A key scraping in the door startles her awake. The laptop on the tray on her lap tilts at a dangerous angle but she catches it before it falls to the ground and before her brain has quite registered what happens. It probably means something that the bag of chips has spilled out on the floor but her subconscious has protected her laptop from falling down.
Vibeke squints her eyes and wipes over the touchpad to make the screen light up. Some trailer for a new movie sits paused, the actor making a weird face. She closes the tab and looks up when Mary enters.
“Vib? Did you fall asleep?” Mary asks as she hangs up her coat.
Vibeke puts the laptop on the couch next to her and wipes her eyes. “I guess I did. Not that I intended to.”
“You should have turned on the TV,” Mary yells from the kitchen.
“I hate the TV, I hate the commercials,” Vib says and gets up to join Mary in the kitchen. Mary stuffs a leftover sandwich in her mouth. “Didn’t you just have dinner?”
Mary rolls her eyes and chews and swallows quickly to answer the question. “It was a really posh thing, that place,” she says between swallows.
“Tiny portions?” Vib asks, picking a tomato from the bowl.
Mary nods. “Very tiny. I think I got more nutrition from the decorations on my cocktail.”
Vib glances up to the clock on the kitchen wall. “You’re home early.”
Mary sighs and places a hand over her heart. “Can you believe that he’s a gentleman?” she says, a rosy blush on her cheeks. “He doesn’t want to rush things, brought me home and only kissed me on the cheek.”
“Why do you find all the nice guys and I always get those weirdos that want to me to wear a bunny costume and lick their feet?”
Mary laughs out loud. “That was one guy and at least he accepted your rejection without throwing a tantrum.”
Vib sighs. “That’s a fucking low standard.”
“I know,” Mary says, “we’ll find someone for you, I promise. How was the kid tonight?”
“Justin played some Mario game, ate his sandwich and tricked me into reading him two chapters instead of one,” Vib says. “He was asleep by eight.”
“He loves it when you babysit him, he wants you to come by every night.” Mary wipes her mouth with a napkin and places the plate in the sink.
“Well, it’s not like my dating life is keeping me away.”
“We’re going to change that,” Mary says and jams her finger in Vib’s chest. “Now I’m going to look at my sweet little boy and you should go home.”
Vib nods and steps over toy cars and super hero figures to get to the couch. Her laptop is still humming when she gets to it. She closes the browser and initiates shutdown. In the same moment that the laptop shuts down, all the lights in the house turn off. No flicker, no spark, just sudden darkness.
“Mary?” Vib calls out. She scrambles up from the couch and trips over the same toys she just stepped over. “Mary? The lights down here are all out, how… ?”
A bright flash lights up the house and Mary screams. Vib runs up the stairs. The banister rail is vibrating under her hand. The whole house seems to shake and the blinding light spills down the stairs. She turns at the top of the stairs and sees with horror that the blinding light comes out of Justin’s room. It spills out around the door and she almost can’t see the door knob.
As she approaches, there is an explosion and the door flies open, hitting her shoulder. It hurts like hell but she has to go forward; she has to get to Mary and Justin. The light is too bright, like floodlights made for illuminating a football field.
She storms in the room, shielding her eyes with her hand against the terrible light. She can only make out shadows moving too fast; giant shadows, far too big for the room and far too fast for their size. She sees Mary standing with Justin on her arm. They seem to be frozen, as if they don’t even notice the fight right next to them.
The creatures are crashing against each other again. They are taller than men and on their backs, leathery wings are beating. Vib stares at the wings and tries to understands what she sees. The one creature looks like a giant bat from a bad horror movie, dark grey with a distorted face.
The other creature is more colorful, the wings reflecting the light in green and blue. The colors extend over his shoulders and neck and down his back. He moves like a true predator and it is strange to notice that he is wearing pants. The whole scene of these two creatures fighting, grappling each other, scratching and biting looks so surreal that she almost laughs out.
This can’t be real.
The fighters throw each other around, furniture splinters, a shelf with toy cars comes crashing down. They snarl and yell at each other in a language she doesn’t understand. They move in a blur, caught up in each other like angry cats. And still Mary and Justin seem to be frozen, the violence around them unnoticed. Vib stares at them, wondering if she’s dreaming. But pain exploding in her face tells her that this is very real.
Dreams don’t hurt like that.
A tail has hit her in the face, a tail with green scales and blue thorns along the ridge. She cries out in pain. Her hand comes away bloody when she touches the gash across her cheek and nose. For a moment the blueish creature looks at her, a human-like face with yellow eyes. He seems shocked by her while the grey beast looks at her, too, and hisses. With a snarl they turn away and crash against the window.
A storm blows through the broken window and then the blinding light goes out with a flash. Vib stumbles forward and stares into the night. It looks like a hurricane came through and the tree in front of the window seems to be split in half.
Someone behind her screams.
“Oh my god, Vib, are you okay?” Mary stares at her with wide eyes. Her eyes drift away from her face and her eyes get even wider. She looks at the carnage around her. “My god, what happened here?”
Vib turns to her and almost falls over a huge tree branch sticking into the room through the broken window. It looks like it broke the window and part of her mind wants to accept that because it make so much more sense. Of course a tree branch flew through the window, the tree and the storm knocking down the shelf and breaking the nightstand instead of two monsters from a bad horror movie fighting.
“Must have been a freak storm…” she hears herself say and it sounds like it’s coming from a stranger. “Did you see the … creatures?”
“What creatures? What kind of storm was that? It split the tree!” Mary clutches Justin to her chest who seems strangely calm.
“My cars,” he whines quietly and strains to get down from Mary’s arms to pick them up.
“No honey, there’s broken glass everywhere, we’ll … not now. Oh god, I don’t know what to do.” Mary looks at Vib with pleading eyes and it finally wakes her from her confusion. They don’t have shoes on and there are shards everywhere. Vib pulls a blanket from the crib and throws it on the floor for Mary to step on. Picking their steps through the debris, they make it into the hallway.
Sirens are blaring outside, coming closer to the house. “That’s probably the fire department,” Vib says.
Mary snorts. “Knowing my neighbors, it’s probably the police and someone called them to say that my meth lab blew up.”
Vib opens her mouth to say something but stops herself. Everyone in the neighborhood was nice enough to Mary but racism is a hidden thing. They wouldn’t say anything to her face but Vib had seen how they whispered and rolled their eyes when Mary’s back was turned. It made you think differently of perfectly nice people.
They walk down the stairs and open the doors just as two police cars stop in front with screeching tires. There is whole lot of yelling at first but one of the younger policemen is from the neighborhood and assures his colleagues that Mary indeed lives in this house. The Fire Department and an ambulance turn up too eventually. They get checked over but except for the cut in Vib’s face, they are uninjured.
Vib lets her fingers run over the scabbed edges before the paramedic applies an ointment and covers it with bandages. She tries to picture the scene how she got the cut but it’s like her mind is fighting her. Everything is foggy; was it a twig from the tree? Was it glass from the window?
Some neighbors are pulling the tree branch from the window and another brought a piece of tarp to hang over the broken window. Sometimes, people can actually be nice to each other.
Vib wants to help but she suddenly feels too tired to stand so she sits down on a lawn chair and watches the neighbors saw through the half fallen tree and pull the branches out on the lawn. Justinn comes up to her and climbs in her lap. He is still so unusually quiet and he is watching her, not the tree recovery.
“Hey, are you okay?” Vib asks him. Mary looks over to them and she makes a sign to her that she is taking care of Justin. The boy has one of his toy cars in his fist, a bright yellow model of a muscle car. Vib remembers that it’s his favorite, he probably had it in his hand when he went to sleep.
Justin nods and looks at his car. “I’m fine.” He looks over to his mama once but then turns back to Vib and crawls up her arm to whisper in her ear, “I saw them too!”
“What did you see?”
Justin whispers, “The men with wings.”
And with that remark, as if a floodgate flies open, the memories come back.
A creature with a human face and green and blue scales and wings and a tail. And he had looked at her with yellow eyes.