Moments later . . .
“Jack . . . .”
Somebody is out on the gnarled, uneven balcony, and he’s big. He looks to be dressed in a black cloak. Kind of like what I imagine the grim reaper wears to parties and social gatherings. He looks in my direction, his face hidden under the hood of this cloak and he says my name again.
“Jack, we need to talk.”
My heart is racing, and my hands start to sweat. Man up, or back down. That would be Detective Todd Steele’s advice. Although, the cunning detective Steele didn’t see the things I see. Nevertheless, I take a deep breath and head towards the balcony.
The door that during normal earthly hours is in a nice rectangular shape, it’s now skewed where the right side is curved and angled towards the ground. I grab the knob, hoping that the frame has been warped proportionate to the door. It would be rather embarrassing if I couldn’t open my own door. You know, the grim reaper is out there, tapping his toe impatiently, maybe chewing on his fingernails . . .
But the door opens easy enough and within a few steps out, I am suddenly panicked. The guardrail that goes around ¾of our loft, it’s all mangled and bent, and if you aren’t paying good attention, you might fall ass-over-elbows right off the damn thing. That is dangerous!
“You have nothing to fear, Jack,” the slightly familiar voice says.
And then I realize where I know this voice from.
“Uriel?” I ask delicately. “Is that . . . you?”
Like he’s practiced it a hundred times, he turns his head slightly and the hood falls down to his shoulders. And there he is, the only Angel I have on my Friends and Family calling plan.
His face is like, perfect. Smooth, symmetrical. Angelic. He looks like a monk, with his shaved head. His eyes are brilliant blue-green, with golden specs—like glitter, almost. And . . . he has color in his skin. He looks like a perfected human.
More human than I, in this place.
“It’s been a while,” I tell him, my eyes nervously glancing back and forth between the edge of the balcony and Uriel.
“ . . . just over four of your weeks,” he says, being factually correct.
Yeah, I say, but you know how it is . . . time takes forever. I’m trying to be clever and disarming at the same time. From his expression it would seem that I’ve accomplished neither.
“This,” he says, walking right up to the very edge of the balcony, just flirting with death, “ . . . is a very nice place you and your friend have, here.” He turns his head back, motioning to the impossibly expensive loft that the Chamberlain family fortune pays for.
Wondering if he’s going to fall or not, I say, “Well, we’re just doing the best we can with what little means we have.”
Uriel almost smiles when I say that. I don’t even know if Angels have the necessary muscles to make a smile. He has that almost smile that statues have—the same smile that characteristically appears on the faces of Greek statues of the Archaic period (c. 650–480 BC), especially those from the second quarter of the 6th century BC. I’ve got a lot of spare time.
“You and your friend—”
Ricky, I correct him. Ricky.
He eyes me, almost half-scolding, “ . . . yes. You and Ricky, you need to start looking at strange deaths in recent weeks.”
Strange deaths? I don’t follow.
“Deaths that have occurred on this earth, in this plane, since you released the twenty-three evil spirits,” he clarified. “You need to pay special attention to any oddity, no matter how minuscule. It may lead to finding them.”
We started a company, I tell him.
“What kind of company, pray tell?”
Oh, it’s uh, you know, one of those kind of companies that deals with the, you know, the hauntings and stuff.
“So what does your company actually accomplish to better mankind?” he asked, kind of setting himself up for a huge fall.
I shrug, We deal with ghosts and paranormal things. We un-haunt people’s houses.
“Like Ghostbusters?” he asked as he shook his head curiously.
No, not really. I mean, maybe. Honestly, I think it’s just a cover for our research . . . looking for the twenty-three Evils. Hey, you’ve seen Ghostbusters?
He leaned his angelic head back, looking down his chiseled face at me. In a word I’d have to call his look suspicious.
I dared a peek over the edge of my useless balcony guardrail, my heart jumping a bit. It felt like there was a frog in my throat—and he was apparently as scared of heights as I was. Then I wondered something. Something serious.
“Mr. Uriel,” I said, real respectful like. “Where is this place that we’re in, right now? I don’t understand. I didn’t crossover, so . . . ”
“It’s a border town, so to speak. Not quite in the Land of Sorrows, but not in the Earth plane, either.” He stared up into the dark sky above us.
Nothing at all.
He folded his hands in front of his cloak and sighed, “In this place you and I can communicate with each other. You are connected to the Land of Sorrows through your experiences. And I am, well . . . I’m an Angel.”
Why can’t you just come and visit without melting everything? I asked carefully.
He took a step towards me, his face softening a bit. “Things are the way they are, regardless of whether they make sense to us or not. For you, I suppose it’s the only way we are allowed to communicate, without risking your death. Your time in the Land of Sorrows is quite limited, as you may recall.”
I shiver just thinking about it.
“ . . . for me, it is the will of God. I am not the kind of Angel that sits over baby cradles and helps old people across the street. We each have our lot in life. Mine is to walk between the darker parts of the afterlife. I see things,” he paused, closing his eyes briefly, “ . . . differently.”
And by the way he said it, I can tell, for sure, that I don’t want to know what differently means.
Alright, I say as I summon up my courage. Tell me what we have to do to fix what I did.
“If you need to contact me, wait until the dark hours of the morning, and concentrate on my image. If that doesn’t work, start saying my name. One way or another, I’ll find you. In this border town.”
Okay, I say. What else?
“Look for the signs. Certain things will repeat themselves. They must sustain themselves. And they are creatures of habit. That means patterns will eventually appear. I will try and pass along information as we acquire it, but I cannot guarantee that my information will be timely enough to use. We’ll do what we can from the other side.”
We? There are others hunting the twenty-three Evils?
“Oh, yes. This is potentially earth-changing. We’ve got plenty of energy poured into this. You have support, just not on earth. We are bound to this side.”
“How will we know if we’ve found the right souls?” I ask. I don’t even want to consider the part whereby I have to kill them and somehow cart them back to Deadside.
“The universe is consistent on certain things. Like the principles of Thermodynamics, there is a balance to all matter, souls included. These Evils, they may have greater than human abilities or talents . . . ”
“But they will have deficits, too. For every strength they possess, they will have a weakness. An Achilles heel, so to speak. Remember the principles of physics.”
I can’t remember six months ago. Physics may be a bit of a stretch.
“Think of it like this: Positive and negative are necessarily bound together. Ying and Yang. Ebb and flow—”
Tango and Cash?
He smiled. “You hide your insecurity in your wit. That’s good. It will help you.” Then he paused for a moment, considering something.
What? I can take it. What is it?
“ . . . she doesn’t love you, Jack.”
“You killed her.”
Obviously, I say, that’s something we’re going to have to work through.
“She will kill you without hesitation,” he said firmly, the blue-green of his eyes turning icy and hollow. “ . . . rip you limb from limb, stretching your body in a thousand directions. Kristen will not flinch, not for a second. Because she knows that she is facing a whole new kind of damnation. One that none of us can predict. All twenty-three of them are eternally damned to a place that will make Lucifer’s domain seem like your Disney World.”
I looked down at my feet, realizing that I have not been paying this situation the seriousness it deserves. My soul is on the line, and I’m still thinking about the crush I had on a dead con artist.
He placed his hands on my shoulders, and they felt heavy. “Jack,” he said slowly, “once they know you’re coming, they’ll stop at nothing to escape, or rid the earth of your presence.”
“But I’m just some schlep who lost his marbles. Why would they be afraid of me?”
He took a step back, his hands falling to his sides, appraising me. “You have no idea what you will eventually achieve.”
I don’t understand.
“You are . . . not one of them, anymore.”
When you say, them, who do you mean?
“Humans, Jack. Humans.”
“The creatures you see stalking to and from the shadows, they aren’t your tormentors . . . they are your allies. You, like it or not, are a new breed. The rules have changed. You are something different. In time you will figure this all out.”
When might that be? I wonder aloud. Because I could really use a guidebook or something.
“Go back to bed, Jack. Get your rest. There’s evil to catch.”
He says it like it’s a cold virus.
Like you’re infected with it.
A disease I have to search out and contract. Actively pursue.
And with that I back my way to the window turning towards the funny-shaped door. As I open it Uriel says, “And Jack . . . good luck with the Ghost busting.”
“It’s not like that,” I say glancing back.
But he’s gone. And already I have to pee again.