I woke to a tapping on the door. The room was still dimly washed in a golden morning light, just a shade brighter than before I’d slept. The clock said it was almost nine. I sat up, yawned and stretched, noticing that my new left arm still felt a little strange. My new right shin was throbbing a bit, too. Somehow, the coffee table was back in place, apparently no worse for the wear. There might have been a freshly patched portion of one wall, but it was impossible to tell. It was as if last night’s tantrum had never happened. The tapping turned to knocking. Who knew I was here? How?
I staggered to the bathroom sink, splashed water in my face, rinsed my cottony mouth and got a look in the mirror for the first time in a long, long while. My beard was back, with more than a sprinkling of gray on either side of my chin. I ran my wet fingers though my hair, draped the towel over my shoulders, and answered the door.
It was Kimberly. The hat was new, her clothes fit a little differently, but she looked much the same; Kimberly seemed to be a universal constant. At her side was Barney, who was tilting his head curiously. I looked again at Kimberly. Her eyes were brim full of tears, but she smiled her sweet little smile. I saw wrinkles at the corners of her eyes, deeper smile lines...
“May we come in?” she asked.
“Of course you can, Bright Eyes. Always.” I pulled the door wide open and stood back.
She hesitated at the threshold. She squinted and said, “Is it really you?”
I laughed. “As far as I know. I’m not too sure myself anymore.”
She wiped away a tear. “It’s you all right.” Barney stayed by her side, his tail wagging, making inquisitive little noises in his throat. “Go on, buddy, say hello,” Kimberly said as she bent over and gave him a little push. “It’s okay.”
Barney shuffled in, his tail wagging so hard he was walking funny. He was completely gray around the muzzle, but otherwise seemed to be fine, no doubt benefitting from that general good health inside the pyramid that Donna had once noted. “Barney Fife, you old rascal, how ya been?” I scratched behind his ears; he licked my chin. I looked up at Kimberly. “How old is he now?” I didn’t have the courage to come right out and ask her how long I’d been away this time.
She was still crying; she sniffled a little and said, “Fourteen years older than the last time we saw you.”
Wow. It may not be possible to truly shock me anymore, but it was a little hard to process. Still, less than two months out in the “real” world. “Really? Fourteen years?”
She came inside and knelt next to the dog. “Fourteen years, five months, and three days,” she said. “But who’s counting?” I used the end of my towel to dry her face a little. She let me, then said, “Eloi kept telling us you’d be back, but—” She used the towel to dry my own face. “And now here you are.”
“Here I am.” I stood and pulled her to her feet and led her over to the sofa. Barney jumped up between us. Just like old times. “Fourteen years. So. Talk to me.”
Jake was on his third wife, never any kids. Mary Beth was a grandmother now. Geoff and Danielle remained inseparable, and had an eight-year-old daughter named Hope, but everyone called her Princess. Et cetera. But common sense and reliable Angel-tech contraception mostly prevailed, and the pyramid wasn’t too crowded yet. She told me news about some of her oldest friends that were people I’d never met.
Eloi visited often, but they never saw any other Angels any more, not since—
“Not since what?” I prompted. She stiffened, very reluctant to tell me. “Go ahead, sweetie, you can tell me.”
“Donna. About ten or twelve years ago. You know she was… kind of obsessed, I guess, with finding her friend. And the others... that were missing. You know. Like your dad.”
“Go on.” I felt the shiver of knowing what was coming next.
“One day Gabriel was walking alone through the park. Donna came at him with a sword she’d pulled off the wall at Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. He raised his hand. She disappeared.”
“Damn.” Well, she got what she wanted—she found out what happened to them. “Damn, damn, damn.” I felt a lump in my throat. I had loved this woman, maybe more than I’d realized, but I’d never truly known her very well.
A fragment of Ahab’s last soliloquy came to me: “...from hell’s heart I stab at thee...”
I wiped my face with the towel again, but the tears welled right back up. I scratched Barney’s head behind his ears. I heard the grandfather clock ticking.
After a while Kimberly said, “The sword did stab him in the foot.”
“You’re kidding me.”
“No. Practically pinned him to the ground.”
I couldn’t help it. In spite of everything, I laughed. A lot. “Did he hop around in a circle before he took off?” I asked when I got my breath.
Kimberly chuckled. “No. But he said what must have been some very bad Angel words.” I laughed some more. “We still have the sword. It hangs in a place of honor at the Horseshoe. Some of the super-geeks tried to analyze the Angel blood on it, but they never got anywhere. Said it was impossible with such Mickey Mouse equipment.”
I laughed still more. It felt good. My brother was out in the world doing his damnedest to get the whole thing blown up, Donna and my father were off in some unimaginable limbo, I was still recovering from being dead, and still I laughed. I hadn’t howled like this since back on day one, when Gabriel had spoken in Darth Vader’s voice.
Finally, I settled down, and when I looked at Kimberly, her eyes were again full of tears. She leaned across Barney and held my face in her hands. “We’ve missed you, Mr. K,” she whispered, then kissed me lightly. “I’ve missed you.” She kissed me again, not so lightly. She wasn’t a kid any more. Heck, she might have been older than I was.
I gently broke away. “Okay, Bright Eyes, if you’re gonna kiss me like that, you’re gonna have to stop calling me Mr. K.”
She giggled and said okay. What the hell; I kissed her.
A couple of days later, I opened up Gareth’s journal. So far I’ve only managed the first page:
How do I chronicle the end of the world? Today I flew from San Francisco bound for Las Vegas, but instead I landed in Hell. Fifty feet above the tarmac, the sky split open with a sound that that I lack the words to describe. The engines quit, the lights went out and when I looked out beyond the wing I saw an angel towering in the sky, its eyes like stars, staring directly at me. Everyone in the cabin was screaming, except those already dead, blood gushing from noses and ears. The plane dropped like a rock, but when I looked outside again, still the angel stared at me, stared at me. I heard the tires explode as we slammed onto the airstrip, felt the plane tip as one set of wheels collapsed. Still the angel stared at me. Grinding metal topped the screams and the plane came apart at the seams. A fireball blew through the cabin as I grabbed the lever and popped open the emergency exit. As I tossed the door out the opening, another explosion blew me out onto the wing. I looked back in time to see the flight attendant—her name was Juliann, god damn it, and she had freckles and two kids and a mom in a nursing home and a deadbeat ex-husband and a mortgage and she sang in a jazz band when she could find the time and maybe the next time we flew together I’d finally ask her out—now she stood in the exit hatch completely engulfed in flames. I fell from the wing, and even though every part of me wanted to try to save Juliann and all the others burning to death on that plane, I ran. I ran and ran and ran. And all the time that bloody angel in the sky stared at me. And in my head I could hear it laughing.
Tomorrow I go back to work.