Andrea and I had been together for almost four years when we got the best news of our life. She was pregnant, and I was going to be a dad.
We were both ecstatic, elated even, that we were set to officially begin our family. We spent the next few months preparing ourselves with the usual supplies and attending frequent ultrasound checkups. An almost effervescent sense of pride filled me, and things could not have been better.
Finally, the time came for Andrew to grace the world with his birth. Andrea called me in a frantic tone nearly two weeks before Andrew was slated to arrive, and she let me know that she was on the way to the hospital with her mother.
I joined the two of them in the delivery clinic soon thereafter, leaving a rather miffed boss behind without an explanation. Andrea screamed and cried, and nearly strangled my hand with an anaconda grip as the labor pains began. An hour of intense pain later, and her struggle was finished. Andrew had arrived.
Words simply fail to properly convey the gravity and feeling of jubilation at seeing your newborn for the first time. He was beautiful, and my heart swelled as soon as my eyes beheld him. But all was not well. He was small, as was somewhat expected from the premature birth, only just above 5 lbs. His cries were frail, as if his little lungs couldn’t properly ventilate enough air to produce the typical infantile wailing. His skin was an almost ashen blue and his little arms appeared stiff and lethargic.
Before we had a chance to welcome our beautiful boy he was taken from the room by a group of nurses. It all happened so fast. I damn near burst a blood vessel as I demanded they return immediately with my son. I was informed soon after, that little Andrew was not well. His symptoms seemed to indicate there being a problem. We found out later that the problem in question was a congenital heart defect known as pulmonary atresia.
I held Andrea and tried my best to comfort her as she cried, both of us fearing for the fate of our son. Several hours later and the doctor who had delivered Andrew returned.
To our great relief; he informed us that the surgery was a success, and Andrew was resting. Andrea and I ventured out soon after, and for the first time we were able to admire our baby boy. He lay resting in a small padded bed. A web of tubes and wires coiled around him like a nest and a breathing tube was inserted in his nostrils. On his chest was a large scar from where the incision had been made.
It was a triumphant moment for us. The first battle had been won, but the war was yet to come. We were informed that Andrew had a long road ahead of him, and recovery would be an arduous process. Some days on, and that news was further dampened by a grey cloud. The initial success of the surgery was a little preeminent, and Andrew’s heartbeat had not synchronized properly as we had all hoped. The doctor told us it in a hushed and defeated tone that Andrew would have a troublesome road ahead. He didn’t outright say it, but I knew the chances of survival were slim.
That moment was a reckoning for me, as I felt I truly understood the world and it’s dreadful cruelties for the first time. I couldn’t look Andrea in the eye anymore, it was just too painful to see that perpetual uncertainty cloud her hazel eyes. The glint which once gleamed so brightly was gone, torn asunder by the contemptuous hands of fate.
Every waking moment my mind was grinded like an axe to the stone wheel by detrimental thoughts and the gradual erosion of the foundation my life had been built upon. Suddenly everything and everyone was in question, as the fateful nihilism slithered it’s grip around my brain.
One thing was never in question though; I had to save my son. I had to do whatever needed to be done to save him. I would’ve never forgiven myself otherwise. But what was I to do? I made a decision, one which in retrospect; is both the best and worst decision of my life. But it needed to be done, and so I reached out.
Modern medicine had all but failed us, and so I thought perhaps medicine of a different variety was in order. I have long since been privy to the rumors circulated in regards to forces beyond the physical realm. There are those that claim to know of one power in particular that has been linked to make deals when beckoned if given a suitable lucrative offer. It was lunacy I know, but in the moment, it was all I could think to do.
So, I got myself a book on witchcraft and a Ouija board from a local store of oddities. I set it up one night in the warehouse at my work. After a few more tips from several YouTube videos, I lit some candles and began the séance. I performed an incantation which was designed to attract the powers I wished to speak with. I put my hands on the planchette and waited. Nothing happened. I felt no energy or tingling sensation or anything even vaguely similar to a moderate inclination.
I paused and decided to rethink my approach. I thought maybe I needed more people to successfully complete the ritual, but there was simply no way I was going to ask anyone else to be a part of my madness.
I sighed and removed my hands from the planchette. I decided then, I would directly call upon the entity I sought. And so I did, I beckoned for the “deity” (who shall remain nameless) to come forward and hear my plea. Again, nothing happened. For a moment, as I sat alone in the dark warehouse with empty aisles in every direction, I thought I heard whispers. I turned as they echoed, but saw nothing.
I thought it a simple trick of my mind as I continued to play with the board. I waited for several more minutes and tried various other incantation techniques but got no result. Finally, I packed it in, disappointed that my efforts had seemingly been all for naught.
I began the drive home through the rural countryside as the thoughts and emotions formed a typhoon around me. Andrew was still at the hospital, sustained only by the machines which kept his heartbeat in synch. It could not go on forever.
As I rounded the bend I came to a red light and stopped. No other cars were in any direction, and I groaned that even the stoplights seemed to have it out for me. Just one more splinter on the pyre of mounting frustrations.
Something then flickered in the corner of my eye. I looked to my right, at the side of the road lined by trees. It was dark, but after focusing for several seconds, I saw it. A vague but definite shadowy form stood just behind the light pole, back in the bushes. For a second I thought it was a trick of the night, but after glimpsing harder, I knew someone was there.
It was too dark to discern any facial details. Whoever it was just stood there, motionless as time seemed to reach a standstill. I felt a cold chill creep down my spine, and my hairs stand at attention as I thought about the Ouija board. I never said goodbye.
The two of us stared unwavering for what seemed to be hours. Finally, a green hue beamed against the side of my face, and I turned to drive away. All the while the figure did not budge an inch.
I returned back home to find my wife already asleep in our bed. For that I was thankful, as it meant at least I wouldn’t have to see the pained look in her eye. I snuggled up in bed beside her and fell asleep soon after.
I awoke some time later, and my eyes slowly opened to reveal the dark room around me. It looked different somehow. Perhaps it was the lethargy plaguing my mind, but the room appeared distended and almost oblong. I felt an itch on my forehead, and rose an arm to scratch it, but my arm did not respond. None of my body did. I was frozen, with only my eyes able to move. Panic struck like lightning from the heavens, and I tried with all I could muster to force a scream from my throat. Desperately I tried to break from the invisible confines, but to no avail.
Then at the foot of the bed I saw it. From the carpeted floor something began to grow upwards. It looked almost like blackened lava erupting from the ocean floor, expanding and solidifying as it grew. The form was a solid black, so black it actually stood in contrast to the darkness around it. Even shadows don’t appear that dark.
It grew upwards at an accelerated rate. Sections of it began to splinter and fragment into separate appendages. I saw what looked to be arms sprout on either side of it’s torso coupled with long curled talons on it’s hands. On it’s back emerged at least four sets of twisted obsidian wings. It’s head then took shape, with bristles extending from it’s scalp and piercing yellow eyes emerging from it’s oval ocular sockets. It loomed over me, it’s hulking frame scraping the ceiling above and wings blanketing the room in an ethereal blockade.
My heart pounded with such ferocity it threatened to leave my chest entirely. A dread, the likes of which I cannot possibly effectively reiterate took root within my chest, thrusting frozen needles into my spine.
“WHAT DO YOU SEEK?” The thing spoke in a booming tone, as an orchestra of a thousand voices male, female, child and other all clamored in unison. The voice was like molten screws being jammed into my ear drums, and just hearing it caused unimaginable discomfort. It was like I did not possess the proper senses to glimpse, let alone comprehend the thing before me.
I thought about it’s question, shell-shocked but struck with an epiphany. Was this it? The thing I had beckoned? My mouth refused to budge, so I shouted the words in my mind.
“Who are you?!” The room seemed to further elongate as my words echoed throughout my mind.
“WHAT DO YOU SEEK?” The words were even more painful the second time. I felt blood begin to drip from my nostrils and ears. In fear of not being able to survive another auditory barrage, I pleaded with the thing.
“My son please… my son is… sick. I have to save him!” The words clamored throughout my head, bouncing like pebbles down the side of a cliff. The thing remained motionless. It’s head then slowly twisted to the side, revealing a curled almost beak like protrusion that jutted from where it’s mouth should have been. I felt cold chills circulate through my body, and goosebumps form on my paralyzed arms.
“LIFE. DEMANDS. LIFE.” The thing finally spoke, a little less intensely than the previous two. I didn’t know what that meant. A combination of my frenzied mind and pain-stricken senses laid a thick blanket of confusion over me. I was unable to think clearly, and the longer I stared at the thing the more my senses seemed to fray. I felt a true nibbling madness gnaw on my brain like thousands of maggots upon a festering wound. Despite all of that, I knew I didn’t have a choice.
“Anything… please just save him. I’ll do anything.” Even at the time I knew it was a questionable decision. I assumed the thing meant that in order to save my son’s life, another person had to die. A cruel decision I know, but I was already far beyond questions of morality.
The thing remained silent and still for several extremely uncomfortable for seconds. I thought for sure I was mere moments away from being torn to shreds, but then the thing spoke in an almost whispered tone.
“AGREED. FIVE.” Before I could think another response, the thing began to erode. Chunks of it’s body began to crumble like a statue rapidly rotting away. It’s right arm severed from its body and broke like cheap porcelain on the ground. It’s body continued to disintegrate, but all the while the thing’s gaze was locked on me with laser yellow eyes. Finally, it’s head severed as well, and fell to the ground with the rest of it’s amenities. All the pieces faded, and the thing was gone.
I lurched upwards in my bed, breath spiraling into my lungs and a damp sweat coating my entire body. I hyperventilated for several seconds, causing Andrea to stir beside me.
“Mmm… babe what’s wrong?” She asked, her hand drifting to my shoulder. Her touch instilled a tranquility in my body, and I felt myself begin to calm.
“Uh… I, nothing it was just a bad dream. I’m sorry.” Andrea shuffled closer and caressed my cheek with her hand. Without another word she moved in and I wrapped her in my arms. My soul was eons more at ease, but at the back of my mind a nervous feeling lingered. I knew it wasn’t just a dream.
The next day Andrea and I returned to the hospital to visit with our little man. When we arrived, several nurses were already standing around him with the same doctor who had delivered him. They greeted us with unsure smiles and I heard something I never expected. An infantile giggle. Andrea and I approached Andrew, and found him kicking about in his little crib and giggling away as if he hadn’t a care in the world.
It was soon found that Andrew had no need of his breathing tubes anymore. In fact, he had no need for medical supervision of any kind. His once weak heartbeat had become strong as an ox. Almost too strong as a matter of fact. His heart pulsated so powerfully that his little chest quivered with every beat. It was a bit unnerving to see at first, but over time, as he grew, the sight vanished.
Andrew never had a single medical issue from then on. He was strong, with perfect vision, hearing and all of his senses intact. He never caught a cold, or even so much as complained about a headache. Doctors were left astounded by the development, and none seemed to have an explanation for Andrew’s abrupt turnaround.
They performed many inspections on him as he grew, and always seemed to leave with more questions than answers. An odd detail they eventually found, the pigment on Andrew’s heart tissue itself was a solid black. No one had any idea what to make of that, but I did.
I watched Andrew as he grew from newborn to toddler, and toddler to preschooler. He loves sports, and can’t seem to get enough of them. He’s pretty good too, his favorites being hockey and basketball. Kid’s are always rambunctious, but Andrew is on a whole nother level. He never seems to get tired, barely even sleeps and he seems to operate at maximum capacity at all times. All no doubt a result of his gifted black heart.
The words spoken by the winged monstrosity continued to haunt me for awhile after that. Five. Five what? Had I doomed five people to die in order that my son may live? Was the thing counting it’s contracts and marking my son as number five? I hadn’t any way of knowing, but I never saw the thing again nor had another dream of the same caliber.
Three years after Andrew was born, we welcomed a new addition to the family and Andrew became a big brother. Emma was born happy and healthy, much to our collective relief. Andrew was a bit disappointed at first that he wasn’t getting a little brother, but with time he quickly learned to love his baby sister. We became a complete family then, and my life could not have been better. Work was going surprisingly well, Andrew and Emma were both healthy and Andrea was busy maintaining the castle and keeping the subjects in line. That was until last week.
Andrew’s fifth birthday was on the horizon, and I had just returned from the store with a trunk full of gifts. That was when I saw it, lingering in the park adjacent to our house. That same vague shadowy silhouette from years earlier at the stoplight. I was struck with the most astute sense of déjà vu upon seeing it again. My heart jolted in my chest and a nervous feeling permeated my mind as I parked my car. It wasn’t so much fear this time though, it was almost a reverence. A type of uncouth respect for the thing and what it had managed to achieve. I felt myself drawn inescapably towards it.
The figure did not so much as budge as I sauntered towards it. It stood just behind a patch of small trees, unwavering. Upon closing in on it, I found that it’s vague appearance was not just due to it’s initial distance. It had no physical features of any kind, just a dark humanoid appearance. No curve on it’s face for a nose, no ears on the side of it’s head.
Instinctively I knew the form was not it’s true appearance. It was only an avatar, like a parent pantomiming a high-pitched voice to emulate a doll for the entertainment of their child. It’s form was only so that I may recognize it. Before I could act, I heard the same cacophonous voices from the dream accost my mind.
“FIVE.” I still didn’t know what that meant. I cocked my head to the thing and was poised to respond, when a terrifying thought manifested. Andrew, he was about to turn five years old. I realized then the reason for it’s return. It had come back for what it was promised.
“No. No please you can’t take him!” I begged.
“LIFE. DEMANDS. LIFE.” It’s tone grew emphatically, causing my head to throb from the mental onslaught. Finally, I understood truly what the words meant. It wasn’t an explanation of it’s power, it was a contract detail, and I had agreed five years ago. Some part of me knew that all along, but never wanted to admit to it. I thought that my pact had likely caused the death or five of another. A prospect which I was never entirely comfortable with, but also never directly affected by. Clearly though, that wasn’t the agreement.
A deep sorrow then descended upon me as I realized the thing had returned for Andrew. All that we had been through, all to be taken away after so short a time? No, I couldn’t. I had to do it. With tears forming in my eyes, I spoke in a whisper.
“Take me. Please leave him, he’s just a boy. Let me take his place when the time comes.” The shadowy avatar seemed to hesitate for a moment, before it’s response came.
The thing dissipated after in the breeze of the sunset sky. I turned from it, and journeyed back to the house with a permeating sorrow thrust upon me.
“Hi daddy!” Emma declared in a youthful excitement as I entered. The grimace on my face vanished immediately, replaced by an affectionate smile.
“Hi honey.” I said swooping her into my arms and administering a flurry of kisses as she giggled away. Andrea rounded the corner. A wide smile formed on her face, and her silky brown hair drifted delicately upon her head. Soon enough came Andrew, hockey stick in hand and also anxious for some affection.
I wholeheartedly embraced them, holding tight and doing my best to stifle the desire for tears. I wanted them to see their father absolutely content for one last time. I wanted them never to question my absolute unyielding love for them. I never wanted to let go.
We spent the evening having dinner and enjoying one another’s company as we had a thousand times before. It was just another meal to them, but it was without a doubt the best dinner of my life. After dinner we sat down to watch Star Wars together, and snuggled up on the couch with popcorn and milkshakes. The perfect finish to the day.
My sweet Andrew, I have watched as you were born frail and gasping for breath. I have watched you persevere and grow strong through all the hardship you have faced. To become the sparkle in your mother’s eye, and hero to your little sister. You and Emma both have wonderful futures ahead of you. Being your dad, has been the most amazing experience of my life. I would not trade it for the world, but I would trade it for yours.
My darling Emma, and beautiful wife Andrea. Words simply fail to describe my love for you both. The most important ladies in my life. Emma, my munchkin, seeing your smile after a brutal day at the office is all I ever needed. Take care of mommy for me, and never be afraid to follow your passion.
I wish I had more time with you all, but as I have explained, my time is forfeit. That thing will soon return, and I will go at it’s behest. I wish it did not have to be this way. I wish for nothing more than to watch you both grow into the wonderful people I know you will someday be. But I know that’s not possible now. Life has a way of complicating itself beyond foreseeable comprehension, a truth which has now become all too evident.
I love you all more than you can possibly imagine, and I hope that someday you can forgive me for the hurt I will soon cause you. For all the birthdays I will miss and all the events I cannot be a part of, I am sorry. I see the shadows now, and I can feel its presence draw near. Stay strong my loves, and never forget that your father will always be your biggest fan. One day we will meet again, but do not rush towards it. Take your time, and don’t forget to stop and smell the roses once in a while.
It’s here now, and now it is my time to go. Do not cry for me my loves, for this is how it had to be. I made the deal, and now is the time for me to fulfill my end of the bargain. I belong to the great black eagle now.