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David James Knell

In the Park

Aug 27, 2023

It was a dark December. The leaves that remained dangled from the skeletal arms of the trees in the park. There was no moon this night, but stars shone down uninhibited save for a few wisps of cloud which floated by like grey ghosts.
A pool of cold light from the lamp exposed the paved path and the man standing on it. He huddled inside his trench coat for dear warmth, shivering, bending his knees and shifting his weight from one foot to the other. White breath rose from his mouth and disappeared into the night like steam from a locomotive. And with his black hat capping his lean figure, he looked something like a train engine's chimney.
The man's name was Eames. He was the bookkeeper for a Greek restaurant chain in town, Kairo's. It was a small, family-owned chain with three locations. Hiring mostly family and local young people, they ran a lean operation, so Eames was sometimes asked to do odd jobs, receiving deliveries of ingredients or counting inventory.
So it was that Odie, the co-owner and family patriarch, asked him to perform a simple task tonight.
"It's another odd job, a very odd job, but an important one." He wiped his hands with a white rag and led him into the back office. "So important that no one in the family can do it. It must be a barbarian, like yourself." He called all non-Greeks barbarians.
"What's the job exactly? Ingredients pick up?"
Odie shook his head. "A drop-off."
"Of what?"
"That I cannot tell you."
The look on Eames's face must have revealed his confusion and more than a little hurt because Odie said, "If I did not trust you, I wouldn't give you this assignment. I cannot tell you because I myself do not know."
Removing the chair from under the desk that held the computer where Eames kept the spreadsheets that ran the company, Odie bent down and retrieved a bundle of packing paper held together with a thick web of masking tape. It was about the size of the heavy duty blender they had in the kitchen, and taller than it was wide. Odie looked into Eames's eyes, and held it out to him.
Eames took it and felt its heft, which was a little heavier than it looked.
Odie proceeded to give instructions. Saddlewood Park, 2 A.M., beside the third lamp on the path toward the lake.
So here he was, waiting, and freezing, with the package at his feet, too cold to take his hand out of his coat pocket to check his watch. He had exited his car with five minutes to spare, and now it had felt like he had been waiting a half hour in the bitter air, but cold had a way of slowing down time, so he couldn't be sure. All the same, his patience was freezing over. If he had to wait much longer, he hurry to his car and call the evening a failure.
He heard a sound like the ticking of a clock, faint at first and then louder. He looked around and saw only the darkened park with its woods to one side and the playground that seemed hidden in its own shadow to the other.
Then, from around the bend in the path which emerged from the woods, a hunched figure came into view. It shuffled forward one small step at a time, aided by a cane, which ticked each time it touched the pavement. Eames picked up the package and waited.
The person ambled along so slowly that Eames wanted to hurry over and save them the trouble of walking all this way. But he remembered Odie's firm instruction: "Stay in the lamp light the entire time. You must remember to do that." So he stayed, shivering and feeling bad for the one approaching, listening now to the sound of grunting that joined the sound of the cane with each effortful step. The head looked back, looked up, looked around all the while.
Finally, here he was. For it was an old man, his grizzled white beard long but thin, his ungloved hands pale and boney, but with eyes as green as the Mediterranean Sea. With those eyes he looked at the bundle in Eames's hands, putting is free hand gently on top of it. Then he looked up at Eames, craning his neck to do so.
"You are not Greek?"
Eames shook his head.
"That was wise. Who gave this to you?"
"Odie. Uh, that is, Odysseus Thopolis."
The man nodded. "That is a good line. I am grateful to them. And to you."
"It was no trouble," said Eames with more courtesy than truth.
"Let's hope that remains so." He looked all around them. "Do you have a weapon?"
"A weapon?"
"Do you know what you are holding?"
"No. Odie didn't know either."
The man let out three cloudy breaths before saying, "Perhaps that too was wise. Perhaps not. I should walk you to your vehicle, just to be safe."
"I think it should be me that walks you to your car."
But the old man took Eames's arm and started them walking toward the parking lot.
Eames heard the noise before the old man did. A whoosh, then another, the sound of air being moved in great quantities. He looked up. Blotting out the stars was a great bird, only it was too large to be a bird. The man followed his gaze, and, seeing the creature, gasped and lifted his cane's tip toward it.
In a burst of white light, a bolt of electricity shot out from the cane and connected with the creature, exploding it into a shower of black feathers. Eames screamed and fell backward onto the frozen grass, dropping the bundle. In the flash, he had seen the face of a hideous woman.
"Keep that safe!" hissed the man. "And keep it intact, will you? We're in for an evening, so keep yourself together."
The old man pulled him to his feet. "Your job is to keep Ares from them. You protect him, and I'll protect you." He pointed to the playground. "That is closest. We will make our stand there."
They made their way behind the tall, curly slide just as the sound of wings returned, this time many fold. A dozen bird figures covered the stars above the woods.
"What are those? Who are you? What is this package? And what's going on?"
"To each of my children I gave gifts. Ares I made mighty in battle above all." The man touched the package. "These are his ashes. They believe that, with his remains, they will wield his power, wield it against me."
"Who are you?"
"My name is Zeus."
Lightning blazed from his cane, forking into branches to kill three of the winged creatures at once. Feathers rained onto the forest canopy.
In no time at all, more reached them. Zeus took several out of the sky, but there were too many. They spread out, and two flew around their flanks. One dove from behind them. Eames spun round and covered his face with his free arm just as a creature clawed at him with huge talons. They easily pierced his sleeves and dug into his arm, all while the woman head shrieked, its wings beating mightily. Eames screamed and fell back against Zeus, who turned and shot white voltage, and the thing was gone. But only just in time for another to attack. Still more landed on the monkey bars, hissing and howling, waiting their turn. Others didn't wait. They piled on, thrusting their bodies at them, swiping with knife-sharp claws.
Zeus shouted, "Get down, son!"
Eames didn't know if he meant him or the ashes, but he threw himself onto the mulch and covered his head with his torn arm.
Zeus stood, raised his cane high above his head, pointing it straight up at the stars. From over all horizons, the stars went out as grey cloud hunkered over the sky, racing to the point immediately above them with unearthly speed. They collided and swirled around each other, gaining speed. The bird creatures hovered in hesitation, growing uneasy. Some began to fly away when Zeus thrust his cane heavenward and a dozen white-hot javelins scorched the air and put an end to a dozen monsters.
And then there was silence. Eames looked around. With no lamp post nearby and no flashes of light, he couldn't see much of anything. Then the clouds began to disperse, and the stars gave him enough sight to see black feathers blanketing the playground. Here and there, a bird's foot lay. The smell of burnt meat stung the air.
"Are you alive?" Zeus asked. His voice was small and scratchy. Eames turned and saw him lying on the ground next to him.
"Sir, are you alright? Did they get you?"
"No, no, not them. An old frame like mine can handle no more than a shot or two without a long nap to help me recover. I am spent, is all." He tried to get up, grunting, and fell back down. "Very spent."
"Here let me." Eames got up. He handed Zeus the package, then lifted the man into his arms.
"I am not to be held like a child."
"If more of those things come, I can't fight them off, and I'm pretty sure that cain would be no use in my hand. So we're getting out of here."
He carried Zeus to his car and set him in the passenger seat. Once inside himself, he started the car.
"Where are we going?" asked Zeus.
"A hospital."
"No, they become hysterical when they find out I'm not like them. They can't help me anyway."
"Well what does help?"
"Nectar. I need nectar. Take me to this Odysseus."
"Odie has nectar? He makes a mean gyro, but I don't think they sell nectar."
Zeus closed his eyes and rested his head on the window. "If he doesn't, he will know where to get some. Please, take me to Odysseus."
Eames backed the car out of the lot and headed to Kairo's, leaving the battlefield behind. The roads were empty. Traffic lights flashed yellow. The stars hung in the night unblocked by cloud or monster. Zeus slept.
Eames exhaled, exhausted and bewildered. He would take this old man to Odie, he would explain what had happened, and he would ask him what on earth was going on.
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