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A Treatise on Fate

“You need not worry about your future,” read the fortune inside the cookie I had just eaten. Despite the advice, I couldn’t help but worry. Not only was my future more uncertain than ever, but now I had semi-prophetic messages telling me not to worry. I had to deal with the possibility that someone somewhere was able to see into my future, then write these little messages, and — despite the odds — get it to me in a little bad tasting cookie that was given to me at a Chinese restaurant. I figured the odds of it happening at about a billion to one, but long-shots had a way of happening in the real world.

I thought about throwing the message away with the rest of my take out dinner, but I placed it in my wallet instead. Maybe it would come in handy someday. I chuckled to myself about the chances of that happening. Then I recalled that long-shots had a way of happening. What the hell am I doing to myself?

Anyway, I got up and left my apartment. I had a lot of things to think about, and being the solitary animal I am, I needed to be alone to do it. I was already alone in the apartment, but I wanted to get out anyway. Of course, loneliness was one of my problems.

My roommate was my best friend, and yet I felt more alone than ever once I started sharing an apartment with him. I had only left home, a life living with my parents, sister and nephew, a year before, and I felt like utter shit because I had no one to support or help me any more. Neither did I have anyone I could trust or talk to about anything. How do you tell your best friend that you don’t trust him any more? I didn’t.

Today was November first, and I thought, briefly, that it was insanely warm for this late in the year. It had to be at least eighty degrees. But then I realized that this was California. Insane was the norm. I had no particular place to go so I picked a direction and walked.

Like an old familiar friend, anger found me and walked with me on my journey. Not much longer, jealousy and the other four horsemen joined us on my trek around the Westpark area of Irvine. We conversed about my problems without saying a word, and I was thankful — strangely enough — for their company. Funny how the mind personifies feelings when it has spent too much time in an isolated prison.

At the end of my walk, I returned to my apartment knowing exactly what I had thought at the beginning of my walk. Every problem I had was my own fault. I hate myself.

Perhaps that’s the problem.

I walked into my apartment to find a rather unusual visitor. All the normal signs of fear played themselves out on my body, but my natural stoicism and fatalism prevented me from running. Something bad was about to happen and I knew there was nothing in the world I could do about it. If you can’t beat it, piss it the fuck off…

I checked my roommate’s bedroom — since it was the first room on the right when you entered the apartment — before proceeding to the living room area where my guest was waiting.

She was a small Asian woman, with a kindly smile upon her face, but I could sense something deeply evil lying just out of sight beneath the surface of her skin. They say the devil comes in attractive packages. Now I see that they weren’t lying.

I’m not sure if I actually heard her voice, at first, or felt it within my head. It had a supremely soothing quality to it that would have made me comfortable if I hadn’t already been scared shitless of her, and prematurely pissed at my own stupidity. “Don’t worry, Malcolm,” she purred in a sweet, beautiful, cottony voice. “I just want to help you.”

I looked her up and down once more, and fought to contain certain lower appendages. To aid this effort, and to activate my innate annoyance powers, I walked into my bedroom and locked the door behind me. I braced myself, fully expecting her to be in my room with me, and was highly relieved to find she wasn’t. I waited a few minutes before even thinking about going back out there. I used that time to try building my courage, but found that I was only unnerved more by the fact that she had not tried to enter the room, or get my attention. She was waiting, patiently, and knew I was just trying to piss her off. She knew I would come out sooner or later, and she had all the time in the world. Faced with this, I walked back into the living room, and found her watching my television.

“Remarkable devices,” she said. “As much a source of information as foolishness, such as the world had never seen a hundred years ago, or the thousands before that.”

The hell was she talking about? Why did the devil care about TV? “Yeah, well, it’s only seven hundred dollars at Sears. Maybe you should get one…”

“You know who I am,” she said. “Don’t you Malcolm?” This was not exactly the question that it sounded like.

“Either you’re the sexiest woman alive, or something capable of ripping my head off and shoving it up my ass.”

She smiled and I suddenly thought that nothing could ever be wrong with anything. As if I could take a photo with a nuke going off behind me, and I’d shrug it off. The thought occurred to me, that this wasn’t necessarily a good thing. “I am Lien Chan Yang,” she purred. “And I have a proposition for you.”

Was the world rising or did the lead in my stomach start pulling me downwards as I realized there could be no good coming from this offer? “What do you want from me?”

“To the point, eh?” she asked walking towards me provocatively. “I want you to write a book for me.”

The world grew a little larger, as she ran her fingers across my chest and face.

Despite the fact that my day job was helping idiots over the telephone with their computers, I spent quite a bit of my free time writing. I thought I was good, and so did my friends. But they could have been patronizing me. I still hadn’t had anything published, but then I hadn’t tried either. So now here was a beautiful woman, in my apartment, asking me to write a book for her. This was not good. Hi, Malc, would you like to start the Apocalypse? And I need not worry about my future…

I decided to play it cute and coy. “What sort of book, Ms. Yang?”

“Lien.”

“Ms. Lien?”

“No, just call me Lien.” Was that a hint of annoyance I saw in her eyes? Maybe I could piss her off so much that she’ll just kill me now, instead of making me write some unholy masterpiece for her. “I was thinking a book of Biblical proportions…”

See, I told you.

“About good and evil,” she continued. I moved into the kitchen and got some water. “About war, death, pestilence, famine… And about the force of nature that saved the world.”

I got a bit curious then. Traditional Christianity played upon good versus evil; God versus the Devil; the Creator versus the Adversary. Where the hell did this force of nature come from? Maybe she wasn’t the devil after all…

“Why me? What do I get out of this?” When in doubt, get suspicious. I would say that it saved my live more than once, but that would be a lie. After all, how much excitement does a computer tech see? Not bloody much…!

She smiled and I found I didn’t like that one bit. “I need someone that’s good with words. Someone that can capture a reader’s attention and hold it with the mere power of words forged from a strong mind.”

A wordsmith. She wanted a fucking wordsmith.

For those that don’t know, ever since I started writing, I considered myself a wordsmith. A wordsmith is an author. Nothing more, nothing less. But in my definition, a wordsmith was more of an artist, hammering out sentences and phrases with great strength and skill, but not without a great degree of gentleness and care. A good wordsmith could construct a story so great but unbelievable that it would appear to shatter under the gaze of those not so well trained in appreciating it. But the true strength lies hidden beneath the surface: The outside may be a thing of beauty but the real marvel is in how it is constructed. An author writes. A wordsmith creates. It was a word I invented, and I only knew of two true wordsmiths. I was one, the other was R.A. Salvatore; my favorite author. Err, wordsmith. Sure, I knew I wasn’t in the same universe as he when it came to skill, but I still had faith in my work.

“It would appear, Lien,” I said walking back into the living room. “That you seem to posses the ability to manipulate words yourself.” This was neither compliment, nor insult. It was simply both. I think she took it as such, as a neutral smile creased her face. I fought hard not to shiver, but it was a battle I knew I would loose. And I did.

“‘What do you get out of it?’ you ask?” she stated far more than she asked. She was toying with me, and she wanted me to know it. If I weren’t the gentleman I am, I would have jumped her. And promptly gotten my throat ripped out. So I didn’t jump her. I liked my throat right where it was.

“You don’t seem the type that’s interested in money…” she said to me, walking into the center of the living room, her back to me.

It was about then that I first really paid attention to what she was wearing. If sex had a clothing line — now that I think about it, I think it does — she would have been its best model. Lien was wearing black high heels, red lace stockings, a black skirt (cut just high enough for me to see the garters holding the stockings), a white blouse, and red jacket. Was she ever holding to the devil in a red dress theme. Okay, so her dress wasn’t red, but you get my point.

I hurried back into the kitchen, and refilled my glass with water and ice; before certain parts of my body defected to the enemy. Like she wanted.

“Surely, Malcolm, there must be something you want?” she turned back to me, with a sexy pose and an out heaved chest. She virtually offered herself to me. I really wanted to take the offer… Nothing quite like compounding the sin of writing the Devil’s Bible with a little “in and out” action. Why don’t I just paint the triple six on me now, and save the trouble later?

She was right though, I couldn’t care less about money. Yes, I was up to my eyeballs — at least — in debt, and little things like my roommate’s girlfriend’s habit of making long long-distance calls on my phone didn’t help. But I’ve never cared about money. I just didn’t.

Companionship, especially in the form of sex, on the other hand, was and is a different story. It had been years since I last had a girlfriend, and I was beginning to worry that people suspected I was gay. I’m not. Fuck them. Not gays, but the people that thought I was.

So now I was faced with a decision. Do I turn down this walking, talking avatar of carnal pleasures because I feared for a little thing called “my immortal soul,” or do I accept her and pretty much condemn myself? God I hate life…

Perhaps that was the problem.

Diplomacy. That’s the ticket. I walked to Lien, and marveled at how much taller I was. I was not — am not! — a tall man. I was five seven and proud of it. But she was tiny! I doubted she even crested over the five foot mark in her high heels!

I looked deep into her eyes, and watched as she closed the distance between us. She pressed her tight but soft body against mine and kissed me. I sort of wondered how she did that without standing on something, and I told her “Maybe another time. But, I’ll write the book.”

I don’t know if it was anger or elation that froze her tiny body and face, but for the space of a few moments she looked deep into my eyes, expressionless. Then she smiled slowly, and I shivered slightly despite the warmth that her body gave me. I needed a really cold shower… I wonder how much liquid nitrogen costs by the gallon…?

She gave me her phone number, and told me to call her when I was ready to start. Then she was gone. Out the front door and into a Mercedes Benz that I hadn’t noticed when I came home.

Maybe it was accidental. Maybe Satan’s hired help still fuck up once in a while like most living people do. But she didn’t endear herself to me by driving a foreign car. I was a Detroiter, damn it, born and raised. I believed in only one type of car: American. Everything else was shit with wheels. Of course, I could just be nuts…

 

 

I shivered as I stepped out of the shower. I always did, no matter how hot it was. It was about six thirty in the morning, and I was getting ready for work. It had been twelve full hours since the lady had left my home, but I still felt like I was being watched.

I had tried to convince myself that Lien’s presence had been a dream, or nightmare, by staying in bed an extra twenty minutes. It didn’t work, and now I was going to be late for work. Whoopty-fucking-doo.

After drying myself off, I turned off the bathroom light, and stepped boldly in the nude into my bedroom. I froze. Something wasn’t right. I scanned the dark room, but saw nothing. My eyes were taking forever to adjust to the darkness, so I reached into the bathroom and flicked the light switch back on. Nothing happened. No light, no hope.

I looked across the room towards where my lamp was. If there was something here, chances are that it wouldn’t like me going for the lamp. Joy. I looked at my digital clock and tried to see with what little light it gave off. I was overjoyed when I noticed the lighted numbers start to fade, then disappear altogether.

I scanned the room again, and was a little happier when my eyes told me they had nearly adjusted to the darkness. I took a step towards my bed and stopped mid-stride. Something of an eerie shade of blue was perched upon the foot of my bed. No sir, I don’t like it.

I heard a nearly sweet, innocent, barely audible giggling woman’s voice coming from the glowing blue form. When my eyes finished adjusting, I saw another very beautiful woman perched on my bed, as fully naked as I was. “Adam and Eve started this way, you know,” she spoke tempestuously.

I wanted to nod my head. I wanted to run screaming from the room. I wanted to fall deeply into her arms, and lose myself in passion. None of these things happened; all I could do was continue to stare at her.

She giggled again, and gracefully stepped down from my bed, coming to me. “We can be Adam and Eve, if you like…” she said softly as she approached me. There was something about her face and the darkness that prevented me from really making out her features, but there was an undeniable, unearthly beauty to her. The blue glow kind of highlighted certain areas of her body, as if it were coming from an unseen spot light. She could not be real.

Then she touched me, caressing my face. She wasn’t much taller than Lien, but there was a stronger sense of power or strength about her. She pulled my head down into a kiss, and pressed her nakedness upon my nakedness. “Don’t be afraid,” she whispered into my ear. “Write the book. We shall watch over you.”

Write the book? We shall watch over you? Just when I was beginning to think that the good guys had arrived, I get told to do the Devil’s work by them? What the…? “What the…?” I said softly. My, isn’t witty repartee my strong point!

She giggled again, and placed another kiss upon my lips.

I awoke to her sweet giggling, but found no one in my room. I looked at my clock, and was oddly confused when it read six oh one.

You know, most people have ordinary problems. Not me. Far from it. I haven’t had a girlfriend in seven years and now, suddenly, I had two very mysterious women kissing me and all around rubbing their bodies on me. Okay, one real woman and one dream. Still, why the hell is this happening to me?

I guess when the shit hits the fan, it does it in very large clumps…

Oh, the games that heaven and hell play… They’re beginning to piss me off.

 

I made it to work a few minutes early, which was something I hadn’t done in several months. Will wonders never cease? Will my problems ever cease?

A friend asked me “how’s it going?” and it was all I could do to not say “Not bad considering I’m being used as a weapon in the war between heaven and hell.” But it was too long winded, and he wouldn’t care any way. So I merely said “OK” and walked to my personal dungeon.

I sat down, powered up my computers — I have two — and “jacked in” so to speak. I would spend the majority of the next nine hours, as I did five times per week, trying to help people fix their five to sixteen thousand dollar computers over the telephone. Apparently I’m a masochist. Or an idiot. Or both.

My day dragged on like normal until about nine thirty. I had already completely lost interest in the conversation I was having with the idiot on the other side of the phone, when I heard a hauntingly familiar voice giggling; and it wasn’t far away either. I told the person on the other side “Type format, space, the letter ‘c’, colon, and press Enter,” then I hung up the phone. Yes, I purposely told him to fuck up his hard drive, but I was tired of listening to the Chicago bastard.

I found myself drawn to my boss’s office, where I stopped dead in my tracks. The woman I had seen this morning was now seated in a normal suit dress across from my boss. She was a little different now though. For one, she was no longer a glowing blue, but a nicely tanned complexion. I also noted her facial features were far more clear now, as if they had been shifting before and had settled down since dawn. I wanted to say that she appeared to be of Asian descent. But I wasn’t sure, because she also appeared to be Hispanic, Native American, and of African and European descent as well. Kind of like her features came from combining all the ethnic groups. It was her though, and I knew it. I believe she knew I knew it too, for there came a subtle wink of her left eye when she saw me.

“Malcolm,” my boss Mark started. “I’d like you to meet Meredith Sheppard. She will be working in tech. reception.”

I nodded and shook her hand as she stood. “Nice to meet you,” I said to her. Yep, my book of witty comments is getting larger all the time. “Welcome aboard.”

She smiled as sweetly as I had ever seen anyone smile. “Thank you, I look forward to working with you.”

Mark was beginning to feel left out and asked me if I needed anything. After all, I did barge into his office even though his door was open. My, I must be loved.

I said “no” but I couldn’t take my eyes off my new coworker, neither could I move. Why was she here? What was going to happen at work that would cause me to need an angel or other heavenly being at the one place I truly considered hell? How did I even know she was a “heavenly being”?

I looked deep into her blue-gray eyes, and that seemed to be all the answer I needed.

I left Mark’s office without another word, and returned to my desk. After a few minutes of staring blankly into space, basking in a new found inner peace, I called back the biggest idiot in Chicago and got a surprise.

“Thank you, Malcolm. Telling me to format the drive solved the problem, and I’m reinstalling my software now.”

After a surprised moment, I said “You’re welcome. Call us back if you need some more help.” I hung up the phone. Though the real answer to his problem was to delete one file, if he was satisfied with reformatting his hard drive, who was I to argue. Of course, I had spent twenty minutes trying to tell him to delete the file. I really didn’t want to speak to him again if it was possible.

I closed my eyes, and stretched in my chair. After a moment of holding that pose, I leaned way back in my chair to stretch my back too. It was at this time that I noticed something undeniably soft but firm behind me. Something warm that sort of wrapped around my head. I’m sure that my face must’ve turned red before I sat up and opened my eyes. I didn’t want to turn around; I was far too embarrassed.

A small pair of hands fell upon my shoulders lightly, and began to knead them. I felt, rather than heard, a faint giggling from behind me, and a whispered voice came to me then. “Not so fast, there will be a lot of time later for that sort of thing.” She giggled again.

Why? Why am I being tormented? I thought to myself. Why is this whole thing focusing on me?

Although I’m not sure, I think I heard her angelic voice inside my head, answering my question: Why not you?

I turned around and faced Meredith. She had an ever so slight smile on her face, sort of like the Mona-Lisa. “Thank you,” came the words from my mouth along with an embarrassed yet apologetic smile of my own. “Sorry about that.”

“No problem.”

“So, what’re you doing back here any way?” After I spoke the words, I felt like I was implying that she should go away. This was wrong. This was absolutely wrong. I wanted just the opposite, in fact. But to correct the imprecision of my own words, I offered her the other chair in my cubicle. I then thought about the question itself as well; the tech reception area was only two cubicles away from my desk so I really shouldn’t have been surprised that she had come here. Yes I should, after all I only saw her in a dream — today! — before meeting her for the first time.

“Mark said you have excellent telephone skills, and wanted me to listen in on your calls for a few days.”

This was odd. Despite my adequate telephone skills, I was a technician and we didn’t train — in any way — the receptionists. I wonder if the angel had influenced Mark’s mind just a little in this matter. I looked to her eyes again, and that seemed to be all the answer I needed.

 

 

The rest of my work day went entirely too well. I would say that it was one of those elusive good days or maybe just good luck. But those things don’t happen to me. They never happen to me. Geez, I’m a nice, wonderful optimistic kind of guy, aren’t I? I’m not the sarcastic bastard, either, right?

I guess it was these two things keeping me sane. In my life, hope is painful at best, and so I tried never to get my hopes up about anything. This gave me my naturally cheery personality. Don’t get me wrong, I hope for a lot of things, but I always take the attitude that it’s not going to happen. Saves some pain, gives more pleasure when things do happen, and makes you an all around bitter person. I need a shrink.

The telephone rang as soon as I stepped into my apartment. I toyed with the idea of letting my answering machine get it, but I picked up the receiver before the thought truly registered. “Hello?”

“Is this Malcolm Burke?” asked an unfamiliar voice on the other end.

“Yes, it is.”

There was a click like what you hear with tape recorders, then I heard what amounted to a bunch of random sounding musical notes in a five second period. There was a high pitched beep at the end, then the person hung up.

I don’t know what the hell the “music” was all about but it was beginning to fit right in. With all the rest of the problems in my life, I didn’t need to worry about some freak playing a stupid song in my ear. But there was something odd about the notes that made them ring in my ear as if I could still hear them. All I really wanted to do is go to sleep for a while, but as I lay on my bed, those stupid sounds played havoc with my thoughts. In my short twenty five years on this mud ball, I’ve learned that the only way to get a song out of your head is to either listen to it over and over again, or to listen to something else. I didn’t have the option to listen to it again, so Ben E. King came to the rescue.

Perhaps the only two things I truly know in this world are how to get rid of music you can’t stop hearing and how much I missed my family. While I knew I missed my family, I never realized that I’d miss Blues music my father always listened to. I used to hate the Blues, but now I have a very strong craving for it. Odd, huh?

Any way, I sat down and tried to think things through. The situation I was stuck in could not really be as real or serious as it seemed to me. For one thing, everybody wanted me to write the book. Second, I didn’t even know what I would truly be writing. Hell, the book Lien had described could just as easily have been Dante’s Divine Comedy. Only probably not as immortal. Chances are that if I ever finished it, the book probably wouldn’t get published. Not to be pessimistic again, but only a very tiny percentage of books actually get published. Besides, no one yet had displayed any supernatural tendencies, so how did I know they were demonic and angelic beings? I didn’t. And I just had to hold to that tiny thread of denial to make it through the rest of the day. And the week. Month, and probably year. Not too big of a task. And two days ago, I would have said I’d never be bothered with woman troubles. This proved the one thing I believed as an absolute truth: The only true constant in this world is change itself.

Yeah, I know that’s a cliché or should be, but it’s true.

 

Lien looked quizzically at me as if she didn’t know what to think. And for once I agreed with her, but for completely different reasons.

“Why can’t you just start writing?” she asked with a strong tinge of astonishment.

“Well,” I started. I thought it was obvious. “The first words of any story or book are the most important. You can’t just start a story with ‘Joey thought that Elvis was cool.’ You have to reach out and grab a reader’s attention.”

She continued to look stunned, but her face gradually softened as she began to understand. I decided to continue. “The Bible starts, ‘In the beginning,’ the short story ‘The Crystal Triangle’ starts ‘This certainly appears to be a no win situation.’ You have to demand attention or else you end up with a well written paper weight. Or huge book of wrong history. And those are not good things.”

She nodded slightly several times, and paced the room. I certainly didn’t mean to be as hostile as I felt I had been, but I thought it was blatantly obvious. I was beginning to get a headache, and a pretty bad one at that. I realized then, that I had been having a lot of headaches since this whole damn thing began. I wanted to chuckle at the irony but the word “amateurs” slipped out instead.

Lien shot me an icy stare, and veritably growled. I found that discomforting. I think that was the intent. Maybe I should choke back the smart-ass comments before I have no throat to choke with.

I sighed then, and thought aloud. “How about ‘Few in the world had ever seen the likes of the coming battle. Heaven and Hell themselves seemed about to burst and pour forth their respective armies in a final effort to gain eternal supremacy’?”

She smiled. “Do you not think that a little dramatic?”

“You do want epic, don’t you Lien?”

She smiled again, and came to stand behind me. I didn’t know if I should worry or relax. I tried both and found they didn’t exactly go together.

Lien’s tiny hands preceded her soft breasts to my shoulders by mere seconds, but I was so suddenly in ecstasy I barely noticed. I felt her joy, and it was indeed a marvelous thing. She pressed her body against me, and I watched as her hands snaked their way down and across my chest. Her long hair fell over my shoulder as she bent over to whisper in my ear. Despite all the rest of the problems this situation put me in, I had to admit I was beginning to like the perks. “I like it,” she said. I was ready for a shower.

I don’t know exactly when my mouth went dry or when I learned to speak in tongues, but I found I could only nod my head like an idiot. I learned quickly that this was a really good thing with a woman behind me…

“So,” I said after a few quietly warm minutes. “We have an opening. Now we only have characters, plot, climax, ending, and about fifty thousand words to write.”

“So get started,” she said.

“Where do you want me to start?”

“Wherever you want.”

I half turned as I started a small protest, but I only got a mouthful of her breasts. Maybe my concentration was slipping. Maybe I was being distracted. Maybe I was even being horny. But damn it, I was really beginning to think that writing this book was a great idea!

She extracted her breast from my mouth, — purposely? — catching her blouse on a tooth for just a moment, and basically read my mind. “Should we make an outline?”

I thought about nothing but the pleasures she could give me for a few moments then nodded blankly. “I don’t usually use an outline though… I kind of like to be surprised by my work as I write it.”

“Really? Does it work?”

“I don’t know,” I said honestly. “I haven’t exactly finished a lot of stories.”

Something, some emotion I couldn’t quite identify, played across her face for the briefest of instants. She didn’t know that I was a complete slacker! I’ll bet she was wondering just why she picked me… For a moment, that same feeling resurfaced in me. My body reminded me, though, that lust is a good thing.

 

Meredith became a regular visitor to both my dreams and cubicle. Unlike my conscious visits, though, the nocturnal visions were always the same. “We could be Adam and Eve if you like…” I found this to be far more tortuous than I could consciously bear. Fortunately, I was always unconscious at the time. I found it odd how she always seemed to hint at her divine nature. She was perfect, yet there was something bothering me about her. But I could find no reason not to trust her; to not like her. Everyone has a skeleton or two and a few flaws, but I could find no sign of them in her.

Perfection. Was it truly as good as it seemed?

As much as Lien tempted and annoyed me, Meredith continued to be the ideal of my desires. Tempting more, in her own way. she occupied my mind and consumed my soul. In her presence I found an edge — a taste — of immortality, and thoughts of lust and all things temporary passed. I found that I would willingly do anything for her. This disturbed me more than a little.

I was working on the outline to the Book, as we had come to call it, and a few character sketches when Meredith came to me again in my tiny hell. I mean cubicle.

“Malcolm, we have five calls waiting,” she teasingly prompted.

I glanced at the status board. The count had gone up to six while she spoke to me. I smiled and said “I know.”

“Do you want to answer some?”

“I’m on a call.” I glanced at my phone and snickered. If one listened very closely, they could hear the very faint ringing that our telephones made when someone was on hold for too long. The snickering grew to a chuckle.

Meredith looked over my shoulder at the telephone. “How long has he been on hold?”

I looked at my watch. The chuckle became a sort of insane giggle, then a full blown laugh. “If I remember correctly, about thirty eight minutes.”

Meredith’s eyes bugged out and I decided that one of the Book’s characters would have that same look on her face often. “Why?”

“Hmm?”

“Why did you leave him on hold so long?”

I couldn’t help but laugh again. “He wanted me to look up a part that hasn’t been made in five years.”

Meredith’s innocent lips pursed as she tried to figure out the significance. She may be an angel, but I guess God doesn’t let them in on everything. “Did you tell him?”

“Five times.”

She caught on. Quick, them angels. “So you told him you’d try to find one.”

“Yep.”

“You’re mean.” she said with a touch of humor, and a dash of a smile. Like I said, she was perfect. At least for me. Maybe that’s how the Heavenly Marine Corps. works. They find the perfect person for every mission. She gave a full on smile. I guess I figured that part out. I guess I was beginning to figure out a lot of it.

“I’ll get someone else to take the other calls,” she said bouncing away. I watched her go and I could not bring myself to think of her as anything but a little girl; like a daughter I was to protect. She was very sexy, but I couldn’t bring myself to lust after her. She was simply too perfect.

I wasn’t threatened by her perfection in the least, but I felt that there should be something far more deep than simple sex between us. I wanted to become one with her. I didn’t want to be just Malcolm within Meredith. I sort of wanted to be both Malcolm and Meredith; to exist as one being with her; to know her so completely that I would know what she was thinking and feeling. Something so pure that mere lust didn’t exist in its presence.

I suppose she was like a bomb, seconds before it detonates: the most peaceful and clean thing in creation. Then it goes boom. Think about it, if you didn’t know what a nuke was capable of, you might think it a work of art.

This was not comforting, and I again began to worry about my future. I’m really starting to annoy myself.

I looked at the telephone and decided the poor guy on the other side had had enough elevator music and crass advertising to drive him nuts. I picked up the phone, and, for a moment, there was nothing but silence. Then came the anti-harmony of a bizarre tune. Haunting and timeless, the chaotic rhythm somehow carried a distinct pattern. I could almost decipher the code just when it ended. I suppose I knew it would do that. Sort of a Murphy’s Law thing, and did Murphy ever love to fuck with me.

Meredith was hovering over me then. I suppose I had fallen to the floor, but I couldn’t recall how I got there. She was saying something, but nothing in the world made sense. I could no longer control my body, and I couldn’t seem to form a thought. It was as if my entire vocabulary had been wiped clean from my mind.

My mother had started developing seizures shortly after the death of my cousin and former best friend. She had always described her conscious state, afterwards, like knowing people and places, but not having any words to say anything. I felt, now, that I was experiencing what she did on those occasions. I heard a near growl or groaning sound, and it dawned on some part of me, that I was making this sound. I thought nothing of it as I slipped into darkness.

 

 

Have you ever found yourself thinking before your consciousness finally snapped you awake? I guess that was what was happening as I some how came to realize that I was no longer on the floor of my cubicle. Something I could not describe and could not yet conceive of bothered me. Kind of like when you’ve forgotten something important and you know you’ve forgotten something.

I slowly began to regain my senses. I didn’t hear any of the noises I could even vaguely associate with my office. I found that my head hurt tremendously whenever I tried to open my eyes, not that I tried that much. Besides, what little I did see didn’t make much sense to me at the moment. At least not with this headache. So I concentrated with what was left of my mental abilities to discern what my surroundings were. I was in a bed, that much was certain. But it wasn’t my bed. My bed has an annoying hobby of creaking and groaning with the slightest movements; this one was strangely quiet. And comfortable.

I heard no voices, so I don’t think I was in a hospital. There was a sense of comfort hanging in the air, as if everything would be all right as long as I remained here. I liked it a lot, but it was wrong, and I knew it. I could almost feel someone’s presence, but my head still hurt too much for me to open my eyes.

I tried to focus my mind on what little I had seen when I last tried to see. A huge pile of stuffed animals, a poster of a guy in blue and silver, a shelf or two filled with books, and an odd looking statue or sculpture. I wanted to open my eyes again and confirm what I saw, but I hurt just thinking about it.

A voice floated out to me, and I’m still not sure if I heard or felt it. “Are you all right?” inquired the beautiful voice of the angel.

To my ultimate frustration, I found I couldn’t yet speak the word “no,” so I shook my head as gently as I could. Of course, I was annoyed to find out that action hurt too.

There came a distant press of some weight upon my body, and I was a bit dismayed at the fact that I couldn’t pin down the location other than below my neck. It was as if my feet were in London, and my head in Los Angeles; you know, just a tad apart. I decided to endure the pain and open my two, too heavy eyelids.

Meredith sat upon my legs, in a silvery nightie set, eyes closed and hands wide out to her sides. She was whispering something that I could only barely understand. Scratch that, I couldn’t understand it at all because it certainly wasn’t English. I understood it to be a prayer, though I had never heard words of such utter beauty. Perhaps this perfect language, spoken by the perfect woman, was but a dream from a perfect world, for the world seemed to slow and Meredith’s motions were a blur.

Her hands — were they glowing? — came together and fell upon my chest, over my heart. A faint, yet ever increasing, tingle spread out from her hands and throughout my entire body. Within seconds, a second wave — this time of warmth — passed through the same physical form that barely felt anything just minutes ago.

My eyes drifted off Meredith, and found themselves staring into those of the marble statue standing in the corner. The features were perfectly carved or shaped, and extremely lifelike. I think my eyes became a little better adjusted to the light, because for an instant it appeared that the eyes blinked. Stone doesn’t do that. Does it?

I strained my eyes, and moved my head a little to look around the woman straddling me — man, there’s a first — and got a better view of the statue. Off hand, from a prone position, I’d have to say it stood about six feet tall, and was made to resemble a winged woman, wearing a crown and carrying a scepter. I couldn’t tell if she wore clothes or not, but I found my attention drawn back to Meredith.

I looked deep within her now open blue gray eyes, and again felt a powerful sense of ageless-ness; as if her eyes had seen everything there ever was to be seen, yet still found some way to be curious and fascinated with the mundane. My eyes began to close again, and I knew I would not be able to open them again for a long while. But the last thing I saw would have made even death a pleasurable experience. The angel stretched herself out upon me, and gave me a satisfied smile. It was the sort of smile you would see on a cat’s face after swallowing a canary.

 

 

The clock read eight o’clock and I had no particular desire to find out if it was morning or night. To be honest, I’m not even sure when I first saw the clock or when I woke up enough to realize I was looking at it. An odd peace filled me; and nothing in all the world mattered. No, only one thing, one person mattered, and I knew she was safe. I sat up in bed, looked around the dark room and managed to make out the statue and pile of stuffed animals. In the dark, the winged queen seemed to be using the scepter to bless another angel that happened to be made of fake fur and plush extremities. This was weird. I decided to turn on the light to get a better look.

In most people’s bedroom, there is a lamp or nearby light switch so one doesn’t have to stumble across the room in the dark. In most people’s bedroom, there is generally a clean path to the most important things in the room: the door out of the room, the closet, dresser, and sometimes the bathroom — depending on how the place is set up. As you can probably tell, Meredith didn’t quite qualify as “most people.”

I found nothing even remotely close to a lamp near the bed. I did find some very interesting toys that I might not have touched if I could have seen them, but no lamp. This forced me to try to find the light switch for the ceiling lamp. This was when I discovered that I was not the only one that casually discarded clothes — clean and dirty — where ever the urge hit me. I don’t know how many pairs of her intimates I stepped on or through as I crossed the room in my own undies, but the number of different textures I felt was quite… stimulating. Occasionally, my near ecstasy was interrupted as I stepped on the tapered — sharpened — end of a shoe’s high heel. I would need to speak to Meredith about the joys of placing shoes in locations other than beneath clothes. Or kill her for the strangely enjoyable pain she unwittingly inflicted on me. Either, or. Maybe both.

I found the door after stubbing my toes several times on various pieces of dark furniture. In my bedroom, back in my parent’s house, the light switch was immediately to the left of the door when entering the room. I’ve found that most bedrooms are similar, as if it were a natural place to put the switch. I was pleased that Meredith’s was the same. At least there was something normal about her. I flipped the switch, and withdrew my comment about her normalcy.

Light did filter in from behind me, but I don’t think I was quite ready for the source. The statue’s eyes were aglow with a golden fire, and the end of her scepter was a beacon in the darkness. I suppose I should have expected this. After all, this was — more or less — L.A.: Land of the Freaks, Home of the Strange.

At least now, I could clearly see the colors of the undies wrapped tightly around my foot. I removed the panties and suppressed the urge to sniff them. I don’t know why I wanted to, but I felt the desire nonetheless. Considering my experience with women, I suppose that there was a natural curiosity that had yet to be sated. If ever there were a time, I suppose this would be it…

From somewhere in the shadow of the bed, Meredith sat up and asked me a simple question; one that I really didn’t know how to answer. “What are you doing?”

Her voice didn’t sound angry or even accusing, but actually curious. There was sort of an accent of amusement to it, as if she had not expected it, but was pleased — in an odd sort of way — with my actions.

I decided to play it cool and calm, and tell her the full truth. “Something was in my eye, and I was just trying to get it out…”

“With my panties?” she snickered. I would say that she bought it. I would say I’m a convincing actor. I would say I’d be lying. She didn’t believe a word of it and neither did I. If the light were brighter, I suppose she would have noticed me blushing.

I took a quick inhale and was somehow disappointed with the smell of fabric softener. I dropped the privates and gave a quick apology. Though I couldn’t quite see her face, I knew there was a smile there. No, Meredith definitely was not normal.

There was a pause between us. It wasn’t uneasy, but it wasn’t exactly comfortable either. It was the kind of pause in conversation and action that you give when appreciating what someone has said or done, or when waiting to see what they’ll do next. I needed a distraction, an ice breaker, to clear the air between us or I’d go insane. Or had I already done so? “Interesting lamp you have,” I murmured to alleviate the pressure I was beginning to feel down below.

“You like it?” she asked while crawling more fully into the light. She didn’t have to do that. God! Why did she have to do that? She wore the same nightie set I had seen her in earlier. I couldn’t help but imagine wings attached to her back like on the statue, for they seemed so natural with her.

I thought about the lamp, and honestly tried to figure out whether I liked it or not. Other than the eyes and crown of the scepter, it was quite a beautiful work of art. Still… “I like it, but I don’t think it should be a lamp. It seems too special for that.”

I felt suddenly warm and insignificant in her smile, and I found I liked that a lot. I don’t know what made me feel so warm while looking into her sparkling eyes, but it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered other than pleasing her.

“It took me a long time to make it,” she said, catching me off guard. I honestly didn’t think she made it; the details in the face and clothing were far too fine, too realistic. The statue looked as if it could start moving without a moment’s hesitation if it so desired. “I was going to try to sell it, but I made it into a lamp instead. I call it ‘Scepter of Milleneshin’.”

“You sculpt?” was my recap.

She nodded, and rose to her feet in an impossibly graceful motion.

As she walked towards me, I tried to say “You’re very good,” but it came out more like “You’re very beautiful.” I would have to sit down and talk tactics with my body some day…

She smiled again, and pulled my head down into a kiss. My crotch pulsed, and I could feel the heat of her body, and I drew her scent in with every breath. She was trying to kill me with my own hormones! Thinking became increasingly difficult, and (despite my body’s desires and pleas) I had to find a way to stop what was coming before too late. Though she was just about everything I ever wanted in a woman, I did not want to do this! Well… maybe I should rephrase that. I did not want to do this yet. Most guys, I suppose, would dive right in — probably literally — but I wanted to take my time. I hate rushing; it takes all the satisfaction out of doing something right.

I broke our kiss gently, held Meredith in my arms, and studied her features. A smile was upon her face, but I couldn’t quite make out the emotion that etched it. Something between lust, curiosity, and excitement I imagine, but a little unfamiliar nonetheless. She placed her head against my chest, and listened to my pounding heart. I simply didn’t know what to do. I think I mumbled as much out loud, for a mischievous smile grew on the little girl’s face and she started pulling downwards on my underwear.

I quickly covered her hands with my own, stopping her from moving any further, and whispered to her softly, gently. “No, not yet.”

Disappointment and confusion played across her face, but she did not step or turn away from me.

“I am not yet worthy of you,” I whispered from the heart.

She looked deep within my own eyes, and there was some spark or twinkle in her eye that I had not yet seen before. Her face softened and she returned her head to my heart as she embraced me once more.

Time must have stopped then, for I cannot recall how long we stood wrapped in each other’s arms. We became a living, breathing photograph, and I felt I would live forever as long as she held me tight. No, Meredith was not most people.

 

Within hours of returning to my hell, I realized that something was different between Meredith and myself. I wasn’t sure how different or what was different, but I did know something had changed. Though I dearly wanted to make love to her, something within me kept telling me that it was wrong. Or at least not yet right. Worse, she now seemed to be pissed at me — even if just a little — though she was trying to hide it. Maybe she was embarrassed at the way she offered herself to me? Maybe. I’ve always thought of myself as intelligent, but I know I’m not smart enough to figure out women.

So instead of trying to figure out where I screwed up (as if I didn’t know), I briefly considered doing my job. This being the first time back at work in several days, and remembering the last call I took, I turned my attention back to the book.

I decided that the main character was a kind hearted loser with a talent for writing: you know, kind of like myself. I hadn’t quite figured out what his name would be, but figured on Murdoc initially. All my male characters start out with the name Murdoc, but develop into their own identities and names as the story progresses. I had liked the name since I was a stupid preteen kid, watching a TV show called MacGyver. There was a recurring character — an assassin — with the name that kept trying to kill the main character, MacGyver. Call me silly, but I grew attached to the name.

Anyway, this Murdoc I was going to take uncharacteristically close to my heart. He was going to basically be me in this world I was creating. Yeah, I know that it’s a cheap, easy method of writing, but I had never done it before. I usually tried to make my characters as interesting or unique as possible, with a moderate dosage of realism to top them off. This time, however, I was trying to transport myself — a real person — into a fantasy environment. The reason I did this was to escape the boring reality that I live in. All right, so my recent life wasn’t so boring anymore, but the point was still there. Through Murdoc’s eyes, I would see the life and world I should’ve been born in.

I take that back. I was born in this world for some reason. I may not have found it yet, or maybe I didn’t notice, but there’s a reason why I’m here. There has to be, or there’s no point to staying.

In Murdoc’s story, he is doing the whole ordinary life thing until he wakes up one day and realizes he’s completely alone in his world. Maybe not physically — ‘cause he’ll have all the benefits I’m currently enjoying — but spiritually. He has friends, but they don’t seem to understand his viewpoints, and he seems to be the only voice of reason in a world gone mad. So one day, he starts to write an essay, trying to convince people that they were doing wrong and show them, through logic, how to make a better world. In essence, he’s the force of nature. Evil would, naturally, be opposed to this but I haven’t figured out where good fits in. Amazing how it mirrors my life, right?

Somehow this story line fit in my stomach like a McDonald’s cheeseburger. (Not the Big Mac — the God o’ Burgers — but the original, flat, simple yet strangely satisfying cheeseburger.) I guess art imitating life kind of does that. The hell am I talking about? I guess I’m letting my realities sink into my fantasies. But that was the goal, after all.

Anyway, I was really beginning to wonder if my life wasn’t all written by some cheesy hack. The little things that I took so much pleasure in discovering always seemed to be overlooked or taken for granted by those around me. They could never enjoy them with me, and I always felt and feel like an outsider or a retard.

I suppose that’s why I began falling for Meredith. Besides her sheer perfection, she appreciated everything, including the way I smiled when she noticed the insignificant, subtle games I played with her. Most people, for instance, wouldn’t notice or care that I moved their glass of water one inch to the left, and rotated it a quarter turn when they weren’t watching. She did, and she’d laugh. It’s the stupidest, most insignificant thing in the world, yet it feels so good to be noticed.

Maybe it’s a sign of low self-esteem, but damn it! It feels good to be noticed by her. Maybe that’s why I feel like complete and utter shit today. I know the significance of her offer… I want her more than I want my next breath, but I want everything to be perfect between us. I threw my ink pen down, closed my eyes and sat back — feeling a bit odd when I didn’t feel a pair of breasts wrap around my head. How easy it was to miss the little and unexpected things. Maybe I should tell Meredith why I didn’t sleep with her. Maybe I expected too much of her if I expected her to know. Maybe I’m just a fucking moron. I think that’s the one. Who needs self-esteem anyway?

As I sat there, feeling sorry for myself — a common occurrence — I could almost feel her hands kneading my shoulders, and her sweet voice saying “I understand.” I felt a silent tug on my heart as if I had been forgiven for my sins. A whisper in my ear told me that all was fine, and Meredith’s arms wrapped themselves about my neck, as she placed a light kiss upon my cheek.

What a complicated mystery was this angel. A second kiss made me wonder if she could truly read my mind. I considered picturing her naked to test the theory, but I decided it was unimportant. Meredith released her hold as I turned around and looked into her eyes. The twinkle I found there would sell for a billion dollars if only it could be packaged. Yet, the current frame in which it was mounted was no less valuable.

I wanted to say something of such undeniable truth that it would make her heart pound as much as mine did then. I think I said it. Or maybe someone else said it through me, but the words floated nonetheless. “Holy is that from which such divinity can be made.”

She swooned and nearly passed out. Fortunately, she fell into my arms as I stood. How fragile she seemed, so angelic. How could she not be shaped and made by the hands of God? How did it come to be that she’d enter my life?

God’s miracles are all around, it just takes one to notice sometimes. So maybe it was possible that someone out there, maybe even God Himself, was looking out for me.

Perhaps all things are possible.

I looked down at Meredith again, and brushed a tear from her cheek.

Perhaps all things are possible.

 

After work, Meredith and I went to my apartment. She insisted on cooking dinner for me, and it had been far too long since I had eaten a home cooked meal. So I guess you could say I put no resistance against her offer… this time. Actually, I guess you could say I ran to the store and got everything she asked for.

Unfortunately, I got something I really didn’t ask for or want when I got back. Meredith was still in the kitchen making preparations for dinner, but there was no longer joy on her face. I’m quite positive that her near frown was due to the arrival of a second visitor: Lien.

This was something I had been fearing for quite sometime. I loved Meredith — plain, simple, and completely — but I had not told her much of Lien. In fact, all I had told her was that “someone” had asked me to write the book. But now I had them both in my apartment: the sinner and the saint.

Now I had to explain everything, though the smug smile on Lien’s face told me that she might’ve already done as much, and probably more. The games of fate are ever tilted against me.

So I had a decision to make: try to explain the whole situation to Meredith first, being the kind considerate person I usually am; or spin damage control and verbally express “dissatisfaction” with Lien’s presence, to let Meredith know the woman wasn’t expected, or wanted. I figured the best route might be something in the depths between the two, and I placed the groceries down on the counter.

“When’d she get here?” I asked Meredith quietly, gently.

“A few minutes ago. She said you were expecting her.” Exactly as I feared. Exactly as I expected. I began wondering if a public suicide might be simpler than explaining this.

“Of course I wasn’t. I’ve been with you for days,” I said, and took heart that her visage softened. I tried to explain then, to let everything out. “She’s the one -”

“That you’re writing the book for,” she summarized. The telltale intelligence and intuition that I fell in love with just couldn’t be hidden under her pouting features or her anger. Though I couldn’t see it with my eyes, my heart saw her hopes and joy bubbling beneath the surface of her features. “Why didn’t you tell me about her?”

Great. She asked me a question that had no good, happy answer. You see, this is a question that in movies always damages a relationship severely for a large segment of the rest of the film. In real life, that’s usually it; game over, bye bye birdie, thank you for playing… If I waited too long, I might as well say “I’ve been sleeping with her.” Of course, such fake admissions have become the style of the day to relieve tension in difficult situations. I decided to gamble and take that route. Besides, I didn’t want to play all my cards at once or at this particular moment.

“Because,” I started. “You’re too important to me… I didn’t want to risk harming our relationship by telling you that I was seeing another woman, even innocently.” They say every man has a price. I always thought I didn’t have one, just to rebel against the saying and the ambiguous and ubiquitous “they.” (Oooh! Big, fancy words!!) Man, did I ever sell myself out for my angel! Cyanide would be quick…

A sweet smile from Meredith was all the confirmation I needed, that I had chosen my words wisely.

“Malcolm, Meredith told me about your seizure…” spoke the devil. “Are you feeling alright?” Her voice, while as soft and fabric-like as ever, seemed to be laced with sex and arsenic. I didn’t like the way she filled the words with both lust and hatred, veiled promises and subtle threats. I knew, then, that her purpose in being here was to disrupt whatever was forming between Meredith and myself. And nothing more. She’d use the book as an excuse but there would be no effort behind that argument.

“Yeah, can we work on the book tomorrow?” I decided to get this over as quickly as possible. I wanted her gone, and out of the way of my nice evening alone with my angel. Nothing else mattered. Few are the times I’ve stood up for my desires, and I was going to have them this night.

Lien smiled as if she had won. I wondered if she had already done what she had obviously planned: sown the sees of distrust and destruction. “I’ll check on you later,” she said suggestively, strutting to the door.

I pulled strength from Meredith’s mere presence, and was pleased to hear her denial of the evil that sauntered. “That’s all right,” the soldier of light began, smiling happily. “I’ll be here making sure he gets everything he needs.” Although Meredith didn’t say them, I’m almost positive that there was an unspoken but well understood extension to her words: “And wants.”

Defeated and deflated, at least a bit, Lien left Meredith and I alone. Having grown up with television & cheap tawdry romantic movies, I expected Meredith to explode in a jealous fit. But as I turned to look into her eyes, I saw a worried expression that I had not expected. Yet there was also something determined about her, more now than when I first saw her in the real world. She wanted me to finish the book, and the sooner the better.

I wanted to let it go at that, and enjoy my evening with Meredith. I wanted to let her know that she meant everything to me, and that I didn’t give a damn about the book. I wanted to make it clear that she was the center of my universe now, and that I would always be there for her. As you should know by now, I don’t exactly get what I want. Not even close.

Meredith went back to the kitchen, returned to the thoughtless concentration of cooking our dinner. I, on the other hand, was the one without a clue. I wasn’t absolutely sure, but I didn’t think that Lien’s visit was the sole source of agitation for my lady. And while I know I figured in there as well, I somehow got the feeling that I wasn’t even a large chunk of the thorn in her side right now. “What’s wrong?”

Meredith didn’t respond. Maybe she didn’t hear me. Maybe. Maybe she wants me to think that. Maybe I’m overreacting & overanalyzing everything. (As if that ever happens…! Ha!) Maybe I lost what’s left of my marbles. Maybe.

Not. “What’s wrong, Meredith?” I asked more stubbornly.

She turned around, her face a mess of pride, sadness, and — worst of all — fear. I know fear, it’s been a frequent visitor throughout my life. I know it well, and I could recognized its faintest presence on the most stone of faces. I saw it easily on Meredith’s confused features.

As I watched, the confusion and a small myriad of emotions played out before me. She crossed her arms nervously, and she didn’t speak to me — still trying to figure this out herself. She didn’t know what to do, and was visibly frightened. I guess you should know that this scared the living shit out of me. I make it through my fear by the assumption that all things are temporary. Yes, it’s bullshit, but it’s my bullshit, and it seems to help. Frankly, she was beginning to make me believe otherwise. This was not a good thing.

She was struggling with inner demons that I knew nothing about. I could see her trying to make up her mind, trying to figure out how and even if she should tell me of things I know not. This was likely to be the turning point in our relationship and/or lives in general. This was something that I couldn’t quite bear, and I felt my mind slipping further off the edge of the cliff called panic.

“I don’t know,” she started nervously. She was trembling and it was plainly in her voice too. Fear.

I took her in my arms and a cold shiver coursed through my back and right arm like I had never felt it before. Shallow and painful. I knew that there was more to the sentence than what she had voiced. Yes, what she had said would’ve been sufficient but there was something deeper, more dark than I had seen in a very long time.

“I don’t know,” she started again. “If I should tell you… or… how…”

I pulled her close and whispered softly to her. “Shh… don’t be afraid.” Something old and wise seemed to come awake within me for a moment, and I felt compelled to go with it. “Fear is but the slightest barrier before greatness.”

I don’t know which scared me more: my words or her response. “And destruction.”

 

 

My dreams changed that night, and were no longer the hauntingly beautiful and mysterious visions I had grown used to. Now they were dark, filled with traps and other dangers; trickery and deceit, and hell was upon me in full. Gone was every shred of hope, as Meredith was no where to be found.

A friend, Gillian, trained spiritual healer and occasional lunatic, told me that the dream represented the struggle I was caught in. She told me that this battle was mine to fight, and ultimately it was up to me to decide which side wins. Did I mention that she’s occasionally a nut? I took her seriously this time though, because I had mentioned nothing of the book or Meredith to her. I wasn’t trying to test her “powers” or anything, I just didn’t think she needed to know or would really be interested. On reflection, however, I suppose the games of the spiritual world would be right up her alley…

Things were really beginning to get weird. That’s saying a lot after the last few weeks I had. The incident with Lien (here forward to be known as “The Expulsion of Satan”) had happened only two days before my roommate and his girlfriend up and moved out of our apartment. Considering that he paid better than half the rent and I just barely touched the $21k barrier, this was going to make my life difficult: our rent came to $1200 a month. Doing the math told me that I’d have to sell blood and the rights to my first born to survive in the apartment. Something about living with strangers scared me shitless so I ruled out a roommate. I decided that I’d put more thought in on the subject at the last minute — the time I do my best work — and concentrated on my “real” problems.

Naturally, however, things rapidly went to hell in an ice cream truck. Friends and family were suddenly unavailable for calls, I was over the limit and over due on all my credit cards, I fell under attack by small monkeys, someone kicked my cat, and my dog died. All right, so some of this was exaggerated but you get the point. Everyone, except for Meredith, started giving me a wide berth. Rats leaving a sinking ship.

Meredith still hadn’t opened up about her fears, but I knew she had made the decision to do so. She’d tell me when she was ready, and I made it a point to comfort her until then. So I tried to concentrate on writing. I think the operative word is “tried.” Nothing I wrote seemed up to my artistic standards, and none of it captured my attention any more. I was quickly becoming a wretched thing.

I suppose it’s fate that my life was bound to get more complicated, and so it came to pass that it did. I walked in to work and found the path to my desk strangely quiet, when I usually say my greetings to a few people. I didn’t think too much of it until I got to the spot of my daily demise.

A gentleman sat there, tall, thin, light complexion, smiling. I hate it when they smile. Like its meant to, it gives me the creeps something fierce, but makes me want to fuck with their plans all the more. I guess it’s that damned superior look… “And you are?” I heard myself ask.

The smile widened. “No one of any consequence, Mr. Burke.”

“Then why are you here?”

“I think you already know,” he replied, smoothly and vaguely. I resisted the urge to hit him, only because I had the feeling it would dramatically reduce my life expectancy; much like holding onto an armed grenade. “So why do you want me to write the book?”

He feigned being wounded. “Oh no, Mr. Burke, I think you misunderstand. I’m here to help you.”

Oh shit.

“I’ve been sent to make arrangements for whatever you need or want, as a friend. You’ve made some rather interesting friends, whether you know it or not.”

Oh shit!

“I’m here to make your life easier, so relax and let me and my associates take care of things for you,” he said all too happily, too calmly, too easily. I could almost hear the quotes around the word “associates,” too. A piece of advice: if you can hear the quotes around anything, you’re about to get fucked. Royally. I had a very bad feeling, and it was getting worse by the second.

“Who are you?” I asked again. I really didn’t expect an answer. I really didn’t want one. He was too perfect. Too tall, too thin, and too young. I saw his type of “youth” before.

In Lien.

In Meredith.

Worse… In my own eyes. There have been many occasions when I have felt the weight of many years upon my shoulders. Occasions when I have felt like the last surviving general overlooking the tattered remains of his destroyed army: too old and too feeble to bear the weight of so many lives and responsibilities for much longer. A weariness that is carried over from a thousand lifetimes of vigilance in the name of duty. A column in the Parthenon succumbing to the weight of too many tons and too many centuries.

When I opened my eyes again I found the newest demon standing not far away, arm outstretched holding a small piece of paper. So whoever the new player is, he at least comes with business cards. I glanced at the card, and sort of frowned.

“It’s pronounced ‘at ch ron’,” he said with a perfectly calculated smirk. “Acheron Plaka. I’m told it’s Greek, but I wouldn’t know.”

“Or would rather not,” I joked. He cocked an eyebrow, then caught on as I continued. “Something about bad clichés…”

You know, as much as I wanted to piss Lien off when I first met her, I was never afraid of her. Yes, I believed and still believe she’s not on the happy side of heaven, but at least she seemed interested in keeping me breathing for a while. I got no such sense from Acheron.

His soul was impossibly black, and his eyes — despite trying to seem non-threatening — far colder than anything I’d ever experienced. “Graevis Imperium’s your company?”

“Yes,” he said, pausing for just a moment. “Organization really. We find creative minds, relax them, put them at ease and then coax their talents to the surface for public inspection.”

I thought about the unspoken volumes that rested between his words. If I took him at face value, then there’s nothing to worry about. I was probably being offered a nice comfy position in a writers guild or something. This wasn’t exactly uncommon. The problem was how the hell would they know about me?

If I took him as a liar then he was hiding something in plain sight. Why go through so much effort for someone that you could more easily kill than manipulate? Or was I being manipulated into this line of thought?

The balance must be maintained.

Something was nagging at me again. I hate it when I have that fucking feeling in my gut. Murphy was fucking with me again. The bastard must pay! Always remember, paranoia is your friend. “And you think I should go along for the ride…”

“Of course. If I’ve ever seen someone that needs to relax, it would probably be you.” There was an element of truth that hit me like a truck, and yet I rejected it not because of the truth, but the fear that I’d end up doing something I really didn’t want to do.

“And what’s more, anything you want shall be yours if you join us,” he taunted. I hate it when “they” do that. I’m beginning to hate when I do “that.”

“You’re probably right,” I gave Acheron that minor victory. “But can I give you a call later? I don’t want to decide right now.”

He didn’t flinch, but he didn’t look pleased despite his smile. “Take as much time as you need, Mr. Burke -”

“Don’t call me that. That’s my father’s name,” I said with a forceful chuckle. I tried burying the fear and annoyance I felt but I don’t think I did a good job. Yep, me and the body would have to have words… “My name is Malcolm.”

Acheron smiled again, this one wasn’t any better than his last. Maybe he should have the same talk with his body… “Give me a call soon, Malcolm. We can wait, but we don’t like to.” And he was gone. Just like that. I turned to sit down in my chair, but wound up on the floor. When I looked for my traitorous bench on wheels, I noted it was gone. As was my desk, cubicle, computers, part of the warehouse, and all of the accounting department. I already knew what was happening but I didn’t want to concede to its will. I started running towards the door as the entire building began to disappear. Cold air rushed in from all around and a bright flare of light lit up before my eyes.

Suddenly, I was falling back to my bed, as if I had been thrown in the air. On occasion, I’ve been so startled from my sleep that I basically hopped from my prone position and hit the bed as if I dove on to it. This was something greater… When I hit the bed this time, I bounced a good eight inches back into the air. This is not a sign usually considered good. This fucker was trying way too hard to impress me, not to mention that he spoiled my appetite for dream visitations. Fucker.

My instincts screamed at me, telling me something was wrong. I already knew as much, but that didn’t stop me from trying to figure out what they were telling me. Not that I had expected Meredith or Lien to be in my life, but Acheron was hardly anything I had expected. He was no heavenly messenger, that’s for sure; and I figured hell’s forces to be too well organized. So who the hell is he? It only took a few minutes to figure it out: “Heaven, hell, force of nature that saved the world.”

If any part of Acheron was natural, I wanted to get as far from nature as possible. So I figure he had to be a third party in the Heaven-Hell war. As most Judeo-Christians have come to believe, there is a third place, an alternative to Hell when you don’t quite measure up to St. Peter’s standards. Purgatory. It had always been, in my book anyway, a tranquil waiting room. Why the hell — excuse the blatant pun — would they want in on this war? They were just responsible for holding sinners until they were deemed acceptable for entry to heaven; usually after they realized they needed to repent. There wasn’t even an official staff in Purgatory to my knowledge. So who the heck is Acheron? Just when I thought Lien was supposed to be the one to scare the shit out of me…

I tried putting the bastard out of my mind and went to work. Naturally, though, the staff was standing around as if someone died. Something was wrong. Very wrong. Figures. The action I thought most prudent was to go to my desk and bury my head in the sand: ignore what was obviously happening until I was given official info. The action taken was only slightly different; but much more shocking. Mark’s office was cleaned out by the time I got there. So were several other tech’s cubicles. The sales department was in the process of cleaning out theirs as was the marketing department.

A very large clump hit the fan.

Word floated around to me that the company had been purchased the previous day, and that a lot of people got canned. Did I mention how shitty things were beginning to go? Did I mention that I feel like I’ve been spread wide open and am about to take it like a pro? No?

Ordinarily, I take the role of the observer. I sit back, relax as much as possible, and don’t let anything get to me. That’s a reactionary attitude. I like it, really, and it works well enough to make me a fucking nice guy, profanity notwithstanding. (After all, I never use profanity around my parents, and feel odd using it around my sister. Friends and you? No big deal.) On occasion, this method of life doesn’t reveal the results I want. At those times, I choose to be a little more aggressive.

I was well past aggressive when I burst into the CEO’s office and politely ripped him a new asshole. He kindly apologized for any miscommunication and offered me the opportunity to go home for a nice vacation. I decided that I would take him up on the offer and gathered the few of my belongings from the place I called Purgatory. I noticed, by the way, that Acheron’s card was amongst my property. I wonder if he had anything to do with this…

Any how, I found my forgiveness in Meredith’s arms shortly thereafter, as she did roughly the same thing. Together, we went to my apartment, put our resumes in order, and got them out & about. The last time I became unemployed it lasted for five months. I had no intentions of being unemployed for even two weeks this time.

In the meantime, I needed to find a place to stay. Without the luxury of a large savings, I had very few choices. I gave a call to one of my two uncles in the L.A. area. He happened to own a few apartment complexes throughout Orange and L.A. counties. While he was a nice guy, I hated dealing with him because he’d always attach strings to everything. Right now I have enough strings hanging off me to carpet a mid-sized convention center. Even when I just went to visit him, I’d end up helping him out with his computer for hours on end.

Dick, that was his name by the way, agreed to let me and Meredith share a two bedroom apartment free of charge as long as I agreed to do some more computer work for him. It always starts out as a small request, and grows into some huge guilt ridden mission. Before I knew it, I’d be loading another sixteen tons… This time, he wanted me to network his apartment complexes…

Fucker.

But at least we didn’t have to be homeless. We pooled our resources, rented a moving truck (kind of redundant if you think about it), borrowed a few friends, and moved in to our new apartment.

I had only lived with one person besides my family and my Michigan State University roommate, and that was Jeff. And now I’m going to be living with a woman. Not just any woman, but the only one I love. True, we weren’t sharing a bed, yet, but my lifestyle was going to change. I would have to adjust to sharing the single bathroom with a member of the opposite sex, which was something I didn’t have to do for about a year. (Jeff and I had separate bathrooms at our old apartment, so I didn’t have to put up with his girlfriend’s crap.)

After the move, I locked myself in my bedroom, and tried to meditate. Gillian — yes, the nut case — had taught me how to block out distractions, focus my thoughts, and find a degree of inner peace. Obviously, I do it a lot because I’m a well centered and adjusted individual. Honest. Really. I’m not lying. Meditation seemed to clear out my nervous energy, allow me to relax, and help me find some answers to questions.

This time I found no answers. I found no peace. I found only tears rolling down my face. There was too much to think about. Too many changes in too little time. I wanted nothing more than to crawl up into a tiny little ball, and have Meredith comfort me. Nothing was quite right any more, and I needed someone to tell me what the fuck was going on, and that everything would be all right. I sat on my bed for a long time trying to get to that peace I loved about meditation, but it didn’t come.

Meredith’s hand fell gently upon my leg, and I felt warmth and a sense of calm spread out from her touch. I opened my eyes and looked into her blue-grays to find an intensity I hadn’t expected. She was nude, kneeling at my feet majestically, and wore only a determined reassuring smile. “It’s time,” she spoke.

 

My heart raced, muscles stiffened, and my head swam a bit. “It’s time.” That could mean a thousand different things, but coming from her, I knew exactly what it meant. There was no part of me that didn’t know what she was talking about. “For what?” somehow slipped from my nearly closed lips.

Meredith knew that I had no intention of asking the question, and began her story. “Before humans started measuring time, God cast Satan out from heaven. He then sought to correct the flaws in man, introduced by the Adversary, but Malebogia’s grip was strong. Only by passing the Word of Truth in written form was the taint of evil lessened.

“So came the Holy Directives, that which you call the Ten Commandments. Once there were twenty Directives, but the minions of Malebogia managed to corrupt man again, and destroyed half,” she said at length. It was difficult for her to admit that there had been lost Commandments. This made me wonder if my angel had anything to do with the loss or if it were a mark against all angels. I decided the latter, as I couldn’t find myself believing that she could do anything wrong.

“Thus, it was the will of the Father that His word be written and the tales of His people be inscribed within the confines of a tome: the Biblisorium Covighenthal. Holy Bible, in English. Since that time, writers and storytellers have been recruited to record holy events, and commit to paper the actions and conversations that would be of great importance in our cause against the dark master. It is by these words and truths that man’s redemption can be assured.”

“But why are books necessary? Why can’t God just wipe the evil from us?” I dared to ask. I didn’t want to interrupt her, but I always thought of the Big G. as limitless, and all powerful. That is the definition of omnipotent, you know.

“He can, but would that not rob you of what is most precious in humanity? Your ‘free will’ would be impaired because you would have no choice in the matter. The Trinity wants willing followers, not merely mindless servants. To choose to cleanse yourself is to make yourself closer to the Trinity,” she explained gently. I sensed that some part of her thought it was obvious; that this had been clearly explained in the Bible and in the spirit of Christianity. She realized that this might be a revelation that many people, myself included, had not yet fully come to comprehend. There was no doubt about it, she was being much more kind to me than I rightfully deserved. What she said did make sense, however. God did give us free will, and depriving us the any opportunity to use it would be a waste of that self-determination. God doesn’t waste His gifts.

After a moment or two, she rose and spun back towards my bedroom door. Barely perceptible were the faint outlines of her full, feathery wings. They were without a doubt intangible, and nearly invisible, but their beauty complimented well the creature to which they were attached. Meredith looked back at me and gave me a sweet smile. “Do you like them?” she asked a bit shyly.

I nodded with a smile, and watched in awe as they became more substantial and visible. She answered my questions before I even thought them. “They aren’t usually visible to humans, but they are always functional.” She ran her hand along the edge of a wing before continuing. “Even when intangible.”

“How much feeling do you have in them?” I asked, still visibly amazed by the woman. Meredith appeared thoughtful for a moment, as if she was trying to figure out exactly what I was asking. So I revised the question. “I mean, can you feel your individual feathers and what’s touching them?”

She nodded and brushed her hair with some of the lead feathers of her wings. “I can do almost anything with feathers that I can with fingers.” To emphasize the point, she picked up one of my shoes between two feathers and hurled it in my general direction.

“Any way,” she began, picking up where she left off. “Every thousand years, He chooses a human – from a group of twelve – to be the record keeper for the era. You are not only one of the twelve, but the most talented as well. By ‘coincidence’ or circumstance, you are also the least tainted.” She folded her wings and took a step towards me. Her face swelled into a sweet, honest smile as she continued. “You are enlightened, and your heart is pure.”

I looked at her quizzically for a moment. I’ve thought of myself as open minded, but never enlightened. All right, I’ve toyed with the concept, but that’s as far as it ever went.

She smiled, appreciating what little innocence there was left within me. “You’ve always found it easy to believe in God and angels. So easy that you doubted the strength of your belief. You’ve been able to sense our presence, even when your other senses have failed.” She smiled again, and gave a short sweet chuckle. Her wings unfolded and flapped once, instantly bringing her immediately in close to me. Meredith was absolutely jittering with energy, excitement. “You are the rare gem that gives Him pride, and gives us hope.”

It was quite a change to be caught by this small — yet incredibly strong — young woman as I lost all strength in my legs. She laid me down on my bed, and gave me a long soft kiss. “You are,” she started. “Everything that I’ve sought for so long.”

This was new. She was saying my lines! She was telling me how I felt about her. This was too unreal, yet it had the undeniable feel of reality. I was in ecstasy. This could not be happening, yet it was. “I love you,” was all I could say to her.

She collapsed upon me, and pulled me into a strong embrace. I held her nearly as tight as she held me, and I whispered “I will never let you go,” into her lovely ear.

 

 

I awoke and questioned everything. Nothing was real, it all was becoming or had always been a dream, and none of it made sense. As I lay in bed, I pondered my situation and thought of the places I most dearly wanted to be. Besides in Meredith’s arms, home was the place I desired most.

Being the wisest of chaps, and having tons of cash lying around, I didn’t hesitate to go out and buy a plane ticket home. Christmas was coming and I hadn’t seen my family in a long, long time. I asked Meredith if she wanted to come with me, but she refused, saying she’d be there with me in spirit.

So I was on my way.

While I prefer a direct flight, the “spur of the moment-ness” made tickets extremely expensive unless I bounced through about a thousand cities on the way. After an extended stay in Chicago – I always end up there much longer than I’d like – I came to realize that all “Chicago-ians” are out to get me. This is not fiction.

Then, not quite suddenly, I was home.

Opening the front door brought more than a little surprise to my mother’s face. I didn’t tell any of them that I was on my way, and I took a cab from the airport, so they were completely in the dark.. “Well looky here!” she shouted, running up and wrapping me in a hug. My problems seemed to disappear, nothing mattered any more, except being there with her. No, Meredith mattered too, but she wasn’t on the tip of my tongue at the moment.

My dad showed up out of thin air — an ability he trademarked and patented years earlier — and pulled me out of my mother’s arms and into his. Within seconds, my sister Ann and her son also made their appearances, smiling happily. God how I had missed them!

“When’d you get in?” my dad asked. He was genuinely as surprised as my mother, but there was almost a quiet anger about him. He was excited to see me, but exasperation tugged at his smile, and I knew exactly what it was: he thought my mother and sister knew I was coming but didn’t tell him. Unfortunately, this wouldn’t be terribly out of character for them. You see, my mom, sister, and I would always up to something and it seemed like we never included him in on any of it. At least not until after the fact. He never minded helping us with something, but he liked to know things in advance; so he could plan around them. Not knowing I was coming pissed him off because he thought they robbed him of the responsibility and chance to pick me up.

I understood this entirely too well, because I inherited that trait from him. There’s nothing like an unnecessary burden to make you feel like the tragic hero. Kind of like Othello, I guess, or maybe MacBeth.

“About an hour ago,” I told him. “I woke up early this morning, and decided to hop a plane home.”

“Your momma didn’t know?” he asked in his barely noticeable Oklahoman accent. He was a bit incredulous, but there was a silent appreciation and understanding that he placed in the words. “It’s good to see you, boy.”

As he released me, I turned to my sister, waved, and stretched my face into an exaggerated mask of surprise. She died laughing. She was the only person in the world – all right, only definite human – that truly appreciated my silly side, and I had forgotten what it was like to be a little brother.

“Who’s dat mommy?” asked a tiny voice that was more masculine that it should’ve been.

“That’s uncle Malcolm! Go say ‘hi!’,” Ann urged her son Bevan. His little face screwed up a bit, and then it broke into a smile and a giggling laugh.

Some how, his two year old mind managed to reconcile my voice, name, and face into one he remembered. He was entirely too smart for his age. Despite the fact that I couldn’t stand his father, I was indeed thankful for this nephew. Bevan ran to me and insisted that I pick him up. Once in my arms he hugged me, and called me “Bopi.”

Not many people know this, but “bopi” is the word in the language of all Bevans for “ultra cool uncle.” Or so I’ve been told. I nearly cried when he called me that. It was what he used to call me when I left home the previous year, when he was just learning to talk. Half his life time ago.

I was home. I was at peace again. I felt no pain. I was home.

For the four days I was in Michigan, time seemed to stand still. Meredith was with me, and I could feel her within my heart though I couldn’t feel her with my flesh. I could feel her presence all around me. Combining that with the deep emotions I held for my family, I was flying higher than any drug could get me. (Not that I’d know from personal experience, mind you.)

Perhaps the only thing lacking was a roaring fire on Christmas Eve. There were so many memories flooding my mind that I often found myself staring vaguely in the direction of some special trinket, and musing about its significance. How could so many things seem so long ago and so far away?

Quite the opposite of the norm, everyone (except for Bevan) was up and about just minutes before midnight. We were sitting, and talking about he last year we spent apart while eating some of the many desserts my mother always made for Christmas. There’s nothing quite like her lemon meringue pie, and I found I had eaten half of it by the time we got to more recent events.

The closer I got to talking about Meredith, the more excited I became. Ordinarily, something as important as finding a new love would take priority in a conversation. It’s usually one of the first things that was brought up. My family knew, however, that this was a sensitive area for me, and I usually didn’t talk about it at all. That’s the trouble with spending all your time alone… Besides, I wasn’t sure how they’d take the news that I was a pawn in God’s game of chess. Then again, I guess I’d be greater than a pawn, maybe a rook or a knight… I’m getting way the fuck off topic…

I found myself growing warmer with each word — Meredith was about the only thing that I had left to talk about — and I suppose the fire in my heart was now easily seen in my eyes. My parents could tell that I was aching to tell them something, but my sister seemed to know already. Ann always knew everything. She knew me far too well for me to even think about hiding something from her.

“So who is she?” Ann asked before I even shifted the conversation to cover my romantic life.

I wanted to stare at her, and make her tell me how she knew. But like I said, she knows everything. At least about me. So I smiled instead, and my eyes rolled about — lost — as I tried to summarize Meredith. How could I put into a few words what would take encyclopedias to say? “She is…,” I started, trying to think of something at the last second. I always did my best work at the last second. “She is love. An angel.”

My mother was a bit surprised at the confirmation of my sister’s revelation, and I suppose my dad was too: he could only manage to give me a sly “Boy!” Ann giggled happily.

“She’s wonderful!” I continued. “Everything I’ve been looking for in a woman. She’s just…” I couldn’t finish the sentence, because no words could describe what I felt for Meredith. A mixture of frustration, euphoria, and amazement made me shake my head wordlessly. I eventually managed to squeeze a few more words out of the ripe melon I call a head, but they weren’t exactly original. “She’s an angel.”

My mother couldn’t contain her joy any more. She knew that I had been alone and lonely for a long time, and worried about me almost as much as I did. That’s why I needed to come home. I needed the support of family and loved ones, which is something the state of California refused to give me. “What’s her name, Malcolm?”

“Meredith,” I said, frantically trying to put a last name with the first. What seemed like minutes later, I finally had it. “Meredith Shepard.”

I knew what the next question was. My mother always asked this of me whenever I was infatuated with a woman. “Is she black or white?”

I don’t know if it’s standard procedure in other families, but I was always asked this because I had no reservations against dating outside my race. I saw nothing wrong with it personally, though some might call me an “Uncle Tom” because of it. In my book, all races were created equal, and had — and still have —the same rights. Who am I to say that being black was better than being White, Asian, Middle Eastern, Hispanic, or Native American? Who are they to say they’re better than me?

But I know my mother didn’t mean it as it sounded. She was really trying to find out what this woman looked like. Besides, for at least ten years, she assumed that I would find a Japanese or other Asian woman to be my wife. This was probably due to a slight preoccupation I had with Japan, and a little known personal affection for Asian women. Frankly, I think they’re some of the most attractive women on the planet. But my Meredith, of such wildly varied features, was more beautiful by far. Of course, she wasn’t exactly human…

I bit back my initial smart ass response and simply told her that I wasn’t sure and I didn’t ask. I described Meredith in as much detail as my feeble vocabulary would allow. I must have given a great visual description because my three family members seemed enraptured by my description. Or at least that’s what I thought at the time.

I could not have known that a ghostly apparition of Meredith had appeared behind and to the side of me, sitting patiently on the mantle of our fireplace. Instead of the faint blue glow that she had displayed when I first saw her, she seemed to be glowing in her natural colors; as if she were being projected three dimensionally upon the mantle. My parents were speechless, as was Ann, but I couldn’t help but smile.

Meredith was dressed in a pair of white lace leggings, and a white, semi-translucent slip dress. Despite her missing wings, she was positively angelic. There simply is no other word for it.

“She’s an angel,” I said, some how managing to get both literal and figurative inflections on the words.

“I would guess so,” my mother said in an exasperated sigh. She was shocked and I couldn’t blame her. No one could. Such a mysterious entrance was a shocking thing.

I smiled again, stood and assisted Meredith from her perch. I was a bit startled to find she weighed next to nothing, but understood as she became more substantial as she neared the ground. Initially, she wasn’t completely here. But now she was; flesh, bone, beauty and all. She was really here.

“Mom, Dad, Ann,” I started while wrapping my arm around my angel’s shoulders. “This is Meredith.”

 

I guess you could say we had my family’s undivided attention. Or I guess you could say that Ann and my parents were speechless. Maybe both. But I guess that’s bound to happen when people appear out of thin air on Christ’s birthday.

“How’d you do that?” Ann asked after she finally snapped out of her stupor. She wasn’t afraid or even concerned, but fascinated by the angel’s appearance. “I mean, I guess you are an angel, but is that something all angels can do?”

Apparently, my sister has the same talent for asking the same long winded, confusion inspired questions I do. We must have inherited that from our parents. Either that or it was a sign of our middle class upbringing.

“Yeah, we all can… ”Meredith started. Leave it to Ann to ask a question that no one was quite prepared for. “We don’t really think about it, we just do it.”

“Why are you here?” My mother thought to ask after a moment of tense silence and thoughtful consideration. I didn’t think anything of the question at first. It seemed innocent enough. But that was too easy, too simple. That couldn’t be the right interpretation. So, the next likely meaning would be the purpose of Meredith’s visit. While it was hard to explain her appearance, I thought her arrival made perfect sense. She just wanted to be here with me and my family for a holy day.

Naturally, I was wrong.

Meredith, on the other hand wasn’t. “I’m not here to take your son,” she said, drawing my incredulous look. True, I didn’t think she came to “take” me in any sense of the word, but the hell — heck — is she talking about? “To the contrary, I’m here to protect him.”

This seemed to satisfy my mother and unleash a new concern. Although I already knew the story — or at least the basics — I grew concerned as well. My parents were fairly religious, so you have to wonder what happens when they encounter an angel — or any other supernatural being for that matter. To be honest, I guess it didn’t dawn on me that she really was heavenly; I was just seeing Meredith with my heart instead of my mind. You know, I’m perfectly satisfied with that.

My parents’ faces grew dark, they knew that if an angel was protecting their son, things were dark indeed. If the Devil and Acheron couldn’t have their way with me, would they take their revenge on my family?

Meredith seemed ready for this. “Do not be afraid, for there is another revelation I must make.” She swept her arm towards the dining room, which was separated from the living room by an archway. “Behold.”

All eyes focused on another group of beings standing silently in our dining room. Each angel — for I had no doubt who or what they were — was dressed in a long white robe, and carried a sheathed sword. Biblical, yes. Cliche, yes. But I wasn’t going to tell them that.

Meredith smiled, and nudged me in the side, then continued. “These are but a small group of angels known as the Chryshal Luminoshi-wothir; the Shining Light Warriors. They shall protect you and your families for seven generations. No harm shall come to you.”

As if following some road map, or some cheesy plot line, my sister asked the next predictable question. “Why? What’s he done to deserve this?”

Meredith didn’t even blink. “He is doing the work of the Father. By His design, Malcolm has been selected to write the final chapters of the Bible.”

My mother was speechless. My dad was dumbstruck. Ann was impressed. I was a bit confused. I wasn’t aware that the final choice had been made. Luckily for me the chair behind me was comfortable, because the world rose entirely too fast for me to do anything about it.

Meredith bent over me, and placed her hand on my shoulder. She was slightly concerned but continued her explanation. “Know that you are blessed, and that your blood is holy. Ever shall you be in the heart of the Father, and ever shall we be at your command.”

“I pray to God,” my father said suddenly. “That Malc lives up to the responsibility you’ve given him.”

“I pray that he will as well,” Meredith whispered quietly. She hugged me close, laying her head on mine. “I have faith that he will.”

 

When at last Meredith and I were alone, I found I had no words. I was more than happy to see her, but what could I say to her that wouldn’t seem silly or childish? How could I tell her that she was rapidly becoming my reason for going on? I wrapped her in my arms and held her tightly, and for a long time we stood there in the early Christmas morning.

I decided that she knew how I felt, but that I would tell her as well. When the time was right. Now was as good as time as any, but I wanted to reflect on things first.

A hand made its way up my back, then Meredith pulled back from me gently. Her eyes smiled as much as her mouth. There was no longer any need for words between us. She told me everything in her heart without saying a word.

I took her to my parents’ den, and made a place for her to sleep, and stayed with her until she drifted away. I then crept through the old house as only I could do: swiftly and quietly in the complete darkness without stepping on anything which shouldn’t be. I have that ability you know.

There were only two places in all the world that I found I could think my problems through. The first was on the front porch, the other was in a high backed, fuzzy blue chair in the living room. Considering it was freezing outside, I took up residence in the chair as a brooding god might in his throne. Ironic, my choice of words.

“You need not worry about your future,” I whispered, my voice barely audible because of tone and lack of use. Funny how accurate those words were. I nearly laughed out loud when I thought about the chain of events that led me to this point. But I was too awed by the possibility that it was an accurate prophecy, meant specifically for me, or that perhaps God’s army went out of their way to see to it that I was set on this path.

How odd my life had become recently, and how different it would ever be. Only a few months ago, I was alone and miserable, wishing only to find someone to give my heart to. Only weeks ago, was I dreaming of another life, one in which I had my family around me, safe and sound.

Now I was involved in the greatest game of chess the world had never known, and not only was I not a pawn, but the entire outcome was based on my moves. Naturally, I decided that good would win. Good always won in the end, right? But maybe it’s not just who wins or how the game is played. Maybe it’s also about why it’s played.

What if this were all just for my benefit? What if I were simply imagining everything because I wanted to feel some degree of importance in this world. What if this were all some grand delusion? Why did the woman of my dreams have to be something other than human? Why did I have to be in this position to find her?

The horseman War sat across from me, and I stared through him ‘til he vanished. Why couldn’t I just accept what’s happening and what I have, instead of questioning it?

Death asked me if I believed she, Meredith, was truly mine. He made no effort to avoid the fact that she is timeless while I am but an insignificant mortal. Yes, I am mortal, but love knows no bounds. My love will live on in her until time ends, and in that, I am immortal myself. I will always be with her.

Famine was no stranger either. He tried to open my eyes to all that could be, to all the things I might have if I abandoned my beliefs. He tried to show me that I denied myself the pleasure of this world, and in doing so have placed myself fully in his crushing grip. He failed. I came to realize that in my family, and in my friends, and especially in Meredith, I was far richer than any billionaire, that I was well-feasted on the fruits of friendship and love. His power crumbled before me and was no more.

But it was the fourth horseman that I could not easily dispatch. Pestilence plagued me with doubts. He poisoned my mid with trivialities and half-truths to make me question all that I believed. Perhaps it was the way the bits and pieces of truth seemed to link together to hint at a greater truth that allowed my faith to waiver. But I held fast to my beliefs, if not for their sake then for the fact that they were all I truly had. Sometimes, it is better to be ignorant to possibilities than to acknowledge them, and I plunged this dagger into the very heart of the final horseman.

The last demons I would do battle with this night were different, substantial.

I closed my eyes, and rubbed them. The night was getting deeper, and I had been awake for many hours. Still, I knew that I wasn’t asleep or delusional when I opened my eyes to find Lien standing over me.

Her dark eyes stabbed through me as surely as any sword might, and there was something frightening in her smirk that unsettled me more than a little. Not to mention she’d appeared out of thin air with even less notice than Meredith had. At least I had been talking about Meredith…

“I’ve missed you, Malcolm,” she purred. I didn’t like that one bit. She was being coy. I hate coy. Have you ever noticed the percentage of occasions when someone is being coy that real trouble is brewing? Last time I checked it was in the high 90’s… “How’ve you been?”

“Cut the shit, what do you really want?” I asked.

“Being direct, huh?”

“Let’s just say that I know what you are, and I’m tired of playing by your rules.” I thought about that for a moment, and decided to rephrase it. “No, I’m tired of playing your games.”

“But you have no choice. It’s either play my way, or I’ll destroy everything you’ve ever known.”

Finally! A threat! I’d been dying to hear a threat out of her. “You can’t touch me.”

Her eyes narrowed. I couldn’t believe that she didn’t realize what I thought was plainly obvious. So I made it clear. “You need me!”

“You, I do need yes. But I don’t need your family.”

I wanted to laugh in her face. After all, my family was now being protected, and I was just told this by the Seven. I decided not to tell her that. I’d keep the strategic advantage if I could. “Then I’d never help you.”

I relished in the growing frustration that was etching itself on her face. I suppose she never thought that I’d understand my position so well. I also supposed that overtly displaying my satisfaction would be a decidedly bad thing. After all, I didn’t want her to go over the edge and take my skull home as a trophy. Then again…

“Besides,” came a definite male voice from behind Lien before I could begin to gloat. “I’d rather he not help you.”

Lien nearly hopped in surprise, then hissed angrily when she saw the newcomer. “Acheron!”

“So what name are you using now, Tal’Shinlth?” Grinned the man, not at all intimidated by Lien’s presence.

I stood. Things were not happy anymore, and I wanted to be ready to run at the proper moment. “I take it you know each other.”

Acheron smiled. “We’re old acquaintances. You might say we had a little misunderstanding and parting of the ways a few years back.

“Any way, I don’t suppose there’s any need for the illusion of human guise any more.”

“I will destroy you where you stand, Acheron,” Lien managed to hiss through clenched teeth.

This is the point that I turned to flee, but found Meredith standing beside me instead. She wore a grim mask upon her face, and held a thin bladed sword that began growing an unearthly blue fire.

“Then you shall do it elsewhere Tal’Shinlth,” she spoke forcefully. “Be gone, both of you!”

“Lovely to see you again, Meredith,” Acheron smiled broadly. “I see that you have grown more lovely in your old age.”

Meredith ignored the comment, and took a step toward the pair. “Leave before Sheil-Mothray feels it necessary to feed.”

Lien nearly lost it. I could see it in her eyes, but she growled instead and vanished instantly. Acheron simply smiled.

Why’d he have to smile? He could just as easily said “I’m not impressed,” but no! Not in my lifetime! Everything would be too simple if he’d‘ve done that.

Meredith and I both watched as he closed the distance between himself and the tip of her sword. He then brushed it aside with alarming ease, and brought his face within inches of hers. “You and I should have always been together.”

“There was never an ‘us,’ Acheron. And there never shall be.”

“Tell me that again in fifty millennia’s time when memory of this mortal has long faded.” And he was suddenly gone.

Meredith saw the frown upon my face and wrapped an arm around my waist. “There never was anything between Acheron and myself,” she whispered.

I nodded. After all, that was partially what I wanted to hear. I wondered, briefly, if that was all I wanted to hear, and quickly decided not. “You obviously know them both, right?”

Her eyes peered up at me curiously, reading my face, emotions, and mind. “They both once served the Father, as all angels did.”

“And fell when Satan did,” I drew the simplest conclusion, and took a deep steadying breath when she nodded. But a question remained: why were they at each other’s throats?

“Because,” Meredith started as she broke her embrace. “After Satan fell, a split formed within the ranks of his legions. Some thought that leaving ‘heaven’ was a mistake, but knew they would not be readmitted or easily tolerated by angels. So they left and were forgotten.”

“And that’s why there’s no mention of them in the Bible.”

She nodded her confirmation and suddenly looked weary, even in the dark. We walked back to the den, and sat quietly for a while. This, of course, explains the “force of nature,” only it’s more like a second force from hell. I briefly wondered how many of the world’s theologians — the religious “experts” — even suspected this much. The irony of the fact that I was getting first hand information squashed that though. How many people had ever known what I was being told?

Lost in my own thoughts, I didn’t realize that my companion had fallen asleep against my shoulder. Though digital numbers stared ominously at me, I drifted further away from reality and lost all track of time.

The balance must be maintained.

There was something — something unexpected and strangely wonderful — building within me. Despite the confusing events and circumstances, I realized that I’d never been safer or happier in my life. In my own masochistic way, I had come to accept a life of misery and even expected it. Now, though, for the first time in a long time, I had hope again; I had a bright shining star guiding me through despair.

I looked down on Meredith’s soft features, and pulled her close as I realized the sky was beginning to lighten. I felt a smile grow on my face as my eyes closed, and I pulled my shining light closer as I drifted off to sleep.

 

Days later we, Meredith and I, were back in our tiny apartment relaxing. I tried to digest everything and that had happened over the prior week, fairly successfully I might add. To some degree, I still found it all unbelievable. The strange sense of security fell over me, and I found I was happy; if not downright giddy.

 

I often sat watching Meredith’s every move, every breath she took was heard by my ears. I quickly lost count of the number of times I thanked God for her; and I somehow got the impression that He smiled back down upon me.

 

I suppose the thing that really brought the whole situation into the real world was the fact that she didn’t act the way I would imagine Angels would. She ate and drank, used the bathroom, read books, watched TV — Everything that a normal human being does. She even got bored! How could this be a being older than humanity itself? She laughed and played games and was all that was beautiful about being human; yet she held the honesty, goodliness, and faith of an angel — the perfect blend of both worlds.

I questioned often the seriousness of the various Christian faiths. Where did the Bible say that one could not have fun and be faithful? When did enjoyment and pleasure separate themselves from Christianity? This woman, this angel, was showing me that happiness was not a sin! I wished that I could share this — share her! — with the world, for how much happier would we all be?

Meredith, who was washing her clothes, turned to me and smiled. I know she had heard my thoughts and read my heart, for it was clear in her blue grays. She came and sat next to me on our couch and cradled my head. I didn’t resist — I couldn’t resist — and stared up into her eyes.

“The windows to the soul,” I whispered, referring to her beautiful orbs. What had they seen? What marvels and tragedies had they witnessed?

“Far more than I’d care to admit,” she purred softly. “I was among the first children borne to and by the Father.”

My mind raced for a short time with amazement and implications and questions. “Besides the children of Heaven and Earth, are there any others?” I thought about my own question. “Are humans the only intelligent life outside of Heaven?”

A smile worked its way onto her face, pleasant if not a little condescending. “There is more life in His creation than there are stars visible in the sky.” Her eyes drifted off of me and seemed to look out across the ages. “Places a thousand times more wondrous, peoples a hundred times more beautiful or intelligent or faithful; but the people of Earth are His favorites. Even above us, his first children.”

Her eyes locked with mine and her smile, completely sincere, hinted at envy before she continued. “Your people, despite all your apparent problems, despite the influence of Satan, are most like the Father, Himself.”

I saw nothing even resembling jealousy in her eyes, and only what I could guess as being envy graced her smile. How could she not be jealous? How could she go on without hating humanity? I stared deeply into her eyes, perhaps deeper into her being than I had ever peered, and I began to see the truth. There was no jealousy simply because it was not in her nature. No hatred, because she had love instead. The emotion that touched her lips was not envy, but something more… Pride.

Perhaps angels had no jealousy, but humans possess great quantities. I suppose that’s why I couldn’t help ask about her relationship with Acheron. She had already denied a relationship with him, and I believed her, but there was something deeper, more complicated between them. “Who is Acheron?”

Meredith paused, trying to figure out what she should tell me. As before, I watched her face twist through several emotions before settling on caution. “Acheron was an archangel before he fell. Actually it wasn’t so much that he fell as resolutely strolled downward,” she said with a touch of humor. “He was my mentor and friend before I joined the Chryshal Luminoshi-wothir.”

“That was before he fell?” I stated a bit more than asked.

“Even before Satan fell.”

This little revelation forced me to raise an eyebrow. Why would the Chryshal Luminoshi-whatever be formed before the need arose? A piece of the great puzzle fell into place. “You knew trouble was coming…”

Again her head nodded. “The Father told us ahead of time that there would be a need. The Son then formed the Shining Light Warriors in advance of the coming darkness.”

“How do you determine who can join?”

“Any angel can join when there’s an opening, but there are few of us that have expressed interest.”

“What do you mean?” I couldn’t believe it. To some extent, I had always imagined angels as being eager to serve in any capacity they could. But I suppose that it would also make sense that not every one would be so aggressive.

“To an extent, aggression did play a part,” she conceded. “But many — despite their faith — feared to tread in the dark places the Chryshal Luminoshi-wothir often must.”

“Kind of like the special forces branch of the military,” summarized I.

Her head bobbed slightly, and she brushed her hand across my cheek. “We protected the Apostles from Satan’s minions, and stood watch over Christ on Mount Sinai during Satan’s attempt to influence him.”

“The ‘temptation of Christ’?”

She nodded her confirmation. I couldn’t help but notice how she specifically referred to Jesus as Christ during his time on earth, and the Son before and after his earthly visit. I started to ask about it, but I realized that it was probably was a sensitive area. The Son’s physical form was allowed to die at the hands of the barbarians he came to save. How cruel it must’ve seemed. But why didn’t the Chryshal Luminoshi do something?

“We are not allowed to interfere except in extreme cases,” Meredith replied. “We are meant to prevent Satan’s minions from interfering, only, and to deliver the words of the Father.”

“Forgive me for saying ‘that’s not fair.’”

“No need to apologize, but you are correct. It’s not, though we still serve the Father faithfully.”

A time passed before either of us said anything further. “What’s heaven like?” I asked at last.

A kiss was her only reply, and it was all I needed.

 

For what seemed like an eternity, I lay in my bed just trying to find some scrap of sleep. My mind raced with many random thoughts about my situation, life in general, and other such nonsense. My consciousness remained, and my weariness grew with each passing moment. Eventually, my eyes crept open unbidden, and I lay staring at a darkened corner; not quite sure if I was truly awake or having a particularly dull dream. It seemed as if I stared at that spot for many, many minutes, but time always seems more than a little distorted at times like those. Maybe it’s God’s sense of humor at work…

It must have been about two o’clock when my arms started tingling, and I got worried about having a heart attack. I sat up, turned on the light, and quickly checked to see if I still had a pulse. I did, but I did notice something I wasn’t entirely pleased with: the hairs on my arms were standing fully on end.

Something wasn’t right, not that it took even a trained sea monkey to make that distinction. As I sat there trying to figure everything out, more and more oddities made themselves more apparent to me. For instance, the crickets were being awfully quiet, and I couldn’t tell you how long my digital clock read one thirty-seven. Clocks aren’t supposed to do that, are they?

I suddenly felt like I was being watched very carefully as if I was the ultimate prize in some bizarre marathon; and the race was about to start. Meredith was with me suddenly, her sword at the ready. This definitely didn’t feel good. “What can I do?” I asked quietly, fearing that my own voice might trigger the apparent powder keg.

“Pray,” she said quietly.

Suddenly, we were no longer alone, but neither were we under attack. Meredith and I looked upon the faces of another seven angels that came to us in our moment of need. She recognized them immediately, though it took me much longer to recognize the faces of the Seven as they had been called. These were seven angels of the Chryshal Luminoshi-wothir that had been deemed the elite of the elite.

“Thank you for coming, Michael,” Meredith whispered grandly. It was obvious that she was happy to see them, but her face remained grim. “There are at least twenty.”

Twenty? Twenty what? I screamed in my mind, and only guessed that my life was probably in jeopardy. I mean, hey, if there are eight angels standing grim faced in your bedroom, what would you think? A few more words were exchanged between Meredith and Michael as the Seven made a defensive ring around her and myself. The fact that I heard them lead me to believe that they were for my benefit, and may have been intended to calm me.

In sequence, the Seven drew their blades and took a defensive stance. Michael waved for me to duck and cover just as the light went out. Eight fiery blue swords glowed and lit the room as large dark hideous forms began to appear all around.

There were no words, no warnings, no threats. The Seven simply laid into the forms, swords leading the way. I found it hard to believe my sleepy eyes as I watched the angels work in harmony. A sword would slide into a gap of another angel’s defenses just in time to parry a reaching claw or tentacle or whatever, just as if it had been planned that way from the start.

The only way to accurately describe the dark forms encircling us would be demonic. No two creatures appeared to be the same. Some looked like tall deformed people, with extremely sharp looking fingers, while others didn’t seem to have arms at all but a half dozen tentacles lashing out at whatever happened to be in their reach.

The Seven plus One fought as well as Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata was engineered. Every move, every feint was as carefully planned and executed as a symphony orchestra’s notes. Their deadly dance was as graceful and beautiful as it

Copyright 2009 Raymond C. Rodgers. All Rights Reserved. No part of this story may be copied or reproduced without prior written permission.

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