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Igms issue 3, p.10

IGMS Issue 3, page 10

 

IGMS Issue 3
 


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  "It's alien technology," Rachael said.

  "The devil's handiwork," said Old Man Young.

  Allen didn't know. Allen felt completely empty of opinion, thought, or emotion. Confronted with something so far beyond his understanding, he felt unreal. The egg, he'd held it, he could see it, it was reality. He must be the thing out of place.

  Then, to compound his sense of unreality, the egg moved on its own power, rocking lengthwise, coming to rest upright on its small end, seeming, almost, to hover.

  The lights flickered. Allen's skin tingled as the air began to smell of rain.

  "What's happening?" Rachael asked.

  The lights went out.

  There was a terrible hush. No one breathed. Slowly, Allen's eyes adjusted to the dim starlight seeping through the window. The faces of his guests were pale and ghostlike.

  At last, Rachael whispered, "I don't hear the generator."

  Allen breathed. Right. The generator. "It must have run out of gas," he said. "I thought I had enough for a couple of hours."

  "It's been a couple of hours," said Luke. "You needed more gas, you shoulda said something. I got a five gallon can in back of the truck."

  "I'll help you get it," said Old Man Young.

  "I'll come too. I need some fresh air," Rachael said.

  Allen didn't know if the Young's were trying to ditch him, but he wasn't going to play along if they were. He didn't want to be alone in the kitchen with . . . with whatever the golden egg was.

  They went out to the front yard. He waited with Rachael on the porch while Luke and the grandfather walked down to the truck.

  He could tell she wanted him to say something. She wanted him to say there was nothing to be afraid of.

  He couldn't bring himself to speak the words.

  The moon was low on the horizon; fingers of shadow grasped the yard. The still air carried the footsteps of the men walking across the gravel. The winter night was silent otherwise. Except . . . except, from a distance, a soft beat, like a muffled drum being struck. Then another, somewhat louder, then louder still when it repeated an instant later. A shadow grew across the yard and Allen understood he was listening to angel wings.

  Luke heard them too. He looked up, freeing the big rifle from his shoulder. He was looking at something Allen couldn't see, something hidden by the roof of the porch. The first angel floated into view, descending as gracefully as an owl coming to rest on a branch. This was nothing like the cherubs. This was an adult-sized angel on wings the size of a small plane. The angel's body was covered in silver armor, but enough of the face showed through the helmet that Allen judged the angel to be female. The sword by her side showed she had come for war.

  Luke fired. The bullet smacked into the angel's breastplate. She didn't flinch, continuing her descent to earth, landing mere feet in front of Luke, who was hastily reloading. With a casual gesture, the angel extended her arm, catching Luke in the chest and throwing him backward, far past the end of the truck. Luke landed limp and didn't move.

  With a sudden flap of wings, a second angel swooped down, kicking Old Man Young as he scrambled onto the truck bed, perhaps going for the mounted gun.

  Allen grabbed Rachael by the arm and pushed her toward the door to the living room.

  "The circle!" he said. "Get into it!"

  He stooped to retrieve his sword and the Manual of Solomon from where he'd left them on the porch. He heard the angel wings behind him, beating once, twice. The light faded as the shadows cast by the angel's wings approached. Not daring to look back, Allen dashed through the door, leaping for the circle. He was relieved to find Rachael had placed herself inside the protective drawing without smudging the edges. Then he realized she was still moving; she had wound up in the circle purely by accident.

  "Stop!" he yelled, and to his relief, she froze. "We're safe here. They can't touch us!"

  "Are you sure?" she said, spinning around, looking panicked.

  "No," said Allen. "But if we're not safe here, where can we run?"

  He turned to face the doorway, and found it filled with the bright form of the angel. The angel walked calmly toward the circle, her eyes fixed on Allen. She approached to arm's length before stopping. Rachael clung tightly to Allen's arm, digging her nails into his biceps. Allen gripped the sword tightly, then thrust it forward and said, "I . . . I command you in the name of --"

  The angel smirked, and swatted the tip of the sword with her gauntlet-clad hand. The force of the blow twisted the weapon from Allen's grasp, sending it clattering across the floor.

  "You have no idea what you are doing," the angel said, walking around the circle, studying the symbols. Her voice was deep and operatic, heavenly. "You've copied this without understanding it."

  "Yes," said Allen, seeing no advantage in lying.

  The angel completed her orbit of the circle, nodding appreciatively. She asked, "If a shaman from deep in the jungle were to be transported to a modern city, would he think of writing as magic? He would have no idea what the letters spelling 'KEEP OUT' or 'EMERGENCY EXIT' might mean, only that people respected them, and stayed away. He might even learn to copy the strange symbols. Tell me: would that be magic?"

  "If it isn't magic," Allen said, "I think you would already have killed us."

  As he spoke, there was a distant sound of barking.

  "Jeremiah!" said Rachael. "They'll kill him!"

  Glancing back to the door, Allen saw the second angel stepping onto the porch. She had Old Man Young draped across her shoulder, and was dragging Luke by the collar. The barking grew closer by the second.

  The second angel stepped through the door, tossing her limp passengers roughly into the corner. Allen saw Jeremiah round the truck and turn at a sharp angle, skidding in the gravel before bolting toward the house.

  The angel closed the door with seconds to spare. Jeremiah collided with a THUMP. A brief instant of silence followed before the dog resumed his frantic barking, clawing at the door.

  The first angel said to the second, "Get the body."

  The second angel nodded and vanished into the kitchen.

  The remaining angel drew her sword. The weapon burst into flame. Allen cringed from the heat, holding on to Rachael to keep her from leaving the circle.

  "Let us pretend I can't enter your little drawing," the angel said. "Does that make you feel safe?"

  "No," said Allen. "I haven't felt safe for a long time. I've been frightened. I've been lost. I want . . . I need answers."

  "Answers?" said the angel. "You're drowning in answers. Every molecule of your body vibrates with answers. You don't lack answers. You lack the wisdom to recognize them. Tonight, you've cut open an angel. You've held its soul in your hands. What did you learn?"

  "I don't know," said Allen.

  "You have a few more minutes to think it over," said the angel, moving toward the interior wall. "Before the smoke kills you." With a solid thrust, the angel pushed her flaming sword through the wall. On the other side there was a bookcase. Allen heard books and papers crash to the floor. Instantly, the air smelled of smoke. Allen clenched his fists, wanting to run and pull the sword free, but fear nailed his feet to the floor.

  The room took on an eerie hush. Old Man Young groaned in his unconsciousness. Rachael began to sob.

  Allen noticed Jeremiah had stopped barking.

  The living room window exploded inward, shards of glass flying, as a gray snarling streak of fur and teeth smashed through. The angel turned, quickly, fluidly, and a second too slow. Jeremiah buried his teeth into the angel's left wing at its junction with the back, an area free of armor.

  The angel gasped, stumbling in pain, trying to knock Jeremiah free. Allen held his ground in the circle, reaching back to grab Rachael's hand.

  But Rachael wasn't there.

  The door to the living room slammed against the wall as she dashed down the porch steps.

  Allen watched the fight between dog and angel. The angel reached back, grabbin
g Jeremiah by a hind leg, tugging. The angel's face twisted in terrible pain. Jeremiah hung on as long as he could, snarling, struggling, but the angel was too strong. Allen winced at the sound of bones cracking. Jeremiah yelped as the angel yanked him free. The angel spun, swinging the dog in an arc. Allen ducked to avoid being knocked over. Then, by accident or design, the angel released Jeremiah in mid-swing and the dog sailed cleanly out the broken window.

  By then Rachael was once again beside Allen, aiming the .50-caliber rifle.

  "Nobody hurts my dog," she said, and fired. It was like lightning struck the room. The shot knocked Rachael off her feet, and left Allen with ringing ears and spots before his eyes.

  A bright red circle appeared on the wall behind the angel's neck. The bare, armorless area just below her chin was dark and wet. The angel's eyes closed as she fell to her knees and sat there, slumped against the wall, her head drooped at an unnatural angle, her arms limp and lifeless by her side.

  The room was filling with smoke. The second angel came back from the kitchen. Rachael fumbled with the bolt of the rifle, her hands trembling.

  The second angel grabbed the body of the first, pulled the flaming sword from the wall and moved back into the kitchen. Allen heard the back door open. By now, the smoke was blinding.

  Rachael slipped the new round into the chamber and closed it with a satisfying clack. "Ready," she said.

  "I think . . . I think you chased them off," Allen said.

  "I'm willing to take that chance," she said.

  "Get outside. Watch the skies. I'll get your grandfather and your uncle."

  By now, Old Man Young was coughing, and his eyes fluttered open. He whispered, "I heard . . . I heard Jeremiah. Is he okay?"

  "Come on," Allen said, helping him rise. "The house is on fire!"

  "Weren't we outside?" he asked, sounding only half-awake.

  "Follow me," Allen said, dragging Luke toward the open door. To his relief, Old Man Young obeyed. Soon, Allen had dragged Luke down the front steps, down to the truck, where Rachael now manned the machinegun. Luke's breathing was ragged, but Allen didn't know how to help him. The main thing he knew about first aid was not to move a person who might have internal injuries, and he'd just dragged Luke fifty feet.

  Allen scanned the skies. Bright white sparks flew into the night as flames nibbled through the roof. It wouldn't be long before the house was gone, taking his collected books, his months of notes and sweat and theories, to say nothing of his family history.

  He took a deep breath and ran back inside.

  The living room was oven hot. There wasn't much in here to burn, though -- just the floorboards and the wall studs. It was lucky he'd stripped the room down to drywall. He pushed forward, trying to reach the library, but it was no use. The heat from the open door was unbearable. The hair on his arms began to singe.

  Allen stepped back, then staggered toward the kitchen. The back door stood open. Burning wallpaper lit the room a flickering red. Dark smoke rolled along the ceiling. He could see the butcher's block, now empty. The golden egg was gone.

  Allen crouched, searching for fresher air. He noticed the wet red spot on the wall next to him. Angel blood.

  Walls appear solid and impervious through most of daily life. In reality, most drywall is only an adult male fist and a surge of adrenaline away from having a good-sized hole knocked through it. Allen punched that hole, then a second, then a third. His knuckles were bleeding. He grabbed the edges of the punctured drywall, grunting as he tried to break free the section splattered with angel blood. The drywall wasn't on fire, but it was crazy hot. Allen wouldn't let go. He tugged with all his strength but the nails held tight. The wall was winning. In frustration, he screamed -- a primal, animal howl of rage and pain, a sound that frightened him.

  With a crack, the drywall twisted free. Allen stumbled outside clutching a three-foot chunk of the stuff to his chest.

  Allen sat on the frozen ground as the house behind him roared into the night sky. He was dimly aware that Luke was awake now, sitting next to the trunk, drinking something from a thermos. He was also distantly conscious of something walking toward him, limping, panting, smelling like dog.

  It was a dog. Jeremiah sat beside Allen. Allen looked into the dog's eyes. They were full of emotions, far more recognizable than what he'd seen in the eyes of the angel. Jeremiah was in obvious pain. Yet, Jeremiah looked concerned, as if worried about Allen's health. What's more, the dog had a cocky tilt to his head, and angel pinfeathers stuck between his teeth, which combined into reassuring vow of, "I've got your back."

  Allen had angel blood all over his hands and chest. Or maybe it was his own blood after punching through the wall. He couldn't tell where his blood ended and the angel's began.

  Blood. He'd expected angels to be full of divine secrets, to be filled with miraculous matter. Tonight he'd seen a hint of this, of things beyond his understanding. But, he'd seen far more things he'd understood intimately as a biologist -- muscle and bone and blood.

  Every molecule of his body vibrated with answers. Did he have the wisdom to understand them?

  Jeremiah left his side to greet Rachael, who was approaching. "You okay?" she asked.

  "I think so," said Allen.

  "I guess it's still an open question," she said. "Whether those were aliens, I mean."

  "I don't think so," said Allen.

  "Black ops?"

  "No," said Allen. "I think they were angels. I think they were created by God."

  "Oh," said Rachael.

  "I thought they would be full of divine material," said Allen raising his bloody hands. "Of strange and wondrous stuff. And what if they were?"

  "What do you mean?"

  "What if they were made of divine material? What if we all are? You, me, Jeremiah. The ground under us, the sky above . . . what if what we think of as ordinary matter is actually the building blocks of the divine? The laws of biology, of physics, of chemistry -- these are the rules God follows. These are the ways He works His will. Science turns out to be the study of His divine mechanics."

  As he said the words, he believed them. He didn't know if it was deduction, intuition, or simply faith, but he felt a powerful calm settle over him. He would probably never know the "why" of God. Why the Rapture? Why take Mary? Why create angels and men and dogs? Why the world? But the how -- the how was knowable. Before the detour of this past year, he'd learned with some detail the "how." He'd thought that angels falsified science. But, studying the angel blood on the drywall on the grass, he understood, in their ordinary matter, angels confirmed science as the path to understanding the mind of God.

  "Uncle Luke thinks he's broken a couple of ribs," said Rachael, apparently not knowing how to respond to his little epiphany.

  "There's a hospital in Roanoke," said Allen. "We can be there in an hour."

  He stood up and carried the chunk of drywall carefully, hoping not to contaminate it more than it already was. The next step in understanding the angels was beyond Allen's expertise. But part of the fun of being a scientist was talking to people who knew a lot more than you did about their specialties. In retrospect, he'd botched the autopsy of the angel, big time. If he'd gone to experts, asked for help, who knows what they could have learned? At least he had a shot at redeeming himself. You can collect a lot of DNA from a blood-spattered chunk of drywall.

  He walked toward the truck, Jeremiah limping beside him. Allen knew of a vet down the road. Hopefully Luke could survive a detour to drop off Jeremiah. In the battle between man and angel, the dog had made his loyalties clear, and deserved whatever care could be provided.

  Old Man Young already had the truck revved up. It was decided that Luke and Jeremiah would ride in the cab due to their injuries. Allen and Rachael would have to ride on the back. Rachael abandoned the rocking chair and pressed up next to Allen against the cab as the truck began to pitch and sway down the driveway. From the jumbled mounds of gear, she produced a heavy quilt and pulled it
over them.

  It was disturbingly intimate, to be sharing a blanket with a woman with whom he'd shared such an adventure. He'd not thought about women at all since Mary was taken. He had a lot on his mind, as he watched his house burn, filling the heavens with a plume of sparks and smoke. He was, in the front of his mind, still trying to figure out what the night's events meant. But something in the back of his mind was more concerned with whether or not he should put his arm around Rachael, who was leaning her head on his shoulder.

  Rachael, her voice soft and caring said, "I'm so sorry about your house."

  Allen shrugged. It was what it was. He knew, deep in his gut, that the chapter of his life the house represented was over. The house for him represented magical thinking -- the notion that there were things that could happen outside the laws of science. He was almost glad to be rid of it.

  "Things will be alright," he said. To his own ears, his voice was tired and thin, battered by stress and smoke. His lungs felt sandpapered, and his hands were starting to blister. To show that he meant the reassuring words, he put his arm around Rachael, and drew her closer. It felt right. More importantly, the world felt right. The night had brought him a newfound faith in the essential sensibleness of the universe.

  "Can I ask you a question?" Rachael said, her face inches from his.

  "Sure."

  "Why did you have that circle drawn on your floor?"

  Allen rolled his eyes. "It'll sound stupid."

  "What?"

  "I was trying to summon an angel."

  "Guess it worked," said Rachael.

  Allen's mouth went dry. Rachael's arrival with the cherub had just been a coincidence, hadn't it? Old Man Young turned the truck onto the road and gunned the engine. Allen pulled the quilt tighter around them, to fend off the chill night air.

  Small Magics

  by Alethea Kontis

  Artwork by Deena Warner

  * * *

  Minna tried to stand still in front of the mirror, but it wasn't working. Effie jerked Minna's hips from side to side, trying to adjust the bustle of her sateen French cream walking dress. Minna stared at the print of the Luck etching she held, then closed her eyes and pressed it to her breast, wishing with all her might for the magic she had given it to seep back into her.

 
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