I all but ran to the church. Perhaps I should have realized the danger, or at least the futility, but all rational thoughts were superseded by a simple disbelief. Just as everything was about to be right. Just as I’d decided that humanity could be saved. Just as I had answered an unanswerable question, a single action threw everything out of balance. I refused to believe it was so simple.
When I arrived at the church, I found the area vacant. Nobody lingered outside, and I heard nobody when I stormed through the doors.
I climbed the steeple steps. I had to find some disproof. Something, in ainm Dé, anything which would call into question what I’d seen. But there she was. She lay limp upon the floor, with a gaping red wound on either side of her head. Her soul had left her.
I sat there, for quite some time, thinking. Or, trying to. It was difficult. With Charlotte or Danny always present, it had been so long since I’d thought on my own. And, after maybe an hour of running my mind in circles, it was Danny who I set out to find. Because it was impossible; I couldn’t think anymore. Not by myself.
As always, he was in the basement with Apollyon. He was furious with me. I was furious with him.
“How could you let her get killed‽”
“How could you let humanity continue this ceaseless suffering‽”
“What would you have me do? There was hope! Ten righteous men! Perhaps you were too delusional to see it. Perhaps you were too wrapped up in your obsession over Sarah, one woman it’s been years since you knew the company of—”
“Don’t fucking go there mate—you know I can see your soul just as well as you can see mine. Morgen, does that name sound familiar? Charlotte, there’s another. It’s only been a few minutes, I’ll grant you that, but we both know that it would be the same given a few minutes or a few decades without her. I couldn’t do anything to stop them from killing Charlotte, and you know that. But know this as well; even if I could have done something—even if I wasn’t bound to this fucking rat—I would have let them kill her. I would have watched and I would have smiled, because I know that you would damn humanity over her, just as the lord will damn humanity over us.”
“A bhastaird santach!”
“An gceapann tú gur bhfuil tú ceann a labhairt‽”
“Tá mé an ceann amháin a labhairt!”
I spun around to see Bill. He had a look in his soul; he was frightened.
“Can you not see that we’re in the middle of something?” I questioned, astounded by his audacity.
“I can see that, Prophet O’Moran. I just don’t understand who ‘we’ is.”
“Danny!” I told him, pointing directly at my former mate. “Daniel Kennedy! To my recollection, he’s been here every day since we bought the church three years ago!”
“I’m sure he’s been with you in spirit,” Bill said, taking a step back. “But I’m telling you, right now; I don’t see anyone here but you and me. I… I’ve never seen Danny at all.”
“Impossible!” Danny shrieked, but Bill didn’t turn his head. Danny charged towards Bill, but Bill didn’t flinch. Danny drove punch after determined punch into Bill, but Bill didn’t recoil. Danny scraped and seethed and sobbed, but nothing could move Bill Joston, the second righteous man.
I stumbled out of the basement. Upstairs, I picked up an old phone. After dialing a number I’d come to memorize over the years, I was met with the sound of a familiar voice.
“Father Hansen, it’s Aidan.”
“Is something the matter? You sound quite a bit… off.”
“Father Hansen, have you ever seen a man named Daniel Kennedy?”
“You’ve told me about him many—”
“But have you ever seen him?” I insisted.
The first righteous man paused. “No. No, I don’t suppose I have.”
I hung up and dialed another number, one which I had more difficulty remembering.
“Is Jack there?”
“Jack, it’s Aidan O’Moran. I need you to tell me something. After you were attacked by Leonard, and we ran into each other at the hotel, do you remember that?”
“Well of course.”
“Was there a man named Danny with us?”
“Of course there was, what kind of a question is that? He was barely with us, but yeah, I brought you and him to the hospital.”
“And what happened after that?”
“I wasn’t there—”
“But you must have heard something! After you dropped us off, what happened next?”
“He died, mate. He died in the hospital. You were right there with him.”
I hurled the phone across the room. It was then that I noticed Bill, standing just around the corner. He held a cellphone in his hand, and after taking a few careful steps forward, he turned the screen towards me. On it was a map.
Bill asked me, “Did Danny have a brother named Nicholas?”
“They’re buried together, a few miles down the coast. I can drive us there if you want to see for yourself.”
I nodded, and followed him outside. Before we left the church, I grabbed a few things from a utility closet. After tossing them in the trunk, we each took a seat in his car. Along the way to the graveyard, Bill explained that he’d known Nicholas Kennedy when he was younger, but that he always thought of him by his stage name, and so he never considered that the two Kennedys might be related. I listened, but there were more cataclysmic matters on my mind.
He parked in front of the graveyard’s gates. They were locked tight, so I retrieved my tools from Bill’s trunk. First a pair of bolt cutters, and next a shovel. The locks snapped easily enough, and we proceeded into the graveyard as the sun was setting. Bill led me straight to the twin gravestones. He said it had been a while since he was there, but that he could never forget where a punk legend like Nicholas was buried. And he was right.
Nicholas “Chiseler Deadly” Kennedy, 1969-1991
Daniel Kennedy, 1968-2012
I pressed the shovel into Bill’s hands.
“Prophet O’Moran, you can see the grave—”
“Well I could see Danny too, couldn’t I? Don’t question me. Not ever, but especially not now. Dig.”
Bill did as he was told. We were there in that graveyard late into the night, the passing of every few seconds being marked by the sound a shovel ripping through the earth. I stood, watching as the hole grew deeper, and deeper still, until metal struck wood. Shortly after, the casket was unearthed.
“Prophet O’Moran, I—”
“Open it!” I commanded, and once again, Bill obeyed. Using the shovel for leverage, he wrenched open the box. After the deed had been done, he cast the shovel to the ground and walked off towards his car.
I crept closer to the chasm in the earth. As promised, there laid the long dead remains of Daniel Kennedy. The rotting, soulless remnants of the one who kept me company, even after he had passed on. There was something about him, lying there. He wasn’t the tormented being who I’d come to know. Lying there in the earth, he was peaceful.
And that’s where, I wish to the almighty lord above, the story could have ended. There I was, coming to terms with the fact that Danny’s soul had left this world after all. Coming to terms with the idea that maybe it was for the better. But the story doesn’t end there. If it ended there, then there might be a hint of sweetness in this bitter, bastardly world.
Danny opened his eyes. He scraped his way out of the grave, painstakingly, as though it was his first time coming back from the dead.
“What are you?” I whispered, backing away from the undying beast before me.
But Danny didn’t speak. He reached for his neck and pulled at the silver chain which hung there, freeing Sarah’s ring from himself. He threw it in my direction, and when it hit me, when the questions and the balance and the memories all collided, the graveyard was no longer empty. Standing to Danny’s left was Sarah, and to his right was Charlotte. I turned to run, but standing behind me was Morgen, her face the pale and blurred phantom of what it had once been. Leonard, Nathaniel, and Tonya all closed in on me, forcing me to the ground.
And then lurching above me, suspended by immense black wings, appeared the demon Apollyon. Not as a rat, but as the apocalyptic behemoth which he truly was. I thrashed against the cold dead hands of everyone I’d known, but their strength was beyond this world, and I could do nothing as Apollyon dug his razor claws into my soul, ripping the very life from my body.
Holding my soul in his terrible clutches, Apollyon posed one final question.
“If life itself is a bastard, why would it ever be worth saving?”
With that, he thrust my soul back into my mortal body and flew off into the night, taking his flock of the dead along with him. The only token of their presence was a silver ring, lying in the grass beside an unearthed grave.
And so now I sit here, in a steeple in San Samarra, where both a cross and a ring hang from my neck. With a scowl, I rip the cross away and throw it over the edge.
Bring on the storm.
© Ray Underscore Thompson, July 2015