The Bleeding EdgeStifling, the sweat poured in slow trickling waves from Pray Blinds furrowed brow. He looked up and down the corridor from the entranceway to the vault. There were sentries on either side of the safe, floor to ceiling, secure with thick steel walls, the safe was a prelude to the baron beige carpeted hall.
Escaping from the written desire of a petty thief, by warrants and county jails, by stolen pencils and free meals at the Salvation Army and by the starved passions of a gambler in a losers palace, he saw the great vault shimmer in the down draft of the ceiling heater vent.
Pray had it all figured out, “A prayer for Pray.” he whispered out aloud. He’d crack the box, “YYYYYYYEEEEEEEHHHHHAAAAAWWWWW!” the top of the hill, the star at the top of the tree and the brass ring, only thing was his ring was gold, 21 carrot and as smooth as glass.
Pray moved down the hall as the heavy tool bag weighed taunt in the muscles of his wrist. “ Gonna break that witch, gonna break that witch!” he sang as he approached the sentries laser beam. The card had a bar code and a brail embossed number on it. He had paid 300 dollars for the dupe at crazy Al’s.
“It’ll work like a clock, tick-tock and yer in!” Al had exclaimed as he handed him the duplicate pass. Pray had put the original back into the bank managers wallet without capture or keep, no one had been the wiser. He had gone back to his tellers booth smiling and humming a tune from Oklahoma.
Pray swiped the card in the tele-max sentry and the crimson colored laser beams disappeared.
A breath, the space of a scream, the moment of decisive capture and wonting delirium came to a precise perfect conclusion as the giant iron cage descended around Pray; the hall went dim and the recessed lighting went dark violet. Pray stood there in shock as a high pitched hum filled the air around him.
Submissively, Pray fell to the floor. The endurance of a wilting rose, the pale horse in full gallop against ebony shadows and moments of winter sleep, Pray simply gave up. He had wagered his dream against the wall, the impossible garner, the harvest in evanescent rhythms of fate. He lay there, just barely touching the cool polished metal bars with the tips of his fingers. He sighed in resignation and closed his eyes. Moments later he died and when he awoke he was in a steamy aura of candent light, the blessed light he thought. The enchantments of another world, a parallel existence, he stood and looked around the mist laden dew of a neon cloak, a brilliant shine in the glow of ethereal passion. Was he dead? He must be he thought. The wings of a greater forward, a beginning for a safe cracker in Eden he thought. “Damn……..yeah!” he said out loud. The sound of his voice echoed in hollow reverberations around him, filling his ears with a cool crisp slice of sound. Rebirth he thought, I’m reborn into the final stretch. Black Beauty is in the lead and Flicka is a close second he thought, the friggin horse in race to the gate. He was home free. Stepping forward, he bumped into the clear bars of the nearly invisible cell. Had he died? He was still in the cage.
There were squawks from the end of the hall, he watched as a fluttering flock of crows moved down the hall toward the cage, “caw, caw,” came the first few in neon silhouette, crimson black, tiny eyes tilted upward as the patter of wings thumped and pounded the air around the cage.
He moved to the center of the cage as a thick roiling mist cloaked the floor with it’s damp tendrils, snaking in from all four sides and dancing in puffs of cool ether and mystery. The light went from violet neon to a dull indigo haze permeating the fog in small sips, tincturing the tips of his fingers with the glowing luster of black light. The crows cawed in unison then went silent. The sound of their wings shifting in the dark shadows betraying their presence to the soul ensnared by the great steel bars of a prison in consuming endeavor; endeavoring the ozone and the breath of an eternal darkness, bought by a petty thief for the price of a spirit, for the wont of a blueprint to ever after, for the pale ghost in dark corners and the second after death.
Pray fell to his knees and closed his eyes in worship. The Smokey arms of a dew laden mist and a newly moss laden floor padded his knees and smoothed over the wrinkles in his fifty-three year old features. His heart pounded rhythmically in his ears and fluttered like a moth in his chest.
His prayer was simple, spoken by the lost, the desperate, the inhabitants of countless disasters and near death survivors. “Dear god if only….I’ll change…..I’ll follow the narrow road…….!” he promised as the outer door near the end of the hall thumped open, bouncing against the rubber stopper mounted on the wall behind it. It was a thickly viscous shadow, large red eyes breathing gouts of blue flame and charcoal soot.
From his end the light flickered dark then dull indigo, on and off, on and off. The air was heavy with a cloying perfume, the essence of a thousand dandelions in fresh green cut, sappy, leaking the pungent milky lifeblood of a child’s dream.
The figure at the end of the hall paused and a swirling eddy of haze descended from the ceiling flittering in the moaning gasps of a hundred tortured souls. The sound hummed and labored the breath of a nightmare, a whisper of sinful fright, a measure of fear, in muffled currents of confessed desperation and desolate terror.
Pray tilted his eyes to the ceiling and shivered; so this is what I’ve come to he thought. The gaping maw of a bloody secret, a scarlet beast in perfect desires of human stew, the salivating greed of a precious peril, the bleeding edge of oblivion.
He remembered in that moment, the remnants of a distant transaction, the day the dreadlock crow had nodded it’s head in his direction.
The day had been uneventful, he counted his cash, fifties, hundreds and neat sheathes of quarters, all in the unchanging exchange between customer and teller. It was the stuff of his undying wont, wont for money, and he had dreamed of, and of, and of the safe and it’s contents. In the midst of his reverie a man had walked through the double glass doors across the lobby. The velvet ropes separated the few customers in the bank from the line of teller booths. The man stood behind Nate Johns and Gretta Burg. He was dressed in a black trench coat, dark ebony eyed with a full head of dreadlocks tied by gray yarn and blood red elastic.
Nate and Gretta made their transactions and the dreadlocks ended up at Pray’s window. He slid a piece of notebook paper toward Pray and glanced upward toward the video cameras, past them and to the sky beyond the distant horizon, eyes rolling with clouds of roiling smoke, billowing from his mouth in waves and tenebrous spider silken snare. He sighed and the whites of his eyes filled with blood from top to bottom, sliding in slick eyed magic. He opened his mouth wider and rows of razor sharp teeth glistened and glimmered like the pointed maw of a Great White. The note said,
“Azalea in the Scream!”He remembered, the other tellers had seen nothing as the man’s mouth echoed a curing, causing “Caw, caw!” a black mamba with feathered exclamations of fate. No one saw and in the end, in the space of a few seconds he turned and spun on his heels, dreadlocks spinning in a circus fan about his head, he turned and left leaving the piece of paper and a hazy veil of delirium. He had called Mary Simms over to his cage explaining to her that he was feeling ill. He went to the employee lounge with the piece of paper clutched in his sweating fist.
“Azalea in the scream!”The beast in the hall, the approaching ends of a frayed bloody edge, the bloom of a race from birth to old age and to moments in the afterlife belched and wavered in steamy coils of mist before him. The memory of the dreadlock crow fell in sync with the beast, the dreadful conclusion of his life, his essence, his bond with existence.
He stiffened and slowly edged to the rear of the cage, unprepared, naive’ like an inexperienced toddler avoiding a scolding. Pray trailed his hands across his eyes wanting to rub away the vision of approaching hell, the great rambling demon in hunt. The beast pressed it’s face or what passed as a face, it was all misshapen and fleshy, against the clear bars opposite him. The bars separated with the tongue of a hissing black flame prefaced by screams and roars of rage.
Summoned by chance and the trifles of interlaced fortune, the decision to sin and the promise to fulfill the destiny of a sainted life, the promise to forgo the life of a petty thief for the wonts of the straight and narrow path, inspired Pray to fall to the moss covered floor. He cried as the beast opened it’s maw covering his mouth and pushing hot flame, fetid breath into his lungs.
Passing out in a dream, a nightmare descried by a nightmare, Pray dreamed within the dream. He saw the piece of notebook paper.
“Azalea in the scream!”Tiny unfolding lines of light spread their warmth and daydream cloud across his features and he saw the Azaleas in bloom, the bursting blossoms done in violet, in alabaster crème and bright scarlet tears. The gentle rolling twilight in orange spears of flame touched his brow and illuminated the Azalea’s with somber light. The rare, bold bid for realms named safe, secure and in reveries of absolution, the stupor of a petty thief, the lyric answer to his prayers and screaming promise, in all he heard the scream the tenor of full born rage and screaming panic. The Azaleas wept blood as the veil disappeared from his eyes.
She was screaming and blowing air into his mouth, filling his lungs he gasped and coughed choking on the wheezy inhalation of breath. Susan Lance, his girlfriend, a fellow teller at the bank, shook him and cradled him in her arms as she called his name , “Pray, Pray!”
He remembered the trench coat crow again, all dreadlocks and fire eyed want. He had hit him, hard, with the dull side of a claw toothed hammer. He had fallen behind the counter unconscious, dead, dead to the world and in hell. Susan had saved him.
His head hurt as he remembered the promise, the moment of decision and forgiveness. He looked up into Susan’s eyes and smiled as best he could. Some things were worth waking up to he thought as he hugged her.
A Week LaterThe alarm clock sang 6:00 A.M., he had to shake out the cobwebs and get going, his shift at the bank began in an hour. He glanced at the security card on the bedside table; it lay untouched next to his pain medication and a bottle of ibuprofen. Pray paused for a moment uncertain, wondering, wondering about Susan. What did she need from him, Jewelry, a house………and what, the good life? He pushed those thoughts aside for a moment and looked out the small apartment window. The rows of Azaleas wavered and swam in the cool autumn air. Turning away from the window he dressed, ran a comb through his thinning hair and put his red and white tie on. He picked his dad’s old tie clip and cufflinks. He looked good.
The bag of tools lay in a leather satchel next to the dresser. He listened to the silent tick of the clock for a moment as he grabbed the bank managers identification card and slipped it into his breast pocket.
Outside the wind howled and an earsplitting scream filled the air near the Azalea bushes. Pray looked out the window again fear swelling in his bosom. The sky was blood red and the demon stood howling in the midst of the Azalea bushes, in the midst of a petty thief’s fate.