The boys stood on the corner, hunched over, their hearts pounding their chests, taking in deep gasps of air to try and overcome the fatigue that burned in their limbs. Reed couldn’t say how far or long they ran - all he knew was that what happened was far behind them, and that there was no going back, no changing the fate he had brought upon his friends. He looked up and Irdu and scowled.
“Why did you do that?!” He shouted. “I just needed some help, I didn’t need you to turn them into babies!”
Irdu shrugged, expressing nothing but indifference for his victims.
“It seemed pretty appropriate, if you asked me.” He said. “People who pick on those weaker than them are the lowest of the low. But I guess you wouldn’t know anything about that.”
“You son of a bitch - ”
“Reed, stop!” Cody shouted. “It’s not Irdu’s fault those guys were being such jerks.”
“Those [I]jerks[/I] were my friends.” Reed countered.
Cody cocked his head back. “They were your friends? Why? They were really mean.”
Reed opened his mouth to respond but nothing would come out. In the time he had spent with Kevin and Jay, he never seemed to notice their cruelty - but now, thinking about it, times where he had witnessed and even joined in on their sadism floated back into his mind. More than once he had helped them mock an unpopular student or gang up on the fat kid when playing dodge ball, reveling in the laughter the other students would pour upon their unfortunate victim. Reed frowned. [I]Why did I do all those things?[/I] He looked up at Cody. [I]Is that the way I was treating him, too?[/I]
“Besides, it’s not that big a deal.” Irdu chimed in. “In a little while nobody in this town’ll be much older than them anyway. Maybe the girls can play house with them.”
“Is it almost midnight?” Cody asked, his face brightening.
Irdu looked up at the sky. “We’ve still got a little bit of time to kill. Let’s head to the square at the center of town - that’d be the best place to do it.”
“Cody, wait!” Reed said. It was no use. The boy had already taken off in that direction with Irdu perched on his shoulder. [I]God damn it, there’s no time![/I], Reed thought as he rushed after them. [I]I’ve got to get the little bastard away from Cody if I’m going to have any chance of stopping him.[/I]
The brothers reached the square, stopping on the well-manicured lawn that held the pride of the community, a stately, ancient oak whose golden leaves cast a warm glow on the field it sat on. The area was quiet and empty, the way it stood most nights in the sleepy little town. Cody smiled and looked around, watching the dead leaves dance across the grass in the whipping wind.
“How long do we have to wait?” He asked Irdu.
“Not much longer, now.” The demon grinned. “Relax. Have some candy.”
Irdu turned towards Reed. His face soured.
“Oh, you’re still here?” He asked. “Well, I guess you can hang around too, if you want.”
Reed glowered at him and took a seat next to Cody, who had already begun working on a King Size Crunch bar. The boy sat with his arms wrapped around his legs, head perched on his knees, trying to think of something, [I]anything[/I] that would get them out of this situation..
“Aren’t you going to have some candy?” Cody asked between bites.
“I’m not really in the mood.” Reed muttered. Cody looked at him, then at Irdu, who had floated over to the oak tree, absently running a claw against its rough, weathered bark. He polished off the candy bar and leaned towards his brother.
“I know you’re worried about what Irdu’s gonna do.” He whispered. “But just think about how cool a town with no grown-ups would be. There won’t be anybody left to tell us what to do or make us go to school. Doesn’t that sound awesome?”
Reed looked into his brother’s smiling face, into his bright, shining eyes. He pondered his words very carefully.
“Cody, why do you trust him?” He asked.
The boy looked over at Irdu.
“Because he’s the first person I can remember who actually cares what I think.” He said. “He listens to me. He wants to hear what I have to say. Nobody else does that.”
The boy looked at his brother as if to say, [I]especially not you.[/I]
“Cody....” Reed began to explain himself, but before he could finish, his brother stood up and left without a word. He walked over to where Irdu was, leaving Reed to watch him go with the pain of guilt aching in his chest. He buried his head in his arms and fought the urge to cry, the fate of the entire town weighing less on his heart than his brother’s distrust of him. But before he could lose himself in his gloom, Reed became aware that the wind had suddenly picked up, whistling through the courtyard with the force of a summer storm, nearly powerful enough to knock him over. The boy looked up to see Irdu floating in front of the ancient oak, steady and stoic even in the swirling winds. He almost looked giddy, if it were possible for a demon to be that way.
“It’s time.” He said. The demon looked at Cody, who nodded and smiled. Irdu returned the smile and closed his eyes. An instant later, the familiar foul glow began to emanate from his body, darker and stronger than ever before. It grew and pulsed around him, and at the rate it was expanding, seemed a threat to swallow the entire square. Cody regarded the spectacle with wide eyes and a fascinated smile, watching Irdu the way one would a meteor shower or an eclipse. Reed swallowed and looked back and forth between him and Irdu, making damn sure that they didn’t notice him reach into the bottom of his pail, fish out his Swiss Army Knife, and pull out its blade. He took one last look at Cody.
[I]You’ll hate me for this.[/I] Reed smirked. [I]But how would that make things any different?[/I]
The boy reared the knife over his head, rushed past Cody, and charged at the demon. By the time his brother had realized what was happening Reed had already brought the knife down, plunging the blade through Irdu’s chest and pinning him into the bark of the oak tree. The demon’s eyes flew open and he released an otherworldly shriek, so horrible that both Reed and Cody were forced to fall to their knees and cover their ears. Reed looked up to see the murky glow shrink and retreat into Irdu’s body, disappearing for good as the demon became silent and his body went limp. Thick black blood bubbled from where the knife penetrated the demon’s skin, creeping down his leg and dripping onto the tree bark like hot tar.
Reed remained on his knees for a long moment, breathing heavy, almost too scared to move. [I]Is it...over?[/I] The boy looked over at Cody, who was slowly pulling himself to his feet, his face pale and his startled eyes locked on Irdu’s body. Reed stood and gingerly walked over to him, gently taking hold of his brother’s arm with both hands. Cody didn’t look down at him. He sniffled and his lips trembled as a tear ran down his cheek.
“Why did you do that, Reed?” He asked, his voice breaking.
“He was a demon, Cody.” Reed frowned. “There’s no way - ”
“Who cares if he was a demon?!” The boy snapped, turning on his brother. “He cared about me! He was the only one who cared about me!”
“Stop it, Cody! Stop saying that!” Cody cocked his head back, surprised at his brother’s outburst. Reed tugged on his brother’s arm and looked up at him with tears welling in his eyes. “Mom and dad care about you. [I]I[/I] care about you. For God’s sake, Cody, I’m your brother. Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”
Silence hung heavy over the boys’ heads and remained there for several moments. Cody opened his mouth to speak, but before the words could come out, the sight of an object landing on the grass between their feet stopped him. The brothers looked down to see that it was Reed’s Swiss Army Knife, its blade black with blood. Slowly, they looked up to see Irdu floating in front of the tree, staring at them with cold, calculating eyes.
“You think it’s that easy to kill a demon?”
Irdu began to close in on them, a scowl scratched across his face, the flesh of his wound regenerating at a frightening speed. [I]Christ.[/I] Reed’s body went numb. [I]What have I done?[/I] He took a step back but before he could get anywhere Irdu was suddenly upon him. The demon flashed Reed a grin before striking him across the cheek, sending the boy tumbling to the ground. He cried out, the flesh where he had been struck burning as though a branding iron had been pressed to it. Looking up, Reed saw that his brother was standing shock still, staring blankly at the ground.
“You’ve got to stop him, Cody!” He shouted. “Grab the knife!”
No response. Reed tried to get to his feet, gasping in pain as he fell back onto his stomach.
“Please, Cody. I’m sorry ...I’m so sorry...please stop him...”
Cody finally looked up, putting a weary smile on Reed’s face...which quickly twisted into a look of horror when he saw his brother grin and his eyes gleam crimson.
“Oh God, Cody.” Reed sobbed. “No. No. Please, Cody, listen to me.”
“You were right to be suspicious of me, Reed.” Irdu said. Reed looked up through bleary eyes to see the demon floating right above him, his arms crossed and a solemn expression on his face. “There’s no way I’d spend my one day in the human world in this pathetic little town unless I had some business to attend to.”
He looked back at Cody and smiled. “The higher-ups have had their eyes on him for quite a while, now. They’ve got big plans for him, Reed. [I]Big[/I] plans. Aren’t you proud?”
Reed hung his head, the tears flowing freely now, hot and wet as they trailed down his cheeks and dripped onto the grass below.
“I had to wait until midnight because there’s a very small, very precise window of time in which a human can be taken out of this world. Turning everyone into kids, well, that was just mixing a little pleasure with business.” Irdu grinned. “I’d love to stay and chat a little longer, but if I don’t miss guess that window is going to close pretty soon. Me and Cody better get a move on.”
With that he flapped over to Cody and floated in front of him. Reed craned his neck up, his mouth hung open in stunned disbelief as he watched the wings on the boy’s costume begin to change, transforming from simple molded foam into glorious ivory feathers before his very eyes. They grew and blossomed until their wingspan stretched the length of the square, practically dwarfing the boy they were attached to with their sheer grandeur. They flapped once and sent a gust tearing through the lawn nearly powerful enough to knock Reed over.
“Oh, and don’t worry.” Irdu called out. “On our way out, I’m still going to make sure that everybody in their town gets back their baby teeth. Think of it as a trade - I get Cody, and you all get to be happy little kids again. That seems more than fair, doesn’t it?”
With that, Cody’s wings began to flap in earnest, lifting the boy into the air with Irdu just beneath him. Despite the monstrous gusts the wings kicked up and the pain coursing through his body, Reed somehow managed to struggle to his feet. He looked up helplessly at his brother, the wind drying his tears before they could even escape his eyes.
“Please don’t go!!” He cried. “Please! [I]I love you, Cody![/I]”
As the words echoed through the square Cody suddenly threw his head back and gasped, as though taking his first breath after being held underwater. His body went limp and the crimson ebbed from his eyes as the wings began to shrink and molt, the feathers dissipating in the wind. They became foam once more as the boy gently fell back to earth, dropping to his hands and knees as he coughed for air.
“Cody!” Reed rushed to be at his brother’s side, only to be cut off with Irdu appeared in front of him, his eyes fiery and unforgiving.
“You have no idea how much that will cost you.” The demon hissed. “I only hope I can be patient enough to make you suffer before you die.”
Irdu drew his arm back as Reed threw his arms up in defense, refusing to run away even as his very soul trembled in fear.
The demon froze and looked over his shoulder to see Cody rise to his feet, his expression calm and stoic. With deliberate movements he drew his plastic sword from its sheath and held it away from his body, his eyes locked on Irdu’s.
“Don’t you dare hurt my brother.”
Irdu sneered, turned his attention away from Reed, and closed in on Cody. The boy licked his lips and tightened his grip on the sword.
“What do you think you’re going to do with that, you little shit?” The demon spat. “Do you have any [I]idea[/I] what kind of power you’re messing with here?”
“Cody!” Reed shouted, pointing at the Swiss Army Knife near his brother’s feet. “The knife!”
“No. It’s okay.” Cody said. “I can beat him with this.”
“But - ”
Cody looked past the demon and smiled at his brother.
Reed stared at him for a moment before swallowing and giving his brother a nod. Cody’s smile widened as the demon cackled uproariously, holding onto his stomach as though he feared it might burst from laughter.
“This is hysterical.” He declared as he floated close to Cody. “You think you can take me on, shrimp? Then give it your best shot. I’ll even let you have a free one.”
With that, Irdu locked his hands behind his back and closed his eyes, waiting for Cody to make the first move. The boy closed his eyes and exhaled, then slowly drew the sword above his head. When he brought it down the plastic cut deftly through Irdu’s flesh and split the demon in two, a set of nearly identical halves falling apart after being separated by the toy blade. Irdu’s split body twisted ever so slightly in mid-air, his eyes wide as the flesh burst into flame and disappeared, becoming nothing more than a cloud of ash that floated away on the breeze.
Cody’s eyes rolled back in his head as he fell on his knees and dropped the sword. Reed rushed forward to catch him, wrapping his arms around his brother and using every bit of his strength to keep him up. But soon Reed felt the boy growing lighter in his arms, and after a moment had passed he realized it was because he was growing stronger. Looking down at himself he saw his body grow back to its proper form and his costume squirm and shift, transforming back into the pants and shoes they had been derived from. In a matter of seconds Reed was back to normal, holding his little brother against his chest, no sign remaining of any of the events that had taken place that evening.
“Cody.” Reed murmured, pulling away from his brother and shaking him slightly. “Cody, are you okay?”
The boy’s eyes fluttered open. He looked at Reed for a moment.
“You’re big again.”
Reed choked out a laugh. “Yeah. Yeah, I am.”
Cody looked around the square. “Is Irdu gone?”
“Uh huh. You were so brave, Cody. I’m so proud of you.”
The boy frowned.
“What’s the matter?” Reed asked.
“...I really liked being the big brother.”
“I know you did, Cody.” Reed smiled. “You were a great big brother. The best. But that’s supposed to be my job, and from now on I’m going try my hardest to be just as good as you were.”
“Yeah, I promise. For real this time.”
Cody gave him a weak smile. “I believe you.”
With that, the boy leaned his head against Reed’s shoulder and wrapped his arms around his big brother’s back. Within moments he was asleep and dozing soundly. Reed chuckled, lifted the boy into the air, and positioned him on his back, putting Cody into the piggyback position for the long walk home. He had nearly left the court when Cody stirred and murmured into his ear.
“Don’t forget the candy.”
Reed chuckled to himself as he turned around and retrieved the pails, the buckets swinging in his hands as he and his little brother headed out into the cool autumn eve.