A man in his seventies pours himself a cup of coffee, folds his newspaper under his arm, and shuffles towards the back door with a groan. His knees ache with the changing seasons, the chill of fall creeping into his bones and freezing his joints. Sometime, at the limits of his pain, he considers moving to a smaller place. He imagines an apartment, a ground floor unit with a covered patio to smoke on.
With a grimace sanity returns and he remembers what this house means to him. He remembers all the hard earned dollars invested into the rambler. He knows that he will never leave this house willingly. His children had been raised under its roof. His wife had died under it, and one day he would too. This house was the last remnant of his blue collar dream.
Palming his cigarettes and lighter, he steels himself for the weather, and opens the backdoor. A gust of wind cut into the room and he grimaces. Though his wife died five years before, the man still follows her house rules. The toilet seat was always left down, and he always smoked outside. Come Tacoma rain or Tacoma shine, he was outside, braving the weather as he sucks down his nicotine.
The back patio is a thick blanket of moss and pine needles. Hobbling over the creaking boards he considers pressure washing it, replacing some of the wood, painting it. At that moment, his left foot slides on the slickness, causing the pain to radiate up the back of his thigh and stab him in his left ass cheek.
Damn it! I’ll light the place on fire first.
Carefully he limps to the dry corner where his empty coffee can of cigarette butts rests on a patio table next to a plastic lawn chair. Moaning, he gently lowers himself onto his seat. His hot coffee spills onto his hand with this jerky action.
With a curse he sets his mug down and fans his fingers through the air. Angrily he shoves his paper next to what was left of his hot coffee. He smacks his cigarettes against the palm of his hand roughly, grumbling all the while.
Resting a cigarette on his lip, he pushes his calloused thumb against his bic. Nothing- no flame- just the chinking sound of the flint wheel. He tries again. And again. Still nothing. His rough voice fills the air with expletives. Angrily he tosses his lighter onto his lawn.
He sags back into his chair. Even knowing exactly where his spare lighters were, he wasn’t sure he could make it there and back. Rubbing his knees, he closes his eyes to the pain that was ever-present in his life.
“Do you need a light, Frank?” A low voice came from right above him. Frank’s eyes open wide as he leans back to look at the being standing in front of him.
The man that stands before him wears the same forest green army uniform he’d worn in Vietnam forty-some years before. The soldier’s eyes match the color of his uniform, sandy blonde hair, and behind him were two gigantic cream colored wings. The older man blinks. “Are you an Angel?” He asks slowly.
The man in the uniform knelt and leaning forward whispers a word. The cigarette teetering on Franks lip came to life with flame. “I am, Frank.”
Frank took a draw from his cigarette, not knowing what else to do as he watches the Angel rose to stand.
“Why are you here? Am I going to die?” Frank blurts as he taps the cig on the coffee can next to him.
The Angel shakes his head. His face was forlorn, his lips pressing down into a frown. “Your son asked me to come see you.”
The words hung in the air as Frank straightens his shoulders, “If he wants to apologize, he could always come do it himself,” Frank growls. He decides to put out his cigarette, thinking that a whiskey would better suit this conversation.
“Frank, he did not ask me to apologize to you,” the Angel. His wings shift as he makes his way to the back door, leaving Frank where he sat.
“Hey! No one said you could go in there!” Frank grunts and got out of his seat as quickly as his stiff limbs allowed.
“Frank, there is someone at the front door,” the Angel said, opening the door wide, empathy evident in his eyes.
Frank hears the doorbell ring. “What is this?” he whispers as he steps over the threshold, past the Angel.
“John didn’t want you to answer that door by yourself, Frank.”
Frank swallows hard as he hobbles to the front door, pausing when his shaking arthritic hand closed on the doorknob.
“I have been asked to inform you that your son John Francis O’Connor has been reported dead in Parwan, Afghan at 0700 on August 26, 2014.”
Frank’s mouth dries as he forces himself to swallow. Your son. Reported dead. He somehow understood the four most important words that the young man before him said.
“He and his company were caught in hostile fire while transporting food to a nearby village. He saved many lives with his bravery today.”
The young man in the uniform pushes on and on with his words. Frank tries to grasp them desperately, batting at the boy’s memorized dialogue as if it were a mass of flies. Never able to comprehend more than four words: Your son. Reported dead.
“On the behalf of the Secretary of Defense, I extend my deepest sympathy to you and your family,” finally the barrage of words stops.
Franks eye dart between the men, gathering more information from what they wore and how they stood then what had been said. The man who spoke was an officer. The two men that stood behind him were ranked E2, a chaplain and a medic. Obviously, Army. Army like Frank. Army like John.
Breathing deeply he met the eyes of the young officer. “I’m sorry,” clearing his throat he adds, “Will you say that one more time?”
Frank felt the Angels hands on his back as the soldier repeated his speech.
“Can I see him?” Frank whispers.
“Of course you can, sir, he is on his way home now.”
“Is there anything we can do for you? Anyone that we should call to come and be with you, sir?” Asks the chaplain from behind the officer, the man’s hands were balled at his sides and he seemed ready to flinch away.
Frank shook his head ‘no’, leaning most of his weight onto the Angel. His boy was dead. Gone forever. Flashes of bullet wounds and the unnatural sounds of men screaming, fogs his mind.
“This is for you, sir,” the officer held out a sealed letter. “This letter will have more information for you.”
Frank took the letter and stares down at it, he read John’s name twice. John Francis O’Connor. John Francis O’Connor. For month he’d argued with his wife over that name. He could still hear her broken English as she tried to explain the importance of her family names.
Frank’s head snaps up after a moment. He was grasping for the determination to carry on before these boys in their uniforms. Shakily he reaches out to take the officers hand. “Thank you,” Frank’s voice is steady and slow, his eyes meeting the officers, “Your job must be very difficult.”
“Yes, sir,” coming to attention the officer salutes. “Thank you, sir,” his words come out forcefully, as if they contain the power of his respect in them, “For you and your son’s service to this country.”
Frank holds his breath. This was it, the last of his dignity was about to melt away. In his mind he begs the men to leave him alone with his grief. Their retreat was curt, measure, practiced. He watches them walk back to their car, where another soldier waited in the driver’s seat.
Frank made a short wave, the action draining all his energy, and then steps back, shutting the door. Heaves slowly began to rack his chest, his hands finding their way to his sternum. His knees, with all of their pain, finally gave way.
Frank does not fall.
His Angel held him as if he were a boy.
The winged man lovingly carries Frank to the recliner, depositing him there. Frank’s back arches as he tries to bare the weight that was now settling in his heart. He fights to catch his breath, to catch his composure.
“When you still wore this uniform,” the Angel said pulling at his sleeves, talking over Franks gasps for air, “you carried a man named John.”
Frank sees John, his friend, tossing John, his son, into the air. He saved one, and not the other.
”Your weight now is less than his weight was then,” the Angel’s voice interrupted his memories. “You carried John on your back. In your arms. You dragged his wounded, broken body through the jungle. You saved his life.”
The Angel pulled off his helmet and held it to his chest. “Your son told me that he’d never heard the story of how you met his namesake.”
Frank rubbed at his eyes, leaning against his chair anguish clutching him dangerously. He could remember those muggy days on the other side of the world. Back when his childish fearlessness kept him alive. The promise of the love of a beautiful woman and John’s friendship saved them both. How could he share those memories with his boy? His foolishness would not become an example to his son of heroism.
He had nothing to show for those few brave days of sacrifice. Just an empty house, a broken relationship with his last living child, and cynicism built from working hard for a pension that was slowly dwindling away.
“Frank, I told John that story today.” Frank cringes at the image of John, his John, with his high curious brows and long lashes. He lay in the sand, the hot desert sun beating down on him relentlessly, as his life seeped out of the holes in his body. “Do you know what he said to me?” the Angel asked.
Frank shook his head, barely registering the question.
“He told me that you never stopped saving people. He said, ‘I only wish I’d done as much with my life.’”
This Frank continues shaking his head, sorrow widening his eyes. He was not a hero. He was mean. His meanness had left him alone. One at a time his friends had died around him. His wife, his faithful wife, left him. And now. And now.
Folding in on himself he howls his son’s name into his arm, muffling his grief. Frank’s Angel leans forward and spreads his hand over the man’s head. “Be still,” he whispers, a shuttering breath fills Frank’s lungs and silence blooms like blood.
The Angel pulls up his pant legs and took a seat on the ground. He watched Frank quietly, willing his peace to pierce his ward, “tell me about John.”
As if possessed Frank began to speak, at first hesitantly, and then with animation. He wove a story of true love and near poverty. Introducing other characters from his life. Dung, his fiery wife, who loved her children with every ferocious bone in her body. Alexis, his daughter, their youngest, the broken one. John, his boy, the apple of his eye. Excelling in everything he did.
The argument, their last conversation, felt so distant. John joined the army in response to 911, and there was nothing that Frank could say to stop him. John, his perfect child, left him to die in the desert.
The words didn’t stop until the short Tacoma day ended with a setting sun. The color orange fills the room, burning through the lace curtains Dung had chosen when John was still alive. Frank, out of breath, exhaustion weighing him down, his joints aching from hours of sitting, looked down at his Angel. “What is your name, young man?”
The Angel smiles, “Samael,” he states moving to stand.
“Thank you, Samael.”
Samael squeezed the man’s shoulder. “John made one other request of me.”
Frank raises his brows, “Oh yeah?”
“And Frank, I don’t think you’re going to like it.”
“Well guy, you’re going to have to let me make that decision.”
“John wanted me to take your cigarettes,” Samael said.
Frank laughs and pulls the pack from his pocket and drops it into Samael’s open palm.
There are no words to describe the loss of a child. I attempt, sometimes, to explain to the hapless who dare to ask what it’s like. I try to describe the hole left behind. Deep and dangerous and full of images of his childhood smile, his ringing giggles, those impactful moments when I’d look down at him proudly and think “My child’s a genius “. Those memories beckon us from the pit with bittersweet promises. At first you may mistakenly smile at the images, happy memories. Then you cringe, you always cringe. Cringe in preparation for the unbidden tears. Because that’s how it ends when you look into the darkness. It ends with sobs and the understanding that all expectations have been smothered.
It is strange to realize that reality is actually built on expectations. Those moments you dread, those moments you worshiped. The repetition you were promised has disappeared forever. You’ll never get to smooth their hair out of their face again. You’ll never get to lay a hard kiss on their forehead. Those investments in labor pains and diaper changing and unconditional love will never pay off. The careers and marriages and grandchildren you dreamed about will never exist. Leaving you with nothing. Nothing but that hole in your heart, which sometimes brings a smile to your face, but always brings tears to your eyes.
There are no words to describe the loss of a child, not one, not a thousand.
“Good morning, boys!” I exclaimed as I flung the door open and marched into the apartment. There was no reply. The usual hug from my three year old, the shout from my husband who was always in the kitchen making breakfast this time in the morning. Cold silence was all there was inside the cozy two-bedroom.
“Hello?” I tossed my coat in the entryway closet and shucked my shoes with a moan. Walking down the hall, my eyes focused on the sunlit living room. The rays of sun pooled through the sliding glass door, the plastic shade pulled open. The promise of the warm sofa was so appetizing at that moment that my mouth watered.
The boys probably ran to our favorite doughnut shop for breakfast. I thought idly as I pulled my hair down from my pony. I smiled my steps slowing as I imagined little Dean pointing out the biggest, most sprinkle laden, pastry with his pudgy finger. Now looking back, I regret the small satisfied comfort that lightened my shoulders as I decided I was home alone.
Our tiny home was simply laid out: entry, hall, two rooms to the right, a bathroom to the left and at the end of the hall the living space. A small kitchen on the left, a sitting room to the right.
I’ve had very few walks that I remember taking an eternity like that one did. Time slowed as I made my way through the familiar hall. I can count those gradual processions on one hand: high school graduation, graduation with my BSN, and my favorite: walking down the aisle to my husband. This slow walk was a little different. There wasn’t that heart racing giddiness. There weren’t hundreds of eyes watching my progression. Just me and time and those innocent moments before my world ended.
I have discovered the name of this phenomenon, of time going slow-mo. My personality demanding a title for the experience of the clock wrapping its arms around you as if to hold you back. It’s called tachypsychia. Being a nurse, I’m a sucker for latin. In my biased heart there is no better way to describe the sensation. Tachy meaning slow. Psychia meaning mind or soul. In truth, my soul slowed as I walked down that hall.
Somewhere around the bathroom my mouth gaped open and my feet came to a stop. The mess of the kitchen catching my eyes first. The microwave was on the floor. I took two more steps and leaned around the corner. The toaster hung off the counter, it’s cord still plugged into the wall. All the cabinets were open. The drawers and their contents strewn across the room. I surveyed the damage, my shaking hand digging into my scrub pocket for my phone.
My head turns to the right.
A scream claws its way out of my throat.
Just as a valiant friend in a corny movie would have grabbed my arm and told me not to look, my mind sends me the same message. Remembering that moment, my brain skips and blurs, crying:
“Close your eyes!”
It was too late. I did see. I didn’t turn around. I didn’t stop even as the sight crushed the life out of me. I moved forward. One of my shaking hand moving to my mouth, trying to hold in keening noises that automatically spilled from my lips.
My husband knelt in the corner of the stone fireplace that took up the outer wall of the living room. How strange it was to see his too still form framed by the calming sea grass walls. He was absurd in his awkward kneeling position, as he leaned against the brick red hearth with its decorative votives and iron ivy clad mirrors, blood plastering his shirt against his back.
His legs were spread apart, his bottom on the ground, his torso at an odd angle. It was as if he’d been squatting before he collapsed forward. The side of his face rested against the rough stone of the fireplace.
I stumbled forward. Caught between the need to save him and the need to fall onto the ground and wretch. Caught between the need to put pressure on the wounds and the pure terror that had my body jerking, unwilling to follow the directions coming from my mind. My clumsy lurching movements were hindered by shattered wood and stray lamp shades.
I was two strides from him when I tripped in my haste, landing on my hands and knees. Cold wetness squished up between my fingers, the salty smell of warm pennies filling my nostrils. I refused to look at, what I felt, what I smelled, as I scrambled on my knees for the short distance left between us.
He was hunched over something. His shoulders curling over, his head hanging forward so that all I could see was the nape of is neck and a shock of brown hair. Blood, so much blood. My hands were climbing his back, discovering with touch the things my tear filled eyes couldn’t see.
“Roberto!” I didn’t recognize my voice as I moaned his name.
He was stiff with rigamortis and I soon found that I couldn’t move him. I pulled and pulled and all my strength and my courage couldn’t save him. He was too heavy, death was to strong, so much stronger than me. He was cold. I leaned against him sobbing until air couldn’t move past my lungs anymore.
Sliding down the corpse of the man of my dreams, I lay on my side, curled like a “c” around him. Wetness soaked through my clothes and matted my hair. It was in that moment, the lowest of my life, that my eyes found what my husband had been holding in his death grip.
Parenting is so much more instinctual than anyone is willing to admit. We all buy books, watch YouTube videos on car seat safety, and invest in the most up-to-date well-meaning trinkets. We do it all in the hopes that these investments will make the whole parental thing easier.
But, when it comes down to it…
When the shit really hits the fan…
We grab our children, we hold them close to our chests, and we shield them from the bad.
If only flesh could stop bullets.
The rest was a blur. I’m not sure how long I lay there. It could have been hours.
The call, the police, the media.
The shower. I’m not sure who did it. Who peeled the bloody scrubs off of me, who sat me under the spray of the shower head and scrubbed the last of my family away. My mother-in-law? My sister-in-law? A friend?
I ended up in front of the mirror, alone, my doe eyes flat as they stared back, the color of steel. My thick eyebrows giving my face the look of empty astonishment I’d often seen on people diagnosed with a fatal illness’. The ghostly image before me seemed two dimensional. The giant of a woman, with her dripping mahogany hair was no longer a whole person. Not real, as her lashes fluttered against the weight of grief.
With a shuttering gasp I reached up and touched her downturned lips. The cold hardness of the glass stung my fingers and I absorbed it, letting it pierce my heart. My brows crinkled, my mouth gaping wide, as if it could voice the sorrow choking me. My hand flattened over my face, covering the mirror, and the sound caught in my throat.
I leaned on the sink for a moment before I allowed myself to crumple to the ground. “Shhhh,” the hush came from me as I pushed my forehead hard into the floor. Soundless tears soaked my face and the icy tiles of the bathroom floor.
I spent a few nights in a hotel room, a husk of a person. Curled in on myself. Just as dead as they were.
Then there was the funerals: Roberto Hernandez and little Dean Alexander Hernandez- Fielding. They were laid to rest in the same coffin. My mother-in-law’s Catholic priest speaking in Spanish. The funeral was attended by friends, family, and reporters. I attended, my face masked, my ears deaf.
I slept on couches for a few months. I’m not sure when my type-A personality broke out of its binds. Maybe it was Dean’s birthday. January, he would have been four. My mother-in-law was making a Dean scrapbook. Watching he cry over every picture pissed me the fuck off.
I needed to get back to work. I needed to get away from these people who shared Roberto’s eyes and Dean’s cheeks. Pulling out my nursing psych textbook, I tackled the stages of grief like it was a homework assignment. Starting with stage two, seemed fitting, anger already had me antsy. I was bouncing from place to place, loathing everyone around me. I began to alienate the people who were still in my life. I couldn’t help but hate them. Hate them for their living children and their living spouses and their God damn pity.
I started visiting the police station every day, trying to micromanage an investigation that was already considered cold. Not that they’d had the time or the man power to put very much effort into it. Not that they shared anything with me. I’d show up in the morning, after a sleepless night. My hair a rat’s nest, those dark rings around my eyes. I’d scream and yell, until patience with my antics ran thin.
“Like I said, ma’am. There is nothing I can do for you.” The man’s nasal voice grated me, but it was his smug smile and his false courtesy as he folded his arms over his obese sized uniform that had me reaching over the counter to smack him upside the head. I was booked for assaulting an officer. This ended my anger stage quite abruptly.
Bargaining and depression blended together. I wrote journal after journal, rewriting history. What if I hadn’t talked Roberto into being a stay at home dad? We could have lived in a better neighborhood. What if I hadn’t taken the overtime that night? I would have been home. I could be dead with them. What if Roberto and I had never met? This question hurt the most. Selfishly, I don’t want to imagine a life without Roberto and Dean in it, no matter how short that time was.
My first day back to work was exactly six months after. I was an emergency room charge nurse before the tragedy, not anymore. I only worked part time, and it was grueling. I was jumpy and anxious and had lost all of my former confidence. In the past I felt that I was talented at my job, even excellent. Now I was dangerous at best.
I had friends at work, who saw this. They would volunteer to take the gunshot wounds for me. Remind me to take the breaks I skipped in the past. They’d take turns bringing two lunches so that they knew I was eating at least one meal that day.
The anger phase returned on the one year anniversary. I was lying in the guestroom at my mother-in-laws house, staring at the ceiling. In my half sleep state I was arguing with myself about magic. I know, I know, silly.
I have always been a big fan of fantasy. Fantasy books. Fantasy movies. I grew up in the Harry Potter era, where every child dreamed of receiving an invitation to Hogwarts. That night, magic seemed like a good alternative to reality.
Closing my eyes I pictured the black outline of a man. Tall. Ruthless. Well, as ruthless as a shadow could be. Using my imagined telepathic abilities I called to him. “Hey, you! Asshole!” the shadow turned to me as if in response.
“I know you’re in my city! I know you are out there in bed, thinking you’re safe! You’re not!”
I furrowed my brow, imagining his blood curdling. The shadow man in my head reached for his chest as I pictured multiple infractions shutting off the flow of his blood. Occlusions riddling his body. Ischemia painfully alerting him to those bits of his body he forgot he needed.
Poor shadow man. With an evil half sleep grin I started over. Wiping his agonizing death away, as if I were shaking an etch-a-sketch. As satisfying as the cyclical murders were, around the third shadow death, I felt an agitation begin to boil in my chest. There was a sensation stabbing at my sides, like a giant’s hands were wrapped around my rib cage, squeezing. My world began to spin, my breaths becoming choking sputters. My blankets felt suffocating.
I sat up, panic and dizziness helping me forget magic. I was suddenly alone in the room of a house that was not my own. My bed was empty. My chest was empty. I stumbled out of the bed. I need to get out of here! I pulled my rain boots over my pj pants and shoved my arms through a UW hoodie. No one noticed me leave the house.
My pace was quick as I splashed through the wet unlit sidewalks of this quiet neighborhood, which did not belong to me. The rain pounded down hard. I welcomed the iciness of it, wanting to be totally numb. My hair was stuck to the side of my face, my arm wrapped folded across my body as if to prevent myself from falling apart.
Two men stood in an alley shouting at each other, I averted my eyes. Trotting around on Pill Hill in the dead of night was never brightest decision for a person to make. There was nothing left for people to steel from me. No dignity or ambition, no one to go home to. I spent an entire lifetime working towards something that didn’t exist anymore. This charmed American idea of nuclear families of 2.5 children and an SUV.
What kept me going was a sense of duty. The responsibility that came with breathing air. Because my heart was still beating, I was accountable for the whole list of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It was an unfair expectation for a person that could barely meet the physiological need for nutrition, but it was there ingrained into my broken brain.
I took a left, moving towards the sound of traffic. Head lights sped past me. My walk turned into a run, my chest tightness becoming heaving sobs. Was it possible to out run sorrow? I pumped my legs, my feet sloshing in my over-sized boots, my mouth gaping as I gulped down rain water and air.
I can’t remember how long I ran in the darkness, rain mixing with my tears and muting the sound of my grief. I didn’t stop until I heard my name. “Wylie!” the man’s voice worked like a clothesline, stopping me in my tracks. I turned wildly trying to find the source of the voice, half believing it was Roberto.
“Roberto!” I cried his name, the sound of it broken by my heaving breaths.
Dr. Godwyn stood at the bus stop under the rain shelter, a helmet under one arm, a back pack hanging off the other. A bike, with a flat, leaned against the shelter next to him. I didn’t know the man well. He’d just finished his residency somewhere out of state. He’d been hired in the space between the funeral and my return.
The white light of the shelter cast many shadows over his chiseled face, making his bald head shine as tossed his things one the bench behind him. Hesitantly, I said his name.
He stepped out of the shelter and placed his hands firmly on my shoulders . “Are you okay? Is someone chasing you?”
I shook my head gasping, still stuck between breathlessness of running and sobs.
“Breathe,” he pulled me under the shelter. His big hand roughly pushes stringy hair away from my face and then lifting my chin, his eyes search. He was in full doctor mode now, “Wylie, do you know where you are?”
My head bobs in the affirmative as I backed away, my hands coming up to shield myself from his questions. My back hit the inside of the shelter and find myself sliding to the ground, hugging my knees to my chest and giving into the tears.
At some point Dr. Godwyn realized that I was in no danger. Carefully he took a seat on the bench next to me and stared into the rain. Several buses passed us before I was able to bring words to my mouth. “You don’t have to wait here. I’m just having a little bit of a breakdown.” I managed a grimace that would have been a smile in any other circumstance.
“No way I’m leaving you here,” he said folding his arms, “tell me…” his voice trailed off and he looked away again, as if to give me privacy while I spoke. His expression was one of understanding, his eyes cold with the loss that my sorrow reminded him of.
“It’s been a year…” a moan escaped my throat once the words had sputtered out of me.
“Since they died?” he asked softly.
My silence was his answer. I was too afraid I would lose control if I tried to speak.
“There are no words…” His low even voice, giving me permission to wallow.
We sat there, my head in my hands. The silent heat of companionship burned in the space between us. My tears falling slowly, my breaths evened out. Gradually, I became aware of my discomfort. The cold, the wet, the hardness of the floor, the ache in my back.
I slowly lurched to my feet and then quickly reached for the shelter as the world began swimming around me. Crying was hard on the body, unforgiving really. It wreaked havoc on your central nervous system, causing physical suffering to match the mental agony. I put my hand to my head trying to stop the dizziness.
“I stood up to fast,” I groaned as his hands were once again at my shoulders, preparing to help me sit back down. I waved him away with the hand that wasn’t supporting me. “I’m okay, thank you for being here, I…” I looked up at his face, “thank you.” The words were meant to be a dismissal. As if to say ‘thanks for your help, but I don’t need you anymore’.
He didn’t get the memo. “If you think I’m going to let you go anywhere by yourself, you are crazy.” He smiled a kind smile and then hugged me, pinning my arms to my side. On the scale of 0-10, 0 being no hug and 10 being the best hug ever, it was an awkward two. I really didn’t know the guy that well, not to mention it was his job to boss me around at work.
His large hand pats my back once before he stepped back and cleared his throat, “Now where do you need to go?”
I felt tears well up in my eyes again as I imagined going back to my in-laws. Roberto’s family was large and generous and would coddle me for the rest of my life if I wanted. I didn’t want that. I didn’t want to see pictures of him plastered all over the house, reminding me. Constantly reminding me.
What other options did I have? I didn’t bring any money with me. I didn’t have my cell phone; I couldn’t call any of my friends. As if reading my mind Dr. Godwyn offered his couch. It was a fold out, his little sister lived with him, but she wouldn’t mind a guest.
Lex shuffled down one of the dusty dreary halls of Oregon State Hospital. The grips on the bottom of her socks rolled and bunched uncomfortably with every step. She gritted her teeth against the sensation. It doesn’t matter, she told herself, my angel is coming to get me tonight.
The outside of the building was beautiful. It held the neoclassic triangular pediment and faux brick columns that were so popular in the late 1800s. An ornate belfry dominated the air above the façade, lying as easily as the columns did. The rows of casement windows were full of ghosts staring out.
On the inside were the usual shining laminate floors. The blank walls and empty halls haunted by the chemically restrained at day and the squeaking shoes of the psych wardens at night. Lex took a right into her room. On the door a plaque read Alexis O’Conner-A on the first line and Emily Godwyn-B on the second.
Lex plopped onto bed A. Curling up in the corner she began rolling her hair between her fingers. She had the thick black hair of her mother. Obstinate in its straightness she was constantly forcing the stubborn strands to tangle into the shoulder length dreads that weighed down her head.
“So he’s coming today?”
Lex’s head snapped up and she glared at the lump in the bed across the room. “Has anyone ever told you your creepy, Emily?”
The lump on the bed shifted. “Don’t trust the Angels.” Emily murmured.
“Did you get your meds yet, nutzo?” Lex sneers, annoyed by the woman’s uncanny memory. The two had been roomies on and off for years. Lex only remembered mentioning her Angel once. She’d been high. She’d been confused. Emily never forgot. The middle age woman’s constant motherly warnings made Lex’s skin crawl.
“I just want you to be safe,” Emily whispered.
“Don’t you have your own kids to boss around? Leave me alone!” Lex’s voice was shrill as she spoke.
She dropped her hair back onto her shoulder and glared at the sheet that was pulled over Emily’s head. At first it was a hiccup that moved the lump and then the usual low wine filled the room as the woman began to moan. “Perfect! I like you so much better when you’re crying!” Lex shouts, standing. She marches to Emily’s bed and kicks it. “I hate you!”
So here I am, somehow, Dr. Godwyn coaxed me onto the next bus, after placing his useless bike of the front grill. I stare out of the window. Bewildered by the beauty of my city, even through the blurred vision of tear filled eyes; especially, through the tears. Grays and whites and blacks of buildings run smoothly together as lights from windows and ‘open’ signs streak through them.
Ten minutes after a bus transfer Dr. Godwyn’s hand gently rests on my shoulder. “This is our stop.” His voice was soft, as if he was unsure if a louder volume would shatter me in my current fragility. Following him off the bus I find myself staring up at the building he was heading to. He lived in a tall building on the border between Downtown and Belltown. His three room apartment was on the 15th floor. Rent must be a fortune. No wonder the man was taking a bus.
The first thing to catch my eye, as we enter his apartment, is the large paned windows that took up the wall of his living room. Like a painting, the Port of Seattle and Pike’s Place sparkled on the other side in all their night time glory.
I jumped when I noticed the woman watching TV on the couch. It was a soap opera, the word ‘MUTE’ was capitalized in red at the bottom right corner of the screen. She seemed just as startled as I felt when she turned back to see me. I must have been scary in my soggy PJ pants and oversized hoody, a swamp monster with college pride.
She turned off the TV with the remote and stood. “She’s asleep now. She had a hard day today, we ended up canceling with the physical therapist,” the woman explained her eyes not leaving me as she spoke to Dr. Godwyn.
“Thank you, Martha,” Dr. Godwyn whispered, and then gesturing to me. Martha crossed the room. “This is one of my coworkers, Wylie.” She nodded, seemingly happy with the answer. “Wylie, this is Martha. She helps with my sister.” Martha put her hand out and I grasped it quickly, wishing I could have washed them first.
She was looking at Dr. Godwyn now, a small smile on her face. “You can’t help yourself can you?” She was obviously referring to me. She leaned forward and kissed his cheek. “Sleep well.” I looked away blushing, and when I looked back she was pulling on her jacket and picking up her purse.
“Have a good night, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Martha left without acknowledging my existence again. Maybe my hand felt as gross as it felt to me.
For a moment he left me in the entryway and listened at one of the doors that must have led to a room. He turned back to me. “Sorry,” he whispered. “Let me get you settled in.”
I followed him deeper into the living room, taking in the open layout as he pulled the couch into a bed. There was a dining table in front of the windows, a sleek crystal chandelier above it. I leaned against the island of the kitchen and watched Dr. Godwyn as a he pulled a towel and some blankets from a closet, a new wave of embarrassment squeezing at my throat.
What kind of loser am I?
“My sister has GBS,” Dr. Godwyn pronounces acronym as if the medical gibberish could distract me from my thoughts, he handed me the towel, “she’s been breathing on her own for about three months now, but is still having difficulty with her motor skills.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” I reply automatically, folding my hand together, feeling even worse for inconveniencing the poor man. He already had enough to deal with. GBS or Guillain-barre Syndrome is a nasty disease. The caretakers of the unfortunates who experience GBS usually had their hands more than full. The disease came without warning. The patient’s immune system would attack the nervous system aggressively. The treachery is usually very painful, but the paralysis was the scary part.
“How old is she?” I ask, trying to picture the girl sleeping behind the door he’d checked earlier.
“Sam’s sixteen,” he replies and then he ducks into another room, returning with a very large sweat suit and a pillow. He tosses the pillow on the couch and hands me the clothes. He points at the door on the other side of the kitchen. “There’s the bathroom. I’m going to go to sleep, take your time with the shower. I’ll leave stuff for tea and a few snacks on the kitchen bar.”
“Thank you Dr. Godwyn,” I blurt as I squeeze the towel and the clothes against my chest.
He cringes, “its David, just David… Good night.” He was back in his room, the door shut, before I even entered the bathroom.
The hot water of the shower burned my skin, the pressure of it washing the shame away. Was this my low? Sleeping over at acquaintances apartments?
I was swimming in the sweat clothes, but at least I was dry and warm. On the kitchen counter were a granola bar and an apple. I eyed them for a moment and decided against it. I crawled onto the hide-a-bed and fell asleep immediately. It was the first comfortable dreamless night I’d had in one year.
Her Angel came for her the moment her eyes closed. Her head slumped against her pillow, sleep drying her eyes and filling her ears with buzzing. It had been three in the morning the last time she pressed the little light on her digital watch.
Lex shouldn’t have been surprised by her Angel’s tardiness. That was his way. He always came the moment she lost hope. The second she gave up, he’d arrived, his wings alive, his face twisted in both a smile and a glare.
He did that to her, maybe it was because he wanted her to think she was crazy. Maybe he wanted her to watch the clock, wondering if all this time she’d imagined him. Lex knew she wasn’t crazy. This Angel had belonged to her family for generations past human memory. His collective oral history had been whispered in Lex’s ear from the time she was born.
Doan Thị Dung prepared Lex for this duty in life and nothing else. Believing her mother’s stories only became insanity when her mother died, leaving Lex to carry the burden alone. She was a Tianshi, a Muse. There were many other names for her kind. Eternal Witness. Prophet. Sky Walker. In her small frame she carried the soul of an Angel and all the responsibility that came along with the title. Just as her Grandmother had and her Great Grandmother before her.
“Wake,” his word was a command, his hand caressed her face.
Lex shot a glance over to her roommate before looking up at her Angel. Emily was tucked under her sheets, too still for sleep. “She knows you’re here.” Lex whispers her eyes finally finding her Angel. Hard black eyes looked back.
“She thinks that you are in danger,” He replies a smirk on his face.
Lex turned back to Emily as she sat up in her bed, “Mind your own business!” she hisses for turning back to her Angel. She takes his open hand, allowing him to pull her to her feet, “I’m ready, Abaddown.”
His smirk becomes a smile at the sound of his name. With her hand still in his, he spins her around once. His other hand lands on her hip and pulls her against his chest, “You are always ready.”
Lex’s breathe catches as a warmth fills the pit of her stomach. She stared up at him. These are the moments she loved most. It was easy to forget Abaddown’s inconsistency. He would always return a mystery. She couldn’t predict the face he would wear when he came to her.
Today his eyes were round, his nose flat, his skin the color of coffee. Lex knew better than to trust it, his appearance was always as volatile as his mood. She’d seen him at varying heights with innumerable shades in skin, hair, and eyes. Always beautiful, frighteningly beautiful.
He bends down and kisses the top of her head. Lex secretly let’s herself enjoy the fleeting kindness. “Where are we off to tonight?” She whispers as Abaddown magics the secured window open.
He turns back to her, his white teeth shining next to his dark skin as he spoke, “Ethiopia.”
“Here,” Abaddown holds out rubber tourniquet and capped syringe full of a brown fluid, “You’re going to need this.”
Lex shrinks back from the proffered goods. Her teeth begin to chatter, even with the desert climate that surrounds the two. “I don’t want it!” her response was sharp as she rubbed her sweating palms against her pants.
“I say you do,” One of his hands wraps around her wrist painfully as he waves the paraphernalia in her face, “we can’t have you breaking down and running away like Fukushima!”
“Please,” the word is barely a whisper, her top teeth biting into her bottom lip ferociously. She didn’t want the drugs to be the answer anymore. Lex was tired of the hospitals. Even with her hands shaking and her body teasing her with mock sensations for the high, she didn’t want this. She took a step back. “I’ll be careful.”
Abaddown frowns, “You will do this or I will do this.” He studies her face as her eyes dart around them searching for a place to run to. There is so much more sky here, she moans to herself, missing the shelter of trees to hide behind. The flatness of the land made the world seem so much bigger, made escape seem so hopeless.
They were a dozen feet away from a ridge. It was 20 feet drop into a basin. The basin was full of white tarp tents. People, the size of ants, milling about under the mid-day sun. It was a refugee camp, she assumed. Sudanese? Sumalian?
Behind her, the bare bones of building. One wall still stood, a concrete base and the frame of a door obstinately bore witness to the place that once stood there. Lex took another step back. There is nowhere for me to go! She screams in her head. “Abaddown, I will do anything for you. You know that.” She looks down at his hand again, “Anything but this.”
Abaddown releases Lex’s wrist. “This is not a request,” the mask that slides over his face sends a shiver down Lex’s back. He lifts his hand again.
She turns and runs, her bare feet screaming as sand and pebbles burn her skin. She makes it to the skeleton building, scrambling onto the concrete base before a hard blow lands on the side of her head.
The world goes black. When Lex’s eyes open Abaddown stands before her, the smile back on his face. “There, there,” he coos.
Lex shakes her head, puzzled. How am I still standing? “Owe, my shoulders,” she cries as the pain hits her, and as it does she feels something else building inside.
She looks to either side her head feeling hazy, fire burning up her left arm. Or is that down my arm? She’s in the center of the door frame her wrists tied above her head, her body weight pulling against them as she tries to find her feet. Her vision blurs and then focuses on the blood that drips down the crook of her left arm.
“No!” though she meant to scream her voice comes off as a moan of ecstasy. Peace pulses through Lex’s chest and she suddenly wonders why she wants to be angry.
“You wait here.” He smooths her hair against her head roughly, “good girl!”
Lex giggles as Abaddown opens his wings and shoots into the air. He climbs high, folds his wings against his back and spins, his arms out like a helicopter. His air acrobatics has Lex squinting up into the sun.
Each blink revealed a new slide in a slide show. Slide one: sunny day. Rainbow colors flash through Abaddown’s wings as they fan wide. Lex breathes in deep, sucking the sky into her lungs.
Slide two: partially cloudy. Puffy clouds teasingly bounce against each other. Lex bats them with her eyelashes, flirting.
Slide three: cloudy. Millions of gray cotton balls cling tightly together.
Slide four: rainy.
Abaddown dances in the sky conjuring up raindrops the size of golf balls. Lex’s eyes droop, a river rushes beneath her feet, speeding towards the fragile white city before her. Screams became her lullaby as she nods and nods and nods.
I woke up to find a teenager in a wheelchair staring down at me. Drool ran down her chin and her arms curled up in contractures, but her eyes were sharp and curious. I rubbed my eyes and sat up, awkwardly yawning.
“Hi, I’m Wylie,” I stammered.
She held out her curled hand and I shook it. The right corner of her lips curled, I smiled back.
“I see you’ve met Wylie, Sam.” Dr. Godwyn observed, he was wearing flannel pants and a white Tee. “Are you two ready for breakfast?” He asked rubbing his hands together.
Sam rolled herself backwards and then headed for the kitchen, where Dr. Godwyn stood searching the fridge.
A flash of the destroyed kitchen replaced the happy kitchen that sat in front of me. I closed my eyes. My skin crawled as I imagined Roberto kneeling over Dean behind me. The blood! The blood!
“The warden threw a party in the county jail!” The trance was broken by Elvis’ Jailhouse Rock, his soulful vocals bringing me back to the present.
Sam had plugged her phone into a little speaker station that was built into the kitchen bar. She was now moving her arms up and down, rocking out like a champ.
Dr. Godwyn, who was already mixing a bowl of what I assumed were omelets, watched her with a smile. Breakfast was wonderful and included some dancing and a giggle or two. Saying goodbye to Sam was almost difficult. It had been so long since someone didn’t treat me like I was a broken thing.
Martha loaned me a pair of scrubs when she got there and I took the ride Dr. Godwyn offered. We were working the same shift that afternoon. He was staring down at his phone intently as we took the elevator. “I downloaded the app for Zipcar yesterday before I went to sleep.” He throws me a glance over his phone, “You ready for an adventure?” There was a hint of a smile on his face.
I blinked, “Um, sure.”
“You don’t sound very confident in my Zipcar skills,” he says, his finger running up and down the screen of his phone.
“I just feel bad, I mean how much is that going to cost?”
The elevator chimes, and he ignores me as he exits. “It looks like there’s a car right across the street,” his exclamation comes over his shoulder.
The most exciting part of the adventure was the car. It was a red Mini Cooper called Christiana. The type of car I would have owned if I wasn’t such a city girl with a firm belief in public transportation. Dr. Godwyn drove with his eyes straight ahead, the radio turned up just loud enough that it wasn’t worth talking over. The NPR announcer jabbered on about flashfloods somewhere in East Africa displacing 50,000 refugees.
Dr. Godwyn pulled into a Zipcar lot under the hospital and sighed as he tapped his phone a few times. “I gave Christiana five stars,” he said absent mindedly as we both got out.
Many eyes followed us as we walked in together. My feet squeaked in my boots and I prayed that I’d left the spare pair of socks in my locker with my work shoes. I pushed open the locker room door and nearly jumped out of my skin when someone’s hand landed on my back.
“Where have you been?” Sherry, a fellow RN, exclaimed as she took a hold of my elbow and guided me into the room. She waited for the door to shut behind me before explaining herself. “The police have been trying to contact you all morning!”
I raised my brows, had my mother in-law really called in a missing person’s report already? Seriously, I’d only been gone for a few hours! As I looked at Sherry’s face I knew it was more than just that. Sherry, while a good person, ate drama like Popeye ate spinach. She only hulked out like this when she had something truly devastating to share. What she had to say must be juicy, juicier than me disappearing, juicier than me walking in with the youngest most eligible ER Docs.
“They found him!” She chimed in response to the look on my face. She pounced on the confusion she saw there, guiding me to a bench, the grimace on her face barely masking her excitement. “I saw him last night!”
“What are you talking about, Sherry?” I pronounced, barely listening over my resentment for people like her.
“The murderer!” Sherry’s punch line came out in a shrill squeak. And it did just that, it was like she jabbed me in the gut.
“The murderer?” I whisperer, my eyes blinded by the feel of cold blood between my bare fingers. I curl my hands into fists and force myself not to look down at them.
“He was hit by a truck!” again the shrill enthusiasm.
“Who was hit by a truck?” I grit the words out through my clenched teeth.
“The man who killed your…”
I shot up onto my feet, not wanting to hear the rest of it. The man who sprayed bullets through my living room was in this hospital! Under the same roof as I was! “Where is he?”
“That’s what I’m trying to tell you, Wylie. He died. He’s dead!”
I wanted to slap her. “Sherry, what you’re saying doesn’t make sense! How could anyone know who this guy was?”
“He confessed!” she argued back, her words carful with their sympathy. “He begged one of the ENTs to write it all down before he went into DIC!”
Her round eyes and set jaw had me reeling. She was serious!
“I was there when he died. Each time we thought he was in the clear he’d crash again!”
“This happened last night?” I yelped, the blood draining from my head as the dizziness from the night before returned.
“Girl, you need to sit back down!” Sherry, gently took my shoulders and guided me back down to the bench, “Do you want me to ask Nancy if you can have the day off. I’m sure you want to talk to the cops.”
I shook my head. There was no home to go to. I gripped the cold metal beneath me as three words flooded my mind. I did this! The suspicion made me want to laugh and cry and punch the wall all at once.
Last night, in bed, what had I imagined? Clots? Ischemia? Pain? Death? Wasn’t that exactly what happened? Wasn’t that the exact symptoms of disseminated intravascular coagulation, DIC?
I hadn’t created the crash. Or had I? Maybe the accident happened in order to fulfill the trauma needed to send the killer into DIC! The internal bleeding from a truck hitting him was all that was needed to create the very symptoms I’d imagined.
When Sherry realized I wasn’t going to say anything else, she walked away and returned with a small plastic cup of water. “Here, drink this.” I took the cup with a shaking hand.
Get a grip, Wylie. I can’t do crazy, I won’t do crazy. I drew an imaginary line in my head as I tried to hold the cup still in my hands. I can’t do crazy!
New Orleans, Louisiana
Samael prayed. He was kneeling, his head folded forward onto his hands. He wore a tan construction jumper with paint and grease spattered all over it, a black t-shirt and a flannel jacket. He was whispering Latin words.
Footsteps echoed around the lofty ceilings of St Luis Cathedral, as a clean cut man took a seat beside Samael. The man crossed his legs at the ankles and leaned back. It was obvious that he was wealthy. It was evident in his expensive black suit, with its perfect pressed lines and his designer leather penny loafers. From the carful way the fabric hugged his shoulders, to his lined lapels and his gold watch impatiently announcing every second with a click.
A smug self-importance emanated from the man as he stared at the back of Samael’s head. Click, click, click, click. He pulls his phone out of his pocket and begins fidgeting with it. Moments later, as if frustrated the man shoves the thing back into his jacket and clears his throat.
Samael made no response, continuing his prayer. The man folds his fingers together, agitated. “Harut’s dead!” he blurts out.
“Amen,” Samael whispered reverently and then sat up, pushing the kneeler forward with a clunk.
“I know, Netzach!”
Netzach’s eyes opened wide, “This is three deaths now.”
“Pro summon bono, my friend.” Samael pronounced humbly.
“The greater good, my ass,” Netzach hissed.
“Harut knew the risks.”
“How could he? This girl had no powers yesterday!” Netzach shakes his head. “Harut thought he failed at waking her Scientia.”
“He died knowing that he succeeded.” Samael’s flat effect disturbed Netzach.
“He died in pain.” Netzach leans closer to Samael, “I’ve never seen anything like this, Samael! She’s never met Harut!”
Samael doesn’t respond his head lifted as he studied the nave that stretched majestically before him.
“Harut was centuries old! I am not the only one upset by this! Think of Harut’s brother!”
“Marut and the other Angels know their place.”
“How did she do it?” Netzach continues in exasperation, ignoring Samael’s response.
“Zach, tell me what you are trying to get out of this conversation.” Samael replies irritation obvious in his voice.
“She is stronger than any of us imagined,” he whispered “can we even control her?”
Samael answered Netzach’s question dismissively, “She is not for us to control. You are missing the most crucial revelation. She has found her Scentia.” Samael stood, “Soon, we will need to tell her what she is.”
He begins to walk away, “Excuse me, I have work to do here.”
I found a little studio. It was across the street from the hospital. It was only 500 square feet, the perfect size for a person who owns nothing.
My in-laws through a surprise house warming party, knowing that I had sold or given away everything that I owned. Sherry, Jason, Linda, Mary all nurses that I worked with, Dr. Oswald and even Dr. Godwyn with Sam came. Not to mention all in-laws.
Thankfully, there was no rain that day, the living room opened up to a large shared grass lawn where the BBQ was going. While all my coworkers found their niches and Roberto’s family rushed around cooking and handing out drinks, I sat with Sam.
I discovered that she could speak. She told me that she was embarrassed by the difficulty she had. I gave her my number and offered to practice. She bragged about her newest accomplishments. She could touch each of her fingers with her thumbs with both of her hand. She demonstrated. I watched her with a warm pride, she was a strong girl.
She really should be walking soon. I imagined what was going on in her spine right now, the chaos of healing. In my mind’s eye I touched the inflammation with a cooling hand.
“Uh!” Sam’s voice came out in a sharp gasp, as if someone had tickled her. The sound stopped my daydream in its tracks. “I’m gonn bee sicc!”
“Like puke sick?” I ask, jumping out of my seat.
By the pointed stare she gave me I knew I needed to get something and fast! Grabbing the chip bowl off the table, I rushed it to her, leaving a chip trail behind me. I barely made it. She reached for the bowl, starting to heave before she had it in her lap.
This was the cue to the rest of the guests, it was time to go. We deal with enough vomit at work; we avoid it at all costs on our off hours. Everyone politely excused themselves.
The aftermath was strewn camping chairs and wrapping paper, which the family made quick work of before leaving. Sam didn’t want to be moved. She gripped the chip bowl tightly and let her head loll to the side her eyes closed.
“What happened?” Dr. Godwyn’s question seemed accusatory.
“We were just sitting here,” Come to think of it, I wasn’t feeling that well either. My chest cramped like there was a vice around it. My world spinning as I looked up to him, “I think I’m going to sit down too.”
Now that all the chairs were gone, I walked over to my new twin size bed that still had the plastic on it and sat down. His eyes following me, his arms crossed.
How awkward was this?
He leaned over Sam again, he spoke so softly to her, his patience replacing what before seemed to be anger. He brushed her hair with his hand.
It was almost simultaneous, her saying she felt better and my chest pain resolving.
They left quickly, Sam saying she’d call me and Dr. Godwyn frowning. Did he know something I didn’t or was he just worried about his sister?
New Orleans, Louisiana
Samael was settling in front of a TV dinner when his phone rang. An ashed cigarette hung off the side of the tray. A large tube television sat directly across from him. The news mumbled in the background between the sounds of gunshots, as live footage of a military coup played out across the screen.
He was wearing nothing but a pair of boxers. Light bounced off his muscled hairless chest like a projector, reflecting the quick flashing movements of the soldiers ducking behind barricades to avoid being shot.
He picked up the phone, “I’ve been waiting to hear from you, David.”
“She’s done it,” a voice breathed on the other line.
“I know,” Samael stated, he’d felt a shift in the air around about an hour before he received the call, “how is your sister?”
Samael sat patiently, totally still. The only movement in the room was the weaving light, the stream of smoke rising from Frank’s cigarette butt, and a dancing silhouette of feathers behind him.
Like a wall of white, that stood a foot taller than Samael and two feet to either side of him, wings draped with thousands of glistening feathers twitched to the sounds of the muted gunshots that emanated from the television.
“She’s fine, she’s better. It’s just, Samael, there must be a better way to do this. Sam is lucky. Things could have gone wrong. I don’t think Wylie even knows what she is doing!” David’s exasperation scratched through the phone speaker.
Sameal’s wing ruffled in response, he took a deep breath before speaking, “I would never let anything happen to Sam, you know that.”
“You wouldn’t?” David fumes, his quick temper evident. “Look at her! She is in a wheel chair! Tell me what you have done to prevent any of this? I spent months next to her hospital bed, God damn it!”
“O ye of little faith,” Sameal’s words received no response, just the low moan of a dial tone.
Tossing the phone on the cushion next to him he stretches his neck, rolling his head on his massive shoulders. He reaches forward for the cigarette pack, there were six left. He pulls a death stick out and places it between his lips. He thought about Seattle and Wylie. He had a lead to follow here, but soon he’d return to her.
I’ll be there soon Wylie.
Leaning back, his wings wrapped kindly, softly around his arms. “Aduro,” he grunts through the side of his mouth, the cigarette bouncing with each syllable of the word. A bright red cherry suddenly flashes to life in the darkness, framed by angel wings.
Christmas was a special type of torture. I volunteered for doubles the entire month of December, specifically the holidays. I’d be making bank, and I wouldn’t have to be at my apartment with my memories.
The clean bustling halls and constant beeping cacophony of machines was a comforting alternative to the loneliness that sucked at my soul every time I crossed the threshold of my new place.
Donning my scrubs felt like pulling on armor. With my stethoscope hung around my neck and my badge key at my chest I had purpose. Each day little bits of my old ambition crept back under my skin. Shoving my bandage scissors, paper tape, and a pen in my pocket, tying the white laces of my nursing shoes, these little mechanical habits brought me back to myself.
On Christmas Eve at 2200, a five year old boy was admitted with shortness of breath. According to his very frantic mother he’d been fine the entire day. He was sweating, confused, and breathing wildly.
I pulled up his sleeve to place the blood pressure cuff on his upper arm. The thought came to me as my fingers brushed his skin, Aspirin. I looked back up at the mother, “you said he wasn’t taking any medicine, has he taken anything over the last few days?”
“Umm,” she looked at me for a moment, “I have been giving him some chewable Bayer for headaches over the last week,” she started digging through her purse. “I have the bottle, I can show you.”
She digs and digs as I check the boy’s blood pressure, his pulse, his temperature, his oxygen saturation. “Usually I can hear it shaking around in here, where the hell?” I think she was grumbling more to herself than me.
Finally, she whips it out and holds it up triumphantly. I take it from her hand and squint as I try to read the tiny print. Low dose Aspirin 81mg. The safety lock on the side of the cap was broken. Sometimes I saw the broken lids when patients with arthritis bring in their meds. It makes it easier to open on their hands.
I shook the bottle, no sound. “Were there any left in here last you checked.” Her mouth opened in a surprised “o”, she hugged her purse to her chest, and sitting back down she looks at her panicked child.
I knew that feeling, once when Dean was an infant, I cut Dean’s finger while trying to trim his nails. He wailed for what felt like hours and bled everywhere. Up until that moment, I don’t think I ever felt that through-the-roof anxiety before.
I saw that same guilt on her face. She was feeling that oh-my-God-I-killed-him-I-actually-killed-him feeling that every parent dreads.
“Go ahead and take a seat.” I gesture to bench beside the bed, “He’s not the first kiddo to get into someone’s medicine. You guys are in the right place.”
She settled on the bench and anxiously began to dab at her son’s forehead. “I just don’t know how this happened,” she whispered.
I was looking at the boys arm for a vein, turning it this way and that. I could see the faint blue line running up the inside of his forearm. I’d already paged Dr. Godwyn, who responded quicker than some of the provider on the floor. Even with that I was able to insert an IV and get a rainbow worth of tubes drawn before he got there.
I gave report the moment he walked in, introducing the patient’s mother first. “I’ve got little Thomas here, he’s 5. We suspect he got into a bottle of Aspirin 81 mgs. His respiratory rate is 55, bp 111/69, pulse 160, o2 sat 99%. He doesn’t have a temp yet. I’ve got and IV started, just need orders for labs.” Mom wrung her hands impatiently as I rattled out the numbers and I gave her an encouraging smile before turning back to Dr. Godwyn.
I played out what he was going to ask for in my head, the labs he would order, the medication, the IV fluids. Activated charcoal was the immediate treatment. It would prevent further absorption of the aspirin in Thomas’s stomach and absorb what was sitting there.
There was excitement as flashes of my knowledge proceeded in a nerdy love parade through my brain. I’ve always enjoyed the science behind medicine. Even with many years between me and the classroom, I can remember the page in the textbook or the segment in the YouTube video that described how activated charcoal was unlike regular charcoal.
Having many more crevasses on its surface, than regular charcoal, it provided a larger surface area to attract whatever drug the patient had OD’d on. It kinda worked like a sponge. A super powered bad ass sponge! The tirade of facts came and went during the pause that took place after my mouth had closed and Dr. Godwyn’s directions came out in a quick and quite command.
“Prep a NG tube with 1 gram charcoal. You might have to grab Cindy to help with the placement. Also, I’d like a CMP, ASA level, and a CBC.” He pulls his stethoscope from around his neck and places it on the boy’s chest.
“I’ll be right back,” I say to the mom, excusing myself from the room, ready to do Dr. Gowyn’s bidding.
The doctor-nurse relationship was half mindreading, half indentured slavery. I think both would argue about who the slave in the relationship was. Both were so dependent that neither could truly do their job without the other.
The doctor needed the nurse to check the vitals before the doctor could order the medication. They had to trust that the nurse did their job correctly as they made their decision. The nurse needed the doctor to choose the medication before the nurse could administer it. Though the nurse was expected to catch errors, they still needed to believe in the doctor’s ability to make medical decisions.
Of course, that is a complete and utter simplification of the situation. I’m just trying to explain that the pair aren’t a single entity, even though Hollywood portrays them as one. I can count the number of times I’ve seen a doctor perform a blood draw on one hand, and if I did I’d be holding up a peace sign. Neither of those fingers would be up if I were going to count how many times a nurse gave a medication without an order or a protocol.
The nurse shows were wrong when they painted doctors as maniacal noncaring assholes and nurses as rogue loose cannons always making the right choice on their own. Just as wrong as the doctor shows, that seems to cut nurses out of the equation, making doctors look like tech savvy bad asses.
There is a team of bad asses behind every medical visit. There are the rad techs and the lab techs, the CNAs and the LPNs and the DNPs and ARNPs, and the MDs and the DOs and the pharmacists and care managers and a million other weird medical acronyms standing for people that the patient never actually sees.
This army of medical professionals don’t actually see each other either. Even with a total dependence on each other, this mass of people might spend an added total of 30 minutes actually face to face during their twelve hour shifts. A silent understanding is built between them: do good.
“Hey Cindy,” I wave at the tech standing at the nurse station with a clipboard in her hand. “Can you take these to the labs downstairs, they’re a STAT order.” I wave the bag of tube at her. She take the bag, “Oh and meet me back in six. We’ve got to place an NG tube in a five year old.”
“Awesome!” she grunts sarcastically as she walks away.
I jogged to Clean Utility, holding one of my hands over my chest so that my badge, clip on walkie-talkie, and stethoscope wouldn’t bounce up and black my eye out. Grabbing a pink vomit bucket, I began shopping for supplies, tossing each plastic wrapped sterile item inside.
Happy with my loot, I head for the Med Closet. After triple checking, scanning, and doing the coo coo dance as required by the fastidious Medication Cart, I was heading back to room six, not even breaking a sweat.
Cindy was already there, setting up a sterile field on a metal tray. She was eyeing the shivering child on the bed, apprehension clear on her face. Let’s be honest, procedures like the one we were about to preform, were not fun. Not for the patient, not for us! It was for the greater good, and we were going to do what we had to! Maybe it was uncomfortable, maybe it was scary, but us scrub cladden warriors were only doing what we had to, to save lives.
This particular procedure was more than uncomfortable. The NG tube, or nasogastric tube, is a long placticy tube that is basically shoved up your nose, down your throat, and into your stomach. Not a pretty process, but a lot better than the poor kid inhaling the medication, because he is barely conscious, and choking to death.
The kiddo had flailed and whined minutely as I placed the IV, but this tube was a whole different story. I explained the procedure to mom as I adjusted Thomas’s bed. I asked if she wanted to help hold him down or step out of the room. She opted to step out. I could never understand people like that. I would have wanted to be there with Dean, holding his hand, showing support. Jealousy!
I washed my hands and played a game in my head, to distract myself from my memories of my son. This game involved visualizing the coming challenge and solving the problem, like a medical algebra equation.
Any person who was having a foreign object shoved up their nose would have a fight or flight response, not just children. As adults, we understand that the mean nurse wasn’t trying to hurt us for shits and giggles. We control ourselves, even with our pulse rising and our eyes dilating. Children didn’t get that. They fought, just as their bodies told them to.
Invasive 10 French tube threatening to enter one’s nose hole + Crazed kicking child= Crapatastic sandwich
On the other hand:
(X) + Crazed kicking child = Invasive 10 French actually up a child’s nose hole + Crazed kicking child
Now let’s isolate the variable:
(X) = Invasive 10 French actually up a child’s nose hole + Crazed kicking child – Crazed kicking child
The Crazed kicking child then cancels itself out, leaving:
(X) = Invasive 10 French actually up a child’s nose hole
So what was the answer to this riddle? My guess would be oxytocin was my X. The feel good hormone would cut the edge of fear, right? I imagine his synapses releasing the hormone. I see his breathing slowing and his muscles relaxing.
A sharp stabbing in my chest brought me back to the task at hand and I close my eyes tight against a sudden dizziness. I blink twice and pull on my gloves. I look up to Cindi, who hold up her gloved hands and nods. I nod back.
Turning to little Thomas I smile, trying create an infectious pleasantness between us. “Hey bud, I’m going to tell you everything I’m doing. I’m going to do something super silly, that you have to promise you will never try to do at home.”
His response was a breathless, sweaty, eyes-half-closed nothing.
“I’m going to put something in your nose, that’s going to help me give you medicine that will make you feel better.” The talking was more for me than him. My calm rehearsed description of what I was doing set a tone for the entire procedure.
Though he wasn’t interested in fighting, it was still nice to have Cindy there when the boy wanted to pull away in his surprisingly calm manner. He gagged and sputtered, his wide eyes pinning me with an accusatory glare, reminding me that in his mind I was betraying his confidence. “You’re okay,” I coed over and over as I firmly pushed the tube closer and closer to its destination.
15 minutes later Cindy and I walked out of the room feeling like the “Eye of the Tiger” was playing in the background.
After sending mom back in the room, I turned to Cindy, “If we have some slow time later, do you mind doing an EKG on me?”
“Why? What’s up?” She asked.
“I’ve been having these weird chest pains lately,”
“Sure!” she shrugged. I was expecting an uninterested nursing triage questionnaire in response and was happy with the whole no-questions-asked reply. I wouldn’t have asked if my chest wasn’t still hurting, I knew it was most likely anxiety, but like I tell my patients: ‘It’s better to be safe than sorry.’
Dr. Godwyn was waiting at my desk. He was leaning against it his arms folded. I smiled, he didn’t.
“Three things;” he said curtly, “one,” he pauses as if for emphasis, “can you repeat the ASA level in an hour.”
“Second, please don’t order labs before I’ve had a chance to see the patient,”
My cheeks blushed red, did I really do that? I thought I pended the orders?
“and thirdly…” he cleared his throat, as if more uncomfortable about his last request. “Sam wanted to know if you would be up to stopping by after work.”
He raises is brows, but I’m too shocked to respond. Looking above me he continues with his explanation as if to explain away his invite. “I told Sam that you’d probably be busy doing your own Christmas, but she got you a present and really wants to show you something. No need to make up your mind right n…”
“Count me in!” I blurt, trying to cut off his anxious rant.
He smiled, a tight lipped polite smile, and walked away. I understood the awkwardness. There are unwritten rules about fraternizing with your lessers in the medical field. We had our own caste system, and those who didn’t follow the rules were often punished by their peers.
I didn’t care, selfishly, that man’s little sister was the highlight of my life lately. I was okay with him feeling uncomfortable for the few minutes it took him to set up a play date. There was no question about it Sam was going to make my day, my month.
I sat at my computer and was halfway through logging in when I noticed that the pain in my chest had resolved.
What a relief.
New Orleans, Louisiana
Her essence filled Samael’s nostrils like a perfume. He could smell it over the symphony of stenches coursing through the sports bar he was occupying. He could taste the pure innocents in her intentions.
He closed his eye and saw her then. Her maroon scrubs making her olive skin glow. Her sharp features softened by compassion and concentration. Her grey eyes intense in their honesty. Her Scientia sighing just below her skin.
He felt a sudden need to return to Seattle. He wanted to be there to teach her. He wanted to guide her as she discovered her true self. He wanted to help her control her anger. But he needed to be here. He shook his head, trying to free himself from her power. He needed to follow a lead, here in New Orleans.
There was a stirring, and this is where the whispers had started. As quit as the sound of Angel wings the rumors spread. The rumors were tempting to all ears that heard it. Free Will!
He grit his teeth against the thought, scanning the bar patrons one at a time. There were only two Angels mixed in with the Humans. One remained visible, as Samael did; the other placed himself just beyond Human sight. Both were at work and neither missed a step when he entered, even as they released a wave of Scentia in the air to show reverence to him.
A group of men stood around the pool table, jeering at each other as they milked their beer pitcher. One of the men was much more drunk than the others, he spoke loudly and crudely. His Shadow was with him, posing as a cousin. The Angel spent most of the night so far steering his human ward out of the trouble.
To Samael’s right two men sat at the bar, their eyes on the television as a football game came to an end. A Messenger sat between the two, taking turns whispering into each man’s ear. The Messenger’s feet were lifted from the ground and crossed under his body as he balanced on his stool. The tips of his wings rest against the ground as he leaned back and jotted a few notes onto a glowing stone tablet. Samael shook his head at the scene, how men pray over their sports
Samael waved at the bartender and pointed at his pounder. He watched as the man filled his glass with a golden liquid and nodded his approval. The Bartender’s Guardian was the Angel he was looking for. The last few days he spent trailing this Human in hopes of finding his Guardian.
Apparently the Angel was overworked. At the beginning, a finite number of Guardians were created. As the Human population increased, the Guardian Angels found themselves torn between the hundreds of Humans they were assigned to. It was the same for all the Lesser Angels. The Messengers who gathered prayers, the Shadows who protected families generation by generation. They were drowning in Heavenly labor.
It was now impossible for the Angels to keep up with the rate in which Humans bred. Samael supposed that this was why Angels were suddenly interested in free will. The world was not built for this overpopulation. Its Angels weren’t equipped for it. Of course there would be descent among the Angels, they were about to be unemployed, they all felt it coming. This was the final act, and anything as beautiful as Humankind would strive towards an extravagant end.
His job had always been to find Wylie, and now that he had, he would keep the peace until she was ready to take up her mantel. The work of the last few months was all in hopes of squashing any rebellion, so that she could step up to a blank slate. The trail had started the night Wylie’s Humans were murdered. Somehow the trail had gone cold since he found himself in Louisiana’s oppressive heat. Tonight that would change.
This abomination would stop and it would stop now. Angels’ were not created to act on will. No, that was a Human burden, and it will remain a Human burden until there were no Humans left.
Samael lifted his head, turning to the right where the smooth alto of a woman had come from. She knelt on one knee, her champagne colored wings folding around her in reverence.
Samael narrowed his eyes. “Stand, Sister,” the command rang with power. Every Angel in the room lifted their head to the sound as the Humans froze in time. Utter silence stretched the tone of his voice, the magic of his speech, into a threat.
The female Guardian stood, a frown on her delicate face.
“I ask for privacy,” Samael made eye contact with first the Messenger and then the Shadow, “I will summon you when I have ended the Human’s Reprieve.” Both Angels nodded and were gone.
“Thank you,” The Guardian whispered, “I do not know what will happen to me for sharing this information with you.”
“What is your name?”
“Astans,” she says, her eyes down as she speaks to Samael.
“You are afraid?” Samael asked.
“As I never have been before.” Astans hand flutters up, her eyes searching her surroundings. Her sights settle on the bar beside her. Leaning around the Human in the stool to her left, she plucks up his beer and gulps it down. She wiped her chin and places the glass back in the exact place she’d removed it from. “He will kill me for this.”
“Who will?” Samael says patiently.
“Gabriel,” Samael raises his eyebrows, Gabriel was not an Angel name. It was a name from Human myths. Astans nods her head, He was born to a Human, she thinks this loudly as if welcoming Samael to her thoughts. He saw her mind then, Gabriel was a man with wide almond shaped eyes, thick brows, and equally thick lips. Samael knows the man’s greys eyes instantly. Wylie? He ignored his recognition.
Astans holds herself tightly and steps around Samael. He turns on his stool, guarded, as she moves. She places both of her hands on the bar next to him and with the assistance of her outstretched wings; she gracefully hops and spins, landing on the bar in a sitting position. She leans forward as if she were exhausted. “He has my Muse. He collects Muses.”
Again Samael is struck by the strangeness. How could such a person exist? How had this activity gone on without being reported? “What is he?” Samael asks, ducking his head so that he could see Astans’ face under her ash hair.
“He is an Angel. Untyped. Young. Carried in a womb.” She pushes back her hair pinning Samael with her brown eyes. “He can use any Muse, no one is safe. If my Muse can be taken from me, your Muse can be taken from you. How can God let this happen? How can I live without a Muse?”
Samael takes Astans’ hand, ignoring her questions. “And free will?” his voice was hard as he spit out the words.
“Yes!” she exclaims, her eyes widening wildly, “Yes, yes, yes! I have free will!” She giggles, “I, I, I have it!”
Her left forearm moves so fast that Samael doesn’t see it until it land on his chest, acting like a hammer at the end of her elbow. He flies backwards disappearing a split second before he lands on the Human frozen in time behind him.
“You have used your will poorly.”
The feeling of breathy words on Astans’ ear was concurrent with the sharp pain of an Angel sword pressing against her throat.
Aspirin boy was admitted a few hours into my shift and I took my first 15 minute break. Sitting in the lunch room with a pen and paper, I was determined to solve my current health problems with a quick brain storm session.
I drew a large “T” in the center of the paper. At the top I wrote “Chest pain”, in the left column I made a list of the circumstances that surrounded the chest pain: 1) First anniversary of Roberto and Dean’s death, 2) House warming party, 3) Aspirin boy. On the right side I made a list of possible causes: 1) anxiety, 2) GERD (heartburn), 3) cardiac.
Finally, I drew some lines connecting the left and the right sides. Anxiety could explain the chest pain during the first two incidences.
I could have had heartburn at my house warming party from all the chips I ate.
I could be dying.
Soon my chart had turned into a mess of lines. I sat back and remembered the man, the murderer. I drew a big “x” over the entire paper and in large scrawl scribbled 4) Magic.
I laughed out loud and rolled the paper into a ball, tossing it into the trash.
Every part of her body was cold, from her toes to her ears, all but one hand, her left hand. It burned in a cocoon of soft flesh. Someone was holding it. Her body felt heavy and she couldn’t move, her arms and legs secured where they were. Blinking her eyes she tried to remember how she got here.
“Lexy?” the rough voice was familiar in its deepness.
“Daddy?” her voice was unrecognizable, her throat raw as she licked her lips. He squeezed her hand.
“Yeah, gal, I’m here.” His voice cracked.
“Daddy, I didn’t know if I was going to come back to you this time.”
There was silence then. She blinked and shivered and tried to fill the gap where crying should have been with memories of the last few months. She couldn’t. Her head was an empty throbbing mess and O’Connor’s didn’t cry, so all she had left to do was endure.
She grit her teeth and focused on the sweat between her palm and her fathers. From the way her body ached, it had been four maybe five days since her last hit. The shakes had slowed to an invisible tremor and her bed was wet with perspiration. This didn’t explain the fog that was yesterday and the day before. All she could remember was the rain and Abaddown and the needle.
In 2001 he came to her for the first time. She had just turned 17 when she was prepared to meet her Angel. Her mother combed and braided her hair. Lex allowed herself to be dressed like a bride and putting aside her 21st century feminist streak she genuflected at his feet. Her angel was a Virtue. He welded earth and weather and functioned mostly as population control.
She loved him. While other girls dreamed about prince charming, she’d lay in bed imagining her angel. What he would look like, the love that he would return. His wrath was as quick as his affection and she clung to her girlish dreams of him.
Lex’s first natural disaster was that very day, the Gujarat earthquake. 20005 people died. She’d watched everything crumble, buildings turn inside out, people die. We American’s think that our rated R movies and bloody video games harden us to death. We are wrong. There is a stark difference between seeing the light leave a person’s eyes and watching an actor stare off into space.
Abaddown let her wander the ruined city with the survivors for several hours before he took me home. She stumbled over ragdoll bodies and over stairways that now lay horizontal on the ground. Cars were crushed like soda cans and moans of pain filled the silence like chirping crickets.
She’d survive the European heatwave of 2003, Mumbi floods, Hurricane Katrina, and the Cyclone Nargis. Haiti gave way to Japan, the whole year between the two was lost to her, her mother had died sometime during that year. By then she was in her late twenties and hardened. She’d seen more deaths in a decade than any one man in history had in an entire lifetime. She barely noticed her mother death, what was one less person in the world?
She survived most of it in a hazed high. Those months between Abaddown’s visits were spent wishing he’d return. Those days with him left her used up and raw. Having not finished high school, she made money dancing. She was good at it. Her body was strong and powerful, and if she had not been a Muse she could have been a competitive gymnast. She was a Muse, her body was not her own, she was taught to never treat it as such. And so she didn’t.
In Fukushima Lex decided that she could not go on, closing down, she walked blindly to the water. She’d seen every kind of natural disaster. She’d seen the sky open and hell fall down from it, she’d seen wind tear the world apart in a spiral of teeth and nails, and she’d witnessed the earth gallop and shift. There was nothing that could compare to a tsunami.
There was something glorious about the dooming wall of water rising up like a mountain, threatening to take its victims into its depths. She could never forget the feeling of smallness as the sound of the water rose above the sound of her pounding heart. She remembered looking up and up and up, her neck straining as she tried to see the top of the 40 foot surge. She remembered the caress of wet death and she welcomed it, arms open wide, a sacrifice to an apathetic God. All she wanted was to be held in the giant arms of the wave. Peace, she would finally have peace.
It only seemed rational, at the time, that she allow nature to drag her away as arbitrarily as it claimed the other 2,596,993 people that met their mortality that year. How was she allowed to live, while so many innocents met their end on a daily basis? Abaddown would not have it though. It was not her day to die, and she continued her life as if it were an unspoken challenge to the universe, an effort to expose the unfairness of God and his Angels.
She woke up in Salem, somehow the power of the tsunami alive in her as the withdrawals ravished her body. Frank was at her side then too. He drove all night to get there from Tacoma. She promised him then. Promised to clean herself up. She’d given up the heroin, confined herself to the hospital, but she couldn’t give up her Angel. She would serve her fickle God, until she was strong enough to fight against him. Abaddown’s final betrayal, was the last bit of anger she needed, it was time to change. She was ready to grow up and fight back.
Frank’s hand slips from hers, bringing her back to the present. “Daddy,” she whispers, his hand quickly takes hers and she turns to see him through the bed rail his face pale as he stares down at the last person in the world he cares about. “I’m so sorry.” He blinks, his eyes widening. “John should still be here, not me.”
“No, Lexy,” he shakes his head, “You have so much to do,” he squeezes my hand and leaning over the rail kissed my forehead, “so much to do, little soldier.”
“I want to come home.”
Dr. Gowyn met me at the garage elevator at the end of our shifts. We strolled to the Zipcars in silence. During the drive we chatted about the weather, Aspirin Boy, and Sam. They seemed to be the only three topics we had in common at the time. I was glad when the ride was over.
His apartment was warm. There were Christmas decorations everywhere, as if an after Christmas sale exploded in his living room.
Dr. Godwyn took my coat and hung it up. “Sam, you have a visitor!” he shouted.
Sam came rushing out of her room so quickly that I didn’t notice she was on her own two feet until she was hugging me. She was wearing a red dress with a white fur lining and a matching Santa hat.
“Wylie!” She exclaimed as she kissed my cheek.
“I’ve missed you so much!”
“I’ve missed you too!” I looked down at her legs, “When did this happen?”
She grinned, “Right after your party, I took a step or two that night and it’s just gotten better and better since.”
She took my hand and led me to the living room. She was so full of energy. I couldn’t believe that this was the same girl I met four month ago, but that’s how GBS worked. It would suddenly hit a normal person and then take month to years to get back to themselves again.
Even knowing this her sudden recovery was suspicious. I noticed her voice clearing up with the last few phone calls, but I never would have guessed that she went home from my party after puking and worked on her walking.
The thought caught me off guard. I quickly shrugged it off and found my smile as I took a seat on the couch. The Christmas tree was set up directly across from me and I found myself lost as I stared at it. The twinkling lights reminding me of Dean’s hardy toddler giggles, the fever in which he ripped out the wrapping paper.
“I’m so glad you came over!” Sam interrupted the memory. She leaned on the arm of the couch next to me, “Do you mind if we open presents now?”
I looked up at the sound of a door shutting, Dr. Godwyn had disappeared into his bedroom, I assumed to allow the children their play time. “I didn’t know I was coming over this morning, I have a gift for you at home.” I lied, guilt making my face flush.
Sam had left my side and was digging under the tree, making three separate piles of presents. “No worries, Wylie.I should have thought to invite you over last time we talked on the phone.”
She spoke as she checked the labels under the massive bow that decorated every gift. “Okay, this is your pile” she announced pointing at a ridiculous stack of gifts.
“All of that’s for me? Sam, you shouldn’t have, I…”
“Just shut up and enjoy!” She interrupted winking as she carefully pushed the pile in front of me. Dr. Godwyn strolled back into the living room taking a seat on the opposite end of the couch. He’d changed into a flannel shirt and jeans, there were dark rings around his eyes.
“So how should we do this?” He asked Sam.
“I think we should do a free for all, like mom used to like.”
“Sounds good to me,” he said as he grabbed a present from the ground, His finger curled into claws, intent on ripping the wrapping paper to shreds. I reached forward for one.
“Wait!” Sam announced, I froze my hands around the gift, “Music!”
She ran to the kitchen. Elvis again. Dr. Godwyn turned to me and smiled, genuinely this time. It was a welcome sight.
Sam returned to her spot on the floor. Eyeing the largest gift in her pile she heaved it into her lap and started tearing frantically.
With a whoop Dr. Godwyn joined her, creating a chorus of ripping paper, silly grins on both of their faces.
“Don’t be shy!” Sam sang out, not looking up from her busy hands. I smiled, but I couldn’t help but feel that I was intruding. As if I were spying on an intimate family tradition. The very real smile on Dr. Godwin’s face seemed like a private expression, one that he only shared with friends and family.
I that back to the last Christmas I’d celebrated. It was two years ago now. Little Dean’s giggles bounced off the walls of my skull. Roberto’s hand in mine as we watched our little man laugh from the belly, his mouth wide open as he stared at the pile of presents.
A large ball of wrapping paper connected with my forehead, breaking my trance. “Earth to Wylie!” Sam announced her hands cupped around her mouth, “don’t make me take all of those back!”
Thankful for the wakeup call I smiled hoping my eyes weren’t glittering with tears. I poked my finger through the red mistletoe paper and tore.
I leaned back with I sigh, staring at my gifts that I’d arranged before me. There were three pairs of microfiber house socks with a matching lap blanket and PJ pants, a journal, and a beanie from Sam and a stack of my favorite gel pens, a fancy silk scarf, and a Keep Calm and Nurse On t-shirt from Dr. Godwyn.
Sam was squealing running back and forth from her room, carrying armfuls of random things to and fro. Dr. Godwyn laughed and turning to me ran his hands over his bald head. “Thanks for coming. She loves you, you know!”
“I’m quite fond of her myself.” I said, I made a half smile, “Thanks for inviting me.”
There was a long pause as we our smile slipped from our faces, both of trying to figure out something to say to the other. Finally, he excused himself, taking an armful of loot back to his room.
As if on cue, Sam bounced back into the room, plopping onto the couch next to me. She smiled innocuously “So?” Sam sang turning the vowel into a question mark.
I raised my eyesbrows.
“What did you think of the scarf that my brother got you?”
I opened my mouth to respond.
“He’s a pretty great guy, isn’t he?” She rubbed her shoulder against mine and lifted her brows in a way that only a teenager could.
I knew exactly what she was up to, and it was not going to work. I grabbed the scarf and rubbed it in her face, “You mean this scarf?”
She giggled and holding her hands out to fend off my assault. “Hey! Hey! What was that for?” she beamed, “Did you know he’s single?” she jabbed me with her elbow.
I blinked, totally surprised by her forwardness. “And?” I finally said.
“I was just wondering if you noticed how cute he is?” she snorts, she’s laughing so hard at this point that’s she’s holding her sides.
“I can’t say that I’ve noticed,” I chided folding my arms, changing my approach. It is my experience, that giving a teenager attention when they are out of control like this, was like feeding the animals at a camp site. They will just keep coming back for more and more.
She rests her head on my shoulder. “Fine,” she announces, “Just checking!”
Her warmth soothed all my nerves as she yawns. I felt content, looking around at the paper that was scattered all over the floor. My eyes felt heavy and sleep made my lips tingle.
“I’m thinking it’s time for breakfast” Dr. Godwyn’s voice made both of us jump. Sam yawned again and then hopped off the couch. She shook her head once and like magic all of her usual spunk was back.
She twirled in the paper a few times as if it were snow and then pranced to her brother. Taking his hand she drags him to the couch, pushing him down. Apparently, she found a new victim for her plotting. “There are doughnuts on the counter. You two have had a hard night of work. You guys should probably take it easy,” she sang as she started gathering armfuls of paper and taking them to the kitchen.
I couldn’t help but smile as I watch her frolic back and forth. “Okay kids,” she announces from the kitchen, where she was playing with the stereo. Elvis’ smooth bass was cut off and replaced by Baby it’s Cold Outside, “I’m going back to sleep, this is way too early for me. Try not to have too much fun,” she winks and turning on her heels, high tails it to her room, closing the door behind her.
I turn to Dr. Godwyn, his cheeks were flushed red, he opens his mouth, but I got words out first. “She is awesome!” I chirp.
“If that’s what you want to call it,” he mumbles as he stretches.
“Thank you for all of this,” I say, “I would have just gone home and tried to sleep till my next shift.”
“No, thank you.” He smiles his sincere smile again, “I haven’t seen her so happy in so long. You are good for her,” he was talking to the Christmas tree in front of us.
I look at him hard, for a moment suspending reality and trying to see what Sam wants me to see. It wasn’t possible. It was as if I were wearing work goggles that blur his face. A flashing neon sign blinks above his head shouting off limits.
I stand awkwardly. “Well, I should be getting home,” I blurt.
I put my hand up when he begins to stand. “I’m going to take the bus.”
He opens his mouth, but I gave him the you-may-get-to-boss-me-around-at-work-but-that-won’t-fly-now-buddy look.
“I’m driving you home,” he states with a dismissive shrug, “It’s raining and cold and Sam would never forgive me if I didn’t.”
Of course he was going to use the Sam card. I couldn’t say no to that girl. The large raindrops that smack against the large paneled living room windows did look daunting. He smirks as he watches my resolve melt away. “Okay, but I owe you a coffee sometime, I feel like the biggest mooch.”
He lifts his eyebrows and I knew exactly what he was thinking, damn Sam for planting thoughts in our heads. “Platonic, work coffee!” I announce.
We both laugh, eyeing Sam’s door as we do. For all we knew she was leaning against it with her ear, listening to everything that was being said.
There was hardly any traffic, Seattle was barely waking up. The car was cold and quiet and awkward. I couldn’t stop thinking about Sam’s scheming. I stole one or two looks at Godwyn’s stiff jaw line and though I try I can’t stir up any emotion. Maybe that part of my brain had been sterilized with the trauma I’d experienced in the last few years. Maybe I would never find a man handsome again.
Our goodbyes were more like grunts. I run to my apartment door and wave him off as I twist the key in the lock.
I was exhausted. I only had 10 hours until my next shift. My apartment was dark, the air felt thick. I shiver as I drop my soaking jacket on the floor with the paper bag.
I wander into the kitchen, grab an apple, and taking a bite head for bed. I freeze when I notice a dark form sitting on my couch. A squeak escapes my lips and I jump back, dropping my apple and flipping on the light switch.
A man stands in the center of my living room. He was at least two heads taller than me and twice my weight. His face was twists in anguish. Tears streak his face.
“Who are you?” I blurt, feeling the malice in his tense slow movements.
“You killed my brother!” he leers.
One of my steak knives flashes in his fist as he lifts it to point at me. His left hand tangles in his long black beard as he glares. His skin was dark brown, his eyes a solid black. He wore steel toed boots, a worn pair of jeans, and a Northface hoodie. His teeth flash and spittle flies as he forms his angry accusations, “You killed him without honor!”
He waves the knife in the air. “You killed him! You killed him!” He was now in front of me his spit landing on my face. His movements were wild and uncanny in its speed.
My legs became lead. No words find their way to my lips. I stare wide eyed as he lifts the knife once again. This time it was not gesturing with the blade. “Evil witch!” he thundered as the pointy-end slammed down into my shoulder, the serrated blade doing more ripping than cutting.
I scream, or not. My mouth was gaping open, but no sound fills the room. Burning pain shoots up my neck and down my left arm simultaneously. The doughnut from Dr. Godwyn’s and apple bite from earlier inch up my throat attempting to escape.
His left hand connects, open palmed, with the right side of my face, sending me flying shoulder first into the wall to my left. I lean against it trying to comprehend what was happening, a warm dampness leaking down my chest, between my breasts, as blood escapes around the blade in my shoulder.
The man thunders forward, his hands wrapping around my arms, just above the elbows. He pushes me up the wall, lifting my onto my tip toes. He waits. His eyes boring into me. The look on his face promises death. I shake my head, wordlessly mouthing my fear.
His lips quirk up and as if he were satisfied that I grasp the threat, he slams his head forward, smashing his skull into my nose. Blood gushes down my throat and my face. I slide down the wall and I hear him shouting with my left ear but was distracted by the ringing that still buzzed in my right ear from the first time he hit me.
White dots dance in the foreground of my sight turning the man into a large black monster.
I have never been hit before.
I’ve never experienced violence in a one on one altercation.
Searing pain and horror squeeze my lungs threatening to suffocate me. This must have been what my husband felt in the last minutes of life. The ringing in my ear suddenly sounded like a three year old boy begging, “Pleeaaaase! Pleeaaase, mama!”
The fear and terror that had kept me immobile dissipates. My blurred vision clears, revealing Roberto curled around our son. His strong back acting as a meat shield. The sharp crack of bullets as they tore through him.
Rage began to burn through my veins, pushing the pain away. Defiance pulls air into my lungs as I glare up at the man. Using my right hand, I try and push myself off of the ground.
“Fuck you!” I glower.
“What did you say?” the gigantic man thunders back his eyes crazed, spit caught in his beard.
Remembering magic, I lift my chin. “Die!” I shriek, the force of the scream tearing at my throat as if it were sandpaper.
Magic was no longer the big hazard it had been. It was suddenly becoming the only weapon I had. I wildly commanded his lungs to fill with fluid, as I kick my heels into the carpet, still trying to rise. I focus with all my might on the sound of his harsh breaths, willing clouded crackles to punctuate each inhalation.
“Die, you piece of-” my growl was cut short by his boot squarely landing in my gut. I fall forward onto my hands vomiting. My concentration broken by the firework of renewed agony.
I struggle to find breath between the violent heaving as me body collapses forward. I land on my belly, my arms reaching out as if my hands could grasp the air that my lungs could not.
The rough carpet leaves rashes, on my bruised cheek and broken nose, as I struggle. Kicking my legs I try convince my body to work as it should. Blinking vigorously, my lips soundlessly open and close.
A loud thump from beside me seems to announce the wheeze that finally enters my chest. I curl to my side to see that the sound had been my assailant landing next to me. His face mirrors my own panic, need for air making his eyes round, pink frothy sputum running from his mouth to the ground.
We stare at each other as he gasps twice more. A connection was made once again, his eyes telling me what he could not. You’ve killed me. His hand went to his throat, his fingers clawing, his mouth a gaping “O”.
His focus widened, our connection broken and he was no longer him. I lay curled on the ground face to face with a cadaver. I continue to stare air easily moving in and out of me in a staccato.
“Wylie!” It was Dr. Godwyn’s voice, “Oh my God!”
Bracing either side of my head he carefully turns me onto my back. I groan loudly as I lose sight of the dead man, and then again when my injured shoulder meets the ground.
“What did he do to you?”
I ignored the questions my eyes burning, finally dry “I killed him!” My face began to twist into the ugly mask of shame as shuttering sobs took over, “Iiiiiiiiii…”
“Hush,” he whispers as he pulls off his jacket, “shh.”
He carefully wraps the jacket around the steak knife handle protruding from my shoulder; a scream finds its way out of my raw throat.
With one hand he holds pressure against the jacket. He pulls his phone out of his PJ pant pocket and holds to his ear. “Yes, I have a medical emergency.” There is a pause as he looks me up and down, “Hello, Dr. Godwyn here. I have a 27 year old woman with a four inch knife embedded in her left shoulder and multiple head injuries. It looks like it was a home intrusion. I just got here. I am a friend of the victim.”
There was more talking. He was talking to them. He was talking to me. I wasn’t sure which and I didn’t care.
Samael paces at the Emergency Department’s entrance, a brooding set in his jaw. The neon sign flickers as if responding to Samael’s dread-anger cocktail.
David stumbles out of the sliding glass doors. He was wearing crumpled red and white pajamas with repeated polar bear prints. Several blood stains cover his torso. He folds his arms to the cold as he approaches Samael.
“What happened?” Samael snarls.
“I dropped her off after work. Her scientia woke me, I don’t know, like 30 minutes later. I barely got home and fell asleep when I felt it.” David’s hands shook as he rubs the naked skin on top of his head, as if to keep the chill air away. “I went straight over. Marut was dead when I got there. He messed her up bad!”
Dark circle ran around David’s eyes. Samael shook his head in disbelief. He’d felt the death of an angel zing up and down his spine just as Wylie’s powers punctuated time and space. One minute he’s questioning Astans, the next he’s here, praying she wasn’t dead, knowing that if she’d died he would be following her there too.
“Tell me you didn’t do this,” David whispers.
“I didn’t do this, but I should have known,” Samael whispers, and he imagines the twin brothers, with their good humor and even better intentions. “Harut and Marut could not survive in the world without the other,” Samael pulls Frank’s cigarettes out and offers the second to last one to David.
David shakes his head. “I just don’t get it, those two helped bring down Babylon,” he shakes his head again. “And she kills them. I’m scared of her.”
Samael raises his eyebrows as he inhales his nicotine. “You should be,” he held the smoke in, letting it roll over his lips with his next words, “She owns you.”
A deep ache reverberates through my face, as if it were a hollowness that hung off the front of my face. Opening my eyes I find that only one slit of sight was available. My right eye is swollen shut.
Remembering the stab wound I wiggle the fingers of my left hand. My pinky and ring finger tingles but all of the digits move. I made a fist attempting to lift my arm, but it was immobilized over my abdomen in what I assume is a sling. The unsuccessful use of my hand, shot pain up my neck.
I consider sitting upright but the thought of moving my throbbing bones fills my head with fatigue. I close my drowsy eye.
Dreams drag me back to my apartment, back to those black eyes. Black pools swirled in his eye sockets, the blackness splashing onto the carpet from his face, leaving ink like stains on the floor. The stains expanded and lengthen eating up the ground beneath us until we floated in a dark abyss.
We spin uncontrollably as if in the ocean on a stormy night. The man’s arms sloppily fling about, his head dangling on his chest.
“Witch!” it starts as a whispered chant. “Witch! Witch! Witch!” His voice crecendosd as the waves push him further and further away from me.
Soon he was gone and I was left alone with his screaming mantra.
Samael walked into Marut’s studio after getting the key from the apartment manager. He was there on the pretense of gathering Marut’s belongings.
The studio was eerily quiet, with no carpet or furniture to absorb the sounds. Samael’s foot falls bounce loudly against the walls. He stood in the middle of the room slowly turning a 360. There were no closets to hide anything.
He checks the fridge, the cupboards, everything was empty. He walks to the bathroom and steels himself as he reaches for the door knob. The door creaks open and he flips on the lights.
Bright red blood was splattered in sharp vertical lines up the white tiled walls. Two pools of drying blood thicken in the lowest points of the uneven bathroom floor. A soiled three foot hack saw leans against the wall under the light switch.
The mirror was shattered. Tiny pieces of it sparkle like glitter in and around the sink. The toilet seat was down, the white shower curtains closed. The light travels through the curtains in a strange blotchy pattern as if the inside was coated with wet dripping paint.
Samael holds his breath as he enters the room, his hand reaches for the curtain pulling it back slowly. Samael curses in Latin and sitting on the toilet, takes in the sight before him.
Two, seven foot tall, four foot wide, wings lay on top of each other in the tub. The pointed ends folded up the walls. The feathers crumpled and tangled. Their bright caramel gold soiled by clotting blood.
Samael moves to his knees before the mess. Cold wetness soaking through his pant legs as he leans forward, his elbows on the wall of the bath. He folds his finger together and closing his eyes prays. His foreign words recoiling off the walls like acrobats, spinning and dancing with the loss of innocence.
I spent four days in the hospital. My list of visitors was small. I think that those around me were tire of my helplessness. They spoiled me for what they believed was a good mourning period.
Now it was the afternoon. I should be moving on, not getting jumped in my apartment. Not getting stabbed with my own steak knife. I shouldn’t be sleeping on people’s couches, eating their food, steeling their sympathy. I shouldn’t be asking people to cover my shifts, it was the holidays. I didn’t have a family at home that was missing out on my presence when I was at work.
Fuck them! I thought it every time a person came by, gave me their half smile, told me to get better but didn’t ask me how I was doing. Fuck them! I couldn’t think of very many people that I didn’t hate.
My inlaws made themselves scarce. They couldn’t handle any more violence in their lives. How dare I remind them of their son’s death! Their one visit was short, leaving behind a cheesy card with a standard lament like “get well soon.” I think they figured out that I wasn’t really their daughter. They were realizing what I had noticed sixth months ago. It takes too much energy to be reminded.
Dr. Godwyn and Sam spent the most time in my hospital room. So much so that I’d caught two nurses gossiping about it when they thought I was asleep.
“Did you see what he was wearing when he brought her in here?” one whispered.
“No, but I heard,” the other answered.
“He must have literally been in her bed when she was attacked,” the first one giggled conspiratorially.
“No he was in the kitchen making breakfast, he was the one who handed the guy the knife,” I interjected, my eyes still closed, the words were slurred from the pain medications and I’m not sure that they were understandable. There was a shuffle and I was alone again.
The police took my statement on the third day. When I asked about my attacker, they told me he died of a pulmonary edema. Pulmonary edema, my ass! I killed the bastard. Or bastards, as it were. I was still not comfortable calling it magic, but I know undeniably that I’d done it.
The idea or magic is what motivated me to get out of the hospital. I wanted to get back to apartment so that I could be totally alone with my new found abilities.
I took a taxi home and gimped into my apartment. It was surprisingly clean; Sam had admitted to stealing my keys. She’d straightened up and carpet cleaned for me.
I limp straight into my bedroom, plopping onto my bed I stare into my living room with apprehension. It was surprisingly less traumatic than I thought it would be. The fear of being attacked was far less moving than the curiosity surrounding my new found super hero abilities.
I point at my closet door, “open!” I swish my wrist like I imagined Madam Mim from the Sorcerer Stone would have. Nothing happens.
Damn Disney, and their cute version of witches. I picture all of the witches I’d seen in pop culture. There was Harry Potter, of course, I like the black robes idea, it made scrubs look like ball gowns.
Ursula from Little Mermaid, I like her theme song. Poor unfortunate souuuuls. I fold my arms around my chest as I burst out laughing, trying to hold my broken ribs in place.
My all-time favorite witch was Winnie from Hocus Pocus. She was ten types of badass. I just need to gain some weight, grow my hair out, dye it red, and stop giving two shits. None of which sounds like a bad idea.
The problem was I don’t know anything about real witches. Was it all as subtle as commanding a person’s lungs to forget their job. Or was there something grander and more glamorous. Were all those silly ideas of flying on broomsticks, mixing potions, and changing the weather at will exaggerations of reality? Could it be that my favorite childhood monsters were based in truth?
Slowly I gather my laptop, some magic markers, a poster board, a notebook, a pen or two and settle at my dining table. I start by googling “real witches”. Three of the top five results were Christian websites describing their idea of witches and quoting the bible. There was one youtube video with a narrator whose only experience with magic was her relationship with Puffing the Magic Dragon. I took the time to read two interesting historical descriptions of women who followed their passions only to be burnt at the stake. Not much help there, but it was a good read.
I erased my original search and typed “Killing with your mind”. There were a few links about foods that killed brain cells, a band called Scraped Knee that had a song with the same title, and a few advertisements about cognitive therapy.
An hour later I was six clicks into Wikipedia reading about necromancers. Sufficiently creeped out I close my laptop, deciding that maybe doing my research this way was an awfully lot like my patients who decide they have a random genetic disease because WebMD says.
I lay out my poster board and stare at the blank matte sheet, my mind playing London bridges with itself. Was I a bad person? I killed two people. At least, I think I did.
Was a stab wound, broken nose and ribs, dead husband and son, enough to justify my thoughts; angry wrathful thoughts that somehow matured into reality. Am I a weird freak of nature?
What if all of my malicious contemplations became action? Could I possibly stop the nasty thoughts that punctuated my day? Next time I cross the street and nearly get run over, will the driver die in a fire? Will I walk into the break room and find Mary trying to actually shove her nose up her own ass?
I grabbed the black magic marker and drew a classic Venn Diagram. With Red I write “Evil” over the circle on the right and “Good” with blue over the other circle. Heal, help, give, save, calm I wrote in the blue. In red I wrote kill, torture, hurt, scare. In the center with a purple pen I wrote revenge.
I carefully run my finger up and down the plastic splint that holds my nose in place.
I need a drink.
As if on cue my phone belches and dances on the table. Sliding the lock screen I read text.
Just got off of work, need anything? Dinner?
It was Dr. Godwyn.
RUM! I text back, not expecting a response.
OMW! Do you like Chinese? The phone bounces in my hand as I reach to set it at the other end of the table.
Even though I wasn’t up for a visitor, seeing how I was neck deep in witch research, I texted back Mmmmm. He and his sister have been the best and kindest friends I had.
I was happy to find a half gallon of ice cream in the freezer; at least I had some dessert to offer. I flip on the television and switching through some of my favorite video streaming services I found Hocus Pocus.
Perfect, I had food and entertainment, all I need to do is change into some normal people clothes. I was still wearing the gown the hospital sent me home in.
Getting the jeans on was difficult, but doable. The bra and sweater is a totally different story. After several failed attempts at snapping my bra with one hand, I decide to put my top over the unfastened bra. My head and one of my arms find their proper holes as the doorbell clangs.
I prance around helplessly, trying to get my limp arm into the sweater. Finally, I gave up, pulling it all the way down, leaving my left arm folded uncomfortably underneath.
I run to the door and pull it open. Dr. Godwyn looks at me blankly, a bag of Chinese food under one arm and a bottle in a paper bag in the other. A grin slowly spreads across his face as his eyes dart up and down my disheveled appearance.
My hair was standing on end in a static mess, my fly down, and I lean to one side trying to compensate for the weight added to my injured shoulder by my bra strap.
“Don’t laugh,” I chide a smile spreading on my face in response.
He shifts everything to one arm and reached up to flatten the hair on the top of my head. “There, that’s better,” he snorts unable to keep his laugh in.
I giggle “I guess you can laugh as long as you help.”
“You know, if you’d adopt my hair cut, you’d never have to deal with static hair,” he says as he follows me into the apartment.
I lead him to the kitchen. “I don’t think I could pull it off as well as you do,” I laugh as I turn back to him.
He sets his bags down, folding his arms makes his best I’m-the –boss-of-you-face “Okay, first off where is your sling?”
I reached above the sink with my right arm to grab two shot glasses, my wardrobe malfunctions forgotten. “Shot’s first!”
I pull the bottle from the paper bag, it was a fifth of Sailor Jerry’s, the man had good taste, “Fine, one shot, and then we are getting that sling back on you.”
“Two shots,” I beg.
He lifts his eyebrow and holds up one finger.
I don’t drink on the regular, but I believe it is therapeutic to get wasted at least twice a year, and what a better day to do it. I’m a widowed witch!
He twists the cap and pours the brown glistening liquid into the shot glass. I take a glass and hold it in the air “Salud!” I toast.
Our glasses clink and I poured the whole thing down my throat. Dr. Godwyn takes a ladylike sip.
“Oh come on,” I wine, the warmth in my throat and chest a sudden soothing distraction.
With a smirk he tosses it back and pours another. I held up my glass again waiting for him to provide the toast. He looks me straight in the eyes. “To Sam,” he says.
“To Sam,” I tip my head and swallowed the sweet, smooth, vanilla with one gulp.
“Sling time,” he says setting the bottle down, “Amy worked hard at putting that shoulder back together, she would not be happy with me if she knew I was letting you get away with not wearing that sling.”
I hardly heard him; I could already feel my cheeks warming and my thoughts floating away with themselves. The sling was sitting on my bed, abandoned in the middle of my wrestling match with my bra. “This way,” I wave him to my room where I sit on my bed and crossing my legs. Looking up at him I laugh at the whole situation, “Now what?”
“Now, I’m going to help you into some more realistic clothing. Do you have a bath robe?” I point at a silky kimono that hung on the back of the head board. “Perfect, I’m going to get this thing over your head.” He pulls my sweater up and off of my injured arm and mercilessly stretches the neck so that he can pull it up and over my head. I shiver at the intimacy as he drags lines down my arm with his fingers as he pulls my sleeve off.
I sat in front of him in my jeans and my bra half on. He held his gaze respectfully high as he reaches for my robe, and I use my arms to cover myself, retaining some of my modesty. He passes the robe to me and I hold it over my front.
“You’re pretty good at this, Dr. Godwyn. Are you a secret lady’s man?” The word vomit was out of my mouth before I could stop it. Was it possible to be more embarrassed than I already was?
“I had a lot of practice with Sam, she’s only been dressing herself for a few months,” Damn, I’m an ass! “And it’s David,” he corrects.
His cheeks were as red as mine felt. “So, let’s get this over with, I think I’m ready for another shot. Here’s how we are going to do it.” In that very medical professional way, he taps my right hand and then my left elbow, “You support your left arm here.” I did as told, my kimono wadded under my arms, covering my chest. He found the strap of my bra that loosely lay on my right shoulder and closing his eyes he pulls it down. I shiver again.
“Now, I’ll support you’re arm and you pull it the rest of the way off.” He peeks long enough to take hold of my left wrist and elbow gingerly. I slip the bra the rest of the way off, watching the lines in his forehead as he squeezes his eyes shut.
With the same mechanical intimacy we manage to get the robe and then the sling on. David’s eyes stay closed most of the time, biting the corner of his bottom lip in concentration.
When we finish the least romantic unclothing situation of all time, we actually high fived. “Like pros!” I exclaim as our hands slapped together, “Time to celebrate!”
Back in the kitchen we hold up our glasses. “To slings and silk kimonos!” he laughs and I soak up the bliss that radiates from the corners of his eyes and mouth. My heart fluttered with the reminder of what it felt like to be touched by the opposite sex.
David began digging through the bag of Chinese food. He pulls out chop sticks and with the same quite precision he helped me out of my bra with, he serves himself a plate from the white cartons. Red Kanji dripped with condensation, as he moves from one entre to another.
My mouth waters, never mind the food was all lukewarm by now, something made outside of a hospital was sure to be fantastic. I slop a little bit of everything onto my plate and lean against the kitchen counter.
I was halfway through with my serving before I took the time to look up at David, he was sitting on the kitchen counter, done with his food. His legs were crossed, the fifth in his hands as he read the back of the bottle.
“Do you believe in magic?” I ask watching his face carefully.
His forehead crinkles in curiosity and he looks up from the bottle. “Depends,” he says slowly, setting it down and studying my face. “Do you?”
Way to turn in back on me, bucko!
“Yeah, I think so.”
“Really?” he asks, smiling, his eye widening as he tilts his head to the side as if to hear more.
“Well, why not? People believe in weirder things!” I took another bite and finish my thoughts as I chew, “I mean, look at some of our patients,” swallow, “when is it ever a good idea to shove something up your nose, ear, or ass?” I took another bite to punctuate the questions, “What I’m trying to say is, whose to judge?”
“It sounds like you are talking yourself into believing,” he drawls as he hops off of the counter.
“Maybe I am,” three heartbeats, our eyes trained on each other’s, I look away first. “What about you?”
“I believe that there are things that happen that are super natural that do not deserve such a weighted superficial description. Like what happened to you,” I look back up at him, “You surviving that attack was a miracle, calling such a thing magic mares the wonder of it all. Something’s are too sacred to deserve a title.”
I reach for the bottle that sat on the counter next to him, “I think it’s time for another shot,” the intensity of our conversation was becoming a bit too much to handle while sufficiently buzzed. I twist off the cap and forgetting the shot glass took a swig or two. I hand it back to David, but he just sat it back where I’d grabbed it from.
Discomforted by our sudden close proximity I took a few steps back. I glancing up at him, suddenly shy. Honestly, I’ve never really saw him, the way I was seeing him now. He’d always been Dr. Godwyn. My boss. A protective big brother. I was looking at him now the way some of the other nurses did. Single. Young. Attractive. Man.
He stood at least three or four inches taller than me, his thumbs in his pockets pointing to the crotch of his jeans. He had a very thick bone structure giving the appearance of strength. His skin was light, his eyes ice blue with a dark rim of lashes. His perfect bow shaped mouth seemed small above his dominant cleft chin.
He had this permanent look of concern on his face. Part of me wonders if that was what the patients like most about him, the genuine attention he gave to all those around him. In truth, he is handsome. Somehow, I’d never noticed.
My cheeks burnt with an unanticipated side effect of the alcohol. The racing of my heart, my bewildering flirty shyness, something was wrong with me.
I reach for the bottle again but he held out a hand, blocking me. “Slow down there, girlie.”
“Please!” I whine, slapping his hand away. I snatch the bottle and made my escape. Hobbling towards the living room. David indulges me as I took another gulp. The heat in my chest giving me courage. I swung around, stopping him in his pursuit. We were now toe to toe, in the hall.
“Drink!” I hand him the bottle. He glares down at me defiantly, but puts his sweet lips on the bottle, his eyes still on mine.
“I have something I need to tell you,” he says after setting the bottle on the book shelf. He leans forward as if to whisper something in my ear, but stops when my hand settles on his chest.
We both look down at it. I pull it away and stare at it as if it’d betrayed me. My fingers were tingling with excitement. In truth, my whole body was buzzing with a deep passion, as if suddenly I could do anything.
I stop his words with my mouth. Ignoring the pain in my face, I find resolve in my quick action. Moving my good hand up to his face I cup his chin, setting my thumb in the cleft and kiss him so hard I feel the plastic of my nose splint scrape against his face.
He kisses back, just as enthusiastically. There was a zing, a spark, a sudden undeniable connection. The kisses harsh, starved, I can feel them reverberating down to my toes.
He had me then. I lost control. All the silly thoughts that usually spin circles in my head flew away leaving red hot need. His hands caress me carefully avoiding the bruises and wounds. He was lifting me with his strong arms.
My hand finds his chest again, his back, his ass. It was that last touch that reminded me who I was. I was the wife of Roberto Hernandez. His face, his kiss, his hands, hot and roaming freely, were ingrained into every romantic bone in my body.
The rightness became wrongness in an instant. The ache of loss rapidly crippled me. I froze, mid-kiss. My eyes burnt.
It happened in a smooth single motion: David’s hands on my back firmly guiding my passion to his hands in my hair pulling my tear covered face tenderly to his chest.
He held me as I cried.
Drunk crying was a sloppy business, and every time shame crept over me, the comfort of knowing that the man who was holding me, had seen me cry harder.
So conflicted, I wanted the snot and tears to dry, my heaving to stop. I wanted to be in the moment, I needed the dizzy kissing, but I couldn’t see past the home video flashing Roberto and Our Life Together, against the back of my eyelids.
Happiness, smiling, kissing were all betrayals.
How can I have these emotions if they weren’t with my husband?
“I’m sorry, Wylie,” David whispers.
I feel sorry too, so sorry.
I needed to break out of this habitual grief.
I pull away from him and taking his hand mumble, “Come with me,” through the hiccups and snorts.
I could see the question on his brow as I turn away from him, guiding back into my room.
We are standing in front of my bed.
“Wylie, this isn’t what…”
“Wait,” I interrupt, I sit on it and pat the blanket next to me. “I know we’ve both been drinking, I know that I look like a piece of pulverized meat, and I have to admit that I am as out of practice as anyone can be, when it comes to interacting with the opposite sex, but hear me out,” I sniffle uncontrollably and wipe at my eyes. “Can we cuddle?”
He smiles and then laughs sitting down next to me.
Lex makes her father coffee every morning since they arrived home. Her grueling recovery coming to an end. She suffered it in silence, trying to spare her father. The fog seemed to have lifted this morning. Clarity giving her focus.
“So how long ago did you quit smoking?” Lex asks as her father rinses his coffee cup.
“A few months, gal,” Frank dries the mug and put’s it back in the cupboard, “The VA’s putting on a breakfast buffet this morning, you wanna go?”
Lex shook her head, forcing a smile. She was sure Frank didn’t want to introduce his drug addict daughter to his POW buddies. She had more important things to do anyway.
Lex appreciated the time alone. She had plans to devour every piece of writing her mother had left behind.
Dung was the first in her family, to put the oral history of Angels to paper. Often employing Lex to dictate the memories. As a child and a teenager, Lex had only heard the beautiful and exciting parts of the stories. Now she was looking for something much different.
She settles into her search skimming text after text. She spends time in each room of her childhood house, looking for any hints her mother may have left behind.
She allowed herself a nap in her brother’s bed. Letting her memories of the boy warm her resolve. She regretted the years she’d lost with him.
Midmorning she climbs into the attic finding a box of journals. A lot of what she finds is meaningless to her. Pictures of people she does not know, random notes, a Bible dog eared and highlighted, the Quran, other religious books. Notes about the apocalypse shoved into their pages.
Putting these aside, she stacks three more leather bound journals on the pile and take them all back down stairs. Settling in the living room with her fifth cup of coffee, she starts at the top of the pile.
Lex looks up from the journal. She was, leaning back in franks recliner, his reading glasses balanced on the tip of her nose. Smiling she looks back down and rereads the last few paragraphs.
In the year of 1881, Abaddown became severely wounded during the Haiphong Typhoon. It became the third deadliest natural disaster in human records, 300,000 people died, beginning with Doan Thi Khiêm, his Muse.
Abaddown lost control of the typhoon with the loss of his Muse. With is Scentia untethered he wasn’t able to regulate nature with his usual precision. He was unable to stop the typhoon on his own.
Drained and without a Muse to provide power, Abaddown found himself spent and imprisoned by water.
She read it again.
…imprisoned by water.
Lex’s smile widens.
In the morning, before I opened my eyes, two thoughts occurred to me. One was that for the first time in five days, I was not in pain. No aching in my bones or throbbing in my nose, not even that old hangover queasiness. It was a welcome surprise. The second thought, and the most comforting one was, warmth. I had played little spoon all night and the heat of a body pressed up against mine was paradise. It was the perfect distraction.
I slept using his shoulder as a pillow, his body folded over me. Occasionally, one of us would shift and the seams of our jeans would catch on the other’s. Stretching, I stared down at his hand, it rested at my side innocently. I imagined it pressed against my cheek or my tummy. It had been so long since strong hands had held me. Guilt tangled in my gut as I remembered who the hand belonged to. I wanted to fall back to sleep, wanted to dream more dreams of drowning in the delicious warmth of a man, but now that I was awake, I needed to decide what I was going to do.
The sun was shining through the slats of my window, and every now and then I heard people walking pass on their way to their cars. It was just another day to some people. To me, the day was ground breaking. This was the first step, I could recognize the change even with the mounting embarrassment. Somewhere between the poster board, the alcohol, and the kiss, a weight came tumbling off my shoulders.
The sudden freedom reminded me what it was like to inhale completely; as if for over a year I’d been taking partial breathes. Afraid that too much air would make my lungs explode. For all this time I’d felt so strong. I’d felt like some kind of tortured survivor, but looking back at the girl I was yesterday, all I can see is fragility. And today, today the rift in my head was healing, the sadness slightly receding as I soaked up comfort from David. I should have anticipated that he would be drawn to me. He fixed people for a living. Fixing me must have felt natural to him.
I felt him stir behind me, as if to respond to my thoughts. His hand lifted from my side and the heat of him disappeared as he sat up. The suspicion that our drunk flirtation would fade into shy awkwardness brought a sigh to my lips. “Good morning.” I grown rolling onto my back, trying to act as though waking up with Dr. Godwyn in my bed was a ordinary practice.
“Good afternoon.” His voice was husky with sleep, he rubbed at his eyes.
Looking up at him I tried on a small innocent smile. “So your sister’s evil plans worked.”
He laughed, dropping his hands from his face and straightening his back until it crackled and popped with a slight jerk. “She always gets her way.”
I laugh. It’s a fake laugh, and he stands from the bed, his face becoming serious, “So?” he drags the word out and then begins to pace. “Um, so. That was a little unexpected,” I nod emphatically. “I honestly came here last night wanting to tell you something. I don’t want you to think I was planning on…” he stops again, “taking advantage.”
This time I laugh for real, “Well it happened,” I worked hard not to cover my blushing cheeks, “I think I needed it. Whatever it is?”
He blinks, still serious, “I should probably come clean then.” He says changing the subject.
“Come clean to what?” I ask, my cheeks still burning, clueless to the confession he planning on divulging.
“Remember how you asked me last night if I believed in magic?” I nod “And I gave you a long drawn out ‘maybe’”
I narrow my eyes, the conversation going in a totally different direction than I had expected, “Yes?”
“I think you should go look in the mirror.” He looked nervous as he put his hand out to help me up.
I take his hand. “Okay,” I draw out the word as I effortlessly move to my feet, still no sign of soreness or pain.
I walked to the bathroom, turned on the light, and took a gander, half expecting that he had found a marker and wrote on my face in the middle of the night. What I saw made me gasp. The bright purple and green rings around my eyes were gone. The bruise on my right cheek had disappeared. I reached up and slowly peeled the now loose splint away from my face, discovering that my nose was no longer twice its size and the color of a grape. Carefully I palpated my ribs, nothing, not even a twinge. The Velcro of my sling crackled as I pealed it away. I flapped my arm up and down like I was doing jumping jacks.
“What the hell,” I squeaked as I looked at David, he shrugged. “No, seriously! What the hell? Did you do this? Are you a witch too?”
He laughed out loud, reminding me of how handsome happy looked on him. “I’m not a witch and neither are you!” He put his hands on his hips and looked me up and down. He wasn’t quite as surprised as I was, but still some disbelief reflected on his face. “You did this!”
I looked at the mirror, “But how?” I asked as I touched my peach colored nose.
“You’re an Angel.” It was my turn to laugh.
“I’m sure you say that to all the girls,” I chided, looking at him from the corner of my eyes as I prod my cheek.
He folds his arms and leans against the door frame. “No really, you’re an Angel. Like the biblical kind that strikes down nations and fights ancient wars.”
I consider what he’s saying. I guess being an angel was a lot more attractive than being a witch. I looked at my clear unblemished face, unable to look away, any explanation was better than none. I looked up at David, “What makes you think that I’m an Angel?”
He thinks for a moment taking his time to form a response. “I’ll explain everything to you,” he grins, “If you let me take you to lunch.”
A bell rattles as Lex steps into Dragon Ink, a tattoo shop that was walking distance from her house. Two tattooed men stood at the front desk talking when she entered.
The man with his back to Lex turns around, “Lex?”
Lex nods, taking in the wildly adorned walls. She felt assaulted by the reds and gold of the overwhelming oriental decor.
“Welcome,” the man puts out his hand, “I’m Seth, we talked on the phone.”
Lex’s eyes quickly find the floor, shyness tying her tongue for a split second. She couldn’t remember the last time she spoke face to face to anyone other than her father.
“That’s me,” she says shortly, ignoring Seth’s hand.
Seth laughs off her sharp tone. “Can’t wait to see this emergency tattoo,” he says. Lex can hear the smile in his voice, “this way.”
She follows him down the hall into a large partitioned room, “I’m the second one on the right.”
She steps inside, her hands are sweating and she pulls the black and white picture, she’d found wedged in the bible, out of her pocket. Caught in the frame was a head shot of a man. His face was stoic. His name, Liu Quan, written in Kanji on the back lead her to believe he was Chinese.
He glared through his spectacles, his cheeks round, his black hair severely parted. The photography had been taken Liu Fu, Quan’s cousin, the famous poet and linguist, in the early 1900s. She’d meant to look more into the Liu family, but was in too much of a hurry to share Quan’s mark.
She carefully held the picture up for Seth to see. Her finger reverently runs over the tattoo on Quan’s forehead. “This is the tattoo, can you do it?”
Seth laughs, “It looks simple enough. Where do you want it?”
“Same place,” she says looking up to see the grimace on Seth’s face. She looks back down at the picture, the scribbled letters just below his hair line span from widow peak to widow peak.
“Are you sure?” Seth asks looking at the picture, “I mean you have such a pretty face.”
“Do I look confused to you?” she blurts her cheeks blushing.
“You’re the boss,” Seth walks to the red metal tool box in the corner of the room and pulls out the bottom drawer and begins to shift through the papers, “The studio has us have any costumer getting a facial tattoo, read and sign this declaimer.”
Lex takes the proffered paper, “Just in case I don’t get that tattoos are permanent?” She holds out her hand for the pen.
“Pretty much,” Seth smirks, “so those letters, I’m sure I’ve seen them before, what language is it?”
“Greek,” Lex says as presses the paper against the table and then the pen to the paper. Her signature was shaky, her heavy hand pressing several holes into the paper. “Make it burnt brown instead of black,” she commands and then cursing herself for her general bitchiness added, “If you can… I’d like it to be the color of henna?”
“I can do that, I can even play with the font a little if you’d like?”
Lex smiles, “It looks that bad?”
Seth maintains a serious expression as he looks down at the photo where it now sat on the little massage table next to the worm she signed. “It’s just, you have a beautiful face,” he says.
Lex shrugs, “Thanks, but that’s part of the problem.”
Seth ignored her response, picking up the picture and the form. “I’m going to borrow this for a minute. I’ll be right back. Make yourself comfortable.”
He leaves the partition. Lex watches him go, her eyes on the ass pockets of his jeans. The guy was pretty damn cute himself.
She climbed onto the massage table and closed her eyes. She balled her hands into fists, setting her teeth. She was angry! Angry that her only choice was to mark her face.
Revelation 13:16-18. That was the highlighted scripture that lay on the page saved by the picture. She whispered the scripture to herself:
16And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads:17And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. 18Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number [is] Six hundred threescore [and] six.
The hurried notes made in the blank column was clinchers. Having the mark gave man the ability to buy or sell. It wasn’t that simple, the Greek words for buy and sale were scribbled and beside it possible English translations. Next to buy were written the words: redeem and ransom. Next to sell was exchange and barter.
Quan’s mark allowed him to ransom and exchange his Scentia with Angels.
She’d read and reread this scribble. The riddle of the passage was not clear, but several pages describing Quan’s Scentia left Lex a believer.
“So what does it say?” Lex jumped at the sound of Seth’s voice, her eys flying open. “Oh sorry, were you sleeping?”
“No!” she grunts her response too quickly. She sits up and watches Seth gather his tools and the paint. “It means six hundred and sixty six,” she manages to hold back her standard sarcasm.
“Wow, so you’re… uh…like a devil worshiper?”
Lex snorts, pearls of real laughter filling the air as she remembers what this tattoo was called. The Mark of the Beast. “There is no such thing as the Devil,” she scoffs.
“So it’s a family thing?” He asks, half smiling.
“He’s Chinese,” Lex snaps, as if the retort could answer her question. Taking a deep breath she knots her finger together, “the numbers symbolize a name.”
“The devils?” he asks with a wink, ignoring her sharp response.
She sighs and rolls her eyes. “I told you, there is no such thing as the devil.”
“So what name does 666 symbolize?” he asks sarcasm dripping from his tone.
Lex watches Seth’s face for a moment before answering, searching for true interest. His eyes meet hers and she decides to share some of the weight that threatened to crush her. “Greek letters each have a corresponding number. Both Nero Caesar and Mohammad are equivalent to six-hundred and sixty-six in Greek.”
“That’s cool,” Seth sounds genuinely attentive, “Can you lay back?”
Lex lays back and soon she is staring directly into Seth’s brown eyes again as he leans over her face. Carefully he places a piece of thin white transfer paper over her brow and rubs it against her skin. Pulling off the paper he passes her a hand mirror. “What do you think?” he asks, “I made it a little smaller, a little girlier.”
Lex catches her breath, it was better than she’d expected, actually giving her a few more badass points to add to her dread locks. “It’s perfect,” she whispers and hands the mirror back.
The buzz of the tattoo gun fills the air.
“So why are you getting this number tattooed to you?” His question was punctuated by the pain of the needle on my skin.
“Well, it’s also the number of the Beast. It’s said that his name gives those marked with it the ability to…” she pauses for a moment searching for a word to describe Quan’s abilities. “To have autonomy.”
“I see,” he says, his voice relaxed as he works, “So this represents autonomy.”
In response Lex smiles, a smile as brilliant as freedom.
ἑξακόσιοι ἑξήκοντα ἕξ
Thirty minutes later we were walking to my favorite taco joint on Capitol Hill. It was about three blocks downhill. It gave us enough time for a tension to settle between us. The transition between Pill Hill and Capital Hill reflected the change in our moods as we walked in silence.
The organized chaos of hospital valets became manic horn honking while cars jumped between pedestrians, unashamedly battling for parking spaces. David wore his day old clothes, his face grim. I wore a bra and sweater that I’d put on without any help, my eyes averted, trying to look at every distraction I could find.
We both ordered at the counter and then finding a table commenced to wait for the other to sit first. Before awkwardness could reach a pinnacle I reached out for his cup, “You want anything to drink?”
He hands me his cup, “Water.”
I take it and go straight to the soda fountain, my eyes not meeting his. The discomfort compounding itself, the harder I tried to ignore it. The strangeness of defining relationships was so foreign to me. I’d found my soul mate at a young age, we’d always been passionate and familiar. I’d never had to wonder how to act.
As I approached the table two ice waters in my hands, things became even more stressful. Should I sit next to this guy or across from him? That thought led to other that weren’t so immediate. Is it okay for me to touch him, and if it is, is it too early to want to hold his hand. I’d love to hold someone’s hand! LOVE IT! I mean we did share a bed last night.
I ended up across from him, my hands in my lap. The whole magic explanation hanging in the air between us.
“I’m just going to lay things out, and try not to sound crazy,” he, he slid his cup across the table and took a sip of his water, his eyes finding mine. “In every story you find about Angels there is this connection to humans.”
I nod taking the little triangle number the waitress gave us to mark our table and begin to fidget with it.
“They are either protecting them, or testing them, or delivering their prayers. This connection is a real thing, but why would these powerful creature care about humans? Why don’t they take over the world, or find a new one? It’s because their souls are encased in a human.” He takes another drink of his water and after sighing loudly he adds. “I’m your human.”
I suddenly realized why he’d wanted to do this is public. He was trying to contain my response. I could see the expectation in his face. He looked prepared to flinch away. I continue to study the big “12” trying to ignore the panic rising in my throat.
He took my silence as permission to continue speaking. “That is why you were healed last night. I’m like your charger. I ground you to the earth. Every time you used your scientia, your powers, you felt uncomfortable. And then you and I would see each other and it would transfer onto me, you’d be fine again. With my sister, with that kid that OD’d, with the two Angels that you kille…” His mouth snapped shut and my head jerked up, I felt myself glare at him.
“So I did kill them?” I whisper it hesitantly and he rubs his forehead.
He shakes his head once. I knew my jaw was slack and my eyes were wide open. Just then the waitress slapped a tray of food in-between us, she lifted an eyebrow as she looked at me, “Enjoy?” She walked away confused.
“How long have you been watching my?”
He cringed at the accusation in my voice. “We moved here because of you.”
I remembered my first day back, being introduced to Dr. Godwyn. A stern looking young man that I’d come to respect because of his quick accurate decisions and his kind bedside manner. He’d known me all along. He knew about everything, he’d known for months. I ran over everything that he’d said so far three or four times before something even more disturbing occurred to me. “You are saying that I’m an Angel?” I ask slowly.
“And that the man who murdered my husband and child was an Angel?”
He tenses, “Yes.”
“Did you know him?”
“Do you know why he did it?”
“Tell me,” my words were flat, expressionless, “I need to know. I deserve to know.”
“I think I know, but Wylie, I’m a human. There is a bigger picture out there. I can’t understand it.”
He takes a deep breath, “Well I’m almost as knew to this as you are.”
“No!” I interrupt him, my voice a little louder than I’d wanted it to be. Leaning forward, “Why did the Angel kill my husband and my son?”
He sighs, “You are special. You are different.” He shrugs, watching my face carefully. “You were needed. You on your own.”
I sucked my air through my teeth as if he’d stabbed me. Me on my own! As if my three year old son and loving husband were nothing but baggage. Rage burnt my eyes. “So whose side are you on?” I asked, making a decision as I spoke.
“What do you mean?” He probed.
“Are you on my side or theirs?”
“Wylie, there are no sides.” He stated
“There are now!” I barked, “Whose side?”
“Yours, always yours. I am your soul, Wylie.” He fiercely rubbed the skin on top of his head and then leaned back in his chair, his face pale.
“Good,” I pulled the food tray close and started shoving food down my throat, needing the soothing heaviness of a full belly.
The distance between the two of us suddenly felt like miles. He watched me as I scarfed, I could see the grief in the corners of his face where there had been happiness the night before. Part of me wanted to apologize, take responsibility for his frown. Another part of me, the part that was always right, wanted to hurt him. Punch him in the gut, call the police and get a restraining order.
When I was done eating, I slowly drank my entire cup of water. I could feel my food threatening to return to my mouth with every gulp. Finally, I sat back and returned David’s gaze.
“Okay,” I said simply.
“Okay, I believe you. Now what?
He coughs, rubbing his chest, “Are we still friends?”
I shook my head, “I’m not sure. I mean, I feel violated.” I shrug, letting my own words sink in.
His cheeks redden, “I’m sorry for that. I can’t help but know some of these things. We have a connection. Can you deny it?”
I frown, remembering the relief his presents had always afforded me, “No, I guess I can’t.”
“The Angels, they call people like me Muses. My father was a Muse too. And Sam, she’s a Muse. It runs in the family. When my father died, Sam took his place as the Muse to our family’s Angel, Samael. Samael used to watch over Sam’s crib. He told me that he used to do the same for my Dad when he was a baby.”
How did I get so close to Sam and not know what she was? “Does she know?” I ask, my voice high with disbelief.
He looked up from his hands, his eyes finding mine, searching, “No, and I don’t want her to know. People like us can live our whole lives without knowing, some of us end up slaves to our Angels, some of us go crazy. I don’t want her to worry about it. Samael told me to move her here when she first had the GBS. He told me that there was a great healer here. He told me that I was a Muse to a very special Angel. When I moved here, you weren’t back to work yet.”
I mapped out his story, matching the time and date to the memories I already had. I felt the world suddenly becoming three dimensional. “Do you know if Samael had anything to do with my families deaths?”
“I don’t think so, I mean I hope not. He is old, really old, like before time old. Angels answer to him.”
“One more question, and we need to take a break from this or my head is going to explode.” I fold my fingers together, “The kiss last night?”
He raised his brows, “Um, it was nice.” he said slowly.
I blush, “That’s not what I was asking.” Setting my elbows on the table I lean forward confidentially. “I wanted to know if it is because I’m an angel?”
He mashed his lips into a line, “If anything,” he leans in too, his ice blue eyes holding mine, “It was because of how human you are.”
Samael stood on a different plane. It was an empty world of white and echoes. He held the bloodied wings in his arms as he approached the last living Throne, Ophanim. She stood silently in her blinding universe, her arms opened wide, her eyes screwed shut.
“Ophanim,” Samael announced as he approached. “I am sorry to disturb you.”
Ophanim opened her eyes, their solid white reflecting the image of Samael cradling the rumpled Angel wings. “Marut’s wings,” she mourned, “He was such a beautifully brave boy.”
“Yes ma’am,” Samael held Marut’s appendages out, his head bowed in reverence.
“This is the third dismemberment this year. When did free will become so tempting?” Ophanim whispered as she took the wings, her white eyes tenderly exploring them as if they were a single colic’d infant and she were trying to see the cause of its crying.
Samael ignored the question thinking of Astans, who admitted to trading her muse, her soul, for free will. Marut wasn’t the same as Astans though. Astans’ interest in free will was a superficial craving for change. Marut did it for revenge.
Angels can only interact with humans that they were programmed to help or monitor. In fact, Angels were limited to which Angels they were allowed to intermingle with. This usually included their commanders and those they commanded.
There were not very many Angels that God entrusted with the ability to injure or euthanize his Humans or his Angels. This is the ability Marut sought. Marut desired free will so that he may injure the one who killed his brother.
“It was his last mistake, his only mistake. Is it enough to outshine his good life?” Samael asked himself.
“No, Samael,” Ophanim smiled kindly, “He will return to the earth with the same nobility that he lived his life. I will make something equally as beautiful as he was with his wings. He will be here until the world ends.”
Her eye drifted shut and she threw her arms forward grabbing air and pulling it to her bosom, she shook her head pushing the air aside, reaching forward again. “Here,” she said pointing at nothing, “I will make his wings into a basin here the pacific. A place where there is only peace.”
She dug at the air with one hand, carefully patting imaginary walls as if digging the mote of a sand castle. She lay both her hands against her invisible and whispered a prayer.
Once her words stopped she dusted her hands off on each other and held her arms out expectantly. Samael carefully placed the wings into her gentle grip. She smoothed them with her hands, the knobby knuckles of her fingers curling and uncurling as the pressed one feather or another. Her ancient hands moving in the slow cautiousness of a mother soothing a child.
The wings slowly became smaller, the feathers and blood and bone smoothing together into the consistency of clay. She formed a flat bowl of the clay wings and then warily massaged it into the air she’d prepared earlier. Time froze and bent as she worked, the craving for perfection gleaming in the corners of her eyes. The more her crocked fingers worked the less could be seen until finally there were no wings.
“Thank you, my old friend,” Samael said reverently.
Ophanim stepped forward, putting her hand on his cheek, “The day I do this for you I will create a grand abyss.”
Samael’s sorrow was quickly punctuated by fear. He hoped that he misunderstood what Ophanim was alluding to, but decided he had no wish to know the truth of his fate.
David walked me to my apartment and left.
I could not take one more minute of the tension building between us. Part of me felt like I’d dreamed the night before. Part wasn’t sure if the last few hours really happened.
I sat at my dining table and began scribbling in my notebook. Hoping to write down everything that David had said about Angels and Muses and all that jazz. I wrote feverishly, needing to get it all out of my head.
I slammed the notebook shut the moment I ran out of things to write. I headed for my room, stripping my clothes off as I went, leaving each item where they fell.
There is only one solution to this problem, I thought, shimmying into one of my favorite running tights.
I need to run off the anxiety. Pay homage to the pavement Gods with my hi-tech hybrid running shoes. Flipping through my phone I downloaded Scraped Knee’s first album.
Stepping out of my apartment, I set my ear buds to a deafening volume. I start at a steady pace. The plan in my head was to hit all of my favorite Seattle spots with nice eight mile run.
Slap, slap, slap. I could feel my feet hitting the ground to the beat of the song blaring in my ears. It usually took a half mile for my mind to catch up with the activity.
I’m an Angel?
Holy fricken hell, am I an Angel?
My thighs began to burn as I met my first incline. The plan is to run up to the top of Capital Hill where I could look at some of my favorite historic Seattle neighborhoods. I’d ride the hill down to Broadway, with its bustling clash of cultures, finally catching Olive across I5. I’d skirt the Space Needle, take Fifth to Madison, and head back up to Pill Hill. There was something liberating about dashing through the belly of the city while dodging pedestrians, anonymous among the giant blinking sky scrapers.
Two miles in I was mesmerized by the emerald elms and scarlet oaks of Millionaire Mile where Seattle founders originally settled. Thinking of their ghosts reminded me of the Angels.
There is nothing Angel-like about me!
Looking back at my childhood, I tried to see a hint of strangeness. But there was none. Not a single clue. All I had were memories of laughter and hard work and wide open arms.
I’d been adopted by a well-meaning couple in their late fifties. I was a remedy to empty nest syndrome. Linda and Rob’s three children were all grown up. The two had too much unspent love not to share it with another child.
In truth, I’d been spoiled, my parents treating me more like a grandchild than their child. Linda diligently trying to recapture the bond that she’d lost because she hadn’t carried me in her womb. They raised me to be active and smart. They raised me to be confident and kind. Creating a timeline in my head I could only myself cheerful, moving through the world careless; as only people with happy childhoods can. That only privilege could provide.
Over the span of one meal of burritos and Angels, that easy world collapsed in on itself.
My skin attempted to jump off my body as a man in a forest green Subaru lay on his horn. He was halfway through an ignored stop sign, the bumper maybe a foot away from making contact with my leg. His face was devoid of the malice that the sound of a horn usually evoked as he impatiently waved for me to cross.
Asshole I mouthed, finally gathering my wits and moving out of the way. Back on the pavement, my heart slamming in my chest, I raised my middle finger up, hoping the man would catch it in his rearview mirror.
It was with a pounding heart that I returned to my thoughts, adrenaline tingeing them with panic. My feet regained their rhythm, my quickened pulse making my fingers throb.
Was any of it real?
Bam, bam. Bam, bam. Bam, bam. My heart screamed incessantly.
Two loving parents. Mature and kind and perfect.
Was it all a lie?
Bam, bam. Bam, bam. Bam, bam.
I thought of Roberto’s hands on my hip as we danced. Dean’s chubby cheeked smiles as he giggled under a myriad of raspberries blown onto his belly.
It has to be real!
Bam, bam. Bam, bam. Bam, bam.
For our honeymoon Roberto and I spent a week in Oaxaca, Oaxaca. Every day we roamed the stunning city. Perusing the streets, kissing in dark corners, praying at the Cathedrals, touring the history, eating up the food and the art. The art galleries beckoned us from ancient buildings with lolling languages much older than Spanish.
In one such gallery I discovered the most profound pieces of art I’d ever seen. They were blown up photographs of nude amputees. The subject’s faces were unashamed, their chins tilted up, their craggy mutilations uncovered and unhampered. The scarred limbs twisted into stumps, made beautiful by their owner’s unfettered pride.
In the background of the photo were pictures of the limb whole. A woman’s whole arm as she holds her new born child. A man’s whole leg as his foot slams into a soccer ball. The entirety of it created this combination of triumph and heart sickness.
I felt the same confused loss now as I saw my two realities juxtaposed. It was a bittersweet ambivalence, a rueful excitement. My eyes stung with the emotion, my throat tightening. I gasped as my speed increased as I followed the hill down to the heart of Seattle. What have I lost here?
Pastel colors painted themselves as a backdrop my cities fair skyline and I tried to mimic the proud set of my chin. Wanting to have the same steadfastness as that bold concrete forest. Needing to have the same toughness of the amputee angels who graced those hot beautiful days under a happier sky.
Samael sat in the park across the street of his Muse’s apartment, needing her energy. Traveling planes and crossing the country had sucked his Scientia dry. The rain and the cold didn’t pierce his skin, but the darkness put him on edge. He’d been alive for what felt like too long. He’d met only a handful of other Dominions throughout the centuries. They seemed as haggard as he felt.
His job felt like an endless game of chess, carefully placing pieces in there most proficient square, only to sacrifice it in the next move. Commanding his brothers only became more difficult, with each game. He knew in his head, that none of the decision were choices he was making of his own volition. He wasn’t the one making the plan, just the Angel powerful enough to carry them out. He still felt a deep draining guilt.
All of his work, all of those who were lost were not lost in vain. Soon, he would change the future.
Some events in history had an effect on the world. They would randomly occur, snowballing into wars and genocide, changing the trajectories of the very course every being on earth was heading towards.
If he succeeded, everything would return to its original peace. There would be no need for the world to end. He remembers the day that he committed to this mission.
The Angels wept in unison as they watched the beautiful, naked, bipedal beings eat the forbidden fruit. At that time, Angels were as innocent as their human counterparts. Reactions varied by class. Lesser Angels lay on the earth holding themselves, Archangels gnashed their teeth and howled, Authoritarians took human form, Thrones built oceans to divide the irreverent humans, and the Dominions dressed themselves for war and reported to the Seraphim, the God’s Guard, tears still streaking their faces.
Samael stepped before his equals, approaching the most sacred of Angels, he bowed so low he was lying on his belly. “Great Seraphim, I volunteer to bring our humans back,” he speaks to the floor, dirt on his lips his face touching the earth. Behind him his fellow Dominions hold their right forearms over their eyes in reverence.
The three Seraphim formed a row; their feet shoulder width apart, their arms folded across their chest. They looked as if they were boys of only thirteen or fourteen, their continence glowed. Each man child had three pairs of wings sprouting from their backs. One pair wrapped over their arms. Another rose high above their heads, opened and spread wide. The last pair were folded softly to the left and right, resembling the wings of every other Angel. They stood sentry before a large carved wood door that sprung from the ground solitary in a field of flowers. The wood panels rose forever, reaching straight into the heavens, with no sign of what force held them in place.
The Seraphim spoke at once. “Dominion Samael,
In the mourning she will rise
Born of Death
Born of Love
She can stop him
In the evening he shall be born
Like his brother
To walk the earth
He will bring the end
In the night the battle begins”
Samael had finally done it, he’d found her. For the longest time, he assumed she was hiding, living as a human of average position. It wasn’t until the crusades that he realized that she was yet to be born. It was an amazing, almost terrifying realization. Angels were not born, they were made by Thrones. They were carved out of the earth, not carried in the womb.
His chest ached. The goal he’d finally met gave him no pleasure. He’d found the person who would be his weapon in the final battle. A battle that he was too fatigued to fight. Each brother he’d lost seemed more important than this final battle. Samael stood as he watched David drive away from the apartment. He would never heal with this much distance between himself and his Muse.
He crossed the street and stopped short of entering the building when he put together his feeling of trepidation and the sound of footfalls behind him. His weakened state had left him vulnerable. “Who dares follow me?” Samael whispers the question knowing that an Angel, even a lesser one, would hear his words if not his thoughts.
He heard his follower inhale in surprise, then the sound of quick slapping heels as the antagonist retreats. The sound came from the park where Samael had been sitting seconds ago. The Angel sprinted, his head turned to check behind him, only to run directly into Samael’s chest.
The man was not a small man but compared to Samael’s large frame he looked like a child. Samael gripped the man’s shoulder tightly, feeling the crack of bone beneath his fingers. “Who are you?” Samael pronounces slowly.
The man yowls trying to rip himself away, Samael, grabs the other shoulder just as aggressively. “Leleil,” the man cries out again, “I’m Leleil!”
“Why are you here?” Samael’s demeanor reflects no ill will, just disappointment, he lessens his grip.
Leleil takes the opportunity to swing his arm forward, the dagger in his hand slicing Samael’s chest. Samael looks at the wound where blood pours down his front mixing with the rain. Leleil’s eyes were wide in fear and anger.
“Leleil, why would you do this?” Samael uttered, he did not wait for an answer. With Leleil’s left shoulder still clutched in his right hand, he stepped back twice and threw the man face first into the ground. Water splashed up around the Leleil as the mud welcomed him. Samael slammed his boot into the Leleil back, creating a man sized imprint in the earth.
Samael had been a soldier in many human wars, but he’d fought Angels seldom. Angels were usually in solidarity, working towards the same objectives. Every century or so, one mission’s actions would thwart another’s completion. At those times, Angels would die in great numbers. Once an angel was given a duty, only death could stop them. Mercy was contraindicated. Samael couldn’t believe that this would be one of those times.
He reached down and pulled Leleil back to his feet. The man gasped for air, his face dripping with clumps of grass and dirt. Samael nose touched Leleil’s, before he forced his thoughts into Leleil’s mind. Brother, tell me why you have come.
Leleil attempted to lift the dagger again but found that he could not move. “You seek to destroy our Savior!” the man yowled through haggard breaths. “Your child Angel will die first!” Leleil shared the image of Wylie in her scrubs.
A fierce flash of fury set Samael jaw. He could not manage an answer, he merely flung the man backwards with such force the Angel flew through the air in the direction of the street. The windshield of a bus caught the body, shattering the glass, making the bus swerve sideways as its driver caught shards in his eyes. Car horns pierced the air as multiple cars crunched their noses under the bus’ carriage, lifting it onto its side and then pushing it down the street. Metal screeched and sparked as the asphalt grated against the pile of totaled automobiles. There was a short silence before car doors began opening and cries began to pierce the air.
Samael stood there shocked. He’d lost control. He never loses control. He felt himself trembling with weakness. He stared with horror at what he’d done in his anger. He stumbled to the accident, going straight for the bus. He could hear children crying, women weeping, men screaming. He climbed up the side of the vehicle, without a second thought, and finding a busted window, began lifting the people who could come to him up and out. His arms were dripping with blood from the slivers of glass that jutted out of the window frame. He ignored it, as he heard sirens approaching.
He knew the firemen would help the humans that he pulled up onto the side of the bus off, so he jumped into the bus to grab the people that were injured to badly to move. He hand four wounded to the firemen. Two women in their seventies that shook so badly he was sure they would break, an unconscious teenager, and the driver. Leleil lay dead on the hood, his eye staring blankly forward, his face fixed in terror. He climbed over Leleil’s body and out of the bus.
He was on his way to the closes car when he was intercepted by a female EMT. She looked him up and down, “Sir, this way,” She waved to an ambulance. He looked at her confused for a moment, what was he supposed to do over there? And then he looked down at himself, he’d been torn to shreds between the dagger and the glass. His hesitation turned to acceptance as she kindly reached out to take his hand. “I know your confused right now, but please come with me, we will take care of you.” He took the human’s hand and followed, hoping that Wylie would be at the other end of the ambulance, ready to heal him.
What Wings Look Like
It was seven at night when my phone rang. It read “Cherry Hill Hospital” on the screen.
A little shocked to be hearing from the hospital, I answered. “Hello?”
“Wylie, it’s Mary. There has been an accident with a bus on First Street. We are up to our necks in beds. I know you have a few more days before you’re supposed to be back, but if you think you can work today, we could really use the extra nurse!” I could hear the intensity in Mary’s voice and I knew how strict she was about protocol. I’d heard at least three ambulances come and go in the last half hour, there was definitely something big going on at the hospital tonight.
“I’m on my way!”
I jumped off my couch, pausing Hocus Pocus, and ran to my room in search of a pair of scrubs. I grabbed my maroon ones and pulled them on over the tights and the long sleeve gray shirt I was already wearing. I swung my rain coat on and filled my back pack with the essentials. Lights off, door locked, and on my way in less than 10 minutes. I ran across the street, in between cars, and snuck through the ambulance only entrance behind a man on a gurney that was covered in blood and not moving.
The hospital was chilling. Nurses ran up and down halls while providers sat in front of screens staring at imaging and labs. I didn’t see David. Mary waved me over, she handed me three clipboards. “These three haven’t been triaged since they arrived, we’ve been too packed.” She was walking away before her sentence was finished. I dropped my bag and coat just inside the staff lounge and deciding I’d complete a time sheet later. I looked over the charts as I speed walked to my first room, 2B. It was a small room that was used for decontamination. It was only large enough for one bed. I’d only seen it occupied by a living patient once. We usually put the deceased there to be prepped for the morgue. It was basically a gigantic shower, a drain sat in the middle of the tiled floor with six shower heads built into the walls.
When I opened the door, I almost pooped my pants. The clip boards clattered to the ground and I cried out. The man sat in the bed cross-legged his eyes sealed shut, his bared chest covered with bleeding cuts, a pair of gigantic wings felling the space behind him. He opened his eyes to the sound of my clumsiness. He followed my gaze an eyebrow lifted. “Are you okay?” he asked with concern.
“I’m sorry” I dismissed, picking up the boards, trying to pretend like I hadn’t seen the large set of white dove wings quivering behind the man. I looked down to his chart, for a name. “Sameel, Samal,” I’m sorry, am I pronouncing that correctly.”
“Samael,” he grunted, his hand pushing gauze against a larger wound on his abdomen. I instantly recognized the name. Was this the same angel the Sam was named after? “Is there anyway, someone could call my niece?” he added, his eyes still trained on me.
His face was pale, sweat dripped from his brow, but his jaw was set, he seemed determined to not show how ill he was. “Sure. What’s her name and number? I will give her a call.”
“Samantha Godwyn, her number is 206-539-7026”
Yes, this was the same Angel. I jotted down the information, even though I already knew it. “Can you tell me your last name and date of birth?”
I checked his chart to make shirt that the name and numbers he was rattling off matched the form, then setting down the charts on a chair, I gelled in and grabbed a pair of size small gloves. “So tell me what happened?”
“I saw the bus roll, while I was walking down the sidewalk. I was injured by the glass in the windows, while I was lifting people out.”
“When did all this happen?”
He looked at his watch, “2 hours ago.”
“Wow that must have been scary!” he nodded his head once and then closed his eyes as if the effort made him dizzy, I was checking his pulse. The wounds I saw were consistent with his story, but I could tell by the color of his face and his racing heartbeat that he was in shock. His wounds weren’t bad enough to cause that and Samael didn’t look like the type of guy that would faint at the sight of blood. “Are you injured anywhere else? You look like you might puke.” I stated as I went back to the chart to write down my findings.
He shivered “I’m fine.”
I gave him a quizzical face but he did not reply.
I shrugged setting the clipboards back down. “Well, sir, Can I take a look at that cut?” I pointed at the gauze, and pulled on my glove. The scrapes on his arm and his chest looked pretty superficial. I was mostly concerned with what was hiding under the drenched 4X4s just above his umbilicus. He lifted the gauze, and blood immediately spewed from the wound. I pushed his hand and the gauze back against the cut firmly. “Okay, continue to hold pressure for me, I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
I tried to walk out of the room calmly, as not to alarm him, but this Samael had worst problems then the cut on his belly, he looked very sick. I pulled my cell phone from my pocket and stepped around the corner. If this Angel thing was real, all this man needed was his Muse. I dialed Sam’s number.
“Hey girl, how’re you holding up?” Sam sang, her sweet voice chipper.
“Do you have an Uncle Samael?” getting to the point.
“Yeah, why? Is everything okay?”
“He’s here at the hospital, he’s…”
“I’m on my way!” she interrupted,” I think there is a bus in like 10 minutes. I’ll call you when I get there.”
“No just let them know in security that you are visiting your uncle in 2B.”
“K, see you soon,” Dial tone buzzed on the other line for a few seconds before I put down the phone.
Shoving the phone back into one of my many pockets I called David on my Vocera. This was not protocol, Samael had been assigned to another physician already, according to the clipboard, but something was more wrong than medical issues here. I could feel it in my bones. There was no answer so I left a message. “I’ve got a patient here with multiple lacs on his arm, chest, and abdomen. He says he’s your uncle.” I pushed the send button; I couldn’t leave a more detailed message because of privacy. Hopefully the information that I left was enough to get him to hightail it over.
I check on my other two patients. One was a silver haired woman who was having chest pain, but was mostly shook up from the accident. She explained that she’d been driving home after work when a bus swerved sideways. She said she and three other vehicles had plowed into the bus.
I started cardiac protocol for her. There wasn’t any help so I ended starting the IV, running the blood to the lab, and doing an EKG, on my own.
My third patient was an overweight woman in her late 20s, who seemed to be milking it. She had some whiplash going on, but there was no visible sign of an injury. She said she was 10 out of 10 pain on the pain scale and requested dilauted, being that she was allergic to every other medication. It was very difficult not to roll my eyes at her. Well she got her therapeutic ambulance ride and soon she’d have her therapeutic Xrays with a side of her favorite narcotic, this must feel like a late Christmas to her.
I paged Dr. Lee letting him know that his two patients were ready, and ran back to room 2B with a wound tray. David was already there, he was leaning over the patients back listening to his lungs. He glowered at me when I walked in. I almost looked behind myself to check that there wasn’t someone else that he was looking at. He ripped his stethoscope out of his ears and swung it around his neck. “I need a few more things,” he said shortly as he took my elbow and guided me out of the room.
“He tells me that you called Sam?” he whispered under his breath.
“I did!” I reassured him.
“Damn it, Wylie, I don’t want her involved!” he protested.
I stopped looking him straight in the eyes, “I’m a nurse, before I’m anything else. This guy is hurt! It’s my job to fix him! If he needs his Muse, I’m going to call his Muse. You told me he was a good guy!” A thousand thoughts spewed out of my mouth at the same time.
He grabbed my shoulders, “I never said that! You should have asked me first!” His voice was now raised.
I pushed his hands off me, feeling the eyes of and EMT that was walking by. I hated that we were disagreeing right now, but I know that I did the right thing. “David,” I hissed, “I believe that when it comes to these types of matters, I call the shots!”
He glowered, “I call the shots when it comes to Sam!” he whispered harshly.
Wavering a little I changed the direction I was going at this argument with, “Samael asked me to call his niece, I called his niece like I would for any other patient!”
He only shook his head as I walked past him back into the room. I felt the flush in my face from frustration. I went to Samael’s bed and lifting it, began to prep his wound. David was hovering ominously over the suture tray I’d put together for him. Samael stared at me and then David and back again. “When did you tell her?” He finally asked, putting the question to David. I looked up at hime confused by his question.
“This morning,” David grumbled as he pulled on his sterile gloves.
“And when were you going to tell me?” Samael’s voice had a demanding tone to it, one that spoke of many years as a confident leader.
David was suddenly livid, “I’m done helping you!” He announced, ignoring the question, “You caused this! I know you did! There are two dead people out there!”
Samael’s eyes widened, he looked as furious as a diaphoretic man could look with his head leaned against the pillow. He opened his mouth but I spoke before he could, “Wait!” holding my hand up to Samael and turning to David, “You’re done helping him with what?” The anger vanished from his face, he’d been caught, I turned to Samael when there was no reply, “Have you two been spying on me?”
“I’d hardly call it spying,” He cracked back, is neck crained sideways so he could glare at David “More like protecting!”
At that moment Sam burst into the room, a Visitor badge pinned to her chest. “Uncle Sam! Are you ok?” she didn’t seem to notice what she had walked into.
Samael’s demeanor instantly changed as Sam took his hand, it softened as color returned to his face. It was magic how he went from panting, covered in perspiration, to smiling doting uncle. I blinked a few times, not just shocked by how quickly he healed but by the argument that was just interrupted.
David ripped off his gloves and threw them on the tray, breaking the sterile field. He marched out of the room, without saying a word. I was torn, part of me wanted to follow David and apologize, another part of me was pissed off. The pissed of part won over. I managed to greet Sam and then apply a dressing to the wound, it still needed sutures, I needed to find me a new doctor. Damn it!
I went to my now un-sterile tray, it was not salvageable. I tossed the needles into the sharps, put the instruments into a safe-tray for transport to sterilization, and threw away the rest of the contents. Meanwhile, the Sams’ had struck up a warm conversation.
Excusing myself, I checked on my cardiac patient first. Dr. Lee had ordered some IV fluids, he was admitting her, she already had a heart condition and though there was nothing new, he wanted to have her watched over night.
Ms. Whiplash was eating a sandwich, lying back in the bed with her legs crossed at the ankles, when I went to discharge her. Apparently she’d requested some food when Dr. Lee came in to introduce himself. I was embarrassed for her and ready to take out my newly pint up anger in response. I handed her her discharge paperwork, said “Make sure you don’t drive yourself home”, and stared her down until she gathered her stuff and left the room, her half eaten snack stuffed into her purse.
I put together a new tray, set it up in front of Samael’s door, and paged Dr. Lee and then headed back to the nurse’s station to grab another couple of patients, when someone called my name. “Uhh Wylie,” I swung around to see who it was and Mary, my charge nurse, almost ran me over. “Just got a call from my boss,” she shook her head with frustration, “someone must have called him when you came in. I don’t know how else they would have known. Anyways, it’s required that you have a Doctor’s note to return to work. I need you to clock out.”
“What?” I felt tears spring to my eyes. I wanted to lay on the ground and throw a fit right there in the middle of the hall. The resolve on her face gave me the impression that there was no point arguing. “Fine!” I snapped, and turned towards the break room, ready to get out of the building. “Goodluck!” I added kindly, eyeballing the gurney’s lining the hallways. I didn’t want Mary to think I was upset with her.
“Take it easy, your face is looking back to normal, sorry for calling you in tonight,”
“No prob!” the last bit of our conversation took place as we were walking away from each other. This was a normal means of nurse communication, we usually didn’t have time to stand around and talk face to face.
When I got home I stripped off my scrubs, took two naked shots of the left over rum, and hopped into bed defeated. This was all way too much for me. Being jumped, being a murderer, being an Angel, not feeling alone for the first time in forever, and then destroying everything. All of this in a week, ridiculous! It was like suddenly my world had been turned upside down, but after what I’d found out tonight, this has been happening without me knowing for a very long time.
I rolled onto my belly and shoving my face into the pillow screamed as hard as I could. I felt my face begin to burn red and tighten with my frustration and I knew I was going to cry before I felt the wetness against my face. All I could see in my mind’s eye was David. I regretted our kisses. I regretted trusting him. I regretted letting myself feel comfortable, because being sad again felt more daunting than it has been just a day ago. Slowly my tense angry muscles relaxed as I curled in on myself, falling into a restless sleep.
Knock, knock, knock! The sound made me jump in my sleep. I looked up at the red florescent alarm clock. It was 3:00 am. Knock, knock, knock!
I rolled out of bed and pulled on my kimono. I stumbled to my kitchen and grabbed a knife, before heading to the door the knife gripped tightly in my hand. I cautiously looked threw the peep hole. David stood, rubbing his fingers over the stubble that was beginning to grow on top of his head. He looked around and then lifted his fist to knock again. I opened the door partially. Peek around at him.
“What are you doing here?”
“I’m so sorry!”
We both spoke at once. I glared at him as he pushed the door open all the way, I stepped back allowing him to step inside, still half asleep. He looked down at the knife and then back up at me, “oh, Wylie.” He exclaimed as he wrapped his arms around me, pulling me into his chest. I was too tired to fight it. I just stood there absorbing his heat, grateful even if it was against my better judgment.
He kicked the door shut behind him. “I wish I could take everything that happened today back. In the moment all I could think is Sam is the only person in the world I have. I couldn’t live if something happened and she was taken away from me. You have to understand that. Wylie, I need you to understand that!” he spoke into my hair, his words sounding rehearsed.
“David,” was all I could say back. He had no clue why I was upset, and did it really matter. Being held gave me perspective. Why did I want to push this man away? There is so much I don’t know, about Samael and Angels and David, how was I supposed to have expected him to tell me everything over one afternoon? I closed my eyes and let everything go, sleep creeping its way back into my head. I don’t want to be alone anymore!
David took the knife from me and then lifting me in his arms carried me back to bed, making a pit-stop in the kitchen to deposit my weapon. He tucked me under the covers and then crawled in beside me nuzzling his face in my neck. His kisses were both hot and cold against my skin, teasing intense vibrations just beneath where he touched. His lips moved from my neck to my jaw to my ear. I could hear his breath, heavy and intoxicating. The silk of my robe slid like liquid against me as my body sought his, mashing myself into him as if to become part of him. Abandon.
We kissed like virgin teenagers, discovering each other’s clothed forms greedily. My fingers searched the definition on his arms, his back, his face. It was like a fevered dance or a romantic brawl. Tender, aggressive, wordless expression of attraction, moved our hips against one another’s. Innocent and passionate and impossibly exhausting, we were lost in each other. I’m not sure who fell asleep first. I just remember smiling as I noticed the pounding of my heartbeat in my bruised lips, my eyes closed. The thump, thump, thump like the ghost of a kiss, was the only movement left in the room.
He spun me in a circle for the 100th time that night. I could feel the forming on my toes with every click of my high heels. He pulled my back into his arms as we continued our primal dance. Bachatta music blared in the back ground, lights flashing against the dance floor with every beat. Our sweat mixed as his face touched mine and stealing kisses as his forearm wrapped around my back and crunched my ribcage into his. The song stopped with the brassy blare of a trumpet solo, the light strobing out around us. It took him a minute to let me go and when he did I drank up his handsome features. He had black hair to match the black eyes that boar into my soul. His golden skin sparkled with sweat. He’d tasted of tobacco, mint, and tequila.
“Let me get you a drink, mama,” He said his Spanish accent clipping the words, his genuine face so inviting. I smiled, and nodded once, afraid that if I spoke I would say all the wrong things. He raised his eyebrows knowingly and spinning me once again, kissed me, and then led me to the bar, never letting go of my hand.
“Dos cervesas y…” he told the bartender and then looking down at me added, “What would you like?”
I leaned over the bar, feeling a little brave, “Y caballito de tequila, por favor.” The bartender winked, but my dance partner looked shocked. I know I looked out of place, and only spoken English all night.
“Se hable espanol?” He asked a mischievous grin on his face.
“Si, un poquito,” I giggled, “I learned the necessities, like ‘where’s the bathroom’ and ‘can I get a shot’”
The bartender slid the shot towards me, “Salud!” he said, I tipped my head back and both men watched as I downed the whole thing, clapping when I slammed the glass on the counter.
I did a tiny curtsy, blushing. My dance partner smiled, grabbed his beers from the bar with one hand and led me to the corner of the club, his hand on my back. Another song was in full swing and bodies were writhing to the music, I watched hypnotized, soaking up the foreign seduction of the place.
“What’s your name?” He asked leaning close to me so I could hear him over the den.
“Wylie, and you?” our eyes had met, and I could see the smile in his warm gaze.
“Wylie, are you awake?” the deep bass of the voice that brought from my sleep was so different from my husband’s curling accent. With the sound of Roberto suddenly fresh in my mind, the warmth of morning cuddles felt sinful. Shame brought me up from the bed quickly. I pulled my robe tightly around myself and looked down at David. His eyes were glossy from sleep. I could see the shock crinkling his brow. “What? Did I do something wrong?”
He sat up. His slacks and dress shirt were crinkled from the night. His top was unbuttoned and untucked revealing a white undershirt. His face paler than usual. I hugged myself, totally conflicted, “David I…” I felt the tears forming in my eyes and swore, “I don’t know if I’m ready for this yet. I’m so fucked up!”
His confusion turned into understanding, his features softening. He ran his fingers over his baldness several times and then finally sighed, “What would you like for me to do?”
My heart was racing as I stared at him, “I want you to go,” I stepped back towards the bed and sat at the foot, “and I want you to hold me! I want things that contradict each other and I don’t trust myself to make the right decision!” I could hear the panic in my voice. I couldn’t look at David anymore, both of my hands were on my chest and I was staring into nothingness grasping for what wisps of my dream I could find. Roberto. If I closed my eyes maybe his voices would find its way back into my head.
“Wylie,” David interrupted again, I felt his hand rest on my leg reassuringly. “I really don’t want to leave you right now.” He lifted his hand from my leg and I opened my eyes chancing a glance in his direction. His jaw was set but his eyes were soft. “You are too used to doing this,” he gestured to my face where tears now slid down freely, “on your own. Tell me.” He took a deep breath and sitting up against the headboard crossed his legs. “Tell me what you’re thinking.”
“I had a dream…” my mouth stopped moving as I reviewed the images in my head again. Lately I’d noticed that I couldn’t picture Roberto’s face anymore. It was as if his features blurred when I searched my memories, but the dream had been so real.
“You had a dream about your husband?” David guessed, stretching the last word into a suggestive question.
I nodded, rubbing my eyes with my fist. “I dreamt of the day we met.” Moving my hands back in my lap I studied my fingernails, “I was 20 years old, I’d just graduated with my BSN from San Diego State University and my classmates took me to Tijuana to celebrate, since I was too young to drink in the US. It was pretty common to go clubbing down there when you were underage in the states. Anyways, Roberto was there visiting his cousins when we met. His parents and siblings lived up here, where they own a family business.
“It was love at first dance. We were inseparable that entire weekend. When I got back home I applied for the master’s program at the University of Washington and surprisingly got in that fall, thanks to a recommendation one of my favorite teachers had given me. It was hard to get used to the rain and the gloom, but I was able to look passed it because Roberto was my sunshine. We were married during my first Thanksgiving break at UW. From the time we met to our wedding day would have been six months. It all happened so fast, and it didn’t really matter. We were just as in love the day he died as we were the day we met. We were the perfect couple, with the perfect child, and an amazing future. We would have been married 10 years last month.” I looked up at David, his eyes were fixed on me, his lips a thin line, intense as he absorbed my words. “We waited to have Dean, until I was done with school and vested at the hospital. We were trying to be smart, trying to pay off my education before we bought a house.
“Roberto was the perfect father. He had patience with children that I was secretly jealous of. The conversations that he and Dean had were magical. They were everything to me.” I pulled my knees to my chest and buried my head in my hands, covering my face. Roberto’s smile framed by a square chin and obsidian eyes fluttered through my mind. “I still can’t believe that they’re gone.” I felt my shoulders begin to shake as renewed sobs brought shuddering breaths into my lungs.
“Oh Wylie,” David said, his hand softly caressing my arm. “Come here.” He slowly coaxed me into his arms.
Even as I relaxed into his warmth I shook my head, protesting against the sadness in me. “I shouldn’t be doing this to you. I shouldn’t be crying.” I heaved, too ashamed to look at him.
“Wylie, I am your soul, I am the why and the how of your mourning. I was born so that you could be whole.” His soft words were comforting even if they didn’t make sense. He was right, he soothed me, he created a place where it was possible for me to weep, something I never felt right doing on my own. Even with the creepiness and the stocker-esque qualities of the whole situation, I felt nothing but trust and ease as David held me.
We stayed in bed for several more hours. Me telling stories about Roberto and Dean, David listening. It took the sound of David’s stomach growling to get us up. We both look at his belly and laughed. The crying had turned to giggles a few stories before and my spirits had lightened unimaginably.
We scowered the kitchen and settled on ice cream and Chinese leftovers for lunch. We cozied up on the coach and flipped on the tv.
“so,” David pronounced slowly, “are you still up for our date tonight?”
It took a few moments for me to comprehend what he was talking about. A date, when did we ever set up a date? I remembered the text about New Year’s Eve he sent me yesterday and thumped my forehead with my palm. “I totally forgot what today was!”
His concern slid into a grin. “Does that mean yes?”
“Of course, but I have to warn you, I’m quite a dud when it comes to parties.”
“That’s not what I heard.” He winked, referring to some of the wild stories I’d shared that morning. I pursed my lips innocently, and started flipping through Netflix for a good movie choice.
“There is a dress code,” David said carefully, “black and white and formal, do you have anything?” He raised his eyebrows.
“I have black and white scrubs?” I looked at him blankly for a moment and then winked. “But seriously, I don’t have anything formal.”
“I was hoping you’d say that.” He was suddenly excited, sitting forward to face me, resting his hands on my knees. “I know the perfect place. There is this little shop on the first floor of my apartment building. They have several dresses displayed. I talked to the shopkeeper yesterday and they said they’d be open until 2:00 today.”
I looked at him suspiciously, but felt a smile twitching at the corner of my lips. “How long have you been planning this?”
“Not long, it all just came together yesterday.”
“Okay,” I said looking down at my watch “It’s noon, crap! We better get going.”
He jumped from the couch almost kitty. Clapping his hands together, he pointed at the plates on the coffee table, “I’ll clean everything up, you get ready.”
“Good plan!” I giggled. He started stacking the plates, and I ran to my bedroom and began searching through my closet for something to wear that was not too dressy but cuter than scrubs. I settled for a pair of dark jeans and a button up white top. Grabbing the scarf you gave me for Christmas I headed to the bathroom to do my hair and freshen up a little.
It all felt so surreal, just two days ago I was in a routine of coming home, putting on PJs, going to bed, waking up, putting on scrubs, and starting the whole ordeal over again. I missed leaving the house for something other than work. I didn’t realize it until I pulled out my going out makeup for the first time since the funeral. I laid out my mascara, lipstick, eyeliner, and eyeshadow on the sink, and looking at myself in the mirror gave myself a quick peptalk. Ii you can do thisii
I picked up the eyeshadow and went to work. I couldn’t remember the last time I dressed up. I can’t remember the last time that I was nervous because of a man. And what a man he was. David was kind, caring, utterly handsome, and into me. What more could a girl ask for. What a perfect distraction.
Looking in the mirror I found myself focusing on the empty wall behind me, Ii why don’t I have wings too.ii The thought popped into my head, bringing me back from my silly flirtatious mood. I remembered how Samael’s wings seemed to take up all the space behind him. Ii was any of it real? Ii All the angel/magic craziness just felt so far in the past that I almost forgot there was more going on in my life than the budding romance, that had me giggling and messing around with make up.
David leaned against the door frame, just as I began to apply my lipstick. Reaching up I pulled my hair into a ponytail. “Okay, I’m ready.” I turned to him and grinned.
He return the smile, as he told me to his chest. He leaned down and kissed my lips softly. “You are so beautiful!”
He walked me into the store, introduced me to the storekeeper, and left. He needed to go out to his apartment to get ready. It felt instantly lonely.
The storekeeper pulled out several dresses. One black one, three white ones, and one black-and-white one. Two of the dresses I wasn’t even going to try on. They were a little too risqué for me. My favorite was the long sleeved black dress. It was satin with perfectly planned rushing alongs the ribs and hips. The dress clung to my body tightly accentuating my curved in all the right places. I only had one problem with it, the dress ended mid thigh.
“I see that look in your eye.” The shopkeeper chirped as I headed back to the dressing room. “You love it, but…?
“I don’t feel comfortable showing this much leg.” I shrugged, turning back to the mirror.
“I can fix that.” She said as she rushed off towards the back corner of the store. She returned with what looked like another black dress. “It’s a slip,” she held it next to me, “and I think it’s the perfect length.” She handed the slip to mean shoot me back to the dressing room.
“Now this is perfect!” I announced through the door. The seam of the dress ended where the three inch lace trim of the slip began. The trim was an intricate lace that looked as though it dripped with delicacy. The slipped ended just above me knees, providing modesty, but still sexy. I stepped out opening my arms as if I were Vanna White.
“Oh my God, gorgeous! All you need is some shoes!” She exclaimed.
I looked out the window at the rain that was beating the glass, “and a hoodie!” I added, she frowned.
Rolling her eyes slowly, so that I’d get the full effect, she turned on her heels and headed for the shoes. “Girl, do you see any hoodies here?” She started poking through the shoes, making little noises as she dismissively passed on half of them. “What size do you wear?”
Samael’s starred up at the building. He’d always been impressed by the power of the Thrones, to mold earth into land masses, but there was something so much more complex and beautiful about what man created. Samael watched over the last century, utterly astounded by the feats of the human race. The intricacies of providing electricity, stabilization, and aesthetics were so much more detailed and unique than any angel could hope to bring to life. It bore testiment to the places of angels and humans.
He was once again on his park bench accross the street from his muse’s apartment, this time he wasn’t there for his muse. Shaking his head a he lit a cigarette, “Wylie,” he said softly as her silhouette shown through the large window of the boutique she was standing in.
Her head snapped up and she stepped closer to the glass as if to see outside better. Her eyes were on him, but she didn’t seem to recognize who or what she was looking at. Samael felt himself flush as she unknowingly looked his way. Her innocence filled him with a primal need, a pull that he resisted, even as he imagined himself folding his wings around her.
He was there to protect her, he knew two things; that this was his mission, this was the only meaning left in his existence and that she was in danger.
He could feel the malnifescence in the air. It floated heavily around the building as if it were climbing its brick walls to better make contact the precipitation. The rain was slashing through the sky like shards of ice and still he sat, ready.
He knew there were at least two angels in the area. He felt them, just as he felt Wylie. They were both strong with purpose. Just as the boy angel he had dispatched the day before had been. No matter, they would both die tonight. He stood prepared to walk the parameter again, he needed a clue to what was being planned.
I was in the elevator, on my way up to David’s apartment, totally flustered. I smoothed the silk of the dress I was wearing and shivered involuntarily. When I asked the store keeper what the damage was, she’d told me that everything had been paid for. “Seriously?” I asked, embarrassed. She just smiled and nodded.
The idea of David buying me clothes, especially when it was an outfit with a price tag in the triple digits, made me a new kind of uncomfortable. Wasn’t buying me clothes the step before getting me a puppy or keeping a toothbrush at my apartment?
I took a deep breath and shook my hands out at my side as if to air out the palm sweat. Damn, what was wrong with me? A bell dinged and the elevator door opened. I hung a left and swayed down the hall to David’s apartment, the high heels make my hips switch and my ass tight. It felt good. I knocked on the door and caught my breath when David answered it.
The man was classically handsome. He was wearing a black and white tux. The smile on his face, made my knees weak. Was this really happening? Without a word, I dropped the paper bag that had my clothes that I’d just changed out of and lunged forward,leading with my lips.
The kiss was not the passionate kiss I was expecting. It felt as though David was holding me at arms length, I stepped back feeling a little embarrassed. I smoothed my dress, “Thank you, for…”
“Wylie! Is that you?” Sam’s voice squeaked from behind David.
“Good evening, can I get your jacket?” There was a disapproving look on the woman’s face as I handed her my not-to-classy rain jacket. What could I say, i’m not a shrug type of girl. She handed me a number and holding the jacket at arms length she hung it in the furthest end of the closet, alone in the corner like a bad child. I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that the rest of the night was going to be like that.
I shook my head and decided that I was still in shock from the Sam bomb that just blew up in our faces. I hadn’t realized that David wasn’t just keeping the Angel business a secret from his sister, he was keeping me a secret from his sister. The whole thing made me feel dirty, I kept telling myself that he must of had a good explanation, give him the benefit of the doubt. Leaving his apartment only lengthened the distance between us. Mustering up all my courage I decided to ride the night out, ignore the feeling of impending doom, and try to have fun.
My heels clicked on the marble as I returned to David. He was cornered by a ortho surgeon “friend”. The guy was already tossed and both his bulbous nose and bald head flushed as he spoke loudly about the gory details of his most recent hip replacement. I took my place next to David feeling very discombobulated.
The party was being held in the apartment building next door to David’s, the building was taller, sleeker, newer. I could tell that everyone in the dance hall made a minimum of 6 figures a year. My new expensive dress seemed like a burlap sack next to the gowns and diamonds that were draped over the smug plastic women. I felt more and more out of place as we made our way around the room, listening to the guests recite their resumes with their noses in the air.
An hour into the party I realized it wasn’t just the class difference that was making me feel awkward. David and I were like magnets with their backs to each other. I’d look at him expecting attraction but could quite get back to the space we’d made for ourselves just hours ago. Our eyes would meet and than shyly switch directions. My shoulder would bump his arm and I would leap away like he was on fire. At one point, David introduced me to one of his neighbors and referred to me as his date, I literally winced. The lady gave me the same look that I received when I turned in my jacket earlier in the night.
I excused myself and grabbed my fourth glass of wine, gulping it down like it was water. I moved carefully to the edge of the penthouse, cooling off next to the floor to ceiling windows. I starred out at black, wet freedom that was the Seattle skyline. Suddenly, regretting my decision to go out on a date in the middle of the shit storm that was my life lately. What was I thinking? I almost died a few days ago! I’m either an Angel or a witch or hallucinating! And I just start sucking face with the first man to show me any attention! A man who just made it very clear to me that he would prefer that he didn’t even want his own sister knowing what was happening between us.
I’m so messed up right now, just agitated. I ran through the cuddles and kisses and the laughter we’d shared, trying to remind myself that it had really happened, that I was happy a few hours ago. I’m an optimistic person, but this emotional yoyo thing was killing that part of me, all I could see was darkness at the end of every road ahead of me. The panic was becoming more and more evident with every above-average person that kindly shook my hand and acted interesting in my three word description of myself “I’m a nurse”.
I felt a hand land on the small of my back and my entire body tensed. “Wylie, I’m thinking we should dance.” I looked up to see David, confusion crinkled his brow. I forced a smile and he sighed. “What happened? What is different?” he asked in a hushed voice, he could feel it too.
What was I going to tell him? Um, now that I am out of the cocoon of my house, I’m not so sure that I’m really comfortable with all of this? or What the fuck, I’m not some affair, why are you can’t you tell your sister about us? I shrugged my shoulders, “Let’s dance!” He tightened his lips nervously and led me to the dance floor, where the DJ was playing the top 40 list.
Dancing was a bad idea. I couldn’t help but think about how the music didn’t really seem to be made for dancing, and the people didn’t really seem to have rhythm, and my date didn’t know how to move his hips. Not like my husband did.
A song came on, I’d never heard before. The soulful man’s voice sang “Give your all to me, and I’ll give my all to you.” David pulled me against his chest, shoving one of his hands into my hair. Humming the song in my ear, he rested his face against mine. At first I was shocked and then I let go. Let my body cling to his and rock to the music. Because that is what happens when you dance. “‘Cause all of me, loves all of you.” the tenor wailed as I sneaked a peak at Davids face. His eyes were closed as if to better savor our sudden closeness. Concentration lined his handsome features. I knew what he was doing, I was doing the same, we were melding the words and moment into one, creating a memory. A new memory.
The song ended, but David didn’t let go, and I was grateful for that. “Wylie?”
“For what?” I asked, my eyes still closed, holding onto the intimacy like I would a handful of sand.
“For coming with me, for humoring me, for letting me hold you even though your angry with me.”
I didn’t respond at first, I wanted to voice the right reaction, but all of them seemed so petty. “I do that a lot, don’t I?” I finally replied.
“I think we are both learning right now,” he kissed the top of my head. ” I want to show you something, will you humor me one more time.”
I smiled and nodded at him. He escorted me to the elevator, holding the door for me. He followed me in and mashed the door shut button before anyone else could hop in with us. He pushed the “R” and it lit red. I watched him, his square shoulders suddenly intriguing me.
He turned to me as our cab began to move, “Now there is something I’ve been wanting to do since you knocked on my door earlier!” He growled stepping forward so that his toes were lined up with mine. He leaned down and gave me the kiss he’d denied me, his tongue invading my mouth. His hands found my ass and he pulled me against him.
“Bing” rang the elevator as the doors remotely swung open. I never even noticed it had stopped. He pulled himself away softly, planting another kiss on the top of my head and turning. He lead me through the gawkers who were waiting their turn to get in the elevator. Our audience all seemed a little damp and wind whipped. David shrugged off his jacket and handed it to me, a silly smile on his gorgeous face. I slipped it on and then taking his offered hand followed him.
The sky was strangely clear for how much sprinkling was going on, I could feel my hair frizzing up with every drop. The roof top had three or four covered gazebos with seating, fancy fire pits sat in the center of each, blue flames licking the air above them. A covered bar sat at the other end of the roof, and three women sang acapella into microphones under their own mini tent. Their voices hauntingly wove in and out of pitch.
We walked to the south side of the building and leaning against the rail he pointed at a twinkling white building with a pointy tip. “That’s the Smith Tower, it used to be the tallest building on the west coast and now we are looking down on it from an apartment building. It’s still beautiful and majestic and architecturally sound. It’s a safe place to be, it’s legend, but it is not where we are right now. We are here now,” He squeezed my shoulder, “Thank you for being here with me.” He sighed and I heard a note of doubt, as if he was unsure if his cryptic speech was the right thing to do.
I thought about what he was implying. Was comparing my marriage with a building? I opened my mouth but closed it, not sure if I could trust myself to respond. I wanted more kissing, not a reminder of reality. I swallowed hard. “Can you get me a drink?” I choked. He nodded, he leaned onto the railing and our eyes met. “Rum and coke,” I said before he could say anymore.
He stood stiffly, “I’ll be right back.” As soon as I knew he was out of earshot I let the sob escape my chest. I grasped the railing to keep myself stand coughed out my anxiety with dry eyes. This was my cry, tearless, breathless, moans that were easy to control.
I felt a tap on my back, “Wylie?” it was a woman’s voice.
“Yes,” I sniffled, trying to compose myself before I turned around. I saw her face for a second before it screwed up into a shout, her bright red lips outlining glistening gritted teeth. She was beautiful, long blond hair, dove colored skin, lashes for miles, and wings that rose up above her like a feathered frame for her Angelic face. Her wordless cry had me bring my hands up to protect myself, my forearms coming together in front of my face. My fingers balled into fists as I felt the front of my dress pull tightly. She had my collar and was lifting me into the air, setting me on the railing that was now at my back, in the same careless way a malicious child would set a doll on the edge of a bridge before pushing it over.
The iron cut into the back of my thighs as I precariously slid away from her. My heart stopped, there was nothing but air behind me and my limbs came to life in the basic primal flail that we all experience when we fall. I reached for her, dragging at her clothes with my finger tips. At first she was in front of me, but the more I slipped my mind registered that she was above. My eyes unseeing as I desperately grasped at whatever parts of her I still had hold of.
Soon the backs of my knees hooking around the railing, was the only thing keeping me from hurling to my death. I reached and I reached, my teeth clenched until finally something caught, it was soft and warm and for a split second I thought I was saved. I dug my nails in and pulled with all my strength until finally there was a sick cracking sound. It broke free and slammed into my chest sending me over the edge.
I was flying, staring up at yellow locks waving in the wind. Screams flew off the rooftop as whimsically as the strands did. Rain cut at me as I tried to bring air into my lungs. I’m going to die! I was falling, folded in half in the most unflattering ways. My butt was leading the charge to the ground my legs in front of my face, my arm clung to the warm wetness that should have been the edge of the railing or the corner of the building or an outreached arm.
Vomit filled my mouth as I found the strength to look at what I held. An outreached arm. There was blood, lots of blood. White bone of the humerus flashed and gleamed in the lighted windows that one at a time rose above me. It was the painted fingernails that confirmed my fears. I screamed, letting go of the arm, and then I hit the ground.
Thud my back slammed against something hard. It didn’t hurt, like I was expecting it to. It actually felt warm. My chest felt empty and strained, I was surrounded by blackness.
“Breathe!” A male voice barked.
I let my eyes flutter open. I looked up puzzled, Samael starred down at me. His sandy blond hair dripping wet, his handsome chiseled face, concerned. “Damn it, Wylie, breathe!” One of his arms was hooked around my shoulders, my legs were draped over the his other arm. Breathe? This didn’t seem like the best time to breathe! “You’re turning blue!” his voice was inpatient. He dropped my legs from his hold and soon I was swung around to face him, his large hands in my armpits holding me suspended, and then he shook me.
I gasped, frantically trying to pull myself close to him again. “Fuck!” I yelled, “Fuck fuck!” He pulled me back to his chest but I continued my profanity as the slow beat of his wings came to my attention.
“Wylie, hush! There are more of them!”
I didn’t fully grasp the situation until I looked down. We were bobbing up and down with each flap of his gargantuan wings, soaring past roof tops at a good 15 miles an hour. Anxiety weaved in and out of my rib cage creating knots just under my sternum as I forced my mind into nurse mode. I have trained myself for emergency situations. I’ve taught myself to swallow the fear and the stress and step into line, mechanically assessing situations and taking action without too much deliberation. If I could do that for other people, I can do it for myself.
Gulp, one heart beat, two heart beats. I began my triage with quite concentration allowing myself to be carried as I did so. There were three problems here. The first was not so much of an issue anymore, falling off the building was in the past now, thank God. Other than some bruises and scrapes on the back of my legs I was whole.
The last two issues had more potential for future death. The second problem was the precarious savior that picked my out of the air and is now speeding far away from where I belong. Feeling safe because impossibly strong muscled arms were wrapped around me, and actually being safe, were two different things. The remedy for this issue, fighting myself out of his grip, seemed like a less sane choice than staying put where I was. My nurse mind was spinning, yet to find any actionable problem.
The last and final cause of the hyperventilation, that was taking over me despite my desperate planning, was the echoing of the last words that came out of Samael’s mouth. There is more of them! What the hell was he saying? There are more Victoria Secret models waiting their turn to push me off of a building?
It was the ultimate stop-crying-or-I’ll-give-you-something-to-cry-about from God, like he saw me sobbing on the roof and decided to backhand me for being a baby. I sucked in a deep breath and held it my lungs. I looked up at Samael and let the breath out. “What should I be doing right now?”
His brows, which were touching in concentration, rose. “I need you to wake your scentia!” He shook his head, his brows returning to their stern position. “I need you to open your eyes and see what is really going on right now!” He grunted dismissively as if knowing that his explanation was of no use.
Open my fucking eyes? My eyes are open and all can see is hard concrete several stories below us! I shivered and tried to concentrate, tried to find that achy chest pain that signaled to me that I’d done something magical. Screwing my eyes closed tightly I focused, my fists white knuckling the sleeves of his shirt. I found the pain and poked it, persuading it to move out of me. It radiated to my skin, heating all my surfaces and pulsed outwards.
I could see it! My eyes still covered with my lids, but vision filled my mind. I saw the pain splash off of me by an inch or two and return, only to bounce further with my next heart beat. It was like water on the surface of a drum. Bam my heart would pound and the puff of tangible pain would fly off of me like a mushroom cloud. It was as if my senses were expanding, combining into one perfect means of analyzing my surroundings. Sent and sight and sound and touch becoming this overwhelming haze.
We were moving upwards, and we were being followed, “There are three of them,” I announced raptures by focus.
“Two males and a female?” He grunted.
“Yes,” I answered and then opened my eyes to look into his. I tasted his concern as his voice smashed into my face. His blue eyes were piercing me with an unspoken question. He needed to let me go. He couldn’t fight them and hold me at the same time. The rain seemed to stop as if waiting for my response. “Do it!” I mouthed, not feeling confident enough to voice the words.
“Find your wings!” His voice was haggard, desperate and then he let go. I felt more than saw him dive down and to the right, meeting the first Angel with such force that lightning zinged from their colliding bodies up into the heavens. The shattering after-boom made white lights flash in my brain and tinnitus ring in my ears, my new talents gone as quickly as they’d appeared. It took me moments to find them again, only to discover how fast I was falling. I watched the haze of my magic waft like smoke, streaking like a tale as it followed my path downwards. Surrounded by clouds it was hard to know what direction I was facing. Pulling my concentration together I imagined hallow bones sprouting from my back, feathers popping out of them like popcorn. Even through the chaos my brain registered the silliness.
A bright white light flashed and Boom. This time I loss consciousness, my limbs flopping as I tumbled through the sheets of rain.
Dean lifted both of his arms in the air and waved enthusiastically, jumping up and down on his short toddler legs. “Mama! Mama!” He was grinning, “Mama, show me how to fly!” I reached my arms out towards him, as if to pull him to my bosom, he shook his head, the mop of hair flopping back and forth. “You aren’t allowed to come here.” and then putting all seriousness aside he jumped up, lifting his knees high, flapping his arms like a bird, barking out a cheer when he landed back on the ground. “I want to see you fly, mama, please!”
Warm love filled my chest, replacing the fear and the pain. Churning like lava, it loosened tense muscles. My body transformed, the need to curl inward ceased, my arms opened wide, my toes pointing as I stretched. Savoring the white hot heat that traveled through my bones, pulsing against my throbbing skin. My mouth and eyes opened simultaneously and my fall stopped. A shout ripped through my throat as the heat escaped my back, just below my shoulder blades. Large flames ricocheted off the feathered barrier that spanned behind me. That wall of protection that had always been there. My wings beat in an oddly familiar way. They pulled back, opening wide to catch the fire, and then snapped forward, shooting the fire with power that parted the clouds, drying them up.
Screams punctuated the wind as the reverberating magic smashed against the wide eyed blond female who was coming in my direction at a downward slant. The one armed angel’s failed attempt to stop her poorly timed attack in mid air left her ablaze.
Samael found an opening in the dark haired Angel’s guard, he threw an uppercut with his right arm, burying from fist to elbow in the man’s chest cavity. Samael watched the man’s eyes as they registered that the fight was over. He wrapped his left hand around the Angel’s choking throat and pushed, ripping his right arm through the rib cage like a can opener. Two down, one to go. He let the body fall, lifting his head in search of Wylie, afraid the female Angel had caught up to her.
Red and orange light flashed in his periphery. He spun around to see flames bursting horizontally through the air. A small female frame, her form black in the outline of an inferno, floated unmovingly. He’d never seen anything like it. He sucked in a breathe as he followed the path of the heat.
Like a falling star, tangled feathers and limbs blazed towards the earth. His hesitation lasted less than a second, she is dead, was all he could think as flung himself towards the falling being. He wasn’t fast enough. He was too far away. The body was extinguished as it slammed into the chopping waters of Lake Union.
There was something bright shining on my eyelids. I could tell because my eyes felt dry and saw nothing but burnt red, rather than the usual black. It seemed as though someone was holding and LED flashlight to my face. I held a hand up, flinching as I opened my eyes. Everything was sterile white, I was alone. I slowly sat up holding my neck. Hopefully the shooting pain that shot down my shoulders was a sign that I was still alive.
Apparently I’d been sleeping on the ground, contorted into angles that should not have been humanly possible. I rolled my eyes at myself, humanly possible. I did a quick stretch as I searched my surroundings. Whoever put me there, had dropped me like a sack of potatoes and went back to business.
“Samael?” I called as I got to my feet in my usual graceless way. I smoothed the singed tatters of what was left of my dress and David’s jacket, and tiptoed on my bare feet to doorless doorway at the edge of the empty room. The place seemed to be built of concrete and then painted white, including the bare floors and low ceilings.
Not hearing a reply I hesitated leaving the room. I have always been the person on the coach, yelling at the television. You are there for a reason, stay were you are! There is a dude with the chain saw around the corner! Now that I was in the situation, now that I could feel my heart racing as anxiety and fear mounted I could understanding why people flocked to the masked murders, it was better than being alone in the silence.
This is not a horror flick. I reminded myself, I looked down the other direction of the hall, it continued on exposing maybe 15 more doorways. Hopefully this isn’t heaven. Now, that would be disappointing. God wouldn’t be into harsh lighting and hard line, would he? Deciding patience was the smartest way to go, I went back to the center of the room and sat down cross legged.
Tapping my fingers on my knee I worked hard to remember the fall. I replayed several parts in my head, but simply couldn’t see anything that happened after Samael had caught me. I closed my eyes, lowered my brow, and thought hard, only to realize that my bladder was full. Shit!
“Samael!” I yelled, I waited for a beat, “Samael!” I stood again, trying to lessen the stress in my bladder. Soon I was shamelessly doing the pee pee dance, spinninf around the center of the room, while singing out Samael’s name in a matching rhythm.
I heard a man clear his throat behind me and swung back to the doorway, where Samael stood in his naked glory. “Bathroom?” I squealed, as I eyed his chest and shoulders. I wasn’t gagling at him for the sheer pleasure of it though. He looked different. Taller, wider, built on an impossibly large frame. His blue eyes were inhumanly bright, reflecting depth after depth of twilight sky.
“You still need to void?” he asked, blatantly confused. I nodded furiously. “We don’t do that here.” He shrugged.
“Okay?” I wined through clenched teeth. “Take me somewhere where we do do those types of things.”
“You’re serious?” he asked, “Angels don’t do that.”
I crossed my legs forcefully. “So so very serious!” I shifted my weight from one foot to another.
“Ok, fine you can do it where you’re at.” His eyes stayed trained on mine as if unsure what I was going to do.
I looked at him incredulously, “Are you some kind of pervert?”
“Angels don’t do that either.”
I laughed and peed a little as I did, “Fuck! Turn around!” He did as told, and even though his wings were to me I went to the corner of the room for privacy, pulled down my undies and squatting let loose. I moaned at the relief. When I was done. I pulled my underwear off all the way and dried the urine that had splashed up on my calves and then dropped them on top of the puddle, as if to cover it.
I straightened myself, “Okay, I’m done.” I announced.
When Samael turned around, I could see the hint of a smile on his otherwise stoic face.
“What?” I asked feeling embarrassed.
“That was very human of you.” He leaned to one side so that he could see the camouflaged mess. “Your shame, it is very human too.”
Our gazes locked, and I squirmed at the intensity of it. “Well I may be mostly human, but at least I’m not impolite.” I spat pointedly.
He looked affronted, “I didn’t realize, you were expecting human customs to be upheld an Angel plane.” His words weren’t stated sarcastically, they came out full of shock. He looked down at himself. “I assume that means you’d like me to where clothes?”
It was my turn to clear my throat, suddenly looking in another direction, “Yes, please,” I choked out.
“Follow me.” He announced, leaving the room. I followed him into the hall, my eyes studying his wings, whose tips drug on the floor behind him. They were creamy white, with a gold sheen that glistened playfully with his movement. They nearly touched the ceiling, and tickled the walls on either side. His strong glutes peaked out from below where his feathers parted in one direction or another.
“This is the Ludus,” I jumped at the sound of his voice my gaze moving back up, breaking me out of appreciating his naked glory. “This is where we train new Angels to blend in with humans.” He took a left, I stayed right behind him.
The room we entered had multiple bars running across the entirety of the back wall. On them hung a variety of clothes. “We don’t learn how to dress as children, like human’s do. We are made. We come into being as adults,” he grabs a pair of sweat pants and begins to pull them on unceremoniously, “This was one of the more difficult classes for me when I was young. I could never understand the use of covering one’s body.”
I don’t think anyone that looks like you should cove their body either, I mused. He reached over and grabbed a shirt, “I learned my lesson after receiving my first sunburn.” He raised his eyebrows at me, his face serious.
“What?” I asked, concerned he’d read my mind.
“I thought you’d find that funny.”
“What funny?” I said innocently, now truly confused.
“I was making a joke. Sunburn, get it?” I forced a laugh, “I thought it was funny.” He said disappointingly.
Returning my gaze back to the clothing, I noticed that there was everything from modern to traditional to formal to antique garments hanging on the wall. I cought site of a summer dress with poppies on it, My mouthed watered with the idea of putting on clean clothes. I turned back to Samael to ask if I could wear it and gasped when he pulled the shirt over his head and onto his back, the fabric passing through his wings as if they were holograms.
I pointed at them, “How’d you do that?”
He looked back at his wings and shrugged. “They don’t really exist on this plane, just like on earth.” he explained.
“What do you mean? Your wings, those giant feathered things, they aren’t here? In this room?”
“More like neither of us are here.” he said matter-of-factly. He pulled a floral cotton dress I’d been eyes earlier and handed it to me. “This is the one you wanted, right?”
My cheeks reddened as I reached forward to take the dress, he’has been reading my mind!
“I have.” he grunted.
Totally forgetting our philosophy 101 debate, about where we existed and shadow and caves and Plato and shit, palmed my forehead. The whole time.
What I was beginning to recognize as Samael’s I’m-not-going-to-smile-half-lip-raise happened, “I will take your appreciation of my body as a complement Wylie. Now can we get back to our discussion?”
“Just turned around,” I snapped, suddenly needing my privacy more than usual. I pulled off the ragged clothes and folded them in a pile. They smelled like a camp fire for some strange reason. I pulled the dress on, trying to enjoy the crispness of it, through the overwhelming desire to return to my miserable life before I knew Angel existed.
Samael turned back to me. “If it makes you feel any better, I also appreciate your form.”
“It does not,” my reply was curt. I sighed and then changed the subject. “You were saying ‘neither of us is here.'”
He folded his arms across his chest and with a ruffle of his wings they disappeared. “Only what I want you to see exists in this plane.”
I thought about what he was saying for a minute, extending instead of suspending reality. “How is it that I am here then?”
“You are unique, I only know of one or two other angels that were born. I think you have been doing this for so long, so naturally, that you do it unconsciously.”
I sat on the ground suddenly feeling a little dizzy, “Is there an entire religion based off of one of those Angels?”
He did the lip-lift-thing, “There sure is.”
“Jesus Christ!” I exclaimed disbelievingly, planting my face in my hands.
“Exactly.” he replied and, either ignorant or unsympathetic, he continued his barrage of information. “Our bodies, our wings, us, we exist in heaven with God and humans that have passed. Our Intellegentia, was separated at the beginning of time, sent to earth in order for us to communicate God’s will with the humans. Our Intellegentia is made of two parts. Our Scentia and our Muse. We have created many planes in between the two places. We are in one of those now.”
Spinning into chaos as I listened to every word, a thought occurred that had me grasping for a positive to the entire situation. Take me to Heaven, I want to go to Heaven, where my family is.
“I can’t,” Samael’s words were soft, “You can’t, none of the Angels can. God needs us on earth more than he needs us in Heaven.”
My heart wrenched, my breath catching in my chest, I opened my mouth.
“Never Wylie, never has an Angel entered Heaven, at least not that I know of.”
I rolled onto my stomach, and folded my arms buried my face in them. I held my breath, willing myself not to cry or think or show anymore weakness than what I was already showing.
“So human,” Samael said in awe, as I heard him crouch down next to me. “Here,” his voice rattled with kindness and I felt two of his fingers, “this will help.”
Something transferred in his warm gesture. I felt as though I’d finished a second glass of wine, my tense muscles let go of their anger. My longs filled with confidence. My body burned with ecstasy and giddiness. I rolled onto my back and opened my eyes to see Samael staring down at me curiously. “What did you do?” I asked, feeling a smile on my face as all worry slipped away.
“I blessed you.” I shivered at the sound of his voice. “Why don’t you try to get some sleep.” he said, standing to his full height, his wings reappearing, “We will need to return you to your Muse to gather strength soon. For now rest, there is one more place I need to take you before, I return you home.”
I closed my eyes, and not caring that I’d be waking up with a severe back ache from the concrete floor I drifted into a peaceful sleep.
Samael left Wylie sleeping on the floor and returned to the work he’d been elbows deep in before she woke. The room was only two corridors away and Ivar the Boneless was still at it, he sat on a backless metal rolling chair directly behind the an pallid woman. She was unmoving, draped more than sitting as she straddled the back of her seat. Her feet were bound to the chair legs her naked toes curled in pain, showing the only sign that the woman was alive. Her head lolled off her shoulders, her face resting on the chair back. Her blond strands tumbled over her face and down to her bound hands.
The pair looked strange, where they sat in a pool of blood, their feet coated with the clotting. The man was animated with a careful absorption, the woman a slaughtered calf for sacrafice. Detached soft moans, hummed in the air, as if the room itself was voicing the pain that was being conjured by Ivar’s talented fingers. A tray of medal utensils glistened in the unforgiving light, brandishing their red stains in pride.
“She has yet to say anything,” Ivar growled. Samael had never seen the man look so frustrated. He’d been a Viking Commander in his glory days, inventing new forms of torture that were still in use today. He was most famous for performing the Bloody Eagle, not one of his inventions, but still his signature move. Some forms of torture deserved a name. Like Water Boarding and Draw a Quartering, the Bloody Eagle’s cruelty was worthy of a title. More art than butchery, the technique included, dissecting the muscle and skin from the spine and rib cage, and finally sawing each rib away from the knuckled, naked back bones.
“She’s old, no young Angel would be able to regenerate the pieces I’ve cut off of her. I open her up, separate a rib, turn to grad a hammer and she has another damn rib.” He grunted as he threw a bloody scalpel on the tray. His bare hands were sticky and red, blood caked under his fingernails.
“I can see that,” leaning over Samael eyed the red polish of the woman finger nails, “When did the right arm come back?” he asked as he studied the perfection of the new extremity, it was identical to the one Wylie had ripped off.
“Not sure, I was concentrating on other things,” Ivar clicked his tongue, “Next thing I know, she has untied her left hand and was reaching for my tray, intent on escape.” Ivar leaned forward and smacked the back of the woman’s head, her eye opened slightly in response but then closed again, her wines hiccuping into panting for a moment. “Maybe she’s afraid that if she tells me what we need to know, I’ll stop.” he barked, sneering at the back of her head with a sardonic smile.
The woman showed not response to his words and suddenly Ivar mouth contorted in disgust. Growling he began to demonstrate his tactless impatience by ripping off the silver clamps that held her open for him. They clanked against the metal tray one at a time as she came to life with reverberating screams. Her face paled as Ivar stopped, her head resting again, her face shone of exhaustion but not compliance.
“Sanaret!” Ivar shouted slapping his hand onto the woman’s back, she shivered as her body knit itself back together with his ancient command. He turned back to his tray, wiping his forehead he left a thin line of her blood across it.
“Ivar, not with anger,” Samael chided, knowing that this was a tall order for his friend and then turning his attention back to the woman. “I have it taken care of.” Ivar was about to pick up another instrument but stopped at Samael’s words an looked up, a mixture of frustration and curiosity narrowing his eyes. Samael bent down to the female’s level and continued with his words, “We found her Muse.” The woman’s eyes opened wide at the declaration, and though Samael felt pity for her, he ignored it and continued with his bluff, holding her gaze with promises of indifference.
Samael looked back at Ivar, “This one is fading quickly, the death of her Muse would give us a few more days with her, since this interrogation is going so slowly.” Samael thought back to Alex, his favorite Muse. He’d loved Alex, would have moved heaven and earth to keep him safe, but the curse of being a Muse was a short life. When Alex died and their bond had broken, Samael had experienced such freedom, that even now he was ashamed of his reaction. He could still remember the bolt of energy, still feel the surge of power zing in his muscles. Where there should have been sorrow, there was exhilaration, and then Samantha had been born, and he was once again himself, or rather half himself.
The time in-between Muses were often the Angel’s most productive. Rather than being tethered to the earth with a Muse, the Angel and it’s Soul were one. Some Angels craved this moment so badly that they would murder their Muses one after another. These Angels recieved the worst fate, God had no patience for such behavior.
Samael held the females gaze for several minutes with Ivar watching in silence. Samael could feel the woman’s anxiety blooming in the air, he smiled if only to prevent himself from grimacing. She sucked in a breath “You leave her alone!” she hissed. Ivar stood from his chair in complete surprise.
Samael leaned close to the woman, who had straitened her back and now was holding her head up high in defiance.
“Tell me what I need to know,” his spat sounding dangerous.
She gulped in air, Samael could hear the ring of a lie before the woman had even opened her mouth. “I sought to kill the abomination, as ordered by my God!”
“Liar,” Samael said simply and then straightening he turned back to the door. “I will return once I’ve dispatched her Muse.” he called over his shoulder.
Samael counted his steps, one, two, three, “No,” her voice was soft at first, “Please, no!”
The pleading was a move in the right direction, but not enough. Samael took his game further, ignoring her words, reaching the doorway before Ivar, realizing Samael’s tactic announced, “Wait, I’ll come with you.” He moved to follow Samael, “The Muse will speak much more quickly than her Angel ever will.”
“No!” the blond screeched, her chair almost toppling over as she tried to pull herself free. “Please! I’ll tell you! I’ll tell you everything!”
Samael turned, leaning against the door frame. As he looked down at her, he could not help but feel proud of her, proud that his fellow Angel loved her Muse enough to save her. He remembered Alex and wished that he had been like this Angel. That he could have given up his mission and saved his Muse.
Cold respect filled his chest, “How can I know you will tell me the truth?” He asked.
The woman’s eyes searched around the room, settling on Samaels wings, “I’ll give you my wings, ” she said desperately, and then closing her eyes, a new composure crossed her face. “I am God’s Angel, Binah. God created repentance and forgiveness and my wings within the same breath. I will cut off the wings He gave me and hand them to you as concomitant to the truth!” She sucked in a rattling breath, “Please do not harm my Muse!”
Samael did his best not to gasp at her confession. This woman was there, with him, at the beginning of time. He name proved that much to him. This Angel had seen the birth of humans. How could she ever become mankind’s enemy?
“Untie her, Ivar,” Samael commanded, Ivar did as told. Cutting the woman binds and righting her in the chair so that she could lean against the chair back. Samael took a seat on Ivar’s chair and leaned forward, placing his hands on the woman’s thighs, she sighed.
“Tell me,” he demanded, coaxing her with his will, through his touch.
“I would not have you believe that I have forsaken my God. I have merely found another way, a better way. Who is to say that God is not behind this,” He words were thick with zeal, she continued as if reciting a prayer. “I follow him. He is her brother. They are twins. He is the Savior of all Angels. He gave us our Free Will.” She shivered again, closing her eyes, “The one you call Wylie.” She wavers for a moment and breathes in deep, “She must die,” again she sighs as his grip tightens, “She is our Savior’s Judas.” her beseeching words were so sincere that Samael was shaking his head in disagreement before he could stop himself. He let go of her legs and turning to Ivar, exchanged another wordless nod.
Ivar palmed the steel saw from his toolkit and resting his other hand on the woman’s shoulder announced, “Let’s go for a ride, sweetie.” Her eyes widened and they both vanished. Samael continued to stare at the space she’d been occupying for a long time before his thoughts could fully form the Angel’s Savior, huh?
This time, when I woke, what I lay on was much much softer. The light wasn’t as harsh against my eyelids. I moved my fingers around at my sides, feeling the cool strands of grass weave between them. My lashes fluttered open, my eyes catching sight of the most beautiful blue skies I’d ever seen. The cloudless heaven expanded forever, the gold of daylight kissed me tenderly. Once while in Mexico I visited Monte Alban, an ancient Indio ruin. I laid on a stone bench and stared into the sky, amazed by the sheer magnitude of what lie above me. Of how it dominated that magnificent place, with it’s temples and stone staircases.
I sat up quickly, only to fall backwards, vertigo making the world spin. Mashing my fist in my eyes I tried to swallow the acid rising in my throat. From what I could tell, I was on a grassy hill, daisies spotted the downward sloped that surrounded me. a grove of pine trees lined the right side of my vision and I was still doing somersaults even with my body flat against the ground.
“You need your Muse.” Samael voice came from my left. His hand landed on my shoulder and bare collarbone and the dizziness halted. “Traveling the planes takes a lot of energy.” He sounded concerned.
I thought about the Angel who saved my life. Samael was an emotionless, hard looking man. He was a warrior, with the hard edges to prove it. What did he want with me? I wondered for the first time. “Why are you helping me?” wording what should have been my first question to him.
There was a long silence and I chanced uncovering my face and turning my head so that I could see his face. The spinning did not return but I wondered if that was his doing, his hand was still on me. “Wylie, I have been searching for you my entire life.”
As corny as the words were, I couldn’t help but smile at him. He looked like he needed a smile. The man, with all his muscles, and arrogance seemed fragile under the weight of what he’d just said.
“God only knows.” and looking down at me he added “A posse ad esse.”
I squinted at him, waiting for a translation.
“I cannot come to terms with it. You are the actuality of a possibility that has ruled the lives of so many Angels.Your birth has marked the beginning of the end.”
“The end,” I asked, wanting to sit up, but to afraid my world would go spinning away from me again.
I rolled my eyes and laughed.
“The end of the world is not funny.” Samael stated grimly.
“No, you’re funny!” I snorted, he pulled his hand away from me and my vision flipped flopped. As if on auto pilot I reached forward and grabbed his bare foot. The action worked like a e-brake for the vertigo.
Sweat broke out on my brow, and keeping a tight grip on hi foot I sat up. After panting for a moment I glared up at him. “Do you have any idea what you are asking of me right now? I feel like my brains are scrambles eggs!” Closing my eyes I began a list of all of the blatant fiction that I had excepted as reality in the last week, “Angel! Flying! Different planes! The fact that I don’t actually exist in the place that I am currently occupying! I’ve killed two people with my fucking mind!” A crazed giggle escaped my mouth, “But the straw to broke the camels back isn’t your stupid ass apocalypse, no it’s the fact that you people, whoever you people are, expect me to do anything now that I have discovered that there is no possible way for me to see my husband and son again!”
Verbalizing it hurt more than hearing it had. I let go of the man’s foot and let the dizziness take me, I slammed back into the ground. I brought my arms up to my face, with some difficulty, they seemed to zoom around caught up in the spinning. “When I was human, no matter how little faith I had, there was always a chance that I would see them again.”
I rolled onto my side and began to wretch. Nothing came out, but I gagged and spit and savored the heaving, it felt so much more dignified than crying. I’m not sure how long he let me throw my fit but at some point, as if his patience had run thin, he picks me up and tosses me over his shoulder, the contact of his arm against the back of my bare thigh bringing the vertigo once again to a halt.
“Take me home. ” I whispered as I felt the blood rush to my head. I was ready to let the next attempt on my life be successful.
“Wylie, there is something I must show you first,” he began stomping down the hill, me flopping on his shoulder as if I were cargo that hadn’t been tied down.
“Please, take me home!” I wined.
“No, Wylie, you must see this,” his words were dismissive.
Rage boiled in me, “Fuck you! Take me home!” I shrilled and commenced to beat on his wingless back with my fists.
He stopped, absorbing my feeble punches until I ran out of energy. “Are you done?” he asked.
I nodded my head.
“Good!” he said even though I knew he couldn’t have seen my gesture, and then I remembered that he was reading my mind.
Fuck you! I thought bitterly.
He didn’t reply, just continued, his shoulders thrown back with determination.
He walked for a while, long enough for shame to settle over me. The situation felt so demeaning, my ass waving as the rest of my body dangles, out of my control. Was this what it meant to be special? Was I going to spend the rest of my life shuffled from one safe place to another? A husk and a treasure and a the cause of an unknown number of Angel deaths.
“Wylie,” Samael sighed, “I will put you down, let you walk, but I beg of you, please come with me. I have some more truths to reveal to you. On my God, I will bring you home when we are done.”
“Okay,” I managed to squeak.
He set me down on my feet with quite carefulness. I stumbled, the dizziness clamping onto my head and my arms automatically swung up in search of him. He caught my hand in his and peace was restored.
“What is happening to me?” I asked looking at our hands.
“You are out of energy, when we touch, you steal mine.”
My head snapped up, my eyes wide, “Is that okay? I mean, can I take too much?”
“I am fine, Wylie. Come.” He began walking again leading me into a line of trees.
I studied the man’s face for any discomfort and then almost burst out laughing. Call me Mrs Stockholm, I thought. Only I would be concerned about my kidnapper’s health. If only I had my stethoscope, I’d be checking his lung sounds and his blood pressure.
I rolled my eyes at myself and I looked down at our hands. For the first time since I fell off of the building I thought about David. Was holding hands with an Angel cheating? We didn’t even complete our one and only date, held hands once, was there even a relationship?
I looked back at my moments with David, there were what, four or five? Before that, he’d been spying on me. Wasn’t the best start to anything. Plus, there was the whole Muse thing. How would it work, if I needed an Angelic recharge and David and I were in the middle of a lover quarrel. What would I do then? Sit in the hall of his apartment and try to soak up energy through the door? Was that even possible?
I pictured David, his ice colored eyes, his crew cut, his honest lips, thick and soft and tasty. I felt Samael’s grip tighten on mine, but looking over at him I saw no sign that he was listening in on my brain frequency. I sighed in relief and then tripped, Samael’s other hand shot up to catch me. I found myself gazing up at him, noticing that he was less lips and more strong chin than David. The light of day snuck between the waving branches above us, splattering bright highlights on the chiseled definition of his face.
Entranced by his dazzling green eyes, with their inhuman fluidity, I forgot the weight on my shoulders. We connected, our gazes meeting, I could see his age in his eyes as I looked up at his youthful face, his brows weighed heavily over them, the sign of a loud conscience. Pity? Was that what was being stirred in me? For a moment, I had an overwhelming urge to scoop him up like a wounded puppy, and cuddle his sadness away. I reached up suddenly wanting to touch the line of his cheek.
“We are almost there,” Samael grunted bringing me back into the present, his eyes were shyly averting as he righted me. I dropped my hand and continued behind him as he fell back into his former pace. We were emerging from the trees into a clearing. The ground under my feet was both soft and sharp with twigs and moss, catching at my toes and ankle. Before us lay grassy hills and blooming daisies, lined by oaks and pine battling as they reached skyward.
In the center of the clearing was a tall wooden plank that rose into the sky forever. The closer we got, the more I realized that the plank was actually a door. There was no gigantic knob, but there seemed to be hinges, large iron looking hinges. Our approach slowed and Samael whispered. “These are the Seraphim, the God’s Guard, they are the keeper to the doorway to Heaven, please be respectful.” I wasn’t sure what he was talking about until I saw the four preteens standing seriously before the jack and the beanstalk sized door.
The boys could have been cousins, they all had unkempt curly auburn hair and deep chocolate eyes, but their features made it possible to tell the difference between them. The most striking part was their wings. Multiple sets sprung from their back making them more feathers than child. “Follow my lead,” Samael hissed, he pulled me until we were only a few feet away and falling to his knees before the boys he let go of my hand.
He lifted the back of his forearm to cover his eyes, his hand making a fist, as he straightened his back. I was soon on my knees as well, but more from lack of balance than to show respect. I reached for Samael like a blind woman, trying to find bare skin, finally finding the nape of his neck, my fingers curling in his hair as the spinning slowed.
“Samael,” spoke one boy.
“You have found her,” said another.
To tired to care anymore I leaned my forehead against Samael’s back, he didn’t move even though I was pushing most of my body weight onto him. He just knelt, still as a statue, frozen in his Angelic salute.
“You have come to ask a favor?” asked a third child.
There was a long silence, and I closed my eyes to it all. Exhaustion made my muscles clench and unclench as cramps climbed up my legs. My body felt bogged down and my eyes stung, it was that feeling of being in the water for too long. I’d been treading the waves of insanity for what felt like days now and fear was beginning to cling to my rib cage like claws, threatening to drag me under.
“Speak your mind, Samael.” The fourth boy interrupted my thoughts with his impatient demand.
“I have brought her, so that you may show her, what she seeks to know.” Samael states, still unmoving.
“Stand!” commands the impatient boy, “Bring her to us!”
I began shaking at the words, I struggled to keep hold of him as he turned to face me. He held me up, his big body bending over mine as he created a new skin to skin contact by placing his forehead on mine. “Wylie, trust me now.” He whispered, his hands landed on my cheeks and a heady calm filled me. How did he do that?
I breathed out a tired sigh and let Samael lift me into his arms again. Let him carry me to the Seraphim. Let him present me, like he was presenting an infant.
“So she is the one?” mused one, he glanced the boy next to him, who merely shrugged and then nodded.
“What is it that she would like to know?” asked another looking up to Samael. Samael didn’t answer and I was to distracted by the strange tweens to look up for his reply.
The last Seraphim, the impatient one, rose to his tip toes and craned his neck to better see me, and ignoring those around him brought the question to me, “What do you wish to know?”
My heart thudded in my chest as I tried to find an answer for him. There were a lot of things I wanted to know. Like, why four pairs of wings, doesn’t that seem a little redundant? and Why can’t you people just leave me alone? and Can I just go back to being a normal human? But out of respect I said what I thought was the least offending thought: “When can I go home?”
I looked up at Samael in time to see him close his eyes in disappointment, and for no reason at all I felt guilty.
“Wylie, I believe you are home.” the impatient boy shot back. I looked over his shoulder at the oak door. My family was on the other side. The thought made my chest ache.
“She wishes to know the truth of her son and husband’s death.” Samael announced. I sucked in a breath at his words and then began nodding vigorously.
“Is this what you wish to know, Wylie?” asked the four boys in unison, their shoulders touching as they moved closer together.
I continued to nod, emboldened by their attention, I began to push away from Samael, wishing to be on my own feet.
“Say it!” They demanded.
“Show me what happened,” Samael set me on my feet one at a time, and his hand lifted to the nape of my neck. I felt it rest there, it’s warmth providing courage. I gathered my thoughts as the boys continued to stare at at me, moving closer and waiting. The four of them were my height and their wings folded with each others as they moved in. “Show me what happened on October 3rd, 2014,” my voice cracked as tears filled my eyes, “I want to know why Roberto and Dean Rodriguez were murdered that night.”
The impatient one smiled a curt dismissive smile before he leaned forward and with his long nearly man hand took hold of my face. He kissed my forehead softly. “Beautiful, innocent Armageddon, so much you will be responsible for.”
I heard Samael gasp, at the words, but I was too entranced by the child’s eyes to note what was being said. I was memorized and was only slightly aware that the boys fingers were now threaded through my hair pushing it back from my face. “You’re witnessing of your son and husband’s martyrdom will be your first step to the gathering.” They were speaking together now, their voice’s sweet with youth. I slowly closed my eyes to better hear the beauty of it. Their voices weaved together as if a song. “Behind you your pale horse, beside you the black one,” their voices began to crescendo, “Above you your white one, and before you the red one. Oh sweet sweet Armageddon, so much you will be responsible for. Sweet sweet Human Angel, Armageddon.”
The air around me felt suddenly static, the hair on my arms stood and the hand on my nape disappeared. My opened wide in panic, but the business did not take me. Deep brown eyes met mine, “We are here,” his words made me shiver as his hand dropped and he stepped aside, revealing the darkened neat living space that was once Roberto and my apartment.
I attempted to walk through the space, my mind set on making my husband and my child and taking them away from this place, but my legs would not move. “This is not your time and place, Armageddon.” said one of the boys who was standing by the fire place in the exact spot I’d found my husband.
I opened my mouth to scream a warning, but again nothing happened. I was trapped, standing before the sliding glass door that the murders had used as an entrance. tied down with nothing but my five senses to tell my that I was indeed here. The softness of the new carpet, curled between my toes, cushioning my feet as if to teasingly announce that this spot was now mine, and there would be no moving from it.
If I could not move, than I would do as told, I would witness. I was determined to see and hear all, no matter haw frighting. My heart battered against my chest bones as I surveyed the roam. I could smell the fireplace, the smoke and wood competing with the smell of the mingled scents of family. The moonlight snuck through the plastic blinds, high lighting the perfectly placed chairs and coffee tables, that would soon be broken and over turned.
If I was able, I would have jumped when I heard the sound of tapping glass and rattling metal behind me. Unable to turn, I waited, listening. “Behind you is two humans. They have come for you.” Says one of the Seraphim who stand in the Kitchen to my right.”
The sound of the door sliding open was not enough to prepare me for what followed. The two men walked through me. First one, then the sound of the door closing, and then the other. What I felt in the short seconds that they were inside me was complete and utter faith. It was white hot and blinding. They were both balls of sheer determination and passion. My breath caught as they continued forward into the hall. The first man stopped at the door of my room his silver hair gleaming in the moon light as his hand lifts to the knob, I could see a long gun slung over his shoulder, it was the type of machine guns one saw in the movies. He quietly turned it and both men entered.
There was a shout and then the sound of furniture crashing. The struggle seemed deafening from my place in the living room and I was shocked not to hear Dean cry out from the room that shared a wall. “Híjole!” barks as he crashes out of the room, and then bounds down the hall to Deans room. I saw the shock of his wild brown hair, the white tshirt that was stretch over his broad shoulders, his naked feet and I wished I could see more, I needed to see more.
Quietly stepping out of the room, the grey haired man turns back to the doorway. “Check the bathroom, I’ll check the kid’s room, she supposed to be here.” says the man cooly. I could hear Dean and Roberto exchanging muffled words, and I knew in my heart how carefully my husband was trying to prepare our son for the violence that was about to ensue.
“Roberto was such a good man,” mourns one of the seraphim, stepping in front of my view.
His hands came to my shoulders and I tried to see past his many pairs of wings. “Men like him, should give you purpose,” speaks the boy by the fire place.
I could hear banging against the door, a squeal from Dean as the wood shatters, and then the younger man shouts to his partner, “She’s not here!”
The sound of more shouting, Dean crying, “Mama! Mama!”
“Shut that kid up!”
The hands tightened on my shoulder, “You can save husband and sons, wives and daughters. You are the place of gathering.” and the boy stepped aside revealing Roberto coming down the hall towards me, blood coming down his chin from his mouth, mixing in his well groomed beard. Deans face was buried in Roberto’s shoulder, his cried muffled as he clung to his father, his legs wrapped around Roberto’s waist, his arm around his neck.
He stepped into the living room and I saw the silver haired man behind him with the gun raised to my husband’s head. If my body could move, if my throat could produce sound, I would have fallen to the knees begging. Begging to God and Angel, to the men before me, to anyone who would listen. Please, please, please, not them. NO! No! NO!
“What do you want?” Roberto rasped bravely as he limped into the living room.
“Where is your wife?” the man behind him growled. Silence. The gun crashed into the back of Roberto’s head making him miss a step and fall into the reading chair in front of him. Dean screamed again, his eye opening wide as he and his father fell.
Close your eyes, baby. I begged with my mind. The chair cracked under Roberto’s weight and he toppled sideways smashing it’s twin as he fell. He was on the ground now, still cleaning to Dean as he struggled to once more put himself between the man with the gun and his son. Dean was inconsolable, tears stream down his face as he shouted through his tiny red lips.
A kick landed on Roberto’s back, “Shut that kid up or I’m putting a bullet in his head!” A second kick landed and Roberto grunted, gritting his teeth. He moved from all fours to standing with what looked like a stuttered discomfort.
“Shhhh” he hushed as he smoothed Deans hair, “Can you sing with me?” Dean shivered with a sob and nodded his head.
“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine,” Roberto’s broken tenor was shortly joined by a beautiful child’s voice. This was our trick to helping Dean calm down in the middle of a fit. My boy loved to sing, even through hiccups of left over tears.
Roberto was bouncing Dean as he moved over to the fireplace, next to the Seraphim who seemed to be waiting for them. The boy wrapped his arms around my little family and Roberto’s eyes raised to the glass doors where I stood. “You’ll never know dear, how much I love you. Please don’t take my sunshine away.” For a moment our eyes locked and I felt an unspoken goodbye fill the sir between us.
Dean sniffled and our connection was broken, my husband looked back to the silver haired man. “She’s not here.” He put his hand in Dean’s hair and pulled his little face back into his shoulder, “Wylie is not here!”
“If she picked up a shift, she’ll be home in about an hour,” said the younger man as he walked back into the living room.
“Shit!” Barked the older home invader, kicking the broken chair and then pulling his phone from his pocket.
The Seraphim who was now at my side, reached up and put his left arm around my shoulder and then pointed to the hallway whispered “The Angel who is about to appear there is Harut.”
“He is the Angel who was commanded to help you find your Scentia,” spoke the Seraphim from the kitchen, he stepped aside as the younger man entered the kitchen and opened the fridge. The bastard pulled out a gallon of milk and drank from the jug.
“You killed Harut,” sneered the impatient boy, who’d taken a seat on the sofa and then he looked up expectantly, as if waiting to hear someone speak.
“So I guess we have no choice, we wait,” growled the man with the gun. He put one hand through his shiny hair and moved across the space, lowering himself on the couch next to the Seraphim. He trained his gun on Roberto, “You stay right where you’re at!”
The younger man, wiped his lips with his sleeve and recapping the gallon, placed it back in the fridge. “Maybe we should have done this at the hospital,” he said as he slammed the door, “There is a place where that woman always is!” he laughed at his own joke and my gut twisted in a knot at the truth of it.
“You will never see Wylie!” a voice came from the hallway, and the twin of the Angel who’d attacked me just a week ago, stepped into the moonlight. He was tan with a long beard and black eyes, behind him, his wings were spread wide and i imagined how some animals could make their hair stand on end to make themselves look larger and more threatening. He lifted his open hand in the direction of the assailant in the Kitchen and the man flew backwards, slamming into the microwave ad then crumpling to the ground.
The room flew into action. The silver man shot up and around the sofa, ducking behind it and shooting over the top with abandon. Roberto swung around, pulling dean into a ball against his chest as he crouched against the fireplace as if to find refuge from the flying bullets. Harut, just walked forward, only slowing when a bullet smashed into him.
His teeth gleamed as his lips pulled back from them and he growled, he lifted his hand up again, his palm now facing the couch which slammed backwards, slamming into the wall. The gunshots stopped and the sound of clanging in the kitchen brought Harut’s head up. The young man was digging through the kitchen looking for a weapon. He lifted a knife in the air just in time to see that Harut was now only just on the other side of the Kitchen Island from him.
Harut reached forward, and ignoring the knife grabbed the mans shirt with both of his hand. He pulled the man head first over the island, smacking his skull into the tiled floor. I heard a sickening crack as his neck bent oddly under the weight of his body. I knew with all my medical experience that the would be no surviving that injury.
The was panting and moan, and I wouldn’t be sure if the sound was coming from Roberto or the silver hair man. Each had a Seraphim standing in my way, there back against me, their wings all I would see. Harut swung around and went straight to my husband. “He’s dying,” the Seraphim beside me spoke softly, his arm going to my waist and pulling my closer to his side. “Dean is gone, in heaven, at peace. But your Roberto, he refused to leave you.” Bile filled my mouth and tears ran freely down my cheeks, and my breath caught at the sound of each moan as Harut stepped into the Seraphim who was bent over my husband.
“I will take you home,” His words were soft and held the same worldly accent his brother’s had. I felt Roberto’s life end, when Harut disappeared.
The Seraphim who’d been joined with Harut turned around. “With mercy, Harut, took your husband home before his time. Roberto would have died on an operating table hours from now.” said the impatient one, moving back in front of me, his hand coming up to my face again. I looked into his eyes and I felt his love, his impatient, curt, powerful love and then I knew no more.
Samael fist smashed into the door six times before the it opened. David stood there, his eyes red with sleep, his hair ruffled. He was still wearing his suit from the night before. His gaze lazily slid from Samael to Wylie who was unconscious in the Angels arms before full comprehension came to him. “She needs you,” Samael spoke softly as he looked over David’s shoulder an intensity crackling over his face, “Now!”
David reached for Wylie, but as his hands came in contact with her, the color left his face and he stepped back automatically.
“Your going to need to sit down, for this,” Samael said moving forward as if to walk through David, who now looked even more confused.
David moved out of the way and closing the door, followed Samael, who marched into the apartment as if he owned it. Samael’s eyes closed and he lifted his head breathing in deep, “Sam’s here too! Good,” and then looking to David, “Sit.” he demanded.
David did as told, resuming his place at the couch. Carefully Samael set Wylie on his lap and stiffly went to Sam’s bedroom door. He leaned his back against and slid down to his bottom. “This is so much bigger than I could have imagined, David!” Samael’s eyes were wild, “So much bigger!” Looking up he leaned his head against the door. “How long were we gone?”
“Just a few hours,” David muttered, cringing as he looked down at Wylie’s sullen face. He reached for the throw on the back of the couch and pulled it over Wylie’s unconscious form, moving shakily as he tucked the corners in around her. “What happened to her?”
Samael didn’t answer, he just curled into the door shivering, clinging to the carpet as if it would speed out from under him if he let go. “She’s in so much pain!” he grated his arm falling on the limp form of Wylie. “I gave her too much of my energy, I was afraid she would die. David, I’ve never been so weak!” Closing his eyes he groaned and then began to gag. Clutching his head he curled onto the ground, his wings appearing and then curling around him, providing privacy. The boy already showed such blatant disrespect, without seeing him in this weakened state.
“How I miss your father,” Samael whispered.
When I woke I had the worst hangover of my life. The light from the windows violently attacked my eyes like raptors diving down with claws. I tried to cover my face with my hands but found that they were too heavy and slightly tingly. I blinked and blinked trying to focus, I needed to know where I was, if I was safe.
I was surrounded by warmth, and it took me some time to realize that I was being held by a man, one of his large hands rested on my belly possessively. Samael? There was a blanket over me and for a moment I thought how silly it was to put a blanket over me. A blanket couldn’t fix the ache in my bone, a blanket couldn’t settle the acid boiling in my belly, a blanket couldn’t stop the sound of the painful panting echoing around my empty skull.
“Wylie, your awake!” the worried whisper confused me, bringing my consciousness up and out of the darkness that was consuming me. My eyes moved sluggishly up the white cuff of a dress shirt, to a shoulder, a collar, and finally David staring down at me, his brow wrinkled with concern.
More blinking and then I cleared my throat, how did I end up in David’s lap? I thought of Roberto and Dean, and then the Seraphim and then the wide wings of the man who saved me, “Where’s Samael,” I suddenly felt the need to sit up and whirl around to find my Angel, but the thought of it made me feel weak and I changed my mind.
From as far as I could see with my head rested against David’s forearm I was in his apartment, but my vision was so blurry and I found that even if I could muster the will to move David was holding me still. Slowly as if he were arranging a broken geriatric he lifted me to sitting and then his hands finding my shoulders as he leaned down to place his lips on mine.
At first I didn’t respond, weary of the appropriateness of swapping spit in the middle of what felt like a crisis, what felt like the end of my life, what felt like an unreal tragedy that some sick shut-in wrote into existence. Again I heard the moans and with some difficulty I felt more than saw that David was pulling me up against his chest and placing one kiss after another, on my cheeks on my neck, back to my lips again. I felt myself softening under the attention, my vision threatening to replace the bloody visions in my head.
“Don’t ever do that again!” His words came in a hush by my ear as he placed his lips there, and the next time he circled back to my mouth he was desperate as if resuscitating me with his care. I felt him there, the stubble on his face brushing against me, his hands at my waist squeezing tightly as he leaned into me. I felt it, him, the onslaught of him, overwhelming the haze with his passion and I kissed back. Our lips touching for seconds and then his wondering to find my brow or my cheek and then they’d return. The kiss deepened as I allowed his tongue in my mouth. A buzz started between my ears and my hands came to life greedily clinging to his clothes, as if to pull him deeper into me, as if his light could outshine my darkness. I needed this! I needed this so bad! I needed him! I needed to drowned in him!
I pulled back and looking him in his frosty blue eyes I opened my mouth “David I…” my voice was raspy, desperate.
He nodded once, his face smoothing in understanding. Hooking one of his arms under my legs, he scouted forward and then with a grunt rocked onto his feet. I wrapped my arms around his neck and pushing my cold nose into his warm hair, I let the stinging of my eyes turn into the tears that couldn’t be stopped.
He shouldered his bedroom door open and then kicked it closed behind us. My blanket fell from my lap in his haste, but he walked over it indifferently. He sat down on his bed and depositing me next to him, he lost the determination that had left his features composed as he brought me to his room. He looked down at his feet and his eyes filled with tears, matching my own, his brows and lips turning down. He seemed to be trying to work up to saying something, but I couldn’t let him. I wouldn’t let him. I reached forward with shaking hands and unbuttoned the top button of his shirt, then the second and the third.
He watched me fumble clumsily with the buttons, until I was down to the last one. He cleared his throat pulling my eyes from the task at hand to his face. Tears stained his cheeks and his eyes were wide with empathy as he looked at the place between us where my fingers danced with adrenaline. Biting his bottom lip he caught my hands in his and held them carefully until they stopped shaking, and then he brought them up to his mouth, kissing them softly.”Wylie, what happened?” his voice was soft, the words coming slow, his gaze piercing me as if to steel the knowledge from my head.
I closed my eyes to him. He responded by touching my cheek, catching a tear, and then resting his palm there. I leaned into his warmth my thoughts breaking through the static of death moans that had been threatening to swallow me whole. I shoved it away and reached forward, past the pain to my Muse, my anchor. “David, I…” I said it again seeing him this time, “David, I need you.”
My hands were pushing his shirt back, over his shoulders, and I was moving into his lap, my lips finding his neck, following the line of his white undershirt. He let me pull his undershirt up, revealing his hard chest. He let me desperately pull at him as I struggled to decide whether I wanted to touch him more with my hands or my face, my breasts or my mouth.
He had the body of a cyclist, each lean muscle distinct under his pale skin. I could see the corded strength of his chest move as he shifted in his spot, showing his discomfort with my attention. He wasn’t overly built, just a natural man with chest hair and a defined belly, but it felt like perfection against my palms. I reveled in the discovery of each edge and ridge, and emboldened by his beauty I let my fingers drift downward.
I licked my cracked lips and found the button of his slacks, my heart pounding in my chest, the ache finally gone. I took that moment to pause and look up to his face in search of permission, but before my eyes could make it past his shoulders, his arms came up, circling around me and pulling me into him, crushing my hands between us. His undershirt was still half on and my face rested partially on the cloth and partially on his bare chest. He nuzzled my hair and sighed. “Darling, this isn’t right.” He said simply.
His words seemed distant and I struggled to comprehend them through the fogginess. Isn’t right? My eyes narrowed, rejection blooming under my skin just long enough for me to recognize the sorrow that was also there. I closed my eyes to it, my throat tightening and I struggled to regain the intensity of the need to have him inside of me, or if that wouldn’t return I wanted anger. Setting my jaw, I thought about his words. Darling? Really? When did we start using pet names? A rage began to bristle, it was a safer emotion than the shame or the sadness.
The rage was built on this firm idea that David’s sudden denial was an ignorant yet cruel betrayal. I felt as though he’d offered me food in response to my stomach growling, and after seeing I’d taken a bite and enjoyed it, he was taking it back, deeming it unfit. Leaving me more hungry than I’d been before the gesture. And that was just it! I was starving! Starving for a distraction, starving for comfort, starving for something as pure and simple as two naked bodies intertwined, of exchanging bodily fluids and sharing in a proper libido high.
I needed a distraction that would use up the energy that was perched atop my shoulders, daring me to give the fuck up! I didn’t need a speech about how: that was then and this is now. I did not need to be called honey, sweetie, butter, baby cakes in his patronizing tone! No! I needed strong arms to guide me threw this fury that rumbled in my gut with the same fierceness that I wanted to shove my fists into the faces of the men that killed my… Deep breath in.
I straightened my shoulders. “Take off your shirt!” the cold words splashed from my mouth in a harsh command as I pulled myself out of his hold and to arms length.
Still sitting in his lap he studied me, his face going from turmoil to defiance in stages of pursed lips and furrowing brows. Setting his jaw, he pulled his undershirt over his head, revealing tense fit shoulders. His hands hung in the air at my side for a moment, as if he weren’t sure what to do with them or he was too angry to touch me. His mouth opened in a wordless question and I glared, daring him to speak. We sat there, staring at each other for a moment, me taking in his ruffled hair, his sad blue eyes, his pretty lips.
Without warning or change in his features his right hand came to my hair, tangling itself there. He pulled my face to his so quickly that our teeth clicked together as we kissed, our noses battling for position, gasps and pants barely making it to our lungs as our tongues massaged each other, conducting our first argument with the heated movement of our mouths against the others.
Not wanting to waist his sudden compliance my hands found his hard rounded biceps, my finger tips taking the time to feel the beat of his veins. I wrapped my legs around his hips, shivers rushing up my spine as we began to rock against each other. His hands followed the path from my knees, to my outer thighs, and then slipping under my dress, to my bottom. Cupping my ass resolutely he shifted his hands so that he could hook his thumbs over my hip bones and pull me tighter against him. The delicious feeling of his slacks against my nakedness, making my eyes roll into the back of my head.
My hands came to his pecs and we continued our kisses, with his guidance my fevered movements became something softer. His arms finding their way around me again, holding me as if I hadn’t made my stand and demanded sex over sympathy. Slowly the childish mashing of clothed body parts became tenderness, and tenderness had always been reserved for another man. A man I would never see again.
I moaned a cry into his mouth and he swallowed it, fluidly pushing my hair over my shoulders, revealing my neck and collarbones to him. He placed his face just below my left ear and he began to whisper something to the skin there as he took my chin in his hand and pulled my face sideways so that my right ear met my right shoulder. He was making more room for his soft chant, caressing me with his leisurely spell. I had a strange sense that he was worshiping this small part of me. Saying prayers to the strong muscles and tendons that held my head up even when it felt “impossible”. Venerating the pulse that brought life giving oxygen and nutrients to my “beautiful” mind.
Some words I caught over the sound of my heart beats and hot breaths, but mostly I was mesmerized by the feeling of his exhalations burning against my skin. Physical aches melted away as his Muse magic took hold of me. He was healing me and I couldn’t be sure if he was doing it with his words or his touch or his very presence. I lolled against him, relaxing muscles making me shiver as he ran his strong hand up and down my back. This sensual massage could have gone on forever, I may have drifted into sleep and I found my mind wondering to the soft pillows at the head of David’s bed. All sense of responsibility left me and I found myself imagining how it would feel to curl up under his blanket with his naked body against mine.
He finally pressed his lips against my neck and I felt his hand moving even further down my spine. I felt his fingers catch the hem of my dress and then he was lifting it. I opened my eyes when the dress got caught on my breasts and shoulders, he attempted twice to gently get it up and over my head, but there was no use. I batted his hands away and ripped the dress over my head urgently. His eyes went first to my breasts and then to my tummy, my hands automatically came up to cover it.
His head snapped up as if offended by the action. He wrapped his hands around my wrists and lifted me off of his lap and onto the bed. I was lying flat on my back my leg hanging off the bed, my feet resting on the floor. He leaned over me and placing my hands at my side he placed a kiss on each of my hip bones, and then he ran a finger up one of the scars that had been left on my belly during pregnancy. I moved to cover my belly again, instant flashes of embarrassment bringing a chill over me, but he took my hands and placed them back at my side patiently. He bent over again and kissed the pink line. I wiggled under him, but he persisted with his kisses and then began telling my stomach the same secrets he’d been telling my neck.
Just as he’d massaged my back in time to his whispers, his hands moved up to my breasts. His massage was tentative at first. Slowly he discovered my nipples with his fingers, but soon his strong hands had hold of me breasts, and with the gesture created the warm safety I craved. It occurred to me, as my back began to arch and my toes to curl and grab at the ground beneath them, that this man touched me and held me and moved against me as if this dance was one that we’d done a million times. It was as though he knew my wants and could fulfill them naturally. Like he and I were one person. And that was exactly what we were. We were two parts of a single being. Angel and Muse.
One of his hands traced the curve of my rib cage, my waist, my hips, following the lines of my left side. His fingers then stroking my thigh, tracing lines up and down as they slowly coaxed my leg to rotate until my knee and toes were pointing to the head of his bead and the apex of my thighs was opened to him. He shifted himself, taking my now cold left nipple in his mouth he drew a slow deliberate line down the center of my being with one of his fingers. I cried out and he sucked at me as if to reward me. Shifting again, he pulled himself up the bed until he could kiss me, his fingers warm and wet and tantalizing and driving me wild with their stillness. Our kisses grew long and just when I’d forgotten the intentions of his hand he entered me. He caught my grown with with his mouth.
I clung to his arm tightly and rode his hand like a virgin, unintentional movements making me thrash about under his kisses and his petting. He moved his finger languidly and purposefully as his thumb found it’s place on my clitoris, and I knew he was creating himself a map for later use, exploring a rhythm or a direction, noting my response and then moving off until he found a cadence that left me breathless and shaking.
All of my concentration was spent on kissing and trying not to flop off the bed in ecstasy until it finally hit me: I am being so selfish. Even with that thought it took me until my right ass cheek began to cramp to do something about it. I stopped his hand with both of mine and he pulled away to look down at me. “David!” my voice was a ragged whisper.
“Yeah?” he seemed distracted by his name, unsure why or how I’d decided to speak.
“I want you…” suddenly feeling embarrassed I slid my hands to the waist of his pants. He didn’t respond, his brows coming together in concern. “I want…” I mumbled, pulling at the button there. He continued to look dumbfounded. Damn, he was going to make me say it! Still struggling with the button with one hand the other traced the stiffness through the cloth of his slacks. “I want you inside of me!” the whisper was quick and I looked away not wanting to see the change in his face as he realized my intentions.
There was a long pause and I pulled my left arm over my face to cover the slowly blooming embarrassment. I could feel his eyes on me for a while and then he sighed, rolling onto his back next to me. He reached for my right hand was still caught up in his pants, and entwined his fingers with mine. “I can’t, I really want to, but I can’t,” his words were soft. For a moment I held my breath, waiting for him to take it back. When he didn’t I tried to pull my hand away, but he held it tight. “Wylie, please try to understand!”
Understand what? That he was willing to give me a charity finger banging but beneath going to home base with? If he wanted me to understand why it was okay for him to stick his tongue down my throat but not introduce me to his sister as a person he’s dating, it just wasn’t going to happen. I tried to pull my hand free again but got nowhere.
Again he sighs, his words coming out pained “I tried to explain earlier. This is wrong for so many reasons, most of which is that you are emotional and vulnerable and I’m not the kind of man that would take advantage of that.”
“But I’m the one taking advantage!” I barked before he could continue, still clinging to the chance of a sympathy fucking, no matter how shameful it was for me to ask. I could still feel the promise of sex twitching between my legs. “David, I want this. I need to move on and forget and just feel good for once!”
“At what cost?” his words shot back at me as quickly as mine had come. “Have you asked yourself that? How is forcing me to have sex with you going to fix anything?”
I shook my hand free of his and sat up, the hurt in his words blinding. “I thought this was a direction we were heading anyways.” I bit off guiltily, the finality of his words were slowly piercing my thick skull. This was a “No!”, earlier he’d given me a halfhearted “no”, and I’d ignored it like a crude rapist.
“A direction we were heading? Don’t you get it? I’m your soul! I can’t eat, shit, or breathe without doing it for your existence. Don’t you think I should get to make some of my own decisions?” He growled from his place on the bed. I leaned forward searching the dark ground for my dress, desperately not wanting to be naked anymore. “Wylie, I will do anything you ask me, I’ll hold you, I listen to you, I’ll let you suck away at my life’s force when your weak or hurt, that’s my job, but this…” His voice breaks and he sits up, pulling his feet onto the bed. “If we are going to make love, we will do it because that’s what we want from each other, not because its a distraction. You have to let me protect myself too.”
My fingers catch the cloth of my discarded dress and I whip it from the ground, pulling it over my head and down my body. “I won’t make the mistake again,” I promise shakily as I make a hasty dash for the door too ashamed to look back.
I hear him get up, his foot falls sounding loud behind me, but I already had the door open, and there was Samael staring at me and then lifting his head he focused on David.
“Let’s go back to Ludus!” I said closing the distance between us at a sprint and then crashing into him. I wrapped my arms around his waist, closing my eyes, and begged him with my mind: Now! Now! NOW!
Samael shot straight up at the sound of Wylie in pain. He bound in the direction when he heard the wine again. It was a soft guttural “Ahh,” and as his hand landed on the door he knew she was behind, he paused. Taking a deep breath in, he concentrated, his hearing sharpening until he could hear the whispered words that were being muttered on the other side.
“Wylie, you are so beautiful, so very beautiful. So strong, so kind. I wish I could take your pain away. I wish I could be the one to bring your smiles back.” There was another moan and then Davids voice continued. “My Angel. My Angel. Mmm, my beautiful Angel.”
Samael shook his head, suddenly wanting to tune out the sound of David’s rhythmic whispers. He pulled at his hair with both of his hands and girt his teeth, but the words wouldn’t stop and the image of Wylie naked under a man made him wild with anger. It was the same wildness that had him throwing young Leleil at a bus. The same wildness that had him shredding the Angels from the night before into pieces. Where was this coming from?
It was coming from Wylie, there was no other explanation, but how? These emotional swings made no sense to him. He was the Angel of Death. He’d survived since the beginning of time. How could a half breed make him loose control like this. He wasn’t actually attracted to her, that wasn’t possible, he was an Angel after all.
Angels weren’t sexual beings, it was the way they were made. They weren’t procreated, they were created. There was no point or pleasure to be found in mating, not even a temptation. Than why was he so indignant that Wylie was… He rubbed his face with his hand, maybe he was upset because, God had given her, a fellow Angel, the ability to make love. Maybe it was the tabooness of her using this ability with her Muse. It was like masturbating, wasn’t it?
He paced the living room, debating whether he should stay or leave. He had more than enough energy now, but could he really leave her here. After her short jaunt with the Seraphim, he was sure she’d be out of her mind with grief right now. Samael had visited the bloody scene himself. No one could watch a child die like that, and not come out the other end a little dead too.
Here was yet another sign of how human she was. They were programmed to breed weren’t they. Another groan broke his concentration and he made his way back to Sam’s door. He’d absorb a little more energy and then he would leave. He had more important things to do, he just needed a little more energy first.
His first order of business would be to call an Angel tribunal, there hadn’t been one in since 33 AD. It was difficult to gather in one place at one time. Angel’s didn’t have unions, they didn’t take breaks or vacations, not to mention, they were everywhere, always. When Angels met, time was usually stopped. It was an undertaking that is impossible in the best circumstances. Leaving the human race vulnerable went against the grain of how Angels were groomed since God had formed his first winged creature.
Even with this knowledge, the Angels’ must know. They must know that the End of Days was here. Armageddon was not a place but a person. Humanity had finally set off God’s fail safe. He’d created it, in response to the Original Sin. Samael had not stopped the clock by finding Wylie, no, he’d just discovered the true time. The fact that she was a hybrid spread the responsibility to humanity too, Angels weren’t going to be fighting the loosing battle by themselves anymore.
“At what cost?” David’s heated voice, brought Samael back to the present. He glared at the door. The sharp words being exchanged wasn’t as loud as the pain emanating from the room. Damn humans with the pheromones and hormones and mood swings. He took several slow steps towards Wylie, not sure if he should burst in the room and tear her Muse apart. But that was David, his poor rebellious boy.
His hands shook with restraint as he moved closer, and then the door swung open, and Wylie was there, her face wet with tears, smelling of sex. Samael couldn’t help but glare at David, and then Wylie smacked into his chest. “Let’s go back to Ludus,” she’d said, but he could barely hear her over the den of anger that was consuming him. He opened his mouth to speak to the errant Muse, but was shocked as Wylie’s mind spoke to him without his allowing the communication, “Now!”
He folded his arms around her, and then his wings, and they were gone.
Time moved different on Ludus. Though I’d been here for about a several days, Samael carefully explained that we’d been gone maybe 12 hours. He’d placed me in one of the sterile training rooms. Two of the four walls were lined with mirrors. Above, in the center of the room were four long fluorescent linear lights held captive in industrial fixtures. The white walls were painted with semi-gloss making the place reflective and bright.
“Sleep,” Samael commanded. The Angel was aware of my human dispositions enough to know that I need sleep and food and water, but not well enough to provide comfort or entertainment. I slept on the grey concrete ground. Waking to the smell of food. He’d brought me a pizza, another dress, and a bowl.
“What’s the bowl for?” I’d asked.
“It’s for you to void in, I have learned that you have that habit.” He replied dismissively.
I smiled despite myself, fully intent on putting the bowl to good use once I was alone again. I scarfed down a slice of the pizza as Samael watched me. “I’m ready, you know,” I drawled between bites.
“I knew you would be,” he said leaning against the wall and folding his arms. “You will start here.”
“Here?” I asked through a mouth of crust. He nodded, his eyes scrutinizing me. I didn’t care, I was starving, I reached for a second slice. “So what are we starting with? Flying? Fighting? Walking on water?” I choked on my food as I snorted at my own joke.
He raised his eyebrows. “You are going to find your wings.” He pointed at the mirrors, “In those.”
My jaw dropped revealing my partially chewed food. “What?”
“Repeat after me,” he said, “In the shadow of your wings,”
“‘In the shadow of your wings,'” I mumbled back.
Samael put his hand on his hips “I sing for joy.”
“I, wait, what?” confused, I glared up at Samael.
He ignored my skeptical sneer, I walked across the room and stepping squarely in front of the mirror himself he slowly pronounced, “In the shadow of your wings, I sing for joy.” As he spoke his wings came to life at his back, spreading wide as if in response to his words.
Setting the crust of my second slice of pizza down on the box I joined Samael, looking at my reflection I realized how badly I needed to shower. My hair was greasy, stuck in that scary place between frizzy and matted. My face was splotchy, my nose and ears burning ready while the rest of my face seemed drawn. Avoiding making eye contact with myself I mumbled, “The shadows and wings and something about singing.” Without hesitating I turned to Samael, “It didn’t work.”
He shrugged “Try again.” Turning on his heels he left me there. I glared in the mirror for a few minutes and then grabbed another slice of pizza. I planted myself in front of the mirror, crossing my legs and watched myself eat, thinking to myself how gross it was to watch someone eat.
I stood, dusted myself off, made use of the bowl, and changed into the fresh dress. The clean clothing gave me a new resolve. I waved at myself in the mirror, “In the shadow of your wings, I sing for joy.” I said the words with a smile on my face, they had a falsely upbeat tone. I repeated myself, again and again, until they became a meaningless chant. My voice was the background music to my will trying to force my wings into showing their feathery selves. Not going to happen.
The lights of Ludus never turned off and Samael would disappear for hours at a time. I framed my time by sleep and Samael’s visits. Almost every time a he stopped by he was accompanied with an Angel or two. Though none of my visitors showed any particular interest in me, I could feel their curiosity in the energy in which their feathers moved as they drawled sloppy niceties.
I was learning that their was a caste system within the Angel community. Each Angel would be introduced first by their name and then by their Angel type. I’d met a few Powers, some Archangels, and one Virtue. I hadn’t quite pieced together the exact significance of these titles yet, nor had I figured out which class I belonged in. Honestly, most of the angel’s blended together, I could not see any real patterns. I could only remember the names of the few who’d made an impression on me.
There was Netzach, he was a Power, he would be taking me on a “ride along” once Samael was confident that I could do all the basic Angel shit. He looked like a computer geek, long nose, long face, a bit of a beer belly. He was over excited to meet me, but not to keen on actually touching me as if he were afraid.
Camael, was another Power, he had shifty eyes that darted up and down my body with contempt. Scrunching his nose he’d commented that I “smelled like a human”. He spoke over me the two times I attempted to introduce myself.
There was Laoth, a pretty Archangel. She knelt before me, lifting her fisted forearm up over her eyes, using the same salute Samael had shown the Seraphim. After seeing my embarrassment she tried to lighten the mood by making a few jokes. Her pretty face turned red and complaining about how her long beautiful black hair was making her feel claustrophobic, she shook her head. With that Loath’s hair shortened into a perfectly styled white fohawk.
Peliel, a Virtue, with green skin and wide eyes of which the entirety was black, was the only Angel to give me advise. He leaned down from his seven foot height and placing his chin on my shoulder whispered secretively “The woman in the mirror is not as loathsome as you make her out to be, think of all the men and women she has save with her healing hands.” I automatically looked at my hands, picturing them pressed against a bleeding wound or clasping an frail hand.
There were many more Angel’s who came to visit, but their names where often too similar sounding and their faces sharing the same youthfulness, for me to tell the difference. I found myself taking note of their Angel Type and then sneaking a peak back to the mirror to see if my elusive wings had appeared.
On the third day, I had a small breakthrough. I was sitting on the hard ground, thinking about my poor ass. It was so sore from sitting on the hard concrete floor, my hips were starting to lock painfully every time I shifted positions. My mirrors revealed dark bags under eyes that squinted against the harsh lighting. My thoughts which had been singular in their intentions of bringing my wings onto this plain, wandered for the first time.
David came to mind. His tosseled chestnut hair. His sweet mannerisms. Shame immediately brought color back to my face. The change in the image before me triggered the reminder in my head that I was off topic and should return to the wing discovery process. What kind of Angel are you? The thought came slowly and the mirror-me stared back at me accusatorily.
The wingless kind, duh! I raised my brows at myself to emphasize the “duh”.
More like the rapist, murderess kind! I leaned forward, shooting myself a look of utter contempt.
Stupid, fucking, piece of shit! I was moving to my feet stiffly, getting up in my own face. “Why the fuck are you even alive!” I screamed, reaching forward, thinking that I cold grab and shake myself through the mirror. My fingers painfully smashed into the glass. “Fuck!” I exclaimed, pulling my fingers back and looking down at them.
Healing hands? They curled into fists
It was instantaneous, the craze that took over my body. I kicked my boot into the mirror, and then punched it. With both fists at once, like a cartoon fricken ninja. I stepped back and then charged the mirror, smashing into it with my right shoulder over and over again. Ignoring the pain I gritted my teeth and let the shouts come every time I smacked into the glass. I stopped when my body stiffened in the seconds before hitting my target, the automatic hesitancy my brain’s way of trying to prevent further injury. The momentum was too much though, I head butted myself, the temple to temple contact making spots flash in my periphery.
Sliding down the mirror, the blood running into my right eye, blurring my vision. I lifted my left hand to the intact piece of glass and closed my eyes to it. I couldn’t handle looking at myself, what I’d done to myself. I forced the heaviness in my stomach, up into my chest and through my left arm, “break” I whispered. The cool smoothness that rested under my fingers shattered in response. The high pitched sound of shattering glass surrounded me. My eyes flew open, only to be assaulted with blackness. “Samael?” I said hesitantly.
I stumbled to my feet, wiping at the blood that distorted my vision. “Samael!” I shouted as I moved towards the doorway.
“Wylie!” His voice answered mine. I could hear him from the hallway, the syllables of my name punctuated by his pronounced foot falls.
“I think I broke Ludus.” I laughed, as I reached up to rub my throbbing right shoulder.
“I think you did too.” I couldn’t detect any annoyance in his voice.
“That’s what you guys get for lighting this place like a fricken warehouse.” I shot back, still feeling drunk on adrenaline.
“Both of your neighboring rooms, the three adjacent rooms are all dark,” He calculated out loud, “What were you trying to do?” And then without waiting for a response spoke the words “Technito foz.” A dull light filled the room, it was coming from his wings. “Follow me.” he said, turning.
I giggled as I followed him, “You’re like a night light!” He choked on a laugh as we took a right into a well lit hall. The sound lightened my mood a little, it was the closest thing to a laugh I had heard out of my Angel. “So where are we going now? Am I in trouble?”
“No, but I’m thinking maybe we should work on a different skill, give you a break from the mirrors.”
“Gee, thanks.” the sarcasm in my voice was only there to cover my relief. I wasn’t good at failing, ask the cuts on my forehead.
“First, you need to shower. Camael had a pint today.”
I actually squealed at this announcement, throwing my hands in the air, I mustered a half skip half celebratory leap.
We snaked down a few more halls and came back to the room, lined with clothe on one side and shower stalls on the other. After Samael inspected the cut on my face and my knuckles he left me to myself. I was grateful. The entire plain seemed to be void of doors and I wasn’t comfortable with an audience.
I carefully slipped my dress over my injured right shoulder and literally ran to the gym style showers. There was one button in the middle of the wall below the shower head. I pushed it and stood back. The water was like ice, I was surprised that it didn’t take the form of hail balls. Seeing no soap dispensers, I decided to take the plunge, jumping into the shower with shoulder hunched against the cold. I scrubbed at my hair with my fingers, then my face, then my underarms and girly bits and not having the unable to stand another second of the ice torture, I stepped out of the shower, realizing that I hadn’t asked for a towel.
I scanned the clothes hanging from the walls, but there was no towel to be found. Still freezing I yanked two identical pale yellow sweatshirts off their hangers, and turning them inside out commended to wrap my hair in one and dry my body with the other. Quickly scanning the hanging garments again, I settled on a pair of footless tights and a over sized forest green techshirt. The long sleeves had thumb-holes and carefully poking my thumbs through, I folded my arms around myself shivering.
“This must be a new hair fashion I’ve never seen?” Samael’s voice made me swirl around to meet his gaze.
“How long have you been there?” I asked, my eyes narrowing.
“Just walked in,” he shrugged, holding out a folded towel, “I guess you won’t be needing this?”
I glared at the towel for a second before I noticed the brush and the ribbon sitting on it in a perfect pile. “Are those for me too?” I asked, my frustration already forgotten.
“Yes, sit down,” He gestured to the ground.
Willing to do anything for the brush I sat, folded my legs, and put out my hand expectantly. He ignored it, coming around me and then kneeling behind me. He gently pulled the sweater from my head and I resisted turning around to face him. “I have trained many Angels on the art of using the brush,” He said as my still wet hair fell down to slap against my back. He softly dabbed at it with the towel.
“You know, for many centuries, men also wore their hair long.” He took a handful of my hair and started brushing the tips. “Believe it or not, it is not common since to start at the bottom and to slowly, calmly comb out the knots one at a time.” As he spoke the bristles of the brush caught, he simply lifted the brush and expertly began to comb below the knot. “You see patience is not a virtue that God granted any of the creatures on earth. He meant for us all to learn it, to practice it. To mindfully search for it in our daily endeavors of grooming and fueling.” He set down the brush and began running his fingers through my hair deftly parting it and then trapping it in his other hand.
“I’ve trained thousands of Angels how to be human, but I think you are the first human I’ve had to train to be an Angel. I think in this newness I forgot to impart the most basic of knowledge.” He paused as I felt him twist two sections of my hair and than switch hands that held them. “We, Angels and Humans alike, respond best to patience, kindness, love. If you were teaching a child to brush their hair, would you yell at them and harass them every time they knotted their hair or threw the brush in impatience. Would you chide them if they cried in frustration? I don’t think you would.” He reached down for the ribbon and began tying it into my hair.
“Then how can you treat this tender, innocent part of yourself with such contempt?” He put his hands on my shoulders and squeezed softly. “Please remember these words, I will not share them with you again.” And then his hands were gone and I could hear him standing up behind me.
I automatically reached back to trace the intricate bumps of the braid he’d put into my hair. How was it that the Angels had enough forethought to teach each other to braid hair but didn’t see the need for a warm shower or toilets?
“If that is the only thing you got out of my speech, I’m afraid I am in for more work than I’d expected,” Samael stepped in front of me and reached out to help me up. I frowned at his hand and then took it.
“It was a good question!” I blurted out.
“It was a totally unrelated topic,” he said thinly, he shrugged away the conversation, “My friend Dumah, a Virtue, has offered to assess which Angel Scentias you are capable of.” One side of his lip raised, “I think you two will get along well.”
I followed him threw more halls, past empty white room after empty white room until we came face to face with a dead end. Samael looked back at me his face curious and then turning forward again stepped threw the wall as if it weren’t there. Without a second thought, I followed him, only to bounce backwards.
I was rubbing my forehead, when Samael poked his head back threw the wall. He caught sight of me and shook his head. Returning to my side he grunted apologetically, “Looks like we will be taking the long way round.”
Well thank you for showing me one more way that I am inadequate! I thought irritably. I was so enthusiastic a few days ago. Prepared to go to war, I thought id be learning how to kick ass. Instead I’m setting around staring into mirrors and getting my hair braided. I glared at the back of Samael’s dirty blond head, deciding that it was all his fault. I rubbed at my sore nose, hoping I hadn’t re-broken it.
“You did that on purpose!” my voice sounded smaller than I’d planned on it sounding. We were heading back the way we’d came and turning into an empty room on the right.
“I wanted to see if you could do it, I thought you may do better if you didn’t have to think so hard about it.” He didn’t turn to face me as he spoke. We walked threw the room to a new hallway and took a left.
You’re an asshole! I thought in his direction, hoping he’d catch the drift.
“Hmm” the sound came out of him as if to respond.
Empowered by the little noise, I decided to punish him further. Asshole I sang over and over again in my head.
He picked up his pace and then as if realizing that I was not going to stop, he stopped himself. I walked right into him. “You are right, I should have known better!” He spoke shortly, stepping away from me, he took a deep breath, opened his mouth and then as if thinking better of it closed it again.
We walked in what felt like a large circle. I lost count of how many rooms we passed on our way. Each step I felt an anxiety building behind my eyes, my brain angrily hammering on my skull. I’d moved past picking on Samael and was considering the two men who’d broken into my apartment last October. I distinctly remember the silver haired man’s face. His heavy lids squinted around pale blue eyes. His skin browned and wrinkled with age, he wasn’t from around here, not with that tan. I could tell by the discoloration that the man wore sunglasses regularly.
I could remember how his silver hair, fell onto his face when he leaned over my husband as Roberto struggled to get back on his feet. I was sure that the evil man had lived. I’d imagined that Samael would be helping me find him. Helping me get answers, the man was obviously at my home under orders, but whose.
We both stopped in front of a door. It was the first one I’d seen in Ludus. It was metal and rusty, a heavy latch holding it closed. With both hands Samael pulled the latch up, his muscles flexing as he strained. Planting both his feet on the ground before the door he pushed, his hands flat against the metal, his teeth gleaming as the clenched together. The door creaked and groaned as he pushed, the edges of it cracking as rusty dust flew into the air.
I peaked around him to see the room ahead, the warehouse sized room did not look like it belonged in Ludus. The soaring ceilings weren’t visible from the doorway. A steel pillar in the center of the room, dominated my view. Below the pillar was a platform with stacks of fresh wood under it and blackened concrete under those. I felt myself shiver, the scene reminding me of the stereotypical witch movies where women in burlap sacks were burnt at the stake for their sins.
I opened my mouth to make a comment about the ominous sight, but was interrupted by a whirlwind of a woman who came clicking over to us in her high heels. She wore a dramatic a-line skirt that ended mid-thigh and a white cardigan. She was bald with flawless ebony skin and at least 10 earrings per ear. Her thick lips turned up in a smile as she approached us.
“My, my what took so long? I almost gave up on you two coming today,” the woman’s voice was deep and smooth with a worldly accent that lilted at the ‘L’s.
“I apologize for that, Dumah,” Samael said smoothly, not mentioning that I was to blame for our tardiness or showing any frustration in his face. “This is Wylie.” He stepped aside graciously.
“Oh child!” she exclaimed, her arms dramatically coming up to my shoulders, as she pulled me into an embrace. “I’ve waited so long to meet you!” I cringe at her familiarity, feeling the discomfort of a stranger pushing themselves into my space.
Opening my mouth, I catch Samael’s eyes. He watches Dumah pat my back, his face as blank as ever, his eyes shone with… was that pride? “She’s all yours, I will return for her catharsis.” I heard him leave, but was unable to watch him go or search his face further, because Dumah had my hand and was dragging me to the other side of the room.
My nervousness quickly multiplied, my eyes focusing on the obvious execution station as I hesitantly follow the deceptively carefree Dumah. Samael had never left me with a stranger. I focus on the sound of her heels clicking and look around the room for a distraction. Catharsis, what the hell is a Catharsis? There is a set of metal bleachers on the other side of the wooden stage, as if made for an audience. It sounds either painful or perverted. I wasn’t sure which was better to hope for. My head lifts to the ceiling a fan the size of a car built into it. This room is built to contain a large fire.
My thoughts come to a halt as I turn my head, unlike any other walls in Ludus, this one is not blank. My mouth opens wide as I see the art lining the grey cement. Painting after painting of flames and at the center of all the orange and red and yellow are small writhing figures, one dying person captured in each from. Some are bound with their arms behind their backs, their heads lifted skyward. Others show their curved shoulders as they cling to the stake rising in the backdrop of the scene, their hair alight. Oh my God, they’re going to kill me. They are going to light me on fire and burn me to death!
My legs stop working all together and I turn to better take in the wall as an entirety, each painting was a least 24″ X 36″, some were placed horizontally, some vertically. My heart jumped in my chest as I looked to my left and then to my right, there were hundreds of them. The columns and rows they made were uneven, as if artistically placed to mimic the chaos of flames. Finally, I look up, my neck craning so that I can see how far up they rose, the ceilings were around 80 feet above my head, and painting butted up against them.
“They are beautiful, aren’t they,” I jump at Dumah’s speaking, the hair on the back of my neck standing in response to the reverence in her voice. I hold in my responses, each one of them varying stages of sarcasm, horror, and anger, and nod my head, closing my mouth tightly. She steps closer to me, “would you like to see mine?”
“What?” I couldn’t keep the surprise out of my voice.
“Tartys paints these,” she hooks her arm around mine and not giving me time to truely understand what she is saying she pulls me back to the door. It seemed miles away now, how did I get this far into the room and not look notice these? I was too distracted by the pyre, my pyre. My feet began to drag, my breaths coming in pants. “There!” Dumah exclaims, “Look, baby girl, that’s me!” I followed the direction of her pointed finger, to the blazing portrait.
It would have been striking. It would have been beautiful. If it weren’t for the scorched concrete floors under the pile of fresh wood behind me. If it weren’t for the truth of what standing in those flames would do to a person.
I’ve seen burns, third and forth degree burns, that blacken bones and suck all the hydration from their victims. Skin peeling back, adipose tissue sizzling as it follows gravity, muscles stretching tight like rubber bands. In the painting the victims were mostly whole, but I looked at them with a nurse’s eye. I couldn’t help but see what the aftermath would be. My skin tingled as if it were preparing to crawl away without me if it had to, anything to escape the unwelcomed empathy.
I moved closer to the painting of Dumah, my fingers lifting to touch the thick valleys of acrylic colors that made her face. “Go ahead, touch it,” she said softly. Even with permission, I resisted the urge. Maybe it was out of politeness for the morbid Angel painter Tartys or respect for the burning victim, maybe I was afraid. Afraid that the pain would transfer to me, through my finger tips, like burning to death could be catching.
The image of one of the Seraphim boys blocking my view as my husband dies flashes in my mind. I can hear his panting again, and though I should be grateful for the boy for his kindness in sparing me the sight, I wish I could have been right where the boy stood. My hands on my husband shoulders, talking him threw his death throws, reassuring him that he was loved, sharing the pain. I blink hard, tears blurring my vision, I place my entire hand on the painting.
I will witness.
The tabooness of handling the art is quickly replaced by peace, my apprehension draining away, making me suddenly lighter. I take in a breath, my eyes widening and I step back, one foot after another until I am far enough from the wall that I can see the hangings as a whole. It was as if the artist created a dual meaning. I’d only comprehended one at first, seeing death and mayhem, but now…
I breathed out a sigh, placing my hand on my chest. It was a city of dancing angels, wrapped in flaming wings, their faces contorted in the ecstasy of freedom.
The tears fall, Roberto is in a place that always feels like this.
Samael sunk to his knees before the Seraphim. He lifted his forearm to his eyes and waited for permission to speak.
“You have returned fairly quickly.” those four Angel’s voices sounded at once.
“Are you here for more favors?” One voice broke off from the others. Samael strained to recognize it’s owner. “Speak!”
“I am here to invite the Seraphim, if that would please the Seraphim.” Samael did not lower his arm as he spoke. He knew that even if these Angel’s acted familiar with Wylie, they never showed such lenience in the past.
The Seraphim existed first. It is said that at one time they had together made one Angel. His name was Sibriel, the prince of Angels. He existed before time, when there was only God and his heir. It is said the Sibriel was created to be and equal of God, to be his confidant in all things. Together they planned everything, the universe, the world, the eb and flow of time and the creation of humans. They became friends. As the beginning came close, God thanked Sibriel for his companionship. He asked Sibriel if there was anything that he could do to reward him. Sibriel already knew his answer. He looked at God’s son. “I would have children of my own.”
All Angel’s were made from Sirbriel’s likeness, but these four. The Seraphim before Samael were made of Sibriel himself. It was unclear how much the Seraphim knew of the original plans notwithstanding, they were revered as the God’s Guard and their opinion will matter.
Samael threw himself forward, letting his cheek rest against the dirt. “I have called a tribunal, I speak for myself and all the Dominions, we would have you lead our council.”
Dumah stood behind me quietly as I cried. She waited until I was silent and my shoulder stopped moving and then carefully continues the tour of the room. She tried harder than any of the Angels I’d met so far to help me feel comfortable, though she dismissed many of my questions, promising that all would become clear soon.
She showed me the wood platform, calling it a Stage. She bragged of its sturdiness and the care that was put into it’s building. When we found the end of the room, I actually joined her excitement. She’d made a duplicate of my living room furniture, minus the TV. I flopped onto my couch, stretching my arms out and savoring the softness.
She sat at my table, smiling as she watched me.
“How did you do this?” my voice muffled by the cushions of the couch.
“Oh child, when you know the right people, you can do anything.” Her voice reminded me of a car engine, steady and deep, purring but full of power.
I roll back onto my back and stare up at the soaring ceilings. “Why did you do this?”
“I wanted you to feel comfortable,” She stands and I hear her heels click a few times before I look over at her, “sometimes it take a Virtue to remember the importance comfort.” she winks. She has the poster board and markers that I’d been doodling with when I thought I was a witch. She sets it all down on the coffee table. “Are you ready?” she raises her eyebrows and purses her lips, her face asking deeper questions than her words.
I swing my legs onto the ground and lean forward, “I’m ready!” Enthusiasm brings blood to my face. This is what I’ve been waiting for.
Dumah takes a seat beside me and scanning my hasty Vendiagram about good and evil, she smirks. placing her hand on the page she wipes across it, clearing it as if it were a tablet. She pull the cap off of the marker with her teeth. “Let’s see, where to start,” she says around the cap still in her mouth, she draws a horizontal line across the entire board. She divides the page into 3 columns with two long vertical lines. “There are three Angel categories,” her words are slow, he concentration on the labels she is putting at the top of each category.
Lesser Angel, Skilled Angels, Ruling Angels, she underlines each. She snaps the cap onto the back of the marker and turns to me. “The Lesser Angels include Guardians, Shadows, and Messengers.” She stare at me until I nod, even though I have no clue what she is referring to.
She looks back down at her graph and make three even tic marks on the horizontal line, under the title Lesser Angel. “Shadows have the most human contact, the usually are passed down from generation to generation, often taking the form of important deceased family members. Human’s often refer to them as ghosts.” Dumah is doodling a simple Halloween ghost with huge oval eyes under the word Shadow.
“Messenger are the messengers, they gather prayers and report them to the Principalities. They also deliver the answers.” She draws a very poor attempt of two hands with fingers intertwined, it looks more like a rock with squiggles on it. “the Guardians are basically the Lesser Angel team lead, they have the last say when it comes to direct human interaction. Even Ruling Angels consult a human’s Gardian before intervening in any way.” Dumah makes a spikey boarder around a shield with a large “G” in the center of it.
“Lesser Angels usually work in teams following family lines. They are the only angel’s born without Muses. They are loyal, compassionate, and selfless. Their jobs are believed to be the most important done by Angels and are protected fiercely.”
She’s absentmindedly creating notches in the other two columns, three in one, four in another. “Do you have any questions so far?”
Her black eyes meet mine and I struggle to grasp everything she’s said so far. “I might need to hear everything first, and then, maybe sleep on it.” She smiles and begins writing again.
I know I am a quick study and I am confident that I will remember what I’ve been told, all those year as a student has showed me what is important to remember and what is important to set aside for further investigation once the rest of it has settled in my brain as truth. Learning about Angel types is no more complicated or believable than the inter-workings of the immune system.
“Powers are Angel’s who have embedded themselves into the human ruling classes. They are kings, queens, CEOs, and actors. They publish books, create art, and lead protesters. They are believed to be human and have sway in the movement of the human world. They take information put forth by the Messengers and choose the appropriate action. They Answer to the Dominions.” I watch the marker tip run across the whiteness of the poster board as it rounds off a jewel in the crown Dumah doodled to represent the Powers.
“Archangels are of course the warriors. Of the Skilled Angel’s Archangels are the most common. As soldiers, they answer to Dominions, carrying out orders that involve violence of life loss. Their motto is ‘Pro summon bono’. For the greater good. They are often purposefully placed in human wars to protect certain human’s or assassinate others.”
My mind begins spinning with her last words. “Assassinate”, who would have dreamed that Angels were making these types of decisions for Humans. Acting as a ruler for an entire country and listening to our prayers? Anyone who thinks their vote doesn’t count, doesn’t know that there is an army of puppet masters behind the scenes deciding the fate of the world. I leaned back in my seat, pain in my temples making my eyes shut. How is it that we are so helpless?
“Do you need a break, baby girl?” Dumah’s raspy voice brings my eyes open.
“No, I…” I rub the side of my head, “No, keep going.” I close my eyes expectantly, before she can ask again.
“The last Skilled Angel type is the Virtues. I am a Virtue.” I see her smile in my head but keep my eyes closed. “We answer to the Thrones, but spend some time working with our Skilled counter parts when they need it. The Virtues rule the seasons, the ebb and flow or time, the rising and setting of the sun, the moons, the stars. We all have our specialties. My skills lie in the manipulation of hormones and moods. Some people call Virtues like me the Lady in Red.” She giggles, “because of my monthly visits.”
I smile out of politeness and open my eyes, nothing could make me laugh at the moment. I stand and start swinging my arms. “So that leaves the Ruling Angels” I ask, ready for explanation to be done.
She seems to sense my weariness, putting her marker down. “Yes, Dominions, Thrones, and Seraphim.” She leans back and crosses her legs. “Dominions are Gods Generals and Seraphim are His Guard. I believe you’ve the Seraphim.”
I think of the boys guarding the door and I have to wonder why they were so important. “The Thrones are the Creators. They made an maintain the planet that you grew up on.” Dumah says interrupting my thoughts and bringing another question to mind.
“I thought there were four types of Ruling Angels?” I ask remembering the poster.
“Ohhh, child, you were paying attention,” She says excitedly, leaning over her the poster again. She wipes the finished part of her graph away, and with her fingers drags the remaining column until it takes up the entire poster. “There are the Cherebum, they are thought to be myth.” Her eyes study me for a moment and then she reaches for the marker again as if prepared to finish the Ruling Angel column, but instead she looks up at me again her eyes narrowing, “What are you thinking? It is strange, but I can’t read your mind, baby girl.”
I squirm under her scrutiny “Samael can,” I blurt out.
“Samael is more powerful than I am,” Dumah’s matter-of-fact tone, make my brows lift.
“What kind of Angel is Samael?” I fold my arms across my chest, guessing Archangel in my head.
“He’s a Dominion.” She shrugs as she returns to drawing.
“What?” My mouth parches at the thought.
“Oh yeah, baby, he’s like my bosses boss. The guy is stupid powerful!”
I feel my cheeks reddening as I remember the asshole song I sang about him as we made our way here. “No shit?” I ask again, wishing it wasn’t true.
She glances up at me through her impossibly long lashes. “It’s funny that out of everything I’ve just told you, you choose to question Samael’s place,” she smiles down at the poster again.
“It’s just that he’s wasted a lot of time helping me.” I struggle for another excuse and can’t find one, “I’m sure I’ll being questioning your ass off soon!” My hands are on my cheeks as I turn on my heels, wanting to hide my face, my mind perversely choosing that moment to show me Samael’s perfectly tanned backside.
“You are so human, it’s adorable, child!” Dumah says behind me.
The heat of my cheeks warm my hands and I work hard to change my focus back to the Angel Typing topic. “I think I’m going to have to see it in action, I mean in theory, what you’re saying makes sense, but I’ve lived my entire life as a Human. How can I be expected to except that some of my choices were not my own? That my child, my husband, my parents made decisions based on encouragements from invisible Angel hands. Teams of hands.” I breathe in deep, shaking my head, I laugh out loud a little hysterical, “And what about the President of the United States, the senate, my state’s fricken governor, how am I ever going to be able to trust the true motives of any choice my government makes?”
“Have you ever trusted their motives, baby?” I turn back to her in time to watch her recap the marker.
“I guess I don’t really know,” I complain.
“Darlin’, you seem like the type of woman who puts all of herself into your work, hoping you have enough leftover for everything else. I can see how easy it is for you to except the best out of everyone around you, because you don’t have time to see the dirty parts of them. You’re just too busy. You’ve decided to believe that those smudges that you glimpse were put there by something bigger than another Human, by society, humanity as a entity itself.” I blink, it’s true, but how could she know this from the few words I’ve shared with her? I don’t think most of my friends understand this about me. “Humans are inherently selfish. They just are, we do our best to see as you see and nurture those things that make each person unique and beautiful. It takes courage and self-confidence to make decisions as a Human. Being an individual is frightening, that is why we are there, a net of invisible hands built to cushion the blows of reality. You see how bad it is with us, can you imagine how it would be without us?”
Her question reminds me of the STD blood tests I was forced to draw on a 6 year old girl a month ago. I remembered being angry, shaking with dreams of fierce vengeance as I put the tubes of blood in a bio-hazard bag to send to the lab. No, I guess I can’t imagine a world without Angels, if those types of things happened in a world with them.
I take a deep breath trying to shake off the thought, “So what kind of Angel am I?”
“That’s why your here, child.”
I look back at the mural of frying Angels. ” You guys are going to light me on fire, aren’t you?”
“Only if that is what you want.” She says as she draws a boarder of daisies around her graft.
“What could you guys possibly learn from that?” my exasperation bleeding from my words. I tighten my fists, half afraid, half willing to do whatever it takes to get back out into the world as a bad ass Angel of retribution.
“You see we all burn a little differently. Like different types of wood, some of us pop and crackle, others just won’t catch fire.” She caps the marker again, frowning down at it she leans forward so that she can place it out of her reach. She leans back, “The benefits are twofold, baby girl. We learn your type and you learn how to separate yourself from the body you’ve created for yourself.”
Samael had explain that the present me was merely a projection I’d created in order to interact with the world. I frowned, sinking to the concreted ground and crossing my legs, “I’m not sure that will work for me, I’m too human. I can’t even bring my wings out. I might not even be an Angel!”
Dumah places both of her feet on the ground and stand her long leg curved as the balance her body on her heels. “It just takes practice,” she takes in a breath and shimming her shoulders she winks, the change starts with her skin tone, the images of her flashing as her body lengthen and squares out. I blink twice as I realize she was taking the shape of Samael. He or she or whatever stood in front of me a grin showing dimples in his cheeks that I would never know were there. He’s barefoot and shirtless, but he still wears Dumah’s skirt.
He looks down at his skirt and smooths in, “I always new he’d look great as a cross-dresser,” her voice has deepened, but is far too cheery. She runs her fingers threw her hair, but instead of her fingers pulling past the strands, her hair just grows under her fingers. Her hips were widening, her shoulders narrowing, her eyes rounding. Her was darkening again, but more towards the yellow spectrum of my skin. My nose. My breasts. My large feet. Wait, she was becoming me!
“Ok, now that’s just creepy,” I creek as I stand, walking to the naked version of me, well naked except for the high heels. I was beginning to realize that the shoes was a Dumah touch.
She raises her arms and prances in a circle with far more confidence than I ever could.”Look, I’m gorgeous like you, baby girl!” She giggles as she does a figure eight with her hips and then with a shiver she is herself again, cardigan and earrings and red lipstick on her pouty lips.
She takes me by the shoulders, she was still a few inches shorter than me with her three inch heels. She tugs at me until I lean forward, she leans her forehead against me and peace clears my head. “Do you feel that?” I nod against her forehead, my eyes closing as my muscles relax. “I feel it too, if you were Human neither of us would react that way, child.”
Samael had done the same thing to me, twice, and both times had calmed me like this. Maybe she is right? I think desperately. “I think you should sleep. Sleep and think. I’ll come back to you when you wake. You can tell me what you want to do then.” She pulls me down further and kisses my forehead like a mother would. “Sleep well, baby girl.”
When I open my eyes she is gone. I rub at my forehead where I’m sure she left a pond of lipstick behind. I looked down at the couch, my only true friend! I covered the space between it and in three lazy steps, plopping down hard. Sleep fogging my head the moment my eyes closed.
The color left his lips first, his hand reaching forward, grasping for something to steady himself on. It didn’t matter that at that moment I should have been focusing on myself, his confidence in me was what was giving me the strength I needed to get through this. His dark eyes and thick brows so strong until they wandered down to the blood between my legs.
“Someone get him a chair!” I bark when the contraction stops and I can find a way to bring air back into my lungs. I glance up at the monitor, preparing myself for the next contraction barely noticing the scrape of the chair legs as a nurse shoves it behind Roberto’s legs.
She takes his spot, holding my left thigh, “It’s time,” she sings, “Push!” My hand reaches for Roberto’s and I only find the strength to bare down when his fingers intertwine with mine. It had been 12 hours since I was admitted to the hospital, 18 since the contractions started, 5 since the epidural. I’d puked and cried and had less that four hours of sleep in the last 28 hours. I could feel the pain gnawing at my lower back, threatening to break through the drugs.
I panted for a moment before checking the monitor again. “Bien, I’m okay,” He was back up in time for the next push.
And the pain vanished with a moan. Garbled screams of a new born filled the air. “Thank you, thank you! Mi amor!” Roberto kissed me as the nurses and OB wiped and wrapped little Dean. “You are so brave. Sei il mio eroe.” He whispers.
My eyes opened slowly, my cheek wet with drool. “You’re my hero.” it was something my husband and I often said to each other. I sat up wiping my cheek, finding the stage, built for my Catharsis. Could I do it? “Sei il mio eroe!” Of course I would do it.
Samael walked through the wall followed by his fellow Dominons. There were only ten of them left, all of them hardened by time. Their backs were straight as they carried their heavy shoulders, their gait that of predators. He could see their fatigue on their faces, even if none of the other Angels could.
The room of Catharsis was already full. Hundreds of Angels lined the bleachers, their chatter barely covering the sound of the huge ceiling fan, the murmurs dying down as their leaders approached. The front, center row was left open for the Dominions, and Samael took his seat trying to hold tight to his usual placid demeanor. He could feel Wylie watch him for a moment before he looked up to her, feeling afraid for the first time in a very long time.
Wylie’s eyes bore into his desperately, worry lines creased her forehead. He leaned forward as if drawn to her vulnerability, trying to hear her thought’s. Nothing, there was silence between them, like a wall, a barrier she was creating. This concerned him even further. His hands tightly gripped the bench on either side of his massive thighs, trying to stay calm, holding just as firmly to his stone facade.
She wore a long white cotton gown that puddled at her feet. He was surprised that she hadn’t chosen to be tied down, most Angels opted for this. He resolved himself to see her strength as he watched her nervously play with the sleeves of her dress, leaning against the metal pole behind her with a straight back. Her cheeks burnt red as her head bobbled on her neck trying to look at everyone at once.
Dumah who stood at Wylie’s side leaned in and began to whisper. Wylie nodded and Dumah walked to the edge of the platform, jumping off onto the cement floor. Throughing back her head majestically she raised her arms, palms opened to the sky and the clamor of voices silenced. Sameal pumped his fists at his side
“I present to you an Angel, who has come here to discover her mission and her name.” Dumah did not raise her voice to address the audience, but every Angel ear was tuned in and heads moved in unison in response to her announcement.
Dumah lifted her hand to the platform and the first tiny flame formed, she retreated to her place in the bleachers, looking as nervous as Samael felt. Is she too Human to survive this? Samael thought, tension crackling where his feet met the ground and his bottom met the bleachers, as if his body was urging him into action.
The smoke rose and Wylie began to pace. A few Angels snickered, but silence returned the moment Samael turned his head to glare at those emitting the irreverent noise.
The fire spread beneath the stage. The panic Wylie felt thickly reverberated around the room, and his follow dominions shifted in their seats.
“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine,” Wylie’s alto was soft at first, the sound of it causing many of the Angel’s behind him to gasp. Soon the thread of the song crescendoed matching the popping and hissing of the fire. “You make me happy when skies are blue,” her voice cracked and she moaned, but she made no move to escape. “And don’t you know dear, how much I love you,” another moan and Samael set his teeth. He glanced towards Dumah, who was smiling, tears in her eyes, proud. “Please don’t take my sunshine away, ahhhh,” The groan became a scream and Samael shot up involuntarily.
While he knew the singing was endearing, he couldn’t take the sound of her pain, he couldn’t. “Yooou are,” the scream pierced his heart, “my sunshi…” Strong hands wrapped around his arms, pulling him backwards.
Wylie’s round eyes met his, her hair was gone, black and burnt. What was left was matted to her head. Her dress was alight but the true flames, the hottest parts of it licked at her shins. Goodbye, her thought was clear in his head. Samael pushed against the hands, blinded. He needed to save her. He needed to… Dumah stepped in front of him, obscuring his vision. Her hand snaked up and around the nape of his neck. She was so fast as she was pulled his head down, pushing her forehead against his.
“Come with me she whispered.” Peace and then he felt rain splatter down on him. No longer in Ludus he glared down at Dumah. Wylie was gone, she was gone. He wanted to smite the women who stood before him, who took him away from her, but he knew she could not be blamed. His large hands found his face and he saw Wylie’s burnt body. For the second time he’d killed her. A sound barreled from his chest, that matched the despair of the rain covering him. He killed her!
There were more angel’s attending than I’d expected. Every row was full. No two Angels were alike as they piled in next to each other. Some wore their wings proudly, blocking the view of those behind them. Some wore no clothes, their bodies slick and perfect. Some looked like ordinary humans, sallow and sickly looking next to their counterparts. Skin tones of the rainbow dotted the audience. It was hard for me to guess their Angel Types by looking and I wondered strange I must look to them.
There was a celebratory mood, curios chatter bubbling louder with every moment. I look up at Dumah expectantly when it suddenly dies down. “Here come the Dominions, baby girl.” She points to my left, “When they sit down, we will get started.”
I press my sweaty palms to my dress and look up in time to watch Samael walk around the corner of my stage and move towards the bleachers. Nine men and women follow, their mouths grim lines, dressed in plain sleeveless tanks and board shorts. Dominions were large. Taller, harder, meaner than any of the Angels I’d seen so far.
They took their seats front and center and I watched Samael settle in. His expression was stone, and I wondered if he was taking his time to look up at me. When his eyes finally met my own, a chill went up my spine. I tried my best not to show my fear, not to share my thoughts, my face crinkling in concentration. I just needed to share this moment with him, try to take comfort in his confident face. He wouldn’t let me do this if I were going to die. Right?
Anxiously I pulled at my sleeves, wishing I didn’t have to wear this stupid dress. I searched the faces of the Angels again, trying to recognize someone. Dumah said that only Angel’s who’d been involved in my life would be attending. These were Angel that belonged to my family line, my husband’s family line, and guardian’s to all my closest friends and family. The sheer volume of Angels involved in my relatively short life made my breath catch in my throat. I pushed my back against the metal bar that dominated the center of my stage, trying to push the emotions back down, trying to find my brave.
I felt Dumah lean close to me again. “Are you ready, child?” I swallow and then nod, “Good girl, let’s get started then!” I nod again. She walks away from me, swaying on her ridiculous heels. I close my eyes as the Angels fall silent. She’s talking but my brain is too jumbled with anxiety for me to separate the buzz of the ceiling fan from her voice.
Dean finds his way into forefront of my mind as I try to separate myself from my fear. I dreamed about my little one last night, but woke before I’d had a chance to hold him. Remember made my arms suddenly feel empty without him. My back and my hip aching in the loss of his weight, as his monkey limbs clung to me.
I opened my eyes, my arms folding around me, my fingers digging into my ribs. Streams of smoke languidly crawl skyward and I begin to pace, bouncing as I with each step, pretending little Dean was on my hip, needing my love.
I close my eyes again. Dean. I prayed his name. Dean, my handsome boy. My beautiful boy! Tears stung my eyes, and I leaned my head to the side that I imagined he held on to. The smoke was starting to fill the air around me, the heat traveling past me to the fan in the ceiling.
Dizziness from lack of oxygen squeezed my ribs and I told myself that the feeling was Dean’s wiry arms, holding tight, but the illusion was wearing thin. The heat intensified, the rubber of the boots I wore under my dress was slipping and sticking with every step. The beginnings of pain making my bones stiffen, but I needed to keep moving.
“You are my sunshine,” the song was somehow in my head, and soon the words fought their way out of me, until I was shouting with my singing voice. I couldn’t concentrate enough to picture Dean anymore, but I could sing, sing for my baby.
A cry of pain interrupted the song as I felt my shoes melt around my toes, boiling my feet. I wanted to run away, but I couldn’t. My eyes still shut, I forced myself to move the mess of rubber and flesh that had become part of me, the skin of my legs tightening in expectation, the song spilling out of my mouth as if it couldn’t be stopped.
I scream when my dress catches fire. Singing or screaming, I couldn’t tell anymore. I was frozen by pain. Hurt was everywhere, but it dug in deeper where the dress was tightest against me, burrowing into my torso. My nervous system shot warning signal up and down my spine. My hands reached up to clasp my head as my hair went up around me. My cheeks and ears scream with me, my scalp instantly bubbling up under my hands, weeping between my finger tips.
I tried to start the song over, but I needed to look at the pain. I needed to stare down my ruined body. I needed to… My eyes open and I see Samael through the smoke. Goodbye, I think in his direction, thank you. My brain was shorting, becoming a primal shadow of itself as the pain peeled my skin away. I looked down at myself, the white dress blacked in the spots where it melded to red scalded tissue of my body. This needed to end. This must end. I drop to my ass and lay down flat.
Parts of my body were numb, but not enough of it, and breathing didn’t satisfy my need for air. Black dots dance in my vision, ready to suffocate the moment I realized it was happening. A gulp of air burns down my throat and I wail with the last of my breath. I can feel my shrieks more than hear them as my body involuntarily jerks, starved of oxygen. The smell of cooking meat and the sounds of sizzling fat curdling between my ears, behind my eyes that were wide and blind. Choking on terror I begin to think that the Angel’s were wrong. I’m human, and I’m going to go see my family now. I close my eyes and endure the agony desperately waiting for it to end.
Just consciousness and a tingling sensation below the space my thoughts are, in the places my body should exist. Relief and complete understanding that I, this separate stream of consciousness, was free.
It was the feeling of peace after a climax. Those moments in a person’s life when you don’t breathe because you’ve transcended that. Your heart takes a break in your chest and there is only warm stillness there. You disconnect totally. The flash of time between the movements of a second hand. All the messy biological mechanics were left behind, as I mapped the boundlessness of my new existence.
I’d smile if I could, but in the absence of self and worry and pain, I had no face to express emotion. The thought made me want to giggle, the silliness of this formlessness churning in the blackness. Lacking the weight of need, the tendrils of my thoughts embrace the exactness of taking up only the space needed. In the emptiness I was neither too large or too small, too masculine or too feminine, too independent or cowardice. I’d become a pure, faultless being and I instantly revealed in it.
In response to the elation I wanted to giggle, maybe do a little dance, but without a body to express my emotions I reached deeper into myself. Searching and curious, I dig. Prodding into my purpose, finding the beauty of my compassion, the strength of my will, the darkness in my humor, the blatant hatred that many of my basic beliefs were built on. When did I become this cynical person, that loved others in order to distract myself from the disdain I felt for myself.
The usual judgments did not take over as they would have done if these thoughts were contained by flesh and bone. I couldn’t find a good or a bad, just awe. Respect for the world that I’d endured for so long. The world that everyone endured, a world ran by the mundane with minute interruptions of tragedy and celebration. In this place their was no classification, no pointless repetitive tasks that chipped away at the mind one day after another. This place was different.
This place would be perfect. It should be perfect. Even with it’s stillness, even with it’s darkness. Would be. The sensation of itching feels my consciousness. Something was missing. something more than the chains of humanity.
Where were they? If I was dead, I’d be with them. They’d be here. In this blackness? The place struck me as an inappropriate place for my boys. They belonged on our favorite Northwest trail, Roberto’s boots muddy, Dean picking up bugs and making sly smiles at trees.
Maybe this is where Angels go when they die. My thoughts stretch. Is this the place that I want to spend eternity? Remembering them from a distance. No longer their legacy. With my death, they die again. Could I let that happen?
I cannot! I will not! I concentrate carefully focusing on the place I belonged, my body. I saw mt blood first, the veins, my heart and it’s muscled chambers.
Boom. The sound was deafening.
Boom! Boom! Boom!
I sloppily pushed at the tranquility around me. Boom! Boom! Boom! my heart beating.
I quicken in the darkness. I need it all, my lungs and brain and skin and wings. I mold myself as if I were clay, forming each birthmark and imperfection from memory.
I suck in air as if it were my first breath. My body, the body I’ve chosen for myself, feels more alive, more vibrant than it had been my entire life. There was a new and subtle warmth of ownership that pulsed with my blood.
I’m looking up at the monstrous ceiling fan and breathe again, the sight distorted my flickering flames. I sit up and then stand, savoring the feel of my muscles moving over my bones. I turn to my Angels a smile on my face as I lift my arms. My wings spreading behind me.
The sky was black, it was night, they were standing on a black road. White painted lines separating the asphalt into two lanes. Pine trees towered over either side of them. They could have been anywhere. Standing on one of millions rural roads with stars peaking through the cloudy wet sky.
Samael dropped his hands from his face, but even with his face composed and a sheet of rain between the two of them, Dumah eyed him suspiciously. “What has happened to you?” Dumah whispers.
“I… I can’t… I don’t…” he clears his throat and blacks the fire that dances behind his eyes, “You are in no place to speak to me as such.” Rain water splashed from his mouth with the fore of his words, his voice clear, but holding very little threat.
“Baby boy,” Dumah reaches up and rests her hand on his cheek, her hand a dark contrast to his lightness. “I know, you may not be able to admit it to anyone, not even yourself, but child, I’m Dumah, and Dumah knows about these things.”
Dumah drops her hand and rolling her head on her shoulders her wings come into view. “Now let’s go back and check on our girl.” She slicks the water of her bald head, first with her right hand and then with her left.
Samael blinked down at her, always shocked at the bluntness that was Dumah. He nods his head and puts out his hands for hers. “Let’s go.”
The pair appear in Ludus instantly, standing to the right of the bleachers. Samael instantly turns to where Wylie had paced and sang and burned. His eyes squints, staring into the flame, struggling to find her. Brilliant red and orange blades reach skyward, but no figure held the stage in throws of a Catharsis. His lungs filled with smoke the smell and the taste of it like accusations as they assault him.
If this Catharsis was like any other, Wylie would be swaying in a rapture, her eyes empty, either feeding the flame or killing it. With any other Catharsis, Dumah would be measuring the flame height, comparing the amount of smoke and the texture of the soot. She’d be taking mental notes calculating the movement and patterns the flames took. Instead, hundreds of Angels stared at an empty burning stage.
Dumah leaned against Samael, her uncertainty piercing him just as her thoughts did, Where is she?
Samael’s anxiety returned, he couldn’t feel her presence anymore. She was a tread missing from the tapestry that made up the Angel population. The sorrow in the room mimicked his feeling of loss. They all had expected so much from her. Now what was he going to do, now that she’d bunt up and was nothing but ash.
He stepped closer to the blaze, ignoring the heat, trying to see more clearly. Again having the urge to throw himself into it. He leaned forward with desperation and just as his hand entered the fire time shifted, slowing. The dance of the flames freezing in place. The air became heavy and his body seemed to lighten. The hairs on his arm and neck stood his clothes instantly drying as a ripple of warmth passed over and through him. It pulsed from the stage, blowing his hair and loose shirt back every time it pushed past him. Each new wave surged forward to the slow tempo of a heart beat.
Still there was nothing to be seen on the stage, Samael turned to the Angel audience and barely held in a gasp. The Skilled Angels stood there, their heads turned up, tear staining their cheeks. Many of the Lesser Angels had floated into the air, their wings unmoving, suspended in euphoria. Their movement the languid thrusts of a swimmer, their eyes wild with the surprise and the freedom that often glazed the eye’s of those in Catharsis. With each pulse from the stage, the drifting Angels were rocked back and forth with the force of it.
The demeanor of the Dominions was the most shocking to Samael. Each seemed to have slid from their seats onto one knee, their eyes closed, their heads thrown back with wide arms, excepting wave after wave as if it were a gift. Samael opened his mind and felt it, the feeling that could bring a Dominion to a knee. It was the love of a mother, the acceptance of a father, the forgiveness of a wife, it was those simple emotions that Angels were forced to watch and never experience. He mashed his eyelids shut and opened himself wider. Each wave felt like a caress of Wylie’s soft hand across his chest.
An inaudible sigh escaped the audience in unison and Samael’s head swung back to the stage with difficulty, his movements gradual as he forced himself to open his eyes. There floating above the stage was the Goddess of fire, her body bare and perfect, her hair cascading down her naked back, her arms lifting in the air. Her flaming wings opened wide. Her wings were not made of feathers and bone as his was, but flickered and sizzled alive with fire. They moved fluidly, lifting Wylie higher into the air.
“I am Armageddon, the Place of Gathering!” Her voice brought all the attending who still stood onto their knees. Samael crashed down as he lifted his forearm to his eyes, with the same solute that had been saved for the Seraphim. There was a loud crack that reverberated in the room and time returned to itself, Angel’s crashed down on each other as they were no longer suspended in midair.
Samael shot up, when he heard her think his name. She was falling herself, her eyes half moons. He opened his wings and swooped into the air, catching her. She smiled up at him, “Did you see that? I do have wings!” and she closed her eyes shivering, her hand moving over him, searching for bare skin. When her fingers found his neck she sighed, pulling at his essence through their contact.
Samael turned away from Wylie’s audience, his wings beating steadily. She needs her Muse.
Pulling her tightly against him, allowing himself to feel her softness for the first time he thanks God for her life.
I’m awake but too dizzy to open my eyes. We are at my apartment, waiting for David. Before my Catharsis, I was afraid to see David again, so ashamed that I would have been fine with moving to Ludus and never returning to my Human life. Things were different now. While my skin crawled with anticipation, an apology was all I could give him. My mission was much bigger, and less self serving than the dark pathless life I was living when I first pressed my drunk lips against his.
I could feel my palm sweating against Samaels. He’d placed me carefully in my bed and kneeling next to it, took my hand like a dying grandparent. At first I giggled. Commented about the awkwardness of it. He didn’t reply, but I knew his thoughts. Or more so his emotions. There was tenderness there, relief, kindness, a struggle to hide all of it.
“You know I can feel you now?” I whisper.
He squeezes my hand tighter, but says nothing. I concentrate, trying to penetrate his mind and my stomach flip flops.
“Wylie, you must stop that. You’ll make yourself sick. I will teach you these things, but you need to see David first. He should be here any minute.”
David was at the hospital. I’d heard Samael’s gruff voice as he demanded that David leave at once. “This is so silly though, if it takes this much of my Scientia to use my wings, how will I ever do anything more than fall from the sky with vertigo?”
Samael grunted but did not answer me.
“It just seems so useless.” I say pointedly, my left hand gripping the bed for stability.
Samael sighs, “You did much more than fly, Wylie.” His voice was soft, with a hint of apprehension.
“Like what? How did I do? What Scentia type am I?”
“I can’t say, your Scentia was different from anything that…”
A knock on the door interrupts our conversation. “Wylie, I have to let you go,” he says dropping my hand. My world tilts to my left and then boomerangs to the right.
“Again!” David’s voice was loud and angry, “You can’t use us like this!” I felt his temper, a momentary relief as the dizziness slowed with his presence and than his thoughts flooded my mind as his hand landed on my forehead. Shit! Look at her! I wish I hadn’t met her! Fuck me! I’ve ruined her life. We’ll never be free again. He’ll just use us until we’re dead! Like dad!
David’s hand shifts to my cheek, and I swat it away unable to handle the barrage of his thoughts. “Stop! Stop!” I cry placing my fists against my ears, trying to block his emotions. Anger and unease pushes against every inch of my skin, trying to enter.
“David, calm yourself. She hears your thoughts,” Samael spoke softly and sternly and I cracked my eyes open. David was standing over me his brows pressed together as he stared down at me.
He folded his arms, Is this true?
“Yes,” I croaked scooting away from him, for even as I absorbed his energy, I spontaneously devoured the hatred and meanness. Was this what hid under his blank stares, those moments when I knew he was holding something back. Suddenly I realized I didn’t know this man, full of rage.
David seemed frozen, his mind hidden from me, but his sentiments remained blatant. Samael stood at the foot of my bed, watching David with his face stone.
Tentatively, I reached up to David, “Please, sit,” I suggest, my voice cracking with fear. The sound of my voice snapped David into action. He turned to Samael and taking one stride down the side of my bed, he lifted his arm and hit Samael’s face. The sound of David’s palm against Samael’s cheek seemed deafening. Samael didn’t move, made no expression or attempt to return the blow. David lifted his hand again, this time it turned into a fist. It landed on his mouth, his left eye, his nose. Blood splashed onto my blanket and Samael lifted his chin, letting the blood flow freely.
David shook out his hand and then balling it up again he leaned back, I sprung off the bed at him, my arms wide, my naked body feeling clumsy. We clambered down to the ground, my head smack against his jaw painfully as we landed. I wrapped my arms around him, “Please, David, please!” I began to cry. He didn’t move, he turned his face away from me and I lay my head on his chest. It began to shake under me, short gasps coming from his mouth. I watched him cover his face with his hand, his knuckles bloody and torn. He sobbed.
I heard my bed creak behind us and I imagined Samael sitting down. “I loved your father,” his voice was small.
With difficulty I pushed myself up and then scooted onto my bottom, wiping at my eyes. I watched David for a moment, feeling helpless. I looked up at Samael, the hope that had been there was gone. He was hunched, on my twin size bed, seeming far to large for the room. There was blood on his shirt, but his face seemed untouched by the violence. He’d obviously allowed David to hit him. I’d seen how Samael could move, no one could have placed blows that squarely without him granting them the privileged.
David stopped hiccuping beside me and heaved a breath, “What did you do to her?” he said his face still covered.
“He didn’t…” I began.
“Shut up, Wylie! You don’t understand!” He was shouting, he pulled himself up to sitting without taking the time to look at me. “What have you done?” His eye’s bore into Samael, he waited for an answer.
“You don’t seem to understand, do you?” David glared, “All mighty, all knowing Angel of death can’t comprehend what it is to be a Human!” Spittle sprayed from his mouth as he yelled, “Not everyone is willing to sacrifice their loved ones!” He moved to his feet.
“Wylie didn’t want this life! She had a family and a career and was the epitome of what you Angel’s are supposed to be protecting! And now…” He took in a deep breath running his fingers through his hair, his hands shaking. “And now, she can never be a Human again. She’ll never have another child! Never have another husband! Never…” His voice cracked again.
He pointed back at me, “Congratulations! You’ve turned her into your freak weapon!”
At those words Samael rose. David was tall but Samael was taller, bigger, built like an ox. I didn’t have the energy to break up another fight. My head was spinning, the peace of my Catharses moving out of my grasp. Giving up, I lay back on the carpet, suddenly uncaring. Let them beat each other to a pulp, I’m going to sleep.
I was in my bed, David’s body curled around me. My silk robe was cinched around my waist tightly. The room was completely dark and I listened to David’s uneven breaths. We were alone and he wasn’t sleep, the foreboding emanating from his still form, gave it all away.
“David?” I whispered his name carefully, groggy.
“Yes?” he replies, his breath moving my hair.
“What happened to your dad?” I’d dreamnt about the question, as if my mind sisn’t want me to forget the importance of it.
“What happened to you?” he snapped back, the overwhelming emotions spilling from his mouth.
I cringed at his words, I didn’t want to argue, the fight in me was gone. “They took me to see what really happened to Roberto and Dean.” it ached to say it.
“Oh, Wylie…” his hand rubs at my shoulder.
“And then they lit me on fire,” I whisper it into the silence, know how melodramatic it sounded, “and I came out of it with wings.”
His hand slips away from me, the static of his anger returning at my back. I ignored it, there were some things I needed to understand. It was time to create some boundaries for the two of us, and in order to do that, I needed to learn the dynamics of this new world I was entering. We were born soul mates in the truest since of the term, but he’d taught me already that I shouldn’t take advantage of my position. I couldn’t do that without knowing where he’d come from.
“It’s your turn now.” I lick my dry lips, placing the intonations of respect and slow openess into my question. “What happened to your dad?”
“He died.” the response was quick and dismissive.
I lay in the silence. So did he. Both of us seemed to shrink away from the other as the ring of his reply bit at me. “Okay,” I sat up carefully, smoothing my robe as I swung my feet off of the bed. “Okay,” I say it again more slowly. “I’m going to go.” I knew the words as I spoke them and I felt his shock just as tangible as my own, it felt like a shove against my back. I folded my arms around myself and stood.
“Wylie, don’t,” I closed my eyes at the sound of his smooth baritone.
I walked to my closet. I didn’t trust myself to answer. There was too much peace flowing through my veins, to much confidence pumping my heart for me to get caught up in the wild need I’d felt for him in the past. My hand trembled as I reached for button up coral blouse that would make my gold skin glow. I needed to to glow.
David’s anger bursts and is replaced by sadness, I can feel him watch me as I search for a black pencil skirt. “You know how, we pace out consent forms and ABNs at the drop of the hat in the ED?”
I don’t respond, he was avoiding the question, and I was done with the conversation. So what? What did he know about consent forms or ABNs? The nurses handed out that paperwork! Irritation pierced my calmness, the thought of presenting the paperwork making me bristle automatically. Patients didn’t like these forms, no one wants to sign a paper that states in plain writing that they will probably die with or without a procedure. Or even worse, in the case of an ABN, a form that says that the patient will pay in full if their insurance doesn’t.
“Samael didn’t do that for you! He didn’t tell you the consequence. Didn’t even put it in fine print.”
I snort, “Do you know how many people refuse to sign those forms?” I ask over my shoulder as I pull a gray fuzzy cardigan off of the hanger.
“It doesn’t matter, the thing that matters is that we make the damn disclaimer in the first place.”
I yank on my skirt, going commando seemed appropriate for my current mood.
“If I wanted disclaimers, I’d ask for them. I don’t think that you realize how insulting your protectiveness is.” I drop my robe and hook my arms threw my bra straps. “I’m done with this conversation, let me know when you’re ready to be fucking honest!”
I slip on a pair of high heels, ignoring the change of his position on my bed. He was sitting up, leaning forward, pleading and hesitant and beautiful. I didn’t want to be attracted to him in all his hatefulness. I walked out of the room, turning into the bathroom and shutting the door.
I leaned against the sink with both of my slick palms, searching my face in the mirror. Who are you? I asked my reflection. Somehow I looked more Angel than human now. Maybe that was because I didn’t have the urge to void, or eat a cow. Maybe it was because I wasn’t greasy and dirty looking. How long had it been since I’d eaten anything, or took a shit, or had a proper shower. And here I was looking as fresh as a fricken daisy.
There was a soft knock on the door. “Sam was a surprise.” I could barely hear his voice over the sound of my blood pumping in my head. “I was eleven years old when my mom found out she was pregnant.” He spoke more loudly, trying to make himself heard through the door. “My dad was a blue collar worker who spent every day at work and most nights with Samael. My father was Samael’s Muse…”
I close my eyes as I felt his bitterness begin to seep around the cracks of the door frame, “I used to call him Uncle Sam.” David spits the pet name and makes a cold laugh that brings a shiver up my spine. I sit on the toilet, clasping my hands together, trying to force my body to still.
“Mom was a housewife, the old fashion kind, that cooked and cleaned and wore an apron around. She always carried hard candy in her apron pocket, I grew up thinking that they were for me, but later found out that mom was a type one diabetic. Her age and the diabetes made her pregnancies dangerous. My dad forever nervous during the third trimester. Always following my mom around, trying to get her to do less when he was home.
“Her contractions started on November 20th. My dad tucked me in that night and left with Samael under the impression that she was just experiencing Braxton Hix, Mom was only seven months along. She went into labor that night and you know how it was back then, without cell phones. She expected my father to be home soon and left him a note saying that she’d gone to the hospital. She didn’t wake me.” He clears his throat and the door creeks as he leans against it.
“Dad didn’t come home that night. I woke up in the morning, alone.” His memory penetrates my thoughts, a skinny preteen, walking around an empty house as he rubbed his eyes. “I found my mother’s note, just as I heard a knock on the door. It was the police, they wanted my mother, I showed them her note.”
I feel him press his hand against the door and I look up at my side of the wood barrier. Repulsion and lust, sympathy and frustration mingle. I concentrate, trying to untangle my emotions from his, “Wylie, they wouldn’t tell me why they were there. They offered a ride to the hospital, and I took it. My mom knew, the moment she saw them, she knew. I might as well have lost both parent’s that day. The story is that my father was mugged. That’s the story, but Wylie, you know better don’t you? No one is going to mug me if I’m walking around with the fucking Angel of Death in the middle of the night.”
I waited for him to continue. Nothing. I stand when he moves away from the door. I reach for the handle, trying to decide where I stood with all of this. What had I just learned? David was an orphan. He blamed Samael.
I twisted the knob, deciding. He’s leaning on the bookcase, in the spot where we first kissed. “Thank you,” I say it and I mean it. “I’ve got a lot to think about right now.” He nods, his head bent, the crown of his head and his caramel hair blocking my view of his face. I take a left, into the hall that leads to the exit.
His hand encircles my arm, I stop, looking down at his fingers. “Don’t leave.”
“What do you want from me?” I brush off his fingers, moving again, his hands move to my shoulders.
“Please!” and suddenly he is pummeling me with his need, projecting it at me like it’s a weapon.
I gasp, spinning around, pushing at him with my elbows, feeling claustrophobic in the tight hall with his hands reaching for me. “Please, what?” I yelp, straightening my arms out in front of me, trying to regain my space.
“Don’t leave,” he reached for me again and I shove him hard, he takes a step back his eyes crushed.
“I don’t get it! One minute you are holding me, the next minute you’re pushing me away! I’m trying to give you space. I don’t understand you.” I shake my head, “I need to think. You were right, there is too much going on for us to…”
His mouth mashes against mine, my sentence ending against his lips, as he greedily pulls at me with his strong fingers. My arms are jammed awkwardly between us. “No” I gasp, I push at him, trying to want him to stop more than I want him to continue.
Gritting my teeth against him, refusing his kisses, I try to guard myself from his scattered lust. It was difficult to breathe as he poured his fervor into me. I saw flashes of our naked skin, mine tan, his pink, pressed together moving to the dangerous rhythm of sex. It was his thoughts in my head, his imagination digging into my mind with the rocking sensation of passion.
His hand is around my left wrists, pulling it down forcefully, leaving bruises. His other hand finds my hair, pulling my hair back with a yank. I gasp and he kisses harder, coaxing my mouth to open under his. He invades my mouth, our tongues and lips harsh, as I push at him with my right hand, barely holding onto my resolve under the onslaught. “This is what you want?” he growls as his hand leaves my hair and finds my breast. Another gasp.
Tears prick at my eyes, yes, this is what I want, but it’s not what you want. The realization gives me strength. I lift my knee up hard, hitting nothing but air. David’s eyes open, meeting mine for the first time since he held me on his couch. There was astonishment there, and recognition, he knew I’d just tried to hurt him. Would have hurt him, if he hadn’t leaned back. A sly smile pulls at his lips, but disappears when my lifted heel slams down on his foot. He yelps and I shove him with my elbow, shifting all my weight onto his foot.
Watching someone fall backwards is almost as awkward as the actual falling. Their face contorts in a way that should be private. Chin tucking in, mouth gaping wide, eyes bulging, arms waving. The glorious ugliness reflects with exaggeration on the onlookers cheeks and forehead, as we experience the nostalgia of our last fall.
He pivots sideways as he falls trying to catch himself against the corner of the entryway. His shoulders hit the thin sheet rock first, and then his head. Crack, crack! The wall folds under his weight with a crunch, a picture hanging to the left of the crash slides down and shatters.
I stare down bewildered. He stares up bewildered. He’s sitting on his ass, his legs folded because the hall was to small for him to straighten in. I cough up a laugh, unable to hold it in, my hand covering my mouth. Did I just accidentally do that? He smirks and then leans forward, his hands wrap around my ankles and he yanks me sideways.
My shoes snap in the opposite direction of my body, freeing themselves from my weight as I clamber down like a fallen tree, a squeak escaping my lips. I land on my forearms, my legs sprawled over David’s lap. He smacks my ass as I try to crawl off of him. “Fucking stop,” I squeal, pushing as him with my feet as I scramble away, taking a right back into the living space.
He grabs my ankles and pulls me backwards, the carpet burning my forearms. “Damnit, David! I’m trying to…” the breath is knocked out of me as he carelessly rolls me onto to my back.
He begins to crawl up my body, his breathing heavy his eyes seductive, his hands tracing me intently. A sigh escapes me as the weight of him presses against me. My eyes close, and my chin lifts as his face comes level with my own. He places a single kiss on my lips and the lifts himself away from me. When I open my eyes he was sitting up, straddling my hips, an evil smile on his face, his fingers curled into claws as the hover over my sides.
He makes a dorky whooping sound and begins to play my rib cage like a xylophone. I thrash and kick my legs. Laughing and crying and cursing as I try to escape. He catches my hands and pin them above my head, “What do you have to say for yourself?” the timber of his voice rounded by his grin.
“I could fucking kill you!” I shout.
“Do it!” he says sarcastically. Releasing my hands, the tickle torture resuming.
“I hate you!” I yell between pants.
“I hate you more!” his reply makes me freeze in mid-convulsion.
Placing my hands on my head, my gaze bores into him until he stops. “That’s the problem, David. Isn’t it?”
His eyes narrow as he searches my face.
“You hate Angels?” I whisper the question.
He’s puzzlement melts into sadness, his eyes widening with sorrow as he collapses onto me. “If it was only that simple,” he moans, his mouth beside my ear.
“I can’t help what I am, David.”
He nods. I feel his hair slide against the side of my face and I shiver. “There is something between us, something that has always been there. It’s confusing.”
It was my turn to nod. I knew what he was talking about. I’d known love before. This wasn’t that. This was magnetic and wild and beautiful. More intense, less exclusive. Instant comfort, it pulled at me, begging me to forget anything else. There was lust in there, and fear. We hovered somewhere between the honesty of siblings and the carefulness of lovers. Muse and Angel, what a confounding dyad. I couldn’t tell how much of the ferocity came from me. Was everything doubled, because I was also partaking in his emotions. I wondered how and why he’d closed his mind to me but not his feelings.
David rolled off of me, staring up at the craggy snow that covered the ceiling as intently as I did. “What do you want?” I ask.
He takes in a deep breath, “I want to be a just a guy. I want you to be just a girl.”
“I am just a girl,” my hand finds his and his fingers fold between my own.
“You were,” his other hand goes to his hair, pushing it back from his face roughly, “you aren’t anymore.”
“But what’s wrong with that?” I squeeze his hand, holding back the familiar petting, I would have shown my husband. Trying to remove myself from the girl that I used to be, the one that gave in too easily and trusted to completely, and loved too firmly.
I choose to find my wings, knowing I’d be my family’s immortality. David should be nowhere in that equation, more like a living breathing battery charger. Replaceable. Even as I thought it I savored the feel of his soft hand warming mine. This was the human in me. Craving the touch of another. Needing the affirmation of my existence reflected in the eyes of another.
It was also the human in him. He wasn’t going to settle with the narrow title of Muse. The man was so much more. Physician. Brother. Leader. Being born subordinate pushed against the grain of everything we learned growing up in America. That dream of equality was in every line of our inaccurate childhood textbooks, whispered by our parents in our ears as we slept, blasted on every widescreen in the U.S. We grew up on a strict diet of McDonald’s, Manifest Destiny, and apple pies. No wonder we were all so unhappy.
I didn’t pity him as much as I accepted his frustration.
This time he squeezes my hand. Turning onto his side, he faces me. “Me too.”
“Do you think, we should stop this?” I whisper, cringing as I wait for his response, my breath caught in my chest.
One of his hands settles on my stomach, his fingers spreading wide. “I don’t think I could stop if I wanted to.”
I breathe out hard, opening my mouth to say… to say. His kiss burns my lips white hot. The intentions of his body paralyzing me. Opening my mind I swallow the grace of his seduction. “I don’t want to stop,” the words are a pur, escaping my throat as he slowly pushes my skirt up my thighs.
#### Portland, Oregon
Samael stood on the corner of NE Sandy and NE Davis. He’d been waiting for thirty minutes, suspiciously watching as Voodoo Doughnuts Too customers wandered in and out of bright pink building. It was two in the morning and he found his sense of annoyance heightening with every minute. “So you are Samael?” The male voice came from the flowering plum tree just behind and to his left.
“You may call me Angel of Death,” Samael speaks with a volume barely above a whisper, turning slowly to the man. He leaned against the tree trunk easily, I pink box that read “Voodoo” folded under one of his arms. He was dressed in a plaid button up shirt, torn jeans, and a fedora holding his wild curly brown hair at bay. Behind him a thin woman with long purple hair and pink scars marring her otherwise pretty face fidgeted menacingly.
“Angel of Death, huh? If we are going by formal names, you can call me Savior.” He laughed at his own joke.
Samael grunted, straightening his back, his wings opening behind him, spreading in warning as he grabbed time with his mind, freezing it in place. A couple’s laughs stopped abruptly as they both stiffened, booth had one foot on the sidewalk and another in the road they’d been about to cross. A car behind Samael lost motion at the same time, it’s headlights still bright, its driver facing forward. A bird hung in the air as if by a string. “I’m not interested in your name.” Samael grunted
“Did you hear that Lex, he’s not interested in my name?” The man speaks to the woman behind him, his eyes not moving from Samaels. “So why did you come to see me?”
Samael took a moment to regard the woman, Lex, who seemed to be the only unaffected Human. Her face was still animated her body moving with breath and pulse. She smelled like a Muse, but their was something wrong with her. She was so full of energy, he wasn’t sure how her skin contained it. It was as though she produced Scentia for her Angel, but none was ever taken. She’s a bomb.
“She is like a bomb, isn’t she?” The man grinned as Samael’s attention returned to him with the snap of his head. “Yes, Angel of Death, I can read your mind.” Samael gritted his teeth trying to shield himself from the invasion. The man laughs. “It won’t work, I am a winged beast on a whole different level than you. I’m sure you figured that out when you burnt my sister. That stupid Human bitch, what a waste of wings, I’ve been…”
“Enough!” Samael interrupted, his wings rising as he spoke. “I have come to offer an invitation to the Angel Tribunal. Every Angel is invited. Every opinion will be heard.”
“Sounds like you’re desperate,” the man stomped one of his oxfords in amusement. “Not sure what to do next? Tell me that you are all ready for your Savior! I need to know that you’re ready to grovel! I love a good groveling!”
Samael folds his arm, “Child Angel, no amount of Scentia or words could make me bow to you.” He turned and began to walk down Davis, “You have been given an opportunity to make your interests known to your brothers and sisters .” He adds over his shoulder, returning time to itself.
The car zooms by and the couple begin to cross the street.
“Lex, why don’t you do me a favor and show this little birdy what kind of bomb you are.”
Samael felt the crackle of the Muses mirth and stiffens. “My pleasure.” her smooth voice was giddy, and he felt the pressure building in his ears as the woman took in a deep breath. The night flashed bright white, sound eaten up by the force of a blast that pitches Samael blindly forward. Hot pain rippled through him as his Human form began to dissolve.
Samael’s wings tightened around his shoulders, sheltering his brain long enough for him to focus. He transported himself. Stumbling when he landed on the Wells Fargo building. With a groan he spun around until he was facing east. Smoke rose in the distance. Anger made his weakened human body tremble as he attempted to see the aftermath more clearly. Making an oath in Latin he opens his arms wide, calling with his mind to all the Archangels in the city of Portland.
There was a happy ache deep in my gut as I turned on the hot water. The shower head sprayed with a hiss, the water splashing down with a few choked spurts. the cold water stung my sensitive skin as I let out a satisfied moan. My muscles relaxed as the temperature climbed and I inhaled the steam deeply.
I needed that!
I was somewhere between euphoria and invigoration, and there was only one way to settle back into my body. I needed an after-sex-run. An after-sex-run was a lot like an after-fight-run or a before-work-run. It was a mid-length run that served to clear my head and ground me to reality. What ever that was.
First thing’s first though. The universe owed me a hot shower. Actually, it owed me two. One now. One when I returned. I closed my eyes as I massaged my favorite shampoo into my hair, it smelled like cherry blossoms. Against my eyelids played images of David’s hand on my naked hip or the knot of muscles that made up his left shoulder as he leaned forward to speak into my ear. I inhaled, smiling.
He’d been so tender, so careful. In many ways, it felt like my first time. Like a virgin, toughed for the very first time! I sang to myself as I slowly lathered my loofah. The foreplay was hot, wild, rougher than my husband and I ever tried; but when it came to getting down to business, there’d been fear.
David was so patient, so kind. Speaking to me with his smooth voice. Always asking permission. His eyes eating me up. For a man who regularly looked at vaginas at the work place, he took the time to make mine feel special. My cheeks burned and it wasn’t the rinse off that was bringing blood to my skin.
I toweled dry, pulled on my capris and matching sports bra and shirt, picked through my sock basket for a matching pair of double layered running socks and stuffed them into my cleavage. Pulling my hair up into a pony I thought of Samael. Where was that dude? Palming my phone in one hand, I tangled my earbud and my running key chain through the fingers of the same hand. The chain included a single apartment key and a cute bejeweled mace canister. I grabbed both of my shoes with the other hand and burst out of the door at a fast walk.
Sometime, the moments before a run is just as satisfying as the run. A jolt of adrenaline reminds me why I’d been jonesing to pump my legs with all my might. When it hits me like that, I can’t take my time getting ready, I can’t even force myself to sit down long enough to put on my shoes. I just need to get outside and give my lungs what they want, fresh air. I walk bare foot to the curb and plopping down I pull my boob warmed socks on to my feet.
A sigh escapes my lips as I tighten my shoelaces, I liked to compare a good pair of running shoes to foot hugs. Stretching my toes I savor the good pain of it. I yawn as I plug my head phones into my ears and finger through my music playlists. What was I feeling like today? Settling on a dubstep mashup list, it was the Madonna song Frozen that caught my eyes and The White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army that sealed the deal. Pushing play, I set my running app to 6 miles and started at a slow jog, my phone in once hand, my keys in the other.
At the first thump of bass my legs took over, my feet smacking at the ground to the beat of my music. The pace was faster than my usual, but there was this part of me that wanted to challenge the limits I usually set for myself. Running eight or nine minute miles had always been comfortably maintainable. It was a speed that was fast enough to leave me sore but slow enough that I wouldn’t hit a wall mid run and end up walking home.
Pushing myself I glided down hill, my arms pumping my mouth open to catch air as I went. I studied the sidewalks and the brick walls. Broken glass sparkled like glitter under the grayed sunshine that escaped the clouds. The smell Tabasco filled the air as one of my feet landed on a fast-food packet and the sauce exploded on the wall to my right. Clamping down my teeth I suck in a breath, allowing myself to be swallowed whole by the concrete cradle that Seattle was.
The loop was quick, long enough to bask in the sex afterglow, but not long enough to second guess my decision. I collapsed onto the grass belt that wrapped around my apartment complex, my chest heaving, sweat streaming into my eyes. I held up my phone, stopping my the recorder. Squinting up on the screen I choked on my own spit, what the fuck! I brought the thing closer to my face. Six minute mile average! My second mile had been under five! My breath started to slow and settling my phone on my chest I relaxed my arms at my side, my head falling back into the grass.
Forget wings, this was my type of flying.
I lay there until I became cold and the wet grass began to irritate my skin. Brushing off I marveled at how close the runner’s high felt to my Catharsis. The light chested sense of relief had my prancing into my house.
“Wylie?” David’s voice came from the living room and the smell of fresh coffee filled my nostrils.
An elated grin stretches across my face as I turn the corner into the studio, “It’s me!” I sing.
David is sitting on the couch, a mug of coffee in his hands, his eyes trained on the other side of the room. I follow his gaze and gasp. “Samael!” I toss my stuff onto the end table and rush to him. “What happened?”
He held his hand out with his palm facing me, gesturing for me to stop. Which I do, I wasn’t really sure what I’d planned on doing anyway. He was a mess, his wings seemed singe, his skin raw and red on his arms, his lips cracked. He looked as though he’d fallen asleep outside on a sunny day in Florida.
“I’ve been trying to figure out who’s trying to kill you.”
“Oh,” I say guiltily, while I was here getting it on, he was out there being productive. And getting hurt doing it. “Who is it?”
He looks at David and David shifts in his spot.
“What guys?” a little irritation becoming evident through my tone. I was tired of those two and their secrets. I circled back to the couch, settling next to David. Davids hand land on my thigh and Samael glares. “So?” I ask, trying not to let the tension drag me down from my morning high.
“It’s your brother.”
I thought of my big brother Jake, he was in his fifties and worked at a commercial construction firm. He had a beer belly the size of a beach ball and three daughters my age that all has different mothers. I opened my mouth to argue, “Jake is not your brother. Remember Wylie you’re adopted!” Samael snapped interrupting me. I’d never heard him get speak like that before, with the sharp age of anger.
My eyes widened in surprise, “Don’t look at me like that. I’m tired, in pain, and have other things to do.”
I hold up my hands, sitting up straight. “Okay, I’m listening.”
“You were born a twin. How this happened, I’m not sure.” Samael open’s his mouth to continue but David speaks over him.
“I’m not sure I am the one that should be explaining this to you, but when a man and a woman love each other, sometimes the woman will let the man stick his…”
“We,” Samael says forcefully through his teeth, cutting David off. David laughs and I push his hand off of my thigh, moving forward in my seat, trying to Samael that I’m still listening. The Angel clears his throat “We are just now learning that there is another Angel with your powers.”
“What do you mean? I thought my Catharsis was inconclusive.”
“No, you were just the first of your type to be tested.” He steps closer, squatting down in front of me. “Your’e a Cherubum.”
David busts out laughing and Samael turns his head slowly until he is burning holes in David with his eyes. “For your father, I have suffered much insolence from you.” Samael’s voice was gruff.
David holds up his hands in surrender. “I’m sorry, but she’s not a fat baby cupid.” He laughs again “this is just so ridiculous!” He stands from the couch and taking his empty mug with him, he leaves the room.
Samael’s face becomes stone again, he stare over my shoulder, refusing to watch David walk out of the room. David was pouring himself another cup of coffee, I listened anxiously eyeing Samael’s wounds. “You should really go see Sam.” I whisper not wanting to upset David further.
He nods his head once. “I just wanted to warn you first.” I give him a half smile, finding it easier than ever to except the strange information he always gave me. “You will call for me if you see him?” he asks.
“Yes,” I say after realizing that he required more than a shake of my head.
“And you will call me if you have any problems with you unruly Muse?”
I couldn’t give him a yes to that. I wasn’t going to play their games. He bites his bottom lip and stands with a groan.
“David.” Samael pronounces the named as if it were a command. When David doesn’t return from the kitchen, Samael marches around the corner. “Remember what I told you? You hurt her again and I will replace you.”
“Hey!” I shout the word automatically standing from my seat, the threats were not acceptable, David is my Muse! By the time I stepped into the kitchen Samael was gone. David was leaning against the counter, his shoulders slumped. “I’m sorry,” I frown at him, willing him to look at me. He doesn’t.
He shrugs over his mug, as if it were the only thing keeping him warm.
“There is a bigger picture,” I promise.
“Well you let me know when he decides to enlighten you.” He grimaces down and opens his mouth. I can tell by his scowl that he was trying to think of the meanest thing that he can say, but instead his mouth snaps shut so hard I hear his teeth mash together. He turns to me, setting his coffee on the counter with one hand, he uses his other to pull me against him.
He was shaking, and I knew it was with anger. He was all knotted up against me. “Wylie, I’m not okay with all of this.” He gripped my pony tail in his fist and kissed it, his eyes cold as ever. “I’m not okay.”
Returning to work gave me time to let everything sink in. My brain works better under stress, running for 12 hour and collapsing onto a soft mattress afterward did me good. Holding pressure against a half amputated ear, I’m an Angel. Plugging in the leads for an EKG, I have a brother. Holding back someone hair as they vomit, he’s trying to kill me.
Each epiphany hits me when my concentration is fully elsewhere. It was my brain being kind. Each fact seemed more manageable than whatever calamity I was trying to correct. Falling into auto-nurse-mode was so familiar and easy, nothing could phase me while I wore scrubs.
Dumah visited me a few time. We’d gone over my Catharsis. She took her time describing what she saw and felt. She explained that from the height of the flames and the intensity of the heat, that my powers would be more focused in the area of manipulating flesh. She didn’t think that I’d be able to move inanimate objects or influence the weather, but if I was interested in these things, at a later date, she knew a few choice Angels that could help me. She said that the chard remains of my stage also said a lot, mostly about my lineage. She promised to explain more later.
It came out of her in a rush ending with her impression that I had the potential to be the most powerful Angel to have a Catharsis. There was something comforting about her calculated descriptions. It made me want to trust her, she wasn’t just pulling these things out of her ass. I didn’t even mind her baby girling the crap out of me the whole time.
A few other Angels visited. Laoth for one, she actually spent a few nights. At first she came to offer help with mind reading. I told her how impressed I’d been with her hair the first time we’d met and offered her a drink. She pointed at the Sailor Jerry’s that still sat on my kitchen counter, a mischievous smile on her face. Things were easy with Laoth, she had a fondness for rum that matched me own and we became fast friends. Later, she told me that Samael had ordered her visit.
“He worries about you. I’ve never seen my Dominion worry.” She said on the third night.
I was still wearing my work scrubs, we were both laying on the carpet, enjoying the alcohol headiness. “It’s because I’m so useless,” I said giggling, not sure why I thought it was funny.
She laughed and jabbed my side, “your an idiot!”
I bat her hand away, I close my eyes and smile, “It’s been so long since I’ve had a friend.” Gratefulness and rum warming my chest.
“I love you maaaan,” she slurs, jabbing my with her elbow.
Peliel, the green skin Virtue, also visited. He’d popped in at the hospital during on of my lunch breaks. His skin was a warm hazelnut that day, his height closer to my height. We ate together at the cafeteria, he’d chosen a plate of fries and a bowl of jello, green jello. Our conversation was a low as explained how difficult this Angel Tribunal was becoming.
Apparently the world’s pause button would have to be pressed during the meeting. This would be done in order to allow every Angel to leave their posts and participate. The preparation was tedious because the coordination must be spot on the first time. And it all needs to happen before the March equinox when night time becomes shorter than day time. The timing would have to be perfect. The dominions were hoping to commence at midnight in Moscow, the moment with the largest population of Humans will be asleep.
He tells me not to expect any Angel visitors. The Angels will be staying close to their muses as they try to build their Scentia in preparation. “You should be doing the same.” He adds, raising his eyebrows when I sigh in response. “Is there a problem with your Muse?” he asks.
“No, no.” I shake my head as his raised eyebrows. Yes I think behind a brick wall that LAoth to create in my mind.
The problem with David, wasn’t so much a problem between the two of us as it was a problem in ethics. He didn’t believe that Muses should be used the way they were. I agreed with him on that perspective, I didn’t want to “use” him, but that didn’t mean that I didn’t need him. Over the last few weeks I’d taken to adding my Scentia to the medical treatment my patient was receiving. I was fine tuning my skills in that way. Try to gradually cure one thing or another.
I’d made mistakes of course. Healing an infected wound in minutes was pretty suspicion. So was correcting someone heartbeat. They were grateful, I could hear it in their thoughts, feel it in their emotions, but after ten years of A-fib disappearing over night people became mistrustful. I also had a hard time turning my Scentia off. The fears and pain of the entire floor would walk up and smack me in the face. I was lucky, David and I often had the same shifts. During those moments he seemed to since the change in the air and come to me. His hand on my skin, usually just above my elbow was like an instant Xanax.
He was always angry about those moments. First, I was interrupting him at work. Second, it left him tired. It wasn’t until he sat me down at the end of our shift and explained what happened to him that I understood this. I’d been back to work for three days and came to him at least six times each day. I’d thought of it like keeping your gas tank half full at all times, I didn’t want to crash at work. I didn’t know my limits yet.
“It feels like blood loss,” He says opening his car door for me. The plan was to go to dinner, attempted date number two. I slide in feeling like scum as I buckle my seat belt. His door closes with a smack and he starts the car before adding “I can feel my blood pressure bottom out. My pulse increases, I break out into a sweat, and sometime I have vertigo.”
Before he added the word vertigo to his list I was feeling pretty low, but the word made me perk up, my usual attitude making my words sharp. “So pretty much the way I’m feeling before you help?” I ask.
“You are choosing to put yourself in that position.” He says flatly.
I glare at the side of his head as he pulls out of the parking lot. “So you’re saying I shouldn’t be helping people?”
“No, it’s just that you were helping people without your Scentia.”
“And you want me to go back to that?” I ask between clenched teeth.
The car comes to a halt at the stoplight, the question hanging in the air between us. “I don’t want to argue Wylie. If your in trouble I’ll come to you; otherwise, we can meet up at the end of your shift.”
I don’t respond. His request was acceptable, but it still hurt. My appetite was suddenly gone. I turn to stare out my window hopelessly, searching the rising for strength. “I think you should take me back home.” I whisper.
He jerks the car into a spot to our right, slamming the breaks so hard that I fly forward into my seat belt. “What the hell!” He turns to me, his knuckles turning white as he squeezes the steering wheel. “I’m trying to be reasonable!”
With a click I release my belt from my lap and I push the door open. “Lets talk about this later, I’m too upset right now.” I get out of the car, my breath suddenly ragged. I pushed at my eyes trying not to cry.
I’ve seen scenes like that in the movies. The girl gets out, mascara running down her face, she trots away in her high heels and thigh high sequenced skirt thinking, “Come get me. Come apologize.” That was not what was going through my head, and that wasn’t what I was wearing.
I had my white nurse tennis, and a white turtleneck under my midnight blue scrubs. All that was going through my head was WTF! It was like my thought process was constipated. I knew I was right and I knew that David was right and I knew it was fucking colder than a witches tit. It’s early morning and the sky was black. I rubbed my arms as I walked.
In this scenario the asshole in the car usually did one of two things. Speed away, tires squeaking, or jump out of the car to beg for the woman to get back in. I didn’t wait for either. There’s no place like home! I made like Dorothy, closed my eyes tight said a little prayer in my head, and skipping the whole heel clicking things beamed myself to my apartment. I landed ass first in the rhododendron bush. The leaves were crispy with frost, the branches tearing into my leg through my pants.
I got myself into my apartment and cranked up the wall heater, the room filled with the smell of burning dust. I pulled out my phone. Sorry about that, didn’t think it would actually work. My test delivered with a beep. I’m good with your plan. See you tomorrow.
I didn’t get a text back, just saw him the next day. We started our daily post work recharge sessions, our conversations nothing deeper than the most interesting wound we’d seen that day. about a week later Sam had me over for dinner. I had fun, even if I felt like I was lying to her the whole. David offered me a ride home and I invited him in.
The kissing couldn’t wait for us to get inside. For a long time he pushed me against my door, the keys still in the nob, his lips on my neck. That’s the thing with us, we were so good at the physical stuff. What was the point in talking. It always ended with an argument. Kissing, well at least I knew that would end well.
Things got easier after that exchange. We found a mutual happy place, defined our boundaries mentally and learned that both of us did better when we could tangle our limbs with the other at least once a week.
Three days ago Samael showed up. I was at the Safeway on 11th. Strolling through the dairy isle. I was stuck in the yogurt section, comparing the sugar content of greek yogurt options. There was no question about it, the plain was the healthiest option, too bad it tasted like ass cheese. I stared down at a vanilla flavored tub longingly. The weight loss of mourning was slowly returning to my hips as I settled into my new role of Angel. The anxiety making me force food down my throat until my solid gut provided comfort. Hence the grocery store trip and the carb counting
I throw the ass cheese yogurt into my cart and mope further down the aisle.
“Wylie?” I didn’t recognize the youthful voice coming from behind me, the corners of my lips automatically lifting at the crack of the voice as a squeaked out the “ee” in my name. I turned to fine a bepimpled teenager. The kid was about my height, a handsome jock that somehow looked familiar.
“Yeah,” I answer, trying to place is sandy blond hair and grass green eyes. It was the square, masculine jaw that brought recognition with a gasp. “Samael?” I whisper.
Teen Samael smiled. His pearly white gleaming in the florescent grocery store lights. I puzzled over his expression, the grin wasn’t a very Samael thing to do, but it did suit the young man who stood in front of me. “Yeah,” his says a blowing up out of the corner of his mouth to push the hair off forehead. Again, I was struck by the strangeness, his easy stance, his longish hair just wasn’t right.
“You seem different,” I finally say, bursting out into a laugh.
He guffaws “Yeah, being a teenage is quite a ride,” his cheeks turn red, “I mean with the lack of inhibitions and the mood swings.” He rubs at his cheeks awkwardly.
“So?” I hang onto the word, making my question obvious. When he doesn’t answer I add “Why?”
“Um,” he giggles, actually giggles, “It’s the only way I can spend time with Sam. I have like four classes with her, you know I need to gather as much Scentia as I can.”
“Oh, well that makes sense. I’m guessing David doesn’t know?” I ask.
“That duesch? Hells no!” The words spill from his mouth and his eyes widen in shock even as he finishes the sentence.
I snort, “I guess, you’ve been absorbing new lingo too?”
He shrugs, his lettermen jacket bouncing up and down on his shoulders. “High school is the true battle ground. I barely survive four classes and lunch with those heathens. I guess spending time with Sam is worth it.”
My brow furrows in response to this confession. “You’re not going to break her heart when stop going to school are you?”
“Not sure what you mean?”
Damn, this guy is clueless. I thought about junior year of high school. I would have been writing my first name before his last name and drooling every time he talked to me. And Sam is so vulnerable right now, it would be easy for her to mistake attention from the hot buff boy at the desk next to her for something else.
“Oh,” he says, apparently reading my mind. “Ha!” he’s laughing again, “never thought about that. Maybe I should have asked you to help me plan this out!” Our eyes are locked, and he lifts his hand, moving it towards my face. It’s an inch away from my cheek before he shakes his head and drops his hands to his side, pumping it in and out of fists.
He nods to my basket. “You want to keep shopping, and I’ll explain why I’m here visiting you?”
I turn back to my basket, pushing it forward. He falls into pace at my side, “Shoot!” I say.
“The tribunal has been scheduled,” His voice is lower,his shoulders hunched towards me, his hand up in an exaggerated consolatory gesture. “You’ve got a week to prepare.”
I grab a box of cookies and toss in in my cart in response.
“On Sunday Laoth will come for you.” He puts his hand on my shoulder and I feel myself shrinking away from Samael-teenage-heart-throb. “Any questions?”
I stop and turn to him. There was something that has been bugging me. “My brother, have you learned anything else?”
Samael grunts in disgust, “There is so much we don’t know, and a lot that is need to know, but that’s all on the back burner now,” he reaches across me and grabs a bag of chips, holding them to his chest he winks, “for me.”
“Don’t you think I should know what’s going on? I mean he is trying to kill me.”
There is a loud pop and I jump, turning to Samael I see him glaring down at his chips. The top of the bag had blown off under the force of his choke hold. With a shrug, he reaches in and pulls out a handful. He offers the bag to me and I shake my head. “I invited him to the tribunal, maybe you can talk to him yourself.” His words are garbled by half chewed chips.
I stop in my tracks again, but this time, it’s because I’m pissed. “Let me get this right,” I shove the twerp teenager and wait for him to look up at me. “You invited this guy who has attempted to kill me, at least twice, to the big family party?”
He nods, shoving another handful of chips in his mouth.
“Er!” I groan in exasperation and march forward pushing my cart, ignoring the woman on the other side of the isle who was now judging me and my treatment of minors.
“Wylie, the tribunal will be the safest place for you to meet him. He might be powerful, but there will be thousands of Angels there.”
I can hear him from behind me, but I can’t steady my temper enough to reply until I’m at the end of the isle. I round on Samael, enjoying the extra inch I had on him. “I know you are the big boss and everything, but I think I should have a say in my own life!” my hands are shaking, it would be so easy to reach forward and push him onto his ass, and that sounds so good right now.
“I guess I don’t see the problem,” he shrugs, SHRUGS!
“If you’re right, and he is the one that’s trying to knock me off, than he’s the one who killed my family!” I shout it, not caring about the gathering crowd of frozen grocery shoppers.
Samael looks around us slowly, obviously uncomfortable with the attention. This didn’t help my mood. I need to get away from this guy, before I smack him!
BAM, all it took was the thought and I was back in the rhododendron bush outside of my apartment. I marched angrily around the side of the building, wishing I’d thought to bring the cookies that were in my cart with me.
Samael, big Samael, was waiting for me at my door.
“That was a big mess you made back there,” Samael says his huge muscular arms folded over his chest.
I roll my eyes. “I’m tired of being told that I’m this special thing but nothing else. Maybe David is right, maybe you guys are just using me and I should go back to being a Human.”
I glare up at Samael expecting a retort, but his face is back to its usual mask. Child Samael was gone. This was the big-bad-angel-of-death that stared down at me with his lips sealed.
“Fuck it! Just move! I need to get inside and order dinner, since all my food is at the grocery store!”
“I need to know that you’re coming to the tribunal,” his voice is huskier than usual, his eyes burning into me.
“Yeah! Whatever! I’ll hop the crazy train with Laoth! Got it!” I yelled the last to words at my door, I spun around, but I didn’t see Samael anywhere. “Asshole!” I hiss, hoping that he was still close enough for his super ears to hear.
“Mm, that was fun,” Lex says as she slips her hand up Gabriel’s bare chest, her teeth catching his bottom lip.
“Which part?” Gabriel asks his lip still trapped by Lex.
Lex’s hand comes up to Gabriel’s face as she kisses him. “I don’t know,” she hisses as she pulls away, “it’s hard to choose.”
“Oh, really?” Gabriel rolls onto his side and grabbling one of Lex’s dreads pulls.
“Ow!” Lex giggles and pinches Gabriel’s nipple in return. They wrestle for a moment, sharing warm kisses and filling the room with laughter. Lex holds her own even being half Gabriel’s size.
As if choreographed, the pair rolls onto their back trying to catch their breaths. “What about you?” Lex’s lashes still dance with exertion, her lips purse as she raises her perfect eyebrows.
“No contest Lex, while I enjoy watching my little Muse of destruction at work, I must say you’re just as feisty between the sheets,” Gabriel smiles.
Lex giggles again, loving the fill of laughter in her chest. Her mind wonder over the last six months of her life and how different it has been since Gabriel took her as his Muse. The strikes that she has made against the Angel’s, under Gabriel’s guidance, were laying a foundation for the freedom of Muses.
A nervous energy began to build as she imagined the revolution that she was a large part of now. She wanted to do more. “Where are we off to next?”
“Let’s give Seattle a visit,” Gabriel absent mindedly kisses Lex’s shoulder, “we need to pay my dear sis a visit.”
“What about the tribunal?” Lex asks, imagining the damage she would inflict there.
Gabriel laughs, his hand finding Lex’s breast, “I think we can get more done here. Don’t you?”
Lex take’s his hand and bites his thumb.
“Ouch! You’re ruthless!” Gabriel wines.
“That’s why I’m here!” she pushes his hand against her smile, “Now, I need to pay an old friend a visit.”
Lex slips off the bed, glancing back at Gabriel in time to see him close his eyes. “You do what you must, I’m going to sleep.”
For an Angel the man sure does sleep a lot! Lex tiptoes out of the room, enjoying the feel of her nakedness against the night air.
More and more she has noticed the pure comfort of air against her skin. Maybe it was the staleness of the Louisiana air of the decade or so psych meds. Those pill formed cure to her “insanity” had often given her the sensation of being sealed in a trash bag.
Lex found the stairs and bounced down them, becoming more excited with every step. Taking a right at the bottom she skips to the end of the hall. Standing before a thick oak door, Lex loops her finger around the bottom lip of the dead bolt. With a beep the door click open.
“Abaddown, my old friend!” Lex voice was sharp with excitement, her face unreadable under the scars the Angel before her had given her.
Abaddown lifted his head slowly. He stood ankle deep in a kiddy pool in the middle of the room, his arms were tied above him. His wings drooped, the tips submerged in the water and curling against the plastic floor. A circle of feathers surrounded him, floating on the surface of the pool.
He wore his Vietnamese flesh, today. As he has ever since she discovered the power that water held over Angels. Lex sometimes wondered if this was his original form. If he had visited her ancestors living of the coast of Vietnam with this same broad nose and dark skin. His double lids and dark hair sometime filled her with a shared nostalgia for the homeland she’d never visited.
“Please, Alexis,” Abaddown’s voice was hoarse, his large eyes pleading.
Lex walked passed him, this was her first visit since moving him down her. He was a gift from Gabriel. The room had a caramel covered leather couch, a large rectangular mirror with gold filigree hung above it, and an oak desk to match the door sat kittycorner. She sat in front of the desk.
There was one thing she’d been planning in her head for him. Every night as she waited for the opportunity, she’d fall asleep dreaming about it. And now, now he was hers.
She opened the desk drawer, her eyes searching for something. Pens, paper, paperclips. Something sharp. She pulls the next drawer. There. A carved ivory handled letter opener rattles with the movement of the opening drawer.
Wrapping her fist around the handle she stands and pulls the chair behind her, the wood legs screeching against the hard marble floor, until she is positioned in front of Abaddown. She pushes the chair up against the plastic of the pool and climbs atop.
“Alexis, don’t!” Abaddown usually smooth voice cracks as his eyes find what Lex holds in her hand. “Your mother wouldn’t…”
Lex reaches forwards, gripping his hair in her fist, “My mother should have protected me from you!” she spits through her teeth. “Now stay still!”
Abaddown leans away apparently too weak to do much more. “You’re my Muse!” he cries as she studies his face, trying to decide where to start. For a moment Lex turns to the mirror, the pink line starting at her chin and turning her lips into a Picaso nightmare.
“Not anymore,” Lex says calmly as she presses the blade into Abaddown’s chin.
I was sitting in front of a shoe box the contents strewn around me. I’d found it while searching my closet for my long distance running shoes. It had been a while since I’d gone a good distance run, it seemed like the best way to prepare for the tribunal. I needed the peace of sweat, concrete, and my thoughts. The box I found didn’t have shoes.
By the collage of pictures modpodged to the lid and the organized fashion each thing was tucked inside I knew it had been secretly placed in the back of my closet by my mother-in-law. She must have done it when she was helping me move in.
Finding treasure like this was a simple pleasure that I didn’t allow myself anymore, but after the lid was lifted there was no going back.
The sound of rain reminds me of you
It is the tangible sound of my emotions
When I am with you
When I am without you
Like a million drums
Tapping out the rhythm of life
Como mi Corazon
Cuando veo tu sonrisa
Como mi alma
Cuando tengo tus besos
Like the tears
Like the tears
The familiarity of Roberto’s scribbled hand made my breath catch. It was written on a Starbucks napkin. There was a dried ring cutting through the poem, from the cup that had rested on the paper before Roberto had written on it.
He’d mailed it to me along with a dandelion. The night before we’d had our first argument over the phone. He was in Seattle. I was in San Diego. We were at that place, at the beginning of any passionate when you have your first doubt. That in between time you wonder if all the fir of love was worth all the damn compromise. It’s that place when you’re not so in love that you couldn’t walk away.
The dandelion hadn’t survived the whirl wind of the last decade, neither had the man, but his words had, my poet husband. Crying wasn’t the right description of the tears that came as I set the brown paper aside and reached back into the box. It was too sad of a word. I couldn’t feel sad and touch these things.
My fingers found a smooth acrylic keychain. It was a pinterest craft I’d made for Roberto in our early years of marriage. Back in the day when we were so poor that we couldn’t afford to heat our apartment or keep our refrigerator full. The supplies for the project cost $1.98 in entirety. The keychain had an orange clearance sticker on it when I found it in a forgotten discount basket at the Capital Hill art store.
I’d found a map of San Diego and cut out the exact spot on Linda Vista Rd where I first said the “L” word. The cut out was the shape of the heart and I’d drawn a small red dot, marking the spot. I’d given it to him for Christmas, I couldn’t remember which one, but it was the memory of Linda Vista that the keychain was really about.
He’d been driving my car at the moment. Our hands were warm as they lay intertwined between us. “There is something that I want to tell you.” I was hesitant as I spoke. I could feel both of our pulses in my fingers.
“Hm?” he was focused on the road.
“I’m scared to.”
He raises his brows, his obsidian eyes catching the San Diego setting sun and throwing it back softened.
“I mean, I wish I’ve never told anyone this before and…” my thoughts sped ahead my voice unable to keep up with them.
“I hope what you’re planning to say is nice,” he says, the hard pronunciation of the ‘I’ bringing me back to the present with a smile on my face.
“I just don’t want to sound stupid.” I let go of his hand, wiping my palm on my pant leg. Thankful that Roberto was too distracting by driving to see my hands were shaking. “What if you don’t say it back?”
An awkward silence fills the car as I try to tame my thoughts.
“I have an idea.” He reaches forward and turns on the radio. A Banda song explodes from the speakers. An accordion screams it’s solo and he shouts over it, “Say it!”
“I love you.” I say it softly, tear stinging my eyes.
“What?” he yells.
“I love you.” It comes out a little louder and I was sure that he’d heard me.
“What!” he turns the dial on the radio, drowning out his own voice.
I giggle and then yell as loud as I can “I love you!”
The car swerves onto the side of the road without a blinker and he slams his foot on the break. Mashing his hand against the radio it instantly turns off. He practically ripped his seatbelt off and turns to me. “Te amo!” His voice is deep, his eyes beautiful in their depth. He reaches forward to touch my lip. “I love you too.”
The clean chain clicks against itself as I place it on Roberto’s poem. Wiping at my eyes, I realize how alone I’ve been. The loneliness had become part of my personality. Roberto would have hated that, he would have serenaded and cuddled me to death before he’d see me turn into the person I was becoming.
I reached forward again, this time with intent. The white stockinet, cut short with a rainbow yarn bow tied at the top, was soft under my dry hands. It was the hat that was placed on Dean’s head shortly after birth. I pressed the fabric to my lips.
I bathed in the memories, as if my soul was a cat on a couch.
Matching hospital bracelets, birth announcement, tickets to Oz Fest, another poem, and oh… a moan escapes my lips. Roberto’s wedding ring.
I thought he’d been buried in it. I slide it onto my thumb, cherishing the feel of the cold metal. The gold band was an exact replica of the ring that hugged the ring finger of my left hand. Roberto, you weren’t supposed to ever take this off. Suddenly feeling exhausted I lay on my side, my eyes entranced by the gold ring that I lazily twisted around my thumb.
I started at the sound of my name. My body ached from sleeping on the ground.
“What are you doing?” I blinked, trying to make my eyes focus as I found the shadow that loomed above me.
“Laoth? Is it Sunday already?” I croaked, creaking as I sat up.
She smiles, her hand extended. “I don’t know why you allow yourself to get so stiff” She’s shaking her head as she effortlessly pulls me up. “I mean, you’re an Angel for Christ’s sakes. You don’t have to feel anything you don’t want to, you’re body isn’t even here!”
I roll my eyes at her, “28 years of being Human isn’t something that just disappear ‘cause you guys decide to set me on fire!” She laughs, and I have to reach in deep to find a laugh to give back to here. “I’m feeling more like a zombie than an Angel right now anyway.”
Loath cringes, “yeah, I’m getting that,” she rubs her arms, “no need to share.”
With an inaudible thud I closed my defenses against her, trapping my emotions and thoughts in my imaginary skull.
“There!” she says smiling, “that’s much better.”
It felt a lot like holding in a bowel movement. It took becoming an Angel to realize that Humans are the ultimate social animal. We walk around every day projecting our thoughts and emotions at the innocents around us. Like a megaphone, we all subconsciously share all there is to know about us.
Not divulging every thought and emotion, as I’ve been learning to do, felt a lot like lying. Denying those around me from partaking in my thoughts seemed more like a lie of omission than creating privacy.
Laoth frowned, “you’ve blocked your emotions, but I can still read it on your face. What’s wrong?”
I looked down it the treasures that littered the ground were id been sleeping. “I miss them.” I say to the ground, unable to look into Laoth’s compassionate face.
She steps close to me, her hand settling on my shoulder, “Be still.”
The warmth of calm washes over me as she gives me a taste of her peace. It travel through her palm, spreading itself below my skin, neatly tucking itself into every forgotten inch of my being.
Breathing in deep I look up ate her. “Is it possible? I mean, could you take me? Take me to see them? One more time?”
She lifted her brows at the pleading in my voice and placing her other hand on my other shoulder she shakes her head. “I can’t, but I can get you close.”
One blink was all it took. My apartment, eyes close, eyes open, and we were in the meadow where the Seraphim stood watch. The massive door stood alone, it’s four guards nowhere to be seen.
“They are at the tribunal,” Laoth says, reading my mind, “It should be starting soon.” She points at the door. “It can’t be opened.” She shakes her head as if she were second guessing her decision to bring me here. “This is as close as I can get you. I’ll give you some privacy, 15 minutes.”
“Thank you so…” She was gone, my gratitude hanging in the air. Why did Angels always do that?
My hands come up to my chest, working like splints against the bursting feeling under my ribs. I cross the space between myself and the door like a ghost. Leaning forward, my forehead rests against the wood. A buzz emanates from it, rattling my teeth.
“Roberto?” I whisper the word.
The buzzing crescendos in response, bouncing as if to pronounce syllables.
The whirring response seemed a more defined. He really was there, on the other side of the door. My palms began to sweat as I circled the freestanding door. The back was the exact duplicate of the front. Face upon face carved into the hard wood.
Placing both hands on the door, each on a different face, and I pushed. The soft buzz became a pulse like a Taser, burning my hands. I grit my teeth, fuck you door! Let me in!
Again I pushed, this time willing my wings to come to my assistance. Flames burst with a crackle behind me as they opened wide. The muscles of my arms ached and I felt as though I was trying to push my way through a wall. Concentrating, I pushed one last time.
The world around me seemed to tremble in response to the groan the door emanated. I had opened by maybe four inches. I swung around, worried that I might be caught. I was alone. Alone with an ancient door, that apparently could be opened after all.
I cupped my hand around my mouth and shouted into the crack I’d created, “Roberto!”
“Mi amor?” the answer was soft, it was the unmistakable tenor of my husband, but richer.
He slid his hand through the slit and I took it, leaning in the doorway, trying to see him. I could make out a tuft of salt and pepper hair and an ebony eye surrounded in wrinkles. “Roberto!” I cried.
His hand was soft in mine and there were age spots there that hadn’t been there before. He’d aged! He pushed his face into the crevice as I had, but there was not enough room for our lips to meet. I squeezed his fingers and settled on kissing them. “I’ve missed you so much!” I whispered, slipping the ring from my thumb and onto his hand.
“We’ve missed you too!” there was a sweet smile on his face as I looked up and I knew that his missing had not been full of sadness. “Our boy, he’s a man now.” He squeezes my hand a grin making his face fold around his eyes, creases covering his forehead. “You would be so proud of him,” I hear him take in a shaking breath, “we are so proud of you!”
I couldn’t reply, my breath was caught in my as the injustice of Roberto growing old without me began to sink in. I wanted matching lines on my face, matching grays in my hair, matching memories.
“They told me that I’ll never see you again.” I whispered finally.
He untangles his hand from mine and caressed my face. “You see me every day,” he runs his thumb over my lips, “Every time your heart sings, I hear it. You touch a sick child and I feel it. You smile and I smile and there is no end to the ways that we have imprinted ourselves onto each other.” He takes my chin in his hand, “Each raindrop that touches your skin is a kiss I’ve sent you. Each ray of sun a caress.”
His hand falls away, “Wylie,” his voice was soft and I held back the tears trying to hear every precious word, “I also hurt when you hurt.”
The pronouncement hung between us. “I’m sorry,” I cried unable to hold it back.
“Shh,” he hushed, his hand finding mine again, “don’t be sorry, I just wanted you to know, needed you to know, that you are not alone. Never will be. Never were.”
I hiccupped, caught up in a sob. I cradled his hand in mine, resting my face against it.
“Te amo, mi alma.” His hand slipped away and the door slid back into place.
“I love you. I love you. I love you!” I shouted at the door, lifting my hand with the fury of loss anew. My fist slammed into the door. The door instantly slammed back. As if a lightning sunk its teeth into my balled hand, I flew back.
My muscles contracted uncontrollably and that same sickening feeling of burning alive raced through the veins of my arm. My tongue lolled as it tried to work in my mouth. Lying flat I stared up at that impossible sky that reminded me of Mexico and therefore reminded of Roberto.
“Why?” my own voice shocked me from my stupor. “Why why,” I keened as if it were a complete sentence, a subject and a verb.
“Why, why, why,” my mouth was dry as sand as I spoke.
I lay there knowing I wasn’t talking to a mysterious God with my repeated questionless interrogative word.
No, I was confronting Roberto.
You took my son away! You grew old without me!
It all seemed so unfair.
What happened to those promises of forever?
I love you!
“Wylie?” for the second time that day Loath woke me with my name, “What have you done?”
She leaned over me her eyes huge with accusations. “I said goodbye,” I whispered, knowing the truth of it only as I spoke.
Loath put out her hand and pulled me to my feet. She dusted me off as I studied my hand for an electric burn. There was none. “We have to go now.”
I nodded, holding out my hand for hers, “Take me.”
Moscow’s cityscape was bright with lights even at midnight. Samael stands upon Moscow State University. The building was one of the Seven Sisters financed by Stalin. Each neoclassic tower allowed full visualization of the city from their spots at the cities perimeter. Stalin meant to use his circle of towers to be a panicle of defense in the post-war era. The tower’s current occupation has a much more important use now. Education!
Sameal could feel the humming energy of the youth who usually enchanted the halls below him. Letting that vitality fill his chest he took in the city before him. Now that the fog had settled the blurred colors of lights made visible many of the landmark structures of the ninth most expensive city in the world.
“Are you ready?” The soft voice was that of Miniel, his fellow Dominion.
“Yes,” Samael turn to the eleven Dominions who were left, a smile on his face. “It’s been too long.”
Though centuries had passed since all those on earth were given a Reprieve, the memory was fresh in Samael’s mind. There was nothing as enthralling to an Angel as sharing his Scentia with his fellow Angels. Creating a mass Human Reprieve could be compared to creating music together. Sharing with your sibling your skills and melding them together.
The Dominions stepped towards each other, their minds so intertwined that there was no need for words between them. Their hands found eachother’s creating a circle of gigantic winged sculptures.
Together they breathed in deep. Tasting Russia. Tasting Moscow.
Together they breathed out and their Scentia sped away from their circle in pulsing tidal waves. Samael thought of Wylie, and how she had shared her Scentia after Catharsis. He remembered the warmth of humanity in it. The Dominion’s Scentia was purely Angel, Samael wondered how different those powers truly were.
They stood eyes closed until the sound of Skilled Angels around the city forced the Dominion’s Scentia to spread by adding their own. The Dominions had the ability to release their power without the help of tools, or touch, or vision. Skilled Angels did not have this talent; therefore, they emitted their Scentia using the sound of their voices.
The chorus of Angels sang out, matching the pitch of the wind and the rumble of thunder. The sound was natural in its sudden crescendos and momentary dissonance. Their whirring harmonies forced air into the lungs of the Dominions. Though some voices rose to take precedence with the same soprano wails of a violin or baritone thumps of a drum, each open Angel mouth produced a perfect blend of wavering melodies.
Scattered masses of Humans froze where they lay in their beds or sat in their cars as Angel voices snaked around them like comforters. There was no need for this choir to imitate nature, as they sang their Humans to Reprieve, they were nature.
Samael stepped onto the Throne’s plane, his ears still full of Angel music, his mind running over all that must still transpire. Relief soothes his racing thoughts as he saw how the place was transformed. No longer an open expansion of white, the place was an empty room no longer.
A great organic stadium took up more space than Samael new existed on this plane. He felt a pride for his kind replacing the worries as he took in the sight. While the sky remained an empty white the landscape Ophinam built for the tribunal was miraculous.
Rock formations towered miles into the sky, creating a bowl of steps as far as the Angel eye can see. Its pinks and reds and whites put the famous natural amphitheaters of the American southwest to shame. While the beautiful rock formations in North Amerca had been cut into place by sliding glaciers over the span on millions of years, the last Throne had put together this land mass in a few days.
Ophinim waved her arm, gesturing at her creation, “Is there enough space for the ten thousand times ten thousand?” She asked, no boasting in her voice as her white eyes stared blankly ahead.
“Yes, sister, I believe it will,” Samael spoke with deference.
“They will fit and they will hear,” this she said confidently, a smile pulling at her blank face. “It’s the stone. The limestone, it eats the whispers and repels shouts. If an angel is brave enough to raise its voice, it will be heard.”
Samael could see the thick layers of white snow-like rock quarrelling with its quarry siblings and winning as it dominated the land. He found himself wishing that Angels could sing for each other. He was struck by how perfectly Ophinim’s creation could carry a song. He closed his eyes and allowed himself to dream such a moment of defiance.
“The other Dominions are here,” Ophinim’s voice wake him from his reverence.
Among the rock were the first Angels to report to the tribunal. The Lesser Angel were being escorted to Arcadia by the Dominions. Samael was to arrive first to verify that the small groups of Angels who arrived first were safe.
The Lesser Angel’s powers were too precious to be spent on the Human’s Reprieve. Their Sceintia meant for their assigned humans and their assigned humans alone. Back on earth the Skilled Angels were spreading the Scentia originally released by the Dominions around the world. The last to leave earth would be the Virtues, who would sew together the one end of the blanket that covered the world to the other end.
He brought himself to the present, there was not point worrying about the details. He needed to ground himself to this moment. With a hyper vigilance he watched the most precious Angels enter.
It was a beautiful thing to see them appear. The wild essence of a lifetime of human interaction shaped their relationship to those around them. Tears were shed as brothers and sisters reunited for the first time since the crucifixion. The Lesser Angels took all shapes and shades. Their forms that of house hold pets and paper pushers, of gang members and transparent ghosts.
Modernity touched all of them. Jeans and cell phones held up to take group selfies were the most striking changes in the gathering group below Samael. He wondered, and not for the first time, how much of Humanity was influenced by Angels, and how much Angels were swayed by Humans.
His fellow Dominions trickled in behind their flocks, each catching his eye as they surveyed their surroundings. We are here brother. Their thoughts warmed his soul. He waved for them to join him. There were thousands more angels to come before the Virtues would relinquish their positions and join them here. With that precious time left the Seraphim would share with the Dominions the announcement that would be made during the tribunal.
“Oh baby girl!” I heard Dumah before I saw her, overwhelmed by the sight above and around me. I was standing at the bottom of the largest Amphitheater I’d ever seen. The scene was impossibly real looking, if it wasn’t for the blank white sky that almost seemed like a painted ceiling. Angels bumbles around in a celebratory fashion.
Dumah pulled me into her arms as I swung around in search of the source of her voice. I felt my eye fill with tears again as I allowed myself to relax in her hold. “Bless your heart, darlin’! What’s wrong?”
“I’ve just missed you,” I said with a shrug, closing my eyes to the strangeness around me. Trying not to feel the bodies that pressed against me and the more and more Angels arrived.
Dumah released me but kept one arm wrapped around my waist as she guided me up the rows and rows of seats. She gestured to a large boulder with a flat surface. “Let’s go up there.”
No sooner had she said the words were we there, Laoth lost somewhere in the crowd beneath us. I looked for her but was distracted by the dogs and cats the snaked between the Angel wings and legs. What are animals doing here?
“What are you thinking, baby girl?” Dumah asks, a wide grin on her face. I could see her pride on her face, as if she were introducing me to her family for the first time.
“I was looking for Laoth and Samael, and…” I paused, worried about sounding like a complete idiot, “and what are those animals doing?” I pointed at an Alaskan Malamute who seemed to be the size of a small bear. He was standing on his back to paws, as he leaned against the chest of an Angel who nuzzled his hair affectionately.
“They’re Shadows, Darlin’,” she sat down on the edge of the boulder, allowing her legs to dangle off the edge, she turned back to me, “You know the Lesser Angel’s that follow family lines… The ones that Human’s often mistake as ghosts,” she says, tacking on the last part after seeing the befuddlement on my face.
I shrugged, not hearing hear explanation above the numbness that was threatening. I squinted at the swelling numbers of Angels, trying to focus on the present, but stuck in the moment when the door slammed in my face. How can I be amongst so many and still feel alone?
The feeling made me wish I was a poet like Roberto. The confusion that barbed the flesh beneath my skin needed words to define them.
Roberto’s silver hair.
My eyes burned. My breath hitched.
“There’s Laoth!” Dumah shouts over the swelling ruckus.
Desperately grasping for a distraction my watery gaze followed her pointed finger. Laoth had donned her wings, her hair a pink Mohawk. She’d taken the elbow of the man before her, they’re forearms pressed tight together as they embrace each other in the way I imagined armored knights once did.
Blinking I wandered if Laoth, or Dumah, or Samael had ever been in love. Or was my love for a Human, the very humanity that the Angels around me considered so ‘cute’. I watched Laoth share a few whispers with her male counterpart. Clinging to the thought that her sly smile was meant for him.
Laoth threw her head back in a laugh and I imagined her leaning forward into a true embrace. Instead she stepped back from the man, squaring her shoulders as she did. The crowd around the pair parted and turned towards the couple their eyes hungry.
Dumah clapped her hands and I jumped, “Oh Lordy, those two!” Dumah pats the spot next to her, “Sit down, you’ve got to see this!”
I took the spot she proffered, pulling my knees to my chest, watching Laoth as she bounced on the balls of her feet, rolling her shoulders. She shakes her head and her image flickers until her form completely changes. I blinked my eyes hard. She was now a short man with a tiny mustache and severe part in his brown hair.
Dumah burst out laughing, leaning her body against mine, “Hitler!” she wheezes between guffaws.
Laoth had shrunk down to four feet high and was mimicking a Nazi march, she turns back to her opponent and instead of saluting she makes the universal ‘suck it’ sign. The man shakes his head a smile on his face. He reaches his arms into the air and then slashes them down. He’s instantly wearing a black suit with matching cape and mask. I could hear his electric ‘coop-ha’ breaths from where I sat.
I snorted as he dropped to the ground and began a breakdance routine that ended with him spinning on his Darth Vader helmet. Hitler rolled his eyes and began to shimmy with his arms outstretched beside him. His fingers began to lengthen as he grew taller, his skin becoming craggy, his teeth bared.
Freddy Krueger was holding a teddy bear in one hand, he raised it to his face slowly as if her were going to cuddle it. With a cackle he opens his mouth wide and bites of the bear’s head, Krueger’s head falls back and he spits the head into the air with the force of a rocket. Spinning in circles, cotton stuffing continues to flow from his mouth, sprinkling the onlookers with what looks like snow.
Darth Vader has had enough. He folds his arms over his chest and disappears altogether. I find myself staring at the spot with expectation. “There!” someone in the crowd yells and hundreds of head turn at once to see a man with green-grey skin riding a broom in a brown robe.
“Voldemort!” Another Angel yells and giggles ensue as many people in the audience pretend to gasp at the sound of the name.
He-Who-Cannot-Be-Named lands in front of Laoth/ Freddy with a smug look on his face. Laoth’s form grows again, this time fur cover’s her body as her shoulders broaden. I choke on my own spit as Sasquatch reaches forward, grabbing Voldemort with both hand , raising the snake man above his furry head, and commences to do a Russian squat dance.
Voldemort is tossed to the ground, where he remains on his knees bowing comically. Sasquatch curtsied generously, blowing wet kisses to her adoring fans after she rose. Voldemort was standing now, moving closer. I couldn’t help but roll my eyes when their arm wound around each other in a crude antonym to the embrace I’d imagined for them minutes earlier. Sasquatch’s furry hand roughly rubbing the top of Voldemort’s head.
I looked away, letting the smile on my face slide off.
The dominions stood shoulder to shoulder at the edge of the stadium staring over the mass of Angels that gathered below them. Their arms were folded as they surveyed their brothers and sisters. Samael felt his face stiffen with the grim awareness of the truth that the Seraphim had shared.
He’d expected bad news. He hadn’t expected hopeless news. His fellow dominions exuded the same tension that itching at the inside of his ribcage. It is good we know first. Samael told himself. We will help our brother and sister understand.
Samael lifted his chin when Peliel approached. “I am the last,” Peliel announced as he bowed deeply.
Samael nodded. “Please, find Wylie. She may need your protection today.”
Peliel lifted his brows but did not voice his concern. With another bow the Green skinned Angel leapt into the air.
“It’s time?” Miniel sighed his question, the closest thing to wavering Samael had heard from his fellow Dominion’s mouth.
“It is time,” Samael answered leaping into the air with the same determination Peliel had.
I jumped when yet another Angel joined us on our boulder. Duma and Laoth sandwiched the gigantic blond male Loath had dueled earlier, inside jokes babbling between them like a babbling brook.
Using my hand I to shield my eyes against the brightness of the blank sky I tried to make out the feature of the Angel who stood beside me. It was Peliel, whose green skin would forever remind me of the hospital cafeteria’s green jello. “Wylie,” his tone did not carry the same festive note that most Angel voices held at that moment.
He bent down and sat next to me, boxing me in, his wings still visible as the twitched and settled into an ornate quilt behind us. “Are you ready?”
I shrugged. “I’m honestly not sure what I’m doing here,” I whispered, not wanting to share my bad mood with Dumah.
Peliel shrugged back, distracted, his eyes jumping back between the Angels before us.
The loud buzz of the crowd instantly vanished. The Angel’s snapping to attention like well-trained soldiers, many prostrated themselves while others bowed their heads. I felt the waves of power being released around me like morning sickness. The Scentia compressed the air around me and I wondered if this is what true claustrophobia feels like. I shivered against the power, reminding myself that this was the Angel’s way of showing reverence.
Narrowing my eyes, I focused on the stage below me. I could make out four short figures with chestnut hair and far too many wings springing from their backs. “The Seraphim?” I whispered, remembering the boys’ strange authority. Dumah lifted her finger to her mouth in a shushing action, but did not turn to me. Samael with the other dominions formed a loose circle around the boys, their arm folded menacingly.
“Your fellow Angel has invited us here so that we may dispel your fears.” The Seriph’s voice was high with boyhood. He turned to face the multitude behind him. “That is not what we have come here to do!”
“We have come here to bring light to the shadows that have haunted your existence.” The second Seraph was the impatient one, I could remembered him with a familiarity I didn’t feel for the others.
The third Seraphim opened his wings wide and with two quick beats was airborne. “We have come to crush the hope you may have harbored while congratulating you all in your utter commitment to God’s cause.”
“Not that we had a choice,” a voice muttered from behind me. I turned my head in time to be blinded as the speaker instantly flashed a hot white and disappear.
The Serphim who was yet to speak gestured to the blacked spot where the Angel had stood seconds before. “We will welcome you to speak, but now is not the time.” He said his brows furrowing.
There were no sounds of protest, but Dumah’s hand found mine as a urgent wave of anxiety finally peaked. I clutched her hand, wondering if the Seraphim knew what I’d done with the door. Worried that they would punish me next.
We know what you have done.
You are beyond reproach.
We would never hurt you.
“Armageddon is here, Brother and Sisters.” The God’s Guard spoke at once. Three of the voice reverberated in my mind, while one could be heard by those around me.
“We all know what this means, but never have you learned why. God never told us when.” The last boy spoke again his voice softer than the others.
“Angels of Sibriel, it is time you know.” The God’s Guard spoke together again, but this time the four Seraphim spoke aloud.
“The world is not ending because of the original sin or any sin committed since.” Their voice thread in and out of each other, and if it weren’t for the sight of each boy before me I would have assumed it was only one speaker.
“This is not a punishment or revenge,” each Seriph opened their wings in emphasis.
“God is a scientist,” they rose into the air their wing beats punctuating each syllable.
“With Sibriel He created the Universe that we manage in order to fine tune humanity.” Dumah squeezed my hand and I saw many of the Angels around me begin to fidget.
“The Place of Gathering is here and it is time to harvest.” I looked to my right, Dumah’s eyes were wide with surprise while Laoth’s mouth made a hard distrustful line. To my left Peliel sat quietly searching those around us, somehow distracted by the current announcement.