79 - Baghdad
SEVERAL YEARS AGO I made up the stairs with little trouble, but my heart was pounding the whole way. I was sure that at any moment the man from the cell was going to come through the door behind me and that would be it–despite the fact that I had a solid lead up the stairs.
About half of the way up, I realized what the red light was and I almost missed a step at the sheer normality of it all. It was an exit sign. Nothing more. For some reason, I had been expecting something far more sinister or at the very least strange. It had been that sort of day. But no, nothing out of the ordinary.
The exit sign was hung right about an ordinary looking door. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any sort of window or anything in the door–not that I really expected there to be–so I was going to have to go through it blind. I put my ear against it, feeling a bit silly as I did, but I couldn’t hear anything.
What else was I going to do?
I pushed the door open and stepped through…
Only to find myself in the museum. Right down the hallway from the bathrooms. I’d noticed the door before, but never given it much thought. It was just one of those unmarked door you assumed was an office or something.
I stood there for longer than I probably should have, trying to figure out what to do next. What little plan I’d had been to get my bearings then try to find my way back to base, see what had happened to the other men that I’d come out here with. Skipping right past that first step had short circuited my brain.
The sound of footsteps came from down the hall and my brain suddenly started again, shifting into overdrive.
The last I knew, the building was under the control of people that wanted to shoot me–that had shot me. I had to get out of there.
Without thinking about it, I headed straight towards the front door.
It perhaps wasn’t as terrible of an idea as it could have been, at least the front door was away from the footsteps. Still, probably not the best idea I’d ever had heading out into the pavilion like that–I didn’t particularly feel like getting shot again… Particularly not now that I wasn’t wearing my body armor. Or even a shirt.
And just like that I’d talked myself out of going out the front door. I turned back, hoping to take one of the branches off, perhaps hide around one of the larger pieces, those that had been too big to move. But no, that didn’t make any sense either. I’d left the door open, it wouldn’t take long for them to realize that I was gone. I needed to be gone in truth.
So I did the one thing that I never would have considered doing even a day ago.
“Jackson,” I half hissed the words, not daring to raise my voice more. “you there?”
80 - Rome
PRESENT DAY We walked along in silence for longer than I would have expected, exiting the apartment without a sign of either suited millenarian or dog-turned-woman. He took an immediate left out of the door, turning the opposite way that Father Antonio and I had come earlier and started walking with such purpose that I felt my feet following just out of force of habit. It was a strange experience.
While we walked, Michael remained silent. I spent several blocks pondering where the sword had gone. Finally, I settled on not wanted to know. It was an angel thing. I was just going to have to leave it at that.
I considered calling Father Antonio. What I would say to him? No idea. Heck, for all I knew, he had known that this was likely to happen. Still, some validation would have been nice. Or perhaps a ride. I knew that all of this walking was good for me, but I wasn’t in quite as good of shape as I had been back in Iraq. Walking everywhere was becoming a bit of a stretch.
There was just one major problem with that particular idea though.
I didn’t have his number.
So decision by default it was.
Of all the places for him to lead me to, for whatever reason, I was not expecting a church. Why? I have no idea. Perhaps with all that I had been through it would have been too obvious an answer.
It wasn’t Father Antonio’s church, but rather a smaller building tucked away in a corner. It barely looked like a church from the outside, but the inside had all of the trappings that I was expecting: the pews, the alter, the cross. There was no on present that I could see.
We walked right up the center aisle, perhaps passed only a dozen or so more rows of pews. It really was a small church. Right in the front and center, Michael dropped to his knees, his eyes closed.
An angel praying.
For some reason that hadn’t occured to me either.
Sure there was the traditional thought of all of the angels in Heaven spending all of their time glorifying God, but it had always been so abstract in my head. I’d never really expected to see it, particularly not in this life.
I stood there awkwardly for a long moment. Was he expecting me to pray with him? By myself? Not at all? Whatever he wanted, he gave no sign.
Finally I gave in and sank to my knees as well.
When in Rome…
81 - Rome
PRESENT DAY …do as the angel does.
And what they angel did was pray.
For a long time.
I mean, don’t get me wrong. I could pray with the best of them, it was kind of my job after all. But my knees were sore long before Michael finally finished. By the end, I was starting to think that maybe this was a test–that Michael was testing to see if I could be patient. Or perhaps if I would take the initiative. Or see if I could follow orders. It didn’t help that a number of the possibilities flat out contradicted one another.
Finally though, he stood. I stood with him. He turned to face me and I prepared for another lashing. Already the exact words he’d spoken earlier were fading–that had to get annoying whenever he tried to carry on a conversation with a mortal–but the tone itself was definitely sticking.
So when he spoke actually somewhat tenderly I didn’t know what to do about it. “So I guess you’re wondering what in the world is going on here.”
Honestly, I wanted to say ‘duh’. But I figured that being rude wouldn’t help with the newer, calmer Michael. So instead, I said. “That would be nice.”
I thought I saw the corners of his mouth twitching upwards ever so slightly. “I guess that I owe you at least that much.” But that was it, then he was just watching me.
“I guess so,” I finally said. What else was I supposed to say? Standing in a church only a matter of miles from the very center of the Church itself, talking to an angel that figured strongly into stories of the end-times and judgment, it’s no wonder that I was a bit tongue tied.
Finally, he broke the silence. “Have a seat.” He pointed at one of the pews. “And let me tell you a story.”
And then for some indeterminate amount of time, he did exactly that. It wasn’t the sort of story telling that just anyone can do, I guess having an immortals lifetime gives you the time to practice. And honestly, I don’t remember most of it. There was a lot of flowery wording and metaphor, along with several passages that just didn’t seem to connect with anything else.
Briefly, I wondered if perhaps this was how the parts of the bible that were said to be inspired by angelic visitation had been conveyed. If all angels had the side effect of fading from memory, leaving only the most important bits behind, then it was entirely possible that those they’d met with had been forced to fill in the details. At the very least, it would help with some of the more seemingly contradictory parts of the Bible.
The gist of what he said stuck with me though. Three things stuck out in particular.
That the Cup of Lazarus never should have existed and that the souls that had been brought back with the Cup needed to be returned to their eternal rest.
That Lazarus himself was beginning to cause more and more trouble in the world but that under no circumstances could he be allowed to commit suicide.
And that my own immortal soul was in truly mortal peril.
You can only imagine which of the three stuck with me most strongly.