The Night is Full of Haints

There’s a blackness that coats Snake’s Hollow, like night left her shawl over the entire town.  It is thick, it is alive, and to breathe it in is to choke down smoke and the ripe red cayenne peppers left in rum at the peristyle.

Call the blackness an omen, call it sin.  Out of all the humans in my small Louisiana home, only I can see it.

The night is full of haints, the church bells toll on their own, and sometimes, you gotta feed the crossroads.  That’s what the blackness brings – loup garou, zombies, the Petro Nation – and they stay away because of Raff and Papa Leggie, always on the town’s edge, but someday, they’ll come marching right on in.  That I know for sure, that it’s only a matter of time before your shadows catch up with you

Tonight I’m gonna meet them.

The blackness snakes across the woods like Spanish moss then enter people’s dreams every night, and my God-fearing granmamma makes a sound in her sleep that could curdle milk.  When I was younger, barely in elementary school, Raff would cover me with his old white wings and sing me to sleep in the tongue of angels, and the next day in church Papa Leggie would have ten more lines on his bark whorl face.  Leggie and God, they’re poker buddies, so Raff tells me.

I wonder if they gamble over which town’s turn it is to vanish into the blackness next.

Winter down here is chill and muggy, and maybe I’m riled up on Maya Angelou’s poetry that sweet momma loves to read to me before our dinner prayers, but I’m brave, and Raff is asleep on the roof, and not a soul is awake in this silly town.  They’re all tired out from church where they tried to get slices of salvation just like apple pie, and they’re clearly ain’t enough to go around like at church picnics, or the damn shadows wouldn’t be here watching me.

At the end of Still I Rise tonight, momma said “Be brave May Octavie Laveau, be strong, ‘cause this world will beat stubborn women down, and you ain’t worth anything if you ain’t stubborn as a mule.”  I wish I was like Storm in X-Men and could clear this place of the darkness, but it’s more than weather.

The blackness is in the bones of this town, fabled for Calf Springs that will heal and Snakes Springs that will curse.  There are so many heroes in my comics and movies – Leia, Nubia, Black Panther, Vixen – and I got a cape and light-up plastic light saber from a few years ago from when I still used to play make believe.  I put them on as a shield of sorts, full of sweet childhood memories, then crawl out the window, onto the gutter, and down the widow’s walk –

Wings in my face, strong hands at my waist.  I’m hauled from the widow’s walk back into my room like a lil girl picking flowers.

Raff just popped up like a daisy from a grave.  Jack’s rabbit if he ain’t fast as a hare.  I could have sworn I lulled him to sleep with momma’s chocolate chip cookies.  No one can see Raff ‘cept me, and he’s been with me since birth.  Love him but he’s a pain in my tush sometimes.

His scarred face is all stern, and he sits me down on my bed and dang it am I in for a talking.

“May!  What did I tell you about going out at night?  It’s too dangerous for you to even fathom!  I didn’t raise you to lose you, girl.”  His voice gets all gentle in the end, and he scratches his shaved curls.

I squint at Raff in the darkness of my room.  He’s got skin brown as me, and I used to not believe that he was an angel when I was younger.  I would say angels were only blonde women that played harps flying round the manger of baby Jesus, but Raff has a flaming sword and ain’t very good with babies.  He thinks they’re cute and all, but he’s been a bachelor since Literal Day 1.

“You didn’t raise me to be a scaredy cat either, Raff.  I’ve seen the Baron come down at fetes and watched my uncle get ridden by Ogou and swallow fire.  There’s a magic to my town, a curse of some kind that only I can see, and I’m going to save it.  I won’t let Snake’s Hollow be another of Leggie’s bets.”

“Legba isn’t trying to gamble Snake’s Hollow away, May,” Raff sighs, sitting down next to me.  “He’s trying to protect it.  We all are.”

The blackness exhales outside my window – it always comes at the stroke of 3:00 AM, the witching hour, then leaves by dawn, and the sun is coming up.  The howls of the loup garou on the bayou kept me awake all night.  When it breathes, it sounds like the whistle of a ghost train, and when it leaves, it’s like a tea kettle burning.

Raff makes the sign of the cross, only his fingers draw holy fire on the air, and the cross floats to me where it kisses my heart.  Blessings from angels never hurt, but I ain’t in needof  his protection.  I need his answers.

“You’re funny, Raff, you ain’t a proper man, and you ain’t a good angel.  Angels don’t lie, after all.”

Raff narrows his sunny yellow eyes, the irises an unearthly amber.  “What am I lying about?”

“Bets.  The lwa make bets all the time.  Leggie’s a trickster, after all.”

“Legba loves you, May.  He’s keeping the blackness away.  We all are.  Now go to bed.  You got school tomorrow.”  He hugs me then takes off my cape and tries to tuck me in.

“I don’t need you pulling the blankets up Raff, I’m eleven, not seven.”

Raff smiles like river pearls are in his mouth, then laughs.  “’Night, May-flower.”  He climbs up onto the roof and soon I can hear him snoring like a foghorn.

I watch the blackness until dawn drives it out.

The night is alive in Snake’s Hollow.

In the dark, the Dead have names.

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Chwal: Part 3

Part 1Part 2

Each of the angels, I learn, is a gear in a clock: put them all together and the hours of the universe turn.  As the weeks go on, they teach me – to sing in Heaven’s language, to dance the steps Jacob’s family circled in the desert, to revel in the beauty God planted on Earth.  My soul thrums with their devotion, and I feel pure as a mountain spring.

I start working in soup kitchens with momma and pa and fill piles of notebooks with prose, imagining words plucked from the Tree of Life.  I give back the love the angels pour into me to my small Louisiana town, and it’s hard to notice, but sometimes a flower will creep up through the snow where I step, and jiminy cricket if that ain’t something.

But for all that glory comes darkness.  Pain drawn to me, like I’m some candle in the pitch-black gloam.  We read a Rilke poem at Sunday school about angels: beauty is but the beginning of terror.  I wonder if Rilke walked with angels, too.  Who the other Guardians were.

The blackness comes every night now, swirling outside my window, calling me.  May, it says, I see you.  I hide under the covers in a cold sweat.

Raff takes to sleeping at the foot of my bed, snoring like a foghorn, sword at his side.  He doesn’t even bother to cover his scars now, and god dang it if he won’t tell me how the despair knows my name.  “Don’t worry about it, May-flower.  He won’t hurt you.  It’s just like a moth to a flame.  After all, you’re bright as the sun.  Just stay in and get some rest.  You’re safe as long as you don’t go outside.”

Too bad Raff ain’t that smart.  He shoulda known by now that giving me orders makes me do the exact opposite.  On the coldest night of the year, the darkness thrums, and I just get this feeling that whatever out there is waiting.  The only way I can get the darkness to stop taunting me is if I give it a good thwacking.  I take my dusty plastic light saber outta my closet for old time’s sake and climb down the gutter when Raff’s comatose.  Maybe it was a sin, but I stuffed him full of cookies and milk to get him to pass out.  I probably ain’t a Guardian after all: pretty sure Jesus didn’t manipulate angels with desert.

The black is so thick I can’t see.  I switch the blue glow of my lightsaber on and use it to illuminate the despair, earning scratches and bruises as I slide down the shingles, over the roof fronting the door, and slip down the gutter.

The Man who for so long has been watching me is there, waiting by a flickering lamppost, puffing on a cigar in a bowler hat like one of those villains in pa’s old films.  He sure can pull off a suit.  Shadows cling to him like a caul, and I can’t tell if it’s silk or bits of night.

He breathes out a snake of smoke. It squiggles up to the stars.  For however dark he is on the outside, there’s fire in the depths of his mouth.

I hesitate.

The Man in Black laughs.

Be strong, I think, like Leia or Maya Angelou or Zora Neale Hurston.  This is a smart woman’s world, after all, and smart women always win.  I point my lightsaber at him.  “You lost, mister?  This ain’t even a crossroads: it’s a cul-de-sac. I don’t have any deals to make or a soul left to sell.  Raff made that pretty clear a while ago: I’m owned, basically Heaven’s property.  Not that this Guardian thing doesn’t come with its perks.”

The shadows condense around him, leaving only flickering pitch eyes and a hooked nose that looks like it’s been broken a dozen times.  Black fog gone, I can see beyond my lightsaber’s bulb.  I turn its electric buzz off.

He chuckles all deep like a gorge, the kind I go swimming in in quarry pools with Raff.

I cross my arms.  “Not much of a talker, are ya?  You ain’t much fun at parties, I bet.”

The Man in Black takes another drag, then blows smoke in the shape of a beautiful woman at my face.  She dances and dissolves at the tip of my nose.

I swat the fumes away, irritated.  “Not a gentleman, either.  You’re dumb as a doorknob – don’t you know smoking causes cancer?  Granpa died that way.  You don’t wanna go like him, with sticky needles in your skin, hooked up to rattling machines.”

The Man in Black stamps out his cigarette with the clack of a Cuban heel.  “Poison’s in my nature.  Anyways, a few cigars never hurt anyone.  Say, little dancer, want one?”

I draw back, raising my fists.  “I’m not a smoker or a dancer.”

He fixes his cufflinks.  They’re shaped like cobras.  “Joker, smoker, midnight broker – you will be one day, ballerina, dealing in magic in societes for the sick, broken, and poor.  The desperate will flock to your light – someone that burns as bright as you can’t avoid it.  And oh, the music of your soul!  You’re dancing already: your heart’s a drum.  Every movement is a step closer to your grand finale.  In the end we bow together, go down together.  We’re counterparts, you and me, my dear.”

“I think all the fumes have made your head squiggly.  You don’t make a lotta sense, mister… mister…?”

“Mister Carrefour, spirit of the crossroads.”

“This is a cul-de-sac.”

“Close enough.  Everything moves in circles anyways – life, songs, psalms, waltzes.  We rise and we fall, take new names, play new games.   Well, want to make a wager?”

I poke him with my light saber.  It doesn’t touch him, just slips through him like a sword through water.  “I don’t make deals with strangers, much less bets, Mister Carrefour.  Momma raised me to be a lady, after all.”

Mister Carrefour looks up at the sky with finely ground pepper eyes, the irises bloody red.  “Your too-many-greats grandma did. Mistress Marie Laveau, Voodoo Queen of New Orleans.  She bet her soul for power – she could bend judges and the jury with a hot hot pepper, stroke Lafayette’s ego, dance with Damballah at the bayou on St. John’s Eve and bring blessings to her people.  She struck a deal with me for the betterment of all New Orleans.  After all, all magic passes through me and my magic leaves, flower child.  You’ve got the same voodoo blood in you, little girl.  Walking the line between angels and lwa.  Now don’t ask me if it’s gris-gris dust or a fete you’re throwing, but a strange wind’s blowing your way.  Kanzo comes, lave tets go, but the song remains the same.  Dancer that I am, I hitched a ride in on your tailwind years ago.  I like this place: Snake’s Hollow.  Little country town outside New Orleans.  It’d be a shame to see it go to the dark side.  It’d be a shame to see it disappear.”

I stick up my nose in defiance.  “What exactly are you saying, sir?”

Mister Carrefour lets the blackness thread through his fingers like a fish.  “That the blackness in this town has a taste: my older brother saw to that.  Sweet, sweet angel cake, and a little bit of devil’s food from you.  Legba built up the wards strong around the people of Snake’s Hollow, nearly taking it off my map.  But are they strong enough, I wonder, when my spirits come to play?  The Ghede, the Kalfous, the Ogous. Life’s a playground, after all, and my Petro crowd likes nothing better than drums that hum like sin.”

I put the glowing lightsaber under my eyes so my face looks scary.  At least, I hope it does.  “Snake’s Hollow is my home.  Ain’t no magic to it.  And you missed Leggie by four years.  He’s dust in the wind like that song.”

Mister Carrefour laughs like black coffee and ghost peppers.  He takes a drag of his cigar.  Pretty gross, but what else to expect from the Man in Black?  At least he’s got style.  Bet he listens to Satchmo.

“Legba ain’t gone, little girl.  All you needed to do was call him.  I can show you how.”

I narrow my stubborn eyes.  Momma says I look like a mule when I do that.  Maybe it will make him go away.  “I don’t know about Marie Laveau, and I don’t know about magic.  Mess with that stuff and it bites you like a gator.  Leggie will come back when he needs to.”

Mister Carrefour chuckles again.  It annoys me.  “All it takes is some cornmeal and some rum and some candles.  Didn’t your mother teach you that?”

“Momma’s a good Christian, not a witch.”

“I bet she is.  Too bad you kids forget about us.  The lwa are hungry, you know.  Why else do you think I eat the blackness in people’s dreams?  Don’t get enough offerings these days.  Nobody likes Mister Carrefour.  Not even little missus mambo.”

He pulls a buffalo nickel out of his pocket and flips it.  It lands tails up.

“I just made a bet with myself: whether I should help you or not, little missus.  Guess I will.  I got some fiery rum and old cornmeal left over from last night’s fete.  Even got a St. Peter candle somewhere in my cliff-deep pockets.  Gotta pay the piper, I’d wager.”

I step back.  “Is it okay to watch magic?  Or is that a sin too?”

“Ask dear Raphael.  Or don’t.  I sent my spirits to his dreams.  Ever wonder why he cries out at night?  He’s your shield.”

I wince.  “I think you’re evil, Mister Carrefour.”

Mister Carrefour draws out the materials to summon Leggie.  “I’m a lotta things, child.  Angel, devil, lwa, loser.  Ain’t nobody likes Mister Carrefour.”

“You said that already.”

He finishes drawing a veve – the kind in those hokey Voodoo shops on Bourbon street.  He shrugs.  “I’ll admit I’m a bit bitter about my popularity.  Humans won’t even look at me when I come down in a fete.  Guess I’m lucky.  They don’t bother me or my friends unless they want to curse somebody.  Now that’s a fun time.”

“It doesn’t sound so kind to me.”

“Guess it isn’t, then.  Alright, here’s Legba’s veve.  A lot prettier than mine.  Legba likes to be fancy.  Wonder if he’ll bring that little yappy dog.”  Mister Carrefour lights candles and chants in Creole.  He pours rum onto the flames and they combust.  I take shelter behind a dumpster.

“You sure this’ll work, Mister Carrefour?” I call, half-ready to scale the gutter and go get Raff.

He fans the flames.  “As sure as sin, ballerina.”

“I got two left feet.”

“It’s a metaphor, baby mambo.”

“Isn’t a black mamba a kinda venomous snake?”

“You got bite like one, missus.  Mambo, mamba, one and the same – you’re a dangerous little thing.”

Snoopy barks, then comes bounding at me.  Out of the flames step Leggie in a bathrobe.

“Kalfou, you idiot!  Why’d you wake me up?”  Leggie looks around, scritching his bald head as he examines my cul-de-sac.  His rheumy eyes widen and he smacks his whorled cane on the ground.  “You stirring up trouble in my May’s neighborhood, brother?  To the depths with you, you crooked, crooked fool.”

I pet Snoopy, who hides from the flames behind me.  She’s shivering and yappy.  I come back out from behind the dumpster.

“The angels and I got a deal, Legba.  You know I like deals.  Especially ones at crossroads-

“Cut it out, Kalfou.  I’m too old for this.  You touch a hair on May’s head and I’ll beat your hide with my cane all the way to Gineh.  May, May, child, you there?”  Leggie shields his gaze from the flames.

“Over here, Papa,” I call, scooping Snoopy up into my arms.  She smells like summer grass and licks my face.

Relief washes over Leggie’s face.  “You had me scared to death, May,” Leggie says, pushing Mister Carrefour – or Kalfou, I don’t even know, what a freak! – aside with his cane as he hobbles over to me.  Leggie adjusts his straw hat then hugs me, real hard.  “Didn’t Raff tell you never to leave your room when the blackness comes?”  Leggie’s voice is stern.

“Raff didn’t tell me a lotta things.  Like where you went.  Or that I’m a Guardian.”

Leggie sighs, then brushes a curl behind my ears.  “I like the curls, baby doll.  You make me proud.  I knew this day would come.”  The keys to the Heavenly Gates jangle-jing on Leggie’s cane as he turns to Kalfou.  Mister Carrefour?  I bet the Man in Black has a lotta names, none of them very savory.

Frosty grass crunches under my feet, but Leggie is hot as jambalaya.  “You do this again, brother, and I won’t be so lenient.  You’re overstepping your bounds.”

“Boundaries shift, brother.  May-flower needs me, now more than ever.  Me and my spirits.  Just like Laveau did.  I taught Laveau her tricks, I’ll teach her too-many-greats granddaughter.  To dance with snakes, to summon the lwa.  She’s already met half her celestial family.  The angels can’t keep her all to themselves.  Us lwa, we got our claim.  She’ll need all of us, when the time comes.”

“What time?” I interrupt.

Kalfou licks his lips like he’s at a barbecue.  “Bondye be calling, little dancer.  You gonna fight for him?  For us?  Us lwa, we in bad shape.  Marinette Dry Arms wants you dead.  But you’re the key to our survival.  Marinette ain’t thinking straight.  She’s all fire death and blood.  Black swine, black roosters, rougarou amassing in the swamps on her side.  She’s setting out for Snake’s Hollow soon.  She don’t much like angels and lwa working together.  She don’t much like Bondye – our God – at all.”

I sit with Raff at dinner the next day, almost blue from shame.  I don’t dare tell Raff I went out into the darkness.  I ain’t gonna tell him we summoned Leggie, or that Mister Carrefour gave me his card.  I didn’t even know lwa had business cards.

“You hold this card over a candle flame, baby mambo, and I’ll be there.”

It’s monogrammed with a swirly M and C in the shape of two snakes.

I ain’t raring to try it out soon, if ever.

Legba fixed me up with a hug and made his dark horse of a brother go away.  “You ain’t gotta worry about Kalfou, baby doll.  Tell Raff I said hi.  Things be a bit busy up above.  Legba’s gotta hobble home and sleep.  C’mon, Snoopy.  I’ll tell you more about Marinette later, May-flower.”

Who’s this Marinette, I wonder?

That’s the problem with lwa.  They leave a lotta things unsaid.

I’m chewing on a green bean that’s real stringy when momma comes into the room, dressed in a paisley skirt and pretty blue top.  She’s got high heels on and is singing as she places a steaming bowl of mashed potatoes in front of me and pa.  Raff is reading the newspaper, but he looks over the front page at the steaming taters.  I better sneak him some later.  We all sit down, say grace (I was eating before that, whoops) and dinner begins.

I’m cutting up some barbecue chicken when I catch momma outta the corner of my eyes.

“Momma?”

“Yeah May?”

Pa looks up from his taters.  Raff closes the paper and adjusts his reading glasses.

“Who’s Marie Laveau?”

Momma and pa share a look like they just stepped on an open grave.  I swallow a piece of chicken, one of the good bits without gristle.

“She’s our ancestor, sweetheart, on daddy’s side,” momma says.  “It’s where our family name comes from: it’s French.  She was a very famous woman in New Orleans back in the day: led the Haitian spiritual community and danced in Congo Square.  There’s a lot of fiction about her.  Why do you ask?”

“Just wondering,” I mutter, stuffing my mouth with taters so I don’t have to talk anymore.

Raff clears his throat, then elbows me.  I ignore him.

My parents give each other another look then go back to talking about pa’s legal practice and how momma’s winter garden is.

“May,” Raff whispers, even though he can’t be heard.  “Did you go outside in the black?”

My kitty slinks up and purrs, rubbing against Raff’s leg.  I cross my fingers behind my back for old times’ sake and look at the floor.  “Uh, no.”

Raff narrows his honey eyes.  “May Octavie Laveau, are you lying to your guardian angel?”

The blueness of shame creeps up again.  I blush.  “Umm.”

Raff rubs his brow all exasperated-like.  “You met Kalfou, didn’t you.  And he told you.  Things.  Things about the Petro.”

“Leggie saved me!  Snoopy was there too!  I was just making sure we were safe, Raff!  I even had my light saber.”

“That won’t protect you, May-flower!  Kalfou’s a nasty trickster and a smoker to boot.  Stay far away from him.”

“Then why does he have all of Snake’s Hollow as his playground?  His blackness is like smoke all over the town!”

My kitty purrs.  Raff pets her in worry.

“The lwa are strong in Louisiana, May.  They’re intercessors like angels, saints by one name, the vestiges of African gods by another.  God, Bondye, whatever you call Him – we serve the same Man Upstairs.  Some lwa are friends with the angels, like my good man Legba, but some are downright hostile, like Marinette.”

“Who is she?”

“One of the leaders of the lwa.  She led Haiti in the revolution against the French masters.  She doesn’t think straight half the time, too drunk off black rooster blood, and the same thing she did to the French, she wants to do to the angels.  Marinette, and some of her unsavory friends like her husband Ti-Jean and their bloodthirsty Bizango and loup garou servants, think there’s only room enough in Gineh – or Paradise – for one kind of spirit, and it ain’t angels.  And any mortals the angels mentor – and who keeps the angels tied to the lwa – well by my Father, Marinette wants them gone.”

I shiver and grab my kitten.  Not really a kitty anymore, just a fat calico, but boy does she act like one.  She paws my legs and nestles into my lap, so heavy.  I gotta stop spoiling her with cream.

“She sounds scary.  What can I do?”

“Don’t go out in the blackness, May!  Listen to me, please.”

I sigh and try not to roll my eyes.  “Alright Raff, I promise.”

Marie Laveau, Marie Laveau… I think to myself, going through pa’s library in his office late at night when my parents – and Raff – are upstairs asleep.  The name is like music in my ears, and I sing to myself, Voodoo Queen of New Orleans.  I know Zora Neale Hurston did anthropological work in New Orleans during the Great Depression as ma told me – she’s gotta know something about my famous ancestor that gave our family its name!

Just when I’m climbing the rickety shelf behind pa’s desk, my hands grow hot, and the divine energy that flows through me that the angels have been teaching me to master grows piping hot like a tea kettle, leading my fingers to caress a worn paperback.  There – an energy zing like an electric socket!  I pull the book down and climb off the shelf:

Zora Neale Hurston: Of Mules and Men.  I gasp.  The pages light with my magic and open to a specific passage, where Zora Neale Hurston had visited Marie Laveau’s supposed nephew, now an ancient hoodoo doctor – he must be long dead now, a vestige of an old age where magic still bubbled under the skin of New Orleans.  Now it’s all just hokey shops in French quarter and drunken smelly tourists on Bourbon street.  I smooth the page and read from Zora’s journals:

I made three more trips before he would talk to me in any way that I could feel encouraged. He talked about Marie Laveau because I asked. I wanted to know if she was really as great as they told me. So he enligthened my ignorance and taught me. We sat before the soft coal fire in his grate.

“Time went around pointing out what God had already made. Moses had seen the Burning Bush. Solomon by magic knowed all wisdom. And Marie Laveau was a woman in New Orleans.”

“She was born February 2, 1827. Anybody don’t believe I tell the truth can go look at the book in St. Louis Cathedral. Her mama and her papa, they wasn’t married and his name was Christophe Glapion.”

“She was very pretty, one of the Creole Quadroons and many people said she would never be a hoodoo doctor like her mama and her grandma before her. She liked to go to the balls very much where all the young men fell in love with her. But Alexander, the great two-headed doctor felt the power in her and so he tell her she must come to study with him. Marie, she rather dance and make love, but one day a rattlesnake come to her in her bedroom and spoke to her. So she went to Alexander and studied. But soon she could teach her teacher and the snake stayed with her always.”

“She has her house on St. Anne Street and people come from the ends of America to get help from her. Even Queen Victoria ask her help and send her a cashmere shawl with money also.”

“Now, some white people say she hold hoodoo dance on Congo Square every week. But Marie Laveau never hold no hoodoo dance. That was a pleasure dance. They beat the drum with the shin bone of a donkey and everybody dance like they do in Hayti. Hoodoo is private. She give the dance the first Friday night in each month and they have crab gumbo and rice to eat and the people dance. The white people come look on, and think they see all, when they only see a dance.”

“The police hear so much about Marie Leveau that they come to her house in St. Anne Street to put her in jail. First one come, she stretch out her left hand and he turn round and round and never stop until some one come lead him away. Then two come together she put them to running and barking like dogs. Four come and she put them to beating each other with night sticks. The whole station force come. They knock at her door. She know who they are before she ever look. She did work at her altar and they all went to steep on her steps. “

“Out on Lake Pontchartrain at Bayou St. John she hold a great feast every year on the Eve of St. John’s, June 24th. It is Midsummer Eve, and the Sun give special benefits then and need great honor. The special drum be played then. It is a cowhide stretched over a half-barrel. Beat with a jaw-bone. Some say a man but I think they do not know. I think the jawbone of an ass or a cow. She hold the feast of St. John’s partly because she is a Catholic and partly because of hoodoo.”

“The ones around her altar fix everything for the feast. Nobody see Marie Leveau for nine days before the feast. But when the great crowd of people at the feast call upon her, she would rise out of the waters of the lake with a great communion candle burning upon her head and another in each one of her hands. She walked upon the waters to the shore. As a little boy I saw her myself. When the feast was over, she went back into the lake, and nobody saw her for nine days again.”

“On the feast that I saw her open the waters, she looked hard at me and nodded her head so that her tignon shook. Then I knew I was called to take up her work. She was very old and I was a lad of seventeen. Soon I went to wait upon her Altar, both on St. Anne Street and her house on Bayou St. John’s.”

“The rattlesnake that had come to her a little one when she was also young was very huge. He piled great upon his altar and took nothing from the food set before him. One night he sang and Marie Leveau called me from my sleep to look at him and see. ‘Look well, Turner,’ she told me. ‘No one shall hear and see such as this for many centuries.’”

“She went to her Great Altar and made great ceremony. The snake finished his song and seemed to sleep. She drove me back to my bed and went again to her Altar.”

“The next morning, the great snake was not at his altar. His hide was before the Great Altar stuffed with spices and things of power. Never did I know what become of his flesh.”

I flip ahead, anxious but excited by the power Zora spun into the words of this hoodoo doctor and the majesty of Marie Laveau, who seems to have never truly died, but lived on in the minds of her family, of New Orleans, and the lwa she befriended:

By the time that Turner had finished his recitation he wasn’t too conscious of me. In fact he gave me the feeling that he was just speaking, but not for my benefit. He was away off somewhere. He made a final dramatic gesture with open hands and hushed for a minute. Then he sank deeper into himself and went on: “But when she put the last curse on a person, it would be better if that man was dead, yes.”

With an impatient gesture he signaled me not to interrupt him

“She set the altar for a curse with black candles that have been dressed in vinegar. She would write the name of the person to be cursed on the candle with a needle. Then she place fifteen cents in the lap of Death upon the altar to pay the spirit to obey her orders. Then she place her hands flat upon the table and say the curse-prayer.”

“‘To The Man God: Oh great One, I have been sorely tried by my enemies and have been blasphemed and lied against. My good thoughts and my honest actions have been turned to bad actions and dishonest ideas. My home has been disrespected, my children have been cursed and ill-treated. My dear ones have been back-bitten and their virtue questioned. O Man God, I beg that this that I ask for my enemies shall come to pass: “‘That the South wind shall scorch their bodies and make them wither and shall not be tempered to them. That the North wind shall freeze their blood and numb their muscles and that it shall not be tempered to them. That the West wind shall blow away their life’s breath and will not leave their hair grow, and that their finger nails shall fall off and their bones shall crumble.That the East wind shall make their minds grow dark, their sight shall fail and their seed dry up so that they shall not multiply.”

Turner again made that gesture with his hands that meant the end. Then he sat in a dazed silence. My own spirits had been falling all during the terrible curse and he did not have to tell me to be quiet this time. After a long period of waiting I rose to go. “The Spirit say you come back tomorrow,” he breathed as I passed his knees. I nodded that I had heard and went out. The next day he began to prepare me for my initiation ceremony, for rest assured that no one may approach the Altar without the crown, and none may wear the crown of power without preparation. It must be earned.

I nearly cuss.  “Zora was initiated?”

Thoughts bubble in my head: that the angels had kept Kalfou, had kept Leggie, had kept half my heritage from me all my life – the Laveau blood that flows through my veins.  I want to be ready when Marinette comes, and though I can perform small miracles – parlor tricks the angels have taught me, water into wine slipped into the carafe at dinner for my momma and pa, bread multiplied for the homeless’s soup, spring flowers to bring joy in the harshest winter months to the people of Snake’s Hollow – I suddenly know in my bones that true magic awaited in the peristyle, in what Leggie had told me long ago was the holy house voodoo societes practiced in and drew down the spirits and ancestors.

Legba will never take me.  Neither would Raff.  But I just might know a dark horse that will.

I go straight to the kitchen.  I take fresh cornmeal and pour it into a jar.  I grab a matchbox and go to the center of the cul-de-sac, families all asleep now that it’s midnight.  I make two intersecting lines with diagonal snakes in a makeshift cornmeal veve.  Taking the lighter, with the blackness thick as blood, I turn it on, take Mister Carrefour’s business card, and let it burn.

The smell of Cuban cigars and cayenne pepper washes over me.  Florida water, which granmama used to get from the store and sprinkle on the porch threshold to keep out supposed demons.  Overwhelming, smoky cologne.

Mister Carrefour spreads his fingers wide like spider webs and waves them by his head like a circus freak.  “Didn’t think you’d come calling so soon, baby mambo.”

I square my shoulders and place my hands firm on my hips: “Take me to the other lwa.  I want to learn about my heritage: about voodoo.  If it’s good enough for Zora, it’s good enough for me.  I need to know about Marie Laveau, and what the angels are using me for.  I need to be ready for Marinette, whenever that haint comes calling.”

Mister Carrefour twirls a dreadlock between gloved fingers and laughs like gunpowder water.  “Alright then, little missus, to Snakes Spring we go.”

“Wait, what?  But that’s in the middle of the woods.  Billy Morse said it’s haunted – that Indians used to drown people there.  That’s not the good spring – the good spring is Calf Spring.  That’s where the tourists buy their dinky water from.  Snakes Spring is cursed.”

“All the better for me.  I do love a biting good bone-rattling curse, and death, though the Baron’s forte, is also my especialty.”

Mister Carrefour claps his hands.  A giant black draft horse-drawn carriage appears.  The wheels are writhing black snakes biting their own tails, round and smooth like tires. The spokes are femurs.  I shiver in fear.

“That thing looks downright awful.  Ain’t no way I’m riding in that,” I say, listening to the wheel snakes hiss.

Mister Carrefour adjusts his black top hat and snickers.  “Now now now, ain’t well for Bondye’s Chwal to be afraid of anything.  Come on, bless your little heart, hop inside, off to the woods we go.”

I climb into the haunted carriage and Mister Carrefour takes the reins and the draft horses gallop off, mouths foaming as they whicker.  The wind is wild as a woman shaking dust from a rug.

“What do you mean, Bondye’s Chwal?” I call over the gale.  I grip the seat as the steeds’ hooves start crushing velvet night under their keratin and we gallop off into the air.  It’s nothing like Raphael’s flying, all shaky, and for once I’m actually afraid of heights.

Kalfou’s eyes flash alizarin crimson.  “Vessel, vassal, Vaseline – you’re the Chwal, a balm to the world, a healing force, Bondye made flesh with Voodoo blood to spice things up.  All my blackness and darkness, Marinette Dry Arm’s fire, Ti Jean’s iron shavings – you could swallow them all down and spit up spring water and rainbows.  It’s a little like being the Messiah, but less Apocalyptic, and more what happens each generation: the angels choose Bondye’s successor, and she brings balance to the spiritual realms.  It’s always a young girl that knows too much and speaks too often and is too damn stubborn for her own good.  She’s also brave beyond her years, just like you.  No doubt about it, baby mambo, you’re Bondye’s Chwal.  His spirit rides you.  He be your head spirit.  You got great magic about you, deep wanga at work.”

The stars are so close I could pull them from the sky like onions after a rainstorm.  The femurs rattle and the horses neigh.  The moon is a great big steamboat on the Mississippi and Mister Carrefour is the Devil I dance with in the pale moonlight, only the dance is our words, wits clashing.

“Doesn’t Chwal mean horse in Creole?  The name for humans ridden by lwa at fetes?” I ask, recalling Leggie’s stories of the rituals of the peristyle.

Mister Carrefour glances back over his shoulder into the open carriage.  He smirks, and I wanna wipe that stupid grin from his face, what a jerk.  “Yup my girl, that’s right.  You’re a quick learner, ain’t you?”

Below, the forest spreads out like hobnobbed toothpicks covered in leaves and Spanish moss.  There it is: Snakes Spring, a bubbling hot spring, and a flock of crows fly above.  Mister Carrefour whips the reins and we land in a clearing.  He holds out a gloved hand to help me down, but I choose to jump instead, landing squarely crouched on my feet.

It’s spring, and there are wild yellow daffodils blooming, with reeds and stone around Snakes Spring.  I close my eyes and breath in the mineral water and wildflowers and run my feet through some bluebells by my ankles.  Reaching deep inside me, to the magic at my heart, I call up new buds.

Dandelions push through the grass – momma and pa would consider them weeds, but they’re my favorite flower for their strength.

Mister Carrefour laughs: “Nice parlor trick, baby mambo.  But Marie Laveau could do much more than that.  The snakes are waiting in their hollows, resting from a long winter.  Why don’t you wake those slitherers up?”

I know it’s a dare, but I want to show the Man in Black that I ain’t afraid of anything.  So I do.  I reach deep into the earth, into the crevasses around the spring and shout to the sleeping scaly secret keepers that gave the pure waters their name, and suddenly great hissing and the feeling of coiled muscles come pumping up from holes in the ground along the waterside.  A dozen black Eastern hog-nosed snakes dig their way out of the ground, some striped Diamond-backed water snakes dance out from the reeds, even a coral, black, and white milk snake slinks from under a log.

I think of the snake Marie Laveau danced with then cooked up and stuffed with her secrets.  The one that called her into her hoodoo power when she was but a girl.  The snakes slither over each other, piling up,  and they whisper in quivering words into my mind, and I know what to do.  I direct them to Mister Carrefour, and soon they are climbing the Man in Black, twining around his suit, circling his limbs, and he laughs so hard I think the sky will fall, his shadow belly rumbling.

“You good, little girl.  Choose one, why don’t you: we’ll need a gift for the Erzulie Sisters.  Every entrance to Gineh has a price.”

“What’s Gineh?” I ask, eying the milk snake, which unspools from the log towards me.

“Home to the lwa.  There’s the Petro Nation, Ghedeland, and of course, Rada Island.  That’s where we headed.  Freda be having a party, and boy does she love jewelry.  A snake will make a nice necklace for Sister Freda.  Maybe pick some flowers for Maman Danto while you’re at it.  The girls get jealous of each other, one always a mistress, one always a mother.  Ogou tries to please both but he ain’t very good at appeasing demanding women, and sisters often hate each other if they are sharing a man.”

Ogou, Erzulie Danto, Erzulie Freda – I’ve heard their names around New Orleans in Voodoo shops and of course from Leggie.  Ogou is the lwa of war and strength, Danto the mother of the Petro and hot helm of Haitian revolution, and Freda is the lwa of love and beauty.  I’ve always wanted to meet them.

I eye the pretty milk snake.  She dances just for me, and I beckon her from the shade of an uprooted tree.  She presents herself to me and I drape her over my shoulders like a necklace.  I know she won’t bite – as long as I tell her not to.  I summon the snakes away from Mister Carrefour, and he looks sad to see them go.

“Au revoir, mon amis,” Mister Carrefour salutes the slitherers.  “Well then, May, shall we be going?  Grab some flowers for Danto.”

I think Danto would like daffodils, so I grab a handful of stems and pull them from the earth.

Mister Carrefour chants in Creole, spills some cornmeal onto the ground in the shape of a labyrinth, then hops over it.  The cornmeal catches on fire, then a great portal to lush Caribbean tropics opens.

“Well, in you go, Chwal.”

I can smell tropical flowers and see manta rays swimming in coral on a beach.

“You sure about this?” I ask, petting my milk snake.  “Is it safe?”

“Ain’t nothing safe in Gineh.  But nothing’s as powerful as Bondye, and you got His blood.  Look at you, with a little Damballah on your shoulders.  Come on, before it closes.”

I walk through.

Chwal: Part 2

Part 1

The winters come and go, and I grow up.  I trade in my crayons for pens, braids for free-flowing curls that blow like a lion’s mane.  Raff don’t age at all, but that’s to be expected.

I’m twelve, finally in sixth grade, and it’s Christmastime.  Granmama’s sitting outside on the front porch, watching the fresh falling snow.  I lounge in the bay window, inky papers in my hand.  It’s pa’s legal pads, all stacked together with my stories, and the smudges bleed over the edge like some battle scene.

Raff smiles, watching me scribbling my next great novel.  I know writers are supposed to wait til their thirties or something to pen the Great American Novel, least, that’s what pa says, but we all start somewhere, right?  Even angels and Zora Neale Hurston – my momma’s favorite author, who maybe I shouldn’t be reading now at such an “impressionable age,” as granmama says, but I do – were in diapers once.  Well, angels wore something, because diapers probably weren’t around back then.

Raff’’s given me one of his feathers to write with, a different one on each of my birthdays.  This is the largest yet, and let me tell you – it’s impossible.  Impossibly beautiful, that is.  All long and plumy-white like something from a dream.  The nib etches lil streams of golden ink, and jack’s rabbit if that isn’t a miracle.

Raff sits crunching sunflower seeds.  “What part are you at, May?”

“The part where Keisha raids the moon base.  She’s freeing the rebel aliens from their prisons so the revolution can start.  It’s like Star Wars but better.  Instead of light sabers, Keisha has a light arrow.  It’s more precise, like a laser beam, with a hundred percent casualty rate when aimed exactly right.”

“Sounds exciting.  Want edits?”

“Sure thing, sweetheart.”

He always blushes when I call him that.  But I’m old enough to give Raff nicknames too now.  I like watching him squirm.  Angels ain’t got nothing on me, after all.

Leggie left a while ago, when I started asking questions.  Raff tells me only kids can see him, but I’m not so sure about that.  Sometimes, outta the corner of my eye, I swear I can see the old man sitting in the pews like usual, on rainy days, when there’s a stillness about the place some would call holy, and granmama’s soft snores touch the lights.  Sounds can touch lights, you know.  Raff explained that everything’s just a wave, like in physics, except his explanation is more poetic.

“It’s all a dance, May.  Like butterflies in an Indian summer.  Everyone has their time.”

He draws out his words like a painter.  His time stretches on forever.

I’m old enough now to see the scars behind his eyes.  Like a war vet.  Pa says grandpa came back from Korea and was never quite the same.  He died with that same bruisyness Raff has, the poky bits like a cactus.  Once I cut myself after falling at the quarry, and Raff tore off his robes below the knee and bound it with the fabric, then flew me home.

His legs were criss-crossed with scars, like train tracks over his skin.  I never dared ask him about it, but I have nightmares, sometimes, about what they mean.  I’m old enough to read the Bible all the way through now, after all.

“Raff?” I ask, one day as I’m waiting alone at the bus stop in the rain, and he’s hovering beside me, whistling to a bird in his hands.

“Mmm?”

“Your legs.  Do they hurt?”

He’s silent.

After a while, he asks: “How’s your story going.”

“Good.  It’s about a war.  You ever seen a war?”

Tears prickle his eyes, and I feel like I’ve kicked a puppy in the gut.

“Yes,” he says faintly.  The bluebird in his hand trills sadly as my angel hangs his head.  Raff shields me from the rain with his wings.  “But that’s something you already knew.”

I reach for his shoulder, but he turns away.  “I’m sorry I asked.”

“No.  It’s alright.  You have a right to know.”

“About the blackness?” I ask.  My shoulder bag suddenly seems ten times heavier.  “The Devil’s real, ain’t he.”

“Yes, but not in the way you would think.”  Raff lets the bluebird go.  It shakes itself free of rain and hops down his wing onto my shoulder.  Birds act strange around Raff, more friendly.  “He’s a custodian of sorts.  I think you’re old enough to understand what angels do.  We clean up after people and take care of them.  Well, he deals with the less fortunate souls.  Some people are lost, May.  They’ve fallen by the wayside in life.  He gives them a chance.”

I shiver.  “That don’t sound very pleasant.”

“Some people can be downright nasty, May-flower.  It takes a hard man to help harsh souls.  There may come a time when I have to leave you.  Not for long, but sometimes.  I want you to know that you’ll be safe on the nights the darkness comes, as long as you don’t leave your room.”

Just as he speaks, the bus rolls up.  I sit at the back where I can whisper to Raff.

“You’re leaving?  When?”

“In a while.  Before you were born, I was a doctor.  I help heal souls and the dying.  Your grandmother: she’s nearing her end.”

I stare out the streaky window to the gutter swollen with leaves.  Granmama’s been in the hospital for a while, and I knew it was coming sometime – sooner, rather than later.  “Jack’s rabbit.  She is, ain’t she,” I say quietly.  Raff pats my shoulder in an effort to comfort me.

“I’m going with her.  Whoever’s important to you is important to me as well.”

“Can’t I go too?  Please, Raff.  I gotta know that she’s safe.  She can’t go to Heaven alone, she’ll try to reorganize everything and clean the entire Heavenly Kingdom with that bad back of hers!”

He smooths my hair just like when I was younger.  “I promise on my sword she won’t come into harm’s way.  She’s a good woman, May.  No need to worry about her.  Now finish that math homework.  I’m off to work.”  And like a firecracker he disappears.  I slump into my seat and sit crying for the rest of the ride.  Ever since I’ve gotten older, he’s been leaving me alone more often.  Him being gone is like having a missing limb.

That afternoon I visit granmama’s bedside.  I bring her a bouquet of daisies from the soccer field where I had practice and a few tomato sandwiches I fixed up at home especially for her, with mayo for her aching joints – a silly family superstition, but I swear it works.  The moment I step into the room, I see Raff stroking her hair and massaging out the kinks in her shoulders, caring for her like a nurse.  He wears yellow scrubs just like the hospital staff and looks pretty handsome at that.  I stand speechless and nearly drop my flowers.  My throat burns with a kind of gratitude that is too dang hard to put into words.

Granmama can’t see him, but the rise and fall of her chest eases up as Raff works out the knots and kinks in her frail creaky shoulders, where she carries nearly a century worth of the Laveau’s family burdens.  He smiles at me all gentle as he looks up from his work.  “Hey May-flower,” he says, then leaves the room to give us privacy.  I mouth a “thank you” to him, swallowing back a tsunami’s load of tears.  Granmama looks at me with rheumy cataract eyes.

“May-be, baby doll.  Is that you?” she asks, voice all soft and fragile like tissue paper.  She reaches out with a tremble-spider hand.  I take it and hold it to my cheek, biting back my crying.

“Yeah, granmama.  How you doing?” I ask all forced-bright.

“Just fine, baby doll.  I could’ve sworn on Moses’ staff an angel of the Lord just visited me.  I feel light as a feather.  You scraping by at school?”

“Yes m’am.  I aced a test on negative numbers today.  And look!  Tomato sandwiches, just for you.”

We eat them together in companionable silence.  I talk about how handsome Billy Morse’s gotten and lick bits of mayo from my fingertips.  It’s hard for granmama to eat so I help her in lil bits, wiping crumbs from her neck.  One of those nasty IVs is a thorn in her skin and she near cusses it to Hell, invoking the Lord in a whole lot of creative ways.

“Pray for me, baby doll,” she says, her rickety voice outta breath.  I do, the Lord’s Prayer, followed by an invocation to St. Michael, and then a petition to St. Gabriel for healing.  Granmama’s been collecting prayers all her life, no matter if they’re Catholic, Baptist, Episcopalian, Methodist – it don’t matter.  She writes them down on lil notecards as if they were recipes for some heavenly cook book.  I guess, in a way, they are.  From what I can tell, there’s a prayer for everything.

“I got one, granny.  To Raphael.”

“Who’s he, doll baby?”

“The angel of doctors, granmama.”

“That sounds downright perfect, child.  You’re a darn precious thing to have around.”

Momma picks me up in a thunderstorm after I’m done visiting.  I’m glad the rain hides the tears on my face.

“She’s looking better, momma.  That cancer’s been whipped to submission, hasn’t it?” I ask.

Momma smiles half-heartedly.  “Sure.  Nothing beats your granmama, not even Death himself.  He’d hightail it to the bayou once she got out her knitting needles and used them as pokers for his bony behind.”

“Sure thing!”

We entertain each other with tall tales of granmama’s Lordly wrath late into the night.  Raff sits around munching on cookies, entertained by the talk, and pitches one to me:

“Your grandmother’s tough as nails.  With a look she’d staple the Devil to his throne so he couldn’t move a lick.”

“That’s right, sir.  Raff, what’s A-squared equals B-squared plus C-squared?  I don’t see any squares, only a triangle.  I gotta talk to Leggie about this math stuff if he ever gets back, it just ain’t right.  He should tell God to change it up so it makes a lick of sense.  God messed up geometry big time.”

Raff helps me, and it’s a great distraction from what’s really on my mind.  He notices later on, of course.  Nothings quick enough to fly by Raff, not even those falcons that go hundreds of miles an hour.

“She’ll go peacefully, May.”

“Oh can’t you tell me when!”

“You know I can’t.  I already told you far more than was proper.”

“It’s not just that though, Raphael.  It’s the other angels I was wondering about.  I ain’t never seen any of them but you.  I got to thinking, you can’t be the only winged man in the world.  There ought to be other angels.  Angels of music, and traveling.  And – and of… of death.”

He sighs like an old wind blowing through an empty carnival.  “In time, May, just wait.  You’ll meet them all eventually.”

I raise my brows.  “I will?”

“I just wish it would be later rather than sooner.”

 

 

Granmama’s funeral is a stately affair, with the entire church gathered on the village green to pray for her immortal soul.  It’s just how she’d of wanted it, with eloquent speeches and an ocean of tears.  Only I don’t cry.  It’s like a plug has been put in my throat to stopper the sorrow.  All I can do is stare at the coffin and her empty face.  Raff is hidden like the sun behind a storm-cloud.  I can feel him, but I see nothing, just darkness in the shadow of Spanish moss swinging on the trees in a storm.

She passed in peace with us by her side.  For days afterward, Raff was gone.  I make the trek down Main Street, up the church hill, out to the graveyard each day, carrying brier roses cut from granmama’s favorite bush out front.  Sunday afternoon is dark as the Devil’s pit.  It storms as I walk to the graveyard.  The trees lining the iron fence stand like daggers against the sky.  The graves go back to Colonial times, as Snake’s Hollow used to be a kind of resort area in Louisiana, a home away from home for New Orleans elite, fabled for its mineral springs that can cure any ailment, so the stories go.  The tourist shop even sells bottles of it.  Now it’s just another small town, but the mystique remains, and in this hundreds of years old graveyard with stone angels and mausoleums, I can believe in the water’s magic, almost as if it has the power to revive my sweet granmama.

I come to her grave – as humble as the woman that shaped my life in so many ways, but stately, elegant, godly, and wretchedly beautiful.

“The sky’s crying for you,” I whisper, my lashes wet with rain.  The stone in my throat dislodges and the tears that pour forth are thick as the Red Sea.  Heaving, I sink to the ground, knees muddy as I kiss the gravestone.  “Granmama, there’s so much I wanted to tell you.  So much I don’t understand.  I feel so, so alone.”

Lightning illuminates the plot.  “Raff?” I cry out, sobbing in earnest now.  “Where are you?  God, oh God, why did you let her leave?”

An engine starts in the distance.  I steady myself, shaking like the Tower of Babel.  The cemetery gate creaks open.

“Hello?”  I rise, bunching my coat close around me for warmth.  Four figures peter in, hidden by the Spanish moss.  My hairs stand on end as I hide behind a stone angel.  Through the vegetation I can see them.  Wings drape around their shoulders like capes.  My jaw drops a country mile as they approach.

“May?” Raff calls, his face brilliant as the sun.  “It’s okay, May-flower.  You’re among friends.  There’s no need to be afraid.”  The clouds part above and his companions step out into the light.  A shaft of sun wreathes them in glory and glances off the halos above their heads.  I sink to my knees in wonder.

“Raff?”

“We’re here to take you home,” he says quietly, coming to me and picking me up off the ground, cradling me against him like he did when I was young.  He hushes me as I sob into his shirt.  The other angels stand back at a respectful distance.  “But first, hot cocoa.  And answers.”

 

 

“I’m what?”

The four angels look at me like I’m Kingdom Come.

Raff watches close, blowing steam from his mug of cocoa.  We sit in a booth in a small country diner, his coat over my shoulders as I stare wide-eyed at the three strangers.  One has hair like saffron threads, another slanted eyes rich as loam, and the third skin like champagne.  Their wings are tucked into their backs, and somehow the waitress can see them.  The four angels have a gravity Raff usually doesn’t, a presence like they’re actually here, with wings hidden from view.

“The Lord’s god-daughter,” Raff says quietly, arm around me as he hugs me tight.  He pushes a slice of apple pie my way.  “Eat, May.”

I pick at it, jaw dropped too far open to chew.  If I’ve learned anything from Raff, it’s that angels are many things, none of which are subtle.  I could kick him halfway to Heaven right now, springing his friends on me like daisies pushing up from a coffin.

“Jack’s rabbit I am.  That’s impossible!”

The angels laugh.  Michael’s stern face is softened by a smile.  He’s the one with the ruddy hair, the general of the angels.  A wicked scar juts over his brow, makes his face thick with ridges, like a mountain.  “Each generation, there’s a child raised by angels.  We’re their teachers.  Soon, May, you’ll inherit the Earth.”

“But why?”

“Because Father needs a guardian.”

“Like a guardian angel?  But that makes no sense!  I’m just a Southern girl that doesn’t know cat clawings from chicken scratch.  I write space operas – my head in the clouds as momma says, not a lick of common sense about me.  How am I supposed to help someone as mighty as God?”

The one with earthy eyes takes my hands into hers.  Gabriel – the messenger angel, I think – whose smile is like a bark whorl.  “God’s old, May.  Older than you can know.  He has places waiting for Him.  He needs someone to look after the world while he’s away.  That’s why you’ve been raised by Raphael.  The time will come when you’ll help others as He helps them.”

“How?”

“By answering prayers,” answers the golden angel.  Azrael, the angel of death.  Weird enough, I feel no fear under her swirling eyes.  Just peace.  “You’ll be a guardian like us.”

“But I’m not an angel.  Not at all.  I’m mortal.”

“Exactly,” Raff says, licking his fingers clean of the remains of my pie.  “Angels were created to serve humanity.  We bowed down before God’s creation out of love long ago.  Well, all but one.”  His face darkens.  “The point is, while we can do many things, we can’t interfere with occurrences directly.  We can help, of course, like I did with your grandmother, but we cannot change things outright.  I could ease her passing, but I couldn’t prevent her from dying.  We must respect the order of things.  But mortals can make choices, and we can influence them.  That’s where you come in.”

“Why?  What can I do?”

“You can make choices.  You’re the Guardian, May, the Guardian of this generation.  There is always one walking the earth, unbeknownst to humans.   To them, you appear an ordinary girl, but in truth, you’re an emissary of God, here to oversee things while He’s away.”

“Where did God go?  I thought He was everywhere – isn’t that kind of His point?”

Gabriel grins, her slanted eyes glimmering with amusement.  She nurses a tall coffee that’s black as sin.  “Even the old man needs a break.  We help Father take care of business.  We’re all different parts of God.  For example, I’m God’s strength.  That’s what Gabriel means.  Michael is God’s general, Raphael is God’s healing, Azrael his help.  It goes on.  And when you were made, sweet little thing that you were, we put something special into you.”

I tap my fingers on the table, nervous.  I glance at Raff in suspicion.  “And what exactly was that?”

Michael’s golden-green eyes focus on me.  “God’s love for the world.  It will give you the ability to take on the pains of this world, people’s suffering, and turn them into joy.”

“I still remember you up in Heaven, cooing away as I held you in my arms,” Gabriel smiles.  “You know the old wives’ tale that the indentation above your lip is God’s thumbprint?  It’s mine.  I cradle all babies before they’re born and whisper God’s Word into their ears.  I press life into their lips and shepherd them on their merry little ways.  You were delightful, and your soul shined just so, thrumming with God’s beauty.  To meet you again, all grown, why, it’s wonderful.”

Gabriel takes my hand.  She runs her fingers over the lines of my palm like she’s a fortune teller. “I can feel it in you, Father’s love.  It courses like lightning through your veins.  Raphael, you’ve been selfish, keeping her to yourself.  She’s too precious to bear.”

Raff squeezes me with his arm.  “She’s darn precious alright,” he grins, pulling my ear.  I fight him off.

“I’m too old for that nonsense, Raff.  I’m fierce now.”  I look at the archangels: “You guys better watch out.  Keep calling me precious and I might smite you with my supposed ‘powers.’”

“You sure are brave,” Gabriel laughs.  “Just like your cat, eh?  Raff keeps coming to work covered in calico hair.  He won’t shut up about how much it sheds.”

“If he’d stop petting her so much, maybe he wouldn’t get so messy,” I say.  I eye Raff.  “So what do you do up there, anyway?  Angels must be awful busy.  I don’t see how Raff has the time to spend with me.”

Azrael smiles serenely.  “We have many roles.  I’m the angel of death: I transport souls to the next plane.”

“I’m Heaven’s general,” Michael says.  He absently touches the scar on his forehead.  “I protect the world from demons.”

My heart races at the mention of demons, and I remember the blackness that terrorizes my nights.  I mask my fear and nod.

“I’m the angel of souls,” Gabriel says cheerily, drumming her thumbs on the table.  “I pluck new spirits from the Tree of Life and send them off to their birthing.  We all do a lot of things: odd jobs.  Answering prayers, for the most part.  I also play the trumpet pretty well.”

The table collectively groans.  “Not that stupid thing,” Raff teases.  “Gabby never shuts up, May.”

“Gotta practice for the Apocalypse!” Gabriel says.  She winks at me.  “All hell might break loose pretty soon – you’re growing up to be a head-turner, May, and men are the devil around pretty girls.”

“I’m not letting anyone touch her,” Raff mutters.

I roll my eyes.  “I don’t need two dads, Raff.  Ain’t no way you’re gonna tell me what to do.”

Michael laughs.  The sound shocks me, all deep and rich like dark chocolate.  I can’t imagine what it’s like when they all sing with their sweet-as-honey voices in the heavenly choirs.

“You’ve got a fireball on your hands,” Michael says.

“Yeah, he does,” I say.  “I’m not worth anything if I’m not trouble.”

“Keep that spunk.”  Izrail smiles. “It’ll help you down the line.”

Raff ruffles my hair.  “You’re a headache, a precious, precious headache.”

“I ain’t precious!” I protest.  “My cat’s precious.  You’re precious, in your silly yellow Sunday suit and top hat in church.  I got better fashion sense than you by a mile.”

The angels laugh at Raff’s expense.

I continue: “You’re all chivalrous and fluffy-winged.  You don’t have a bad bone in your body.  But I got a temper, and I know how to use it.  Ain’t nothing precious about me.”

Raff sighs.  “Whatever you say, May-flower.”

 

Raphael’s Smile

Golden robes like the sun after a rainstorm
Raphael is a supernova smile, megawatt man
his brilliance outshines all of Heaven, his
halo blinding, but it is a good kind of burn
not sunburn, not radiation, but healing light
to me he is skin the color of ebony, cropped
black curls, amber eyes that crinkle laughing
I am a child in the dream – he pulls me in a
red wagon, we build sand castles at the beach,
and I am full of the joy of a small girl, with
my brother and bosom guardian pushing me
in a swing – it is such a blessing to spend
quiet hours with God’s foremost physician, angel
of cures to all ailments, quick with a chuckle,
quicker with a hug, showering blessings on mortals
like his love for Tobias, no demons tread here
on the strand of the City of Luz, for Raphael is
the bane of all evil, breaker of chains, freedom
encapsulated in a hearty chortle, my main man.

Fluid Genders and Angels

In my experience with angels, they all have masculine and feminine forms, but their true forms are transcendental and inherently genderless.  Mannerisms may change when they switch between genders – for example, fem!Gabriel is motherly and nurturing and like a valkyrie on the battlefield, while male!Gabriel is charming, witty, and a practical jokester that loves puns.  They may favor one gender over the other, like Michael, or shift easily between them, like Uriel or Gabriel.  An angel like Ariel that may appear as female to the majority of spirit workers may actually appear male to you.  I think it all depends on the lessons you need to learn from them.

Last night I dreamt of Michael’s female aspect, who is very regal and reminds me of Queen Elizabeth.  She has long flowing auburn hair that is usually in a chignon or braid and silvery eyes, usually dressed in white robes or dresses.  In this aspect she is very motherly with me and contemplative, asking me philosophical questions and attending to work in the Heavenly body with utmost diligence.  She is quieter and less forceful than her male aspect, which I mainly interact with, but no less fearsome.  She has an especial love for children and flowers.

Samael’s female aspect is like if Dita Von Teese and Ishtar had a baby.  Femme fatale, dominatrix, with a curvaceous figure, rather voluptuous assets, a tan Kim Kardashian would die for, and insatiable appetite for all things.  She is all fire, impulsive, sexual, energetic, crazy in her passion, literally crazy, does tons of drugs and alcohol, and an agent of destruction.  Long wavy black hair, she often goes naked or in a bustier and skirt and can usually be found vomiting in a bathroom.

Ariel’s male aspect, whereas he is usually female with most spirit workers, is who I dub Blonde Wonderboy.  Snarky, charming, flirty, obsessed with bonfires and the ocean and surfing, a total beach bum and rascal to boot.  He is fun as fun can be and loves going on adventures in the otherworlds and is very boyish in his charms and mannerisms.  An angel of the elements, he is all about nature, and probably an Eagle Scout to boot.  Many times he is part-lion and overlaps with Samael as the Demiurge inspired by the god Nergal.  They have a joint aspect I call Ariael that I interacted with a lot as a child, but now remain quite separate.

Unlike most occultists, I primarily see Uriel as a girl.  Umber skin, hazel eyes, beautiful blondish brown dreadlocks and a toned body like Rihanna.  She looks Melanesian and favors cyan or seafoam robes, summer dresses, or swimsuits.  Her heaven looks like a tropical paradise and she wouldn’t be caught dead without her trusty spear.  She is very motherly and older sisterly and loves taking people under her wing.  An earthy angel, she is extremely grounded and radiates peace.  Don’t be surprised if she is delighted to see you and gives you a peck on the cheek!  Her male aspect works more with children and appeared to me around Christmastime in festive robes, delivering presents.  He literally looked like Denzel Washington and I went, oh god, have mercy, he’s hot.

Finally good old Gabriel.  They are about as gender fluid as you can get, switching easily between male and female aspects.  It’s about 50/50 with people perceiving them as male or female, and I tend to like her female side better.  The male one jokes too much and likes novelty bars ;).

Obviously other angels – all of them – have male and female aspects, as angels are inherently genderless.  My guess is they appear in forms we are most comfortable with.  Raphael and Azrael I’ve never seen as gals, and I can only IMAGINE what Metatron would be like as a woman.  That would make my year.  Michael as a woman is funny enough.  Better start calling her Michelle…

My Experience with the Archangels (UPDATED)

Updated with Uriel, my Khaleesi.

There are a lot of things I love – green curry, mythology, a good book when it’s raining outside, next to a cup of tea, in a blanket burrito, tall tall trees – but nothing gets my heart singing like angels.  I have always adored the idea of angels since I first learned about them as a preschooler and gravitated towards anything with angels on them – Hallmark cards, children’s bibles, classical artwork, stained glass windows in churches.  Whenever I saw them it felt like I was wrapped in a warm blanket of energy, my hairs standing on end and skin buzzing with pure love like electricity.  When I was old enough to have imaginary friends, I made mine an angel of lions, destruction, and fire that was a stand-in for the older brother I never had: my best friend, protector, and teacher.

I called him Star after the morning star which to my young eyes, was the brightest thing in the night sky, standing sentinel to the moon.  I would sing to him at night and pray to him and tell him my deepest secrets – in dreams we’d play in heaven with other angels, fight demons, and I’d be carried on his back as we flew across the Milky Way.  Star stayed with me until I was about twelve in dreams – I remember saying goodbye to him officially when I thought I was too old to write stories about imaginary friends anymore, that I should start believing in “real” gods – too bad I never read about Archangel Ariel – angel of lions, fire, and destruction – whose flip side, as the Demiurge lion-faced serpent, is Samael.  Sorry but the Gnostics have been dead for a few thousand years not counting the Cathars.  Also this was the nineties-early 2000’s and I was more concerned with playing Pokemon than researching the occult.

Star had an “evil” side like I swear all small children who like explosions make their OCs have.  Normal Star had tan skin, with azure blue eyes and platinum hair – his evil side, which in my third grade mind was the embodiment of chaos in the universe I had created, was a spirit of dragons, poison and snakes with porcelain skin, red eyes, and black hair.  Right when “Star” exited my dreams he was replaced by a character I named “Samael” that looked suspiciously like his evil side, yet still had the same snark as Star.  Pale olive skin, red eyes, long black hair.  I was still reeling from the fact a name I’d pulled out of my posterior was real (It’s happened twice, with my characters Samael and Ragnar) and that my computer was for some reason claiming a twelve year old had edited the Lucifer Wikipedia page.  This was also the time I had my first vision of an angry ginger angel general who saved my life then thrust me back into my body, so alongside puberty and hair growing in weird places like my armpits, also middle school, life was getting increasingly weird.

After I found out Samael was “real” – as real as a mythological figure can be – I went into denial about angels.  I was still a budding pagan, had been since the tender age of seven when I first got my hands on D’aulaires, so I decided that all Abrahamic religions sucked because the Messiah couldn’t be a woman, and hey, if I wasn’t good enough to be the Messiah, then I wasn’t good for anything.  I also wanted to be the President at this point and was in my angry feminist phase so anything that stank of the patriarchy – read Bible – I abhored.  Still, I devoured Madeliene L’engel’s Wrinkle of Time quartet and fell in love with the angels in those books, from the first to Many Waters, and I continued dreaming of angels and demons who I then wrote about in my stories.  Samael took me on crazy adventures only a drunk would take a young teenager on in my dreams, and through them I met the archangels and archdemons.

To me the archdemons are like the drinking buddies you don’t want to be seen with in public – they’re good to party with, but too crazy for day-to-day interactions.  The archangels are the opposite – kind, the essence of love and compassion, with hidden quirks and complexities, servants above all to humanity and God.  They treat me like a younger sister and I often dream I am a young child playing with them, or that I am in the audience of their Heavenly Council or Michael’s prayer garden.  This is a list of the ones I interact the most with, because I’m bored and still have an hour til my train:

Michael: The head honcho and first angel I “officially” met at the age of twelve, barring Auriel and Metatron.  I’ve written about my vision of him here.  To say he is terrifying is an understatement.  Too tall, I see him as Islamic mystics describe him – saffron thread hair, emerald eyes.  His wings are white and armor golden with a red sash, blue cloak and fashionable tunica and sandals.  This guy reminds me of Thor in that he has muscles on his muscles and basically looks like Hercules.  He’s a lot less huggable than Thor and much more a sad plant man who only ever smiles when he is gardening.  His voice is like thunder, his faithfulness and steadfast love to God keep Heaven together, and he is the most fearsome being you will encounter on the battlefield whose strength is only matched by Samael’s.  I often dream of them fighting or politicking Cold War style minus the whole ping-pong diplomacy portion.  Michael is above all a defender – of the innocent, truth, the oppressed, everyone and anyone – your pet, your wife, your child, that sad dandelion that is dying of thirst in a crack in the sidewalk.  He cares so deeply about everything that he often times grows weary, but he listens to every single prayer to himself and his Father – every single one.  His laugh is rare but the most wonderful sound in the world.  So is his smile.  Some mystics say he hasn’t smiled since his brothers fell, but that just isn’t true.  It’s fast: a small soft quirk of the lips, a crinkle of his ancient eyes, but it’s there.  He listens to prayers, and answers every single one of mine in the most unexpected, but beautiful, of ways.

Gabriel: This is more Izzi’s territory, but Gabriel has always been a lighthearted presence in my life.  He/she looks nothing like the actor on Supernatural minus the dark brown hair, but they got one thing right: GABRIEL’S MALE ASPECT IS A HUGE ASS TRICKSTER AND FLIRT.  He has a smile more devilish than Samael and is one of the few that can make Michael laugh.  He’s an angel of water, peace, souls, good cheer and jokes, and messages.  Her female aspect to me appears with long blonde hair and is much more maternal, but is vicious on the battlefield – I mean she razes legions of demons with a flick of her saber, she’s that powerful.  Gabriel shifts between genders easily and is a very go-with-the-flow guy/gal, at least in my dreams.  They often speak in riddles or parables.

Ariel: I get Zadkiel mixed with Ariel and am not unconvinced they are one and the same.  Anyways, he’s like my older brother and main defender besides Michael – for some reason he likes to play with hair – like he will literally braid mine and make me a flower crown and I’ll have to tell him to bugger off in dreams because I’m trying to have adventures.  He loves children and nature, and is associated with all four elements – I see him mostly around ocean settings and bonfires.  He sometimes carries a torch or shoots arrows.  He usually wears white or purple robes and has long blond hair like Fabio.  Lions are his signature animal and most people apparently see him as a woman, but not me.  I get Blond Wonderboy.  He’s also a major flirt and is very playful and creative, but don’t piss him off.  Then he goes all destructo on your ass.

Uriel: The Khaleesi of my heart, queen of my fangirling, I have known Uriel since I was seven and she has almost always appeared as a woman to me: black and blonde dreadlocks, umber skin, freckles, and hazel eyes.  As the Light of God, she is an absolute delight and ball of radiant energy, childish and talkative, but by god do not piss her off, as she is built and trains like an Amazon warrior.  She usually favors cyan blue or seafoam robes or exercise gear, and loves beaches, starfish, shells, and anything tropical.  To me, she looks Melanesian and her heavenly home reflects that – it is a tropical paradise.  I’ve even seen her swimming in a bikini on one of her off days, then practicing on her beach with her most trusted spear.  She is very much an earthy angel to me, the element she presides over, extremely grounded, kind, and kind of a pack mother like a wolf, the animal I associate with her.  In her own words she is good for bringing friends together, settling disputes, and promoting peace and justice.  She always has time to peck you on the cheek or ruffle your hair and will usually treat me like a beloved little sister.  She and Ariel are a Hot Item and she is one of the only ones that can make him take things seriously.  She is usually spotted in Michael’s company and they are very, very good friends, bringing out a softer side in him not many see.  Her male form has golden eyes and looks a bit like Denzel Washington – there I go again with the weird celebrity references.  He appears usually around Christmastime in a festive outfit of red and gold and delights in giving gifts to children and snow.

Raphael: I love him so much I’m writing a whole book about him.  Raphael is like if sunshine were bottled into a person.  Always optimistic, good-humored, loves children, wears bright yellow with a megawatt smile.  For some reason to me he looks like Idris Elba.  I don’t really know why.  Maybe I just like Idris Elba too much and have projected it onto my favorite archangel.  He’s the best cook in Heaven and often tells jokes to lighten the mood in angelic councils.  I mostly dream I’m a child when I’m with him and he plays with me – we build sand castles, he pulls me in a wagon, we play tag.  He will bring out your inner child for sure.  Also the best angel to go to if, like me, your toenail falls off and you’re grossed out to the max and want a fast recovery, as he’s the physician of the angels.

Samael: About 50% of this blog is about Bonebutt so I’m not going to say anything except that he is a piece of work, lousy lazy archangel, stinking wino and obsessed with being “cool”

Azrael: In my dreams, the angels call Samael the “Red Reaper” and Azrael, his much kinder counterpart, the “Blue Reaper.”  Azrael has two forms: a Grim Reaper form with glowing blue eyes like Discworld death, and this chill Middle Eastern Goth dude that is always reading a book with headphones on.  He is soft-spoken, introverted, calm, peaceful, and endless like the depths of the ocean.  For some reason he also likes baseball – as in he has taken me to baseball matches in dreams.  I wonder if it’s an Angel of Death thing because Samael just has this thing for baseball too.  Anyways, Azrael likes to stay out of the spotlight, in the shadow, and chill.  He won’t directly come up to you at a party or whatever but is very witty if you talk to him.  He’s a loner for sure, but one of the kindest angels ever.

Raguel: I’ve only seen him once in passing and got this overwhelming sense of peace and compassion.  He had long chestnut hair and was dressed in a gold robe with Roman sandals, carrying a Very Important Book.  I don’t know if it was the Book of Life or not, but he was in a hurry to get somewhere that was also probably Very Important.

Metatron: Best for last.  The grandpa of the angels.  I’ve known this dude since I was like seven.  I called him the President of the angels because he ran Heaven and drank a lot of tea and was always doing paperwork.  Ain’t nothing Metatron loves more than entertaining children’s precocious questions and tea.  Black tea, specifically, with cream and sugar.  He stirs it a lot when he’s doing Very Important Paperwork and sometimes accidentally spills it.  He is easily distracted as he gets so absorbed in the topic at hand.  He presides over angelic councils and I swear he’s the only one that can make Samael behave, or at least shut up for a period of five minutes max.  Also for some reason to me he looks like Elrond.  Like circlet, receding hairline, everything.  I don’t know if that’s as weird as Raphael looking like Idris Elba but whatever.  He’s very good-humored and very much the elderly British gentleman – obsessed with genteel good manners, likes gardening and formalities, and above all, order.  He can get flustered easily but if he is serious about gaining control of situation, AIN’T NOTHING STANDING IN HIS WAY.

I’ve met lots of other angels in dreams but these are the archangels I know best.  Heaven is like one big bureaucracy, whereas Hell is kinda like if society collapsed into this endless apocalyptic orgy.  I still don’t know which place I like better.

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.”