Well, time certainly flies.
In honor of the one year anniversary that I started this novel (wow, it’s been that long?? -_-) I decided to post the first “chapter” or so, for your viewing pleasure. I’ve not fully decided on a title for the novel yet, so the working name is simply “Two Worlds” for now. Which should make a small amount of sense even after just this excerpt.
See more after the break. I tried not to make it too long, since blog-formatting is not entirely reader friendly.
[Working title for this is ‘two worlds’ so use the tags on the side to find related posts.]
The sun was only minutes from setting, casting great amber beams across the paved roads and buildings, reflecting as small novas on each glass paned storefront and windshield. The myriad of bright spots gave many a good cause to squint as they navigated their way to their destinations – home to a waiting family or perhaps to an empty house, or even a bar of strangers for their evening haven. It was a Friday in May, and it was the thirteenth of the month, providing a judicious setting for suspicious activity.
Hannah Summers did not think much about that. She was thinking about how hard it was to see the crosswalk sign, peering through tightly squinted eyes up the avenue toward the west where her apartment eventually sat, squeezed among others in a dingy concrete building. She was thinking about the study group she had just left, and how it had gone far too long, thus causing her to miss the bus she usually took home. Instead she had to get off at a different stop and walk the rest of the way. If not for that, she wouldn’t now be peering against the golden rays of blinding light.
If not for that, she also would not have misread the traffic sign, and would not have walked out into the street approximately twenty seconds too early. Only when she was across the first two lanes and past the median did she realize her error as a horn blared to her left. In the next moment she clearly saw the bus coming over the hill and toward her, but the squeal of its brakes filling the air did not register as anything but the nightmarish scream of a demon.
She had a moment to think about things, like how fast the bus was going, and how many precious seconds she was wasting. She thought about the study group again, realizing that she had just paid for an extra review of European history with her life, and she had a moment to be filled with unbridled anger at this unfair price. For a moment, she hated the sun for blinding her, she hated the bus driver for not seeing her sooner, she hated the hill that prevented her visibility, she hated college and history and all of Europe itself –
And then the impact. But from behind? Moments passed in dazed confusion which felt like eternities as she waited for the pain, for the end. First her arm began to hurt, but in a slow, meaningful way unlike what she expected as the pain of death. Then her spinning vision began to steady around an ache in her head, and a few moments of time registered belatedly. When the impact came, was there a crack in the air, like lightning? If not, what was that smell? Her nostrils felt assailed by the scent of ozone although her eyes saw only a cloudless sky.
Then a man appeared looming over her. She stared up at him with dazed wide eyes and noted his face quite clearly, straight-nosed with a high brow and chiseled jaw, clean shaven, his wide mouth set above a solid chin. His eyes were strange, somehow. But she couldn’t focus, squeezing hers shut to steady her mind again.
“Are you all right?” he spoke then, and she realized only seconds had passed. “Can you hear me?”
“Yes,” she said, and felt shocked that her voice was not a terrified croak. “What…”
“You stepped into the road,” he said. “I had to knock you out of the way lest we both be killed.”
His voice held a note of aggravation and she looked at him again in confusion. “You… knocked me out of the way? But where did you come from? There was no one else at the corner…”
“I was there,” he said, and leaned back out of her field of vision. “Now, sit up.”
Only when she was sitting did she realize he had put his arm beneath her to lift her upright, and she looked at him again in amazed confusion, because she knew absolutely that there was no one else at the corner where she had been. If someone else had been there, they would not have let her walk so far across the road against traffic. They would have grabbed her before she took more than a step – especially someone already willing to dive in front of a bus. “You saved my life,” she managed. “What’s your name?”
He pushed a forelock of black hair back from his face and looked at her again, and his eyes were dark. She felt positive that his eyes had been different somehow a moment ago, but now they were fixed on her face and so dark as to be almost black. “Joseph,” he said. “Now, can you walk?”
She had expected him to ask her name, and felt miffed that he did not. “I think so.” She took in her body with an amazed glance that it was all in one piece. Her arm was hurting and she looked at it now to see a long scrape down her forearm, though her shoulder hurt more. Her messenger bag was still strapped across her chest.
“Come, then,” he said, and helped her to her feet. After she had taken a few dazed steps she looked at him again.
“Where are we going?” He was taller than she had expected, and lithe.
“To tend your wounds,” he said, prompting her to continue walking with a hand between her shoulders. “It is not far.”
“But…” she couldn’t process the situation. “Who are you?”
“I am Joseph,” he repeated, giving her a stern look. “Have you hurt your head as well?”
“What? No, I mean… I don’t… but you couldn’t have come so quickly,” she managed. “It’s impossible.”
“I was at the corner,” he repeated calmly. “Please, just walk for now.”
No one had ever seemed so strange to her before. Was he worried about her, or annoyed that he had to help? She noted he didn’t carry anything with him. Now as they walked down a side road the sun slipped beneath the buildings and the city was cast in a gray shade. In a few more minutes, it would be dark.
Almost as though he thought the same thing, Joseph quickened his pace, and she examined her arm as though she’d never seen it before. The length of her forearm had been scraped in a long, dirty gash; her shoulder hurt as though badly bruised. This was all that remained of what she had expected to cost her life? Just this? She cast a furtive glance to the man beside her and wondered again where he had come from, but felt willing to accept his poor story for the sake of gratitude.
In another minute the pain of her arm had begun to cut through the shock of having lived. But as she grimaced and examined the oozing scrape again, Joseph abruptly stopped, and she stumbled a step when he gripped her uninjured shoulder. “What?” she snapped instinctively.
He didn’t answer, staring fixedly ahead at the darkening street. Hannah had a moment to wonder where they were, but almost immediately recognized it as the road which held her apartment building. Her immediate unsettled response was momentarily set aside as she tried to read Joseph’s strange body language. He seemed to be nearly vibrating with tension, and though his fingers still pressed into her shoulder, she felt positive he had forgotten she was there.
All at once, he spoke. “I’m sorry. We must not go this way. Come, quickly.” And he began to pull her back the way they’d come.
“What?” she resisted, planting her feet. “What are you talking about? How did you know where I live?” she added, suspiciously.
His dark brow drew to a glare. “It is not safe this way. Perhaps you would rather I had let you walk into the bus, that a quicker end than what lies ahead?”
A lance of fear broke through her annoyance. “What? What are you saying? What’s…?” She glanced back down the road – previously a comfort seen as the final stretch toward home, now a menacing, dark avenue of fear.
“I feel I will be forced to explain all to you quite soon,” he said, and now she felt a tremor in his hand, but he did not seem afraid. “Please, Hannah. Come…”
“How do you know my name?” she exploded, scared again, breaking free of his grip and backing a step toward her apartment. “What the hell is going on?”
He made an exasperated noise. “There’s no time for this. If you value your life, you will come with me. If you feel any small gratitude towards what I have done for you, then you will come with me. If not, I will let you walk arrogantly to your own damnation.”
“Just tell me how you know my name!” she argued, glancing around for any passersby who could bear witness to whatever he had in mind, but the street was eerily empty. And silent. She realized then that no birds sang their usual evening tunes, and the trees were still as though it had not been a breezy day just an hour ago. The air was strange and heavy.
“You feel it. The evil is coming. Please, Hannah,” he added. “Don’t throw your soul away.”
What was there to do? Turn and run into the night, into the ominous dark, or turn to this brooding stranger who knew too much about her? She hesitated.
From further up the street, a crack of lightning came and startled her to a girlish yip. The stench of ozone came again, and Joseph’s expression hardened. “There is no time. I will save you once more, and after that you may choose your own destiny.”
She opened her mouth to ask what he meant, but he moved quickly, grabbing her arms and roughly pulling her against him. Pain lanced through her shoulder and she cried out again, but it turned to a gasp as another bolt shot out of the sky, and with an ear-splitting crack lanced through Joseph’s body. Small bolts of electricity danced across his skin and she wanted to cringe away from them, but none crossed over to her. He lifted her off her feet as though she weighed nothing as the electric shards coalesced behind him and turned to a pair of great, black wings. She opened her mouth to scream, but he leapt into the air, and the wind tore it from her throat.
Almost immediately they had reached a dizzying height and she was forced to cling to him, gasping with a hyperventilating terror. A single flap of his wings – his wings – and they shot across the sky like a meteor.
“What?” she managed. “What are you? What…”
“Don’t speak,” he instructed, looking down at her as though hurtling through the air was a simple task that did not require his attention. A bit of a smile played across his face as though her terror amused him. “If you faint, it will be harder to hold you.”
Wide-eyed she stared into his face, and realized then that his eyes were bright now, an icy blue ringed with black. Despite the darkness, his pupils had not dilated. “What are you?” she said again.
His fingers buried in her hair and turned her face away, pressing her into his shoulder. “All shall be revealed.” His arm tightened around her waist and though her legs dangled, she felt certain he held her safely.
Fainting tempted her conscious mind and she clung with all her strength to alertness, minding what he had said, terrified of falling from this height. All at once they were dropping through the air and she couldn’t help but gasp against him, too terrified to scream. Then his wings opened again with a snap and braced their descent. When he set her back on her feet it was with extreme care to be gentle, but her legs wouldn’t hold her weight and she sagged against him.
His hand moved through her hair again, affectionately, it seemed. “Come, now. We shall be safe here.” He pried gently at her fingers where they clutched his shirt tightly.
She painstakingly unclenched them and found the strength to stand away from him. His hands hovered around her anyway, as though preparing for her to collapse. No words would come from her throat. Too many questions piled up and none could escape so she simply stared at him.
He held his hands up disarmingly and without noticeable effort drew his great black wings back into himself. She stared at him still and he simply waited, bearing her scrutiny. With the retraction of his wings his eyes had darkened blue-black again. She touched his shoulder lightly to reassure that he was not a dream; he was solid and warm as any person ought to be, but yet radiating some energy she couldn’t identify. “Where… where do they go?” she managed then, “where do your wings go?”
He smiled as though she was a silly thing. “They return into me until I need them.” Seeing her doubtful expression, he turned and showed his back, where not even a mark remained. His shirt was unscathed.
“But how?” she marveled.
“Come in and let me tend this and I will explain,” he said, lightly touching her shoulder. The throb of it had been ignored with wonder, but now she grimaced at the reminder, and looked around at their surroundings.
It was a rooftop bearing large cages constructed of chicken wire and weathered wood. Dozens of pigeons roosted, ruffling their feathers and cooing to each other in the dim evening light. Joseph guided her slowly past the birds and to an equally worn door. His hand passed over the lock and she heard it click open, but could not muster the ability to ask how. It was just another impossibility, and given the rest of what she had seen, it hardly seemed important.
Inside it was quite dark and she hesitated as he shut the door behind them. Then he touched a switch to one side and lights flickered on. It was one great room, where they stood was on a large platform overlooking a lower space she could not see. The wooden catwalk stretched around each side of the rectangular area, and it was lined with windows, each as tall as she.
“Where are we?” she asked finally.
“My home,” he answered. “Come, please.”
Reluctant now as she realized her vulnerable position in the home of a strange man, she took a few steps further in. He stopped at a staircase leading down, and looked back at her with confusion. “What is it now?”
Reminding herself that he did just save her life, and more so that he was not a normal man, she swallowed down her nerves and remembered that the pain in her arm couldn’t be ignored. Now that she was here, she wondered if she could leave without his help. “Sorry.” She followed him and he continued down the stairs. Once she was at the top she could see the rest of the room, and ogled a moment in surprise. Bookshelves outlined the room all the way around. At the far end was an array of leather furniture – a sofa, two chairs – clustered around an aged trunk serving as a low table, and two closed doors. On the left, a cherry-stained table was piled with what looked like maps and more books. To the right, a smaller desk held a laptop computer that looked completely out of place, as the whole atmosphere reminded her of some turn-of-the-century movie setting. At the bottom of the stairs, between the table and desk, he flicked on another light to the area below her, and waited there with a mild expression of impatience.
She continued after him. The rest of the space beneath where they had entered was a kitchen, the cabinets aged wood as she had expected. The counters were cluttered with all manner of objects, some of which did not seem as though they belonged in the kitchen at all.
“Sit,” he said, pointing to one of the chairs by the table, and she meekly obeyed. Belatedly she realized she still carried her messenger bag, and now gingerly removed it without causing her shoulder much additional pain. He began rummaging through the cabinets until finally producing a white metal box marked with a red cross. When he approached her again she felt cowed by his strange, stern black stare. All of her body ached, now, and she was starving even as the core of her trembled with the shock of the last hour.
He dragged a chair to face hers and pushed books aside to make a clear spot on the table for the first aid kit. The silence continued and she watched him remove a few bottles, arranging things neatly as he would need them. Finally he glanced to her face before reaching for her arm. His fingers encircled her wrist and he gently turned her so he could see the wound.
“It’s not so bad,” he said then, glancing at her again.
His nervousness was not lost on her, but she felt too drained to do more than just notice it was there. “I ache everywhere.”
He slowly began to sterilize it and though she knew better than to cringe, she couldn’t help it as the peroxide stung. His touch became even lighter, as though she would break apart in his hands. “I may have hit you harder than I needed to,” he said. “I was in a panic. I am sorry.”
“You saved my life,” she reminded. “But why? Who are you, really?”
His eyes remained on her arm as he continued. “Do you believe in demons, Hannah?”
“What?” But he was steadfastly silent until she answered. “Um… I don’t know. I’m not really religious…”
“I do not expect you to be. But do you believe in demons?”
She knew that the concept of such a creature went deeper than any organized religion, but to the root of humanity’s fears. “I don’t know,” she finally said. “It’s a cultural trend. Every population has a story of its own. A demon is just whatever you fear the most.”
“And what of angels?” he asked calmly.
She winced again and tried to focus on the question rather than the pain. “I don’t know about that. I’m sort of an atheist.”
“Yes, I suspected as much,” he said. “Hannah, there are many things in the world which do not make sense to a logical, scientific mind. What you would call a phenomenon, for instance. I am afraid that I must ask you to believe me without the solid evidence of science to support what I tell you.”
“I saw you get struck by lightning and grow wings,” she pointed out. “I’m not expecting science.”
A faint smile ghosted his features and was gone just as quickly. “There are demons in this world, Hannah. As you have pointed out, they are a part of every culture, religion aside. Demons which steal children from their crib, which pull a fisherman into the river, which suck out the soul of a sleeper in the desert. These are what you consider a demon, yes?” He glanced at her, so she nodded, and he went back to tending her arm. “Consider, then, that a demon may be a creature of earth magic. A manifestation of nature in some cases – the river given malicious intent, the desert’s cold night brought to life, or the fears of a parent solidified to a real creature.”
“Magic?” she echoed dubiously.
“Did you not see me sprout wings?” he reminded, and she closed her mouth again. At length, he continued. “Then, if you can see what I mean about demons, consider that there is a counter to them – in essence, the same creatures, the same demons, but given a different motivation. Just as your history of humanity is filled with warring factions – fundamentally the same, but driven to different means – consider that what you call an angel is just a demon, given compassion rather than ill intent.”
“Okay,” she said slowly.
“In this world, angels and demons do exist, Hannah, and not necessarily as servants to a higher God or Satan. Demons have always lived well at the core of your world. Humans, weak-minded as they are, serve to amuse them and serve them in some cases.” Again he smiled, only briefly and sadly. “Angels find their struggles to be commendable. Humans fight to survive despite their weak natures. Angels strive to protect all life and allow it to exist naturally without the corruption brought by a demon’s magic.”
“Okay,” she said again. The dreamlike moment made the next words simple for her. “So you’re an angel?”
His expression hardened. “I am… I am neither,” he admitted.
“Remember that angels are the same as demons,” he said. “And so believe me when I say… that demons can change to love, and angels can fall to evil. Do you understand?”
He fixed her beneath his coal-black stare and she could only nod, but he waited until she spoke. “Just like… like how… humans aren’t born good or evil, but we can be either in the end?”
“Yes.” He nodded and drew back with a thoughtful look, studying her arm for a moment before reaching for a bandage. “Yes, exactly.”
When he seemed unwilling to continue, she finally prompted, “But you’re neither?”
“I… I am both,” he finally said. “My mother was an angel, and my father a demon.”
The sorrow in his voice was apparent and she was gripped with wonder at these words. “But you said they’re the same. What does it matter?”
His brow furrowed to a glare. “It does matter.” But after snapping these words he lowered his eyes again, anger cooling. “It matters more than it ought to. The angels do not welcome demons. Demons love to torment the pure angels. It is an endless conflict; it is millennia of tradition.”
She felt as though she had a revelation then. “Are you an outcast?”
Anger crossed his face again, but he did not snap a second time. “Yes.” She leaned forward to assist as he lined the gauze with shiny tape. “But that does not answer your other questions, I know. Why have I saved your life?” His fingers smoothed it down again. “In our world, Hannah, the world of angels and demons, we have our own history, our own traditions and myths. More than that, we have prophecies. As we have multiplied throughout the years, we have grown different and distinct from each other, just as any other species.”
Now he stood and she turned to watch as he went into the kitchen. He took a glass from one cupboard and filled it with a pitcher of water from the fridge, returning to place it in front of her. All at once she realized she was thirsty, and drank deeply. He sat again and opened a pill bottle as he went on. “We have our destinies. Some are born as warriors to keep the demons in check, or to battle against the angels, on the other side. Some are born as prophets, speaking warnings about the future wars, giving time to ready for them. Some are historians and teachers, continuing the traditions of our kind.” He placed four small pills in front of her. “It’s just a painkiller. Don’t worry,” he said, as an aside.
Of course she heard in her head the voice of reason reminding her not to take pills from a stranger. But her whole body hurt and she could not resist taking them, watching his face with wide eyes. Once she had swallowed, he sighed and began repacking the medical kit. “There are many more humans now than there once were. In times past, each man or woman might have had an angel to serve them, a sentry born to that one task. It is not optional, you must realize. It is our born destiny.”
She nodded again, though she didn’t fully realize what he meant, unwilling to interrupt until he was finished. “But now, in these times, there are not enough angels. The prophets dream of the future and see which humans must be saved, which are most important to the continuation of everything. As we – as the angels come of age,” he corrected, and she realized that he did consider himself as one of them, “we are inevitably… drawn to serve our duty. So many of us are invariably pulled to protect what important, fragile creatures as must be saved.”
Her mouth fell open as her brain made a connection. “Are you saying you’re my guardian angel?”
“I am not an angel,” he reminded sternly, but looked away again before continuing. “Otherwise, yes. It is my life’s work to protect you, Hannah, and only mine. I can only offer my condolences that your future is not worthy of a full-blooded angel’s life. I never wanted to reveal myself to you. I only could not stand by as you…” he trailed off.
Her head was spinning. “What do you mean, not worthy? What’s wrong with you?”
“I am tainted,” he growled, glaring at her and shoving out of the chair to pace the length of the room. “I told you. My father was a demon.”
“So… are you like… a million years old or something then?” she asked, for the moment ignoring the sensitive topic rather than drive him off answering any more questions.
His laugh was harsh. “Hardly. We grow quickly to adulthood, where we survive as long as required.”
“As long as…” she echoed dubiously.
“Yes. Once our purpose is served, we remain on Earth, in the human world, to die a hollow death without a ward to look after.”
“So if you hadn’t saved me?” she asked.
“That is not why I did so!” he shouted, whirling to her, enraged. His voice boomed with a power she could not believe, but had to.
“I just meant…” she stammered.
He wiped a hand over his face. “Forgive me. Hannah, it is not my wish to frighten you. It has always been my curse to frighten. It is why I have labored so hard to avoid showing myself to you. If not for the demon I sensed this evening, I would have left you believing me nothing but a good, human Samaritan.”
“The demon? You mean, that was the lightning we saw?”
“Yes.” He ceased pacing to cross his arms and study her harder. “Someone else was seeking you. I believe someone blinded you this afternoon with this specific intent of sending you into the bus. I do not know to what purpose.”
“Someone else? Like a demon?” A chill threaded through her spine.
“Yes,” he said, as though she were slow. “Something about your destiny has invited a demon to you, no doubt to prevent your future from unfolding. But why now? I have watched you for over eight thousand days, and no demon has ever…”
“You watched me?” she interrupted, dubious and embarrassed at the idea of this brooding, handsome stranger monitoring her daily activity. Did he mean he’d watched everything?
“It is my single purpose to protect you!” he exclaimed, spreading his hands helplessly. “How else could I serve you? The code of angels demands we not show ourselves to you, but I had little choice! I should have faced the demon in battle, but if I had died, you would have been helpless! At least here, you are safe, and if I find him, then he will not know where you’ve gone…”
She stared at him and he trailed off, closing his expression again angrily and continuing to pace. “What happens now?” she finally asked.
“Now?” He stopped again, and his eyes assessed her. “Forgive me. I did not realize you were hungry. I too could eat. I did not have time to prepare for this…” he muttered, stalking again into the kitchen.
“Angels have to eat?” It seemed hard to believe given everything else he’d said.
“Yes. I, more than most.” He admitted it, and she felt again like she’d inadvertently reminded him of his weakness. But if he was born to protect her, then he must really be more like an angel, right? If he wanted to fight the demon, then…
She shook her head. The thoughts were too unbelievable. Angels, demons? Really?
“I will order food,” he announced suddenly. “Is that acceptable?”
“Um, all right,” she agreed meekly. “But I don’t eat meat.”
He smiled at her then and for the first time seemed only genuinely amused. “Of course you don’t. Haven’t you heard me?”
She felt oddly embarrassed again. “You know everything about me?”
His smile widened. “I do not know your thoughts, only what you do, and what you feel. When you’re upset, I must be aware so I can be sure you are not in danger.”
Well, that was some relief, she thought – that her thoughts were still her own, and if he used his weird magic to know if she was hungry or tired or whatever, that wasn’t so bad. “So you’re really telling me you’re my guardian angel? I don’t care if you’re half anything, you said yourself you only want to protect me,” she added before he could remind her again.
He was serious again. “Then, yes. I am.”
“Wow.” She rubbed her eyes. “Let me guess – I can never tell anyone, right?”
“It is never a good idea,” he said. “As I told you, there is no religious aspect to this – you will not be struck down by the bolt of God if you disobey. But no one will believe you. I don’t recommend you try.”
“Figures.” She crossed her arms over her stomach. “I thought you were going to order food?”
He seemed startled, turning quickly back to the kitchen and rummaging through another drawer stuffed with papers. “Yes, of course,” he said. “Would you like anything in particular? Spare no expense, please.”
I’d like a big helping of reality check topped with ‘what the fuck,’ she thought, and tried to focus only on her growling stomach. “Um. Do you like Thai?”
“Don’t concern yourself with me,” he reminded, and immediately produced a menu, returning to hand it to her. “Anything you like. I insist.”
She looked only briefly. “Don’t you already know what I like?”
“You order many things,” he said, perplexed.
She smiled. “Well, I guess that’s true. I want veggie Penang, if that’s all right.”
“Is that enough?” he pressed. “You seem quite hungry.”
“It should be plenty,” she insisted, handing the menu back. “Can I use your bathroom?”
“Yes! Of course!” He was across the room at an impossible speed, opening the door past the couch, to the right. “Please, make yourself at home,” he added, stepping back when she slowly approached. “What is mine is yours.”
She only nodded, unsure how to answer his vehemence. The bathroom was cluttered just like the rest of everything and now she paid more attention to that fact, as though being in a smaller room allowed her mind to breathe easier. Although it was not dirty, everything in the apartment was crowded with all manner of trinkets and objects. Here was an attractive wooden floor with stone counters and a claw-footed tub with shower attached. She marveled that a creature of magic required showers and food. Was he so different from her? But she dismissed the thought immediately – of course he was. Just look at him! She relieved herself and washed at the sink, trying not to disturb anything unnecessarily. The whole of her was consumed by the single thought: what happened now?