Short Story – The Heavenlies – A Peretti Pastiche

One

There was an unusual air of excitement in the city of Exeter that hot summer’s evening as the University students began to flood into the local pubs, bars, and off-licences. In fact, it wasn’t quite evening, still late afternoon, and already the streets were seething with young revellers following the recent culmination of the academic year. The sweet smells of beers and wines fused together and seemed to linger everywhere with the still impressive heat of day. But in and around all of the celebrations, overhanging them all, was a more sober sense of an impending threat.

Paul stood patiently at the bar, waiting. Despite his athletically tall build it always seemed to take an age for him to get served. He was easily over six feet, and, with his striking blonde hair and sharp features, was popular with the girls. For the moment, though, Paul was with his mates. He definitely felt more comfortable when his Christian friends were there. He wasn’t sure why, just that he often felt overwhelmed with the whole drinking thing. He told himself, and the lads, that he wasn’t very good at it; but he knew that he could probably keep up with the likes of Adie and Pete, especially with the amount of practice they had. Paul knew more intuitively than he cared to admit that the sense of being awkward came from somewhere else.

Two other strikingly tall figures stood near to the bar where the group of friends were now gathered. They stood perfectly still and silent, intently watching the group as they laughed and talked together. Paul remained oblivious to their presence as the evening set in and even later when they were standing in the group, towering above and either side of him. Although they showed no intention of using them, both characters were concealing huge, monolithic swords and they were dressed in beautifully plain clothes with no recognisable style or pattern. They stood with perfect poise and posture, impressive in every conceivable way.

It was now dark outside and Paul’s friends were agitating to move on into the City to find more pubs and more fun. A lot of people were out and it seemed as though everyone he knew was either in the pub or roaming the streets. He could see that it was getting raucous.

As the group finished their drinks and moved towards the door, the two strangers moved aside like a vast automatic door, allowing Paul to return his glass to the bar. The barmaid caught Paul’s eye and thanked him, smiling attractively. He responded with a cheeky wink – he was feeling more comfortable now – almost relaxed.

Two

Apathy, Desire and Deceit were perched awkwardly on the corner of the pub’s roof, watching Paul leave from their evil vantage point. An argument had broken out among the three demons as they waited impatiently for a commanding signal to follow Paul.  To avoid any skirmishes with the Lord’s host, Kaalk’s instructions had been for them to remain unseen until his senior command.

Desire was complaining again. Their ambush seemed trivial and insignificant as he fantasised about diving down into the pub with the hoards of other spirits. He prided himself in creating havoc and calamity in the adolescents’ lives – it was his singularly insidious intent. Apathy sat breathing slowly and discontentedly, saying and thinking nothing while Deceit made vain attempts to persuade Desire that it would be better not to wait but to seize the moment right now.

Fortunately for Desire, an eerie cry suddenly resounded throughout the immediate spiritual realm as Kaalk thundered past, wielding a burning sword and screaming obscenities. The other three demons leapt into action, unfolding their leathery wings and brandishing their own swords. They were now in hot pursuit of Paul who was already drinking in the next pub.

As he started another drink, Paul had turned his attention for a moment to a crowd of second-year lads outside the pub. A fight had started. One of them was being badly beaten by another two as several others stared, watched and did nothing. Within moments the crowd vanished as police sirens were heard approaching. Something in Paul’s heart winced as he looked at the boy left lying prostrate on the curb, now unconscious in a pool of his own blood. He wondered how people could be so cruel and his failure to act bothered him.

The two other glorious figures had followed Paul closely into the pub and were now more animated with their hands gently touching his head and chest. They were completely surrounding him. A piercing white light filled the room that emanated from where the two angels stood, shining intensely with palatial majesty as they ministered to him. Aramouth and Guldin knew what approached as they looked at each other in agreement; and they understood why the Lord wanted Paul to stray from their protection.

Between slurps of his pint, Paul continued to stare out of the window, watching the paramedics arrive and the police question others too drunk to talk properly. Adie and Pete were both drunk now and Paul realised that he too was feeling under the influence. He began to think that he should leave when Pete threw a reassuring arm around him. He shouted something in his ear to do with a girl at the bar and handed him another drink, slapping his back as he always did when he was drunk.

Kaalk smashed into the pub as Paul looked at his fresh drink. Aramouth and Guldin rose instantly in billows of air as their wings flexed like a ship’s sail in a storm. They reached for their swords that now shone with heavenly brilliance, bracing themselves for a fight they knew they were not to win. But Aramouth couldn’t resist and defiantly swung his sword in a powerful arch that sent Kaalk flailing to the floor. The other demons had arrived and quickly found Paul still illuminated by the glow of Guldin’s glory. Apathy was first to sink his sharp talons deep into Paul’s mind despite the angelic efforts to prolong his protection. Suddenly, Guldin roared in pain as Deceit bit and clawed into his back. Desire began slashing into Guldin’s wings with his jagged sword, leaving the heavenly warrior crumpled on the floor like an aged cheek. Startled by his friend’s cry, Aramouth instantly spun from his own advance on Kaalk and lifted his companion to safety with his vice-like arm.

Both angels were overwhelmed with grief as they passed through concrete and rafters and steel and rested out of sight, some distance from the city that now echoed with evil laughter. They knew that they had done more than was asked of them and yet every part of them cringed at the thought of their encounter with the kingdom of darkness. All they could do now was wait.

Three

It was the end of his University life and Paul had decided that it didn’t matter if he got drunk tonight. He stood at the bar again waiting for more drink. Apathy, Deceit and Desire gripped hold of him like toxic leeches, writhing in pleasure as they controlled his mind. Their yellow, bulbous eyes flitted about continually, knowing that at any moment legions of angels could obliterate any attempt they could ever make to influence a human life. Kaalk had returned to the City’s demonic stronghold having achieved his goal, but with his swollen pride well and truly dented. He had a score to settle.

It wasn’t long before Pete and Adie had paired off with girls at the other end of the pub, leaving Paul on his own. He looked around and couldn’t see anyone else he knew, so just stayed by his new refuge at the bar. Paul felt his mind getting weary as he opened his throat and threw down the last of the shots. Looking up for a second, he caught the eye of a girl at the end of the bar near to Adie and Pete. He instinctively looked away back to his drink, but he knew she’d been looking at him. She was stunning. Desire shifted position and delved deeper into Paul’s mind. Paul suddenly felt more alert, more nervous again, and he was excited.

By flashing one of his last notes of the night, he motioned to the barman that he wanted serving again. He deliberately glanced back to where the girl had been standing as he exchanged his money for another drink, but was disappointed to find that she had gone. This beer seemed weaker than his earlier pints, like his tongue was numb; it was easier to drink and as he started to knock it back he thought how good it would be to have a girlfriend, not even a girlfriend, just a girl would do.

His thoughts were interrupted by a waft of perfume as he realised that the girl had come over to stand next to him. She was just standing there, leaning against the bar, playing with her long golden hair. As she turned to say goodbye to one of her friends, Paul’s eyes moved across her body as Desire burrowed deeper. Making sure not to slur, he leaned a little closer as she turned back and offered to buy her a drink.

They were soon sitting down holding each other with temporary confidence, not concerned about the public gaze or the fact that they couldn’t remember each other’s name. As the night drew to a close, Paul remained entirely oblivious to the hive of demonic activity that surrounded him. He had forgotten the boy who now lay in hospital and the Bible that sat by his bed. He had forgotten.

Four

Kaalk sat on the dewy moss of the church steeple as the sun struggled through the clouds in the distance. He was motionless except for the rise and fall of his alien frame. Sulphurous breath streamed from his nostrils as he focused on the house, averting his gaze only in occasional reproach of the demonic minions that sat restlessly behind him. Guilt crouched subserviently next to Kaalk. He knew this was his chance to impress his master.

Aramouth and Guldin were standing once again as mighty warriors. Singing with voices like the sound of many waters they were spearheading the Lord’s army that was rapidly congregating in the heavenly places. They proudly looked across the horizon to see hundreds of thousands of angels covering each other in prayer as they prepared for battle.

Paul stirred groggily in his bed as the physical hangover began to gnaw at his consciousness. He opened his eyes to the world allowing the gradual trickle of fragmented memories to tumble through his damaged mind. Kaalk’s huge membranous wings unfurled as Paul reached for the light and the window became lit. A leathery canopy now surrounded the fiend as he waited for the moment to climb the air, glancing furtively around for any angelic intervention. Kaalk was nervous because this was important.

As though in perfect synchronisation, pairs of orange and green reptilian eyes emerged from the trees ahead and from the cars beneath Kallk  – several more from within the bushes next to Paul’s window. They lit the area like flashing hazard lights from the scene of an accident. Kaalk was tense but he smirked with anticipation. The stench of acid rose from the sulphuric climate intensifying from his flaring nostrils as the demonic fellowship behind him also stood eagerly to attention.

Then came Kaalk’s call like the petrified screaming of lost children. In one blurred movement Guilt leapt with frightening agility and dived into the dome of the tree next to Paul’s house, passing into the roof space. He hurtled downwards at unearthly speeds towards Paul’s bedroom. The downcast child of God sat on the edge of his bed bathed in ice-cold perspiration. He felt sick in his stomach, weakly nauseous and giddy. He gagged at the rush of adrenalin with every hazy memory that returned, and, with them, Apathy, Deceit and Desire all moved to accommodate Guilt who entered the room with merciless force.

Paul instantly remembered his opportunity to leave the pub, the chance to go home. With immaculate precision Guilt sharpened his talons on his armoured back and sank them into his victim’s mind. Paul remembered the girl. Guilt withdrew his talons and began to swing back and forth with his barbed sword, hacking Paul’s heart with insatiable pleasure. Paul collapsed on the floor catching his head in his hands, weeping like a child. He was embarrassed by his fear though no-one was in the room with him, and yet, like the faint blowing of the wind he could hear outside, he recognised a still voice longing for him to call out the name of Jesus. Paul understood the voice instantly and with all the faith he had cried out to his Father in heaven.

A single trumpet sounded and the gates of heaven exploded open. Endless thousands of heavenly warriors raced in majestic silence to Paul’s defence as unimaginable fragrances and indescribable lights appeared in the train of radiance behind the heavenly host. With perfect timing, Guldin and Aramouth were fighting by Paul’s side and, like a spear through water, sent every demon sprawling to the floor. Paul lifted his head and remembered a verse from Romans, and then another from Philippians. Guldin stood before Paul like a mighty pillar of the finest gold while Aramouth prowled like a lion, skillfully disarming the injured demons.

Apathy, Deceit and Desire bowed briefly before the angels as they hissed and fled the room. Guilt had already manoeuvred like a snake back behind Guldin who spun to see the spirit dig again into Paul’s heart. Once more Kaalk howled outside commanding the remaining demons to do their worst, and they moved together towards the bedroom like a black cloud.

Paul hesitantly got to his feet and sat again on his bed. He looked at his Bible as Guldin threw a massive blow to the back of Guilt’s deformed head. But Guilt braced himself and stuck obstinately to Paul’s heart. Kaalk’s filthy presence now filled the room as Aramouth turned to what appeared to be a different demon, transfigured. Kaalk had grown in stature and now towered above him filling the room with a putrid stench. Aramouth darted from one side of the room to the other to avoid the blur of Kaalk’s claws and fangs, failing to land any blows of his own attack.

But the demon lord hyper-extended his spine and screamed in horror amidst vomiting episodes as an explosion of pure light momentarily blinded him. Outside, the demonic cloud was seconds from entering Paul’s bedroom when it hit an impenetrable wall of heavenly authority. Demons were snatched and sent flailing into the abyss of hell; shattered wings and bodies showered the area like a grotesque spiritual deluge. Kaalk instinctively knew what had happened as he spat on the floor; that his scheme was effectively over and that the Unmentionable’s army had conquered again. But Kaalk remained internally motivated with the prospect of his own glory, with his own triumph over these pathetic spirits that, on their own, were nothing.

The demon clawed at his bleeding eyes and grabbed Aramouth, tossing him aside like a rag doll. He pinned him to the floor with his muscular leg, but reached down too late to see Guilt being decapitated by Guldin and thrown out of the room with unquestionable authority.

Paul picked up his Bible and flicked the pages towards the back. He turned to the book of James and started reading at chapter four. Both angels were instantaneously transformed into figures of incomparable beauty: their faces became ruddy and their eyes burnt with cleansing fire. Guldin looked at Kaalk who now shook uncontrollably with fear as Aramouth snapped the demon’s leg with his mighty arm and stood upright. Without even so much as looking at each other, both angels sprang into glorious action. They circled the principality overhead and with a sovereign act of sword-drawn finality they thundered down through Kaalk’s very being.

Paul had reached verse seven.

                                                                 _______________________________________

Three weeks later Paul talked excitedly with Pete and Adie about his gap-year plans to travel to Africa to help with Christian missionaries there. Paul had seen his friends in the pub as he was passing outside and had decided to go in and join them. After an hour or so of catching up, a couple of beers and a bite to eat later, Paul shook their hands and wished them well for their futures. As Paul left, Pete and Adie talked of how good it was to see him, but couldn’t help but wonder why he hadn’t introduced them to his two friends.

The End

© Nick Franks, 2002

All works registered through Copyright House

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