Chapter Thirty Six
July 2, 2028
Well after midnight, the moon, almost full and bright, was high in the sky. The men, having had more than enough to drink, paid the bill with a generous tip and swayed a little as they stumbled into the emptying parking lot.
Despite the time, there were still many people meandering through the streets. The satisfaction of knowing they were now safe, with the war over, had revived the nightlife; and no one wanted to miss the cool nights after the hot days.
This was energetic and pleasing.
Ira, who had nothing to drink, led his intoxicated friends to the car while he rummaged through his pockets for the keys.
“You know, captain…” Charlie hiccupped as he slid into the middle seat. “You never really asked for a gift. What would you like?”
“I don’t need anything; I have a great life with you and your shenanigans.” Ira sat behind the wheel and instinctively clutched for the chain around his neck.
It was missing.
Missing? How can it be missing? His eyes widened as panic and fear gripped him. The two gold bands he kept around his neck all through boot camp and the war had vanished, just like that. He surreptitiously observed the parking lot from the driver side of the car. However, no glint of gold caught his eye, nothing distinctive stood out among the asphalt and stone roads.
The bar had already closed, so there was no chance of running inside and asking if they had seen the expensive items.
Regretfully, he drove on to the main road and told himself he would check with the staff tomorrow.
Pain and guilt besieged him; besides the notebook, the chain and bands were his only link to her and his parents.
The voice in his head ominously suggested that they were gone for good, just as she was.
As they drove down the dark road, Ira mostly kept to himself while his friends, drunk as they were, spoke loudly and sang at the top of their lungs.
Although, their tomfoolery made him smile.
Pretty soon, their new home came into view; it contrasted brightly in the night as the outdoor lights were on.
“Ira… didn’t you turn off the lights?” Alec questioned, positive he wasn’t hallucinating.
“Yes, I turned them off and locked the door.” The uncertainty in his voice nearly sobered the others. A fleeting, unpleasant thought suddenly crossed Ira’s mind as he slowed the car and cautiously pulled into the driveway; there were no other cars around. “It couldn’t be him, right?”
They looked at their friend with apprehension and skepticism. Chris responded with an air of finality, “Ira, he’s dead. They both are.”
“But how do we know that?” Ira countered. “We never actually saw the bodies to confirm it.”
Alec shook his head, “Captain, they were crushed by a ton of limestone, iron, wood and bronze, not to mention glass. No one could survive that.”
Although Ira still had doubts, the others were determined to keep the cousins dead. He sighed and turned off the headlights.
Reaching over Alec’s lap, he pulled his pistol out of the glove compartment and quietly stepped from the car. The men stumbled out and cautiously followed suit, staying close behind their captain, as he was the only one armed.
In light of the possible danger they faced, Ira thought this situation was nearly comical.
He slowly walked up the steps; the door was open as if someone had just turned the knob.
There was no sign of forced entry.
They were barely through the door when they gasped; every inch of the entry way was spotlessly clean. The tile floor was washed so no dirty footprints were visible. While it looked far better than their so-called cleaning, the tendrils of fear entwined around the men’s hearts, and squeezed threateningly.
Light footsteps creaked upstairs, which caused them to jump. Silently and stealthily, they tiptoed up the steps.
This greatly reminded them of their mission in Denmark.
The first room to the left was Alec’s. Instead of the messy mass he proudly kept, his dirty clothes were gone, while clean clothes were folded neatly and put away; even the bed was made.
Every room they passed was the same: clean, organized, and spotless. Even the green polo Ira had dropped in his room had mysteriously vanished.
Finally, upon reaching Garth and Chris’s room, the furthest from Alec’s, they heard the same light footsteps rush downstairs.
Following the anomaly across the hall and down the steps, the men witnessed a thin shadow turn the corner.
The presence led them into the dimly lit kitchen.
This too, was unsoiled and flawless.
Their dishes were gone from the table and sink; the marble counters glistened to a shine, and the dishwasher ran, almost noiselessly.
On the island of the clean kitchen, a recently teetering fruit bowl steadied. In front of that, was a delicately frosted cake and a single candle that glowed brighter than the dimmed kitchen lights.
The men approached the counter, dropped their guard, and read the neat, green handwriting, the three words that graced the white frosting:
Happy Birthday Ira
Stunned, Charlie was the first to speak up. “A cake? Our intruder cleans the house then makes a cake?”
Next to the delicious looking pastry, Ira spotted a bouquet of blue forget-me-nots and white gladiolus; Blackbird’s favorites. However, no one knew that except for Ira.
But, what petrified him was what hung around the crystal clear, delicate vase: the chain with the simple gold band, and another band that contained a garnet imbued gemstone. The blood red stone reflected the candlelight with a hint of violet.
Although fear of the intruder gripped him, Ira was relieved the bands were not lost forever. He stepped forward, set down the handgun, and removed the bands from their temporary home
Next to the crystal vase was the red piece of cloth, folded neatly underneath his knife.
“You have an admirer,” Alec said as he eyed the cake, then the two rings.
“What if it’s a trap? What if the cake is full of poison?” Chris caught Alec’s hand before the man could take a bite.
A spine-tingling chuckle emitted from an amused ghostly, disembodied voice. “I am not one to poison so easily. It would be too meaningless, especially since I just cleaned this place.” Fear mounted as the woman’s voice continued. “And you really should take better care of your items. It took me nearly a month to dig your knife out of the rubble. I had to find it by hand, too.”
“A ghost!” Charlie exclaimed with fright, he was stark white, as were the others.
Although the men were brave while fighting enemies, they were no match for something or someone they could not see.
The voice chuckled again. “If I were a ghost, I would not be able to clean up after you animals.”
A tear, angry or saddened, flowed down Ira’s cheek as he recognized the ethereal voice; he wished this were true.
He wanted to see her again, and yet he did not want her to be there at all.
“Why do you keep doing this to me? How are you still alive?” His dry throat made it hard for him to speak as anger and guilt merged and bubbled inside him. The mixed emotions filled his senses so fully that he was unable to think straight. He felt his fury begin to take over, even though he clenched his fists, attempting to stem the ire.
“Because I am stronger than Death, my darling Raven. The more he pulls, the greater I resist. This time, it was my choice to come back, my choice to return to life.”
“Show yourself,” Garth demanded. Unseen by all, he tightly grasped Chris’s fingers; they held each other, as they had when they were younger.
Inevitable as it was, the five men needed proof that this was no illusion, no trickery, just pure veracity.
“As you wish,” the voice amused and chuckled again.
Behind the corner on the opposite side of the room, a ghostly white seraph stepped into view.
While at first, she looked like an angel, they realized that she wore slim blue jeans and a red, loose button down; the only contrast was her skin. It was lighter than they remembered, or it was just the moonlight. The exposed part of her figure: her fingers, and slender neck, showed signs of new, but fully healed, wounds. Her black hair was trimmed in layers and fell around her long neck like tendrils of darkness.
The men saw her reflecting blue eyes study them with the same strange piercing gaze; a radiant smile filled them with warmth.
Ira’s birthday wish had come true.
Meryl Renée Grigori, the Blackbird, reborn and ever watchful, stood before them.