Warning: This one is rather graphic, and more than a bit gruesome.
I’d never realized just how beautiful a soft summer rain can be, despite having seen it hundreds of times in my life.
That was the thought that went through my head on a Thursday afternoon, as I lay dying upon the sidewalk after being struck by a car that had skidded out of control. Time seemed to be moving so slowly, and everything hurt so much. The people around me were frantic. Who could blame them? After all, it’s not every day that you see someone fly across two lanes and into the window of their place of employment after being struck by an out of control sedan.
I’m told that it happens more often than you’d think.
I laid there, all these people milling about me, and yet, all I could think about was those big, comfy droplets of rain gently bouncing off my forehead. The scent of the rain permeated the air, its calming odor relaxing my muscles.
I think I was the only one at peace, though. I know my manager, Jerry, was definitely not in a good place. But, to my surprise, he didn’t look scared, or worried. He looked angry. I’ve never, in my three years working at that coffee shop, seen Jerry mad. And I can tell you some stories about crazy coffee Karens. He always dealt with them with a chuckle and that soft, gravelly voice of his.
But on that day, I saw such rage as I have never seen on a man in the eyes of that gentle soul.
“It’s okay, Jerry,” I said, struggling to talk.
“This was no accident,” he growled. He looked at me. “I’m sorry. I can’t save you. But I promise that the one responsible will be found, and he will pay. Oh, will he pay.”
“Please don’t trouble yourself on my account,” I said. “I’m at peace. I’ve no regrets with my life, and I’m going to a better place.”
He sighed. “A better place, sure.” Then he mumbled something else. I’m not sure, but I think he said, “Though I’m not so sure about the current tenants.”
As the moments wore on, I became less aware of the others around me. I didn’t even register the lights or siren heralding the arrival of the EMTs. It was just me and the rain. And not long after, even that was gone.
And that was how, on warm August afternoon, on a street corner in Seattle, I, Graham Cole, died.
There was that tunnel with the light and when I reached the end, there I was, in Heaven, just as my priest had promised. Just follow the teachings, and you’ll go to Heaven. Now, let me tell you, there were fewer harps than I’d been led to believe. But there were clouds. I don’t think we were on the clouds, mind you. But they were there.
An angel was there to greet me. He was tall, and despite being a male, beautiful was definitely the word to describe him. He had these fierce grey eyes the seemed to pierce right through my soul. But his smile seemed warm, and his greeting friendly. “Follow me,” he commanded.
I did as he asked. We walked through the streets of Heaven for what seemed ages before I asked, “Where are we going?”
“Is it not obvious? We must celebrate your arrival. So there is to be a banquet in your honor.”
“Oh. Well, that’s pretty cool.” As we walked, I took in the sights. Angels seemed to scurry about everywhere, but I didn’t see any normal people. Huh. Well, there were those that believed that we become angels, so maybe there was truth to that. Perhaps after the banquet, I’d get my wings and halo.
After all, I had no reason to worry. I was in Heaven. I had an eternity to figure it all out.
We came to a grand hall made of marble, where dozens of angels waited to greet me. I was ushered inside. I looked around, and most of the angels began taking their seats at the table, the finest of plates and cutlery before them. I looked to see where I was to sit, but…there were no more seats.
I turned to ask my guide, but then I felt large hands grab me. I was pressed against something that was on the wall behind me. Pain tore through me as they impaled me to it. I looked around, trying to figure out what was happening, but my angelic attackers ignored my thrashing, frantic movements.
They carried the cross they’d impaled me upon to the table and laid it before the other angels. The once beautiful creatures who sat around the table now looked more like their Old Testament counterparts. Far too many eyes, too many faces, and by God…far, far too many sharp, terrifying teeth.
The first to move swept forward with one of those forks with the extra-long tine in the middle. I think those are for salads, maybe? And he jammed it into my eye. I felt shooting pain, and heard a pop as my eye gushed. I could feel the nerves snap as he pulled his prize from my skull.
And then the frenzy began. Most of them didn’t even bother with the cutlery. They simply ripped flesh from my body with their hands. Bones snapped, cartilage tore, muscle ripped. I cried out in agony, but they ignored me.
Over the sound of my pain, I could hear the wet slurping sounds of animals tearing into meat. They feasted, without a care in the world for proper manners. I don’t know why they even bothered with setting the table. A plain bench would have gotten the job done just as well.
I begged them to stop, but they only laughed at me. I could feel masticated chunks of flesh spatter upon my face as they mocked me with their mouths full. One of them licked the half chewed meat from my face before biting off my nose. Then another took my other eye.
Had this been done to me in the land of the living, I would have expired from my wounds. Only, I was already dead. It’s not like I would die again. Perhaps there is an oblivion that ends the soul entirely, but apparently it would take far more than my current wounds to consign me to the void.
What seemed like hours later, the feeding stopped. Perhaps I had run out of edible bits, or perhaps they simply tired of their gruesome feast. Either way, I could hear the angels begin to leave in a flurry of wings. “You,” the voice of the angel who had led me to my fate, the one with the grey eyes, bellowed.
“Yes, milord?” a smaller, feminine voice asked.
“Clean up this mess and reset the table. Then, once it is done, wheel this filth to the soul shredder and mix his remnants with the rest of the trash. We should have nearly enough to consign to the River of Souls without drawing attention to how much of each individual is missing.”
“I will take care of it at once, Lord Uriel.”
With a great whoosh of air, the powerful angel was gone. I could hear the sounds of cleaning for a bit, then I could feel gentle hands carefully remove the blades that held me on the wood. “Where are you taking me?” I asked weakly.
“Please, conserve your strength,” she said softly. “There is something we must discuss. And we do not have time for idle questions.”
I mean, how was I going to argue with that? “I’m listening,” I said.
“Good,” she said. “Now, I’m going to talk as I wheel you along. If I say to be quiet, do it.” She wrapped a cloth over my face, covering my empty eye sockets. “I’m going to heal your eyes. Try not to react to anything you see as we move.”
My sight returned slowly, and painfully, though the agony was nothing compared to what I’d just endured. The angel before me was beautiful, in the more traditional sense. Were we on Earth, she could be a model, or maybe a movie star. “Thank you,” I whispered.
She nodded. “What they did to you is monstrous. What they continue to do to your people is worse. I’m supposed to stay here, to observe them. We need to know their plans, in order to stop them. But I think he knows them already and this is just confirmation.”
“You’re not an angel?”
She shook her head, then looked around for a moment. She found a hidden alcove and wheeled me there. “My name is Alcyone. I used to be a nymph. But when the new God took over up here, those of us born of unions between Gods and Mortals were hunted down. Fewer than a tenth of our total number remain. Some sought solitude. The rest of us chose instead to serve the only one who stands in defiance of this atrocity. We were reforged by the wills of Mortals into something else.”
Her shape changed for a moment, and there was a beautiful demon before me with pink skin and long flowing raven black hair. Her red eyes shone with tears for a moment, then she resumed the shape she had before. “You’re a succubus,” I said.
She nodded. “I am now, yes. For all who serve the one you call the Adversary are obviously demons. So that’s what I am, I guess.” She looked ashamed. “I resented you all for my transformation for several hundred years. But then I was sent here to investigate, and I am so sorry for my animosity towards you all. I had no idea what you were going through and…I cannot take it anymore. I can’t keep watching them do that to your people.”
“What exactly are they doing?”
“You mortals have no idea of your strength, of the power of your souls. Even one of you is nigh like a God. But you believe yourselves weak. So, thanks to their schemes, you will yourselves here, where the angels take your souls and rip away bits to grow their own power. To what end, I do not know.”
“So, does that mean God is evil?”
She shook her head. “I don’t think He’s evil. I think…He just trusts His servants far too much. If He has a sin, it lies in absence, not malice.”
“Then maybe they’re absorbing our power in hopes that they will one day be able to overpower God?”
“I don’t know. Maybe. If that’s the case, they’re nearly strong enough. But they may have other plans.”
“I see. Why tell me this?”
She looked around. “I can no longer continue this fight. But maybe you can.”
I laughed bitterly. “Fat lot of good I’ll do in this state.”
“I know,” she said as we entered a building. Inside we walked towards a pit that was over a dozen feet across. The pit was filled with metal teeth. “But your soul can heal itself, given time, and perhaps a little help. This is the important part, so listen carefully. If I heal you, you must will yourself from this place. The angels will be upon you in moments. I’ll buy you time, but you cannot tarry.”
“Where do I go?”
“Back to your body,” she said. “It will repair itself a bit as your soul returns to it.”
“Okay,” I said.
“Good luck,” she whispered. Then her body shifted, returning to its demonic form. She spoke words of eldritch power and flames shot through the room, striking down dozens of lesser angels. She then cast another spell, and I watched with horrified realization as she transferred her life essence to me, sacrificing herself to regenerate me.
What was left of her tumbled into the grinding teeth, and she was torn apart with a sickening squelch.
But I was almost whole. The angels that had survived her initial attack realized it too. They began rushing towards me. They grabbed me. I struggled with all my might, then remembered her words. I willed myself to be back in my body.
…Then I woke up to the sound of soft, rhythmic beeping. “I’m glad you made it back, my boy,” the soft, gravelly voice greeted me. I opened my eyes and realized that I was in a hospital room, and Jerry was standing next to me. “Though I admit I did not expect to see it. How did you…oh, my. Poor dear Alcyone. I swear you will be remembered.”
“How did you…?”
He gave me a wry smile. “I guess we have a lot to talk about, my boy.”
** * **
Thirteen years later, to the day, on the eve of my thirty seventh birthday, I entered the massive church and put my umbrella away. From there, I made my way to the confessional. “Forgive me Father, for I have sinned,” I said. “It has been two months since my last Confession.”
“Of course, my child. Please tell me of your sins.”
“Well, you see, Father, I’ve been a very naughty boy. I’ve gone to dozens of churches throughout the nation, searching for this one particular priest. Only, he’s not really a priest. He’s actually an angel in disguise.”
“So you seek salvation?”
“Not exactly. You see, this angel is a chooser of the dead. He seeks out mortals with particularly juicy souls, and he arranges little ‘accidents’ for them so that his buddies in Heaven can feast.”
“My son, you are unwell. Please, allow me to contact someone who can help you.”
“I don’t think so, Father,” I said. I snapped my hands in several quick motions and a sphere of localized gravitic pressure crushed the wall between us into a tiny cube. I then drew my wand and waved it. A bolt of lightning snapped between us, sending the priest flying from the confessional.
I stepped out of the confessional and confronted the being standing up from the shattered pews. It was one of the smaller angels, the ones with all the eyes on their wings. A cherubim, I think they’re called. “You cannot stand up against Heaven’s might!” he roared, firing beams of light from the eyes on his wings.
I quickly moved my hands again, conjuring another tiny black hole. It bent the light, altering its trajectory enough that it passed harmlessly around me. “Spare me your monologue,” I said. I cast another spell, impaling those hideous wings to the wall with a couple spears of ice. Inky black shadows coalesced in front of me, becoming great balls of flame that slammed into the angel.
“They will know what you’ve done,” it breathed.
I shook my head. “Nah. Just like car accidents, gas line explosions happen all the time. They might suspect, of course. But your death will simply be seen as a tragic accident ultimately. Though, it is a pity that I can’t take the time to rip each and every one of those eyeballs of yours out of your wings with a salad fork. It would only be fair, after all. Oh well.”
I walked to the door and opened my umbrella before stepping outside. Then, with a few eldritch words, I conjured flames within the church’s gas lines. The building erupted into flame, and I could hear the angel’s final death shriek before it was drowned out by a crack of thunder.
Before the day I died, I’d never truly realized how beautiful a soft summer rain storm could be. And on that day, when I avenged my murder, I stood smiling in that storm in the New Mexico desert, the droplets not warded off by the umbrella rolled off my waterproof black coat.
You see, if God were paying attention, He’d have no problem seeing what I was up to. But the angels were acting on their own, and from up in Heaven, the storm clouds prove an impenetrable barrier. They couldn’t see what I was up to.
I smiled and breathed deep. And once more, the scent of the rain filled my nose with its relaxing aroma.
I love the summer rain.