Torgus the Angel • Darphina • The Test
Note: This story is being pubbed in serial form. You should probably start with EPISODE 1.
Torgus the Angel
I just knew something good would come out of your little palaver in the garden, all those years ago! Even Daath has what almost passes for a grin on his black, spiny face for the first time in several million years.
Truthfully, we hadn’t been certain Doomsday was even alive all this time. Now, she has returned, with great strength and magical resistance, armed with powerful evidence and allies—but also shackled to the demons of addiction and remorse.
A rainbow arches down, just past the open windows. Someone is smelling her hair. “Mmmmm,” a deep voice purrs into her neck. “You smell good enough to eat, Miss Mimosa.”
The room is circular, the walls of stone, the surfaces therein awash in soft bars of multicolored light. She raises herself on one elbow, peering out through big, glassless windows. Yes, there really is a rainbow streaming past, near enough to touch. Through the incandescent reds, yellows, and purples, she can see the distant walls of this gorge, draped in lush vegetation swaying across barely-glimpsed windows, balconies, landings.
The throb of her bruised and knotted muscles, the raw burn of her red, chafed wrists and ankles—all but gone. And, for the first time in ages… “Damn, I do smell good.”
There is a vague memory of landing on a high, green plateau, of his shape in the doorway of a downward passage, of all but collapsing into him now that the mission is accomplished. Welcome home, Miss Chief. And then, of being submerged in a pool of something warm and effervescent, of being wrapped in something soft, of eating, eating, then eating some more. These are the last things she can remember. “How long have I been asleep?”
Virgil looks at his naked wrist. “About thirty-six hours.”
“What?” She struggles to sit up, swinging her legs over the side. “Did Tori find the news ad? Has she—”
Virgil catches her legs and deftly tucks her back into bed, and she lets him, even though they both know she is stronger than two of him. (Maybe three.) “She’s got it now, and according to my uncle (who’s now in possession of that last bit of the ol’ Forty-Five), she’s applied for the job. And after the piss test, she’ll likely get hired straight to a magical position, instead of the assembly line.”
She sinks back into the cushions, sighing. Then she frowns. “Wait. I thought you were going to hand your uncle the evidence only after she’s hired on and learns she’s the Speaker, so she can call on the angels to help us…” Her frown deepens, and she props herself up again. “Also, what did you mean, she’s got the ad now?”
“Well…” Virgil takes her hand and caresses it. “Nothing to worry about. There were some complications—”
“What?” She pulls her hand away. “What kind of complications?”
“It’s nothing. We think maybe someone from Robadu came after her.”
“You call that nothing?!” Marissa is out of the bed, hunting for something to put on. “It had to be Tyler, I thought I killed him but he must’ve survived—”
“Now, hold on, just listen. Whoever it was, the guardians—or angels, or whatever you want to call ’em—must’ve struck him dead, ’cause not long after you left, a giant cyclone started to form around Lincoln. But then a lightning bolt with the power of an atomic bomb was recorded at that restaurant, and immediately the threat disappeared, but the restaurant was untouched. Had to be their magic.”
Marissa has stopped to stare at him. “How do you know all this?”
“’Cause here in Darphina, we get CNN, the Weather Channel, all the news feeds from your world. Soon as this thing showed up on the TV, I hopped in the truck and went to Lincoln to, uh, check on things. Had to take an alternate route, since the DIR’s pretty much shut the border down. Got there just before sunup.”
Marissa’s hands are clenched into fists. “Was anyone hurt? Is she—”
“Nope. I did, however, spot your want ad just inside the front door, where evidently it’d fallen off someone’s shoe the night before.”
“Jesus.” Marissa grabs fistfuls of her hair.
Virgil grins, watching appreciatively as she begins to pace again. “I felt around for her. Found her in a trailer court on the west edge of town, made sure the ad made it back into her hands—kinda sticky, but your little hallmark was still intact.” He begins to unbutton his shirt. “Golden, as they say.”
The rainbow’s iridescence falls across his face, his strange eyes beckon her, and reluctantly, she moves toward the bed again. Well…maybe not so reluctantly, after all.
The spacious parking lot surrounding the building on 48th and Magnolia, mostly empty on a Sunday, was just like it had always been since we were kids. Except for the trees. Even back in the day, they’d been pretty unkempt, but now they towered along the borders, surrounding the property in a wild tangle of dense growth, leaves so dark they were nearly black.
The oddly pink brick building was just a single story, but it occupied over half those four square blocks, sprawling shapeless as if it had grown here like something alive. I cruised slowly around the west lot, looking up the long sidewalk that cut through a sloping lawn dotted with sun shelters and lilac bushes, leading up to the west entrance.
I rolled on, looking up at the loading docks along the south side of the building, remembering that first day we’d ended up here; how we’d seen our savior, the mysterious UPS driver, backed up to one of those docks. Was there a connection between that driver and the younger one I’d come to think of as my guardian angel for a couple months? Had it been one of them who’d been so relentless in getting this ad into my hands? This ad that bore, without any shadow of a doubt, a sign from Marissa? Wonderingly, I reached down to touch the sticky piece of trampled newspaper on the seat beside me to confirm that it was real.
I passed the glass lobby doors. All was dark inside. But that same old feeling came over me. The feeling of being observed. That the place was alive.
I stopped the Buick beside the overgrown monument sign at the northeast corner of the building and got out. Kneeling by the sign, I once again pulled the weeds and vines away. NFMA. Over the years as we were growing up, we’d sometimes meet or hear about people who worked here. The wife of one of Rusty’s employees. The mother of one of our classmates. One of Dad’s golf buddies.
Asked what the letters stood for, no two gave the same answer. Nebraska Fabrication and Molding Affiliation. Northern Farm Machinery Association. Nexus Firm for Manufacturing and Automation. One thing everyone seemed to agree on: It had the highest paying hourly jobs in town. Asked what was made here, no one could really say.
“But he works there,” I’d said to Dad one day after he came home from the golf course, his arms and the back of his neck pink from the sun. “How could he not know what they make?”
Dad had scratched his head the way he does when he’s trying to come up with a good answer. “It does seem rather strange. The closest he’s ever come was, they make things that are used by the big research and drug firms—like Anodyne Technologies or Grosseburg Labs.”
All those years, we could never get a straight story out of anyone, which had made the place all the more intriguing. I cleared away the remaining tangles of vegetation around the base of the sign. The secret is safe. “What do you mean?” I whispered. Had Marissa at last found the answer? I straightened slowly, looking over the top of the sign towards the dark windows.
Is she here?
From the sign, to the trees, to the individual blades of grass on the lawn, I was seeing everything a whole new way, heart thumping, limbs tingling.
Feeling like my feet weren’t even touching the ground, I walked around to the north side of the building, the side where, once upon a time, Marissa had stowed Rusty’s vodka; where the oldest trees twisted over and around one another as if fighting to reach the pavement. I stopped at the end of the short walk leading up to the north entrance, staring at the windows, trying to glimpse anything in the darkness beyond the glass.
Something moved in there.
I jumped back, heart in my throat. Then I stepped up and peered through the glass, frowning. Behind the window to the right of the entrance, a large dog was looking out at me. It appeared to be some blend of Shepherd and Setter. It did not pant or bark. It simply looked. Then slowly, it turned and with a single swish of its long, plumed tail, disappeared into the gloom. I stared for several more minutes, but there was nothing more.
I floated back to my car, my mind a colorful hurricane of wild hope, yearning, and curiosity, wishing it could be Monday already, and slammed the door. “Urrgh!” I nearly retched at the ripe odors of sweat and ketchup wafting up from the pink dress I suddenly realized I was still wearing. I’d been so intent on getting here I hadn’t even noticed the stench choking the Buick’s hot interior. Resisting the urge to tear the uniform off right there, I instead started the car and rolled all the windows down.
Ronnie was, blessedly, not home. All his stuff, however, was—meaning at least he hadn’t moved out. Yet. On the kitchen table was a glossy pamphlet announcing some big to-do going on in Kansas City this week—The Restaurant-something. I glanced at it with passing curiosity before I peeled off the filthy dress, balled it up, and slam-dunked it into the trashcan.
I showered, washing last night away, still feeling lighter than air. Had the entire city been saved from obliteration by an angel? Had said angel peeked in the restaurant window at me with his enormous burning eye? Alone in the shower, I laughed out loud. For the first time in years, I wasn’t wondering yet again if I was crazy. For the first time in years, I really didn’t fucking care. She was alive. Marissa was alive.
Wrapped in my bathrobe, I went into the kitchen to make coffee and noticed the flashing light on the answering machine. It was Marki. “Hey, girl. Just checking to make sure you got home okay.” My gaze was pulled over to the trashcan. “God, my head’s killing me.” I stepped on the pedal that opened the lid. “Hail busted my windshield in, so…fuck.” I pulled the dress back out, brushing off the bits of garbage clinging to it. “Love you. Call me.”
While the washing machine ran, I took out the newspaper scrap and stared at the word written there. I opened the phone book and looked for NFMA, for anything starting with the word Nebraska followed by something starting with F. Nothing. I logged onto AOL, pulled up Alta Vista, and did a web search on NFMA. National Flea Market Association. National Federation of Municipal Analysts. North Florida Martial Arts.
When the dryer stopped turning, I took out the faded pink dress. In the bedroom, I gently laid it out and folded it, then carried it over to the closet. I held it in my hands for a long moment. Then I stood on tiptoe to place it on a high shelf, pushing it all the way to the back.
The front lobby of the NFMA was dominated by an enormous, horseshoe-shaped desk. Monitor screens, buttons, and flashing lights illuminated the glasses of the tiny woman behind it as she answered a multitude of brightly-colored phones, transferred calls, and paged people’s names over the intercom. “Good morning, NFMA, how may I direct your call?” The receptionist listened for a second, then pressed a button on the console and spoke into her headset, her voice coming out of speakers hidden in the ceiling: “Theodore Nash, Anodyne on Line Two. Theodore Nash, Anodyne on Line Two.” I stopped in front of the desk, waiting for a break in her flurry of activity, not wanting to interrupt. “Tech Service to receiving. Customer Service to shipping. Good morning, NFMA, how may I direct your call? One moment. Jack Sorenson, DimCor on Line One. Jack Sorenson, DimCor on Line One. Good morning, how may I help you?”
I resisted the urge to take the newspaper scrap out of my backpack and stare at it again. Should I ask if Marissa Kelvin was here? But if she was here, why hadn’t she come directly to me? Was she in hiding, and this was the only way she could safely reach out to me?
“Good morning, how may I help you?”
I jumped at the sharp tone in the receptionist’s voice as I realized she’d been addressing me. “Oh, uh, I’m here about the job, the ad in the—the want-ads,” I stammered. “Production Assembly?”
Before I’d even finished speaking, the woman had produced a sheet of paper. “Fill this out.” When I didn’t move fast enough, she gave it an impatient shake. As I took the form, she pointed past the lobby seating to a desk in the far corner, already turning back to the bank of flashing phones. “Good morning, NFMA, how may I direct your call?”
Sitting, I took out a pen. The application looked like it had been created on a mechanical typewriter, then photocopied about a thousand times over. I filled in the blurry fields, and at the bottom signed my name, address, and phone number. Then I went back up to the front desk.
Continuing to speak on the phone, the receptionist took my application and skimmed it, frowning. Then she handed me a card, already turning away again. On the card was an address, nothing else. I stood there, looking from the card to the back of the receptionist’s head, opening my mouth and closing it again. At last, she turned around and saw that I hadn’t left. “Yes?”
“Sorry, I don’t understand what this is for.”
“Go there for your test. They’ll be expecting you.”
The woman sighed. “Your—” She paused, touching her headset, her eyes widening. Then she pressed the intercom button, and when she spoke again, her amplified voice poured down from the ceiling: “First Responders to Technical Service. Plorsnag alert. I repeat: Plorsnag alert.” From somewhere beyond the lobby, footsteps pounded. A second later, several people rushed past the dark opening of a hallway, yanking on thick gloves as they ran. A large, black dog galloped after them, carrying an emergency kit in its jaws. The console on the front desk had lit up like a carousel as the receptionist deftly fielded the frenzy of communication. “Excuse me ma’am, we are very busy here,” she said without looking at me.
The address led into the old industrial area south of the Haymarket, by the railyard. The buildings here were mostly run down and unoccupied, with boarded windows and lawn strips overtaken by generations of weeds. I parked in front of a three-story brick building with peeling paint and no sign or nameplate, double-checked the address, then sat looking up at the opaque windows. After a minute, I got out of the Buick and ascended the crumbling steps. The battered metal door rasped inward at my touch. I stepped into an unlit foyer lined with stacks of yellowed catalogs and decaying boxes, the floor littered with bits of eroded drywall. The air was thick with the smells of mildew and dust.
This couldn’t be the right place. “Hello?” I said, almost afraid something might answer.
“There you are.” I jumped at the smooth tenor voice and turned to see a towering woman in a nurse’s uniform. In addition to her height, equally striking was her beauty—what I could see of it. Under a thick unibrow, silvery feline eyes flashed against velvet-black skin. There was something weird about her pupils, but in the gloom I couldn’t quite make it out. The lower half of her face was covered by a surgical mask. Her gloved hand held out a small, plastic cup with a lid. On the lid was my name. “For you, Miss Tori Marshall.” Above the mask, her eyes brimmed with humor.
Oh, a drug test. I almost laughed out loud. “Thanks,” I said. I hadn’t smoked pot in ten years, so this was going to be a piece of cake. “Can I ask how come your clinic is located in an abandoned building?”
“Oh, our clients prefer to use discretion whenever possible.” As she motioned me towards a door, the light filtering in through the cracks between the boards seemed to briefly electrify dense, glossy hair covering her long, graceful arm.
I stepped through the door into a bathroom as white, clean, and modern as any at Bryan Medical Center. I peed in the cup and left it in the cubbyhole behind the toilet. When I came out, the nurse was nowhere in sight. Feeling slightly disappointed, I opened the squealing door and went back out to my car. I’d wanted to ask her if she knew any UPS drivers. Or anyone named Marissa.
[to be continued]
Copyright © 2018 by Shoshana Sumrall Frerking
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living, dead, or otherwise, is purely coincidental.