« Part I
"You seem different lately."
His comment hung in the air like a question, like a tasty-looking ripe fruit waiting to be picked, yet no one was very eager to pick it.
"In what way?" said Michelle, very carefully picking the fruit. Her beautiful face softly twitched into a somewhat sly, playful, knowing, yet very subtle grin. Gabriel liked how she was aging gracefully, just the slightest of wrinkles in the corners of her mouth, below ever-so-slightly more chiseled cheekbones than when he had met her over a decade before. Her hazel eyes were hiding something, but not seemingly in any sinister way. It was more like they were playfully sing-songing "I've got a secret... and I'm not telling."
Gabriel smiled. "Things have been so pleasant lately. Not much bickering. You're so agreeable. I'm more agreeable."
Michelle laughed. "Really?"
"You haven't even complained about my mother in weeks. I'm beginning to wonder if you're dying!"
Michelle flew her head back and laughed heartily. "You're so hyperbolic."
"After I look up what that word means on the 'Net, I'm gonna look up these strange symptoms you have; what strange disease have you come down with?" Gabriel chuckled to let her know he was only half-kidding.
"I have learned to see things that I couldn't before"
She picked an apple out of their picnic basket. The soft breeze that tossed her curly, auburn hair made the near-perfect temperature of the air, briefly, down to perfect. "It's like this apple. I no longer see just its red skin. I see how it got here, how it grew, and, by looking at its seeds, I see its future."
"I see a delicious, post-turkey-sandwich snack," Gabriel mused. He craned his neck over and crunched a bite out of it.
"Ah, my hungry man."
"Serioushly," said Gabriel's apple-filled mouth, "wha kind of Buddhish - or whatever - crap have you been washing on TV?"
"Television is the last place you'll learn," she said, "let's just say that, just like your body, sometimes your soul needs healing from injuries. Mine is healing. I am seeing more, hearing more. I am more open to the world around me, to really anything. I am no longer behind huge stone walls, protecting myself from all outside influences. I've thrown open the gates, so to speak."
"Come on!" Gabriel chuckled. "Have you been buying some self-help DVDs or something on that separate account of yours?"
"No," she said. "Nothing like that. Let's not talk about how I got here, let's talk about where we're going now." She put one of her long fingers under Gabriel's chin, leaned in, and softly kissed his lips.
"Well, maybe I shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth," said Gabriel, even though he was sufficiently suspicious.
"My thoughts..." Michelle looked around her, her smile suddenly fading. "Is it getting dark already?"
Gabriel looked at his old digital watch. "It's 3:30 in the afternoon. And," he looked up at the sky, "not a storm cloud in sight. Just those fluffy ones that--"
"Oh!" she closed her eyes and put her hand to her forehead. "This truly awful thought just popped into my head. Oh, this horrible, awful... hmm. Man. That was so odd."
"Time to close those gates, honey?" suggested Gabriel.
"Maybe I should, just a little bit.
"Just a little bit."
LIGHTNING CRASHES! Picnic GONE! In the house... IT'S DARK!
Gabriel sees Michelle, hanging in the kitchen.
Her dead eyes are open, staring at him.
"Her gates are closed now," hisses an evil, almost British-sounding voice from somewhere, like what the grown-up child of Jeremy Irons and the Devil might sound like. Gabriel's heart stops when he sees a shirtless man - weird symbols cut into his ripped chest - only visible when the lightning flashes through the little window above the sink.
Gabriel, gasping for breath, trying to scream but can't, awakens in his sweat-soaked hotel bed.
When his vocal cords are released from whatever wretched spell they'd been under, he yells "FUCK!" as loud as he can. As he punches into the air as hard as he can he suddenly becomes disoriented. Vertigo sweeps him as gravity suddenly, and surprisingly, releases its grip on him.
Gabriel realized something was really wrong when what he'd just spoken did not come from his mouth. He looked around. He was floating in the air! He looked down. His body, with a pissed-off look still on it, lie in the bed below.
Frightened and panicked, Gabriel zoomed back down to it as fast as he could. Shhhhnnnnkted! He was back in his body.
Gabriel's hand trembled so much he could barely grab a hold of his phone, which had been setting on the night stand. As he hit the recent calls button he muttered almost every curse word he knew, saying Bastiaan's name in between some of them. His trembling thumb pushed the call button when he saw "Bastiaan."
"It is nearly three in the morning, mon, this had better be good."
"I. LEFT. MY. BODY!" Gabriel gasped.
"I had a... a nightmare! I woke up, all messed up, I... I punched into the air... and then my soul was out! WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT?! HUH?! WHAT?!"
"Ohhhh," Bastiian said. "I see."
"What?!" Gabriel exclaimed. "See WHAT?! You'd better start explaining before I reach through this blasted phone and grab your neck!"
"Well, it's like anything, leaving your body, the more you do it, the easier it is. Remember how difficult it was the first time I helped you do it? Remember how much easier it was the second and third times? Now you can do it without my help, apparently. You must have, even though maybe you didn't realize it consciously, really wanted to leave your body at that particular moment."
Gabriel thought about the fourth time he ever left his body, in Chicago. Only his second mission. The time he barely missed his wife. When she'd possessed that preacher shortly before he opened fire on his congregation. Trouble getting out of his body had been costly timewise - it took almost ten minutes. Bastiaan had had to take him back exactly twenty-four hours with only seconds to spare to be in time to stop the shooting. As Gabriel had rushed the preacher he saw their spectacular failure as the bullets started flying. A fraction of a second before he entered the preacher's body he saw Michelle slither out.
That mad look on her soul's face now haunts him almost as much as the look on her body's face when he'd discovered it. Gabriel shook his head to get it out of his mind.
"You mean to tell me that now I can just... just... slip out of my body by accident?! All the time?! Like my soul is loose now or something?! Like the more you uh... uh..." Gabriel stumbled as he searched for an appropriate analogy. He couldn't find a real good one. "Like the gun of an action figure? The more times you remove the gun from that little hand the looser it gets until it won't stay in anymore?!"
"Oh no, no," Bastiaan said. Gabriel could just see him smiling, even though he hadn't turned the video calling on. "For you to do it by, er, 'accident' as you say, it must be in a situation of extreme distress, mental or physical, or both. And, death of course. That musta been some nightmare, mon."
Gabriel tried to recall it. The nightmare was suddenly slippery in his mind. "Uh. It had Michelle. First it was nice. We were outside, we were talking, it was nice. But then... then it went to the night that... that..."
"I see," Bastiaan said soberly. "You no have to finish that sentence."
"There was something else." Gabriel thought hard. "There was... a man. A very, very..." He never liked to admit when he was scared. And as childish as it was going to sound, he couldn't find a better word to describe it. "...scary man."
"Mmmm." Bastiaan sighed. Gabriel imagined the shaman shaking his head slowly. "That would be the Old Man I tell you about when you were droppin' off the crystal -- Hasan. And like I say he go by many names, like Rutajit, Tartok, or Duppy. Or any of the other many names he is known by depending on your cultural persuasion. Like I say, his real name is a mystery."
"Mr. Static himself!"
"Right. Even those, like Suriya, who know his real name, cannot utter it."
"Well, anyway, he... um... I think... I think he had these symbols... actually carved into his chest."
"Those symbols... they very important to the extremely dark magicks he deal in. Just be lucky you only seein' him in your dreams, mon. Not a person you want to be meetin' in reality."
"Well, here's hopin' I don't!" Gabriel huffed. "And, I also don't hope I become like the Hulk or something and every time I get pissed off - instead of getting all big and green - my fuggin' soul doesn't decide to go for a stroll!" Briefly he considered how lame that last sentence had sounded, its rhyme and its beat.
"You don't be worryin' 'bout that," Bastiaan said, "no matter how 'easy' leavin' your body be, it still be helluva difficult compared to just about anything else. Now you get some rest. I got a feeling our next mission will present itself later in the morning."
"So where should I head?" Usually when Bastiaan had one of his "feelings" he was right. However, most of the time, before they knew what the event was, either he or Suriya knew at least what direction to send Gabriel in so he could start driving and end up close enough so that he could get there within a day.
Bastiaan grunted. "Sorry. For some reason I don't know that yet. Maybe the brat will know. But I'll call you if and when I know more."
Gabriel did not like that at all. "You'd better."
"Don't worry," Bastiaan said. "One of us will know something."
Gabriel ended the conversation and hung up. He knew it was a futile attempt to get back to sleep, as the horrifying image of his wife's dead face, and the feeling of dread at seeing the mysterious man, troubled him greatly every time he closed his eyees. And it didn't help that he was worried about not knowing what direction to head yet. However, he still hated being interrupted in his attempt.
"Still his fetchdog?" asked that all-too-familiar voice.
"Not YOU!" Gabriel said. "Go away... Sue!"
"I said don't call me that!" Suriya said as she materialized next to his bed.
Gabriel almost smiled. Almost.
"What the hell do you want?"
Gabriel rolled his eyes and groaned. "Go away! I'm trying to sleep."
"I have a feeling you're not going to succeed."
"Well you're not helping, that's for sure"
"You've been dreaming about her," Suriya said. She was definitely not asking him.
"Stay out of my dreams, Suriya," Gabriel said.
"I didn't have to actually be in your dreams to know, Gabe."
Gabriel scoffed. It'd been a long time since somebody had referred to him in the short. It was probably the last time he'd talked to his brother, Drew, the Addict, who, last he'd heard was panhandling in the Florida Keys. "Well, fine, I'm glad you weren't snooping in my dreams."
"I didn't say I wasn't," Suriya said, "I just said I didn't have to. I'm tuned to your vibrations, don't you remember?"
"Why the hell are you here?" Gabriel said, it coming out more whiney than he'd intended. He scoffed in what he thought was a manly way to try to offset the whining. "I mean, do you know more about this upcoming mission Bastiaan has a 'feeling' about?"
When Suriya did help him out with more information about upcoming missions, she could give him more details than Bastiaan.
"I have something for you," Suriya said in an almost teasing way. "And no, I don't know anything about any upcoming mission. The spirits have told me little today. Too much interference, probably from other crazy stuff going on in the world."
Gabriel sat up. "Well what the hell is it then if it's not about that! I hope it's sleeping pills! I'm operating on about five hours the past few days."
"I'm not a traveling pharmacy!" snapped Suriya. "It's not about any upcoming event, but I do have information. As usual." She paused. "Well, actually, it's information about information."
"Just spill it, girl," Gabriel said.
"Bastiaan knows something," she said, "something he's not telling you."
"Yeah yeah, I shouldn't trust him, blah blah blah. Broken record, I tell ya. But he says to trust you and etcetera, etcetera, whatever. I think you two are just playing a game of Let's Mess with Gabriel's Head!"
Suriya smiled as she touched her fuchsia fingernails to his chest, only a threadbare old tee shirt in between them and his flesh. He backed away. "Fine. Don't listen to me. I'll let you back to your, uh, sleep, such as it is."
"Thank you," Gabriel said. "Now shove off."
"You didn't use to be this rude, Gabriel Whindam," Suriya said, actually sounding a little annoyed.
After he was sure she was gone, he muttered to himself "Yeah, you're right."
But then he thought Didn't used to be? How much does she know about me?? And has she known me longer than I think she has??
The next morning, while eating his continental breakfast consisting of bagels, muffins, and apple juice, Gabriel's phone rang. It was Bastiaan. He grumbled. He really wasn't in the mood, as he'd only dozed off a few times after Suriya's visit. But he answered it - with a mouth full of blueberry muffin. "What?"
"Enjoying your breakfast?"
"Actually, yesh." Gabriel swallowed.
"Is there a television in the breakfast room? Perhaps with CNN or some other news channel on?"
"Actually, this television right up here in front of me..." But he trailed off as he saw on the screen probably what Bastiaan was calling him about.
"ST. LOUIS SHOOTING: 5 dead, including 17-year-old shooter" read the graphic, white letters on a red banner, as images of sheet-covered bodies on stretchers being wheeled out of a house flashed on the screen.
"There was a shooting," Bastiaan said, "at a home--"
"In St. Louis," interrupted Gabriel as he strained to listen to the story, as the volume was down quite low. "I see it, although I'm not hearing it quite well."
"It happened at 11:30 AM yesterday."
Gabriel almost choked. He yanked the phone from his mouth and looked at the clock. He brought it back to his mouth. "Shit, B, that was almost 18 hours ago! Dammit I shoulda been drivin' by now! You didn't know about this sooner?!"
"They just discovered the bodies an hour ago, mon," Bastiaan said, "teenage boys murders his whole family and a friend of his sister's. Sorry I did not know the direction before now. Something interfering with my sensitivity right now. You must go there at once."
Gabriel had been staying at a Louisiana town called Hammond ever since his adventure in New Orleans. With no new news stories he'd been enjoying a few days off. Well about as much as he could enjoy anything these days.
"I am at least eight hours from St. Louis! Damn that interference! 11:30 is only about five hours from now! I'd have to break land speed records to--!"
"You have to fly."
Gabriel's stomach almost ejected the breakfast he'd been eating. He swallowed. He had only flown once in his life, a trip to Washington, D.C. with some of his high school senior classmates. Some frightening turbulence had almost crashed the plane. He took a bus to get home. Ever since he'd refused to fly... anywhere.
"No flying! We agreed!"
"You have to, mon," Bastiaan said firmly. "I am online right now booking your flight."
"No! I can't fly!" Gabriel said. "Isn't there anybody else who could? What about Sabine?"
"Sabine is in Seattle. And Rico is in Ontario. You're the closest. It is the only way. Set your fears aside for these people. Because of your delay in New Orleans you missed the window to stop the mall shooting. We're not missing another one."
"But I am not leaving my car--!"
"Oh, Gabriel, you and that car! Why not you marry the Charger and make her your second wife?"
"Don't even talk about wives to me!" Gabriel said. He noticed that others in the room were starting to stare.
"Sorry, sorry, insensitive I know. That car, though, why do I let you drive it? The gas it's costing me, especially lately! Why not you get a hybrid, mon?"
"Blasphemy!" Gabriel spat.
Bastiaan sighed. "I figured as much. Look, you gotta fly. Go back to New Orleans. I think I have a flight here for you. It leave at nine-oh-five."
"Just send me back further than 24 hours, just this once," Gabriel said.
"No, mon, I already say, it is too dangerous."
"Do you really know for sure that you can't do it?"
"Yes. Proof of how risky it is: a man in a coma in Tampa, Florida. Dan, a soul seeker like you, I send him back 27 hours in 2006. I lost his soul when I try to bring him back. It is somewhere in space, somewhere in time. The planet, it move too much in its orbit in more than a day. Makes it very difficult. I still have no idea where Dan's soul is. Now his body is a vegetable in a hospital. Every once in a while I try to find it again. No luck."
"A coupla days ago I went back further than 24 hours."
"That was not my doing, mon! I do not know how she did it. I lost you. I afraid for a moment that you'd end up like Dan. Sorry I cannot do it."
"Fine then, send my soul to St. Louis, you can move me that way, too, right?"
"No, mon, that wouldn't work--"
"The goddamn briefcase," Gabriel muttered.
"Right. You cannot bring it with you. And I cannot move you all the way back to Louisiana while you bear-hugging another soul."
Gabriel sighed. He knew what he had to do.
He didn't like leaving his gun behind, a .45 he had just in case one of the possessed persons got too out of hand. But he especially hated leaving his car. What he hated most, though, was stepping onto that plane.
"Have a nice flight," the man at the Gate had said in a chipper tone. Gabriel, his mouth and throat completely devoid of moisture and his heart racing, rasped "Thanks" in response - barely audible. Then he had boarded the plane, his only carry-on the briefcase.
Thankfully Gabriel had gotten an aisle seat - he wasn't sure he could bear sitting by the window so he could see just how far away the good ol' terra firma was. Almost the entire flight he sat nervous, cringing, his heart pounding, clutching the charm that Ishmianthe had given him in one hand and gripping the arm rest in the other white-knuckled hand.
Fortunately the plane hadn't crashed and Gabriel had landed at the Lambert-St. Louis airport in one piece. He had tried to remain calm during the flight but was tense and queasy the entire time, unable to eat the snack they had given him. When he'd accidentally glanced out the window and saw the Gateway Arch down below as they were preparing to land (looking upon a structure that he'd known to be extremely tall - and knowing that he was above it) he'd had to look away quickly to fight the urge to curl up into the fetal position.
The first thing he did when left the plane, even before calling Bastiaan, was make a bee line for the nearest place serving alcohol and quickly suck down some shots. No drinks had been served on that quick flight. He was reasonably certain that if there had been, he would have been completely trashed by now.
"OK, mon, you have to take a cab to a suburb called Florissant," Bastiaan instructed Gabriel when he finally called him. This was after Bastiaan chastised him for stopping for the drinks.
Gabriel caught a cab that had already been ordered by Bastiaan and made it to the house where the possessed boy lived.
As Gabriel stood on the sidewalk near the yellow-taped, reporter-surrounded brick house he looked at his phone. It was 11:00 AM. It was cutting it too close. Maybe he shouldn't have stopped for those drinks.
He walked as quietly and discreetly as he could behind the neighboring house’s high hedges. He set the briefcase down and quickly phoned Bastiaan.
As Gabriel was transported back into time, and as he flew into the house, his mind was partially distracted by the nightmare, by the smiling face of his wife in the good part of the dream, by her cold, dead eyes in the frightening part. And that man. That man with the bloody torso, those symbols carved into the flesh of his chest and the face obscured by the night’s shadows. Even though it hadn’t been clearly visible, Gabriel knew that it had an expression of pure evil and malice.
But he was quick, though, as he zoomed into the boy's body, just as he was reaching into his pants pocket to pull out the gun.
”No, not YOU!” the invading soul screeched as Gabriel fought him inside the body.
Not me?? Gabriel thought. The notion that he was gaining some sort of reputation among the crazy souls was an interesting thought to him. But he only pondered it for a fleeting second, as his current situation and the nightmare were too competitive for his thoughts.
Gabriel did finally yank the invading soul from the boy - a middle-aged black man with wild, bulging, crazy eyes. He was one of the tougher ones to hold on to, but hold onto him Gabriel did as they fast-forwarded to the present.
As he opened the briefcase, and as the man's soul screamed in horror while being sucked into the crystal, Gabriel thought about what Suriya had said. Was Bastiaan keeping something really important from him? If so, what?
"Mission accomplished," Gabriel said to Bastiaan after that was over.
"I take it from your lack of emotion that it wasn't your wife?"
"No," Gabriel sighed, "not her."
"I sort of knew," Bastiaan said, "for I did not feel them when you brought the soul back."
"Yeah." Gabriel sighed. He almost hung up.
"What the hell didja mean when you said 'them?!'" Gabriel said.
"Um, nothing! I meant HER..."
"Bastiaan! What is it that you're not telling me? Suriya said there was something that you weren't telling me!"
Gabriel could hear the shaman sigh over the phone. "Damn. I was hoping that I never had to. I mean, I was never one hundred percent sure. But I didn't want to upset you any more than you were every day already."
"What is it?!" Gabriel yelled.
"Another soul is attached to your wife's," Bastiaan said quickly. "Actually it's... almost a part of hers. But..."
"Bastiaan, what are you saying?!" Gabriel said, his mind reeling, forming the answer in his head before Bastiaan said it.
"It... it is a much younger soul, with no strong sense of self yet, cannot separate from your wife's, goes wherever she goes. I could feel it when you barely missed getting her in Chicago.
"Gabriel... I think that when she killed herself, your wife was pregnant."
To be continued...
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