Edward Owen – Author

Ray Bradbury Challenge #37- Star Crossed

coffee

Star Crossed

 

Toby crashed to the floor, coffee and papers spilling across the carpet. Beth stooped to help retrieve the soggy pages.

“Are you alright?” she said.

Toby’s face burned as he scrambled to collect the report.

“Yeah. Just tripped …” he mumbled as he scooped the coffee soaked mess into the folder. “Gotta reprint all this again.”

Beth smiled and handed him his cup as he stood up.

“Don’t sweat it,” she said. “Jensen will be late.”

“Mmm … okay.” Toby glanced up at her face. He never got tired of her smile. It was the best part of his day so far. The image of her lips touching his flooded his mind. His face grew hot and he looked away.

What are you going to do? Stand on a ladder?

The voice added to his misery and he squashed it away. Of course it was right. Beth Mowry was five ten and Toby barely hit five seven. She was everything he wasn’t; beautiful, outgoing and moving up the corporate ladder.

“Thanks,” Toby said as he slunk back to his cubicle and dropped the dripping pile into his trash can.

As he changed in the employee locker room, the image of Beth’s face floated into his mind again.

If I could just show her who I really am.

Toby sighed as he finished buttoning his shirt. He glanced at his watch; 9:05. It was going to be a long day.

*****

Beth looked out across the empty bullpen. All of the cubes were vacant except one. The click of a keyboard cut through the quiet. As she strode across the floor, she realized the sounds were coming from Toby’s cubicle. She peeked over the wall.

“Hey, what’s keeping you here so late?”

Toby jumped.

“Oh, uh … just collecting some figures for McBrian.”

Beth strode around to the entrance and stood beside Toby.

“He’s taking advantage of you. Come on, let’s go. Coffee’s on me.”

Toby’s face flushed crimson.

“Uh, that’s what I’m afraid of.”

Beth laughed. “Don’t worry, we’ll drink it sitting down. Just leave the report. If McBrian says anything, I’ve got your back.”

“Why?”

Before Beth could answer, the floor shook and both of them were knocked off their feet.

*****

Toby’s head was ringing. The light over his cubicle swung back and forth creating shadows that danced to silent music. He got up from the floor and stared at the office. Every cube had come apart and the ceiling was destroyed.

Beth!

Toby panicked as she filled his mind.

“Beth?”

“Mmmmm …” The moan came from under a pile of debris in the walkway. As he looked closer, her hand came into view. Toby tore through the junk until Beth was completely uncovered. He knelt down next to her.

“Beth? Can you hear me?”

“Yeah. Wow! Some earthquake, huh?”

Beth tried to stand. Her legs gave out and Toby caught her. His arms tingled and he almost dropped her.

“Oh shit!” Beth said. “What time is it?”

Toby eased Beth into his chair and glanced at his watch.

“It’s seven o’clock. You have a hot date or something?”

“No, nothing like that. I just need to get home. Please help me to the elevator.”

Toby draped her arm across his shoulders and the tingling started again. They reached the elevator and he punched the button but it remained dark.

“Elevator’s not working,” he said. “Probably not safe to take it anyway.”

“Then we have to take the stairs.”

“Um, we’re on the twentieth floor and you can hardly walk. Let’s just call 911 and get some help.”

Toby directed her back to the chair and helped her sit down.

“I need to go. It’s important.”

Beth looked out the window.

“The sun’s almost down.”

Toby followed her gaze.

Beth sighed. “There’s something I need to tell you. I’m not who you think I am.”

“Really? Government spy … witness protection?”

Toby grinned.

“Toby, I’m serious. When the sun goes down, I, uh, well, I change and it isn’t pretty.”

“What do you mean, you change?”

Beth stared at him, her eyes tearing up.

“I’m not human anymore. You’ll see in a few minutes. Then you’ll probably quit working here and …”

Toby took her hand in his.

“I’m not going anywhere, you’re the only friend I have.”

Beth gave him a weak smile. “You might want to back up.”

Her face contorted and she let out a groan. Toby let go of her hand and backed away. Beth stood up and stretched out her arms. They grew shorter with bulging muscles. Her legs shrunk and her torso widened. Black wings erupted from her back and her nose lengthened. Within a minute, Beth Mowry had turned into a five foot gargoyle, her onyx skin glistening in the fading sunlight.

“I told you,” her voice croaked.

“You’re not the only one with a secret,” Toby said.

His body began to glow and grow taller. His unruly black hair became long, golden locks and his pudgy body rippled with muscles under a flowing white robe. He too sprouted wings, but they were covered in shining silver and gold feathers.

“You can change at will?” Beth said.

“Yes, but not in the sight of humans. You said you are not human anymore. You were human once?”

“Yes, but I was selfish and cruel. I insulted a homeless woman because she was dirty and dressed in rags. She was a witch and she cursed me. Why do you choose to live among humans as a clumsy man?”

Toby folded his wings and crouched down to Beth’s level.

“I was arrogant and disobeyed our leader. Several of our people died because of my actions. He sent me to Earth in human form to learn humility. The last two hundred years have been a hard lesson. Between my appearance and immortality, I haven’t made any friends. Until I do, I am cursed to stay here.”

Beth’s dark eyes lit up.

“Me, too! Actually, the witch said I must keep a lover for a year to break the curse. I tried a couple of times, but you can imagine the responses I received looking like this.”

“Actually, your appearance doesn’t matter to me. We can see auras and yours is much brighter than your physical body.”

Beth took a tentative step toward Toby.

“You don’t care that I’m hideous looking?”

“Did you care what I looked like when I was human?” Toby held his hand out and Beth took hold of it. Blue streaks of electrical energy shot from their hands, lighting up the room. He pulled her to him and kissed her softly on the mouth. Lightning bolts shot through the building and all of the lights exploded.

*****

Toby still spills his coffee and occasionally trips over his own feet, but he always has a smile on his face. He and Beth eat lunch together every day and spend every night in each others arms. Their coworkers all shake their heads in amazement.

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