* * *
* * *
"I hope you're happy now," said Anathema severely.
Newt was just emerging from the starry darkness behind his eyes when her voice hit him like a sledgehammer in the forehead. He tried to dive back into oblivion, but it was too late. His eyes were open.
A face peered down into his. A female face. Definitely the face of a female.
"He's awake," said the vision before him.
Not such a bad dream after all, Newt thought muzzily, hope stirring within him, but then another voice pierced the smear that was currently masquerading as his mind.
"Is he all right?" said 'Mr. Smith,' and Newt stiffened as if at an electric shock.
Not Heaven, then. Probably not Hell, either, but Newt wouldn't bet on it.
"I'm fine," he said curtly. His throat felt like someone had been sprinkling sawdust into it, just for the sadistic fun of it. It seemed like the sort of thing the universe would do, and indeed persistently kept doing, to Newt.
He tried to sit up. His head disapproved of this idea, and expressed its disapproval by imploding.
"Careful!" said the definitely female voice. "You hit your head on the steering wheel. I think you might have a concussion--"
"He doesn't," said Mr. Smith. His face hovered into sight, although Newt would infinitely have preferred it not to. "Sit up. Come on."
Newt blinked distrustfully at Mr. Smith, but he tried his advice anyway, screwing up his eyes in preparation for --
The complete lack of any pain whatsoever. Newt touched his head gingerly. It felt all right. It felt much clearer than it usually did, in fact. Newt usually felt like his head been stuffed full of cotton-wool when he was born, and nobody had bothered to tell him, but now he could feel the shape of every thought with an unfamiliar crystal clarity. It was unnerving.
"Oh my God, did I hurt you?" he said to Anathema, as the last memory clicked into place.
"No, I'm fine," said Anathema, "no thanks to your driving skills, I might add. I thought I might have broken a leg, but Mr. -- Smith assures me I'm unharmed."
She slanted a look at Mr. Smith, made of equal parts suspicion and --
Fascination, Newt realised wearily.
Of course. Not that he'd ever had a chance, but, well . . . usually girls never really looked at him. Their eyes went sort of unfocused after the first glance, as if they'd taken stock and automatically put him on the same level of importance as lint, and for the rest of the night -- or day, or whatever -- Newt had to be resigned to being called "Ned," or "Nick," or not being called at all.
This was the first time a girl, much less one as attractive as this girl, had taken a look at him and kept on talking to him. And his enigmatic client with his fancy sunglasses and his trenchcoat made for brooding in had to be there. Of course. Anything he might have gained with being injured and lying in bed with a romantic pallour had been blown out of the water by Mr. Smith's style and his cheekbones and his man-of-mystery brusqueness.
This is Life, Newt thought. You meet a really amazing girl -- all right, run over her, but no harm no foul and at least she isn't giving you that sort of amazed, pitying look you'd think she'd save for squashed earthworms -- at any rate you've made contact with this incredible girl, and she isn't actively backing away, and then a flash bastard with a fancy strut and probably more psychological problems than Michael Jackson and Hannibal Lecter put together strolls right in and it's goodbye the first and only time a girl's ever shown any interest in you, hello squashed earthworms.
He's probably a computer engineer, too.
No, thought Newt. This isn't Life. This is your life.
"Sorry about that," Newt muttered, feeling absolutely miserable. "Um. What is your -- er, if you don't mind me asking, that is--"
"Her name's Anathema Device, and she's renting this cottage," Mr. Smith said shortly. "If you're feeling better" -- his tone implied that it didn't particularly matter even if Newt didn't -- "I think we'd better stop trespassing on her time and be on our way."
Newt wondered if it was possible to make someone's ears fall off through pure hatred. He decided it was worth a try.
"You're not trespassing on my time," said Anathema. "I was expecting you."
She was still giving Mr. Smith that look -- bright and probing and yes, fascinated. She didn't even seem to notice Newt, now that he wasn't whimpering with pain.
"Really," said Mr. Smith. He sounded uninterested, in that distinct way that said he would soon, however, be very interested in doing extremely nasty things to anyone who got in his way.
"Yes," said Anathema. She handed him a card. Mr. Smith looked at it.
His face stilled.
"Well, Mr. . . . Pulsifer?" said Anathema significantly.
"Well, what?" said Newt.
"It's alive," said Mr. Smith. There was something in his voice that stilled Anathema, who had whirled around to look at Newt as if he was even worse than a squashed earthworm -- he was a squashed earthworm who had surprised her. She stared at Mr. Smith.
"I'm Newton Pulsifer," said Newt weakly. "He's -- mad, I think."
Anathema looked from Newt to Mr. Smith, and back again.
"Mad as in angry, or mad as in insane?" she said.
"It's alive," Mr. Smith repeated. "He was telling the truth." He crumpled the card in his hand.
"Oh, God. What did you do?" he muttered.
"Both, possibly," said Newt.
Newt shook his head, trying to clear it. He felt bewildered, which was probably why the complete lack of any pounding pain failed to register.
"How did you know my name?" he asked, going for the safest question he could think of.
"Your arrival was prophesied by my ancestor," said Anathema glumly. The revelation that Newt was himself instead of being Mr. Smith seemed to have deflated her.
She thought she was disappointed, Newt thought gloomily. Newt was the one who had to be himself.
"Is that so," he said noncommittally.
But Anathema was looking up again, a glitter in her eyes Newt was already learning to admire. Or dread. He wasn't sure which.
"But that doesn't explain him," she murmured, more to herself than to Newt.
"Explain what about him?" said Newt.
Anathema glanced around and leaned closer to Newt. He took a breath, and was swamped by the scent of lily-of-the-valley. It made him feel very -- well, extremely -- well.
"Um," said Newt. "This is . . . wrong?"
"It's not usual, no!" She glared at Mr. Smith.
"I'm not putting up with this," she added. "I gave him a glass of lemonade before you woke up. I have a right to some answers."
She strode over to Mr. Smith and grabbed his arm.
"Who are you?" she said. "I thought you were the witchfinder, and that's why you're--" She waved her free hand -- indicating the unusual behaviour of his aura, Newt supposed. "But you're not a witchfinder, and -- Agnes doesn't even mention you! Who are you?"
Mr. Smith turned slowly towards her. Anathema dropped her hand.
"You're a witch," he said.
"Yes," said Anathema, and her face clouded. "Wait -- how did you know that?"
"One has one's ways," said Mr. Smith vaguely. His expression was unreadable.
For a moment Newt was seized with an intense desire to knock the man's sunglasses off of his smug face. It wasn't just that Newt wanted to do him serious harm -- although he did; he really, really did -- the sunglasses were driving Newt mad, simply because they were there. They transformed Mr. Smith's face into a cipher. Anything could be going on under those glasses, one felt; all the demons of Hell could be dancing in the man's eyes, hidden by those mirror lenses. Newt had never realised how important eyes were to one's impression of a face before. Mr. Smith had sharply-defined features: good cheekbones and an expressive mouth, but his face might as well have been a blob for the efficiency with which it conveyed his emotions. His sunglasses negated expression, robbed his face of any semblance of humanity.
Most of all, they made him look like a prat.
He might have been looking intently at Anathema. He might have been staring at a point just above her left ear. He might even have been taking a quick upright nap behind those glasses. It was impossible to tell.
"You've seen something," he said.
All right, he probably hadn't been taking a nap.
Anathema glared at Mr. Smith. Newt perked up. Yes, that's it, smack him down --
"Why should I?" she said, her tone inviting an answer.
Or not. Newt deflated.
Mr. Smith stared at her. Then he shook himself. He had the air of a man who had made a decision.
"To start with," he said, "I'm an angel."
Newt started to laugh, helplessly, hopelessly, but then Mr. Smith took off his sunglasses.
* * *
This always worked. Caphriel couldn't understand it, but as with everything else on God's good Earth -- including God's good Earth itself -- he didn't have to understand it for it to work.
This was the part he knew: no matter how unlike an average human's perception of an angel he was, no matter how skeptical that average human happened to be, all it took for the human to believe he was an angel was one look at his eyes.
It was in the eyes, Zirah had explained. Caphriel had asked what was in the eyes, exactly, and Zirah had said: everything. But in that case, Caphriel had said, why do people not --
Not what? Zirah had asked. And Caphriel had said, nothing. Nothing. Never mind.
Three hours later, hoping Zirah wouldn't make the connection, he'd casually asked Zirah if he made eye contact with humans very often.
"Only if they're very ill," said Zirah. "Usually I try not to. You must have noticed how nervous they get when you stare at them, poor things. But if they're dying, well, it's nice for them to have a glimpse of what's coming, don't you think?"
Caphriel had agreed. Then he'd gone off and got thoroughly drunk in order to avoid wondering whether Zirah visited the dying a lot, and why they were dying, when it came to that, and if they really did see what was coming in his eyes. Not good things to think about. It was never good to think too deeply after a talk with Zirah.
He hadn't asked again. He'd resigned himself to the fact that apparently his eyes showed a lot more than Zirah's did, or at least, they showed the sort of thing that people were willing to see. He supposed he could understand why humans might want to ignore anything Zirah's eyes told them.
All the same, the invention of smoked glasses had been a blessing from God. He'd had to wear all sorts of ridiculous things before he'd got his hands on one of those babies: long fringes, blindfolds, large hats, and on one memorable occasion, a frozen fish. He'd gone through the entire ninth century with his eyes closed, literally.
Caphriel had been long enough on Earth for reverence to unnerve him. He almost preferred abuse. It had been good enough for the Son of God.
It wasn't always reverence, of course. Sometimes it was awe that lit their faces. Sometimes, as with Anathema now, it was the outrage of the believer presented with incontrovertible proof. Sometimes it was terror, and no matter how many times Caphriel said, "Do not be afraid," they never listened. Sometimes it was nothing more than pure, surprised recognition.
All reactions made Caphriel uncomfortable. They were just -- too much, too much emotion, too much of a reminder of how little he deserved that sort of feeling. They were just his eyes, weren't they? Even if they did show his true self, it was nothing to write home about. Right? He didn't get it.
Later, Newt tried to explain it to Caphriel.
It was, he said, as if someone had carefully sliced through every last defence you had, so that all you had left were your secrets, your sad little sordid hatreds, your pathetic fears, your trivial loves, your vast incomprehension. And you saw these things as the pitiable things they were, in the light of those kind, weary eyes. You felt that they saw everything, everything you had ever seen or dreamed or hoped, and that everything was only a miniscule part of all those eyes had seen. They saw everything you were, and knew it for what it was . . .
And they loved you anyway. Not as a god might, or a parent, but as a friend, whose only authority is his love, whose only power is his understanding.
"Yes," Newt said, "but we can't tell *that* until you start talking."
But that was all in the future, after the end of the world that wasn't, when an angel and a human could have a post-Apocalyptic drink to celebrate never having to see each other again, in confidence that the adventure was over, the book was closed, and tomorrow was the first day of the rest of their lives.
This was now, and Caphriel was beginning to think those guys in Salem might have had a point. Complete wankers every last one of them, of course, but they'd had some sound concepts. Good thinking.
Anathema knew about angels. He didn't have to tell her not to be afraid.
Telling her to have a Valium might be a good idea, though. Not that she would listen.
She was rather too busy shouting at the top of her voice.
* * *
"Are you here to tell us about the end of the world?" said Anathema. "Because we already know, thank you very much!"
"We do?" said Newt.
"I'm psychic, you know! There's no getting away from it! I've known all about the end of the world since I could read! I used to have a Barbie called the Whore of Babylon! What kind of a childhood do you think that is?"
"Not a very common one?" Newt offered.
"I'm afraid I can't see what this has got to do with--"
"My family's been trying to figure out how to stop Armageddon for almost as long as it's existed!"
"What, Armageddon?" said Newt.
"No, my family!" Anathema looked like she couldn't decide who she wanted to glare at more, and settled on directing the air between Newt and the angel a look that could have set it on fire. "And now you come prancing around thinking you can blow your horn at us? I don't think so!"
"That's, ah, Gabriel, actually," said the angel. "I'm Caphriel--"
"I don't need assurances of having a happy afterlife if only I believe in some ridiculously outdated deity!" said Anathema, poking Caphriel in the chest. "I'm perfectly happy with this life, thank you very much!"
Caphriel was evidently unused to being poked in the chest. He bristled like the fretful porpentine.
"Listen, you silly woman, I'm not here to proselytise, and I doubt--"
"Oh, that's the way, is it? I should've expected it of a religion founded by a gang of patriarchal blowhards--"
"--would want you in His Heaven even if you got down on your knees and begged--"
"--all, my ancestor was murdered by witchhunters working in your so-called God's name--"
"--He did, you can go to Hell for all I care--"
"--know God exists doesn't mean I'm going to believe Him, and you can tell Him that for--"
"Will you calm down?"
They both shut up. Newt beamed at them from the bed. Before Anathema could start talking again -- Newt could already estimate how long her silences would be, which was: not very -- he said,
"I think it might be a good idea to listen to the nice gentleman."
Anathema closed her mouth again. Caphriel said, quickly,
"You're right, the world is going to end soon. But I know as much about it as you do -- probably less," he amended, at a look from Anathema. "And I don't want it to happen any more than you do. I'm not here in an official capacity, I sw -- give you my word. I'm just looking for someone who could help me find the Antichrist. Will you help me?"
Anathema narrowed her eyes. Caphriel had put his glasses back on, so he could not narrow his for dramatic effect, but Newt could practically hear his teeth grinding from where he sat. He did not seem a very patient angel, but then again, from what Newt remembered of Christian mythology, angels generally weren't known for their patience. Halos and those fashionable white robes and bringing bad news from Heaven, yes, but not patience.
Newt himself sat with his hands and eyes and mind wide open, waiting. He felt very calm, and clear, and immensely wise. It was a pleasant change from the earlier panic and irritation.
He wondered if it was God, but decided it was probably just adrenalin.
Finally Anathema stepped back and shrugged, and the tension in the room dissipated.
"Tell me," said Anathema.
"We'll trade information," said Anathema. "You tell me exactly what's going on, and I'll tell you what I saw in the cemetery north of the hospital."
Not a muscle budged in Caphriel's face, but they did not budge in that expressive way that meant he was exerting a great deal of control over every single one.
"I see," he said, after a long time. "Fine. What do you want to know?"
Caphriel's mouth twisted.
"You humans don't ask for much, do you," he said. "Everything. God." He said it not as an exclamation, as a normal person might, but with a distinctly personal inflection, the way one might remonstrate with a beloved but often embarrassing parent. "Where do I start?"
"At the beginning."
At that, Caphriel took off his glasses in a strangely ceremonial gesture, as if what he was about to tell needed all his honesty. Newt saw that his grey eyes had gone dark and blurred. Then he looked away. Caphriel's eyes made him want to fidget.
"No," said Caphriel. His voice, too, had gone dark and hazy, heavy with long ago. He spoke slowly, as one does who remembers things long forgotten.
"No," he said again. "It started before that."