Updated: Feb 24
The wind whistling off the bottle and the rustling of paper concealed the approaching footsteps.
“You can’t sleep here,” the doorman said.
The doorman shoved his hands into his coat pockets.
“I will not tell you again.”
The doorman nudged the individual with his shoe.
“All right man, I am going.” The individual slurred his speech while reaching for his bottle.
The bottle slipped from his trembling hand and shattered.
“Shit! I still had half a bottle of St. Ides left.” The homeless guy said, watching the liquid pool at the bottom of the luxury hotel stairs.
The doorman radioed for custodial help to clean up the malt liquor bottle, but only static crackled in his earpiece.
“You need to leave now.”
The homeless man staggered before regaining his balance.
“You going to give me some money?”
The doorman stepped forward with clenched fists, but stopped after glancing at the security camera.
“Victor, is that you?” the doorman asked.
The homeless guy looked away.
“You don’t know me.”
The doorman grabbed the individual by the arm.
“It is you Victor. Come inside and warm up. It’s the least I can do for you.”
Victor closed his bible when a black car stopped in front of the hotel. He turned his attention back towards the warmth of the glowing embers popping and crackling in the stone hearth. He had walked past the fireplace dozens of times but never noticed the craftsmanship of the Italian granite.
Welcome Ms Swilcan. We are glad you returned to our hotel,” the doorman said.
Ms Swilcan ignored the doorman’s hand as she stepped from the limousine.
“Don’t scratch the luggage,” Ms Swilcan said.
She pulled the fox trimmed Cossack hat over her ears and waited for the doorman to open the lobby door.
“Ms Swilcan, your suit has been prepared to your standards. We look forward to serving you during your stay,” the Doorman said, holding open the door.
Ms Swilcan glowered at Victor.
“You can start by removing that person lounging by the fire with his filthy feet on the ottoman.”
The doorman rolled his eyes at the sight of Victor.
“He was a prominent citizen and will die from the windchill without shelter.
Ms Swilcan turned to face the doorman.
“I don’t car if he is an exiled king. He is a vagabond. Do you take a percentage of his panhandling from the guests? Escort him off the premises or I will contact the owner of the hotel.”
The lobby lights flickered as she walked towards the front desk.
Victor closed his eyes, ensconced in a leather wrapped cocoon. The only sound was the crunch of snow beneath the tires.
“If you don’t mind me asking, why am I taking you to a hotel instead of a shelter?”
The driver glanced at the rear-view mirror. Victor responded with a snore.
“Why have we stopped?” Victor asked, looking for a familiar landmark.
“The car lost power. Even my cell phone is dead,” the driver said.
Victor surveyed the stalled cars and people milling around in the street.
“The neighborhood lost power,” Victor said.
Victor fumbled for his flask in the rugged lost and found trench coat the doorman gave him.
“Power outage doesn’t explain the stalled cars,” Victor thought, taking a swig.
The driver tried starting the car again.
“We are halfway between both hotels. I’ll wait in the car for help,” the driver said.
The wind lashed the waves on the lake with intensity.
“Start walking back to the hotel in the daylight. A biblical storm is brewing,” Victor said.
The driver said nothing as he considered his options.
“Thanks for the ride,” Victor said, opening the car door.
The heavy sleet pelted him when he crossed the street.
I need shelter before it gets dark, Victor thought.
He noticed a graffiti stained building with boarded-up windows soon after the sun had set.
The dusty air was a welcome relief from the vicious wind after he pried open a board and entered through the window. He spun the lighter wheel with his thumb. Nothing, not even a spark against the alloy metal.
Glass crumbled beneath his feet as he dropped to the floor. His outstretched hands floundering as he navigated the unknown.
“Argh, that hurts!”
His hand clutching his knee while the other traced the outline of the offending object.
“An old bench,” he thought.
He fell asleep on the bench after taking a sip from his flask.
The sound of heavy stones grinding against each other woke him from his sleep.
“Someone is here.”
He kept quiet until he dropped his prized possession on the marble floor.
Victor stopped fumbling for his flask among the books strewn on the floor and did not respond.
“This is my building. Leave now!”
The sound of metal clanging on the floor filled the room.
Victor remained motionless to avoid detection.
“The elements don’t hinder my ability to see you in the darkness,” the voice said.
Barking dogs could be heard between gusts of wind pummeling the building.
“I am not leaving,” Victor said.
The clanging of metal stopped and replaced with faint sounds of hinges moving and clasps closing on metal.
“Your demise is certain, regardless of where you go tonight.”
The figure moved without hindrance in the darkness.
“You can keep whatever you're looking for in here. I only want shelter.” Victor said, locating his flask wedged between an object.
Stones scraping against each other echoed off the walls. The noise concealed Victor’s movements as he freed the flask pinned between a piece of wood with a cushion at the base of the bench.
“The items I left are useless to you. You may stay, but what has begun will find you.”
The scraping of stones stopped, and Victor could hear leather tightening across the room.
“What has begun?”
Moon light seeped in from the edges of the boarded windows as the winds abated. Victor shifted his focus towards a reflection of moonlight off an object.
“The unleashed will find the unworthy,” the voice said.
The clanging of metal reminded Victor of the rusty windmill spinning on his uncle’s farm as he crept towards the object.
Victor stumbled over a stone block and crashed into the object.
A metal cadence of footsteps approached Victor, peering over the object.
“Who are you?” Victor asked, trembling in the shadows.
Moonlight reflected off a shiny arm reaching from the darkness to take the object.
“I am the Guardian and you are trespassing.”
The Guardian stepped into the moonlight, revealing a figure in a suit of armor holding a shield emblazoned with a purple Jerusalem cross he took from Victor.
“It has been a long time since I wore this armor. Help me adjust my pauldron good vassal.”
The knight dropped his shield and sat on a bench.
“Your pauldron? I have seen some crazy shit, but nothing like this, Victor said, taking a swig from his flask.
The knight rotated his armor clad shoulder, making minor adjustments to straps of leather holding the armor sections to his body.
“The pauldron protects my shoulder and upper arm. Hurry, I have little time.”
Victor approached with trepidation, not convinced the knight was real as he stowed his flask in his coat pocket.
“Your a long way from Universal Studios. Why should I help you?”
The knight cinched a leather strap holding a piece of armor called a cuisse, protecting his upper leg.
“You served without question before your current state,” the knight said.
Victor moved closer to the boarded window where he entered the building while the knight adjusted his chain mail.
“That was a long time ago before I was persecuted by society.”
The glint of steel arching from its scabbard was all Victor saw. He felt the point of the sword above his heart.
“Your fate was sealed when you abandoned your flock. I am not here for you. Those whom lurk outside tonight are here for you,” the knight said, removing the sword.
Darkness reclaimed the interior when clouds covered the moon. Victor checked for blood where the sword pierced him.
I am going to freeze to death if I don’t start a fire, Victor thought, spinning the striker wheel on his lighter.
The rhythmic scraping of a stone against metal now filled the room.
“You can’t start a fire. Modern conveniences will not work either for the next three days,” the knight said.
Victor ignored the screams outside the building.
Victor threw it across the room.
"You can freeze to death here. I am going to find warmth somewhere else,”
Victor turned up his collar to cover his ears while looking for an exit.
“If you go outside, you will perish, but it won’t be from the winter storm.”
Chains rustled as Victor pulled the padlock securing the door from the inside of the building.
“I have survived worse winter storms,” Victor said, prying open the board covering a window.
The knight guided a sharpening stone across the edge of the sword.
“Three days of darkness are upon the city and most will not survive,” the knight said.
The board doesn't budge enough for Victor to escape.
“I doubt it. I will have a medieval knight story to tell tomorrow when the sun rises.”
Growling outside the building awakened Victor. Dust showered over him from movement on the roof. Repeated attempts to break through the front door caused the hinges to bend.
What the hell is going on? Victor thought.
Shattered glass and a blast of frigid air alerted Victor to the breach of the building. He saw shadows flying, crawling, and scurrying outside the window frame.
Victor noticed a claw hanging on the ledge, followed by another claw, until a full hand covered in scales climbed through the window.
“This one is mine!” a hideous creature yelled to the others outside the window.
The creature perched on the ledge revealed its jagged teeth and forked tongue before it dropped to the ground. It stood on reptile hind legs and extended bat wings that blotted out the moon, turning the room to darkness.
“What a prize I have found. A priest will fetch a sizable bounty when I drag you back to the abyss of eternal misery,” the creature said.
The hideous fiend lunged at Victor. A sword seared through the thick scales, releasing a horrid stench of sulfur before the creature turned to ash.
“Thanks” Victor said, turning towards the knight standing at the window.
The knight waved his hand over a cluster of votive candles, causing them to illuminate a dilapidated church.
“I did not save you Priest. This church and the animals of this city are in my care. A shepherd whom abandons his flock receives no mercy from me.”
The knight waved his hand before the broken stained glass window, sealing it with stone.
“If you didn’t save me, who did?”
The knight bowed towards where the Tabernacle once stood before it was deemed a threat to the safety of society. The priest recognized the Latin prayer and genuflected with the knight.
“Thank your guardian angels, whom intervened on your behalf. They stand next to you as pillars of light.”
The knight made the sign of the cross before walking towards the church doors.
“How can I help you?” Victor asked.
The knight unsheathed his sword. Purple flames ignited from the hilt surrounding the sword. He looked over his shoulder at the priest.
“You can't help me. Take a candle downstairs to the sacristy. Those whom remain will need your help after three days. If you open the door before day three, you'll die.”
The church doors opened to the carnage.
Wings spread across the knight’s armored back before he charged into battle.
Picture by Pexels: Nancy Bourque