And so it begins…

I first met them in a lounge on the top floor of the BP building in downtown Cleveland about 10 years ago.  It was a unique place, a penthouse slash pool hall slash men’s lodge.  A wide, open space, dimly lit, bound by floor-to-ceiling windows.  They called it the Upper Room.  It was quite some time before I understood the irony.  I wasn’t sure why I was there—they’d called me but I couldn’t remember how or why.  I knew where to go, when to meet them, what to look for.

There were four of them then and a more disparate group of comrades could not be found.  There was Michael, a gruff hulk of a man, constantly clad in the deep blue kimono of a samurai—sword included—with his thick mane of dreadlocks pulled into a high ponytail.  He spoke little, usually in a series of grunts and growls, and played pool religiously.  Michael had a penchant for breaking sticks.  Somehow, there was an endless supply of them and I never saw him replace a single one.

Raphael was clearly the youngest—slim body with a middleweight boxer’s build framed in linen.  Piercing blue eyes often unnerved me as though he could see into me, through me.  His demeanor was soothing, hypnotic and he welcomed me with an embrace every time I arrived, as though it was the first time he’d seen me.  Calling him a man, though, was a travesty: Raphael could walk on walls.

The third was Gabriel and he was every bit as huge as Michael, a towering bulk with eyes that could not see.  Hands clasped behind his back, blind man’s staff at attention, Gabriel stared out the windows constantly, at everything and nothing at the same time and did not turn when he spoke to me.  Gabriel was cordial enough, almost overwhelmingly so and addressed me as a knight.  I didn’t like him—his eyes hid too much.

I met Lucifer first and found him in a darkened corner of the Room.  The area was raised and apart from the others and bathed in shadow.  Impeccably dressed in a dark suit constantly ordained with a crucifix, Lucifer never let me see his eyes, hiding them behind a pair of impenetrable shades.  Hair, if you could call it that, was pulled back and varied from black to blonde to iridescent, depending on his mood.  Lucifer was who I came to see.

“I’m sure you want to why you’re here,” he said and his voice sounded like silk and smelled like brandy.

I nodded and watch the snifter refill itself with dark fluid.  “What…?”

Lucifer interrupted, “This idea of why, it’s a defect in all of you.  You can’t just accept anything, you have to know the why of it all.”

“You don’t think I have a right to know?” I said, feeling the indignation rise.  I heard Michael stifle a laugh as he made his break.

“A right to know?  You think you have rights?”  Lucifer leaned forward now, animated.  “You think the dust of the earth is worthy of rights, of consideration?  You hardly have a right to life.”

“Lucifer,” Gabriel warned and continued staring.  “He’s not here for this.”

“I called him; I know what he’s here for, Watcher.”

Raphael was pacing on the ceiling.  “Gabriel’s right.  Tell him.”

“Fine.  You must excuse me.  My colleagues have fared somewhat better than I when it comes to your ‘whys’ and ‘hows.’  Forgive my indignation.”  He shifted in the dark and offered me a seat.  I accepted.

“You know my name,” Lucifer said, “and yes, I am that Lucifer.  Fall from Heaven, Garden of Eden, ruler of Hell, blah blah blah. I am that one you have condemned without, what do you call it? A fair trial.  Forget what you think you know.  Call me Lucifer.”

I caught my breath.

“Not what you expected, huh?  We’ll fix that.  That,” he pointed at Michael, “is the Angel of Death, the slaughterer of the firstborn, the butcher for Israel.  The Captain of Army of Heaven.  If you must speak to him, call him Michael.  I’d be careful what I say, though, he doesn’t exactly have a soft spot for humanity.”

Pointing up, “You know Raphael.  You’ve seen him on the street, in your dreams, just over your shoulder.  He looks out for you—all of you—because he is a pathetic ass-kisser.  He’s the one who told Mary about her bastard-son, the savior.  You’ve known about him for a long time.”

“Lucifer is a little bitter,” Raphael said.  “Hell does that.”

“Clod,” Lucifer said under his breath.  “And that is Gabriel the Watcher.  He doesn’t do anything.  Never has, never will.”

Michael growled across the table and snapped his stick.  I watched it grow out of his fist.

“Fine fine fine.  Gabriel has the eyes of the Father—everything you’ve ever read about any of us, he’s dropped into the laps of willing humans.  This is why you have a story at all.  But humans being what they are, the story never stays the same or consistent or even true.  That’s why you’re here.”

“Wait,” I said, standing, “you are angels?  Like real angels, not ‘Touched by an Angel’ angels but the real thing?  You’re the Devil?”

“Sit down,” Michael said.

I didn’t.  “This is ridiculous.  Aren’t you at war?  Wasn’t, isn’t there some war going on for our souls?  What is this?  You guys are sitting here like you’re friends.”

Michael faced me now, brandishing his pool stick.  “I said, sit down.  Now.”

I sat.  He knocked the 4 into a side pocket.

“Yes, there’s a war,” Lucifer said, “but you are not the prize.  I don’t want you, I never wanted you.”  He stood now.  “As far as friendships go, let me explain something to you.  We are forever.  We’ve been here since the beginning, not the beginning of this pile of garbage you call a planet, but the beginning of time.  We are old, our war is old. But before we were warriors, we were brothers.  Understand?”

Lucifer sat and his drink refilled.  He sipped it.

“What do you want with me?” I said.

“You have questions. We have answers,” he said.

Raphael told me, “For thousands of years, the Father has chosen men to tell His side of the story.  They were the prophets.  We need you to do the same for us.”

“You want me to be a prophet?” I said.  “Why?”

“We want you to tell our side—the truth—before it’s too late,” he said.

“Because we all have blood on our hands!” Lucifer said.  “No one is innocent, or purely good or purely evil.  Because what you know is a lie!”

Gabriel turned and I saw his eyes: they did not exist.  Puddles of black fluid, steaming, rippled in his eye sockets.  “The end is coming,” he said.

Lucifer leaned forward, “We thought you might want to know why.”

Read the rest in The Road to Hell. Also available at Barnes and Noble

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