Ghost |Two | Phoebe Reeves-Murray

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310 years later, New England

They got to the beach and lay down in the sand. Harry slowly slid off Grace’s clothes, breathing her scent from each piece as she lay eyes closed under the surprisingly warm grey sky. He began kissing her neck, his lips gliding over her breasts, down her stomach, and moving back and forth across her thighs, parted her legs. “I want to kiss l’origine du monde,” he murmured and tasted her.

Grace gasped and giggled sleepily, seeing shapes now in the clouds against a sudden patch of blue sky. “Dutchman’s breeches,” she whispered, and Harry’s mouth hummed a response as Grace rose up against his tongue. The animal shapes galloping in the clouds disappeared, replaced by Angelic script.

An M. An O. An H.

Grace didn’t stop to wonder how she knew this as she was beyond wondering, Harry now rocking inside her, the two of them rocking together back and forth, faster and faster in the naked warm sand.

They said you are here. Where are you? Gabriel and Michael told me oxygen and helium and that I made 2.

In me, in me, in me now, now, now! A particle of light shot into Grace with such force it drove Grace arcing up into Harry as they cried out. The clouds glittered, sparkled, just before the blue sky was swallowed up once more by grey.

What is the M? The voice persisted, to her or perhaps it didn’t know to whom, and so it was to her. Grace groaned, aching from the force of impact.

Harry’s hand trailed over her skin, rubbing her to wake up. Misty rain sprinkled making his touch clammy. She didn’t want to open her eyes. Again, M. O. H.

It can’t just be those elements, came the voice.

She couldn’t keep her thoughts straight. She wanted to figure out the answer for the voice, but her thoughts all mixed together with the mysterious M. Maybe the clouds were to blanket you against the contrast of light and dark. To break your fall…the bough…like a…cradle…

The it of the voice was in the clouds, but it wasn’t alone. She shivered, opened her eyes. The grey had thickened to fog. Harry was pulling her to the car. “Let’s get going or we’ll become lost in all this.”

She got up and followed him, his fingers calm and strong entwined in hers. He never gets lost. Once in the car, she closed her eyes.

I’m standing in front of Yama and his cronies who sit wedged into the tiny little student desks in my classroom. I’m trying to show them how to make a paper room without corners and linking it to this gigantic MRI where different areas of the brain are lighting up. 

Will it be dark or light then? they ask.

That’s why it has to be a room without corners because then you don’t have a division between light and dark, I say.

But they just stare at me stony faced, and I realize they don’t want to know how or why the room will have no corners. They say, But we’re going to fall, and go on making triaramas. 

I want to know how and why it can have no corners and start working on a formula, when I realize they’re looking past me and that there’re no longer any walls or windows to the classroom. Instead, our little kid desks are scatter plotted across the traffic on a busy street. At the end of the street where Yama’s men are staring, a dark van has parked in front of an old movie theater. Two enormous women get out of the van holding two little girls and begin beating them savagely. I’m trying to get to them to stop them and save the girls, but there’s a bed in the way. The women will have to step on this bed to get from the van into the theater. Under the bed I see a pair of legs standing up, going right through the underneath part of the mattress. I know it’s something awful, but it’s the only way I can get to the two little girls. I know I have to lean down and look at what else is under the bed and see a glowing white fetus with jet black eyes clinging to the underside of the mattress next to the legs like a bat. It snarls and scuttles towards me upside down—

“You know they’re going to kill us,” Harry said.

Grace didn’t open her eyes, trying to hold on to the shreds of the dream. The answer is water. Add water to the room. Then you can float until it’s time to fly.

Her eyes opened to endless rainy gloom outside the moving car. They passed a raven, spreading its wings in triumph and strutting over a faded purple grey mass of dead beaver entrails.

“Did you hear me, Grace?”

“They’re not going to kill you because you always tell the truth. And evil always requires someone who always tells the truth.” She closed her eyes again, trying to get back to the dream where she felt that something was going to happen. But it was gone. Like the voice was gone. “I’m thirsty, any more gingerale?” she asked.

Harry opened one and handed it to her, still driving in the blind mist without missing a beat. Grace smiled and wrote 143 in the condensation at the bottom of the windshield. Harry smiled back, his eyes still on the mist.

She stared at her hand holding the soda can, feeling each bubble of the gingerale pop one by one against her skin. She gazed into each one, seeing a miniature world, now separated from her by its rainbow window, the window shivering, swirling even as it was about to burst. We’re going to die, Harry, you and me, and not together. It’ll be horrible. Her tears separated her once more from the tiny bubble windows. How can I protect us?

I’m pregnant. She’s now inside me, growing, my baby, our baby, the universe’s baby. She stopped crying and smiled even as she looked out on the endless rain that had begun weeks ago and never let up. Water, water everywhere… Today, it was a bright grey, so she and Harry looked at each other and said let’s go. They’d driven eight hours in hopes they could get to the beach and maybe, maybe there would be sun, and it would be like the beach had been when she was little: bright, warm, sandy, hot.

And now we have a baby, a glory. Outside the car it was pouring. They were crossing the old boundary bridge and she looked out of the car window at a pet carrier, left half in the road by the narrow line between the highway and the edge of the bridge.

“Grace, they’re going to kill us.”

She stared at the carrier as they passed and thought she could see the outline of an orange cat, sitting up, perhaps waiting, shocked, that it was lost, that it would never find its way home. Maybe she only imagined she saw a pet in the cage. With dark corners. Maybe it was dead, or maybe there was a…ghost.

Ghost.

“I know, I’m thinking.” Grace watched a car slow up and pull in front of carrier as Harry drove on, and wondered who she should have called, who would care. They’re going to kill us. Who would I call about that? Who will teach the kids?

Harry took her hand, but she pulled away, wanting to feel the bubbles again, to know for sure the glory was inside her. But Harry’d knocked over the gingerale as he reached for her hand. The car swerved just slightly, the first time ever.  The sensation was gone. She wanted Harry to be the voice. But he wasn’t. She loved Harry, but he was too unsure of his own truthfulness. And so he had to take his cue from the bad guys, as little Jakey from her class would say.

***

Six years later, just outside New York City

Grace Rhys peered in her review mirror at Jennifer. “So what do you want on your cake for decorations?”

Now six year old Jennifer stared out the window into the rain and thought. “Remember when we used to play princess and the monster, Mama?”

Grace smiled, surprised. “Yes, I do.”

Jennifer counted the raindrops for a moment. “I think I could count them all if I was an angel because they already know how much infinity is.”

Grace slowed as she approached the elementary school teachers’ parking lot. “What makes you think that?”

“Well, they don’t have to worry about school and global warming and war.”

Grace pulled forwards into her usual spot before she realized that she hadn’t backed the car in as Harry had always reminded her to do. You want to see what’s coming head on, not through a piece of glass over your shoulder, he would say.

“Did you grow eyes in the back of your head, Mama?” Jennifer sounded just like her father at that moment.

Grace hurumphed and turned off the car. “Well, just this once, I’m going to assume I don’t need them. So what about the cake?”

Jennifer had her angel backpack over her shoulders. “Can I tell you this dream that I had?”

More awful angels in it again? Grace gathered her books and supplies and caught sight of a row of black luxury cars pulling into the parking lot, not quite blocking her in. Not quite. She had a sudden impulse to stay in the car and crouch below the seats with Jennifer. Maybe they won’t know we’re here. “Go ahead, but whisper it, K, munchka?”

Jennifer tilted her head up and slid below the level of the backseat in one movement. “K. I was in this church with all the kids from my class and we got told we had to sleep there. So we all went upstairs, and there was this crystal or maybe it was glass bed there. I said to this strange man, ‘Aren’t you supposed to sleep there?’ and he said, ‘No, but anyone of you can.’ Then we take this baby statue to the glass bed and it has turned into a cradle and we put the baby statue in it. Then we come back and the strange man is wearing a mechanical helmet and holding a remote control and we look and see the baby is now floating and moving in the air.”

Grace watched Harry’s director Yama and his phalanx of dark suited men file into the school and remembered first meeting Harry at one of the school fundraisers. She had fallen for him on the spot with his piercing blue eyes and so young blonde hair. Just as he was about to kiss her goodnight after the event in the very parking lot where she now sat, Yama had appeared, put his arm around them both, and kissed each of them on the forehead. “I see you’ve found our canary, Harry. Always good to send a canary before you into the dark. And now you’ve got one.”

“A floating baby, huh, angelpie? Is your teacher showing you Christmas specials again?”

“No, Mama. It was just my dream. No angels. I don’t know where they went.”

“No angels in your dream’s a good thing.” A black gloved hand knocked on the window of her car. She jumped and with a pounding heart, motioned that they would be right along. The man moved a short distance away, but continued to stare at the car.

He knows where the angels are, doesn’t he, Mama?

Grace nodded.

“How about princesses and monsters for my cake?”

Grace nodded again.

How much do you love me, Mama?

More than the universe and all the dark matter holding it up, my love.

Jennifer sat up, her voice perfectly normal. “Is it okay if I don’t feel that way about you, Mama? Because I think that I feel like people are just people to me.”

Grace laughed, filled with love for her daughter and strangely at ease again.

“Do you still love me?”

Grace nodded vigorously. “Wait until you’re a mother.”

“What makes people different then?”

They got out of the car and the man moved towards them. “You’ll be different, angelpie.”

Jennifer tightened her grip on her mother’s hand as they started in to the school. “Why?”

“Because part of you flies away to live in your baby.”

***

Since Dyjo was destroyed 310 years ago, Sariel had been searching the world for the last remaining Ghost.

Why has the Book of Gabriel brought me here? he wondered stupidly as he rubbed his head and pulled himself up from the cinderblock floor. Blood covered his hand, warm and sticky, and he stared at it, dazed.

TEACHER. The voice electrified him to his feet, and he clutched at the stair rail to the janitor’s closet that had been part of his disguise for the last week. He squeezed his eyes shut against the wet sounds of ripping flesh, the screams of the teachers and the children locked in the classrooms with the demons and angels.

DYJO!

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Sariel forced himself to open his eyes again, this time very slowly and stared at a clock on the wall in front of him. He willed his form to stay hidden in its weakened human appearance as the school janitor. J. Rhys, I know you are here. I will find you.

All around him behind classroom doors covered with brightly colored construction paper projects he could hear muffled cracking sounds, furniture being smashed against the wall, the duller thuds of bodies being broken, and the cries which became sporadic. Then nothing, but them eating.

He waited for the classroom door in front of him to open. WELCOME TO MRS. GRACE RHYS’S CLASSROOM. A drop of dark red ran off the end of the R, dripped halfway down the door.

They continued their killing, lazy, bored, angry, unsatisfied. He felt them slow down to play. Greater than they are looking now for the Ghost. Who will get there first?

His lion form crouched below the surface, his wings tore through the flesh on his back. He roared, unable to stop himself, and sprang at the door to Grace Rhys’s classroom. Inside, the demons went silent. Gasping, Sariel fell back into his bloody human form. My task as Teacher is… to save? To stop? To… teach? What is the end? What is most important? Creator, please help me to find the last—

From behind him, the janitor’s closet he hadn’t thought to search opened. A prescription rolled down the steps to Sariel. Wiping the blood from his eyes, he picked it up. Medication for imbalance for one J. Rhys.

Four children, all of them five or six years old, stumbled out, dazed. Instantly, the door to Mrs. Rhys’ room flew open. The children froze. Sariel felt one of them start to fall.

I’m falling.

He reached behind him to steady the child. But no one took his hand. He whipped around. In shock, all four children stared at him.

Which one of you is Ghost?

One of the Oni sashayed out of the classroom, holding the hideously mangled body of Grace Rhys against itself as if she were a dress. Immediately, Sariel waved a finger behind him and shut down the children’s response. Their minds tensed, then relaxed as Sariel licked them with his Lion’s tongue. You who are the last will be the only one to see this when the time is right. And he tore the scene from their minds. Together, they cried like cubs, tears running down their faces.

The Oni laughed, a sound like a rabbit being killed by a fox. “Like it, children? Shall I wear it tomorrow to class? Want to play dress up?” It inched towards them, dragging Mrs. Rhys’s arm as if it were a scarf across the nearest boy’s face. It left a bloody smear. The boy opened his mouth to scream. No sound came out.

Three boys and a girl. Which of you boys is the last Ghost? “Let them go to the last classroom.” Sariel forced himself to appear more injured than he was, keeping his voice a frightened whisper.

The Oni gritted its fangs, a sound like blades being sharpened, ripped into Mrs. Rhys’s body, then threw part of her on the ground and stamped its foot.

Sariel nodded slowly towards the last classroom down the hall. The door whipped open, its chain clanking against the wall so hard that pieces of cement skittered back down the hall and hit the foot of the steps where Sariel stood with the children.

A human teacher staggered out, blood bubbling from a gash in his lung. His arm was broken and twisted around until it hung by a string of skin. He stared in the direction of the children and tried to make his arm move so he could motion to them.

From where he stood, Sariel forced the wound in the man’s lungs closed. Teacher, please call to them. It won’t be long. You have played your part and all that is Good thanks you for your service.

The man took a breath and smiled painfully. “Children, please come to me where it’s safe.”

One, by one, the boys turned towards the far classroom, scuttled down the steps, veered around Sariel. The energy of his disguise strained dangerously.

The Oni cocked its head at him. “Snack time, right?”

Sariel forced himself to nod as the little boys headed down the hall. Which one? Which one? Dyjo, I don’t know, I don’t know…I need more time… He scanned them over and over.

The girl was last. She moved slowly, gracefully, as she felt her way down. Sariel’s attention was still on the boys as his mind wondered absently She’s not blind, so why?

She touched her way along so slightly one wouldn’t notice it, and then she jumped. I’m falling forward again.

Sariel’s hand went up instinctively. The girl just brushed his fingers, and righted herself in less than a blink.

Can’t fall now.

Sariel wanted to seize the girl and fly her away from blood. A fly buzzed on the wall. The girl… it’s you—you’re…Ghost is yin… He froze, unable to know what to do. Me…you…MOH…yin…

The Oni tore off three pieces of Mrs. Rhys’s body and tossed them one by one as if enticing a group of dogs. “Here boy, here boy, here boy!” It tried to whistle, but could only drool as its fangs pushed its lips apart.

The pieces hit each boy. They turned and took in Mrs. Rhys. They glazed. The smallest one yelped, “Jen, your… your mom…”

The girl Jen slipped in blood, but kept walking, staying within touch of the wall, avoiding the chains on all the doors in between, full of…

Grace. Sariel reached for her with his mind, remembering the warm sand, the rocking.

She pushed him away and kept walking past the boys as if she didn’t even see them. “That’s not my mom. She would never do that to me.”

***

Three years later, just outside of Manhattan

Rain fell harder, smearing the day’s sick grey with dead black.

Edison Electric had gone from weekly to daily to hourly outages from the wet that seemed to have saturated the main power grid indefinitely.

Up on the ninth story of his father’s brownstone, in his bedroom made almost entirely of wall to ceiling windows, ten year old Adam Nakamura stared out at the dark. It doesn’t feel like Christmas. He reached carefully into the glass home of his firefly colony and smiled as some of the larger beetles crawled onto his hand, spinning around, as they flashed their red and green lights. Soon, hundreds of lights blinked furiously. Adam watched a cluster of firefly females wait for just the right combination of colored flashes. The unnatural dark receded from their little cold luminescence, and Adam stopped feeling quite so anxious.

Tonight was his father’s yearly Christmas party. A Christmas party for monsters. As always, his father had been in his lab all day as one demon after another paraded through the house, while the maids bowed their heads and offered food, drink, and other forms of satiation. The crystal clock by the bed chimed three in the afternoon. Adam lay down and closed his eyes.

I’m in the lab and Father has his back to me. I think he’s swiping his left hand across his face, but I don’t know why.

Now he’s got my face in both hands and pushes his forehead against mine. Tears run down his face. Each tear sparkles, becomes an ember, flutters away. “Why are you crying, Father?”

“I’m not,” he whispers, pushing burnt matches into my hands. His eyes are bloody. “There’s too much smoke this way, I need light, not fire—help me—”

I take his hands, stick them down through the top of my skull, and he pulls out my eyes—

Adam bolted up. The clock now read nearly 6:30pm. One of the maids was laying out his clothes. “Time for the party, Adam.” Her cheeks glowed apple red in the bedside light, and she smiled breathlessly.

“Thank you, Yumika. I can dress myself.” She giggled and left. Despite the table light, the room seemed darker than when he’d gone to sleep. Disoriented, he couldn’t figure out why.

When he went downstairs, three hundred or more elegantly attired angels, demons, and humans milled about. Servants carried trays of champagne, caviar, unborn lamb chops throughout the throng. The familiar scent of hand rolled cigars mixed with that of jasmine perfume as creatures paired off to imitate men and women in the dark of countless side rooms.

Immaculately dressed in formal black trousers, a white silk shirt, and silk slippers, Akio moved easily between his lab and the soiree. His wavy dark hair fell over one eye as he looked up and noted Adam’s appearance.

“Oh…your father makes me…mmm…” a generously breasted woman whispered in Adam’s ear, her breath warm on his neck. “But I’ve got a feeling you’ll be even more beautiful than he is.” She grabbed a hand dipped chocolate strawberry off a passing tray, sucked it, sidled up to Akio, and dropped it in his glass. He set the glass on an empty tray and continued through the crowd, his dark Asian eyes taking in every guest’s activity no matter where he, she or it happened to be, confirming his connection all the way up to Angel West.

Adam’s best friend David Allen, who was also ten years old, was standing near a pile of presents, all elegantly wrapped in red silk. Adam nodded and moved towards him. All around, hung too high to scrutinize closely, dangled hundreds of clear glass globes, each flickering with bluish-green, sparkling lights. Puzzled, troubled, Adam stared at the lights. Here and there a globe flashed red.

“Come on, Adam, quit broadcasting the end of the world and get a load of this haul—what’s your dad do, mug Santa Claus?” David picked up present after present, shaking each one. But his confused frown seemed to indicate that nothing was inside them. He shook his head and brightened. “This beats playing with your bug collection.”

Adam drew a patient breath. “They’re fireflies, and I’ve been successfully breeding this colony for the last five years. I have the original parents and all their descendants…”

David ignored him as he continued to shake packages. “Your dad is, like, a bazillionaire. What gives with the wrapped, empty presents?”

“Believe me, they’re not empty.” Adam returned his gaze to the glittering globes, inexplicably sad. You only feel it when it’s for you.

David grabbed a glass of champagne and gulped it down. “I’d trade lives with you for any price—he’s serious Yakuza!”

Adam smiled darkly. “No.” He shook his head. “He’s much worse.”

Akio strolled over to the boys, followed by a coterie of angels, demons, and humans. Everyone glittered so brightly both boys had to keep blinking quickly.

Akio scrutinized the serious young face so like his own and for a moment, no one so much as inhaled. Then he smiled and pitched his low voice into MC mode. The crowd drew back and waited. “Everyone! You remember my son, Adam.”

Everyone’s attention fell on Adam. He smiled back, but the smile didn’t reach his eyes.

“Adam.” Akio put his hand on his son’s head and turned it towards him. Adam remembered his dream. “Say hello and tell everyone what you want to do when you grow up.

He allowed his father to turn his head back to face the group. “Hello, all of you. When I grow up, I’m going to save the world.”

The monstrous gathering all laughed and burst into applause. Akio clapped his arm around David’s shoulder. David beamed. “And this is his best friend, David Allen, of whom we have even bigger expectations! One of your Christmas presents.” He motioned to one of his sycophants who produced a gorgeously wrapped box.

David took it, stunned.

Akio grew impatient. “Open it.” As David tore open the wrapping, Akio handed Adam a gift and leaned close, hissing in his ear. “You’re too old for night lights.”

David took out an elaborate, jeweled knife, engraved with strange symbols. The coterie smiled approvingly.

Angelic script. Adam threw a warning glance at David, but David was lost in touching the knife. Adam didn’t open his present. Akio nudged him. David started to open it for him. Akio seized the package and returned it to Adam. “It will only appear to the recipient.”

Adam tensed as he opened the box. Inside silver tissue paper lay a toy policeman’s hat, handcuffs, and gun on top of a pair of gauzy, glitter spotted toy angel wings. There was a smattering of polite applause. But Adam never heard it as he fixed his eyes on another wrapped box inside. He took it out, shook it. Only he could hear the sound like rain falling. He choked as he opened it.

Inside was a jar containing all of the empty shells of his entire firefly colony.

***

Harry Rhy’s apartment, just outside New York City

Jennifer Rhys’s nanny Aya Ashimoto stood back and raised an eyebrow, smiling at the unevenly frosted purple birthday cake. She shook her head, still surprised that Jennifer had made the cake herself for her father. Lost in her own thoughts about Harry Rhys’s birthday, Aya had been bringing up grocery bags and failed to notice Jen’s project until she’d taken the cake out of the oven and placed it on a cooling rack.

When Aya showed surprise at the normally withdrawn girl’s cheerful initiative, Jen hugged her and said, “Don’t worry, Aya. Mama helped me with the steps, watched me the whole time, and made sure I didn’t burn myself.”

Aya hugged her, frowning. Jen’s mother had been brutally murdered at her school three years before, possibly in front of Jen, but Jen had no recall of the event. “Sweet girl, was your mama watching you from Heaven?”

Jen shook her head. “No, Aya, she was right here the whole time.”

Aya looked at the dark circles under Jen’s eyes and sighed. “I see. Well, maybe she and I can finish up here while you go rest before your daddy gets home.”

Jen made a face at Aya. “Oh Aya, she’s not here now. She’s climbed back up the tree.”

Aya drew a sharp breath. There wasn’t a tree for at least ten blocks, and they were on the fifteen floor of their ancient apartment building. “Go rest, my sweet.”

“But what about the present?” Jen’s voice was quiet, but anxious.

“We have plenty of time left.”

Jen nodded and went in her room. Aya sat down. She’d been on edge all day, and suddenly could hardly move. It seemed her eyes had only been closed a moment when she heard a whisper.

“And those who fell waited in sleepless darkness.”

Aya’s eyes flew open. Jen stood before her in the living room’s growing dark. Her face and arms were a mass of cuts and bruises. Aya shrieked and grabbed Jen, rocking her back and forth. “My little girl…my precious baby, who did this?”

Jen waited until Aya had loosened her grip. As she wiped away the tears on Aya’s cheeks, Jen’s face glowed with a peace and strength that Aya hadn’t ever seen before. “Who shall release her spirit to the glory of the world shall hold aloft her star and fight with it as her own.” Jen’s eyes shone and her voice trembled with excitement. “I was beating the bad Angels inside me, Aya, I was driving them out. I was flying…the glory…the star was mine…”

“Did you do this to yourself?” Aya got the antiseptic and bandages and began gently cleaning Jen up. “What did you hurt yourself with?” She tried not to panic, wondering if this was just the latest sign of how Jen was dealing with her mother’s murder.

But the little nine year old seemed genuinely happy, which was more than rare for her. Since Aya had known her, she complained of angels inside her head, torturing her. Harry had taken her to numerous specialists who couldn’t find anything wrong with her. Jen sighed and laughed. “I guess my aim needs to be a little better, but nothing is as bad as what those angels have been doing inside my head all this time. I’m going to get them. You wait.”

“No more about the angels!” Her voice came across more sharply than she intended and Jen fell silent. It took some time for Aya to finish the first aid. “Now, let’s do the present.” She handed Jen a photograph of Jen, Harry, and Grace. Aya held the photograph out flat to Jen, with her hands under it like a tray. Jen placed her own hands over the photograph, covering the images. Together they set it in the middle of a ceremonial circle.

“Jennifer, you are certain you wish to do this?”

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Jen nodded, smiling at the picture. “It’s the most beautiful present I could give my dad.”

Aya stopped the ceremony, watching Jen struggle to hold on to her now dissipating calm. “I’m truly sorry for all your medicines and doctors.”

“I’m okay. And it makes my dad feel better to do something. I’m glad he can’t see them. Especially today.”

Aya followed Jen’s lead and placed her own hands back on the picture. “Little one, why is that?”

“Because right before I started flying with the glorious star, they were going to show me how my mother…”

Trembling, Aya started to pull her hands back, but Jen steadied them. “Don’t worry, Aya. This shows us as we really are, happy, alive, a family.”

Aya nodded, gazing at the bruised face of the smiling girl. “Once it is made and placed on the skin, it can never come off.”

“I know. It will protect him. And he will know that I always love him and Mama.”

Together, they continued to form the picture into a living tattoo. “All will know. All,” Aya warned.

Jen’s eyes flashed yellow. Aya jumped. Jen’s eyes were their normal blue again. “It will protect him. Can’t you give him a spell to hide it if he has to?”

Aya shook her head. “You of all people, little one, should know their power by now.”

Jen cradled the photograph in her hands, kissed it, and placed it in a decorated container. “Please. Just give him the spell.”

Aya nodded and motioned over the box.

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Just at that moment, Harry walked in, gritting his teeth as he rubbed the hand that he had used to protect Jen as a baby from the angels.

Jen ran to her father. “Surprise! Happy Birthday, Daddy! Mama helped me make your–”

She stopped short staring at his hand, seeing the angels flapping and hissing out of the scar on his hand. “Daddy, they’re in your hand!” She held her arm high over her head, then swung her arm down in a thrusting motion across his scar. She then touched her fingers to one of the cuts on her face and wiped the scar with her blood.

The angels disappeared amid screams only Jen heard.

“Ugh! What’re you doing?” Harry drew his hand back, wiping off the blood.

Jen tried to stop him. “It’s protection, don’t wipe it off, protection!” Frantically, she chanted, “Bad ole crack, Monsters go back!”

“Shhhh.” As Harry tried to soothe her, he took in the cuts and bruises covering her face. He glanced at Aya. “Honey? Did you take your medicine today?”

“Yes, Daddy,” she said, muffled by his shirt.

“Aya? What happened to her face?”

Jen looked down and bit her lip. “Aya wasn’t in the room. It’s nothing, Daddy, it doesn’t even hurt at all. I just had a little conflict resolution session with the angels, okay? Anyway, it’s time for your birthday.”

Harry looked away from the set table, the candles, his and Grace’s wedding china, fighting the urge to smash every single plate. Grace. Aya’s black eyes watched him carefully. He flashed her a huge smile. “Such a birthday party and two beautiful girls… I don’t deserve this.”

“Oh Daddy, you’re going to embarrass Aya!” Jen laughed, relieved that the focus was off her.

He kept his pained hand down at his side. “I think Ms. Ashimoto is used to that by now.”

“Did work try to kill you again today?” They both sat at the table as Aya went into the kitchen.

“Jennifer!” Aya shouted over the sound of running water.

Jen waved her hand dismissively. “Well, he’s always saying that work is killing him, and he’s got to get out of it.”

Harry popped the champagne and Jen clapped. “Yeah, but I’m their skeleton key. Your mom used to say they need someone who always tells the truth, no matter what.”

“Some for me this year, please? Just a sip?”

Harry shook his head. “No, angelpie, looks like that last bar fight mopped the floor with you,” he said lightly.

“Daddy, I’m a good kid. I never do anything wrong. I’ve never sneaked a cigarette, taken money from your wallet, or tried any grownup’s prescription medication.”

Harry blinked. “Really?” He laughed. “Well, these are good things to know and you appear very trustworthy. So let’s keep up your above reproach reputation and not turn you into an alcoholic. No champagne.”

Jen folded her arms. “Fine. Can you show him the spell before the present, Aya?”

Aya brought salad and the main course to the table. “Jennifer! You’ll spoil the surprise!”

Jen clapped her hand over her mouth. “Sorry. I’m just excited.”

Harry smiled and gently touched her hair. “It’s okay, Jenny, we’ve got a present for you. We found you a teacher.”

Jen’s smile faded, and she looked suspicious, but resigned. “I already go to school.”

Aya came over to her. “Jennifer, I’ve talked to your father about my concern that you have a…real teacher. I am going to have you meet with him, his name is Sar—”

Jennifer pulled away from her. “I told you, I don’t care about the medicine and the doctors—you don’t get it—nothing matters with them!”

Harry motioned to Aya not to continue. “Jenny, baby, I’m sorry we upset you. We didn’t mean to. Let’s have our party.”

After a moment, Jen returned from the other room. She kissed Aya, then hugged and kissed her father. “Every time I go to a birthday party with other kids, we have to wait, have cake, then have presents. Tonight, I want the present opened first. Okay, Daddy? Please?”

“Your wish is my command.”

Jen giggled and handed him the decorated box. “Open it carefully so it doesn’t get away.”

Harry held up his hands before his face in mock terror. Jen frowned as she scanned his hand for the angels, but didn’t see any. “Want me to open it for you?”

Harry laughed. “Want to open it for me?”

Jen opened the box gently. “Well, you’re taking so long…”

Harry looked in the box. Speechless, he took out the tattoo which felt lighter than a spiderweb.

“It’s a living tattoo of Mama, and you, and me. I made it…” She looked at Aya, afraid of the expression on her father’s face. She finished in a whisper. “…Aya helped me…”

He gazed at it for a long time.

Jen squirmed. “I know your other tattoos hurt when you got them. But this one, you just put on. It won’t hurt at all.”

Harry placed it carefully back in the box and left the room.

Two tears rolled down Jen’s face. “Was I wrong to make it?”

Aya shook her head and took Jen’s hand. “No. Just about the hurt.”

“So he won’t wear it?” She sniffed, trying not to cry.

Aya cupped her cheek. “He will.”

“And you’ll…”

“Yes, precious girl.”

***

Jen tossed and turned in bed, crying out as she slept. Harry entered and bent over her, stroking her hair. He barely managed a whisper when he spoke. “Jenny. Wake up, baby. Just a dream.”

She sat up, dazed, then wrapped her arms around her father. “No dream, Daddy. I don’t get to have dreams.”

Harry rocked her. “Scary angels again?”

Jen nodded, hugging him tight. “It’s their job to show me that monsters are real. All night. All day.” She began to cry. “Always.”

Harry gently sat her up. He looked into her eyes and smiled reassuringly. “It’s going to be okay. Hey, I got you a present.” He pulled out a little stuffed cherub angel doll and gave it to her.

As she took it, inside her head, the angels sliced Harry’s smile until his jaw hung from his earlobes. She blinked her eyes, trying not to cry.

They’re not like this… “Thank you, Daddy” she whispered.

Harry stroked her hair and checked his watch. His hands trembled. “I don’t know why Ms. Ashimoto isn’t here yet. I’ve got to get to work.”

Jen desperately wanted to calm her father. “Why do you call her that? I’ve seen you and Aya kissing. It’s okay, I really like her and I think you should get married.”

“Reeeeally…” he said with a wry smile. “You are pretty smart, you know.”

She grinned back. “Just like my dad.”

Harry shook his head. “Uh-uh, kiddo… Way more than I’ll ever be. Look…” He grew serious. “I don’t want you to think she’ll ever replace your mom.”

Jen nodded and hugged him. “I know. I just want you to be happy, not sad.”

Harry got up and paced. “It’s not like her to not be here.”

Jen quickly dressed in black. “Can’t I go with you?”

Harry’s response was sharp. “No.”

Jen decided to ignore it, remembering the vision the angels showed her. She tied her sneakers. “Please?”

He took her hands in his. “You’re too precious to me, angelpie.”

She put on her best innocent face. “Can’t be late for work. Can’t leave me alone.”

Harry jumped up and strode into the living room. “Jesus, where is she? This isn’t right.”

Jen followed him to the door. “Daddy, what’s wrong?”

Distracted, Harry nodded, looking out the window. “Okay, …yeah, … you’re going to have to come with me.”

She grabbed her stuffed angel. “Don’t worry, they’ll never know I’m with you.”

Harry gently took the angel from her. “You gotta leave that here, babe. That’s just for the bad dreams.”

“No, she’s coming with me.” Jen frowned at him.

He sighed and knelt on one knee. He looked right into her eyes. “Okay, I’m really going to need your help, so you need to listen very carefully.”

***

As they waited in the car outside the darkened building, Jen could barely see her father’s face. She sank her face into the angel’s wings and smelled the reassuring perfume of the toy store.

Harry’s voice was less than a whisper. “Ready?”

Jen’s own voice sounded like a shout in her ears. “Yes, Daddy.”

“One?”

She felt his eyes on her and took a deep breath. She pulled her black cap down over her forehead. “On the boxes, then left.”

“Okay. Two?”

Jen paused, not wanting to seem overconfident, even though she’d memorized his instructions as soon as she heard them. “Keypad, one, one three, eight.”

There was the smallest hint of a smile in his voice. “Three?”

She spoke more quickly. “Hide, wait for you, boom boom, in and out.”

“Good Soldier.” Harry got out of the car and started across the street.

Jen jumped out after him, carrying her angel. “But, Daddy…” She tried to keep her voice soft. “Stealing is the worse thing there is…”

Harry stopped short, his tone sharp. “I’m not stealing. I’m just moving something from one point to another. Remember, I always have to tell the truth.”

They snuck down the alley where Harry boosted Jen to a small window.

“Already unlocked…” she whispered to herself.

But Harry heard her and was already pulling her down. “No, down, down, NOW! I changed my mind. You’re going to wait in the car.”

Ghost13

Jen held on and pulled him with her. “You, too, Daddy…please…they know.

“What? Who?”

She breathed through the stuffed angel as she spoke. But the perfume of the toy store was gone. She could only smell vomit. She gagged, holding the doll away from her. It was clean and new as when Harry had given it to her only hours before. “The angels, they’ll never forgive you for being a thief.” She didn’t even recognize her own voice.

Harry stared at her. “Baby, you need to wait in the car.”

But Jen had already wiggled into the building.

Inside, she dropped to the floor in a dimly lit storage area. Moving to a key pad by the door, she entered the alarm code.

Harry came in, agitated. “Now just go and hide.”

Again, Jen tried to stop him from leaving the storage room. “Daddy, something’s not right.”

But Harry had opened the door and stole out into the hall. His voice came to her as if from a great distance. “Shh. Boom, boom – in and out. Go.”

Jen moved into the shadows behind her father as he went down a hallway. He came to an office door. The sound of distant voices drifted through the walls. Jen tried to motion to her father, but he proceeded into the office, found a small safe, produced a pouch of tools, and cracked the lock. Inside were stacks of cash, bags of drugs. He took four bundles of cash and left the rest.

A sound. He looked up. Nothing. “I love you, Jenny. I have to do this so nothing ever happens to you like it did to your mother.”

Lights came on outside the office as he closed the safe. He crouched in the darkness.

Yama’s voice was calm. Friendly, even. “Show yourself. Don’t be foolish.”

Harry stumbled over something as he tried to hide. Overhead lights blazed. He found himself tangled in the broken body of Aya Ashimoto. A sob burst out of him as he cradled her beaten, bloody body.

Four Yakuza stood before him. Yama carried a polished maple cane. He grinned, frowning at Harry. “Harry. I’m touched. I never thought of my daughter as having any value. Not even that of a…canary.”

Harry spat out his words. “You?…How could you?”

Yama moved in the direction of where Jen was hiding. “Would you like me to show you?”

Harry tensed, choking on his anguish and rage.

“I thought of you as my son.” Yama lunged at him, laughing loudly.

Harry stepped in front of Aya’s body, seemingly neutral, but poised to attack. “Do you think the angels will forgive a liar, Yama?”

Yama watched him impassively. Harry could see a vein twitching in Yama’s temple. “I watched you writhe like two howling dogs.”

Unaware she’d dropped her angel doll, Jen moved silently up to where she could see what was happening.

“And this wasn’t bring-your-daughter to-work day.” Yama suddenly held the stuffed cherub angel doll.

“no. No. NO!” Harry leapt forward, lunging at Yama.

Harry knew the sound, rather perceived it. A simple click, the blade being released. A blur and Yama poised, arm outstretched, a straight blade extended from his hand. Harry’s mouth opened up back to his ears, another blur as Harry felt only the slightest pinch in his throat. With a loud, wet, slapping sound, blood spattered the money, the walls, the Yakuza guards.

Ghost14

Jen watched as her father grabbed at his throat, making gobbling sounds as he fell. He looked straight at her, trying to make the gestures that would cause a spell to hide the living tattoo. But the angels in his hand rushed out and bit off the ends of his fingers. Shocked, he stared at his mangled hand.

Forgive me, angelpie.

As her father’s tortured whisper flooded her mind, Jen bit down on her hand. The light faded from his eyes. Yama took the cash, wiping it on Harry’s hair as he did.

Jen shook violently as the men dragged Harry through another door. Yama left, and entered a study further down the hall. There, he bowed to a tall, perfectly groomed, unnaturally tanned man. The man spoke in a kind of pidgin form of Angelic. His voice was like the scream of a dying animal. “Speak.”

Yama smirked at the man’s inability to properly speak the language of the oldest angels, before he answered respectfully in perfect Angelic. “My Lord Iki, a thief, he is dead.”

Iki waved Yama away. Bowing once more, “And this, my Lord,” Yama offered him the stuffed angel. Iki stared a moment, sniffed it, then began licking it with bigger and bigger swipes of his tongue. He loped into the hallway and sniffed the air. Slobbering, he licked at the floor until he reached the room where Jen had hidden. His eyes glowed red as he scanned the room. Panting and moaning, his skin turned from tan to glistening black. His pants were wet.

***

Jen ran from the alley, unable to even turn her head to see if she was being followed until a stitch in her side drove her to her knees. She closed her eyes, gasping, vomiting, crying. The angels mimicked her and laughed until she couldn’t hear even the driving rain around her.

Ghost15

She forced her attention to counting the bricks in the walls of the alley on either side of her and the blanket sound of the pouring rain slowly returned to drown out the screams of the angels. Jen ran, disappearing into the darkness.

***

In the study, the flickering fireplace provided the only light. A giant winged shadow stooped to stir the coals. The resulting fire exploded into the room, revealing an angel burned black and leathery. His great form straightened, as he folded his wings. Iki entered, bowed. The angel didn’t turn. It spoke pure Angelic. “Speak.”

Iki struggled to understand before resigning himself to his own form of the language. “Walker Street. A thief. My Lord Iblis—”

The angel interrupted him with a hideous shriek that passed for a laugh. When he spoke, it was in English. “Make me a drink.” Iki relaxed. He spoke again, but in a low tone that would not need repeating “And never again refer to me by that name.”

Iki jumped, made the drink with trembling claws. “My Lord West, forgive me.”

The Angel West turned eyes the color of embers on him. Iki felt his throat closing. He waved his claws in supplication. “Something…else…my…Lord…West…” He managed to hand West the living tattoo torn from Harry’s body.

Flecks of flaming red, orange, yellow, and black sparked from West’s eyes as he turned his attention to the tattoo. Immediately, Iki was able to speak again. West’s wings opened, flapped, whipping him around and around the tiny room. Iki slammed into the wall as West’s talons raked his face. West’s head became that of a fanged bird of prey. “Impossible! The old man?”

His voice screeched to the point where blood leaked from Iki’s ears. Iki ducked, licking at the blood absently. “I tasted her, the dead man’s daughter.”

“Daughter?” West stopped at a single word, and assumed his exaggerated human form once more. “Where is it now?”

Iki continued to feed on his own blood, at the same time, turning his head away squinting, fully expecting retribution for having no answer.

West cocked his head from side to side until he had fully settled into his human form once more. As the last of the tears in his skin healed, his eyes reopened gently. He touched the side of Iki’s face.

“Orphans and vengeance…Find it.”

***

Akio had already turned away from Adam’s stricken face and prepared to leave the house. Over his shoulder he called, “Come everyone, now for the real Christmas present.”

In the car as they rode through the downpour, David kicked him, muttering, “You must have really pissed your dad off.”

Adam didn’t look at him, trying instead to count the drops of rain as the car sped on. “He needed their Luciferin.”

“Huh?” David leaned forward.

Adam opened and closed his fists. “Their luminescence, what makes them glow.”

“To do what? I don’t get it.” David shook his head and shrugged.

Adam punched the seat and raised his voice. “The Lucifer Yellow isn’t enough, is it, Father?”

Akio lowered the window between his section of the car and theirs. “What my son the patrolman is trying to say is that Lucifer Yellow, which is a fluorescent dye, is fiendishly useful when injected into a neuron—ah, … we’re here.”

Everyone got out of their cars at a vast warehouse. Hail pelted them. “Hell freezes over,” Akio remarked and his entourage chortled.

Inside the warehouse, row upon row of tables were elegantly laid with exotic flowers that had never grown under a single ray of natural sunlight and succulent fruits and vegetables of colors so brilliant that many of the monsters, and even some of the angels stopped short, mesmerized by the hues. As the crowd moved in past the outer spreads, the artful outlay soon turned into a heap, as the guests dumped and scattered the provisions. These same creatures found themselves sliding on the mess of broken bottles of priceless liquer and liquor. As they fell, they licked and slobbered at the floor, snorting powdered piles of drugs as they rolled around.

In the middle of the room stood a gigantic, lavishly decorated Christmas tree sparkling with every color of light. The demons and angels nearly toppled the tree as They grabbed weapons from underneath it and scattered. Adam grabbed David and pushed him past the tree to one of the stairways leading up to a high balcony which ran all the way around the top of the warehouse.

Akio steered them firmly up the stairs. “Now you boys need to stay out of the way. Plans for you come much later in the…process. We wouldn’t want anything to happen to you at this point.”

The boys took cover where they could still see. David peered over the edge, shivering excitedly. “What is going on? What does this have to do with Lucifer Yellow or whatever the hell it is?”

Adam tracked his father to the far end of the balcony where he walked into a cloud of darkness. A shadow? From what? He vaguely remembered David asking him about the Lucifer Yellow. “It…can trace connections made to neurons, and in doing that…it can trace human synapses responses. My father’s taken these experiments even further.” He stood up, trying to see where his father had gone.

David yanked him down, but his own attention was on the action surrounding the Christmas tree. “So?”

Adam threw off David’s grip. “Hey! Back off!” David stared at him, stung. “Look…I’m not sure yet. You know all this weird weather we’re having? Well, we’re losing light so he’s working on a light source that’s like the sun only stronger, but controllable…and somehow he’s putting the two things—”

A silent, wild burst of light flung their bodies back and forth as it exploded into a deafening fireball, and everyone started shooting at each other from all around and through the gigantic Christmas tree below.

Body parts and blood flew everywhere. Screams of searing pain and orgasmic ecstasy mixed as bodies dropped and writhed. Filthy lovers ravaged and shot each other over and over.

The boys ducked, rounds knocked out pieces of concrete around them. Silently, the tree exploded into a brilliant, iridescent eyeball. Everyone cried out, then silence. Adam uncovered his head, staggered to his feet, trying to focus clearly on the melee of humans and those disguised as human. Everyone’s eyes gleamed. All appeared to be in a trance. Graphic visions of the desires, wants, needs of everyone and everything else in the warehouse bombarded Adam’s mind. Dazed, he tensed against the assault of images of violence, hunger, sex. As he turned to David, he was nearly knocked over by the incoherent scream of excitement emanating from David’s mind.

Suddenly, Adam heard his father’s voice inside his head. You’re more brilliant than I could ever be—how could you leave me to deal with him alone?

Father—

A sob burst out of Adam and he ran towards Akio who was now at the far end of the balcony across the warehouse. He fell, momentarily blinded by the startlingly clear image of his father’s heart struggling to beat, turning black with rot. An inhuman hand grasped the heart, squeezed it, loosened its grip just enough for the heart to turn its normal color again and resume beating. Squeezed again. The rush of images and thoughts ended. Adam collapsed.

As his ribs cracked, crushing his heart, Akio saw Adam now a man, making love with a woman, their nude bodies glowing brighter and brighter as they rolled over and over, falling through the sky, bursting into millions of stars. Their love…it’s the light of the world… And he was blinded by its brilliance. As West released his battered heart once more, an unbearable ache seized his breath. Tears rolled down his cheeks as he squeezed his eyes shut, unable to escape the vision of Adam and the woman. No…an angel…She’s an angel. A strangled shriek tore out of his throat. No angel will ever have my son.

Adam pulled himself up to see his father enveloped in darkness. From that same direction, a blast of wind knocked Adam flat. Using the last of his strength, he raised his head and caught sight of what appeared to be a glowing wing of fire that folded back into the darkness swirling around his father. The darkness slowed its mad whirl, took human form.

But it has too many eyes. Adam dropped his head, shaking.

Speaking Angelic, Akio addressed the angel. “My Lord Iblis, we are still missing an ingredient.”

Angel West stared at Akio curiously, his voice ice and stone hitting together. “THE ingredient, Akio.” His gaze swept around to Adam.

Akio dropped to one knee and kissed the angel’s leathery hand, holding his breath as he did. No angel shall ever have my son.

Immediately, West jerked his hand away and turned his many eyes back on Akio.

Akio smiled, masking a faint wheeze. He grunted as he struggled to his feet, resisting the urge to wrap his arms around his chest. He looked across to the still unconscious body of David. “I believe I know where to look.”

***

Saint Mary’s Adolescent Psychiatric Ward. Three years later

“Mama, MAMA, MAMA—OH GOD!!! Why didn’t you save her—why didn’t you let me save her?” Jen, now twelve, slammed herself again and again against the bars of the ward window, bruising and bloodying her cheeks. She clawed at her eyes as the image of her mother’s shredded body was shaken in front of her like a sheet by the angels in her head. Shot full of Resperadol, she felt nothing except the agony of having slid on a piece of skin from her mother’s chest as she walked with the impossible drowning speed of a nightmare down the hallway of her old school.

The duty nurse calmly entered and held Jen’s hands down at her sides until she stopped fighting him. His grip pressed perfectly into a purple-black set of handprints on each of her wrists. She kept her eyes fixed on the bruises, then his fingers as he squeezed them, tensing, but gritting her teeth against crying out.

He smiled, his voice as gentle as a lullaby. “Now, Jen, your Guardian Ad Litem is here to see you. Let’s be polite this time, K?”

The Guardian Ad Litem entered the room, paging through a thick file and wiping quickly at his nose. Too much coke, my GAL? Or did you burn it sticking it too far up Iblis’s—

She stopped as the GAL turned his expressionless expression on her. She felt him try to push his way into her mind and shoved his attempt back so hard she stumbled. He laughed sharply as she struggled to her feet, pressing the back of her wrist to her split lip. He motioned for the ward nurse to leave. “Jennifer Rhys, at-risk adolescent…due to environmental as well as internal factors, has difficulties functioning at home, in the community, or at school. Without proper intervention, she will eventually have multiple hospitalizations, arrests, be at risk for alcohol or substance abuse, and other behavior that threatens her life… treatment is crucial to avoid further problems as an adult so that she can become a productive member of society. That is my favorite part, ‘Productive member of society.’” He coughed a yellow-green glob of phlegm into his hand and held it out to her.

Two tears rolled down Jen’s face as she slowly shook it. He held her hand until she jerked it free. Smiling, he watched her pull antiseptic wipes out of her pocket and scrub her hands, their skin severely chapped and raw.

When she finished, he got right down next to her, took her hands in his, and rubbed them together until her hands bled. He spoke right into her face. “You’re rather a cliché, Jenny.”

Jen choked down her sobs and became completely silent, staring at him. “As are you. I saw what you did to that girl in the alley.”

The Guardian Ad Litem drew back.

“And…don’t ever, EVER, EVER CALL ME JENNY AGAIN!”

The ward nurse returned with medication. “Jennifer? It’s time.”

Jen took the meds, and kissed both men on the cheek. “Thank you. I’d love to have tea, but they’re taking turns raping this little girl my GAL just slaughtered, and I’m afraid the china will get broken. Come again later when they’re reduced to tearing the wings off flies.”

The nurse backed out of the room, wiping his cheek. The GAL sighed sharply. “You save us training so many minions. I thought that last family was going to hang in there for you.”

Ghost16

Jen revealed her arms and legs spotted with needle marks among the many bruises. “I don’t blame them…Sticks and stones…wouldn’t it be easier to kill me? Oh I forgot. You can’t.” She turned away.

The GAL wrenched her around, cracking the back of her head against the wall. “Can’t has nothing to do with it, you ignorant excuse for the Divine! You matter nothing! It’s the Design! We won’t until the Design calls for—”

The nurse had returned. His voice was even softer than before, but his eyes were now black. “Visiting hours are over. Sir.”

The Guardian Ad Litem screamed in Jen’s face and left. The nurse watched her a moment, then followed the GAL. Jen looked out the window at the GAL as he got into his car. She grasped the bars and whispered down to him, even though he couldn’t possibly hear her. “You don’t need my permission, I’m just a baby, a little baby dolly. So set it up. You know where to find me.”

***

The GAL closed the door to his car and turned the key. Nothing. He sat puzzled a moment, just a moment before what sounded like a sparking wire made him look up at the tiniest crack of light that hovered a hands width in front of his chest. Jagged bone shot forward and skewered him on a splintered talon.

The GAL stared dumbly at the black marrow oozing out of the sharpened bone and gagged at the rank as West hauled him out of the car and into darkness so black that the GAL couldn’t breathe.

Blood leaked from a deep wound in the GAL’s chest as he struggled for air. A brilliant light suddenly shone in his eyes, blinding him.

“Do you know what this is?” Another spot lit up. West stood there, four giant wings fanned across his body. All the GAL could see were his iridescent eyes. One wing swept back and West presented his human head. White figures, an equation of some kind encircled him and the GAL, their forms shifting and twisting. Some broke away and formed new parts of the equation. Some sharpened and stabbed other parts. The formula slowly continued expanding into ancient notations.

Blinking back tears of fright, the GAL tried to bow, but fell with a cry as his wound deepened. “Angel West…I…am truly honored…by your surpassing holiness.”

West’s eight eyes gazed at him. “You are a waste of existence.”

The Guardian Ad Litem desperately turned his attention to the equation. “My Lord Iblis, I’m afraid I only know some cursory phrases in Angelic.”

West charged forward into the GAL, goring open the bloody wound in his lungs as it punctured soft tissue in a pink and red gush. Wheezing, the Guardian Ad Litem staggered to get to his feet.

West’s face was now that of a hideous, bloody bull. “A bird told me you have been taking…initiative….” West charged the GAL again, ripping into him with a giant razor sharp beak, his face now that of a ravening bird of prey. “Speaking out of turn, have you…”

The Guardian Ad Litem screamed. “NO!”

West bit deep and held on as he spoke. “But you know all about the Design to reshape free will.”

The GAL’s voice gurgled. “Please…”

“Away from the Hand of the Creator…” West tore the GAL’s skin from his bones.

The GAL was now shrieking uncontrollably.

“…And use it to relight the Lamp of the Heavenlies.”

Ghost17

“FORGIVE…ME…MY—L”

West now lunged at the GAL as an immense lion with splintered, bloody fangs. “I don’t have the power to do that.” He ripped off the GAL’s hand and loped to the board bearing the mysterious equation. He pointed to a symbol. “This was you.” West wiped the symbol away with the dismembered hand, then flung it upwards.

***

Jen recoiled against the screams coming from the car and huddled against the window. The GAL’s severed hand smashed through the window, grabbing the bars and rattling them until the din shook the walls.

Jen leapt back. No ward staff appeared.

The hand increased its assault on the bars, determined to push its way into the room. Shuddering, she washed her body over and over with the antiseptic wipes. “Bad ole crack, Monsters, go back, Bad ole crack, Monsters, go back…”

Jen looked up as the form of a man appeared, his eyes hidden. You’re just another one of them. Go ahead, kill me. Taking the hand from the bars, the young man hugged it tightly until it quieted and died. When the GAL’s hand was finally still, he raised it up, then returned it to his breast before breathing down on it. Ashes to ashes… He looked at Jen, waiting.

Jen’s eyes darted from him to the hand. Dust to dust. The hand disintegrated in a faint swirl of smoke.

Jen closed her eyes and tucked her body into a ball, waiting for the blow. Instead, she found herself being lifted up, embraced. Warmth surrounded her. She opened her eyes. Moonlight poured in the window of the ward. The strong arms still held her. You are the last. You must bear the honor and the agony.

The last?…agony. I’m good at that. Jen tried to pull away. They killed my mother. They killed my father.

Dyjo held her out in front of him. They killed my parents as well. Then they killed me.

Jen stopped. She knew…she knew him…Dyjo! A name screamed by the angels.

Jen searched for his eyes, but they remained in shadow. Even though he was scarred a thousand times over, she could see gentleness and the sorrow of loss. They’ve showed me horrors and howled inside my head my whole life–why don’t they kill me?

Another figure appeared, older, brighter. Jen gazed at him, recognizing him from the memory she’d finally been allowed to have. The figure trembled, shimmered, opened its mouth to scream and folded in on itself. A calmness she had not felt in years touched her.

You. You were…there.

She looked back at Dyjo who knelt and bowed his head.  Her stare returned to the now unfolding figure. You hid me from my mother’s death. Why?

The old man who would not yet show her he was an angel held out a sword. Because you hold the light of the world within you.

Jen reached for the sword, but it only slid through her fingers. There’s nothing in me—nothing… except toxic amounts of medication, and a team of angelic torturers who spend every moment of my existence showing me how and why I should die. 

The angel Sariel looked into her eyes. Then I will show you how you can live.

Her breath drew in, calm gave way to a flash of fury. For a moment her blood pulsed like molten steel, just behind her eyes something started to faintly glow, and deep inside her head, angels and demons shrieked and ran for their darkest corners. Anger focused into purpose. She reached for the bars on the ward window and tore them away from the wall, eight inch lag bolts failing like snapping toothpicks. Equally easy, she smashed out the remainder of the wired glass raining into the street. She jumped onto the window sill. The night air was cold. A cat howled in the alley below.

The angel smiled. And the bravery to choose to live instead.

Jen shook her head, every muscle in her body straining to jump. Please, don’t do this to me.

It’s you who have already decided.

Jen found herself falling backwards, waiting to hit the floor, then waiting for Sariel to catch her. Instead, she found herself floating in the air. Tears were forming where the glow was fading. Her strength slipped away.

I’ve never even been able to dream.

Dyjo came up underneath her, holding her as if she were floating in water. That changes now. 

You will float until you can fly. In a room without corners.

Where is my mother? Where is she? Those are her words. She swam away from his touch.

Sariel anchored her. No, your purpose is not to look for her. It’s to end this war. You’re everything. All will become worse than you can possibly imagine, than you can possibly bear. And the world will depend on your lead, your protection, your light.

The little one will show you how.

Breath returned into her. Worse? Worse than this? 

Sariel and Dyjo disappeared. Jen rushed around the empty room, falling over the window bars she’d pulled from the wall. Her heart pounded. No…NO! Where are you going? Tears streamed down her face. How will I find you?

A hand as soft as a feather caressed her face. The way you’re supposed to. 

Alone, Jen lay on the floor and pulled the window bars over herself as though they could warm her enough to stop her violently shaking limbs. The last sliver of moonlight crossed her young face just before the rain returned. Her body ached so badly that it was all she could do to breathe. When will it ever stop hurting? When can I just die? She choked on a sob and squeezed her eyes shut, knowing that any moment, the ward nurse would come in for his “little piece of pie.”

The darkness behind her closed eyes began to glow, and soon she found herself falling naked, older and more beautiful, through a sea of stars. Hands caressed their way up her stomach to her breasts, held them full, touching them gently, then harder, until she arched up into the man’s mouth, his lips pressed against her belly, healing all the pain with his sweet breath, his infinite love. Her arms fell back over her head, her fingers digging at the ward floor as a song of such joy burst from her throat that she believed she’d disappeared into brilliance of their union. Her body danced as her heart leapt up into the ancient Angelic coming from her mouth that sang of the first sight of the golden circle of warmth drying and fluffing the angels’ great wings, their home in the garden of the Heavenlies…and the love of the Other Half. You are my soul’s mate. So great was the power flowing through her that when the ward nurse entered and pinned down her arms, pressing his fingers exactly into the fresh bruise handprints he’d left there from the last time and the time before that, immediately cutting off her link with her mysterious lover, she broke the nurse’s cheekbones and blackened his eyes with a single body buck.

“Come back! Come back!” she screamed as two of the other nurses dragged him out howling. Four others strapped her down and one jabbed her with a hypodermic. The men laughed, thinking she meant the ward nurse, and she laughed with them until she realized her lover had more than two eyes. “Many more than two eyes…where’d you get all those eyes?” she asked stupidly as his features blurred under the fuzzy blanket of sedative. I’m an angel, just like you. And she tried to scream, but she was already unconscious.

Ghost18

 
 

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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