– The Vision of the Middle Pillar. Arrow.
The Mystery Of Atheism.1 –
“How can I escape this bitter Destiny. From one side the light that touches my face ...
From the other the shadow that envelops me in its embrace ...
And since I don’t know how to live without the light, or how to survive without the shadow,
everything in me is tearing apart, reducing me to an amorphous tired bundle of a person.”
I woke up with the impression I’d cried the entire night and, in the next second, my confused mind told me I was late. Only when I sat up, hurrying to get ready for school, and pain washed over my entire body, did I remember what had happened the day before, and that because of that no one would allow me set foot outside the house.
I took a deep breath, checking the hours, and was surprised to see it was past eleven. With no hope of finding him there, I still checked the place where Gabriel had been sitting.
I remembered waking up the middle of the night and seeing him there, silently watching me. But now I was alone, once more, and I couldn’t help feeling a bit disappointed when I couldn’t even feel his presence in the house.
However, by the time I finished getting dressed, I’d already decided that this wasn’t all that bad, as well. I was obviously in need of some alone-slash-reflecting-time, and near him my mind was mostly blank or terrified.
My gaze fell on the small golden ring, lying beside my pillow, and I decided I might as well find it a chain and wear it around my neck, since it would fall from any of my fingers. I tucked it inside my blouse, the cold of the metal against my skin making me shiver, and left the room to go downstairs, glad that, even though my muscles still ached, it was nothing even closer to the torture that had accompanied me the day before.
I went straight to the living room, from where I’d heard voices and, as soon as I appeared at the door, Jonathan grew immediately quiet. I tried to read his face, see if he still hadn’t forgiven me, but he just stared right through me.
“Mari! Good Morning! How are you feeling?”
I put on a smile for Alexander, who stood up from the couch as if to see me better.
“Morning. I’m fine. No need to worry,” I replied, even though I knew he wouldn’t believe me.
“Izrail went to meet Lea. As it seems, the cat found the place where Telane has been hiding,” he reported, although I hadn’t even asked, and I couldn’t help feeling apprehensive. After the night before I had become even more aware of the kind of power a Shedim possessed. And I could hardly imagine what would happen if two like Gabriel were to face each other in a real combat.
“Think they’ll be back for lunch? I was about to make us something to eat,” I said and Alexander seemed to study me for a moment, but if he did reach any conclusion, he chose not to share it.
“I’ll let them know. I’m sure the cat will be thrilled.”
I smiled, imagining Lea’s bright eyes as he jumped up and down all over the kitchen. I hadn’t seen him since he’d left us to chase Telane and, although I knew he was okay, especially now with Gabriel by his side, I still couldn’t stop worrying. It was ridiculous, I grumbled in my head as I went to the kitchen, since he was no child at all and much stronger and capable than I would ever be.
The kitchen was immersed in silence and I immediately missed the voices that usually filled it. I stuck my head in the freezer and checked its contents. Once more our provisions were dwindling and I made a mental note about the need for a quick stop by the supermarket the next day or so. I took a piece of veal, perfect for what I had in mind, and seasoned it with lemon juice, salt and pepper. I added some chopped garlic and sprinkled it with thyme and oregano, and, after adding a generous amount of olive oil, slid it into the oven. I would serve it with salted vegetables, I decided. But I would still have to make some fries, since Lea always made a face every time I told him to eat his veggies. Fries would be my trading chip, I planned with a smile as I peeled the potatoes.
The sound of the front door bell ringing left me intrigued. I didn’t recall anyone ever ringing my door bell since Rachel had returned to Paris. And so I put down the knife and went to the door, warning Alexander not to worry as I passed by the living room. The bell rang again, persistently, and I slightly ran to get it.
“All right, all ready! I’m coming!” I called out, turning the key and, as soon as the latch unlocked, the door opened with such violence that I had to take a step back so it wouldn’t hit me. I took a hand to my chest, trying to still my heart from the scare I’d caught, and looked up at him in complete disbelief.
“Mari! I need to talk to you!” Michael blurted out, obviously distressed about something, and stepped into the house without even being invited. And yet, two steps later, his body was completely frozen, his anxious expression changing into one of utter shock, fear even, and then growing darker and more frightening as his green eyes glowed threateningly. “Him! He’s here, isn’t he?” he asked me in a harsh, angry tone, and I blinked, completely stunned.
With a fast movement, Michael grabbed me by my wrist and pulled me outside the house, making me stumble to accompany his fast, furious pace. I ran, and stumbled again, too confused to react as he dragged me down the street, towards a small parking lot not far from there.
And then, it suddenly came to me, and I felt wretched inside. The promise we had made! The afternoon I had agreed to spend with him! The birthday I had wanted to celebrate. I had forgotten all about it. My mind had been so far from all that, I hadn’t even remembered it when Gabriel had mentioned his name.
“Michael ...” I started, trying to apologize, knowing that what I’d done was unforgivable, that he had every reason in the world to be angry at me, and he pulled me even harder.
“Just shut up! Do you know you even smell like him!” The harshness of his usually gentle voice left me wordless.
He stopped near the place where he’d left his bike ... more broken promises, I thought, and finally released my wrist to get on it.
“Come on! What are you waiting for?” he demanded, still angry, and I finally understood that he expected me to leave with him. I instinctively took a step back, holding my wrist that still hurt, and shook my head.
I knew better than anyone how dangerous it was, being alone, outside like this. It was like asking Telane to find me and finish what she had started two days ago. But, above that, right then, I didn’t want to be alone with him. His fierce, almost crazed expression scared me. I didn’t know that Michael at all. And my silent refusal seemed to only make him angrier, his hands closing into tight fists that shook under the strength of his own grip.
“Why is he here?” he asked accusingly, raising his voice, and I cringed instinctively. His voice almost sounded like a thunder echoing across the skies.
“He?” I replied, still too perplexed by all that to react accordingly, and a deep frown marked his forehead.
“I saw you yesterday, Mari! At school! Who do you think you’re fooling?” My heart jumped at that. He’d seen us? How? And if he’d seen us, what else had he seen?
“Michael, it’s not what you’re thinking,” I tried to explain, appealing to his comprehension, above all trying to appease him, but it all had the opposite effect.
“And how would you know what I’m thinking? Why didn’t you tell me that he was back? Better yet! How long has he been there, stuck in the same house as you, without even going to school?”
I blinked, incredulous of the direction our talk was taking and, somehow, I felt more relaxed.
“Gabriel is only passing by,” I assured him, even though the mere possibility of my words being true made me sick to my stomach, and he frowned again.
“Passing by!” He spit the words with scorn. “I saw you together! In each other’s arms! I reckon that you spent the afternoon with him! And to think that, even after that, I still waited for you. That I still believed you’d be back. I’ve been nothing but understanding up till now! Trying to accept that distorted relationship you two have. Trying to respect your doubts and insecurities. And what for, since it’s obvious I’m losing you to him!”
“Michael!” I shouted above his voice and was gasping for air the next instant. I felt terrible, and guilty, and the worst Human Being on Earth for having hurt him like that. But, above all, because what had led me to shout like that hadn’t been his pain or his despair, but my fear that his words could fulfill the terms of the Contract. And not because I was afraid to uphold my part, but because that was the only bound that truly united Gabriel and I. “I am sorry for yesterday. I truly am.” I told him in complete honesty, my voice breaking halfway, and did my best to face his furious but deeply hurt green eyes. “But everything else ... it’s just crazy stuff from your head.” Shaking inside, I told myself I was not trying to deceive him, while my darker voice laughed mockingly at my lie.
He stood up, seeming calmer, and took two steps in my direction. And even though that was Michael, the Michael I loved and trusted implicitly, I still had to make a real effort to just stand there, and not step back in order to keep the distance.
It took me some time to understand the true meaning of his words and my heart beat hard against my chest, making me look away in hopes of escaping that command.
“Prove it!” he repeated, cutting me off, and his hands held me by the shoulders, pulling me roughly.
I couldn’t breathe and reflexively pushed him back with all my strength, my shaking hands on his chest, but he didn’t move an inch. The warm hands that covered my shoulders hurt me, his fingers digging into my skin, and I groaned in pain knowing I’d never be strong enough to free myself from his grip.
“Let her go!” That voice, although spoken in what could be considered a normal tone, echoed all around us in a heavy, dark threat, putting everything to a stop. Michael raised his head, looking surprised, and his hands automatically lost their strength, ending up releasing me. Before I could react, an arm was across my chest and I was pulled back against a firm, warm body.
“You are ... that friend of his,” Michael murmured. The tension around us made me shudder.
“That’s right. And you! You don’t have the right to even come close to her!” Alexander replied, murderous intent dripping from his every single word. Michael stood silent, looking at me with a mix of pain and regret, making my heart hurt as well. Alexander took a deep breath and released me. “However, because Mari worries about you, I’ll tell you what happened. Gabriel and I came back yesterday. His mother, Mari’s aunt, passed away last Sunday. The family thought it best if we gave Mari the news in person. And so we met her at school. Mari wasn’t feeling well afterwards, and so we brought her home.” He spoke in a monotonous, obviously annoyed tone, and placed a warm hand on my head as if to comfort me. I couldn’t even feel outraged at the stream of lies flowing out of his lips. “Since she wasn’t feeling all that great, I gave her a sleeping pill, and she just woke up an hour ago. And now! After all she’s been trough, you still come here with this kind of shit?”
He was back to his furious mode and Michael winced, as if he’d been really hit.
“Alexander! Please,” I begged. I was the one at fault. I was the one who had hurt him. I didn’t want to see him suffer anymore, much less for a bunch of ridiculous lies.
Alexander looked down at me for a second, and then looked away, almost pouting, but didn’t say another word.
I looked back at Michael, at his guilty and confused expression. I could still clearly remember his bright smile when he’d shown me his new bike, inviting me to spend the afternoon with him. I swallowed my sobbing that would only lead to a tearless crying, and made my lips smile, making sure I kept my emotions under control and that I kept facing him, even as hard as it now was just looking at him.
“I am really sorry,” I told him in all honesty. “I know how important yesterday was for you, and I do wish I could have spent it with you.” I felt sad and disappointed at myself, and he lowered his head.
“No, I’m the one who’s sorry. I ...” His shoulders shook and then he was turning away and getting on his bike, sliding the helmet over his head.
“Michael! Wait!” I called out to him, desperately trying to reach him. I couldn’t let him go like that, as if things had been broken between us. How could I possibly fix that? But Alexander held my hand, pulling me back, and then his bike was already roaring even before he released the brake, and he sped out of the parking lot and down the road, leaving me behind, empty and cold.
“Let him go, Mari,” Alexander told me as I watched him go. There was nothing else I could do.
The pain, however, was all mine to bear, and I sobbed bitterly, not even one single tear obeying my sorrow. Childishly enough I was angry with my own Soul! How could she just watch him go like that and do nothing! And feel nothing when I was in so much pain. And then my usual defense mechanism turned on and everything inside me was quiet, still and unfeeling for as long as I could keep my mind like that, completely blank.
It was in that almost apathetic state that I returned home with Alexander by my side. I heard him ask me for forgiveness for not having arrived earlier. And somewhere I knew I should thank him, but the words were lost inside of me. As soon as he opened the door I could smell burning, and I went straight to the kitchen to see Jonathan surrounded by a cloud of gray smoke.
“I’m really sorry! When I noticed it was already too late! And I don’t really know how to use these things,” he said, sounding strangely flustered. I didn’t know what was stranger; that he was talking to me or that he could show that kind of expression, but I didn’t care either way.
“It’s fine. No big deal,” I told him, looking at my scorched veal.
“What now?” he asked, sounding genuinely worried, and I shrugged.
“Throw it away,” I replied and turned away, feeling Alexander’s gaze following me as I went up to my room.
For a moment I almost expected to see him there, looking at me with his mocking smile, and an ironic sneer touched my lips. Even then, even in that kind of situation, after all that had just happened, in the end my mind turned to Gabriel.
With a sigh I went to the place where he usually sat, on the floor, and sat down. I recalled Steph’s words and buried my forehead on my knees. She’d been right all along. I wanted them both and, not surprisingly, the only thing that could come out of something like that was pain and suffering. I couldn’t even think about things like having to choose one, even though that would probably mean that I would end up losing them both. After all, Gabriel wasn’t even Human.