I posted this pic on facebook because I thought some author friends, who collect names like I do, would get a kick out of it. If ever there was a name for an angel in an urban fantasy, this is it. It’s even a bit too obvious.
Under the picture, I commented “All serafim know they will die under the same numbers they were born. Angelo knew 1958 was a possibility, but he hoped for 1985.”
The Spousal Unit said he wanted to read this story. Well, okay then. I started posting bits in the comments. Over the weekend, I wrote the rest. It’s in the comments on the facebook post, but I thought it would be easier to read here.
Fair warning: I cannot bear to read anything without a happy ending. That doesn’t apply to what I write.
All serafim know they will die under the same numbers they were born. Angelo knew 1958 was a possibility, but he hoped for 1985. 5891 would be even better.
He was fearless in battle, protecting his fellow foot soldiers from enemy weapons. It was 1943. He could not die.
War is a mess of sensation. A brain riot. Serafim are slippery. Though many encountered Angelo before the war ended, only one remembered the beautiful man who pushed him to the ground, and twitched with each bullet. Simon Woolsy knew Angelo should have been dead.
Because serafim are so easily forgotten, Simon had to work hard to remember. Luckily, he had a reminder in the form of a single bullet graze on his right forearm. He would forget Angelo for days at a time, until his arm would pain him.
On weekend furlough months later, while his friends were getting eagles and scantily clad women, Simon had the initials “A.S.” tattooed at the tail of his scar.
The ink made it easier. He no longer needed notes stuffed in coat pockets, or strings tied on his finger. He could abandon the habit of poking at his arm, knowing the action meant something, but not remembering until the discomfort came.
After the war, Angelo could have continued to seek danger. He considered being a test pilot, but walking away from a fiery crash would raise too many questions.
Instead, he indulged in a few years of peace.
He tried to marry, but women would forget he’d made a second date. His love life became a series of elaborate one-night stands, where he would pretend–just to himself–that this was a special anniversary, and not a first meeting.
In 1958, Angelo looked like a man in his 30s, because he would always look thus until he died. Simon looked like a man in his 30s because he was.
Angelo settled on the gulf coast of Florida. He came to love the temporary friends the winter brought. He could tell himself they hadn’t forgotten him, they’d just gone home. He also loved the sweltering summers that drove them away, the heat wrapping him in a cloak he imagined felt like Divine love. He knew nothing of that. He knew what he was, but the blood had been diluted by generations. If he’d left a child with someone, they likely wouldn’t know themselves. They’d die under any number at all. And they certainly wouldn’t feel this itch he felt in is side. It wasn’t a human itch. It moved when he turned, always pointing roughly east.
Serafim do not answer prayers. They rarely hear them. Over millenia, there were one or two women whose swelling bellies reminded them of the name they then whispered. One or two serafim who were still only a short distance away, close enough to feel that strange itch. The knowledge of their birth and death is as natural to a serafim as suckling is to a human child. But they no more understand prayer than that human understands speech. Whether those few fathers followed a prayer and its possibilities back to the source, we do not know. Angelo followed his.
He followed highways old and new, sometimes back-tracking, keeping the itch front and center. As miles ticked, it became worse. By Okeechobee, he had to bandage the wound he’d made with desperate fingers. As the itch became pain, he considered fleeing, but found it impossible. Sweating and shaking, he stopped the car at Juno Beach, staggering to the sand. Tourists were thin, most unwilling to bear the off-season to save a little cash. Few saw the beautiful, dark-haired man walk into the ocean, clothes and all. If they saw him, they didn’t notice his scruff of beard or his trembling limbs. They didn’t see him double over in relief, his face briefly dipping in the ocean. Or if they noticed, they forgot. All except one.
Simon kissed his suffering wife, realizing he shouldn’t have brought her here for a rare vacation. He loved the heat, but she did not. She never complained, only smiled and waved him off as he headed for a swim, following the man he couldn’t believe was real, was here.
When Simon remembered, he remembered everything. He’d shared a mess-hall table with Angelo several times. Introduced anew each time. They’d laughed with the other men at the table, talked a little of their families. Angelo had just his mother at home. Simon had wondered about that.
He looked for Angelo, after, but he had vanished. He never spotted him again, and he learned quickly that asking after him yielded nothing. He listened for stories of heroism, and heard plenty, but nothing like taking twenty bullets broadside and walking away.
Simon rubbed his scar, now misted with surf.
“Angelo,” he said quietly, when he was inches away. The man straightened, and turned those ice-chip eyes to his.
“Simon?” It was a surprise to be remembered, but he supposed a man who was forgotten would remember everything.
They didn’t pretend this wasn’t momentous. They didn’t waste time with awkward pauses. They embraced like the long-lost brothers they were, and everything that was tilted turned right again.
Angelo drew back and looked at the light brown hair, the mossy eyes, and decided Simon was dear, his miracle, and that he would stay.
He was dragged by the arm up the beach, toward a redhead lounging beneath an expansive umbrella.
“June!” Simon yelled when they were still too far back. “June,” as they got closer, “remember I told you about Angelo, who saved my life during the war? This is him. Angelo, this is June, my wife.”
June puzzled for a moment. “I didn’t remember the name,” she admitted, “but I remember the story. It’s nice to meet you. Thank you for saving Simon for me.” If she noticed Angelo’s strange attire, she didn’t let on. She smiled charmingly, and extended a hand. That she remembered him at all was something to think about later. For now, the men sat down and established the friendship they should have had. He did his best to include June, and she warily went along.
He spent as much time with Simon as he could, while still respecting his marriage. June never appeared unhappy, but he knew she must be, as he certainly resented giving Simon back to her at the end of the day. He swallowed it, because Simon should have June.
When their vacation was over, they shared the usual admonishments to keep in touch. Angelo would keep those promises. As they drove off, he returned to his hotel room, and screamed into a pillow until they were far enough away.
He tried to stay in Florida. Phonecalls and letters helped. He lasted three months.
Under the pretext of a job offer, he followed them to Vermont. Simon knew why he came. June was suspicious. Nonetheless, they fell into an easy routine of getting together once or twice a week after work. It had to be enough.
In October, Simon and June announced that she was pregnant. Angelo tried to be less selfish of his time with Simon. He even wished his birthright came with a healing touch, as June was fiercely ill into the winter. Her sister came to stay in November, helping through Thanksgiving, then staying on when she saw she was needed. June, though still sick, became more content with her sister near. She vetoed Simon cancelling his annual ice fishing trip, insisting on “girl time.” He wasn’t pleased, but he acceded, bundling Angelo into the car, and meeting other friends at a cabin on Lake Champlain.
Angelo spent the week making temporary friends, staying visible as much as possible to keep in their memories. Days were spent in the shanty, sharing beers, and staring down holes in the ice. Catches were frequent, and there would be salmon for June and Aggie, if June was up to eating it. There was a day they kept the shanty dark, and took turns with a spear. That night they ate the previous day’s catch.
A freezer full of fish on ice in the trunk, Simon and Angelo headed back. Simon drove, the two in easy silence, the radio out of range. The shapes of the trees were discernable only as they blotted out stars. The winding road revealed in chunks of headlight, beyond which the darkness could have hidden any number of spectacular things, but probably didn’t.
Angelo studied his his hands, then Simon’s hands, then Simon’s face.
“I love you,” he finally said. It seemed a good time.
Simon squeezed Angelo’s shoulder with his right hand. “You know I love you like a brother,” he said.
“I know,” he interrupted. He moved his hand down to Angelo’s, grasping it. “I don’t think I can be that for you, but I don’t want you to go.”
Angelo nodded, facing front. He kept Simon’s hand, soaking in the affectionate touch, even if it wasn’t what he wanted.
Minutes passed, and Simon glanced quickly over. “So, what are you?”
When Angelo was born, he glowed. His mother would sit and watch him endlessly, stroking the fine, dark down on his head, and calling him her angel. Not like any mother calls her baby an angel, but like she would say: “my human.” For a while, that was fine, but then she stopped doing other things. He learned that if he glowed too much, he didn’t eat. Gradually, he learned to pull back his light. When he was a little older, his mother would ask him to glow, just for her. At first, he did, but when she began to beg and plead, he thought it better if he never glowed again.
Perhaps if he let out the tiniest light, Simon would understand, and maybe see him differently. Just his face, just the smallest bit against the darkness.
Simon’s jaw slacked, his eyes grew wide. He reached for Angelo’s face. But he was still holding his hand.
The impact was over before Angelo realized anything was wrong. Then everything was wrong. He tried to clear the blood from his eyes, but his right arm wouldn’t work. He would not move his left. He blinked and managed to wipe one on a patch of clean upholstery. Simon was staring at him, not noticing the steering wheel embedded in his ribs.
No, not staring. His eyes were merely open.
Angelo lifted the hand he still held, and prayed, wet-faced, through Simon’s knuckles. He prayed to everything at once, then to each serafim who would share some form of his strange name. He prayed to the Divine, though he’d never really felt it, hoping he had some small connection. Some foot in the door that would fix this. He begged for an hour, but the only magical thing in the ruined car was his own blinding light. He begged for another hour, as his light faded with his own blood loss and exhaustion. At least, he thought, he would also die tonight.
But he didn’t, because it was now 1959.
June glared hatred across the casket at him. She would remember him. He briefly considered staying, enduring her hate just to be remembered, but after the casket was in the ground, he left.
Back on the gulf coast, he tried an experiment. He wrote stories. He wrote about the war, changing only a few details to leave out hints of the supernatural. Sometimes, he left them in, and sent the stories to inspirational magazines. Mostly, he sent them to men’s adventure magazines. He wanted to send them in under “Simon Angelo,” but he feared using even a bit of his name would make the stories disappear. He decided instead on “Simon Champlain.” The stories did well. They were even collected in a couple of volumes.
A private detective in Vermont checked on June occasionally. When she needed help, Angelo found a discreet way to provide it. Little Gretchen had her father’s hair and eyes. Eventually, June remarried, Gretchen had a new father, and Angelo checked less often.
When 1985 came at last, Angelo waited a few days to be sure. He drove to Juno Beach. It was high season, and the daytime beach was populated with mostly-naked teenagers and boogie boards. At night, only a few distant bonfires could be seen on that special stretch of sand.
Attired for swimming this time, Angelo walked into the surf. He stood waist deep, lit by a waxing moon. Beneath the sound of the surf, he was sure he heard his name. An itch on his ribs pointed to the sea. He followed.