Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.

Chapter Three Hundred and Thirty-eight: End of the serpents

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“We have to go in,” Sandy said.

She pointed toward the interior of the cave. Because she and Jill were closer to the same size, Sandy took one side of Heather and Jill took her other side.

“Go!” Jill said to Tanesha.

Tanesha ran into the cave to find a spot for them. Delphie lingered near the entrance. Jill and Sandy could only move Heather at the pace she could tolerate. It was slow going.

“Over here!” Tanesha yelled.

They shuffled toward her voice. They were halfway across a large room with a vaulted ceiling when Tanesha got a fire lit. The light and warmth drew them. They helped Heather lie down in a spot by the fire that Tanesha had cleared of debris. Heather grunted but didn’t complain.

“Where’s Delphie?” Tanesha asked without looking up from Heather.

“She’s still out there,” Jill said as she knelt down.

“I’ll go,” Sandy said.

She jogged across the dark cave to the entrance. Delphie turned to look at her and then turned back to the volcanic bowl that had once held the sea of amber. The serpent had stayed with Delphie. Together, the oracle and the serpent watched the end of the serpents. Sandy came to a stop by Delphie.

The entire bowl was filled with burning lava and putrid fumes. Serpents tried to fly away, but were caught in the cross drafts from the hot lava and the cold ocean air. The serpents crashed into the lava where they were burned alive. The sound of screaming serpents and the deeper rumble of the volcano filled Sandy’s ears. She took a step forward and was buffeted by a blast of hot air. Her lungs filled with hot volcanic ash. She took a couple of quick steps back and backed into Delphie, who caught her. Delphie gave Sandy’s arms a little squeeze before letting her go.

“What’s happening?” Sandy asked.

The serpent looked at Sandy before nodding to Delphie.

“They were protected from every foe,” Delphie said in a low referential voice. “They made their home in this volcano for warmth and protection. They never saw it coming.”

“What?” the serpent’s voice was so loud that Sandy gasped and jumped back from him. “What did we miss? What is this, Oracle? And don’t tell me it’s a natural volcanic cycle because we both know that’s not true.”

“The volcano is not erupting,” the serpent said.

“It looks like it is,” Sandy said.

The serpent’s one eye gave Sandy a hard look before turning to Delphie.

“No, you’re right,” Delphie said. “The volcano wouldn’t have erupted for another thousand years. You would have been well prepared for it.”

“What is this happening?” the serpent asked. “Who did this to us?”

Delphie’s eyebrows furrowed over her worried eyes.

“Did the fairies do this?” the serpent asked. His voice rose with rage.

“No,” Delphie shook her head.

“Dragons?” The serpent’s voice was filled with such loathing that Sandy instinctively shuddered.

“They’re fighting against this,” Delphie said. She pointed to the air where four or five brightly colored dragons flew overhead. “Watch.”

A dragon gave a powerful pulse of its wings before tucking them to its side. The dragon dropped through the opening to the bowl only to be pushed out of the area by an eruption of lava spiking up into the air. The dragon screamed with frustration and flew out of the bowl.

“They’ve been trying to get in here as long as I’ve been standing here,” Delphie said.

“They are our enemies,” the serpent said.

“Enemy or not, they are trying to save you,” Delphie said.

“Who then?” the serpent asked. “How is this happening?”

Delphie gave a slight shake of her head. Sandy saw tears well in her eyes.

“All we can do is bear witness,” Delphie said.

The serpent roared with raw pain. A mother serpent was pushed out of a cave across the bowl from them. She had five small serpents on her back. She tried to fly but was knocked out of the air when an enormous piece of molten rock let loose from the wall. The rock hit her squarely on the back and knocked her from the air. Frantic to save her babies, she flipped over onto her back. She landed on her back with her children on her belly. The babies tried to fly from their mother’s stomach. One at a time, they were knocked into the burning lava. The final baby serpent lay down with its head near its mother’s. They sank together into oblivion.

Sandy felt tears fall from her eyes. Delphie put her arm around Sandy’s shoulders.

“My heart is breaking,” Delphie whispered to herself.

“We are not the disgusting creatures you imagined?” the serpent asked.

“Just because you’re not our friends, doesn’t mean any of us would want … this,” Sandy said.

“Yes.” The serpent’s voice held so much sorrow that Delphie turned to look at him.

“So ends the serpent,” Delphie said.

The lava kept coming. The dragons continued to try to get into the bowl to save the serpents. Each time they entered, the heat, ash, and lava pushed them out.

Feeling movement behind her, Sandy turned to see Heather. Tanesha and Jill trailed behind her. Heather fell to her knees at the edge of the cave. The lava had risen to where it was lapsing against the opening to the cave. Heather put her hands down on the molten rock.

“Only love,” Heather said. She looked up at Sandy. “Join me.”

Sandy dropped down to her knees next to Heather. Tanesha and Jill dropped down on the other side of Heather.

“Only love,” Sandy said after Heather.

“Love,” Tanesha said.

“Only love,” Jill yelled.

“What are they doing?” the serpent asked Delphie.

“They are bringing peace,” Delphie said.

“Focus,” Heather said.

“Only love!” Tanesha yelled.

“Only love!” Heather repeated.

Jill and Sandy called out in unison. They repeated the call until a faint yellow light grew around them.

“Keep it up!” Delphie said.

Their light grew in power and intensity until the entry way to the cave was lit up by its light. When the lava hit the light of their love, the lava turned to hardened rock. There was a subtle hiss sound as the light move across the bowl. All of the pain, loss, and cruelty created in the sea of amber was released in the lava’s contact with their light. Steam filled the bowl.

Through the steam, the dragons dove into the volcanic bowl. They killed dying serpents with a blast of fire and dragged living serpents from the cooling lava. Delphie pointed to a dark olive green serpent held in the claws of a large grey dragon. The battered serpent next to her watched intently.

“I never knew how I got out of there,” the serpent said.

“So, some of you survived?” Delphie asked.

“Only a few,” the serpent said. “Two of which you killed.”

“And now?” Delphie asked.

The serpent shook his head.

“How did this happen, Oracle?” the serpent asked. “How?”

“It’s a cross of a number of things,” Delphie said. She turned away from the struggle in front of her to look at the serpent. “You know what caused this.”

“Tell me!” the serpent ordered.

Delphie shook her head. The serpent rose up in front of Delphie. Sandy and Tanesha rushed to block him. They stood in front of Delphie.

“We won’t let anything happen to her,” Tanesha said.

Delphie put a hand on Tanesha’s shoulder and another on Sandy’s. She gently pushed them apart and stepped through.

“I cannot tell you what you do not want to know,” Delphie said.

“Tell me!” the serpent’s voice reflected sorrow and desperation.

“The serpents destruction is caused by three powerful forces — nature and the rising tides, human greed in the form of oil exploration, and more importantly, the consequence of the sea of amber. The serpents imprisoned too many important, powerful beings in jails of their own self-loathing and shame. Once freed, they turned these primal feelings into power. This is the power they have used to destroy the serpent.”

The serpent leaned his head back and roared.

“Why did you hold so many people for so long?” Delphie asked.

“It was our role, our culture,” the serpent said. “The sea of amber has existed since this world was created. It calls to the vulnerable — artists, writers, and sensitives. Most people were lost in their own despair long before they came to live in the sea of amber. How is that our fault?”

“And the rest?” Delphie asked. She stood a little taller and the serpent moved back.

The serpent refused to answer.

“This has the distinct smell of Olympia,” Heather said.

The serpent’s head jerked to look at her.

“I think Delphie’s right,” Heather said. “This happened in response to capturing and holding Zeus. What did you expect?”

“We never expected for him to get free!” the serpent said. “You have killed us all!”

The serpent rose up as if to attack them. He lunged forward and Delphie jumped back. As if he was a balloon, the serpent deflated. While they watched the serpent’s skin dried up and crumbled. A hot, ash-filled wind blew the serpent dust away.

“The end of the serpents,” Delphie said. “Let’s hope their demise doesn’t bring about the end of everything.”

Tanesha patted Delphie’s back.

“Can we go home now?” Jill asked. “Heather’s close and …”

They were transported to a private suite on the maternity ward at Saint Joseph’s hospital, only a few floors down from where Blane was recovering. Heather was lying in bed. Tanesha found herself holding Heather’s hand while Sandy and Jill coached from the other side. Jacob was standing in front of a laptop computer, which was resting on a side table.

“There he is!” Jacob said and stepped aside.

Blane’s face lit up the screen.

“Blane!” Heather yelled. “You made it!”

“Wouldn’t miss it for the world!” Blane said. “Now, where are our contractions?”

“Every two minutes,” Tanesha said.

“We’re in good shape,” Blane said.

Delphie came into the room with a dozen roses. She grinned at them.

“I’m going to head down to stay with Blane,” Jacob said.

He kissed Jill and left the suite. Jill got up to hug Delphie.

“Will the serpents be restored when the child is born?” Jill asked in a low voice.

“The serpents are beyond our help now,” Delphie said. “They are lost to the world.”

“They kept their agreement,” Sandy said.

“They did,” Delphie said. “We still don’t know about the financier.”

“We don’t,” Tanesha said. “Do you?”

“I know something,” Delphie said. “But not something that should stop what’s happening today.”

“What’s happening today?” Sandy asked.

“Today, we welcome another member of our tribe,” Delphie said with a smile. “Just rest now. It will be a while.”

Heather nodded.

“What was that?” Blane asked.

“Delphie said it would be a while,” Heather said.

“Good to know,” Blane said. “Let’s go through our happy delivery meditation. “

Hearing a sound, they looked up to see Delphie leaving the room. Before they could say anything, Blane called each of them by name.

“Let’s start our meditation. Jill? Sandy? You’re an integral part of this team! Tanesha? Are you ready?” Blane asked. The women shot each other amused looks. “Deep breath in…”


Thursday morning — 8:17 a.m.

“Is this it?” Rodney asked.

He held up a small overnight bag. Yvonne looked over at him from where she stood in front of the mirror.

“Dionne has the larger bag,” Yvonne said with a smile.

“I was going to say…” Rodney said.

“You’d better watch what you say, Mr. Smith,” Dionne said from the main room in the suite.

Rodney laughed.

“We only brought the little travel bag,” Yvonne said. “But then…”

She nodded to Rodney. They went out into the main room of the suite.

“We did a little shopping here in Phoenix,” Dionne said.

“I see that,” Rodney said.

He reached down for the Louis Vuitton bag. Dionne scowled at him for a moment. He smiled and she let go.

“You can afford it,” Dionne said.

She opened the door to the hallway. They followed her out of the suite.

“We’ve been here a long time!” Yvonne said.

“I’m glad you had some fun,” Rodney said with a smile.

Dionne nodded in approval of his words and turned down the hallway. He chuckled. Yvonne slipped her hand into his elbow and they followed Dionne to the elevator. Dionne pressed the button.

“Have you heard from Tanesha?” Rodney asked.

“She called to say that Heather was in labor,” Yvonne said.

“She’s been pregnant forever,” Rodney said.

“I don’t think so,” Dionne said.

Rodney looked up at the ceiling to keep from groaning.

“Are you…?” Rodney asked.

“I’m pissed off, Rodney,” Dionne looked at him out of the corner of her eye. “This bastard is going to get off. I just know it! And all those kids… All the boys who were stupid enough to buy the videos, all those precious…”

Dionne’s eyes welled with tears and she swallowed the last of her sentence. She stared at the elevator for a moment before turning to Rodney with her index finger pointed like a dagger at his chest.

“You know it as much as I do,” Dionne said.

Dionne turned back to the elevator and pressed the call button five or six times.

“The spider’s in prison,” Yvonne said. “Says so right here.”

Her sweet voice made Dionne turn to her. Yvonne held up her index finger where she had tattooed the words “Spider in prison” in script. Yvonne nodded and Dionne hugged her. Dionne allowed herself a single sob before she pushed Yvonne away.

They had just turned back to the elevators when Dionne’s cell phone rang. She’d just answered it when Rodney’s cellphone rang.

“What?” Dionne asked into the phone at the same time Rodney said, “You’re sure.”

Stuffing the phone into his pocket, Rodney threw the bags down. He put his big hands on Dionne and Yvonne’s shoulders. Dionne looked up at him in horror.

“Go!” Rodney said. He gave her a little push,

“What is it?” Yvonne asked.

“We have to…” Rodney moved the women down the hallway. They were a few feet from their suite when a man carrying a shotgun in his right hand turned down the hallway in front of them. Seeing them, he ratcheted the shotgun. Rodney kicked open the door to their suite and pushed them inside. The man fired.

“Go!” Rodney said. “Get in the bathtubs!”

He leaned against the wall to grab the man when he came into the room. Dionne grabbed Yvonne and they ran to the giant bathtub in Yvonne room. Rodney breathed out all decency, all kindness, and all love. He drew from the well of rage and prison violence. When the killer took a step into the suite, he met the Rodney who’d spent more than two decades in maximum security prison.

Rodney grabbed the man and threw him against the wall. He bounced on the wall. Rodney caught him on the bounce and threw him into the other wall. The killer tried to use the shotgun. Rodney smacked him across the face with his massive fist. The man’s jaw dislocated and broke. Still holding the gun, the man started to fall. Rodney wrenched the shotgun away from the man and threw it across the room. In desperation, the man pulled a knife from the sheath on his leg. Rodney kicked his hand with such force that the man’s hand broke. The knife hit the wall and bounced away.

Sliding down the wall, the man screamed for his life. Rodney put his hand on the man’s neck. He’d pulled back his leg to end the man with one kick to the chest when he felt a cool hand on his arm. He looked to see Yvonne. She gave him a slight smile.

He looked to his left and saw that Dionne was holding the shotgun on them.

Looking back at Yvonne, he saw that he’d choked the man to unconscious.

“You can let him go,” Dionne said.

Caught between the rush of violent rage and his heart exploding with joy for seeing his beautiful wife, Rodney began to huff the air.

“Huff, huff, huff.” Rodney tried to catch his breath. When he looked up, Yvonne smiled at him. He dropped to his knees. His hands came to cover his face. When Yvonne’s hand touched his shoulders, he began to weep. She held him tight as his shame and rage over this person he’d become, this person he been — the rage and violent prisoner inside.

“Yes, that’s right,” Dionne said into her cellphone. “I have the shotgun on him. No, ma’am, he’s passed out. Tie his hands?”

In the tight nest of Yvonne’s arms, Rodney had a sense that Dionne was tying the man’s hands. Yvonne held on until the police arrived. By that time, Rodney had returned to the kind philosopher who worked at Lipson Construction. When the police moved the killer, he opened his eyes. Seeing Rodney, he screamed with fear. The police scowled at Rodney, but he just shrugged.

The police took their statements and retrieved their baggage. A half hour later, the killer was gone and their suite was a crime scene. The hotel manager ferreted them away into an even nicer suite. They were just getting settled when Yvonne turned to Rodney.

“I asked Dionne, but she won’t tell me,” Yvonne said. “What happened?”

Rodney turned to look at her. Exhausted from the release of emotion, his eyes reviewed her face.

“Please tell me,” Yvonne said.

“Your spider is dead,” Rodney said.

Denver Cereal continues next week…

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