Part of Apex of Creation
Like all things that were too good to be true, this moment was not meant to last. The police finished taking statements, the paramedics finished taking vitals, the SWAT team packed up their gear, the news crews packed up their cameras, and all too soon Emily and I were booted off the ambulance bumper.
I retrieved my bike from behind the bank and walked it across campus with Emily. “So, what do you make of all this?” It wasn’t every day that you ran into a bank robbery.
Emily sighed. “I don’t know. I’m glad we’re ok, but at the same time, anything could have happened - it was a big confusing mess. One second I was filling out a deposit slip, and next thing I knew the bank was raided. Then at the end when everything happened at once… it’s just too much, you know?”
I nodded. “At one point in there, the only thing I could think was, ‘I’m going to need a therapist after this.’” I left out the minor detail that it was because I had seen roads and castles constructed out of human souls, and torture pits filled with the damned.
Emily looked at me. “You think we should do that?”
“Might not be a bad idea. Um, not together, obviously.”
We arrived at the dorm building. I locked up my bike, and we headed up the elevator. I bid Emily good night as she got off on her floor, then I headed up to my floor.
Counting the time-stopped trek through Hell, I hadn’t slept in almost twenty hours. I’d hardly laid down on the bed before conking out.
I awoke in the morning with my stomach rumbling hard enough to trigger a seismograph, and a pounding headache that signified a dire need for caffeine. After running off to the bank the day before, I never did end up eating dinner. Groaning, I pulled myself out of bed, and prepped for the day. I still had today’s classes on top of everything else going on, but fortunately the classes weren’t until later in the day. I headed down to the cafeteria, where I ordered and devoured a four-egg omelet and three cups of coffee. As I ate, I went down the rabbit hole of Wikipedia articles on Hell, demons, sin, insanity, and PTSD.
Suddenly, an hour and a half had passed. I had to get down to business.
“Hello James.” Cael replied, taking the other seat at the cafeteria table.
“Can you be visible for now? So it doesn’t look like I’m talking to myself?”
Cael shimmered and re-solidified. “There you go. How are you doing after yesterday? I heard you paid Lucifer a visit.”
“Yeah. Turns out the whole bank robbery thing was just to get my attention.”
“Is that so?”
“Yup. Lucifer wanted me to be his errand boy. I declined and got out of there, because Hell is creepy as… well… Hell.”
“I told you they’d try to recruit you.”
“I should have been better prepared.”
Cael folded his hands and rested his chin on them. “You still did quite well. You’ve already stopped time, and you’ll only get stronger from here.”
“I meant mentally. I’ve got so much crap going through my head right now. Like, I didn’t pull any triggers yesterday, but I sabotaged their weapons and damned them to an eternity of torment. And Daniel, the guy who actually did pull the trigger, now has to deal with the guilt of having killed two people. My friend Emily narrowly escaped death, and have I mentioned yet that Hell is fucking terrifying?”
Cael cocked his head to the side in confusion. “Where are you going with this?”
I slurped down the last of my coffee and slammed the mug on the table. “I’m barely holding myself together right now, and if events like yesterday are any indication of what the rest of my life holds, then I’m in way over my head. I’ve seen what happens when people can’t cope with the stress, and I know enough to recognize that and want to avoid it. I mean, look at how much I just ate.”
Cael sat back, ran his hands through his hair, took a deep breath, and sighed. “James, you’re not the first Hybrid to be in this situation. Moses, Elijah, many have had their own issues.”
Cael twirled his fingers and produced a business card. He handed it to me. “Therapist. He’s quite good. He’s even helped me through some rough patches.”
I looked at the card.
Raguel, Angel of Harmony, Divine Psychologist.
The backside listed an office number. “So what do I do with this? Swipe it through the card reader in the dorms to enter the divine office park?”
“That” Cael replied “is an ordinary piece of paper. I have to make a Gate for you, the same way you got into Hell.”
“...So then I can just stay there, right?”
“Well, the paradise part of Heaven is strictly for deceased humans only. Most of the rest of it - including the administrative parts - can be accessible to Hybrids via a Gate.”
“Oh well. Worth a shot, though.”
“Don’t worry, you’re not the first to ask, and I doubt you’ll be the last. Where do you want the Gate?”
“If you can move it after the semester is over, can we just go with the closet in my dorm room?”
“Thanks. I appreciate it. And… would you happen to know any good human therapists? For Emily.”
“I can set her up.”
“No problem. Take care, James.”
With that, Cael stood up and disappeared.
“And so Manco’s two brothers were decapitated after being sent ahead to negotiate the surrender of…”
I found it difficult to concentrate on my classes. The revelation of angels and demons had been unexpected but manageable. Actually playing a semi-active role in their conflict, however, was different. The exploits of failed fifteenth-century Spanish revolutionionaries seemed even less important than they normally did, when the real battle was playing out behind the scenes, invisible to everyone but me. Attempting to actually absorb the history lecture felt like an exercise in futility and pointlessness.
If I could stop time, could I also speed it up and get out of here? After a few minutes of silent mental experimentation, I arrived at the conclusion that I could not. Wonderful.
I pulled out my phone and texted Emily.
How are you doing?
Waiting… Waiting… Bouncing dots…
“...Mister Exosia, if you didn’t want to learn about European history than you shouldn’t have registered for this class. Put your phone away. As I was saying…”
Damn. I shoved the phone back in my pocket and spent the rest of the lecture trying to pretend to be interested in the material.
Half an hour of boredom later, class was over and I bolted from the room. I pulled out my phone and checked Emily’s reply.
Barely slept at all. Not sure what to do or where to go after yesterday, what with almost dying and everything… just kinda blah
I had expected something along those lines. My overly-caffeinated fingers tapped out a response and hit Send almost before I fully thought about what I was saying:
what to do: hang with me. Where to go: the coffee shop. Come on, let’s cheer you up
ok, meet you there
I biked to the coffee shop, ordered two extra-large coffees and a pastry, and waited for Emily to arrive.
Emily came in, looking like she’d been hit by a tornado. Her hair was a wreck and only barely held in control with a ponytail. Her eyes were bloodshot, and her face had a vacant stare as she looked around.
Despite Emily’s state, I felt more relaxed as soon as I saw her.
“Over here, Emily,” I waved her over. “Coffee. Cream, no sugar, added some cinnamon and nutmeg for you. And a food thing; I think it’s a danish. It looked good in the window.”
Emily took the coffee with both hands and sipped it. “Thanks.”
“You remember I mentioned therapists yesterday?”
“I know a… guy… who’s going to set you up with one. If you want it, of course. He’s setting me up too.”
“Because even though I wasn’t a hostage, I still feel like I went through hell and back.” Again with the half-lies. I really needed to figure out a way to stop that.
Emily laughed, and I looked at her in confusion. “No, I mean why set a therapist up for me?”
I shrugged and tried to think of something to say. The reason, of course, was that I had a massive crush on her. “Well, you’re my study partner, and a friend. Why wouldn’t I help?”
“Fair enough.” Emily took a bite of the pastry. “I guess I’m just not used to people doing things like that. I… didn’t have many friends growing up.”
“You? I don’t believe it.”
“Very funny, James.” Emily replied through a mouthful of pastry. “Look at me; I’m a mess.”
“A hot mess though.” Shit. Did I really just say that?
Emily laughed, and coffee came out her nose. “Aren’t you the charmer.”
Quick, think of something to say. “I blame the coffee. I’ve been running my mouth ahead of my brain today.”
Emily’s smile faded. “Yeah… I’ve been there.”
The awkward conversation was interrupted by a ding, and we both instinctively checked our phones. It was Emily’s.
“Doctor’s appointment on Thursday, with… oh, this must be the appointment your friend set up. They sent me a reminder text. That was fast.”
“There’s one small problem though.” Emily said.
“I’m out of coffee.”
With a small grunt, I swung my backpack onto the bed, and dug through for the business card Cael had given me. He’d already set up Emily’s appointment, so presumably he had also made the Gate in my closet.
I was not disappointed. The closet door swung open into a white, brightly lit hallway, with doors lining both walls as far as I could see. Gold arrows on the floor pointed to the right. “James Exosia” was printed in a gold-lettered name plate on the Heaven side of the closet door. At least I would be able to find my way out amongst the numerous otherwise identical doors.
I followed the arrows. After a short walk, the hallway opened up into an enormous circular lobby with a vaulted ceiling so high I could have sworn there were indoor clouds. The walls were studded with huge marble columns. The floor was a huge emerald and sapphire map of the world which, despite being a flat projection of a spherical object, somehow had no geometric distortion. Accents of gold and silver indicated day and night in different parts of the map.
I spent a good few minutes standing and staring in awe and shock. Eventually I realized that there were a multitude of the other hallways connecting to the same side of the lobby that I had come from. And people were emerging from these hallways, making their way across the enormous undistorted world map, and heading to something at the far side of the lobby that could only be a reception desk.
I walked over towards reception. The people ahead of me seemed to be checking in and continuing on to elevators beyond the reception desks.
Naturally, there was no line to wait in. It was Heaven, after all. “James Exosia, Hybrid, I have an appointment with…” I double-checked the card. “Raguel.”
“Elevator up to the administrative level, follow the signs for the Psychology wing, second to last office on the left.”
“Here’s a guide map. As a Hybrid, please note that Paradise is strictly off-limits, and we strongly discourage you from entering the Throne Room if you are not absolutely certain of your Sanctification status. You’re allowed anywhere else though. Welcome to Heaven.”