Michael goes for a drive, then a run, then a trip down someone else's memory lane...
From the Desk of Minus Three:
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The Higher That the Monkey Can Climb, The More He Shows His Tail…
Every time someone would say the words ‘loud music’ the first thing I would think of is Mark. All my life, before I ran away and lost myself in the river of my own misery, I remember being surrounded by so much volume I should be deaf. My mother used to joke that Mark created his own Choir because he didn’t like the one that already existed. I always thought he was so cool. In the car? Huge music. In the studio built in the basement of both of our houses? Huge music. Every single minute of every single day he had music, deep and throbbing, forming a wall around him unless Lisa or my mother asked him to turn it down. I didn’t even care for the type of music that much, but the sheer depth and volume always blew my mind.
For years now, since before I was born, if you said the word ‘music’ in certain circles the name Mark Fox would come into the conversation. Most of the songs you hum while they’re on the radio? One of Mark’s studios recorded them. Many of the CDs on your shelf? His name is in fine print somewhere near the bottom. Half the songs you lose your mind to when they come on in the club and destroy the dance floor? Mark made those. He called the house in Hollywood ‘the place that bass built’.
You could say that he’s kind of a big deal.
One of the things I’d always liked most about Mark was that he did it all on his own. He was already one of the most well respected producers in the world before the whole war thing, before our family became one of the most well known in the world. He was grounded, centered. None of it ever went to his head. When I was little I wanted to be just like him; not because he was a father figure to me, because he wasn’t. He didn’t ever try to be. He was a great guy, but he knew as well as I did that he wasn’t my dad so he didn’t try to push it. If anything Lisa had always acted more like my father than anyone else. She was strong and steady, whereas Mark was kind of quiet and kept his thoughts to himself when it came to me.
Even if he’d wanted to have some deep and meaningful conversation with me we couldn’t have; the music was always too loud. That’s why, after breakfast at their hotel, I’d been so willing to go with him when he said we should take a ride so we could talk. Lisa and Aliona had had that ‘we’re going to go spend money of clothes and shit’ look on their faces, and they were eager to take Magda with them, and neither me nor Mark were eager to tag along.
“Fuckin’ bullshit rental car system,” Mark said, a look of disgust on his face as he shook his head and turned the stereo down while he drove. The speakers were thoroughly blown after the first drop of the bass in the song he’d tried to play for me. “I should have said ‘yes’ to the insurance.”
“Ha!” I laughed. “I don’t know if that counts for the insurance.”
“Fuck it then,” he said, his small smile twisting the corner of his mouth. He turned it back up all the way and the back speakers cracked and shook in their housings as he utterly destroyed them with another blast of thick volume. “There, if a things worth doing…”
“…it’s worth doing right,” I finished for him, laughing.
“Fuck man, you do it too,” Mark said as he turned the stereo off from its last seconds of life. “Finishing my sentences, I mean. It’s kind of…”
“…a bad habit? Yeah, I know.”
“Shit,” he muttered, smiling and shaking his head at me. “Some things just don’t change.”
I shrugged and returned his smile. “So what did you want to talk about, man?”
“You’re looking good, Michael,” he started. “Samael made it sound like you were all chewed up and spit out like a dog got a hold of you.”
“Oh no, he had it right,” I replied. “I was a pile of shit until yesterday. Something happened though, when I jumped out of my window.”
“Look man, bit of advice for you,” Mark said, looking at me from within the lines around his grey eyes. “Next time you jump off a balcony don’t tell the girls about it. I thought Lisa was going to knock you out.”
“Hey, Mark…they asked.”
“Still, that doesn’t mean you have to tell them,” he said, shaking his head again. “Just say it, then stop. You don’t have to go into detail, right?”
“I guess,” I replied to him, shrugging again. “It’s been a weird couple of days.”
“That’s not what I wanted to talk about, though,” he said. “I can see it in your eyes, little man. You’re flailing.”
“Flailing? What are you talking about, Mark?”
“Why do you think I’ve never gone looking for you? I always tried to tell Samael not to bother, that you’d be fine one day. That you needed to go drown so you’d learn how to swim on your own. I know how it is, Michael.”
“Oh yeah?” I asked.
“Yeah,” Mark continued. “Come on man, for real? You think I haven’t been inside my share of bottles? You really think I haven’t done my fair share of reckless partying?”
“I guess I never thought about it,” I told him, watching the city slide past through the window.
“You never asked, so I never told you,” he said. “Maybe I should have. Maybe I should have tried to say more. Look, Michael; this is what it is. We both know you don’t have a father the way most people do. I just didn’t want you to…I don’t know…push back? I get it man, I know better how you feel than you might think and if I’d tried harder back then it wouldn’t have worked. You’re more like me than you know.”
“Is that right?” I asked, doubtfully.
I didn’t know much about Mark’s past, but I had a hard time believing we were anything alike. Before I’d taken off when I was 16 he’d always had this look of passive bliss on his face like everything was perfect and always had been. He loved Lisa and my mother more than anything and you could see it on his face all the time. It was hard to believe that there was anything else there. I slowly slid my thoughts against his and sensed something I’d never expected; sadness, regret, loss. There were faces and images and places I’d never seen growing up, and something eating at him.
“I’m not gonna lie, Mikey Mike,” he said, looking at me out of the corner of his eye while he drove. “I really don’t like that.”
“Like what?” I asked him.
“It feels like having someone you don’t know touch your hair or some shit. Stop it,” he said.
“I didn’t…how’d you feel that?” I asked, confused.
“I don’t know. Ali explained once that some of us, mortals, can sense it and stop it. I never got the stop it part down, but I can feel it so just quit. If you want to know something just ask like a normal person, alright?”
“Sorry, man. Who was Cyan?”
“See?” he said, somewhat annoyed. “Do you have any idea how fuckin’ weird that is? All the same, you may as well know.”
So he told me. He told me about Cyan and how she died. He told me about what happened with my mother shortly after they’d met. He told me about all the parties in between and all the running and hiding he’d done all his life so he could avoid actually connecting with other people. For the most part I was quiet and just listened. He wasn’t telling me about anything I wasn’t already familiar with in my own life, but I’d never really thought about ‘Mark before my mother’. It’s really easy to think about your parent figures as just springing into existence at your birth. Mark told me everything, leading right up to how hard things were for him and Lisa when my mother was off battling her own kind. He told me how difficult it was to come to grips with the fact that whether he thought he would be good at it or not he was going to be a father when she came back.
He knew about the bizarre circumstances of my birth and it had scared him and Lisa both. She had really gotten into the whole parenting thing, but Mark had never been able to reconcile the fact that he hadn’t really ever wanted to be a father and had withdrawn from the responsibility all my life. The only time he’d ever even thought about having children was in the fictional ‘after the club’ life he imagined himself having with Cyan before she died, and my very existence brought that all back for him. Lisa and my mother had tried to get him into it, but they also understood and had never really made a big deal about it.
For the first few years of my life that I could remember I recalled him working an awful lot. I thought he was so damn cool that it had never occurred to me to resent him. I’d actually envied him the fact that he had something to lose himself in so he didn’t have to live every minute in the midst of a circus of media and lights and attention. You can’t be at the center of those that brought about the apocalypse and not have it change you unless you’ve got something else you can go do to escape it.
“I’m going to tell you something, Michael,” he was saying to me. “And you’re not going to tell anyone, alright?”
“For the first while, after it was all over, I thought about leaving all the time.”
“You what?” I asked, surprised. It was hard to believe, plain and simple.
“Yup,” he went on. “Of course I would never be able to go through with it. I love Lisa and your mother more than anything else in the whole world. But I still thought about leaving it all behind so I wouldn’t have to deal with it. So I get it, little man. I get it.”
“Yeah, man. I see where you’re going with this. I’m over that shit now though, after yesterday.”
“It feels that way, doesn’t it? And I can tell you’re feeling better about the whole thing. I’ve had those moments too. But don’t go to sleep on this, alright? You’re elated. That won’t necessarily stick. There’s no switch that you just flick on and off, Michael. You have to keep your finger on the button.”
“Look, I appreciate the words Mark. I really do. You’re a good guy. I gotta do this on my own though, man. In my own way.”
He smirked and shook his head at me. “Yeah. Whatever, man. I know you will, no matter what I say. Just don’t forget this conversation.”
“Right,” I said.
The only other time Mark and I had had a conversation like this, all deep and whatnot, was after The Chairman died. I’d loved that cat. It’d taken me a long time to get over his death and it hadn’t been Lisa or my mother that had finally been able to make me feel better about it; it had been Mark. Lisa had been as upset as I was, and my mother had been content to just let me mourn as long as I had to. I suppose when you’re thousands of years old a few weeks of grief seemed a blink of the eye in the grand scheme of things. Mark had actually wanted to get me over it though.
“Remember when our cat died?” I asked Mark.
He laughed a bit and nodded. Without thinking about it I brushed against his thoughts a bit, but before I could read anything solid he raised his eyebrow and looked at me sidelong so I stopped. “You were one sad little kid when that fat bastard died.”
“You’d think I would have learned about death from watching our fucked up home movies, wouldn’t you?” I said, laughing.
“You’d think…but you didn’t know any of those people. Sometimes I watch some of those, or I’ll see something on TV, and I still have a hard time believing any of it was real, little man. It’s not just you. That cat though…you knew that cat. I was fucking terrified what you might do if someone didn’t help you get over it.”
“What do you mean, ‘what I might do’?”
“Honestly?” he asked, looking at me and raising his eyebrow. Mark shook his head and ran his fingers through his mostly grey hair, letting out a long breath. “I was terrified that you were somehow going to bring him back to life. We all knew, Michael. We all knew what you might be. Ali made us promise not to bring it up with you, not to talk about it so you could try to have a normal life, but we all knew. I’d hear you crying in your bed and then I’d have nightmares about waking up and seeing The Chairman covered in dirt walking around the house meowing because he couldn’t find his food, so he’d try to eat you.”
“That’s fucked up, Mark.”
“Our whole family is kinda fucked up though, isn’t it?” he asked me. There was a moment of tension in the car.
“Yeah…” I said.
“Whatever…” Mark said.
Then we broke out laughing together. Mark clapped his hand on my shoulder and said, “You’re alright.”
His phone rang then, and his face went from happiness to shock to anger. “What!? We’re on our way. Did anyone call Sam? Shit. Right, don’t leave.”
“What the fuck, Mark?” I asked as he hung up and hit the steering wheel with the palm of his hand.
“Some guy was following the girls around the mall. Lisa pointed him out and your mother, being the woman she is, went to get in his face and he took off.”
“And…?” I asked, prodding at him to go on.
“And so she took off after him, Michael,” Mark said, frowning. “She ditched Lisa and your girl at the mall and she got in a cab and she went after him.”
“What the fuck…?” I mumbled.
“Yeah, I know right? What the fuck,” he said, driving fast through traffic. “She acts like she’s bullet proof sometimes, but this isn’t like her.”
“Sam?” I asked.
“Lisa can’t reach him, he’s not answering his phone.”
“Fuck…” I said.
God Builds a Church, The Devil Builds a Chapel…
We picked Lisa and Magda up outside the mall. Mark was intent on taking them back to the hotel and then going out to look for my mother, so of course Lisa was intent to go along. I was intent for none of that to happen. If there was some kind of danger I wasn’t letting any of them get in the middle of it. I told Mark to keep trying to call Sam, and to have him call me if he reached him. I had Lisa tell me where the last place she’d seen Aliona standing was and she pointed out the exact spot where she got into the cab in the mall parking lot.
“Stay in touch,” Mark told me and then they drove away while Lisa kept protesting that she should be coming with me. What she thought she’d do if there were trouble I don’t know.
Standing in the parking lot I concentrated on the spot my mother had been standing. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was doing. I thought about her tiny little form. I tried to focus on feeling something, anything. The more I thought about her the more I could see little strands of light like smoke drifting around me in the air. I watched them move around and I could start to see differences in them. If I focused on one more than the others I could separate it from the rest, and then it would take on significance. Some were Magda, some Mark, others Lisa. The ones that were my mother were the strongest and brightest of all of them. I could see them trailing away from me off into the city and I started walking. It would have been easier if I’d had a car and I wished Samael was there. I’d never met anyone that could drive like that guy could; apparently he used to be even better at it before becoming a mortal. Some of the stories I’d heard were barely believable.
My walking turned into a jog, the jog into a run, as I followed the little strands of light that connected me to my mother. People I passed on the street jumped back and looked at me as I ran past them; dressed all in black baggy clothes with my sunglasses and toque I must have looked like a purse snatcher fleeing the scene of a crime. For blocks and blocks I ran, not tiring or losing my breath. Despite the abuse I had been subjecting my body to for years now I seemed to be in much better shape than I’d realized. It probably had nothing to do with health and everything to do with my strange and unnatural lineage. The fact that I was even still alive after years of smoking and drinking to a level of excess that would startle most people should have tipped me off long ago that I was far more weird than I had realized.
I’d been running for half an hour when my phone rang. I slid to a stop and answered. It was Mark. He wanted to know if I’d found her yet, no one could reach her and they’d realized it was because her phone was in Lisa’s bag. My mother didn’t normally wear clothes with pockets; she rarely wore clothes that left much to the imagination and it had embarrassed me when I was a kid and my friends would stare at her. I told Mark to keep trying Samael and hung up and ran.
I found my mother sitting on the steps of a tall narrow brick building half an hour later. She had a thunderous look on her face, her elbow on her knee and her chin on her fist. She looked up with her eyes as I slowed to a stop in front of her, the rest of her remaining perfectly still.
“What the hell are you doing?” I asked her, holding my arms out to my sides. “You freaked everyone out running off after some creepy dude like that!”
“Hi Michael,” she said, smirking a little smirk. “It had to be done.”
“Oh yeah? Why’s that then?” I asked her.
“I lost him though. The cab driver just couldn’t keep up. He has one of them driving for him,” she said cryptically. “I thought they were all dead…”
“What the fuck are you talking about!?” I asked.
She looked up from under her frown again, looked down, and then exhaled a deep breath. “I’m sorry, Michael. I guess I’m not making sense. As far as I knew he’s just a normal person now, but that was short sighted I guess. No one like that could ever truly be normal…or mortal for that matter.”
“Yo, Mom…you’re still not making sense. Who’s this guy that was following you and why’d you take off after him?”
“Sit down, Michael,” she said. Her tone was firm, devoid of its usual tinkle and sparkle.
I sat next to her and she put one of her little arms around my shoulders and leaned against me. I put my arm around her and asked, “Seriously, what’s going on?”
My mother looked up at me with her tiny little face, looking like she was trying not to cry. “Let me call Mark and Lisa first. Then I’ll tell you about Ephra and the Nephilim.”
Drink the Blood of the Only Child…
Standing inside the Choir is a far different thing than walking through it. That is where we were from; more a byproduct of the sounds and textures of reality than individual beings born in harmony with it like the mortals were. When I’d suggested that maybe we were just as much a product of our own choices as they were, Ephra slapped me across my face.
“Dangerous,” he said in his deep monotone. “Childish. This is not Truth.”
“If their choices shape the Choir, why does Truth have to be imposed on them, then?” I asked as I put my hand on my cheek where he’d struck me. “Do not their choices form the Choir? And is the Choir not Truth?”
“Young,” he boomed. “Foolish.”
I nodded in supplication so he knew I would be silent and let him continue.
“Once they walked Truth, little Cherub. They spoke Truth. They were Truth. Something happened. Something faltered. They now fight Truth. There is only the Choir, Aliona. Their choices create discord and we must try to correct it or the Choir will be out of tune.”
“So they were created by the Choir? As we were?”
“No.” His voice resonated through me as we watched them from inside the Choir, invisible. They sharpened sticks against rocks and jabbered at each other, trying to communicate as we did.
“If there is only the Choir, and they were not created by it, then they must create it?” I asked.
“I do not understand, Ephra,” I said, hanging my head in shame at my failure to comprehend. The Seraphim saw all, and we were but ants beneath them.
“Your failure is that you seek to understand. You will not. You cannot. Yours is not to ask, it is to serve.”
“I see,” I said, feeling sheepish and foolish.
“No. You do not. But that is as it should be.”
“How then can I serve?” I asked, scrunching my young face in confusion. “If I do not understand, if I do not see, then how will I know what to do?”
“The Choir creates you from the crèche. We guide that creation that you may serve best. We see. We know. That is the purpose of the Seraphim. To know. The purpose of the Cherubim and Elohim is to serve.”
“Who created the humans?” I asked quietly.
“None. They simply are. As the trees are and the rocks and the animals. They are dumb animals. They flounder under the weight of their own intelligence. They think they choose. They think they act, but only react. They think they think, but they only feel. They cannot hear the Choir around them and so they know not the damage of their ‘choices’.”
“Ephra, if I may ask something else?”
“Speak,” he said, low and resonant.
“Who created the Seraphim?” I asked him, quiet and timid.
“Truth. We are Truth, and thus have always been.”
I nodded, not really understanding and knowing that he knew I didn’t understand. Ephra didn’t elaborate though, as I knew he wouldn’t.
“That one,” he said pointing at one of the mortals, and then to another. “And that one.”
I frowned in concentration and sensed the strings of light wobbling clumsily in the air around the hairy savages sharpening their sticks and grubbing in the dirt. I worked the two of them together, binding them with light, and they looked to each other with intent in their eyes. They would mate and the Choir would be served best by their offspring.
“Not that one,” Ephra said as he pointed to another of the humans. “That one is trouble.”
The one he pointed at was scowling at the others, sitting a bit apart from their group. He looked confused as he turned a stick around in his fingers, touching the sharp point and then looking at his finger. I could hear his primitive thoughts; he didn’t want to do what was coming. He didn’t want to attack another tribe and take their cave. He didn’t understand the point when they could band together and be stronger as a whole. I looked to Ephra, confusion on my face as well.
“Now,” his voice boomed at me.
“But…should not all their ideas be fostered?” I asked quietly.
He was right. If they were not guided by absolute Truth then choice would enter the equation and they would stumble. I felt foolish again for questioning a Seraph and I stepped towards the human as he threw the stick down and picked up two rocks and started tapping them together. It was arrhythmic, not beautiful and measured like the Choir. Given time he would find a pattern there, but there was no time left for him. I looked tentatively at Ephra, who nodded firmly.
I reached out of the Choir towards the primitive man and as I did so there was a burst of light as I entered their material world. The men and women of the tribe fell back from me as a wind whipped up around me, blowing my hair around my face and shoulders as I spread and flexed my wings. My own inner light blinded them and they covered their eyes and fell prostrate on the ground at my feet; all except the one tapping the rocks together. He looked up at me with wide stupid eyes and reached out towards me with one of his hands.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered to him as I held my hand out for him to touch.
His fingers gently touched my soft little palm and there was another burst of silent light. When it faded he was gone, ash swirling in the air where he had knelt only a second before. I looked around at the others, their faces in the dirt, and a tear slipped from my eye and trailed slowly down my cheek. When they looked up I had already entered the Choir again and stood beside Ephra.
“I did not like doing that,” I said, wiping my cheek with the back of my wrist.
“It is not required that you enjoy your tasks, only that you perform them as told,” Ephra said. “Come.”
For many years, generation after generation, we guided the mortals through their development to ensure their compliance. As they grew and spread as a people we could affect their paths and choices less and less. It was never explained to me, but I came to understand that this was why our guidance as so critical in the beginning; so that in the future they would be more likely to comply with the will of the Seraphim on their own. The time eventually came for some of us to walk amongst them at all times to continue our work of making sure the right people ended up in the right places at the right time. The will of the Council had taken on its own momentum amongst the mortals by then, but it was only those of us who’d walked beside them in the earliest days that were at first allowed to take vessels and operate of their own accord. Only those most trusted to act in the interests of the Choir above the interests of the individual.
It became harder as time went on. Large portions of the Choir seemed to have a life of their own due to the mortal’s intimate entwinement with it. Music came. Art came. Poetry came. True Love came. It was required of us to return to the Council and speak on what we learned of the development of mankind so that they could best decide what was True and what had to be expunged. The expunging was the part I liked least, and I was constantly reminded by Ephra that it was not required of me to enjoy my tasks. All that was required of me was that I serve…and I did.
As the leader of the Seraphim Council Ephra was the final arbiter on the fate of man. When it came time for me to take up the Spear of Penance and bring the Wrath of the Lamb to the mortals it was his voice that commanded me to do so. In one way or another, the life of any of us could be traced back to Ephra. He was the oldest. He was the First. He was the wisest and most detached from the failing of feeling and therefore choice. Once I asked my father, Aposophes, if he could recall being created by Ephra…but he could not. Ephra was as old as time. He had always been, and therefore would always be.
As the race of man grew, so too did the Fold that we could shepherd them most effectively. Not all of our tasks made sense, but it wasn’t required for us to understand. Some atrocities were allowed, other times seemingly harmless people or whole nations would be wiped from the history of their species. Whole centuries would sometimes go by where I had no communication with the Council, other times I would be assigned a seemingly endless series of tasks, one after another. Often there was blood…so much blood. There were times when I thought I would never be able to get its stain from my wings and my skin and my hair.
Those who asked too many questions, or who refused the will of the Seraphim, had their wings stripped from them and were cast down to live amongst the mortals. As we had come to be seen as angels by humans, so they came to be seen as demons. Some, like my sister Avrielle, came to be assigned the task of hunting the Fallen and destroying them. Others, like me, were left to our role of guiding the joining of mortals.
Through it all, the Seraphim must have realized that we were not enough. They created the Nephilim from the most primal and maniacally zealous towards the myths and stories that had been allowed at the will of the Council to develop. Nephilim always made me uncomfortable; their single mindedness spoke of slavery more than servitude, but they were mostly like that to begin with before they were taken into the Fold.
Of course they had been Ephra’s idea. Of course their creation was never questioned.
When thousands of years later I destroyed the last of them on the steps of the Temple of Melkart in ancient Sidon, I had been both heartbroken and overjoyed that their forced bondage was at an end. All along, since the first mortal that Ephra had me take from the Choir so that his simple tapping of stones would not interfere with the Council’s plans of first building a strong warlike people before allowing them softer things like art and joy, it had been right in front of my face. The Lie of their Truth. The slavery of the mortals and us of the Fold to the hidden agenda of the Council. Like vampires they had fed on all of us for millennia, gaining their own strength and life from our belief in their ‘Truth’.
I had been content at Ephra’s diminishment, not needing to know he had been destroyed because I knew now that he was forced to walk amongst the mortals he had long despised. It had seemed a fitting punishment. I should have known better. There are hidden cults and temples where men and women still bend their knees and lower their faces to ancient idols in secret rights of supplication to the Seraphim. Many of these religions and interpretations were set up by the Fold at the behest of the Council to ensure that the truth remained obscured under layer after layer of folklore and false prophecy. Just as many were set up as hidden repositories of power, no doubt held in reserve should their downfall ever come.
I should have known better than to think he would vanish from my life. I should have known he would come for me. The single largest cache of power, the collected Spark of the race of immortals, was my son.