(Content Warning: Fantasy Violence, Brief Language.)
“Are you there, God? It’s me…” Jake said, falling to his knees.
The gargoyles attacked Sapphire City without warning and left nothing but utter destruction in their wake. No one knew where the stone creatures came from or why they attacked, but one thing was certain, they didn’t come from Heaven. How could they? Heaven is supposed to be a place of peaceful tranquility and harmony, right?
At least that’s what Jake thought, staring at the wreckage around him. He saw broken pictures of happy memories buried beneath mounds of broken lumber and glass that used to be his home. Elk street was utterly devastated. There were no cries for help nor soft whimpers for things lost because everyone was dead.
Jake believed God worked in mysterious ways and that everything happened for a reason, but what good could come from this carnage? He placed his hands on his face and wept once more. Why did the gargoyles take his wife? What purpose would that serve?
Wallowing in self-pity, madness seeped into Jake’s wounds like poisonous venom. The cuts on his arms and legs stung as the night air licked his skin, but that was the least of his worries. He needed salvation from his savior. He needed something to believe in. He needed hope.
“Oh, God. I know it’s been a while since you heard my voice, but I beg you, hear it now.” Jake lifted his watery eyes to the stars above and prayed, “Please give me the strength to find my wife, Barbara. She was taken by foul demons with wings.” He paused for a moment, but only a moment, and took a deep breath. “Give me the strength to carry on. Give me the conviction to face my horrors. Please God… give me the courage to kill every last one of those bastards!”
Jake waited for a response, but none came. Perhaps silence was the sign he needed because in the stillness of the night, the sound of flapping wings swooped by like a roaring hurricane. Looking towards the fiery horizon, Jake spotted a lone gargoyle soaring above, observing the wreckage his friends had left behind.
Following the winged creature was the only way to find Barbara, and although it might lead to a gruesome end, Jake decided to take the risk. Without his beloved wife, life would be meaningless. He waited for the stone beast to fly by and swiftly followed. Jake’s heart pounded in his chest, and he wondered if fear would betray his pursuit.
I hope these monsters don’t have super hearing!
Luckily for Jake, the gargoyle didn’t fly very fast, allowing him to keep up relatively well, considering the obliterated landscape. Whether this was by choice or freaky happenstance, Jake didn’t care. Maybe the creature injured itself in the attack.
The gargoyle buzzed around like a pesky bee before disappearing down a sinkhole. Jake peered over the ledge and wished he had wings.
“Damn! How can I get down there?” he yelled, chastising himself. I knew I should have brought some rope with me!
“Just jump in, my dear fellow!”
Jake’s senses tingled, igniting an already lit fuse. The low voice was unexpected but most welcome in the present circumstances. Jake saw an old man with a long white beard dangling down to his knees. His bushy eyebrows flowed down his forehead like twin waterfalls, and his eyes were bathed in light. He wore tattered clothes stained with dirt, which was to be expected, and walked along with a long oak stick. This was a pale comparison to Jake’s blue jeans and flannel shirt.
“I can’t jump in there,” Jake mumbled. “I will surely fall to my death!”
The old man wobbled over for a closer look and rubbed his beard. “Now, now, have a little faith. It doesn’t look that deep!”
Jake bent over and grabbed a broken brick. “Let’s test that theory, shall we?”
He tossed the heavy chunk down the abyss and waited for the sound of impact. After a few minutes, Jake scrunched his lips and lifted his brow. “It appears that this pit is deeper than I thought.”
“Nonsense!” fired the old man.
“Listen, I know you probably mean well, but I have to get down there. Those things took my wife, and I plan on saving her.”
“Hmmm… This reminds me of the time when I went on a blind date,” the old man scoffed. “The woman was nice and all, but she wasn’t very bright.” He paused to rub his beard again and continued, “I was completely dumbfounded when she told me that after three weeks of taking fish oil supplements, she still couldn’t breathe underwater!”
Jake narrowed his eyes and grimaced. “How does that story relate to this situation? Who are you anyway?”
“My name is Henry, and my point is this, stop being so afraid and ignorant and go after her!”
“I will trust me! I just wish I had some rope or something… My name’s Jake, by the way.”
Henry made his way to Jake and extended his hand for the customary handshake, and Jake thought it rude to ignore the kind gesture. “Nice to meet you, Henry.”
In a hasty Gotcha’ Moment, Henry placed his palm on Jake’s chest and pushed him over the edge. He chuckled, hearing Jake scream for his life as he fell further and further down the hole. “It’s nice to meet you too, ha, ha!!”
Every single strand of hair on Jake’s body stood erect as he fell. After a while, he stopped yelling because his throat was parched, and his vocal cords were sore. The gust of wind gushing around Jake became thicker like a thousand fluffy clouds, and his momentum slowed to a screeching halt as his feet gently kissed the ground. Somehow Jake was alive, and standing behind him laughing like a wild hyena was the old man, Henry.
“Ha, ha, ha! I told you to have a little faith!”
Jake scowled and clenched his fists. “Are you crazy?! That could have killed me! How is this possible anyway?!”
“That is not for us to question, my dear fellow,” chuckled Henry. “This reminds me of the time I saw a sign in my favorite restaurant that read: No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service. So, you know what I did?”
“I don’t care, but I’m sure you’re going to tell me anyway,” Jake said, shaking his head.
“I wore my best shoes, a brand-new fancy shirt, and strolled into that eatery with my butt cheeks flappin’ in the wind. The sign didn’t say No Pants, so I didn’t think I needed to wear any!”
“What does that have to do with anything!” Jake yelled.
Henry brushed his beard and whispered, “My point is, you should never take things at face value. Just because a sign tells you something doesn’t mean it’s the whole truth.” He paused and placed his old wrinkly hand on Jake’s shoulder. “It’s called faith… Now let’s go find your wife!”
Jake looked around the cavern and hugged the whispering winds that blew around them. A tunnel with a fourteen-foot girth penetrated the subterranean underworld and was lit with a thousand torches. It looked like it went on for miles. Jake couldn’t believe that they lived above this unknown passage without anyone knowing about it.
“Well, my dear fellow,” began Henry, “what are we waiting for?”
Caught off guard, Jake replied, “Oh, I’m just surprised that you would help me. What’s in it for you?”
Henry recoiled and ruffled his face. “Why does someone have to do something in order to get? I never understood that notion. Sometimes people do things because they want to!”
He stabbed the earth with his oak stick and trudged forward. “Come along, we better get a move on. Besides, I don’t have anything else to do now that my house lies in ruins.”
Jake followed the old man through the musty tunnel and mulled over what he said. Doing something because you wanted to and not wanting anything in return never entered his mind before. That was the way of the world. You scratch my back, and I’ll stab yours. A simple yet barbaric way of life where one person gets lifted high while the other gets cut down. Thoughts of Barbara flooded Jake’s mind giving him a welcome reprieve from the transactional dealings from the world above. He wondered if his beloved wife was still alive.
Casting the tangled cobwebs of bewilderment aside, a subtle flapping sound echoed further down the tunnel. Henry and Jake halted their steps and listened more intently.
“Do you hear that, Henry?”
“I might be old, but I’m not deaf! Of course, I heard that.”
Henry pointed forward and quietly moved ahead. If that noise was the sound of terror coming for them, they would face it head-on. “Quickly now!” whispered Henry. “We must move like shadows in the night!”
“What if I can’t?”
Henry turned and saw the trepidation on Jake’s face. Taking a deep breath, Henry warned, “Do not give in to fear. You must believe in yourself and remember the steadfast desire that drove you down here in the first place.”
Jake nodded and took the lead. The flapping sound grew louder as they ventured further through the shaft. Turning the bend, Jake came face to face with the gargoyle that led him to this place. The stone beast was obliviously hurt from the battle above and was lying on the cold soil, desperately fluttering its wings trying to take flight. Upon closer examination, Jake noticed black ichor gushing from its neck.
Jake knelt ready to choke the creature with trembling hands but quickly withdrew as it snarled at him like a cornered possum playing dead. Shuffling backward, Jake fell to the ground and shielded his face expecting the monster to rip him apart.
Henry bashed the gargoyle’s head with only moments to spare before it had the chance to land a killing blow. “Hah! That will show you, demon!”
Jake uncovered his eyes and saw the stone monster quiver and die with a final gasp. “Wow, that was amazing! What did you do?”
Old man Henry lifted his chin and defiantly roared, “I squashed this insect like the bug he was!”
Jake reached for Henry’s hand and was lifted to his feet. “Jake, you must hear me now if you want to save your wife.”
“What is it, Henry?”
Henry narrowed his eyes and held his beard like a precious loved one. “You must never hesitate against evil, for they will show you no mercy. Strike with powerful devotion and thrive against the horrors of this world!”
Jake tucked his lips into a thin line and nodded.
“Say you understand,” Henry ordered.”
Erupting with emotion, Jake yelled, “I will thrive against this evil and save my wife! I will!!”
Henry scrunched his lips and gave Jake a reassuring pat on the back. “That’s what I want to hear. Come along now. We have much more traveling to endure.”
The road ahead was surprisingly unburdened. Jake and Henry expected to find more opposition along the way, but they knew the unspeakable horrors of this underground passage would soon be upon them. Ever vigilant, they marched forward.
As they journeyed further, they came to a narrow shaft where water flowed down both sides of the wall. The crystal-clear liquid was a bastion of salvation for Jake, who was tired and thirsty. He cupped his hands and filled them full. Kissing his lips together, he dipped his head for a drink.
Before his lips could taste the water, Henry snapped his oak staff across Jake’s hands, spilling the water.
“What are you doing? I’m thirsty!”
“Do not drink that water!” Henry growled. “For all we know, it might be liquid poison!”
Jake shrugged. “Don’t be silly, Henry. I think your old age is catching up with you.”
Henry amplified his voice to a thunderous level, not caring if anything else would hear him. “Drink that water, and you will die! We must not let this world fool us!”
Silence gripped Jake’s neck, and no words could escape.
“One time,” Henry exclaimed, “I talked to a man who drank the sea. He told me about the time he peed for several months, causing a great flood that lasted one hundred and fifty days. I had to venture deep within his soul to close the windows of firmament to abate the rising waters.”
“That’s absurd! Old age has indeed gotten the better of you!” fired Jake.
“Come, let us continue our journey.”
Jake felt terrible about leaving the water behind but found solace when he finally laid eyes on an open cavern bathed in dancing shadows. Tied to a pole in the center of the room was Jake’s wife, Barbara. She was gagged with a white cloth and couldn’t speak. Her clothes were shredded, and black mascara stained her cheeks. From the reaction of her eyes, Jake knew she was happy to see him.
“Hang on, I’ll get you free!” Jake shouted.
“No, you fool!” Henry scolded. He tried to grab Jake, but it was too late.
Stepping away from the darkness was a giant thirty-foot gargoyle monster with golden wings and black staple-like fur. A silver crown adorned with red rubies rested upon the demon's head. The mammoth creature had razor-sharp tusks and fingernails, which it used to swing at Jake.
The hollow chamber shook as the King Gargoyle stomped the ground, trying to squash the unwanted intruder. Jake ducked and weaved while Henry amplified his voice once more, distracting the enormous monstrosity away from his friend. With a little breathing room, Jake quickly made his way to his wife and untied her.
Barbara collapsed into her husband’s arms but still had enough strength to wobble along with him. This did not go unnoticed. The King growled a fearsome howl, spread his mighty winds, and flapped them wildly. The rush of wind knocked Henry, Jake, and Barbara to the floor.
Laughing as only a monster could, the King lunged forward with his maw wide open ready to devour the reunited lovers. Making a lunge of his own, Henry dashed in front of Jake and Barbara and was snatched up in the gargoyle's mouth.
The King rose, trying to mash his mouth closed, but Henry stood within holding his magnificent oak staff against the upper and lower parts of the monster's jaw. The power of this beast was too much, and Henry watched his spear bow and splinter. It would only be a few seconds before his saving grace would break.
Jake looked at his friend confined in the gargoyles mullet and screamed, “Henry, no!!”
Old man Henry smiled, knowing the end would soon be upon him. He looked at Jake and Barbara and smiled, knowing they had accomplished what they set out to do. “Remember to thrive!”
The King chomped down, snapping Henry’s oak staff like a toothpick. As the monster chewed on the old man’s bones, a sharp jagged piece of the spear flew through the air towards Jake.
Henry’s last words echoed through his mind…. Thrive! Remember to thrive!
Without rational thought, Jake exploded into the air, grabbed the soaring spear that was once Henry’s staff, and threw it straight and true at the King’s heart.
“Thrive on this, you bastard!”
The spear stabbed deeply. The King squealed horribly and breathed his last breath. Like a mountain, he fell to his death, and the chamber began to collapse. Suddenly, a thousand yellow eyes blinked in the darkness and emerged. It was an army horde of gargoyles, and they were angry.
Jake scooped Barbara up and ran as fast as he could. Sprinting down the crumpling passageway with flapping wings and destruction hot on their heels, Jake prayed to his sacred God.
“Are you there, God? It’s me… Please hear my prayers, for we need you now! Please deliver us from this evil!”
By some miracle, Jake felt a surge of energy and ran faster. Rounding the bend, a bright light shined down from the world above. He couldn’t explain it, but he knew salvation was just moments away.
The gargoyle army was only inches away from snatching the loving couple but missed their chance. When Jake and Barbara entered the light, they were instantly transported back to the top from whence they came. The few unlucky gargoyles who ventured into the light were vaporized, and the others were crushed in the collapsing tunnel.
The sinkhole closed, and the evil born from it was no more. Jake hugged Barbara as tight as he could, but nothing could have prepared him for what he saw next.
Old man Henry emerged from the golden light and smiled.
“How can this be?” Jake asked.
“Do you not know who I really am?”
“Are you, G-God?” Jake stuttered.
“Ah… now you see!” Henry boasted.
“Is that what you really look like?”
“I can take any form I wish,” Henry confessed. He placed his warm hands on Jake’s shoulder and continued, “I want you to remember something for me. The greatest gift I have given to all living things is free will. I cannot control everything in this universe; that’s why I work in mysterious ways. When I saw this evil rise, I knew I had to help, but I couldn’t do it alone. Thank you for your help, Jake. Promise me that you will forever thrive no matter what I throw at you. Your species is strong yet flawed in your magnificent ways!”
“I will. I promise!” Jake said.
Jake turned to Barbra, who was speechless and kissed her. When his gaze returned to Henry, he was gone, and the destruction left behind from the gargoyles was erased like it never happened.
Evil never thrives in the presence of good.
Daniel R. Hayes