A Danyael story
Start at the beginning of the Danyael series
There was a police car parked on the front lawn of my house when I got home. The back of a big black truck poked out from behind the house in the driveway, so I figured it must be crawling with cops and investigators and what not. I didn't think they were gonna let me walk in and take a shower and change clothes, so I walked around behind the church next door and found a place out of the wind to sit down. My cubbyhole was a little dip in the pavement right next to an external basement entrance - the kind with the metal double doors that slant down at a thirty degree angle to the ground and open upwards. I'm not sure what caused the groove in the tar, but it was just wide enough for me to sit in and a foot and a half deep. Strangely there were no big cracks in the pavement, so it must have actually been paved as a big divot, not some kind of sinkhole that happened later. Life is full of these tiny oddities, each with a story behind it that you'll never find out.
My whole body was a collection of pain and bloody gore. Tattered strips of cloth hung off of me and played in the occasional gust that slipped into my haven. Even more shredded fabric stuck to my flesh with the dried blood of my myriad cuts and scrapes. That was probably the only thing that kept my clothes from just falling completely off. To pass the time I casually picked bits of broken glass out of my skin and watched the tiny drops of blood squeeze out and slowly drip down my arms and legs, adding their red trails to the myriad others already there. It's a sign of how far removed I was from everything I had been that I was fascinated by the visual sight of my own blood flowing out of me and painting me with its leaving. I dropped the bits of glass into a careful pile next to my divot.
After an hour or two, I had no more easily accessible glass to pull out of myself, so I picked up a tiny piece and scratched at the pavement with it. It made light white marks on the ground as it dragged over the rough tar. I cut myself a few times doing it, but at that point I just didn't notice. The glass slowly wore down as I drew little tic-tac-toe designs, and when it was too small to hold, I picked up another. As I drew, I reflected on the utility of using objects not created for a specific purpose until they wore out, and then just picking up another. Even if something is just going to break if you use it, as long as you don't care about the object and it sort of gets the job done, who cares? There are always other bits of broken glass around to use. Slumped against the church a great bitterness pooled within me, filling the space my blood had vacated. I felt terribly sorry for myself and angry at the angel for leaving me like this, alone and bleeding in the cold. A few sobs escaped my lips, but afraid that someone would overhear, I ran my fingers across my cuts to distract myself from my emotional torment with a physical one. It sort of worked, as I was able to cut my sobs down to simple sniveling.
Probably four or five hours passed before I heard a lot of voices from around the corner towards my house. They talked for a few minutes, but I wasn't close enough to hear what they were saying. I tried to get up and sneak over to the edge of the church, but my legs had stiffened from sitting in one spot for too long, and I ended up writhing on the ground biting my tongue and trying to jerk out leg cramps. By the time I managed to crawl over to where I could hear, a few engines fired up and the cop cars and trucks started to pull out of the driveway. There was about a two foot gap between the church's foundation and where the plastic white siding started, so I pressed myself under the overhang of the plastic and closed my eyes. Closing your eyes always helps you hide better. No sirens came on, so I guess they didn't see me.
A couple of minutes later I was able to stretch my legs out enough to get to my feet. I didn't know if all of the cops had left, and I didn't want to take any chances, so I kind of staggered as fast as I could over to the small stand of trees next to my house, and then circled around, trying to look in the windows from a distance to see any signs of movement. It looked pretty deserted. Just in case, I decided to go in through the basement.
The basement was a wreck. I felt bad immediately, because I had basically nothing in the basement at all. It was all my roommate's stuff. They were going to come back to a destroyed house and have no idea what had happened. Their carefully stored tools lay scattered with tubs of laundry detergent, on top of an open box of tangled Christmas lights that had been hastily jammed back inside the cardboard. For some reason an old skateboard had been broken and set down carefully on top of the dryer with both ends of the snapped wood carefully lined up against each other. It definitely looked like we had been robbed by the Keystone Cops.
I crept up the stairs slowly, taking a few minutes on each one to listen for movement. The house tended to creak a lot when people so much as shifted in their sleep, but I didn't hear anything. For some reason the door at the top of the cellar stairs was actually off of its hinges and leaning up against the opposite wall. There wasn't even a lock on that door, so I have no idea why it would have been taken down rather than just opened. It was a squeaky door though, so I was happy not to have to open it.
As soon as I stepped into the house proper I could sense someone was there. Well, that makes it sound like I have some kind of ninja powers. More accurately, there was the heavy smell of cigar smoke, and I could hear someone puffing loudly. I froze in the door, unsure of what to do. The sound was coming from around the corner, so I couldn't see who it was, but the sound of springs whining let me know whoever it was had themselves seated on my couch. From my vantage point I could see a police hat sitting on my kitchen counter, and some milk and sandwich makings out on the counter. I turned and eased myself down into a half-seated crouch on the top step and waited for something to happen.
I have no idea how long I passed my strange lunch with the cop in the other room. The sounds of faint chewing grew in my mind to be a monumental sound, each clack of teeth together an explosion in my ear. The slurping of milk was the sound of my blood and fear turning in my stomach to ooze out of my skin in slow measured drips. Only his long drags on the cigar spared my ears and heart. It was probably only a few minutes that I crouched there and listened to him eat, but it definitely felt like more. I could feel my impatience warring with my terror, pulling at my bunched muscles - one willing me to go up and the other telling me to run down. My brain was split equally between them, so I didn't move.
Eventually a loud crackle pierced the poised cold war between us, driving him out of his lunch and me away from my thoughts of running in any direction. The cop's radio flared up and a voice came through, garbled and distorted but understandable, asking him where he was.
"I'm over at the psycho's house, eating his food. Figured someone better get some use out of it." His voice was higher pitched than I expected, and young. The words were straight from a gruff detective film of the '80s, but they weren't backed by any real conviction. I guess everyone tries to live up to some illusory image.
The radio squawked again, and this time I couldn't make it out, but Wet Behind The Ears laughed. "No, man, they asked me to stay in case he came back. I don't like being here though, the place is creepy. I guess he lives with some roommates or something? They're out of town, but seem like normal people, if kind of dorky. This guy though . . .he's got NOTHING. I mean, I know I haven't been at a lot of crime scenes yet, but this guy doesn't have ANYTHING. No personal items. He doesn't even have sheets on his bed, just a mattress on the ground. The house is pretty standard except for his room."
I thought about the scorch mark on the corner of my carpet where the angel had burned the last of my things. I kind of felt like that mark. Just the melted remains of something that had once been tangible and important to people in the world somehow. Now my smile was as melted as Billy D's. "The detective here said it showed a lack of connection with the real word, that this guy had no plans to come back. There was nothing here for him. And yet here I sit."
There exists a compulsion in me, some kind of need that tugs at my mind and hands to try and put what I next felt into words. There are no sufficient words to describe it, however. In fact, I've discovered that language is wholly inadequate to truly describe ANY kind of experience or feeling in totality. We are all cave dwellers, trying to communicate by projecting shadow puppets on a wall in a flickering firelight. Nevertheless, my fingers and shadows are all that I have, so I shall do my best.
The radio crackled again, and Wet Behind The Ears let out a big sigh. "Yeah, I was there, just before we all got sent over here. It was pretty ugly. There were feathers everywhere. Smothered her to death with a pillow, and she fought back too. Hospital security didn't think he'd come back, so they didn't do a good job of watching for him. They really dropped the ball on that one, I hope they have to give her family the message. At least it won't be us getting sued into the ground this time."
And now my words fail me. The last of my heat, the final bits of my fire were snuffed out in that instant. My whole body went cold, with lightning shivers running up and down my skin. I ceased breathing, but more than that, it seemed that the necessity of breathing had been removed, or been so dwarfed by the shadow of events that it was a speck of darkness on a field of black. I felt the marionette's strings on my limbs finally cut, and I sat as a limp doll on the stairs, all energy removed from me. The world and I were finally separated in truth; the chills were my passing through that fragile membrane that shelters the world from the chaos and Otherness that exists beyond it, my emergence from the amniotic fluid of life into the brutal existence beyond. My life was over, I simply had yet to die.
The terror was gone, as was the excitement and anger and tiredness. It was all gone from me. I would say that it left me empty, but something must exist in order to have a void. I was no longer even an empty vessel, only an echo in the world rapidly fading. As an echo, it was only left to me to finish what I had begun, travelling back to the sound projected from my own mouth, the sound that had started all of this. The King had predicted my course, and despite my denial, I knew that was the only path I had left to follow. Alicia was dead.
I needed a tool, something to help me with the angel. A year previous, my roommate had become obsessed with a deer hunting arcade game set on free play in a roadside diner where we had dinner once. He actually went out and bought a shotgun with some vague plans to go hunting. The hunting trip never happened, of course, but the gun still hung in a rack above his bed. The entrance to his room was right next to the basement staircase, so it was easy to quietly slip inside.
The room was a study in order compared to the rest of the house. The only room with a gun in it, and the cops seemed to have left it completely alone. Everything in the room was at right angles, squared away in its proper place. Above the bed hung a cheaply made tapestry depicted a deer drinking from a stream in the forest. At least, I'm pretty sure it was a deer, it was hard to tell. Just below the tapestry was the gun rack with a single shotgun on it. I didn't waste any time in grabbing it off the rack, and made my way back into the basement and outside.
While the 7-11 was within walking distance (damn that it was, that's what started the entire thing), my legs hurt and I didn't have the energy to make it. I needed things to be over, finally over. So I walked down to the bus stop and waited. There was no one else there, so I leaned against the metal sign proclaiming that the sidewalk was a transit stop. The shotgun was put between me and the metal pole so you couldn't see it from the direction of traffic.
I think I may have drifted into sleep a bit while I was waiting for the bus. The sound of a loud hiss made me jump, and there was a bus in front of me with open doors and a bored looking driver. He had the standard bus driver cap on, pulled down low over his eyes, and he was slumped in the seat with one arm draped over the steering wheel like he was driving a low rider. I took a few steps toward the bus when he turned his head toward me and saw the gun. The sound of the motor was too loud for me to make out what he said, but I'm pretty sure it was something like "Oh shit!"
He tried to hit the gas and take off, but city transit buses aren't exactly zero to sixty vehicles. A few hopping leaps took me onto the bottom step of the bus, where I was able to grab onto the hand rail and point the gun up at the driver. The guy took his hands off the wheel and put them up over his head, but he still had his foot on the gas, and the bus swerved around on the road. I screamed at him to get his hands back on the wheel and he did. Up close I could see he was young, probably not much more than eighteen. He had burst into tears almost immediately and was begging me not to kill him, and slowing the bus down. The hand rail made good leverage and I used to drag my tired legs up to the top step.
There were about five other people on the bus, all of them staring in confusion. One guy pulled out a phone and started dialing. I didn't particularly care. The driver brought the bus to a stop, and I swung into the seat just behind him. "Do you know the 7-11 near here?" Short Round didn't respond, so I reached around and slapped him on the cheek and repeated the question. He choked out a yes, and I shouted "That's yes Doctah Jones!" and started laughing. I don't know why I did that, or why I laughed. I didn't feel anything; it was like my consciousness was divorced from my body and just watching me do things.
I told the driver to head there and prodded him once in the back of the head with the barrel of the gun. He pulled the bus out and I settled back into my seat for the short ride. Short Round didn't bother to close the door, so it was pretty cold where I was sitting, but I was fine with that. I didn't want to fall asleep again. I looked around once to check on the other passengers, and most of them had their phones out. A woman who looked a bit like my grandmother was snapping pictures as fast as she could press the buttons. Ironic that immortality of a sort was finding me on the trip I was sure would end my life. Who can fight with an angel and live?
The sun was bright outside, which was nice. I didn't want things to end at night like they had started. A crystal clear sky with a winter sun seemed an appropriately clashing way to go out. A rain storm or sunset or something would have been more dramatically appropriate, but I was glad to feel the sun on my face again. I closed my eyes for a moment, looking at the light that seemed to seep through my eyelids. I had them closed when we pulled up to the convenience store.
The bus was quiet with tension when I got up. No one knew what I was going to do, including me. It seemed like something must happen though, and none of these people had done anything to me. The grandmother lady had her head down now, bowed below the seat. I wondered if she was praying. I didn't want the people to feel scared of me, really, so, I turned to them and said "Sorry." Then I hopped off the bus.
I could already hear sirens in the distance when my feet hit the pavement of the parking lot. The bus had pulled in off the road completely to let me out, and as soon as I got off the doors closed and it sped away. Every face was pressed against the windows as it hopped the curb and crossed the sidewalk onto the road, Short Round not bothering with the entrance ramp. I raised my hand and waved at them as they drove away. It was a strange gesture, but I thought they might be the last people I ever interacted with, so wanted to make some kind of goodbye before I faded. Then I turned toward the store in time to see the angel light down.
It must have been up on the roof watching, because it was facing me when its feet touched the ground. It dropped almost immediately onto all fours and hissed at me, swaying back and forth on its long spindly limbs, its wings flared out behind it. Its long black tongue rolled out of its mouth and flicked at me as it grinned. I hadn't really been expected to see it so suddenly, so I was caught by surprise, just staring at it with mouth open wide. I managed not to drop the gun, though I didn't raise it, or even think of it. Then the angel turned and went inside the store.
The clack of the door closing pierced my surprise enough to get me moving. Here I was, at the end of it, standing around like I was at the beginning, open mouthed and useless. I didn't want that, I needed to be different. So, I ran to the door and tried to open it. It was locked, so I took a step back, grabbed the shotgun by the barrel, and swung it at the glass. Obviously I've never been the best thinker in the clutch, and yes, I know how dumb it is to hold a gun by the barrel and swing it around. Nevertheless, it did the job, and the glass spider webbed and shattered. I used the gun to knock the rest of it out of the door frame and then ducked under the crossbar door handle.
Inside the store the angel was perched up on the counter, leaning in over the employee at the register. A spilled slushee lay on the ground next to the guy, his rough moustache and beard dripping blue icy and liquid. I'll curse my inadequate mind here, because the guy was not Middle-Eastern in descent, but my brain kept casting him as that. It was just some white guy in his 20's, looking terrified from what I could see through the angel's legs. Its great wings brushed the tiles of the ceiling, and it had one long arm reached out and resting on the guy's shoulder. I raised the shotgun and pointed it, and shouted incoherently. I wanted to say something to it, to castigate it and let it know that I was through with it. The words didn't come, though, and I ended up just warbling and shrieking like a madman.
The guy behind the counter raised his hands and grabbed the angel's arms and began to struggle with it. It seemed to be trying to get its hands around his head, and he was holding them up as hard as he could. They held that position for a minute, straining against each other, the man's face pointed toward the sky. I pointed the gun at the angel's back, but was worried about hitting its intended victim. At last the man looked down and met my eyes. I could see the fear in them, and redoubled my determination that this once I would not fail. I shouted "Get down!" The man released the angel's arms and dropped to the floor, sending it off balance. It flexed its wings to catch itself and spun half towards me, still in its crouch on the counter, and hissed. I pulled the trigger.
The gun clicked. Unbelievably, I had forgotten to get bullets and load it. The angel looked at the gun, then back up at me, and laughed. I screamed again and smashed the barrel of the gun against the ground, shouting "Idiot!" at the top of my lungs over and over again. The angel laughed even louder. So, I grabbed the gun by the stock in both hands and charged.
I think I caught it by surprise. Its laugh changed to a sharp hiss and it threw its hands up in front of its egg shaped head. My first swing missed completely and smashed the register, knocking it off the counter. My second was on the mark though, knocking past the angel's hands and thunking solidly into the side of its head. It staggered across the counter, its dull dirty grey hair whipping around. I could see both of its eyes widen, seeming to expand its whole bone structure. Looking into them would stop me, I knew, drain me of every bit of self reliance that remained to me, so I looked down and swing again. It caught the barrel this time and tried to pull the gun out of my hands, but I hung on. We tugged back and forth a few times, our faces just a few feet apart and spitting at each other. Then I turned the gun cross ways and just jumped at the angel.
My momentum overbalanced it, and we both careened over the counter and landed on top of the employee who was laying there. The register was next to him on the floor, and there was a big purple bruised lump forming on the side of his head. I guess it hit him on the way down. He looked pretty out of it. I could tell all of this because I was only a foot or so from him, my head over the angel's shoulder as I struggled on top of it. The great wings were folded up around us like a cocoon, pressed in by the sides of the counter. I lifted myself up and then slipped off of the angel's slick flesh, accidentally head butting it as I fell back down. That seemed like a pretty good idea, so I raised myself up and head butted it again, and then once more. Most of the fight seemed to go out of it then, and it was more concerned with wriggling out from beneath me. I wasn't having any of that, and managed to plant myself straddling it, and put my hands out on its throat for leverage.
There, with my hands around the neck of the angel, feeling its rapid pulse against my palms, I accepted my complicity in the events of the previous weeks. No, not my complicity, because that is still avoidance. My responsibility. I had been empty, looking for some hand to guide me, not steering myself through life. I gave up my chance for self-determination not to another person, but to a creature representing an ideal, a belief that I didn't even really understand. I thought I was seizing my destiny while handing the keys to my body over to a set of rules of which I was mostly ignorant, knowing only the stereotypes and genericies spouted by those around me. I didn't really believe in what the angel represented, or understand it. I was just eager not to live my own life and take shelter in the comfort that I was being guided better than I could guide myself. But, no matter who was driving, it was MY body and MY responsibility. It was me who did those awful things, me who killed A
There, with my hands around the neck of the angel, I took control of my life for the first time. It may only have been exercising the results of the consequences I had set in motion with my backseat living, but I made a decision and stuck to it. I tightened my hands around the angel's neck and squeezed. It was very easy. Its neck, like the rest of it, was thin and fragile. The weathered hands, now feeble and weak, clawed at my wrists, but I did not relent. As I squeezed I began to shake it, slamming its head back and forth into both sides of the counter. It did not bleed, unlike when I found it in the alley, only whimpered a few times. Still I tightened my hands, feeling bits and pieces within the neck pop and shift. At long last the tension went out of the body beneath me, and the great sockets of its eyes closed for the last time. I continued squeezing for a few minutes after it ceased breathing, and then levered myself backwards off of it, resting my back against the counter.
I sat still for a time, eyes closed, no thoughts in my head at all. The ending had come, and there are no words that exist beyond the final act. All that remained was the write the last sentence.
I eventually opened my eyes to see red and blue flashing lights all over the walls. A voice was coming over a loudspeaker, but I honestly didn't care enough to listen to it. I peeked around the corner for a second, and the whole parking lot was filled with cop cars turned sideways, doors open. What seemed like a hundred cops were staring into the store from behind the sights of their guns. I sighed, and then reached over and picked up the slushee cup. There was still some in the bottom of the cup, so I took a deep drink, letting the blue syrupy drink run over the sides of my mouth and down my face and chest. It was sweet.
I tried to feel for a pulse on the clerk, but I suck at doing stuff like that, and wasn't sure if what I felt was my pulse or his. I hoped it was his. It didn't seem right to leave the dead angel laying on top of him, so I wrapped my arms around its chest and picked hugged it close to me. Its head drooped down over my shoulder lay against me. I stood up from behind the counter and the voice on the loudspeaker cut off. There was probably some kind of tension filled with dramatic looks and hopes and fears being exchanged outside. At least, that's how I would like to imagine it. Someone out there highlighted me with some kind of spotlight when I stood, which made no sense to me since the store lights were still on and it was daytime. I hefted the angel up into a better position and stepped out from behind the counter. Then I kissed its cold wet cheek, shouted my name at the top of my lungs, and ran out into the light.
Story and image by Nick Bergeron, Copyright 2009