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Friday, September 21, 2018

The Wounded World, a story of Mantra, Chapter 1

THE WOUNDED WORLD


By Aladdin 

Edited by Christopher Leeson




Originally written 2006
Revised and posted Sept. 21, 2018


A NOTE FROM CHRISTOPHER LEESON

I never enjoyed a comic-book series better than I did Malibu Comic's MANTRA, one of its Ultraverse titles. It ended in 1996 due to a series of bad business and creative decisions, first on the part of the management staff of Malibu Comics, and then by the leadership of Marvel Comics, which had only lately purchased it.


Mantra vanished along with the rest of the Ultraverse.  Out of all the darkness, there came a faint light five years later.  The stories of Aladdin started to appear, new tales of Mantra (published at Fictionmania.tv) which were professional in quality and presented a Mantra that run true to the original. But Mantra's revival in fan-fiction was to be sadly brief. 

In all, Aladdin completed five stories inspired by Mantra's adventures. The last of them was Part I of a two part adventure called “The Wounded World.” It was intended to be concluded with a follow up, “The Twilight of the Gods.” Unfortunately, the pesky business of making a living foiled Aladdin's intention to bring out the latter story, at least to date. The text of “Twilight of the Gods” does exist, fortunately, as something between a rough draft and a very detailed outline. 

As an admirer of Aladdin's work, I made contact with the author. I must have made a pest of myself, urging Aladdin to, somehow, find time enough to finish the uncompleted novel. I was told that work has been keeping him pinned down. Nonetheless, he held out a hope that he could eventually go back to fan writing after retirement. Finally, I couldn't wait no long and made the best of Ultraverse fan writers an offer. I would finish and revise “Twilight of the Gods” myself, if he pledged to give me as much editing and creative advice as he had time for. The last part was important; I wanted to turn out a finished product that held on to as much of Aladdin's original vision as possible. In exchange, we would be considered joint authors. It was an immense vote of confidence that Aladdin said "Yes." 

Consequently, I have started working on The Twilight of the Gods, based upon Aladdin's original work. It will be slow going, considering that I am currently working on the next "Eerie, AZ" novella, The Belle of Eerie, Arizona. The latter I hope to have ready for posting in about a year.

Okay, given that background, why, one might ask, am I offering what amounts to a third project, The Wounded World, starting today?

The reason is not so simple. Aladdin and I agree that readers would find Twilight of the Gods hard to understand if readers do not first get familiar with events of The Wounded World, which sets up the universe-shattering conflicts that Mantra struggles to resolve in The Twilight of the Gods. So, while I am putting most of my time into writing and editing the other two books, I'll also be doing some rather light editing on The Wounded World and posting it chapter by chapter into my personal TFTGS space. The effort will carry us well into the next near, but should leave me time enough to work on the other books also. Readers of TFTGS will be presented with a roughly 10-page chapter each month. My readers at TFTGS will already be familiar with this posting method.  Anyway, segmented adventures should be familiar enough to comic book fans.

As editor, I have made this pledge to Aladdin: That he will have approval rights over all modifications done to his original work. Incidentally, that is the best relationship that all authors and editors should seek to achieve. Too often, editorial ego gets in the way of smooth cooperation. Bad editing is more the rule than the exception. I will make it a priority to change that.

Now a word from Aladdin himself.


A NOTE FROM ALADDIN, Sept. 2018

I've just read the introduction that Christopher has prepared for his readers at The Full TG Show. I am as pleased as can be to work with such a skillful writer, who is, by the way, a great fan of Mantra. I think that his and my outlook on adventure fiction strongly coincides. What I was trying to do with Mantra, he has been doing for years with his many different characters in many different settings.

Most of my reading is non-fiction.  As a fiction reader, I am not easy to please. I can go through hundreds of story descriptions at a site without finding one that intrigues me enough to read. Especially in the tg category, I want action stories, not fetish stories. I'm looking for strong and logical plotlines and three-dimensional characters. Though few works of fiction out in the world meets my standards, I can honestly say that I have read every one of Christoper's posted stories, and have read them all more than once. Because of our long correspondence, I had the temerity to ask if I might read everything he has written, even his unposted stories, in rough drafts and even those that only exist in fragments. I only wish he had more to share with me.

But lets look back at the beginning. How did I discover Mantra?  I saw a Marvel comic ad in 1995 presenting one of the last Mantra magazines to be published.  I'd never heard of the character, but she sounded super-great. In a flurry of collector-comic buying, I soon had every story that Mantra had appeared in. (Imagine to my horror that this wonderful character was to be retired only two months later!) 

After reading those approximately 30 stories, I was dejected that there might never be any more. I was slow at getting interested in the internet, and looking at the professional and amateur story market, the hope that any fan-fiction I created would see publication seemed dim.  But after getting hooked up with the internet, I observed that the many works of fiction were posted there, and comic book fan fiction was one of the most common types.  I consequently started writing and posting original fan fiction about Mantra. 

Pretty soon, I made contact with Mike Barr, Mantra's creator, and did a series of interviews with him. I asked Mike every conceivable question that I could think of and he graciously answered to the best of his knowledge. What I sought from the comic pro was everything he knew about the life, personality, and background of Mantra, and also about her friends, enemies, and associates. The material I got was great, and much of it suggested plot elements for stories that Mike never got the chance to write. 

Incidentally, in interviewing Mr. Barr, I learned that certain ideas that have long been held up as fact in the fan community are actually quite mistaken. For instance, it is commonly said that Mantra's powers were, during the ghastly event called "Black September," transferred to her young friend Lauren Sherwood, who became “the new Mantra.” This never happened. What I drew from Mike was that Lauren had her own potential for gaining Mantra-like power. This potential was established in Mantra #20, when the demonic Wiley Wolf used his sorcery upon Lauren to remake her into a cats-paw super villain whom he could use to attack Mantra. When the influence of Wiley Wolf was removed, Lauren's awakened powers went dormant. They reappeared at the time of Black September, apparently due to the forces released by the Infinity Gems. 

And why did Mantra's story line call for a loss of power? One has to understand the crisis existing in the comic market at the time.  After a short boom market, a disastrous contraction was harming many companies. What was happening was not well understood and some company managers, including Malibu's, rushed in a great many false fixes in a state of panic.  What would have been better was for these endangered companies to have scaled back on the number of comics published and hunkered down with skeleton crews until better times. If Malibu had done this, they would have gained some precious months and Hollywood would have come to their rescue.  Shortly after the ill-considered sale to Marvel, Inc., movie makers came to the then-copyright holders of Malibu's Men in Black magazine, eventually making a series of four different movies, flooding Marvel with millions in cash.  This money would have saved Malibu and its Ultraverse.

But instead they went for a quick cash- out, accepting, along with the money, the empty promise that Marvel would preserve Malibu as a semi-independent line, with its executives continuing (while no such guarantee was extended to its exceptional crew of writers). But Marvel was on their backs to make more money. To stimulate sales, the hold-over "suits" at Malibu (blame them, not Marvel) concocted the idea for a mega-event called "Black September," which would rewrite the history of the Ultraverse.  It was amazing that grownups who had built a multi-million dollar publishing company could have come up with such misguided ideas, but their worst notion told them that Mantra, as a tg character, was too controversial for their market. This was illogical, since MANTRA was always one of the top sellers at the company. Mr. Barr was ordered to replace Eden Blake with a 100% woman as the lead. 

So Mike developed a plan to let Eden lose her mystic powers while the powers of a teenage girl were awakened.  As much as fans loathed the changes to the other Malibu comics, they especially loathed changes in Mantra. Rather than draw in more readers, the unwanted changes made the most stubborn fans give up and fade away.  With Marvel itself facing bankruptcy in those tough times, Malibu very soon became a victim of cost-cutting, the last Malibu issue coming out in January, 1997.

Another secret that Mike Barr confided to me concerned the origin of Mantra's friend Pinnacle. I liked what I was hearing and so worked Mike's idea into “The Wounded World,” as a major motivator for Pinnacle's actions during that story.

Why this current partnership with Christopher Leeson?  Why haven't I revised THE WOUNDED WORLD on my own? Basically, I had had time to work on Mantra about a dozen years ago, and then my work situation changed and I just couldn't afford to divide my energies. Even though I've wanted to go back and re-polish all my Mantra work, I haven't been able to get around to it. I'm therefore delighted that Christopher has offered to do a new edit of THE WOUNDED WORLD as an introduction to the never-before-seen THE TWILIGHT OF THE GODS. The finished parts of the editing have been impressive. He has made the story read even better. And how can I find fault with a situation that takes so much work off my own shoulders? I'm very eager to see how he eventually cleans up and polishes THE TWILIGHT OF THE GODS.

In regards to that story, many things that may seem mysterious in THE WOUNDED WORLD will be clarified in TWILIGHT. I can't believe that twelve years have passed since I suspended work on my Mantra series. Many people said good things about it back then, and I greatly hope that all who enjoyed Mantra's new adventures in the past will come back and enjoy equally the future posting of TWILIGHT OF THE GODS. Also, we hope that we can introduce many more new readers to the world of Mantra. The original series ended almost 23 years ago. There's a whole new generation of coming readers that has grown up in the meantime.

By the way, I have also enjoyed Christopher's recent novella, "The Falling Star." It is set in the Ultraverse, and makes some references to characters in the Malibu pantheon.  He has lately brought up an idea in which his character, Jezebel Watcher, a fallen angel on a mission, meets Mantra. I can't wait for that one, and I've already offered him as much help as he might be willing to accept.

For now, grab your popcorn and enjoy “The Wounded World.”









CHAPTER ONE
THE LITTLE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE,



When God commanded this hand to write
In the studious hours of deep midnight,
He told me that all I wrote should prove
The bane of all that on Earth I love.
--William Blake


As I begin this account, I suddenly doubt that I've really managed to make sense of everything that's happened to me.

So state the situation briefly, I have come back from an expected journey. I have walked a strange and terrible road, as, I think, these unfolding pages shall make clear. What I have undergone has changed me, I think, for better or for worse. Unexpected change is a frightening thing, and I am left wondering whether the changes have run their course, or have they have only just begun? I am not a praying man -- woman -- whatever, but I am tempted to pray now. As a youth, I held to the pagan gods of my ancient people. Later, I foolishly elevated a powerful but flawed man to the status of a personal god, if only in my own mind. Pagan gods and a human gods have all proved false. I have been left unsure regarding the reality behind reality. I wonder if I can ever again trust the inadequate tools that we have so far used to understand the world, the universe.  Tools like sight and sound, taste and touch.

My adventure cannot be said to be over, but I fear that what has befallen me, the experience that has overwhelmed me, might fade my my memory. For that reason I feel the need to write it down as rapidly as I can. 

But how shall I begin?  The first question I have to ask myself is when did this strange interlude come to be, and what were the forces that initiated it? Did an evil, impersonal force bore its way into our universe? Is a mad god to blame? And was all of it inevitable, or did it happen because not very long ago I was faced with the hardest battle of my lifetime and lost the challenge -- the challenge that I most needed to win?

I  do not know how much time I have left, so I must cease my musing and apply myself to telling the tale I need to tell. I have always believed that the best place to start is at the beginning, but where the beginning of this begins is unclear. Beginnings, middles, and endings are not so sharp-edged as I once confidently assumed they were.


#

Armageddon began, for me, when I took my family to The Mall, the largest shopping center in the L.A. suburb of Canoga Park. School had started for my kids, Evie and Gus, and most of what they needed for their classes we'd already picked before the end of August. On the evening of September the fourteenth we were out looking for certain odd and ends that the kids had just been told that they would need.

I was new to school shopping, just as I was still new to parenthood. A year before, I lived in a fog of rebellion against the whole idea of having a new sex, a new life, and a new family. I tried to stay away from “home” as much as possible; I tried to deny that my new life was really mine. The kids' grandmother, Barbara Freeman, filled in for their absentee mother. It looked to her that I was suffering from a sudden onset of severe emotional problems. It had fallen on her to get the kids ready for school last September. Barbara loved her grand-kids, but for the last several years had been living a life of her own. She didn't want to be trapped into covering for (what she assumed was) a daughter who had plunged into some sort of personal crisis.

Her assumptions were reasonable enough, but all were off the mark. Mrs. Freeman still didn't know that Eden Blake had died two years ago and that the man that Eden loved had mystically taken possession her body. (I have previously written about why this was necessary). Barbara had never heard the name Lukasz Theodoricson, but that, in fact, is who I am. I'd transferred into the life of Eden Blake, a divorced mother of two, and had found that the path of least resistance was to start living that life as best I could. Two years ago I was in rebellion against being tied down and responsible for the care of two little strangers. The loss of freedom was the most terrible fate I could imagine. But every mountain top has a different view, and each view is majestic in its own way; those days turned into a learning process. Little by little, the clouds passed away from the sun and I realized that family life was an enriching thing. After a rough start, the child-care routine started to go more smoothly. I was enjoying this current outing especially, getting a kick out of the kids' changing expressions as they beheld the flashy merchandise. Seeing the wonder in their eyes, I thought it might be even more fun to take them along to buy Christmas presents later in the year.

That would be December. How audacious now seems to be thinking ahead as much as three months. I've learned that I should instead be looking over my shoulder, watching for what might next come upon me, not in three months but perhaps in the span of three minutes. I was suspecting no danger that evening, just as the Indonesian islanders had suspected nothing as they went about their business under the deep shadow of Krakatoa in 1883.

While passing by the writing supplies in the back-to-school section of Target, Evie said to me, "Mommy, can I get some eraser tops? I chewed the rubber off my pencil."

I frowned down at my dark-haired little girl. "Evie! How can you do anything so silly? It's not healthy to chew on some dirty old pencil eraser. Do you want to get sick?"

"It wasn't my fault!" she averred. "The eraser kept getting into my mouth and I chewed it without knowing."

"Pencils can't climb into people's mouths. People have to put them there. You're too big a girl to be chewing on objects that aren't good for you."

"I know, Mommy," she sighed glumly.

"Knowing is okay," I told her, "but what good is knowing if you don't do the right thing once you know."

"Do you always do the right thing, Mommy?"

She had me there! I've pulled thousands of dirty tricks that I'm sorry for. The trouble with life, or so I naively supposed at the moment, is that one can't change the past.

"Nobody can be right all the time," I finally said. "But everybody has to try to do the best he can. Think about it. People do so many foolish acts even when they're working hard at being good. The world would be in a terrible mess if most people weren't at least trying to do the best they can."

While the youngster seemed to consider this bit of wisdom, I scanned the pen and pencil display and espied a packet containing a dozen eraser heads. Simple division told me that they averaged less than a dime apiece. That was within the family budget, so I took a pack and handed it to Evie. "Will this do?"

"Oh, yeah!" she chirped. Then her attention strayed for the umpteenth time. "Look at the ultra tablets! They didn't have them in the other story we were at."

I glanced down and saw several neat stacks of writing tablets with photographs of well-known ultra heroes on their covers. They represented the crème de la crème of popular vigilantes. Prime's stack had only a couple left, but Warstrike's didn't seem to be moving at all well. I noted a Mantra cover, too, and scowled. It had a picture on it that I'd never posed for. A model was wearing cheap facsimile armor and she was sort of skinny. Who ever hired her didn't do justice to the beauty of Eden Blake. Another thing that I noted was that Mantra's stack was higher than Prime's. Well, maybe that meant that there had been a rush on Mantra tablets at the outset and the shelf had already been restocked. Or maybe not. Using a model that didn't fit the bill for Mantra could certainly have hurt sales.

"Evie, do you really need another tablet?"

"I like the pictures. Can I have a Contrary?"

I looked askance.

"She's pretty," Evie explained.

"Isn't Mantra pretty, too?"

The Evie grimaced uncomfortably. "Oh, sure. But Mantra is pretty like a mommy. She's not hot like Contrary!"

I was amazed. "Evie Blake, how do you know what's hot and what's not at your age?"

"The big guys said she was hot."

"What big guys?"

"The fourth graders!"

I crossed my arms. "Well, that wolf-pack would certainly know what they're talking about, I suppose. Doesn't anyone at school think that Mantra is hot?"

"I do!" put in Gus, now coming into our aisle. "Mantra's hotter than Contrary. And she sure doesn't look like anybody's mom!"

She looks like your mom, Junior, I thought. I wondered why I didn't care for my daughter comparing me unfavorably to Contrary, while at the same time feeling irked that my son thought Mantra was even hotter.

"She does so look like a mommy!" declared Evie.

"Ultra ladies are never moms! I know because I read the comics."

"They could if they wanted to!" the little girl insisted. "Movie stars have babies!"

"Nobody should have kids. Kids are for dorks," Gus pontificated.

I picked up a Contrary tablet and handed it to Evie. I also took one of Mantra's. I'm a sucker for buying Mantra collectibles. Maybe that's because as a knight of Archimage we never got any personal notoriety; we constantly lived in the shadows, changing our faces with every new body we possessed. By now, Mantra has been a celebrity for two years and has been quickly taken to heart as a role model by millions of schoolgirls. What would they think if they knew my real history?

"By your rules I'm a dork, too," I told Gus. "Thanks for setting me straight." I looked about. "You kids are getting loud; people are frowning at us."

"Just ignore them!" declared Gus. "Why do we always have to care about what other people think?"

I sighed. Junior was well on his way to becoming a grumpy teenager.

"You should care about annoying and insulting people when you don't have to," I explained, "so you can win friends and influence people -- instead of getting yourself into a lot of fights. If you wind up with a bad reputation, you'll have a hard life." He shook his head, pugnaciously unconvinced.

"Come on. We'll pay for this stuff and get something to eat at The Kids' Club before we go home."

I thought the youngsters would go for having supper at the Mall's child-themed restaurant, my cooking being what it is. I'm trying to bone up on the culinary arts, but I'm still better at breaking and reassembling a MP5A3 than creating a casserole.

The serving line was a long one and Evie and Gus, perpetual motion machines worthy of scientific study, hurried to get in queue in front of me. Standing there behind them, straining to see the menu, I suddenly registered a funny feeling. That put me on guard, having been blindsided too many times over the years by surprise attacks. I peered left and right, trying to spot what was out of place, and noticed a short, stout man with a round face and red hair. He was staring at me.

This in itself wasn't too unusual; Eden Blake was something special. She could have made it as a supermodel, if she hadn't opted for the riches and glamor of marriage, family, divorce, and a data analyst's career. But there was something about the little man set him apart from ordinary creeps. Was it merely the fact that he was showing me attention that I didn't want? I'm usually not so thin-skinned. If I rebuked every passive-aggressive ginzo that ogled this body, my voice would have been as broken as Pete Seeger's. I was thinking that if this guy had the sense to keep his distance, his bad manners would do neither of us any harm. Just then I noticed that he was slinking into line right behind me.

I stood there watching him out of the corner of my eye, just in case he tried anything.

Ouch!

I hadn't expected him to act so quickly. The creep had stuck me with something! I swung about, ready to try out some Aladdin fighting techniques on his face, but ---

But he wasn't there.

I glanced left and right. How could a man of flesh and bone have disappeared so quickly? Something was not right.

Just then a strange feeling came over me.

Damn the luck! Had he injected me with some sort of drug? Poison, even?

I was trying to think when the lunch line started moving like a speeded-up film. My heart must have skipped a beat when I saw myself step right out of my body and move on ahead, like everyone else was doing, as if I were a ghost and no longer part of the scene at all. Worse still, other people, coming up from behind, were passing right through me! It was like I had no substance; I felt them less than I would have felt a light breeze. The queue accelerated to the speed of a freight train, until the crowd's rapid movements faded into a blur.

I clenched my fists. The pervert must have shot me up with some sort of hallucinogen, or else I was experiencing the first symptoms of an unknown toxin. I reeled, my perceptions all askew. The twilight glowing through the windrows was fading and full night fell in mere seconds. I realized that the crowded room had become empty and the night-lights were on overhead. When I tried to move, my feet couldn't get any traction from the floor; it was like I had no weight at all. I shut my eyes, staggering --

And opened them to a sunlit view of --

A parking lot.


#

Dazed, I leaned against a green sedan that was parked behind me. It took seconds to realize that I was solid again. While I collected my thoughts, I noted a motel sign to one side. What was I doing here -- wherever here was? What could have swept me away from a shopping mall and out to some cheap motel?

And something else was wrong.

I had glanced at my watch. It was seven after ten -- in the morning, obviously. What had happened to the missing hours? Where were the kids? A crazy thought came to mind. Was I still myself?

This is a question that wouldn't have occurred to most people, but I've been spontaneously switching into different bodies since long before Mohamed met the angel. Likewise, I'm used to being thrown into strange locations and situations all unprepared. The last time this had happened to me, I'd become a suburban mother of two.

It didn't take more than a downward glance to confirm that I was still a woman, but was I still Eden Blake?

I turned and squinted at my reflection in the car window. With relief, I saw Eden's face.

Slightly calmed, I took stock. I wasn't wearing the jeans and pullover that I'd had on at the mall. Instead I was dressed in a blue-skirted suit with a silk ascot. In my hand was my familiar purse. Though I recognized the outfit from my closet, I couldn't remember changing into it. Was it possible that someone was controlling me, making me do things that I couldn't remember afterwards? Or was I sleepwalking?

Had this strange thing happened because that red-headed man had put some sort of crap into my veins?

I didn't feel sleepy or drugged, just confused -- and who wouldn't have, losing so much time and finding himself in a strange place?

Don't fly off the handle, Lukasz. Don't attract attention.

Okay, I was still Eden Blake. I felt fit and my face looked fine. As far as I could tell, nothing nefarious had been done to me physically. Some fifteen hours had passed, however, and the time would have to be accounted for. I was in front of a motel, an Econo Lodge. This was a well-known franchise catering to less-affluent travelers and tourists. Well, that fit, considering that my family was living from hand to mouth on child support and my government job.

First things first. I needed to get the address as a reference point, so I straightened and walked toward the motel office. Under the shade of the canopy, I noticed a mailbox and checked the address stamped on it.

San Francisco.

What? How had I ended up in San Francisco?

Why would I ever want to go to Crazy Town?

Perplexedly, I entered the tiny lobby to look around, hoping that something I'd see would bring back a memory of arriving there. The clerk, a Latino lady, glanced up at me brightly. "Meesees Blake, isn't it? How are you thees morning?"

She knew me. Motel clerks didn't know out-of-towners, not unless they're current guests. On impulse, I checked my purse and found a motel key. The Econo Lodge logos and a room number were embossed on the violet plastic key holder. I then glanced up at the clerk, who was waiting for me to reply. "Oh, I'm fine," I said. "I just thought for a minute that I'd lost my key, but here it is under the tissues."

The clerk smiled blandly and nodded. I turned and went back outside. There was no obvious menace in sight, so I reasoned that the next logical step would be to check out the room that I, apparently, had rented.

In front of my unit was parked our family car. I had completely overlooked that little detail beforehand. I shook myself. I needed to be sharper. Chances were that some sort of game was afoot, and the games that I usually get involved in have mostly turned out to be painful and bloody.

I put the key into the lock, turned it. At the last instant, I decided to summon up my magical shield. An ultra never knows when he is walking into a hail of machine-gun slugs, or something worse.

That is, I tried to call up my shield, but nothing happened. To my dismay, I felt as inert as a stick of firewood. The magic just wasn't coming. Concentrating harder failed to light the spark. I didn't like this one little bit! What was wrong with me?

As I tottered there on high heels, dismayed, someone inside must have heard me or seen me through the window and now opened the door. The knob, as it swung away, slipped from my fumbling grasp and I found myself looking into a face that I knew well.

Very, very well.


#

I stood gazing down at my daughter, Evie. She looked nonplussed, as if surprised to see me. Glancing over her head, I saw that she was alone; also, the room seemed to be crammed with our personal belongings. Whatever was going on, it had the look of a serious relocation.

"You just left, Mommy. Did you forget something?"

Oh, brother, had I!

I stepped past the little girl, trying to make sense of it all. The queen-sized bed, newly made, was the only furnishing not loaded with boxes and cartons. What had happened? Just fourteen hours earlier, we had had no plans to go out of town, and yet here we were -- in San Francisco, no less -- with enough luggage to fill a pickup. Was I on the run? Had someone discovered my Mantra identity and forced me to go to ground? I sat down on the bed, bemused. Evie then stepped up, her brow arched uncertainly.

"Wasn't the Jack-in-the-Box open?" she asked.

The Jack-in-the-Box was a fast food franchise, I knew. "Oh, you want breakfast?"

"Yeah."

"Sorry. I didn't get over there yet. I wanted to...to look in on you. Is everything all right?"

I saw some slight hesitation in her wide blue eyes. "I guess so. Did you see something else bad outside, Mommy? Is that why you came right back?"

Something else bad? The way she'd phrased that question made me wary. "How are Grandma and Gus?" I asked, as nonchalantly as possible.

Evie took in a sharp breath. "Grandma was okay last night. Don't you remember we talked to her? And Gus, he's still in jail, isn't he?"

"Jail?"

If I was trying to sound natural, I wasn't having much luck. I decided to drop the subtlety. "Evie, these questions of mine sound funny, don't they?"

She nodded.

"Something just happened."

"Something bad?" Her little hands tightened into fists.

The tyke needed reassurance, so I enveloped her softly into my arms. "Evie, I sort of need your help."

She looked up into my face. "Are you okay? You don't feel sick, do you?"

I rested my chin on her shampoo-scented head. "Shhh, it's not like that. It's just that I -- I suddenly seem to have...forgotten a few things. Did I seem all right when I was with you before...before I went out to the Jack-in-the-Box?"

"You seemed okay, 'cept that you still weren't Mantra."

Still weren't Mantra? Oh, brother, this was bad! My powers hadn't just glitched out momentarily. They'd been missing long enough for Evie to know about it.

"Evie, I don't know why it is, but the last thing I remember was us being in The Mall last night, standing in line to buy dinner at the Kids' Club."

She gave a jump. "No, Mommy! That was last Thursday!"

She'd said Thursday like it was a hundred years ago. "What day is it now?" I asked.

"It's Wednesday."

"Wednesday the twentieth?"

"Yeah!"

This was getting scarier and scarier.

"Darling, did something...bad...happen since Thursday? I can't remember anything about the last six days."

I felt her tremble. "You can't have forgot, Mommy!"

"Please, sweetie, tell me what I've forgotten."

"It happened right after you got home Friday. We were all so afraid!"

Whatever "it" was, she was still afraid. Evie had always been amazingly brave. What in Creation could have put her into such a state? Did it have anything to do with my sudden loss of magic?

Gently, I ventured to ask, "Evie, is there some grownup who knows about the bad thing that happened? I'd like to talk to that person, so you won't have to remember and be scared."

She shook her head. "There's just Lauren. Gus tried to kill her, too."

"G-Gus? Gus tried to kill his babysitter – and somebody else?"

She nodded.

Oh, brother!  What kind of mad world had I awakened in? 


TO BE CONTINUED IN CHAPTER 2....



Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The Falling Star: Chapter. 8


Posted 08-29-18







An Angel from Hell story

By Christopher Leeson


Chapter 8



Jezebel regarded the ex-princess dubiously. “The last time I looked, Britain was still broadcasting boring Star Trek: The New Generation reruns. What do you mean you destroyed it?”

Frances looked up, red-eyed. “My homeland was once the most powerful empire ever to exist on Earth. It defied both Napoleon and Hitler, even while standing alone. Today it reels paralyzed before a motley swarm of religious fanatics with beheading knives.”

The Watcher shrugged. “If an Englishman isn't at your throat, he's on his knees. Get to the point.”

Frances drew back defensively. “It's not simple to explain.”

“If something's too silly to say, sing it,” suggested Jezebel.

Frances took a deep breath. “The Cabal took the throne of England with the reptilian Tudor dynasty in 1485. In the Sixteenth Century, when the Tudors could not make the Church submit to their whims, they set up an English church that would be more pliant.  Creating the Empire was all about serving the Cabal's  interests. At the end of the nineteenth century, the Cabal took over the Bank of England with the blessing of the government. From that point on, with state, church, and economy all firmly under Satan's influence, Britain became a mighty fortress for Cabalism.” The longer the Frances Dillon spoke, Jezebel noticed, the more less  Arkansan she sounded.

The purpose of the Empire was to destabilize the world with war and to take over the weakest nations. In time, it successfully reduced its rivals, such as France and Germany, to Cabalist clients. After World War II, the Globalists had the atomic bomb, and were trying to provoke a nuclear war with Russia."
 
"As I see it, Britain was left a dried up husk after the war," observed the angel.
 
"Yes, Britain had grown exhausted and had become no more than an American client. Partly by choice, partly for necessity, the conspirators made America its mailed fist. But because they found the American armed forces resistant to commuting treason, they created a national police force and army of their own to carry out their bidding, by which I mean the FBI and CIA. 

“Old news. What do you mean that you destroyed Britain?”

Wincing, the ex-princess continued. “It continued to bother the Cabal that they hadn't entirely broken Britain's spirit. With Europe in the grip of a European Union run purely for Cabalist interests, Britain's national morale needed to be extinguished.”

Jezebel sighed. “For such a little lady, you sure are long-winded.”

Exasperated, Frances went on:  “I've already told you how the Cabal trained me from childhood to be the “People's Princess. I soon became everything that the masses cherished and admired. It was all a fraud; I was sold for public consumption like a patent medicine. My life story as a leader was almost totally contrived. To make me the opioid of the people, my handlers did risky things, such as creating a hoax of a public conflict between myself and the Royal family.”

“So, you actually had no problem with the Royals, those child-eating lizards?”

“No, I really did. But all the public squabbling was a sham. It was only intended to make me look independent-minded and sympathetic. The real issues between me and the Royals never reached the people. The Cabal manipulated the news coverage ceaselessly. And they were clever. They choreographed my playgirl behavior after divorce, to make me look liberated and “feminist.” I was raised to the status of a goddess in a country that been successfully drained of religious faith and moral fiber. But it made me more miserable the longer it went on.  I could scarcely ever be myself, rarely even in private. I always had to act in the artificial role of “the People's Princess.”

Watcher grunted. “Yeah, I don't know what anyone ever saw in you. I would have nominated you as one  of the ten most worthless celebrities of this planet. If the Plastic Princess is what Great Britain wanted, it got what it deserved.”

Amazingly, Frances did not flare. “Even I couldn't stand myself. Deep down, I realized that I wasn't lovable, that I wasn't even a good person. I started to hate myself, but even more than that, I hated the people.”

“Because they were idiots? Sure. I can relate to that.”

Frances nodded. “The common man was so sheep-like. Why was it so hard for him to understand what the fate of sheep is is going to be? I was pulling the wool over the eyes of millions. I wanted so much to fail. I wanted the English to see through me, to expose me and disgrace me, make me useless to the Cabal, so that I could just disappear, like Fergie did.”

“Fergie?  Personally, I thought Andrew should have married the actress Koo Stark. She at least looked great on pinup posters."

Frances frowned. "I think Andrew felt the same way. But the Royals wanted Fergie.  When she had done all that was expected of her, they cast her off. The prince was through with playing the family's marriage games after that.”

Jezebel frowned thoughtfully. “So the idea was to traumatize the British by having you seduce them, making them think of you like a sister or daughter, only to have you suddenly publicly and brutally killed. I suppose the idea was to make the whole population feel that they had had lost a beloved family member to tragedy.” 
 
“Yes,” Miss Dillon said.  "A people so traumatized will not be able to think clearly for decades.  But it wasn't just ordinary grief that the Cabal was counting on.  This was a power-move originated in Hell.  Demons were let loose upon the people to infect their emotional wounds like bacteria. They filled their victims with defeat, apathy, despair. In the wake of it, they were too overwhelmed to stand up for the ancient rights Englishmen to live free in their own country." 

It was believable; that was how the Cabal worked.  For the moment, however, none of this concerned Jezebel. Her focus had to be on Holly, if she wanted to avoid the Lake of Fire. The question was, did she dare turn the girl over to some unknown Southern preacher and the woman who, by her own confession, had ruined Western civilization?

“Why do I always have to be the one to decide these things?” she asked herself. The Watcher thought about her Father in Heaven.  "Why don't you ever talk to me?” she mentally demanded.

Another thought seemed to answer the first: “Why don't you ever talk to me?”

Though it was only her own question repeating, it did not feel like her own words at all. Had Jezebel imagined that the last word had been emphasized?

The angel shook her head and stood up. “Unless somebody can tell me why I should believe a thing that you two are saying, I'm out of here.”

Reverend Garland opened his lips, but as if distracted by a voice, he said nothing, but gawped up at the ceiling perplexedly, as Jezebel had seen him do before. Ten seconds later, he glanced portentously at the Watcher.

“Yeah, what?” Jezebel asked irritably.

“The Lord says that you should... I don't understand it. Maybe His request will make sense to you.”

“What request?” she grunted.

“He says that you should take off your coat.”

Jezebel paused. Her coat? 
 
Almost by its own volition, her right hand disengaged the coat zipper. She bemusedly hung the quilted wrap over the back of her chair and a few seconds later, the Watcher saw Holly approaching between the tables – wary, sober.

The latter paused a few feet away at the sight of Frances' face. Apparently, she, too could see “Miss Dillion's” true appearance. Holly, Jezebel realized, was looking at a dead legend come back to life.

“This is Holly,” the angel told the seated pair. Then, to the celebrity, she said, “This is Reverend Orson Garland. And this lady calls herself Frances Dillon. She teaches school and destroys civilizations.”

The young brunette forced a smile and nodded. “P-Pleased to meet you...ma'am.”

“Won't you take the chair next to Miss Jill?” suggested Orson.

Holly, obliging, sat down at Jezebel's right.

“We're very pleased to meet you,” the minister added.

The waitress smiled tentatively, while her eyes sent silent questions toward her traveling companion.

“I can't make a lot of sense of it all,” whispered the latter. “They say they've been sent to help. I don't know if I trust them, but I don't know that I shouldn't, either.”

“Well, okay,” said the singing sensation. “Fill me in on what you've been talking about, please.”

For the next few minutes, with Orson doing most of the talking, the three briefed Holly. She was being invited to settle in a town called Jasper, where the couple would do all they could to help her live safely under a new identity.

“This is heavy. What do you think, Jill?” the younger woman asked.

Jezebel addressed Orson, “You sort of fit with what I should have expected. God decides to place a lost soul into the care of a simple parson. No big surprises there. But why would he send a high-profile Nephilim along with you?”

Reverend Garland shook his head. “I'm not sure. It may be because Sister Frances has experienced much the same thing that Holly has. Perhaps the Lord thought that having another young lady with us would reassure our young friend. Also, God may wish to bring Frances out of the shadows and more actively into the fold. The reaping of souls during the End Times shall require the work of many willing harvesters.”

“What about you, Holly?” Jezebel asked. “Would you ever feel at ease around a royal princess who's also a half-human ex-Cabal agent? I think that I should point out that the reformation rate among the upper crust of the Illuminati isn't very impressive.”

The minster, wincing, looked back at the other restaurant diners, as if worried that someone might have overheard these frank words.

The Princess of Wales now sat up to speak for herself. “Orson is right. I've been hiding since 1997. I've received mercy, but I haven't been doing very much to deserve it. I so much want to truly become the person I've only been pretending to be.  I want to make my existence worth something. I don't know why, Holly, but it seems you're important to the Lord for some reason,” the teacher said.

“I don't know why," Holly replied.  "I've only been trying to get rich and famous. If there is a God, I don't know why he'd bother sending an angel to help me."
 
"An angel?" asked Frances.
 
"A girl I didn't know led me out of a mansion full of child-murderers and cannibals.  Then she appeared days later on a bus seat behind me, and told me that the town that we were in would be a good place to hide."
 
"I suppose I could tell you a few amazing stories, too," the English girl said with a faint smile.
 
Holly glanced to Jezebel. "Do you believe in the sort of religious stuff that we've been talking about, Jill?”

The latter shook her head. “I wish I had some decent advice, Holly. The truth is, I can only do what I've been told to do. But I do know that the world is supernatural and religious faith is the best way to understand what it throws at you. I guess I've already mentioned that science is pretty much a crock.”

“Who tells you want to do?”

“The good guys – I think.”

The ex-star, ex-waitress thought digested that information for a moment and then asked, “If I went with them, could you come with us?”

The angel looked her in the face and said, "I could use a little quiet time to get my bearings.  But my I'm pretty sure that vacationing is not in the cards.”

“I only met you about forty-eight hours ago, Jill, but it feels like much longer. I hate to think that I won't be seeing you again. I've never met anyone like you. You're a frightening person, but at the same time you make me feel safe.”

It's nice you should say that.  But I'm just a pawn; there's a war going on and I'm expected to fight in it. But for Heaven's sake, take care of yourself. I'm going to get really angry if, after all I've gone through, you don't live long enough to figure out who you are, what you are, and what you believe in.

“But I promise you this, Holly: I'm going to be looking in on you not too far in the future. If you're doing all right, you might not even know that I've been there. That's for the best.  You don't need the kind of trouble that rides around on my shoulder.
 
"But if I find you're not in a good place, I'm going to kill anyone who's done you wrong, and anyone who helped them do it.” Pointedly, Jezebel challenged the glances of the pair from Arkansas. Reverend Garland appeared unsettled, but did not mirror fright. The princess leaned forward to speak.

“She'll be all right,” Frances promised. “If she's not, and if I'm responsible, go ahead and kill me.”

#

After that, Watcher had no place to go except home. Entering Jill Arendel's apartment felt like stepping into a void. Was she expected to feel at home in such a place? What was she supposed to do next? Start living the life of a human nobody named Jill Arendel? Wait for another mission that might cost her this mortal life?

The girl listlessly drifted to the window and surveyed the activity along what was a residential street. So many useless lives.  This city felt as strange as a hospital corridor felt to a newborn. Turning away from the view, she went to the couch and lay on her back, simply staring at the ceiling. Eventually, Jezebel slept. By the time she awoke, the winter daylight was dimming.

“I thought you could use some company,” said a woman's voice.

Alarmed, the Watcher threw herself into a roll that brought her to her feet, ready for a fight. She was already clutching a makeshift weapon, a glass pop bottle.

When Jezebel recognized the speaker, she fumed with indignation. It was Shekinah, the female form of Metatron – the false angel who had once been a human being.

“What are you doing here?” the blonde asked testily.

“My duty.  I'm looking out for you, as I've been doing every day since we last spoke.”

“What are you saying? That the chief of the Seraphim has been demoted to a guardian angel!”

“The Father considers this assignment a very important one. He didn't say why he chose me, but we do share a history. Just do not allow the status of your guardian spirit to go to your head.”

The Watcher dropped into the easy chair. “What's next? Should I get a cat out of a tree? I'm tired. I'm not ready for another mission as pointless as the last one.”

“The mission wasn't pointless. It delivered Susan Wevers out of the hands of evil, and it was good for you, also. You needed an easy assignment while you were getting used to having a human heart. I think the result have been very positive.”

“You let me be raped!”

“You let yourself be raped, when you did not appeal to the Father nor the Son for mercy."

Jezebel only glowered and said, “Why have you shown up now, at a time that no one is trying to kill me?”

“I've come to commend you on an assignment well performed.”

“What was it all for? What happens to the people on this world means nothing to me. And living as one of them is insufferably degrading.”

“No doubt, from your perspective,” the seraph said. 
 
Jezebel flared. “What's it all for? What's expected of me? For two days I busted my butt to... Oh, I know: 'All thy good works are but filthy rags.'

“They are.  But though you are carrying six thousand years of sin with you, all of it can be taken away in less than five minutes."

“And all I need to do is grovel?”

The angel sighed. “It was pride that first placed you on a road with no exit. And angel cannot change his direction once he is tainted, but a mortal is allowed to.”

“By groveling?”

“It's more complex than that. There is an excellent instruction book.” The visitor went to a volume on a shelf. Blowing off the dust, she said, even a lost soul like Jill Arendel owned a copy of this. Her mother gave it to her.” 
 
Shekinah shook her head. “Jill was not a bad person, not really. Her soul was of course salvageable, if she had simply believed that she had a soul and had applied a little effort to keep it tidied up. Many young people suppose they can save repentance for their old age while they do whatever they please, but so many of them never live so long. If the hedonist girl had opened these pages and contemplated her life, she might now be in a much better place.”

It bothered Jezebel, somehow, to think that the last occupant of her body had been damned. That struck a little too close to home. “And they call me cruel," she said. "I can only kill the physical body. I can't send anyone to Hell. Why should either an angel or a human be tortured eternally just for wanting to live free for a few years?” asked Jezebel.
 
"They can get away with living free for few years, but they are lost if they carry their sins into the grave."
 
"That's like saying a bandit can rob as much as he wants, until he gets shot."

“The Father sends no one to Hell. But should it come as a surprise that he cannot carry a load of garbage through Heaven's gate?  The Father is the God of the living, not the dead.   It is too late for the dead to cast away their loads and join those eternally alive.  For the dead there is only the refuse heap we call Hell.  As for freedom, didn't you feel free in the realm of Glory?”

The Watcher sighed. Perfect obedience is not any sort of freedom that I can understand."
 
"Perfect obedience should be unobjectionable if one has a perfect master."
 
“Every choice made inevitably carries consequences. The Father makes it no secret which choices carry a good or bad consequence.”

“There are countless acts that even an angel doesn't know are something right or wrong.”

“No doubt, but if someone wants to know something, he can find it out. But you knew that seducing mortal women was wrong long before you and your companions committed your willful acts of defiance.”
 
"It didn't seem to matter what we did after that. Even the good works of angels could not redeem them. We hated mortals because they could be forgiven, but we couldn't."
 
"So rejoice. You are now mortal and forgiveness is yours for the asking."

“You still sound as tediously professorial as you did back when you were still mortal.”

“And I should be ashamed of having been mortal? Not so. It taught me much. It especially enlightened me to the fact that Heaven should not be taken for granted. When glory was all you knew, you treated glory too lightly. I lived on Earth in the terrible days before Noah, and that is why I can never grow weary of what is pure and without blemish. Though you are starting out late as a human, you may acquire similar insights before you are judged.”

“Am I supposed to believe that the Father wants me saved when he's puts me into the life of a striptease dancer who's possessed by a Jezebel spirit and subjected to every temptation of the flesh?”

The brunette shook her head. “Jill Arendel was a dancer, but you do not have to be, though I believe it would be a good cover for you as you travel to many places.  Anyway, temptation is the lot of Mankind.  Even the Son was tempted.  If you do not care for the very Jezebel spirits that you fallen angels inflicted upon mortals, you are free to do what Jill did not do -- refute the spawn of Hell and become a bastion of rectitude. But I think that you have a love and hate relationship with your little demon. You cherish the power that it channels to you even more than you hate the way that it inclines you to lust, vanity, and immodesty.”

Jezebel reacted incredulously. “If I didn't make use of the power I'd be dead now, and Holly would have ended up being tortured until she accepted an eternity in Hell!”

“That's true. You chose the most obvious route to avoiding an evil outcome, but there were other ways.”

“I didn't see any other ways!”

“Try to look more carefully next time.”

“You've been in Heaven for too long.  You don't know how this degenerate world works any longer.”

“My world was as degenerate as this one before it was destroyed. You protest too much. You willingly take your harlot's payment and then blame others for giving you the opportunity to do so. Rebuke that payment, Jezebel, let the power of Heaven be your sword. Stop depending upon the power of sin, and you may be rewarded with something very much more preferable. You seized the vulgar bauble in front of the curtain, never thinking about the prize that might lie beyond it.”

“Why should I risk my life on the mere hope that there is anything behind the curtain? I want to know what I'm getting beforehand.”

“Your problem is that you have no faith. You may never return to Glory unless you come to faith.”

Jezebel looked away. “Faith come easily to you, because you find it so easy to believe everything you are told."  
 
"That's not true.  I don't believe anything you are now telling me."
 
Sighing, Jezebel said, "I don't feel like company right now, Shekinah. Leave me in peace.”

“But I came to you because an angel can sense a spirit who needs guidance and support.”

"Just go."

“Is that what you really want?  Would you send Miss Wevers away, were she here now?” the seraph asked.

“Her? She means nothing to me. I'm not cut out for babysitting.”

“Did you not vow to kill anyone who harms her?”

Jezebel stood up and turned her back.  “I was warning those two that they had better not play me for a fool. The girl herself is unimportant.”

Shekinah smiled. “I hope you do not mean that. Knowing her made you a better person.  I also think that further improvement is very possible.”

The Watcher wheeled angrily. “I haven't changed at all...” Her words fell off, beholding what Shekinah was suddenly wearing -- a brightly-colored club dress replete with accessories.

“What's that thing you've got on?”

“Does contemporary fashion not deem this variety of uniform suitable for 'an evening out.'"
 
"If you're going out, please get up and go."
 
"You should come with me.  You haven't eaten since mid-morning. How would you feel about a dinner and a show?”

Jezebel raised her chin.  “You don't need to eat.”

“No, but you do.”

“Why do you care? You're not my friend.”

“I'm not your enemy either. Originally, I had little hope for your redemption.  I feared that you would kill Miss Wevers yourself, in some moment of pointless pique. Instead, you were faithfully protective and, at times, almost kind. I am forced to take another look at you and your prospects. You may indeed be the best of a very bad lot.”

Jezebel raised her chin. “Don't you mean a very, very bad lot?”

The angel laughed. “There you see? I've already started thinking better of you Watchers. I wish to offer you a wholesome meal at a dinner theater. The one I have in mind is performing Bell, Book, and Candle, about a witch who is redeemed by love. You will need to dress appropriately. Fortunately, Jill Arendel has many excellent frocks to choose from.”

“That reminds me. Was you who inserted that nasty little red dress into my luggage?”

“I admit it, but no one forced you to use it the way you did. I was thinking that, should you fail in your first test of righteousness, as you did unfortunately, such a garment might allow a sinner with no faith to gain easy access into certain advantageous locations.”

Jezebel stood considering the invitation. The Watcher's instinct was to get angry for having been manipulated. But what would a display like that gain? To push away the seraph was to push away the Father who sent her, and that seemed unwise, especially at this moment when she felt so uncertain of where she stood. Also, did she really want to be left alone in this bleak mood, with nothing to do and nowhere to go?

“It will take a little while for me to change,” Jezebel finally said.

Shekinah smiled. “Yes, I expect that is how it will.”
 
 
END