42 - Rome
PRESENT DAY “You know Father,” I said, turning to Father Antonio. “I don’t think that’s a story to leave until another time. I think that’s a story for right now.”
I wasn’t quite sure what it was that pushed me to the sudden confrontation, but I was just getting tired of all of the being lied to. Of not remembering or not being told what I should know. So I was going to get some answers.
He looked at me, long and hard. I couldn’t read his expression, but if I had to guess, I would say that he was weighing his options, weighing me.
Amira was looking between the two of us, more obviously torn. I didn’t know where I stood with her. I hadn’t seen her in years, hadn’t talked with her. It was so strange to see her again. Part of me wanted to catch up, to be able to talk like we had back in Iraq, but I didn’t know if we’d have that chance. I wasn’t entirely sure that I wanted that chance.
Finally, Father Antonio nodded once, sharply. “Fine. Answers. But you’re going to have to accept the quick version. We don’t have much time.”
“Time until what?”
He glared. “Time until you stop asking question. Now do you want answers or not?”
I nodded, chastised. He had a point at least.
“Alright then. What specifically do you want to know?”
I had a dozen questions right then, I probably could have asked them all night. The idea of supernatural artifacts from the time of Christ? Who wouldn’t want to know more. But at the moment, there was a much more modern, much more pressing concern on my mind.
“The man with the silver hair. Who is he?”
Father Antonio nodded, as if that were precisely the first question he had been expecting. “Well, to start with, he’s not a man.”
I blinked. “He most certainly wasn’t a woman.”
Amira snickered at that, too late bringing a hand up to her face to hide it. Father Antonio glared at the both of us, but answered nevertheless. “He’s neither a man nor a woman. None of his kind are.”
“His kind?” What was he, part of some sort of asexual club?
*Oh. Angels. Of course. Why didn’t I think of that?* Honestly, the thought had never crossed my mind, although given all of the other strange things about, it really wasn’t that far out of the ordinary. If Jesus’ words could be bound to a shard of pottery, surely angels might actually be real and walking the Earth.
“What do you mean neither man nor woman though?” I asked. He’d certainly looked like a man.
He shrugged. “I’m not actually sure why. There’s probably someone out there that could give you a more satisfactory answer, but so far as I know, that’s just how they are. Gender isn’t as important part of their identity as it is to you or me.”
“He certainly looked like a man though.”
“Because that’s how you expected to see him.”
I blinked at him again. This was quickly becoming something of a habit. “I didn’t expect to see him at all.” I still hadn’t wrapped my head around the idea even now, even with Father Antonio telling me it right out.
“It’s true enough that you didn’t seek him out. Nor did you know what he was when he found you. But that doesn’t change the fact that you saw him. And that act of observation, that subconscious exception that ‘Michael’ is associated with the idea of masculinity in your mind was enough to bind him to the form you saw.”
I shook my head. The whole idea sounded strange to me. For some reason I couldn’t quite put my hand on, it was bringing to mind the two semesters of physics I’d been required to take as part of my general science requirement. But what did angels have to do with physics?
“So why do you keep calling him–well–him?”
He shrugged again. “Well you have to call him something. It just feels more natural to use him rather than it. I’ve never had the opportunity to ask which he’d actually prefer.”
I let that sink in for a moment. “Wait, have you never actually met him before?”
He smiled slightly, but it was anything but a happy smile. “Perhaps I did once. But if I ever have, I certainly don’t remember it.”
*He didn’t remember either?* Weird. “Why not?”
“Why don’t you remember?”
He hesitated before answering. “That’s another question that you’d have to ask someone with a bit more training in angelic lore than me. I think it’s a side effect of the human mind not being designed to deal with the parts of reality where angels reside.”
I had a feeling that he know more than he was letting on and this time I wasn’t really just to let it slide. “But why? If he’s so keen on getting me here, then why can’t I remember any of the details?”
He shook his head. “But do the details matter? You got her, didn’t you?”
“But I want to know.”
“As do we all, but have you considered that perhaps you aren’t meant to know?”
I opened my mouth. Shut it. Opened it again. Paused. “Why not?”
“Because it would be proof that God is real. Proof that He is still an active agent in the world, or at least that His angels are. And if we have proof, well then what is the point of faith?”
43 - Chicago
SEVERAL WEEKS AGO Mrs. Claire’s words echoed in my mind–’I am the voice for the silent dead’. The way she had described the events, the breeze, the smell, the whispers on the wind, it all sounded so familiar, it all sounded like something that I’d seen before.
It took a moment to cast back my mind, back through the years to the time I’d served in Iraq. I suddenly thought of Amira, of the time we’d spent together. Of that last day, when by all means she should have died.
Of a prayer spoken in need, a prayer miraculously granted.
Of a breeze. A scent. Whispers.
A chill ran up my spine.
“Those items you set out on the table, the ones you said where to give the proper feel to everything. They didn’t by any chance include any scraps of pottery, did they?” I couldn’t begin to believe that the two were actually related, but it seemed almost too big to be a coincidence.
She looked thoughtful for a moment, then shrugged. “Sure, there might have been. I have piles of the stuff in the back room, would you like to go see?”
John Smith suddenly cut in. He’d been standing there so silently, I’d actually managed to forget about him. “What do you care about some hunk of pottery? You haven’t finished your story. You haven’t gotten to my brother yet.
Mrs. Claire paused, half out of her chair. She looked over at me, the look in her eyes as if she were looking for confirmation, permission even.
I sighed. The man did have a point. That was the reason we’d come here after all, so that I could hear about what had happened directly from the source. And the similarities were probably just a coincidence after all, weren’t they?
“He’s right.” I finally said. “What happened next?”
Mrs. Claire sank back into the chair, nearly as slowly as she’d been rising out of it. She looked tired again, that one brief spark of energy fading away.
“So after the breeze and the whispers, things quieted down again. I’m not afraid to admit that my first thought was to ignore it all. Just pretend that nothing had ever happened. That maybe it had been my own setup just shorting out on me, making me think that something had really happened.”
Abruptly she shuddered. She squeezed her eyes shut, looking almost painfully tight. She stayed like that for a second, two, three… I looked over at John Smith. He looked as puzzled as I felt.
“Um. Mrs. Claire?” I asked, tentatively taking a few steps foward.
I was perhaps two feet from her chair when she exploded upwards in a violent fit of motion. “Leave me alone!” she cried.
The sudden shock of her movement sent me sprawling backwards right off my feet. I hit the ground hard, right on my tailbone, sending a shock of pain through me back. “What, what is it?”
I heard rather than saw Smith backing away, backing around a table, trying to put it between himself and Mrs. Claire. Given how he’d recently had a gun on her and then not so very later she’d had a gun on him, I couldn’t very well blame him.
Mrs. Claire was fully standing now, all of her weight forward on the balls of her feet. She had her arms out to either side, raised from her torso by a foot or two at least.
She still hadn’t answered my plea, so I called out again. “Mrs. Claire, can you hear me?”
“What’s going on?” I heard Smith’s voice, several steps higher than it had been previously.
“I don’t know,” I called back. For whatever reason, I’d raised my own voice, although in volume rather than pitch. I felt like I needed to yell, although there was no sound, nothing generating any noise that I needed to be heard over.
And just like that, the lights in the room began to explode.