ONCE, I BUILT A TOWER...
Written by: Don A. "Coyote the Bando" Martinez and Jonathan "Entity" Cotleur
Outline by: Don A. "Coyote the Bando" Martinez and Jonathan "Entity" Cotleur
Artwork by Jessica Entis
* * * * *
Previously on Timedancer…
"Sata ... I've been thinking these last few days. And I've had to come to a difficult decision. When the Gate takes me away again..." He looked to his mate. "... I can't bring you with me."
Now her expression was even sadder. "No. I cannot be without you. It has been so long, and now I can't even picture my life without you, or dancing."
"Look around you, my mate. We're here, in Manhattan. Why can't you stay? This might be as close as you ever get to returning home."
Brooklyn nodded. "I know that as well. Don't you think this is killing me, too? Not only in the figurative sense?"
Sata looked up at him, eyes pleading. "But you might never come back." A single tear rolled down her face.
Brooklyn could keep his distance no longer. He came close to his mate, stroking her face gently. "And that's why you have to stay here. This is the safest place we've ever been in. Look around us ... futuristic technology, friends, and above all else gargoyles and humans living together in peace. How safe do you think you'll be ... our children will be ... some other place and time? Would you rather our children hatched in a revolution, or in the middle of a war, or a time where gargoyles are being smashed left and right?"
She nodded sadly. "But I am but one of their parents."
"I know," he replied, holding both of her hands in his. "But they will have a family. The clan has been, and always will be, a family. No matter how much conflict exists within the family, it always stays together."
"I know that ... but I want our children to know their father."
"They will. You will tell them about me. Tell them the kind of gargoyle I am, that I was. I'll be with you that way, if not physically, then at least in spirit. Look at it this way, Sata-chan ... losing one parent is better than losing both."
She gave him a desperate, pleading expression again, then looked down at the pouch where he always held the Gate.
"But why you?"
Brooklyn closed his eyes, trying to hold back his emotions.
"It's my duty, Sata. I am the guardian of the Gate as it dies. As much as I hate it, as much as it's completely fouled up my life, I can do no less than keep it."
He looked deeply into her eyes. "If there's one thing that I've learned the most about from you, it's the value of honor. And my honor dictates that I have to perform my duty. It also dictates that I cannot risk your life, or the lives of our children, in the performance of that duty."
She was silent, but still pleading. Brooklyn finally could not hold back all of his sadness, letting his eyes well up with tears.
"When we first met, you told me that sometimes the one must be sacrificed for the good of the many." His voice cracked. "I am the one ... and you are the many," he said, placing one hand on her pregnant belly.
He saw the sad realization in her face. For if it were her, she would have done the same thing. Both mates let their tears flow freely now as they came together in an embrace.
For Brooklyn, it was a hollow victory in this argument ... for his heart was never in any of his words.
* * * * *
The first order of business was food. He located a baker’s cart up ahead and made his way toward it. The aroma enticed him as he came nearer. One little swipe and he’d have breakfast.
He eyed a half-loaf of bread sitting to the side. He was going to take another step closer, when he felt the weight shift in his belt pouch.
He looked down to see the top flap open, the Phoenix Gate staring back at him. Only the Phoenix Gate. His eyes darted through the throng of people. A small form retreated into a back alley. Brooklyn spotted it and dashed after it.
The thief, seeing that he was being pursued, sped up. He rounded a corner, and Brooklyn was about to follow, when he realized there was an open plaza. He stopped short of revealing himself, bending over to catch his breath. Then he caped his wings around him again and peeked around the corner. He feared the thief was already far away, but to his surprise, he wasn’t.
The thief, a boy of about ten, was standing outside a large temple.
"Celer!" came an adult voice. A stout, chubby man walked out of the temple entrance to meet the youth, grabbing him by the neckline of his shirt. "Where have you been? It’s time for the evening prayer. Come, boy."
"Silence!" the adult yelled. Even Brooklyn cringed at the command, ducking his head back behind the wall. When he risked another peek, he saw the adult dragging the boy into the temple.
Bingo, Brooklyn thought. He took another deep breath, noting exactly where he was for future reference.
The older man had been wearing a tunic, as had the boy, only simpler. The architecture was definitely ancient Roman. He remembered something of the layout of Roman buildings from his early dances. He nodded. From the man’s words, he knew exactly where the boy would be. Brooklyn shook his head, weighing his options. The Gate stared at him from inside his pouch. He needed to get that gem back, Pandora’s gem. But what if his time here didn’t last long enough?
He pounded the wall in frustration, letting out a grunt. Resolutely, he rounded the corner of the building, making his way toward the temple. Maybe he’d just get lucky.
* * * * *
Brooklyn simply nodded. "Let’s go." They started to run in a direction that Brooklyn could not decipher, but he followed the boy anyway. "What’s your name?" he asked.
"Celer. I was taken from my home during a raid on Greece when I was only a baby. They sold me to my master, and he used me to pay off his debt to Grandius, the priest of Apollo," the boy was running all the while.
"Yeah. We’ve met," Brooklyn interjected.
"I never knew my mother and father, but master Grandius tells me they were killed in the raid," the boy had a tone of harshness in his voice, which Brooklyn respected. His own child might not grow up with a father. The gargoyle quickly discarded the thought and continued to follow the boy.
"My name is Brooklyn. I’m from Scotland," the gargoyle said.
"I don’t know where that is," Celer admitted.
~~~Fire and Ice~~~
* * * * *
Celer's foot became caught in a muddy rut, making him fall behind Robbins. "Help!"
The boy's cry made Robbins turn, coming back over to him to try and free the boy's foot. He noticed the sound of the grenade's flight too late, as he arrived at Celer's side just as the grenade did, landing and exploding.
The shockwave of the blase flung Celer out of the rut and a good six feet away. He landed roughly in the mud, unmoving.
While the shockwave did not throw Robbins as far, the grenade's shrapnel sprayed into his eyes as it threw him on his back, screaming in his pain.
* * * * *
The brilliant flames of the Phoenix Gate erupted spontaneously into the same clearing they had only a few days prior, depositing a mourning Brooklyn on the grass. Tears that had formed before the dance were just now falling as he held the unmoving body of Celer in his arms. Brooklyn closed his eyes, cuddling the boy close to him.
"I'm so sorry, Celer ... you shouldn't have been here ..."
Teardrops fell upon Celer's nearly ruined clothing. Suddenly the boy coughed, moving very slowly in Brooklyn's arms. He opened his eyes and looked up at the gargoyle's face.
* * * * *
Outside Fresno, California: October 11th, 1933
The flames of the Phoenix fire subsided into the gloom of the evening, depositing its current travelers, Brooklyn and Celer, on the dust. A wild-eyed expression on Brooklyn's face seemed to pierce through the darkness.
"Oh yeah... that was satisfying..."
Celer, his toga muddied by their most recent dances, looked up at his companion. "Where are we now?"
Lowering himself from his adrenaline rush, Brooklyn looked around. His investigation was rudely interrupted by the sound of nearby gunshots. He instinctively ducked, protectively shielding Celer from the unseen gunman.
"Oh, great... more gunfire. Where are we now? World War Two?" Crouching low to the ground to listen, he suddenly realized there was only one gun firing, and it didn't sound like it was being fired in any particular direction. Keeping Celer shielded, Brooklyn took another look around, finally seeing a group of tents nearby, illuminated by what were obviously car headlights. He looked back at Celer, within his wings.
"This should be interesting... Keep behind me, Celer. I nearly lost you to that grenade, I'm sure as heck not going to lose you here."
Celer nodded, frightened once more by the sounds of the gun.
* * * * *
"All right, you squatters, clear out! Mr. Yancey fired you three days ago, you should've been gone by now!"
Three police cruisers slowly made their way through the encampment, a shiny Cadillac convertible in the lead, with a large man holding a revolver standing in its back seat. At random, he pointed the gun into the sky to emphasize his point, squeezing off shots to scare the migrants. On the other side, the migrants, many of them women and children, huddled in their "doorways", frightened. Patrolmen walked alongside the convertible, using various levels of force... mostly excessive... to wrestle the migrants out of their tents and force them into the convertible's path.
"You had your notice... now leave! You're not welcome anymore!"
A single man, tall and burly, wearing the remains of a battered workshirt, his face showing his fear as well as anger, looked out into the "street", then turned to his wife inside their tent. With a brief kiss, he found his courage to walk out into the Cadillac's path, arms crossed.
The car pulled up until the bumper nearly touched the man's shins. "Get out of our way, squatter."
"We're not squatters. We're employees of Mr. Yancey's orchard."
The gunman in the convertible leaned forward his florid face coloring with anger. "You were fired yesterday, boy. I suggest you leave before we have to get rough."
The migrant looked to his side, seeing a police officer forcibly pulling a woman and her children out of their tent, not hesitating to use his billy club on them if he felt the need.
Looking back at the gunman, the migrant's eyes narrowed. "This treatment isn't rough enough? All we want is a livelihood, the chance to raise our families..."
"Families that were too big to begin with. There's a Depression going on, boy... didn't you know that?"
Now the migrant was yelling. "We came here to escape death, now you bring it on us! Have some decency!"
The gunman smiled. "Sure, we'll show you some decency... if you leave."
Unswayed, the migrant stood taller, arms crossed. He held his ground, even as the driver nudged him with the car's bumper.
* * * * *
Brooklyn watched the scene cautiously, feeling his anger growing. He looked back at Celer, who was obediently hiding behind him.
"This might get dangerous, Celer. They don't look like they're going to listen to anyone... we might have to get a little rough with them." His eyes narrowed and he shook his head. "Bullies are still bullies, no matter what time they’re in."
Celer looked up at him, his eyes shining with his fright and unfamiliarity, but also looking to Brooklyn to protect him. The gargoyle took a moment to smile warmly, patting the boy's head.
"Don't worry... this isn't as dangerous as where we came from."
* * * * *
Now sitting down in the back seat of the convertible, the gunman looked at his companions in the car. "I'll give him this much... he's persistent for an Okie."
"Yeah... bet we could back 'im up all the way to Sacramento and he wouldn't drop."
The gunman shook his head at the driver's suggestion, one hand stroking his jaw thoughtfully. "Not an option." He looked up, motioning to the two patrolmen escorting the car. When they came closer to him, a brief conversation ensued, ending when the patrolmen pulled out their weapons, pointing them at the migrant. One of them, a burly sergeant by his uniform, called out to the man from the side of the car.
"Surrender and leave, or we'll shoot!"
The migrant glared at the two police officers. They looked at each other, smirking and taking aim. With impunity, they fired.
The scene suddenly erupted into chaos as a dusty red streak zoomed into the way of the bullets, tackling the migrant and rushing him out of the line of fire. Too late to keep the man from being hurt, however, as one bullet found purchase in the migrant's shoulder. The police and the occupants of the Cadillac sprang to life, the original gunman barking his orders above them.
"Get them! Don't let them escape!"
* * * * *
Shots rang out behind them as Brooklyn carried the burly migrant away in his arms. There was surprisingly little resistance on the human's part. When Brooklyn turned the bend to where he'd left Celer - now cowering with his arms pressed against his ears - he took a moment to glance at the man's face and realized why: the man was petrified in addition to being dazed from the gunshot.
Shots nipped at the dust-covered ground from behind as the man's attackers made their way after the escapees. Brooklyn's eyes quickly fell on a nearby Ford pick-up truck. He turned to the boy. "Celer, get in the truck, now!" At his blank expression, Brooklyn pointed hastily to the vehicle, and Celer identified it.
As Celer ran to the open side door and climbed inside, Brooklyn tossed the man in through the other side. He risked a backwards glance at their pursuers, to see that they were now only moments away from closing in. He hopped in and slammed the doors shut after him, conscious of his tail and wings as he did so. The passenger door creaked back open, but Brooklyn paid it no attention as he searched the dashboard for the ignition switch.
"Oh, for crying out... I learn to drive only to wind up in an antique." He vaguely remembered Lex’s lessons on the motorcycle, but this rattletrap old truck was quite different. Bullets ricocheted off the roof of the truck, causing Celer to flinch with each one. One or two drove through, piercing the stringy seat cushions.
Brooklyn faced the migrant. "How do you start this thing?" he demanded. The man stared back at Brooklyn with terror-filled eyes. "The ignition, or them," Brooklyn laid out bluntly.
Through the greasy, blotted windshield, Brooklyn caught a glimpse of their shooters emerging in front of them and taking firing stances. He could feel the revolvers taking aim of them. A bead of sweat ran down the migrant's forehead, and Brooklyn judged that the man felt them, too.
The migrant's eyes darted to the side. Brooklyn followed them, locating the elusive ignition switch at last. The engine coughed to life, causing the whole vehicle to vibrate as the noise leveled into a steady hum. With his hands on the wheel, Brooklyn slammed his foot on the gas. Gears ground until he remembered the gearshift and clutch. He concentrated a moment as he remembered what he had seen some drivers in New York do. He shifted hard and they flew forward.
The men in front of them jumped out of the way in a confusion of bodies, shouts - and a few stray shots. One struck the windshield, but didn't pass through. Brooklyn and the migrant both eyed the bullet lodged halfway in the glass.
"Don't make them like they used to," Brooklyn quipped, before swerving the wheel again. They came back around. Brooklyn had his eyes set on the shooters, just recovering from his last attempt on their lives. He dispersed them further with the second pass.
"All right, that should do it." He careened past them, zigzagging the truck wildly, only partially in control of the vehicle. By the time the men were back on their feet again, they were little more than tiny dots in the background. Celer stared through the back window, still petrified. The migrant was likewise frozen in his seat, either hand gripping the upholstery unrelentingly. Brooklyn noticed it.
"Hey, lighten up. We're safe." The man's muscles seemed to tense further. "Hey, I'm not the one shooting."
The man didn’t move. Blood dripped unnoticed from the shallow graze in his shoulder. Brooklyn rolled his eyes. "Why me?" he snorted. "Everywhere it’s the same. Monster…demon…"
He paused as a new noise caught his ear. Not the engine. Not the grinding of the gears as he shifted horribly. Not the sound of the gradually-wearing suspension. Nor the rhythmic creaking and banging of the broken door. Celer made a motion to the back window, and Brooklyn glanced into his rear-view mirror. He sighed irritably as he reached through the window and tilted it into its proper alignment. The image of several speeding vehicles greeted him. They kicked up a dust cloud on the unpaved road behind them as they gained.
"There w-was more than one truck back there," the migrant said plainly, his eyes still locked forward.
"Yeah." Brooklyn tried to push his foot down more, but the pedal was still mashed to the floor from their exodus, although Brooklyn hadn’t realized that he needed to shift again.
"I-in fact," the migrant added, his voice still numb, "the one we have was... where it-t was because... it was... trashed. But…you…do need to shift it…again."
"Well, that helps the situation," Brooklyn replied with mock appreciation. He glanced at the rear-view mirror again. This time the trucks were half the distance away, and continuing to close in. "Hence our less-than-efficient pace." He crunched the steering wheel under his grip, until he noticed the terrified look in his passenger's eyes, and relaxed.
He shrugged. "We'll just have to lose them." He grinned. "This might just be fun - if we don't get shot. Celer, keep down."
The first wave of bullets showered them from behind, echoing a chorus of metallic clinks and clangs. Celer cupped his hands over his ears and squinted his eyes shut, huddled below the seat. Brooklyn kept his eye steady on the road, but his head ducked with a healthy air of caution. Their rescued party, meanwhile, sat slouched in his chair and further slouching with every gunshot.
The mighty roaring of their pursuers' engines now filled the air, providing an unpleasant contrast to the rattling murmur of their own vehicle's engine. Hoots and hollers accompanied the gunshots, which were now sporadic as the men concentrated on overtaking them from either side. A third truck remained at their rear.
"Hold on!" Brooklyn heaved the wheel to the right and their truck went with it, jerking into the path of one of the advancing pursuers. With another whirl, the gargoyle had them hurtling back the other way to slam into the side of their left-hand side pursuer. Sparks flew as metal crunched. A gunshot through Brooklyn's window served to demonstrate the inefficiency of the maneuvers, as both enemy trucks were now on his sides.
Brooklyn felt a growl rise in his throat. He punched out the remaining window with his fist and turned his head towards the enemy which had fired on him. Three men, ranging from their twenties to their thirties, stared back at him from inside their truck.
Brooklyn stared at them with his eyes aglow, his teeth bared, and his mane blowing in the wind. A toothpick dropped out of the mouth of one of the men as his eyes went vacant. The other, his hand shaking, slowly began to lower his revolver, as if to make up for the shot. When the third man, the driver, happened to glance up into the overhead mirror, that did it. The wheels squealed as the truck swerved off the road and into a ditch.
Brooklyn turned back towards the road, a look of satisfaction gracing his features. It didn't last long, however, before another bullet ruptured the rusted metal around them and quenched itself in something. A quick look ensured it wasn't any of them.
"If this was a movie, the sequence would have gotten very boring by now," Brooklyn grumbled as he spun the wheel, swerving them, once more, into their adversaries. This time it was with a bigger jolt, as the vehicles collided. It was followed by a strong forward jerk.
Brooklyn looked into his rear-view mirror, annoyed, to see the third truck preparing for another rear-ender. A gunshot struck the mirror, mere inches from his face, taking it right off. Brooklyn snarled.
The truck roared with escalating intensity, then peeled forward. Brooklyn swerved them to the right, just as the truck on their side attempted to hit them back. It swerved right into the path of the oncoming rear-ender, taking the blow for them. In their panicked reactions, both trucks went swerving off the road, one rolling onto its side.
Brooklyn shouted with victory as they sped past the two wrecks and into the clear blue yonder of the night. "Now, that was exhilarating!"
Both humans poked their heads up, as if to test the waters. All signs of pursuit were gone. The only sounds became the truck's again. The migrant was still petrified in his seat. It took him a little while longer for the effects of shock and adrenaline to subside, enough for him to risk another glance at his red, winged demon driver.
He fumbled for the door, nearly falling out before he realized that it was swinging open. He was about to leap out when Brooklyn realized what he was doing, leaned across and grabbed him by the arm.
"I don't think so. We just went through a three-truck, gun-firing road chase for you. Just stay put." Silence. "I'm not going to hurt you."
Celer crouched motionless on the seat between Brooklyn and the migrant. He warily eyed the two of them, trying to stay out of the way. The rattling speed of the truck and frantic gunplay had terrified him.
The man froze. "W-where are we heading?"
"Well... maybe you could tell me. I don't exactly know my way around this country."
The man gulped. "Well, th-there's a..." he gulped again, "...barn, somewhere... should be near here, coming up." He gulped a third time.
Brooklyn eyed the migrant warily. "Thirsty?"
The man looked up suddenly. "Huh? Uh, I, no."
Brooklyn nodded. "Uh... huh." So far he was batting a thousand. His head rose as he made out an approaching shape to the side of the road. "That looks like your barn."
The migrant nodded enthusiastically. "Y-yeah, that's it."
Brooklyn sighed and shook his head as he pulled over. "Try slow, deep breaths," he offered.
After turning off the truck, the three of them disembarked. Celer seemed relieved to be free of the mechanical peculiarity that was the truck, moving warily away from this thing that moved so fast by itself, while the man looked like he was standing on the threshold of the Celestial Gates.
Brooklyn circled their truck. Bullet holes lined every corner. The metal was literally swiss-cheesed. Several components were missing, blown off. Both rear-view mirrors and a fender were among them. For all intents and purposes, Brooklyn surmised the truck was now decommissioned.
He turned to himself next, doing a cursory inspection of his own body. He sensed pain, suddenly realizing that a bullet had ripped a small hole in the membrane of his right wing. He shrugged, flexing his wing muscles. It hurt, but not enough to impair flight.
He put it out of mind, not too worried since it wasn’t very serious and he knew that one good stone sleep would take care of it, then turned to the man, who was gazing into the landscape. "After all of that, you want to run off into the corn fields?"
The man collapsed to his knees. Brooklyn quirked his eye ridges as he saw him make the Sign of the Cross and begin praying the Hail Mary. He sighed yet again, as he approached him. "Would you please stop? I'm not evil, I won't harm you. I just want to help you."
The man shook his head and began to sob. "You should have left me. I'm as good as dead anyway." He glanced up to see the thoughtful expression on the gargoyle's face. As if realizing who he was talking to, he relapsed back to his sobbing.
Celer stood quietly to one side. He understood that the man was praying to his gods. The Roman boy nodded. It was a good and proper thing to do now. He silently sent his own prayers skywards, hoping that there would be no more of the strange slingstones.
First it had been the hot jungle, then this dry place. He looked at the gargoyle. Brooklyn had given him freedom, but the places and people that they had seen so far didn’t look to promising as good places to stay.
* * * * *
The orchard owner spat on the dusty ground as he wiped his forehead, replacing his fedora afterwards. He stepped forward, a grim look on his face. Before him stood the larger portion of the resident police force.
"I want that man, dead or alive," he instructed plainly, "no matter what it costs to me." He smothered the dirt with his boot where he'd spit, as if to reinforce his point. "Now move out!"
The men dispersed, going off in pairs and threes to their trucks and cars. Once the last of the vehicles was on its way, the owner turned to the rest of the tent city. Most of the population had assembled by now. They stood with quiet anticipation, in bunches and huddled groups, as the heavy-set man took them all in.
"You think we're being harsh on him? Do you? Well, he should have known better than to shirk his duties." He allowed a dramatic pause, and looked around, inviting a challenge from the crowd.
Smirking with satisfaction, he went on, "He was fired because he wasn't doing the job. I was going to fire you all, but I think that I’ll give you a second chance. The harvest isn’t too good, but I need someone to bring it in. Now the same thing'll happen to you if you don't work well. You think dreams are going to feed your children? Or hope? None of that... money feeds you and your families, money that I give you only if you do your job the way it should be done. Work well for me, or else the same thing that's gonna happen to him is going to happen to you."
The men at the forefront lowered their gazes as his eyes swept over them. With a firm nod, he turned himself around and stalked off. As he exited earshot, a few of the men began turning towards one another, exchanging enthusiastic whispers of something. It had to do with the escape of the man the orchard owner spoke of. Some of it was slurred Scripture quotation. From it all, the constant was the reference to the man having been saved by something: An Angel...
* * * * *
Brooklyn stared out the window of the barn as he lay down. His eyes drifted across the black plains, the swaying fields of grain, and the star-studded sky. A soothing rustle of wind upon wood relaxed him.
Celer was plopped down in a small hay pile a few feet away. He was lying down, but awake trying to listen for any further trouble. The man sat in his corner, where he'd been holed up for the past half hour or so since they settled in. Their get-away truck sat in the back. They'd pulled it in to conceal their whereabouts.
"My name is... is Chris."
Brooklyn looked up, amazed to find that the introduction had indeed come from the migrant. He met eyes with Brooklyn, and the gargoyle sat up. "Hi, Chris. I'm Brooklyn."
Chris nodded. After a shaky breath, he added, "I don't suppose you could tell me... what you are. No offense intended, mind you. I just..."
Brooklyn nodded. "Yeah, I know. You've just never encountered anything with red skin, a beak, wings and a tail before."
Chris almost chuckled nervously. "No, not really. But, you seem to be... human. I mean, you talk and act just like any person would."
"You're intending that as a compliment, so I'll take it as such," Brooklyn replied. "Thanks. By the way, how’s your shoulder?"
Chris winced a bit as he gingerly probed the wound. "It’s just a shallow graze. Stings like all get out, but it should be right in a couple of days. Listen, about what happened back there..."
Brooklyn raised his hand. "Please, you don't have to get into that. It's none of my business."
"No, but I want to tell you. I mean, if you care... Just that I'm not that type of person. The type to... face down police like that. Obeyed the law all my life. But, they aren't the law. They're just lackeys, all under the big boss's payroll. He owns this whole stinkin' town. You know the Dust Bowl and all?"
Brooklyn shook his head, earning an astonished look from Chris. "I'm out-of-date on a lot of things... Celer and I, we do I lot of traveling. We hardly stay in one place long enough to ever figure out what's happening. So, what is this Dust Bowl?"
Chris shrugged becoming a little more at ease with Brooklyn as time went on. "Well, the Dust Bowl's the term for the lousy conditions 'round the Midwest right now. Well... might as well be for the whole country. Crops just aren't coming in. It's what we were trying to flee in coming here. We don't only need a place to live, but also the employment the orchard provided."
"We?" Brooklyn inquired.
"Yeah. My family. A wife and two kids. Twins. Don’t look alike, but they are. Doc called ‘em ‘fraternal’." He smiled as he spoke of his family but it soon faded as he went on. "But, because we doubled in size in such a time as a family, when the Depression hit, it forced us into hard times even faster than most." The light in his eyes died. "As we lived off our farm, our livelihood died when the crops did. We packed up and worked our way west - to California. There was the promise of plentiful orchard jobs awaiting us." He scoffed. "Hook, line and sinker..."
Brooklyn felt compelled to turn the tide of conversation. It felt jarring to see the man with such pain on his face, and as his mind was on a familiar occupation at the moment, the gargoyle asked him about his farm.
"Oh, it was beautiful," Chris started, with a wistful breath. "And it was all ours. Not like work on the orchard. I loved it. Sara loved it. We wanted to raise our children there... to see them grow up there..." He gestured with his hand as his eyes grew vacant, focusing on a landscape long abandoned. "The crops stretched for acres in all directions. And, there was the grain silo, that I built myself. A tower that took me almost a year to build." He shook his head.
Brooklyn felt an inexplicable kinship with the migrant. He absently glanced down at the Phoenix Gate in his hand... thinking of the tantalizing promise of returning to Sata and their eggs one day... and the reality that the Gate and its erratic behavior would probably make that impossible. He clenched his talons around the talisman.
Chris shook himself from his nostalgic ramblings, finally getting a good look at the young Roman boy with Brooklyn. "If you don't mind me asking, who's the boy?"
Brooklyn looked at the child, sighing. "His name is Celer."
Chris smiled. "Kind of shy, is he?"
At this, Brooklyn chuckled. "Don't let him fool you, he'll pick your pocket in a second flat."
Chris sniffed. "Yeah, like there's anything in my pockets for him to pick." He approached the boy carefully, holding out his hand. "Hi there, Celer. I'm Chris."
Celer looked up at the man, peering into the eyes that were aged prematurely by poverty and hardship. He took Chris' hand.
Chris smiled. "How did you come to be with this strapping red guy over here?"
Celer looked up at Brooklyn, the creature who had rescued him from the terrible volcano... it seemed so long ago now... "He saved my life."
"Oh really? I guess he's good at that sort of thing."
Celer laughed. "He is." He looked carefully at Chris, who came closer. "Why were those men trying to hurt you?"
Chris breathed deeply. "They don't want us to stay here because the orchard had a bad harvest. So they went and fired us." He sighed. "But it never occurs to them that maybe we don't have any place else to go."
Celer approached the man, looking up in his eyes. "I didn't have a place to go when Brooklyn saved me. Maybe he's come here because you don't, and he has to save you, too."
Chris smiled. "Maybe he did."
The conversation continued in the darkness between the young Roman boy and the Oklahoman migrant. Brooklyn observed the two of them from his spot between his window watches, a smile developing across his face. This was the most Celer had talked in one interval since he'd met the boy.
Brooklyn contemplated them, two people whose ability to relate apparently transcended their different eras. Chris was a simple man of his time, and Celer came from a time wholly simple in itself. Both were slaves, in one form or another, he judged. Celer by institution, Chris by institution's blind eye.
Eventually, Chris laid a yawning Celer down to sleep, and made his way carefully back to Brooklyn. The migrant sat himself down beside the gargoyle. "He's a bright boy. Just seems displaced where he is."
Brooklyn nodded. "That's almost right."
"Y'know... something tells me there's more to you than meets the eye. And there's plenty to meet."
Brooklyn smirked. "Oh?"
Chris nodded. "I could see it in your eyes and in your manner as I talked about my Sara and twins. And I can tell that face you wear. You've been separated from family, haven't you?"
Brooklyn shifted uneasily in his place. He nodded reluctantly.
He nodded again.
Slowly, he nodded a third time. He couldn’t bring himself to say anything
Chris drew in an uneasy breath. "Well, look. I can't pretend to give you the secret to getting them back, but... I do know, that if you can get me back to my family, I know for sure that you will make your way back to yours. Love like that crosses all borders, and knows no bounds."
Suddenly, headlights pierced the gloom of the barn. Blinding streaks of dusty illumination arced over them, drenching the hay-strewn ground and tool-lined walls. All three of them picked up the sounds of wheels on gravel.
Brooklyn turned to Chris, who stood up. "How'd they find us?" he asked, springing to his own feet.
Chris rushed to Celer, who was more or less separated from them by the high beams. He glanced about the barn hopelessly. "I... I don't know." His features sunk as it hit him. "This barn is his, this is the one on his orchard. Three or so miles off a ways, but still his land."
Brooklyn peeked through his window to see the orchard owner pull up in his car and park beside the several police vehicles. The officers were out of their cars and taken up behind their doors, weapons drawn.
"This'll teach those lousy Okies some respect," one of the policemen remarked to his buddy.
The gargoyle leaned back against the wall. As the last of the men outside took up their positions, Brooklyn felt a weight lift from him. Something inside him rose up. Chris' words. His eyes set into determination, as Chris and Celer whispered anxiously. He inspected the barn, his eyes covering every corner in moments, in search of something useful. They finally fell on their deceased get-away truck, then on some loose planks in the back wall.
"Forget it, Brooklyn," Chris advised, seeing were the gargoyle’s gaze had landed. "Thing's been drained of gas from bullet holes. Even if it was still capable of starting."
Brooklyn shook his head. "I've got something else in mind."
* * * * *
The orchard owner eyed the barn closely, as he called out in a loud voice, "We know you're in there. Come out, and you won't be prosecuted to the fullest, most extreme extent of the law."
The latched barn doors creaked in reply. The owner was about to signal something, when the latch was undone. The owner turned back around, ducking slightly into his Cadillac, as the officers around him readied their weapons with choruses of clicks. The doors swung slowly open. A lone figure stood in the entrance.
The orchard owner wasted no time. "Fire!"
The police let lose their revolvers. A spray of hot bullets showered the front of the barn, those few that found their actual target proving useless. The figure continued to advance. The cops continued to fire. Eventually, their ammunition was exhausted. They could have gone for more, but everyone was exchanging bewildered looks instead. It was still approaching.
Finally, it entered the light. It was the cowl of the truck, behind which was Brooklyn. He tossed the used-up metal aside and flexed his muscles for show. At the terrifying sight, the police bolted. Officers leaped into their cars one after the other, banging on the roofs with their hands for their buddies to go.
The orchard owner was soon the last person there. He looked from side to side helplessly. He tried to back up his Cadillac, but Brooklyn threw his hands down on it. His talons plunged into the shiny, waxed metal, holding the car there as its engine squealed. The gargoyle twisted his fingers, smiling grimly as he created excruciating sounds. The owner finally gave up on the car and tried to make a dash on foot.
He found himself nose-to-nose with the demon instead. In a voice that would make the angels themselves tremble, Brooklyn gave the quivering man a simple instruction: "Leave the migrants alone."
The man gaped at the angry visage in front of him. Brooklyn glared at the man, narrowing his glowing eyes and showed the glint of teeth. The man trembled, beads of sweat dripping off his forehead and nose.
Now, he ran. Brooklyn watched him go with crossed-arms, flailing and tripping into the night. He breathed in some of the warm, country air and sighed contently.
* * * * *
"Chris! Celer!" Brooklyn's calls into the darkness were soon answered by the man and the boy. They were standing close to where they had been told to go, just outside the tent city where the entire incident had started. Running happily, he reached the humans' side, out of breath but smiling.
"Well now, it's come full circle." Chris smiled. "My family's waitin' for me, Brooklyn, I should go to them."
Brooklyn looked into the man's eyes, then back at Celer... back at the Roman boy who twice now had been pulled into life-threatening circumstances. Breathing quicker, he looked back at Chris. "Can I talk to you over here for a second?"
The gargoyle motioned to Chris to follow him, a short distance away from Celer. Speaking in low tones, Brooklyn began his speech.
"Chris... I need to ask something very... personal, of you."
Chris looked at the gargoyle, the creature who he had regarded initially with fear... but had now become one of the few people in his life worthy of trust. "I don't mind. Anything."
"Well... it's about Celer. You see, the last couple of... stops we've made on our journey... both times, including here, he's nearly gotten killed because he's with me. I travel a lot, Chris, and I have no idea when my journey is to end... or even where it will end. But I know for sure that it has to end for Celer."
Chris nodded. "Of course I'll take the boy off your hands, Brooklyn."
Brooklyn looked at him. "But... I didn't even ..."
"You don't have to ask. I know what it's like... We packed our entire family into one little truck to get here from Tulsa, and look how we wound up. Travel is horrible on people in general, and on children... well, it's nearly unspeakable." He looked slowly at the gargoyle. "And I’ll tell you now…that Mr. Yancey isn’t going to push us around so easy again." He motioned off towards the tents. "Me and some of the boys were talkin’. They think that you’re a sign"
Brooklyn rolled his eyes and sighed, "Not this again."
"No," Chris shook his head and pointed skyward, "not from downstairs…up there." He looked the gargoyle up and down again. "Myself, I don’t know where you’re from or where you’re going, but you’re a good person. The rest of them will follow me because of you. I didn’t particularly want that, but I’ll take it if I have to. We may be down and out now, but things will get better." He looked Brooklyn squarely in the eye. "Once I built a tower…someday I’ll do it again."
Brooklyn extended his hand. "Thank you, Chris. I know Celer’ll be happy with you. You can do anything you put your mind to."
Chris shook the gargoyle's hand, then returned to where Celer was standing, still waiting for them. Brooklyn stood in the same spot, watching the two come together, like the father and son they should have been in the first place.
Chris extended his hand to Celer. "Come on, son... you're coming to live with me from now on."
Celer looked up. After a moment of incomprehension, he nodded hesitantly and took the man's hand. He looked back at Brooklyn, who grinned and made a shooing motion at the two of them.
Suddenly, Celer let go of Chris' hand, running over to Brooklyn. In a tremendous leap, he had his arms around the gargoyle, tears freely flowing, arms clamped around Brooklyn's neck.
Equally as suddenly, the emotions hit Brooklyn. He returned the Roman boy's embrace warmly, closing his eyes and breathing deeply. Through his own emotional fog, he heard Celer's voice.
"I'm sorry I stole your time talisman."
Brooklyn's smile turned into a chuckle he couldn't hold back. He could barely quench his tears. He set down Celer, patting the boy on the head. "Hey, don't worry about it," he assured. "It's ancient history."
"Are you sure you want me to go? Please don’t go."
Brooklyn nodded. "You’ll be safer here. I can’t stay, but Chris is a good man. He’ll take care of you better than I could."
The Roman boy nodded. "The gods go with you, Brooklyn."
Celer smiled, running back to Chris' side. Chris looked up at the gargoyle, waving. "Good luck and good journey, my friend... I'm sure you'll find your family at the end of your trail."
Brooklyn smiled back, waving glad that the boy would be safe. He hadn’t known Chris long, but something inside said that this was the right decision. As the two humans turned around and returned to the tent city, he could feel the tingling start in the back of his neck. But he kept his gaze steady, watching Chris and Celer come to the door of Chris' tent to be greeted by his wife.
She was, for a moment, stopped by the sight of him, but just as suddenly ran out to her husband, embracing him happily in her arms. As she pulled away, she looked up into his face.
"Christopher James Jasper, what business keeps you from your family for hours, keepin' them worried sick?"
Their two children ran out of the tent, coming up to their father's legs and embracing him warmly, then turning their attention to Celer. Chris' wife looked at the strange boy, too.
"And who is this young man with you?"
Chris laughed, waving everyone inside the tent. "I'll tell you inside. But Celer is going to be living with us from now on."
His wife's features widened, as she arched one eyebrow, "Is he, now?"
The children suddenly got more excited. The girl nearly jumped. "Really, Daddy? We're going to have a new brother?" Chris nodded to her, smiling. The two children quickly pulled Celer ahead with them inside the tent, away from the adults to get to know each other better.
His wife smiled and shook her head. "I guess I can’t argue with the little ones, but the Good Lord alone knows where we’ll find the room." She looked back to her husband. " What’s been going on?"
Chris pulled his wife into his arms, kissing her briefly. "Believe me, Sara, it's a long story..."
Brooklyn watched them until the Phoenix Gate could wait no longer. The flames of the artifact wrapped him in their fiery embrace, pulling him back through the timestream, leaving the boy rescued from Pompeii behind.