Liz and Regina arrived shortly after dark at the makeshift shelter on Bon Air Street, just around the corner from the church.The rain had been so heavy for the past several hours they were forced to hopscotch the numerous puddles pooled upon the walkways. They wore modest, conservative clothes suitable for ladies of a certain age. It would not be proper to offer solace and appear provocative at the same time.
Kenny made his way toward them, the remnants of a marshmallow donut decorating his lips. Concern clung to his weathered face like a spider hunkered down in a crevice awaiting it's next meal.
"Thank God, you're here. Literally I mean, this time."
He laughed in a way Liz thought he seemed to be trying to conceal some unpleasant truth. He didn't bring it off. Something was bothering Kenny.
"We came as soon as Brother Hawthorne gave his permission. I hope that donut was a good one. It sure left it's mark on you. Oh, Kenny there are so many needs, so many needy souls in our midst every day. Why must things like this happen to bring them to the attention of everyone? Normally, only a few can seem to see the needs and sufferings of others at all." Liz said, still eyeing him for clues to his upsetting look. Maybe it was just the strain of trying to care for so many all at once. The Rec-Center could only hold about forty or so comfortably at one time. There were now nearly double the number being housed here.
They had come from far away at the state's prompting, a friendly gesture to other citizens in need of basic creature comforts. The main room and side offices overflowed with the burden of tired bodies and aching souls.
To her surprise, Regina noted how quiet they all were, as if the tribulations they had suffered made them more meek and accepting of where they had ended up.
Kenny wiped the offending marshmallow off his lips on the sleeve of his t-shirt.
Regina stepped forward, clutching Kenny's hand tightly in hers.
"Brother Hawthorne said you had a man here needing some special help, Kenny?"
His face seemed to freeze and pale simultaneously, sending a vague dread into the space between them.
"I don't know how else to describe it, but I got a guy over there in the corner near the back who really needs to talk about what happened to him. It's not that I'm not empathetic. I'm just real busy coordinating food and water deliveries. And I've never used up so much toilet paper so fast ever."
Liz and Regina exchanged a glance. The Lord would want his children's bottoms clean after all.
"Ladies, I'd be grateful if you'd just talk to him for a bit."
"Where's his home Kenny?" Liz asked.
Kenny swallowed, running his left hand down over his mouth before answering.
"That's just it. He doesn't seem to want to talk about it. Almost like he's in shock. I can't get much specific information out of him. And I got to warn you, he smells a little funny."
"What's his name?" Regina wanted to know. She always felt it was important to be as personal as possible when ministering to the needy and the heartbroken.
Kenny glanced up at them and said, "Follow me, ladies."
Abruptly he turned toward the back of the hall, dimly lit with a mixture of steady and flickering florescent tubes challenged by the deepening gloom and the layer of dust coating their surfaces. Others nearby gave little notice to Kenny and the women as they moved past the huddled masses.
He sat alone on a low canvas cot with a wood frame. His back was against the wall, an ugly grren color paint that punished the eye and reminded anyone who saw it they were not in a real home. This was a shelter, nothing more. If one wanted warmth and ambience, well the Sheraton was all filled. His back rested tentatively, as though he were afraid he might disappear into the disagreeable surroundings if he huddled too close to them.
Regina spoke first. "We're from the church around the corner. We've come to encourage and help you and the others here if we can."
The man was not tall. His skin had a slight olive cast to it, a coloring making it impossible to determine his racial background. It hinted he spent some time in the sun.. His face was small and smooth, but he did not appear to be young. He regarded them with little interest.
Liz looked at Regina and shook her head slightly. Why were God's lost children so unfriendly?
There was a smell. Both of them detected it. Liz also noted the sharp-looking nails that begged to be trimmed back.
Regina began again. "Where are you from?"
The man gazed at her quizzically, his eyes a dark and penetrating brown. He tilted his head from side to side slowly like a dog would when trying to understand the commands of his master.
"A long way from here." he answered suddenly in a small, faraway voice.
The sound chilled both women. Such suffering the redeemer meted out to the lost souls of this world.
Liz spoke up. "Have you been here at the shelter long?"
He seemed annoyed by the question. "The wave came. She sent the wave. I had to leave. My home is gone. My home is all gone."
Regina clutched at her heart. Such sadness to witness a soul with such a huge loss. She did not want to appear overly emotional in front of him.
"Liz, I've got to go to the ladies room for a moment. Please keep talking to our friend."
Regina headed to the rest room in the rear of the building. Liz felt the man's eyes on her face immediately, as soon as they were alone.
"I need to find my people again," he said, his mouth displaying an array of small, sharp-pointed teeth.
Liz had to stifle a gasp. His family. Of course a man like him would have a family. And they were missing. How awful!
"Do you know if they made it to another shelter someplace else? Are they alright?"
He looked at her again as though he did not know what she was saying.
"There is no place. Only here now. If I find out they are here maybe we make a nest again."
The hair on Liz's neck prickled and rose. 'Nest' was a strange term to use when describing your home, wherever you called home.
It was then she first noticed a kind of twitching at the man's back. He wore a standard issue gray colored sweatshirt over a pair of ill-fitting, faded blue jeans. His feet were small, residing within a pair of beat up looking hi-tops. Though he spoke little, there was some sort of movement beneath his shirt when he formed his words.
Liz felt a sheen of sweat blossom on her forehead and neck. She wished Regina would come back. God only knew what was happening here. She did not want to find out alone.
Just then a sound from outside made itself heard at the back of the center. A commotion, a sound of surprise and an exclamation was heard.
The man on the cot perked up immediately.
"Mine are come."
Liz took a step back involuntarily. She was having trouble coping with her rising fear. She noticed the man's shirt becoming more active with the movement of God only knew what.
"What did you say," her voice betraying her fear now. Only the presence of others in the building and her Christian desire to care for the needy and downtrodden of this world kept her from screaming with terror.
"I must go. Mine are come here. Mine are here. Mine are here!"
Some of the refugees began focusing their attention on the man they had ignored. He was making a lot of noise and they did not appreciate his newfound enthusiasm.
He sprang off the cot, full of new energy. He did not look back and did not slow down.
"Wait. What's happening? Where's he going?" Kenny shouted at them. Liz' sense of duty overcame her dread as she raced behind the fleeing man.
She burst out the doorway of the Rec-Center seconds after the man arrived on the sidewalk. He glanced up into the cloudy, rainy night with the cluster of gawkers who stood pointing upward.
Liz saw them too.
But not lights of this world. They were bright, intense with color. Some were blue, some yellow, some green. They stayed near the bottoms of the clouds as they drifted and swayed, perhaps buffeted by the winds at those altitudes.
A shriek escaped a woman's lips nearby and as Liz looked just above her head she saw what had terrified the woman. A winged creature, or more exactly a man with wings swooped low over the pavement.
"Mine! Mine are come for me!" The man from the shelter shouted to all who would listen.
A few of the witnesses took several steps backward, newly wary of the stranger among them, wondering at his connection to the airborne visitor.
A kind of scream rent the air, an alien noise no one had ever heard before.
Liz saw the man pull up his sweatshirt and fling it to the wet pavement, screaming again. A pair of brown-feathered wings lifted themselves up from the small of his back, expanding as they unfurled to the astonishment of the witnesses. With one last horrible shriek he raced a few steps and sprang up, flapping his wings as he swooped upward toward the lights gliding just below the cloudbank.
When Kenny and Regina burst out onto the sidewalk they found Liz sprawled on the wet pavement, shaking with fear, her face covered with flowing tears.
"What the hell's going on!" Kenny demanded.
"Regina he wasn't one of us! He wasn't!"
Regina looked down at her friend with piety etched upon her matronly features.
"Of course he wasn't dear. Of course he wasn't"