The Trail of Souls
Michael C. Pennington
The origin story of the character Spry, excerpt from the up coming novel, “The Trail of Souls”.
Marie lay propped up on the pillows of her four poster bed, relaxing in her room while flipping through the pages of a large volume titled, World Almanac 1912. It had been two months since Far stole her out of the Jezebels’ clutches. Just before her eighteenth birthday. And now she was, “Staying out of sight”, as per her rescuer.
Convinced Far had snuck off purposely without her, while probably planning some other form of diabolical good deed. She was bored; and after cleaning the whole house, she had run out of make-do work. She even had lunch ready for Far, whenever he returned.
There was no doubt in her mind that she would have to find something to do with herself. Especially since she couldn’t go out into public yet. But she just couldn’t stand sitting around doing nothing all day either. Next time, she would insist on going with Far, even if she had to sit in the back of his automobile.
A distinct noise from Far’s room caused her to sit up straight, head jerking toward the front of the house, ears listening. Sure that she had been alone, she held her breath. Fear crept up her spine. She tried to reason the noise away in denial. Had she really heard something?
Then she heard it again, a fluttering noise like a large bird flapping around.
Easing up off the bed, she tipped toed to her door and peeked out.
With nothing abnormal in sight she edged around the doorjamb and crept along the hallway. Positive that she would have heard the sliding garage door, two stories down, open if Far had returned. Those old, iron cast wheels squealed horribly in the rusted, dust clogged track.
She was also sure that Spry had gone with him, because she hadn’t seen the miniature, white-tiger familiar all day.
Far’s bedroom was at the front of the house, next to hers, the door open a couple of inches tempted her to look within. She could just make out a small part of the room through the horizontal gap. Pushing the door open she froze in disbelief.
Her eyes fell on the back of an angel gazing out the front window, with large white-feathered wings and all.
Before her rescue, Marie had never really believed in God. Or that demons were real. Though the Jezebel witches had sure made a true believer out of her now.
Far was another matter entirely. The young, psychic warrior had actually drawn her interest away from the rowdy, spoiled rich brats and parasitic toadies she normally hung around with. She had fallen to an all time low this last summer.
But this apparition was the strangest occurrence of her life. The angel, a short buxom female, the round curves leaving no doubt, astonished Marie. The lush dark hair draped over one shoulder alone, disgracefully, struck a chord of jealousy within her.
The floor creaked beneath Marie’s foot and the angel slowly turned to lock eyes with her. Marie held her breath as she took in the beautiful and extremely well endowed figure. She blushed at her thoughts, “Hard to miss those assets.” Since the angel didn’t even wear the traditional gossamer tunic they were normally depicted in.
The angel lifted her wings and smiled at Marie, then raised her hands, palms up, as if in supplication. However, when the angel batted her eyelashes, Marie recognized the pattern and color of the large green eyes.
Marie was almost tempted to play along, until she could in some way turn the charade on Spry, but then . . . .
“Hey how’s it going, Spry? I thought you left with Far.” Marie, without any hesitation, walked over and plopped down in one of the chairs by the window as if nothing were new. Why should she be surprised if Spry was a shape shifter?
Spry lifted her wings a little more and brought her hands together as if in prayer.
“Give it up.” Marie grabbed up a book from the side table, read the spine, looked up and back down at the book. “Want to compare cooking recipes?”
“How did you know it was me?” Spry pouted her lush lips.
“The green and gold flecked cat eyes,” Marie answered pretending disinterest.
“You’re no fun.” Spry flounced over to the chair on the opposite side of the window and daintily seated herself.
“Well, you got me for a minute if that’s any comfort.”
“Really?” Spry perked up, smiling and leaned forward.
Giving in, Marie laughed. “Yeah, and that minute was the highlight of my day. I am so bored to tears.”
“Welcome to the club, sister. It seems like hours since Far left.”
“Four to be exact,” Marie said after checking her little lapel watch.
“Grrr! I wish he would hurry up. I’m starved,” Spry rubbed at her stomach.
“I made some lunch, a pretty good spread if I may say so myself.”
“Any tuna?” Spry’s paused exposed a moment between her lips.
“Sure, I made a tuna salad. I have some milk too.”
“Tuna salad with diced sweet pickles?” Spry asked, eyes growing larger.
“Well, it wouldn’t be tuna salad without sweet pickles would it?”
“Let’s go sweetheart, we’ll eat and make our plans for revenge on Far. He’ll be sorry for leaving us here all day.”
“You got that right. But first, would you like to try on some of my cloths,” Marie said over her shoulder, already headed for the door.
A few moments later, the two were happily digging through drawers. Marie breathless took a moment to ask. “So how did you meet Far?”
“I was out hunting one night in the old city park.”
“How long ago was that?”
“About fifteen years ago.”
“You two have been together ever since?”
“Yes . . . except when he takes off like this,” Spry’s wings trembled.
Was that sadness for real? Marie wondered at the simple actions, but complicated intelligence of the magical creature. Or an act? Marie wasn’t sure.
“Are you in love with him?” Marie couldn’t help asking, making the question almost an accusation. And held her breath fearing her answer.
“Huh? Oh, you mean like girl meets boy?”
Marie, in turn, batted her eyes at Spry. “What else?”
“It wouldn’t work out, because he’s more like a little brother, kind of icky if you know what I mean.”
“But you still love him, right?” Marie pressed.
“Yes.” The tone of Spry’s sigh and facial expression a confession in itself.
“Room enough for me?” Marie reached out to grab both of her hands.
“You like him too?” Spry met her eyes.
“Sure beats my last boyfriend and if you want to compare icky, I think I got you beat.” Marie shook her head in disbelief, thinking of her last boyfriend.
“So you want me to tell you how we met?”
“I would love to hear that one.” Marie brightened.
“Once upon a time, there was a very scary kitty.”
Spry padded along the park trail staying in the deeper shadows, her feline agility allowing her to move with stealth. Hunger worked at her gut and she hoped to catch a rabbit, a few pigeons or even a fat squirrel before the sun dropped below the horizon. Unfortunately, the dark set in early from the low lying clouds moving in. She had nothing to show for her efforts. In years past, this whole area thrived with wild game. Then the humans crowded in and the better tasting animals had long since left. She hated rats.
Spry slashed her tail in a bit of a funk; her present attitude wasn’t the best of her moods. A human child cried in the distance and she irritably thought that it may have been what had scared off the smaller game. The thought of leaving the entire area for better hunting grounds nagged at her; it had occurred to her more than once lately.
Not that she was bound to any specific location, as some supernatural creatures were to their area of making. The witch that brought her into this troublesome world had been much kinder than that by giving her tools to work with. Thus Spry had long since made the journey across that accursed ocean to the new world with a happy good riddance to the old world.
The awful wail of the child nagged at her and grew extremely annoying, which caused Spry to concentrate harder on her remembrances due to her current obstinacy.
Long since passed away, Bernadette, Spry’s first love, was a kindly village midwife, with perhaps too much knowledge of the old lore. She had never practiced the dark arts, nor served as a slave to the evil one. Instead, she practiced as a healer, finder and somewhat of a creator. It was she, who had spent so much time shaping the spirit of Spry.
Spry sometimes wondered if perhaps there was a small piece of Bernadette’s soul within her. And a chunk of her curiosity.
The bark of a feral dog and the answer of another caused Spry to pause on the trail. Her tail froze strait out behind her. The call to the hunt broke her concentration. She felt the Hunt, too, but from the darker ages.
She perked her ears and shifted them in a different direction when she heard a third bark. Spry had run across this same pack of dogs before and they were on the scent of something promising. Her tail resumed its occasional slash as she contemplated her dislike for the mindless instincts of the canine.
Right about then, even the taste of stringy dog sounded good to her. She changed direction toward the first bark and wondered what the wild dog had treed. Spry didn’t put the dog and irritable crying child together, until she heard the scream of fright and pain.
Quickening her pace; she knew the pack was bold having dealt with them before, but to attack a human child they must be hungry indeed. And desperate.
She bound forward, to run beneath the trees and slide through the overgrown shrubbery. The old park was located on the outskirts of the city and poorly funded. Only the picnic and boat launch areas were kept up these days.
What was a child doing in the park alone anyway? Where was the mother?
Spry could hear the dogs’ baying from all corners of the park as more joined the hunt, calling to the pack. She even heard the bellow of a hound, which again near triggered the pull of the hunt. The huntress hardened her thoughts, and focused.
Drawing closer to the crying, she slowed her pace, not wanting to burst head long onto the scene.
Cautiously, she poked her head out from the brush. Right away, she spotted the large dog at the base of a maple tree.
The child was much younger than she expected, five maybe. Obviously not well kept, his scrawny frame and shaggy brown hair self evident. He stood one legged in a fork of the tree about six feet up, nursing a bloody ankle with one hand and the other wrapped about a limb pulling to get higher.
There were several groups of homeless in a shanty town to the east, all closer to the city. Spry suspected he must have strayed from his mother.
She turned her attention to the dog beneath the tree. It was the brown ugly one. Probably the largest in the pack and certainly the leader from what she had observed in the past. A cruel and mean old bastard, too smart for his own good; obviously he knew the boy was alone.
Spry debated whether to interfere, thinking the child safe enough in the fork of the tree. The fact that he had the strength to get up there by himself proved his worth. A bit of a mystery, contemplating the distance, but fear tended to lend the weak a helping hand at times.
The dog circled away from the tree, and then ran back to make a leap and claw his way up the bark and snap at the boy’s other ankle.
With sudden fear for the boy; Spry held her breath. Her stomach growled to match her mood and though she was tempted to move on, hunger weighed the scale to intervene. Disgusted at the thought of dog, still the hot thirst quenching blood craving her cat instincts plagued her with prevailed.
She had time; maybe, a few minutes at least. A quick kill, snap the dog’s neck and drag him off. The other dogs would follow his scent perhaps and leave the boy free to get back to his parents, if he wasn’t too lost.
She would have to stash the dog in a tree somewhere close by, where his own pack couldn’t get at him. The dog probably weighed sixty-five pounds, and she certainly couldn’t out run the pack with him.
Wasting no more time, she leapt from under the bush and broke into an all out charge. Silently, she closed on her target, and when she was almost on him she sprang to land on his back. Her claws gripped around about the dog’s chest, while her wide jaws closed on his neck to clamp down hard. With a violent shake of her head Spry attempted to snap the neck.
The old beast was a fighter and experience at this sort of thing. Spry knew that when the dog rolled to the ground to dislodge her. With her claws extend she gripped his shoulders and haunches. Continuing to bear pressure on the dogs neck, she used the mutts own momentum to complete the roll and stay on top.
Spry pumped her hind paws several times in a blur to rake the dog’s rear legs out from under him. He howled with the shredding of flesh down to the tendons.
Knowing that she didn’t have much more time, she let go of the neck and took another bite, getting her lower front fangs into the softer part of the throat. She shook her head once more and heard the cartilage rip apart. At the last second she sprang away to get clear of the dog’s death spasms.
Not letting the mutt’s demise distract her, she directed her ears toward the approach of the closest members of the pack. Time grew short, so she snuck up on the thrashing dog and again bit into the neck from behind. From down low she heaved up drug the dog from the base of the tree, headed back the way she had come.
As a last thought, she cast her eyes up into the tree to meet the enlarged ones of the child. He had stopped his incessant wail and watched every move she made as Spry tugged the dog backward under the lower branches of the brush. She kept going, even as part of the pack made the clearing. The hound, tail up and his nose to the grass led the hunt.
Spry realized that there was not enough time to get the dog’s carcass into a tree. To try would only expose her flanks, she concentrated on just getting the corpse further away, until she finally had to drop the dog and run. Hopefully, the boy would have enough sense to stay where he was for now.
At a hundred yards further, she circled back on the clearing. She could still hear the pack. A fight was in progress.
Stupid dogs! If Spry could laugh in her present form she would. She leapt for a tall tree with long spread out branches and climbed higher up.
When she dropped the dog, she had decided to go back to check on the boy. To do so on the ground would be foolish. Once perched at a stable place in the tree, she squatted down and took a momentary break while she listened to the noise of the pack.
When her heart rate slowed; she took a new form. Spry didn’t usually change from the large feline. Except for one shape she once practiced with Bernadette. The witch, delighted and astounded the first time that Spry had appeared as a winged miniature human.
Purposely, Spry had imitated Bernadette’s features, the dark, long hair and the green eyes. A very close replica, though she had teasingly endowed herself with more curves. In the angel form, she was taller and more stretched out to accommodate the winged and hollow boned aerodynamic shape. With the large, white feathered wings she could fly quite well. A precocious creature by nature, she had been known to tease men with her attributes.
However, this time as a last minute precaution, she shifted her matter to cover those assets of temptation with a silky gauze like material.
Spry leapt into the air from the tree and spread her wings in a momentary glide, and then stroked the air to fly toward the boy’s perch. He never saw her arrive as she silently landed in the tree just above him. The dogs were not far beyond the brush and Spry wished that she could have dragged the dead dog further away.
“Hello down there,” she said softly to get his attention.
With a sharp intake of breath the boy child gaped up at her in fright. Then his expression changed to wonder, eyebrows rising.
Spry couldn’t help herself when she spread her wings a little and smiled at the boy to play up the angel part to gain his trust.
“Angel!” he voiced his surprise aloud.
“Shh!” Spry hushed him with a finger to her lips, and then she looked in the direction of the pack. The cannibals, Spry thought, so much for being the top dog in that bunch.
“You’re an angel,” he stated in a knowledgeable tone.
“Well, yes, I guess I am. What are you doing out in the woods by yourself little man?”
“From who?” Spry asked.
“Where’s your daddy?”
“Don’t know, I . . . Mommy said he was a bum.”
“Hmm,” Spry looked the boy over. He looked to be a handsome young human beneath the dirt.
“What did the policeman want?”
“He said he was going to take me away.”
“I won’t go.”
“Then where will you go?”
“I’ll live in the woods.”
“What about the dogs?”
The little boy started to cry. Well that went over just great, Spry berated herself. Then to change the subject, she asked, “Would you like to come with me?”
“Will you take me to Mommy?”
Oh my! “Um . . . I can’t do that.”
“It’s not your time,” she improvised.
“I’m not going to be able to live in the woods am I?”
Very astute for just a little boy Spry judged. “No I don’t think so.”
“I’m afraid to go to the Or-phan-age, the big boys will be mean to me.”
“Where did you get that idea?”
“My friend Oliver.”
Whoever that was, she thought a moment. “Well how about I watch after you. I promise not to let anyone hurt or be mean to you.”
“Okay.” He reached up to touch Spry’s right foot. “You’re real!”
“As real as some get, I suppose.”
“Never mind. Would you like to climb down now?”
“What about the dogs?”
“I won’t let them get you,” Spry said, with a little bit of an edge in her voice as she watched the brush.
The boy turned on to his belly and dangled his legs as he slid down as far as he could go before letting lose. When he dropped, he fell on his backside and lay still for a moment to catch his breath. Spry almost thought he was going to cry again for a second.
“My ankle hurts,” he whispered up to her.
“Let me look.” She glided down to land beside him. She pulled his pant leg up. It didn’t take a healer to know a bad bite. He would need more help than she could give. Unlike Bernadette, Spry didn’t have a store of herbs or molds to fight infections.
“Do I have to go to the hospital?”
“Will you go with me?”
“Um . . . I’m an angel. I can’t let just anybody see me.”
“I’ll tell you what though; I can take you to see a nice man.” The priest at the old church near where she slept had just popped into her mind. “He’ll take you to the hospital for me.”
“Well okay, but I really don’t want to go to the orphanage.”
This time he got the whole word out. Spry liked the spunky child, but was not sure how she could help him besides what she already suggested. The priest knew nothing of Spry herself, but she regularly observed him with the people he served and took care of. Unlike those ignorant, greedy priests that had taken Bernadette from her, so long ago.
“Come along.” Spry reached out to help him up. He was almost as tall as she was, and she noticed that he stoically held back trying not to show that his ankle hurt him. Such a brave little boy, how could she ever let them take the boy away to the or-phan-age, she formed the word just as he had.
“Will the man have something to eat?”
Spry looked up at the sky with a slight feeling of helplessness. Okay, You up there. He’s Your creature, why don’t You take a hand here and help out? Then, “Oh, I suppose he might, what would you like?”
“I like cake, but I wouldn’t mind some piggies-ina-blankie.”
Still holding his hand, Spry led the way back toward the city. Almost afraid to ask, but curiosity won. “What’s piggies-ina-blankie?”
“Uh, it’s kind of hard to explain.”
“I saw a baby tiger.”
“It saved me from a mean dog.”
“Yes . . .” she hedged, “I saw her just as I was flying down.”
“She was kind of scary and she looked right at me after she killed the big dog.”
“Well, you don’t see her now do you?”
“Okay, let’s be quite now, we have a long way to go.”
“My name’s Far.”
“You can call me, Spry.” She looked the boy in the eyes trying to see what ticked behind them.
He looked back at her to lock eyes, and then cocked his head as if puzzled. “You have the same kind of eyes.”
“You’re the tiger.”
Spry was shocked, how the little human could know that was beyond her. “Why would you ever think that?”
“I can hear what you’re thinking.”
Spry stopped and looked back over her shoulder, the dogs were plenty busy. Then she asked, “Can you keep a secret?”
“Just call me Spry, okay?”
“I’m a very special angel.”
“Oh, like a guardian angel?”
Marie wiped the tears from her eyes, she couldn’t help herself. “That is the sweetest story I ever heard. Who knows what would have happened to him if you hadn’t saved him?”
“He’s certainly been a paw full ever since. But I’m glad we teamed up.”
“You two must have had some tough times.”
“Don’t tell Far, but if it weren’t for Father Flanagan we would have never made it. He would have been stuffed away in some Or-phan-age.”
They both laughed at the little joke they now shared. Marie had to admire Spry for her courage and determination to look after Far. Especially, since he had turned out so . . . interesting.
“Spry, have you ever tried tapioca?”
“Kind of a white-milk pudding that I made for desert.” Marie got up from the table, and pulled out two small bowls from the ice cabinet. “You just have to try it, because you’re going to love tapioca.”
Far climbed the stairs to the second floor carrying several cloth bags of food in each hand. He liked the sturdy bags better than the open boxes. Plus, he could carry more. Certainly, they saved on going up and down the stairs multiple times to unload the car.
Stepping into the kitchen, he was surprised to see Spry in her angel form. He pretended not to notice and continued to lug the bags to a counter. He was even more shocked to find Marie and Spry together. The two looked like they had just robbed the farmer of his last pail of milk. They were up to something, stifling giggles when he first entered the room.
“How’s it going, Ladies?” Realizing they had been talking for the first time and bonding as friends.
“Oh, okay.” Marie’s finger ran over the grain of the table listlessly.
“Not bad,” Spry sighed. “If you don’t mind hanging out all day with nothing to do,” she griped with a tone of sadness.
“Hey, I’m really sorry. I had a lot to do.”
“It’s okay, we understand.” Spry finished licking something white from her lips.
“Yeah, we managed. We just had some lunch,” Marie informed him and gathered up the dishes.
“Anything left, I’m starved. Going to the open market hungry . . . just about drove me nuts.” Far rolled his eyes while he unpacked the groceries onto the counter.
“Sure, I can fix you something,” Marie said.
“What’s on the menu?” Far asked, relaxing.
“Piggies-ina-blankie,” Spry and Marie chorused in shrill laughter.