The below is an early (read: first), potential draft of the second chapter of a book that I’m currently working on. This is – as previously discussed – a chance for me to share some of my “other” writing projects. This follows the first chapter titled “Passing to Eternity.”
The cold metal sent shivers through my body as I awakened on a cadaver dissection table. My mind raced, trying to put together the fragmented pieces of what had happened. The events on the church stairs returned to me, the memories playing through my mind like a movie in slow motion. I could almost feel the impact of the bullets again, but the vision of Amanda’s lifeless eyes struck me with even greater force.
Opening my eyes, I looked around the room. I had seen autopsy rooms on television, but the possibility of awakening in one had never crossed my mind. Lying on the cold metal table and looking at the identification tag on my toe, it occurred to me that my own autopsy must have been imminent. I tried to gather myself as I sat up and examined my body, my eyes and hands searching for the bullet wounds. To my surprise, I could find no evidence of the wounds or the bullets that had inflicted them.
Just as I prepared to stand up, the door of the room opened, and an attractive young woman in a white lab coat entered the room. I stood up and hopped behind the table to cover my nakedness, but to my surprise, she simply looked up at my face as though nothing were amiss. She had the particular sort of striking features and perfect complexion that often seemed to grace people born of mixed Asian and Caucasian descent. Though thin and no taller that five and a half-feet, she carried herself with a presence more forceful than would normally be expected of a young woman her age. She wore small glasses that graced the end of her nose, and she looked at me not with any sense of surprise or apprehension, but rather a detached curiosity. I tried to speak, but she shook her head.
“I see that you’re finally awake,” she said calmly. “That’s good, because we don’t have a lot of time before the coroner shows up to begin your autopsy, and that just wouldn’t do.”
I stared at her in shock for a moment before finally blurting out, “What’s going on? Is this hell? Purgatory, maybe?”
She shook her head and said, “Nope, just what passes for a morgue in Double Springs, Alabama.” She paused and then said, “Look, I know that you must have a lot of questions, but now really isn’t the time. We need to get out of here.”
Looking at the young woman incredulously, I sputtered, “I don’t even know who the hell you are. Why would I go anywhere with you?”
She sighed again and said, “I’m not good at this stuff. I don’t know why they always insist on sending me on these retrieval missions.” She paused for a moment, as though suddenly realizing that her approach might not persuade me. “Look, in a few minutes, the coroner is going to come through that door and have an awful lot of questions about why Gideon Wainwright isn’t dead, and I don’t think you want to deal with that.”
“Funny, because I’m pretty curious about why I’m not dead too,” I replied evenly. “So, if you want me to go anywhere with you, I’m afraid that you’re going to have to give me something more. Like, for starters, who you are, why you’re here, and oh yeah, why am I not dead?”
“Fine, but promise me that if I answer your questions, you will come with me regardless of whether or not you like my answers.” Her tone adamant, I acquiesced with a nod, as the thought of the coroner coming in to perform an autopsy on me unnerved me anyway.
“First, my name is Anabelle Martell, although you can feel free to just call me Ana,” she offered quickly. “Secondly – and I’m sure this is going to sound weird – I’m here because I was sent to guide you and make sure you transitioned safely.” She waited for me to absorb the words before adding, “And the reason you aren’t dead is because you’re not human. Well, not strictly anyway.”
I sat in stunned silence for a moment before I laughed. “What the hell is going on here? I mean really? Is this some sort of hidden camera show? You really can’t be serious.”
“See, this is why I made you promise,” she responded. “Now, let’s go.”
I waited for a moment and then said softly, “Amanda?”
Ana looked at me with what seemed to be genuine sadness. “She’s dead, Gideon. Normal people don’t survive being shot repeatedly by a high-powered assault rifle.”
“But I did, because I’m not human, right?” I asked caustically. “So what the hell am I?”
“We really don’t have time for this Gideon,” she sighed. “I know that this is all way too much to absorb right now, and believe me, if it had been up to me, this would not be getting sprung on you like this.”
Now I looked at her in anger. “Does that mean that someone knew this was going to happen? That someone could have prevented Amanda’s death?”
She shook her head. “It’s complicated, but it’s not like that. All I meant is that I think that you deserved to know the truth a long time ago. I’ve always known I was different, but you grew up believing you were normal. That makes this harder.”
“You still haven’t told me what I am, Ana.”
She closed her eyes and then said, “There are a lot of things that people don’t believe are real that exist. The veil between this world and others is thin at times. I can explain all of the background to you later, but to keep it simple, Gideon, you are half-angel, the offspring of a mortal woman and an angel of God.”
I snorted in disbelief and looked at her incredulously. “You’re kidding, right?”
“No, I’m afraid I’m not. Your father is the angel Tabris, he who presides over free will and self determination.”
“Even if all this were true, how would you know? How would you know to come here? None of this makes any sense!” I nearly screamed.
“Please, Gideon, calm down,” she answered. “I know this is way too much to absorb right now, but we really don’t want to draw unwanted attention. It would bring trouble that neither of us needs. The mortal world has enough questions without having to worry about Gideon Wainwright rising from the dead. As for how I know these things, I work with a group called the Covenant. They can tell you a lot more than I can, but you need to come with me.”
“So these people, this Covenant, will have all the answers?” I asked finally after forcing myself to calm down.
“I can’t promise that you will get every answer you want,” she replied, “but I’m confident that they will be able to help you adjust.”
I thought about it for a moment and realized that I didn’t have a whole lot of choices at the moment. “I’ll go with you. There is so much I need to figure out, but I want you to understand that I don’t trust you yet.” It occurred to me even as I spoke that she was right, there would be a whole lot of questions I didn’t want to answer if I was found alive without so much as a scratch on me.
She smiled slightly. “Yeah, no kidding. The paramedics on scene tried to revive you, but normal people don’t come back from the wounds you endured. Of course, if your angelic regeneration had ever kicked in before today, you’re healing process would have been a whole lot faster, and those paramedics would have been in for a real shock.”
“So if I’m an angel, where are my wings?” I asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Half-angel, and those will come in time. With practice,” she answered calmly as she walked over to the cadaver table and handed me a neatly folded and pressed Winston County Sheriff’s deputy uniform and a pair of shoes across it. “Now put this on and you and I are going to walk out of here like were headed off to grab some lunch together.”
“I want to see Amanda before I go,” I replied as I took the clothes.
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea, Gideon,” she replied with a frown. “We’re pushing our luck as is. Besides, it’s possible the coroner already started to . . . You don’t want to see that.”
“She’s really gone, isn’t she?”
“I’m afraid so.” I could see empathy in Ana’s eyes, but she clearly had no idea what to say. What words could one offer?
“I’m going to find out who did this and I’m going to make sure that he pays.”
“I’d warn you about the potential consequences with interfering in a mortal investigation, but I don’t think I could do any different in your shoes.” She turned away before adding, “This has been awkward enough. I’m going to wait for you to get those clothes on.”
I pulled the uniform on quickly while Anabelle made a pointed effort to face away from me. As strange as the whole situation felt to me, I found myself wondering what she was going through as well. What would I do in her place? Certainly the task she had been given was a difficult one.
“I’m ready,” I said finally as I double checked to make sure that my shirt was properly tucked in and my badge and other accoutrements were properly in place. Slipping on the non-descript shoes, I asked, “Where did you get the uniform? It looks authentic.”
“I stole it,” she replied casually as she headed for the door. “Greater good and all that jazz.”
“Doesn’t seem quite right,” I answered as I slowly followed her.
She shrugged as she cautiously opened the door and peered out into the hall. Satisfied, she stepped out and motioned for me to follow. I closed the door behind me and moved to walk beside her down the hall.
“What about my personal effects? Like my wallet?” I asked.
“Quiet,” she replied evenly. “I’m a professional. I already stole your personal effects and hid them in my car, Gideon.”
“You’ve done this before then?” I asked in genuine curiosity.
“Once, but I’d rather not talk about it,” she answered as we reached the glass doors that would take us out into the parking lot.
I opened the door and held it for her, but my eyes shot back to the hallway. Despite Anabelle’s sensible warning, part of me still wanted to see Amanda one last time. I hesitated for a moment, standing in the door as though caught between the familiar past and a surreal future.
As though she sensed what was going through my mind, Anabelle said, “Don’t torture yourself, Gideon. Amanda’s gone, and you need to believe that she’s in a better place.”
I closed my eyes and tried to clear my head, but part of me wanted nothing more than to burst out laughing at the absurdity of it all. I hesitated a moment longer and then let the door close. Anabelle nodded and then walked toward the parking lot. I followed her because I realized suddenly that other than finding Amanda’s killer, I had no purpose. As I walked toward the parking lot, I wondered if my old life as a high school history teacher mattered anymore. I felt that strange apprehension that comes with uncertainty.
“So tell me about this Covenant thing,” I said finally as Anabelle and I reached a black Ford Taurus. “You would think they could give you a better ride if they’re going to make you sneak into morgues.”
“It’s low key,” she replied as she pressed a button on her key fob to unlock the car. “It attracts a lot more attention to ride around in a Corvette.”
I nodded along absently as I opened the passenger side door and climbed into the seat. Anabelle slid into the driver’s seat and fastened her seat belt before closing the door. As I shut my own door and made sure to secure my own seat belt, she fired up the car.
As we backed out, I said, “So where is this Covenant? Do we have a long drive to look forward too?”
“I understand that you have a lot of questions, Gideon, and I will do my best to answer them,” she replied as we pulled out of the parking lot. “The Covenant has multiple locations, but we’ll be going to an operations center in Baltimore. As to what exactly the Covenant is and what we do, I’m probably not the best person to explain.”
“Well, I’d like you to try anyway. I’ve been pretty cooperative given the circumstances, and I feel like I’ve got a right to know.”
“Fair enough.” She paused a moment, and I recognized the look on her face as she contemplated what to tell me versus what to leave out. “First John, chapter three, verse two; ‘Beloved, now we are the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.’
“That phrase is the foundation upon which the Covenant was founded, or as Saint Athanasius of Alexandria put it, ‘God became man so that man might become God.’ The Covenant was founded on the principle of theosis. The idea being that by embracing the spiritual teachings of Jesus Christ, one can attain a union with God. A group of believers who understood the real threats that the world faced banded together under this doctrine to protect the world from threats beyond the understanding of most mortals. From this early and informal school arose the Covenant, an organization dedicated to channeling the power of the divine for the good of humanity, that one day we may regain what was lost when Adam and Eve sinned.”
“So the Covenant is some sort of group of Christian mystics?” I asked in genuine curiosity. The idea of secret Christian groups had long been an interest of mine, even if I had never conceived of quite such a clandestine agency.
“It’s more than that, but yes,” replied Ana. “There are many other schools of thought out there, but the Covenant takes it’s duties very seriously. If humanity is to achieve the ultimate goal of returning to God’s grace, then it must be protected from the elements of existence that seek to delay or destroy such progress.”
“What are some of these threats that you speak of?”
“You might think of them as the supernatural. Demons for instance. Just as your father was an angel and you are half-angel, demons too exist. There are also those who would bend the divine energies for a more sinister end. Not all mystical philosophies seek the same end.”
“So, like sorcerers?”
“Yes. Exactly like that. There are many different philosophies of magic.” She paused and smiled to herself before adding, “but don’t get the wrong idea, it isn’t like every fantastical thing ever dreamed up is real, or at least, not here.”
“What does that mean?”
“Well, there are all sorts of theories about other dimensions and what they may or may not contain, but that’s all pretty unclear at the moment. No one has really managed to crack the mysteries of dimensional magic yet.”
I shook my head. “So I’m just supposed to accept that all of this is real and go on with my life? How come people don’t know about these things?”
“There are a lot of things your average everyday person doesn’t know,” she shot back. “Sometimes it’s because they’re simply unaware, sometimes it’s because of willful ignorance, and sometimes it’s because there are an awful lot of people working to keep the veil of secrecy in place. Even still, it’s not like the occasional story doesn’t make it through, but luckily it’s rare enough that people usually dismiss those events as having a rational explanation.”
“You mentioned something before about consequences for interfering in a mortal investigation when I talked about tracking down Amanda’s murderer?”
“Well, see, that’s part of the whole deal. The Covenant makes it a point not to get involved in strictly mundane matters because it brings extra risk of exposure.”
“And what about the bad guys? Why would they care about being revealed?”
“In some ways they have it worse than we do,” laughed Ana. “Their best bet is to slowly corrupt humanity and turn it toward their own ends. How do you think people would react if they knew demons were real? I think suddenly you would have a whole lot of people believing in God.”
“Well, if that’s the case, then why doesn’t the Covenant want everything to come out so that humanity can rise up and confront the demons?”
“See, humanity is the key here,” she replied without looking at me. “Your father has always vociferously guarded the human right to chose, and that makes humanity responsible for its own fate, in a way completely foreign to angels and demons. It’s one of the reasons Lucifer fell. Neither the Covenant nor angels can expose themselves to humanity en masse because humanity needs to return to God freely, not because they see physical proof of his existence.”
“So God doesn’t want his or her design known then?”
“That’s exactly it. No one knows the mind of God, not even the angels. I can tell you what I know, Gideon, but I don’t have the whole picture by any means. All I do know is that the angels and demons seem to play by an ancient set of rules that only they understand. Humanity is caught in the middle, and the Covenant does its best to make sure that people are shielded from games played by powers outside our understanding .”
I sat quietly for a moment and then said, “How did you know what I was? Where to find me?”
“I didn’t know anything about you until a couple days ago,” replied Anabelle. “My boss just told me that signs indicated a major event in Addison, Alabama. He told me a bit later that it involved the son of the angel Tabris and that I needed to make sure that we got to you before someone else did. So I raced down here, but your energy signature was too faint to track until after the shooting.”
“You can track energy signatures?”
“I have enough skill with manipulating divine energy that I can easily track down powerful supernatural entities, yes. You’re signature was faint until your angelic half kicked in to save you from certain death. Someone or something had placed a glamour on you to hide that part of you from prying eyes. It’s why you weren’t on our radar before. Luckily Father Eldred’s divinations picked up on what was coming.”
“So there may be people or demons after us right now?” I asked in concern.
“It’s possible,” she offered with a shrug. “We have no idea whether the shooting at the church was connected to you or not. It might have been random or it might have been part of something deliberate.” She turned and looked at me briefly as she added, “I will do everything in my power to help you find out what happened.”
“I appreciate that,” I answered after a moment of silence, “but why put yourself out on my account?”
She smiled but offered no answer, leaving me to my thoughts. Looking out the window, I watched the signs as we followed I-59 through Alabama and headed for Georgia. I tried to reconcile the life I had known with everything that Anabelle had told me, but I felt disconnected, as though I were living through some strange, waking dream. Amanda’s face returned to me every so often, smiling at me from the window, but she represented a life I could no longer reach. It had slipped from my grasp without my ever knowing how much I had to lose. Part of me wanted nothing more than to break down then and there, but I didn’t want to do it in front of Anabelle, so I closed me eyes and gathered myself as a couple of tears rolled down my cheeks.
“You should get some sleep,” offered Ana without looking at me. “In time, you’re angelic abilities will make it so you really won’t need much, but until then, you’re still feeling the needs of your human half. Regenerating from those wounds probably took a lot out of you.”
“Yeah, I do feel pretty beat,” I replied with a nod as I wiped the tears away with my left hand before closing my eyes and drifting off to sleep.