in the air around them. Even with the alcohol fading from his system, it still took Michael a minute of squinting to see what she was working on. Then his jaw dropped in horror. “What are you doing!” He tried to run as the air began to shimmer, but Korri grabbed his wrist, locking them in place as the spell took hold on their reality. For an instant, Michael could have sworn that the palm wrapped around his wrist burned, the dainty, tan fingers turning into webbed claws. Korri was still smiling like she was drunk, but there was a sharpness to her eyes that he didn’t like.
“We’re going to the place that shouldn’t exist!” she declared triumphantly. “C’mon, Pretty Boy. You’re gonna love this!”
With those words, one of the many seams of reality tore and Korri yanked him forward into blank nothingness filled with the sounds of an ocean. He had a moment to remember that he absolutely hated beaches before the seam closed with a crack, locking him in another dimension with Korri, who, he’d recently decided, was clearly a lunatic.