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Authors: Jon Michael Kelley

Seraphim

Seraphim

 

Jon Michael Kelley

 

 

 

Evil Jester Press

New York

 

 

Copyright © 2012 by Jon Michael Kelley

All Rights Reserved

 

Evil Jester Press

Ridge, New York

 

No portion of this publication may be reproduced, stored in any electronic system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the authors. This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any actual person, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

Edited by Peter Giglio

Cover art by Brandy Kelley

 

First Digital Edition

 

For Ramona, my dearest and most lovely companion.

And guardian angel, to be sure.

 

Acknowledgements

 

 

The following people have my eternal gratitude, for without their encouragement this novel would still be smoldering in a wicker trunk. My mother and father, Joan and Charles Kelley, who, having raised me, know very well the guises evil can take, subtle and otherwise. Barbra Schilling, who graciously gave me the time to write it. Brandy Kelley, who supplied the inspiration while
in utero
. Charles Day for his tremendous ability at being the nicest guy you'd ever want to meet. And Peter Giglio, editor extraordinaire, true lapidarian of text—and also one hell of a nice guy. When he's not diluting my most purplish of prose, that is.

 

“Not for a moment dare we succumb to the illusion that an arch-type can be finally explained and disposed of…the most we can do is dream the myth onwards and give it a modern dress.”

– Dr. Carl Gustav Jung

 

Prologue

 

Eli Kagan was a maker of angels.

He appeared worshipful on bent knees, bowing over his creation. A deceiving pose, as Eli paid reverence to no one. Besides, the body that lay before him was only a caricature, a parody of faith. A cherubic pawn in a game he’d just recently been invited to play. Still, she was exquisite; stark and porcelain-fragile against these wild environs, a coastal region of the Pacific Northwest so untamed as to define primordial. But it was perfect in its seclusion, this chosen site. And even better for its loftiness.

An opportune place to test one’s wings.

Some sixty yards ahead loomed a wood of Douglas fir, its jagged canopy now seared golden by the rising sun. Down below, within the olive drab, sashes of fog drifted along the ground, snagging upon the fern and verbena.

Eli smiled. Not so intangible after all.

He continued to watch the streamers anguish among the verdure. Floundering like the ghosts of drowned kittens reenacting their last, struggling moments of life.

Something moved just then, to his left, behind the tree line. The silhouette of a large dog, glaring at him, its eyes unnaturally aglow inside the murky perimeter.

Cautiously, Eli rose to his feet. The animal continued to stare, head hung low, ears pricked. If Eli didn’t know any better, he’d swear it was a wolf. He picked up a stone and flung it at the voyeur. The rock fell way short, but the animal inferred its meaning and skulked back into the trees.

The thrown rock, or perhaps the dog itself, had disturbed a murder of sleeping crows, and, bursting from the wood, they protested the encroachment.

Beneath these sounds, his angel stirred, then finally opened her eyes.

Far out on the ocean, nature seethed. Storm clouds, darker than the fleeing night, heaved and roiled; entrails bulging from an eviscerated horizon. Behind them, nearly two-hundred feet below, waves lunged at the crag. Huddled along the rocks, cormorants braved the harsh surf with admirable indifference, their long, hooked bills aimed like trumpets at the approaching storm, ready to herald its arrival.

The air was sharp, honed by the misty updrafts shearing the rawboned cliffs.

His angel faced the sunrise. A dab of light had begun to creep along the upper fringe of her left wing, like a wary mouse edging along a baseboard. Soon, the sun swelled across both wings, bringing to them a luster that was almost…phantasmagorical.

Eli brought the Nikon to his face, aiming at the appendages that had been sewn deeply, securely, into the soft flesh of her back. Through the lens the feathers assumed a grainy texture, some of the larger, more loosely-fitted ones lifting on the gathering breeze.

Her eyes were the color of the water below, a frothy blue, the desperation within them equally savage. She was naked, except for the thin nylon rope that bound her wrists and ankles, tainting her otherwise virtuous image. But this was necessary, as was the duct tape that covered her mouth.

Angels screamed, Eli knew. Screamed loud.

She winced as the flash of the camera blinded her, her cries muffled behind the tape. Her head whipped to the right, then left, then right again, as if each blast of light were the backhand of a raging mother. The rope cinched and braided her flesh as she struggled, as did the heavy monofilament cross-stitched along her back. Eli wondered just how intense was her pain, but decided that it was endurable, and perhaps in these last moments nearly coveted, because it undoubtedly reminded her that she was still alive.

After all, children were loath to give up the ghost, ten-year-old girls being no exception.

He then reached into his knapsack and withdrew a jagged-edged piece of stained-glass.

 

*****

 

Summer was in full swing in Rock Bay, Massachusetts, all the shops and cafes along Chelsea Street open, their frontages dressed snugly for the tourist season. And it was especially brisk today, the bright midmorning sun and warm temperatures inveigling hordes of shoppers.

Rachel McNeil cupped the corners of her eyes, leaned forward, and peered through the window of Wayfarer’s, an emporium full of choice antiques, most of them nautical. The window display was an old Faber trunk dressed up as a treasure chest, overflowing with spoofed regalia: strings of pearls, gold and silver bullion, gem-encrusted goblets...

She smiled, impressed. Some merchants had it down to a science. Rounding out the exhibit was an old US Navy diving helmet, tagged “Mark V, 1918.” Its copper luster shone like new, and fresh strands of seaweed had been draped here and there for effect—just as had the very real human skull grinning at her from behind the helmet’s hinged front-glass.

Gawd
.

She stared back at the ghoulish diver. “Typical man,” she mumbled. “Crimp his hose and he panics and dies.”

Rachel was a native of Rock Bay, but this morning she felt more like a tourist on the last day of what had been, for the better part, a wondrously long and rewarding vacation. But now it was time to leave. Tomorrow, her husband’s new job would steal them from this quaint seaside town,
her
home since birth,
theirs
for the past two. And had it not been for the recent and totally unexpected news of her pregnancy, then having to move to Los Angeles might have felt more like a new beginning and less like infanticide.

She was already afraid for the new life inside her. It was a prowling fear, circling her unborn like a lioness. And this fear was not, contrary to her husband’s theory, borne of those Hansel-and-Gretel-like operas that every mother, expectant or otherwise, fantasizes from time to time. No, the anxiety that she’d been experiencing for the past two days, since having left the clinic with her wonderful but surprising news, was in no way, she firmly believed, the fallout from such musings. She had to admit that LA’s infamous reputation had provoked in her all sorts of morbid scenarios, but this was something different. Something that continued to fester within her, still vague but persistent, as if it too were an embryo developing at its own torpid pace, content to let time determine its gender.

There was something else, too; lurking. A feeling of…what? Precognition? Was that the word?

She wished she could abort this dread, meet it with a coat hanger—then yank.

Her former psychiatrist, no doubt, would have identified this fear as a latent side-effect from the loss of her first and only child, four years earlier.
Guilt that’s lain dormant,
she imagined him saying,
now suddenly awakened from its long hibernation by the news of your pregnancy.

The Freudian fuck.

The guilt. It had nearly crippled her for good. It had taken everything she had and everyone she knew to help her survive the first two years following her daughter’s death. Jessica had died of SIDS. And there was absolutely nothing she could have done to prevent it. But for so many months afterward she’d been convinced otherwise. If only she had shown more responsibility as a mother, her baby girl would still be alive. She should have seen it coming, should have laid her down differently in the crib that night, should have not wrapped her so tightly in that blanket, should have been there next to her, listening for her every breath.

The “Should Haves,”
she thought,
sequel to the popular “What Ifs,” now playing at a theater near you!

Oh dear lord, the guilt.

She nodded. Of course. That had to be the reason for her plaguing anxiety, the fear of losing this child as well.

Okay, so the Freudian fuck might have been right.

That explanation held for a few moments, then surrendered to doubt. No, no, there was something else, something...

Her reverie was broken when a figure emerged from the dusky interior, materializing on the other side of the glass like a ghost from the ethereal. The store’s proprietor, a gaunt, plucky old man in crisp white Cracker Jacks, had obviously caught the faraway look in her eyes and mistook her for a pining tourist. He grinned as he curled an index finger, inviting her in.

Creepy. Rachel politely smiled, then moved on.

She paused in front of Confection Alley, a thriving little candy store owned and operated by one of her old high school classmates, Darlene Schwartzenburger, who was later rescued from that rambling moniker when Aaron Jakes, a successful entrepreneur from Salem, came along and swept her off her feet. But before Darlene Schwartzenburger-Jakes got her chocolate-covered mitts on the place, it had originally been, and for so many years, Clive’s Clippers, as evidenced by the barber pole out front, still drilling away. Back in high school, Rachel had thought of Darlene as a real class-A bitch. Still did, actually. But that wasn’t the reason why she’d never so much as sampled any of Darlene’s famous fudge. Rather, it was the thought of biting down into one of those rich, creamy morsels and finding a relic hair from some fisherman’s oily scalp meandering between the walnuts.

Here, the warm, ambrosial aroma of freshly pulled taffy was fighting for sidewalk space with frying onion and cilantro from an adjacent pub. These smells instantly triggered in her an exceptionally strong feeling of
déjà vu.
Yes, she had been here before, on this very sidewalk, in front of this very confectionery.

She turned wistfully toward the water, to savor what she had for so long taken for granted. To do what she’d intended: pay homage.

The bay glittered golden in the morning sun, as if the bullion of some far-flung and long-sunk armada had magically attained buoyancy and floated to its surface. Gulls bobbed and cawed above the wash of a departing lobster boat. Lovers strolled hand-in-hand along the boardwalk, and whale watchers waited eagerly in line for the next tour.

Deep in her chest, leaden memories slipped through the bottom of a frail pouch and fell slowly into a melancholy abyss.

It felt almost treasonous to have forgotten.

Yes, she was going to miss this town, this ocean; perhaps even more than she feared.

Lifting her face, she allowed the salty breeze to wash against her neck, her cheeks. She’d be leaving behind only a few acquaintances, no true friends, and a sales position at Michael’s Department Store (a job she hadn’t needed to keep after her marriage to Duncan McNeil, but had kept all the same). There would be no family begging her to stay. Her mother and father had long been deceased, courtesies of a drunk limousine driver in Vermont, and she had no brothers or sisters. The only living relative of any consequence was an aunt in Portland, Maine—and it had been, what, eighteen years since she’d last seen her? At her parent’s funeral?

There were also two foster families, but she’d cut all ties with them long ago, estranged by the frequent lashings of a Baptist preacher, then later followed with her “deflowering” by a respected city councilman and his accomplice wife.

She had her share of ugly memories and had been more than infrequently haunted by them, mostly at night, back when her husband was “on the job.” But ever since he’d begun keeping normal hours, most of them spent healing, those haunts had depreciated into the occasional—if not even playful—bump and rap.

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