I married Azzy in a courthouse on a rainy afternoon. The love of my life wore a fifty dollar dress, bought at Target with her employee discount, and a veil she made herself using various thrift store finds. I stroked her long black hair, looking into her sky blue eyes. My bride looked like a Disney princess.
My sister, Olivia, was by my side, struggling to balance on her prosthetic leg while holding my son with her prosthetic arm.
Baby Lucas wailed, his little limbs flailing.
"Give him to me," said Remy. My son seemed to cry when held by anyone other than Azzy's gay best friend. The Cajun-Hawaiian playboy, with his long hair and surfer looks, was working on turning his life around. After the untimely death of his boyfriend he quit his job, staying at MY apartment full time to watch over the baby (who may or may not be the reincarnated soul of his partner.)
As for Azzy, after she had the baby she took advantage of Target's maternity leave. She told me she was unsure if she even wanted to go back to being a cashier. I advised her to keep her options open, just in case she changed her mind after the six months were up. I loved her, I would support her in whatever she chose. But as I kissed my bride, my eyes couldn't help but glance towards Remy.
It bugged me, the fact that Azzy and Remy had so much time to spend together. I liked that she was keeping him on the straight and narrow. Even stripped of his powers he had not resorted to drugs or alcohol. That's something to be admired, right?
Together they'd helped Olivia move into the halfway house where she was learning to live independently with one arm, one leg and no tongue. We were all friends, family; at the time, that was all that mattered.
After the ceremony we all headed back to my apartment to order takeout from the closest vegan restaurant.
“I think we should go back to Wisconsin, as a family,” Azzy suggested.
I glanced up from my veggie burger. “Why?”
“It’s our culture, our heritage,” she pointed out. Olivia and Remy nodded in agreement.
“Azzy, my parents are dead, your parents are a zombie and a demon.” It needed to be said.
“Your point?” Remy asked as he held my infant son in his arms.
“Shut up, Nanny Man-bun,” I muttered. “You don’t get a vote!"
Remy wore his dark hair pulled into a trendy hipster bun. “Azzy wants little Lucas to meet his extended family. I don’t see what the big deal is.”
“Yeah,” Olivia added, pressing a finger to her electronic voice box. “It’s been years since we visited Mom’s grave and I’ve never even seen Dad’s grave.”
"They're the same grave," I groaned, frustrated. The night Lucas was born I had asked Azzy if she loved me enough to relinquish her powers, her answer was no. Now I knew why- Wisconsin. The Midwest was the source of her powers, her demon father’s clan, which was now her clan. She told me it was selfish to ask her to choose between me and her family. Funny, I thought I was her family.
“You can take a week off of work,” Azzy said as she casually took a sip of Sprite. “And I have a few more weeks of maternity leave.”
Remy and Olivia were awaiting a reply. I was outnumbered. “Fine, I’ll ask.” I actually was entitled to paternity leave, but I had declined since Azzy had Remy to help her with the baby.
The next day I talked to my supervisor, at the hospital, about taking leave. But the schedule had already been made and I apparently had the week off. “What gives?” I asked.
“Your wife spoke to me earlier this week,” Ms. Conners replied. She was an elderly woman, close to retirement age.
"She went behind my back?" I sighed and rolled my eyes. “Of course she did.”
“Hey, I did you a favor. You are going to take the next two weeks off. Or do you really want that hippy-freak raising your kid?”
She wasn’t wrong. The baby adored Remy. Secretly, my biggest fear was that one day I would come home to the news that my son called him Dada.
Since I had the next two weeks off, we (Azzy, and I along with Olivia, Remy, and the baby) rented a minivan and made the cross-country trip. The four of us alternated between driving, sleeping and watching over the baby. As the result we arrived in Wisconsin in just under a day.
We were going to stay at the Holiday Inn motel across the movie theater, next to the place where I first found the entrance to “Azzy’s clan.”
Exhausted, my family unpacked and got settled. I walked across the street to pick up some Chinese takeout. When I returned Azzy and Remy were laying on one of the two beds with the baby between them.
Remy sat up. "What did you get?"
"Everything on the menu that was vegan or could be made vegan. But being that this is Wisconsin that amounts to mixed vegetables, noodles and rice."
"No, being that you went to the cheap-ass truck stop restaurant instead of Postmates..." Remy grabbed one of the plastic bags, selecting a box of plain fried noodles.
"Does Postmates delivery even exist in Beloit?" Azzy asked, as she sat up with Lucas in her arms.
Remy shrugged. "You grew up here."
"But I'm a white trash hell-demon, remember? I was lucky if my dad let me have a rotten apple with my expired lunch meat sandwich. He certainly never ordered takeout from a website." Azzy sat on the edge of the bed as she moved the baby under her loose t-shirt to breastfeed.
Remy chuckled as he took a seat on the floor, at her feet. "My old man used to order take out all the time; Postmates, Grubhub, DoorDash, you name it. I would get the food while he devoured the delivery person. He was the inspiration behind more than a few urban legends, or creepypastas or whatever."
That was when I witnessed something truly maddening. As Remy sat on the floor eating out of a takeout box with one hand. The other slipped under Azzy's shirt, to allow baby Lucas to caress his little fingers around Remy's tattooed knuckles.
When the baby was finished nursing, Azzy rested Lucas on her lap as she ate her dinner. Remy proceeded to lay his head on my wife's lap, cuddling my son. Their dark hair blended into one shade. Azzy stroked Remy’s cheek.
I heard Olivia cough, which was odd since coughing with an electric voice box was painful.
I glanced at her with a glare.
She forced a smile. “Come on, they’re cute. Remy is like Lucas's older brother.”
The next day, at around ten in the morning, early enough for the fields to be vacant, we walked until we found the hidden door.
Olivia reached for my hand. I could tell she was afraid. “Don’t worry, Azzy’s father is gone. We trust Azzy, right?”
Olivia nodded silently.
I knew she had every right to be afraid. The hellish place looked exactly the same as when Azzy’s father captured Olivia. I gripped my sister’s hand while Remy walked with Azzy, holding the sleeping baby Lucas in his arms.
Walking down the dirt hallway we passed people in clown masks. They were digging, expanding the tunnels. Further down there were people using cement, spackle and various other power tools to enforce the walls. I wondered why.
Down a large metal staircase lived the caterpillar, Azzy’s caterpillar. My family stood before the giant, towering, creature made of human limbs. Azzy stepped forward, reaching her arm into the mass of flesh. “Mom? It’s me.”
The mass of limbs parted. Azzy’s mother’s corpse drifted forward, like a puppet. Although her mouth was not moving there were zombie groans clearly emanating from her throat.
Baby Lucas opened his eyes. He cooed reaching his arms out to his grandmother.
I took a step back as Azzy’s mother’s arm reached out, touching Remy’s cheek.
Remy looked around awkwardly. “Uh, Azzy, Johnny, what do I do?”
The dead woman laughed, her face was frozen, unmoving but her voice echoed. “What a beautiful demon baby, the perfect little prince to unite two clans.”
“Two clans?” I muttered quietly.
Azzy’s mother turned to her. “My sweet daughter, there is so much of your father in you.”
Azzy appeared frozen in place.
“No… ” I bit my lip, shaking my head. "No, this can't be true!"
“No what?” Azzy asked. Her voice was trembling, it was clear she was trying to force herself to speak.
“Is the baby Remy’s?” I cried. I had been so afraid of Remy being called Dada but this was so much worse. This was a nightmare, this was hell. The baby had Azzy’s blue eyes with dark hair and light skin. My son didn’t look like me but it never crossed my mind that he looked like Remy. “Did you sleep with Remy?”
“No! Of course not!” Azzy's chest was heaving, it was clear she was struggling to avoid a full panic attack.
Remy slowly placed the baby on the ground. “I’m so sorry.”
Azzy looked as confused as I was. “Remy?”
“I’m sorry! It was during a bad time when I let my power take over me.”
“What did you do?!” I screamed. My hands glowed red as I punched him in the face.
Remy fell to the ground. “My mind was all fucked up!” He stayed at his knees.
My hand moved to his throat and I began to choke him with a surreal supernatural strength.
I suddenly heard laughter. “The precious angel is all grown up.” It was Azzy’s father’s voice.
I looked at Olivia she was frozen in fear but Azzy ran to hug her. “It’s okay. My father is dead. I watched him die!”
“Funny thing about death: did Azzy tell any of you what she did with my remains? She added my body to the caterpillar!”
“Oh fuck.” I prayed to God he was joking. I turned to the massive collection of limbs, focusing on Azzy’s mother.
The corpse was looking around frantically, her limbs were trembling. Suddenly, two ghostly hands gripped her chest, groping her decayed body in a sexual manner. “My soul is attached to the clan. I have waited so many years to meet my heir.”
“Remy?” I asked.
“No, I don’t want that foolish freak to have my power.” Azzy’s father laughed. “How does that song go?” He started to sing, “Johnny Angel, how I love you. You’re an angel to me…” He chuckled at his own joke. “Finished off the freak- with the blood of his death you will take your rightful place as the leader of my clan.”
Remy nodded at me. He closed his eyes as he kept silently apologizing.
All I could think of was when he could have done it. At work? At his apartment? Or did it happen at our apartment? I could picture a time when Remy and his boyfriend Lucas had been over for dinner. I left the apartment to go buy toilet paper. Lucas had gone with me to pick up more smokes. Did Remy rape my girlfriend in our bed?
“He did…” Azzy’s father’s voice echoed. “Taste his blood and see for yourself.”
I sank my nail into his neck, cutting into a tattoo of the word ‘Hope.’ How dare this bastard have the word ‘hope’ written on his neck? I licked the blood from my fingers, and closed my eyes.
I awoke in Azzy’s body. I could feel Remy’s muscular arms pinning me to the bed- my bed. “Remy?”
“I need this," he said in an animalistic groan. "I need you.”
“Come on,” Azzy said with a laugh. She was clearly too drunk or high to fight him off. “How about I go down on you, just like we used to do in junior high?”
“Nah, I want you.” Remy pinned her to the bed. “I always get what I want.”
Azzy’s body was frozen, like a corpse. Her head fell back, her eyes closed. Azzy’s spirit left her body. It was as if she was brain dead. I assumed this was some kind of self-preservation mechanism brought on by her powers.
But much to my horror, I could still feel everything. I felt Remy lower his sweatpants pulling out his weapon of choice. I could feel him inside me, Azzy, using her body, our body. When he was done he stripped Azzy naked and drew her a bath. He left but returned with her dress, strained with the curry sauce from that night’s dinner and casually dumped it in the hamper.
When she awoke Azzy was confused. She stood up and stretched her back, glancing at the dress in the hamper. The answer appeared to be a simple one: she got drunk, made a mess and went to take a bath. She shrugged and got out of the bath.
That was why she didn’t remember. Her body was protecting her mind.
I opened my eyes. Both of my hands were around Remy’s neck. My nails sank into his flesh, I didn’t want to choke him- I wanted to rip his head off. “What kind of person rapes their best friend?”
“The kind of sick demon freak who allowed his power to overrule his mind,” Remy said, his voice soft and quiet. “The kind of person who was too weak to fight to protect the people he cares about. ”
Suddenly, I could feel wetness. Was it blood? I looked down at my hands. The moisture was Remy's tears.
“You should be crying.” I released his neck to punch him again, aiming to break his nose. “You're a real piece of work.”
Remy didn’t fight back. His body simply went limp.
I kicked him in the stomach over and over. “You should be in hell!”
That was when he coughed up blood. “I-I am in hell.”
"What can you offer in exchange for my mercy?"
"I don't deserve mercy. I’ve made too many mistakes. I don’t deserve to exist in this world.”
"Understatement of the century,” I muttered. My mind thought back to all of the f-ed up things Remy had done: forcing his boyfriend into an open relationship, giving him an std, and apparently, raping my girlfriend/his best friend.
“Kill him,” Azzy’s father’s voice echoed in my ear. “You know Remy and my beloved daughter have killed for so much less. I do believe she even killed her store manager for being an unfair meanie, ha ha ha.”
I could feel hands gripping mine. I prayed they didn’t belong to Azzy’s father. He wanted me to kill, to give into the anger. Was I too weak to overpower him?
The hands were large and they felt comforting and warm. I could feel skin, veins, and a ring. They were my father’s hands. “You must Forgive,” he whispered. His voice was deep and soothing.
“Forgive?” The word choked my throat.
My father gripped my shoulder, turning my body to face him. “My son, you have done nothing but good in your life.”
“Yeah, I’m Johnny the fucking loser, stuck with raising some a-hole’s kid!”
“The Lord blessed you with a strong heart.”
I shook my head, fighting back tears. "I’m not that strong."
"You are stronger than you realize. And that strength will set you free."
"Free?" I understood. I was still pissed, but I understood. I blinked a few times, bringing myself back to reality. Looking around I could see all of the clown demons staring at me, awaiting the conclusion of the show. I looked at Azzy and Olivia, and then took a deep breath in preparation for my scream, "I forgive you, I forgive all of you!"
The walls shook. "No!" Azzy's father roared.
"The sinners, the whores, the scam artists, the people who made really f-ed up mistakes: I forgive you all!
I heard my baby crying; MY baby, MY son. I picked him up from the ground, rocking his little body in my arms.
I could feel a woman's hand touch my arm. "You have wings." It was Olivia's voice, her real voice. Wings made of light emerged, wrapping around my shoulders.
"Do you forgive me?" I asked Olivia.
"The night you were kidnapped. You left with Azzy's dad and I just let you."
"And then you snuck into hell to save me," Olivia said as she stroked me cheek. "I was a stupid slut who went off with a hot guy- that mistake was all me. But you," her voice became even clearer as she gripped my hand, "You saved me. And you can save Remy."
"I don't know if I can."
Olivia smiled. "Do you remember the year we spent summer vacation doing community service up north? We were sorting trash and I asked 'why do we even bothered to recycle when the rest of the world is still killing the planet?'"
I chuckled, remembering the day. "A car had driven through a puddle, right in front of you. You looked ready to chase the guy down."
"Remember what you said to me?"
I nodded. "You can't fix the world, but you can take the first step."
A cold breeze shot through the room. Olivia and I were surrounded by light, separating us from the reality of the tunnels. I took a breath and reached out my hand. “I forgive you, Remy."
Remy looked at me, then at Azzy.
Olivia grabbed Azzy by the arm, pulling her into the light. "Stand with us!"
Baby Lucas started to cry.
I knelt down to Remy's level. "I want you in my son’s life. My Lucas will know forgiveness, he will know mercy. But most importantly he will know love. I want you to live as part of my family." I placed the baby in his arms. “I want to start over, here, in Wisconsin.”
Remy accepted the baby, following me into the light. When my entire family was safe, we were suddenly teleported back to the fields. I breathed a sigh of relief, then watched as my wings faded.
Olivia tapped my shoulder. "What do you think?"
She motioned to Azzy and Remy. The former friends were staring each other down. Remy held the baby close, his hands shivering.
And Azzy- well she looked ready to murder him. "Johnny," she said in a trembling voice. "Take the baby and meet me back at the hotel."
I threw my arms around Azzy, holding her close. "Azzy, listen to me. This is a new start, for all of us."
"Yeah." Azzy swallowed hard, as she wiped away tears. "A new start."