Get your first glimpse
Enjoy reading an excerpt from August Arrea's "The Crossing Point" released this week:
Jacob awoke with a breathless jolt. Even though a few hours had passed since he drifted off, it felt to him like he had only closed his eyes for a brief second. And just as he feared, the dream—or rather nightmare—reared itself more vivid and terrifying than the last time it showed itself.
It took a moment or two for him to realize he was still on the train, safe in the private compartment. He felt hot, and he was sweaty. When he moved to sit upright, his body ached with a dull discomfort courtesy of the thinly cushioned seats, and the stiffness in his neck from using the armrest for a pillow made him grimace slightly. As he attempted to massage away the kinks, he glanced over and caught Gotham slumped in a relaxed position across the two joining seats on his side of the compartment beneath the yellowish glow of a incandescent light burning above him. His foot fitted in a large, heavy, worn boot looking as though it had walked a path countless times around the globe was perched on the edge of his seat and Jacob was surprised to find his face buried behind a book. His book.
“I hope you don’t mind. I happened to see it lying on the seat next to you,” came Gotham’s voice from behind the cover.
There was something Jacob found weirdly ironic about waking up to the sight of a fallen angel with his nose buried inside a book telling the quintessential tale about fallen angels that made him wonder if maybe he might still be dreaming.
“I’m surprised to see a boy your age engaged by a classic such as this.”
“I don’t think ‘engaged’ is quite the right word I’d use,” said Jacob. “First time I’ve needed Cliff Notes to understand the Cliff Notes to a book.”
“And yet you’re still reading it thousands of miles away from your classroom,” said Gotham.
“It’s starting to grow on me, I guess,” Jacob replied. “I mean, once you get past the weird English, it’s not really that bad for being a...”
He stopped himself from finishing causing Gotham to peer over at him from behind the pages of the book.
“Yes? Go on,” he said in low, coaxing voice. “For being a fairy tale?”
“I don’t know if I’d necessarily use the phrase fairy tale, but…well, yeah,” said Jacob, careful in not wanting to anger again the man sitting across from him. “Look, I can accept that you are who you say you are.”
“The word is angel,” said Gotham as if introducing the first letter of the alphabet to a first-grader.
“Fine then, angel,” said Jacob with a slight roll of the eyes. “But even you have to admit the whole battle of good angels versus bad angels fighting for control of Heaven and Satan being cast down into the Garden of Eden where he becomes a snake and tempts Eve with a forbidden apple is all a bit much. Like Snow White.”
Jacob winced slightly at his choice of literary comparison and braced himself for a not-so-pleasant response to his critique but, instead, was surprised to see a grin flash across Gotham’s face.
“It is a fantastical story, that I’ll give you. Especially for those who resist the fantastical so strongly,” said Gotham, sounding not a bit offended. “Which is why I searched long and far for just the right author who could put down into words the story exactly the way it occurred.”
Jacob blinked once or twice while sitting silently, as though the words spoken somehow prevented his brain from filtering their meaning. Then, after a moment when it appeared his brain had jump-started back to life, a smile came to him and he let forth a chuckle.
“You’re joking, right?”
There was no sign of leg-pulling on Gotham’s face.
“You’re telling me you knew John Milton?” asked the boy, his head cocked halfway between curiosity and disbelief.
“I believe it was 1652 when I came to him,” answered Gotham, turning his gaze toward the ceiling in thought. “Correction, it was 1653. He had gone blind by then, but he could see more in his shroud of darkness than most men with two good eyes. An impressively smart man. One of the few civilians I’ve come across during my time here for whom I found a genuine liking.”
“And you expect me to believe the story of ‘Paradise Lost’ is one that you told to him? Personally?” pressed Jacob, making no effort to conceal his disbelief.
“Like most of mankind, I’ve only come to expect from you the skepticism you’ve so completely walled yourself behind. But trust when I say your disbelief does not change the facts as I tell them to you,” noted Gotham with a scolding tone before continuing on.
“Milton had originally planned to create an opus based on the life of a Saxon king, but I managed to convince him that there was a greater tale to be told, one more epic in its telling filled with the political and social theater he himself had been so passionate about. Once agreed, he took me on in the role of his amanuensis to transcribe the words he tirelessly wove so beautifully into the poetic masterpiece I hold now. Then a couple hundred years later I extended the same help to a man by the name of Paul Gustave Louis Christophe Dorè who would bring to life Milton’s words in his illustrations.”
Jacob sprang upright in his seat with a growing look of exasperation and held out his hand to stop the angel from speaking further.
“Wait a minute,” he said with an incredulous look. “You’re saying you were not only acquainted with Milton, but you also knew whatever his name is...”
“You wander the planet for as long as I have, you end up crossing countless paths. Gustave’s, like John’s, just happened to be one of the countless,” said Gotham.
“So, the drawings in the book are—”
“I revealed to him what he needed to see in order to bring into being what he ended up creating,” explained Gotham. As he spoke, he turned the book he held to reveal to Jacob one of the illustrations inside. It showed the fallen angels being cast down from Heaven—the same drawing that had captured Jacob’s attention the night before
“And how did you do that? Show him, I mean?” inquired Jacob somewhat warily.
Gotham closed the book and tossed it in the boy’s direction. Only instead of flying heavily across the compartment, it took lightly to the air, moving soft and weightlessly as though it were a feather loosened from a bird and set adrift upon a calm breeze where it slowly came to a gentle rest on the seat beside Jacob. Then planting his booted feet firmly on the floor before him, the angel shifted to the very edge of his seat, leaned forward and instructed Jacob to do the same until their knees and toes were lined up just short of touching.
“Look into my eyes,” instructed Gotham. And Jacob did, straight into the twin orbs which began to bubble with life like fiery eruptions exploding from within two dazzling suns and growing ever brighter. Instantly Jacob found himself hypnotically captured in their brilliance and the ability to look away, even if he wanted to, was no longer in his possession. “Now take hold of my hands, and you shall see what very few other men have.”
Jacob cautiously reached forward and, in the instant his fingers grazed Gotham’s, there came a horrific grinding clamor as the walls of the compartment surrounding them first began to buckle and then tear away in large jagged pieces until, in one terrifying moment, the train split apart and disintegrated from existence.
Jacob gasped at the horror of suddenly finding himself suspended in open sky with no sign of earth anywhere beneath him. Neither was Gotham anywhere to be seen, though Jacob could still feel the angels’ hands clutched in his grasp. And before he could attempt to decipher what was happening—or how—he caught the sound of a great disturbance fast approaching in the distance. It began as a rumbling of thunder coming from within the quickly-darkening clouds suddenly taking the shape of great beasts in all directions around him, and it was accompanied by what sounded like a herd of galloping horses. Then from within the clouds was suddenly belched forth an unimaginable chaos. The vast sky instantly became filled with hundreds—then quickly thousands—of men.
And yet not angels, at least no longer. Rage and hate distorted their faces, and their threatening cries of violence and rebuke which filled the air in a chilling chorus was answered by angry claps of thunder. They looked to be in retreat, being driven downward from the higher plains of the heavens in a growing multitude. The pounding cadence of horse hooves grew louder, and an unseen trumpet blew loudly. Then suddenly a cavalry of more angels appeared, charging through the billowing clouds wielding swords which carried a blinding light in their blades. The steeds they rode upon looked to be almost ghostlike, as though they themselves were created from the wisps of the clouds.
Yet in all the chaos that quickly ensued, Jacob’s attention was instantly drawn with enamored amazement to the angel leading the charge. It was Gotham, eyes ablaze and body gleaming with the rippling power it possessed, leading the other angels with an unbridled fierceness that cut down and swept aside everything in his path. Behind him and the rest of the cavalry following, a brilliant whiteness began parting the skies, and from it the skeletal fingers of lightning shot forth in wicked flashes of blinding light forever marking the angels in retreat with its scarring, scorching heat aimed at their foreheads with vengeful precision.
Jacob’s unblinking eyes watched in shock and awe at what was happening all around him, flinching now and then as angels brushed dangerously close past him in their free-fall toward a fiery plain that slowly opened itself beneath him. He found himself continuously squeezing desperately the hands he still felt in his, even as his eyes watched Gotham tearing across the sky like a warrior stamping his mark on some ancient battleground.
Then it was gone, vanishing as quickly as it had appeared. And the train compartment that had fallen away reappeared intact, and Jacob found himself sitting exactly where he had been before across from Gotham. He yanked free his hands from the angel’s grasp exhaling deeply as he fell back deep into his seat.
“Do I read from the stunned look on your face that you have reconsidered The Great War being the concoction of the Brother’s Grimm?” asked Gotham somewhat facetiously.
“You were leading the charge,” blurted Jacob still swimming in a haze of disbelief at what he had witnessed.
“That I was.”
“You were leading the charge against the rebellion.”
There was a perplexed look in Jacob’s eyes and Gotham quickly came to recognize it.
“I see,” was all he remarked in his moment of understanding.
Gotham paused, then rose from his seat. He stood silent for a moment peering out from the window of the cabin partially obscured by translucent pebbly looking water drops from a soft rain which had earlier begun to fall.
“In Revelation, the apostle John writes of seven angels who stand before God,” he said finally. “They are known as the seven Archangels: Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, Uriel, Barachiel, Sealtiel and Jehudiel. The truth is, there were originally nine angels who were chosen to form this celestial order, two of which would eventually suffer separate and great falls. The first, whose name has long since been purged from Heaven, has come to be known by many identities. You perhaps know him best as Satan. To those of us who knew him as one of our brethren he is known by another name: the Dragon. And it is that name I shall use to refer to him since his true name has never breathed its way past my lips since the moment of his deception.
“At one time he was not only a great angel and mighty warrior, but the most beautifully created of all the angels under Heaven’s reign. There was a way about him…a brilliance, some would argue that made him all the more beautiful. However, lurking within that brilliance stirred a darkness; a darkness of arrogance, cunningness and guile that proved to be much stronger, and slowly the light began to grow dim within him before it was eventually snuffed out altogether like the smoldering wick of a candle. He came to embrace the idea of self greatness conjured up by his own mind, and it wasn’t long before he came to the belief that his greatness overshadowed that of his Maker. Angels, he argued wrongly, are self-begot and as such he deemed himself as equal to God, and it wasn’t long before he put to use his cunningness in devising a scheme to overthrow the rule of his Creator and place himself upon Heaven’s throne. There was only one small hurdle standing in his way: the eight other Archangels who remained steadfast in their loyalty to God. And of those eight one, in particular, would prove to be his downfall.”
Gotham paused, turned his gaze away from his transparent reflection captured in the window darkened by the rainy night and glanced over his shoulder in the direction of Jacob who was sitting quietly listening to his story. “Yes, in case you have already rendered a guess, I was the other who was once counted amongst those nine, and I was held by the others with great esteem and rank. More importantly, I held great favor with the One who made me, even more so than any of the others angels, for whatever reason of which had never been made known to me. And because of that, I was never outside the illuminated realm of my Maker’s presence. It was a position I humbly embraced, as well as guarded fervently.
“Naturally, there were whispers. Jealousy, like a seductive mistress, has never tired in her attempts to bring my brothers under her spell, and their rumblings of malcontent and resentment against me did not escape my ears. Nowhere, however, was that jealousy more evident than with the one who fell before me. Every time he looked my way, his eyes mirrored a deep loathing, and I could see his intense hatred was working to hatch a feverish plotting inside his head. It was only when the clandestine chattering took a venomous shift away from me and toward my Maker that my anger gave rise. I began to hear the echoes of rebellion carried like an infectious fever spread by the forked-tongue of the Dragon among factions of angels and I readied my hand near my sword.”
It was then Jacob was startled by the sudden movement of the book resting on the seat beside him as it flew open and the pages inside began to rustle and quickly turn on their own accord. When they finally stopped, the book had fallen open to an illustration titled “Abdiel strikes Satan.”
“Has your reading of the book reached this point yet?” asked Gotham.
Jacob gave a quick nod. “It’s right before the war,” he said. “An angel named Abdiel learns of Satan’s plan and tells God of the coming rebellion and he is rewarded for his loyalty. This basically pisses off Satan, and as the two sides prepare for battle, Satan and Abdiel face off against one another. Abdiel tells Satan his fight is in vain, and that pride and vanity had blinded him to the reality that the legions of angels still loyal to God were ready to throw down and kick some tail. But Satan argues spitefully that there was no freedom in Heaven and basically called the loyal angels slaves. Then, being the bad ass he is, Abdiel strikes Satan with a powerful blow which brings him to his knee.”
Gotham’s brow slowly rose with growing intrigue as he sat listening to the choice of words the boy used in the blunt narrative to summarize a portion of a classic work of literature as only a teenager could.
“And Satan said, ‘Take heed, for I shall make it my personal vow to see the righteousness with which you stand before me in the name of God turn on you like a striking serpent and into you sink its fangs to sicken you with its venom,” uttered Gotham in a quiet reflective whisper.
Jacob studied more closely the illustration showing Abdiel raising his sword to Satan while reflecting on the story he had just recited as well as the vision of the rebellion he had witnessed earlier when his gaze suddenly shifted to Gotham.
“It’s you, isn’t it?” asked Jacob. “Abdiel is you.”
Gotham only needed to look at the boy for Jacob to know he was correct in his suspicions.
“But I still don’t understand,” said Jacob. “You remained loyal and helped defeat the rebellion by casting Satan and his army out of Heaven. You showed me so. So how is it you still became Fallen?”
Gotham sighed heavily in his hesitation to answer the boy, yet knew it was a question that demanded an answer.