He heard a chorus of whistles. Familiar tunes. Old slave spirituals he sang in Sunday School.
He paused. Considered turning back. Kept walking.
Something about suffering and Christ and finding salvation in heaven. Lyrics he didn’t believe… Not until Lucifer offered him free, fluorescent bottles of Moonshine. Money. Love. Promises of salvation. The catch… meet him in the alley.
He stepped through puddles.
Blood. Warm to the touch.
Money. Respect. Fame. Every desire. For something intangible. Illogical. Something he didn’t believe in…until the Devil offered him everything he desired. For a price. His most valuable asset.
Tightness in his stomach as he turned the corner. Into the alley.
The smell of sulfur was at its peak. Nausea.
He gripped his pistol in his pocket with one hand. Crucifix around his neck with the next.
Tink! Tink! The coin flips echoed through the alley. Pap! Pap! Spotlights exploded around him.
The sulfur. The nausea in his stomach. The impure thoughts.
He was getting closer.
The sharply dressed boy awaited him under the remaining spotlight.
Last time it was a woman. A woman who resembled his childhood sweetheart. The Devil loved to play games.
The boy snatched coin out of the air. Pointed a fist in his direction.
“Play?” The boy asked.
He shook his head.
“Heads or tails?” The Boy inquired.
“Fifty fifty chance.” The boy insisted. “Heads for salvation… Tails for…”
A lava red glow burned behind the boy’s jagged smile. “Fifty… Fifty.”
Zay promised to never look back. Or down. Only up. At the perfectly capsized city in the clouds.
Clearest skies on record since the mirror world –The Upside– emerged from the smogosphere, according to Templar meteorologists. Its the divine sign he’d been praying for. Do what’s necessary. Take flight. For Shalewa.
He pumped the burners.
Balloon ascending. Turbulence. Thinning oxygen.
Flying a hastily built helium-craft composed of antiquated parts from abandoned shipyards was high-risk. Highly illegal. Suicidal. Still… far safer than returning to the Seminary.
Shalewa tiptoed to peer over the edge. “Is that heaven?”
He gently pulled Shalewa back. “Just another city.”
“Mommy and daddy there?”
Mirror versions, but their parents nonetheless.
Shalewa smiled. “Great.”
His sister was smart for her age. Much brighter than he was.
Chilly. Temperature dipping.
“Will we feel upside down?” Shalewa asked.
“It’ll feel like normal.”
Or so he’d heard from Solomonic diplomats who’ve visited the Upside.
“But then, our city will be the one upside down,” Shalewa said.
“Correct,” He replied.
Rising doubts… They’re breaking laws and risking lives to meet strangers. A selfish, dangerous plot. But… Shalewa deserves better. She needed parents, even if they’re doppelgangers of the ones they lost.
“Are versions of us there?” Shalewa asked.
“Maybe,” He answered.
Shalewa bit her fingernails. “What if they hate us?”
“But what if?”
Zay felt for the pistol with the disintegration rounds hidden in his belt.
A once a century, secret Congress of the most powerful and influential monsters of all nationalities, species, and realms. A parlay among humanity’s predators. He was tasked with surveilling the meeting by the foolish and misguided Humanic Order. He had greater plans. The Order will thank him whence the smoke clears.
Red Vampire, the host, was in his cross-hairs. Succubus brides trailing behind him, arranging and rearranging furniture. Preparing for their big feast.