Part of Apex of Creation
The small throat of Hell closed itself with a belch of sulfur and smoke. Why? What had made it open? Why was it now closed?
So many questions. I texted Emily:
Floor hole opened, but only for a few seconds. Not sure why.
After a few moments, my phone dinged back.
That’s good! Keep doing whatever it was that you were doing!
Again, I threw my pillow against the wall. With a slightly amusing sense of disappointment, I watched my floor as it did absolutely nothing.
A few more attempts yielded identical results. I kept trying until Kevin came in, filling the dorm with shitty music and stinky armpit. The atmosphere turned miserable, but Kevin’s aura of failure was not the Hell that I was trying to get to.
As I laid in bed, my mind was churning. I have homework to do, but really the Scroll is more important since it has divine significance, but how am I supposed to justify not getting my homework done to my professors, since I can’t really tell anyone about it and the only person who knows is Emily, and she’s really been a great sport through all of this, it’s really been nice, and Valentine’s Day is in two days, and I’m not sure what I should do for that, because I’ve never really had a girlfriend before, but I don’t know if Emily is really my girlfriend, because we’ve never actually talked about it, because there’s always been so many other things going on and…
Two fitful hours later, I fell asleep.
I put my phone down after texting James a few words of encouragement. There wasn’t really a whole lot else that I could do - he was the one with the superpowers, not me.
Still, it was nice to be close to someone so unique. The odds of me being the one entrusted with his secret were abysmal, yet here I was with intimate knowledge of Heaven, angels, and demons. I didn’t really understand James’s desire to also tell his dad, but on the other hand, I was fully aware of just how screwed up my sense of family was.
I’d seen normal families, in the movies, on television. At school, when parents arrived and my classmates were happy to go home.
It was all so fucked up. At least James said he was going to come to arraignment. That was awfully nice of him.
Did he like me? It definitely seemed like it - otherwise I don’t think any of the events of the last few weeks would have happened. I’d certainly never shared half of a secret life with anyone other than James before. At least, not of my own will.
But what was James’s end goal? With guys, it was supposedly pretty obvious: sex. Yet, James had never attempted anything, and nothing more intimate than the sleepover had ever occurred. I suppose James wasn’t just trying to get in my pants after all.
But that knowledge did nothing to quell the anxiety and worry that surrounded the idea.
Valentine’s Day was in two days. Maybe James would ask me out? And maybe I’d have a better idea of all of this after Valentine’s day was over.
Detective Darren Sanders
I walked into work, realizing with a curious sense of disappointment that I wasn’t going to spend the day digging into James Exosia. Not that it would have been productive - the kid seemed to deflect all suspicion without even trying. In my mind, that made him guilty as fuck.
I settled down at my desk, flipping through folders and case files that had accumulated. Some idiot had T-boned another car at a red light. Someone else had shoplifted from a gas station. Someone else had found a stash of weed in someone else’s bag.
I mixed up my usual morning drink of coffee with a splash of whiskey, and got to work.
As I planned out the rest of my week, I realized that these cases were just… so… normal. There was nothing odd or unusual about a shoplifting case or a car crash. Generally it followed a predictable path of identifying the idiot perp, and telling the judge who to write the arrest warrant for.
But I had seen something strange: James Exosia and Emily Butler, starting to come out of an elevator, then blinking to reverse direction as the doors opened. If I hadn’t read about something similar, I wouldn’t have believed it myself.
By this point, I practically had the witness statement memorized. Ignoring the pile of work on my desk, I picked up the phone and dialed the county jail.
“I’d like to speak with Allison Butler.”
It was Valentine’s Day morning
I opened the earthly version of my closet, and dug through for my suit. My dad had gotten it for me for job interviews and career fairs, and it was the most formal outfit I owned.
Yup, it still fit.
I was painfully aware of how little clue I had of what I was doing. I rode the elevator down to Emily’s dorm floor, and with a pounding heart, texted her:
Come let me in?
Sure enough, a few moments later, Emily appeared and opened the door for me. Her forehead scrunched together as she realized I was wearing a suit.
Shit. Now what? I could hear my heartbeat in my ears, and feel the sweat secreting on my skin. Did I remember to brush my teeth and put on deodorant?
“Um, Emily, would you like to, ah, go out for dinner. Um, like, tomorrow night? For Valentine’s Day?” Phew.
Now the terrifying part: waiting for the answer.
With a coy smile, Emily twirled a strand of hair in her fingers. “I’d like that. Where are we going?”
“Well, I kinda figured that most of the restaurants would be full. So, um, one of the places in, you know…”
“Elegance on a budget. I like it.”
“Meet me at 6 tomorrow?”
“It’s a date!”
Emily smiled at me, and then she was gone. In a euphoric daze, I practically floated back to my own room. Holy shit, I was going on a date with Emily.
I left James at the dorm floor entrance, and returned to my own room. I hadn’t expected that at all - even though I’d wanted it to happen. He’d even dressed up for me!
Ι wasn’t quite sure how to handle it. Outside of television and movies, I didn’t really know what to do. I wanted to look nice, right? I browsed through my clothes and picked out a dress. No, wait. Not that one. This one - it went better with these shoes. Hmm, actually, what about this other one? It matched a necklace that I could wear. But if I wore this necklace instead, I could match it with these shoes and that dress. Hmmm…
This could take a while…
Detective Darren Sanders
After some stupid back-and-forth bullshit involving Mrs. Butler’s lawyer and the warden’s office, we’d managed to nail down a time to talk in person. I arrived at the county jail, and left my gun, cuffs, and alcohol in the car. I checked in, and was directed to a visitation room.
After a few minutes, I was joined by her lawyer, then a guard escorted Mrs. Butler herself into the room. She was a mess - jailhouse life had not been kind to her. She wore the look of a woman deflated and defeated.
I pulled out a copy of her statement from the night of the hotel attack, two weeks earlier. “Mrs. Butler, you stated that on opening the hotel room door, you saw someone named James.”
“Is this person the James that you saw?” I slid across a photograph I’d taken of James Exosia.
“Yes, I think so.”
“Now, you stated that you saw James, and then he was gone and Nigel was handcuffed to the bed.”
The lawyer spoke up. “We’ve been through this already; you can read the other interview transcripts.”
“I’m going somewhere different.” I snapped back. “Mrs. Butler?”
“Yes, that’s what I remember. I suppose I must have blacked out or something.”
“But you didn’t fall down?” I asked.
Allison Butler seemed to think about it, confused for a moment. “No, I don’t believe I did.”
“So what was it like?” I asked.
“Like I blinked, and it changed.” Mrs. Butler answered.
“That’s all I need. Thank you, Mrs. Butler.” I got up and turned to leave.
The lawyer was clearly irritated at coming out for something so insignificant. He made his displeasure known in the tone of his voice. “I don’t know what you hoped to accomplish with that, Detective.”
“Neither do I.” I answered. I’d never been one for superstition, but Allison Butler had described my own experience almost perfectly.
I retrieved my things from my car, and had a long, confusing drive back home.
At 5:59 I was waiting outside the elevator on Emily’s floor. I’d showered, shaved, changed back into the suit (but with a fresh undershirt and socks), and put gel in my hair.
At 6:07, Emily appeared. She was wearing a red dress that came down to her knees, with lipstick to match. She’d curled her hair, and it hung down just past her shoulders. and had gold earrings and necklace.
Emily always had a constant baseline level of cuteness, but right now she was pretty, in every possible way. Emily wasn’t just pretty, she was gorgeous. My heart skipped a beat.
Gulp. “Hey, Emily. You ah, look nice. Shall we?”
With that, we set off for my dorm room, Emily collecting stares from other guys along the way. It irritated me - they had no idea what Emily had been through to get to this point, or what I had gone through to earn Emily’s trust.
Still, though, there was a date to enjoy. With a quick time stop, we skipped past Kevin, who was annoyingly present in my dorm. A few moments after, Emily and I were safely crossing the great geometry-defying world map floor in the lobby of Heaven. One short elevator ride later, and we were in the food wing.
As with everything Heavenly, the choices were too numerous to process, so we went with the first suitably fancy place we found: an Italian restaurant that specialized in extinct cuisine. We both got aspidorhynchus fillet. And since Heaven didn’t have a drinking age, we both had red wine - self-refilling, of course. Swearing was impossible here, and I figured drunkeness would be impossible as well.
“So what do you like to do? For fun.” I asked. That was an appropriate date question, right?
“Well, I haven’t really done much outside of school since coming here.” Emily replied.
“How about in high school? What did you do then?”
“What didn’t I do in high school? I signed up for everything I could. Drama, robotics, softball, basketball. Anything to stay away from home.”
“Oh. Now I feel bad for asking.”
Emily shook her head. “It’s alright. How about you?”
“Not nearly so much.”
“Oh come on. What does the great and powerful James Exosia do in his spare time?”
I cringed. “I was always more into the games. My school had a chess club.”
“And…? How did you do?”
“Terribly. I once tried to make checkmate by moving a rook diagonally.”
“For me that stuff was always a distraction. Sometimes I wonder what I might have been if I had decent parents.”
“You know what? Don’t worry about that. I like you the way you are.” I said, as encouragement.
The food was gone and the wine was plentiful. Emily leaned back in her seat with a slightly tipsy half-smile. “You’re crazy, James Exosia.”
“Only for you.” I could feel my face heating up as the words slipped out from my alcohol-loosened mouth.
Emily laughed. “You know what? I never thought I’d say this, but the feeling is mutual.”
My stomach turned over. Never in my wildest dreams would I have expected Emily to reciprocate my feelings. I’d had such bad luck with girls in high school, that I hadn’t dared get my hopes up, but now…
Hot darn. Emily really did like me back. Holy crap. I didn’t know what to say. “I guess you’re enjoying dinner then?” I asked with a smile.
Emily nodded. “I am. Thanks for taking me here. I needed a break.”
“No problem.” There was no bill to pay, so we stood up, gathered our things, and left.
As we reached my closet door, Emily put her hand on my arm. “Hang on a moment.”
I paused, and turned to look at her
“I know I’m a little weird sometimes. But everything has been so strange these last few weeks, and you’ve been there for me throughout everything, that I want to do something before things get even stranger.”
And then Emily wrapped an arm around me, and kissed me on the lips.
I felt a great swell of emotion, and pulled her in to return the hug. As we embraced, I sensed a deep, primal instinct awakening within me, an insatiable, yearning, hormone-driven hunger that wanted nothing more or less than all of Emily herself.
Emily pulled away with her eyes closed and her lips in a smile.
I could barely think, and I stammered out the only thought in my head. “Does that mean you’re my girlfriend now?” I asked, as I pushed the door open.
But Emily never answered. The closet door opened to reveal that my dorm room floor had opened up again, exposing the throat of Hell once more. Tendrils of smoke came up, dancing across the ceiling. The room was insufferably hot, and the air stank of sulfur.
On the other side of the dorm was Kevin, sitting in his chair, stupidly slack-jawed, and staring into the abyss.
This chapter was produced with the support of my Hybrid patrons:
- Olli Erinko