(Originally publish October 15th 2006)
Walker strode along the foggy quayside. In the darkness, the warehouses slowly loomed out of the mist towards him. Occasionally he would stop, look around at the empty dark grey, and then continue on his path.
He reached the end of the quay and stood by the guardrail, looking down below himself. He could just make out the rippling beneath him, the cool water condensing the mist.
A buzzing vibration came from his pocket: his alarm call. It was time.
He climbed over the rail, let go and fell back into the cold water, moments before the nearest warehouse burst apart with bright flame.
The dreams had started the previous week, as they always did. He saw what would happen, and where, and it would take a week to work out what he could do to change things. Normally he only managed to avoid the worst.
They’d been inside the building, and they’d known what they were doing, mostly. They hadn’t known the consequences that their actions would have.
Walker surfaced. Most of the quay had been blown away. He climbed back onto the unsteady structure. The fog had been dispersed instantly by the heat of the fire. Amongst the flames and debris he saw a body writhing, covered in fire. He pitied whoever it was their sad, painful death.
Scanning the scene again, he saw what he was looking for. Glowing in the wreckage of the warehouse was a scuffed chalk circle, and in the circle It stood. It had seen him already. It was preparing.
Muttering a quiet prayer to nobody at all, he moved forwards towards it. The smell of unnatural fire and sulphurous gas filled his nostrils, as he drew his sword and readied himself for the demon that these sad fools had released from chains of Hell.
* * *
God is dead.
No, that’s not right. God is a lie. He’s a myth.
The Vatican knows. Mecca knows. Jerusalem knows. God never was. He was an idea created back in prehistory to protect us from the truth. The story isn’t such a bad thing. So long as people believe it, my life is a little easier.
My life. What a joke. My life got taken from me a long time ago. It’s not been my own since I was “chosen for duty”.
The Bible never properly explains to you what an Angel is. It talks about them. We know what Cherubim and Seraphim are. We don’t know who they are, or what they really do.
Here’s the truth. Angels are ordinary people like you or me. Mostly like me. Ordinary people conscripted into a war. They aren’t harp-playing idiots sat on clouds in Heaven. There is no Heaven. There never has been.
As for God…
As far as I can tell, he’s not too involved in anything, insofar as there is a God. Metatron, Gabriel, Michael; they’re all probably the same thing. I don’t know what It is. When you’re Chosen, you’re chosen by It. I guess sometimes it’s ‘peace and goodwill’ that needs to be advocated. I like to think I had something in common with prophets, saints, madmen. It would certainly explain a lot.
Sometimes, of course, all you have to work with is a lump of sharpened metal. That’s the end of the scale I work at.
* * *
Someone ran out in the road in front of Alan. He slammed his foot down on the pedal, stopping inches from the stranger.
Then Alan saw that it was Josh Walker. Walker had been in a lot of the same classes as Alan during school, but had dropped out early.
“Jesus fucking Christ! What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
Erik, Alan’s younger brother, stared wide eyed. His older brother was normally careful not to curse near him.
Josh had a black eye, bloody nose, and a large wound on his arm was turning his long jacket red. He walked up to the car, opened the door, and calmly climbed into the back seat.
“What do you think you’re doing?”
“Drive. Turn right at the junction here.”
“Get out of my car, Walker!”
“Drive. Turn right. Please Alan.” Josh grabbed Alan’s shoulder and looked hard at him.
There was something wrong with Josh. Although they’d never really been friends, Alan knew he was different. Just before he’d dropped out of school, he’d begun to act odd. He’d mumble to himself, and whenever anyone asked what was wrong he’d just complain of lack of sleep. He’d been branded the class freak by most of the school. When he’d disappeared from town, the rumour was he’d been carted off to an asylum. Then some idiot had burned the family house down. That would’ve been traumatic.
Best do as he says, Alan thought.
As the car turned the corner, Josh thanked Alan and sat back, sighing in pain as he tied a tourniquet around his arm.
“What the hell, Josh? Where have you been? I haven’t seen you since school.”
“I’ve been busy.”
“You wouldn’t understand.”
“Are you that Walker guy?” asked Erik. “I heard about you in school. You went crazy or something.”
“Not quite, Erik.”
That shut up the two brothers. Josh was worryingly good with remembering names, more worryingly when he’d never been told them before.
After five minutes of directions and unanswered questions, mainly about his injuries, Josh told Alan to stop. They had reached the mall.
“This is where I was heading anyway,” said Alan. “For God’s sake Josh, what’s going on? Why so cryptic?”
“You wouldn’t understand.”
“Stop saying that! You sound like Mr. Miyagi or something!”
Erik looked confused. “Who’s Mr. Miyagi?”
“Well, now I’m here, I can go meet Terry. You remember Terry Miller, right Josh?”
“Shit!” He shouted it. He suddenly gained a startled expression, completely losing his composure.
“What? He’s a nice guy.”
“You’d be surprised Alan.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Walker’s calm came back to him. “Just stay here. I might need to get away quickly.”
“What? First you car-jack me, now you want me to be your getaway driver? Are you here to rob a store or something?”
“No. Just trust me. It’ll get ugly. Stay here. Erik, go see your movie.”
Erik practically ran from the car, almost crying. He definitely did not run towards the cinema. He definitely hadn’t told Josh he was going to the movies.
* * *
Was it a dream, or did it really happen? I don’t know anymore.
A few months before school finished for good, the dreams started. Sometimes I’d wake up happy and content, sometimes I’d have nightmares that woke up the rest of the house.
The nightmares came more and more often. I barely slept eventually.
Imagine your worst nightmares. They were worse than that. Imagine seas of fire, eternal torment. Imagine every painful memory, every sinful act, every unholy action of everyone who has ever or will ever live. Every bad dream, every waking nightmare, every torture known to man.
I’ve seen worse. I dreamt it nightly. And I remember it all.
Then I had a new dream. It showed up. God, Michael, Yahweh, Allah. He might as well have been Lucifer, for what he put me through. I was Conscripted. The most painful experience of my life was the forging of the sword. I don’t feel much pain anymore. Most of the time, it just doesn’t compare. Even the most annoying paper cuts.
It works like this. Conscription means you give up part of your essence. Willingly or unwillingly doesn’t really matter. For my part, I don’t think I was too happy about it. Your essence is like your soul, except most people think souls are eternal. They aren’t. Your essence becomes the iron.
Then Gabriel, or maybe God, or Buddha for all I care, patches some of his essence. You end up with steel. Angel steel. A sword of Angel steel.
Angel steel can hurt the other side. I’ve seen men fire guns at them and do nothing. Then I’ve watched them die.
I know what I can do. Unfortunately, so do they. Yet still I have to do my duty.
* * *
Walker walked through the spinning glass door. He was calm. He had to stay calm. The slash on his arm had moved from intense heat to a dull ache. He’d realised in the early hours of this morning that he wasn’t preparing for just one job. The nightmares he’d had recently had contained more than one – earlier had involved claws, this next one a flying tag-team.
If only the muzak playing over the P.A. system would stop making his teeth grind together, he’d feel a lot better about what he had to do.
He had a few minutes by his reckoning. He needed a coffee and something to eat. That idiot Alan would be along soon.
Alan walked through the doors. Josh had told him to wait in the car, but he wasn’t going to listen. He hadn’t seen Walker for years, and now he’d turned up looking beat-up and acting like a madman. Maybe that asylum rumour hadn’t been so far from the mark.
He’d run after Erik, given him bus fare and told him to go straight home. He hoped he’d be alright, but this whole situation was worrying. He shouldn’t be around Josh. Now he had to meet Terry in a few minutes.
* * *
Did you ever wish revenge on someone? Ever carry it out? There’s a big difference between those two, although they’re both a very dangerous approach to life. You’ll attract Their attention. You really don’t want Them to notice you. You especially don’t want Them to push you into helping Them out.
They need stuff like that. Cold, raw sin is what keeps Them going, helps Them to do what They do to us. “Sin” is what They feed upon. That’s what was taught to me anyway.
It was winter. I was in the Asylum and the dreams started. I had the worst nightmares, worse than I’d had before. They sedated me when I started telling them my parents were in trouble. They locked me in a padded cell when I shouted it to the other loons. Then came the Forging. That’s how it was described to me. I was asleep and I had a happy dream, the first I’d had in years. I felt love and contentment, but it was short-lived. I was told I was Chosen, that I had to fight. I wasn’t happy with that.
The pain didn’t last long. Suddenly I found myself in my cell with a feeling of weight on my back. Reaching behind me, I felt the hilt of a sword in my grip. I ran to the door and screamed for help.
It didn’t come.
But the nightmares came over and over.
Fire and smoke, the stench of burning meat, the screams of my mother, the choking of my father; it was too much. I broke out. I had to do something.
When they found me, it was too late. The house was burning down, I was coughing up smoke, my parents were dead and there was blood on my clothes. They thought I’d killed them. I’d failed to kill It. I’d failed. I wasn’t ready.
They took me away and put me in a maximum security asylum for the criminally insane. I didn’t resist. I thought they were right, that I’d imagined it all somehow, that I was responsible. I thought I’d murdered my parents.
Then the clergy came for me.
* * *
Alan walked through the mall to the central concourse clock. Sure enough, there was Terry Miller, with two twin beauties stood beside him. They had dark brown hair, pale skin, and as he got nearer he saw they wore matching purple contact lenses. They wore black blouses and miniskirts, and black choker bands. Not exactly what he normally went for, but for some reason as he got closer he couldn’t help but think of them as the two most beautiful women he’d ever met. And yet, there was something odd.
“Hey Terry. How’s it going?”
“Not bad Alan. What’s up with you? You look like crap… Is that blood?”
Alan looked down at where Terry pointed. On his shoulder was a small mark of red. He remembered Josh grabbing his shoulder.
“It’s... It’s nothing Terry. I just bumped into Josh Walker on the way here. He ran out in front of my car.”
“Jesus Alan!” The twins glanced over. “You saw Walker? Don’t tell me you ran him over!”
“No, stopped in my tracks. Scared the hell out of Erik, but he scared the hell out of me too! Ended up practically carjacking and making me drive him here.”
“Wow. And that’s his blood?”
“Yeah. He was beat-up. Looked like he was running from something, so why he came here, I have no clue.”
The twins suddenly looked at each other, sniffed in unison and began urgently looking in all directions. Alan noticed and made Terry turn around.
“What’s wrong with them?”
“No clue. They’re not normally like this. They’re very… well, how can I put it? They’re very good company, if you know what I mean. They keep asking to meet my friends, so I thought you’d be the person to call for a fun day out.”
“Thanks Terry. Thanks a lot.”
Striding along the upper walkway, Walker ignored the staring and sideways glances of passers by. He was used to it. The torn clothing and blood was a part of the job, just like the odd looks from these people. He knew where he was going; he knew what he had to do.
He leant over the rail and looked down at the small group under the clock. The two girls started to look around at his arrival, whilst Alan and Terry took notice. That was the tag team alright, and it was time for him to start work.
From above came a shout.
“Ladies and gentlemen, if I may have your attention please,” the twins’ heads snapped around and looked up at the long-coated figure above them. Alan and Terry looked about them before finding their addressor.
“I’m afraid that I can’t let Alan join your little group. Terry, I’m disappointed in you.” With that, Walker leapt the rail and fell to the floor below. He landed, rolled and stood up a few metres from the group.
“Josh?” Alan looked puzzled.
“Walker?” Terry looked worried.
“I told you Terry was bad news Alan. And I told you to wait in the car.” He turned to look at the ladies, both of whom seemed to be blurring at the edges. “Hello ladies. I think you know why I’m here.”
The girls seemed to rip apart, and in their place stood two emaciated, black bat-winged figures, clawed feet scratching the floor, clawed fingers poised and ready. They both jumped up into the air, as Walker reached behind his head and pulled out his sword.
* * *
I was in my room, and then they came in and restrained me. I let them. I didn’t struggle anymore. I only screamed in my sleep. I couldn’t look at other people for knowing what they saw when they looked at me.
In had walked the Cardinal. The colour of his robes had been the only thing I noticed about him. I didn’t know why he was there. I thought perhaps that he had come to exorcise me.
“Hello Joshua. My name is Cardinal Morre. I’m the Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Angels. I’m here to help you.
“I know you’ve been having dreams, Joshua. Bad dreams, yes? I also know that it wasn’t you who caused the deaths of your family. If you come with me, I can help you.”
That’s what he’d said to me. With that I was carted off to the Vatican, for “training”. Moving away like that helped. My dreams stopped. I could sleep, when there was time.
As it turns out, I wasn’t alone. I met a handful of people like me. We would sit in a room in the Vatican’s Secret Archives and be taught about our abilities, what had happened to us, the truth about God. Everything. For one of us it was too much. He’d been religious before he was Chosen. They found him in a mausoleum for people like us who’d died. People who’d either died fighting the War or had somehow ended their time as an Angel and had come back to teach the Truth.
He was the lucky one, if you ask me. He’d gotten out before it really began. When they were done with us, we were blessed and made priests. Then they sent me back.
The dreams came back, but I knew what I could do. What I had to do.
Every time I sleep, I dread what may come. I just look forward to the dream when my sword is taken from me and I can finish my work.
* * *
They ducked and they dived and they jinked and they lunged. They fought with claws and sword. They bled and screamed and roared. The span and jumped and rolled and snarled.
The stench was terrible. Where the sword cut, the flesh boiled. Where the claws slashed, the flesh rotted. The smell of blood was pervasive.
And the twitching remains of the two succubae lay under the clock. Walker leant against a wall, his sword again at his back. He was bleeding from black gashes on his face, and he fiddled with his mobile phone.
“Hello, Ciccone? It’s Walker. Cleanup at the mall under the clock in the central concourse. Quickly.”
He hung up and limped towards the barricade in the nearby fast food emporium.
“Terry, come here.”
Terry peeped over the tables and chairs at Josh. Alan looked up at them both.
“What did you think you were doing, Terry? They were very dangerous. And you were going to give them Alan. I’m appalled.”
“Walker, you’re crazy man. I don’t know what just happened.”
“Yes, you do Terry.” Walker moved closer, pulling plastic zip ties from his pocket. “And you’re coming with me.”
“No way. You’re mad. Insane. I’m not going anywhere. Alan, help me out here.”
“He’s pretty crazy Terry,” said Alan slowly. “I’d do as he says. You saw him with that sword.”
Terry climbed over the bunker, and then made towards Josh.
“Thank you Ter-”
Terry ran for the doors, but before he could reach them they burst open to reveal a group of armed men in black security uniforms. Walker ran up behind and tackled the startled Terry, holding him on the ground.
“Terry, by Papal Sanction I hereby arrest you on the charge of misuse of the black arts and attempted blood sacrifice of a human being. You will be taken to a holding cell where you will be interrogated by members of His Holiness’ Inquisition. Should you repent your discretions you may one day see the outside world again. Do you understand?”
Terry said nothing, as he was carried away by two of the armed men. Walker slowly stood up from the floor as Alan ran up.
“Jesus H, Josh. What the hell is going on?”
“This is my job, Alan. Welcome to my world.” Josh walked back to the clock, where already the floor was being wiped clean. He cupped his hands to his mouth and shouted to the gangway above. “Erik, you should come down here now!”
Erik’s head peered over the edge of the rail. “What are you?”
“I’m a priest,” he shouted, as he walked away