Chapter 10, Part 1
The asphalt of the Jesuit parking lot had never felt harder. Stephen rolled onto his side after he caught his breath and stared up at the starlight. He closed his eyes and panted, his breath white and cold in the dark.
"Oh, man," Brad said, "I feel broken."
Broken. Stephen bolted upright. "Mephistopheles?"
There was no answer.
Stephen jumped to his feet and ran to the lump of black and gray just outside the cone of light cast by the street lamp. "Mephistopheles!" He dropped to his knees beside the demon and touched his back. The blouse was wet and hot. "God Almighty!"
Brad crawled over to him. "Is he awake?"
"No... and he's bleeding, worse than before. Dammit, Brad, he needs a doctor! I can't keep him from dying. I don't even know how to fix people much less angels...."
Brad sat up. "Father... Marie's mom is a doctor."
"What?" Stephen looked at him. "Marie? Your girlfriend?"
"Her mom's a doctor."
Stephen looked at the body. "Oh God, Brad. You want us to just waltz into your girlfriend's house, dump a demon on the living room floor and tell her we're a walk-in?"
"Do you have a better idea?" Brad said.
Stephen looked again at Mephistopheles. His jaw clenched.
"Come on, I'll drive. I took the minivan to school today. Yesterday? When is it, anyway?"
"Your guess is as good as mine. God, I hate to move him...." Stephen shook his head. "Bring the van around."
Brad launched himself from the demon's side, a spray of asphalt pebbles bouncing from beneath his shoes. Stephen pushed his sweater sleeves to his elbows and leaned over Mephistopheles, trying to locate the patch beneath the feathers and the harness. His hand slid on the blood-slick skin, but he found the bandage by feel and pressed on it. "Come on, dammit, stanch. Stanch! Don't die on me, you stupid demon! There's too much to do!"
Mephistopheles didn't wake. Black blood stained the priest's hands as he waited, his heart-beats pounding out the tempo to a psalm. Save me, O God, for the waters are come in unto my soul. I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing—
The whine of the minivan's engine passed from one ear to the other, then up the side street and into the parking lot. It skidded to a halt a few feet away, and Brad jumped out of the driver's side and ran around the back, sliding open the passenger door.
Stephen steeled himself, then worked his hands under Mephistopheles's body and lifted. "How far away does she live?"
"Ten minutes. Next to the mall and the hospital."
"I don't know if he'll last ten minutes the way he's bleeding."
Brad grimaced and slammed the sliding door on him, then ran around to the front and sprang back into the driver's seat. "Okay, maybe she lives five minutes away the way I drive. Buckle up, Father."
"No time. Go!"
The boy floored the accelerator. Stephen grabbed the arm of one of the seats and hung on, leaving blood splatters all over the carpet. He kept his other hand pressed securely against the bandage.
The brakes screeched as Brad flew around a corner.
"Wasn't that a red light?"
"Are you complaining?"
"Then keep your head down!"
Stephen closed his eyes and concentrated on rocking with the bumps and the jolts. The ride was interminable, but somehow the van stopped without crashing. The quiet of the engine struck him almost physically as the driver's side door flew open. A few seconds later, the sliding door retracted.
"I'll go wake them up," Brad said, and then darted away.
Stephen closed his eyes, listening to the chirp of frogs and the occasional sound of a car passing on a distant road. A sharp rapping interrupted the pastoral sounds. A window slid open. He could hear the hushed voices but not the words, and then Brad reappeared in the door. "Come on. Bring him. She's gone to wake up her mom. I didn't tell her what
he was, just that he was a friend."
"Great. Leave the hard stuff for me to explain." Stephen lifted Mephistopheles again, trying not to drag the free wing along the ground. He walked up the gravel path from the driveway to the front door, unable to appreciate the carefully cultivated flowers. The blood welling with every heart-beat distracted him. I am come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me—
"Come on, into the kitchen," Brad said, pushing open the front door onto an unlit, carpeted foyer. Stephen left black footprints as he fumbled into the kitchen.
Soft steps, muffled by matching carpet, pattered down the staircase and a light flicked on.
"Ohmigod," the blonde said. "Brad!"
"He needs help," Brad said. "Marie, please. We didn't know where else to go."
"Mom said she'd be down as soon as she could grab her robe. What... what is
"Where do I put him?" Stephen interrupted.
"Oh, God. On the floor. Brad, help me move the table...."
The two hastily dragged the kitchen table and the chairs to the wall, and Stephen kneeled, setting Mephistopheles down on the cool ceramic tile. His entire sweater was drenched with black blood; he could smell it, heavy as the human variant, but with a different feel. More like oil. Or warm honey....
"Cat? Are they inside yet?" A flash of messy blonde hair and then a woman appeared on the stairs, a taller version of her daughter, pixie-nosed and disheveled in a bronze robe. "Where's the—oh."
It seemed as good a line as any. Stephen cleared his throat. "Ma'am. We're hoping you take walk-ins."
Brad eyed him.
Marie's mother swept down the last steps and joined Stephen on the floor, pushing back her sleeves. "How long has he been bleeding? Are these real? Who are you, anyway?"
"About ten minutes. They're real. I'm Father Stephen Bann, I teach math at Jesuit High School. Brad knew your daughter and said you were a doctor."
The woman stripped the blouse off and found the patch. "Marie, get me some hot water. And the kit from under my bathroom sink. Quickly."
"You get the water," Marie said to Brad, and scampered back up the stairs. Brad vanished into the kitchen.
The woman placed a hand on the wing arm and gently flexed it away from the wound. "Ugly. Did he say whether he could use the wing before he dropped out?"
"No. Nor the arm."
She frowned, tucked a strand of blonde hair behind one ear with a bloody finger. "One hell of a neural system he must have, to work an extra set of limbs. God knows how the joint works. This muscle's torn... never seen anything like it. We must not have one. What is this? A knife wound?"
"Close enough. Was he poisoned or drugged? Is he on anything?"
"Good." A pause as she untied part of the harness. "Just what is he again?"
"An angel... or was," Stephen said, plucking his sweater's wet front from his body.
She stopped to stare at him, then stripped the bandage off as Marie sprinted down the stairs with the largest first aid kit Stephen had ever seen. Brad dropped the basin of hot water next to her just as his girlfriend placed the kit alongside her mother. "Okay, out of the way! This is not a road show. Marie, show the priest to a bathroom, find some old clothes for him. I should be done in a few."
"Will he be okay?" Stephen asked as the girl took his hand and pulled him aside.
"He'd better be. I can't afford a malpractice suit from God."
Stephen allowed Marie to lead him away. In the garish brightness of the guest bathroom, he stripped the sweater and shirt reluctantly from his body, hesitating as he held them in his hands. They were drenched with the blood of demons and the perfume of angels, and had seen him to Heaven and Hell....
He toweled off his chest and pulled on the heather gray sweatshirt.
Brad and Marie were in the living room, leaning together on the couch. A coffee machine gurgled in the kitchen.
"Smells good," he said, dropping onto the rug. He'd left his shoes with the rest of his stained apparel to prevent further damage to the carpet.
"It's Hawaiian," Marie said. "They call it Kona coffee. It's raised on the slopes of the volcanoes."
The conversation had the stilted feel of people desperately grabbing for a semblance of normalcy in a lunatic world. Stephen smiled. "Grown in ashy soil. Appropriate."
Even in the dark, he could see the girl blanch. "You don't think... he'll... be offended?"
Stephen chuckled. "No, Marie. I don't."
The girl's mother appeared in the arch leading to the kitchen. "Mission accomplished. The copay's sixty dollars."
Stephen stared at her. "I... don't even think I have my wallet, Mrs..."
"Just Chris." She laughed. "I'm kidding. It'll be payment enough if you tell me where the hell you found him."
"I want to hear this too," Marie added.
"Must you cuddle that way in my presence, Cat?" the woman said, dropping into the stiff-backed chair.
Blushing, Marie rose. "I'll get the coffee."
Brad developed a sudden hoarse throat. "I'm sorry, ma'am."
"Chris to you, too. So you're her new flame? You definitely keep more interesting company than the others have."
Brad pleaded mutely with Stephen to distract her. The priest shrugged.
"What is today? I'm afraid I've completely lost track."
One of the woman's brows lifted. "Is it important?"
He essayed a lopsided smile. "Yes."
"It's Friday night. Talk."
Stephen talked. Halfway through the telling, Marie entered quietly with a tray of mugs and a pot; she fixed the priest's coffee for him so he wouldn't have to stop.
At the end of the story the mugs were all drained as well as the pot, and the half-and-half was tepid. In the chair, Chris's visage, lit only by the faint glow of the night-light, betrayed no expression Stephen could read.
"There really is a God...?" Marie asked. She blushed. "No offense, Father, but...."
"None taken," he said, suddenly tired.
"Maybe you should rest," Chris said, standing. "You two have been on the move all day. We have some pillows and blankets."
Stephen looked up. "You're kind, Chris."
"No, just practical. You can't move your demon friend for at least a few hours. You might as well stay. We'll get the pillows."
He did not object.
© 2011 M.C.A. Hogarth, Stardancer.Org