Face Value

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Chapter 11: Bright Eyes, Sharp Claws

My vigil over my brother did not last long. Already, a small crowd of the other bikers had pulled over and were surrounding us. The world around me became a flurry of frantic questions, grasping arms, and jumbled thoughts.

“Woah! What was that…Is he all right? Did you hear that explosion? Somebody call an ambulance!”

Overwhelmed, I swung my arms wide to clear the crowd, “Hey!” I yelled above the crowd, “he’ll be fine, it’s just a little bump. You guys go on and finish the race.”

The crowd made little effort to return to their bikes. A dozen or more incredulous faces stared at me, perhaps wondering if I had received a major head wound myself. One guy took off back down the road, yelling that he was going for help.

Andrus, now would be a good time to a make a move, cause this might be hard to explain when the police get here.

Andrus circled the scene before returning to my shoulder. There’s no other way out so I guess I’ve got no choice but a one-way trip for two via airmail. Hold on, Face. This might be a little rougher than last time.

Without a second to blink, Andrus snatched us both from the ground. The entire scene around the crash shrunk into little more than a speck on the distant ground. My hair whipped violently back and my eyes moistened as Andrus shot through the skies like a supersonic jet.

Andrus settled into a comfortable cruising speed and I ventured to speak

Do you have any more aces up your sleeve? We might need one to explain what happened to our bikes. Though, I don’t think we really have to worry about the other witnesses, because I doubt the police would believe their story if they told them.

Andrus nodded. You’re right. You are also right that I do have a few trump cards in my hand. I am a shadow that’s been specifically trained for the whole time travel thing, and all the odd occurrences that come about when people try to tamper with time. Bet that race wasn’t exactly what you had in mind…was it?

Yeah, thanks for the save. I’m beginning to see why Trezzlepeg was so insistent that I take you along.

You see? I’m just along to sweep up behind you. I’ve done it so many times before. Just think if Trezzlepeg just sent people off tramping through the flow of time, barging in wherever they pleased without any guidance? The consequences could be staggering. You might end up with people starting wars, changing the courses of entire nations, by accident! I know it sounds far-fetched, but believe me, it has happened!

So what are we going to do with him once he comes around? Will he remember all this?

Andrus paused for a moment. With a blow like that, I doubt he will remember much. We’ll see when he comes to. But just in case, I’ve cooked up another trick. Trezzlepeg sent me with a memory erasing device in case of emergency and I think we could convince him that he stayed home because he was sick. The most important thing is that we try to let him live out the rest of his day as normally as possible. Did you do anything the first time you lived today besides that race? It might be very important.

I mulled over my memory of the day, No, I didn’t…but Fred did. Or he was going to. He had a date tonight, set up by a secret admirer. He was supposed to meet her at the park later tonight, but he never got the chance.

Andrus replied, the more I think about it, the more this situation seems to me like the work of an illegal time traveler. Someone who has found a way to breach time. Did you notice how that guy didn’t have a Shadow with him? That enough is enough to make me pretty confident that he is the equivalent of an illegal time immigrant. Perhaps, this person was the same one who did your brother in the first time, and if that’s so, I know what we should do. But before we can, we need to get Fred to a safe place.

What did they want with my brother, and how did they know that I was trying to get him back? And what’s worse, what’s keeping them from simply killing him another way after I save him?

We reached the city outskirts and flew high over the housetops as not to attract attention. We could probably be back to my house in a matter of minutes. You know, I wouldn’t really worry about it. I can assure you, Fred will be okay. That is- if we can get him through this day.

The realization struck like a bolt of lightning.

I remember who that guy is! I saw him in Trezzlepeg’s shop just yesterday! This huge man walked in with this shining phoenix tattoo on his arm, took one look at me and bolted off. After that I noticed that I have a strange phoenix tattoo of my own. Trezzlepeg wrote him off as one of his strange regulars. I’d never seen him before that, and so I am doubly confused what he wants with my family.

Andrus almost released his grip in surprise, That does thicken the plot, doesn’t it? Then, we’ll just have to run a little background check with Trezzlepeg. Whis man’s actions are nothing short of an atrocity, but now that he’s lost the element of surprise we can keep an eye on him. I think-

The remainder of Andrus’s sentence was drowned out by a sky-rending screech. It wasn’t like a jet or even like any animal I had heard before, and I couldn’t contain my curiosity to glance behind me. I immediately wished that I hadn’t.

The scary thing was not what I did see, it was I didn’t see: anything. Both Andrus and I scanned the horizon intently for the next couple of minutes, but both turned up without anything unusual. Andrus…do you have any idea what that was?

Andrus’s words trembled, Yes, I think so. But I don’t see how it could be so. They don’t belong in this world.

Droplets of chilling sweat trickled at the back of my neck, They? What are they?

Gargoyles. They are known for their stealth, and so I’m not surprised that we can’t see them. They usually give their prey a warning screech just to get the goose bumps going.

Another chilling shriek split the sky, I don’t suppose that living gargoyles are exactly a common sight in this part of the universe for that matter! I’d bet that that mister phoenix sent these goons after us to finish us his botched job.

Andrus picked up speed and I could see my house approaching in the distance, They will have the advantage in the air, so whatever we do, we need to land as soon as possible. Gargoyles may be dangerous and cunning, but sometimes they aren’t that bright when out of their usual environment. Now, we need some place on the ground to hide.

There’s a scrap yard a mile or two east of town. There are not many people there, and it would probably give us something to work with. Lots of good places to hide.

Andrus changed his course to the east. Remember, Face. That could be used to both teams’ advantage.

Just then, one of our pursuers let out another ear splitting wail. As the sound hit my ears, dark waves of terror flooded over me. My entire body shook involuntarily and I barely stifled a scream, Andrus, what’s happening to me?

Andrus grasped his paw tighter in an attempt to steady my flailing body, It’s a cruel trick that makes them so effective. The gargoyles have glands that store up essences for use on their prey. They literally turn your own emotions into your worst enemy. Hold on tight and close your eyes. They have to be pretty close to use that trick, so I’m going to have to really cruise.

Andrus coaxed a little more power into his already breakneck speed. In a matter of only a few seconds, the gargantuan pile of scrap metal and rusting vehicles loomed in front of us. Taking Andrus’s advice, I clamped my eyes shut and forced my hand over my mouth to keep myself from being sick. Each second felt like hours as a shot though the darkness, closer and closer to the semi-safe haven of junkyard.

Face, open your eyes and brace yourself. We are going to hit.

Andrus obviously needed some work on his timing, because no sooner had the warning been issued that my legs impacted the ground with knee-buckling force.

My eyes slammed open as dual stabs of pain shot up both of my knees, and I turned multiple somersaults. However, I did not waste even a moment brushing myself off, but instead hobbled madly over to the shelter of the nearest hollowed wreck of an old Buick Skyhawk. I leapt inside an open window, and dropped to the floor.

Andrus, where’s Fred? You didn’t drop him like that too, did you?

I caught a glimpse of Andrus as he popped up from a nearby wreck before returning to his hiding place.

I’m over here. Get down Face; Fred is fine. I decided to put a little space between us to throw them off, and give us a better tactical position. I admit the landing was a little rougher than planned, but right now, I think we better concentrate on other things.

Andrus went silent, as our worse fears were confirmed. Three stone beasts swooped out of the air like angels of death, landing only a dozen feet from where Fred and Andrus were hiding. In the dimness of the late morning, their glowing eyes pierced the darkness, each shining like stars. Aach beast’s eyes shone a different color, the two smaller ones boasting blue and green eyes respectively, while the largest one owned a set of crimson ones. All three beasts shifted about the wrecks, barely visible except for their eyes, their mouths twisted in chilling grins.

But the final touch to the nightmare came when the leader opened his mouth to communicate with his comrades. The jumbled mess that sprung from the creature’s mouth could only be described as an awful mix of hisses, growls, and shrieking. Mortified, I slammed my hands in defense of my ears. Andrus! What are they saying?

I don’t think you really want to know, but you really need to. The red one is the leader and he is ordering his cronies to spread out. Apparently, if they find us, we are to be disposed off with ‘no mercy’.

At the words ‘no mercy’, my stomach twisted into a knot to make a Scoutmaster proud. So what are our options? How do you dispose of a gargoyle before they dispose of you? You said that they weren’t very bright.

I don’t really know. I’ve never played hide and seek with gargoyles. But don’t worry, I’ll think of something…

Try as I might, Andrus’s words did nothing to cease my worrying, and I slid a little deeper behind the wreck, letting only the very top of my eyes above the edge.

The two creatures that I termed ‘green’ and ‘blue’ took off in two separate directions in hopes of flushing us out. The larger red beast, however, remained behind to scout for us. The creature slipped in and out of the rubble with amazing ease, examining each wreck, and then smashing each wreck with a stroke from its massive claws.

A hail of twisted metal rained down as each scrap slammed against other mountains of scrap and triggered avalanches. Shrapnel crashed down uncomfortably close to me, pinning me to hiding place. If I ventured away, I would surely be blindsided by shrapnel but if I stayed, the beast would eventually find me. There was nothing I could do but hang tight, pray silently, and hope against hope that Andrus had formulated a brilliant plan.

By his lack of communication, I figured that he was probably hard at work, and that somehow he’d be able to create a diversion, but my hopes were quickly dashed when a metal shard hit pile of cars just above my hiding place.

An old Cadillac from the top of the stack teetered precariously before suddenly crashing directly on top of my wreck. I reacting swiftly and leapt for the nearest open window, but to my dismay, only made half of the journey. With pulverizing force, the roof of the wreck caved in and pinned me halfway in, halfway out.

A muffled scream burst from my lips. My stomach seized with panic as Red abruptly halted his rampage and sharply swiveled his head around, his eyes connecting with mine. The sound had not been loud, but it had been enough for the ruthless hunter.

His gaze held mine, and pangs of dread clutched my heart. The beast started towards me at a calculated pace, savoring his victory. With each deliberate step, my heart pounded louder and louder, until finally, the beast thrust its grotesque face in front of mine. His mouth crawled up the sides of his face in a taunting grin, his blazing eyes pulsing brighter, perfectly in sync with his mouth. The grin reached its apex, and the creature hissed in drawn out but understandable English, “Well, human, nice try, but I’m afraid that I must do away with you. My master, will be most pleased.”

The beast erupted in maniacal laughter expelling noxious breath into my nostrils, and assaulting my eardrums. Finally, my tormented stomach could not take the abuse any more. The entire contents of my stmoach exploded onto the laughing gargoyle’s face.

As my breakfast coated the gargoyle, his crimson eyes flickered and he shot back. Then to my astonishment the beast’s form shivered as if he had been made of gelatin and formed a puddle on the ground. In a matter of seconds the entire creature, right down to his red, blinking eyes disappeared into the earth.

Still confined to my metal prison, I could only gawk at the remarkable turn of events. However, I couldn’t to celebrate yet. There were still two more out there.

Andrus! Are you still there? I got one! But I think his shrieking will warn the other two. And to top it all off, I’m stuck in here and losing feeling in my legs! You don’t think that you could lend me a hand …paw?

Both of Red’s buddies, Green and Blue, shot through the sky over my head and dropped only a stone’s throw away. They circled about, wildly searching for their fallen brother-in-arms. Their eyes locked onto me at the same moment, glowing brighter for a second. These two underlings, however, did not exhibit the careful haughtiness of their leader. Instead of taunting me, they wasted no time slinking over to my prison.

Both positioned themselves directly over me and raised their claws.Feeling completely helpless to prevent my own doom, I writhed back and forth in a desperate attempt to free myself, but to no avail. I clamped my eyes shut and heaved my entire weight into breaking loose, causing great beads of sweat to trickle my neck.

I opened my eyes just in time to see Andrus a few yards above us wielding the remains of an old Volkswagen. When both gargoyles had wandered into his cleverly-placed trap, he let the wreck fly with astounding force.

Caught completely off guard, the twin monsters had no more than a millisecond to react, and their reflexes still needed honing. The wreck smashed down on them. The roar of metal on metal filled the air for a few moments and then fell silent.

Incredulously, I glanced at the rubble, then to Andrus, who was floating triumphantly above me. “Woah!” I yelled my voice resounding through the empty yard, “that was close! I’m never going to complain about my boss’s bad breath again!”

“Andrus!” I called, “how long were you up there? If you had been there two seconds later, you’d be talking to a human scratching post right now.”

Andrus swooped down to my eye level, obviously proud of his handiwork, “Sorry about that. I had to make sure that Fred was safe. I heard the screech from their leader and figured the other two would come running back to you. When I saw you there, I figured that you would be the perfect distraction while I delivered death from above.”

I cocked an eyebrow, “So, I was bait?”

Andrus drew back, now taking the defensive, “No, I didn’t say that…it was just that…”

However, Andrus’s sentence was cut short by a gargoyle claw which thrust out from the wreckage. It sliced the air behind us with a supersonic crack. Andrus shot back as if he stung by an angry hornet.

Don’t do this again! At least you could tell me where you are going? I’m still trapped here, if you didn’t notice!

My ranting fell on deaf ears. The old van was already rocking back and forth wildly as if it might fly off the handle at any moment. Panic welled up in my chest, and I writhed and squirmed, but the seconds ticked on without any sign of Andrus

. With a final massive heave, the beast tossed his metal burden from off his back, sending it soaring atop another mountain of rubbish a good stone’s throw away. Then, with a maniacal shriek, the awful apparition arose to its feet and stretched its battered wings, his green eyes blazing in the low light.

The green eyed gargoyle trudged toward me, limping with one wing drooping uselessly at his side. Its expression was a bitter mixture of anguish and anger, and I knew that it intended to offer me a taste. My legs throbbed with pain, and I felt my eyelids droop.

However, my pool of luck had not yet run dry. My eyes popped open at shriek from the gargoyle. Andrus had returned, buzzing a furious path towards the creature’s head brandishing a large, black box. He slammed across the creature’s brow. Enraged and confused, Green took furious swipes at his invisible attacker, and probably would have caught him with a lucky swipe if not for his wounded sluggishness.

Face! Watch and learn!

Suddenly, Andrus cracked open the black box directly above the creature sending a stream of dark liquid showering down. Green shrieked and melted until only a puddle remained.

Andrus discarded the broken halves of the box, and fluttered over to wrest me free from my metal prison. Without a word, Andrus thrust one minute paw under the wreck and lifted it, leaving my broken body suspended halfway out of the wreckage. My relief at being rescued a second time faded as I realized that I could barely feel my legs. “Andrus!” I cried, “How did you do that?”

Andrus wasted no time, attempting to free my while he lectured, “Something that you reminded me of when you dispatched the red one with the contents of your stomach. You see, because they are creatures are stone-like, the gargoyle’s skin is susceptible to acid. The acid in your stomach worked wonders, as did the acid in the old car battery.”

I listened listlessly as he rambled on about gargoyles until finally I could take my imprisonment no more, “Andrus!” I yelled in deep pain, “you can save the lecture for later! I think the first order of business should be to get this metal monstrosity off my back!”

I wanted to continue ranting, but another wave of nausea overcame me, and I was content to let Andrus pry me loose.

Andrus worked in silence, and took only a minute or so in prying me from the twisted frame of the crushed window. At last, I could feel myself slide from the hold of the metal jaws. Every movement from my lower body sent riveting pain jabbing through me. I winced as each new breath brought new pain.

Seeing my sorry condition, Andrus crept beside my right ear and whispered, “Face, it’s going to be okay, just relax. I’ve contacted Trezzlepeg and he is sending help. This is difficult, but I guess he believes that you are that valuable. Close your eyes.”

He didn’t need to tell me twice.

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