A murky haze hung in the air around the decrepit house, as if squeezed out by the houses in the tightly packed space around it. To its right, a breath of space, a smudge of green where the floating miasma concentrated. A short, ancient forged metal fence that guaranteed tetanus snugged inside a higher gray chain link that felt more at home in the struggling neighborhood.
“We’re home, kiddos,” their mother danced up the cracked gray pavers that led to the gothic revival wreck in her high topped Keds and worn jeans, not just retro but vintage.
Arun’s eyes darted to find something good, anything. A tired, graceless rectangle painted a faded, hideous green presented as their new home. Dark shutters, at awkward angles hung on the façade. Four dingy white pillars struggled to support the roof overhang. They formed a dizzying series of parallelograms across the slanted porch. A turret hung off the one side of the second story, as if clinging desperately to hold onto the worthless structure. Just another single family row house streaming a segment from the heart of the city like legs of a diseased spider.
“Pile of whack,” Cantor pronounced over the screamo music banging out of her ear buds. A terminally angry 13, nothing was good in her life, reflected her brother Arun, a more mature 16. She wore only black which accented her painful thinness and her dark brown eyes were rimmed in black, smudging down her cheeks and reddening her eyes by the end of the day so she looked more in need of a hug than a cause.
“Turret is mine,” she claimed, looking up at the house. Arun would rather a view over the smoky plot of empty land than the neighbor’s windows. “Unless mother takes it,” she amended.
They settled into their house, Cantor in the lopsided turret, Arun across the hall overlooking what turned out to be an unkempt graveyard and their mother in a more spacious room in the back of the second floor with an attached bathroom.
Cantor attempted to shut her door but the door frame didn’t coincide with the door. She jammed it as close as possible to shut. Arun left his door open and moved the desk to the window so he could stare out the window at the graveyard. He left his lights off to improve visibility.
The glowing tip of a cigarette resolved in the haze inside the fence; a darker form within the misty shadows, large and bulky in ragged clothes.
How dangerous would it be to talk to the man? He was inside the double fence of the cemetery and Arun would be on the outside. He bet he could outrun some old smoker, for he felt the man was old, perhaps ancient. He walked soft footed down the stairs but heard Cantor’s door wrench open anyway.
“What’s the dilly, doofus?”
“There’s some crusty goombah out in the cemetery next door. Thought I’d surveil.”
“God, you need a keeper.” She shadowed him till they were noses to the fence.
“Hello,” Arun whispered. He felt Cantor tighten next to him.
“Hello,” it said, sucking the cigarette until it glowed white.
Another thing formed beside it, more polished, less foul. It bore a resemblance to their father who deserted them when they were just toddlers. Arun barely remembered him but Cantor, three years younger, claimed vivid memories. Her breath sucked in.
“So you’re the cool kids in the house,” the dad-like thing said. He was dressed in jeans and a white t-shirt. Looked about 30, mature but not old yet.
“Where have you been?” spat Cantor, forcing her face into the damp fence.
“Here, where I’ve always been. You’ll be gone before the month is out, they always are,” he said sadly.
“If you’re here, I’m staying,” Cantor said.
“Okay but first we’ve got to ditch the golem,” He jerked a thumb at the dark form in the ragged clothes, smoking.
“How?” she demanded.
“Simple, prick your finger and you can change places with him. Be with me all the time. Good times, trust me.” The edges of his silhouette vibrated.
The thing made Arum recoil. Cantor whipped out a safety pin out and stabbed her finger. The blood was dark but vibrant, like a living organism with a fluttering heartbeat. Arun squeezed his hand over her finger. “No.”
He slid out his pocketknife and sliced his arm at mid elbow. A bright wash of blood sluiced down his arm. He and Cantor had never been close. But something was terrifyingly wrong about this creature. He might lose himself but he would protect Cantor. They never saw eye to eye, had never bonded as siblings but he could save her and he would.
The frayed, dusty figure laughed a deep hacking laugh that dissolved into a cough.
“I still have some grace left.” He reached out a gray hand and wrapped it around Arun’s wound. Arun hung onto Cantor’s finger and they looked like an old playground game of Red Rover. Enormous wings pushed through the thing’s tattered clothing and where before he looked weak, he expanded with unbounded power.
Arun felt a searing glow in his arm claw its way up to his elbow. He felt wonder and his skin blistering. His flesh pulled back from the thing’s hand but regenerated pink and new underneath.
The dad-like thing hissed and slid back into the cooler shadows of the cemetery. His lovely smooth face crinkled and cracked and his frame fractalled into writhing snakes of ash. Cantor gasped and tried to flee but Arun squeezed onto her hand tighter as his new flesh solidified.
“It was too easy anyway,” the winged creature said to the snake things. “Kids, these days are too needy.”
“Thank you,” gasped Arun, “but why? You’re a frickin’ angel. You could have been free.”
“I’d be reassigned. And there are worse gigs in all of heaven and earth. Trust me.”