Getting over the street was the easy task. The three way highway had emptied since the rush hour and the only guys still hanging around were busy showing off their speeding skills to give any sideshow attention.
He was two steps behind me the entire time. I tried to think about his motivations why he kept standing behind me, but I was growing tired of it already and in the end didn’t care. I was aware of him there, because when inside, he had seemed fairly smaller than now here, in the open air, where he really stood out.
Maybe it was because of the foul smell that came through the handkerchief he put in the blood of the spirit before we got out of the door and left the house.
It didn’t really matter as it was far better option than his first offer to take his bloody hand with us. Even if it oozed of green liquid he said is similar to plant juices did I refuse to put that thing in my handbag. Firstly because it reeked beyond words and secondly I didn’t want to lose my handbag to this. Shallow as my interest was to protect that fake leather bag, it was my only one and some things I just wouldn’t do.
“He is missing an arm.” He explained what to search for in the branches, offering me the handkerchief. I pushed it out of my way.
“Smell it yourself, if you need, I don’t think I’ll ever forget this stench!”
“Hey! If it were blood, I’d understand, but this is plant juice!”
“I’m feeling dizzy, I think it’s giving me a headache.” I wasn’t lying. The sweet aftertaste of the scent was causing my stomach to rumble. “We must go through all the trees and sniff their branches?” I changed the subject instead.
“Only one will have a broken left side branch and probably that will be the thing that reeks.”
I gave him the most incredulous look. “You do know this small park is actually hectare long?”
“By the time we reach the other end, he’ll have enough time to put himself somewhere we already searched from! And as of the missing an arm – they did the autumn clean-up less than a month ago – there are many fresh cut branches.”
“You are one bundle of joy, aren’t you?”
“I’m tired, that’s all.”
“I can see that, but you need to put that on the back of your mind and concentrate on the search.”
“I don’t feel inspired.” I lifted the closes hazel branches out of my way, searching through the tree drunk for anything that would look out of place.
“Take it from this side – if we don’t get that plant potted back in my world, he’ll do the same here what he did in my world.”
I would have loved to argue back that humans would never go with something like that, especially here, where the cooling winter soothed even the worst of outbreaks of social dramas. But knowing humans it had rather horrifying effect on me instead.
“If you please,” he bowed, showing me towards the next trees while heading in the other direction.
I took a moment to enjoy the site of his wings. I couldn’t get enough watching the veins scattering around them like tree leaves. I expected them to be like bat wings, but this was way different approach to moving the fluid around.
“Am I at least interesting to look at?” he asked without even looking behind him and I diverted my gaze to look at the closest tree. It had a cut branch, but it was straight forward cut and too large to be the hand. Then again, he’s cut was not straight forward, he chewed through his muscles.
It was close to dark now and the mist was nearly gone. If we didn’t find him soon, the tree spirit would win.
I thought I saw wrong, when Thorwald, after crouching to a bush near the old bump house, was suddenly backing towards me with his hands raised.
Who in their right mind would attack a gargoyle?
As attempting as it seemed, it soon became clear, when a scrounger in grey wadded jacket appeared from underneath the branches his knife swaying only centimeters away from his chest. I could tell from five meters away that his eyes were sparkling and his stamina to protect his sleeping place was fueled with things far beyond the capability of alcohol.
Thorwald remained quiet and kept retreating to me. I saw his jaw twist, but the way his fingers kept rolling closed and open was a clear sign he was doing all in his power to keep from hitting the guy. He might as well do it, I thought bitterly, no one would believe him in the morning.
“Look, buddy…” he started, taking a step forward, but the guy shout something about thief and tossed his body forward and Thorwald had to take sharp step back to stay clear.
“We’re not stealing anything from you!” I intervened, but stood clear from them both. If the bumper turned on me, I wasn’t sure he’d stay alive for long. “We’re searching for someone, that’s all.”
“Riigh’!” the bumper drawled, turning the knife in his hand. It was old blade sharpened with its back still rusty. I think that’s what he was keeping clear from.
“A man with broken arm – have you seen him?” Thorwald sent me a warning glance to stop talking. I ignored him. “Taller than me, smaller than him.” I deliberately tossed my hand above Thorwald’s head. I think the impression on the gargoyle’s face could be summed up as appalled.
“I ain’t helpin’ no cops!”
“Got it, but could you please not get involved then?” I glanced at the knife still pressed against the rivet of the harness.
“This guy ain’t natural!” he pointed out, pressing the knife harder in his chest. He did know thing or two about sharpening, I had to admit, when it slipped down the rivet and cut the strap in half. The domino effect ripped up the other two belts holding the right wing in place and after four snaps it was free and bounced out.
Thorwald’s hands fell silently on his side together with his eyebrows. To me that was pure sign of either cutting his temper down or witnessing him snap another arm.
“In what way?” I challenged, eyes fixed in his, searching any changes in them. The scrounger didn’t seem drunk enough to fall for it.
“You’re messing with my mind! I can see his wings!”
“So?” I shrugged. “They’re props. For a movie.” He shook his head. “Why do you think he has all those belts then? To keep them in place, of course!” I used the moment and slapped him in the chest with the back of my hand. “Now we have to do them all over again!” I sighed audibly. That seemed to do it. His knife fell lower and for now the threat was gone, even if Thorwald did keep his hands fixed on his side.
“Well then,” the bumper started, scrubbing his chin, “I ain’t seen any weirdoes here beside you two.”
Fair enough, I grinned him and we watched him climb back under the branches.
“Come on,” I pulled his sleeve. Utmost time we got a move on.
I heard him release the rest of the buckles and now both wings were free and open. I fought the urge to take a proper look and enjoy the site. I liked him with his wings free and I couldn’t think of a reason why he wouldn’t enjoy this more.
“I won’t be flying.” He grunted, passing me on quick steps and tossing the harness in the green garbage pin next to the curved brown bench. He was upset about losing it.
I stopped abruptly. A familiar scent past me by. It was sweet and nauseating. At first I thought it came from Thorwald, who probably by now was soaked by this, but it didn’t disappear when the wind blew through between us.
I turned my head on the sides, hoping to catch it again, but it was gone for now. I took a step back and quietly filled my lungs with air again, trying again to catch the strange scent. All that hit me now was fresh dirt and soggy water.
Miloard covered his hand in dirt or pressed it in the mud. And the only place this park still had river mud was right next to the bank. The rest of it had been cleared up a year ago, when they reinforced the entire bank with stone wall.
I didn’t move. I was sure I’d lose the scent again if I moved. It was next to the willow tree that was losing its battle with the water line, so close to falling in, yet holding on as strong as it possibly could. Kids came here to fish in the summer time. It was perfect natural bench.
Thorwald wouldn’t look over. From where I was standing, had I called out, the tree spirit would have heard me without a doubt. I had done this on-spot dance there for a long minute before Thorwald noticed I hadn’t moved.
I tried to get his attention. He took up speed, but I waved at him with all my might to stop running and pointed at the tree just out of my sight. It wasn’t his though. All he had to do was come to a stop next to me and tiptoe and he could see clearly down the bank.
As if called for, the yellow lights bloomed up one by one starting from the far end of the park. I stepped closer to the edge, to see if I was right and against the dark shadows there stood out vaguely human shaped figure, mud dripping from the left side. That couldn’t be helping with the healing, I cringed, but Thorwald was less compassionate, responding to the blink from the shadows with slide down the stones and iron hold on the creature.
He pulled him up the stones and slammed him on the ground before me while he finished climbing. A couple with little kid turned on the water side path just as he tossed Miloard before my legs. He tried to grab me, but I jumped back. I saw the blue jacket guy pushing the baby buggy give the hold to his wife and starting towards us.
Oh this was so not looking good! I glanced at Thorwald still climbing and shook my head to him. He immediately pulled back in the shadow of the tree.
“What’s going on here?”
“Sorry, he went for a swim.” I blurted, backing up a step to get his attention away from the edge and Thorwald.
“He’s ok?” Miloard reached his right hand up to him, but I grabbed it instead, immediately feeling the strength he put into crushing it.
“Yeah, just a bit breathless. Stupid trick, he didn’t think the river was so fast.”
“He could’ve ended up dead!” the man nodded, but breathed easier then and wished us good night before heading back to his wife to explain her.
Thorwald finished his climb and grabbed hold of his leg and I felt the something in my hand break.
“Let go.” He ordered, climbing higher over his body, covering it completely with his. Miloard kept his hold, pressing his fingers harder together, but stubbornly looking at him.
“Humans,” Miloard started, shifting his hold to shrug, eyes fixed in his, “they’re so fragile.”
“I can break that one too.”
“And bottle feed me for the rest of our stay? I don’t think so.”
This staring contest wasn’t taking us anywhere.
The pain in the hand was getting intolerable and I knew if I wanted to walk around with both hands with nothing more than a bruise, then… Thorwald would have a knife. His kind of man – I doubted he’d come out the door without having a blade hidden somewhere!
I prayed he’d be that kind of man, when reaching for his pockets and starting patting it through. The two men kept staring at each other with Thorwalds face pulling more into a grimace. I kept going, patting over his side, under his left wing. There had to be a knife!
The hold hardened and for a long moment I was sure this was the last few moments I would spend with two hands, when, hidden in a small pouch behind his shoulder blade and the first bone in the wing, was a ledge I could get my hands on.
I grabbed it, pulled it out, pressed it against Miloard’s side and turned my eyes questioningly back in his.
“They tell me your best chance is to end up in prison.” Thorwald started slowly, gritting hard from the pain which didn’t seem to lessen even after the blade was against his muscles. “I can arrange you to meet the families of your victims one by one every night if you do not let her go.” He pointed out every last word and reluctantly I felt the pain ease before his fingers popped off completely.
I pulled the knife back and removed myself from their side as controlled as I could manage with one hand. By the time I got up, I saw Thorwald pushing himself up and moment later Miloard joined him. He swung him around, twisting his good hand on his back and started walking towards the dormitory.
I stayed behind, exploring the knife in my hand. It didn’t feel soft under the touch nor warm like wood would. It was completely made out of metal and the edge of it shined against the yellow light of the spheres. It was thicker in the handle, and it had another metal melted in, creating swirls of decorations that ran all the way down to the middle of the blade. Yet it was blunt and sharpened so many times it was far thinner than it had been originally.
I observed them walk ahead of me and the blade in my hands. This blade was certainly not from our era. It was worn and tired, like the weather around us, in its fall season. Yet it had fitted perfectly in the handle and suddenly I felt odd thinking how old he really was. Was it his?
“Wait!” I called out and ran after them. He slowed down and glanced at me. I came behind him and pushed the knife back in its handle. He didn’t thank me and we kept walking on.