|Daughter to Demons chapter 1 2 3 4 5 6||Ashes to Ashes chapter 7 8 9 10 11|
|Daughter to Demons: Ashes to Ashes
by Jeffrey M. Mahr
©1999 Jeffrey M. Mahr -- all rights reserved
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story stands by itself, but it describes the continuing adventures of characters first presented in Daughter to Demons.
Chapter Eleven: Cinder
|Little Polly Flinders
Sat among the cinders,
Warming her pretty little toes.
Her mother came and caught her,
And whipped her little daughter
For spoiling her nice new clothes.
-- Anonymous Nursery Rhyme
The salamander just huddled in the corner of the doorless, windowless cement room shivering.
"Go," DeBaulk commanded, "or I will leave you here to starve. This is your food. Consume it." It shivered, but remained in the corner.
"Aren't you on a time schedule here? If I don't die at moonrise this is all for nothing, isn't it?"
"Shut up." Suddenly a gun was in his hand and pointed at Jackie. "Salamander, I am your Master. You must obey me or be punished -- and you know that I am very good at punishing you."
"What are you going to do with the gun? If my guess is right, I've got to die from fire and a gun isn't likely to have much impact on a salamander."
"I said, 'Shut up!' You may have to die by fire, but that doesn't mean I can't give you a couple of painful but nonfatal wounds." He fired off one shot in her direction to emphasize his willingness to hurt her, and laughed demonically when it went ricocheting from wall to wall.
"Enough stalling. Salamander, do it now or else," he growled.
"It's okay salamander. Come here to me." Jackie coaxed the creature rather than allow it to be hurt by DeBaulk. It quivered but remained where it was. DeBaulk fired another round, this time into the salamander. It jerked, but still didn't move.
"Stop that! Leave it alone," Jackie pleaded. "It's okay boy, come here."
"Salamander, now! I command it."
When it still didn't move, Jackie shifted onto her knees as DeBaulk watched warily. Slowly she began to crawl towards the salamander.
"How brave and touching. I will accept your death however it occurs."
Jackie ignored his sarcasm but continued to slowly crawl towards the salamander. At about two feet away she could feel the heat sheeting off it.
"Nnn-ooo. Vvv-ill hurt yyy-ou. Sss-toppp."
"It's okay. I trust you. You're cold and scared. Come into my arms and he won't hurt you." Another shot from DeBaulk's gun emphasized the urgency of Jackie's actions.
"Get a move on there are but seconds left for the sacrifice. It will be better if it's by a direct fire source, but I think a gun will do. After all, there is combustion in the chamber to expel the bullet." With that the gun aimed directly at Jackie's head.
"Come on, you can do it. Come to Jackie."
The salamander quivered and slid about half the distance between them.
"That's right," Jackie held out her hands so they were almost touching the salamander. The sleeve of her blouse smoldered and turned brown from the heat. "A little more."
The hammer of the gun moved backwards. In the silence Jackie could hear the click as it settled into the cocked position.
The salamander jumped into her arms. Its skin had turned a dull brownish red. It seemed to be trying to control its heat, reducing it so that Jackie would not be harmed, but the blouse immediately flared into flame as soon as it was touched and was gone in less than a second. Jackie turned insubstantial and disappeared into the concrete taking the salamander with her. The last sounds she heard were of the gun going off and DeBaulk's scream of frustration and anger turning into fear and pain.
Frank ran to her and hugged her so tightly it seemed he was trying to crush her, not greet her. Lips found lips and there was a long sensuous kiss. Finally they broke for air and Frank suggested they leave the police station. It wasn't until they were in the car and Jackie was driving away that they spoke again.
"Thank you. I'll thank you properly when we get home, but thank you and I love you." Frank's hand rested lightly on Jackie's back as she drove and tenderly rubbed at her neck and back.
"I love you too and I appreciate the offer, but it will have to wait. Just as I was leaving to pick you up I got a call from Uncle Hank. At the moment we've got Aunt Sarah and him waiting for us at our apartment.
"Aunt Sarah left the house? She hasn't been able to do that for months. She even missed our wedding."
"Hank couldn't talk her out of it. She wanted to see that you were really safe."
"Did you leave a key for them? It's not that great a neighborhood."
"You don't know your Uncle very well, do you? I asked if he wanted me to leave a key but he told me no also. He's going to pick the lock."
Frank laughed, but then became serious. "Do they know about -- how special you are?"
"Then what are you going to tell them?"
"The truth, I guess."
"Ummm. I guess. If anyone will accept it, Aunt Sarah probably will."
"You don't sound convinced Frank."
"I'm not, but I'd hate to lie to her."
"Yeah. Me too." The rest of the ride was in silence as they both considered what was about to happen.
"Aunt Sarah. Uncle Hank. It's wonderful to see you." Frank ran from the door to hug them both. "Jackie tells me that without your help and support I'd still be in jail."
"It's great to see you cleared of the charges, but I think I can speak for both of us," Hank spoke as he broke from his hug to turn to Jackie for a hug from her next, "that Jackie is greatly overstating our roles. In fact, I was hoping that she would fill us in on exactly how she cracked the case."
Jackie glanced at Frank for guidance, but he just shrugged indicating she should do whatever she thought best and then surreptitiously jerked his head quizzically towards the fire roaring away in the fireplace. "Have you seen the official report?"
"Sure. You went back to the construction site. DeBaulk came back, admitted that he had killed the twelve other people, to framing Frank, and then tried to make you number thirteen. You fought him off and he went mad when he wasn't able to kill you on time. He's babbling to the psychiatrists about how he'll have to wait another thousand years before he can become a phoenix and demanding to call Hong Kong or someplace to access the money he's been siphoning off every other job but this last one so he can get a good lawyer. They expect him to be determined to be incapable of standing trial by reason of insanity and locked up for a very long time." Frank gave Jackie a long and piercing look. "Now, how about telling me what really happened."
Jackie took a deep breath and then another one. Just as she was about to speak Hank interrupted. "Whoa. Let me restate that request. Is there anything you'd like to tell a tired old cop who's curiosity is going to kill him yet and who will keep anything divulged during said conversation completely confidential? Oh yeah, and don't feel pressured to say anything. This is family business, not police business."
This time Frank shrugged again, but then nodded.
"It's a long story... and very strange. I need you to promise to just listen until it's done."
"Certainly dear." Hank's response was to look serious and nod.
"So, in summary," it was clear that Hank was not buying the story despite Frank's assurance that it was true, "you are a twenty one year old man who was killed by a succubus, reborn as a cupid, and found DeBaulk in a secret room that no one can get into or out of. DeBaulk was -- scratch that, is a satyr with ambitions of becoming a phoenix who went insane when he couldn't make it happen. Oh, and you befriended a salamander who was supposed to fry you but decided not to because you were nice to it. How'm I doin' here?"
"You're on target." Frank nodded his support for Jackie's story.
"You'll understand if I say this is a bit hard to believe?"
Frank and Jackie laughed. "You should have seen what she had to do to convince me."
"Well, regardless of the pile of bull you've just given me, at least you've been cleared. It's hard to be convicted of the murder of a man who is clearly alive." He glanced away from the couple and saw Sarah with her hand clutched to her chest and a rictus of pain on her face. As he watched she slowly crumpled into his reaching hands.
"Call 911 now!" he screamed as he kicked a book laden coffee table out of the way and carefully stretched her out on the apartment's worn carpet and started checking her vital signs. Jackie watched in shock as Hank bent over his ailing wife and began CPR while Frank ran to the telephone to call for help.
"She's not responding," Hank gasped between breaths into his wife's lungs.
"Move away from her," Jackie screamed before running to the fireplace to beg for assistance. "Salamander, please. We need you. Please help her. She's dying."
Hank ignored her pleadings assuming she was crazed with shock and grief. But then the fire seemed to slowly crawl out of the fireplace as if responding to her pleas.
"Frank, the fire. Get a fire extinguisher. Quick!"
"No Frank. Uncle Hank, it's okay. Please just move away from Aunt Sarah." The fire had slowly moved across the living room floor to within inches of Sarah's limp body. True to his police training, Hank noted that the carpet it had passed over was unburnt.
"Uncle, please," Jackie begged, tears flowing freely.
The cardio-pulmonary resuscitation was not working. Slowly, Hank stepped back form the limp form. There were tears flowing from his eyes also. Frank came up behind him and hugged him, unsure of what was happening, but confident that whatever Jackie was trying to do was for the best. Tentatively, lovingly, the fire touched Sarah and paused.
"Please salamander. I'm begging you."
Flowing over her body it seemed to envelope the prostrate woman, but it did not burn her. Instead, it formed itself into a close fitting glove around her. Its flame turned from yellow orange to white, then blue, then something -- more, a color beyond blue in a spectrum that was beyond nature. And then it was yellow orange again and quickly flowing back into the fireplace.
All three stared expectantly at Sarah. All of her clothes and hair had been burned off but she looked younger, maybe nineteen instead of forty nine, and free of all blemishes or other imperfections. It was as if a statue made of human flesh lay on the floor before them.
"What was that?" Hank whispered in the silence, ever the detective.
"What happened to her?"
"Wait. I only hope I'm right." They resumed staring at Sarah's transmogrified body. Hank gasped and pointed with a shaking hand as Sarah took a ragged breath. He fell to his knees beside her cradling her head in his lap as she blinked and opened her eyes. When she saw him she smiled and gently stroked his face.
"What happened? Did I faint?" Hank nodded.
"I feel better now. In fact -- I feel better than I ever remember feeling." She sat up and flowed gracefully into a lotus position. "My god, I haven't been able to do that in decades."
She smiled and stretched into a standing position. "Oh, I'm naked."
At that Jackie started giggling and grabbed an afghan off the couch and threw it over Sarah. "I think I have something that will fit you," she said as she guided her Aunt into the bedroom.
A still-befuddled Hank watched them go before dropping heavily into a chair. "Can somebody please tell me what just happened?"
"In a minute," Jackie called back over her shoulder just before the bedroom door closed.
The kitchen table was finally cleared with books and papers replaced by a tea set. In the seats about the table were Hank, Frank, Jackie and Sarah, now wearing a pair of Jackie's jeans and a skimpy tank top and looking like a bald coed.
"Now will you tell me what happened?"
"Of course Uncle Hank. It was the salamander. It saved her."
"Okay, I believe you. I believe you're a cupid. I believe a salamander lives in your fireplace and just saved my wife's life... but, for God's sake, please tell me how?"
"Sure Uncle Hank. It was partly thanks to DeBaulk. Even before he tried to kill me I was doing some research. I couldn't figure out how he intended to become a phoenix.
"What I discovered was that, like most things mystical, there's a lot of garbage and misleading information to wade through and the phoenix legend was no exception. It turns out that DeBaulk was a bit off. The sacrifices were unnecessary, the full moon, was unnecessary, even the thousand years between rising phoenixes was unnecessary."
"So what was necessary?"
"The salamander, just the salamander. It seems the salamander is a source of pure energy. Not the pure energy physicists talk about, but the real energy that is the core of the universe, the basic form of energy, a combination of magical and natural energy."
"So for a truly good person, which by the way meant DeBaulk never had a chance, the salamander can draw upon that basic energy and focus it. If the focused energy surrounds a human being, it's like a rebirth. The person becomes younger and all physical blemishes are removed to reflect the inner beauty of their soul. This was the true phoenix rising, the reinvigoration of an avatar of all that is good. Sarah is now the embodiment of goodness."
"What the hell does that mean?"
"I wish I knew. I couldn't figure it out from the research I did. All I know is that Sarah is now a mythical creature like me and she has a long, long time to discover her purpose in life."
Sarah's hand gently stayed the police officer's mouth. She smiled adoringly at her husband as she spoke. "It's alright dear. We'll find out together."