Heaven and Hell, demons and angels, God and the Devil. These are ideas that we choose to believe in. But whether we choose to believe in them or not, they are real. But what causes us to be assumed into Heaven or fall into hell? The answer is simply the choices we make, but I ask you, which choices in life matter most?
Is it the simple actions we take by natural reflex or the difficult choices that require much more thought? Do the choices that makeyour life better matter, or is it the choices that make a stranger’s life better? Is every decision you make being judged by God, or is he wait- ing for that one choice in your life to decide your eternity?
No one really knows. So, before you choose not to help someone in need, before you choose to lie and cheat, before you choose to pick on someone smaller than you, and before you choose to pull the trigger, remember that demons and angels are watching everything you do, and simply choosing whether to believe in them or not may affect whether you see the smile of God at the end of your days...or the grimace of the Devil.
Welcome to Between Heaven and Hell.
In the Beginning...
Faint, sluggish, and weak but footsteps undeniably.
This was the only sound to be heard, traveling like the ghost of a whisper on the cold midnight air. The next audible sound was that of breath, hurried and irregular, then the sharp slap of a wet hand against hard brick.
A dark figure limped down the pitch-black street, a single hand against a stone wall for support. She was beautiful once, beyond human comprehension. Now barely a vestige of her former glory, beaten and broken, she turned and stumbled down an alley.
As if dipped in ink, her hand left a trail of black prints across the brick wall. Her body trembled as she struggled down the damp cave, knocking over the half full trashcans in her path.
Her clothes were tattered. The black overcoat that once fit her per- fectly was now in shreds and hung loosely off her body. Her long black hair was matted and dirty; patches of her scalp could be seen where her hair had been torn out.
She pushed herself from the brick alley wall for a moment, attempt- ing to regain her balance. Like a new born calf daring its first crucial steps, she hesitated, not fully trusting her own feet.
Her caution was justified.
She barely traveled a foot before slipping in a puddle of water and falling painfully onto her side. Her teeth clenched as once indolent pain receptors lit up her nervous system.
Cursing loudly, she pulled herself up against a dumpster for sup- port. Her legs wobbled beneath her. Her vision, a spotted mess of points of light smeared with shades of darkness. Her hearing, eroded and irritating like a broken pair of headphones with only a single work- ing side.
Her sense of smell?
Still functional, but what good would one sense do alone? And it, too, would soon be gone.
She was too far gone, pushed too hard too fast, and this was the outcome of it. Forced to do the unthinkable, her brothers and sisters would be ashamed. She was surprised the transformation came without added pain, or did it?
Ripples of agony spread throughout her body at regular intervals, so she couldn’t tell, even if she tried. Her lips trembled and her eyes twitched.
Was it supposed to hurt this much?
She couldn’t fight back a smile; for all her grace and power, she sounded just like one of them.
Like a human.
She took three solid steps before her legs buckled, pitching her face first into a puddle of slime. Pain shot up and down her body, reintro- ducing itself to her nerve receptors as she clutched her wound. Her blood dripped between her fingers, and her breathing became heavier.
She gazed at her muddled reflection in the puddle for what seemed like an eternity; she looked at the blood on her hand. It had been so long since she’d seen her own. She had almost forgotten how black it was.
As she lay lamenting her circumstances, five men dressed in black came upon her. Their faces and bodies were splayed with fresh scars that dripped black blood and their clothes were almost as worn as hers. Though they were riddled with grievous injuries, all five men’s faces remained stoic.
The man in front addressed her first.
“Hello.” His words floated from his mouth laced with dole and un- certainty.
The soft peal of his voice made her eyes flutter. His short black hair matched his thin beard and trimmed mustache, which sat under a bruised and blood stuffed nose.
The woman looked up and set a long gaze upon the man in front. She leaned up and put her back against the dumpster, facing the men.
“Hey.” Her voice was weak and straggled when she spoke.
He wiped the sweat from his forehead as he approached her. “You’re a hard one to keep up with. For a moment, I didn’t think
we’d catch you, sister.”
A puckish smirk crept its way across her lips.
“You never were able to keep up with me.”
“Yeah, but you know I always had to try.” The man smiled back. “I keep thinking about the time we first fought him. When he was
trying to convince me to come to his side. He told me, ‘Your brothers await your return with great anxiety.’”
“I know. He was trying to make you like him, preying on the weak- ness inside you.”
“Yeah, and you jumped in out of nowhere and flung him into his followers, screaming, ‘You are no longer a brother of ours!’” Her smile grew to a laugh, which made her cringe at the pain it caused.
“I was always proud of you for standing up to him like that,” he said as he walked nearer to her.
“Well, I have a confession. If you hadn’t shown up when you did, I would have joined him. He was that convincing.”
The woman looked at his right arm and saw a stream of black liquid rolling down his hand and dripping from his fingers.
“Did I do that?”
He clutched at his arm.
“You got me pretty good.”
“Looks like you got me better.” The woman held up her blood-
She squeezed the open wound in her chest, trying to stop the blood
flow. Silence fell over them both as they stared at each other. Then the woman’s smile disappeared.
The smile that spread across the man’s face faded, and he could no longer make eye contact with the woman. His gaze found the floor as he answered her.
“I just wanted her to love us. That’s all I wanted.”
“And she does. She loves us second. Isn’t that enough?”
“No. Second will never be enough. I will not let us be second to
them. Not them.”
“She made them in her likeness. Are you so much like Lu-”
“I AM NOTHING LIKE HIM!” the man shouted, his voice was
so powerful, the brick walls in the alley cracked under his breath. “Don’t...ever compare me to him.” His eyes found hers again, this time edged with malice.
“I can see there is no convincing you, brother. So, finish it.” The woman lifted her chest toward the man and struggled to remove her torn coat.
“Leave us.” He spoke to his men without turning, kneeling down in front of her.
As his soldiers left the alley, he assisted the injured woman in re- moving her coat. He held her wounded body as she winced in pain, sliding her arms from the sleeves. Once finished with the methodic task, he tossed the stained jacket aside. A loud exhale escaped her mouth in celebration, a declaration of the minor victory against the torn garment.
His eyebrows furrowed, and his voice reached a somber tone as he spoke.
“Will you not reconsider? Please...for me, Gabriel?”
This time it was her eyes that met the floor of the alley. He swal- lowed hard.
“I see. Very well then.” He took the woman’s black stained hand in his and kissed her forehead softly. “I love you, sister.”
“I love you as well, Michael, but...” Gabriel pulled her hand from his grasp. “...you are no longer a brother of mine.”
The wounded man stared at his sister, his face one of surprise mottled with points of boiling anger. He quickly forced his emotions back down into the pit of his stomach. He knew the rage he felt was unnecessary.
“Good bye, sister.”
Michael slowly curled his hand into a tight fist and punched into Gabriel’s chest, tearing open her previous wound even further. An ag- onizing expression shot threw her face as she screamed, making the walls buckle around them.
The piercing howl steadily increased in intensity and pitch until it became an elongated din, palpable but impossible for human ears to hear. The dumpster rolled away from the two as the concrete floor of the alley trembled and cracked, and just as the clangor built to an im- possible fusillade, it was over.
“...forgive me.” She whimpered, her body falling limp.
Michael stood over his sister’s still corpse for a moment, staring at it blankly as the high-pitched ringing was followed shortly by hundreds of dogs barking in the distance. As he watched, tiny flames the same color as the cold moonlit night lit across Gabriel’s hands and feet and slowly spread up her body. He knitted his brow as the minuscule fire consumed his sister at an arduously slow pace, almost as if to torture him more with his own transgression.
“Is this what happens when a seraphim dies?” one of the men at his back questioned.
Michael shook his head.
“I don’t know.” He turned and walked out of the alley with blood red tears sliding down his cheeks. “It’s never happened until now.”
The beaten and worn company followed their commander out of the alleyway and disappeared into the darkness. Though they had just won a hard-fought victory, a thick melancholy hung in the atmosphere like charcoal laden smoke. This was no ordinary victory. This victory was great and terrible.
Several quiet and undisturbed minutes passed before a jolly and slightly unharmonious song pierced the silence.
“When you’re hot, you’re hot, you really shoot your shot. You’re dyn-o- mite, child, yeah.”
The off-kilter tune heralded the entrance of a new figure into the alleyway. He was dressed in a black hooded long coat and wore a thick shaved goatee upon his face. He stepped lightly, his feet twirling and flashing, pitching him rhythmically across hard concrete without a sound but the tune he bellowed as he danced.
“Well, I can tell by your game, you’re gonna start a flame love, baby, baby.” His feet slid across the ground in step with the melody and carried him up the brick wall in defiance of gravity. “Got me burnin’, burnin’, burnin’.”
He spun on his toe and moonwalked across the cracks in the wall before leaping back to the ground in front of Gabriel’s burning corpse.
“Hiya, Gabes.” He pulled a pack of cigarettes from his pocket, tap- ping the case against his palm and sliding a single between his fingers. “Got a light?”
Laughing to himself, he spun the white stick into his mouth. He arched his head to the sky and exhaled a cloud of smoke into the night air. Somehow the cigarette had lit on its own.
The hooded man removed the cancer stick from his mouth and shook the ash from it. In a single breath, he had halfway finished it.
“I never thought it would happen here. In all the worlds in all the universe, I never thought the first of us would die here. In the back alley of a shitty coffee shop.” He returned his gaze to the burning woman. “Not saying you deserve it, but I would’ve given you better.”
He leaned himself against the brick wall next to her, being infinitely cautious not to touch the black fire.
“For you I would’ve erased an entire species, crashed planets to- gether, tore stars apart, cannons and fanfare and all culminating in an epic battle atop a giant red sun, where I would have ripped your chest open for all life to see. It would have been spectacular.”
The man took a second drag on the cigarette and flicked it away, finishing it completely.
“Oh, well, I suppose you’ll have to settle for the stench of a hobo’s piss water and rat feces instead.”
Just as he pushed himself from the wall, the dark fire engulfing Ga- briel went out, leaving a half burnt and smoking corpse lying on the alley floor. The hooded man paused for a moment, his face twisting into a mask of confusion. She was nearly char black bones now, patches of flesh sizzling where they remained.
His curiosity had gotten the best of him. He would never claim to be an expert here, but something about her death seemed off. He reached out his hand and pressed two fingers into her cheek, wiping away the char. Unmistakably, under the black crust was bubbling red blood. The goatee on his face pulled back his lips into a smile.
“Why, you little minx! I never once thought you had the balls to do this, much less the inclination.” He wiped his hand across his mouth in disbelief. “And Michael didn’t notice. Oh, this is too good. You are just full of surprises, aren’t you, Gabriel?” The man stood to his feet and smiled at her. “I’ll keep your secret for now, Gabriel. If only to see their faces when everyone realizes what you’ve done.”
The dark man placed his index and middle digits to his lips, and with a snap of his fingers, Gabriel burst into flames again. This time it was the hot and reddish orange variety. He turned and strolled a whim- sical two step back down the alleyway he came, singing the chorus to the song in his head as the flames quickly turned her body into ash.
“Fiiiiire! Uh, uh. Fiiiiire!”
A man, clad in black ran down an empty street. His body racked with pain as black liquid dripped from the side of his head and torso. He looked back and forth down the empty street as he ran. His face per- vaded his anxiety, almost as if he had lost something of irreplaceable importance. He grew more anxious, running faster down the street, and in his desperation, he cried out.
“Gabriel, where are you!?”
Another man, uniformly dressed, stepped out of a nearby alley and signaled to the injured man. Immediately, he changed course, dashing into the alley.
As he entered, he saw dozens of men and women standing in the alleyway, all garbed in black. They turned to look at the injured man;
he could see their eyebrows rise and eyes widen as they recognized him and formed a pathway. He stopped in his tracks, and the alley became deathly silent.
The dim glow of moonlight cascaded into the brick hallway and was the only light for which there was to see. Even by the light of the moon, the alley remained a dark cave through which no human eyes could penetrate. Like the mouth of hell, the dreary backstreet opened to him and invited him inward, begging him to come with unspoken words. He knew the work of evil stained this place, and he knew what it contained would be blacker than the devil’s soul.
He wiped his long brown hair from his face and the sweat off his brow. He fixed his clothes and tucked his hair behind his ears as he walked down the path created for him.
Passing the men and women on either side, he gave them each a cursory glance. Their faces were riddled with reminisces of battle. All of them were hurt and many had grievous injuries, yet they all stood silently.
“Where is she?” he asked the crowd. “Where?”
He looked around at the quiet gathering. No one would make eye contact with him. No one would dare.
“Where is my sister?”
The desperation in his throat made his voice tremble. Tears began to form in his eyes, but before they could fall, someone called out.
“Here. She is here, Raphael.”
He turned around and walked to the one who had spoken out. The man was standing in front of a dumpster in the corner of the alley, hold- ing a dirty black coat over a pile of ashes on the alley floor. Raphael slowly walked up to the man and looked at the ashes.
“Is this...?” He couldn’t bring himself to finish the question. “Yes, it is.”
Tears welled up in Raphael’s eyes as he stared. He gently placed his knees to the alley floor, taking both hands full of his sister’s ashes. Hol- ding the remains close to his face, he sniffed them, breathing in the overwhelming burnt stench.
“Her scent is still strong.”
Raphael clutched the ashes to his face and wept over them. His tears fell into the ashes, wetting them in his hands. The heartbroken sibling knelt there, weeping for his lost sister, and after a while, lifted his head. His face was bathed in anger even more than the ash that now covered it.
“Who?” Raphael stood to his feet.
“We’re not entirely sure, but we believe Michael killed her himself,”
one of the men replied.
“No, who else was with her?”
Everyone looked quizzically at one another. The answer was clear.
No one was. Raphael turned around, eyes beaming at them all, his face overflowing with rage.
“So, not one of my siblings found the time to defend my sister!? Where were you!? Where were you!?” Raphael darted from one person to the other, grabbing them, pulling them close enough to his face to scream at them personally.
“Where were you, my brothers and sisters!? How dare you show your faces here when you were not here to defend her!”
The ground underneath the black clad figures rolled under Ra- phael’s breath. He grabbed one of them by the head with both hands and pulled him to his face, pressing their foreheads together.
“Where were you, my brother!? Where were you when the one we needed most-”
The anger in Raphael’s face faded suddenly. Only sadness remained. “-needed us the most?”
He pulled his hands from his sibling’s face, resting them on his shoulders and hanging his own head low.
“I cannot blame you. I can only blame myself. I failed her as well.”
Raphael fell to both knees once again in the middle of the alley, his upturned arms resting on his legs as he stared toward the night sky. Red tears flowed down his face, soaking his collar and staining it crimson.
“Nonetheless, my brother, you are now our leader,” a woman spoke out. “For better or worse, until the Lord says otherwise, we follow you.” And with that said, all of the battle-weary men and women circled their leader and knelt before him. Raphael beheld his new army with
apprehension filling his stomach and doubt filling his heart.
“Lead us well, Lord Raphael.”
The newly appointed leader closed his eyes for a moment, search-
ing for a modicum of clarity, the faintest sign or proof that he was on the correct path and that everything would be alright. After finding none, his eyes again found the moonlit sky.
“Lord, help us.”