Credence at Christopher's

Submitted into Contest #180 in response to: Write a story that hinges on the outcome of a coin flip.... view prompt


Contemporary Fiction

A man's heart stopped next to the town's small ice cream shop. The man fell slowly, like his legs were slow to catch on that blood had stopped flowing through his body. The man's wife caught on more quickly, her eyes going wide as she watched her husband fall. His knees hit the concrete sidewalk first, shattering with disgusting, loud cracks. The wife screamed, making the other people on the sidewalk stop and look. A few started to run to help.

Gabriel sighed and took a sip from her cup of root beer. The door to the shop jingled open, and she looked over.

Raphael looked like he usually did to Gabriel-- angry, uptight, and glowing. Gabriel rolled her eyes. Her sibling raised a dark eyebrow at her as he went to her table. He sat across from her and glared at her root beer.

"What is that?" he asked.

Gabriel took another sip from the glass. "Soda. It's good. You should try some."

He looked disgusted. Gabriel looked through the wall of the ice cream stop again. The man had stopped moving and a crowd had gathered around him. The wife continued screaming.

"I noticed your handiwork," Gabriel said.

"Yes," Raphael said. "I am doing my job."

"Be right with you!" a cheery voice called from the back of the shop.

Gabriel looked back at the dying man and took another sip of soda. "Fix him."

"Excuse me?" Raphael said.

A large, portly man emerged from behind the ice cream freezer. Gabriel had liked Christopher for years. He was easygoing and he made good ice cream. He was also oblivious to the world around him to a degree that was slightly concerning. Even though the shouts from outside the shop were growing louder, Christopher didn't appear to notice that anything was going on. "Ah, is this who you were waiting for?" the man said.

Gabriel nodded. "I'll have a double scoop of the cookie dough, and my brother will have a banana split."

For the first time in forever, Christopher actually appeared surprised by something. His big eyes widened and his mustache twitched. Gabriel knew he was looking at the physical, human, and completely unimportant differences in the appearances of the siblings. Gabriel had light curly hair and tanned skin and a slight frame, Raphael had dark hair, pale skin, and was strong. They were arbitrary and flesh-based differences, but it was all Christopher could see. Gabriel just smiled at him, waiting for him to catch up.

He eventually blinked slowly and nodded. "Comin' right up," he said, and walked away.

"I do not eat human food," Raphael said.

"Your loss. I'll eat yours, then." Gabriel turned and looked through the wall. Someone was kneeling next to the man, pushing their fists onto his chest. "Heal him, please."

"I am the Angel of Death, I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing," Raphael said.

"You're also the Angel of Healing," Gabriel said. The woman was crying and wailing. Raphael and Gabriel watched her for a moment.

"Everyone dies," Raphael said. "If I healed everyone from dying, that would make it difficult to keep the natural order."

Gabriel scoffed. "Careful, you might start sounding like Jophiel if you keep talking like that."

Raphael scowled. "If you are so wise, you heal him then, O Might of God."

Gabriel sat back, wishing she were in her ringed form to really get the point of her narrowing her eyes across. "Please don't mock me, dearest sibling."

"I do not mock you. I only question why faith cannot heal that human."

"Faith cannot reverse death or heal. That is not my role."

Christopher came back with the ice creams and a glass of water and set them on the table. Gabriel looked through the wall again and saw the woman was on her knees, tears falling from her face. The person attempting CPR looked tired but was still going. Someone was on the phone, their face ashen.

"The man's wife is praying," Gabriel said. "Listen." She closed her eyes. The woman's voice filtered through the air like a specter in the mist. It was nothing Gabriel hadn't heard before-- "please, O Lord, save my Jeremy, he's a good man, our grandchildren need him..." She said nothing new, but nice to hear nonetheless.

"Just because someone is praying does not mean they get healed," Raphael said. "What is this?" he asked, his face livid with disgust as he looked at the ice cream in front of him.

"Ah," Gabriel said, shaking her head. "Agapatos, it is a wonder how you manage to spend so much time with humans, and yet you avoid everything they create."

"And you, Adelphos, spend too much time around their creations," Raphael said, crossing his arms.

"One might say we are their creations, no?" Gabriel asked. "Did we create humans, or did humans create gods?"

Raphael glanced at the man on the ground, then glared at Gabriel. "I doubt you brought me here to speak philosophy, sibling-self."

"Of course I did," Gabriel said. "Who else can I talk philosophy with? Michael is too busy sharpening his sword and preparing for a holy war that will never come, Camael doesn't have a brain for philosophy, Zadkiel will always take the moral high ground, poor Morningstar is too scared to question anything, Emmanuel is too busy talking to Mama and being effortless perfect, and Uriel and Jophiel, well," Gabriel paused, "they're too busy doing whatever the hell it is that they do all day."

Raphael looked vaguely surprised, blinking his golden eyelashes. "Since when are you angry at Emmanuel?"

Gabriel waved a hand, and her glass refilled. Outside, the person doing CPR slowed, their chest heaving with heavy panting. "I love my littlest sibling, but sometimes, Emmanuel is annoying." She let out a scornful laugh. "'God with us,' indeed!"

The person doing chest compressions started again, panting and shaking. Gabriel sighed and ate a spoonful of her ice cream. Raphael watched her as she took a bite. "Like ambrosia and nectar," she said.

"I doubt that."

"Oh, ye of so little faith."

Much to Gabriel's surprise, that made Raphael laugh. She looked back at the dying man. Despite his sickly body, the man's soul was fighting to stay in its flesh. Gabriel appreciated that. It always annoyed her when people gave up on life too easily. Once, she had been speaking to a woman who had chosen not to undergo treatment for cancer because she wanted to get to Heaven sooner. Clearly, she had thought she was speaking to only Emmanuel -- human's go-to angel -- because they always get more personal when they think they're speaking to the Son of Man.

"I've waited years to enter your kingdom, Lord!" the woman cried. "My faith has been rewarded!"

Gabriel had fought the urge to respond with what she wanted to say: "Was it your faith that made you leave Earth so soon? Did you not appreciate the effort that I took to make both it and you, Daughter?"

"Tell me, dearest, why is it my gift that is most abused?" Gabriel asked, reaching over to Raphael's bowl of ice cream and taking a spoonful.

"Now I know you speak in riddles," Raphael said. "You know the evils beauty, wisdom, and war have created.

"All things only have power because of humankind's faith in them," Gabriel said. "Beauty is nothing without the faith that beauty means something. Wisdom cannot be abused unless someone has faith that they are wise. War is because someone has faith that it will give some grand result."

"Why do you lecture me, sibling?"

"Perhaps I wish for my sibling to listen to what I say."

Raphael leaned back in the sticky booth. A siren wailed outside the shop. They were quiet for a long moment.

"The man is alive yet," Raphael said.

Gabriel looked at the man's soul, so dull and lackluster compared to the glory of the angels. The soul was staying stubbornly in its body. "Yes."


Gabriel ate another spoonful of ice cream, the cold melting on her tongue. "Because Death has yet to take him."

Raphael looked stunned. He looked at his hands. To Christopher, they would have looked like the hands of a young man. But Gabriel could see the lines and callouses there, the marks of hands well-used.

Raphael had not always been the Angel of Death. Before, Michael had been Thanatos, Ares, and Athena. Raphael was both the glorious, golden healer and medicine man of the gods. But over the millennia, their roles had changed, and Michael stopped bringing souls to the afterlife. The one who had once healed humans now took their souls when they were beyond healing.

"Why?" Raphael asked.

"Because my sibling is still the Angel of Healing. And I am still the Guardian of Health."

Raphael tapped his fingers against the table. Two medics rushed out of the ambulance, one of them carrying a defibrillator. "The medics still bear my staff as their symbol," Gabriel said. "I was fond of your son."

"My son and I are one and the same," Raphael said.

"Asclepius had a better attitude than you ever did."

"Do you miss him?"

"I miss you."

Raphael shrugged. "I'm right here."

Gabriel leaned forward. "Do you know what your problem is, Agapatos?" she whispered. "Everything you do and say is someone else's. You do what Michael told you to do, you talk like Jophiel, you distance yourself from everything like Uriel." She paused long enough to eat another spoonful of ice cream, watching the shock take hold of her sibling's face. "In two thousand years, you never bothered to get a personality of your own."

Raphael gaped at her. Gabriel grinned and took the opportunity to put some ice cream in his open mouth. He frowned, then turned to look at the dying man again. The medic pressed the button, and a massive shock went through the body but didn't restart the heart.

"This 'ice cream' is very good," Raphael said quietly.

Gabriel nodded. "Your sibling knows more than you give her credit for."

Raphael sank down into his chair. The medics sent another bolt through the man's body, and Gabriel felt it in her bones and teeth. She closed her eyes and listened to the wife's pleadings. They were growing nonsensical now, thick with grief. There weren't any more words, just waves of hysterical sorrow.

"I can feel what they feel, you know. As you do," Raphael said.

"Heal him, then."

"I can't just decide who dies today and who dies another day."

Gabriel frowned. She had liked it when people obeyed her. "Fine, then. Neither of us will decide."

Raphael looked skeptical.

Gabriel clapped her hands together and quickly brought them apart, revealing a shiny silver coin.

"Is that a denarius?" A look of realization crossed his face. "You can't be serious."

"Now you sound like a modern human. That's good progress." Gabriel tossed the coin into the air and caught it. "As it is, I am very serious. I am also the god of luck, am I not?"

"You were."

"'Remain in me, as I also remain in you."'

"Are those Emmanual's words, or yours?"

"Emmanuel was the body. I was the messenger. I always have been. His words were mine." Gabriel twirled the coin between her fingers. "And I want to spread another message today." She jerked her head toward the dying man.

An amused grin came across Raphael's lips. "Which is?"

"The Lord works in often random, mysterious ways. Are you in, or not?"

Raphael nodded once, quickly.

"Heads, he lives. Tails, we lay him down to sleep."

Raphael crossed his arms across his chest. "Very well."

Gabriel tossed the coin in the air and grabbed it, pushing it onto the table next to the ice cream. An ugly face glared up at her.

The medic charged the defibrillator again and pressed the button.

Raphael sighed. "As you wish."

The charge shot through the man's body, and his dead heart started beating again.

"He's got a pulse!" the medic yelled. The woman's face burst into a smile.

"Thank you, God!" she screamed.

Raphael and Gabriel watched through the window. "You know, it's annoying that they always thank Dad immediately," Raphael said.

"It is," Gabriel said. "It's like the rest of us don't do anything. They're not wrong, technically."

"Thank you, Jesus!" the woman screamed.

"It's exceptionally annoying when they do that, though," Gabriel said.

Raphael scoffed. "I know! What did Emmanuel even do?"

"Turn water into wine? How special is that? Here!" She tapped her glass with her fingertips, and her soda turned into a clear, sparkling yellow. "I just turned root beer into champagne. I demand that someone sings praises about me."

Raphael laughed, his eyes closing. He picked up the spoon on the table and slowly dipped it into the melting ice cream. He tried it more carefully now, like how a teacher tests a student's creation. He smiled. "Christopher!" he yelled.

The store owner peered out from the back room.

"This is excellent!" Raphael said, then he raised his glass of water. "To your health!"

Gabriel grinned and held up her cup of champagne as well. "Salud!"

Christopher seemed confused but smiled blearily. "Thank you, sir."

The man whose heart was beating again was picked up and placed into the ambulance. A large crowd was watching now, all wondering what was going to happen to the man.

"They're going to be surprised when he wakes up without any brain loss," Raphael said.

Gabriel nodded. "It's a miracle, you could say."

"You know, you never said why you cared so much about these humans."

Gabriel pursed her lips. "Do you remember what Emmanuel said, right before his mortal body died?"

"Which part?"

"'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.'"

"Of course." Raphael finished his drink. "Were those your words, too?"

"Tell me, who was our little brother talking about?"

They were quiet for a long moment.

"You know, there's this hot dog place in Seattle that I really like," Gabriel said. "We should continue this later. Same time next week?"

Raphael nodded. "I'll see you there." He stood up, then knelt down and kissed Gabriel's cheek. "Until then, dearest."

The door jingled again as he stepped out. Gabriel took a few minutes to finish the ice cream, pausing for a moment between each bite. When she was done, she conjured up a hundred-dollar bill to leave on the table and stepped out of the shop.

The ambulance was long gone and the crowd had died down, but to Gabriel's mild surprise and amusement, the wife was still there, kneeling on the ground. Gabriel pulled her hood over her head and walked past, then jumped as she felt someone take hold of her coat.

"My Lord?" the woman asked.

Gabriel turned around, knowing that her surprise was on full display.

The woman was old, her eyes a little misty. "My Lord." She said again, with more confidence. A huge smile broke over her face. "Oh, I knew it was you, Lord! You saved my husband!"

Gabriel said nothing.

The woman took Gabriel's hand and pressed a hot kiss to the back of it, then kissed the tips of Gabriel's fingers. "Thank you, Lord. My faith has been rewarded."

Gabriel licked her lips, still tasting the sweetness of the ice cream. "Perhaps," she said. "Or maybe you just got lucky."

A look of confusion passed over the woman's face.

"Take care of Jeremy, Daughter," Gabriel said. Then she gently pulled her hand out of the woman's grip and walked to the little boy who was waiting at the end of the street.

"You're late," the little boy said, taking her hand in his. His dark hair was long and growing into his brown eyes, and Gabriel used her free hand to push it away from his face.

"I was busy," Gabriel said. She took the coin out of her pocket and handed it to the boy.

"You shouldn't have done that," the boy said, looking at the denarius.

"There have been enough lectures today, Agapatos," Gabriel said as she and her little brother walked away from the ice cream shop. 

January 14, 2023 03:43

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