There was a voice booming, but no one seemed to look. Then he fell to earth and I was the only one who saw him.
The first thing he said to me? “Excuse me, but what level of Hell is this?”
Or in other words, this the story of how I met a lost Angel and learned a little about God.
The weather was pristine that third day of May. The Sun had been shining brilliantly so that Trinity church was cast in bronze. The farmers market was splashes of color, accented by the smell of fresh baked goods. The Public Library was a silent sentinel over the Square, the matrons who guard the doors staring on the buzz of locals and tourists alike. Copley square was beauitful that third day of May and I am happy to say I was there.
It had been a long week for me. A week plagued by long hours and little sleep. While the warming weather served to energize my system, I still felt lead in my fingers and toes. My eyes also itched, which could be from allergies or sleep deprivation or some disease I was too lazy to see the doctor about. Nevertheless, I had dragged myself out this day in hopes of picking up a pie to celebrate a new semester and maybe eat some of my feelings.
I was crossing on the flagstones in front of Trinity Church, dodging pictures being taken and little kids running aimless circles of excitement. I edged my small backpack higher on my back, mindful of its weight–I had gone to the Brattle Bookshop by Downtown Crossing before this to stock up on summer reading. The good intentioned binge was now becoming a literal pain in the neck…and back…and shoulders.
I paused for a moment in the Square to drop my backpack and try to allow my tendons to relax. However, my shoulders only tensed up again as I hear a voice. At first I think it might be protesters or some homeless man shouting at the toursists, but there is no one who seems to have called out loudly. No one in my vicinity has even turned their head.
Then the voice shouts louder this time, banging off all the buildings around me until it seems to be coming from all directions at once. It sounds like someone shouting–wordless and prolonged. I can hear no pain, though, so I only langoriously check if anyone else is hearing what I’m hearing. Again, everyone minds their own business and I decide that maybe what’s been causing my eyes to itch is now affecting my ears. Oh, goody.
However, as I stoop to pick up my backpack I see a man sitting bewildered near the steps of the church. An angry asian tourist is wagging their camera in the man’s face until he has to quickly huddle his jacket, which is half off one arm, into his arms and scurry away. He comes loping towards me and his frantic eyes lock with mine.
He stops in front of me, bright blue eyes disarming me and tousled black hair dissipating my city-goer instinct to ignore the crazy man. Something about him seems so genuine and so lost, that I stand there, waiting for him to prompt me.
“Excuse me,” he says softly. Then he clears his throat and his baritone voice gains an edge of confidence. “You aren’t going to threaten me, are you?”
His eyes flick to the woman with the camera, still drilling holes into his back with her narrowed eyes. It’d be funny if I wasn’t also, by proximity, on the receiving end of that glare. If she glared any harder, we both may spontaneously combust.
“No, I promise not to threaten you,” I say, biting back a smile. “Though–I..are you lost?”
He shakes his head. Then pauses, his bright eyes locking with mine and staring right down to my core. I squirm under the scrutiny. The with all seriousness he asks: “What circle of hell is this?”
For a moment, I consider entertaining him. Then Trinity Church comes into focus in my peripherals and I start laughing from deep in my gut. It’s a crazy man–a very handsome, but crazy man. “Oh, you’re in the ninth circle,” I say once my laughter subsides some, but humor is still coloring my tone. “No getting out buddy.”
I walk past him, starting to giggle to myself again. Then his voice arrests me, seeming to ricochet from the buildings like the shout I had thought I had imagined before. I begin shaking, cold sweat breaking between my shoulder blades and I begin weighing the consequences of dropping my bag and hightailing it.
“Please,” is all he says and I’m consumed by divine fear.
“I need your help,” he murmurs softly and steps up behind me. I take a breath through my nostrils, trying to stop my heart from beating its way out of my chest. This can’t be happening, is all I can think, but then he lays a hand on my shoulder and–oh–oh how wrong I am.
Yep, I just met an Angel and he’s asking for directions. Typical. I take a break from studying–try to find some peace of mind–and this happens. Fate seriously has a way of conspiring against me,
“Alright,” I say abruptly, turning around and tossing his hand from my shoulder. “On one condition–we get coffee, you spill the beans, and then I help you.”
He cocks his head to the side. “I’m afraid I’m not carrying any beans.”
I try my hardest not to roll my eyes. “Come on,” I grumble and drag him away to the nearest Starbucks.
He doesn’t order coffee. I try to explain to him the different kinds and flavors and sizes, but he just gives me a blank look. I get frustrated with him, crossing my arms and wincing when my aching shoulders twinge. “Why do we need coffee to speak?” he asks, fingering the shoulder strap of my backpack.
I slap his hand away, nervousness fluttering in my stomach when I realize I just slapped at an Angel. “I don’t know, it’s common courtesy.”
He frowns, not at all happy about this common courtesy thing. Then his eyes drift to the menu board suspended behind the counter, eyes raking the items for the fifth time. “I’ve had all of these before,” he admits. “I don’t have to eat or drink, so I’m sorry if it’s rude for me to turn it down…”
I look him over, his beaten jacket put back on over his white t shirt and tattered jeans. For a little while I had been worried his feet were bare, but learned while I studied him on the escalator to the Starbucks that he had on green tennis shoes. For an Angel, I have to say he’s rather oddly dressed. Especially one who had lifetimes to acquire clothes or money to buy them.
Finally answering his question, I shrug: “Do you have any money?”
He shakes his head no.
“Not rude at all, then!” I comment truthfully and pat his shoulder. Then I walk up to barista and order myself mocha with an extra short of espresso. I have a feeling I’m going to need as much mood altering drug, caffeine preferred, to handle the inevitable conversation.
We leave the shoppes at Copley and the Starbucks, wandering down Stuart street. It’s less full of tourists than our two previous locations, which I’m thankful for but also wary of. While I think this guy proved himself as an Angel as basically zapping the knowledge into my head, I’m not too sure if it’s proper safety procedure to walk down an almost deserted road with one. What if this had all been a ploy and he’s come here to kill me. Is it for my good looks? Am I destined to become a cruel dictator? Will I, one day, usurp the image of God in people’s minds?
“That’s not why I came to you,” he says suddenly, which breaks my daydream of ruling the world. “I came to you because you’re the epitome of ordinary.”
His voice remains level through his statements, but that doesn’t stop my hackles from rising. Feeling the anger seep through my skin and pollute the air, the warrior of God continues on. “God tends to like using the ordinary ones–not very strong or bright or well known–so, since I’m in need of help, I decided to seek out someone similar to whom God would have chosen.”
Yep, so not helping your case buddy, but I’ll let it slide since you can probably smite me.
“So ignoring how extraordinarily ordinary I am,” I say dryly, peeking at him and only being greeting by the sight of his sharp profile against the cerulean sky. “Why are you going to Hell and how did you end up here?”
“My Brother sent me to get the soul of a righteous man who went to Hell. I was with twenty others, making our way through demon hordes, when a strong one threw me. I landed here.”
We are now getting close to Park Plaza. I know that if I run, I can probably make it to Downtown Crossing again and lose this crazy Angel in the crowd. Then I wouldn’t have to deal with trying to give him directions, or asylum until he gets directions. My books are also beginning to weigh near two tons and my spine is threatening to collapse like a game of Jenga.
“Do you know how to get back?” I hazard.
He shakes his head and I swear, for a moment, I can hear the rustle of wings as well. Maybe it’s just the trash being carried down Tremont, kicked up by traffic or the proverbial Boston wind tunnels. However, I doubt the trash theory since, when I look at him again, he’s glowing at the edges with a constipated–sorry, contemplative since it’s rude to insult an Angel, even mentally–look on his face. Then the glow fades and his expression morphs to one of resigned anguish.
“I don’t know where I am,” he groans.
“You’re in Boston,” I say. “They year’s 2015. It’s May 3rd.”
“But what level of Hell?” he asks again as if I hadn’t said anything. I begin to feel the fear I felt initially pick up in me again. We’re almost at Washington, the next cross street, and then it’s a straight shot down there to Downtown Crossing. Maybe if I just walk a little faster…
“You have to know,” he asserts.
I shrug with great exaggeration, sloshing some of my coffee from the cup. “Earth–we’re not in Hell, I don’t know what to tell you man”
His lips draw into a thin line. “You’re going to help me get back to hell,” he decides and pins me with his stare. I feel like he’s searching and sifting inside of me, this affirmed when a slow smile stretches across his face. “And you know how.”
I swallow, my mouth suddenly painfully dry.
He’s wrong: I don’t know how to get to hell.
First, I take the Angel to all the graveyards I know in Boston. Then I have him wander around Southie and Roxbury and Dorcester. He finds nothing on his searches, popping back to wherever I had gone to in the meantime with astonishing accuracy. On the last time, he shows up in my apartment while I’m going to the bathroom and my roommate is outside in the kitchen, asking me, through the door, about herbs for chicken. I’m cut off from convincing her that rosemary is the best by an Angel of the Lord materializing and standing over me as I pee.
When guys say they’re nervous pee-ers, I can totally relate now. My bladder definitely is not empty, but the pipes have shut down.
“What are you doing here?!” I stage whisper. Before I had tried to stay outside, to avoid the awkwardness of him magically appearing and my roommate questioning my friend choices, but my backpack had gotten too heavy and my bladder too small, so I decided to stop in for ten minutes. Apparently, ten minutes is too long.
“It’s not there.” he says at a normal decibel. I hear my roommate call to me, asking if I had gotten sick, and I cough dramatically.
I try to imitate the Angels deep baritone, but I only sound like a poor imitation of a frog. “I think I might be.”
Once a moment passes and I assume my roommate is satisfied, I glare at the intruding Angel who looks entirely nonplussed about the situation. “Don’t say anything,” I say quietly but sternly. Then, realizing my semi-nakedness, I try to hide it with my shirt and continue in the same angry stage whisper “And I’ll meet you outside in like 5 minutes.”
He nods, reaching for the handle, but I grab his wrist before he can turn it. “Please poof there,” I advise.
His brows knit together but then a light dawns in his blue eyes. Suddenly, I’m alone in the bathroom.
Outside the apartment, Westland Ave has a slow crawl of cars inching towards the main thoroughfare of Mass Ave. College students walk up and down the sidewalk, laden with grocery bags and backpacks. There’s a man walking his dog on the opposite side of the street, the canine giving the man a difficult time since it refuses to look away from the Angel casually leaning on the lamp post.
I step down onto the concrete and begin walking towards Mass Ave. The Angel falls into step, his footsteps hardly making a sound on the concrete.
“Is there anywhere else you can think of that might be a door to Hell?” he presses, an undercurrent of worry evident in his voice. I suddenly get the feeling that the situation down under is rather dire and he’d rather help them than be a useless bystander trapped on Earth.
I look ahead, watching as the Sun burns the Christian Science Center orange in the distance, the words blazing by its roof. It makes me laugh; I consider telling him that it might be a gate to Hell, but decide against it.
“The only way I can think of, is if you kill yourself. Because killing you gets you on the otherside–but being an Angel, if I killed you, you’d definitely go to heaven. But don’t Catholics think suicide sends you straight to the furnace?”
He cranes his head to give me a look.
“Suicide sends you straight to Hell,” I amend, the statement causing a group of passersby to gawk.
The Angel shrugs. “Worth a try.” Then he keeps on walking even as the sidewalk ends and a car is booking it down the main thoroughfare. He lets it hit him, but that obviously fails because the car continues hurtling on and he’s standing there with his jacket flapping in his wake, only slightly more torn than before.
I facepalm. This is going to be a long night.
After the Angel’s failure to die on Mass Ave, I cross the street when the little glowing white man lets me and hook my arm into the Angel’s and drag him towards the reflection pool. It takes him a moment to gather his steps, but then he’s walking at pace with me.
“The man didn’t even swerve,” the Angel comments in a slight daze, “Don’t you avoid hitting people?”
“Normally they try not to hit people,” I say, slightly happy to know other people can see him as well. “But was he looking at a cellphone? Fiddling with it?”
The Angel nods, mouth a grim line and shoulders drooping. “So you prefer to look at your cellphone than care about other people’s lives?”
“When you put it that way, yea” I agree and drag the Angel the remaining distance to the benches while he babbles about the crisis of humanity.
The night is creeping in, colored with the winter that had so recently left. I’m huddled underneath my jacket with the collar pulled up to my ears. The Angel seems unperturbed by the chill. His eyes watch the soft lapping of water on the reflection pool, this fire of the sunset cooling to the ambient light of the surrounding buildings. The Prudential Center is a green torch against the darkening sky.
I find my gaze inevitably dragged to the sky. It’s hard to imagine that beyond the wisps of clouds and the few visible stars that heaven exists–that the man I’m seated next to had come from there. I wonder if it’s really another universe like how Asgard is portrayed in the Marvel comics. Or if it really is among the clouds, nestled against another string, and sometimes the heavenly hosts wander down like the Sky People of Native American myth. I wonder where heaven is, the sky seemingly infinite but void, and I’m about to ask the Angel when he predicts my question.
“Heaven’s not there.” His eyes are turned towards the sky as well, his blue eyes shining. “I can’t even see it from here. It’s somewhere else–different.”
“Then how do we get there–you get there?” I press.
He smiles. Going home must be a nice memory. “You know how they say there’s a light?” I nod. “There’s a door to heaven, inside all of us–you, me, the squirrel that’s watching us from the bush.”
I turn my head to see that, indeed, a scraggly squirrel is watching us from a nearby plant, chittering before scurrying off deeper into the shrubbery.
“I get home by finding it in myself.” He takes a slow breath. “But Hell was not within us, it was a door by Uriel at the edge of the Garden of Eden. He had to use his flaming sword as a key to open it. I have no idea how I expected you to know. I’m sorry.”
I draw my legs up on the concrete ledge we’re seated on. “But we aren’t all born with these doors to heaven…I mean maybe you are, but we’re not.”
He nods, eyes forlorn and no longer looking at the present world.
“But we have to believe to get it. Like accept God and that sort of thing.” He nods, beginning to come back to Earth. “So the Heaven door comes by belief, for humans at least…”
Suddenly light dawns on his eyes and he stares at me. “You’re brilliant,” he almost shouts, his excitement barely controlled. “Do you believe in Hell?” he asks breathlessly.
“Never really felt the need to,” I admitted, “But I can try.”
Which is something I never thought I’d say or have to do for anyone. But apparently now it’s a thing that I’ve done because almost immediately I begin believing in the bleak, torturous side of the afterlife.
I close my eyes, imagining some hot and sweltering place. I then think of Helheim and Hades, the colder Hells. Then there is the belly of the beast from Egyptian myths who eats those with heavy hearts. All the Hells are painful in their own rights, their image amorphous but sharp like a bag full of needles. I want to cry as I imagine each in brighter color and sharper lines. When I finally open my eyes, the Angel is no longer looking at me, but again out across the Reflection pool with a very serious expression.
“Did it work?” I hazard.
He swallows, his throat clicking in a far too human way. “It did.” He stands up slowly, as if the slightest movement might disturb the door I opened atop the Reflection Pool. Before he can step onto the water, I grab him.
“Tell me you can close it–promise me you can close it.” I plead, not at all liking the idea of opening a door to Hell in the center of Boston.
He nods, a feral smile setting his features alight and his blue eyes shining. “I’ll close it,” he promises and slips out of my grip like oil on water. Then he’s consumed by this dark, jittering shadow. Faintly, I can see his street clothes materializing to the hard planes of armor, scorched and blackened and beaten.
Beyond a shadow of a doubt, he had been an Angel of the Lord…
…and that was seriously the weirdest day I had ever, ever had.