He said, “Oh s—.”
He ran to the top of the hill in a blur. Out of morbid curiosity and the sudden feeling of being infinitesimally small I didn’t want to be left alone. I scrambled up the rocks after him and eventually reached the top to find him in a fast, low-voiced argument with three haloed women.
Their conversation abruptly stopped as they turned to stare at me. I was still seeing in soulvision so I stared back, fascinated to see a glimpse, a sliver, of them in their truer forms.
They were too intense to look at. Each of them uniquely beautiful but you just don’t stare into three suns at the same time. Can’t be done.
One of them, though, was a tiny pinpoint of perfection as if someone had grabbed a handful of galaxies and squeezed until they were compacted into one single point in space. One perfect, smaller than atomic particles point shimmering and radiating.
I snapped out of it when she said, “What are you looking at, Speck?”
I swear to you that I did not say this out loud, but I thought, “Look who’s talking.”
I must have thought it very loudly, though, because the expression on the face of her human body turned to impatient anger.
She said, “Gabriel, who the f— is this?”
I said, “The Gabriel?”
Gabriel said, “No. Not the Gabriel. It’s more of a title these days.”
The last of the female angels said, “Want human man gone, Gabriel? We to talk. Now. For fast.”
“Gone?” I said. I could sense her powering up and my vision began to dim and fade at the edges.
“No, Beautiful,” Gabriel said. “He’s got a little Sight now. My fault. I should make sure he adjusts.”
Beautiful was a churning storm of motion and waves. Tendrils of energy ribboned out in a display that would have put a peacock to shame. Occasionally her tendrils would wave and dance as if blown by an invisible wind.
“That wasn’t smart, Gabriel”, the third woman said.
“I know. I agree, Grace,” Gabriel said.
Her halo was blackness. Not just the color black. Not even the absence of light black. It was so much nothing that it was something. Like if you tripped and fell into her you would end up somewhere else or nowhere. Or maybe you’d just cease to exist.
“I’ll deal with it,” Gabriel said.
“Well do it later,” Edna said.
“Grace, Beautiful, and — Edna?” I said to myself and under my breath.
“Hey, Speck,” Edna said to me. “How’d you get that scar across your eyebrow?”
I said, “What scar? I don’t have a –”
As I was looking at her she seemed to flicker. Almost imperceptibly. I suddenly remembered an accident as a child that resulted in stitches and a permanent scar across my right eyebrow. That memory was not there before but I could feel it quickly blending in, becoming my past.
I instinctively reached up to my brow. I stammered, “What? How? Hey, that qualifies as child abuse. Edna.”
Gabriel shot me a glance as if he were warning off a toddler about to the pull the tail of a mother cat with a fresh batch of kittens.
“I left my camera by the river,” I said, and in the name of self preservation started to make my way down the rock scramble and scree to retrieve it.
Confused and a little dazed, I sat down on a cold rock and watched the falls and the rapids for a bit. The wind picked up and the cold started to find its way back into my bones. Things looked different now looking through the Sight — soulvision sounds a lot cooler to me. Registered trademark.
There was a depth and substance to the world that I hadn’t noticed before. I could feel it working. As I relaxed and breathed slowly. I could feel my soul brimming over the confines of whatever acted as its natural container. With concentration I found I could make the world around me brighter or I became more sensitive to it and then I reigned it back in. Turn it up brighter, turn it down dimmer.
I’m not stupid, though. I figure it’s like a tube of toothpaste. You can squeeze the tube just a little and the toothpaste will come out. Then you let go and the toothpaste retracts back inside the tube. But once you squeeze the toothpaste out there’s no way to get it back in. I can just see it now. My soul squirting out of my body and the AWA squad up there getting a good laugh out of it.
It also made me extremely tired so I stopped. I remembered that the camera was still recording a time lapse. I picked it up and switched over to view the images. It would have been another typical sunrise time lapse with an unremarkable sky if not for Gabriel’s lower legs appearing in the frame. I kept scrolling the images. Every once in a while his legs would go translucent as if it were a double exposure. Interesting.
Might make an interesting YouTube video. Then I got to the ones where I had just come back down to the river and sat in front of the camera doing my soul breathing. Nothing looked out of the ordinary. I was hoping to see some Hollywood-esque special effects.
Disappointing. It was the last photo that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up, though.
It was a shot of me reaching for the camera just before I shut off the time lapse. In the photo previewed on the camera’s rear LCD screen I saw a black shape rise out of the water behind. It had the outline of a large predator the size of a bear suffering from gigantism but it didn’t seem to have any substance. It was like a doorway to nothing. I couldn’t tell you what it was, what it looked like, or if it had fangs, claws, limbs, horns or what but I know a predator when I see one and I know prowling. In the photo it leaned over me in an act that looked like sniffing and — was that licking, tasting?
A chill ran up my spine and then tripped over itself running back down my spine. I turned around slowly but there was nothing there. I looked at the camera screen as the predatory blackness repeated its recorded ascent out of the water and looming over me. Terror was replaced by confusion. How the hell can a still image record motion?
No. Nope. Angels weren’t the only ones breaking the rules that day, apparently.
I ran and stumbled up the rocks as quickly as I could, trying to tamp down any rising, clumsy panic that would result in ankle spraining.
“Hey, Gabriel,” I said as I caught my breath at the top.
Edna said, “It’s your pet human again. Thought I told you to sit and be a good boy. No speak.”
Grace and Beautiful eyed each other. Gabriel seemed resigned to the drama. Edna had, for some reason, decided that she did not like me. That was fine because the feeling was mutual.
I ignored her. I said, “There’s something. There was something down by the water. Look at this.”
I fumbled with the camera and then handed it to Gabriel. He turned the screen so the rest of the angels could see it. They all looked at Gabriel and then at me and then back at the screen.
“I don’t understand,” I said. “I didn’t see or hear anything and — wait a minute. That’s a still photo. That’s a picture. It’s not a video. What is that and why is it stalking around sampling me like a kabob in a goddamn still photo?”
“What were you doing down there?” Grace said.
“I was just — you know. Sitting. Breathing. Trying out the soulv — the Sight. Turn it up, turn it down.”
Edna laughed out loud. “Way to ring the dinner bell, dumbass.”
Did I mention that I don’t like her? Sometimes people can bring out the worst in me and I can sarcasm it up with the best of them.
“I’ll pick you up at eight,” I said. Now that’s sarcasm.
Edna said, “Unless you’ve got a testicle or two to spare to another childhood accident I suggest that you keep quiet.”
She glowed brighter and pulsed as she said it. I shut up.
“Okay. Okay. Everybody calm,” Beautiful said. I don’t know if English was her second or twentieth language but she talked however she wanted. Verbs be damned. Then again what do you expect from someone whose name is an adjective.
Beautiful said, “For come hungry beast. One many. Need find for why. Gabriel find for why? Take human man. Sisters for bigger.”
Gabriel sighed. “I’m on it,” he said.
I said, “I didn’t catch that.”
He said, “Come on. Let’s go. We’ve got a lot to do and not much time to do it.”
“Hey,” I said. “Look. I’ll give you a ride somewhere if you need it, but I’ve got stuff to do, too. Like work.”
“Call in sick,” he said. “I’m going to need your help.”
I actually felt a little reluctant pride hearing that. It’s good to be needed even when you have no idea why, especially by a supernatural entity. Is that the right word? I felt like Shortround in the “Temple of Doom”. Edna bursted my bubble, though, and not without some apparent glee.
She said, “What he means is, you’re the bait, Speck.”