Friday, February 29, 2008
She pauses to let the undeniably charismatic tones of the caller wash over her for a moment. Still, she is a professional, and she cuts the man off sharply, "Sir, I realize that you have expressed difficulties with your position previously. Rest assured that the Firm has been quite pleased with your results. I will remind you of the commendation that you received for your U.N. speech." The soothing voice on the other end of the line erupts into a blistering, and yet still charming, tirade.
After a moment, the woman punches the mute button and retrieves a file from her desk drawer. Another moment, and she picks up the conversation again, cutting smoothly into the continuing diatribe. "Mr. Carpathia? I have your file right here, and I do see the letters of protest that you lodged against that particular speech. 'Inane drivel' 'hopelessly out of touch with modern society' and 'thundering outrage' are some of the more choice phrases that you used. However, the Lord was quite pleased with your results even after taking your protests under advisement."
Pinching the bridge of her nose, Ms. Diaz waits for another break in the conversation. When it comes, her voice is shark-smooth, "Perhaps, Mr. Carpathia, if you could summarize the current objections to your assignment in a less volatile and more succinct manner, perhaps I would better be able to assist you in resolving these objections?"
There is a brief silence, and then a resigned sigh. Ms. Diaz listens patiently, occasionally jotting down a few notes to herself in the margin of Mr. Carpathia's file. At last he winds down. She responds briskly, "Very well, sir. If I may summarize? You feel that your ascension to the United Nations is plausible but only barely. I believe we've covered that in previous conversation, and that your commendation should reassure you there. You are frustrated with your instructions to, as you say, take over the world in less than seven years including converting every one to one world religion as you find this preposterous, and you think that our requirement that everyone be speaking Basque within that time frame to be, ah how did you put it? Linguistically insane, logically treasonous, and theologically ludicrous?"
A snort from the intercom seems to confirm the summary, and Ms. Diaz smiles. "Mr. Carpathia, or may I call you A.C. at this point? A.C., let us be clear here. These things will happen, for it is in the best interest of the Firm that they happen on time and within the allowable budget. You were selected for your position from a veritable host of qualified candidates, and we chose you precisely because we felt that you could pull off thirteen impossible things before breakfast. You, in fact, used that very phrase in your interview."
She flips open a secondary file and says, "Now, I don't want you to think that we are unreasonable, A.C. Our accounting department shows that you used only 68.3% of your allotted miracles in achieving the position of Secretary General of the United Nations. We can allow an increase in your budget for this upcoming year of, say, 17% to account for any unforeseen difficulties in achieving your required targets for the year?"
Ms. Diaz allows herself a satisfied nod as the voice acquiesces. "Very good sir. I look forward to receiving your next report. Do remember that the disarmament and treaty with Israel is your top priority for the year. We are prepared to accept English or French as a substitute world language if you can not achieve Basque, but your bonus will be impacted by any deviation from the Revelation Plan."
The intercom squawks a graceless (but oh-so-dulcet) "Thanks," and cuts off. Miss Diaz shakes her head once, re-files the papers on her desk, and punches a number into the telephone. "Sir? I have the figures on the Israeli Miracle Growth Formula that you requested. Yes sir, I'll be right in."
He paused, the orange juice almost to his lips, and looked at it. The ugly white enamel was blackening slowly and the rubber seals were dripping down onto the floor.
"NICHOLAS MOUNTAIN, I AM THE GOD OF THE PATRIARCHS, OF ABRAHAM, ISAAC AND JACO--."
"Aw, come on," Nicky said, interrupting the booming voice. "Could you not ruin my fridge?"
"My fridge. Jeez, I'll bet you're destroying everything in there too, aren't you?"
"ERRRRRRR . . ."
"Look, could you maybe stop with the fire?"
"THE FIRE IS A NECESSARY SIGN OF--."
"I believe you. You're the God of the Patriarchs, just put the fire out please."
The fire went out abruptly. Nicky stood up, leaving his breakfast at the table, and inspected the damage. Aside from the absolutely ruined refrigerator the paint on the wall and the ceiling was charred black and the cabinets to the side were singed. The cabinets didn't look like they needed to be replaced but the entire kitchen would have to be repainted.
He sat down again and looked around. "Hello?" he said to the otherwise empty kitchen.
"I'M HERE." Something iridescent and glowing rose out of the yellowing linoleum floor, scintillating and throwing brilliant rainbows of light around the poorly lit room.
Nicky winced, and the angel obligingly toned down the light display. "You know, 'burning fridge' doesn't have nearly the same narrative impact as 'burning bush,'" he told his guest.
"YOU LIVE IN NEW YORK," the holy seemed to shout. "I WAS LOOKING FOR AN OPPORTUNITY IN CENTRAL PARK BUT YOU'VE CHANGED YOUR RUNNING PATTERNS SINCE LAST YEAR. BESIDES, YOU'RE ALMOST NEVER ALONE OUTSIDE."
"Yeah, I suppose that's true. Are you here to tell me to go running in the park more often?"
"NO." The angel did something that came across to Nicky as clearing its throat. "You know, you don't seem all that surprised by my presence here."
"I've seen Dogma," Nicky pointed out. "Besides, this is New York and it's just before seven. If you want me to be surprised come back after nine and we'll try to work something out. What happened to your voice?"
"It wasn't worth the effort required to maintain the effect," the angel said. "How'd you like it?"
"No, the movie. Dogma."
"It was okay, I suppose. The ending was a little trite."
"I can see that," the angel said. "Deus Ex Machina and all. Do you mind if I sit?"
Nicky gestured to the chair and the being of pure light pulled it back and sat. "I'm here to inform you that you're the Antichrist," he told Nicky after he'd made himself comfortable.
"You're the Antichrist."
"Are you sure?"
Nicky carefully scraped together some of the slightly runny scrambled eggs and took a bite. He chewed slowly and finally swallowed.
"Shouldn't a demon be telling me this?"
"Why would they care?"
"Er . . . cause the Antichrist is supposed to be one of the bad guys?"
"Not really. The position is more about getting the job done. Besides, demons are unreliable messengers."
"And that job is?"
"Destroying the world, of course," said the angel, sounding surprised. "You know, as foretold in John's Revelation and all that. I was told that you'd read Left Behind."
"Only the first book, and I hated it. Come on, it was mindless drivel."
The angel shrugged. "I can't argue with that."
"This is about my internship at the U.N., isn't it?"
"Think of it, 'Nickolas Mountain, youngest Secretary General in history.' I'm sure that the guys would love it."
"It's just an internship!"
"But it could be so much more. I know that you've dreamed of being the Secretary General."
Nicky paused. "I've also dreamed of being U.S. president," he finally pointed out. "Or getting lucky with Jessica Biel."
"Dominionship over the Earth has its perks," the angel responded. "We could probably work something out."
"All leading to the end of the world."
"When would that be?"
The angel pulled a glittering golden pocket watch out from somewhere. "One thousand and fourteen years, six months, and a few days," he announced.
"That includes the millennial reign of Christ?"
"I don't think so."
"The future's written, kid. I could cite the passages easy. What's got to happen has got to--."
"No, I meant I don't think I want the position."
The angel sat there, glowing over everything, and Nicky took another bite of his eggs.
"I'm offering fame, power, and unlimited unlimited wealth for seven entire years, Nickolas," the angel said.
"It's Nicky, and I'm not interested."
"I can see your heart, you know," the angel said abruptly. "I can see that you're tempted. Imagine all of that money and power. Seven blissful years of unlimited power before handing it over to the next guy. Think of the cars, the parties, the attractive women!"
"Yeah, I get it," said Nicky dismissively. "Except there's that whole part about the world ending. The power and the wealth is all nice and good, but I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I took all those people's lives away from them."
The angel seemed to shake its head, although Nicky couldn't tell for sure because the glow had surged back to full brightness. He looked down at the table and continued to munch on his food.
"You know the problem with this job?" the angel said and then continued before Nicky could swallow and speak. "You're all the same. Smart, driven, and absolutely opposed to the world ending. Do you have any idea how many times I've been turned down now? It must be in the mid twenties, at the very least."
"You mean for the Antichrist position?" asked Nicky.
"Yeah," the angel said. "Sometimes I could swear that Satan is screwing around with this whole process. Anytime someone meets the qualifications . . .," the angel must have seen the curiosity on Nicky's face or "in his heart" because he elaborated, ". . . charismatic, speaks a few languages fluently, intelligent, works at the U.N., born in Turkey, non-Christian . . .," Nicky nodded and he continued, ". . . you always turn down unlimited power and wealth. None of you are driven."
"Not at the expense of others," Nicky said. "Maybe in a few years you can try me again."
"It's a one time offer," the angel said. "There's a time line associated with it, and every time someone declines we have to put everything on hold again. You've already turned it down, you can't be offered it again."
"That's sort of a silly rule."
"I'll say," the angel said bitterly. "But the Big Guy's all about personal choice."
"I thought you said you are God."
"Technically I'm the Voice of God. You know how it goes, Dogma and all that. . . ." he waved a glowing hand dismissively and trailed off.
"So God really exists?" Nicky said. "I don't suppose you'd clue me in which denomination . . ."
"Mormonism," the angel said without hesitation, and then he chuckled. "No, sorry, that's just an angel joke. The correct answer's really Quaker, or anything similar. Imagine the irony that Nixon's in heaven."
"Er . . . okay."
"It'd be so much easier if I could just . . . you know, order you to be the Antichrist," the angel said wistfully.
"Hey, I'm sure that someday someone will say yes."
"Twenty some times, and he says that someday someone will say yes. . . ." The angel grumbled something about the power of heaven, and then fell silent.
Nicky finally ended the uncomfortable quiet. "I don't suppose you want some bacon or something?"
"No," the angel said miserably. "I should be going." He paused. "Are you sure you don't want to be the Antichrist?"
"Yes, I'm sure," Nicky said. "I thought you said it could only be offered once."
"It was worth a try," the angel said. "Maybe since I haven't left yet they wouldn't have noticed."
"Well," Nicky said as the angel stood. "Good luck on finding someone."
"That's what they ALL SAY," the angel said, ending with his voice once again like thunder. "ANYWAY, HAVE A GOOD DAY. HAVE FUN AT YOUR NEW JOB."
There was a flicker, and the being of light disappeared, backing through the far wall toward Mr. Stephen's apartment.
Nicky finished his bacon, put the plate in the sink, and examined the refrigerator again. The melting rubber had congealed on the floor. He'd probably have to pry the linoleum up and replace it before he ordered a new fridge.
Right now though he needed to catch the train into midtown for work, so he'd have to start calling around after five.
He sighed and wondered if as the Antichrist he would have been able to get a discount on fridges from Sears.
Friday, February 15, 2008
If I've done this correctly, you can click on the image to get the larger version.
Also, Fox Cutter posted a scene following the same principals of the Right Behind blog on his own blog here. Check it out!
Sunday, February 10, 2008
I imagine the heads will clean it up later in the week, but this will serve as a band-aid. Here is the links to the five parts of "God has Plans for Chloe"
God has Plans for Chloe Part 1
God has Plans for Chloe Part 2
God has Plans for Chloe Part 3
God has Plans for Chloe Part 4
God has Plans for Chloe Part 5
Rayford looked up from his preflight checklist. A trim young woman carrying a square leather case was standing at the cockpit door. She could have been
“Good afternoon, Captain. My name is Kayla Jackson, priestess of Ishtar for Pan-Con. I’ll be doing the pre-flight ritual today.”
Steele grinned to himself. He’d gotten the memo, of course, written in typically muddy airline bureaucratese, saying that pre-flight check-in would include “safety-enhancing ritual procedures” by “certified priestesses of Ishtar,” including a “personal checkup” for the captain immediately before the flight. He’d looked up Ishtar in the old World Book that Irene had gotten when Chloe started school. Apparently, Ishtar’s girls were little better than prostitutes. Interesting idea of a checkup. There had been follow-up memos, but he hadn’t bothered with them. He already knew how he’d handle the new “procedure.”
In fact, he was looking forward to it. To tell the truth, he’d been missing Hattie. True, she’d been getting too attached, but that was part of the fun, wasn’t it? Now that he’d had her transferred to another flight schedule, he could only imagine her frustration. And only imagining it was turning out to be not quite enough.
He aimed his most charming smile at the young woman.
“Hello, Kayla,” he said in a voice made carefully low and slightly husky. “It’s good to have you onboard.” He hoped she’d catch the slight but meaningful pause before that last word.
“Thank you, Captain.” Kayla replied. She either hadn’t caught it or wasn’t letting on that she had. Fine either way, thought Rayford. The ones who liked to present themselves as “all business, no nonsense” sometimes turned out to be the most fun.
No question, Kayla saw herself as all business. She returned his handshake firmly and withdrew her own hand just a bit before he was ready to let go. “As the procedures associated with the ritual are specific to the flight leader and somewhat personal,” she said, “we’ll ask the copilot to leave the cockpit at this point.”
Tom Stroh, Ray’s copilot, gave Ray a leer and got up. Once he got behind Kayla and out of her line of sight, he paused and, looking back towards Ray, traced an hourglass in the air behind her. Turning back to the door, he nearly bumped into the blonde who had at some point—when?—taken a position there. With a dancer’s grace, the blonde moved out of his way and, once he was well out the door, stepped back into the cockpit. Pulling the door so it was just the smallest bit ajar, she again took her place in front of it.
Two priestesses! This was gonna be one heck of a ritual.
“Wow, girls! Careful there!” said Rayford. “There’s only one of me.”
Kayla gave him a tight, formal smile. “I’d like to introduce my associate, Emma DeWitt. Emma will be present during the procedure and associated rituals, but she will not actively participate unless it becomes necessary.” She turned the copilot’s now-empty chair towards herself and set her leather case firmly on the seat.
“Will not participate unless it becomes necessary,” she had said. Rayford could guess what that meant. But he didn’t much care for her tone of command. Time for Cap’n Rayford to take charge of this little party. As Kayla leaned forward to open the case, he directed his gaze pointedly between her jacket lapels, right where the open blouse of a flight attendant would have given him a clear view into her bra. But of course Kayla wasn’t wearing a flight attendant’s blouse. The high-necked shirt with its plain round collar gave him nothing at all. And of course she’d seen him looking. That was the point of the move—to let the woman know you’d seen more of her than you were meant to. He couldn’t read the glance she gave him, but it wasn’t either of the ones he usually got: the embarrassed confusion of the ingénue or the knowing smile of the experienced woman, ready for a flirtation—or more. Instead, he found himself thinking—he wasn’t sure why—of his third-grade teacher, the pretty one, Miss Higgins, when she’d caught him eating library paste.
Rayford tried again. “So, sweetheart, how’d you get into this line of work?” Emma shifted slightly in the doorway, but Kayla simply smiled. An understanding, almost maternal smile.
“I was a pediatric nurse. Of course, since the Disappearances, there hasn’t been much work for us, and, . . .” she paused, biting her lip. Rayford wondered if she was remembering someone she’d lost. Women, he’d noticed, had a tendency to get emotional when they talked about it. Good thing men were more objective. He’d lost Irene and Raymie, but you didn’t catch him letting everyone know how he felt about it. Of course she could be thinking about what it meant to go from being a nurse to the kind of work she did now. Whichever, Rayford didn’t want to encourage the kind of female confidences that might lead to. Save it for Oprah, honey. He turned quickly to Emma, still standing at the door.
“We can’t leave Emma out in the cold. How about you?” He allowed himself just the hint of a wink.
“I’m in training,” she replied. “They were looking for people with certain basic medical skills, and I’ve been serving as an EMT. Volunteer,” she added quickly.
Rayford had heard that women who did—well, the sort of work these women did—tended to be matter-of-fact about it, but he had thought they’d at least try a little harder in front of a—what was he, anyway? A customer? Put that way, it sounded particularly unpleasant. He tried again.
“And what do you call this full-time job of yours?”
“Oh, this isn’t my full-time job. I’m here as an attendant for the priestess. Like my EMT work, I do it on a volunteer basis because I think it’s important. It saves lives. My income comes from the karate studio my husband and I run.” She smiled. Rayford suddenly noticed the wedding ring on her left hand and the stance she had seemed to adopt automatically, weight equally balanced on both feet, arms relaxed but ready for action.
“Captain, I believe we’re ready now,” Kayla said. She had finished setting up whatever was in her leather case. “Now, I realize you’ve received a number of memos on the procedures, but it sometimes helps if we take a moment and explain the how and why of what we’re about to do.”
Rayford opened his mouth to speak, but she raised her hand.
“First of all, don’t worry. We’re both trained professionals, and you’ll find this takes just a short time and will not be too unpleasant, although the ritual does at one point get perhaps a bit . . . personal. It makes some people uncomfortable, but there’s nothing to worry about--it's perfectly safe. Second, let me just ask: do you know anything about the rituals of the Lady Ishtar other than what was in the airline memos? You may have heard of her as Ashteroth or Inanna.”
Rayford allowed a crooked grin to spread over his face. “Yeah, honey. As a matter of fact, I looked her up in the World Book. And I have to say—“
“I see,” Kayla broke in. “That’s unfortunate. We prefer that people not begin with a lot of preconceived notions. However, I’ll do my best to clarify things.” She pulled a glossy brochure from her case. On the cover was an eight-pointed star, like the one on her uniform, and the words, “A Safer Journey with Lady Ishtar.”
“As your reading may have told you,” she began, “the ancients recognized the connection between the success of an enterprise and what we might call the ‘vigor’ of the males associated with it. Even in modern times, we don’t fill our armies with eighty-year-old men or children under the age of 18, the point at which the sperm count becomes reliable.”
“That’s not why we—“ Rayford protested, but she again cut him off.
“Of course, people have not always understood precisely why age restrictions for males are appropriate, but the eternal laws of the Goddess Ishtar, given in a form made understandable for people of earlier ages, have been shown to have scientific validity as we learn more about the human body.
“Now, in the past, all males in a society—and especially captains of ships, heads of caravans, and leaders of armies—would be expected to demonstrate their level of vigor by the actual production of ejaculate, as certified by a temple attendant. The work could be unpleasant and dangerous for the temple attendant. That’s one reason actual priestesses rarely performed the ritual, and for the same reason, volunteer attendants were recruited from the general population to assist on a limited, one-time basis. Now, of course, we simply measure basic health, blood factors, and testosterone levels, and there’s no need for anything as intrusive as in the old days.” She smiled, again, with that gentle, almost maternal smile. “I’m sure you’re relieved to hear that, aren’t you?”
He nodded, dumbly, as she pulled a pair of latex gloves out of the case.
“OK. To start with, I’ll just need a drop of blood. Left pinky or right?”
While the drop of blood was doing whatever it was supposed to do on a piece of tissue in a small test tube, she took his blood pressure and temperature. She picked up the test tube, examined it carefully, and seemed satisfied.
“Now, Captain, this is where it becomes just a bit personal. We’ve established that you have acceptable hormone levels, and the tests we’ve done here, along with the information the airline has from your regular medical checkups tell us everything else we need to know. But here’s the part that medical science can’t help us with. I’ll need you to stand up, face me, and close your eyes. You’re right-handed, I think?”
“Now wait a minute!” Rayford protested.
Kayla spoke gently, coaxingly. “Let’s not be difficult, Captain. As the memos made clear, the airline, in cooperation with the FAA, has established pre-flight procedures for the safety and security of passengers and crew. If you don’t cooperate,” she shrugged, “well, then you don’t fly the aircraft. And neither of us wants that, now, do we?” It occurred to Rayford that she must have been very good at getting children to sit still for their shots.
He watched as Kayla took a small vial—“sacred olive oil,” she said in response to his questioning look—from the case. He decided on one last try.
“Look,” he said, “I don’t have anything against reasonable safety precautions. But we’ve never worshipped Ishtar.
Kayla gave him a long, serious look.
“Really,” she said quietly. “And how has that worked out for you?”
Rayford had nothing more to say. Feeling as helpless as he had ever felt, he got to his feet and closed his eyes.
He felt Kayla’s gloved hand dab a bit of oil onto his forehead and right hand and heard her intone a brief chant, the gist of which was a request to the Lady for safety on the voyage.
“All done,” she said cheerfully. “You can open your eyes now.”
With a few swift moves, Kayla packed away the vial and the discarded latex gloves and snapped the case shut.
“Thank you for your cooperation, Captain,” she said. “Here’s your copy of the brochure. You’ll find it contains useful background information on the pre-flight safety procedures we just went through.”
“Uh, my pleasure,” Rayford replied. He tried to wink, more out of habit than anything, but somehow just couldn’t manage it.
“I bet that wasn’t as bad as you expected, was it?” Emma asked.
“Not as—not a—no, I guess, not really,” said Rayford.
“It’s amazing, isn’t it,” Kayla said, “how much easier technology has made the rituals? Really, it’s like the medicine on that old show, Star Trek, where you just wave a device and find out everything you want to know. The High Priestess—she’s been doing this a lot longer than the rest of us—says it makes her feel like the doctor on the original Star Trek series. Who was that—“Bones” Somebody? Dr. Spock? My father used to talk about it. Captain, I bet you remember the original series. It must have seemed incredible back then, but now we just take it as a matter of course.”
And as she turned to leave, she smiled once again, that sweet, gentle, almost maternal smile. The smile of a nurse well trained in dealing with difficult patients.
Chloe jerked awake. She was at home, her parent’s house outside of Chicago. She was on the couch. She felt odd, scared maybe. It was all a little fuzzy. She began to get up and look around. She walked out of the living room and into the hallway. She could hear the sound of arguing in the kitchen.
Were her father and Hattie fighting…Wait, Hattie? She felt so fuzzy in her head; she wanted to scream. She began to inch towards the kitchen when something hit her on the legs.
“What th- Raymie, I’m going to kill you.”
Raymie just laughed at her, swinging his toy dinosaur back and forth. “Ha ha, Chloe is a bull dyke! Chloe is a bull dyke!”
The kitchen door swung open.
“What’s going on here,” her father called out. “Ah Jesus Christ, how long have you two been standing here?”
“Don’t use the Lord’s name in vain,” Chloe’s mother smacked him upside the head. “And you, how dare you. After we let you go to a secular school. Oh the Good Lord warned me, yes he did. This is how you reward me, wallowing in sin like the other intellectuals. We’ll see how smart you feel on Judgment Day and it is a’coming oh yes, you watch me. Judgment on all you little heathens. Raymie, come with me, we need to pray for your whore of a sister.”
“She didn’t…” Her father ventured as the door to her mother’s bedroom slammed shut with complete finality, “take it very well I’m afraid. I’m sorry…Uh, she’ll come around someday I’m sure, but we’ll just have to ease her into it. That being said, if you ever want to bring uh…Maggie was it, home with you, you are welcome to. I’ll make sure your mom is off on one of her Bible retreats then.”
“Um…thanks Dad,” Chloe felt relieved. She shook her head. Man, she must have really been shaken up about coming out. She wondered why her knees were shaking so heavily.
Chloe smiled and hugged her dad ferociously, clinging him to her as tightly as she could manage.
“Hey watch my back,” he called out jokingly. “All right, let’s get ourselves out of here and out to the flight. I’ve snagged the flight back to San Jose so that I can see you back to school. You’ve got a lot of guts, kid, I’m proud of you.”
The trip to the airport happened in a daze, her mind still reeling from the emotion of her big moment and its aftermath. She couldn’t wait to be back in Maggie’s arms.
At the terminal she grabbed a seat while her father talked to the flight attendants who would be accompanying him on the trip and waited for the co-pilot and plane to arrive from Vancouver. She began to pretend to read a magazine, but her head felt to full to concentrate. She found herself straining her ears to listen to her dad talking to a flight attendant she had seen accompany her father a lot.
“…I can’t say how sorry I am,” her father was whispering to her, glancing over his shoulder to make sure he wasn’t being overheard. “What I did was unforgivable.”
“Yeah it was,” the flight attendant replied rather matter-of-factly.
“I’m not going to report you or anything so you can drop the penitent act.”
“No, it’s not an act. I’m really sorry. I treated you like a tool, a way of striking back at my wife…That’s inexcusable. I know that it is, but I wanted you to know that I know that now and I’m in therapy and everything.”
“So I want to know if we could be friends again? Not now, of course.”
“No, not now and not for awhile. But if you’re earnest, Ray, maybe, someday. But never more than friends again.”
“I can live with that.”
“You’ll have to.”
Chloe hid her head in the magazine to hide her blushing face. She didn’t intend to overhear that!
She buried her face even further as the flight attendant walked past and winked at her. Her father was close behind.
“Hey, kiddo, the flight looks to be coming in, so we can probably both board if you want.”
Chloe froze. She wanted to ask him, but she could see the fear and embarrassment climbing in his eyes. She didn’t dare raise the question now. She’d ask him when he was ready and able to talk and she’d have to trust that he would.
“Okay, let’s get you settled in and this plane all prepped.”
As he slipped into the cockpit, the flight attendant he was talking to escorted her to her seat.
“Welcome to your better world.”
“What?” Chloe exclaimed and stared at the flight attendant.
“I said, welcome to Flight 349 to San Jose…Chloe.”
It was a path, a choice, she had shunned, always and forever. There was no good reason, ever. That had been her decision. It was a good decision. A firm, wise decision that time always lead her to no matter how depressed or hopeless she felt. There was after all, only one life, one memory of this consciousness, no matter what you believed. Only one you in this patch of Earth.
Chloe had held to that as one would cling to a rock in a terrible storm. It was solid, necessary, hopeful, and true.
She had been so close to total loss. Her essence only spared by a momentary hesitation of a hateful God. The type of salvation as might befit a lobster who has been placed in the tank at the front of the restaurant rather than directly in the pot.
It was not a mercy that would last. For one thing, mercy was beyond this particular deity.
For another, she would need to play-act everything perfectly and more and more perfectly until the Deity decided the charade had ceased to amuse it. Chloe understood that that would occur sooner rather than later.
So in its stead there were the pills. Hattie’s last gift before she embarked on her own truncated existence.
It seemed so pointless, so pathetic, so much like the surrendering that it was. It was so Thelma and Louise, so hopeless and Hollywood. It was the urge that said it was better to leave than fight. But…
But that was it. That but. There was nothing else for it. Her existence was on the line and it was this or a fate worse than death, total cessation. And worse, she knew, every moment she delayed increased the chances that the Deity would find Hattie’s body, realize this last attempt at rebellion and seek her out to finish what it had set out to do.
It was a pressing concern but she just couldn’t flush all of what she was down the drain so quickly, give up those precious last few bits before facing either the Hell of her mother’s God or a Heaven of a reality or even something else, that ever possible nothingness that shook her to the bone. It was hard to give up life.
So she remembered Maggie, kissing her gently in the morning before her shower. She remembered playing with Raymie on the beach. She remembered her dad as he had been when she was young before he became so controlling and evil. She remembered her mom and how their exchanges were always twinged with mutual pity and sadness.
She remembered everything she was and everything she dreamed of being. She remembered it all like she was sealing each page in a photo album somewhere so that they would be preserved.
By the time she was done, she had hardly noticed that she had dutifully swallowed the entire bottle of pills. She lay down as the room span, her eyes heavy, and her soul floating out.
Blearily she murmured, before rising completely out of her body, “I commend my soul to any who would take it.”
She felt so tired as she blearily looked down on her body, but that was soon to fade as the boiling eye of the Deity shook her soul aware. She cowered in fear as she floated up towards that disapproving gaze. She could feel its fury trying to snatch at her, trying to punish her for her insolence.
It remained like this before shifting into a malevolent glint. She saw her body below rise like a rag doll, shake its neck one way then another, adjusting itself.
Her soul, her self, stared in absolute terror, screaming soundlessly into void and naught as her body turned to face her and smiled, chipper as could be. That body waved, as she felt her soul being sucked into an absolute void.
There was nothing but darkness and then-
There was nothing.
Chloe was sure it made sense to someone. It had certainly made sense to her mother and it was now making sense to her father. She glanced over at Buck as he sat there panting during her father’s monologue. He seemed to hang with desperate glee at every mention of a powerful male authority and another two was added to the fourth column.
Chloe glanced over at Hattie who was looking at her with a look of immeasurable pity. Chloe knew what was encoded in that glance. Chloe knew exactly what fate was being groomed for her. She bit her lip in sad irony. She was being groomed as a heterosexual, being rewritten down to the last inch in order to be a gay man’s beard.
In bitter self-pity, she tuned out of the rest, letting tears stream down her face as she watched her father and Buck engage in very literal verbal intercourse, a type of foreplay she remembered fondly indulging with Maggie after her Intro to Western Philosophy classes back in Freshman Year.
With thoughts of Maggie, her self-pity grew worse and her depression spiraled yet again into the forefront. What would happen to that connection? If she went through with Hattie’s crazy plan and this world was the only one, would she be able to find Maggie in this God’s Hell? What would the Deity’s Hell even look like anyway? What if she didn’t go through with it? What if she hid enough to keep a small piece of herself? Would it still remember her fondly as Buck fastened the leash around her neck?
The tears kept flowing as she glanced up, Buck was putting away his World War II era tape recorder and microphone and glanced at her. His eyes were filled with the same disdain he had seen in her father’s eyes as she was walking away from the table.
One piece…if she was lucky. But likely not that at all. Any Deity that would choose these men as its champions, which would uphold the values of her self-hating mother, would never allow that little piece. And given the transference of hatred. The way the Deity’s hateful views of the very idea of her being her and more to the point in a “her” context were being adopted so flawlessly with each convert into the cult…
She couldn’t stop weeping silently. Her options were both bare and pressing.
“Can I have your opinions on the deathly serious issue of the trip and fall guys or even the tedious affair of the disappearances? Off the record, of course.” Buck asked Hattie almost as a formality.
“Why off the record?” Hattie snapped, deciding to go out with a bang. She adopted an entirely sarcastic tone of voice as she continued. “The opinions of a pilot are important, but the opinions of a flight attendant aren’t?”
As the two men were focused on to express the feelings of shock and dismay and right manly responses under the close watch of the Deity, Hattie slipped a quick wink to Chloe that made her involuntarily stifle a giggle before she slipped into despair again.
It wasn’t long before she was being dragged from the table and forced to mosey to the lobby.
“I’m going to say my good-nights,” Hattie said. “I’ve got the earlier flight tomorrow. Thank you oh so much for the dinner, Rayford.” She shook his hand firmly and then embraced Chloe in a tight hug and whispered in her ear so lowly that Chloe was nearly sure it had been a trick of her mind.
Hattie had said, “Good night, good bye. Perhaps I’ll see you in your better world.”
Hattie pulled away before the Deity could be suspicious, but Chloe wanted to cling to her more. It was stupid and pointless and entirely because she was scared, but she wanted to force Hattie to stay, long enough to say a proper goodbye.
It would attract attention, but Chloe started after her and stopped mid-step. She felt the Deity’s force in her mind, all focus on her in all of its divine hatred. Fear gripped the last of her neurons. Was she going to lose herself in this last instance?
Her head moved against her will and looked longingly at Buck. Her brain reeled and rebelled, trying to roll right out of her head as the crushing weight of the Deity dug deeper into place, pulling her like a puppet.
“Give us a minute, will you, Daddy? I’ll be right up.” The words came out of her mouth all sickly sweet and schoolgirl-like. What was the Deity’s obsession with making her sound and act like a prepubescent child?
“Your dad is a pretty impressive guy,” Buck said. His voice was filled with wistful longing and an unconscious self-hatred. His face looked as if he was still headily recalling the smell of her father’s old man sweat and it’s nauseatingly masculine odor.
“I know,” the words came out of her mouth as she felt further boxed in. She could feel the tendrils of the Deity feeling their way trying to find the core of her sexuality and pervert it, establish its dominance. She sacrificed early memories; even fond memories of her mother and brother to protect that special bit of her self. “Especially lately,” she forced out of her mouth in order to continue the dialogue and hopefully give the Deity a reason to let her go another day before domination.
The Deity seemed to hesitate. This was her last chance at freedom.
“I just met you and I’m really gonna miss you,” Chloe acted at Buck. It was a desperate first-grade level pantomine of an act, but it was desperate. “If you get through Chicago, you have to call.”
It didn’t have quite the same submissive ring as her earlier dodge, but she had to pray it was enough. She cowered in the back of her head as the Deity watched her warily and suspiciously. It was the look the nice Christian boy had given back in that car in High School. The exact same look that emphasized that her future was at its mercy and none other.
Chloe held her breath wishing and praying for what freedom she could steal. After who knows how many clichéd hours, years, or centuries one could conjure, the Deity retreated to its pride. She fell limp with relief.
Buck smiled at her, all manner of predatory behavior flashing in his eyes. “It’s a promise. I can’t say when, but let’s just say sooner than you think.”
She glanced at Buck who unpacked some sort of World War II era recording device with the big spinning tapes and the large microphone.
“I’m ready,” Buck said “to ask your idea of what happened on that fateful flight to London. Do you have a theory?”
Chloe shut her eyes and grimaced. Two and two and two and two were adding up in her head multiplying and expanding down the line she had already deduced. It fit with what she suspected when she was first paired off with Buck. The sick Deity wasn’t going to be content with just forcing her into the role of obedient house slave, but it was going to need her to convert first. So like her mother, the Deity was.
She knew she needed to escape, while the Deity was focused on dad’s new speechmaking on the Gospel of the Antichrist and All. But certain conventions needed to be upheld if she was going to complete her quest.
Chloe put on her best 50s housewife impression and gently touched Buck’s arm and asked if he minded if she excused herself. She nearly beamed at pride at the turn of phrase. It was so neatly submissive. She began to shift to walk out of the frame of vision, out of the direct line of sight of the Deity, when she caught Hattie’s eye.
Chloe nodded her, the nonverbal equivalent of “Fly, you fools.” She didn’t know why she made the gesture, as it was risky, but it had been involuntary necessary. Hattie may have been her father’s mistress, but she was an innocent caught in the middle of the Deity’s Madonna-whore complex. It would have been a sin not to help her.
“I’ll join you,” Hattie said to the men and joined her. Chloe gave a fain smile, but she could see her father bubbling into fury. In his eyes, she could feel the Deity’s very thoughts etching themselves in her skull. It went, you two have meddled in my affairs long enough, resisted me in no uncertain terms. This will not do.
Chloe grabbed Hattie’s hand and quick-marched her in the direction of the bathroom, hoping that the Deity’s hatred for all feminine affairs would prevent it’s interference in the land of female bowel movements.
“What’s all this about,” Hattie growled when Chloe dragged her into the one stall restroom and frantically locked and blocked the door. “If you’re going to preach at me like your sick little control freak of a father, I swear I will cut you.”
“It’s not like that.”
“Well if you’re trying to hit on me, I’m afraid I don’t swing that way. While that sounds tempting considering what your father put me through, I could never get down with the female body.”
“What? You’re not my type-And anyways who said I was gay?”
Chloe glared for a second and then shook her head. “Listen we got off to a bad start-“
“Nah,” Hattie interrupted, shifting out of her hostile body language into a more neutral stance. “I’m just being a bit spiny. Your dad got my back up a bit earlier and I’ve been chewing daggers ever since.”
“I’m sorry…” Chloe didn’t know what else to say, so she went with her heart. “I’m sorry my dad’s an unrepentant bastard.”
Hattie scoffed. “It’s cool. I’m mostly over it…No, no, okay, it still pisses me off. How can you stand it? How did I stand it? It’s…It’s stupid. I’m being stupid. I’ve been getting dumber and dumber all the time.”
Chloe leaned against the sink and let Twos multiply. “How so,” she asked though she already suspected the answer.
“I don’t know. I keep saying dumb things lately, not caring at moments. I mean, I called up your dad and said my sister was bummed because she was out of work at Planned Parenthood. Why would I say that? She’s busier than she’s ever been what with all the people with disastrous miscarriages and working on the infertility problem. But it’s not just that…”
“You feel like your body is being used against your will.” Chloe ventured her theory cautiously. She imagined that Hattie would be a bit tired of theories from Steeles at the moment.
Hattie’s façade cracked for a moment. Her voice naught but a murmur. “…yeah.”
Chloe began to move closer to Hattie. She wanted to give her a hug, but could see the defensive body posture. She extended her arms slightly, offering the opportunity. When enough time had passed to be sure of a decline, she lowered her arms again and leaned against a closer sink.
They waited in silence for a minute before Hattie spoke again. “I’m going to say something and I want you to be a different kind of Steele than your parents, okay?”
Chloe just nodded.
Hattie took a deep breath of air. “God, I’m going to sound like such a psycho like your father…I think there is something out there. Something…malevolent. I don’t-I don’t think it likes us do…I don’t think it likes us. I think we’re getting in its way.”
Chloe’s mouth muscle twitched in a concerned way. It was one thing to work it through. It was another thing to have corroboration. It had a way of making things, even things you were certain were true of feeling realer, more pressing.
Hattie continued. “I think…it’s going to change us one way or another. I think we are…God I sound insane…offending its delicate sensibilities or some other shit…No, no, this is too crazy. I’m just going nuts after all your father’s head games, seeing his views get all magnified. I’m sorry. I-I don’t even know why I’m saying this. Maybe I haven’t escaped as much as I hoped. I mean I’m here with-“
“Hattie,” Chloe tried to interrupt.
“My most slinky dress on all so I can tell your father how over him I am. Hell, maybe I’m just hoping to get one over on him so that I won’t have wasted my time like my mother, making the same mistakes she did and-“
“You’re not the only one…”
Hattie sunk to the floor. “Oh God, so it isn’t just me.”
“I think it’s happening to everyone in a general region of my father.”
“It happens around Buck as well and Nicky Mountain-range now that I think about it.”
“The weirdo who quoted every country in the U.N.”
“Yeah, I think I’m being prepped to be his hussy by the way it looks.”
“And I’m being set up as Buck’s child bride.”
Hattie smiled sardonically and let out a sharp breath of air. “How much of ourselves do you think will make it…in the end?”
“Well considering everything…none. Not one red cent.”
“I thought so,” Hattie nodded. It was a resigned sort of observation with not even a hint of sadness. “Well sucks to be us.”
“It doesn’t have to be this way. We can escape.”
Hattie focused for a moment. “How? I mean…if we’re right, then we’re up against something akin to a God. I mean what are we supposed to do? Walk out of reality? Let me just slide these bathroom tiles away and we can hop out of the narrative.”
“You don’t have to be…” Chloe froze. What had been her plan? She blamed the way the Deity had muddled her thoughts. How could she have forgotten to think of a way out? Something more fleshed out than just running away to where the Deity wouldn’t be able to find her and hope for the best. She felt like an idiot.
“We could pray,” Chloe ventured pathetically.
Chloe’s cheeks went red with embarrassment. A competent student at one of the top universities in the country and all she had was this. She began to take it all back, resign herself to her fate, when the twos began to add again.
“Yeah,” Chloe said earnestly, her eyes again breathing with life. “Yeah, it could work. I mean, there obviously is a supernatural or else none of what is happening could occur. There may be some other force we can appeal to.”
“Like God? Like your fath-“
“Like God, Artemis, a moon Goddess, Billy the Kid, I don’t know. Something, anything that can take us out of this reality.”
“A razor to the wrists can do that handily enough.”
“Something else, something that won’t trap us in this Deity’s version of Hell.”
“I’d trust it over its idea of Heaven,” Hattie began, but stopped.
Chloe glanced into the mirror and saw her own face wracked with desperation. She averted her eyes and fell silent. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I don’t want to-“
Hattie grabbed her gently at the shoulders and stared her down. “Let’s give it a shot, eh?”
Chloe nodded, feeling stupid nonetheless. She grabbed Hattie’s hands and stared at the sky willing her soul open to anything that wasn’t that control-freak of a Deity that her mother had worshipped so many times.
“To any who would hear us; to any who would have compassion; help us, please,” Chloe whispered the words earnestly; tears already beginning to release down her face. “I commend our souls to any who would take us, to anywhere where we can be us in all our pride and folly.”
With that she felt something, a glimmer, an eye seemingly watching. Not glaring like the Deity, but just sort of taking it in. Chloe continued in hope of enlisting a further response, but there was none to be had. As soon as she tried to force the issue, force her hope on that presence, it was gone as if it had never been there. Chloe’s heart sank.
“It didn’t work,” Hattie said getting up. She seemed grittily determined. Chloe wished she had Hattie’s newfound confidence.
“Listen, kid. It was a good effort,” Hattie continued. “Maybe it will be there for you…But, if you want some advice,” Hattie pressed something into her hand that felt like a bottle. “I’d take all of those tonight before whatever it is that’s watching us catches on and completely rewrites us. As for me, I’ve got a few non safety razors left that I can use once I get back to my hotel room.”
Chloe looked blankly in horror, daring not to look Hattie directly in the face and get the full force of her earnest plans for self-destruction. She willed herself to just look down into her own hands where she held the bottle of sleeping pills in a death grip.
Hattie kissed her forehead and hugged her as Chloe finally broke down into tears. “You’ll be okay,” Hattie whispered into her ear. “It’ll all be okay.”
The lies weren’t at all comforting but they were enough to compose herself as best as she would be able to. She could feel rays of the Deity wondering about the bathroom. It was time to go back for better or worse.
Honestly, it had been worse than The Event, though that would be inconceivable in the grim aftermath.
Ask her a week ago, in the Stanford Yard, when the rumor mill was buzzing, when her morning class halted for everyone to sit and watch the panicked CNN coverage until the Professor demanded everyone go home and be with their loved ones.
Ask her when she sprinted back to her apartment complex just off campus as she passed pile-ups and crazed mothers searching for their children, demanding answers of any who stood still long enough.
Ask her when she stopped to help Mr. Peterson up into his apartment after suffering a heart flutter at the sudden disappearance of his wife of forty years. Ask her when she ran up the stairs searching her shared complex for any sign of Maggie, the woman who had been her lover since nearly the beginning of her freshman year.
Or ask her when she called home to find no answer. Or the bittersweet blur of emotions when Maggie came home, when they watched the news, when they listed the numbers of the planes that had crashed and her father’s hadn’t been among them, but Maggie’s parent’s flight had. Or the tearful goodbye as Maggie hijacked a car to get back home to San Francisco to check on her little brother. Or when Chloe herself had hijacked that plane from that evil little CEO miniplane lot, relying on naught but her sketchy memories of those infrequent lessons her dad had given her as a little girl. Or nearly crashing that same plane. Or finding her dad alive, but her mom and brother not. Or or or…
She shook her head out of that spiral. It had been a spiral that had gotten her into this predicament. Being honest, being frightened, trying to find some reminder of connection, proof that the world made sense as her father went insane before her very eyes.
She had focused on that despair, had been told of God, a cruel and malicious God of the type her mother had destroyed herself praising, a God that didn’t only find her a sinner for what she was, but for who she was. A God that found those who rejected the roles set for them evil and punishable. She had been polite enough. She had even tried to listen to what such a God might have to offer.
That’s when she first felt that hateful gaze, had first experienced it rummaging around her body in perturbed fury. She felt herself cut off from her father, from Maggie, from even the possibility of escape. She had been trapped in her own house.
Being the liberal-minded skeptic she had always been, she put it down to moods, to the despair that filled her when none of her former neighbors would talk to her, when her father acted as if nothing had happened that was important, when she couldn’t get a call through to Maggie’s house in San Francisco.
It was easy enough to accept that. In her state of mind, of total despair, any answer that gave semblance of even basic sense was latched onto and nursed. Even if it was about something as small as a bad feeling.
So when it became more than a feeling, when she felt the force of the Deity, as cruel and angry as her father had become, as her mother had been, as her pastor had always been. When she felt its gaze not only disapproving but furious at her disobedience to the demands of its whims. When she felt her own intelligence beginning to slip away, statements not her own forced into her lips with a Greaser’s understanding of modern slang, she became paralyzed with fear.
It was a violation of body and mind, and numb as she was taken, she found herself losing more whenever she was in the focus of that celestial eye. She put two and two and two together, saw how her father was losing himself, how that focus seemed to suck the humanity out of the landscape so that even cabbies lost all perspective, so that cabbies still ran.
And it was getting worse. She was always good at making connections, a survival trait growing up under the paranoid reign of her mother and under the watchful eye of bored suburbia. When Buck entered the picture, dapper, eager, and utterly terrifying, her heart had sunk. When he had given her a cookie and treated her like an eleven year old that he wanted to show the inside of his van to, she had wanted to run. She could feel the gaze working around her, knew exactly where it would need her to go.
And that was the last little bit it would need. She could feel it already trying to take hold of her body, forcing awkwardly the simulation necessary for its purposes. Her sexuality perverted, taken out her hands and placed in that sick Deity’s.
She had felt like that once before, when her mother had set her up “with a nice boy from the Church” because “it isn’t proper for a lady to be on her own” where “she can develop unnatural thoughts.” The boy had been the usual undereducated thug for Jesus type she had seen around High School. The date hadn’t even gotten to the theatre before he had started trying to feel her up. She had fought him off and stared him down, but for one frightening moment she had stared into his eyes and saw him weighing up the possibilities. Saw him thinking about pushing it further; entertaining the possibility. He hadn’t gone down that road, but she had remembered that look. She imagined that was a look the Deity had often.
At that moment she understood exactly the fate for women under its gaze, their purpose and their life. It was what her mother demanded of all women on behalf of the pastors and her philandering husband. It was the fate that was worse than death, than Hell. It was her mother’s dream.
At that moment, she knew what needed to be done.
Friday, February 1, 2008
I didn't doubt it for a moment. Of course, after the panic of that morning, the searching and the screaming and the realizing that the neighbors were dealing with the same problem, and the calling around and finding out that all my friends and family were as well, and then the despairing sobs of the early afternoon, followed by the aforementioned emotionally-drained zombielike state - well, you probably could have told me that my daughter had been kidnapped by Lovecraft's mole people and I would have believed you, no problem. It was being that kind of a day. But more than that, it just made sense, in that not-making-any-sense-at-all kind of way. You know? It seemed appropriate. As if this were, had I thought about it, exactly the sort of thing I'd have expected the Christian God to try sooner or later. And that's why I was so pissed.
We're Pagan, you see. At least, I'm Pagan - Eclectic, mostly Celtic influences but not afraid to shamelessly steal from other traditions as well. (I'm particularly fond of Hindu philosophy and aspects of Native American shamanism.) My husband... well, call him a congenial agnostic, no real faith of his own but no particular opposition to faith either, willing to happily go along with the beliefs of those around him so long as they don't require him to be a jerk to anybody or get out of bed early on the weekends. Maeve, so far as she'd been raised in any faith, had been raised in mine. She'd danced happily in drum circles since she was big enough to get away from me at festivals, we'd made flower wreaths at Beltaine and lit candles for the dead at Samhain, before her daddy took her trick-or-treating. She had a Gods and Goddesses coloring book; she could recite whole pantheons by heart. And she always got so excited when she got to point out to us that it was full moon...
Gods, look at me, I'm getting teary-eyed again. Stop it.
So to think that this God, this Christian God whom I've had nothing to do with since college, to think that He decided, because He didn't think that my daughter was old enough to decide for herself, that she was somehow fair game and He could just take her, could just lay claim to her like that, regardless of what she thought or what we thought or what the Gods and Goddesses she was being raised to honor thought... it was infuriating. It was maddening. I saw red, I literally saw red, like a bloody film over my vision, for a good three seconds when the smarmy (and I don't know how they learn it, that knack of looking sympathetic and smarmy all at once, all I know is that they do it and I felt like punching her right then) newsanchor offered up this Rapture theory.
The upside of this was that it broke through the stupor. I reached for my phone.
I'd already talked to my family, during the round of panicked phone calls that marked the transition from frenzied searching to frenzied sobbing. I knew that my brother's 1-year-old son was missing from his crib, but all the adults were intact and accounted for. That didn't prove anything though; my mom had abandoned Christianity even before me, becoming Buddhist while I was still in high school. Dad had continued for a while, but eventually even he had fallen by the wayside. My brother - I don't think Steve ever believed in anything religious, even when we were kids and attended church regularly. And his wife's family was Jewish. Come to think of it, in fact, I didn't really know too many people at all who considered themselves Christians.
Wait, actually... yeah. Two. I knew two.
I hadn't called either of them earlier, even though they were both friends. You have to understand, at first, the main concern was the missing children. Neither of these guys had kids; one was still single, the other had been trying for years with his wife with no success. In my earlier state of super-concentrated focus, it just hadn't occurred to me to call either of them - obviously they wouldn't have any new facts to add. I've never claimed to be a genius while panicking.
I tried Hector first. He answered the phone on the second ring, sounding about as spacey as I had a moment ago.
"Hey," I said, feeling awkward. "Just... checking in on you."
"I'm fine," he said dully. "My parents are fine. My sister's not answering her phone." He paused. "Maeve?"
"Gone," I said, my throat tightening. That one monosyllable made it somehow far more real. Behind that, also, was the guilt - this guy, whom I'd claimed to love like a brother, was asking about my little girl - and I hadn't even thought to call him until now, until I had a theory to check out. Most of my friends thought I was the nice one. Guess this proves them wrong, huh?
There was a pause; I envisioned Hector nodding. "My roommate's kid too," he finally said. Then: "Look, Suze, I should go. I gotta try my sister again, and some other people. You know."
I did. Something in his voice, I suddenly got the idea that he'd heard the Rapture theory too, or come up with it himself. Come to think of it, he'd never been that devout a Christian, had he? Claimed to be one, sure, but didn't do much about it - plus he hung out with all us bloody unredeemed heathens. What would that do to a guy, I wondered? To believe that the Rapture had come - your God's Rapture - and you hadn't been chosen? "Hey," I said suddenly. "Why don't you come over here? I just think we should..." I trailed off, not sure where I was going with that. "I'd just like to see you," I concluded lamely. I didn't have to force the quaver in my voice; I just had to relax my grip on the tears that had been threatening for hours.
He sighed; I knew he would. I knew him, you see - he wouldn't accept comfort from me, no matter how much he needed it, unless he felt like he was also giving comfort in return - and unless he could act as if the giving of said comfort was some kind of a burden on him. It was a machismo thing, engrained below the level of conscious thought. And to be honest, it wasn't much of an act on my part. Even with my new fury-fueled strength, I felt like I was going to fall to pieces at any given moment. "I'll try to come by later today," he said.
"Good," I said softly. We said our goodbyes, and hung up.
So. One Christ-follower accounted for; but, as previously stated - it didn't prove much. By my lights, he was a good guy - one of the best. But by the church's standards, I doubt if he would have passed muster. The man I was about to call was different. Heavy-hearted, like I knew the answer already, I dialed the phone again.
Alisa answered, like I knew she would. Even though I'd called his private cell. I had to go through the protocol, though; I told her I was calling to check on her and Brandon.
Understand - I like Alisa. Very much. But I was friends with Brandon first; I met her through him. I guess that shouldn't matter, but it did, in that moment, when she told me - in that deadened, shellshocked tone that I was coming to hate - that Brandon had vanished that morning, leaving his crumpled clothes behind.
"I'm sorry," I said, not knowing what else to say. "My daughter too," I volunteered, then immediately felt stupid. She had to know that already, she wasn't dumb.
"I'm sorry," she replied.
We sat there on the phone in silence for a moment, unsure how to proceed. Each of us suffering unspeakable loss - her husband, my little girl - each unwilling to say what she felt: that our own loss was the greater. Even if we believed it, we couldn't say it. Because we loved each other.
After about a minute, I realized that was the only thing to say - the only thing that was both important and true. So I told her I loved her; she told me the same.
Afterward, I sat in silence (I'd regained the presence of mind to turn off the television, thank all the powers that be,) thinking. Brandon was gone. I wasn't entirely shocked by this. If you'd asked me to pick the one person on this earth most likely to be taken by the Christian Rapture, after a moment's thought I would have probably said "Either the Pope or Brandon." He was easily the gentlest man I'd ever known; he had this knack, when hanging out with all the rest of us, of not exactly approving, per se, but not condemning either - just of loving us all for who and what we were. The very few times I'd gotten into religious discussions with him, he'd been quiet but adamant in his beliefs, but he never shoved it down your throat either. He was happy - which, I suppose, in this day and age, was as stirring an advertisement for his particular brand of faith as you'll find anywhere. If I put much store in the story of Jesus Christ, I suppose I'd say he was Christ-like.
I got up unsteadily from the couch. I'd reached the maudlin point that demanded tears, or a long rambling speech, or a drink, or all three. I could put up a good front over the phone, maybe, but no more. Heading to the bar we had set up in the corner, I poured myself a shot of Crown Royal scotch. Lifting it up to some unseen point in the far distance, I intoned, "To Brandon," and downed it. It did not burn like fire; it smoked. And in the smoke was clarity.
If it was all true, then Brandon was well-off. He was with the God he loved and served; I would not begrudge him that. I could mourn the loss of his gentle presence in my own life, but I recognized that as a selfish emotion. He himself was where he wanted to be. Good on him.
But I could not find that same emotional reserve when it came to my daughter.
I poured myself another shot of scotch; this was the good stuff, the 18-year-old. Can't celebrate Raptured friends with anything else, now can you? I raised it, said the words: "To Maeve" - but couldn't bring myself to drink it. After about 30 seconds I finally poured it down the sink.
Because she wasn't where she wanted to be, was she? I mean, Uncle Brandon was there, and I had no doubt he'd take care of her... but my daughter was on her own. Without her family, without her friends, without even the Gods and Goddesses she'd been raised to worship. In the words of the old song, "Someone else's Heaven is your Hell."
I'd been raised my whole life to accept the twists and turns that life gave me; to believe that it was just the Gods' way of testing me. And had it been me taken, I most likely would have continued the same way. But this was my daughter. This God, this Christian God, he'd messed with my own Gods and Goddesses, poached on their grounds without so much as a by-your-leave, and in the process He had taken my daughter.
And by all the powers that be, or that ever have been, or that ever will be - I was going to get her back.