Avalyn and Father Purgeon sat at the desk. The priest was still soaking in what she’d told him earlier. The cigarette buds in the ashtray had piled up. He lit another and looked over at Sarah, asleep on the couch. She looked peaceful. About as peaceful as a corpse, Father Purgeon thought. But her chest rose and fell evenly, dispelling his dark comparison.
He wondered why she’d reminded him of a cadaver. It took him a moment, but he finally figured it out. There was a stillness about her that seemed so natural that it was unnatural. Neither smile nor frown played with her lips. No eye-dance beneath drawn lids. No twitching of limbs, hands folded in front of her, legs straight out, relaxed though, not tense. There was no change in the cadence of her breathing, equal amount of intake and equal amount of exhalation.
Avalyn absently ran her fingertips over the spines of the books piled on the desk, most of them pertaining to the same topic, angelic lore.
Father Purgeon was still marveling over her appearance. She looked as fresh as a daisy, radiant and unmarred, making him think of a newborn baby’s skin, that pristine purity.
“Interested in angels?” he asked. When she didn’t answer, he continued. “I study them. It’s a hobby. Been fascinated with them since I was a kid, about your age.”
“They do exist you know,” Avalyn said. “The Shadowy Man, he’s an angel. My guardian angel, you can say. He’s been watching over me my whole life. But there’s only so much he can do because of where he is.”
“And where is that?”
“In the Deadtime. He uses the doorways there to reach me. He hides from the others there, uses the doors to escape when they come near.”
“The Deadtime? The others? ” Father Purgeon’s last question filled him with familiar dread. He recalled Roman warning him of others, ‘Others that may come for her if for no other reason than to get to me’, he remembered him saying when he’d dropped Avalyn off at the rectory.
“The Deadtime is where each and every all exists, through its infinite doorways,” Avalyn said. “The others are angels, like him. He’s hiding from the Hunters, keeping them away from me. They want me dead. To them I’m a mistake, something that wasn’t intended.”
“Why are they hunting him? Why do they want you dead?”
“Because he did something he wasn’t supposed to do.”
“And what was that?” Father Purgeon pressed.
“He sent me here. Before they made me forget where I came from. Like they do to every soul before they’re born.”
This was getting much bigger than the priest could’ve possibly imagined. Yet, he was more fascinated than frightened, as he’d been last night when Roman had shown him what he was, for no matter how powerful faith flowed through him, confirmation of an existence beyond mortal life was in some way a vindication for all he believed and held dear. On the other hand, he was terrified at what he’d find out because he might not like the way things actually were beyond the corporeal realm. The priest hadn’t noticed that he’d been holding his breath. He relaxed and released it.
“I could try to explain it, Father, but words can’t, not exactly. I showed Sarah. I made her remember. I made her see what everybody knows before they are born and after they die. If people knew what Sarah knows now, then life wouldn’t be much of a test. Their choices would be different. It’s sorta like cheating.”
“Then why did you do it to Sarah, whatever it is that you did? Why won’t you do it to me? I’d like to know what happens after death. I’d like to know where we came from.”
“Because you don’t need it. Your faith is your truth. And like Roman said, ‘It is all you will ever need’. Not everybody’s as strong as you, Father. The Shadowy Man knew this. It’s why he sent me. One of the reasons, at least. Sarah didn’t need to hold on to her suffering anymore. Her pain was only getting in her way. There are so many souls like hers.” Avalyn’s face filled with sorrow. Then her eyes hardened. “The other side’s not playing fair, Father. They’re cheating, any chance they get. Lots of good souls aren’t getting to Heaven, aren’t going home, and I think I know why, thanks to what the Shadowy Man showed me. It’s why I’m here. To make sure that certain souls get to Heaven, and to stop whatever’s preventing them from getting there. You’re here to help me, Father. You and Roman.”
Avalyn wasn’t sure if what she’d done was wise, telling Father Purgeon everything she had, but she felt that she’d had to give him something.
Avalyn unnerved Father Purgeon. She looked like a normal twelve year old. But she didn’t sound like one or act like one. This wouldn’t be the last time he’d feel this way about her. He wanted to ask about Roman. How he’d come to rescue her. What exactly was his involvement in all of this? What was his purpose? He was about to voice these questions when Avalyn said, “How long have you known Roman, Father?”
“Not too long. About a year.”
She nodded and continued looking through the stack of books. “He sought you out. Didn’t he? Why?”
“Spiritual assistance,” he said. “Guidance.”
She looked intently at him. Father Purgeon could tell that she wanted to hear more. And he obliged.
The windshield wipers sound loud in the car, louder than the drizzle pattering the glass between swipes and the swooshing sound of tires treading through water. Father Purgeon has left Cityside and crossed the bridge into Woodside.
After parking, he walks down the street, enjoying the rain sprinkling his hair, and dappling his blazer. He even enjoys the sound his steps make splashing. Though he’s a bit uneasy about meeting Roman, he understands its important approaching the distressed with a clear mind, with no judgments or expectations, and, most importantly, with a good energy.
He can’t explain why Roman had made him feel so uneasy, a week ago, underneath that tree, while he was having his undercover smoke. It wasn’t anything he’d said or done, but there was this air of warbling anxiety radiating from him, something that was beyond grief or distress.
He knows where he’s going. He’s been through Woodside before. Quite a few times in fact, to get away from the city, from its claustrophobic feel, from its smog laced air.
Ahead, the two-lane road disappears into the wilderness. Civilization along this side of the bridge is relegated to these few blocks of concrete, where there are bars, lounges, grocery stores, restaurants, and a pharmacy. The bar he seeks is at the end of the street.
The two-story establishment is made of great oak logs. Burned into the wood above the door is the word Sanctuary. Carved into the second floor’s face is an oval window. Rain streaks the glass. A figure paces behind the watery curtain.
Father Purgeon opens the door and enters. He swipes his feet on the matt beyond the threshold. The place is semi-crowded and dimly lit. Some patrons drink by the bar, beer sloshing in their glasses. Most sit within booths carved from black wood, in front of tree trunks for tables, the candles on them muted by walls of wax ascending past the flames. Cast iron chandeliers and whirling, wooden fans hang along the ceiling.
Since he doesn’t see Roman among the customers, the priest heads for the stairs. He passes the bar; a plethora of bottled alcoholic beverages blocks most of the mirror there. Above the bar, there’s a clock on the wall. Father Purgeon checks the time. He’s fifteen minutes early.
He walks up the stairs, appreciating the feel of birch-wood handrails, and the stone inlays set on each step.
Upstairs, twenty feet away from the stairs, two booths flank the oval window. Three customers engaged in conversation occupy one of the booths, voices raucous and exuberant, the tabletop candle there illuminating their shared joviality. The other booth’s candle is unlit. Shadows enshroud it. The moonlight coming through the frosted glass seems to avoid it. Several tree trunk tables lay between the stairs and the booths, all of them empty. A barmaid stations the bar along the wall.
“Father.” The priest recognizes the voice and tries to track it, but he can’t hear anything over the din the three in the other booth are making.
“Thank you for coming, Father. It is most appreciated.”
He thinks it came from the booth enshrouded in darkness, but he can’t be sure. The shadows shift within the murky booth. “Over here, Father,” Roman says, lowering the cowl covering his head. “I enjoy my privacy, and was not positive if you would make it.” His voice is as flat is it was the night they’d met. But something else bothers the priest. Roman’s voice sounded so clear, almost as if he were standing right next to him, almost as if that voice came from inside his head.
Father Purgeon’s still standing by the stairs, hesitant to take another step. He has the feeling that once he does, there’s no turning back. Silly. But that’s not it. He’s staring at the pale pate that seems to be floating in place, its pallor amplified by black hair, black clothes, and by the room’s darkness. He can clearly see the color of Roman’s eyes, even twenty feet away. Cobalt blue.
Father Purgeon steps across the threshold and heads toward the booth.
“Thank you for joining me,” Roman says, rising, extending a hand. The movement startles the priest. So fast. A blur. Father Purgeon shakes the offered hand. It feels cool and smooth.
They take their seats. Father Purgeon notices that Roman seats himself as far back into the booth’s crook as he possibly can.
“How can I help you, Roman?”
“During this last week, eagerly anticipating our meeting, I have been trying to encapsulate all my thoughts, all my feelings, into something cohesive and understandable. Trying to control the chaos of my emotions, fashion them into something succinct and lucid.” Abruptly, Roman stops. “My apologies, Father. I have not offered you a beverage. What would you like?”
The mundane question startles the priest, so enraptured was he in Roman’s words. It’s not just what he’s saying, or how well he communicates; it’s the sound of his voice. It’s not until Roman speaks again when Father Purgeon nails it.
“Father? What would you like to drink?”
It’s like hearing a voice without air behind it. As if Roman used a means besides phonation to vibrate his vocal cords to produce words.
Roman nods, then continues, in that same airless voice. “I am at war with everything without and within. I cannot accept the actions of others, yet I do not condone my own. I hold myself accountable for my actions. Yet, I cannot stop self righteousness from rearing its head, justifying my actions, guiding my wrath.”
He’ll let Roman talk in generalities, because the details aren’t important, not to Father Purgeon anyway. What’s important is helping this man deal with what is the same thing everybody on the planet has to deal with: themselves.
“You’re judging everything around you. You’re judging yourself. What gives you that right?”
Roman leans forward and Father Purgeon swears that his eyes darken. He hopes he’s kept his tone even, not as harsh sounding as his words may have been.
“We are all accountable for our deeds, Father. We all have choices to make. Though I regret these decisions afterward, this realization does not sway nor steer me from repeating the same offenses.”
Roman settles back into the booth. Before the priest responds, the sound of approaching footsteps stays his tongue. He turns. The barmaid is coming their way with a tray balanced on her palm. On it, his glass of water. He doesn’t remember her taking his order. Doesn’t even remember her ever coming over. He feels Roman’s eyes on him, expecting a response.
“You must want to stop whatever it is you’re doing. Because you feel guilt, you must feel that whatever it is you are doing is wrong, to yourself, or to others,” Father Purgeon says.
The barmaid places the glass on the table, turns and leaves.
“I do not want this guilt, Father. I do not want this regret. Why do I feel guilt? Why do I feel pain?”
Father Purgeon pauses before he responds, not because he doesn’t know how to, but because it’s the first time he’s noticed that no matter how loud the three patrons in the adjacent booth become, he can hear Roman’s voice quite clearly through their clamor. He can also hear his own voice as well.
“You’re in pain because you believe you are the things you do. You are not the things you do. If you truly want to stop the pain, use the guilt if you have to. Remember that pain, feel it, whenever you’re doing whatever it is you want to stop.”
Roman’s face grows solemn, then gradually becomes a mask of rage, slowly smoldering over. His next words are spoken softly, but are weighed with bitterness. He spits them out, not disgusted with them, but horrified by their truth. “You do not understand. I cannot stop. My survival depends on it.”
Father Purgeon might have been a little confused then, but he understood everything now. No wonder Roman had felt that way. With no other beings like Roman to compare him to, the priest didn’t really know what normal was in the vampire world. Yet, intuitively, he felt that Roman was unique, that there weren’t too many other vampires, or whatever he was, who felt like or acted as he did.
Avalyn’s eyes had a faraway look, that dreamy contemplation that comes over somebody when their mind is elsewhere, even though she’d been paying attention the whole time. After all, it had been the priest’s story that had forced her mind trip.
“I’ve been reading your books,” Avalyn said. “You’ll need to remember everything that you’ve learned, Father. Not only for your sake, but for Roman’s sake as well. There are things that you have to teach him.”
Before the priest could question her, Avalyn went on. “Enochian. Is that the language of angels?”
“Some people believe that it was a constructed language, something made up by a group of people, instead of one evolving naturally as every known language to man has. Others believe that it’s nothing more than a poor imitation of an ancient language, whose grammar was derived from English.”
“What do you believe, Father? Is the language something made up or is it really what the angels speak?”
Father Purgeon leaned back in his chair and thought about the question. He was also thinking about the questioner. She probably knew more about it than he did. She just wanted to know how he felt about it more than glean any knowledge from his answer.
“I think there’s some truth to it. Like all myths, like all legends, every fantastical idea is based in truth.”
Avalyn said nothing, but she was smiling, and this time that smile reached her eyes.