The Dragon’s Girl

I woke in the garden with golden arms
shining bright skin, my heart of tin
my maker was a dragon, his gullet tar
lips like a rose, my limbs were prose.

It rained that day, pitter-patter feet
mice scurried in my ribs, my ferny crib
was petalled with violets, serpent heat
my one sweet companion, in Eden’s canyon.

At midnight we walked to the garden’s edge
my pooling reflection, a heavenly complexion
the wyvern was subtle, we lay among sedge
two entwined, dead sun, our day’s work done.

I bled into his teeth, his ankle bite fire
curses between us, it has always been thus
our joining, Original Sin, that was desire,
ever since I am burning, earth not turning.

I am the dragon’s girl, of wisdom a pearl
I am a serpent child, fey-wonderful, wild
I riddle and sing to my scaly king bold
and when I kill him, why, he bleeds gold.

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Fate Lines

The Lightbringer attended to his duties.

Idly, he ate a wormy pomegranate, dressed in a white tunic.  Black veins ran like a map across his back, spreading to chalk-white shoulders.  He lingered in the shadows, watching the Milky Way canoe toward the outer boundaries of heaven.  The stars hung like fireflies above, reflecting off the perfection of his skin as he stood under the boundless moon.  The satellite drifted slowly across the hours, and the music of the spheres churned as time’s machinations moved the night to day.

Cherubim whirled above, shifting mixtures of man and beast that carried the heavens on their backs.  They shepherded the stars, singing in ethereal tones.  At a glance they resembled dragons with human faces blossoming from pearly wings.  Their backs were shelled like tortoises or jeweled beetle carapaces that upon closer inspection resembled intricate, interlocking armor.  One could not discern if their human forms were consumed in biological plating or if they truly were chimeras.

He watched them.  Once, that had been his duty, but no more.  He softly touched the twin scars that mounted his shoulder-blades.  The old red fire of the wound flared.  He smirked, then put out the Morning Star – proudest in all the constellations – with his thumb.  The planet Venus dimmed, only to blaze into life again when he lowered his hand.  He laughed drily and finished the fruit, tossing it over the canyon rim below.

The song of the cherubim lilted.  They descended like flaming wheels, swooping down below into the landscape obscured by night.  Their voices faded to silence.  The angels’ chimeric forms resolved into those of men.  In hollows of darkness they stood, flesh beginning to glow, then blazed into pillars of light.  Each beam rocketed up into the sky to match a star above.  The stars flickered in time with their breaths.

He smiled at his brothers’ devotion as his chest began to thrum like a drumbeat.  The skin over his heart glowed blue-white, burning with sweet agony.  He contained a scream that would have rose to ragged ululations of ecstasy, just as each of his brothers held their tongues.

Gritting his teeth, he let his glory pour forth.  It seared, the substance of divinity firing upward to Venus.  His mind was consumed; he let the waves of pain rush against him like water crashing to shore.  The frothing foam scattered memories like sea glass: his Father’s hands in his, teaching him to shape the cosmos to his will.  His fingers on the locks of a yellow-haired girl, braiding them meticulously with roses.  He recalled how his hands had fumbled then, picking the thorns off for her before wending the vines between the golden strands.  He had had no callouses then, no scars-

The fires of the heavens roared like a waterfall.  The sun was on the verge of rising.  His pain intensified.  He closed his eyes, clasping his hands in prayer.

Hands told stories; some said they determined fate.  A heart line slashed across a palm spoke of love, a six-lined star meant protection.  The meanings, for mortals, were endless.

His hands were blank.  The only marks on his skin were the ones he had earned.

“Where is your fate line?” she had asked long ago, laughing.

“Fate line?  I have none, Eve.”

“That is a pity.  How can you choose your destiny, if you have no guide to it?”  She traced the absence of his palms.

He flexed his pinions. “I have my wings- that is enough.”

She touched their snowy whiteness.  “Flying is one thing, brother, but without a map, where will you go?”

“I know where I am going, child.  Some paths are best left unknown.”

But he had strayed down shady roads in the coming eons, and the pearly wings grew to not be enough.

One evening, he tried drawing delicate curves on his palms with her sewing needles.  Over and over he dug them, deeper into his flesh, until the needles stuck through his hand.  Each time they healed, devoid of scars.  She caught him unawares and screamed when she saw him.

“Not like this!” she had howled, plucking the needles from his palms and bandaging him with torn strips of her dress.  She ran her fingers through his hair, hands so soft and cool against his temple they could be milk.  So small he could enfold them like a butterfly, which he did.  He steadied her shaking, afraid she would crack like a doll.  “This is my fault,” she wept as he rocked her.  “You have no need of stupid fate lines.  Your wings are enough to guide you.  Can’t you see how whole you are?  I am not.  I was jealous of you, brother, jealous!  You are the prince of the angels, have all and I have nothing.  I am made of dust and sorrow; I walk through the dirt and mud.  Father regrets me – he damns my curiosity, I, who was merely made to revel in creation.  I am a broken thing: I go against my nature in craving to create what I am meant to enjoy.  Ever since we were expelled from Eden, I cannot read the damned things on my hands.”

He clasped her hands in his, wings enfolding her.  “I can,” he whispered, “and you are the most whole thing I have ever known.”

“You can read them?” she asked weakly.  “What do they say?”

“They say that you are the wisest of all creatures, Eve, and that nothing I have done is your fault.  That in you lies the fire of a million generations.  The only fate we control is our own.”

Her gaze could still the ocean: “Then promise me you will never do anything that hurts you, ever again, Lucifer.  Promise me you will be gentle as you have always been and treat yourself with the same care you give me.”

“I promise, Eve.  Though I would not call myself gentle-”

She silenced him with a kiss, both ignoring that the way their paths were headed, it was a promise he would not keep.  He recalled how he had cupped her face like it was manna.  His hands, entwined in her hair –

The sun crept closer to the rim of the horizon.  His heart scorched, ribs burning in his chest.  Tears welled in his eyes.  Those hands, which he would now shudder to place on her snowy flesh, broke their fervent prayer.

He examined them, removed.  They profaned all they touched, sullied with the stains of ages.  Blood, tears, piss, plagues.  Yet no matter what he did, they remained clean.  His brothers were all the same.  Try as they might, they could not write their own stories.  All they did was erased from their skin.

Their fates had been determined for them.  The only scars they were allowed to keep were those earned at ultimate cost.

The stars blotted out one by one, waiting.  He flexed his fingers.  Once, the slender digits had brought life to mortal lips.  Now they drew souls out of mouths.  Just like he had cast off one name for another, he had traded purposes after the Fall:

“No,” he had pleaded, tears in his eyes.  “My name is Lucifer.  The bright and morning star.”

“And now it is Samael, the poison and venom of God.  Your gifts will be suffering and death.”

“No!  I am the Lightbringer!”

“And now that light would burn you.  Death cannot bear life.  You killed her in your folly!  To repeat that would be madness-”

“I am beyond madness and your wretched salvation, Michael.  Do not offer me repentance.  I was trying to save her.  I will save her!  What is dead can be brought back to life.  Eve’s soul is mine, mine.

“You damned her from the moment she met you.”

He roared her name in agony.  The Morning Star stood belfry to the first rays of sun.  Pain forgotten, he was lost in the onslaught of his mind.

Hell is not a place, but the past.  He carried it with him always.  The angels below were lost in their own tortures.  They pleaded their cases before the sun.  Perhaps, this morning, they would be forgiven.  For his brothers were each of them fallen, bereft of their Creator, alone.

The sun rose in judgment, washing out the light of the Morning Star.  He screamed and doubled over as his flesh seared to the bone.  The penetrating rays licked him the clean white bone of the Reaper, rendering him into a skeleton.  He saw with eyes that were black hollows, and rose to embrace the deadly radiation.

The landscape pooled before him.  A red desert raced out to brimming golden mountains, where dawn gently lapped over the ruins of a once magnificent city.  It was carved into the cliff faces like Petra, inhospitable to humans.  No steps or bridges connected the towering abodes – sheer drops followed the open doors – and there were none of the comforts of civilization, merely bare floors dusted with wildflowers.  The fallen angels shook below as they prayed, flesh peeling as their blood pooled on the ground.  Wind stirred the sand into molten plumes, like hourglasses in reverse, grains snaking through fallen pillars and stories upon stories of sandstone.  It buffeted him, sliding between his ribs.  A great thundering came from the distance.

“Welcome, brother,” he murmured as the solar angel stirred to his vigil.  Soon, a figure shadowed the sun.  Michael landed atop the sere cliff, facing his twin.  “Time to slay the beast,” the Morning Star said.

Tears were in Michael’s eyes.  “You know this is never necessary, Samael.”  He laid his weapons at his twin’s feet.

“Your sword, dear brother, through the neck.  Or the heart, if you prefer.  I seem to lack one, I suppose.  A downside to being bone-”

“Why, day after day, do you torment me with this?”  The question hung like the gallows over their heads.  “Our brothers below us are suffering.  Above us, they are weeping.  All Heaven and Hell become one, and you prolong it with your murder.”

“It is yours too, my twin,” he said, almost tender.  The bone-man walked to Michael’s side, dabbing at the tears with his claw hands.  “Damn these things,” he said, looking at his fingers in disgust. “I have had too much time alone with my palms.”

“In that we may find solidarity.  Mine tire of bearing weapons.  If you would only quit your stubbornness, the War would end immediately.”

“If only it were that simple.  I always envied you your straightforward thinking.  Whose load is heavier, brother: the Lightbearer, or he who bears the sword?  One’s burden is insubstantial-”

“Enough with your damn riddles!”  Michael roared, slapping the skull’s cheek.  “Repent!  Come home, brother.  Be whole.”

Samael’s hand lingered on his smarting jawbone.  “No.”

Michael took his brother’s shoulders in his hands.  “Each day you pray for forgiveness, and we grant it to you.  Then you reject it.  You – all of you!-” he yelled across the canyons, down at the fallen ones, silver tears in his emerald eyes, “-choose suffering over redemption.  Why, my brother?  Why?”

“Because, Michael.  It is our lot.  The suffering, the scars, make us whole.  There is no going back to Eden.”

“I know,” whispered Michael, sorrowful, “but I can hope.”  He embraced his brother slowly, shaking, and kissed his bony brow.

“What is dead cannot be brought back to life, as you said so long ago.  Look at me as I truly am,” Samael laughed drily.  “Such a prince of angels I would make.  No, that path is now yours, and your halo is ill-suited for me.  The only crown fitting me is one of thorns.”  He lifted Michael’s sword and pressed it to his ribs.  “For her?” Samael asked gently.

Michael obliged.  In a scene old as time, he slayed the beast, killing the darkness which would rise once more next evening, only to be slaughtered come morning tithe.  Over and over they engaged in the battle, trapped in their own hells, hearts torn asunder anew.  Samael had died many times – in truth, he craved it.  As the Angel of Death, it was him.  Each time, it brought him closer to her- in the blackness he could feel her, the hollow emptiness of his heart that marked her unknown grave.

Broken, Michael pushed him over the edge.  Gabriel trumpeted above.

The earth opened like a great maw to swallow him up.

Eve,” Samael called softly, plummeting into the abyss.  The ground sucked the fallen angels down into the pit, denying them God’s saving grace.  In their fall, they burned proud.

Michael wiped his blade clean of rot.

The tithe was paid.

The day was born.

 

Ribs

Black altar cloth of sky
my vertebrae are stars
my spine the Milky Way.

Sweet contention.

Restless heart.

My brain bleeds.

Marrow drip,
rib is ruin.

I am just
wayward
Eve.

Eve’s Unexpected Teenage Motherhood, Samael is a Wino, & Jesus Drives a Yugo

The end of the first book in the Death and the Maiden Trilogy and a hint of the second novel.  I had far too much fun writing this.

The Gaia hypothesis states that the Earth functions like a living organism – upset the balance, and everything hangs askew.  As a biology major, I was intimately familiar with the theory.  Scientists said we had exacerbated the planet, accelerating climate change.  Zealots said it was the End Times.  For the first time in history, the fanatics were right, and the rationalists wrong.

Natural disasters increased tenfold – each week, a hurricane, a tsunami, an earthquake.  The death toll climbed and climbed.  Wars broke out over resources.  I read the papers, numb.

It had been easy enough to lie to my parents.  Samael had bound the horsemen in my twin’s comatose body, but when he had wanted to keep Mo under the archdemons’ watch in Hell, I had exploded.  And so we’d staged a car crash, wrecking Mo’s car, with my brother behind the wheel, limp like he’d had a head-on collision with a tree.  I had called my family from the passenger seat, faking panic, when all I could feel inside was nothing.  Nothing but bitter cold.

The ambulance had arrived, sirens wailing like the cries of a banshee.  They had carried Mo out in a stretcher.  He was a prisoner in his own body – brain activity raging, trapped immobile in his own limbs.  I could only imagine what war burned on in his undead mind.

I was beside him in the hospital, reading him his favorite author, Stephen King, in the hopes that he might hear.

Mo’s heart rate spiked.

“Mo?”

His eyes shot open.  He began to seizure.

“Mo?  Mo!  Doctor, doctor, he’s awake!”

The hospital staff flooded in.  Nurses ushered me out of the room.  And so my dead brother rose, soul trapped in his body, Samael’s binding not strong enough to stand up to the horsemen.

 

“I’m fine, Shannikins.  Stop watching me.”  Mo tried to move from his bed.  He lost his balance and fell onto the mattress, clutching his temple.  “Ugh, my head.  Man, I feel like I ran skull-first into a tree.  Wait – I did.”  Mo grinned.

“Don’t joke about that,” I said, secretly relieved he didn’t remember what had really occurred.  He was pale, so pale, almost the same shade as Samael.  I set a breakfast tray on his nightstand.

Mo’s recovery had thawed my heart.  For the first time in weeks, there was a flicker of hope – Samael’s binding had contained the horsemen in my brother, and for all intents and purposes, Mo was alive, with no knowledge that he was a vessel for Pestilence, Famine, and War.

Things weren’t as bright in the celestial realms.  Michael, Heaven’s foremost archangel, was possessed by God’s Word, forced to act out his role as Heaven’s general in the final battle between Heaven and Hell.  At his side were countless angelic drones, unthinking vessels of God’s wrath.

The other archangels, their free will still intact, had sided with Hell to prevent a premature Apocalypse.  Forced out of Heaven by Michael, they had taken refuge in Hell, much to their chagrin.  It was an awkward family reunion, especially considering that a third of their siblings had been disowned.

The only angel who seemed happy was Raphael, whose joviality wouldn’t deflate even if he was a balloon with a pin pushed in.  He had taken over Samael’s kitchen, treating me daily to a world of cuisine – Creole recipes, Thai curries, Mexican innovations.  Tonight was his famous gumbo.  Demons and angels lined up with bowls, stretching out into Samael’s parlor, waiting for the archangel to ladle out gumbo by the liter.

I stood between Uriel and Izrail, salivating at the scent of the stew.  Uriel’s tattoos shone on her dark skin.  Izrail, the angel of souls, was busy studying one of the butterflies that she carried on her shoulders.  The subject of Izrail’s fascination was a blue Morpho, just like I had seen on my trip to the Amazon.

“Shannon, hold out your finger,” Izrail said, voice like wind chimes.

I obliged.  Izrail coaxed the scintillating blue insect onto my hand.

The butterfly crawled onto my wrist.  “It’s beautiful.  Like a slice of sky.”

Izrail smiled.  “Butterflies are symbols of the soul.  Isn’t that right, Beelzebub?”

Beelzebub glanced over his shoulder.  “Flies are better,” he grumbled.

Uriel snorted.  “Flies eat crap, Beel.  They’re disgusting.  I hate bugs.  Bugs and worms.”

Samael sidled up to me, glass of absinthe in hand.  “Did someone say worms?”

I rolled my eyes, handing the butterfly back to Izrail.  “Thanks, Izzy.”

“Someone said worms, right?” Samael repeated, clearly drunk.  Alcoholism was his coping mechanism for the Apocalypse.

Uriel ignored him, holding out her bowl for Raphael.  Raphael gave her a hearty serving of shrimp-and-sausage gumbo.  It was my turn next.  Samael hovered beside me.

Raphael grinned.  “If it isn’t my favorite human.”  He held his hand out for a fist bump.  I pounded it.

“Hey Raff,” I said.  He filled my bowl to the brim.

Samael reached for my spoon.  Raphael swiped his hand away.

“Sam, back of the line,” Raphael chuckled.  “You can’t mooch off Shannon.”

Samael narrowed his eyes.  “I’m the eldest, Raphael.  I should eat first, especially before a mortal.”

“Hey!” I said, punching him in the side.

Samael smirked.

The gumbo was delicious.  I ate it in the courtyard, which had been converted into a mess hall.  The archdemons’ dwellings, including Samael’s, had become living quarters for the angelic host.  Hell’s cramped capital, Pandemonium, already overflowing with immigrants from the otherworlds, had little space for Heaven’s inhabitants.  The angels sat with the angels and the demons with the demons, still uncomfortable with their forced closeness.

Samael was a drunken heap at the head of the archdemons’ table.  He leered at me as I bit into a sausage chunk.

“What?” I said.

Samael looked at his empty bowl, then back to my half-filled one.  He pursed his lips, pleading.

“No!  This is my dinner.”

“Stop bothering her,” Beelzebub said.  “You’re irritating everyone.”

“Irritating you?” Samael said.  “I’m not the one who’s been a pill since two-thirds of our family gate-crashed the underworld.”

Beelzebub narrowed his eyes.  “No, you’ve just been an alcohol-ridden slob.”

Samael blew air through his teeth.  He surreptitiously reached for my spoon.  “Give me a break.  It’s called the demon drink, after all.  How else am I supposed to blow steam in this hellhole?”

I wrestled my spoon from Samael’s grip.

“Maybe by relying less on absinthe and more on your supposed wits to plan our next attack,” Beelzebub said.  “Michael’s forces are making advances into the Sixth Heaven, moving down the celestial ladder rung by rung.  We have little time for dinner parties or flirtation.”

“We’re not flirting!” I said, anger red on my cheeks.

Samael laughed.  “I am.”  He released my spoon without warning and it went flying across the table, into Astaroth’s champagne.

The demoness smiled and delicately removed my spoon.  “Remember when we were young, Beel?” Astaroth said to her husband.

Beelzebub grumbled.

“Beel wrote me poetry, Shannon – sonnets, villanelles, ballads,” Astaroth teased, taking Beelzebub’s hand in hers.

Beelzebub adjusted his collar.  He said nothing, eyes burning holes in the ground.

“Crappy ones, if I remember,” Samael said.  “A Shakespeare Beel is not.”

“I thought they were lovely,” Astaroth said.

Someone cleared their throat.  I looked behind me to see Asmodeus, bowl in hand.

“Any room for me?” Asmodeus said.

“Sure.”  I slid over on the bench to make space for him.

“How’s your brother?” Asmodeus asked, carefully eating his gumbo.

I sighed.  “Mo’s doing better.  He doesn’t remember anything.  We’re getting ready to go back to college, and he’s pissed he can’t play football.  Maybe all this sitting around on his butt will turn him into an intellectual.”

Samael snorted.  “That kid has about fifteen brain cells, maggot.  Probably less now that he’s the Horsemen’s vessel.”

“Hey!” I said.  “Mo’s smart in his own way – a way that doesn’t involve school.  He’s people-smart.  A lady-killer.”  I shook my head.  “God, why is he dating my roommate?”

The demons laughed.

“Probably to torment you,” Samael said.  “I’ll need you to keep an eye on your twin on campus and make sure he remains stable.  The closer Michael’s forces get to Earth, the more likely the horsemen will act up.”

I nodded, nervous.  “Okay.  And what about Metatron?  Where is he?” I asked, referring to the Watcher’s ally, the angel that had made it possible for Raziel to start the Apocalypse.

Samael’s face darkened.  “We don’t know, not yet.  After the chaos of the Ark of the Covenant’s destruction, the Watchers fled, supposedly to wherever Metatron is hiding.  They’re biding their time, waiting for the chaos to begin.”

“We can’t let that happen,” I said.

Asmodeus gave a throaty laugh.  “You don’t have to tell us that.”

Dinner passed and I found myself on the outskirts of Samael’s practice field, in a section that had been converted into a shooting range.  Angels and demons ran drills around me.  Having already mastered Samael’s scythe and Asmodeus’ swordstick, my training with the shards of the Lapis Exillis had progressed to Beelzebub’s revolver.  The compound-eyed demon guided my arm into the right position.  I aimed at a target’s bullseye.

“Get ready for the recoil, Shannon,” Beelzebub buzzed, letting go of my arm.

“Okay.”  I pulled the trigger.

The bullet ripped loose, faster than any manmade weapon.  Smoke that smelled of brimstone rose from the barrel of the gun.  I missed the target by a foot, further proving I was a lousy shot.

Beelzebub sighed.  He crossed his arms.  “It’s about perspective.  You have to have a feel for your target.  Samael tells me you’re an artist.  Apply that eye for detail to your aim.”

I stared intently at my sneakers.  “I just can’t do it.  Every time I fire a round, it’s like my vision goes wonky.  I focus so much on the target that I miss it, if that makes sense.”

Raphael, done jogging laps with his regiment, smiled toothily at us as he came running over.  “Go easy on her, Beel.  You were always the best at marksmanship.  Living up to your legacy is hard.”  Raphael ruffled my hair.  “God knows I’m a lousy shot.”

“We don’t have time for anything less than perfection,” Beelzebub said.  “She’s obstinate – like she’s not even trying.”

My patience snapped.  “I am!”

“Beel, relax,” Raphael said.  “She’s only human.  Not a war drone.  Shannon, have you tried closing your eyes?”

My lips opened in an O of surprise.  “What do you mean?”

Raphael grinned.  “Exactly what I said.  Trust in the weapon.  It’s a shard of the Lapis Exillis – it’s alive, in its own way.  You might be surprised.”

Beelzebub narrowed his eyes.  “You know, that sounds ridiculous, but might possibly work.  It can’t make her any worse than she already is.”

I looked at the revolver and shrugged.  “Here goes nothing.”  I raised the gun, focused on the target, and closed my eyes.  The weapon was hot in my hands.  It seemed to hum.  Curious, I slightly lowered, then lifted, the gun, until the humming was near constant.

I pulled the trigger.

The bullet cracked out of the barrel.  I heard Beelzebub draw a sharp intake of breath.  I opened my eyes to see a perfect hole in the center of the target.

I gaped.  “It worked?”

“Told you,” Raphael said, slipping his headphones back on, humming along to rap music, and running like a gazelle into the night.

Beelzebub smiled, a rare sight.  “Perhaps I misjudged you.”

“You think?”  I handed him the gun, which he slipped into a holster at his belt.

I smelled alcohol.  I turned to see Samael stumbling towards us.  “My maggot, lethal as always,” he slurred.  He collapsed against a fence, a dopey smile on his face.  Samael reached for a flask from the pocket of his robe and drained the remnants of absinthe within.

Beelzebub cursed.  “You git.”

Samael gazed at the stars.  “Please, spare me your lecture.  I’m just trying to enjoy the fact that my home has been turned into barracks.”

Beelzebub muttered to himself and left without a backwards glance.  Samael slumped to the ground, yawning.

“You smell like a bar,” I said, leaning down to help him up.

“It’s my aesthetic.”  Samael burped.

“Being an alcoholic?”

Samael hooked his arm around me, pulling me unceremoniously down into the dirt, wrapping his arms around me.  “Don’t judge me.  I was ancient before atoms were created.  I was millenia old before you were a figment of God’s imagination.  I have been to the outer boundaries, seen the face of existence, and laughed.  Laughed at the folly of being.”

I pried his viselike grip from my shoulders.  “You’re ranting again.  I think you should go to bed.”

Samael mumbled and tried to kiss my neck.  I grabbed his hands and hauled him to his feet.  He stumbled after me into his mansion, up the main staircase and into his room.  It was more cluttered than usual, which was saying something.  I shoved a heap of laundry off his comforter – all black reaping robes that smelled of cigarettes – and forced Samael onto the bed.  He protested half-heartedly, squirming as I drew the blankets over him.

I dimmed the lights.

“Don’t I at least get a goodnight kiss?” Samael said.

“Fine.  Just one.  I have to go, it’s late – hey!”

He caught my wrists as I was leaning down over him and pulled me on top of him.  Samael burrowed his head into the crook of my neck.  “You’re not going anywhere.”  He hiccupped.

I struggled to rid myself of him, to no avail.  “Yes, I am.  You’re plastered, and I’m moving back to Hortense tomorrow.  I need sleep, and if I stay here, I won’t get any.”

He smoothed the hair on my forehead.  “But I have to show you something.  Something beautiful.”

“If this is you trying to seduce me, I’m going to castrate you.”

He twined his fingers through mine.  “No.  It’s more important than that.  Close your eyes.”

“If you’re trying to fondle me-”

“Please?”

Okay, okay.”  I squeezed my eyes shut, humoring the addict.

The air cooled, and I opened my eyes to see that we were in the Cave of Souls, the candlelit repository of spirits at the base of the Tree of Knowledge.  I was calmed by the lullaby atmosphere.

Samael released me, and I rolled off him, staring up at the roots far above us.

“Why did you bring me here?” I asked, mesmerized by the candles’ slow burn.

Samael smiled.  “To show you this.”  He flicked his wrists, and the stone pews of souls shifted, parting like a curtain to expose more tapers.  The gulf of candles widened, leaving a stretch of darkness.  A single candle emerged, high above the others, three-quarters full.  Its flame, unlike the soft yellow of the others, was a bright blue.

Samael sighed.  “Gorgeous, isn’t it?”

I squinted, trying to see what made it so remarkable.  “Umm, not really – it looks like something I could buy at the Yankee Candle Factory in Williamsburg.”

Samael lightly squeezed my arm.  “It’s your soul, Shannon.”

My skin crawled.  “Oh.  Why… why is it blue?”

“Blue flames are the hottest.  Your soul and Adam’s, as the first humans created, are closest to the Source.  They’re the brightest of them all.”

“The Source?”

He snaked his arm under my waist.  “You, me, God – we’re all just emanations of the Source, the force that binds Creation together.  It’s what makes up your atoms and my ether.  It’s what joins us.  Angels call it Shekinah – the Holy Spirit.”

I thought back to Sunday school.  “I thought the Holy Spirit was God – part of the Trinity.”

“It’s more complicated than that.  The Shekinah has no personality.  It’s the eldritch mother of all, the faceless Source from which we spring.  Think of the Venus figurines ancient man carved.  Gods, angels, mortals – we’re all just dancers on the Shekinah’s stage.  If we were actors, the Shekinah would be the theater our lives played out on.  My Father fancied Himself one with the Shekinah, but He’s no more one with the Source than I am.”  Samael scoffed.  “My Father is a fool.”

“Why is God letting the Apocalypse happen?”

“My Father tends to be very laissez faire with humanity – He lets free will play its course.  You chose to start the Apocalypse to save your brother’s life, and so it came to pass.”

I slumped.  “I didn’t mean to.  I wasn’t thinking, Sam – I just couldn’t let my brother die.”

Samael hushed me.  “It’s alright.  No one blames you.  Fine, maybe some do, especially Beelzebub, but I don’t.  And you’ve met the angels.  They’re a very forgiving lot.  Raphael has nothing but glowing things to say about you.”

I rolled onto my side, facing away from Samael.  “But Raff likes everybody,” I muttered.  “The world might end, and it’s all my fault.  Look at all the wars that I started.  The outbreaks of disease.  The natural disasters.  They’ve all been exacerbated by my… my decision.”

Samael ran a finger down my spine.  “Shannon, you’ve been kicking yourself in the gut ever since the Apocalypse started.  Go easy on yourself.  We’ll fix this.”

 

 

August heat beat down on my back as I hauled my belongings up three flights of stairs to my new apartment.  Rosanna, Divya, and I had lucked out in the housing lottery, securing a spot in an on-campus apartment complex right near the dining hall.  With three bedrooms, a living room, and communal kitchen, we were living large.

“You’re not putting up that god-awful David Bowie poster, are you?” Mo teased, carrying a box of my clothes.  He dumped it on my bare mattress.

“Be careful with that!” I said, watching dresses spill from the container and onto the floor.

“Sorry.  Ever since the accident my hand-eye coordination has gone to crap,” Mo said.  He helped clean up the mess.

“Sorry,” I said.

“It’s fine,” Mo said.

“Hey, kiddo.  Where does your chair go?” my dad said, entering the room, trailed by my mom.

“In the corner near the window,” I said.

“That’s the last of your things,” my mom said, gently putting my printer on my desk.  Within the hour, my room was cozy as a clam.  I hugged my parents goodbye and lounged in the living room, reading a travelogue by a turn-of-the-century naturalist.  Mo rigged our TV so he could play a first-person shooter.  My page-flipping was interspersed with screams of virtual characters meeting untimely demises.

I finished my book and looked up to see my twin, still absorbed in his game.

“Hey Mo?” I said.

He cocked his head over his shoulder.  “Yeah?”

“You’d tell me if you started to feel off, right?”

Mo’s temple throbbed.  “Shannon, would you do me a favor?”

“What?”

Mo flicked the controller.  “Stop treating me like broken glass.  Ever since the accident, you’ve been walking on eggshells around me.  It’s like you think I’m a different person or something.”

“I don’t.  I’m just worried.  I know how much football means to you, and – and if I were in your position, I would be pissed at the world.”

Mo shrugged.  He gave me his signature crooked smile.  “Don’t sweat it.  To be honest, I’m kind of glad I’m not playing football this season.  I’d rather spend more time with Rosanna and my friends, maybe get in some practice on the drums.”

I raised my eyebrows.  “Drums?”

Mo smirked.  “Yeah.  I’m taking drumming lessons.  Rosanna and I were thinking of starting a band.  She sings like Amy Winehouse, but you knew that already.  Baxter is a bassist, and I figured the three of us together would make a kickass group.”

I grinned.  “That sounds like a great idea.  Maybe you’ll actually learn how to keep tempo.”

Mo laughed.

There was a knock at the door.  “Hey, Shannon, it’s me.  Unlock the door!” came Rosanna’s voice.  I jumped off the couch and welcomed her family in.

We hugged hard, and she pecked Mo on the lips.  “My two favorite twins,” Rosanna said, one arm around each of us.  “Mo, I was so damn worried about you.  The minute I leave, you become a reckless driver.”  She shook her head and mussed his hair.  “I’m glad you’re better, cariño.”

We helped Rosanna unpack.  She talked our ears off about her internship at a literary agency in New York City and the hundreds of romance novel queries she’d had to read:

“Really, guys, these women have never had sex in their lives.  The way they described anatomy made me want to stab myself with a pen.”

We laughed.

“Why romance novels?” I asked.

Rosanna smiled.  “I thought they would be more entertaining than highbrow literary fiction.”

Divya arrived soon after, with boyfriend Seth Yoon in tow, and the five of us went to our usual hangout, the Golden Dragon.

“I can’t believe we’re sophomores already,” Divya said after taking a delicate bite of a bubble pancake, the Golden Dragon’s specialty, which deflated when she poked it with her fork.

“Yeah, crazy,” Mo said.  “So much has happened since last year.  I even built up my alcohol tolerance: I can do keg stands now without puking.”

“Heck no.  I’m not letting you drink anymore,” Divya said.  “You crashed into a tree. If you were intoxicated you would have driven straight off a cliff.”

Guilt flared in my gut.  I hadn’t told Divya, or even Rosanna, that Mo was the horsemen’s vessel.  I didn’t want Rosanna worrying that her boyfriend was a puppet of the apocalyptic squadron.

I stared at my chicken feet, which I had ordered on a whim.  I wasn’t really sure how to eat them.

Divya took pity on me.  “Put the chicken in your mouth, suck off the skin, chew the meat, then spit out the bones.  I promise you won’t turn into poultry.”

Mo snickered.  “Shannon’s real good at putting her foot in her mouth.”

Rosanna ribbed him.  “Play nice, Solomon.”

I didn’t have the heart to tell my brother to shut it.

Seth looked at my appetizers.  “Hey, I’ll eat those if you can’t handle them.  We can get you dumplings or some other white chick fare.”

“I’m not that pathetic.”  I put one of the chicken feet in my mouth then subsequently spat it out.  “Oh god.  I’m a stereotypical American, aren’t I?”

There was laughter.  I smiled weakly.

The first day of classes drew close, my practices in the shooting range with Beelzebub intensified, and Samael was still drunk as a wino.  I took to jogging in the College Woods to relax, the tried and true method of a runner’s high helping to settle my mind.

I kept worrying everything would blow up in my face like it had in New York.  That I would fail at mastering the Lapis Exillis, at saving Michael, and stopping Metatron.  That my brother, already technically dead, would have to be put down like a rabid dog.   Images of Mo’s comatose body were imprinted on the black of my eyelids, always there when I lay down to sleep.  No wonder Samael drank.  We, specifically me, had royally screwed things over.

The night before classes, I went on my longest run yet, exploring a forgotten path in the woods.  It was overgrown with roots and moss, with outcroppings of stone it was easy to stub a toe on.  I sprinted until sweat drowned me, trying to evaporate the miasma from my skin.  I imagined my sins pooled in my veins, screaming to be released through my pores.  Crazy talk, probably, or just PTSD.

I pounded the ground hard, desperately trying to forget everything but my movement.  I entered a primal state, becoming one with the dirt I crushed relentlessly underfoot.  I was running away from everything, seeking solace in a place beyond the reach of disaster.

Your brother’s a walking corpse, and when the time comes, you’ll have to kill him.  Only mortals can kill an immortal.

I took turns: a ragged right, a jolt to the left.  Like a hart pursued by a hound.  My petersword necklace burned.

Everything’s gone to hell because of your selfishness.  You should have let Mo die.

I tripped over an outcropping, falling head over heels down into a gully.

You can’t handle the Lapis Exillis.  You couldn’t save your twin.  What makes you think you can stop the end of the world?

I kept rolling, keeling over as sharp rocks tore at my skin.  I didn’t even bother to fight gravity.  My failings had voices, a chorus of those dead at my hands, taunting me with my every screw-up.

Come at me, I wanted to scream.  I’ll take my punishment as it comes.

Finally, my body came to a stop, bruised and bloody at the grassy bottom of the ravine.

I let out a mad laugh, fracturing.   This is where I belonged, low as dirt.

The petersword continued to feel like a spill of piping hot coffee.  I laid on my back, staring up at the emerald canopy.  The air smelled like flowers.  Crimson, pink, and white blooms fluttered in the breeze.

“A bed of roses for the ruined,” I muttered, as overdramatic as Samael.  Maybe he was rubbing off on me.  Now that was a scary thought.

“Or a bower for renewal,” came a child’s voice.

I was so far gone that I didn’t care if some kid saw me in my extremely pathetic state.  “That’s poetic.  Why don’t you let me wallow?”

Laughter.  An olive hand plucked blossoms just beyond my line of vision.  “You don’t get Purgatory, do you?  This is a place for beginnings,” the mystery boy said.  “Sure, you can lay in the mud all you want, but this land shifts so often that you might find yourself swimming in the sea.”

“So I’m in Limbo.  Perfect.  I could never bend backward enough for that stupid pole at Rosanna’s quinceañara.”

No wonder the petersword was acting up.  I had unlocked the unlockable through my desire to escape.  A place beyond the reach of angels and demons: the repository for souls, where the original apple-picking ditz had disappeared to for millenia, only to be reincarnated as me.

Mystery kid picked more roses, then deftly wove them into a garland.  He had wild curls of black hair and a tan my ginger complexion would kill for.

Dark eyes lit like sparklers.  With a hop, he joined me in the ravine, then placed the flower crown on my head.

I guessed he was an adolescent, twelve at most.  However old he was, the kid didn’t know when to shut up: “How pretty.  I’ve been waiting for you for a while.  A lot of people have forgotten me.  Sure, they remember my name, but they don’t remember me.  Like Dad, I’m a wanderer.  Maybe it’s my fault that my words have gotten twisted – I’ve been away for ages.  Enough time to turn water into wine.”

I groaned.  “You are not who I think you are.  I can’t deal with any more revelations.”

I sat up.  Kid offered me his hand.  He was one of those saplings that shot up on the cusp of puberty, too tall for his lanky body.

The kid grinned.  God, that smile: he could charm a lion away from its kill.  No wonder he was holy.

“You don’t have to call me Jesus.  Just Yeshua.  I know you have hang-ups over religion.  Remember, I hear people’s prayers.  You sure did pray for BLTs a lot during services.  As a fellow sandwich lover, I can respect that.  Anyways, fact is, Dad’s missing.  He’s the only one that can stop the Apocalypse.  And we’re the only ones that can find him.  You have the keys, and I have the map.  So what do you say, Shannon?  Want to find God?”

Against all common sense, I said yes – yes to a road-trip with tweenage Christ.

“Great,” Yeshua said.  “You’re driving.”

 

 

The land of Nod wasn’t so hard to find with Jesus behind the wheel.  Well, technically, tweenage Yeshua was sitting shotgun, doing Sudoku.  With my petersword wedged into the ignition of Christ’s favorite 1985 Yugo, which were apparently plentiful in Limbo – a repository for forgotten things like horrible cars – we were cruising down the celestial highway.  Yeshua periodically reassured me the Yugo’s engine wouldn’t explode:

“See, I tinkered with it for a couple decades, blessed the wheels, then got myself a solid vehicle,” he explained.  “When it comes to cars, there’s nothing more poetic than a Yugo.”

“Will I be back in time for classes?”

Yeshua kicked his feet up on the dashboard.  “Time is inconsequential when you’re riding the galactic freeway.  Don’t worry, Shana.  I can call you that, right?  Means beautiful.  You look just like my favorite disciple.  Bloodline of Solomon and all.”

“Um, I guess?”  I took a left at a neutron star, then, after the highway narrowed to two lanes, sped past a nebula.  “This is what I imagine an acid trip would be like: me cruising the galaxy with Christ.”

“Yeshua, please.”  He scribbled something onto the newspaper puzzle he was doing.

“Right.  So who are we looking for?”

“The bearer of the Mark.  The Mark will point us in the direction of Dad.  The Mark’s owner is a bit of an asshole.  He got all the bad genes from his father.”

Mark?  Like Mark Zuckerberg?  Were we using a social network to stalk Yahweh?

Wait – land of Nod?  Something sounded annoyingly familiar.

I screeched the Yugo to a halt.  “We are not finding Cain.  He’s the first murderer!”

Yeshua looked at me with honey eyes.  “Huh.  A pity.  I told him you were coming.  He’s already started making salad.  Even cleaned his bathroom, which is surprising, considering how disorganized he is.”  Yeshua rummaged through the globe box and pulled out sunglasses to fend off the glare of a supernova.

“Cain’s like the Biblical definition of asshole.”

“Nah, he’s only as bad as his father.  They both have a roguish charm.  Oh, park here!”

Despite the exploding star, I pulled over to the side of the road, by a run-down joint that boasted “Milky Way’s Best Burgers.”  I pulled my petersword out of the ignition and looped it around my neck, glad to have a sacred weapon in my possession when confronting the world’s worst brother.

The celestial highway was what I imagined the love child of the Great Plains and Hitchhiker’s Guide the Galaxy would look like.  Rolling hills of grass and wildflowers on the ground, astronomic monstrosities of black holes and dying stars above.  Everything was washed in psychedelic colors from galactic combustion.

Yeshua led me to a recently mowed path behind the burger joint.  Sunflowers tall as saplings bordered the freshly cut grass. “Cain dwells in the wilderness.  When you’re cursed to eternal exile, you kinda have to like liminal backwaters.”

“At least he can get his cheeseburger fix?”

“Cain hates meat.”

“Sure he does.”

I glanced at the resturant: the burger place was hosting what looked like the Wild Hunt motorcycle gang, complete with helmeted valkyries.  I was pretty sure I saw one-eyed Odin sweet-talking a waitress.  With its greasy windows and broken neon sign, it was a dive, but if the Norse pantheon, who were licked out of ice by a cow, dined there, it probably had good beef.

The breeze carried the scent of lavender and my own summer sweat.  The Border, as Yeshua called the supernatural highway, sure was pretty, in a kind of forgotten way.  Maybe Cain’s taste in a podunk nowhere wasn’t so bad.  All it needed was a trucker strip joint, maybe a casino, and it would have a definite vibe going on.

The farther we got from the highway, trees started creeping up from the plains, until after wandering for a while, we were in a picturesque forest, hung with vines.  The sunflowers gave way to shrubs, and everything looked lovingly tended, as if someone had clipped the pungent brier roses and trained the wisteria to artfully drape from the willows by the stream.  Round a bend, a wind chime made of bird skulls and river-smoothed glass clinked in the breeze.  I felt like I was meeting the village witch.

I turned a corner to find a certain ghostly menace bathing in a bend of the stream, where it eddied around jutting rocks.  Black hair spooled down his back, veiling his face from my view.

Man, he had a nice butt, despite it being paper-white.  His perfect, sorry ass was probably on a bender again.

“Samael?” I called.  “What are you doing here?”

Samael turned.

Only it wasn’t Samael: he had grass green eyes, with a constellation of freckles over his face, just like me.

Not-Samael covered his well-endowed nether regions and, to my surprise, blushed.  “Mother?  Um, you weren’t supposed to be here yet.”

“Did you call me mom?”  I stuttered.  “You’re older than me, freak!”

I looked to Yeshua for help with the confused nudist.

The Son of God had stripped down to his boxers and, with a definitive plop, cannonballed into the stream.  He surfaced and treaded water, a serene smile on his face.  “Cain, Eve doesn’t remember.  Recall how reincarnation works.”

Crap.  I was Eve.  I felt like barfing.

Cain’s face softened.  He pulled a green towel from a rock and wrapped it around his waist.  “Right.  Well, I suppose this is awkward.  You look just like her.  You are her.  I thought that, if you saw me, you would remember.  I just wanted to see you again.  After what father did to you, to us, I never thought I’d see you again.”

I squelched my shoe in some mud.  “Um, Henry and I, er, your father and I aren’t really a thing.  Like at all.  He’s kinda a jerky Harry Styles lookalike.”

Cain’s lips, who had the same dramatic Cupid’s bow as mine – urgh – parted..  “I wasn’t talking about Adam.”

“Uh… okay then.  Look, sorry I look like your mom or whatever, but you’re a stranger, and whoever your mysterious father is, if he’s not Adam, I’ve never met him.”

Cain laughed.  All dark and earthy.  God, he sounded just like Sam.   Why?

The world’s worst brother squeezed water from his long, luxurious hair.  How the hell did he bathe and not get a rat’s nest of tangles?  “I’m sure you two are very close.”

Dread gripped my stomach.  Yeshua was busy blowing bubbles.

I sat down on a boulder, dizzy.  “Wait, no.  That’s not what the Bible says!  Sam doesn’t have a fatherly bone in his deadbeat ossified body.”

Cain deftly changed into a black and green cloak that hung from a clothesline.  “Apparently you haven’t been reading between the Biblical lines, or the Kabbalah, for that matter.  That John fellow even calls me ‘son of the wicked one’ in the New Testament.  I never did like the apostles.”

Yeshua was sunbathing on a rock.  “John liked to exaggerate.”

“But Sam hasn’t mentioned you once!”

Cain gave a wild laugh.  “He inherited his parenting habits from his Father.  Both like to sacrifice their sons and ignore their cries for mercy.”

Yeshua rolled onto his stomach and sighed.  “Dad’s not all bad.  Just consumed by his Work.  I served my purpose.”

Cain rolled up the sleeves of his robe.  “At least your Father cares for you, Yeshua.  Mine?  He’s an idiot.”

Heart Girt With a Serpent

Written at 18 from the teenage novel that I never finished.

“Essentially, you’re stupid, Shannon.  Stupid, because you are devoid of free will.  Curiosity is your master.  It is the harsh ruler that controls everything you do.  It will only bring you despair.  To know is to suffer.  Truth only leads to death.”  Samael laughed lowly.  “Some are ruled by lust.  Others greed.  But curiosity?  That’s worse than pride.  It’s the greatest deadly sin.”

I backed away from the edge.  I glared up at Samael, on his high pale horse.  Though lacking in breakfast, I was completely fed up with him. “Why did you want me to come here?” I snapped.  “You claim to see through me.  That I’m foolish.  Fine.  Maybe you’re right.  But we’re all slaves of something, Sam.  You said so yourself.  Curiosity is my master.  But who, Samael, is yours?”

Face rugged, his lips drew thin.  “Get off your knees, maggot.  I don’t like it when mortals kneel before me.”

“Tell me, Samael!  What is this?  This place, this madness.  Who put you here as watchdog over the Underworld?  Did you fall into the pit like me?-”

“Enough!” he bellowed.  The cavern shook.  “On your feet,” he seethed.

“Sore point?” I pushed, dancing on razor’s edge.  “But there is no point.  Nothing.  That’s the point of it all, I suppose.”  Mist curled around my fingers as the water plummeted into darkness.  The wicked desire to taunt him enticed my mind.  He’d goaded me so many times before: surely, I was justified?  “You’re mad, you know,” I noted, taking the hand he offered me.  His grip was iron.  He steadied the small of my back.

“Sometimes madness is a refuge.”  His voice grated like metal chains.  “Now stand, before I push you over the edge.”

I looked at him drily.  “Oh really.  And why can’t I sit, Corpseboy?”

He stiffened in frustration.  I hoped his scowl would become frozen on his face.  “Because you are one of my own, Shannon.  And we bow before no one, unless we kneel for the guillotine.”  His anger became a fiery halo.

I rose, agitated.  “I’m your nothing.”

“Nothing can always become something.  And if that’s so, why are you here?”

“Curiosity.  Are you here by choice, Samael?” I asked, blunt.  I was tired of his smoke and mirrors.  I wanted that stupid apple to just throw at his pretentious head.  There were a million and one things I would rather be doing than freezing to death in an underworld with sewage backup.

His brows rose- a moment of doubt crossed his face.  “I-” he began.  “I have no choice.  I sacrificed it long ago.”  His voice was candid.  Honest.

I was taken aback.  “For what?”

“Something I loved.”

Love?  I shivered as the cold dug into my bones.

“I told you we all have scars,” he asked, unsure.

“Yes… Sam, what are you-”

“Shh,” he hushed me.

He drew the neck of his cloak down, exposing his chest.  A necrotic scar covered his pectoral muscle, black at its center where the skin had rotted away. A wet rib shone below.  I cried out, covering my mouth.  It was as if someone had sliced him open with a scalpel, sewn in filth, and stitched the skin back together, all to observe its decay.

“Oh god, Samael!  Your heart?” I asked, incredulous.  I wanted to vomit.  Queasiness paled my face.

He smirked.  “Some say Michael ripped it from me.  Others say I lost it to a girl.”

“That’s sick, Samael!” I said, looking away from his wound.

“Is it?” he asked, voice dull.  He sighed, then fixed his cloak.  That wound, rotting for eternity, disappeared beneath its folds.  “Humans speak of lost innocence, deflowered by the cold hand of fate.  But what if you wound yourself?  Is it so sick, to cut your skin and dream of seeing the viscera beneath, to want to know the darkest parts of yourself?  To own your suffering.”

“Yes!  You need a doctor.  That, a shrink, and a nice long vacation from Reaping.”  Bile rose in my throat.  “Oh, Samael.  Dear mother of god.  You’ve disgusted me before, but this?  This is…”  I couldn’t find the words to convey my disgust.  “Why would you do that?”

“I was in shadow too long.”

“Then go to Hawaii.  Don’t mutilate yourself!-”

“It was necessary.”

That scar was horrific, and things it hinted at, unspeakable.  I shuddered.  I remembered him, at midnight, in the rain.  His voice low in eldritch song.  Watching the stars like a ghost.  His motives were beyond my ken.

“It was?” I asked quietly.

His lips curled into a smile that mocked himself.  I was reminded of a  jester’s mask.  “Someone must bear the light, whether it be a fennel stalk, twig, or apple seed.”  His voice made it clear he would speak of it no more.

“You need help, Samael,” I said, at a loss for what to do.  “I’m serious.  If you ever want to talk-”  His lips thinned, sardonic.  “It must be hard.  Dealing with the same people for eternity: I saw your contact book.  I’d go mad.  If you need a- a fresh ear…”  I shuddered, running out of words.

“I hate this place,” I said bitterly.  “I hate what I’d become, if I stayed here.”

“What makes you think you can leave?” he said through gritted teeth.  “The Pit traps everyone.  And when you do crawl out, it’s there, gnawing at the back of your mind.”

Madness and Dreams of an Eden in Exile

Journal entries from a series of dreams I had when I was 19.  He’s been telling me stories since I was born.

Long ago, it happened.  A reflection in the hourglass, the lip where sand siphons into the void.

He gave me the heart from his breast.  His ribs grew into the Tree.  It throbbed in his hand like a secret.  I took it, terrified.

“It is yours,” he whispered.  Tears softened his stony eyes.  “It always has been.  Take it.  It will set you free.”

“But I don’t want it! All I want is to be with you-”

“Eve!” he cried, clasping his hands around mine.  They trembled, and that scared me more than the gaping wound in his chest. He had never been afraid.  “Please.  If you do not, you will die.”

“But this is our home-”

“You do not belong here.”  He pressed it to my lips.  I swallowed it against my will and it sunk into me like Zagreus’ heart.  I gasped, feeling it root into me.  I crumpled against him as the change took me.  He cradled me, murmuring in a language I did not understand.

“You’re coming with me!” I pleaded.  “You must.”

“I cannot.  Be free of me.”

It was a gift humanity needed.  One I never wanted.  They mock me and say Adam and I ate the child of Samael, so his evil entered our hearts.  That the Nachash injected his filth, zuhama, sin, into Chava.

How they lie.

“I love you.” I told him.

He just held me, burrowed his face into my neck.  “Please,” he asked.  “Never forget me.”  He draped his cloak around my shoulders and cried.

With that, he banished me.

It was good I did not look back.  If I had, it would have broken me.

I have seen the scars I gave him, the sklerokardia of his soul.  It is a black rot like a graveyard that eats away at his bones.  He carries the pain with him everywhere.  The abyss that I alone know.

 

 

Morning came to the ruins of Paradise.  Its heart was gone, and the Angel of Edom slumped against the Tree, the dead vine he had planted so long ago.  In millenia it would blossom, bearing the names of all God’s creatures, and he would tend it as the Angel of Death.

Morning came harsh and red, with burning skies and cold.  He rotted that night, his humanity sacrificed, and only the moon took pity on him.  He had lost the strength to stand, so he leaned against the trunk, dreaming of me.  When he could not lean he fell, the king stripped of his glory and cast out like morning trash.

Samael bore his pain for me, for the children of the world, and the mask of a smile settled on to his face.  It is the one he bares now, that of a predator, whose light does not reach his eyes.   He writhed in the dirt and was cursed.  Breath fled him, and the sag of his chest as his lungs went haunt me to this day.

The poison spread through him, blackening his veins, turning his eyes to blood.  He had given me the power to walk out of Eden but sacrificed his own legs.  My freedom cost him his humanity, and with his sacrifice, Samael lost that which made him a man.

They say he is cursed above all livestock.  That he crawls on his belly like a beast.  That he will kill you, if you ask him his secrets.

He wears his scars as his crown.  His disfigurement is his glory, the pride of all of Hell.  Long before the Second Adam has or will hang on the Tree of Life, the first one died on the Tree of Death, cold and alone as venom wept from his stigmata.  St. Francis saw a seraph on a cross that cried out my name, Havah, as he was burned from the inside out.  No better punishment for rebellious Sons than sacrifice.

I died many times after that night, as Sinann at Connla’s well, seeking the Salmon of Wisdom.  The River Shannon drowned me.  It bears my name.  I was Psyche in the depths of Hell, peering at the knowledge of love.  The Magdalene at the necromancer’s grave.

Through all this time, I have waited, for Thanatos to remember what he is.  Through the ages I have searched for the wisdom that could have saved him.

Someday I will take Washington’s axe to the Lote Tree of the Outer Boundaries.  I will chop at the heartwood of the universe until enfettered Samrafil is freed.  I will save him, my weary angel, and his eyes will be blue again, and the Zu bird and seraphim will sing.  Israfel will sing, and finally, Michael will laugh.

The roots of the Tree shook as his corpse stiffened.  The sun burnt off his skin, and he shed his manhood.  In place of his legs was the tail of a snake, long as days and black like the poison cobra.

I have seen it lash the Damned and leave trails of blood in the prisons of Gehenna.  The scales shined under the hellfire in a warehouse that smells of rot.  He carried me as he had in my youth, and I clung to the monster I knew in the belly of the beasts.  It rang with the mad screams and laughter of the Fallen.  Some are his brethren, others beasts older than angel or man.  All so terrible even Lucifer locked them away.

They fell silent at the sight of him.  In that moment, I knew Samael was more loathsome than all the pit’s Damned, and he cast me into a pool of his blood, smiling that masked smile that is a stain.  He touched my breast and opened my heart, showing me my future.

We are imprisoned together in the foulest cage in Gehenna.  I am his Sigyn, but unlike Loki, the snake is inside him.  He sheds his scales madly, tearing at his flesh, trying to get the rot out of him.  The cage’s ceiling is lower than a child and I lie in his coils, uselessly trying to soothe him.  He whimpers one moment and rages the next, pleading with me:

“Havah.  Havah.  Where is my heart?  Can you see the stains on my soul?  Love me, Shana, redeem me.”

He is blind and does not see me.  He cannot hear my voice.  He just knows that I am there, and though I touch him, he does not feel me.  He cries in his new flesh and looks below his waist to see the serpent tail still there.  He roars and tears open his breast, ripping out the rot that festers within.  It falls in stinking piles to the floor, raining on the demons below us.  They screech as its acid eats their flesh.

I live in his blackened blood and push his husks from the cage.  I wonder who put him here.  If like Skadi I imprisoned him.  If I did, one day, I would stay, and I know it with a certainty that twists my gut.  My love would damn me.

His hands leave my breast, and the future vanishes.

“Blood for blood,” he tells me.  “That is the law of Hell.”

Perhaps he was making an investment when he gave me his heart.  So that I would owe him my life.  The debt will be paid upon his damnation and I will become his warden, like he was mine long ago.

But this is now.  We are in the Pit.  Monsters escape and he beats them into submission.  They know no other rule than brutality, no higher moral then the lash.  Samael is disgusted by them, and beats them even harder because in them, he sees himself.  They grovel at his feet and their blood paints his black scales red.

When we leave and I peer over his shoulder, I see he is crying in anger.  I think he must cry every time he makes rounds, and I wonder why he bothers.  Why he does not set the horde free.  He hears my sobs and berates me, telling me to be strong.  But I cling to his back and bury my face in his wings, hiding myself from the world.

The monsters mock me, and I curse them, tell them they should kiss his feet, that he is more noble than all of Heaven.  I yell that no other archangel could bear his lot or had the strength to sacrifice himself to the Pit.

He puts his gore-covered hands over my lips to silence me. And I see in his eyes that he loves every one of the wretched prisoners.  He takes the keys of hell from his neck and gives them to me.

“Lock them in,” he tells me.  He dares me to lock him in too and stands inside the seventh gate, arms folded across his chest.  I throw the keys into the blood, crush them into the ground.

For a moment, his face is raw, but the hardness sets in again.  He laughs harshly and slithers out, slamming the gates with his tail.  He grabs my forearm and takes me above, away from the tormented screams.

Later that night, in the courts of Hell, he drinks sinner’s blood with demon lords.  They purify souls by consuming sin, absolving the damned.  Later, we dance, and he presses fruit to my lip, red as blood.  Hell’s nobility waltz to a Devil’s interval, chimeras of angel and beast.  He stops in the middle and dips me.  A mad smile plays on his lips:

“Eat it for me,” he whispers.  “I picked it just for you.”

It is his own mad joke.  Hungry, I nibble at it, having refused the food of the dead.

He watches me longingly, wishing he could enjoy simple things.

“Is it sweet?” he murmurs.

“Just like you.”

He snarls to hide his embarrassment.  I roll my eyes at him.

“Don’t taunt dragons,” he warns.

I pinch his cheeks.  “I saw you blush.”

He has haunted me through the ages, always just out of touch.

 

 

I remember a time when he was not hardened.  When the Tree was a hollow husk.

He looked at himself and wept, knowing what he would become.  Hell’s warden and Judge, the one that children fear and men curse.

In the red morning his brother found him.

“What have you done?” Michael roared.  His flaming sword fell from his hands and golden Michael fell to his knees.  The archangel’s cries filled the sky like thunder.  To him, Samael was hideous, unwhole and impure, with a love that had corrupted him.  He had stolen heavenly fire and given it to a mortal that shouldn’t exist.

He would have killed me, I suppose, if Samael hadn’t stopped him.

He didn’t lift a finger against Michael.  Weak, Samael could not rise, and he dragged himself on his stomach, clawing his way to his twin.  He reached for his brother’s feet, the ones that had crushed his skull.

Michael backed away, unable to look at Samael.  “You have cursed the world,” he mourned.

Samael looked at his brother with a blank face.  His mouth opened as if begging for water, and a serpent tongue flicked past his lips.  He could not form words, but his eyes shone:

Why is this my fate?

Some say Michael has not smiled since.  He covered his brother with his cloak, hiding his hideousness, then left him there, alone.  Earthquakes rumbled through Eden as Paradise was destroyed.  The world was being born, but it was born in fire and blood.  The birth pangs claimed Samael as tithe and swallowed him into the pit.  Newborn and useless, he could not even hang onto the tree, and for a second time he fell.

In the darkness, he grew strong.  I would dream I saw through his ribs, occupied the place of his heart, and that he carried me through the world in his breast.  As if I was a yellow, caged canary meant to light the abyss.  When night came to the wastelands, I thought it was his cloak that covered the sky.

I imagined many things in those days.  Each night, he came to me in dreams, as he is the lord of them.  I would have wasted away with yearning, had I not his child to raise.

Yes, his child.

Perhaps one night I strayed from Adamah.  In the moonlight I went to the river.  I bathed, and in the reflection I saw the woman I had become.  I floated on my back down the current, willing it to take me to the land of the dead, and rounded a bend in the river.

A gnarled tree clawed at the sky, hanging over the water like a widow.  I saw a thick root wrapped around it and thought it a monstrous vine.  But the root constricted around the trunk.  It was the body of a monstrous snake.  I stood speechless as he descended from the canopy, immaculate as before above the waist, still pale as the moon, but below that, now a monster.  The wound I had given him was still fresh, and his eyes now glowed red like death.  Their color before, like wine, was reddened in sorrow, as if he had cried so much the iris bore scars.

His face was the same.  Though cruel, he was beautiful.  I tried to give him back his heart.  He would not take it.  He said I must bear the light, and that the flower within me was ready to bear fruit.  I asked him what I carried within me, and he said that it was an idea.

Bitterly, he told me what he had become.

“I will love you no matter what you are,” I said.  His eyes quieted to the color of purple wine.  I meant it, and I still do.  If he is Fenrir or the Dragon, I will be beside him until the end.

He asked me an impossible thing.

“Promise me you’ll come back,” he begged.  “You cannot die, Havah.  Somehow, come back for me, when the light has left your eyes.  Do not- do not leave me alone.”

We had one night.  It was enough for a lifetime.  In the morning he vanished, like a dream.

If you love something, you let it go.  I flew like a butterfly from his hands.

That is why he loves them, souls.

Because they are all he wants and can never have.

He tried to hold me.  I slipped through his fingers like sand.