The Opening Chapters of my novel ‘Destiny’
“Seek out those who have wronged you but do not seek revenge. Offer them the bread of angels and the opportunity of redemption and together we will watch them destroy themselves on the sweetmeats of demons.” Lilith, the Dark Goddess.
As the sat nav brought her closer to familiar territory, Angel’s heart beat a tattoo of remembrance, igniting her brain with childhood images. Streets of identical post-war houses, neat little front gardens all three metres square and then the road to the school, lined with poplars, forcing into the blue firmament.
Angel joined the queue of cars as parking attendants in orange high-viz jackets walked down the line, signalling with airport precision. Exquisite anticipation tingled on her palate as she parked her matte black Mercedes convertible and stepped out onto the playground.
It was a warm June afternoon – perfect for tennis, thought Angel. The pale blue sky, barely interrupted by squishy cumulus puffs, was deepening to a shade of cerulean as Angel sashayed to
the doors. Bare-legged and bare-shouldered, the warmth of the sun increasing her inner glow, while the soft, red silk folds of her wrapover dress swished as she walked, gently fanning her at every step. Delicate French polished toes peeped out from her red Jimmy Choos.
A banner in the school colours, bottle green and gold, announced the Centenary as Angel entered. No amount of airing could dispel the odour of pubescent teens that clung to every locker and wafted around the school, tickling Angel’s nostrils with memories.
The main hall thronged with people like an army of ants, skittering apart, joining and separating again as they sought their peers amongst the nest. From panelled walls, balconies and window sills, signs stating dates and showing arrows guided and funnelled the throng to their destinations. Angel’s peer group sign directed her into the sunny quadrangle, a whole corner of which had been set out with chairs and garden tables for her year group. Already a number of people clutched plastic glasses of varying sizes and smiled as they conversed. She’d felt the looks in the main hall – some curious, some lustful, many jealous – and she felt them again as she walked into the quad with her head held high and her willowy frame held confident and unabashed. Upon glimpsing her, men stood silently and she treated them to an all-encompassing gentle smile, swishing her long dark hair from her face. As one, they relaxed and resumed their conversations, still glancing in her direction but attending to their present tête à tête.
She scanned the minds in the quad picking up thoughts here and there. Fear, doubt and panic bounced around the airwaves as she tuned into the different frequencies but the consensus and most prolific thoughts were those of self-image. She ensured her mind was guarded as she flicked through the channels, careful not to float an opinion on the air. The range of female jealousy directed at her, as the quad began to fill up, ceased her indulgent sortie of the minds around her and Angel closed her senses to her gift.
“Angel? Angel, is that you?”
Angel turned on her elegant heel and watched as a pretty blonde arrived in her eye line.
“Wow! Angel! You look amazing! It’s Jenny, ‘member? Let’s get you a drink and find a seat. I can’t believe it!”
“Hello,” said Angel, as she was guided by the elbow to the refreshments. She embarked on a quick search in the filing cabinet of her mind, delved into the archive and found what she was looking for. “Jenny, it’s good to see you. How’s Tim?”
Jenny spun round in amazement, full cup in hand, sloshing sweet liquid onto her fingers. “You remember me? And my brother?”
“Of course!” laughed Angel, “We were friends!”
Jenny’s blue eyes sparkled and she stifled a giggle. “We were, weren’t we? But we lost touch so quickly. You disappeared – what happened?”
They wandered from the drinks table, found seats by a rhododendron and Jenny chatted while Angel nodded and smiled. Angel listened and digested the words she heard but Jenny’s thoughts ran much deeper than the social whitterings she divulged but before Angel could speak a giant of a man blocked out the sunlight.
“Who’re you keeping to yourself now?”
Jenny’s smile dissipated. “Don’t you remember Angel?” she said.
The man’s large, pale face crumpled with the effort of recollection. His bloodshot eyes squeezed to pinpricks as he scanned the image before him and attempted to remember. He brought the pint cup to his saggy lips and disgorged its contents, causing a tidal wave to quake his heavy neck. Sweat prickled his brow and painted dark patches under the arms of his light blue polo shirt.
“The only Angel I knew…Fuck, it is you!” He pointed one pudgy finger from a hand covered with gold sovereigns. “Well, I’ll be buggered!”
Angel sensed the disgust emanating from Jenny but gazed at the puffy digit and smiled up into the beaming countenance. “It’s Rob, isn’t it?”
Disbelief winked on his face for a second. “Hey, course it is! Course you remember the big man! Hell, wait ‘til Vincent hears about this!”
“I beg your pardon?”
Rob reached for his phone. “I gotta Facebook ol’ Vinny boy and let him know who I’m talking to, ‘specially with you looking alright ‘n’ all!”
“And how are you, Rob?” said Angel, still smiling. “What have you been doing with yourself?”
“Me?” said Rob, thumb working on his phone. “Bit of this, bit of that. Been in the car trade, bit of property, you know how it is?”
“Oh, I do!” said Angel. “Lovely to see you,” she added, standing up and opening her purse. “But I should really take the opportunity to mingle. Jenny,” Angel smiled down at her and handed her a card, “we must catch up properly. Mail me.”
Angel reapplied her red lipstick in the mirror above the basin.
“Flavour of the moment, ain’t cha?” said a female voice, emerging from the cubicle after the flush. The voice belonged to a small, buxom female, voluptuous yet wiry, with striking, short blonde hair atop a flouncy, tight cotton summer dress. Under the pressure from her ample breasts, the ‘sweetheart’ description of her neckline was more accurately portrayed as ‘sex toy’. She bent over to re-lace a wedged sandal to her ankle and lower leg, revealing inadequate underwear.
“I beg your pardon?” said Angel, lipstick still poised.
“They can’t get over you. Always out to steal the limelight, weren’t ya?”
“Yeah, you, and don’t try that Little Miss Innocent act on me!”
“I’m sorry, I really don’t understand and I don’t recognize you either, sorry.”
The smaller woman folded her arms, sending more sagging flesh from its mooring. “You know who I am, you little tart! Always trying to steal my man, you were.”
“Clare? Gosh, Clare, you were a brunette at school! Of course I remember you! Sorry – took me a while. You weren’t in mine and Jen’s classes.”
“No, well, I wouldn’t have been, would I? You pair o’ geeks deserved each other, but I won’t forget you tried to steal my man.” Clare glared up into Angel’s beautiful face.
Angel laughed lightly. “Oh Clare, are you serious? I have no recollection of what you mean. It was fifteen years ago! Look, I thought you said I was a geek – how can I have been some sort of man eater?”
Clare’s eyes softened slightly and the corners of her mouth twitched but she rallied and folded her arms tighter before adding, “Well, I won’t forget,” before picking up her silver studded bag and leaving.
Clare looked up as the tube train pulled into the station. Four more stops. She wouldn’t forget. He was hers and then she came along and that’s when it all went wrong. Okay, he got someone else pregnant but he was hers, should have stayed hers. They could have been good, the two of them.
The summer sun dipped below the horizon. The doors opened at the next stop, letting in a cool breeze to ruffle the sweat-filled haze within. Two more stops to go. She wouldn’t forget. Every day she thought of what might have been. Was it really fifteen years? The doors opened again. Six casually dressed young men boarded, their banter not ceasing and the tallest nodded over at Clare. She smiled back and they turned away, laughing, snippets of ‘old tart’ and ‘slapper’ reaching Clare’s ears. She pulled her knees and shoulders together but couldn’t make herself smaller. I won’t forget, never, she thought.
“Just on the left, mate. Cheers.”
Rob clambered from the taxi and thrust a crumpled note through the window.
“Yeah, ‘course I want change!” He secreted the coins in his pocket and turned to face his house. The fading light reflected off the white PVC, including columns on the porch, as he fumbled for his key. He gave up, banged on the door and yelled, “Trees! Open up! Trees!”
Eventually a tiny, orange-tanned teenager let him in, turned and made her way upstairs.
“Trees! Te-re-sa! Don’t you wanna drink wiv your ol’ man?” A door slammed above him.
Rob bounced off the hall walls to the kitchen and selected a tall glass, and then a second, much shorter one. With the latter inside the former he staggered upstairs, opened a door, turned the key with fumbling fingers and fell onto the bed.
“How did it go?”
“You shouldn’t have waited up. I said I was going to pop into Mum and Dad’s to see Tim.”
“I had a doze and then heard your car. You look shattered.”
“It’s been a long day. Look, I know it’s late but I’d love a bath.”
“I’ll run it for you. Kettle’s boiled. Finn woke once, bad dream but Scarlett’s been sound asleep since 6pm. She’ll probably make it through. I know you said try to keep her going ‘til 7pm but she wasn’t having it.”
“Oh, Scott, you are a poppet!” said Jenny, flinging her arms around her husband’s waist.
“Steady on, don’t get excited. I’ve an early start in the morning,” said Scott, gently peeling her from him. “I’ll run your bath,” he added, taking the stairs two at a time.
Jenny’s head sank down and her shoulders curled forward, choking the breath in her throat. In an instant she threw back her head, her eyes moist, and took in a great gasp of air before levelling her features and reapplying her smile. She kicked off her shoes, locked the front door and climbed the pine stairs.
The sun was finally setting on Angel’s right hand side as she turned into the driveway. She put her foot down and sped through the dusk to arrive, grinning, with a skid at her front door. A young man appeared, descended the steps and opened the driver’s door before the engine noise fell. Angel alighted, smiling at the beautiful, blond face and chiselled cheekbones. She licked her lips as she walked round him and started up the steps. Halfway up she turned back.
“I would like some company this evening.”
The small brown door was almost hidden by the bill posters and graffiti slathered across the empty shop fronts. As her key turned in the door, the smell of urine welcomed her home. Up two flights, stuttering over empty bottles, newspapers and syringes, Clare stood at the door to her flat and searched through her keys. A warm, rank odour greeted her as she closed the door behind her and leant on it. She scrambled for the phone in her bag as it vibrated against her hip.
“Hi, Freddie,” she said. “Yeah, sure, yeah, course I can. Give me ‘alf hour, lover.”
The voice in the phone became louder and more insistent. “No, no, honestly, no problem. I’ll be ready in ten.” The voice ceased abruptly and Clare stood looking down the hallway. Moisture welled up in her eyes and she bit her chapped lip. The sudden saltiness in her mouth was like a slap in the face and she hurried to her bedroom, throwing clothes under the bed and scurrying dirty plates and glasses into the kitchen. Back in her bedroom, she sprayed perfume over herself and the bed, straightened the dingy covers and sat at her dressing table, painting on a scarlet smile until the banging on the door started. She hurried to cease it.
“Fred! Oi, Freddie, you know the rules! Cash through the letterbox, then you can come in.”
The bashing ceased and was replaced with muffled curses before five rumpled £10 notes arrived through the letterbox. Within moments, Clare had grabbed the notes, secreted them in the tin in the bottom of her wardrobe and opened the door.
“Freddie, my love. Come in, come in, let’s be ‘avin’ you, lover.”
Most of the photos were grainy and blurred but some had come out well. Rob knocked back a shot and poured another from the sticky bottle as the computer uploaded the file from his phone. His shirt and trousers lay scrumpled around him as he sat in his boxers, watching the screen, one hand on the shot glass, the other rubbing his groin. Finally the set of pictures were ready to view in slide show mode. Two shapely legs disappearing under a skirt or crossed elegantly at the knee, then hips, breasts, lips and finally Angel’s face looking straight at him, her tongue licking her top lip.
Rob began to stroke as the images, like a heavenly conveyor belt, flashed past on the screen. Sweat ran down his chest and his breathing rasped and quickened as he beat out the rhythm of lust.
Jenny sank to her chin in bubbles and let the silent tears flow. She’d had a nice day and a nice chat with Tim. She cried harder, allowing her chest to heave and let out those built up frustrations that ate away at her insides. And now back to her nice house and nice family. But it wasn’t nice, was it? It was a sham, a lie, a falsehood….She closed her eyes and ducked under the water.
As she dried herself, she took stock of her pale skin, a little pinked by the sun, and ran her hands over her body. It was still taut and smooth despite two children and she lingered on her small, pert breasts as she looked into the misty mirror. She rubbed her towel on the glass and a sad, pretty face looked back at her. Oh, to have a face as full of life as Angel’s! She dropped her nightdress over her head as she remembered the brief meeting and a bubble of excitement burst in her stomach. Did she really want me to email her? she thought, running a comb through her blonde curls, or was she just being polite? No – Angel remembered her, and she’d given her the card. She’d mail her tomorrow. No, that might come across as too keen. Maybe Monday. Or should she wait a week?
The huge oval white china basin on gold-clawed feet stood on a marble plinth in the centre of the room while the steps and floor around it were carpeted with a lush, white pile. Cushions the size of double beds graced one side of the room whilst on the other, a chaise longue was draped with silk, satin and glorious fluffy towels.
Angel lay resplendent in her bath, her dark tresses clipped above her head, while the scent of jasmine and ravensara permeated the air. Aidan stood before her in his black suit, smiling as he watched her stroke the perfumed water over her body. She stopped, crossed her arms across her breasts and looked up coyly. “I think I’d like you to be naked too.”
“Of course, Mistress,” said Aidan, immediately pulling off his black neck tie.
“No, Aidan,” said Angel. “You are in charge tonight.”
“Ah,” said Aidan, slowly unbuttoning his shirt. “So you’ve no experience in these matters?” His trousers fell to the floor and he was naked.
Angel blushed and shook her head.
“Then let me teach you,” he said, stepping into the bath. “Gently?”
Angel shook her head again slowly, her innocent gaze fixed on his jade green eyes.
“I see,” said Aidan. “Then I shall teach you a proper lesson.”
“Yes, Master,” said Angel.
Angel lay in bed with Aidan’s sleepy breathing soothing her, as she recalled her day at her old school. A warm glow spread over her as Jenny’s kind, gentle face appeared in her thoughts, her only friend from school and yet, a friend she had dismissed along with the pain. It would be good to meet up and find out how the bright confident Jenny of fifteen years ago had fared since school. A round puffy face interrupted her musings and then an angry one, filled with pent up hate and malice. Rob and Clare forced their way into her musings – two of the perpetrators of her childhood agony. She’d faced them at the school as a woman, not a child and yet, the pain was still there. Old thoughts resurfaced and sought to rebuild the neural pathways she’d carefully deconstructed. Unwelcome thoughts strove to remake a route to undermine her confidence. She saw them coming and closed them down, constructing her own roadblock but, the fact that a brief meeting could bring back the pain of her youth, reinforced her belief in continuing the course she was on. They were on. She and her friends, the new ‘family’ she had made.
Angel snuggled into Aidan and recalled the Full Moon ritual that had set her on this path. She heard the music beginning softly, a background hum resonating around the cavernous walls, filling her body with the weight of the earth and the primordial depths of the universe. As the regular beats of a gong tolled, she and her friends, cloaked figures in the gloom, walked forward into the circle, mere shades of them visible in the monstrous candlelight. Vast battalions of head-high, wrought iron candlesticks stood to attention, circuiting the cave, dripping and dribbling light into the abyss, where fool’s gold and quartz glistened in the walls but no sunlight could pervade. Upon the altar, flanked by two flaming braziers, the tools of the ritual were set out, glistening, sparkling and smoking in turn. An ornate carved owl sat on a pentagram in the centre.
Words escaped from the communal hum and as the energy rose, the figures walked slowly clockwise, heads bent upon their steps. They stopped and shook back their hoods and Angel, Aidan and Sophia stepped forward into the middle of the circle. She saw herself, hair like a jet black waterfall, stood before the altar, arms raised, palms open to the sky, as Aidan and Sophia, in their roles of Priest and Pythoness, took turns to cast the circle, first with an ornate sword, then a bowl of water and salt.
Angel heard herself complete the circle, “And I consecrate this circle with the incense of Kyphi,” turning from the north and making her tour of the circle, stone bowl in hand, filling the air with smoke.
The Pythoness, Priestess and Priest held hands before the altar as the ritual continued, the air in the cave hanging heavy and expectant, screaming with anticipation. The chill of the night seeped into the cave as the sun set in the world outside. Angel spoke the familiar words, feeling the energy in her blood begin to quicken. Her skin prickled, her fingertips tingled and she was wakened by the energy from another world. Her disciplined mind sought for the Path and she opened herself up as the quarters were called: earth, air, fire and water. The sphere of power encompassed them all and the Priestess began her invocation while the smiling, faces of her companions glowed around her, joining the union, beseeching the Goddess to join them in their work. Angel saw her cloak fall to the earth before the altar, as she stood tall in her black gown, flecked with gold and the yellow citrine on a simple cord hanging in the curve of her breasts, glistening in the fiery glow.
Within the sphere of power, the Tree of Life appeared – the witches’ Qabalah, a map of the Universe, a framework upon which all experience, both physical and spiritual, could be understood and upon which Angel had concentrated her study for the past three years. Upon the Tree hung ten coloured vibrant discs – the Sephirah – which were linked together by thirty two pathways that blazed and dazzled like a crystal cobweb. Over many years she’d searched for answers to her questions among gurus, prophets and magicians but not until she placed this knowledge upon the framework of the Qabalah, could she begin to understand this immense source of knowledge. Not until she’d begun to understand had Lilith come into her life and begun to shape her future.
Her mind returned to the Full Moon ritual and the Qabalah hanging in the air. She focused on Path thirteen, where the outline of another disc shimmered like an architect’s draft superimposed on the map, sometimes there, other times fading into nothingness. The image of the Tree was suspended in the air before them all, a map of the complex journey ahead simply portrayed for them to see.
As she watched the Qabalah resonate and grow, the sphere of power expanded with energy, announcing the presence of an Egyptian god. They were all familiar with the wise and learned Thoth, in his white pleated kilt, the head of an ibis upon his shoulders and, upon his head, the lunar disc and crescent. He was the Dweller on the Threshold, the first obstacle upon the Path, through whom Angel, as Priestess must convene to ensure their journey be a safe one.
Angel recalled herself balanced and prepared, as she opened her mind for the Dweller on the Threshold to read, displaying her resolute intent for him. He scrutinized her thoroughly and then, once satisfied, Thoth welcomed her to the astral plane, admitting her entrance to the paths she sought and allowing her access to the others who dwelt there. She watched his countenance change, the disc and crescent upon his head beginning to glow and he became the Doorkeeper, the protector of her physical body, a vital accessory for the journey ahead, keeping harm from her as she opened the door and stood upon the Path.
Angel loved the first step upon the Path and she snuggled deeper under the covers next to Aidan, allowing the recollection to flood over her. She enjoyed all her Path workings, whether alone or with her friends. Years of practice had perfected her craft so the process flowed through her with ease. Every step she took washed her mind with new visions and with each experience, greater understanding followed. Standing on the threshold of infinity was an awesome freedom while the power at her disposal was electrifying but more exciting was the realization that she carried this power with her, reinforcing her belief in a fine line between reality and imagination.
A yawn brought her into her bedroom but she brought her mind back to the ritual, determined to revisit it all before she slept.
Back in the cave, her feet firmly planted on the ground in Malkuth, the tenth Sephirah at the bottom point of the Tree of Life, the physical plane here on earth, and with the owl from the altar in her hand, Angel began her evocation.
“Oh Dark Moon Goddess, patroness of all witches,
Dark are thee, black on black, lips red as rose, kissing the entire Universe,
I open myself to thee.
Infuse me with your wisdom and power,
O fulfiller of all lust, seer of desire!
We stand before you, willing and eager to hear your command!
First of all women – Lilith!
Queen of the Magic!
She felt Lilith consume her, a fiery glow spreading up from her toes, quickening her blood and energizing her mind until she buzzed and vibrated with the power of the Dark Goddess. Angel welcomed her presence and accepted her into her body and mind as an intimate friend, mentor and guide. For years she’d communed with Lilith on the dark moon and she relished the perspective Lilith brought.
Within the cave, black filled the sphere of power, not darkness but old black, the black before existence from the edge of time. Black filled the lungs of the followers, seeping into their bodies, awakening their ancient urges.
And the Priestess, now the Dark Goddess, turned to the figures in the circle and spoke.
“I welcome your summoning, independent humans. I welcome you with the arms of the first Goddess.”
Six figures knelt before their Goddess.
“Rise – you shall not kneel before me, for we are as one. Each of you vibrates with creativity and verve, ready to learn. I know it and feel it. I say to you, do not stray from the power of your nature. It is your lust for life that keeps you strong and directs you upon the Path!”
“Thank you, Great Goddess,” they intoned as they stood.
“Eons pass, yet humankind still hurts and rejects that which is too beautiful, too strong or too confusing to understand. My children, you have been damaged thus but brought together, you can heal yourselves and gain far more than you have lost. I have returned to this physical plane with a task for you. Travel the Paths set out and experience each Sephirah in my name, seeking answers as you progress. Your destination is Daath and there you will find the truth.”
As the Great Goddess spoke through her, Angel saw the discs upon the tree obtained a third dimension and became spheres, glistening and vibrating to her voice and, at the mention of Daath, the outlined disc on Path thirteen became clearer and brighter, adding an eleventh Sephirah to the Tree.
“Seek out those who have wronged you but do not seek revenge. Offer them the bread of angels and the opportunity of redemption and together we will watch them destroy themselves on the sweetmeats of demons. Follow me, for I shall show you the true Path to unlimited knowledge and infinite understanding. Do this in my name and the pleasures too, I shall bestow, shall be beyond your understanding.”
As Angel opened the bedroom door the yellow citrine at her throat pulsed and glittered, its vibrant power visible within the depths of each quartz face. She saw the corridor before her, wide and high with seven doors, each marked with a glyph.
Angel felt Lilith within her. Strength and independence exuded from her and she felt full of instinctive lust and desire. Red hair in ringlets cascaded over her shoulders and from her feet to her waist the flames caressed and energized her. Power sizzled through her veins as Lilith’s voice filled her head and her blood. “You have stepped upon the Path and carry your true intent. Now it is time to choose.”
Angel stepped up to the first door and sensed a broad, fair man at her side. Eli stood smiling as he offered her his arm. Angel took it and leant into him, grateful for his presence at her side. Together they opened the door. They were beneath the ocean and as they walked across the shifting sea bed, shoals of strange fish flashed past them and rocks rose from the surface, grew legs and fins and sculled away. The water became murkier as they walked until they came across a vast mound on the ocean floor. Angel’s heart beat faster as they placed their hands upon it and felt movement beneath their feet.
Curling and slithering, black-suckered tentacles emerged from the mound encircling them until the great sea beast, Leviathan loomed above them. Eli lifted his arms to the great razor-toothed mouth and called its name, and with one almighty roar from the beast, Eli was consumed.
A tall handsome man with hazel eyes that twinkled with mischief stood beside Angel. Jed smiled at her as he took her hand and Angel held it tightly as they entered through the door. The stench of foul excrement invaded their senses and they staggered before leaning on each other for support. The grey walls around them disappeared into infinity and the space around them was filled with riches beyond calculation. Piles, mounds, stacks and heaps of gold bars, precious gems and money, all surrounded a throne, whereupon sat a monstrous demon with horns that touched the sky and pointed nails that sliced the air with every gesture. Behind his throne, banks of computer screens showed the world’s money markets while at his feet minions scurried. Every time one of them slowed down, he pierced it fiercely with a fingernail.
Jed lifted his arms and cried out the demon’s name. “Belphegor!”
Belphegor pointed his finger and sent a bolt of power through Jed who, smiling, disappeared in a flash of red light.
In front of the third door stood a petite young woman. Gentle wispy curls encircled her tiny face, and she looked fragile, but determined. Maddy grasped Angel’s hand and they opened the door. They entered a dark room and stood breathing quickly, sensing the smell of death and the silence of dull, lifeless air. As their eyes readjusted, walls rose around them and golden statues began to emerge, the heads constantly changing as they watched. Each statue was a priceless treasure with precious jewels for eyes and extravagant adornments of gold, silver and platinum. One of the statues stepped forward and began to grow, its one sapphire eye the size of an ocean liner and its teeth diamonds the size of skyscrapers. It waved its countless limbs, showering gems like confetti over the ground.
Angel lifted her arms to shield her face but Maddy, fearless and smiling, raised hers to the beast and cried, “Mammon!” With a flick of its tail, it sent a cascade of diamonds and Maddy disappeared, engulfed in a shower of gem stones.
At the fourth door a young blonde woman, beautiful and smiling, stood by Angel’s side. Sophia held out her hand and Angel took it, excitement and trepidation taking turns in her brain. They opened the door together. A bright summer’s day greeted them. Lush grass crushed between their toes and a warm, gentle breeze caressed their hair. Upon the hillside, sheep grazed beneath the early sun’s warmth but another light was forming in the firmament, growing bigger and brighter. White light began to pervade the golden scene before them, scouring the colour from the land. Whiter and brighter it grew, obliterating the sun, and from this light stepped a great horned demon, flexing his wings as he towered above them.
Angel let go of Sophia’s hand to shield her eyes from the piercing glare and watched in awe as Sophia raised her arms and opened them to the beast, crying, “Lucifer!” The white light surrounded her and she was gone.
At the fifth door, a dark, gentle giant of a man stood beside Angel. Zac put a strong arm around her as she opened the door. The enormous room before them was set with vast banqueting tables and illuminated by a host of chandeliers. The smells of the feast lingered in their nostrils as they walked between tables piled high with food. Angel’s heart clamoured with expectation as she walked behind Zac, fearful of what awaited them but confident in her companion. At the end of the hall a huge, muscular beast rose before them, its head as big as a house and its forked tail as long as a tube train.
The scales covering its body glistened red and black as Zac stood and called it: “Beelzebub!” With a crack of the forked tail, Zac was consumed.
Angel stood with Aidan at the sixth door. His beautiful smile sparkled in his jade eyes and Angel felt confident and calm as they entered the doorway. A roar from the distance beckoned them forward and out of the darkness came the monster. The beast before them had three heads – bull, ram and man – sprouting from a gigantic neck. Its body was that of a man but blue, and scaled with dragon wings, and it had the tail of a serpent. It stood as tall as a pyramid and the energy within it pulsed through its every scale. On seeing Angel, the beast smiled and bowed.
Aidan called him: “Asmodeus!” and the beast devoured him greedily.
“This is your final choice,” said Lilith, as Angel stood before the seventh and final doorway. “Choose carefully when you enter, for this door changes you and your life forever.”
Angel sensed every cell in her body awakening. Dense blue pigments seeped into her skin. Scales began to form and from her back, the wings of a butterfly began to metamorphose. Angel hesitated at the doorway and woke up.
Angel loved hot summer days, the days that scorched the earth and scoured the tarmac, making the reality of the world vibrate and shudder in an opalescent haze. Jenny was already outside the restaurant, shifting nervously from foot to foot. Her navy maxi dress, dotted with white daisies, looked cool enough but its oversized billows clung to hot flesh while the white cardigan induced more heat to rise to her throat and face.
In the cavernous depths of the London restaurant, cool air blew freely as they were seated at Angel’s table. Delicately painted oriental screens afforded them privacy and once drinks were ordered and food was chosen by Angel, they sat sipping margueritas.
“So how are you, Jenny? I know you’re a mum and a wife, of course, and you work…?” said Angel.
Jenny nodded and began recounting her life since leaving school, while Angel opened her mind to the true thoughts behind Jenny’s words. Though it came naturally to her, Angel endeavoured to restrict this talent to minimum usage, believing an individual’s thoughts to be private and personal but she was curious to know the real content of Jenny’s life this past fifteen years and, with the feelings she’d sensed at the centenary celebration, feelings her friends was still inadequately trying to hide, she justified her dabble into another’s privacy. Jenny with her children, smiling and laughing, Jenny at work in her tabard, smiling in the playground. Scott in the arms of another man.
“Why the look?” asked Jenny.
“Just then. Your face changes when you’re thinking about something. It always has! Sometimes you’d go off into another world!”
“Really? I didn’t notice. Well, I wouldn’t, would I!”
They laughed. “Something struck me, that’s all,” said Angel.
Food arrived and they sipped and picked while the silence hung between them. Angel relaxed. She kicked off her sandals under the table and laced her loose hair into an intricate plait while Jenny concentrated on her chopsticks.
“So how are you really, Jen?”
“Like I said, I’m ticking along just fine.”
“I love my husband,” said Jenny hanging her head and prodding in her bowl.
“But you know it’s over, don’t you?”
Jenny looked up, tears welling in her eyes and nodded.
“How long can you go on living like this?” said Angel.
Jenny shrugged. “I don’t know.”
Tears and jasmine tea followed and Angel soothed and calmed her old friend. Maybe she’d said too much too soon. Her gift allowed her so much incite and information if she allowed it that it was tricky balancing a desire to help with the need for discretion.
“Feeling a little better?” she asked, passing Jenny a huge pink cup.
“Sip some tea. You’ll be fine,” said Angel.
“You’ve changed so much,” said Jenny.
“We all change.”
“I haven’t! Well, I don’t think I have.”
“Sure about that?”
“Well, I’m older!”
“I’ve not thought about it, to be honest.”
“You don’t think about you at all!”
Jenny looked up from her cup.
“Sorry, I’ve spoken out of turn,” said Angel.
“No you haven’t, tell me.”
“How often do you meet friends for lunch?” asked Angel.
“Never,” said Jenny, returning to her cup.
“How often do you go for a walk, read a book, attend a class?”
“Well, I do…”
“On your own?”
“Okay, I don’t, but…”
The next words committed Angel to a path she wasn’t sure she should take, but she took the first step anyway. It was too late now. She’d witnessed first hand the pain in Jenny’s mind and she wanted to help her.
“Jenny, you should get out more and take time for yourself. Everyone deserves a break sometimes, and spending an hour with friends is good for you. Why should you have to justify ‘time out’? Making decisions for yourself gives you a chance to find yourself again so you can be yourself.”
“But who am I?” said Jenny.
“I don’t know, Jen. Only you can find yourself, but, I can tell you how I found myself, if it will help.”
“Yes, tell me. I’d like to know.”
Elbows on the table, Angel supped as she spoke, telling her tale in a calm, factual and unemotional manner as if she’d learned it to recount upon request. “Father got the call to go to South Africa, and Mother went with him. I was shipped to Mother’s only sister in Wales. Within three months, Aunt Alice was dead of a coronary and Mother and Father’s bodies were found, burned in their own car.”
“Oh my God! I’m so sorry!”
“Don’t be. It’s been fifteen years, remember.”
“All the same….”
“It doesn’t matter. I know that sounds harsh but try to understand. I arrived late in my parents’ life, proclaimed ‘an angel’, but realistically I was an intrusion in their dual happiness. When they died, I felt little loss. Father wouldn’t have dreamed of turning down the post in South Africa even if I’d asked. The church was his vocation, his life, and Mother did what he did. They were in it together. I always felt an outsider, kept at a distance, not part of their lives. I’ve spent years coming to terms with their rejection. It gets easier with time. Aunt Alice was an awkward, argumentative woman.” Angel grinned. “Easy to fool. I was a resourceful teenager.”
Angel put down her cup and began stroking her plait of hair, occasionally brushing the loose end against her cheek. “I was the sole living relative. Father was an only child and his parents had done well out of the war, while Aunt Alice had never married. I inherited money and property from both sides of the family. There were some legal wranglings as I was so young but without boring you with details, I lived on in Wales with a substantial income and then took possession of my fortune at eighteen.”
“It sounds so….unbelievable! From schoolgirl to property millionaire!”
“I wasn’t a millionaire then,” said Angel, “But I met some extraordinary people over the next few years and built up a circle of friends and advisers and they helped me. I learnt about finance from them and then went on to develop business strategies of my own. I’ve read and studied and I’ve travelled, which I love, but my true home is in Wales now. I’ve grown fond of the place. I have a house there, on the edge of Snowdonia. So that’s how I’ve ended up here and now! No family ties, just good advisers and close friends. Travel and work I can do when I choose to, and time – time to catch up with an old friend.”
“It’s sad and yet so exciting! You’ve not come from Wales today?”
“No, my house in Surrey.”
Jenny put down her cup. “It sounds amazing, Angel! So what do you do? No, don’t answer that, I’m being silly. You don’t have to do anything!”
“Oh, but I do, Jenny,” said Angel. “I live.”
A black silk shift caressed her skin as Angel sat cross-legged on a cushion in the centre of a chalk circle marked upon the painted wooden floor. Four candles burned around her and the smell of cedar mixed with vanilla pervaded her nostrils as she shut her eyes and regulated her breath. Her mouth began to form words, silently spoken, rising from her, reaching out beyond the circle to the zenith beyond the stars, until she felt and welcomed the presence within her and ceased her active tongue.
She saw herself seated on a throne. Not regal and sumptuous but a harsh, dark seat, violent and old, hewn from the rocks that began the Universe. There she sat, and though her hair was brighter than a freshly split conker and flames licked and caressed her limbs, she knew that it was she, Angel who sat, crowned and isolated, high above her minions. Angel, wearing the bright white crown of her destiny. She watched through burning eyes as the figures climbed the steps below her, until her friends reached her and sat at her feet, awaiting her command.
She beckoned Eli to stand before her, his gentle, fair face relaxed and subservient to her wishes. Angel spoke, and she knew the words were hers, her truth and intent honestly sprayed upon her lips.
“From this moment forth your will be guided by my demon Leviathan. Through his eyes, see the power of envy, but use the love in your heart to promote kindness in its place. Bend no man’s will but offer only as a gift the benefits of your understanding upon this plane. Keep your feet firmly in the earth and from this journey, your eyes will be opened and the secrets of Malkuth will be shown to you. I present you with this wish of mine for you. Will you accept it?”
“I will,” said Eli.
“So mote it be.”
Jed, tall and handsome, stood before her.
“From this moment forth your will be guided by my demon Belphegor. Through his eyes, see the power of sloth but use the love in your heart to promote diligence in its place. Bend no man’s will…”
And the ceremony continued, and to each of her friends Angel presented her wish: to Maddy, the demon Mammon, to see the power of greed but to promote charity; to Sophia, the demon Lucifer, to see the power of pride but to promote humility; to Zac, the demon Beelzebub, to see the power of gluttony but to promote temperance; and finally to Aidan, the demon Asmodeus, her husband, to see the power of lust but to promote chastity.
Once commissioned, her friends stood before her, smiling and excited, eyes shining, prepared and keen to begin their journey. Angel stood and lifted her arms, palms open. She felt the surge of power through her physical body, the presence of the Divine.
“Binah! Queen! Mother of all that exists and all that will exist!
Mother of the Earth and all that is earth!
We seek your Divine and Infinite Wisdom
As we step upon the Path!
Guide our steps and replenish our intent!
Protect us and nurture us!
Show us our true Self and we will see!
Glorious Mother and maker of Form!
Imbue us with the Force to do thy will!”
Angel opened her eyes but there was no light in the room. Darkness fell on her body, pushing and squashing it, squeezing the breath from her lungs. Enormous and deafening in its silence, the darkness enfolded her and took her and she felt herself lifting, rising from the earth, on and on, upwards, higher and higher until she hung, drifting in the blackness of nothing. Out of nothing came the universe. She watched the earth emerge from the great darkness of space and there, below her, she saw the sphere turning, day and night, light and dark painted on its surface. She watched the seasons unfolding, fields planted, growing, harvested and then fallow until new seeds were planted again. Upon a hill she saw a tiny acorn nestle into the soil. She heard the shoot break from its dark confinement, seeking firm foundations, and she felt its contact with the warm, rich earth. Her body filled with warmth and light and the four candles were alight around her once more.
Shivering, she rose and went to the curtain, just as the curve of the sun began to rise in the sky like a lilac balloon.
“You can’t say that!”
“Because you’ve never met her!”
“Look, I’m just saying,” said Scott, “she’s not your sort of person.”
“How do you know?”
“She’s loaded, by all accounts. Houses all over the shop. How can you have anything in common?”
“But we were best friends!”
“Yeah, but you’re not now. She’s moved on.”
“And me?” shouted Jenny.
“What about me?”
“What about you? She’s moved on and you haven’t,” said Scott, turning to the array of bottles lined up on the table next to him.
“Well, maybe I should have! Or … or maybe I could!”
“Jenny, you’re being stupid,” said Scott, not looking at her.
“No, I’m not!”
Jenny stood in front of Scott’s deckchair in her swimsuit and shorts, hands on her hips, feet widely spaced, and continued to shout him down, while Scott refused to be ruffled.
“I’m not stupid, I’m being serious!”
“No, you’re not,” said Scott, carefully reapplying the sunscreen to his nose and face before moving down and changing bottles for chest and arms. “You’re trying to pretend that you and Angela have something in common.”
“Angel, her name’s Angel,” said Jenny, through gritted teeth, “And I’m not pretending anything. She’s invited me down to Surrey for the weekend, remember.”
“And I’ve said you’re not going. She’s a bad influence. You came back last night all overexcited and full of stupid ideas,” said Scott, stroking and massaging his torso as he spoke. He changed bottles and began to smear lotion on the flesh not concealed beneath his miniscule black Speedo trunks.
“So it’s stupid to expect a husband to want to make love to his wife?” said Jenny, quietly.
Scott looked up. “Don’t go there, Jenny. We’ve been there, okay, and we made our decision. It’s not easy for me either, you know.”
Jenny gulped as salty tears flooded her face and mouth. Not easy for him! To love and lust after her own husband, knowing he didn’t want her, and there he sits, almost naked in the garden with the children at her mum’s! Not for the first time, she considered taking what she craved, but she knew it wouldn’t work. She ran, crying, into the house.
Rob and Justin sat in the beer garden at one of the white plastic tables under a huge umbrella and simultaneously reached for their boxes of cigarettes.
Justin was the first to speak. His close-cropped black hair glistened, a hint of grey at the temples, while his blue eyes shone brightly, his dark lashes the perfect foil to show them off. “I was well surprised to hear from Vincent. Haven’t heard from him in years. Is he still coming?”
“Should be, should be, haven’t heard otherwise,” said Rob, dragging on his cigarette, blowing smoke out of the corner of his mouth as he spoke.
“You two keep in touch?”
“Yeah, kind of, see him every couple o’ months or so.”
Justin nodded and leaned back in the white plastic chair. His khaki shorts and tight vest showed off the deep, rich tan covering his body and the layers of muscles on his torso. His arms and shoulders were adorned with intricate Celtic tattoos that spiralled and twisted around the inflated musculature. “So what’ve you been up to?”
Rob, red and sweating in long, navy shorts and a white football shirt, filled in some details.
“So it’s just you and Teresa now?”
Rob nodded. “It’s not so bad. Barely see her, only when she wants money. She doesn’t get paid much at the hairdressers – when she bothers to turn up!” Rob chuckled, “She’s a good kid. She’ll be okay.”
“Vince said you’d seen Jenny and Angel? Can’t really remember them.”
` “Yeah, ” said Rob, pointing his pudgy index finger with purpose, “now that’s what really got me thinking. Nearly fifteen years on, would you believe it!”
Justin finished his cigarette, flicking the butt on the ground, and reached for his pint. “Believe what?”
“Angel! And Jen looks pretty good, but I’ve seen her a few times over the years. Teresa went to the school where she worked, but Angel!”
Justin smiled. “Vince said you said she was hot, so now, on the strength of seeing two good looking women, you want to organise a party?”
“No. Yes. Maybe. Look,” said Rob, “the morning after the school bash, it just came to me: why not have a party ‘n’ get our year back together again? We could even make it fancy dress! And there’s Angel, of course. You gotta see Angel! Can you remember the last time you saw her? I’ll get another,” he said, standing up.
“Make it a pitcher. Save ya legs!” said Justin. Angel, Angel Parsons, Parson Parson’s daughter, he thought, watching Rob’s huge backside wobbling to the side entrance of the pub. Justin automatically lit a cigarette and tried to picture her, but he couldn’t. He didn’t remember much about the final year at school. Except the pussy. There for the taking from so many girls, especially after the Spring Dance. He didn’t remember fucking Angel and he still couldn’t picture her. Angel and Jenny? The geeks from 5M1. A picture of blonde curls and suspicious blue eyes appeared from his memory. Ah, Jenny. Her older brother was a twat, he recalled, but Angel?
Rob blundered into his thoughts. “You’d think there was a drought on! Bar’s fuckin’ heavin’!” He deposited two large golden jugs on the table before flopping into his seat. A flatulent echo resonated against the plastic. A few drinkers on the tables around them cheered and Rob lifted his glass to accept the recognition. He lit a cigarette.
“Saw Clare too,” he said.
“Clare? Clare who?”
“You don’t remember? Clare Maloney. Clare of the double D bangers, most accommodating bangers too!” recalled Rob. “She followed you around. She was mates wiv Danielle and Tiffany.”
Recognition lit a spark. “Fuckin’ hell, yeah, Clare,” said Justin. “I remember! I was fuckin’ all of them at one point!”
“But Clare told everyone….”
“….I was her boyfriend! I remember, bloody hell. How is she?”
“Honestly, not good, mate. Looks well old. Still got the bangers, but the face…” Rob looked down and shook his head sadly. “Tiffany not see her anymore?”
“How should I know?” said Justin. “She does what she likes.”
“You two….?” said Rob.
“We’re still married, if that’s what you mean.”
“Of course, and you’ve kids.”
“Yeah, we have kids. To be honest, I’ve never thought the youngest, Chelsea, is mine, but the others are.”
“Really?” said Rob, glass halfway to his mouth.
“It’s no big deal,” said Justin, smiling. “Keeps Tiffany happy ‘n’ off my back, so who cares?”
“But bringing up someone else’s kid!”
“What! Look, Tiffany chooses to ignore my little…indiscretions. I’d be a fuckin’ hypocrite if I started laying down the law!”
“But you still sleep together?”
“Mate, what is this? Yeah, and sometimes, if I’ve not had it for a bit, we have sex, okay. Its just sex,” said Justin.
“Okay, cool,” said Rob, his free hand flattened, mimicking ‘lower’ over the table, as heads around them turned. “Just interested.”
Justin took a mouthful of lager. “You seeing anyone?”
“No, not at the mo. Too busy to think about it. When would I fit a woman into my busy life?” said Rob, grinning.
“So you want to host a party?” said Vincent. “Well, I’m your man!”
Pleasantries over, the three men soon returned to the reason of their summoning.
“So you’re the man to organise a party?” said Rob, eyes watering with concentration as his hand missed his pint again.
“Of course I am, Rob.”
“Yeah, yeah, the man with the contacts, that’s Vincent,” said Rob, winking at Justin. He aimed for his pint again and grabbed it with a cheer.
“Okay, so Rob seems to think we should see Angel again,” said Justin, locking his gaze on Vincent.
“You think she’s hot?”
“Scorchin’ hot, according to Rob, but I haven’t see her and can’t recall her face from school and do we trust his choice in women?”
Justin and Vincent looked at Rob as he slouched back in his chair, nursing his glass on his belly, eyes closed and chins rumpled.
“The photo didn’t look bad,” Vincent admitted, reaching for his phone in the pocket of his cargo shorts. His spare hand unfastened both buttons of his navy polo as he scrolled down, revealing a flat, heavy gold chain at his throat that matched the one on his wrist. His manicured nails soon found the photo and he spun the phone to Justin across the table before sipping at his pint.
“Oh fuck!” said Justin, almost jumping in his seat. “Those eyes! I remember her!”
“Yeah, thought you might,” said Rob, back in the conversation now.
“She’s the one you stitched up at the Spring Dance,” said Vincent, smiling as he surveyed his nails.
“Yeah, yeah!” chuckled Rob. “Like a kipper!”
“I think it was a koi carp, actually,” said Vincent, smiling up at Justin, “but who cares, eh Just?”
Justin stared at the screen, occasionally pressing a button to keep it alight. Angel. Angel Parsons, looking straight at him – through him, almost. His guts twisted and he shivered, nausea quivering in his throat.
“You okay?” said Rob.
Then it was gone and Justin smiled up at his companions. “Yeah, great. Anyway, it was your idea, Vince.”
Vincent sat back, twisting his glass on the table, surveying the bubbles and froth and condensation before lifting it half way to his lips. Eyes of pale silver blue shone out from beneath auburn eyebrows, topped with close cropped hair, while his pale, pock marked skin, pulled tight across his cheeks, began to pucker as his smile spread from ear to ear. “And a bloody good idea it was too! Cheers!” he said, and drank to his mates.
“Yeah,” said Rob. “She knew nuffin’! Believed the whole shebang! You were ace, Just. She never suspected a thing!”
Justin nodded and smiled, raised his glass and drank deeply, the mercurial liquid traversing his guts.
“So it would be interesting to meet her now, wouldn’t it, Just?” said Vincent, his eyes seeking Justin’s.
“Course,” said Justin. “But what if she doesn’t show? Do we want a party enough if Angel doesn’t turn up? And it’s not a party, as such, is it? Or not just a party. I’m just sayin’ it would be fun to meet up with a few old flames but how are we gonna contact everyone and all that?” Justin finished, red in the face and out of breath.
Vincent raised his eyebrows. “It’s no big deal. I can sort out the invites, venue, catering, booze but I’m not running the whole show. If you want to do it, we’re all in it together.”
“Sure,” said Rob. “Sure, mate, course we’ll help. I’m your man if ya need a van or ought. Got a couple o’ good lads who’d help settin’ up. What you reckon?”
“Sounds good, Rob,” said Vincent. “’Bout you, Just?”
“Have I ever let you down?” grinned Justin.