Chelsea ducked into a pastel pink house and locked the door behind her, the bat-creature still clinging to the front of her blouse. She collapsed onto a lumpy couch, and the creature crawled into her lap, curling its wings around its body and looking up at her with large, round eyes.
“Grazie, signorina,” it said. “Mi ha salvato la vita. Grazie mille!”
“You poor thing,” said Chelsea. “Uh… come… bene?“
She was almost positive her question hadn’t been grammatically correct, but the creature seemed to understand.
“Sì! Sì!” It bobbed its head up and down. “Sto bene, grazie a lei! È così coraggiosa!”
Chelsea looked down at the creature and noticed blood on one of its wings.
“You’re hurt,” she said. “May I see your wing?”
“Non capisco,” it said. “Mi scusi.“
“Your wing.” She pointed to the creature’s wing. “Mi scusi. Non parlo italiano.“
“La mia ala?” The creature unfurled its wing.
“That’s right, sì. Tua… tua ala.“
Chelsea took the wing gently in her hand. The wing’s thin membrane had a ragged tear a few inches long.
“I bet we can find something to help you somewhere in this house. Here, climb on.”
She patted her shoulder, and the creature hopped up, hooking its claws into her shirt. She turned into a hallway and found a bathroom on the left. She searched through drawers full of soaps, medication bottles, and half-used toothpaste tubes, hoping to find first aid supplies.
She caught a glimpse of a name on one of the prescription bottles–‘Agnese Colombo’.
It was strange, she thought. The items in the drawers belonged to someone, but the town seemed deserted, and the thick blanket of dust that coated everything in the house told her no one had lived here for a long time. Even so, she tried to place each thing back where she’d found it. This was or had been someone’s home after all, and she wanted to be as respectful as she could.
“Sorry, Agnese,” she said. “I’ll be careful with your stuff.”
She felt a chill as she wondered whether the monsters she’d encountered had anything to do with why Agnese hadn’t lived here in a while. The more optimistic part of her hoped the town’s inhabitants had evacuated and ended up someplace safer.
She didn’t want to think about the other possibility.
There were butterfly bandages in the bottom drawer, along with several ointment tubes with labels in Italian. She couldn’t read most of them, so she selected one with the word ‘antibiotica’ on it.
I guess I’m somewhere in Italy, she thought. But how did I get here? And why is it so cold?
She stood up and lowered her arm, motioning for the creature to jump down. It hopped off her shoulder and onto the bathroom counter.
“Can I see your wing? Tua ala?“
The creature extended its injured wing, holding still as Chelsea dabbed ointment onto the wing with a cotton swab.
“Grazie! Grazie mille!”
She unwrapped the butterfly bandages, then carefully began placing them across the creature’s injury, first on the front of the wing, then on the back.
“There. You’re good as new. Va bene.”
“Grazie mille! Lei è un angelo, signorina!” The creature embraced her with its wings. “Un vero angelo!“
“Prego.” She stroked the back of its head.
“Come si chiama, signorina?” It pushed its head into her hand the way a friendly kitten would.
“Chelsea,” she said. “Mi chiamo Chelsea.“
“Chel. Sea,” it repeated. “Sei la mia eroina, Chelsea.“
“Come ti chiami?” asked Chelsea.
It looked up at her, then cast its eyes downward. “Non ho un nome, signorina.“
“You don’t have a name? No… nome?“
“Can I give you… can I give you un nome?”
The creature tilted its head.
“Tuo nome… Belfry?” She pointed at the creature. “Tuo nome è Belfry. Only if you like it, though. Is that okay? Va bene?“
The creature stared up at her, and for a moment, she worried that she was out of line giving it a name. Then its eyes lit up, and it began to bounce back and forth on the counter.
“Belfry! Belfry, Belfry, Belfry!” it sang. “Ho un nome! Ho un nome! Mi chiamo Belfry! Grazie, oh, grazie!”
“Prego, I’m glad you like it.” Chelsea held out her arm, and Belfry danced up to her shoulder. “Now, come on, Belfry. I bet you’re hungry. I hate to ransack this person’s house, but maybe we can find something to eat in here.”
As Lachlan blinked himself awake, he tried to move his hands to rub his eyes and found them stuck behind his back.
He wasn’t in his bed, he realized. The surface he lay on was hard, and cold against his arms and the back of his head.
Had he had too much to drink and passed out somewhere? Had he just rolled out of his bed and onto the floor?
No, the daylight bombarding his eyes wasn’t coming from his bedroom window, but from the open rear doors of a windowless van. His head snapped up, and a jolt of panic ran through his body as his memories of the previous night flooded back to him.
He tried to stand, hoping to run out the door before his captors could catch him, but his legs refused to obey.
“How’s he look, Darryl? He make it through the night?” Lachlan heard a nasal voice from beside the van.
“Looks like it,” replied the man who had opened the doors–Darryl apparently. “He’s awake, but with the dose they gave him, he’s not going anywhere.”
“Shame. Would’ve been easier for him if he’d carked it already,” said the man with the nasal voice.
“Yeah. Poor kid.”
Lachlan tried to raise his voice, to ask who they were and what the hell they were doing with him, but he only managed a feeble groan.
“Shh,” Darryl grabbed Lachlan’s legs, pulling him from the van. “Just relax, mate. It’ll all be over soon.”
The words should have scared Lachlan, but they only made him feel indignant.
Of course I’m not going to relax if you keep saying ominous things like that!
Thinking of the word ominous reminded him of Naomi, of a conversation they’d had a few days before. He was never going to see her again, he realized. Not her, or his mum, or his stepdad, or his sister, or any of his friends. He would never listen to The Goldfish Technique again, or play guitar. He’d never have a serious girlfriend, or start his own band, or move out of his mum’s place.
Worst of all, he was going to die wearing his Chaz’s Chicken Hut uniform.
Lachlan felt one of the men grab him under his arms and hoist him from behind. He tried to struggle, but only managed a weak twitch.
The room they carried him into was massive, with clinical white walls and a glass chamber in the center. He felt himself being flung into the chamber, the door shutting behind him before he hit the floor. He heard a loud thwack as his head collided with something metal, but felt detached from it, as though he was watching someone else hit their head.
He could see the men outside the chamber, a third person with them now, manipulating some controls.
The loudest sound he had ever heard tore through his ears, and a thick green fog swallowed the room around him.