Chapter 4: 24 Hours Later
This again. He thought he would never wind up here after the last time. In fact, it had been almost five years since he was here. He hated this place. Everything about it was uncomfortable and painful. Especially when he first got here. It was as if he went through the same bullshit every time.
He didn't like a single thing about this horrid hole in the middle of wherever. Everything here sucked, but the pit was the worst; and unfortunately, it was the only way in or out. He didn’t come here by choice. He always just wound up here, like he was drug in here. As soon as he closed his eyes and fell asleep, he would wake up in this Hell. The pit was such a horrid place because of the dredge and slime that filled it. It was nearly impossible to move through and coated every inch of him as if he took a swan dive into the stuff. He would spend what felt like hours just trying to get out of this godforsaken, shithole pit.
The thick black mixture looked like oil and moved like tar. It covered his entire face; all but one eye. He couldn't even breathe. The first few times he was here he was struck down by sheer panic. There are many horrible things in this world, but not being able to take in a lung full of air was one of the worst. Normally one would just pass out, but in here, not needing to breathe is not a means of escape. This was just one of the tortures awaiting Sam in this Hell.
The absolute amount of effort that he needed to exert to pull himself from the sludge was enough to break most people into tears. By the time he got out, that is exactly what he was doing… crying. He hated the struggle of freeing himself from that goddamned pit. The smell of that disgusting sludge would stick to him like glue. He knew that when he finally woke up from this nightmare, that smell would become plastered inside of his nostrils like a thick layer of snot he just couldn't get out.
This dream was not just some random firing of his sleeping brain. His nightmarish Hell was a nightly torture for most of his childhood.
Nothing changed about this place. The sky was still black as smoke. The heat was like standing in a fire, and it created massive gusts of searing wind that would blow the still burning embers that filled the air right into his face. His eyes always felt as if they started to cook inside of his skull. The fire destroyed everything here. No matter what the scenery was, it looked as though it were rusting in a fiery kiln for decades. This particular time it was the cityscape outside of his apartment, but it was always somewhere different. As if a snapshot was taken of the world around him and the set ablaze to burn for all eternity. Some things never change.
Sam called this place The Furnaces.
He was completely lucid in these dreams though he did not have the kind of control most would expect to get from a truly lucid experience. He could not fly or instantly acquire super strength. His body was bound to the physics of this world. Sam simply retained his logical mind in here; however, there was no escaping his emotions.
After years of very intensive therapy, he was able to escape this madness. The wall he built held strong and steady against the constant push of that dark bastard that lived behind it.
Sam always heard muffled voices in the dream, but this dream was the first time he ever heard intelligible words. This voice was unlike any other he heard here before. Its power washed out all the other sounds that usually deafened him in this Hellish dream.
With a mighty, thunderous voice, it said, “All that power is pointless unless you can control it.”
These words seemed to pound on the walls of Sam’s head as he made the screaming ascent into consciousness. They pounded so hard in his mind that they reverberated against his ears as he gasped for air, sitting straight up from his coma-like sleep. The discombobulation that often accompanies waking up at such a rapid rate was not there. In fact, Sam was never more aware of anything in his entire life.
He could feel every drop of sweat on his brow brought on by his vision filled sleep. Each drop possessed a unique shape and personality of its own. He could taste the funk of plaque and night-old spit that has hung in his mouth as well as the thick humid air that rushed over his tongue as it filled his lungs with rapid deep breaths. The tips of his fingers were so keenly aware of every divot in the pattern that covered the microfiber pillows so tightly clutched in his palms that he knew how many there were touching his hand and how deep they were. Two hundred nineteen on the left and one hundred ninety-six on the right are each one-sixty-fourth of an inch deep.
As the sounds of his dreams began to fade into the abyss of his subconscious, new sounds overwhelmed his ears. The world around him instantly divided into several audible layers like that of the rainforest as you descend through the canopy. At first, all he could hear was the roar of the traffic three floors below as it penetrated its way through the balcony door. The crushing sound of rubber on concrete and combustion engines rattling and revving as they accelerated through the intersection trying to beat the yellow light. The thud of a car with heavy subwoofer mounted so poorly that it rattled the trunk. The splash of tires as they caressed the edge of the puddles gathered along the curbs from the previous night’s storm.
As the seconds passed, he could hear faint glimpses of conversations from the outdoor patio of the hipster coffee shop across the street and the click of high heels walking hurriedly past as if in a rush to return to work.
Sam released his lock-tight grip on the upholstery and placed his hands on the sides of his face, fingers covering his eyes, and he began to rub them slowly in an attempt to “get a grip” on what seemed still to be a dream. But this was no dream and the reality that was invading him was about to get worse.
As he pulled his fingers from his eyes and his hands from his face he muttered, “Two thousand sixty-three whiskers, nine thousand fourteen pores, and a whole lot of—WHAT THE FUCK!!!!!”
His eyes bulged open in complete disbelief at what just flew out of his mouth. Then it got very bad.
Gazing down at the carpet below his feet, he could see each fiber as though he was looking at the world’s highest definition television with a magnifying glass. He could see the follicles of the hairs that were growing out of his legs, dirt particles encrusted on the fabric of the shorts that he slept in and the coagulated cells of the blood that stained his shirt.
Sam lost it. Almost as quickly as he could think it, he rushed down the hall and into the bathroom. Crashing into the tiny sink mounted below the tiny mirror so hard that it cracked away from the wall, knocking all of his toiletries off the edges that they so delicately balanced on. He rammed into it so hard in fact that his tiny mirror fell into that very same sink and shattered into dozens of pieces. The sound was so deafening that Sam immediately clutched his ears and stumbled back screaming, “FUCK!”
Shaking his head, he leaned forward toward the sink again and reached in to grab a piece of the tiny mirror that was now much miniature than before.
As he did so, he mumbled, “Thirty-seven pieces too small... 28th should work.”
The sliver that he chose was the largest piece in the pile and was indeed the twenty-eighth piece from the bottom of the sink. He raised the sliver of mirror up in front of his face and once again bulged his eyes in disbelief at what he was seeing. His eyes changed color and pattern. Normally his eyes were a soft brown. They, of course, had a distinct pattern like everyone else’s eyes, but if you didn't own his eyes or spend your days staring at them like some star-crossed lover you would have never noticed any pattern at all. Nevertheless, Sam knew what that pattern looked like and today it was different.
The color changed to a yellowish gold. Not that of a poisonous snake or possessed alley cat, but an alluring, almost soothing gold with yellow highlights radiating from the center around the pupil. The pattern was nothing short of perfect. It was a series of nine tiny circles, equidistant from each other as well as the pupil. In between each pair of circles was a perfect black sliver that guided ones focus back towards the pupil. Even Sam felt slightly hypnotized by them.
His disbelief grew even more. In an emotionless gesture, he dropped the sliver of the tiny mirror back into the sink. Upon impact, it broke again.
“Forty-three pieces,” rolled off his lips as though he did not even want himself to hear it.
He closed his eyes slowly. He stood up straight and took in a deep calming breath, placed his hands on the edge of the sink and sank his weight, leaning forward. Again, he could sense a tremendous amount of information. He could feel that the temperature of the porcelain was a cool sixty-four point seven degrees as his hands settled on the smooth surface. He could see each bit of grit, dirt and soap scum that appeared glued to the sink from the six weeks that he occupied this apartment. Random whiskers that had not made it down the drain from the last hack shave job a few days ago were clearly visible. He exhaled and slowly opened his eyes, looking down into the sink he hoped and prayed that he would see himself looking back up from the tiny broken mirror, not these strange and unfamiliar eyes, but the soft pattern less brown eyes that he had known for the past twenty-three years. This was not the case. What Sam saw were forty-three pairs of those golden yellow eyes staring back at him with the same unanswered question of, “What the fuck?”
It was all just a bit too much for this young man to handle at noon-thirty on a Monday morning. His young but extremely masculine, square jaw clenched and the muscle tensed causing the whiskers on his face to conform to its shape. His grip on the edge of the sink increased exponentially causing the porcelain to burst under the vice-like force, sending shards ricocheting off the walls and porcelain powder puffing into the air.
“SON OF A...” Sam shouted from behind his tight-clenched teeth. He began shaking his hands vigorously and bouncing up and down ever so slightly, “FUCKING OOOWWWWW!”
Apparently, Sam’s sense of pain was amplified as well. He immediately opened his hands, palms facing upward, and began to survey the damage on his now bleeding hands. He could see the dust and leftover debris of the sink that was still stuck to his hands in magnified, crystal clear detail. He could see several lacerations to the palms of his hands. Each was deep. Deep and nasty. As he began to focus harder, he could see that the wounds were already repairing themselves. The cells that were rushing to the wound to begin the coagulation process were apparent and vivid. Barely visible capillaries already began to constrict. Sam could not help but feel like he was watching some time lapse of the entire process. What was even worse was that he noticed a startling resemblance between the blood on his hands and the blood on his shirt. The pain began to subside.
He reached up to the wall next to where the tiny mirror resided a few moments earlier, grabbed what was no doubt a very non-sterile hand towel, wrapped it around his left hand, and clenched the end of it into his palm to hold it in place. He grabbed a second towel with his right hand and simply squeezed it. He always heard you should apply pressure to open wounds, but Sam thought that was stupid as hell because right now his hands were stinging like a son of a bitch from the towels and the pressure.
He leaned back against the wall, dropped his head slightly and looked toward the ground. Giggled in a sort of slightly deranged fashion and said, “Five hundred fourteen squares.”
He was referring to the pattern of the cheap vinyl flooring of the bathroom in his shitty studio apartment.
All he could think was, “I need a smoke.”
Without hesitation, he exited the now destroyed tiny bathroom, grabbed his cigarettes and lighter off the cluttered coffee table he got from the back alley and headed for the door.
Upon entering the hallway, his senses overwhelmed him again. The normally disgusting smell of the overly sweaty alcoholic that lived across the hallway was far more intense and seemed to stain the inside of his nostrils instantly. It was a smell he knew all too well from his childhood. Caught completely off guard, Sam paused for a brief moment as though he were trying to hold back the worst puke ever. Then he wretched. Placing his hand over his mouth in a fist shape, he decided that he needed out of this hallway and fast.
Upward was salvation. Upward was fresh air.
Moments later Sam reached the top of the sixth-floor staircase. He dug into the almost empty pack of smokes and pulled out a cigarette, being careful not to grab the lucky one that he flipped upside down in the pack. He put the butt in between his lips and drove his shoulder into the beaten red door to open it. Almost as if never connected, the door flew off the hinges and traveled some 10 feet away from the frame itself. The flimsy, metal door landed with a crash that was thunderous and loud even to the average person. For Sam, it was almost crippling. Once again, he drove his hands up to his ears and hunched over in pain. As if it was not bad enough already, the light from the mid-day sun rushed into the dark stairwell, filling the dank corridor with more light than his eyes were prepared to handle. Pain seemed to be the common theme of the day. Pain and confusion.
Gathering himself, he stood up straight and raised the back of his towel wrapped hand to his forehead in an attempt to shade his eyes from the blisteringly bright sun that felt like it was searing his retinas. Staggeringly, he exited the stairwell and stepped out onto the rooftop. Sam came here to smoke five or six times a day. It was his thinking spot, his hidden place away from the rest of the world. The one place that never changed for him no matter how bad things got. The one place he knew he could truly be alone.
Today, however, nothing was as it should have been. With his pupils finally constricting and offering him the slightest bit of relief from the overpowering sun, Sam fumbled with his lighter trying to get it to light, but with no luck. He shook it vigorously a few times and tried again. Just as he managed to get a flame and bring it to the tip of the cigarette, he heard a voice in the place where there should not be voices.
“I wouldn't do that if I were you,” the voice said.
In true smoker fashion, Sam lit the cigarette and inhaled deeply with the intention of replying on the exhale. Nicotine first, all else second.
Sam began to cough so violently that he sounded like the car from earlier with the poorly installed subwoofers that made the trunk rattle. Saliva streamed from the rim of his mouth and began to drip on the ground. There was no controlling this. The coughing seemed to go on for about a minute or so and involved Sam puking before he was able to calm himself enough to ask, “Who the Hell are you?”
Not interested in the answer, Sam stood there, straight legged and bent at the waist, hands on his knees, still coughing a bit. Standing before him was a well-dressed man. He wore a lightweight brown herringbone jacket with the collar popped and the sleeves rolled up to reveal the bright white shirt below.
The sleeves were just a bit longer than they needed to be. Holes were punched in the cuffs and the man’s thumbs were sticking through, making a pseudo glove. His pants were a regular fit faded denim that broke slightly at the ankles. His shoes appeared broken in, black leather loafers with a square front. They were the kind of shoe that you pay a lot of money for so they look worn when you buy them new.
Atop this six-foot-tall, sharply dressed figure was a head that would make even the most heterosexual man say, “Damn, that dude is sexy.”
The five o’clock shadow and perfectly swept blonde hair only seemed to compliment the penetrating vivid blue eyes, sculpted nose, and square jaw.
The man extended his right hand to shake Sam’s and said, “I'm Michael, your recorder.”
“My what?” replied Sam snidely as he raised up to eye level with Michael and wiped a bit of drool from his lips.
“Your recorder,” said Michael, “it'll make sense in a few minutes.”
With one eyebrow raised and his nose all scrunched up, Sam said, “I'm not a musician, and I don't need anything recorded, buddy. I can't help you.” He spoke to the man as if he were turning down a bum on the street that was asking for change. Sam began to reach for his cigarette that was lying on the rooftop still smoking from the coughing fit he went through just a moment ago. Clearing his throat, he pinched it between his fingertips and raised it towards his lips when Michael interrupted once more.
“Are you seriously going to do that again?”
Sam placed the smoke in between his lips to the right side and squinted his right eye to prevent the smoke from getting in.
“What are you? The fucking cigarette police? Trying to keep me from killing myself? No offense, but you should just let me smoke in peace and give me some space, man,” Sam rattled off.
Almost as if he were reading a quote from the most well-known story in the world, Michael replied with an emotionless response, “You couldn’t kill yourself even if you wanted to, and you are stuck with me for the rest of your life.”
With a single sarcastic forced laugh, Sam said, “Is that so?”
He took another drag off the cigarette and proceeded to re-live the horrendous coughing fit from only a few moments ago.
While scratching the back of his head with his right hand, Michael said with the slightest hint of frustration, “Look, I don't feel like wasting most of the day trying to convince you that what I’ve got to say is real... So I am just going to show you... Cool?”
Once again, in the smoker's hacking position, bent over, and head down, drooling, Sam raised his towel wrapped hand out in front of him in an agreeing fashion. A gesture that said “Sure thing, but fuck off.”
Michael said, “Fabulous,” and rushed into Sam’s personal space faster than the normal person could perceive. Sam saw the entire action in slow motion. He was so stunned by what was happening that he could not react. He had never been in a fight before. He had his ass kicked constantly, but was never allowed to defend himself and never dealt with confrontation like this. For his first encounter, this was off the charts. Michael grabbed him by the collar and by the leg of his shorts, lifted him off the ground, and as if throwing a bale of hay, spun 360 degrees before tossing Sam from the rooftop. Sam, still paralyzed from the shock and awe of what was happening did not fall to the ground.
Michael threw him so hard and with such force that Sam rocketed out instead of down. He flew from his rooftop beyond the apartment building next to him and came crashing down like a sack of potatoes on the rooftop of a four-story apartment building some two-hundred-fifty feet away. Trailing only a split second behind him was Michael soaring through the air in an angelic fashion. Like something out of The Matrix, Michael landed on the roof while Sam was still tumbling like a rag doll. Casually, Michael strolled towards Sam.
Gasping for air, Sam rolled onto his back, only to see Michael towering above him. The Sun was blasting out from behind his head like some painting in the Sistine Chapel.
Looking down at Sam with eyes that glowed like ice blue sapphires, Michael spoke in a booming, authoritative voice, “I am the Archangel Michael, created for Ra, the Sixth replacement of this world. I am here to record everything you do for the rest of your 11 lives. I have been alive for eleven thousand three hundred and sixty-four years. I cannot die. You cannot kill me.”
Michael reached down and once again grabbed Sam by the collar of his shirt. He raised him to his feet without a single drop of effort and said, “People are going to try to kill you over and over, and no matter how hard you try, they will succeed, and you will die again and again. I am here to watch.”
With a look of utter confusion and disbelief, Sam gazed at Michael. His inability to speak clued Michael in on Sam’s mental state. Maybe his approach was a bit too abrupt. Maybe Sam was having some serious emotional problems at the moment. From the look in his eyes, he checked out.
“Sam! Hey...” Michael began snapping his fingers in front of Sam’s face “...you in there? If you are, you need to get it together man.”
Michael pursed his lips to the side slightly and cocked one eye towards the ever so stunned young man in front of him.
“Humph... utterly pathetic. Five thousand years together and I get dumped for this moron.” With a sigh he leaned back slightly, still keeping one eye on Sam’s' scared and lifeless expression. “Well, guess it can't be helped.”
Michael drew back with his right hand. He reached so far back that his fingertips almost touched the rooftop, and in a fashion that would have made Kat Williams proud, he swung that hand forward and pimp slapped Sam so hard that it took him off his feet. Once again, Sam tumbled like a rag doll. After finally tumbling to a stop, Sam lifted himself up to his knees and spit the blood from his mouth.
“You hit like a bitch,” Sam grumbled as he peered out at Michael from underneath his eyebrows.
In an instant, Sam exploded towards Michael. He moved faster than any Olympic sprinter could ever dream. He went from catatonic to full on a rampage in the blink of an eye and the rage on his face was apparent. Moving forward with the force of a wrecking ball and the speed of a cheetah, Sam collided with Michael and took him off his feet. There was so much force and speed behind his action that he drove Michael into the wall of the brick elevator housing that was on the far side of the roof. The two collided with the wall with a tremendous thud and sent cracks rippling through the red brick structure.
“WHOOOOOO!” Shouted Michael as he dawned an overly exhilarated grin on his face, completely unfazed by the massive impact he just sustained at Sam’s hands.
“So that’s why he chose you! You are all piss and vinegar, aren't you?” said Michael as he widened his eyes in excitement.
“What is wrong with me?” Growled Sam. “Why is this happening to me?”
He gave Michael a little extra shove into the already cracked wall causing small bits of brick and dust to crumble away. The intensity filled Sam’s eyes along with tears of frustration.
His teeth clenched tight as he shouted from behind them, “ANSWER ME!”
Bits of drool flew from the edges of his lips as he gave Michael one more solid shove. This one was enough to break the wall and send Michael through it. Landing on his back, still giggling, the rubble from the now smashed and broken brick wall piled on top of him. It was only a moment before the Archangel was standing up and brushing the rubble from his well-polished exterior. With a few final pats and brushes to remove the dust from himself, he placed his hands on his lapels, adjusted his coat, and popped his collar.
“There is nothing wrong with you...” he said with pure confidence, “you are perfect, or at least, on your way to perfection. It’s all just part of the process.”
“Stop fucking with me!” barked Sam as he fell to his knees, driving the heels of his hands to his forehead as if he were trying to crush his skull. Sam broke down in tears.
He said, “Just tell me what is going on. How did this happen?”
“You honestly don't remember? I swear, you are worse than he was.” Michael sighed and raised his eyebrows for a second. He extended his hand and said, “Take my hand, and I'll show you how this happened. But I am warning you: you won’t like the answer.”
Sam reached up and grabbed Michael’s hand as if he were shaking it.
“Get ready for one hell of a flashback.” Michael closed his eyes and whispered something completely unintelligible.
Sam’s eyes rolled back into his head as he slumped forward lifelessly onto his knees.