The world, abandoned by a god, is threatened again by his return. His sleeping angels are sent to wake the world with fire. The only thing standing between us and ash is a small cadre of biblical misfits, one renegade angel, and a young girl who may be God.
Gloria was in the trees again. Her tight brown curls fell over the thick oak branch under her head as she lay, lazing in the shining sun. She opened her eyes, shielding them with her hand. The foliage, deep green crisping into autumn gold, hid her well, even at this time of year. From here she could see the other students trapped in dull beige classrooms, slaving over lessons which had gone stale in the mouths of teachers’ a decade ago. She watched their dull, sheepish eyes as they followed the words drawn on the board, struggling to stay awake. The wind blew softly, rustling the leaves around her and throwing a heavy curl over her face. As she brushed it away, she smiled ruefully.
On the knot beside her, Gloria had hung her father’s leather motorcycle jacket. Gracefully she reached for it deftly avoiding the metal spikes she had added, gripping the bark of the tree with her bare feet to keep her balance. In the breast pocket, Gloria found what she was looking for: a half-finished pack of smokes. Tapping one out, she placed it expertly between her full, girlish lips. Gloria patted the pockets of her ripped jeans. Her fingers probed until, finding her father’s lighter, she smiled.
She pulled the blue-grey smoke deep inside, savoring it. Letting her head roll back against the branch, she closed her eyes again. Gloria grasped the rough bark of the branch with her thighs, letting her bare feet dangle in the breeze. She knew these trees well. They were her home. But most of all, they were her place to heal. Whole afternoons could be spent up here, nursing fresh bruises and cuts. Above the ground she could escape the teeth of her classmates’ thinly veiled scorn. Here, their laughter died at the roots.
Climbing came to Gloria before walking. Her father, Jack, always told his friends she was more of an ape than a girl. When they were older, her sister, June, would follow her into the woods behind the house. There June would sit among the gnarled roots holding tea parties with her imaginary friends while Gloria ventured into the branches. Higher and higher she would climb, searching for more sun and more air. Their mother constantly scolded her for coming home filthy, her hair tangled in uncombable knots. She always worried Gloria would fall.
But she never fell. Not once.
The phone rang in the moist dark of Matthew Grey’s apartment, the salty-sweet scent of sex and cheap wine thick in the air. Between rings, the empty metallic click of Matthew’s Zippo pierced the staccato silence as he lit his cigarette. He squinted painfully against the oppressive sunlight. Mornings always hurt. He got up, still naked, and pulled the heavy curtains closed. Despite Matthew’s best efforts, the light managed to claws its way in every morning. After a few drags on his smoke, the phone stopped ringing. Matthew checked his messages. As he listened, he looked over at the sleeping girl in his bed, resting soundly. Her plump, naked body cocooned in ugly, motel sheets. He looked over at the clock.
“Hey.” He said, gruffly.
She moaned slightly and rolled over on her belly, legs spread wide across the thin mattress. Her dyed-blonde hair laid across the pillow beside her, roots clearly visible.
“Hey!” Matthew said louder, flicking the ash off his cigarette onto the carpet.
She mumbled something into the pillow, waving her arm feebly at him. He could smell her, dripping with the moist opium-scented dew of dreams.
He kicked her firmly in the ass, smacking her head into the headboard.
“Ow…what the..?” Her bloodshot, mascara-smeared eyes shot opened as she sat up, holding her head.
“Get up. Grab your clothes, it’s time to leave.” Matthew picked up her leather boots and took her wrinkled dress off of the lamp and flung them at her.
“Why’d you fucking kick me?” The girl threw off the sheet and towards him, “Look. I’m bleeding.”
“Congratulations, you want a merit badge?” Matthew scowled, smoke drifting up his naked body.
“Listen… whatever your name is… I’ve got work. You know… a job. So why don’t you go run along home, now. I’m sure your kids miss you.” The girl lost it.
“Who in the hell do you think you are?” She said screaming at him. Matthew stared at her implacably, her face twisted in rage and shame.
Matthew didn’t answer. Instead, he turned in thoughtless silence and went to the bathroom, shutting the door robotically behind him. He could hear the girl yelling at him through the door, just like all the others. Placating one minute, cursing the next, but he could care less. All the while, Matthew said nothing. He knew t was better this way. Like anyone else, he just wanted his fix. Once he had it, nothing else mattered.
Surveying the aftermath of last night, Matthew reached into the tub and pulled out a bottle of cheap red wine. Still a few gulps left in it. Matthew swallowed them with gritty disdain. With his boxers on, he took his wrinkled shirt off the door and shrugged lifelessly into it. He sighed. Just another day, he thought, one more to add to the millions. Lost in thought, Matthew caught sight of himself in the foggy, prison style mirror.
Once, he had been beautiful. Picking up women, or the occasional man, wasn’t his problem. That was simple. Feign attention then withdraw. Touch them gently on the arm and whisper in their ear: you are special, important. He had been doing that for ages. Something else was missing, something deep and unspeakably essential.
Matthew was an exile.
Gloria blinked, painfully, her face in the grass. She had a wicked headache. She winced as she touched her hair. It felt hot and sticky and there was a painful lump on her scalp which she could practically feel growing under her fingers. She struggled to pick herself up. Around her, she saw a forest of legs. They seemed to have gathered very recently. She ran her tongue around the inside of her mouth. Fuck, She thought as she felt one of her teeth wiggle, that’s just what I need, another visit to the dentist. Her foot slipped in something wet and she collapsed again, breaking her fall with her face. Gloria rolled over and looked up. Standing over her was Brittney Hotchkiss.
She was laughing, her red lips parted cruelly in a smile. From hand to perfectly manicured hand, she tossed a chunk of asphalt. Brittney’s French-tips and her designer miniskirt were smeared with dirt. Scattered around her were Amber, Tiffany and the rest of her cheerleading squad.
“Get up,” she said, kicking Gloria in the side with the point of her heel.
Gloria dragged herself upright. With a face full of blood, she stared back at Brittney and the rest of them. She brushed the dirt off her faded Ramones t-shirt and spat.
“What’s your problem, bitch?” Amber and the rest of Brittney’s friends shifted uneasily. Gloria barely came up to her shoulder. The bell for lunch rang. Students started filling the quad, brown bags and lunch trays in hand.
“You. You’re my problem. My boyfriend said you pushed him into his locker. I said that loser?” Brittney pushed her. The heavy rings on Gloria’s belt jangled.
“Which one was your boyfriend? You’ll have to be more specific.” She said, cocking her head to the side.
“Chad, dumbass. Chad Regan.” Brittney said, flipped her strawberry-blonde hair.
“Oh yeah. The bleached blond knuckle-dragger, I remember that one. Gave him a pretty good shiner too, if memory serves.” Gloria smiled, her lips parting to show her teeth.
Gloria had taken hits before, from bigger boys than her, so it was nothing to shrug off. Rolling her face with the blow and pivoting on her inside foot. Before Brittney knew it, she was on her back, Gloria’s knee at her throat. Brittney gagged, her nails bit into Gloria’s skin as she tried to free herself. Gloria’s long dark curls cascaded over her face as she pistoned her fist into Brittney’s face. Brittney’s friends were gone.
Gloria stopped. Brittney coughed and spit blood. She glanced back at the school and massaged her bloody, torn knuckles.
“Shit.” She said.
Gloria bounded up the tree, jumping from branch to branch like a squirrel. She snatched her coat and bag from their knots, scanning the people milling around the school. Word would travel. Soon campus security would come for her, but their black windbreakers were easy to spot. Her hands found the same well-known holds they always had as she raced down the trunk, jumping the last five feet. She hit the ground hard, gritting her teeth. Her ankle had nearly snapped. Shit, she thought, pretty fucking stupid Glory.
“Shit,” she said, “shoes! Where the fuck are my shoes?” She frantically searched the base of the tree. No luck.
“Call an ambulance!” Gloria dashed for the street.
“You stand right there, Ms. Shalom, I’ll get to you in a minute.”
Gloria froze as she recognized the voice. Tittering voices gathered, her classmates gossiped in excitement. Brittney’s friends helped her up. One eye was swollen shut. A deep gash ran through Brittney’s carefully plucked eyebrow. Her pouty bottom lip was cut, red with blood and smeared lipstick. Bright, crimson rivulets coursed down her face and stippled the front of her blouse like tears. She turned, painfully, and spit blood in the grass.
Gloria turned decidedly to face the Principal, Mr. Johns. Dropping her shoulders with finality, her bag slid off her shoulder and onto the ground. Two thick security guards ran over to Brittney, shouting into their headsets and began pushing the kids back.
“Look at this,” Mr. Johns’ said, eyes enraged, “look at what you’ve done.”
“W… why would you do this to someone? Why on earth…”
Gloria met the Principal’s gaze, unblinking. Her thick head of hair blowing in the breeze, she answered him.
“Because girls like Brittney hurt people. They hurt without consequence because they do it in small doses over years. Her and her boyfriend. And they never get caught! I know it was them that spray painted ‘Jew’ on my locker!”
“Bullshit!” Amber shouted. “You can’t prove…”
“Whoa…” Mr. Johns held up a hand to silence her.
“They just keep on hurting and hurting and…”
“You’re psycho!” Tiffany screamed.
“Quiet Tiffany.” Mr. Johns watched as the ambulance pulled into the parking lot. Tiffany cradled her head as she tried to soothe her.
“She thinks just cause her Dad died she gets to do whatever she wants.” Amber said, her cold blue eyes packing icepicks.
Gloria erupted, launching herself past one security guard, knocking another to the ground, only to be tackled to the ground by Mr. Johns. She reached out, digging her fingers into the dirt at Brittney’s feet, still trying to haul herself up.
“Settle down.” He said, putting his shoulder into her back “settle down NOW!”
Gloria fought on until Brittney was taken into the ambulance with her friends. She lay, panting in the grass, and screamed.
“Are you done?”
Gloria breathed heavily.
“I said, are you done!?” Gloria went limp as the ambulance pulled away.
“Good. Now take her to my office right now.”
Gloria looked back, her arms grasped strongly on either side by two of the larger male guards as Mr. Johns reached down to pick up her jacket.
The city swam past Matthew in greasy colors as he wove his beat-up sedan through early morning traffic. The scene was in the park, a twenty minute drive away. Matthew took his time. The sun, thankfully, had been swallowed by clouds that would soon bring a cold rain. Matthew pulled up next to the police cruiser blocking the alley and parked. The beat cops nodded as they lifted the bright yellow crime-scene tape over his head.
The alley was rank. Old cabbage and cooking oil wafted out of overfull dumpsters on either side of him. The worn brick walls had turned a dark green with age in places, covered over with graffiti and deep gouges, possibly from stray bullets. Matthew could see at least two places where the homeless had slept, recently from the look of it. At the end of the blind alley, half covered in newspapers, was the body.
Glenn Marko, the detective on duty, was already there with the new kid, Reyes.
“Grey,” Marko managed.
“Marko. Reyes. What have you got there?” Matthew crouched next to the body.
“Martin Landover. 1848 New Lennox Ave. We’re still running down next of kin.” Reyes offered, thumbing through the wallet with latex gloved hands.
“Coroner been here yet?” Matthew asked.
“Come and gone,” said Marko.
“Time of death?”
Marko scowled and took out his notebook, flipping through pages until he found the coroner’s notes. Reyes bagged the wallet and joined Matthew by the body.
“Liver temp puts it at around 7 this morning.”
“He say anything about a cause?” Matthew said, standing up.
“Unknown. He’s gonna have to open him up and run some tests, but he thinks it was drugs.” Reyes said, glancing up at the other two.
“Mor’n likely,” Marko spat, “looks like another rich kid lost his shit and got hooked on god knows what.” Marko kept talking, but Matthew’s attention wavered. He became aware of a strange, incongruous sound in the depths of the alley: chewing. Matthew followed.
Matthew scanned the deep spectrum, the frequencies of light and energy which composed a vibrant, teeming world unknown to most humans. He became aware of the playful ions as they danced along the power-lines above him. Smoky clouds of violet and red poured out of the tops of buildings, the vaporous byproduct of dreams. He watched the long-legged oneirovores along the rooftops, their gastric wings outstretched, as they harmlessly soaked up their night’s meal. Matthew sighed. Nothing out of the ordinary, he thought, I need to go deeper.
He hated the black spectrum, the ashen domain of ghosts and the vengeful dead. In the black spectrum, the whole world looked dead. Buildings stood miraculously as minute fissures in the stone were magnified a thousand-fold. Cars, even new ones, appeared completely covered in scaly rust. Then there were the eyes. Empty sockets peered out of emaciated skulls in threadbare outfits. Only after someone passed through the veil did they regain their former glory, if only as a husk. From there they would wail interminably, mourning their life, begging for scraps of memory or trinkets. Being a homicide detective he had long ago given up listening to them. But they found other means to their ends. On Fifteenth Street was the blackest of black markets. On occasion, he provided it with items, but mostly he avoided the whole spectrum altogether. Unfortunately for Matthew, the situation didn’t give him another option.
Switching his vision over, he watched the color drain out of everything. Marko called to him, but it sounded to Matthew as if his ears were stuffed with cotton. Looking at the body he saw it: the cyanotic blue of ghostly energy. As Marko and Reyes milled around the victim, Matthew saw veins of deep and endless black slithering throughout the fragments of aura that still clung to the body. Then he saw the drag marks, so delicate in the dust and grit of the pavement they were unnoticeable, but in the black spectrum they shined. Chunks of aura dripped off the body and down into the alley, littering the gritty asphalt. On the side of one of the dumpsters, Matthew saw a faint handprint smeared across the faded recycling logo in glowing blue.
Something had torn Martin Landover’s ghost out of his body.
Matthew reached for his gun. Clothing himself in borrowed shadow and stillness, he stalked down the alley. At the very end, hiding in a stairwell, he saw it. In the grim darkness of artificial shadow, an inky tendril was wrapped around a particularly meaty chunk of aura. His eyes followed it across the dusty ground into an open doorway. Hostering his gun, Matthew held out his palm. The skin blistered and tented, as if something was pushing from the other side, yet Matthew showed no signs of pain. Finally, out of his palm erupted the point of a small bone knife. As it pushed through, Matthew grabbed it. Instantly, the hole closed again and healed.
Matthew knelt down and grasped the inky tendril. It struggled fitfully, but he held it strongly. It dropped its meal and began wrapping itself around his arm. He felt the tiny, obsidian points of its teeth against his skin. Matthew smiled as it bit him. The flesh of the tendril hissed as smoke rose from the bite. Undeterred, Matthew pressed the bone knife against the flesh of the creature and brought it down hard. With a wet pop, the severed tendril recoiled back into the doorway as what remained slithered uncontrollably in his arm. Opening his mouth wide, Matthew bit into its flesh.
In his mind’s eye, he saw the truth of the creature: it was an outsider.
Gloria looked up at the large plastic clock on the wall: 1pm. Flanked on either side by her escorts, she settled in for the wait. Her fingers found the well-known grooves which marked the passing of her classmates through the office. Metallica rocks! Tony luvs Marci. She traced her fingers around the arm of the chair and found her own mark, carved when she was still a freshman. A six pointed star. Gloria passed through this office more than any other student here. Her knuckles have been bruised, bloody, and broken in here. And yet again she is sitting, waiting for her mother to come pick her up. Leaving her nothing to do but anticipate the long, silent car ride home.
“Gloria.” She turned and saw her mother, Hannah, in the doorway, standing over her.
“Mom.” Gloria crossed her arms, slouching back in the chair. “You got here quick.”
“I was out already. Shopping.” She said coolly, as she walked strode through the door. “I see you got blood all over your shirt again.” Gloria looked down, pulling her shirt out as if she is seeing it for the first time.
“Same shirt. Same blood, well… some of it.” Gloria let go and it snapped back, tight against her stomach.
“I’d like to sit with my daughter.” Gloria’s mother smiled, her refined politeness unnerving by contrast.
“But were supposed to…” The guard stammered.
“Thank you.” She said.
The guard sat, looking from Gloria back to her mother, and shrugged. He stood up and walked to the front desk.
Sitting there, her mother looked like a teacher. Her knee-length skirt tastefully smoothed over her legs, a black cardigan thrown over her shoulders. Her mother always looked like she had someplace she’d rather be. Constipated, was what her friend Danny called it.
Gloria knew better than to say anything to her mother right now. Anything that she could say would just end up making things worse.
“Mr. Johns will see you now, Mrs. Shalom.” Gladys, Mr. Johns’ secretary, buzzed them through the partition.
“Thank you.” Gloria’s mother smiled politely.
“Thanks Gladys.” Gloria knew all the people in the office by their first name. None of them liked her.
“Mrs. Shalom. Gloria. Please, have a seat.” Mr. Johns looked at Gloria as he shut the door.
The demon swam in the void, hungry, peering through the veil where creation had worn thin and tasting succulent terror. Luscious strains of adrenaline played across its mind, making him even hungrier. He was tired of scraps, demons feeding on each other; tired of pacing just outside their precious light and waiting. Outsiders had no place in creation. The Maker had caused the membranous shell of his little world to harden and calcify. Wards had been put in place, and guardians to watch them; a whole host of them.
But it didn’t matter anymore.
The watchers left long ago. The gates were unguarded. The wards which they placed on the gates have worn thin with the ages, and on the other side of the veil the demon could sense the teeming masses of life. The heady cocktail of pain, anxiety, and fear sung to the demon. It stretched its hand out and brushed the rippling obsidian surface of the gate. Sparks flew, and the gate quivered. The wards still had some power. This was going to hurt.
The Outsider decided: it was time to feed.
On the other side, it was raining. Lightning flashed. Thunder roared. Storms on both sides, it thought. Needle-tipped fingers pushed into the skin of creation. Amber lightning arched across the glassy surface. It would need to do this quickly. If it got stuck, the gate would draw others. And then, they would feed. It pushed harder, passing its hand through. The feedback was starting. It could feel its body wanting to shift, change shape and phase. It felt the gate probing, starting to lock down. The demon was afraid.
Halfway through, the power of the gate was exhausted. The demon birthed itself into the alley.
The rain coursed off its shimmering, black skin. The cold wind wailed. It stood among the shadows of the alley as one of them. The sky slid its wet belly, pregnant with rain, over the city. His fingers, sharp as volcanic glass, ran over the wet brick. Tensing his feet, he dug his talons into the ground. The firmness of creation was a delightful change from the void. It soothed him.
A man passed the alley as he walked down the street. The demon smiled.
“Well don’t they look tasty in person.” It said.
It could sense all the nasty thoughts in their heads; secret fears and desires. They begged the demon to let them out. And when he did, he would savor the quaint piquancy as the life fled from their eyes.
“What great wonders this world has in store for me,” the demon said, “and what delicious music their screams will make.”
The demon’s skin shuddered as it sucked up the light. Now was the time to begin the hunt. But first it would need camouflage. In its current form, it towered over his intended prey, as tall as a streetlight. This was small by the standards of its people. There were those of its kind that loomed like planets, ravenous in the darkness of the shifting void.
He allowed its flesh to writhe and bubble, shrinking his form to match theirs. It caused his skin to lighten, giving it a dark, ashy texture. So black, it was almost blue. The demon retracted the tips of his talons, folding them in on themselves, blunting their eviscerating edge. It billowed its flesh and made it look like clothing. It took on the features of a tall, dark-skinned African man. Thick dreadlocks bound with a colorful scarf, and a long jacket; black as night. Crouching, he eyed himself in a puddle.
He can walk among them now; a dragon amidst the herd.
He stepped out of the alley into the orange light of the streetlamps, mixing with the rest of the people in a hurry to nowhere. He smiled. He was going to kill tonight. He was going to feed.
Matthew spat. The bitter juices of the demon clung to his teeth and tongue. His head spun from the demon’s hunger. His vision was blurred, but clearing quickly. He had it’s scent now. He could feel it in the world, itching and throbbing like an infected tooth. The tendril was useless to him now.
He crushed it in his hand, vaporizing its energy and absorbing it into himself. He could taste Landover’s ghost on it. The hectic tedium of a mortal life. A lifetime of memories made and cast on into the fog of oblivion. Loves won and lost. The rising tide of time as it crashed endlessly against the shore of one small life. Matthew could sense both of them. They were close. Tucking the bone knife into his jacket, Matthew followed the connection into the dark apartment building.
The hallway stunk. Matthew shifted his vision out of the black spectrum, swarmed by hollow-eyed junkies sent over by too much China white. All that was left were the living ones now, skulking in shadows and peering from behind locked doors, slammed shut the instant he passed. The police were outside, and Matthew looked the part. Doubtless, paranoid skells were dumping their stashes down the toilet and putting on long sleeve shirts. Idiots. Matthew could care less.
Just around the corner now, and down the hall. The whole place screamed with their scent. Matthew pulled his gun. He could see the door. Inky tendrils leaked out through the wood, testing the air. They would sense him coming. Matthew stopped. He closed his eyes, adjusting his grip on the gun, Matthew cycled his aura down. His flesh hardened as he pulled in. It would only help so much though. He would have to do this quickly.
Running the last few yards, Matthew kicked in the door. The tendrils recoiled.
In the dark of the room, he could see them. Full of vibrant living energy, the ghost’s eyes were stretched wide, hopeless with fear. The figure reached out its hand to him, and Matthew could see that the demon had started with his fingers. As he got closer, Matthew could see those inky tendrils wrapped around and through the spirit’s body, the demon’s maw gorging on its delicious energies. Voicelessly, the ghost mouthed two words over and over again
Landover’s ghost struggled, grasping at whatever it could without fingers. Matthew stood for long seconds. The grey, mottled clouds stumbled on in the picture frame window of sky. Filthy birds perched on broken antennas and across wires, watchful and disinterested in turns. Matthew heard the subway rattle through the floor of the apartment, ferrying people about their lives. The city moved on around them.
Mathew looked into the spectral eyes of the late Martin Landover. Matthew Grey looked on as the last of his ghost was devoured and shook his head.
“This is my world, demon. And it is occupied.”
“Watcher.” The demon said, standing up and filling most of the room. “I thought your kind was all lost and gone.”
“Not quite yet.” Matthew said, leveling his gun at the demon.
Faster than any eye could see, the demon shot out its many arms, wrapping them around the structural steel of the building.
“You speak too soon.” The demon said, and pulled the building down.
Silence lingered in the Shalom house. For a few short hours there were no slamming doors. There was no fighting to be heard. You couldn’t hear the thumping of fists against the wall. No one was crying. All that could be heard now, but only if you tried, was a soft singing. The wind, you would think, and then forget the sound outright.
Then the silence was broken by the sound of breaking glass.
“…You don’t fucking care about me,” screamed Gloria, her hands curled into claws.
“Not when you act like a crazy person.” Her mother said, getting out of the car.
“You know what? I don’t need any more fucking favors from you. So why don’t you just go and sit up in that little room for with the good sister and fucking forget I exist. You’re good at that.” Gloria slammed the door behind her, knocking the picture frame off the wall. The one of her family, the last time they were all together. Gloria heard it shatter behind her as she ran down the basement stairs to her room, slamming the door.
Alone in her room, amidst in the quiet darkness smelling of smoke, scotch and leather, Gloria threw herself down on her bed. She grabbed a pillow, pressed it to her face and screamed, long and loud. Her body, already aching from the fight, clenched uneasily as she twisted. Forcing all the air out of her body in the scream until she was empty, Gloria flopped onto her back. Lying on her black sheets, she lit a cigarette, and commenced feeling sorry for herself.
She didn’t bother turning on music today, a tactic she used more to terrorize her mother than to actually enjoy. She just sat in silence, staring at her ceiling. For almost ten minutes, she did nothing, thought nothing. By now, her mother had no doubt gone to check on June. She hadn’t seen Carmella, the nurse who usually watches her when her mother is out, but Gloria was sure she was around. Carmella didn’t speak very much, and when she did it was in Spanish, on her phone to her husband. Otherwise, just a smile and a ‘yes missus Chalom.’ When Gloria would come home from a fight, Carmella would sometimes clean and bandage her wounds.
Upstairs, Gloria heard the front door slam. Putting her cigarette out in the glass ashtray by her bed, she went to the window that looked out at the driveway. From ground level, she watched her mother’s car back out of the driveway and drive off. Gloria smiled. At least for a few hours, she could have some peace. With that in mind, she decided to go upstairs and make herself a sandwich.
Upstairs, Gloria entered her mother’s world. Each item meticulously placed. Her mother was reading books on Feng Shui lately and had brought in a bunch of bamboo and little waterfalls to help fill the house with good chi. Gloria smiled as she dipped her fingers into the water. No matter what her mother did, Gloria was a moving fountain of bad chi and shitty karma. Secretly, she loved the thought of being a monkey wrench, wooden shoes grinding the great machinery to a halt. After finishing her sandwich, she left her plate on the table next to the fountain and went upstairs to spend some time with her sister.
Gloria opened the door carefully. Her sister was in her hospital bed, like always, her monitor machines in silent mode. The sunlight played across June’s blonde hair and face. Her half-opened eyes stared out at a spot just above the door. The warm, pink covers had been carefully pulled up to her chest and tucked under her arms; her mother’s doing. Carmella was asleep in her mother’s rocking chair beside the bed, a dog-eared romance novel spread open over her ample bosom.
Gloria took off her boots in the hallway and stalked silently into the room on the balls of her feet. The soft, cabled cords of the beige carpet felt spongy, like damp earth. Gloria took her sister’s hand in hers and sat at the edge of the bed. Her fingers found the ring Gloria had given her sister right before the incident. First worn on her middle finger, but now it adorned June’s littlest digit. Reaching for the bottle of hand lotion, Gloria pumped some out into her hands, rubbing them together. She began massaging the lotion into June’s palm, and out to her fingers.
Gloria had watched her sister growing up in this bed for the last ten years. Each year she grew, but still stayed little. Gloria brushed the hair out of June’s face and back behind her ear. She stayed there, looking at her sister’s face with its distant stare. Instinctively, she lay down beside her, putting her head on June’s shoulder. Arm over her chest, Gloria brought her close.
Downstairs, the front door opened. Gloria slipped out of the room, slick as a dream.
Matthew Grey sat, nursing a whisky in the nearest bar. His jacket, covered in concrete dust, was hung on the stool next to him. He slouched tiredly against the brass railing of the aged mahogany countertop, the long sleeves of his dirty shirt rolled up. His tie was pulled loose and hanging to the side. The dim, jaundiced light cast deep shadows against the rough angles of his face.
The bar was nearly empty. The bartender was at the end of the bar, leaning against the bar-back, arms folded. He and the other patrons, not one of them under sixty, were deeply engrossed in the television, watching a soccer game. They sat transfixed, jumping out of their seats whenever something happened, screaming in their native tongues and waving their arms like men possessed. While he couldn’t be sure, Matthew could have sworn he heard the words ‘mother,’ or ‘goat,’ likely both.
Matthew liked these kinds of bars. On the walls he saw dozens of framed pictures; old friends joined arm-in-arm, clustered around one of the bar’s many tables. There was history here. In bars like this they sang the old songs; folk songs, cradle songs, songs of their fathers. And when they were done, they raised their glasses to the remembered dead. On most nights though, they drank silently. For these men, Matthew felt the icy barb of envy prick his heart.
Matthew looked up at himself in the antique mirror behind the bar, glass in hand. His blood-shot hazel eyes, ringed with dusky circles. He ran his fingers though his short hair, sending dust and shreds of drywall cascading onto the bar. Even though it was impossible, Matthew thought he looked older. Others would have pegged his age somewhere in his mid-to-late thirties; he was actually much older, older even than the soccer fans. He didn’t like to count, but Matthew remembered the heady days just after humans had discovered agriculture and they could finally settle down. Granted, he was working back then, but he had spent a lot of time among the humans before he was let go.
Over the years since his exile, he had tried making friends with the humans. He had even loved a few of them. But the interminable years had robbed him of one too many people. In the end, the staggering tedium and endless melodrama of mortal life wore down Matthew. So while his fellow patrons sat surrounded by friends and memories, Matthew was so old even the ghosts of his friends had died.
But lately, the darkness around Matthew’s eyes seemed deeper; his skin seemed to hang lifeless. Drinking wasn’t the problem, since alcohol had no effect on his body. Lack of sleep couldn’t be blamed since Matthew, strictly speaking, didn’t need to sleep at all. He only bedded down out of choice, and if so, rarely alone. It was something else. His deep malaise could only be the result of one thing: Matthew had given up.
“Fuck it,” he said and swallowed his glassful of fire in one gulp.
“Another?” the barman asked, reaching for the bottle.
“Sure, what the hell.” Matthew said. “Make it a double. I’ve got some work to finish.”
“Wake up Rob!”
Rob sprang up, startled, and turned towards the voice. Through his dry, bloodshot eyes he saw his boss, Shirley, hovering over him. Her hair and clothes were perfectly coifed, despite the early hour; a trademark Shirley look with a purple scarf gallantly thrown over her shoulder and held with a garish gold broche. He scratched his head and stretched, knocking his headset onto the ground. Quickly, Rob picked it up and set it back on his head, and adjusted the microphone. His boss straightened up and rubbed the bridge of her nose, under her glasses. The skin bunched. Rob noticed the creases that had become, ever so slightly, more permanent each time.
“What am I going to do with you Rob? You come here late. You fall asleep on your shift. I don’t ask much. Just that you show up and do what I pay you to do! One more time, do you hear me Rob? Look at me when I’m talking to you. One more time and you’re out. Get it? Out.” His boss walked away, trailing knock-off Chanel.
Rob adjusted his headset awkwardly and tapped the button to bring up another client. The machine dialed the number and he waited, tapping his pen on the desk as it rang and yawning. After a few seconds an equally sleepy woman picks up.
“Hello, Mrs. Macintosh.” He said, masking his weariness with a smile.
“This is your eight o’clock wake up call.”
It was just after ten a.m. Rob stepped out into the harsh light of the morning. He had been working third shift for years now, in one job or another, but he had never gotten used to sleeping during the day and being up at night. On his way home, Rob picked up a hot dog.
New Yorkers rarely ate sitting down. It’s always a pretzel on the way to work, a falafel on the way to the game, pizza getting off the subway. Always moving, usually eating.
Dumping what’s left of the hot dog in the trash, Rob wiped the mustard from his chin. Looking down, he stops, coming face to face with a big sloppy mustard stain on his tie. Of course, he thought, I should have known. Putting a little spit on his crumpled napkin, he tried to work it out. Still, it left a dull smudge, as if to mock him. Luckily, he is on his way home.
His apartment was in an old building, but not the good kind of old. It was not the quaint neighborhood landmark people campaign to save. No. His building was not heartwarming. It was ‘one-space-heater-away-from-nuclear-meltdown’ kind of old, where someday soon it will burn to the ground. When it does, without knowing exactly why, people walking by will feel a little more spring in their step. Their hearts will beat lighter with its absence.
The décor inside was no better. The paint in the hallway was peeling, flakes fallen onto the floor like poisonous snow. Around Rob, hungry unwashed children ran. He watched as one picked up a particularly large flake and ate it.
The hallways, miraculously, have never smelled like urine, as is the case with most places in New York. Instead, the cacophonous odor of a hundred different tenants living and cooking, shitting and leaving their trash out in the hall has impregnated an indistinct, but noxious odor, into every wall and floor in the place. It had a way of weaseling into your couch, mattress, and pillow. Sometimes, Rob imagined, if he smelled really hard, his nose could travel back in time to immigrant families huddled by the dozens into cramped apartments, old cabbage and water boiling on the wood stove, smelling like old shoes.
Luckily, his own apartment was able to stay mostly odor-free. He put the key in his lock and opened the door.
His apartment was what could be called eclectic, which is a nice way of saying that he got all his furniture second-hand. But it was clean. There were pretty, utterly forgettable pictures scattered over his walls. A small television sat in the corner with a snake plant on top, reaching its way into the late morning light. Rob caught the scent of hallway and slamed the door. Rob smiled as the sound of the city vanished along with the smell. He lit some incense.
The demon hunkered in the darkness, at the foot of an old junkie. There’s not much left to this one, he thought, he’s been sucked dry already. That’s ok. There are more. There will always be more. These stupid animals could do no more than breed and suffer. So he moved on, enticed by the darkly glittering thrill of spent life. He could feel reality trying to reject him. It knew him for the outsider he was. It was making his fake skin itch. And while the entirety of existence on this side of the veil loathed him, it was piss-poor at doing anything about it. That was the job of the Watchers. But with them gone, nothing stood between him and the palace of gluttony.
“Come out, come out wherever you are…”
The demon quickened, it stood up and peered into the murky darkness of the crack den. Who was this? Had a watcher really survived, or was this some paltry little necromancer here to lick his boots and beg for trifles. The demon took off down the pitch black hallway, driven by the faintest sense of fear; a feeling his people weren’t used to experiencing. The demon searched around him for a place to hide, or perhaps, a spot to stage an ambush.
The demon disappeared and, a few moments later, Grey came stalking the hallway after it.
Going into the kitchen, Rob grabbed the old tin watering can from under the sink and started filling it up. Throwing off his corporate camouflage, he pulls on a pair of loose khakis and a t-shirt. By the time he got back to the watering can it was overflowing. The tap squeaked as he turned it off.
With each plant, he held the broad green leaves between his fingers, stroking them affectionately. He would speak to them. Although he never believed that it actually helped, he liked being able to talk to something. Silence and solitude were wonderful, but not all the time.
It had been years, but he still remembers: the voice. Love had overtaken him and swallowed him up. Even now, it echoed in the chambers of his heart. So strong and sure. Those days long before dawn, swaddled in darkness, they were together. He wasn’t looking, couldn’t look, he still… he felt it. Attention making him giddy. Rob would find himself singing quietly to no one in particular. But nothing lasts forever.
Soon there was distance and all the unanswered calls. True love never dies, Rob told himself. But then, without warning, it was over. Rob was alone in the silence of the aftermath, confused and afraid, not knowing where to go or what to do. Eventually, my love will come back and I will be ready. Until then, Rob waited. He went about his life and cared for his plants, making sure they got all the attention they needed.
Rob’s phone rang.
Gloria slipped down the stairs and into her room. Her mother had closed herself up with June again for the night. After a few minutes of muffled talking, she heard Carmella gather her things and leave. The headlights of her car shined momentarily in the shallow window bays above Gloria’s room. Gloria turned on the music, laid back in the soft expanse of her bed and lit another cigarette. A few minutes later, she heard rapping at her window.
Gloria got up, leaving her cigarette burning in the ashtray. It was Danny. She opened the window.
“Dude!” He said, hopping down onto her desk. “The cops were swarming around school. Did you really put Britney in the hospital?”
Gloria returned to her smoke. Danny jumped down and took a seat, throwing his back on the ground under the desk.
“Uh-huh. Felt damn good too.” Gloria massaged her knuckles.
“I bet. Half the school wants to throw you a party. The other half unfortunately wants to kill you.”
“Eh, you can’t please everyone.” Gloria smiled, puffing on her cigarette. Danny laughed.
“So what’s the verdict?”
“Suspended.” Gloria snuffed out her butt in the ashtray.
“Sweet. For how long?”
“Don’t know.” Gloria exhaled in a cloud of smoke. “Johns wants to talk to Brittney’s Mom about not pressing charges, ‘cause if they do he’s on the hook too. But that might mean I’m out.” Gloria flopped back, drawing her finger across her neck and sticking her tongue out.
“Mommy dearest certainly isn’t going to like that.”
“Yeah.” Gloria dug around under her bed and came up with a bottle of whiskey. “On the way home she was talking military school. For real this time.” Uncapping it smoothly, she took a long swig, then offered some to Danny.
“No thanks.” He said, waving off. “Shit.”
They both sat in thoughtful silence. Gloria drank, the dark corridors of her mind filling with petty horrors, as awkward silence filled the room.
“So…” Danny asked finally, “what are you gonna do?”
Gloria looked out the window at the sleepy suburban street. Her neighbors were walking their small, pretentious dog.
“I’m gonna run.”
The brash metallic clatter of the phone made Rob wince. He put down the paper towels and sprayer he was holding and went to answer. The phone rang again on its antique table. Rob’s heart had begun to pound. He picked up. The receiver was heavy in his hand.
“Hello” he said, silence on the other end. Rob sat down.
“Hellooo?” he said again. Waiting for a reply, Rob watched dust swirl in the dying light. He sighed.
As he went to put the phone down, Rob heard a deafening sound. He felt lightning slowly crawl its way up his arm. Quickly, he grabbed the cord and yanked it out of the wall. The pain did not stop. As he watched in dumb horror, he could see thin threads of light making their way under his skin and up his arm. The itching was unbearable. Looking around, Rob grabbed the broom that was leaning against the wall. Reaching back, he brought the handle down hard on the receiver, but his grip was too strong.
Rob was panting. He could feel the insistent buzz of electricity moving up his arm and into his chest. I’m going to die, he thought. Rob’s eyes were wide. His body stiffened as the alien force moved into his legs and back. The sound grew louder and louder until it threatened to split his skull like an egg in a microwave. He dug his fingers into the arm of the chair as he felt it make its fateful move.
Tendrils, so bright they burned, slid into the comfortable darkness that was his mind. They pushed out all other thoughts except the awesome pain and the terrible, devouring brightness. Rob spasmed, thrashing back and forth on the couch as a thick froth of spittle poured out of the corners of his mouth. He dropped the phone on the ground. Still, the brightness drove deeper inside him. Until, silence.
Then, he heard the voice. No. Not one voice, many voices.
Staggering across the floor on hands and knees, he looked around, searching for the source, clawing at his face. His body burnt from the inside. He went to the bathroom sink and turned on the water, splashing his face. Its coolness was a knife. Shaking, he cupped his hands and drank. Without warning, it violently came back up. Mixed into the watery bile were drops of blood and veins of light.
Rob looked up into the mirror. In his eyes, were darkness should be, there was light.
He looked back down and watched as the light spiraled down the drain. He felt it seeping out of his pores. Underneath his skin, he felt it clawing into his cells as the light made itself at home.
“It’s only a matter of time now.”
There. She felt it. A sound beyond the horizon. Her heart beat faster. Somewhere far away she felt a sky on fire. There was a yearning inside her that fluttered, on newborn wings. The faces of her memory stared out at her from behind a parted curtain. She could see her mother now, sleeping in the chair beside her bed. Her chair. She walked over to her and laid her hand on her mother’s face. She had spent ten years digging out of darkness. It felt good to be a person again. June. June Shalom. She remembered. Her sister climbing trees. Her father going off to fight the bad guys. Then she remembered the day again, when she met her real father, and shivered.
Upstairs, in her bed, June’s hand squeezed her mother’s.
Matthew stopped dead. The whole universe rang, like a bell. He fell to his knees, clutching his hands to his ears. His eyes shifted uncontrollably up and down the spectrum. Swinging into the black, he could see the building’s ghosts running for cover. Grey could feel the fabric of the world twisting and contorting. Something had happened. He took a deep breath and centered himself. As he exhaled, slowly and purposefully, he pushed his own will out to control the damage. The walls around him began to calm and solidify. It was then that the demon chose to launch a counterattack.
The demon leapt.
This should have earned it a swift death, but Matthew was disoriented. It tore into the flesh of his shoulder, bright red light oozed from the wound. Whatever had happened, the demon was smart. It had capitalized on Matthew’s weakness. It was proving to be more dangerous than he could have expected. Matthew couldn’t simply overpower it anymore, he had to outmaneuver it.
Matthew watched as it recovered. The demon flared its body in midair, shifting into a tunnel of shadows and teeth. It was ready for the kill. Grey spun on his left heel and dodged out of the way. Luckily this time, the demon caught only cloth. The demon whipped back around with ferocious speed to face him. It began to laugh. Moonlight reflected off its many, many teeth, reminding Matthew of broken glass.
“You should not have sought me watcher, Watcher.” the demon hissed the last work as a curse. “You should have let me feed and be done with it.” It shifted warily in the darkness of the hallway.
“I am no Watcher,” Grey said, “not anymore.”
The demon laughed harder.
“Then why hunt me? I am no threat to you. I have no taste for Angel flesh.”
Matthew said nothing. Slithering between shapes, features surface and submerge on the demon’s protean skin. Gaping eyes with blood red irises open and are quickly swallowed.
“Don’t tell me you’ve taken these humans as pets.”
“The monkeys? I could give a shit.”
“Then why?” It hissed.
“Because I’m bored” he said, “and there’s nothing on television. Now, let’s finish this. I need a drink.”
Matthew fired three shots into the demon’s flesh. The smoldering wounds sizzled and burned, letting the light of the exposed bulb behind it beam through. The Nightmare lashed out and struck, throwing him to the floor. Grasping at the darkness piercing his chest, Grey struggled to free himself. The nightmare laughed; the walls around them shuddered. The demon billowed triumphantly over Matthew, a cloud of darkness filled the hallway.
“How does it feel,” the demon’s spoke intimately, “to be under my tooth, Watcher? Does that mortal body you’ve made for yourself let you feel fear? Does it pound like one of them?
Matthew grimaced in pain as the demon twisted the dark bony spine in his wound.
“The Maker is dead and gone. You are alone. Your blessed host has left you to bleed and die.”
Matthew started to laugh.
Softly at first, then louder; his laugh grew until it resounded through the cramped hallway. Slowly, he lifted his head and looked into the heart of the shifting and mutating abomination, and then he smiled. He could feel the demon cringe as it felt its control slipping.
“Fuck the Maker.”
Matthew reached up, pressing his palm into the demon’s flesh. A great light erupted from his hand, followed by the terrible sound of trumpets.
Gloria dropped the whiskey when she heard her mother scream, amber liquid staining the dirty beige carpet. She bounded up the stairs two at a time.
“What do I do” Danny whispered after her.
“Stay here, just in case.” Gloria whispered back down the stairs before she rounded the turn.
“Mom? Mom? What’s wrong?” Gloria tore up the stairs skidding to a halt in front of June’s room. Opening the door, Gloria saw her mother, on her knees in front of June. June’s eyes were open and looking at her.
“Hai Glowy,” June mumbled, eyes unfocused.
“Danny!” she screamed out the door, “Call Doctor Pike.”
Gloria’s mother looked back over her shoulder. As their eyes met, Gloria could sense her bitter distain.
“What is that boy doing here, at this hour?”
“Really, Mom? You want to have that talk now?”
Gloria heard Danny run up the stairs into the living room.
“Where’s the number?” he called.
“Speed dial one on the kitchen phone.” Her mother yelled.
“Mommuh?” June’s plaintive eyes met her mother’s, they were full of tears.
“I’m thusty.” Gloria saw her mother’s cup was empty.
“I’ll go get it.” Gloria said, turning to leave.
“I’ve got Pike on the phone. What do I tell him?” Danny yelled.
“No. I’ll go. I’ll tell Danny to bring it.” Gloria’s mother got up, leaning heavily on June’s bed for support. As she turned to leave, she met Gloria’s eyes. Unbidden, her mother wrapped her arms around Gloria and hugged her. Gloria stood awkwardly before hesitantly patting her on the back. When her mother finally pulled away, she was smiling.
“She’s back.” She said, and left the room.
“Junebug?” Gloria moved closer. Stepping carefully, as if a single wrong move could shatter this surreal moment, she approached her formerly comatose sister. Her hair was mussed, and her clothes were wrinkled. She could smell the hospital cleaner Carmella used on everything here. June held her arms out to her sister as best she could, her atrophied muscles shaking.
“Glory.” She said, the strength of her voice returning slowly.
Gloria ran to her.
“Oh god, Junebug.” Gloria squeezed her sister as hard as she dared, eyes filling with tears.
“Where’s Papabear?” She asked, looking towards the door. Gloria started to sob.
“Papabear… he’s…” Gloria searched her grief-addled brain for the words, and the strength. “He’s not here right now.”
“Oh.” She said, simply.
“I’ve got her water,” Danny was panting, the front of his shirt wet. “I spilled a little.”
Gloria took the cup from Danny and held it for her sister as she drank, June’s small hands enveloping hers. When she was done, Gloria put the cup on the dresser.
“Your mom’s still on the phone,” Danny whispered to Gloria.
June reached for her sister’s hand. As she took it, she laid her head back on the pillow.
“I’m tired.” She said.
“Can I get you anything, Junebug? Do you need anything else?” Gloria squeezed her hand. June closed her eyes, squinching her eyebrows together.
“Should I leave?” Danny mouthed noiselessly, motioning to the door.
“Yeah!” June’s eyes shot open. They both looked at her.
“Yeah! There’s something else.” Gloria leaned closer.
“What voice, honey?”
“The big voice. I heard it when I was sleeping.”
“Who’s voice was it?” Gloria asked, looking at Danny as she shrugged her shoulders in confusion.
“I don’t know” she said, “But it’s important.”
“How do you know?” Gloria asked.
“Cause it said so.” June said, matter-of-factly.
“Mom?” Gloria shouted behind her, turning to Danny she said: “I think she’s hallucinating.”
“Glory.” June pulled her sister’s arm towards her, grabbing Gloria’s face.
“Bad men are coming to take me.” June’s eyes were full of fear.
“Mom! Get up here right now!” Gloria screamed.
“Honey, you’re scaring me. You’re scaring yourself.”
“No!” she said, petulantly, her eyes glossing over with naked fear. “It’s true. I can feel them moving in the dark. They’re coming. They’re coming to get me. Oh, Glory! They’re coming to take me. Don’t let them take me Glory! Don’t let them take me!”
Gloria looked back at Danny who only shrugged his shoulders. She heard her mother hang up with Dr. Pike and start up the stairs. Turning back, she grabbed June gently by the shoulders.
“Nobody’s going to hurt you, Junebug. Nobody. Cause if they want to get to you, they’ll have to do it over my dead body.”
For the rest of the night, (Rob/Remiel) laid in the fetal position in his bathtub, shivering; only getting up to vomit. From there, wrapped in a caul of dim light, he watched the room. His mind was filling quickly now, formerly locked doors swung wide into rooms filled with every manner of horror and wonder.
Even his senses were keener now, sharper than a razor. In more and more detail, his eyes shifted beyond visible light to deeper layers of reality. He watched the myriad of microscopic beings in the drop of water hanging from the faucet in the tub. He found he could talk to them. They didn’t really have anything interesting to say, but he could hear them.
Running his fingers across the smooth surface of his bathtub, he could hear the ridges of his fingerprints as they passed over the tiny, porous imperfections of the porcelain. Even the kinetic frenzy of molecules careening off of one another did not escape his ear.
But the pain never went away.
In fact, because of his new senses, he had entirely new ways of feeling it. But he no longer looked at the pain the same way a human would. Pain was not something to avoid. It was not bad. It was a message from your body. A language, spelled out in electrochemical activity and nothing more. In fact, this had been the first message that he was able to interpret from the voice. He understood that the pain was just his body being slowly digested by the light, in order to make way for his true form.
Looking in the mirror, (Rob/Remiel) prods at the flesh around his eyes. He can still see little bits of light, beaded up at the corners, but most of it has receded into him, doing the big work of converting his mortal flesh into its true nature: Angelic energy. I’m radioactive now, he thought, laughing. The errant waves of photons, electrons, the little bit of cosmic radiation that was able to make it through the atmosphere; all was bending around him now, ever so slightly. Getting up out of the tub, he went to get dressed.
Out of Matthews hand shot a brilliant blade of light. Power surged through his arm as he gripped the shaft of light, like a sword. It crackled in his hand like tamed lightning. The demon recoiled as Matthew swung the blade across the space of the hallway, severing the dark shaft running through his chest. He could hear its flesh screeching like meat on a griddle. He felt high.
Matthew growled, deep in his throat. His teeth were gritted as he pursued the demon back into the room.
Grey leveled his sidearm at the monster, and tightened his grip on the blade. For all the furious chemistry gunpowder and nigh-unstoppable physics of ballistic lead, this battle was going to be won the old way. Matthew fired. Bullets ripped through the air, leaving faint trails of light in their wake and opening sizzling holes through the flesh of the demon. Each swipe of the sword left a swath of curdled night-black skin, each chambered round a burning censer of holy wrath.
The demon was finished.
The shifting flesh of its body was enervated, falling to the ground as a black jelly. Matthew acted quickly. The demon wouldn’t be out for long. He re-holstered his gun and shoved his hand down into the gelatinous pool. He could feel the demon’s icy flesh eating into his skin, but Matthew’s will was stronger.
He forced the pool to coalesce, rising up around his arm. Turning his hand palm up, he willed the dark spirit there. Obliging, black pearlescent beads collected in the flat of his palm and hardened. Matthew’s will sculpted it into the form of a small metallic coin. Its edge flashed bright with cryptic sigils as he bound the demon there. Its greasy surface seemed to shine like an oil slick.
Flipping the coin into the air, as if for luck, Matthew slipped the trapped demon into his pocket.
The doorbell rang.
“I’ll get it.” Danny said, leaving the room. As he passed Gloria he smiled meekly, laying his hand on her shoulder and giving her a reassuring pat.
“Do you need anything, Mom?”
“No.” She said, crisply. Gloria, not knowing what else to do, went to the doorway. Dr. Pike was in the living room, tossing his hat and coat onto the couch. He picked up his medical bag and began to climb the stairs. Danny followed closely behind him, his long legs mastering the two-stair approach easily.
“Ms. Shalom, Mrs. Shalom. How is she?” Dr. Pike asked, entering the room.
“Who is that?” June asked as if in response. Gloria’s mother got up from her chair,. Gloria took her place, laying her hand on June’s leg.
“This is Dr. Pike. You don’t know him, but he’s been looking after you for…” The words caught in Hannah’s throat. “… for years now.”
Dr. Pike approached the bed. Out of his pocket, he produced a small pen light. Gently grasping June’s head, he clicked it on and shined it back and forth across each of her eyes.
“Pupilary response, normal.”
Over the next twenty minutes, he checked the rest of her vitals, pouring over the printouts from her monitor machines as if they were a recently discovered religious codex. Gloria shifted awkwardly in the chair as her mother stood, arms crossed with anxiety. Danny was leaning against the doorframe, looking uneasy. Gloria got up.
“You should leave.”
“Are you sure? Do you need…” Danny hesitated, looking down at his shoes. “… anything?”
“No. We’re fine here. I’ll call you tomorrow.”
“Enjoy school.” She said, smiling.
“Bitch” He said, quietly, nudging her with his elbow. Gloria’s mother glared. Danny extricated himself quickly and Gloria returned to June’s room where Dr. Pike was in quiet discussion with her mother.
“Everything appears to be normal. There was a small spike in her heart rate and blood pressure which corresponds to her change in condition…” Gloria rolled her eyes. She hated doctors. “… other than that, I can’t tell you much more until we can get her to my office to run some tests.” Dr. Pike removed his wire-rim bifocals and massaged the bridge of his nose. He looked tired.
“What kind of tests?” Gloria asked.
“Does it matter?” Her mother said, curtly.
“Well… fMRI, EEG, PET scan. We need to…” Dr. Pike looked over Hannah’s shoulder at June, who was watching the conversation intently. He continued, quieter. “We need to see how her neural activity compares to her most recent tests.”
“Um…” Gloria raised her hand.
“Could she…” Gloria’s mother cleared her throat. “I mean… will she?”
“There’s no way to tell.” Dr. Pike placed a reassuring hand on Hannah’s shoulder.
“Um…” Gloria stood on her tiptoes. Dr. Pike looked at her.
“What is it Gloria?!” Her mother snapped. Gloria glanced at June, who was still watching them. Gloria motioned them towards the hallway. They continued the conversation outside June’s room.
“Is it… I don’t know… normal for people in my sister’s condition to… um…”
“Please, Gloria.” Her mother said impatiently, “What is it?”
“Yes, Gloria. What is it you’re trying to say?” Dr. Pike stared at her, his short grey hair and unshaven face hovered close to hers.
“I mean… I think she was… hallucinating. Right before she woke up. She said…”
“That’s not uncommon for people in her condition.”
“Hallucinate?” Gloria’s mother looked stricken. Dr. Pike pulled a small notebook out of his pocket and began to jot down notes.
“What, exactly, did she say to make you think this?”
“She, um… she talked about a voice.”
“Uh, huh. Did she say anything about the voice? What it said?”
“She said there were… um…” Gloria glanced at her mother, who was drying her eyes with some tissue. Dr. Pike waited expectantly, pen in hand. “She talked about ‘bad people’ coming for her.”
Gloria’s mother renewed her tearful, strangled keening. It looked, to Gloria, as if her mother’s heart, torn out in tiny pieces over the years, was yanked unceremoniously out of her chest.
“Well.” Dr. Pike said with horrifying finality. “Like I said, we need to get her into my office for some tests. Until we get the results back, there’s really no need to worry. She seems lucid. Has she eaten anything yet, or is she still being tube-fed?”
“No. We called you first.”
“She drank some water a little while ago.” Gloria said.
“That’s fine. I would hold off on changing too much until…”
“Yes. The tests.”
“Yes.” Dr. Pike put the pad away. “Listen. I know emotions are going to be running high, but you need to know there’s more reason to be hopeful than fearful. These… hallucinations, if that’s what they were, are probably just a transient phenomenon. As I said, she seems lucid and attentive, even curious. Once we get her into my office we will know how to proceed, but for right now just relax. Mrs. Shalom, I’m going to call my office first thing in the morning and they will call you with the next available appointment.
“Thank you so much, Dr. Pike.” Gloria’s mother smiled, shook the Doctor’s hand and whisked back to June. Gloria stood in the hallway with Dr. Pike.
“So these hallucinations?”
“Are probably nothing. Like I said, don’t worry about it. Just get some sleep, I will see both of you again soon.”
“Thanks.” She said, and went back to be with her sister.
Walking out Rob’s front door for the last time, Remiel smiled. As he walked through the hallway, nearby televisions and radios shrieked; their signals lost in momentary confusion. Someone screamed as they pounded their fists against their computer, destroyed by an unseen electromagnetic tsunami. I need to learn to control this soon, he thought, flexing his aura with his fist. Looking out across the busy street, he took a deep breath. He reached out with his mind. Millions of thoughts assaulted him, but through the chaos he could sense others like him. Dumb to their true nature, they were utterly unaware of the power that slept beneath their skin and behind their eyes.
After two days, the infection started to make sense. The Rob persona had been interrupted and its presence burned out of him, Remiel started to hear it. The time of forgetting is over, the Maker is back and there is much work to be done.