Friday, June 16, 2017

Enjoy Chapter Ten of Angel!

I have nearly completed writing the sequel to Angel! I've got one more chapter and the epilogue to go, maybe two more months of writing. After that I will begin the manuscript's deep edits.

I wasn't going to write a sequel, but my partner convinced me to. I'm really glad she did. I've enjoyed writing Book Two as much as I did Book One. Book Two is more political; it takes a broader view of human evil, especially in the light of the current illegitimate "president" now under investigation for obstruction of justice, and also examines the shadows of Christian fundamentalism, which threaten this nation with outright fascism.

Below is chapter ten of Book One: "Justice." That is ultimately the theme of Book Two.




IT WAS difficult watching me get off the bus. I knew what was coming, and the look on my face seemed to reflect it, too. Calliel had spoken the words: “Naples and Fifth.” They chilled me to depths I never knew I had. I think they did the same thing to the version of moi staring back at him. But I was so confused standing there, so pathetic, so lost…. I stumbled off; the doors closed; and the bus rumbled on. Calliel settled in his seat and angrily crossed his arms again.
I expected that he would return to his home, kick his boots off, grab a beer, and perhaps surf the Holynet, as I had termed it. He had “googled” me last time, and I didn’t want that to happen again: video after video of my misdeeds played in crystal-clear stereo. The me sitting on the park bench right now, getting soaked … well, he was quite convinced of his goodness and purity and virtue. But he had forgotten about a lot of shit. I wondered if that was what most people do.
I also wondered about the effect that words have on people. Not generally, but as a specific combination uttered or written with the intent of producing a desired action. “My life is …” and “Naples and Fifth,” for example. Right now they were gestating inside the me sitting despondently on the bench out there in the drizzle. Not too long from now the me out there would fill in the blank to “My life is …” and it would almost magically send me to Naples and Fifth, where I would buy a handgun and bullets.
Calliel had uttered the spell, for lack of a better word. I could have chosen to ignore it, even with the terror of Oblivion waiting just behind my eyelids. But I had played his game, to consider answers to “My life is …” No spell, then, I concluded, literal or otherwise, could work without the initial consent of the free will of its intended target.
I laughed. “Listen to me! Spells, magic, free will!”
The bus took a right on First and stopped at the corner to pick up a passenger. Calliel rose suddenly and got off. He marched up the sidewalk, then cut across a band of dirt to a curb fronting the parking lot of a darkened strip mall. A single detached building stood to the right; he jumped the curb and made quickly for it, his head bent against the drizzle.
It was a bar. The battered neon sign above it read “First QT,” and below it “Cocktails.”
I always wondered what this place was like. It wasn’t seedy; it would have to improve eight or ten grades to be called seedy. It seemed that whenever a violent crime occurred in Chula Vista, it had its genesis, if not its conclusion, at this dive. Chula Vista’s city council had debated closing it down on several occasions; citizen petitions had circulated in years past calling for just that. But somehow it survived. The owner was a shady tax-evading blob of a man, if memory served. It was obvious whenever TV cameras pointed in his direction that he loved the notoriety. He never made any attempt to upgrade or improve his little shithole.
“You must be crazy!” I scolded. “You’re seriously not considering going into this place. I thought you had more scruples than that, Calliel!”
He got to the double doors, which were wood with big black vertical handles. He grabbed the right handle, pulled the door open, and stepped inside.
The scene made me laugh with its rich cliche. It was just as if it were planned: the actors seated here and there in the darkness all turned sullenly to stare at the stranger who’d strode in. They stared, then turned lifelessly back to their drinks. Calliel looked around as if searching for someone, then marched to the bar and sat. The air smelled of stale cigarette smoke mixed with must mixed with bad 70s disco. Staggering hopelessness and angry vanquishment was its decor.
The bartender spied him, approached. He was a bald, portly man with a permanent five o’ clock shadow over drooping cheeks and tattoos covering his arms and crawling up his neck. He offered no greeting or welcome; he rolled to a stop and waited.
“Beer and a whiskey,” murmured Calliel.
No nod of acknowledgement, no “Coming right up,” no clarification of what kind of beer or what brand of whiskey, nothing. The bartender turned and poured a glass, dropped it on the counter, then fetched a random bottle and poured a shot glass, which he dropped with a small splash on a napkin at Calliel’s elbow.
“Five,” he grumbled.
Calliel reached around and pulled his wallet out, opened it and slapped a fifty down. “Keep ‘em coming.”
The bartender stalked off with his money. The angel beneath me took a long swig of beer, then with a single motion knocked back the whiskey.
Did angels become discouraged? Did they have bad days? Did they ever wish for a stiff drink and a quiet hour to enjoy it? I considered the day he’d had. I tried to look at it from his point of view. I tried to empathize, which, I realized with shame, was something I’d virtuously claimed to do when I was alive but never really bothered actually doing.
He had met me: Dr. Ray Wilms, Distinguished Professor of Assholeness with Special Emphases on Obstinance, Churlishness, Disregard, & Petulance.
I was also good at math.
He had helped numerous people, or, as with Floyd and others, saw to their departure from this mortal coil. I had been a passive observer and it was all way too much for me! I couldn’t imagine the impact had I been a principal actor in it, like he had been.
With a nod to his occupation, he’d had the day from hell. I couldn’t blame him for wanting to lubricate it away.
I considered what was happening to the me out there, and how there wasn’t an atom of empathy inside that guy. He was struggling with the terror of Oblivion and depression like a ten-ton blanket. He was the perfect diaper: completely self-absorbed. He was a spiritual black hole. Calliel said I might’ve been the biggest pain in the ass he’d ever been sent to save. I might very well have been worse than watching a deputy’s head explode, or his assailant’s to a self-inflicted gunshot wound. That’s how much of a pain in the ass I’d been.
And he had just met me!
I thought I might get bored watching him drink. I couldn’t join him, after all. Truthfully, I probably wouldn’t have anyway, even if I were corporeal and on speaking terms with him. I didn’t drink. Oh, I enjoyed the odd glass of wine or the occasional bottle of beer, but nothing beyond that. I didn’t like how I felt with too much alcohol in me. I didn’t like giving up control of myself.
The bar’s patrons were as dejected a lot as I’d ever seen. I could sense their solipsism, their nihilism. It felt like individual gravity wells sucking at my soul. The me out there: the one I’d called a spiritual black hole. These people were his kindred spirits! The realization felt like a punch in my chest. It left me breathless and woozy.
The barkeep plopped the fifth or sixth beer down when Calliel glanced up, said, “Shelton.”
The bartender scowled. “What about him?”
“What’s he pay you?”
“What’s it to you?”
“Tell me.”
“It’s none of your damn business what Shelton pays me.”
He loomed over Calliel threateningly. “I think you’ve had enough.”
“Not even close,” said Calliel, very obviously not threatened. “Tell you what. I’ve drunk twenty-five dollars of your pisswater. You set me up one more time and you can keep the last twenty of that fifty I gave you. Just tell me how much the owner of this cesspool pays you to stand behind this bar. Deal?”
He knocked back the shot.
The barkeep tried to maintain the loom, but it deflated. Like the patrons he served (there was a waitress taking care of those not sitting at the bar; she was a rail-thin ghost with bloodshot eyes and stringy black hair and needle tracks up and down her arms. She’d appear seemingly at random, sag lifelessly about, then disappear again), hopelessness was his mode of being. It takes energy to give a shit, and this hick just wasn’t worth the effort.
“Four plus tips,” he groused.
“Four—an hour?
“What the fuck else would it be?”
Calliel nodded thoughtfully. “He pays Casey twenty-five.”
Darkness descended over the bartender’s face like a sewer lid dropped over the hole. “What the fuck did you just say to me?”
“Twenty-five. But not for an hour—for half an hour,” said Calliel, who continued nodding. “But he tacks on an extra fiver for a snickerdoodle.”
The bartender lunged for him.
In that half-second Calliel stood and kicked the stool under his ass away. He grabbed the man by his meaty throat and pulled him over the bar until his legs were off the ground. The barkeep squealed like a stuck pig and kicked wildly, knocking bottles and glasses behind him to the floor, where they smashed. He grabbed Calliel’s forearm and tried to pry himself loose, but to no avail.
“She’s been spreadin’ ‘em for him for years now. She’s never told you,” said Calliel with lethal coolness, nose to nose with him. “Oh, she loves those snickerdoodles. Especially from Shelton. He’s big. He’s rough. He’s rich. He’s got a whole stable of fillies, your little missy included. She’s also got hep C and hasn’t told you or him or the women she joins for a little group action now and again. Now here’s what I want to know: How does that make you feel? Hmm?”
The bartender’s face was turning blue. He couldn’t speak a word. The patrons in the dark watched. No one tried to break it up.
“Want proof?” continued Calliel. “Go to Shelton’s right now and take a look through his back porch window.” He squeezed harder. The fat man appeared close to passing out. “Do it! There’s a real shindig goin’ on—and you aren’t invited!”
He launched the barkeep backward. The lumpy man crashed into the back counter, spilling glasses and bottles and smashing mugs and wine glasses. He slumped to the floor wheezing and coughing.
Calliel moved to the next stool over and sat. The bartender eventually stood. He appeared half as tall as he did sixty seconds ago. He gazed with terror at Calliel, who bellowed, “Go!”
He stumbled off, hacking and massaging his neck. The stringy waitress appeared in his stead sometime later. She gaped at Calliel as though at a scene of violent death. She wouldn’t get closer than ten feet from him. There was one other man at the bar; he sat at the far corner on the other side and hadn’t bothered looking up during the entire commotion. His and the other patrons’ apathy stifled the air with a surreal tinge. It was, in fact, Oblivion. Spiritual Oblivion.
The me out there trying to get some sleep and failing believed there was no such thing as a spirit, which made spiritual nonsensical. The me out there had bought fully into the thinking proffered in the pages of The Skeptic and The Humanist and Scientific American and a hundred other publications and websites. As for Oblivion, the me out there did not believe in it. It was a physical impossibility! The me out there thought everything ultimately quantifiable and therefore ultimately predictable and controllable.
The me out there and I in here: we were two very different people.
I can’t adequately describe what I felt then. Dr. Ray Wilms, moments from death, had truly changed. And, for once, for the better!
I laughed with joy. I couldn’t remember the last time that had happened.
“Come here,” ordered Calliel.
I swung around. He was talking to the waitress.
She gawked, rooted to the spot.
“Come on, I won’t hurt you,” he said. He put down his drink and motioned with his hand. “Come on …”
“I …” she squeaked, “… I … I have to get others their drinks …”
“They can wait. Come on. I want to ask you something, and I don’t want anybody else to hear it.”
She hesitated, then opened a drawer at her hip and pulled out a cleaver. She held it up and very cautiously approached.
She waited for him to put down his beer. He swallowed and asked, “Why are you a junkie, Electra?”
I thought she might tell him off, but I think her fear of him forestalled that reaction, which very clearly reflected on her face for a moment. She almost certainly knew he could reach her before she could retreat, which showed in the almost dejected manner in which she relaxed. The arm holding the cleaver dropped limply to her side.
She gave a listless, desperate smile that wilted and died before it reached full bloom. “How … how do you know my name?”
She wasn’t wearing a tag, but looked down to make sure.
“I know it like I know it isn’t your real one. What is your name—your real one?” he asked.
She chuckled without humor. “Apple.”
He didn’t return the chuckle, or even crack a grin. “Apple? Like the fruit?”
She nodded demoralizingly. “Fuckin’ parents …”
“Put down the cleaver, Apple. I’m not gonna hurt you. I promise.”
She set the cleaver on the counter behind her, turned back around.
“Why are you a junkie, Apple?” he demanded.
She stared at her arms, then him, then back at them before shrugging. “Don’t know … I kinda got mixed up with the wrong crowd in high school. I dated a pusher; he turned me on to it.”
“Where’s he now?”
She glanced shamefully down at her feet.
She nodded sadly, looked up. “I never saw no one take on Tommy like that before. No one scares Tommy. Not till you.”
“I want you to stop taking drugs, Apple. For good and forever.”
She stared. Her eyes glistened.
“Tommy’s going to die tonight,” he said in a doom-laden matter-of-fact tone. “That’s where he’s going right now—to his death. He’s going to kill Shelton and his girlfriend and everybody else at that orgy. He’s going to succeed, and then he’s going to eat his own gun. You were supposed to be there tonight, right? The only reason you’re here is because Shelton had no one else to wait tables, and has never thought much of you. So here you are. You’re alive. I want you to stay that way.”
I thought Apple might run away. It was obvious she was thinking about it. “Who … who are you?”
“I’m Calliel. I’m an angel of death.” He let that sink in. “I don’t want to come for you, too, Apple. Do you understand me?”
I’m certain every consonant, every vowel that came out of his mouth felt like bullets out of a gun to her. Fear had stolen her ability to move.
“Give me that bottle of whiskey behind you,” he ordered. “C’mon now …”
She got her arms to work. Staying as far from him as she could, she moved the bottle from the back counter to the front. He leaned forward and snatched it, making her jump.
“D and Tora and the boys come in here from time to time, right?”
Her jerky nod was little more than trembling given a purpose.
He stood.
She seemed to intuit that D and Tora and the boys were in deep shit, as I did. “Wh-What are … are you going to d-do to them?”
Shelton’s got a safe in his office,” he said. “You’ve tried to break into it when you got desperate for a fix.” He reached into his pocket, pulled out two keys on a ring. He slapped them down on the bar, making her jump again. “Use these. Take out all the money and leave. Just go. Let the dead in here drink themselves to death. Pay attention now, Apple! You take that money, and you cross the border tonight, and the first hostel you come across you go into and pay for a night. Tomorrow morning I want you to ask the desk clerk for the directions to the nearest clinic. If you do that much, Apple, just that much and no more, your addiction to drugs will come to an end and you will find yourself again, and you will be happy and free. But if you take even the tiniest hit of any drug of any kind tonight …” He paused for a long, cemetery-silent moment. “… I’m gonna come for you too.”
I’d like to think that he’d given her a taste of Oblivion that moment. Her face certainly reflected that level of terror. It didn’t look much different than mine when Oblivion engulfed me. She was stuck where she stood and looked like she was going to puke.
“Where is D and his gang?” he demanded.
She swallowed hard. “Th-They’re p-probably n-not far fr-from h-here. H-Halsey. The high school. The stadium. T-T-Try there.”
Bottle in hand, Calliel marched out of the bar. Besides Apple, who stared without blinking at his retreating back, I didn’t see a single person lift his or her head to watch him go.
The drizzle had passed, but the air had that distinctly damp feel that hinted it wasn’t gone for good, that it was drifting just overhead and gathering itself for another go. Calliel jaywalked across First, took a right at the corner, and marched up Palomar for a good ten minutes before crossing the street at Cumlin.
Cars zoomed by like empty souls. An ambulance wailed by, followed by several police. Random hip-hop boomed and rattled past; and twice idiots yelled at him, though only one I could understand: “Hey, Cowboy Bob! How ‘bout a drink for me and my homies?”
He strode by abandoned, gang-tagged stores and run-down neighborhoods, dark alleys with darker people doing who knows what in them, and street corners populated with prostitutes. Several flashed inviting smiles his way. He ignored them and walked on.
I thought he might take a drink from the bottle in his grip, but he didn’t seem interested in drinking anymore.
He kept walking. It was too late for buses. Even if it weren’t, I got the sense that he wouldn’t have grabbed one. Was he walking to clear his head? Get some fresh air? Certainly a taxi would’ve been my choice, especially in this neighborhood.
He finally twisted the top on the bottle and took a long swig. He had just crossed Sixth and didn’t seem to give a shit that there was a cop waiting at the light. I thought the cop might see him drinking from an open container on a public sidewalk and kick on his lights and give him a sobriety test, even cuff him and take him in. I speculated that was what he wanted. After all, it was plain that he wanted to get arrested at the college. At least in hindsight it was.
But the cop ignored him and sped off when the light turned green. Calliel cut through a small park, then across another street fronting a wide space of fenced-off darkness: the high school. I could make out the silhouettes of distant buildings. Here, immediately before him, just past the fence, was a wide band of grass; to his right was the school’s stadium and track. He marched in that direction while taking another big swig. At a gate he stopped. He glanced up from the chain and lock and peered for a long moment into the dark. The stadium rose past his shoulders like tremendous black wings. He held still.
The drizzle had begun spitting. I thought he might get soaked like the me out there, and chastised: “You should’ve brought an umbrella, cowboy.”
Imagine my shock when he replied.
“Ray! Something told me you might be taggin’ along. Shut up for a sec, will ya?”
He tipped the bottle again, capped it.
I was stunned. He could hear me! But— I was witnessing days past, days that had already happened! And yet I just interacted with him as though I’d actually traveled back in time!
How was that possible?
Okay … okay … it happened. I tried to accept it. Ignoring all the physical problems with time travel, how did it happen? Was it because he’d had enough liquor the last three hours to put a Scotsman into a coma? That seemed ludicrous on its face. Was there another reason? Had he always been able to hear me? Was that “something” that told him I might be tagging along God? If so, why not just say so?
He was studying the lock, and was clearly frustrated. He had far greater than normal human strength, but was it too strong to break even for him? Ignoring my bellowing analytical brain and his request to shut up, I said, “I know this school. Walk back the way you came. Where the stadium ends there’s a gap between two posts, large enough to squeeze through. You missed it the first time.”
He nodded, then started walking. It was genuinely incredible that he could hear me! But more: he took my suggestion seriously and acted on it. A thrill of pride stole through me.
He came to the posts and squeezed through. It was then I could hear talking, laughing. There were people nearby. Was it D and Tas?
“How do you know so much about this school?” he asked quietly as he marched toward the voices, which sounded like they were coming from inside the stadium proper.
“I don’t,” I answered, still stunned. “My Bug went down in a heavy downpour right where those posts are. I had to sit there while I waited for AAA to show up. I remember all the fencing and thinking how ineffective it was with that gap.”
The voices got steadily louder. He passed a shuttered ticket booth and concession stand and came to another fence. The gate at this one wasn’t locked. In fact, it was wide open. I could hear girls or women in the distant garble of conversation. A cold breeze whispered around us, and the drizzle spat more.
“What do you think?” he said with more breath than voice.
“About what?”
“Being an angel.”
I thought for a second. “I think it’s terrifying.”
That got a quiet chuckle out of him. “Measure your words very carefully, cowpoke. Any information you give about the future will dissolve your soul, understand?”
I gulped. “I understand.” Very carefully I asked, “How can you hear me?”
“Too much pisswater. If I drink too much I can occasionally hear freed souls. Don’t ask how it works. Have you been tagging along for a while?”
“A couple days,” I said. “If you don’t mind my saying so, you hold your liquor well.”
He grinned. “Thanks.” The grin was immediately replaced with determined anger, which solidified his countenance like granite. “Damnit, Ray, you have, or had, gifts. Real gifts. You’re a righteous, unbending, size-fifteen pain in the ass with real gifts. If I failed to save you, you’re going to dissolve anyway, and those gifts aren’t going to be worth a stack of cow paddy pancakes. I’m going to have faith. I saved you. Ray Wilms, saved soul and giant pain in the ass, is taggin’ along and watchin’ me do my angel thing here on Earth. That’s going to be my assumption as I say this: I want you to be an angel like me. And while you’re chewin’ on that big chunk of greasy gristle, forgive me.”
“For what?” I said, flabbergasted.
“I’m about to terrify you again.”
He walked through the gate.
The track surrounded the football field. The laughter and conversation were to the left, closer to the fifty-yard line. He walked in that direction. A sudden chill overcame me, and I knew it wasn’t the weather causing it.
He wanted me to be an angel—like him? I kept my mouth shut while stifling chuckles of incredulity. I was interacting with the past, impossibly, and now was being actively recruited to become an angel, a soldier of God. I couldn’t decide which was more improbable.
There was a long backless silver bench halfway up the field. People were sitting on it or standing near it. Six, to my count. It was so dark I couldn’t quite tell. They were smoking; I could see tiny orange dots weaving about like weak fireflies. Calliel got closer, and the scene resolved.
A young woman was straddling a young man, who lay full on the bench. She was giggling softly. Another kid sat at the end. The girl that one was with was standing and playing with his curly hair. There were two a couple yards on, closer to the football field proper, both male, also both standing. They spotted Calliel at the same time—or at least I think they did. Their faces went blank and their eyes unfocused, as though it weren’t a person they had spied, but a ghost.
“D,” said one warningly. “Yo, D.”
The young man with the girl straddling him sat up. The girl glanced over her shoulder. “Wassup?” he said.
D was outfitted in a heavy brown down coat and black ski cap. He took a look at Calliel and said, “Who the fuck are you?”
“Who are you talking to?” the others asked.
That deathly breeze whispered around me, the same one I felt when he confronted Floyd and the dying cop in the ICU. It was deeper now, colder. And then it hit me. It was the breeze—the wind—of Oblivion itself.
I didn’t bother asking how nothing could produce wind, could be wind, or anything else for that matter. All I knew was everybody here sensed it. It was written in their vaguely horrified faces, and in the uneasy silence that followed.
D pushed the girl off his lap and stood. “I said, who the fuck are you?”
“My name is Justice,” said Calliel in a monotone that made the chill swirling around me even colder.
“Justice, huh?” said D. He pulled a handgun out of his coat pocket and raised it sideways. The other young men instantly did the same thing, though every one of them were completely baffled as to whom D was talking to and pointing his weapon at. The girls stared. The one who had been straddling him tittered and said, “He’s trippin’.”
“Well, Justice,” said D, “you just walked your ass into a buzzsaw.”
Oblivion’s bone-chilling breeze stiffened. I wanted to shout: “Run! Run, you dumbfucks! You felt it! You felt it and still you’re standing around like the bunch of uneducated dropout dumbfucks that you are! Jesus!” But I kept my mouth closed, because I didn’t want to interrupt Calliel, for one, but more importantly, if I’d learned anything being his tag-along spiritual balloon, it was that he did nothing without a very specific purpose.
“She was an innocent old lady,” said Calliel in that same deadly monotone. The chill whipping around me got even colder. I clutched fruitlessly into myself and stared.
D started for him, his face a contorted mask of gangster rage. He fired.
Calliel dodged left as the breeze for an instant gusted. A girl screamed. I looked behind him.
D had missed Calliel but struck the young man at the end of bench, who lay still in a heap on the ground.
His girlfriend fell over him shrieking, “Varnell? Varnell? Holy shit! Holy shit!
With startling abruptness, D raised his weapon and fired at the two young men standing to the side, both of whom didn’t even get a chance to look at him. They collapsed to the ground. The girls shrieked. The one who had been straddling him dropped to her knees and pleaded for her life. D stared expressionlessly at her and fired point-blank into her skull. The other girl took off into the night, screaming. He fired repeatedly in the direction of her diminishing cries, and then went to chase her down.
He had somehow forgotten about Calliel, who was suddenly in his path. D went to fire, but Calliel snatched the weapon from his grip in the same fluid motion that he sent an elbow into his jaw with a sharp crack, sending him flying backward. D landed half on his back, half on his neck, but was up in a heartbeat. Calliel tossed the gun to his side.
What a stupid murderous motherfucker. D screamed in rage and came at Calliel with a switchblade, which appeared almost magically in his fist. Calliel raised the bottle to block it; the blade smashed into it and shattered the glass up to the neck, which Calliel slashed across his knife hand.
D bellowed and the blade fell. Calliel tossed the neck away and grabbed the gangbanger by his. D fought savagely even while he turned blue, smashing his fists into Calliel’s head and kicking him in the groin and stomach. Calliel didn’t seem fazed by the blows, but they didn’t please him, either. His free fist smashed into D’s face, who flew two yards ass-backwards into the bench. He oozed over it to the ground, where he struggled unsuccessfully to get to his feet.
The wind of Oblivion had roared most of this time, and now it calmed abruptly, though it did not go away. Calliel went and stood over him, then bent and grabbed the kid by his coat with both hands and hauled him up. The gangbanger’s face looked like it had been bashed with a brick. His mouth bled freely, and his nose was collapsed grotesquely on one side. He coughed out a handful of teeth, gasping for air as he continued struggling and punching weakly.
Calliel was wide-eyed furious. “I warned you, DeSean, didn’t I? I warned you! But you had to defy me. You’re the tough sonofabitch DeSean Wallace, and no one, not even Death himself, can stand in your way! Isn’t that right? So you go and murder an innocent and beautiful old woman in cold blood, and you think I won’t notice? You heard me, DeSean! I know you did! I promised you, remember? Leave the life. Straighten up. Fly right. Do it or else. Remember? Well, you didn’t listen—”
He released DeSean and pushed him. “Walk! Walk!
The fight had left DeSean, who somehow managed to stay standing, and who turned about and stumbled off. Calliel followed close behind. I don’t know where the gangbanger was heading, but it was obvious Calliel did, and that was all that mattered. It seemed to be a prearranged destination.
D fell several times as he made his way towards the dark buildings. Calliel did nothing to help him up. If he took too long, he kicked him. In the lightless parking lot behind the high school he fell again. Calliel loomed over him.
“Feels like shit, doesn’t it?” he said, watching the kid cough up blood. “Now you know how she felt. How far did she crawl, all the while crying and begging, DeSean? She was a tough old bird, Nora. Much tougher than you. She cried and begged, and that made you feel powerful. Your buddies thought it was a hoot, didn’t they? They laughed with you as she tried to get away. The same buddies you just gunned down back there. Now it’s just you and me. Get up!
He kicked him again, this time so hard DeSean flew off the ground for a good yard. He tried curling into himself, but Calliel grabbed him by his collar and hauled him to his feet. “Up! Up!”
DeSean stumbled on towards the school, coughing and crouching and holding himself.
Not the school. It was a tall brick tower between the school and the north end of the field. As he approached it I could make out large orange and black letters running down its side: WILDCATS. There were iron rungs in its side. Calliel watched as he grabbed one and began climbing up.
The tower was an oddity. It was erected a hundred years ago, if memory served, but for reasons I could never fathom. It was probably sixty feet tall. At the top a lightless modern billboard announced that this was Gene C. Milner Field, Home of the Wildcats, which I could just read. From here it looked like the silhouetted rectangular entrance into hell itself.
D got to the top and struggled to stand upright. The wind of Oblivion began to howl. I wrapped up in my spiritual self and gazed up, not wanting to watch but unable to stop myself.
Calliel stood like Judgment himself. DeSean Wallace wrapped his fist against his chest several times in futile and stupid defiance, then contorted his fingers into what had to be a gang sign, then yelled and dove. He smashed head-first down into a puddle and his skull exploded through his ski cap like a black balloon filled with Alfredo noodles. The wind screamed for a moment, then all fell suddenly and fatally silent. In the distance sirens slowly filled the void.
The angel of death went to him. He coldly studied the thug at his feet, then angrily marched back the way he came.


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