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Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they were defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world -- he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.
-- Revelation 12:7-9
And I said, "Lily, oh Lily I don't feel safe,
"I feel like life has blown a great big hole through me."
And she said, "Child,
"You must protect yourself.
"You can protect yourself.
"I'll show you how with fire."
Gabriel before me,
Raphael behind me,
Michael to my right,
Uriel on my left side.
In a circle of fire.
When the dragon saw he had been cast down to the earth he pursued the woman who had given birth to the boy. But the woman was given the wings of an eagle so she could fly off to her place in the desert... Enraged at her escape, the dragon set off to make war on the rest of her offspring...
And he took up his position by the shore of the sea.
--- Revelation 12:13-17
"I hate the beach."
Phil pilots the Volkswagen down New Jersey highway thirty six, a potholed, two-laned road that traces the thin sand barrier island in a thread of asphalt. There are no streetlights on this section. To our right, shuttered beach houses are bathed in freezing rain and salt spray, the lifeless artifacts of a summertime civilization that abandons the island in the fall. To our left, a concrete seawall is battered by gray-black waves that shatter to a frigid aerosol in the winter wind, crest the wall, and periodically drench our car like the synchronous snore of an invisible storm cloud.
A wall of white foam piles over the seawall in front of us and the car hydroplanes over the ensuing puddle. Phil loses the steering temporarily, then regains it when our momentum carries us over the water.
He says, "I really really hate the beach."
We drive in silence for what seems like only a few moments when Phil taps my arm.
"Ray. Ray. Uriel?" He punches me in the bicep.
"What you thinking about, buddy? It's getting noisy in here," he taps his temple. "The wheels are cranking so hard there's smoke coming out of your ears."
I really didn't want to talk about it. Talking made me lose my train of thought. Sharing half-baked ideas and ill formed theories generally didn't result in anything satisfactory for anyone.
"I'm going to say, 'nothing.' Don't take it personally," I tell him.
He sucks in some air. "Ok. Let's start from lesson one. There is no such thing as nothing."
There's no sense in keeping it from him. It's probably what I'm here to learn this time.
I say, "I'm thinking about how I hate the beach too. A memory came to me I hadn't thought of since I was a kid. The flood. I'd just checked in with the old man. The craft was finished and they were inside thinking it was going to rain. So here I was walking along the beach wondering how the hell it was going to flood without rain. I started praying, because I was thinking I'd been wrong. Maybe I'd misinterpreted the message. Maybe I'd been deceived."
Phil contemplates what I'm saying. We've now come into a town. The road is illuminated in yellow streetlight glow. In the distance are some high rise apartment buildings. I know that we're going to a field beside one of them. Hope I have time to finish the story.
"It was night, but it was totally clear. The stars were all out. And then there was this flash of light. Something, huge--streaked across the sky and disappeared over the horizon. I waited there, I don't know. Ten minutes. An hour?
"The ground started shaking. There was this terrible sound, low and deep with something shrill riding on top--like the sky was screaming because it had seen the earth torn to pieces. It was coming from over the ocean, but I couldn't see a thing in the dark. And the air went still but the shaking kept on. The sand shifted all around me so it was hard to stand on it. And the wind. I've looked it up. They're called katabatics. They're hot because they're compressed--something huge enough to pressurize the atmosphere was piling up the air. It smelled like sulfur and burning fish, the way I'd imagined the dragon's breath must smell.
"The screaming got louder and the air warmer. And I started noticing the stars disappearing. One by one like he was extinguishing them. And then the air got cold, and I realized that all of the world's ocean was above me and beside me. The sky became water. That's all I remember."
Phil put the car in park and turned off the lights, then the engine. We were in a field past the end of a residential street, away from the ocean.
He doesn't make a move to get out right away, so I keep going with my story.
"And then I was thinking about how, ok, natural disasters. They're a part of life here on earth. But then, you know, Gabriel sets Muhammad to conquer Mecca and gives him the Koran. Reveals the future to Daniel. Are these things the same?"
"I'm not sure what your point is, little brother," Phil says.
"I'm saying--Judas betraying Jesus--what if he'd never done it?"
"It's self-determination," Phil says. He glances at his watch. In the distance, I can see something the looks like a flame flickering in the darkness. And then there are two. And then five. And then more.
But I just want to get this idea out of me. "Why does an omniscient creator do these things? Why does he send us here time and time again without our experience? Why create a race who's purpose is to enslave Israel? The way I see it, either the creator knows everything, everywhen, and so creation is like a wind-up toy he sets in motion. Or--"
Phil glances at his watch again. Opens the door. Says, "Ok, let's go."
We start walking toward the flames that have begun to disappear one by one. Now I see some kind of building in the distance.
"Or what?" Phil asks me.
"Or there's something he doesn't know."
Phil stops. Says to me in a half-whisper. "Here we are. Us with them. Every time we come back, we relearn our mistakes. We all have questions."
"I haven't lost my faith," I tell him. "I just have ideas."
"Well, what I think is that you should ask why, after everything you've been through, does he allow you to have questions?" Phil says.
"Sorry you asked?" I say as we make our way over the dead grass and brambles.
"I tell myself daily, if there's even one thing we don't know, we have no right to judge these people harshly," Phil says. "Now tell me what see in the way of outcomes."
I'd seen the scenarios when he told me where we had to go. I saw the sacrifice superimposed upon my image of Jane. She sat on the edge of the bed, naked, a trembling hand against her eyes.
I slid over the sheets toward her saying, "It's okay. Honey, I can't impregnate you--"
"It's not for me." And the small package dropped from her hand, and now I felt what she felt. Images of the funeral. Back through the continuum of clocks to the betrayal of the man who told her not to worry because he was safe, and brought to her the pain of the martyrs we all share.
And now her tears turn to sobbing. Hardly able to breathe, between involuntary inhalations, she says to me, "I'm not a good person," thinking of how at the funeral for a moment she felt released from the bounds of the sorrows of this earth to touch heaven. How she believes that once I find out how she risked me without thinking, my love will sour. "I'm just going to hurt you."
I touch her shoulder. Warmth of her life in my hand. Slide my other arm around her and come up along side so I'm immersed in her aura. Bathe in the scintillation of her history and the angelic being she will ever be.
Kiss the edge of her ear. "We are here together, beloved. Every hair on your head is counted. Every tear in your eye."
She turns. Her lips are wet with salt.
"There are many kinds of love," I say to her, and she throws her arms around my neck to draw me inward.
A whisper of words just above her breath. "Why do I feel this way? Who are you..."
And then I see the sacrifice imposed upon her face. Hooded figures dressed in red illuminated by the yellow flicker of burning torches. On a stone table a pregnant woman lies inert. The fruit of her womb distending her tummy so the skin is taut and shining.
One hooded man claims to be a priest. He raises a sharpened serpentine blade in an arc over the woman's throat.
The phone rings. Phil calls Jane's place. One of his students has a ritualistic scar from a carving on her back.
"Ray. Ray. Uriel?" Phil hits the back of my head with an opened palm. "You gotta cut that out."
"You wouldn't believe where I was when this came to me," I say, but I know he does. We come to the outside wall of a large warehouse building. Corrugated steel. No windows except for several wide grated openings near the roof line. Yellow light flickers through them.
Low chanting comes from inside.
He smiles. "And so, a grammar school teacher and a social worker just bust in and kick ass? What's the plan, Rambo?"
I laugh at his characterization. "They have this fire they call an eternal flame. It's in the middle of the room but they're all on one side of it. When they do the Latin invoking Gabriel and Lucifer, we'll jump through. They won't know what hit them."
"We jump through."
"Yeah," I say, because in my mind I see the thirteen of them jumping backward, tangling themselves on their long robes, and falling over like Satanic Keystone Cops.
There's another version, though, that's not as pleasant.
"Got your cell?" I ask. "Call 911. Tell them there's been a stabbing and a man is bleeding to death."
He looks at me and turns up his palms.
"Ok, then someone else will call once we're inside," I say. Along the wall we find a door that's ajar just enough for us to pass through without having to risk its rusted hinges squeaking.
Silently we make our way past rows of unused oily machinery and musty crates toward the light.
The scene is just as I have seen. Unconscious, pregnant woman lying on a stone table. Thirteen hooded figures holding tiki torches purchased at the local hardware store, enough red linen between them to cover all the tables in a bad Chinese restaurant.
I think Phil's picked up my internal sarcasm, because he snickers. Taps me on the arm and I know he's wondering if I remember my Latin. And, of course, I don't. Don't remember my feudal Japanese, either, I think to tell him.
He shrugs in exaspiration. He's thinking of the Reniassance oil paintings of Gabriel and Michael with golden wings and glowing halos. Where the hell did they ever get that idea?
"Manifestation of the aura," I think to remind him when we're done with this.
"So let's try it," he whispers, not wanting to risk I'm distracted. Then, "That fire--it's propane."
"Ever jump through a blue flame before?"
"Nope. But it's just fire."
And I hear the name, "Lux ferous," and it comes back to me. I'm not even thinking about Raphael when I hurdle the gas flame. He follows. One of his sneaker laces catches fire. Twelve hooded figures jump backward a step in unison.
It's easy to take advantage of human fear. The repetition in the Latin chanting implants a subliminal suggestion. Our sudden appearance evokes a preverbal response. Parts of their brains they haven't used since they were children wake up as if from a long sleep.
They're seeing the wings and halos, now.
Raphael goes immediately to the mother and child. Lifts the mother in his arms, says something first in French, then in some version of Italian I'm sure he picked up from a Berlitz book he never finished reading.
I've got the high priest in my eyes. I'm thinking he should hand over that weapon when taking a step backward, his feet become entangled on the long red linen robe and he trips onto the blade.
I take off the man's hood. Look down into his eyes. Know he's going to die. Offer him my blessing, which he refuses.
"What is with you people?" I say to him, wishing God to grant me anger for a moment so I could understand the rage that makes people treat each other so terribly. As his eyes go dull he learns how stupid he's just been.
Raphael, holding the woman in his arms, says first, "Quelqu'un appellent neuf-un-un, vite!" and then realizing he's not speaking to Napolean, shouts, "Will someone please call nine-one-one."
"Uriel is an archangel. I looked it up," Jane says to me, her eyes gleaming from beside a fold of the linen pillowcase. "Did your mother name you after him?"
"Sort of," I say.
She says, "Oooh," and closes her eyes for a moment as if she can see what I do. And I can't help but use this body to touch her face, stroke her cheek, feel the strands of her hair through my fingers. This is truely a blessed life, and I thank the Lord for granting me this time and the peace this woman brings me.
In my mind I have wings and I cover her with one. I know she can feel it.
"But how, then..." she says. "You're human." And she touches my face as if to be sure.
"It's the way it works," I say. "My mother taught me that for thousands of years women have provided the vessels we occupy when we visit this plane. We start as infants like everyone does. It takes us a long time to reclaim ourselves here. It's the same for everyone. Every one of us, and every one of you."
She traces her finger along the side of my face, watches the point of contact.
I want to show her sparks. I want her to feel the victory in owning the darkness over light, and the light over the darkness. I want her to see the fire that belongs to me.
I tell her, "I am Azarias the son of the great Ananias," and she furrows her brow.
"But I thought you were--" and I put my finger on her lips. Someday I'll tell her that story she lived so long ago. For now, I roll over onto all fours on the bed above her. Looking down upon her I offer my blessing to her spirit, and she closes her eyes and accepts, feels it without understanding why.
And now I close my earthly eyes and bring her with me, out into creation, feeling our halos and wings.
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