by Eric R. Lowther
This story has the distinction of having been accepted by not one but two different print publications in its lifetime. However, both publications failed and shut their doors before Angel Dude could see print. Just to prove I'm not superstitious, I'll put it here now. If Blogger shuts down inside a week, it ain't my fault... Author
Vanessa tried to cry out but the gag in her mouth turned it to a muffled sigh. Her hands and ankles had been bound together, the room around her lightless. All she could tell was she was indoors on hard concrete that stunk of urine and sweat. She tried to shift her weight and was rewarded with a spasm from her shattered knee that nearly caused her to black out.
She’d arrived in the desert just three days before and was in a convoy on her way to her first assignment when the ambush came. Vanessa remembered nothing, no grand heroics or staving off the enemy hordes with nothing but a bayonet and PMS; nothing, until the here and now. The realization of her predicament came to her, as did the stories they had told about what happened to female POW’s. She struggled anew as these demons flew threw her mind until the pain blocked out everything.
Vanessa woke again, this time to the sounds of men speaking in an alien tongue and stabbing light across the darkness. Blinded, she could only whimper as shuffling footsteps sounded across the floor. Rough hands grabbed her, hauled her up, sending new waves of pain through her leg. She cried against the gag and made a feeble struggle before a fist landed on the back of her head. Vanessa slumped in their grasp, the futility of her situation slipping softly yet firmly into her mind as she tried instead to concentrate on memories of home, of the parents she had lost long ago and the grandparents that had raised her. The locket her father had given her the very night her parents left her world was still around her neck. They had been young, teenagers really, when they died in a car accident. She concentrated on the few real memories she had of them as her knee barked off something hard and unyielding.
Vanessa's vision swam as she was deposited into a chair. Her knee screamed as it was forced to bend, accompanied by the thin, grating sound of bone against bone. Looking down through pain–squinted eyes she found blood spatters running up her body. She couldn’t see the damage to her knee from this angle, and part of her suggested she didn’t want to. She looked up and found herself staring at three men. Only one was in a real uniform and barked orders at the others garbed in what seemed to be scavenged US Army fatigues. Not regular military. She would rather have dealt with the whole of the Republican Guard than a few psychotic zealots. Two of them took up positions to either side of her while the uniformed man pulled up a chair and put a foot on the seat. He smiled a wolf’s grin, and leaned down.
“Your father must not love you… why else would he send you here to die?” The officer’s heavily–accented breath stank worse than the room where she’d been kept. He nodded over her head. Fingers worked at the ties on her gag, finally pulling it away from her face. “There…” the officer said, still grinning. “Maybe now we can hear your beautiful voice.” Vanessa gasped a few times, rejoicing in even this small freedom.
“Miller…” she coughed. “…specialist…” The back of the officer’s hand snaked out and smacked her full across the mouth without losing his grin.
“I didn’t ask you a question, American whore…” He kicked his foot off the chair, sending it skidding across the floor. Vanessa winced as a hand grabbed her chin from behind and pulled her head back until she could see her captors' beards hovering over her. The officer grabbed roughly at her neck and came away with her ID tags, her small locket an innocent victim of the attack. She didn’t have to see to know that her dog tag chain had burned a mark across the back of her neck before surrendering. “Miller, Vanessa M.” the officer read off the tag as he dangled it in the florescent light. “Hmm. No religious preference. Better to be a godless whore, eh?” He turned the tags over in his hand and found her small silver locket dangling from the tiny, mangled chain that had wound tightly with the ball links from her ID. “Do you know why your American military lets women alongside its men?” he asked offhandedly. “It is not because you can be soldiers. It is not because they believe you are equal. You are glorified… how is it said… camp followers. You do not soldier for your country… you whore for it!”
He righted his chair and sat down heavily. Vanessa watched him turning her locket over in his grimy, blood–stained hands. She could only guess what had become of the rest of her company. The officer lit an American cigarette from a battered and bloodstained pack, inhaled deeply and sighed. “I spent time in your country; learned your language, your customs, went to your colleges. And the only good thing I found about America was its cigarettes. So!” he said quickly, loudly, “Where were you going in my country? Where were they sending you to kill my people?”
Vanessa bit her bottom lip. She was in an impossible situation, and the blood on his cigarette punctuated her predicament. His smile turned to a snarl as he lashed out with his foot, crashing into her shattered knee with the force of a freight train. She gasped and spasmed from her chair as her world went white, and when she hit the floor this time she found the power to scream. The men behind her joined in chorus, screaming to the greatness of their god as she writhed. Blood pounded in her ears washed out the cries, and it was an eternity before she was able to focus on the officer’s face. “When I ask a question, you will answer it. Immediately.” He flicked ashes on her and turned away, his attention now on her jewelry. “And what do we have here; perhaps a picture of a mother that would sell you to capitalism, maybe a photo of the father that would whore you to Satan?”
Vanessa’s mind flew back to her childhood as he worked the tiny latch on her locket. It didn’t have photos of either of her parents or even her beloved grandparents. What it did have was what her grandmother used to call her Guardian Angel. At least, that was what she'd called it until many years later when Vanessa actually took a good look at the picture inside. Her parents had matured enough to reasonably care for their accidental infant, but in many ways they'd still been free-wheeling teenagers. Her father had played in bands and worked part time in a record store with her mother before they died, and much of their world revolved around the music of the day. Big hair, screeching guitars and rock ‘n’ roll excess was the order of the day when they weren’t with little Vanessa. The picture in the locket had started out as a joke, really, cut from a flyer at the record store and pasted into the dime store trinket. Conventional? No. But, to a grandmother trying to explain death to a little girl it served as a salve, a way to assure tiny Vanessa that her parents hadn’t left her completely alone.
“Your mommy and daddy had to go to heaven,” her grandmother told her, “but they didn’t leave you alone. You have grandpa and me, but they also left you something very special here in this locket. It’s your own Guardian Angel.” But Vanessa’s sharp eyes picked out detail in the tiny picture that the older woman’s simply couldn’t. She almost smiled as she remembered it and turned her face towards the floor to hide the emotion from her tormentors.
“You claim no faith, yet you carry a false angel of a false god? I will never understand Americans.” the officer said, his back still turned to her. She looked up from the floor, his voice chasing away the memories. He turned to face her, though he still seemed to be staring intently at the open locket. “Ah! I see now! Not only are you godless, you even go so far as to mock. You do not even exist in the eyes of Allah. You are nothing but meat. I think I shall keep this after you are gone, to remind me that Americans respect nothing.” He wrapped the thin chain around his right hand and advanced. “Now, I ask only once more. Where were you going?”
Vanessa held no value in his eyes, and even if she wanted to tell him what he wanted to know it wouldn’t matter. Theirs was not a sensitive operation, nothing more than delivering reinforcements and supplies. He wouldn’t be happy with her answers, and she knew full well from the stories what fate awaited her. The thought made her skin crawl. It also delayed her answer enough to enrage the officer. Vanessa could see his foot coming but could do nothing about it. The pain was incredible, worse than she’d ever felt. She sat up out of reflex and was rewarded with a sound punch to the face. Her world went black as she crumpled into glorious unconsciousness.
Her interogator stood over her and smiled. He knew American soldiers to be soft of both mind and spirit, but he'd hoped that the woman would've been stronger than she appeared. The men would have to wait awhile longer. She was a faithless, godless whore. No act would be too cruel to visit upon her flesh. He looked down at his hand. The cheap jewelry hadn’t fared any better than its owner. The chain had broken and the two pieces of the locket had come apart. He looked down and saw the tiny image from the album cover for Van Halen’s 1984 stained in the young woman’s blood. “Allahu Akbar…” he said in a rough whisper and brought his foot down, meaning to bury the profane image under his boot heel. But before his boot could touche the ground an invisible force shoved upward from the floor against him, taking him off his feet and sending him crashing against the wall. His soldiers rushed towards him only to be thrown to the floor by the unseen hands themselves.
The officer blinked several times and rolled to his side, feeling the trickles of blood tickling his hair as they rolled down the back of his head. He called out to the others and got only groans in response. Slowly, he made it to trembling legs to find a dim, shimmering light situated on the long table at the center of the room. He squinted through the light then blinked several times. A large, naked infant sat at the center of the table. Chubby and pale with a full head of wavy hair, the child regarded him with a wide smile and flapping its small, feathery wings. The other men had gotten to their feet and were likewise transfixed. They exchanged confused glances, confirming they all saw the same thing. Hands reached for weapons as the baby produced a cigarette from thin air and tapped it on the table.
“Dude! Ahmed! Man, you got a light?” the baby said, its voice California surfer–chic. Hands stopped and minds froze. Had it just spoke? The baby looked at each in turn. “That’s cool, guys. I’ll get it.” He stared at the end of his cigarette for a moment and watched as it came to life in a thin puff of smoke. The baby took a drag from the cigarette, stretched his tiny arms and groaned. “Man, you wouldn’t believe how cramped it is in there! God…oh! Sorry, Big Dude!” he said with a sheepish look to the ceiling.
“What…” Ahmed stammered.
“So you dudes got beers or somethin? Maybe a Coke? Huh? No? Have you looked next to the deodorant and razors…?” The cherub wrinkled his nose, rubbed his smooth face and laughed. “Just messin with you, scruffy dudes! But you gotta’ have tunes, though… right? Right?” He was met only with slack–jawed silence. “Damn… you dudes are kinda lame.”
“…an American devil!” one of the men blurted.
“Devil? No, scruffy dude, that ain’t my team. Maybe you didn’t see these bitchin wings?” The cherub flapped them a few times for emphasis. “I’m an angel…” A peal of thunder suddenly rolled through the cloudless sky outside, cutting him off. “Geez… okay, Big Dude… I’m a cherub. It’s kinda like an angel though…” He looked up expectantly for a moment then smiled back at them when the sky remained silent. The men looked between them, unsure how to react. Ahmed took a step forward, his hand hovering over his pistol.
“You know my name?” Ahmed said.
The cherub rolled his eyes and exhaled an impossibly large plume of smoke. “Dude… cherub here? Huh? God’s messengers? Little angel dudes?” He looked at each in turn then shook his head. “This is gonna be harder than I thought…” he mumbled. “Look, Ahmed. I’m what some dudes call a guardian angel…” He paused for a moment and looked skyward. With no apparent sounds of holy displeasure at his self-description he continued. “The chick’s had a rough life, so the Big Dude asked me to keep an eye on her; been pretty boring up to now. You dudes sure you ain’t got any beers around here?”
One of the men had regained his composure and slid the rifle from his shoulder. “Ahmed, it is a trick! This is a devil…”
“An American devil…” the other hissed, his pistol slowly rising from his holster.
“Do nothing without my command…” Ahmed warned them softly. “Why are you here?”
“Dude… do I have to break out the sock puppets or somethin? Try to wrap your head ‘round this one… I’m her guardian angel. You’ve been playin Ike to her Tina. What part of this scene ain’t comin together for you?” The cherub stubbed his cigarette on the table and had another burning in his chubby fingers before the embers of the first had died. “Oh! Right, man! I get it now. You dudes are into that whole ‘God is Great’ thing. Well, scruffy dudes, He really is great and all. But you dudes got it all wrong, man. I mean, you and me, we're both down with the Big Dude and all. But you’ve got a few wires crossed on His whole gig, man. Oh… here…wait a sec, dudes. I love this one. You got the whole seventy–something virgins thing happening, right? Check this out…”
Half a dozen women dressed in flowing burkas and heavy veils appeared at the back of the room behind the cherub. The men instantly trained their weapons on the newcomers and looked sidelong at their commander. “Okay, virginal mamas… show the boys what’s waiting for ‘em on the other side.” As one, they lifted their veils, revealing six of the ugliest women any man alive had ever seen. Lazy eyes and horrible acne prevailed with perhaps a dozen good teeth in the group. The women smiled as seductively as their visages would allow. “Damn! Homely, ain’t they?” The cherub said to one of the men, his look of disgust evident. “Dude… didn’t you ever stop to think why they were virgins in the first place? It ain't exactly by choice.” The women disappeared suddenly, causing the men to instantly swing their weapons to the cherub.
“Lies!” Ahmed cried. “All lies!”
“Yeah… sure; like the Big Dude would enslave a bunch of chicks for each of you that blows himself up. You think He got His job by doing stupid shit like that?” He sighed and looked around the room. “Look. I’m gonna’ make this real simple; you guys clear out and skate. You live, she lives, and everybody’s cool.”
“And what if we do not leave? What if we kill her, the other American dogs and you? What then?” Ahmed growled.
“Wow… some dudes just don’t get it, do they? Dude, do I look like somebody you know? Huh? Do you think Copperfield farted and here I am, like with mirrors or somethin? Hello! Divine creature appearing from the ether here! No wonder you dudes still live in the desert…”
“Allahu Akbar!” the man with the rifle screamed. He opened fire, causing the rest to fire as well. Bullets crashed into the cherub and gun smoke filled the air as his small body rocked violently off the table. Ahmed screamed for his men to hold their fire and tried to wave away some of the smoke. The three stared at the end of the table for several seconds, gunfire still in their ears.
Ahmed waved for them to move around the table while he moved forward, pistol extended. A tiny, blood–streaked hand suddenly slapped the tabletop from below, followed by the other. The cherub slowly pulled himself back up onto the table, using a few flaps from his small wings to lift his bottom back up to a sitting position. The men watched in horror as the terrible wounds started to glow, then closed. In moments, the cherub was whole and unmarred. The orbits where his soft, laughing eyes had been only moments before were now black voids that seemed to suck the light away from the room.
“I tried to be nice to you dudes. Even when you didn’t have beers or tunes…” The cherub’s voice had changed to a hollow, menacing tone that seemed to reverberate off their bones. “Big Dude… I tried it the way You wanted… they ain’t gettin it…” An intense, white–hot wave of light suddenly shot from his hollow eyes, blinding everyone in the room.
Ahmed was the first to recover. When he could see, he fell back against the wall, eyes wide with terror. The cherub was no more; in the ashen remains of the table stood a huge, heavenly–sculpted man. Long, shimmering wings protruded from his perfect shoulders, his body glowing with an inner light. But the eyes had remained hollow, dead and lightless, the only mar in otherwise perfection. Ahmed raised his weapon feebly, knowing that it would do no good. The soldier with the rifle had dropped his weapon and was on his knees in fervent, terrified prayer. The other fell back against the wall, mumbling “Allahu Akbar” over and over.
“You’re wrong, scruffy dude…” the angel said as he started to move towards them. “He’s not just great… the Big Dude’s fuckin awesome…”
Copyright Eric R. Lowther