As promised, here is the story I wrote for round 2 of this year’s NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge. My prompt was “Genre: Action/Adventure, Character: A First-Responder, Subject: A Handicap.” As I’ve mentioned before, NYC Midnight urges participants to come up with creative and unique interpretations of these assignments, and I LOVE taking rising to that challenge, as you’ll see here. Enjoy!
Elia raced through space time, entering the physical plane as close to the blue planet as she dared. She paused terrified of Sander appearing nearby. After a few seconds, though, she registered her relatively solitary state.
The shard of Originality Elia carried with her had guided her to this place and time… and a pair of souls she needed to find. She focused on the shard again, taking its intention into herself and letting it guide her as she trained, faster than light, toward the blue planet.
Elia watched Stella’s hands as they turned the pages of the book. She noticed some of the flesh on them appeared taut and shiny, while in other spots it wrinkled amply around the joints.
“Her body’s nearing its end, isn’t it?” Elia asked.
“Yes,” Britania replied, “as are the bodies of most of the ones in this place. The humans call it a nursing home.”
Elia registered her understanding with her fellow guardian. “And her brain?” she asked.
“It’s worn like the rest of her,” Britania confirmed. “Its chemical and electrical malfunctions confuse her. She’s starting the process of disconnecting from this incarnation and beginning to sense things beyond the physical plane. She’s even looked right at me a few times. In those moments she knows who I am, and her gratitude pours forth. It’s beautiful!”
Elia sensed the deep empathy and love her cohort bore for this soul.
“But she can’t make sense of very much beyond the physical plane,” Britania continued, “and that confuses her brain even further. The humans call it dementia.”
Elia thought about her more typical assignments. She was used to sealing gaping rifts between dimensions and responding to the unexpected happenings that could fray Originality’s intention or even unmake existence entirely.
And she’d entered into physical beings before, but she’d never chosen to inhabit a physical body or brain, the incapacity of which could hinder her own agency. Elia acknowledged her mounting apprehension.
“I don’t like this plan either,” Britania registered. “Originality hardly ever burdens humans with something this important. It borders on interfering with free will. It’s not fair.”
“It never is fair,” Elia replied, “but it’s important. It’s necessary, or Originality wouldn’t ask it of them.”
“Most of them here call it divinity.”
“And you say Stella is one who places store by… divinity?” Elia asked. “I can’t sense her connection.”
“That’s what makes her, and so many humans, so amazing,” Britania replied. “So few of them ever develop more than the most rudimentary connection with Originality. Still, they hold faith in it, devote their lives to it, even!”
“Where’s Azzar’s guardian?” Elia asked.
“Already reassigned,” Britania answered. “Azzar won’t wake before he departs this life. I’m sure that’s why Originality chose him to receive it.”
Elia agreed, “Yes, once this shard binds with his soul, Sander will have no way to extract it. It will travel with his spirit back to the whole.”
“But just as free will shall bind Sander from taking it, it prevents you from bestowing it,” Britania registered.
“But it won’t prevent her,” Elia said, turning her attention back to Stella. “You said she prays over him every day?”
“With an intent to bless him?” Elia asked
Britania shimmered her confirmation.
“Then, this is definitely what Originality intended,” Elia registered. “But the minute I go within Stella, Sander will regain his sense of the shard. He’ll almost certainly be here instantaneously. I’ll have to make the necessary maneuvers very soon after that to avoid his interference.”
Britania agreed, “And it’s not going to be easy once you’re subject to Stella’s brain. You’ll have to work within its capacity, which fluctuates a good deal, and is not very broad, even on her best days.”
“But it does make it highly unlikely that Sander will try to come in after me. He would never subject himself to such a handicap.” Elia felt confident about that part, at least.
After a few moments, Britania registered, “This side of the planet is shifting away from its sun. We can use these hours to prepare you as best we can.”
Elia shimmered with gratitude.
* * *
A short while after the sun’s light had returned, Elia watched Stella reached for the book she’d read to Azzar yesterday, Elia focused her intention, and made her maneuver, traveling within.
* * *
Elia became aware of her host’s calm anticipation, but who was her host? Why couldn’t she remember? She sensed she had something very important to accomplish. Why had she chosen a being with a challenged body and brain?
Suddenly, something caught her attention, and she felt a flash of fear. She saw Sander in his fury looking out through the eyes of a strong, tall being. The jolt was enough to bring her mission back to the front of her own consciousness. Elia struggled, too late, to shield her host from the terror induced by the ominous visage.
“You okay, Miss Stella?” The tone of voice from the being conveyed genuine care and concern. Elia felt relief rush in. Sander might be inside this being, but it shared none of his dark intentions, and Sander could no more direct a being outside of its intention than Elia could.
“You look frightened, Miss Stella,” the kind voice continued. “Would you like me to walk you back to your room?”
Stella! Yes, her host’s name was Stella. Elia felt another surge of emotion, and what she needed for her mission flashed clearly to her. She needed Stella to read to Azzar. Desperately, Elia tried to foster that intent in her host’s mind, but the flash of unexplained fear had thrown Stella into confusion. The kind man was directing her back the way she’d come.
Elia contemplated exiting her host, but realized Sander would be on her immediately if she did. She tried to think what to do, but every thought process felt cumbersome.
And then Elia saw someone else she recognized, a fellow guardian standing at the door to Stella’s room. Stella saw her too, though if she knew the guardian’s name, she didn’t remember it either. Still, Elia felt her host relax, love and gratitude pouring forth from her.
“I’m so blessed!” Stella said out loud, though Elia sensed her host’s vision of her personal guardian had already blinked out again. She was glad for that, for Sander was out of the tall man’s body, flying at the guardian with all his evil intention. Elia watched in horror as the two metaphysical beings clashed, all of Sander’s pent-up rage finding an outlet. She watched Sander reach inside and coil his wrath around the guardian’s energetic vortex, disrupting it.
Elia’s cries mixed together with the shrieks coming from the disappearing guardian and Sander’s angry primal snarls. Together, they fell on ears incapable of hearing them. Her fellow guardian gone, now Elia could only see Sander writhing around, still driven mad by his rage.
He rushed toward Stella, but stopped inches from her. Elia registered his internal struggle. He wanted to come in, but he could sense how unfit Stella’s brain was. His hubris shrank from giving up so much agency, and even more deeply his doubts in his own abilities paralyzed him with fear of failing to remember his intentions. He moved away.
“I’m so blessed,” Stella said again, and Elia could tell her host remained blissfully ignorant of the metaphysical carnage she’d just witnessed. “I want to share this blessing with others,” Stella said. She looked down at the book in her hands. “That’s where I was going. I’m reading to Azzar today. Thank you so much, Justin, but I’m fine. I’m going to go read to my friend now.”
Elia felt a glint of hope. Through her lingering anguish, she lent all the encouragement she could to Stella’s intention, and within seconds, found her host walking once more toward Azzar’s room.
* * *
Elia watched, this time through Stella’s own eyes, as the woman’s hands slowly turned the book’s pages. She sensed Sander leaping in and out of beings as they passed by Azzar’s door, but she knew unless he found a host already inclined to interfere, he had no chance.
Elia doubted anyone in the nursing home could be of use to him. All around her, she sensed compassion and benevolence, and in many cases a particular affinity for Stella. Elia thought of how this woman’s unknowing contribution to universal stability would be hailed across so many planes of existence.
And she achieves it all on faith, Elia marveled. She tried to imagine what it would feel like to blindly believe with only the most frail and tenuous connection with Originality.
But then, Sander appeared at Azzar’s bedside. So he had failed to find any useful body’s to inhabit. Elia wondered at his intention. He could accomplish nothing by entering Azzar and succumbing to the man’s unconscious state.
But that was exactly what Sander was doing. Scarcely believing what she saw, Elia watched him immerse himself inside Azzar. Through the sluggishness that was Stella’s brain, Elia pushed herself to try to understand what Sander’s motives might be, but then she saw Azzar’s chest lurch up a few inches off the bed.
Impossible! Elia thought. Inside Azzar, he should be just as unconscious as his host! But she stared in horror as Azzar’s torso contorted again. The man’s eyes had not opened, but his trunk and limbs convulsed at shorter and shorter intervals.
Stella had noticed too, and she trailed off from reading her book. Elia had no idea what to do. Whether Sander was trying to rouse Azzar or kill him, either outcome presented a dire threat to Elia’s mission. Even just this disruption threatened to frighten and derail Stella from what Elia (and the entire universe) desperately needed her to do.
But it was Stella’s realization that pulled Elia back from the edge of despair. With a moment of clarity like no other since she’d entered within, Elia realized that Stella could see Sander. Just as she’d recognized her personal guardian outside the door to her room, Stella recognized Sander, recognized what he was, what he was doing. Elia felt something from her host, she hadn’t felt before… outrage.
“You leave him alone!” Stella growled with a powerful, mother-like fury. Stella rose and laid her hands on Azzar. Elia saw the split-second opportunity and lent her celestial power to Stella’s efforts. “In the name of Jesus Christ!” Stella cried.
Sander’s agonized shriek registered in their ears for half a second before Elia could no longer sense his presence. Stella took a deep, shaky breath, closing her eyes for a few seconds. When she opened them, she took Azzar’s hand in hers. Elia realized what was about to happen.
As Stella began her prayer to bless and protect Azzar, Elia sent the shard of Originality she’d so carefully guarded on the wings of Stella’s intercession. Elia watched as the shard passed into Azzar, attached to his soul. She shimmered in cascading relief, overcome by the knowledge of what had just happened, and what had almost happened.
She streamed out of her host, and clarity and realization returned, both joyful and crushing. Britania! The depth of her fellow guardian’s ultimate sacrifice threatened to turn her inside out with grief and remorse. Instead, however, she became aware of Stella’s gaze.
Elia turned her attention back to the heroic mortal woman in front of her and their gazes met. Elia didn’t recall ever sharing in a moment of a mortal’s awareness of her. The humility it inspired quieted her mind utterly. She knew she couldn’t speak to Stella in any way that the woman would understand.
Instead, Stella initiated the gesture of perfect communication. She opened her arms, walking toward Elia. From the knowledge Britania had shared with her, Elia realized how to properly respond. She widened her span to receive Stella in what this planet called a hug. She didn’t know if Stella could feel it when she wrapped herself around the frail woman, but all the expression and understanding she craved to share flowed between them.
Elia felt an impulse run through her. Her next mission awaited. Like most assignments, she needed to move toward it immediately. But for a few precious seconds in physicality, she lingered, embracing Stella, transcending language, dimension, and all likelihood to share in a moment of universal appreciation.