If the Dead Rise Not

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.

Passing to Eternity

The below is an early (read: first), potential draft of the first 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 first chapter is tentatively titled “Passing to Eternity.”

“And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work!” cried the preacher, sweat beading on his brow as he spoke. “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last! Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city.” The preacher’s words were fiery missives that seemed to cut through the air like bullets, lodging in the mind with distinctive force.

I tried to concentrate on his words rather than his forceful delivery style, but the heat and the oppressive presence of the parishioners packed in around me distracted me. Never one to remain calm and patient in the face of such petty annoyances, I fidgeted as the animated preacher continued to preach from the Book of Revelations, exhorting the true believers to prepare themselves for the coming of Armageddon as he whipped the faithful into a frenzy with deliberate gesticulations. It struck me that some part of Reverend Jeremiah Wheeler believed every word he said, but then Southern Baptists often took the words of the Bible quite literally. There were those who would have proclaimed him a walking cliché, but it struck me that anyone who did so would be selling the Reverend short. Looking into his aged eyes, I knew there had to be more to him than the face he showed the world.

I tried to fan myself with the order of service leaflet the usher had handed me, but my efforts were to no avail. I glanced beside me to my beautiful fiancée and tried to smile. Amanda Folsom, of course, was the reason I found myself in a Southern Baptist church in the little town of Addison, Alabama. As northerner with a strong bias for the east coast, I had been stubborn about visiting Amanda’s hometown, but her persistence had worn me down. She had informed me that she would refuse to marry me if I would not visit her family in Alabama. As I was very much in love with her, I acquiesced after putting up a token defense. Sometimes you have to sacrifice for those you love. My parents had taught me that much.

Amanda and I had met as college sophomores at Boston University. Though we came from totally different worlds, we were drawn towards each other. It took us three years and a great deal of prodding from our friends to realize that we were meant for each other, however. Now engaged, Amanda and I were as happy as we had ever been, although my current surroundings were serving to dampen my good mood. Never much for religion, I had come to Amanda’s old church with her out of a sense of duty, but I felt now that I had made a mistake. I had long hated the way that some people seemed to use their believe in God as a weapon to denigrate others.

In trying to force myself to be objective, I had to acknowledge that my study of medieval history in college had left me with a rather cynical view of organized religion. I understood only to well that the reality was a complicated one of course. Christianity had served as a civilizing force and had indeed done some good, but the historical record made it difficult for me to not weigh the Church’s sins equally on the scales of balance. Amanda’s right hand touched my arm, pulling me from my own thoughts. I smiled at her briefly as she brushed a lock of straw blond hair away from her face with her free hand. My eyes fixated on that stray lock of hair that seemed to have escaped the severe ponytail into which she had cajoled her hair. Part of me was struck by just how different it was from the carefree style in which she normally wore her hair.

Turning my head back to the front of the church, I tried to focus back in on Reverend Wheeler’s sermon. He was quoting now from Genesis, as he said, “Now it came about, when men began to multiply on the face of the land, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose. Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; nevertheless his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.” I remembered the passage from my youth.

My mother had told me tales of the Nephilim when I was a child, but I had dismissed it as yet another of her oddities. Despite her love for angels – which included the habit of collecting angel-themed trinkets of questionable value and aesthetic – I had never imagined my mother a religious woman. She never seemed to go to church, and though nominally a Christian, she never demonstrated a particular affinity for any given sect. More fascinated by the tales of angels and demons than the gospels of Jesus and more interested in the flowery and oft disturbing language of the Book of Revelations than she was in the Gospels of Jesus, my mother imparted in me a desire to understand the Bible not as a believer, but rather a scholar.

The sermon ended as I looked over at Amanda’s shining face, which seemed to glow from the slight sheen of sweat brought on by the heat. We stood up together to sing the closing hymn, and I kissed her forehead before the choir and the organist launched into a towering rendition of “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”. Amanda smiled up at me as the congregation joined in the song, and in that moment, I felt true happiness. All of the irritation of the crowded church and the moist heat seemed to melt away as the entire church sang. The Choir and Reverend Wheeler shuffled down the aisle and out of the church as the hymn continued. With the song’s end, people began to file out.

I took a long look at Amanda as I handed her purse to her after lifting it from the pew in which we had been sitting. She smiled and kissed me quickly before taking the purse from me. I marveled at how fabulous she looked in the simple sundress that she was wearing, and I silently reminded myself that the outfit was one benefit of having come to Alabama, for she rarely wore such things in Boston, preferring to “maintain a sophisticated look for a sophisticated city,” as she always said. I rarely bothered to remind her that we New Englanders were not as sophisticated as some of us pretended to be.

“Well, what do you have to say for yourself, Gideon?” she asked with a playful smile as the two of us stepped out into the aisle amidst the crowd headed for the church’s exit.

“Well, Miss Folsom,” I replied with a droll and affected seriousness as I attempted to maintain a straight face, “if it is amenable to your father, I should like to come call upon you this evening.”

“Why, how forward of you Mister Wainwright,” she replied in a perfect southern accent as she batted her eyelashes at me. I couldn’t help but laugh.

I took her hand as we walked down the aisle toward the open door of the church. The light of the sun streamed down, illuminating the open portal in a fashion that struck me as rather like a painting you might see in a high-end art museum. I dismissed such thoughts as we slowly reached the door, the people in front of us taking their sweet time to speak to the Reverend as he greeted everyone at the exit. I too took his hand, shaking it with vigor, but my gaze went to the Reverend’s eyes. The sadness of those aging brown orbs struck me profoundly, and I wondered what they had seen to carry such a burden.

Amanda squeezed my arm, breaking me from my reverie, and with a quick nod, I released Reverend Wheeler’s hand. Amanda looked at my face, but I remained impassive as we descended the steps of the church. The first shot barely registered in my mind as it sounded, but I felt a sudden, intense eruption of pain as it connected with my right shoulder, jerking my body to the side with the force of the impact. As I stumbled, I again heard the report of a rifle, and I watched in horror as a crimson stain spread across Amanda’s chest. She looked at me in confusion before she gazed down at the gaping wound in her chest.

I tried to move toward her, to take her in my arms as I had so many times before, but the whole world moved in slow motion around me. The screams of the people around us barely registered as they ran for cover. I wondered in the eternity that passed as I reached out for Amanda if escape were possible. The thoughts that passed through my mind in those interminable moments were vivid but fleeting, as elusive as the strands of time itself.

Another shot rang out. Amanda fell, the bullet striking her in the forehead. She crumpled to the ground as I reached her. A rational mind would have understood that it was too late, but such rationality had fled me already. As I reached her, another bullet struck me, this time in the abdomen. I spun half way around, falling to my knees beside Amanda. The life that had filled her eyes only moments before had fled already. I tried to scream, to cry out, but I could not tell whether any audible sound issued forth. A third shot struck me in the left shoulder. I could feel no pain though my body jerked with the impact of the bullet. I had no idea how many shots had been fired as I tried to pull Amanda’s limp form into my lap.

All around me, people moved, their arms and legs becoming an indistinguishable blur to my quickly fading mind. I heard the rifle fire once again, though I perceived no evidence of where the shot went or even where it came from. I brushed the stray lock of hair from Amanda’s face and spoke her name as though I had the power to call her back from death. No such miracle occurred, however, as a fourth shot struck me in the chest.

As my lungs filled with blood, I felt the sudden insight that I would die. Such a thought should have occurred to me before, but somehow my mind had denied that possibility. Never had I considered the possibility that my life might be cut short with such violence. Did I not deserve to die of old age? Why should my fate be to die a random death on the steps of a church? I could sense now people gathering around me as my eyes closed and my body slumped.

My life did not flash before my eyes as I died. Instead, I saw nothing but the darkness of oblivion. Humanity fears death – the end of existence in the mortal world. The unknown obliterates the familiar certainty of daily life. I would be lying if I said I understand what humans go through. I never had the chance to learn what happens when a mortal dies, because for me, death was simply a new beginning.