Story Time: Gifts

He stood in his best suit. A cigarette hanging off his lips. Crimson colored hair pulled back into a tight tail. Glasses perched upon his now crooked nose. Broken one too many times. The strange, mystical healing ability it and the rest of his face once had now lost, the magic gone.

It was odd, really. Looking down at the old, weathered markers. He’d never been to any of the services. Couldn’t bear it. Couldn’t let anyone see him grieving. Not that anyone even could if he had attended.

Oh how he grieved. Each life lost, each connection broken. Sometimes reforged in new, strange ways he did not expect.

Humanity… so fragile. So strange.

A hand touched his shoulder. “It’s almost time.”

“Just a few moments more, Randy,” he said softly, then corrected himself. “Haniel.”

“Of course,” came the reply as the figure faded back into the shadows.

He took his glasses off and folded them, then tucked them inside his suit jacket’s inner pocket, then realized the futility of it. “Well boys,” he said, looking down the line. “This is goodbye. I didn’t expect it to go down this way.” He peeled the suit jacket off his shoulders, laying it across one headstone bearing the name Ryan. The last name, missing. Eroded away with an entire corner of the granite. “You were closer to me than my brothers and sisters Above could have ever been.”

Next, he unbuttoned the cuffs of his soft blue shirt. Then loosed the tie around his neck. It came off to show a scar at the juncture of his neck and chest. Jagged. Old. He took off his tie and tossed it onto the next marker. A large double headstone, usually reserved for married couples… or twins.

“Ezekiel. Elijah. In the end… you made me very proud. I’m sorry I didn’t stay. I’m sorry I wasn’t there to help raise you. But what you two managed to do, not even the Almighty could have done. I’ll get you in, despite the suicide pact.” He had finished unbuttoning his shirt, draping it over the double marker before walking down the line to the next one.
Scars crisscrossed his back. His chest. His arms… two arms that were completely different from one another. One pale, deathly pale. The other, his own. The jagged scarring at the shoulder showed the haste in which the work was done. One mossy eye stared down at the next marker, the blue beside it showing far more expression. “Samuel…. My dear Sam.”

At this, he sighed. Kicking off his shoes and using his toes to take off his socks. “I did love you, you know.” A weak, sad smile. Ash falling off the cigarette on his lips. “Perhaps that’s why I did what I did… I was supposed to leave at 30 years. It’s all we get on Earth. Longer, and we risk becoming like our brothers and sisters. Risk tainting ourselves… losing ourselves to the sins of Earth. But it was too late for me. I had changed too much… I’d lost myself to worldly desires, and cut myself off from my purpose. But I did love you, as humans love. Because of that, I could not return. Not wholly. I remained here on Earth. Forced to endure the ages alone. Invisible to the naked eye… Except for you.” He turned his attention to the last marker. Much fresher than the others. The headstone crumbling. Much older than the others and made of green marble. A marble found only in one place in the world.

But the dirt was fresh dug. Only a few weeks old. “You saw me. You knew I was still here. Haunting. Waiting for the end of days when I would finally be allowed to depart this world. When I would either be called Home, or called Below. You knew then, didn’t you? All those years ago what I truly was, when I myself did not even know. You knew… And yet…” He looked down at his pale hand. No, His pale hand. His sword hand. Then, he put that hand to his throat. Tracing the scar there… there where the flesh became different. Pale contrasting with darker, tanned skin. A smile spread across the lips that weren’t his own. Strands of crimson fell into the face that was not his as they came loose in the wind. “Is this your redemption?” he asked the green stone. He let the pale hand fall to the scarred chest. Clear, obvious open heart surgical scarring where the sternum had been cracked apart. He glanced to the others. An eye and feet from one. The heart and lungs of twins. The body of a runaway.

Then, those mismatched eyes looked back to that final marker. The crumbling green marble found only in Ireland. Imported when the man who now lay in it, in pieces, had faked his death all those years ago. To escape his own misery and loneliness, having outlived the others… Had it put in alongside the rest that now populated the family plots behind Devlin Manor. “You did all of this… Why? I… You weren’t like them. You were…”

“He felt guilty.”

Haniel had returned, placing a hand on his shoulder. “There was no reason for him to be.”

“He had corrupted you. Made you more and more human until your very essence had become tainted. Unable to return to Home with the Almighty. He saw you, lingering in the shadows. A wraith in limbo, and knew it was his own fault. He and I, we both knew what we had would never last. It couldn’t. He loved you still. I was merely… your replacement.” He shrugged. “He took care of you, in his own way, those final years of mortality that you did have. He felt guilty for not having been there to see you off as he should have been.” Haniel squeezed his shoulder. “His task was to save 10,000 mortal souls. Here before you, you see Ryan Miyazaki, number 9,997. Ezekiel Bedford and Elijah Devlin, numbers 9,998 and 9,999. Samuel James Devlin, number 10,000. And Willem Danyale Connor the 3rd, number 1.”

“How could he be any of them, let alone the first?”

Haniel smiled. “He never told you the truth of what he was and how he came to be, did he?” Haniel shook his head and let his hand fall from his comrade’s shoulder. Then moved to sit himself upon the green marker. White wings stretched outward, expanding to their full size before shaking as if to get the dust off, and laying against his back again. “He was a demon. A king of Hell and Lucifer’s right hand in matters of advice and counsel. This much is true. As he had readied for his ascension to Earth in the first wave of this war, a sort of scout for our enemy, a child appeared in his throne room. Scared. Sobbing. Beaten and bloodied.

“Sheol… Belial… he was not like the others of Lucifer’s court. He rebelled because of his conscience, and for the right to be equal to man, whom he saw as his brother. He fought to protect man’s right to learn and grow and make mistakes. To use his mind and expand and evolve. So imagine, the only Fallen angel to ever best Michael, finding an innocent in Hell. He did not take it well. And sought to make it right. When he ascended to discover the child was in fact the vessel chosen for him… he refused to leave the child’s soul in Hell. He brought him back, and kept him safe. Acting as his guardian and his protector. Destroying anyone and anything that had caused the child harm. It was this that had prompted the Almighty to make him a deal. To task him to save 9,999 more. In return, he could become mortal and in such a way, return to Heaven.

“When he saved the final soul, do you know what he did with that gift? He asked for one more. To save one more soul. And in doing so, he sacrificed everything he had worked for. Everything he had longed to have. To save you.” Haniel looked down at the dirt. “This form, cobbled together the best he could manage, is the best part of every person he held dear. You held dear. He gave you his adopted children’s lungs and heart, because you had a weak one. And you had trouble breathing after exerting yourself. He gave you his fighting arm, with which to protect yourself. His face and head and mind, which had seen so much, and had expanded and learned the ways of this wicked world, so that you may better navigate it. And so that when others see your face, they know the fear he instilled in them, an advantage you will need against our enemy. His lover’s feet and eye. Because the man was fast, the swiftest he had ever known, for when you need to turn and run. The eye because despite it’s blindness, it can see so much more than the world of color and light. The heightened senses it brings help with your reflexes, maximizing your awareness of your surroundings. All placed on the body of a boy who chose to run away than face his problems. Because it had become empty long before it had died. And thus was a clean vessel. All people who loved you dearly. All put together to give you the best you could possibly have.”

“I am undeserving.”

“They didn’t think so. The mightiest warrior of Lucifer’s rebellion didn’t think so. You were the love of his life. He had to do what he could to save you. Undeserving, quite possibly. But that remains to be seen. Come now, Azrael. It has been too long since Death has taken the field of battle. Let us fight side by side, and have the Morning Star see the true might of humanity’s champions. I can think of no better replacement in our ranks for Sheol than you.”

“Tyler,” he said gently, taking one final look down the line of graves. Old, and new. The crumbling stones that served as reminders of a past he’d long ago thought was left behind. “I prefer the name Tyler.”

Black, leathery wings burst from his bare back, old and ragged. But still powerful and mighty. The wings of a demon of Hell, cut off long ago when Lucifer’s ranks were cast down from the skies. These were the final gift of the mad, drunken, foul Irishman called Alabaster.

This short is dedicated to some of my old friends, who never really got to know me through anything other than our shared stories and shared interests. People who’s faces I never saw, and who never saw mine. It’s been so long since I’ve spoken to any of them. They were part of a rather… odd and confusing and dark part of my life. This is my goodbye, after all this time, to them. Don’t worry, they’re still alive. Contact was lost years ago, though. And we’ve each moved on. This is just me saying farewell to the old days, while I will cherish the profound impact they each had on my life.

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