105 - Chicago
SEVERAL WEEKS AGO After that all together too depressing exit, I was more than ready to leave Mrs. Claire’s. Now I knew that she had been telling the truth–she was being haunted. So far as if Alex was actually having any effect on her business, I couldn’t say for sure, but that was a completely secondary motivation. And then there was Alex’s request. That was something to think about.
It took a few minutes to extract myself from the building and head home.
Amanda was colder than I would have expected. On one hand, I was a bit surprised that she was taking the whole situation even as well as she was, she didn’t really see that surprised to see a ghost. More so she was bothered just by the fact that it was Alex. A bad breakup indeed. I asked a few questions about him, but after a whole series of monosyllabic answers, I gave up.
Mrs. Claire, on the other hand, seemed only too happy to talk my ears off. She knew that she was right now–as if that had ever been in doubt in her mind–and she just wouldn’t stop talking about how to solve her ‘ghost problem’ as she repeated referred to it. I wasn’t sure that Alex was actually causing any problems, but I nodded and went along with it for the time being. Hope for the best but plan for the worst and all that.
After planning on at least looking into what the Church knew about exorcisms–a sore lack in my own history that I had already intended to remedy as soon as possible–and to call her back when I knew anything. The latter I was a bit less sure about; there really wasn’t that much longer before I was scheduled to fly out. In all likelihood, I would be in Rome before I learned anything substantial. Then again, if there was such a thing as an expert on exorcisms in the Church, where else might they be but in the Vatican itself? So perhaps I could solve both problems at the same time.
All during the drive home, I couldn’t really get a mental grip on what the Church’s position would be on such a case. There was a quite strong prohibition against killing that went back even further than the Church itself. There were exceptions of course, in the case of personal defense or in cases of war where there may not be another option, but this didn’t really apply to either case. Not unless Alex attacked me, but with how little effect he seemed able to make to the world any longer, I didn’t know if I would ever consider myself in mortal danger.
There was a case to be made that this could possible fall under euthanasia, in that I was helping him to die, but that too was not allowed. If he were on some sort of life support, there was the option of disconnection and allowing nature to take it’s course, but that didn’t really apply. At least so far as I knew, there was no otherworldly iron lung keeping him alive.
So the situation was all together to murky. After all, he’d already died once. Did that change anything? Was it murder to kill someone who was already dead? Yet another question for someone more knowledgeable on the subject than myself.
106 - Rome
PRESENT DAY The whole situation really was just the cherry on the top of the sundae of weirdness that had been my life these past few weeks. Here I was, driving through Rome, talking on an angelic iPhone. I mean, honestly, if you had asked me about about such a thing a few weeks ago
The voice on the other end of the line–quite obviously female, albeit with a deeper more full tone than many–skipped right by the pleasantries. “Michael. As I’m sure you’re already aware, we have urgent matters to discuss. I–”
I couldn’t let her go on, thinking that she was talking to an Archangel when in fact she’d gotten nothing more than a lowly human. “Excuse me…”
Her voice cut off, going completely silent for several moments. Finally, she asked, “who are you?” Not what my first response would have been. I would have thought that perhaps I had dialed the wrong number. Was that even a thing for a phone line this?
“My name is Father Thomas Whitlock. I…”
“Why do you have Michael’s phone?” Perhaps she’d taken my cutting her off as indication that she should do the same. Either way, she hadn’t had any problem doing it. Her voice had a sort of force to it that made it had to continue talking once she’d started.
Judging from both the fact that she’d called Michael directly and that she seemed familiar enough with him, I was guessing that whoever the woman on the other end of the line was, she was an angel as well. So I guessed the truth wouldn’t hurt. “The last I saw him, he was fighting with Cerberus…”
“Cerberus?” There was genuine surprise there. “That bitch is back?”
I paused at the complete lack of heat in her voice. “Pardon?” It seemed strange enough for an angel to be using that sort of language, but to use it so casually?
“She’s been out of commission for almost a thousand years. Last I heard, she was tearing around the English countryside during the Hundred Years’ War. And even that was never truly confirmed.”
Not exactly what I’d had in mind, but I wasn’t about to correct an angel. “I don’t know anything about that. All I know is that she’s with Lazarus now.”
Judging from the silence on the other end of the line, I don’t know if I even could have dropped a bigger bombshell on her. The silence stretched to a solid minute–Amira was giving me a perplexed look from the passenger seat. I didn’t have the slightest idea what her reaction was going to be–and Michael had certainly been mercurial enough that I didn’t particularly want to risk it.
Finally, she spoke. “We need to talk.”
It was my turn to be at a loss for words. “We?”
“You and me.” A moment’s pause. “And whoever else is there with you.”
I glanced over at Amira and at Father Antonio in the mirror. They hadn’t made a sound, how in the world had the mysterious woman known they were here? Perhaps it had just been a lucky guess? Just for the moment, I decided to ignore the comment and try to redirect her. “What about Michael? Didn’t you need to talk to him?”
Her response was much more immediate this time. “Yes, and it’s absolutely critical that I do. But if Lazarus really is back in the world, then the entire situation just took a turn for the worse.”
Lovely. And here I’d only thought that we’d had to stay away from him. Apparently there were larger forces at work though. I wondered though why Michael hadn’t mentioned any of this. If the woman on the other side
“Fine,” I finally said. “We’ll meet. Where?” I knew I was being rude, but at this point, I was getting a little tired of being jerked around. Not to mention jet-lag and an extreme lack of sleep. I had no idea how late it was locally, but at least for me, I’d been up and moving for at least 36 hours by now, if not more.
“Meet me at the square in front of Saint Peter’s Basilica. I trust you can find your way.”
I put a hand over the phone. “Can you get me to Saint Peter’s?”
Amira looked a bit surprised and shook her head slightly, but in the mirror, I saw Father Antonio nodding. Close enough.
“We’ll be there.” I waited for any sort of confirmation, but there was none. I pulled the phone from my ear to look at it. The previous strange text had been replaced with a short phrase on a red background. I had a feeling that I knew what it said. I’d been hung up on.
So it seemed that we were about to meet our second angel. Cool.
Hey, I’d always wanted to see the basilica.
107 - Rome
PRESENT DAY “What in the world was that?” Amira asked as soon as I clicked the phone back into its dashboard holder.
I just shrugged. “I’m pretty sure that she was another angel.” When I actually thought about it, I realized that didn’t actually seem that strange to me anymore. Which was strange enough in its own right. I needed some sleep.
Amira asked, “she?”
A heartbeat later, Father Antonio asked, “and what exactly does she want us to do at Saint Peter’s?”
“Definitely she.” What else was there to say? “And I don’t know. She just said that we needed to meet.”
“And you don’t find that the least bit strange?” Father Antonio asked. “Turn up here.” He pointed over my shoulder, sending me onto a smaller road that did seem to at least lead back into the heart of the city.
I’d found many things about the conversation somewhat strange. But that part at least hadn’t really been one of them. Lazarus and Cerberus were apparently a big deal. Of course she wanted to hear more about them.
“So who was it?” Father Antonio asked. “Gabriel?”
“I thought Gabriel was a man,” I said. Despite the feminine sounding name.
But I could see Father Antonio shaking his head in the mirror. “You should know better than that. Angels have no gender. They only assume one when dealing with mankind. I guess they think it helps to put us at ease.”
Now that he mentioned it, I did remember the conversation. There had been something about the forgetfulness that I’d experienced around angels being a byproduct of not being able to truly believe in their full nature. Or something like that. It still seemed like an awfully strange explanation.
“Turn again, right up there.” Father Antonio’s interrupted my thoughts. I had to hit the brakes a bit harder than I would have liked to make the turn. He continued speaking though as if he hadn’t even noticed. “Their human gender isn’t fixed though. Sometimes–although no one I know has ever been able to pin down exactly when or why–an angel will appear in a new form. And sometimes that new form isn’t the same gender.”
“So Michael could just as easily have been Michelle?” I asked, half meaning it as a joke.
But Father Antonio just nodded. “Sure. If I remember correctly, there are a few recorded instances of taking a female form. But it’s rare. I think it has something to do with the idea of military leaders being almost universally male.”
I must have looked surprised at that because Father Antonio’s next words took on something of a defensive tone.
“Don’t look at me like that,” he said. “Angels take on their form based on the what the people around them expect to see. And traditionally there have been far more men as generals than women.”
I guess he did have a point. Still, it was a bit hard to imagine Michael as a woman.
“Speaking of Micheal,” Amira abruptly cut in. She didn’t look particularly surprised or bothered about the whole Michael/Michelle duplicity, but then again this probably wasn’t news to her. After all, she’d apparently dealt with angels before. But then why had she sounded so surprised when I’d told her that the voice on the phone had been a woman’s
But that was a question for another time. At the moment, she was pointing rather insistently at the screen of Michael’s phone.
After hanging up the call, it had returned to the previous app that it had been running. In this case, that meant the tracking GPS app. I glanced at the screen, seeing a trio of blue dots whizzing down the street that matched the twists and turns of the one I was on. I didn’t even have to look at the name tags to know that those dots were the three of us sitting here in the Jeep.
There was another dot though, glowing a vibrant green color, just in front of us–and it was moving right towards us. I didn’t have time to react. Before I could either stomp on the brakes or try to lean forward and read the name, the green dot was on us. There was a heavy impact in the back seat of the Jeep, enough to lift the front tires from the road for just a moment. A moment later and they settled back to the pavement, jerking us all painfully forward.
Once I had the Jeep back under control. I looked back into the mirror.
Really, given everything that had happened, I wasn’t that surprised to see who had come in for a crash landing.
It was Michael.
And he looked like hell.