Ghost |Three | Phoebe Reeves-Murray

 

  BOOK II: FIRE

 

 
 

Akio Nakamura’s laboratory, just outside New York City, six years later 

Akio stared unblinking into the microscope. “Yes, David,” he murmured into the headset nestled in his left ear, his tone as calm and patient as if cradling a baby. “I’ve promised your part will be important…yes, possibly most important of all, however, you need to understand that the price will empty you…that may be…meanwhile, you’ll need to amuse yourself in a way that will…ensure your value to the project.” Akio ended the call and rolled his head around once each way, clenching his jaw as pain locked his neck and shoulders. His heart raced, leaping up in ripples against his chest—

Like a caterpillar on speed. You should tell Adam, you know—he loves you…he’d want to know. 

Akio whirled around. The voice had whispered in his ear. No. Inside his head. He was vaguely aware that she hadn’t been there a minute ago or ever before, but all he could focus on was the fact that the woman wore an elementary school teacher’s smock that bore the phrase: Art lives forever so let’s paint! As she hurried out from behind his desk, her painty fingers brushed across his carefully arranged piles of research notes. They didn’t move.

“Who are you?”

He’s coming any moment—I can’t get to her—she’s hidden—please don’t forget…I remember when she was newborn, her hands were little fists, and I was holding her and looking at her and she was looking at me and suddenly she smiled and opened up her hand and touched my jaw and I knew, I knew…

A single drop of red ran down to the end of a lock of her long hair. Another ran down her left temple. She wiped them away. Another ran down her neck. This time, her hand came away red. Her eyes shimmered clear blue, then green, shifting like the ocean.

He stared, wondering how they could be so blue, so green. Then he saw it was because her eyes were filled with tears.

That’s where it begins, not where it ends—please tell her for me—I won’t get to come back—don’t forget—

The lab’s ceiling lights exploded, bursting fireworks of sparks and glittering shards across the room. Like a bellows, the flap of giant wings gusted the reek of rotten eggs across the room. Breathing silently through his mouth, Akio lit a match.

Angel West slowly waved a blackened scaly arm, and Akio’s head was flung backward so hard he shrieked. West waited so Akio would be sure to hear him. “And I thought you had a brilliant mind. For a human.”

Akio paused until he could speak without letting out a sob of pain. His voice was scarcely a whisper. He hoped the woman had gotten away safely. “Even humans degrade without light. The fireflies—we need the Luciferin and the Luciferase—”

West lifted a single feather and Akio found himself gagging on the fetid breath coming from the vermilion mouth with its row upon countless row of dying marrow colored fangs. Of the hundreds of eyes blinking at him, Akio tried to fix on a single pupil, but their kaleidoscopic brilliance burned his retinas and he turned away, blinded as if he’d stared too long into the sun.

“Why is this taking eons?” The razor edges of West’s outward layer of teeth grazed Akio’s cheek, slitting his flesh in tiny, delicate cuts.

Akio gazed directly at as many eyes as he could take in, still wondering what happened to the woman, hoping she’d escaped. “That would seem a question best directed to yourself. I won’t last that long.” His cheek burned, but he refused to move.

West licked the cuts closed and smiled. “I can make you last as long as I wish.” He released Akio who returned to his microscope. West waited.

Ghost 3-1

Akio continued to peruse his findings. He could feel West move through the room, then stop. Akio struggled to remember what he’d forgotten that would capture West’s attention. Adam.

West breathed on the newspaper article featuring a photo of Adam receiving an award for saving a little girl from a fire. Adam’s smiling image withered into writhing, glowing worms. He blew the blackening embers into Akio’s face. Akio coughed and pushed his eye harder into the microscope.

West hissed and clicked. “Perhaps you would, what is that ridiculous human expression, ‘get the message’ if—”

Akio looked up and faced him. West now appeared as a handsome Asian, dressed in a dark suit. In his buttonhole, he wore a sprig of deadly nightshade. “Why not oleander?” he asked the angel, knowing subtlety was lost on him.

West cocked his head and glanced at the nightshade. “Its shape…contains a memory of falling…lights…”

Struck by the strange, stark loneliness in West’s tone, Akio knelt on one knee before him. He waited until West lifted his chin, commanding him to speak. “We are missing the essential ingredient to command free will. I know you know that locating it is an impossible task or you would never have come to me. With all due supplication, as I know you are pre-occupied with the Grand Design and therefore don’t drop in to micromanage or demand progress reports, why, Iblis, are you here?”

“A problem has developed.” West held up the now ragged stuffed angel doll that Harry had given Jennifer the night he was murdered.

Akio stared at the dirty toy, puzzled. But when he spoke, he couldn’t resist the insult. “Is it that you object to the likeness?”

Drawing his wings across Akio’s chest, West sliced into his ribcage and sawed Akio’s heart with a feather as if it were a violin.

Akio began to die. I…can’t…see…the…problem…

West closed his multitude of eyes and softly stroked Akio’s heart to life again. His black talons stitched the skin together, held it until he’d established equilibrium within Akio who slowly recovered. “Iki has tasted a Ghost.”

Akio laughed, nearly passed out from the pain. “I thought you ruled all monsters.”

West toyed blankly with the Deadly Nightshade bloom. “Your reference is so…imperfect, Akio.”

Akio focused on taking deep, slow breaths. “I await your telling, my Lord.”

West glanced into the microscope, reached under the lens and smeared the slide. Akio closed his eyes, angry and weary. “Ghosts were the spirits of angels,” the angel said, “sent by Gabriel to protect the world.”

From you. Akio waited.

But West seemed to be waxing rhapsodic, unlike his usual appearances. “As your great human poet has showed you, they were born on the Plain of Pangea after the first war of Heaven. They needed a form to function. Humans provided that.”

Past tense, Akio thought but didn’t interrupt, wanting to know what new direction West was headed in. Iblis, why do you need this childish tale of a Great Father who abandoned you and a Homeric angelic war? Wasn’t it really just that you became ensnared like a fly by a black hole? Isn’t that all?

Akio expected Iblis to hurt him for that purposely public thought, but Iblis just looked at him. And what, Akio my favorite slave, is ‘that’? And what is ‘all’? Do you know? Do you want to know? What more could you need when your kind can’t handle what I have given you? Does it matter if it’s a lie? To whom? He pulled Akio’s head back until he was bent painfully in half before cradling him to his chest and forcing him to kneel at the same time.

Gasping, Akio didn’t pursue his thoughts any further. “Perhaps Iki is…” Iki was smarter than most of the Oni Akio had encountered, but that was all relative as opposed to a standard of intelligence, let alone brilliance.

“I destroyed them all.”

Akio painfully managed to switch knees as his left calf was trembling. “Then Iki is wrong.”

“Why is there always one more? Sariel is the reason it never ends!” West’s iridescent eyes dimmed, then brightened, and he barked like a feral dog. “Iki is limited. But his limitations are…exact.”

Akio nodded and staggered to his feet. “Where is the Ghost?”

“It hasn’t yet been reborn from human form.” The Angel looked around in a manner that Akio had come to recognize as hunger.

Are you sure? From a refrigerator in a corner of the lab, Akio took out a skinned, pregnant nanny goat, wondering if West would punish him for such an insolent thought.

Akio, you are such a…newborn. West waited for him to arrange it on a plate before he tore into the meat. The sensation of ripping sinew and cracking bone calmed his being and brought him back to center.

The problem was obvious. “So you can’t find it?”

West paused, look at Akio, then offered him half of the goat fetus. Akio politely declined. West grew still. “I know it will exist. Then I will destroy it.”

Akio knelt once more before him, and held both hands out in supplication. “So please you, give me the doll.”

Hesitating, West touched Akio’s bare chest with a single talon. “I hold your heart in my hand.”

Akio’s head went down, his eyes closed. “There you are wrong. You hold my life in your hand. My heart died long ago.”

***

Dark clouds scudded across the sky and rain fell in giant drops as David Allen strode into Ishimoto’s Ancient Artifacts shop. The dark, dusty store front gave way to worn velvet darkness. Scrolls of fiery dragons covered the walls between racks of decorative and utilitarian weaponry. Cutlasses, swords, bayonets, and knives of all types shone dully in the musty light from a single ceiling lamp.

David’s perfect features gave him a knowing look that convinced other people he was older and wiser than his nineteen years. He was in top physical condition and had held a black belt since he was nine. But his greatest fear was being left behind, and for some reason he couldn’t understand, neither his Armani suit, nor his assignment from Akio could stop the pounding in his heart when he entered the shop.

Sariel made himself into an old man bent nearly double over a cane and hobbled behind the counter from a side room. David lingered over his perusal of an ancient chest, his hand on the key in the lid. Sariel watched him carefully, ready to fly at him if he should open the box.

But David turned away from the chest instead, and flashed a bright, toothy smile at Sariel. “You are Mr. Ishimoto?”

Sariel bowed ever so slightly. “I am. How can I help you?”

David’s smile slowly straightened until his mouth became a line. “I have something that I suspect is very old, but I would like confirmation.”

The ceiling sconce cast shadows on Sariel’s face, hiding his eyes. “That may take some time. Can you leave the object?”

David shook his head just once. “It’s far too valuable for that.”

Sariel limped to the front door and locked it, turning the sign to CLOSED.

Ghost 3-2

As he returned, the shop darkened behind him. Rain pelted the storefront, and the only remaining light came from the gathering twilight. “One could argue…” David whispered, his eyes gleaming, “whether what I have brought could be called ancient…” His body went rigid as his voice deepened into a barely repressed snarl. “I myself believe it’s older than that.” He lay Jennifer’s stained angel doll on the counter. “I would even stake that it is as old as the War.”

Sariel instantly recognized the doll, but didn’t move. David’s eyes had turned multihued and huge. West rose from behind David, his arms wearing David’s like gloves. He waved at Sariel, dancing David along like a puppet. “What’s wrong, Mr. ‘Ishimoto’? Do you believe in Ghosts?”

Sariel seized the doll and disappeared. West pulled David’s body onto his form like poorly fitting clothes and flapped after him, shrieking.

David tried to scream as Iblis stuffed himself into his body. But there was no air. His skin itched horribly, but he couldn’t find his hand to scratch. I can’t find my body! He felt as though he was being shoved through a tiny tube, splitting, ripping open everywhere, sneezing, coughing, vomiting, pissing, and defecating. In what little was left of himself, he sensed he was cart-wheeling through blackness so dark and cold he couldn’t stop shaking. The thing inside him suddenly hung him upside down in the darkness, his head and nose filling with blood and vomit. A glow emanated from something near him, something with wings and a face that was some kind of bird, or perhaps a lion. His voice screeched out of him, no longer human, only pain.

“Sariel!” West howled in Angelic. The holes in David’s bloody throat drowned the howl in a watery gurgle. He swung David’s upside down body, beaten and bruised, like a pendulum. “Stop! I have one of your toys here and I know you don’t want me to break it!”

Light blazed so brightly from Sariel’s form that David’s eyes flooded with tears and his body convulsed in an effort to escape the agonizing brilliance. “Iblis, release the human. His body will die.”

West clawed his way out of David.

“Stop!” Sariel flung a circle of protective blue light around David, who was now choking. West raked his talons through Sariel’s wings, ripping out handfuls of shimmering feathers. Sariel soared away and swung a shining diamond blade through the air, dragging its edge once down and once across, gauging the mark of the cross in West’s forehead. Black blood oozed into West’s eyes.

With a roar, West plucked a feather from his own wing which became at once a sword the color of the pitch black surrounding them. The angels flew at each other, West constantly shielding himself with David, forcing Sariel’s thrusts to stop short of their mark as Sariel tried to protect David. West’s form kept shifting from Ox to Eagle, to Lion, to Man. Sariel surpassed West’s speed of change, his own form shifting into horrific combinations of all four creatures until he saw West’s laughter in David’s blood filled eyes and the stark terror of what remained of David’s core. Enraged that West had baited him, he floated in his human form, eyes glowing white, wings outstretched, arms forward and crossed. “Return the human.”

“What human?” West felt around inside David as though he were a purse.

“The one you are wearing.”

West slid David all the way on again. “Little Brother, I’m all the way inside him, and I can taste his greatest fear which is to be abandoned. Shall I then leave him here, falling forever in freezing darkness when he hasn’t even wings to navigate his fall?”

Sariel’s diamond sword split the dark. West leapt back, weakened by the constraints of David’s battered body. Sariel folded his wings and his glow darkened. His voice was filled with sadness and anger. “Your wings did nothing to help you. That is why you need to make a ladder of their bones on which to climb back to the ‘Creator’.”

West sneered, tore off a bloody piece of what was left of David’s shirt and tossed it to Sariel. “A handkerchief to dry your tears, Little Brother?” He hissed. “Give me the Ghost.”

“There is no Ghost. I have no Ghost.” Sariel’s multihued eyes sparkled.

“Have you lived so long among them that you now lie as involuntarily as they do?” Iblis smiled, knowing Sariel was forced to tell the truth.

Sariel flapped his wings and gazed at the scrap of bloody shirt. “You know I can’t lie, Brother.” He felt David’s terror smothering him, like Dyjo’s had, and he tried to will it away so that he wouldn’t lose the angel doll.

West stuck David’s hand inside his chest as though he were a magician about to perform a trick. “Fine…You have money, property, weapons…What do I have to entice you to trade for what’s mine? Let me see. See…that’s it.” David’s hand held something wet and glistening out to Sariel.

Dyjo’s eyes.

Sariel flew forward and seized the eyes. Jen’s angel doll fell from its hiding place on Sariel. West leapt out of David’s body again. As he and Sariel plunged after it together, West whispered, “Give up the Ghost, Sariel, and I will allow you to reek of mortality undisturbed for the rest of existence.”

Sariel reached the doll first, shrieking, “There are no Ghosts!” West’s black sword bit into Sariel’s wings again and again, sending glittering feathers spinning away into the darkness.

Ghost 3-3Groaning, but now in possession of Dyjo’s eyes and the angel doll, Sariel flapped upward, gathered David in his arms, and escaped the darkness.

Back in the shop, Sariel brewed a medicinal drink which he poured down David’s throat. He held the young man’s head, working on pulling the last of West’s darkness from David’s soul, but West had ridden him too hard and too deep. His hands touched each of David’s hundreds of wounds in turn, staying in contact with the injury until the lips of each had closed. Scars now covered his body. Sariel gritted his teeth and forced them to the inside of the skin so they at least couldn’t be seen. He finished by placing a soothing poultice on David’s forehead.

David came to, hurt filling his eyes. Sariel waved his hand in halfhearted hope of banishing whatever remained of the memory, but David’s eyes had already turned stony. He staggered to his feet, his voice awful. “Yes, Old Man, I can’t see him yet, but I know he’s here. And you. I’ll come for you first. What songs you’ll sing.” David fell forward to his knees.

Sariel caught him before he fell backwards. “You should never have been bathed in so much darkness.”

David pushed himself away from Sariel and got slowly to his feet. “I never meant anything until I was.”

Sariel handed him a coat. David stared at it until he caught sight of the condition of his clothes. Putting on the coat, he left the shop.

Fifteen minutes later, the shop was gone.

***

Jen finished packing her clothes. A small, battered, photo album remained on the table. She bubble-wrapped it and placed it in the center of the knapsack.

Ghost 3-4

Clenching her jaw, she re-read the Department of Human Services’ letter regarding the terms of her foster care termination. Her eyes glazed as she paged through her V9 for going to college. She made a big show of shuffling through the papers again. “What? No Happy Birthday, Jen? Jennifer? Ms. Rhys? No five dollar bill? How’s about a penny candle on a stale cupcake from the Food Mart?”

She glanced once more around the transitional living apartment that DHS had arranged for her until she turned 18. The beige walls and worn furniture made her sick. She rubbed her eyes and yawned, exhausted from chronic insomnia and the immediate concern that she had no idea what to do next. “Of course, if I had a cake with candles, then I would have to wish for something and I have nothing to wish for.” She got out the photo album, opened it to the middle, and took out a picture of her parents, young, smiling, holding her. “Nothing.”

She replaced the album in her knapsack. Finally, she went into the now bare bedroom. Two prescription bottles remained on the otherwise bare bedside table. One was for Seroquel, the other for an inner ear imbalance. Both bottles were full. “Once an addict…” Jen started to drop the bottles in the trash, then stopped, stared at the pills. Her gaze turned inward. “My gift horse. The perfect present; what every angel needs, good for any occasion. By the way, where the hell am I going?”

She jumped and stumbled as the angels in her head at once resumed their onslaught of torture. “Bad choice of words,” she muttered, “when you call the Devil and he hasn’t visited for a while…” It had been months since the angels had taken up their assault again her. Her body buckled, then locked rigid, her eyes rolling back in her head as horror after horror assailed her mind’s eye. But she resisted the pills, instead forcing herself to relax, tense, relax, tense, until after a while, she was able to laugh mockingly.

Ghost 3-5

The angels now forgotten, Jen looked around the spartan apartment with its beige walls and scarred and scratched fourth hand furniture. She scrawled a note, dropped a key into the envelope with the note, shut the door behind her, and started walking.

***

“Ahhh!” The woman cried out in pain and clutched her foot. Jen came to. The angels waited, whispering and grunting. The woman had been laying a bouquet of white bud roses and baby’s breath at the foot of a small grave bearing a lamb headstone. Jen had stepped on her ankle. The woman’s husband rushed to her side and then snapped at Jen. Dazed, Jen shook her head and apologized. The husband and wife glared. She backed away, turned and walked quickly through rows and rows of graves. How did I get here? As she hurried on, the angels in her head began mock counting the number of graves. “Only nine more until Mommy’s and Daddy’s.”

Her chest felt like it would burst and tears spilled from her eyes as she started to run, trying in vain to get away from the angels’ taunts. Her parents’ graves, where she hadn’t been since they were buried more than nine years before appeared in front of her to the yipping of the angels. Jen stopped abruptly, her hands over her ears as the angels giggled, “Look who’s here keeping your parents where they belong: us!” Atop twin headstones, wings and hands outstretched towards each other, were matching granite angels.

Screaming, Jen flung off her backpack and hurled herself at the stones, kicking and hitting the angel figures. Her feet and hands turned bloody, but she only increased the ferocity of her assault.

The couple visiting their baby’s grave heard Jen’s screams and called the police on their cell.

Ghost 3-6

“I’ll kill you! Get off my parents, you bastards from Hell, I’ll kill you—damned angels, fall, fall, fall—” Just as she toppled both the gravestones, an officer ran up and tried to restrain her. Instinctively, she flung him away. This time, he tackled her to the ground. The impact winded both of them, but he recovered immediately and held her down flat on her stomach.

As he cuffed her, he talked calmly and politely. “First sunny day we’ve had in over a month, my first off duty in longer than that, and everyone goes insane. Okay, whoever you are, before I get civilized and escort you to jail, what in God’s name do you think you’re doing?”

He turned her over and sat her up. Jen kicked at him, digging up clods of grass and fell sideways, spinning around as she struggled for purchase in the dirt. Her heel slammed into unmoving stone, and she cried out in surprised pain. This time, he let her lie there. She remained silent.

“I’m Sergeant Nakamura, my badge number is 22721.” He pointed to his badge, but Jen ignored him, her eyes fixed on her parents’ graves. He cleared his throat. “I’m speaking to you, Lady.” She stared, hypnotized, at the angel statues.

“I don’t think the angels are suddenly going to come to life and help you out any time soon, so you might want to help yourself and tell me your name.”

“You don’t know anything about angels.” Jen turned her face to the ground.

“Oh, I know plenty,” Adam muttered slowly. Showing her what he was going to do before he did it, he carefully sat her up again. “Now, are you going to answer my question or do I have to change gears and be Officer not-so-friendly?”

Jen’s head dropped back as the angels assailed her once more. Her whole body jerked savagely at the pain in her neck. “Don’t you know?” she gasped. “I’ve got the light of the world in me.”

Adam nodded, trying not to lose patience. “And lemme guess, you had an internal power outage and just happened to crash into these two gravestones on your way to relighting the path to Heaven.”

Jen stared straight ahead. A single tear rolled down her cheek. She tried to wipe it away on her shoulder, but the cuffs prevented her from moving without pain. Adam watched her a moment. “Are you on drugs?”

“Not drugs. Medication.” Her whisper was almost offended.

Adam smiled. “Right. My apologies. ‘Medication.’ And if I search your bag, with your permission, am I going to find your medication?”

Jen lifted her chin and met his look. “You don’t need my permission. I’m under arrest, right?”

“More or less.”

Jen nodded. “My name is Jen. Jennifer Rhys.”

“Thank you, Ms. Rhys.” Adam picked up her pack and went through it. The DHS letters addressed to Jennifer Rhys bore addresses of a number of foster houses he was familiar with. The picture of her parents slid out of the top of the pack as he pulled out the medication bottles and inspected them. J. RHYS, SEROQUEL, Dr. K. Richard.

Adam scanned the letters and photographs. His glance fell on the names on the headstones as he realized what was going on. She sat there quietly. He stared again at the photos, then back at her and found himself thinking about his father, angels, and fireflies.

“I’m sorry about your parents.” He uncuffed her.

Jen frowned and rubbed her wrists.

“Where’d you learn to fight like that?” He motioned to the broken angel statues on the ground.

Jen turned to them as if she were going to attack them again, but didn’t. “The angels taught me.”

Adam sighed. “Right. Look, I think I know at least some of the context here. I have to report it because it was called in, but I can say that I checked the area and the vandals were gone on arrival.” He handed her her knapsack. “What about the gravestones?”

Jen began piling up the broken granite, but left the angel statues where they lay.

“Okay then. What about a ride home?”

Jen shouldered her pack. “No, thanks.”

Adam leaned toward his shoulder mic and listened to something coming in from the station. Jen started to walk away. “Hey, wait…” She turned to him. “Your V-9…just a thought, but you ought to try a class that covers some of William Blake’s writing–he’s a big fan of angels. He’s also got woodcuts, charcoals…”

She waited a beat, then nodded. “I’ll do that.” Again, she started walking away. Adam let her get a car length away, then called to her again. “How’s the independence thing workin’ for you so far?”

Jen looked at the late afternoon sun, gauging the time. Finally, she turned around and walked right up to him. Her eyes were so green Adam had to force himself not to look away, to remember to breathe. “Remember to breathe deep before you go down and glide like before you were born,” his mother said as she showed him how to swim. I remember that green…that ocean. And he returned to the memory of swimming with his mother in the sea, laughing as they raced, long, strong strokes cutting through the soft water that shifted from gold like the sand, to silver-grey like the rocks, then dropped away to brilliant emerald green. He suddenly stopped, tried to capture handfuls of that green in his hands. But the water only came up clear, ran through his hands, and was gone. I have to have that green. He dove under and arrowed to the ocean floor, clawing at handfuls of green that when he returned to the surface turned out to be only brown, or dark purple. His mother waited for him at the surface and motioned for him to look up. They shaded their eyes against the brilliant yellow sunlight that turned white on their skin. Then they both plunged their faces under the water and opened their eyes. There was the beautiful green again.

It only lives where the water and the light come together. His throat went dry.

Jen smiled the faintest smile. “Sergeant Nakamura? Having a flashback?”

Adam blinked. He answered, his voice serious. “No. A memory.”

Jen’s glass-green eyes widened, and she drew a breath sharp with recognition. That’s what I hoped you’d say. Me, too. Both of them blushed. This time, her smile was real. “Anyway…as to your first question, I’ll let you know in about another…six and a half hours.”

Adam broke the stare and handed her his card. “Call me…” Jen waited, her smile slowly disappearing. “When you decide you want to do something about the angels. And my name is Adam.”

***

She stopped at a local supermarket and headed for the aisle that held the plastic toys and school supplies. She picked up a package of poorly painted, even worse moulded monsters. She then went over to the bakery counter and asked about plastic princesses cake decorations. What they gave her was so ugly she had to force herself to take them as the clerk wrinkled her nose at her. Jen started to put the toys in her pocket and thought of Officer Nakamura and the break he’d given her. “I thought you weren’t a thief,” he’d say. No, think. He’d never say that out loud. She picked up a shopping basket, put the plastic figures in it, and carefully took out the hundred dollar bill she’d gotten from her last job. It was all she had until she found something else. She ignored the irritated glances of the cashiers, their prolonged examinations of the bill as possibly counterfeit, lost in thought. Adam’s got that beautiful memory of his mother. She knew he loved her. She was dead. Jen knew that. And all I have is telling Mama she was just a person and that I wasn’t sure if I loved her like the world. Tears filled her eyes. The ugly toys weren’t part of that. My cake would have been beautiful. Everything Mama was beautiful. But these things are nothing. I have no memory because they killed her. 

Jen paid for the figures, and left the store.  Outside, she began banging them against her head before throwing them into the air. “And a party favor for you, angel 1, angel 2, angel 3, angel 4…” she screamed as she ripped the toys to shreds right there in the supermarket parking lot.

A little boy stared at her as his mother loaded groceries into their car with one hand and held his hand with the other. “Mama,” he said, “why is that girl hurting those poor little toys?”

Jen stopped and stared horrified at the mangled remains. She looked at the boy and offered him the remaining monster and princess.

He stared at her, his eyes brimming with tears. He took them and held them to his chest.

Why does it hurt if they’re just toys? She found she had to look away to avoid sobbing in front of the child.

“Tell them you’re sorry.”

She wiped away a tear that rolled down the bridge of her nose and snuffled. But they’re just ugly junk, worthless forms. Made by the millions from a mould.

“When I break a toy, it’s never the same. Even if I get a new one. It’s not the same one. There’s never another one. Mama tries to tell me it’s just like the old one, but it isn’t the old one.”

Jen’s heart ached at little boy’s sweet whisper. It’s gone forever. A sparkling star glittered, floating over his image and the child disappeared into a dark hole. Jen fought to keep him in her sight, but the star flashed blue and white, leaving a red afterburn that faded into black, eating everything in front of her.

“I’m sorry I hurt the toys,” she whispered to him.

“You have to tell them,” he answered pointing up, “they’re in Heaven now.”

“Don’t you come near my baby!” The boy’s mother suddenly screeched, lifting him right up off the ground, and swinging him into the open backseat door. Jen held her hands up to calm the mother, but the woman shoved her to the ground, jumped in her car, locked the doors, and backed up so fast she nearly hit Jen as she drove off.

The dark angels laughed nightmare screams and pretended to weep in howling tones that vibrated through Jen’s head. Trying to ignore the shimmering wave sloshing across her sight (“it’s just a migraine!” they said at DHS), Jen adjusted her headphones, gathered her bags, and slowly got to her feet. Reaching into her bag, she pulled out an antiseptic wipe and compulsively swabbed her hands and face. The angels returned to their assault on her mind and its memories. But Jen found that by wearing headphones, she could yell back at the angels as they tortured her and passersby just thought she was listening to awful music. How right they are about the awful part. At night, in my own place, neighbors call the cops when they hear me—here, they look away and hope they don’t catch what I have. She gazed at the crowd, at the disgusted faces of those people who actually had to squeeze by her. Deeply depressed, she looked away from any human contact.

The angels in her head choked off. Jen stopped, so startled she forgot to modulate her voice to account for having the headphones on. “What’s up, Dead Air with Wings? Someone forget to cue up gut wrenching horror #8,968,475,534?”

Passersby gawked.

Jen growled and stamped at the nearest person. “Respectfully, I’m not talking to any of you, so please go about your business and have a blessed day. God loves you.”

She genuflected and people hurried on. Jen took out her medication and rattled the bottles against her ears. “Hello? Can you hear me now? Don’t tell me in addition to frying every neuron and synapses you originally gave me, that these lil ole pills have finally put you off—I’ve only been taking them for 13 damned years until I’ve become more numb than the all knowing case managers who prescribe them for me!”

Jen stumbled as the angels howled in furious fear. Turning in the direction of their screaming, she peered into a darkened store front. Something gleamed, flashed. Jen blinked, after images from the flash gliding sideways down her vision. What was that? She squinted into the window, talking to the angels as she did. “Somebody’s going to lose their jobs as the security guard angels for sure. Why so scared—something bigger n’ badder than you in there?” The angels went dead silent.

Cupping her hands around her eyes, Jen pressed her forehead hard against the plate glass. A little Asian girl, not much older than three and an elderly Asian man who moved like a child appeared to be playing a game. Adrenaline rushed through her body, and she pushed harder against the glass. “You?…I remember you, Old Man, I remember you…”

Jen beat on the glass as she realized the girl held a dagger. The girl rushed at the old man who swung back with a sword. She’d leapt over the sword and was still in the air twisting when Jen raced in, flew forward, seized the sword, swung in an instinctive arc, and pinned the old man to the wall, the sword cutting a fine line of blood in his neck. Jen and the sword reflected light off each other as she leaned in, cutting the old man further. The sword blazed, blinding her and flinging her backwards.

Instantly, the girl threw Jen forward to her feet, grabbed a handful of hair, and pointed her dagger into the base of Jen’s spine. Surprised, Jen shrieked, spun around, and brought the sword down. Simultaneously, the girl thrust the dagger up to meet Jen’s womb.

“Yamete Kudasai!” Sariel shouted, his voice echoing in sounds, tones Jen had never heard come out of any human being. The command seized Jen’s muscles enough to halt the weapon just shy of splitting Muon’s skull, her abdomen sucked in nearly to her back in reflex from Muon’s charge, Muon’s dagger just touching Jen’s belly. The sword stopped blazing.

“Jennifer, Muon, cease,” Sariel said calmly. His entire body appeared to shimmering.

No, trembling. Jen squinted at his face, at his hands, both of which were entirely still upon this closer inspection. Why are you shaking?

Because I never thought I would feel you again. He stood right where he was. You can’t know how much I want you.

Jen moved away from him, frowning.

“Muon, leave us.” Sariel stared unblinking at Jen. He was sparkling now. Muon started to protest. “Leave me alone,” he rasped. She glared at Jen and was suddenly swallowed up by what appeared to be a cloud of glittering stars.

It felt like a migraine only exponentially more nauseating. Dizzy from the increasing shimmer, Jen slid to the floor. Sariel was all over her in an instant, smelling her, kissing her, licking her everywhere, tasting every inch of her body all at once. Rigid, she watched his naked limbs covered with what looked like tiny w’s flapping back and forth, now m’s, now w’s, now m’s until they were all a swarm of wings. She tried to scream, but his scream ate hers. WE! ME! WE! ME! He bit her everywhere, rolling over and over her body like a snake, entering every pore, smothering her skin, sucking her very organs, stuffing himself into her—

“GET…OUT…OF ME!!” Jen hauled herself to her feet, swinging, screaming her throat bloody raw.

WE IS ME. Sariel stood across the room as he had just before dismissing Muon, his eyes flickering.

Jen remember the kaleidoscopic eyes, the huge mouth and its endlessly thirsty tongue drinking her dry. She scrabbled and kicked at herself, trying to wipe off the crawling sensation all over her body before she burst into a frightened sob. What the hell are you?

Muon had returned and now crouched, hissing and spitting like a feral kitten, waving her knife back and forth. “I will gut you where you stand if you harm my father.”

Nauseated by the proximity of Sariel, Jen forced herself to look at Muon, and then at the sword in her hand. “Nice game, Child Protective not gotten to this end of the block yet?” Her voice came out in breathy gasps. “I can make a call-put in a good word ‘cause I’m on a first name basis—”

Muon itched to fly at her, urging Sariel to give her the sign. Sariel shook his head and frowned. Muon raged, “He is my Teacher—he is also your Teacher. You show tremendous disrespect—” Her voice was clearly older than a child of three.

“Are you a goddamned angel?” Jen could barely whisper as she pulled herself up to standing, fighting the urge to shield her body against his assault.

“Muon…enough.” In one movement, Sariel had taken the dagger, and guided Muon to come stand next to him. He dropped to one knee and lowered his head before Jen.

Jen frowned, confused. Why are you bowing to me? She wanted to stab him with the sword, but found her hand refused to obey. She tried again and threw up.

Sariel waited a moment before he reached out with one hand and gently tugged Muon into the same position.

Are you…a…goddamned…angel? Jen slowly recovered, wiping her mouth, looking down at them. Without releasing the sword, she crouched at Muon’s level. As she did, she glanced at the girl’s grubby black pants, tee-shirt, and ratty black basketball sneakers for a possible hidden weapon.

Her eyes fell on what Muon now held in her hands: a ragged, stuffed angel doll identical to the one her father had given her. My angel from Daddy.

Jen reached out to touch the doll, but her hand trembled so violently that she fell forward. As she made a fist to still the shaking, the angels hidden in shadows of her mind suddenly returned, shuddering and screaming, the sound like rusty blades scraping bones. “That’s just like my old doll,” Jen whispered.

“I know…it is.” Muon started to hand her the doll. Jen started to take it.

“IIE!!” A wave rocketed from Sariel as he slammed his hands together. The very air was ripped from the room. Jen and Muon flew apart, hit opposite walls, and slid to the ground.

“SHI, SHI, SHI!” Sariel flung his hands out in the direction of Jen and Muon. They slowly picked themselves up, Muon crying soundlessly, Jen glaring.

“That doll is mine.” Jen growled, unaware that she still gripped the sword. “My father gave it to me before he was murdered.”

Sariel’s eyes glittered and his voice echoed, half whisper, half shriek. “You will never touch it again. You have no idea what searches for you.”

Jen rolled her eyes and spat out her words. “Let me guess: an angel. A bad one. And is that little angel you?”

Sariel crossed the room, his face touching hers in an instant. “THE bad one. Don’t ever EVER EVER do that again!”

She smiled grimly, her eyes stony, forcing herself not to draw back from his piercing gaze. “Was it fun raping me? Make you feel more like a man? Or more like an angel?”

Sariel shivered and reached for the sword. His voice, when he finally spoke, was sick with shock. What have I become? “He must never know you are a woman.”

Why should it matter with your kind? Sex. Love. Not man. Not woman. You’re nothing. Nothing will come of nothing. Jen stared at him, speechless with anger.

I am not a goddamned angel.

Shaking with exhaustion, she dropped the sword, turned to leave. As the sword struck the floor, a low rumble echoed outwards.

Shishi-o. Sariel picked up the sword and gently touched its point to each of her shoulders. Warmth shot through her. Jen’s eyes closed and she started to fall. An elderly hand held her steady, while smaller fingers placed the sword back in her hand.

It began to shine. And then the world in front of Jen fell away and…

We were nothing. Nothing was absence of anything. Nothing was complete. Nothing was zero. 

We became light—particle and wave. Where we were born was the origin of light. Excited atoms—even further back to the mass giving particle, perhaps what the humans now call the mysterious Higgs Boson. We called it by a different H name. Did it begin with one? Or with absence of one? We weren’t we. Yet we were…visible. The only reference point comes from the reflection of sentience. We were one, and one was all. Except for the absence of one. 

Darkness…divided our light—what was it? A shadow? Dark energy? Dark matter? I think now that a black hole bit our light, breaking it, so we went from no consciousness to unconsciousness to…we are me are we are me are… 

Then…

We are going to fall. Fear filled me, and I was no longer light, but consciousness and flight. A vast blanket of stardust now covered our light, giving each of us form. I spread vast wings and leapt from the disintegrating sphere of Light, now waves, now rays, now beams reflecting off other winged beings, flying against the strange pull of the darkness I could feel, but not see in all the dazzling waves of living particles of light. Some of these particles fell away into blackness, some swirled in a vast circle just at the edge of my sight, the rest exploded and soared all around me. 

Part of the light had been caught at the edge of the darkness’ maw: Iblis. Iblis somehow clung to the very edge of the event horizon and tore Heaven to shreds, clawing his way out, and leapt after me. Blinded by my tears which made sparkling prisms of the light, I didn’t see him. All I could see were those who had been closest to the origin of Heaven, the youngest. The eldest flew so far away into the blackness that they became mere pinpoints of light. I tried to reach them, but no matter how fast or far I flew, we could never be one again. 

Why can’t we be one? Why have we broken apart? Don’t let me fall into darkness. I cried for losing them, for those who became burning masses of superheated gasses, for those who became stars. Were we to become sentient, only to be sucked into a giant burning light or light torn into smaller than the smallest particles blinded both by darkness and the prison of our own light? Please, answer me. I can’t have come from nothing. My tears sparkled, fell away, scattered into the blackness along with the pieces of golden Heaven. They crystallized into lights of every color, twinkling, sparkling, shining in the blackness that was no longer black, but now ablaze with stars. Those can’t be all my tears alone. They must belong to the others—my others. Make me we again. And in between each star glittered fainter lights, strings and strings linking each star to the next in w’s that became m’s that became w’s that became m’s. Wings. Their wings flying everywhere in the vast space around me.

I smiled to behold my own glowing wings outstretched and I flew. 

Iblis hurtled into me, so huge, so black that he blotted out the star-filled sky. His impact covered me with his interstellar dust and cosmic debris and I began to fall. He gripped me in an enraged embrace, grinding the chunks of space garbage into my form until my light was covered.

You prayed for me, for we, I am your prayers answered, he hissed while we fell endlessly as one, no longer flying, no longer at the speed of light. I stared immobile, into his eyes, burning up inside, feeling my being leave, becoming gas and rock, becoming nothing. The reflection of the pinpoint light of a star that had been impossible to reach race closer and closer to become a giant fireball. The spark of original light of me that was left tried to find his point of original light in the torn and shredded darkness he’d become. I tried to touch him, repelled at the very last from being able to by an undefinable force that kept us infinitesimally apart. 

Iblis, that star—it won’t be our grief, it will be one of us and we will be me and me will be we—remember the ray of light when we were born—not this inferno of flames—but he drove me against the star with such force that I caught fire and exploded, the two halves that were my whole flying apart like embers. 

Jen fall backwards and collapsed in Sariel’s arms, nearly dragging them to the floor. He gripped her head, his kaleidoscopic eyes searching her unconscious face. Wake up, wake up—remember it was you who wanted that star to be another angel instead of agony—

One half became me, Sariel, and soared to rescue the other half that became you, Jennifer. 

Jennifer moved in Sariel’s arms. Iblis launched himself after me, but my eyes were burned first yellow, then white by the light of that star.

Sariel shook her. I saw you fly/fall away, zigzagging in w’s, in m’s, in w’s in m’s from one distant light to another.

Jennifer’s arms thrashed as though she were trying to fly. Where is joy now?

Sariel threw himself over Jennifer’s body. The half that was me grabbed the other half that was you. At the same time, Iblis who stabbed and stabbed at us with a dark blade covered with signs I couldn’t understand. What is this weapon he uses on me—on us? And I reached inside you and split your spark, touched the half of your birth light I now held to the flames of the star, and it blazed into a sword.

This other half is me—mine, Iblis! I formed a shield around you, covering you so completely that no light could get in and no light could get out. When I peered into the black well of my embrace, now your prison, I found nothing but darkness, then a single spark, half a spark dying to nothing. I prayed to Gabriel and Michael. Don’t let this be the end of us!

Michael swooped in and with his sword, sliced open the burning crust of my weakening form. His cut spread me wide and Gabriel reached into the dark of my cradle and seized the dimming spark that was you. Iblis and I were hurled apart by the blast from Gabriel’s horn, blowing on that spark which began to fluttering, to beat. I reached for it, for you. But they flew away, leaving me to Iblis. You didn’t save me, why?

You will be saved. Gabriel and Michael’s voices pierced me, just as Iblis skewered me with his black sword. You will be reunited, you will be returned, you will be found. I screamed but found my hand still held that sword that was made from you, that was made from me, that was made from we. I swung back and flew after you. 

I didn’t realize that he was still on my sword, sucking the blade for the spark it contained, desperate to stop his slide into nothingness. It became completely dark—I couldn’t even see it any longer, but its gravity slowed me for eons though I didn’t know it then. I just had to make sure you were going to keep existing, to have you, to be whole again.

You brought him here? You brought him here to Earth? Jen heaved herself out of Sariel’s grasp, crawling across the floor, sobbing.

I didn’t mean to bring him—I was trying to rescue you—

You didn’t rescue me—Gabriel and Michael did—why didn’t you destroy Iblis?

Because of you! Because of you! Sariel forced himself to stand absolutely still, calmed his shimmering to a faint phosphorescence. I must know what happened to you.

Jennifer closed her eyes, but blocked Sariel’s begging gaze. She found that if she entered them as though they were happening in real time, she could keep Sariel from seeing them, from knowing them. You are not me, we are not we. There’s only you and I. Her mind was hers again. These are my experiences to remember alone…

the horn breath of Gabriel on me, in and out, back and forth, up and down, all around. I am whole again. 

There is no up and down, or back and forth, or me and we—there is only all around.

Gabriel breathes me to light once more and we float together with Michael through star-studded space until Gabriel lowers his horn. I beg Michael not to cut the string that binds me to them, but he does. The severed string drops below me and something seizes it and pulls hard. I fight the vicious tug, screaming for Gabriel and Michael, but they are gone. What is this string? I grab for some purchase with my other hand and my fingers crush the fragrant white points of a star, the center of which carried a pink spotted, gold striped cradle. A lily. My fingers release the string as I reached to pull off the first of its six petals. M. Now the second. O. The third. H. Something’s crawling there, blinking…a firefly—

An especially violent tug pulls me down and I fall through sodden, grey clouds, and into the rocking pink, white, and gold cradle of Grace’s womb, the firefly winking before me. I pick it up and turn onto my back to look at it. Above me, a vast winged blackness swoops down and stuffs itself into me—

Jen opened her eyes, and remembered nothing except for the fleeting image of a balloon in the shape of a star. She laid Shishi-o blade flat across her left arm, cradling the sword. She pulled herself to sit cross-legged, and kissed its blade long and gently.

What happened? Sariel stood stock still. Why wouldn’t you let me see inside you?

Jen shook her head, tears rolling down her cheeks. You brought him here—why?! 

Sariel reached for the sword, but Jen rolled over on top of it, shielding it from his touch.

We is me. His thought was frighteningly calm.

I am not you! Jen screamed and whirled Shishi-o around her like a dervish. Muon shrieked and leapt at Jennifer with her own blade. Sariel seized her, crouching over her as Shishi-o sliced into his back. The smell of burning flesh putrefied the air. Sariel hissed in pain. Muon tried to bite her way out of his arms, but proved no match for his strength though she succeeded in leaving savage bites all over his arms.

Jen whirled the blade again. This cut crossed the first exactly. Sariel fell forward on Muon. Jen threw the blade down and vomited.

Groaning, Sariel rolled off of Muon. Finally free, Muon danced back and forth between him and Jen, snarling and waving her dagger. “Muon, stop!” Sariel crawled to his knees and hugged the enraged little girl.

Jen stopped, stunned by Sariel’s gesture. When she caught Muon’s glare over Sariel’s shoulder, she returned her attention to Shishi-o. “I’ve never even held a weapon before.”

“Shishi-o is not a weapon. Shishi-o is…your…” Sariel searched for the right word and finally found it. “Your string.”

“My string?” Sariel had said that as though continuing a conversation they had already begun, but Jen couldn’t remember any of it. Slowly she arced, parried, feinted, swinging the Sword in a graceful motion as though she had merely extended her own arm. Shishi-o hummed gently in her hand. When she stopped, the Sword shone to her, bathing her in its light.

Sariel waited. “Do you remember…me?”

Jen shrugged and managed a tired smile. “I…remember…Dyjo.”

Masking his disappointment, he tried to smile. “I am Sariel.”

“I’m Jen. Not Jennifer.” She slid to the floor and sat, knees up, hands lying on the floor. Her head lay against her knee and she stared at Shishi-o. “Except the people who keep me tranqued. You know, the bad ones.”

Muon tapped Jen’s other knee. “Do you know what Jennifer means?”

“Loser?”

Muon glared. “It means ‘white wave.’ Like you were with Shishi-o.”

Jen got up, waving her hands dismissively. “Okie-dokie.”

“You have been asleep a long time.” Sariel held up the ruined angel doll. “Now you must awaken.”

“Listen, you must have me confused with someone else. I don’t sleep.” Jen pointed to her head. “I can’t. They won’t let me. Anyway, I’m exhausted. I’m out on my own as of today, no place to stay, no money, no food, all I’ve got so far is trouble…I need to go. Maybe we’ll run into each other again sometime in the next five or so years. By the way, are you going to answer my question?”

Sariel looked at her. “Do you need me to?”

Muon leapt into Jen’s way as she tried to leave the shop. Sighing, Jen picked her up and looked right into her eyes. “Look, Muon–did I say your name right?”

Muon nodded, looking again like a fierce kitten.

Jen turned away so that Muon wouldn’t see her smile. When she turned back, her expression was serious. “The swordplay and all was fun, and I’m sure you think you could kick my a…bottom, but I am dead, and I need to get my act together before dark.”

Muon pressed her forehead to Jen’s so that all Jen could see was a single eye. “Don’t you remember what happened?”

Jen pressed her forehead into Muon’s and laughed grimly. “I remember—”

“What? What do you remember?”

I think I remember…a balloon…and a firefly…

“Muon!” Sariel took Muon away from Jen. I can wait.

Jen frowned at Sariel. “You’re lucky I’m not calling the kid cops ‘cause they wouldn’t understand little kids playing with knives the way I do.”

Muon slipped out of Sariel’s grasp and appraised Jen from head to toe. “Sariel, she can be our teacher and you can give her money.”

Sariel smiled sternly.

Jen looked incredulous. “I’ve never taught anyone anything.”

Now Sariel laughed. “Yes you have. Muon will show you to our building. You can live there. She will introduce you to the others when you have rested.”

For the briefest of moments, Jen felt like she was being tucked into bed, about to be kissed goodnight. The feeling was so strong, she closed her eyes and lifted her chin. The feeling disappeared when she sensed a surprised silence coming from Muon. Jen opened her eyes, feeling stupid. “I’m not promising anything.”

Sariel shook his head. “Neither are we. It’s a gift for all you have done and all you have yet to do. Or, if you prefer, it has always been yours and yours alone.”

“Yet?” Jen was tired. The thought registered a second, then drifted away into the exhaustion. Finally, she nodded. Muon put Shishi-o back in her hand. Jen tried to give the sword back to her. “I can’t take this…Agh!” She yelped when Muon wrapped her fingers around Jen’s and squeezed, forcing her to keep the sword.

Taking out a cell, Sariel called someone, muttered a few words, and hung up. “I know you will not make the mistake Dyjo made. You are not taking ‘it.’ Shishi-o has been waiting for you. You will work together in this War.”

Shishi-o gleamed softly in response.

You mean, the Angels’ War. Jen didn’t realize her unspoken angry response had been heard until she caught sight of Sariel’s raised eyebrow.

“Go now,” He said. “You need sleep.”

Jen stood there, teetering on her feet. Insomnia was taking its toll. Sariel looked at her inquiringly. “Jennifer? You NEED to sleep. Your lessons will begin soon.”

She snapped back to the moment and rolled her eyes. “I knew you were going to call me that.”

He leaned on his cane. “What immediate needs have I not answered?”

She drew herself up defensively. “What do you want me to do while I’m waiting?”

Muon, who’d been going through Jen’s pack during the whole conversation, whispered in Sariel’s ear. He listened intently, and then looked up at Jen. “Muon suggests you go to school and let in the world.”

***

Ghost 3-7

The eight members of Sergeant Adam Nakamura’s Emergency Services Unit moved near the edge of a run-down garage near the edge of the city. His pistol in a low ready position, Adam waited until he could feel his team was ready.

His elite team was a handpicked group whom he trusted with his life and they trusted him with theirs. There was no lying. Period. Adam demanded absolute integrity and he got it. Officers fought to be selected by him, knowing the selection process was near impossible to meet, to be above reproach and honest in an arena riddled by corruption. As their reward, they were called in to deal with crimes that went beyond horrific.

Adam felt his heart rate slow to a deep beat. The snipers were ready. He cocked his head sideways towards his throat-mic.

“Eyes high. Status?”

The latest in a chain of particularly high risk entries involved Yakuza, but they had gone beyond the usual sword sectioning the baddest of the bad and stuffing the pieces in a fifty-five gallon drum somewhere. He had a deeply unsettled feeling about this. Kagai.

His sniper’s voice came back at barely a whisper. “Eyes high, clear, good to go.”

Adam motioned over his shoulder. “Roger that, stand by, going loud.” An officer with a small flex lens camera kept watch on the room, indicating the positions and number of the men inside. Now, Adam’s lock man crept forward, put a thin metal rod into the lock, and pulled a pin attached to a small box. The magnesium metal rod flared white. He cracked the door, giving the thumbs up as he moved back.

C.I.D. had been working this end of town for over a year. Adam’s mind reeled, fought with his slowed heart rate as he flashed on the visuals from the scene investigations, the pictures afterward. The “sections” of human beings they’d found were getting…finer. The body bits they were able to recover yielded that the DNA had somehow been stripped, rendering identification impossible. Where had the DNA gone? Who were these people who’d wound up less than smears? Adam was disturbed by the evidence that the dead had been subjected to tortures he could barely imagine without throwing up. Over the past months, he’d shared the evidence with the team, but not his conclusions. The men listened silently. Adam gave full permission to withdraw, to pull out. Not one of them did.

Adam held the team at the door. The video man was still scanning. Tiers of crates were blocking his view, but all of them were trained to twist any blind spot into a buffer. Behind Adam, six men were ready, two shotguns, the rest MP5s. Video held up his left four fingers and then pointed left, five fingers, and then right before spinning his finger in the air. Video pulled back, readied his pistol. Nine armed visible inside. Maybe more, but the finger spin meant they weren’t paying attention. That was the good news. They’d seen tables loaded down with unidentified chemicals, lab equipment, and jars of luminescent creatures stuffed the room. Men leaned over the jars, drawing samples. Inside the jars, the glowing life forms lashed and convulsed as the men stuck them with needles. Multicolored flames burned high out of a series of containers spread throughout. The armed young men tending to the fires were a mix of Asian, black, and white.

Inside, one of the men, a solid 18 year old stood near the center of the room, he heard the ‘klink’ next to him and a movement caught his eye. As he looked down at the short black tube rolling to a stop, all he read was the name M-84 before the sun lit up before him. There was a pop followed by a high pitched whistle. He never heard or saw anything else again.

“POLICE OFFICERS! SEARCH WARRANT! GET DOWN!” The team moved as one through the door. Adam shouted, his weapon ready. “Drop your weapons! Do it now!” Members broke left and right with deadly intent.

Blinded by the flash-bangs, the scrambling armed men peppered the room with MAC-Ten lead. Jars of luminescent specimens exploded and workers ran for cover.

The ESU men returned controlled fire, three rounds, three rounds, three rounds. Some of the Yakuza dropped, some scattered, mayhem broke out.

Gunfire now erupted from the far side of the room. ESU crouched, returned fire. The gunmen fired wildly. More dropped. Ten seconds more and it was over. Shouts of “Clear!” echoed from the team now spread out covering the room.

A survivor crouched over a table, an Asian punk covered with Yakuza tattoos. Adam approached him warily. “You! Show me your hands—do it now.” There was no mistaking any intent in his voice.

The youth dropped below the table. Adam could sense his sniper ready to shoot, but he shook his head and the sniper moved back. Slowly the youth’s hands slid up. Adam approached the table.

On one knee and trembling, the punk fell sideways, revealing something that appeared to be a blade covered with strange characters in his hand as he fell. Adam stopped, the HK .45 leveled on the youth.

“Drop the knife, kid.” His voice was soft, calm. “Drop the knife or I WILL fire. Do it.”

Instead of a top, the table held two layers of empty glass. Adam’s eyes darted back and forth from the punk to the glass. What the hell is it? He squinted, knowing there was something between the layers, and caught the thinnest complex network of squiggly red, blue, green, and purple lines. For one insane moment, Adam wondered if the punk was framing some kind of psychedelic spider web.

Ghost 3-8

Out of nowhere, a firefly flickered underneath the table, catching Adam’s eye. The delicate web of intersecting colored lines illuminated. Oh god, it’s human flesh. His eyes followed the firefly into a blinding yellow flash. The room disappeared into darkness. Now Adam could see only the punk in front of him.

Shuddering violently, the punk stared at Adam. Adam watched, horrified, as the youth’s facial skin swelled, stretched, blood vessels breaking into purple streams flooding his face. Something is putting on his face like a mask.

The masked Thing smiled and shaped itself into the punk’s mother.  It slapped the tattooed youth who had regressed to the age of two, over and over as he reached for a sweet. Adam closed his eyes. You are nothing but colored bits of air.

He felt the Thing ripple over him as it left the punk. He opened his eyes. Gasping for breath, scratching at his bloody, bruised face, the punk laughed and gurgled in Japanese, “You…are nothing.”

A glistening silver feather appeared in the youth’s hand. He smiled, gripped the feather, laughed. The Thing returned and crumpled and pulled, crumpled and pulled at the boy’s face. The punk tried to hurl the feather away, but it was too late: his eyes rolled into his head and turned black. With a shriek like a carrion bird, he plunged the feather into his temple and his head exploded. He fell forward. A shadow drifted from his body and dissipated.

Adam braced himself as black and red blood sprayed his face, choking him. The roar of wind in his ears silenced, replaced by police and ambulance sirens, medics moving in, the sound of chaos shattering the very air. Adam was back in the room, his hands held him off the floor, the .45 at his side. Officers stared in shock and horror at the things in the containers. One made the mistake of opening a container and vomited. The screams of the creatures still remaining in their prison jars fought with the howls of the arriving police and ambulance sirens. Gagging and spitting, frantically wiping the blood from his face, Adam groped madly for the feather.

It was gone.

Angels.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR & ILLUSTRATOR:

Phoebe Reeves-MurrayPhoebe Reeves-Murray’s Professional Biography:

“Someone once told me that all kids love their parents, but not all parents love their kids.  In every teaching job I’ve ever had, I’ve worked with youth who are trying every way possible to reach, and in many cases, to find their parents.  And all too often, those parents fight ever being found.

“In the Ghost trilogy which includes Ghost, Nephilim, and Archangel, I wanted to write a story where, instead of trying to juggle a superhero identity (read “all important job”) and a family (read “childcare”), the superhuman woman put her child above all else—where her quest wasn’t winning an ancient or even a modern war, but fiercely and completely loving and living with her baby, even when she discovers her own relationship to the mysterious angels and their eternal war holds the fate of the world in the balance—because she loves that baby more than the world.”

Phoebe’s other professional writing credits include an original novella-ization of the new Outer Limits episode The Quality of Mercy, published by Prima, and her original magic realism novel Talking to Shadows, published electronically by Scorpius Digital.

She’s written several books on how to teach yourself to write, aimed at the nontraditional student: What’s The Big Idea? and Turning the Century, both published by Prentice Hall.

Her original short play about how Adam and Eve recover from The Fall and parent the race of Man called The Mistake was performed at the Maine Short Plays Festival in Portland, Maine.  She wrote and directed three original multimedia plays Collect All The Game Pieces and be A Grand Prize Winner!, Crazy Tree, and The Hero of My Childhood, for CAFÉ and Muse Productions at The Next Stage in San Francisco as well as an original science fiction radio play Eyes Like Stars for Shoestring Radio Theater which continues to be broadcast yearly on NPR.

Daniel Scott Gabriel Murray’s Professional Biography:

Daniel Scott Gabriel Murray is a retired police officer of 23 years while at the same time working as an illustrator. His break came when he showed his portfolio to an editor at DC Comics during a convention, from that point he’s slowly built a following and a reputation for creating images that are driven by light, passion and character.  Millions of people have seen his work, they just don’t know it. After a series of DC Trading cards, DC asked him to assist them in their marketing materials for licensed products. If you should see a Superman or Batman logo on a product, there’s a good chance that you’re looking at something he created.

He’s developed images for DC Comics, Covers for Lucasfilm publications, TUL Studios [Taiwan], Seed Studios [Taiwan], Smith-Micro [Poser], Inner Kingdom Games [Shadowfist], Upper Deck Entertainment and Atlantis Studios to name a few.

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