I sat in my cave-room wrapped in a blanket. My fever was getting worse. All I could feel was an intense cold. Azzy had left on her latest trip but since my superhero of a wife could travel via portals I knew she, at least, wouldn't be gone for too long.
Azzy left orders to have a caretaker check in on me. The various volunteers brought me supplies, including a space heater that ran on the same mysterious black liquid as the food, water, medicine, and recreational drugs. Each time I consumed the magical "caterpillar" blood it brought only a fleeting moment of relief. But lucky for me, the material was never in short supply. Even the air was warm with the spicy-sweet scent.
Even with my hourly visitors, I was painfully lonely. I wanted my son at my side. I was certain this place was safe for a small child. Out of all of my wife's followers, I appeared to be the only one that even looked sick. Everyone else spent their days having fun; creating art and music, living out their dreams.
I heard a roar, a massive noise that shook through the underground cave system like an earthquake. It was over within seconds, yet I could still feel rumbling. It felt like something the size of a Boeing 747 was being dragged to a lower floor.
My wife emerged from a portal to thunderous applause, "Straight from New York City, I present our latest ally in the fight for peace and love Princess Kiko Momo!"
I crawled to the entrance of my cave, looking down at the festivities. A tall Asian girl with purple hair and dragon scales on her exposed arms took a bow. She then flexed her biceps as if to show that the scales were more then just tattoos.
"Princess," chucked a male attendant as he entered my room with a tray of food and medicine. "She's a princess in the same way Azzy is; killed her father and took over his demon clan."
"Oh," I said with a nod.
"From what I hear Azzy lets all her new friends pick their own titles. We even have a 'high priestess', some girl from Norway. Anyone willing to add their caterpillar to the pile- they get to play royalty."
"Have you seen that thing? I bet it could loop around the world. But holy crap does it give me the creeps." He added some of the black fluid to my heater, causing the flame to glow purple. "That's why I volunteered for food delivery, to avoid having to work down there, milking the black blood or whatever the heck Azzy is harvesting from that thing."
"Why do you stay?" I asked as I leaned against the wall, making myself comfortable to eat my meal of potato curry and rice.
"I'm sick, same as you. I had inoperable stomach cancer." He motioned to a black tattoo on his stomach, the image looked like a Japanese wave, caressing over the entirety of his abs. "The doctors gave me six months to live, but thanks to the 'miracle cure' I've been here for nearly a year." He looked at me with a compassionate smile. "It will help you, too. None of us know why it's taking so long for the blood to work its magic, but you just need to keep hoping."
Keep hoping? "What did you do for a living?"
"I was a corporate lawyer, why?"
Of course, you were. "Just curious."
"Papa!" My precious three-year-old son, Lucas burst into my room with Azzy following close behind.
My wife had been chatting with the dragon-princess, but upon seeing little Lucas running she attempted to scoop him up in her arms.
"No! I want to stay with Papa!" he cried, burying his head in my chest.
The adorable moment was enough to bring me to tears. "Please let him stay."
"It should be fine," said a soft, robotic voice.
"Hello?" asked the former lawyer. "Are you here to administer the medication?"
"I am." The woman's face was hidden in shadows but it was clear she was wearing a surgical mask. She pulled out a long needled that sparkled gold. "I was told to lance the bedsores, and apply a pain cream."
Azzy made another attempt to lift Lucas from my arms. "Papa needs to be left alone so the nurse can do her work."
"He can stay," the strange woman said, now facing away from the group. "I'm good with kids, and having him here will allow the patient a distraction from the pain." The needle caught the light so brightly the woman's face completely vanished into the shadows.
"Please, Mommy?" Lucas asked with eyes filled with sadness. "I miss Papa."
"Fine," Azzy sighed. "Take care of your Papa."
"I will, Mommy."
She leaned in a kissed my cheek. "And you, my love, try to see if you can get our little cutie to take a nap."
Azzy, the dragon princess, and the male attendant left, closing the privacy screen on their way out.
Since these were natural cave formations they had no doors, so each cave room was fitted with an opaque screen that could be closed with the push of a button. The noise reduction was a welcome change but I had to admit, with the screen closed I felt like I was back in the hospital.
The woman wearing a surgical mask approached. "I'm going to lift your shirt."
"Ok," I said, hugging Lucas's warm little body.
She glided the needle along my spine. "This is going to be painful."
I flinched as she popped what felt like boils on my back, causing cold liquid to stream down my skin.
"This isn't working," she muttered, as she scooted away. "Here, you need to drink this."
I turned to see she held a mug of warm liquid that looked and smelled like green tea. "Sure." I took a sip since this tea at least did not appear to contain the black caterpillar blood. I watched her scoop up Lucas with one arm. One arm made of robotic tendons, that sparked with shimmers of gold. "Olivia?"
My sister was not the only female amputee in the world, but ever since I first got sick her visits started at about once a month and became less frequent from there. I had been praying for answers in regards to her fate. Was this the miracle I had been waiting for?
"Yes, Johnny, it's me. I'm going to get you out of here."
"Finish the cup. You're going to have a very intense, painful seizure until you black out."
I put down the cup.
Olivia lowered her mask, revealing her face. "But when you wake up we will all be someplace safe."
"Auntie Livy, I missed you." Lucas cuddled his cheek to her shoulder.
That was all the inspiration I needed. "Ok, Liv, I trust you." She wasn't kidding about the seizure. After forcing myself to chug the remains of the cup every muscle in my body convulsed. My bones were on fire, and I felt like I was going to vomit up my internal organs.
I awoke in a brightly lit church. In addition to the stained glass windows, this place appeared to be lit with dozens of spotlights, to the point where I felt like I was going blind. "Where are we?"
"Heaven," answered a male voice.
"Heaven?" I repeated.
"Heaven, North Dakota," Jamie said as he stepped into view. The African American man wore his hair in long dreads that looked majestic, paired with his fully expanded angel wings. "Our team's base of operations."
"Um... okay," I said. I was in too much physical agony to think of a better response. "Do you have anything for the pain?"
"That part's simple, give your soul, your heart, your trust: your life- to the Lord and his love will make everything right."
"God will cure me?"
"Not exactly, that's not part of his grand plan. But trust me, you want what the big guy has to offer."
"Are you saying I have to choose between my wife and God?"
"I'm asking you to do what you know is right," Jamie said, his southern accent creeping through. "You've seen her base, she's harnessing evil in its purest form. I mean, think about it; what has her miracle elixir done to your body?"
He had a point. Was there a reason why the effects of the black blood were not permanent on my body, my cancer?
Jamie touched my forehead, stroking my chemo-ravaged hair. "Give us a chance to show you what we can do."
"Okay," I took a breath and stood up on my weak unsteady legs. "I owe you that much."
Lucas softly touched my hand. "You can do it, Papa! Lay down in the water and you'll see pretty things."
"Pretty things?" I asked Jamie and Olivia.
Olivia placed her hand on my shoulder. "Trust me, if nothing else, the water will work better than the caterpillar blood for healing your pain."
I walked towards the kiddie pool shaped alter at the front of the church. "I just lay down?" I asked out loud as I laid my body in the shallow water. I was immediately sucked into the pool by a massive current. I closed my eyes, if only because of the strain, but when I opened them I was in a field of flowers. Two shadows stood in the distance. "Mom? Dad?"
I cried tears of joy as my parents turned to me. My father looked the same age as when cancer took his life. Except here he stood 6'2", confident and strong. And then there was my mother. I lost her so long ago I barely remembered her face, but her smile warmed my heart.
"Is this real?" I managed to ask.
My mother nodded, "This is very real."
My father pursed his lips. "In the coming days, you will have some difficult decisions to make."
"I can't abandon my wife, my family..."
My father's face conveyed a look of concern. "We know you will find a way to do what is right- to do what needs to be done."
My mother reached for my hand. "We have faith in you."
In a blink of an eye, they were gone. I coughed as I sat up in the pool. "What happened?" The trip seemed suspiciously short.
"We have company," Olivia said, looking in the direction of a black hole forming in the wall.
I could hear the ghostly sounds of an army of goths reciting a creepy chant, "Country roads take me home, to the place I belong..."
Azzy entered first, opening the portal large enough for everyone to gaze upon her massive army. She raised her hand to silence her soldiers as she took a solo, "North Dakota, backstabbing traitors..."
An awkward silence ensued.
"What? You don't like my version of John Denver?" She ended her lyric with a creepy giggle before leaping into the air with a giant sword made of the black liquid. The blade that she appeared to have conjured from out of nowhere, was aimed straight at Olivia.
I dove in front of my sister, raising my arms to deflect the blow. I didn't care what would happen to me, my only thoughts were of saving my family. I can only assume that was why a sword and shield made of white light suddenly appeared, to guard my limbs.
Azzy was frozen mid-jump. "I love you, Johnny. When I married you: when I said my wedding vows I meant them."
"As did I."
"Yet you stand against me."
"I stand for what's right." I suddenly felt a blow to the back of my head.
Lucas screamed. "Remy no!"
"I'm sorry little guy," Remy said as he grabbed me by the neck. "We all must bow to our queen."
Lucas ran up and kicked Remy in the shin, causing Remy to grab my little boy with his other hand.
Azzy landed like an elegant bird, "Remy, take my husband and son back to the caves." She swished her hair like a pageant contestant. "And burn the rest to the ground."