The next morning I found Charlotte in the kitchen, leaning back in a chair and peeling an orange.
“You’ve got a rat problem,” she mentioned, glancing up at me. “But no sociopaths that I’ve seen, so I suppose it evens out. Why did you let me stay here?”
“Last night, you mentioned having a past with those men who have black crown tattoos,” I said, taking a seat across from her. “I want to know everything you know about them.”
“Well, I can either disappoint you or I can start making shit up, because I don’t know much about them at all. I don’t even know what to call the fuckers.”
“How were you involved with them?”
“Mate of mine, the dumb cunt, thought it was a good idea to borrow money from them, and I got caught up in the mix.”
“What happened to her?”
“He’s dead,” Charlotte said. Separating a slice from the orange, she added, “I suppose I will be too, but thanks for the hospitality in the meantime. The view from your balcony is lovely by the way.”
“Isn’t it?” I agreed, thinking back to the days when the view was something new. The endless cityscape to either side, and the open ocean straight ahead. The city provided a certain fuel for getting things done—for getting questions answered. Whatever role needed to be filled in this pursuit for understanding, the city was capable of filling it. And the ocean was something to marvel at as well. So many things had happened out at sea. It’s where the lord spoke to me, but even before that, the sea held many memories from my youth. Sometimes Danny and I would spend hours out on the waves, sometimes talking and sometimes not, basking in the sunlight and freezing in the waters.
I longed for those days again. I longed to be content with so little on my mind. I longed for the Danny I once knew, and for his brother who I never understood, and for my parents who had passed on, and for Morgen.
“Charlotte,” I said. I tried to choose my words carefully, so that she might understand them. I considered appealing to reason. I considered evoking emotions so deep that she would have no choice but to listen. Eventually I settled on, “If you’d rather not be killed by those fuckheads, you’re welcome to stay here.”
She set the remnants of the orange on the table. “No offense to you personally ya cheeky fuck, but I’d rather die a few days sooner with dignity than a few days later as a whore.”
“It wouldn’t be about that,” I insisted. Honestly, the thought hadn’t even occurred to me. “I understand why you’d think that way, but trust me, it wouldn’t. In fact, I can prove it. Last year, before moving to the states, I fell down three stories and broke my back. For weeks, nothing below my waist worked. Nothing. Eventually I was blessed enough to get my legs moving again, but it seems that some miracles are beyond the lord. So truthfully, I couldn’t make you into a whore if I wanted to. But even so, I wouldn’t dream of it.”
“Then why? What the fuck do you want from me?”
I thought about an answer, searching again for the words that would make her stay. But if those words existed, then I couldn’t find them. I was left with telling her the truth.
“Nothing. I don’t want anything from you Charlotte, and I’m sorry if I’ve acted foolish. You just remind me of someone is all, but you’re not her, and you’re nothing like her, and I’m sorry I thought you might have been. It was just something in your eyes. You’re free to stay or you’re free to go. I don’t mean to force you either way.”
I reached for my cane, but before I could get up, she spoke. “Wait. Who was she?”
“No one you would care about.”
“Well who was she to you?”
“It’s a long story.”
“I have time.”
“It’s a story I’d rather not talk about.”
“What was her name?” Charlotte pressed, reaching out and grabbing the orange. Separating another slice, she insisted, “At least tell me her name.”
Then I noticed something. Something so small that I hardly even noticed it at all. Charlotte was gentle. She cursed like vulgarity was a mandatory part of grammar, and she had the voice to match it. She smoked herself dry and drank herself back to equilibrium. She was nothing like her. And yet, I noticed just then, that her hands were gentle. She’d peeled the orange neatly enough to not get its juice on her hands, and as she separated each slice, she did so with great care, almost verging on reluctance.
I gripped my cane and stood up. Walking out of the kitchen, I did my best to face away from Charlotte so I could hide my eyes, which watered over something I should’ve stopped caring about decades ago.
“Morgen,” I forced though my choking throat. “Her name was Morgen.”
I wiped the tears away while walking down the hallway. It was amazing how fresh an old scar could feel after so much time.
Not that time healed anything. Sometimes it seemed that way, but all time ever did was help me forget about things for a while. And if that’s all there was to time, then I knew several bottles filled with nothing but time. I grabbed one of them as I passed by the lounge and onto the terrace. Danny was out there with Apollyon, staring off into the ocean.
“Lovely view, isn’t it?” I asked him as I leaned against the railing. I poured a month down my throat. “I think so anyways. Charlotte seems to think so as well.”
Danny nodded. “I always enjoy it when Apollyon wanders out here. It’s a peaceful place to spend the end of days.”
“What do you suppose that rat’s looking at right now?”
“The church. Her church. She wants me to go there.”
He shrugged. “Eventually anyways. Not just to visit though. She wants to stay there. I didn’t want to tell you, since I know you’d be so overjoyed to be rid of us. You’d send us off the second you found a reason to. But there’s not much point in trying to keep a secret when you’re living with someone who can literally see your soul.”
“You know I don’t want to be rid of you Danny. Apollyon I could take or leave, but you’re my best mate, and you know it. Hell, look into my soul of you don’t believe me—don’t think I’ve forgotten that you can read people as well. If Apollyon wants to leave, and you’re certain that it’s for the better, then I won’t question it. But before you go, we ought to go out on the ocean again. It’s been too long.”
“I’d like that,” Danny said, turning and looking at me. Then he told me something deeper. He didn’t say it with his words, or even with his expression. He told me with something that only I would be able to understand; he told me with his soul that he was nervous about living in the church with just Apollyon for company. He was worried about what Apollyon might want with the place. He was worried about getting lonely. He was worried about the gangsters breaking in and killing him in the night. He was scared. But in spite of it all, he said, “Tá mé réidh le rud ar bith a thagann chugainn.”
I’m ready for whatever comes next.
“Tá súil agam go mbainfidh tú cara. Muinín agam i gcónaí leat.”
I trust you mate. I always have.
After getting the rat into my pocket, Danny and I stepped into the lift, headed for simpler times. We took Morgen’s Lament out of the harbor and onto the sea. For the first time in a long time, I felt true happiness. The sea always had a calming effect on me. Combine it with a good mate, a good day, and a good cause in our future, and my soul was shining just as brilliantly as the sun overhead.
Reminiscent of the days of our youth, Danny and I didn’t share a word with one another. We didn’t need to. We understood everything, and it was wonderful. It was wonderful to have one last good moment with him.
When we returned to the land, we set out for the church. Inevitably, we passed by a handful of gangsters along the way. Based on their staring, it was clear to see they knew who we were. But for reasons beyond my understanding, they were true to Bruce’s word, and let us pass by unharmed.
At Church of Apollyon, we said our goodbyes without saying a word. I unlocked the door, set the church’s namesake inside, and that was the end of it. Danny walked in after her, forever bound to the rat’s side, and I set out for the better part of town. Again, the hoodlums glared as I passed, but did nothing more.
When I returned to the penthouse, Charlotte was stood on the balcony, staring out over the city. She was smiling. I smiled back.
“So, you’re still here.”
“Aidan, I don’t know who the fuck you are or what the fuck you’re on about, but I’d like to find out. I really would.”
She did find out over the course of the next few years, and she wasn’t the only one. News was spreading all over the state about a millionaire who had moved to America and started a cult. They weren’t the headlines I would’ve hoped for. Still, it got the word out all the same, and with each passing Sunday there were more and more people packed into the pews. Each week Father Hansen would deliver the sermon we’d worked on, and each week I searched the basement for Danny.
When I could find him, there would always be talk of answering the question. He spent a good chunk of his time there reading the bible, over and over again. If he couldn’t find the answers themselves, then surely, he would at least find the tools with which we could get answers on our own. Eventually we did settle on a solution. A simple one. Perhaps too simple for something so grand, but it was one that we could both agree on no matter how much we disputed everything else.
In the chaotic days after Babel, two cities came to be—Sodom and Gomorrah. These cities were sinful places, and the lord realized that flooding the earth and smashing the tower hadn’t accomplished anything at all. He decided to destroy the cities, but before He got around to it, Abraham posed a question.
“Lord,” he began, “would you destroy the cities if there were fifty righteous men inside?”
“Of course not,” the lord answered. “I would spare the cities if there were fifty righteous men inside.”
“And lord,” Abraham continued, “what if the number were only forty five? Surely, if you would spare the cities for fifty, you would spare the cities for five less than fifty. Am I wrong?”
“Of course not,” the lord answered again. “I would spare the cities if there were forty five righteous men inside.”
They carried on for quite some time and in quite a recursive fashion, until they reached an agreement. If Abraham could find ten righteous men, a mere ten men in all of Sodom and Gomorrah, the lord would spare the cities.
And so that’s what I looked for. Every Sunday, I looked for righteous men. Father Hansen was a simple enough start. Bill Joston may have had a wicked past, but in more recent years, he had proven himself to be a righteous man as well. Each Sunday I looked deeper, and as the months went by, the list of righteous men grew longer.
Sundays were the highlights of my life. In fact, they may as well have been the only part of my life at the rate time passed. I sit here, atop a steeple in San Samarra, wondering what happened to all of that time. It can’t have gone far; it was just here.
Just recently, Charlotte and I were sitting down to dinner, sharing stories about the scrapes we’d been in. She never doubted my stories either. Ridiculous as some of them were, she always had faith that I was telling the truth, and eventually the truth became that I loved her for it. I might have married her, if the world weren’t coming to an end. I could see it in her soul that she would have married me too.
Just recently, Danny and I were running through the Belwyn rain, laughing our arses off. He was so alive. He didn’t look it, but he sounded it, and that was enough to convince me of the life in him. But just as he lost his looks, so too did he lose his voice, until all that was left was his soul. And even that seemed to have been going lately. Every week, when I managed to see him, it seemed he’d become less like himself and more like the rat he was bound to.
Just recently, Morgen was telling me that she wanted to go sailing, just once, so she would know what it was to feel the push of the wind and the roll of the sea. It was so recent, and yet, so impossible to return to.
Last Sunday was the day I returned to an age old question; why is life a bastard? It started as a last minute addition to the sermon. Father Hansen had mentioned that he wanted to do a more thorough job of telling the story leading up to my revelation, and so I suggested that he throw in some of the questions Danny and I had attempted to answer.
As always, Father Hansen did a fantastic job through and through. And on that day, he had to. That day, Church of Apollyon was overwhelmed with the number of people who had arrived. I sat in the front row between Danny and Charlotte, with Apollyon in my pocket, listening to Father Hansen as he spoke.
“And how quickly the time does go. Today, a mere three years later, we are less than a week away from the most climactic hour in all of creation. We are joined as always by the prophet Aidan O’Moran, who I invite to join me on the pulpit so he may share his answer with us all.”
There was an explosion of applause as I stepped up to the pulpit with Danny and Apollyon. These were my people, and I was about to tell them the news that would change their lives in the best or worst way possible.
“Over the last three years, I’ve sought an answer as to whether or not humanity deserves to be saved. Looking out upon you today, just as I did three years ago, I still see sinners. I still see thieves and adulterers and deceivers and many, many nonbelievers. But rejoice Church of Apollyon, for when the great convergence comes, you shall be saved.”
When I announced my decision, the wrath that flared up in Danny’s soul was unlike anything I’d ever seen. He still didn’t feel that humanity was worth saving, but it didn’t matter. I’d made my choice, and seeing the smile on Charlotte’s face, I didn’t regret that choice in the least. Last Sunday, she was the answer to the lord’s question. She was the tenth righteous man.
Father Hansen thanked me. Charlotte continued to applaud. The audience lost their feckin’ minds. Danny slapped me, claiming that I had just announced to the world what was unquestionably the dumbest thought of my adult life.
“Before you go, I must tell you one last thing!” I shouted over the audience. “Last night, as I was praying, the lord told me something. Tomorrow, three years after the lord sent the angel Gabriel, the great convergence will take place in front of this very building. I ask all of you to be there. Go with the lord Church of Apollyon, and come back with your sins, for they shall be cleansed from your very souls!”
I left the church, and I set down Apollyon on my way out, so that Danny wouldn’t be forced to follow me. After all, it was clear that he didn’t want to. I left Charlotte behind in the church as well. It wasn’t uncommon for her to stay there long after anyone else, and figuring that this was one of those times, I walked back to the penthouse in solitude.
It was a strange feeling, being alone. I used to prefer it, but after being deprived of it for so long, it felt foreign. Almost uncomfortable. I would have a thought, but nobody to share it with. I would try to start a conversation, only to realize there was nobody with whom to start a conversation. Despite the fact that Danny hated me, I wished I had forced him to come along.
I arrived back at the penthouse seeking Charlotte’s company, but she was nowhere to be seen, and I couldn’t seem to recall why she wouldn’t be there. I checked each room, but discovered nothing until I walked out onto the balcony. There, mounted on the railing, sat a periscope. It was aimed downwards toward the city. I hadn’t put it there, yet there it was. Tied to it was a note, which shook in the wind. I steadied it, and read the brief phrase.
“You’re all out of favors. This is the one that costs you.”
Below the two sentences, there was the simple outline of a black crown. I looked through the telescope. I almost wish I hadn’t. I almost wish I ignored the damn thing, and that I didn’t see what was on the other side, and that I could still say I disagreed with Danny when it came to the dumbest thought of my adult life. But when I looked through the telescope, Church of Apollyon came into focus. And there, in the steeple, stood Charlotte. And there, in the steeple, stood a demon with a tattoo on its neck, holding a pistol to Charlotte’s head. And there, in the steeple, humanity was assassinated.
© Ray Underscore Thompson, July 2015