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Authors: Jack Cavanaugh

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BOOK: Tartarus: Kingdom Wars II
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If there is anything more exasperating than a stubborn angel, I don’t want to know about it. I sat up. “You think I’m afraid to go, don’t you?”

“Are you?”

“Of course I am!”

“As you should be,” Abdiel replied. “What I find difficult to understand is why you would intentionally choose a life of mediocrity.”

“Mediocrity? Do I need to remind you that I won a Pulitzer Prize for my writing? That may not carry a lot of weight in heaven, but here on earth it’s downright impressive.”

“Do I need to remind you that you bear the mark of God?”

My hand rose instinctively to my forehead. Why, I don’t know. It had never been revealed to me where the mark was or what it looked like. All I knew was that every angel—good and bad—could see it.

“I have not forgotten,” I said. “And believe me, I’m grateful for it. It’s my ticket to normalcy. The way I see it, as long as I have the mark none of you can touch me.”

“I have no desire to touch you.”

“You know what I mean. No one can drag me into the middle of your angel war. Call it mediocre if you wish, but all I want is the chance to live a normal human life.”

“You wish to be normal?”

“I wish to be the poster boy for normal. I want a normal job with normal working hours so that I can buy a normal house on a normal street where my normal wife and I can raise normal kids, free from the threat of warring angels and life-sucking demons who want to turn my body into a hotel for the damned.”

Having spooked myself with the memory, I checked the dark recesses of the ceiling for hungry, sticky gargoylelike creatures.

“You wish to be normal,” Abdiel repeated.

“That’s the plan.”

For a long moment he stared at me, unblinking. “But that is not who you are. You are part angel.”

“Yes, but don’t you see? That’s the beauty of free will. I choose to ignore that fact.”

Abdiel turned aside. For a moment I thought he was going to leave.

“I was there in the days when Nephilim inhabited the earth; like you, part human and part angel. I saw what they could do.”

“Really?” That got my attention. “Tell me. What could they do?”

“Of all men, you alone have been given the chance to know the power of Nephilim.”

“Power?”

“I can tell you this about the Nephilim of old,” he said. “They did not choose to live mediocre lives. They were heroes and men of renown.”

I tried to imagine an entire village of beings half human, half angel. Midreverie I caught myself.

“Sorry—I’m not falling for it,” I said. “You’re forgetting, I’ve already taken a ride on the wild side with your kind. I think I’ll stick to the kiddy rides.”

He nodded. “If it is your decision for the rest of your days to wonder what powers lie within you, I will honor that.”

He disappeared.

The only light in the room was the sixty-watt bulb of my bedside lamp. I switched it off and tried to go back to sleep.

Thirty frustrating minutes later I threw back the sheets and went to the closet and pulled out my suitcase. I could sleep on the flight.

CHAPTER 5

T
he coastline of Tel Aviv stretched impressively into the hazy northern horizon, a captivating view from the air even though my knees were screaming to be stretched.

Twenty hours after departing San Diego we were approaching our destination after a four-hour layover in New York, during which time I was detained by security. An agent recognized me. She was insistent she’d seen my picture on a printout of suspected terrorists. Come to find out, she’d seen it on the back of my book in her supervisor’s office.

Seated next to the window, Sue Ling seemed to be enjoying the view. I was lucky in that I had two views. The one out the window and the one seated next to me.

I don’t know how Sue Ling did it, but she looked as fresh as she did when we boarded the plane in San Diego. And while she’d maintained a business demeanor throughout the flight, there is an intimacy to travel that made the long trip enjoyable. At least for me.

We talked. Of course we talked. I learned that she has seen every Alfred Hitchcock movie ever made, that she loves anything made with pasta and has been known to eat cold spaghetti for breakfast, and that she has a rabid fascination with roller coasters that I don’t understand: the wilder, the better. I also learned that she is a dissertation away from earning her Ph.D., and that she’s put off writing it for over a year. I didn’t have to ask why. All of her time is spent with the professor.

As a researcher I’ve developed subtle interview skills that are designed to draw people out when they’re reluctant to talk. I’ve made it my practice not to use these skills in casual conversation with the opposite sex. The way I see it, if a woman is hesitant to talk about something, that’s her right. Call me old-fashioned, but I’d rather she reveal her heart to me in her own time and in her own way.

I broke my own rule with Sue Ling. I probed. I’m not proud of myself, but I had to know where I stood with her. I didn’t want to make a fool of myself.

After a few questions she opened up. I think she wanted to. She’s quick. I think she saw where I was headed and did us both a favor by dousing any romantic thoughts I might be kindling.

I learned that Sue Ling considers herself to be the professor’s wife, if not legally and physically, at least emotionally. For better or worse, until death do them part. She told me that two years ago she invited him to propose to her. He declined.

It wasn’t for lack of affection, nor did his disability figure into the decision. He told her he couldn’t marry again for fear that what happened to his wife and daughters would happen again. He couldn’t take the chance that rebel angels would hurt or kill her to get to him.

Sue loved him even more for turning her down and pledged herself to him for as long as they both shall live. When she told me of her pledge, she insisted a physical relationship and children didn’t matter to her. But there was sadness in her eyes when she said it.

Our seats dropped from beneath us as we descended. The Israeli countryside was a blur. Ben Gurion airport lay directly ahead. There we would meet our contact, a twenty-two-year-old archeology student named Choni Serrafe. He would be our guide and drive us the remaining fifty kilometers to the Crowne Plaza Hotel.

“Looks like we’re in for a storm.” I pointed out the window.

An impressive thunderhead was building over the eastern mountains, similar to the way it does in east San Diego county as the cool ocean air collides with hot desert winds.

We landed without incident and began the tediously slow march through customs and security. It seemed like half the world was trying to get into Israel, which wasn’t surprising considering all the attention the Alexandrian manuscripts were getting in the press. Naturally you’d expect biblical scholars from all over the world wanting to get into the country to see for themselves. It was the hordes of doomsayers and end-of-the-world fanatics standing in line that I found annoying.

I blamed the media. From the start they had been trumpeting every imaginable rumor that had to do with the third scroll, the crazier the better. One of the most repeated rumors was that the third manuscript had revealed the location of Jesus’ tomb, where researchers had unearthed a complete skeleton. Variations of the story ran rampant.

One held that, by order of the president of the United States, secret military operatives had raided the site and massacred the scholars in the act of authenticating the bones of Jesus. The bones of Jesus were confiscated and crushed to dust and scattered over—take your pick: Texas, Wall Street, Las Vegas, or Elvis’s grave. One man in Houston claimed to have a NASA memo to the effect that Jesus’ ashes would be launched into space aboard the next space shuttle.

Why would the president of the United States order the destruction of Jesus’ bones? To keep the Christians in America from turning into godless hordes and endangering civil order and the world economy.

A different rumor claimed that the text of the third manuscript revealed that Jesus was a super-intelligent alien from the same race that built the pyramids in Egypt.

Still another report held that Dan Brown was an alien who discovered a copy of the manuscript text and plagiarized it, publishing it as
The Da Vinci Code.

Then there was the
National Enquirer
story reporting that Jesus faked his own death in order to escape the Temple money-changers who had put out a contract on him.

While in the airport waiting to board I watched an
Entertainment Tonight
segment that reported the manuscript was being hushed up because it gave a detailed and disturbing physical description of Jesus. That instead of an attractive man with long hair Jesus was in reality fat and bald.

The consensus seemed to be that whatever the text of the third manuscript revealed when it was released, there would be a radical revision of the historical Jesus.

Reaction among churches was mixed. Liberal denominations welcomed a fresh interpretation of the historical Jesus, while conservatives insisted that no matter what the Alexandrian text revealed, they would not alter their teaching of Jesus since it was not part of the inspired canon of Scripture.

The next thing I knew I got an elbow in the ribs as a short, bony young man pushed me aside. He was wearing a T-shirt that said: T
HE
A
LEXANDRIA
M
ANUSCRIPT
—O
PRAH’S
B
OOK OF THE
M
ONTH
. He pulled his girlfriend with him to the front of the line.

My cell phone rang. “Hail to the Chief.” I kept meaning to change the ring tone.

“It’s Christina,” I told Sue just as her cell phone rang.

“The professor,” she said.

We turned away from each other and took the calls. My conversation ended before hers.

“Christina wants me to call her as soon as we have anything new, day or night,” I told Sue when she was finished.

“Are you and Christina back together?”

“I’m a source, nothing more. Didn’t I tell you? She’s on Senator Vogler’s staff.”

“Rebecca Vogler? Impressive.”

“Christina’s her chief of staff.”

“Now I’m really impressed.”

“What about the professor? What time is it in San Diego?”

“Four
A.M
.” She appeared troubled. “He said he just wanted to make sure we’d arrived safely.” She mulled a moment, then added, “I shouldn’t have left him alone.”

I glanced at the long line ahead of us. “I don’t think the Israelites had this much trouble getting into the land when Moses led them.”

Behind me were two Orthodox Jews. They didn’t think my joke was funny.

Choni Serrafe put the airport behind us as he swerved in and out of traffic like a New York cabbie on steroids.

“Is this your first trip to Israel?” he asked with a toothy grin.

We both replied that it was. Sue sat in the backseat with the luggage. She was actually enjoying the ride. Then I remembered her fascination with death and roller coasters.

Choni was the genial sort, thin and sinewy with short, black, curly hair and a five-o’clock shadow.

“Has your father made progress since speaking to the professor?” Sue asked from the backseat.

His father was a professor of antiquities at the university and one of the team of translators.

Choni looked at her in the rearview mirror. “He’ll want to report to you himself. I’ll take you to the university after you check into the hotel.”

“He must be excited,” Sue said.

“It wore off quickly. He’s too exhausted to be excited.”

Ahead of us dark clouds continued to build on the horizon. There was something about them that mesmerized me. I couldn’t stop looking at them.

“Don’t you have thunderstorms in California?” Choni asked.

The golden cupola of the Dome of the Rock glistened in the afternoon sun, catching my eye every time I looked up from unpacking. Abandoning the luggage, I finally gave in to the lure of the landscape. Pulling back the curtains, I slid open the door and stepped onto the balcony. The view of the old city was breathtaking. I couldn’t believe I was here in the ancient city where every street, every stone was saturated with history. If nothing else happened during the course of our stay, this moment, this view alone, was worth the trip.

The air was warm and musky, heavy with the threat of rain. A massive thundercloud formed a backdrop to the scene with the lowering sun a singular stage light. The last time I’d seen clouds this dramatic—

My next word caught in my throat. I swallowed hard.

“San Diego,” I murmured. “The day the president was assassinated. Only they weren’t clouds then, but armies of angels.”

Could it be? Was that the reason I was so captivated by these clouds? Was there something more to them? Something ordinary human beings couldn’t see?

On the day of the assassination I had stood on the deck of the aircraft carrier
Midway.
Semyaza, Lucifer’s lieutenant, stood beside me. He lifted the blinders from my eyes and I saw angels. He also expressed surprise that I needed his aid to see them.

Had the Nephilim of old been able to see angels in their natural state? It made sense that they could. What kind of sustained relationship can be had with invisible partners?

Maybe they could do it, but could I? And if I could, how?

Gripping the railing with both hands, I set my gaze on the clouds.
Somehow I need to tap the angel within me.
I lowered my head and concentrated hard on the clouds and…succeeded in giving myself a headache.

Glancing away, I rubbed my eyes. I tried again. Same result. Eyestrain. Headache. No angels.

But I could feel an attraction from the clouds. Call it psychic or whatever you wish, they were calling to me. No, it was stronger than that. There was force. They were pulling on me.

That was something, wasn’t it? How many people are drawn to clouds by force? Maybe that was the extent of my angelic abilities.

Then something came to mind. Maybe I was going about it all wrong. While I hadn’t thought of them in years, for some reason stereograms came to mind. They were a fad a few years ago. Optical illusions, they were three-dimensional objects embedded in two-dimensional prints that at first glance appeared to be nothing more than a splattering of random dots.

People bought books with page after page of stereogram pictures. They stood in galleries staring at framed prints. Some people, no matter how hard they tried, couldn’t break past the surface dots to see the three-dimensional image within. They were encouraged to place their noses on the picture and slowly pull it away. All this to see airplanes and faces and teapots.

Was that the key to seeing angels, too? Sticking my nose in the clouds wasn’t an option, but what if I stared past them with unfocused eyes?

What did I have to lose?

Turning to the clouds, I steadied myself against the railing and gazed at the eastern sky. I took a cleansing breath. Relaxed my muscles. And stood there. Not so much looking at the clouds, but through them, beyond them. I concentrated on not concentrating. I breathed deeply and tried simply to be.

Nothing happened.

The urge was to focus. I resisted it.

I saw clouds. Highlights. Shadows. Movement. Billows. Cavernous depths. Angels.

So startled was I when I saw them, they disappeared from view. Setting myself again, I forced myself to relax, fighting off my rising excitement.

There were thousands of them and they were massing. Robed. Shining with a heavenly glory that was mesmerizing and fearful. Moving with grace. Solemn. Silent. They filled the sky stretching north to south from horizon to horizon and upward in a column that reached to the heavens. Was this the ladder that Jacob saw?

But unlike Jacob’s angels who ascended and descended the ladder, these angels traveled a singular direction, from heaven to earth. Their assembly had the appearance of a grand choir.

I laughed out loud. Wasn’t it a mere five miles south of here that they had assembled in similar fashion to announce the birth of the Christ child? And now here they were again. To announce what?

BOOK: Tartarus: Kingdom Wars II
2.03Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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