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The man had been standing there for a while, leaning against the bar. A long while. Almost fifty years, in fact.
On occasion, someone tried to tell him that the bar was closing for the evening, locking up, shutting down, time to go, seņor.
The request fell on what seemed like deaf ears, but the requester usually simply wandered off at that point, blinking confusedly, trying to remember what they were saying and to whom and why.
That's when he let them see him. He usually didn't, though that made ordering drinks a bit more difficult. Not that he needed to order drinks, and not that they did much for him. It was very hard for an angel to get drunk on mortal liquor. But it was not impossible, and even that tiny, occasional surcease, that bit of self-destruction, no matter how temporary, no matter how sinful, was worth the effort.
Abriel. My beloved.
Anael drank. Every time he thought of her name, he drank to forget it, and, when he did, even for brief moments, he cried, until he remembered again, and then he drank some more.
That they had felt affection beyond the bounds of their kind was, some would say, a sin in itself, against the Plan. He had always felt, though, that it made her an even greater servant of the Throne than most, more compassionate, closer to the ephemerals of this sphere than so many other messengers.
That had been why she was here, to help them, help these others, the least among them, the poor and destitute and abandoned of Puerto Barrios.
And now she was dead. Not dead, for their kind could not die. But killed. Murdered. Seized by this world, torn, bloody, violated, mutilated, and buried, unknown, abandoned, unloved. Desecrated in such a way that her very self was lost to him, and to all of them. Lost, perhaps, even to the Throne, for his pleas There had not been answered.
There were times, when Anael remembered his past, remembered clearly what he was and what he had done at the dawn of Creation. Times when he recalled, too, what these -- filth -- had done to Abriel ... those were the times he wished to make his presence known, to draw on the power of the Host, granted his order by the Throne, to both create and destroy, to seize the sword of flames and lay waste to this mortal sphere, to let the pain and rage and righteous fury of Heaven rain upon this world, burning it to a cinder, leaving it as unfulfilled, aborted, forgotten and unmourned as ... as she was.
Not forgotten, though. Not unmourned. And he knew that, even if he were to act as he truly desired, the Throne would never forgive him. The ephemerals might joke of how the world's end could only no longer come by flood, that fire and plague remained viable options. But the Throne would never destroy this place. Not just for one angel, now fallen.
And, truth be told (and, for a messenger, it must be), Anael knew Abriel would never have approved of such a course. Punish all these, beloved? For the crimes of a few? How is that justice? How is that part of the Plan?
Still, it gnawed at him. How could Abriel's murder be part of this, then, part of the Plan? What was the justice in that? How could such a crime not call down immediate, fiery retribution, if not in this grimy, sin-stained sphere, then at least on the perpetrators?
So he stood here. And he drank. There were things he should be doing, he knew, but they would not be left undone. The Host was numberless, and existed beyond time. He, himself, might be elsewhere here, even now, an obedient servant ...
Or, more likely not. He no longer heard the call, and perhaps would not again. He know longer felt the flow of the Plan. Indeed, that had faded long before his memory of her, and sometimes he drank to forget that, too.
To be an angel was, when not destructive, creative. He was a messenger of the Word, and the Word created. Even for him, in this state, this was still true. And despite his distraction, his grief, the demiurge was even now about him, unbidden, doing its work. The ramshackle bar become more real, more solid, the longer he was there. The wood and corrugated tin of which it was built became solid timbers and brick over the long years, imperceptibly, the very nature of things changing. The rot-gut aguaardiente became a variety of liquors, according to his unvoiced whim -- rich red clarets, colored of blood; single-malt scotches, the taste of a smoking pyre; subtly-herbed gins, evoking a not-so-distant time of colonialists and distant powers.
Even in the dirt streets outside, trees grew strong and flowers bloomed, heady blossoms that smelled of gin and were colored as wine.
In time (something that even angels became used to) Anael reached a decision, or a decision reached him. There must be punishment. There must be -- vengeance, perhaps, was the best term, though for an angel it means so much more. Dauntingly more, for it is a role assigned only to the Throne, and not to be pursued independently. Only one mad would choose to do so, but perhaps Anael was mad now, less than an angel, more than an ephemeral, his mind finally taken by alcohol, his silvery skin now pasty white, stubbled with gray, his fine rainment become an overcoat in the oppressive heat ...
Anael knew -- he thought he knew -- that the Throne would exact justice, at length. And to one such as him, the interval between the crime and the punishment could only be less than fleeting.
But he had lived within the world, within time, stewing in its juices for these long years, perceiving sins unpunished for far too long. The crime, in some way, had been not just against Abriel, but against the Throne. Against him. He must exact his own vengeance.
He set forth, leaving behind an ingot of gold for payment over the years. That the owner of the bar and his supplier would end up killing each other over that gold was no concern of his. There must be a balance in things, a payment.
And, yet, as he passed deeper, further downward into the world, Anael discovered tha someone had already been at his work, or so it seemed. Fitting payment, vengeance, had been wreaked. One of the killers had been consumed by the foulness within him and had fallen into a Pit as dark and endless as the one that awaited him before the Throne. Another had been killed by a killer himself as he hitched a ride. A third had a child taken by lust and violence and had given into despair (an echo stirred uncomfortably within Anael's breast).
Even the ship that had brought the killers to Guatemala, aboard which they'd served, had been piloted drunkenly onto shoals off Newfoundland, and, gutted, sank.
And then there were the last two. Anael tracked them to the north, to a place in the wilderness. It took him a while, longer than it should have. But at length, he found them.
One had grown old, garrulous, and was talking to --
-- the other, had within him --
Anael's eyes widened. There was joy in his heart, again, fleeting --
-- And then terror. He saw what was happening, and saw suddenly how very small even the pain of angels was within the great Plan. Indeed, he saw the Plan again, and how he and Abriel and blood and death fit within it, and it was awful, both wondrous and monstrous to behold.
And he fled, shielding himself from the gaze of what stared back at him, from the knowledge of events he could not --
The man stands there still, and will perhaps until the end of the world, be that soon or late. He stands, leaning against the bar, rough gray-green overcoat belying the oppressive heat. Indeed, on occasion, it seems he shivers.
On occasion, someone tries to tell him that the bar is closing for the evening, locking up, shutting down, time to go, seņor.
But he never leaves. He just keeps drinking, trying to remember, trying harder to forget, as, outside and within, the gin blossoms grow.
By Dave Hill