Michael let the silence hang for a while he did his own survey on the man before him. When it became obvious Apollyon wasn’t going to volunteer anything he decided to plunge forward as if his assertion was true. “Okay, Pops, lay it on me. Am I a prince, from a Hallmark movie, and I’ve got to go to Latsillevainia, the country no one’s ever heard of, to save the kingdom?”
The man raised his eyebrows. The kid had spunk. He hadn’t really been phased by this encounter at all, but it took more than sass to complete the challenges he would face. And sass could be a cover for a lack of courage which he was definitely going to need. “Would it please you if I was here to offer you a kingdom?”
“Why bother with a little kingdom? I want the world.” Michael let his chest puff out a bit. He’d never said it out loud before, but in truth, he did.
The man smiled again. “Many beautiful women would be at the beck and call of a Prince.”
“Many beautiful women are at my beck and call now, and they all, well most of them, speak English and they’re right here.” Michael opened his arms to indicate the campus.
The man looked Michael in the eyes and smiled again. “Have you ever wondered about your extraordinary abilities?”
“I’ve got good genes. My father may be a cripple, but he didn’t come into the world that way.”
“No, but he is sterile.”
Michael crunched his brows at this and thought about his mother pining for a daughter.
“Ah you know.” The man smiled again.
“I guess, I knew something was up. I thought they just didn’t, you know, because he was crippled.”
“No, they’re still active to this day. This morning in fact.”
“Too much info, man.” Michael held up his hands in protest.
The man laughed, then became serious. “Have you ever heard of a Nephilim?”
“A what? No, what’s that?” Michael asked already getting bored.
“A Nephilim is the offspring of an angel and a human woman.” The man squinted at Michael gauging his reaction. “In my case, a fallen angel.”
Michael froze for a moment then began to laugh. “You had me for a minute. Great sell. What are you some half brother of my father, you all found out about each other and dreamed up this gag?”
“No, Michael, it’s the truth. I’m not related to your father in anyway, other than the fact we shared your mother.”
“Again, Way Too Much Information!” Michael had begun to get a little angry and uncomfortable. “Are you medicated? I don’t want you freaking on me.” Michael raised one hand as if to shield himself.
“Don’t insult the intelligence, I seeded you with.” Apollyon was becoming a little annoyed with Michael dismissal. So it wasn’t that he was able to take it all in stride, it was he thought it was a joke.
“I’ll take that as a no on the meds, but yes that you need them. Who says seeded?”
The man cocked his head slightly back and examined Michael. “Maybe I was wrong. I’m not infallible, as he,” Apollyon pointed up. “… would have you believe he is.”
Michael shook his head. “Okay, let me get this straight. You’re A fallen angel, but are you THE fallen angel?”
“Yes.” Apollyon kept his eyes locked on Michael’s.
“Your the devil. Satan, but you go by Apollyon?”
“I’m sentimental. It hearkens back to a more innocent time.” Apollyon waved his hand and looked away as if seeing the past.
“Okay, I’ll let that go for now. I’m your son, not dad’s, but my mom’s still my mom.” Michael was frozen in place his eyes searching the man’s face, watching for any sign of additional craziness.
“So all this Christian stuff is real?”
“I suppose you could say that. They’ve certainly staked a claim. But it’s no different than Judaism, Muslims, or any one of a thousand other religions over the time of humanoids. We’ve always been here by your perspective. Some of the Neanderthals worshiped us and other humanoid lines. But humans fucked everyone else out of existence. You animals will fuck anything.” The man smiled at Michael. “We kind of let evolution go where it wants and just mold our appearance to the end result. The Man in charge is just the oldest of us left.”
“So you can die.”
He nodded. “Yes all living beings can. It’s just our life spans are eternal by human standards. But we can be killed.”
“That’s sort of surprising. You mean that I could kill you?”
“You?” He chuckled. “No. Not you.” The man smiled and looked around, no one was paying any attention to them, but he was tired of standing there. He could tell Michael was just beginning to tap into his treasure chest of questions.
“So all religions in history are all worshiping the same… entities?” Michael continued as if he was literally looking at a list of questions.
“No. For example, the Buddhist don’t worship us, they don’t worship anyone, they would actually be quite a threat if true Buddhism were to expand further. But greedy people latch onto anything that starts to get big. They pervert it and shape it to their own needs taking away it power. You can see it happening in Buddhism already. People will corrupt it into an energy funnel for me. Fortunately the world is full of greedy, selfish, people. We tend to feed on the greedy and naive. Though the greedy get rewarded, because we use the greedy to manipulate the naive.”
“Feed?” Michael was starting to worry this guy might be one of those goth people that thought they were a vampire drank blood.
The man scrunched his lips and brows. “Sort of, yeah, your language doesn’t really have another word to use that you would understand any better. We thrive on the wasted energy of human souls. Everything you throw off, one side or the other, is there to collect.” The man looked around and back at Michael.
“Speaking of feeding… since I’m here, in this form, I’d like to get something to eat. Maybe a little Surf and Turf.” The man smiled. “My treat. Do you know where I can exchange some gold?”
Michael held up his hands. “Don’t worry about it. I have no idea what the fuck you’re up to and what this is all about, but I got nothing else to do and you’re pretty entertaining. I’ll spring for lunch to hear your story. My sterile father gives me a pretty good allowance.
They got to the restaurant, sat down, ordered and started drinking wine without saying much. Michael didn’t really know what to ask Apollyon and was in no hurry to look like an idiot. Apollyon found it advantageous to let people stew and see how they responded to silence. Michael was doing better than he would have thought for a first encounter, but he seemed determined not to cave. A good sign. You can’t say something stupid if your mouth is shut. He took a good swallow from his wine, set the glass on the table and met Michael’s gaze.
“Certainly. I have many questions.” Michael sucked a breath and let out a long sigh, then began to tap, roll, his finger tips against the table.
“Don’t do that.” Apollyon nodded his head toward Michael’s hand. “It’s not only annoying, it shows weakness.”
Michael smiled and snapped his fingers. “See there’s a question I didn’t even think to ask. Can you be annoyed by something simple, like anyone else?”
“Well you have your answer.” Apollyon said looking very annoyed.
“But that’s the thing. I didn’t even think to ask the question until I was given the answer. It’s very challenging.” Michael took a drink of wine. “First I have to decide if I even believe any of this. My analytical mind does not, not in the least. But my intuitive side seems to be all in, for no particular reason that I can fathom.” Michael said nodding his head. “Which is pretty weird in itself.” Michael drummed his fingers again, then looked down at them and stopped.
“Sorry. Wasn’t intentional. So…” Michael took a deep drink and looked Apollyon in the eyes. “Do I get some sort of magical powers?”
“Sort of, but not the storybook kind. And not right away. It’s more about enhanced abilities, extended life time, and what you might call a guaranteed afterlife.” Apollyon tore a piece of bread off the miniature crusty bread loaf on his side plate, scooped up a glob of butter, and popped it into his mouth. He made an audible grunt and closed his eyes for moment. He washed it down with some wine. “Human’s are so wonderful at making bread. Always one of my favorites.”
Michael watched him and remained silent, studying his father. “Do you have magical powers?”
Apollyon leaned his head to one side and looked at Michael for a moment. “Why don’t you just ask me the question you really want to ask me. I can feel it tickling the back of my neck.”
“Okay. Okay.” Michael nodded. “Can you bring her back? Can you bring, Marjoram, back?”
“No.” He took a drink of wine that finished his glass and then refilled it from the bottle in the middle of the table. “She’s not in my…” He wave a hand slowly in the air. “My purview.”
“What does that mean?” Michael asked a little too urgently for Apollyon’s liking.
“It means: she’s not one of mine.”
“But she committed suicide.” Michael complained.
“So you think that if someone is so tortured that they take their own life that they are some how punished even more?” He answered raising his eyebrows. “That’s pretty harsh even for me. She was a good soul. Pure. Maybe too pure for her own good.”
“I always heard that if you committed suicide you went to hell.” Michael said seeing Marjoram in his mind. Hoping what this man was saying was true. Hoping she wasn’t suffering.
“More human nonsense. Most of that garbage is just the greedy people doing my job for me. Humans will tell each other anything if it gets them what they want.”
“So what happened to, Marjoram?”
“She was a very rare, pure soul, and good person, but something was broken in her.” Apollyon raised his hands in a shrugging gesture. “Her wiring was busted. It happens. She’ll get another chance.” He took a drink of wine and leaned forward, looked at Michael and nodded.
“You almost fixed her.” He shrugged again and leaned back holding his glass in both hands. “Or at least gave her a chance. That wasn’t the first time she’d tried to commit suicide.” He sipped his wine. “Who knows if it would have stuck, there are mysteries going on inside humans I don’t understand after thousands, piled on thousands, of years. She was one of those people who was overly empathetic, an empath.” Apollyon rubbed his chin.
“Very rare. Very powerful. But with no one around to guide her, she was doomed. I was really surprised that they left her blowing in the wind like that. If she’d been one of mine, I would never have done that. I’d have mentored her myself. But they don’t care as much as I do. They think they’re winning, so they’re complacent and not in the game like they should be.”
“Who?” Michael asked suddenly distracted.
“The others. It’s all a game, Michael. I don’t care if it’s good, or evil. I just want to play the game, it’s the only thing that keeps our lives interesting. I’d have flamed out a long time ago without it. It used to be to them too, but they started believe their own press releases.” Apollyon waved his hand in dismissal. A repeated gesture that Michael was starting to recognize.
“Who are these others?” Michael was trying to get a construct of this guys delusions. His analytical side was giving up easily.
“The good guys. God and the angels.” Apollyon rubbed his face. “They’ve been drinking the Kool-Aid for so long they really believe the crap the humans are peddling at their alters. It’s just about who can suck up the most juice. I just ended up with the black chess pieces.” Apollyon leaned back and glanced at the wine bottle. They’d killed it, he frowned a little, then looked back at Michael.
“I’m the second oldest one of us, so he got first choice and we’ve been playing the same side ever since. Making new pieces to replace the ones we lose.” He looked around for the waiter and waved at him. The waiter started over to their table and Apollyon shook his head and pointed to the wine bottle. The waiter nodded and turned about to retrieve another bottle.
“In the early days. When you all were just running around naked, picking berries, chasing down your meals and getting eaten by tigers, it wasn’t near as serious. Hell the two sides used to still hang out and we still lived on the surface. Sure we took energy from humanoids, But we gave a lot back. We gave them nudges, protected prime DNA candidates.”
Michael thought about the DNA thing and decided that was a rabbit hole and he wanted to stay on track. “What is the object of the game?”
“To make the most evolved species.” Apollyon shrugged. “Honestly my money was on the neanderthals. That was a spiritual bunch. I thought they were going to rule all of you monkeys, but that was part of it, they were so spiritual they didn’t want to rule all of it. They wanted a pure existence.” Apollyon looked around for the waiter. He saw him heading their way.
Neanderthals didn’t have the drive your species has and you fucked them out of existence. They’ve got cells running around inside you and you’re better for it, but they’ve been gone for a long time. I’d bet your girlfriend had a healthy dose of their genes. Most empaths do.” The waiter came up, showed the wine to Apollyon, he nodded and the waiter opened the wine and filled their glasses and told them their meals would be out soon. Michael sat staring off trying to take it all in, imagining Marjoram as a neanderthal. When the waiter left, Apollyon continued.
“There was no good and evil in the beginning. Humans came up with that and I’m not really sure where it even came from. I guess people, who seized power first, needed an excuse when things didn’t go right and a way to manipulate people so they could hold onto their power. It also gave them a way to control people they’d never even come in contact with and do it generationally.” Apollyon drank his wine steadily as he spoke.
“It must be something in your wiring, because it happened a lot. In isolation as well as being reinterpreted which has happened quite a bit. I mean look at Jews, Christians, and Muslims. All the same basic religion with a different heritage perspective changing the origin story based how they saw the world. And they pretty much stole their stories from Zoroastrianism and each other. For hundreds of years, they’ve been using those slight differences as an excuse killing each other.” Apollyon stopped talking and looked at Michael. He could tell Michael was only half listening.
He sat forward and clasped his hands together on the table. “Look, Michael. Even if you two hadn’t had your little moment on the lawn, she may still have flamed out in a month, a year, or ten years from now. There’s no destiny, but she had something broken inside and it always had a high chance of killing her.” Apollyon leaned back and took a drink. “She had stumbled onto exactly the best thing for her to do, isolating herself from direct emotional interactions, to give herself time to figure it out.” Apollyon raised his eyebrows.
“Until she met you of course. You blew her little controlled world apart. But really that route can lead to an even more cataclysmic result, because she wasn’t getting better she was just hiding, at some point something was going to knock her loose.”
Michael bowed his head and stared at his hands folded in his lap. Everything Apollyon said just kept making it worse.
“Don’t blame yourself, Michael. You were being honest with her. Hell, I thought I was going to lose you over her. And that,” He took a drink of wine. “Would have really set me back.
“I can have a child whenever I want. I could even be a woman and bare one myself, but that would mean I’d have to stay in human form for almost a year” Apollyon shook his head. “That would feel like a century to me, it would also involve a lot of risks. I have children in positions of power all over the world at all times. I throw them on the board and have them build alliances, collect blackmail material, get in key political and religious positions. Anything I can think of and they have one basic instruction to obstruct.”
“Because when nothing gets done, things get worse. Things get worse all the better for me.” Apollyon smiled. “Have you ever seen a powerful old man like a senator and asked yourself how can he still being doing evil so late in his life? Does he not at all fear the consequences in the afterlife? At least enough to hedge his bet? Especially since almost to the last they all claim to be these stellar Christians.”
“Yes. Now that you mention it. I have thought about that, but I figured people don’t change, just because they get old. Seems like a lot of them get worse.”
“When they are at the end of their life, they’re just trying to rack up points to move up on my side. They get bold and push just to see how far they can go before someone shuts them down. It’s all part of the game to keep things interesting and bring in that sweet, sweet, human soul energy.” Apollyon smiled broadly.
“But to get what I need from a child, I have to have the ying and yang. There are rules to this game. A counter child must be born for my child to battle with to make it all work. If that doesn’t happen then it’s just more of the same small moves. Everything is on the money right now and I’m limited by the progression of time, so you’re it. You’re the only one I’ve got that even has a chance at this.” Apollyon did not like the lingering expression on Michael’s face.
“You got to get her out of your head. It’s weakness. Besides, live long enough you might even run into her again, of course she won’t recognize you, but she’ll feel something. Of course she might feel something that makes her run before you ever see her.”
Michael couldn’t speak. He looked up in the general direction of Apollyon, but didn’t really see him. When he spoke it was detached as if he were asking someone from another country about their traditions. “So do you torture souls in the afterlife?”
Apollyon laughed heartily. “Souls torture themselves, Micheal. It would be redundant to torture souls. You just spin them off in delusions of their own making. When they stop torturing themselves they move on. Turn over a new leaf before dying, then they get a mind surface erase and back into place to try and do better, without the help of direct memory. They like being bad they move up the food chain with my group. You should know that as well as anyone. Look at what you’re doing to yourself. Humans don’t need any help to torture themselves. Not enough Neanderthal in humans.”
He tore off another chunk of bread and used it to scoop butter. “No, it’s more like they’re on my team, either POWs, or volunteers. Because I’m the evil one,” Apollyon bobbed his head and shrugged. “They have to do things that can be unpleasant, in order for me to achieve my goals. They continue to endure pain of their own making. They don’t get to go back and try again with memory in tack for a while… Bigger learning curve.” He stuffed the bread into his mouth, chewed slowly looking at Michael. Michael felt his eyes and met them.
“What is it you people say? This ain’t your first rodeo, Michael, but you’ve yet to earn your memory.” Michael’s eyes opened wide. Apollyon saw the waiter heading their way with a couple of bus boys in toe. “Oh look. Here comes our food.”
Michael had barely touched his food. Apollyon was half way through his meal and had just gotten another bottle of wine and more bread and butter. Apollyon was so ravenous they’d hardly spoken since receiving their food. Michael took a deep sigh.
“So… What’s the end game?”
“End game?” Apollyon kept chewing. He had a piece of steak, topped with a piece of lobster stabbed on his fork waiting for room in his mouth.
“For me… for humans.” Michael said explaining his question.
Apollyon shrugged and examined his fork. “Becoming one of us.” He jammed the fork in his mouth and slid the meat and lobster off with his teeth. “You pull this off, you move up. You wouldn’t be as strong as me, probably not even as much as your champion, but you’ll no longer have your memories sealed at death and you will be on your way to becoming one of us. It happens for you when you transition.”
“When I die?” Apollyon responded by nodding as he vigorously chewed, so Michael continued. “Then why wouldn’t I just want to die when I won.”
“Don’t ever rush the simple pleasures, Michael. You get skinned knees when you rush things and you’ll never get the same joy out things like this meal. I enjoy it, but not the way your capable of. I have to deprive myself of things like this for years, to be able to fully enjoy a meal the way I’ve enjoyed this one. Sex? To enjoy sex. I mean really enjoy it, I have to wait a decade. You can enjoy these things every day.”
Apollyon took another bite and talked while chewing. “This is so good. If you don’t start eating I’m going to end up taking your plate.” He swallowed and took another bite. “If it was up to me, I wouldn’t even be doing this pain for growth thing. The humans started it and the other side just ran with it. I think we’ve lost site of the original goal of making at more advanced species. You guys are going forward anymore. I mean you build great toys, but,” Apollyon point his fork at his head. “You’re losing this. The spiritual power of your minds. You should be able to astral project to other planets by now and you stuck in that meat.” Apollyon pointed his fork at Michael’s body.
“It’s all about the game now. There’s no good, or evil, it’s just about winning the game.” Apollyon sat back in his chair and set down his fork. “Ugh, this body is getting full, but I don’t want this meal to end. If you’re not going to eat that, tell them to wrap it up, I’ll take it with me.”
“Take it with you?”
“We have a physical realm.”
“Where?” Michael’s eyes were wide. This was something he hadn’t considered.
Apollyon burped and wiped his mouth with napkin of his hand. “I’m in the earth, he’s in the middle of a mountain range somewhere. It’s been so long since I’ve been there, I’d probably end up in solid rock if I tried to get there.” Apollyon pointed at Michael with his fork. “It’s my location that keeps everything in check.”
“I’m under Yellowstone. A little flick and I shake everybody up. A kick in the shins I reset the board, billions die, and all the pieces that are left would be completely scattered. I would survive that better than him. I’ve been living off of channeled energy. It’s not as strong as the Kool-Aid he’s been drinking.”
“You keep saying He.”
Apollyon shrugs. “We take on the roles you give us, to make it easier to manipulate you. There are those that are what you would think of as female, but they don’t get much air time any more.”
“Are you from earth?”
“I don’t know. Anyone who did has long since dematerialized. That’s how we die, we get tired of this form and just let go and we’re gone. We used to live on the surface, but as the game became more advanced, your people began to spread, we set up our own places that are impossible for you to get to. Mine is below the deepest cave system and yes it’s warm, but not like that, it’s sort of like New Orleans in the summer. My favorite place by the way. It’s too bad you don’t live there, they have the best food.” Apollyon glanced at Michael. “You look confused.”
“It’s a lot to take in.” Michael said staring at nothing.
“Yeah. Let’s see. I think I’ll have the cheesecake. If I was in New Orleans I’d get the bread pudding, but I don’t think anyone up here is going to make it right. MMM you ever had good bread pudding with a shot of spice rum poured over it?”
Michael shook his head.
“Man that’s living.”
“Can’t you just materialize anything you want?”
Apollyon shrugged. “It’s not the same. You need someone who’d put their life, soul if you will, into the cooking to get it right. I think I’m going to need some coffee and brandy first though. My last bite, is tickling the bottom of my throat.”
They sat in silence as their dishes were cleared and replaced with coffee, brandy, and cheesecake. The waiter had been very concerned that Michael hadn’t eaten, but Michael told him he was on a medication that took away his appetite and to wrap it up.
“So…” Michael began not sure which one of the thousand questions he was going to ask. His analytical side had given up, or at least retreated and he was accepting what Apollyon was saying. “Do you have blood and bones inside you when you’re in… your form.”
“No. The closest thing, I think you would understand, is that’s it’s sort of an energy plasma and we can change outward physical appearance. Even change our size, by changing our density, but we are confined to the expansion and contraction physics of our beings. I could not make myself the size of a mountain. But I could pull a good prank by making myself into Godzilla and stomping around a bit. But maxing out my size would sideline me for a while. It would take a lot to recharge from that. This physical form I’m in now, will cease to exist when I leave, but if I were to get a medical exam right now, I would pass as a human. This is the easiest transformation, because it approximates our resting mass. If you were to see me in my realm I would look like this, most of us have chosen a form we’re comfortable with that is human, but if you were to cut into me there, you would not find flesh and bone.
“When you say recharge, what do you mean?”
“We feed on the spiritual energy of humanoids.” Apollyon took a sip of brandy and his first bite of cheesecake. “I don’t think we’re completely like the ancestors we’ve evolved along with humans over hundreds of thousands of years. I think we’re more dependent on human energy than we used to be.”
“You’ve been alive for hundreds of thousands of years?” Michael asked astonished.
“Not me personally. I guess I’ve been around, tens of thousands years, I stopped keeping exact track after a few thousand years. But I am of original line, humans weren’t a factor in my creation. There are those who have reached our realm who began as human.” Apollyon nodded and chewed on his second bite of cheesecake and pointed up.
“My competition,” He did his customary gesture of pointing up. “No one really knows how old he is which is a real advantage for him.”
“Living that long, don’t you ever get bored?”
Apollyon laughed so hard he spit out flecks of cheesecake. “See. I knew you were smart, Michael. It’s our biggest problem and our own downfall unfortunately.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I believe the original goal was to co-mingle with humanoids, after we were happy with the most develop spices. There weren’t a lot of us and honestly I think we were just trying to expand our own population by evolving a spices to our level. But somewhere along the line we really started to think of ourselves as gods.”
“You were born? You can reproduce.”
“Yes, but it’s not like Humans. We have to build a huge amount of energy to reproduce a single offspring. It’s what you would call an asexual act, but two can combine their resources to make one and that would be sort of like humans sharing genes in a child. Few do it more than once. It can take thousands of years to fully recover. Some never reproduce before ascension to wherever it is we go. Some have taken on human form and just let themselves live a human life and die.”
“So You don’t even know what happens when you die?”
“Well that’s depressing.”
“I think we just become part of the energy of the universe. As long as we live, which is basically as long as we want, prepares us. By the time we let go, we have lost all need for individual identity, we want to let go of ourselves and be a part of something larger.”
“How do you think you’ve changed?”
“We weren’t as powerful, aside from extended lifetimes and telekinetic abilities, we just took what we needed from the energy of nature. But humans have such a drive that goes so far beyond other animals and nature, we began to realize we could feed on what you just spilled. You’re like a drug to us and we kept lapping it up until we became something else.
“So what is it that you want from me?”
“To join the game, obviously.” Apollyon picked up his napkin and wiped his mouth. “I can’t believe how full I am. Maybe some day I’ll make myself into Godzilla and eat all the food in New Orleans.”
“What does that mean?”
“What? Oh. You’re going to be my new piece on the board. My new knight, if you will. And like a knight you will face four trials, though the trials are more literally faced by the ones you’re trying to manipulate.”
“And if I succeed?”
“You move up the food chain. A big part of what you’ll be going though is bring a detachment from earthly, human, bounds, to prepare you for a different type of life.”
“If I fail.”
Apollyon say back. “I’m not going to lie to you, Michael, it ain’t pretty. You’ll feel all the pain of the world until you are completely burned to an empty soul. Blank nothing left. Then you’ll be thrown back in the game as a fresh pawn. You’ll remember nothing of yourself, because you won’t be yourself, nothing will remain.”
“I thought you didn’t torture souls.”
“Not the same thing. I need a channel for my energy. It keeps me in check. He,” pointing “can swoop in and take a drink wherever, whenever, he wants. Anyone on my side has to drink from the fountain.” Apollyon rolled his eyes toward the ceiling.
“Keeps him on top. My horse wins, they have to channel and I get the direct juice. Rules of the game. I haven’t had the upper hand since this whole good and evil thing started. He saw how the game had changed first. That’s how he cast me out. The tables turned so fast, he was suddenly more powerful than any of us had ever been.” Apollyon pushed his chair back and rubbed his full belly.
“To this day, I wonder if he broke the rules and started the whole thing which would be sort of ironic since he’s supposed to be the good guy. But he feeds on pain and suffering just like I do. Actually more so. I feed on a lot of things that are pleasurable. They may damn you in the long run, but they sure feel good on the way there.” Apollyon winked.
“Now you want to take over earth, but you can’t do it without my help and if I succeed I get to be, what? King of earth?”
“Essentially correct.” Apollyon nods. “And I get the power position in the game.”
“If I fail, I’m obliterated?”
“Hi stakes game, Michael.”
“If I succeed, You’re going to create the Apocalypse and destroy the earth?
“Destroy the earth? What does that get me? I live here.”
“So you’re not going to bring about the apocalypse and destroy the earth.”
“Hell no. I mean sure it would be fun to make such a big explosion. Who doesn’t enjoy a good fireworks show? But very short sighted. Boom that’s it. All over. What would I do then? Live on the moon. I’m not sure I could get there. No one has ever tried and come back. Who knows, maybe they’ve made a paradise in the center of the moon.”
“You’re going to take over the world and make everyone live in constant torment?”
“Not the way you think. You’re talking that: Abandon all hope, all who enter here! More dogma, short sighted. I, my species, if you will, need human energy to survive. At least we do now. As I said, our early history is kind of vague almost deliberately so, considering our capabilities.”
“So there’s no constant torment in hellfire?”
“Christ no. Where’s the fun in that? You think it’s entertaining to spend every day branding people with hot pokers and filleting off their skin? Only the simplest brute would want to do that and even a brute will get tired of doing the same thing every day. That’s all just med-evil propaganda you humans made up to justify torturing each other. Did you know that the man you thought was your father, couldn’t even properly feel pain within a year of his accident. Which I caused by the way, because I was so intrigued by your heartless mother. What a disappointment she turned out to be.”
“You caused my father’s accident?”
“You adoptive father and yes. I made myself into a deer and ran out on the road.”
“Are you teasing me?”
“We’re off course here. When did your old man go through his greatest depression.”
“I don’t understand. It must have been after the accident. Before his surgery he was in constant pain.”
“So the whole time you were growing up he never smiled.” Apollyon raised his eyebrows. “Never had a good day. Never enjoyed life?”
Michael was stunned he had never really considered this. “He smiled all the time. Said he had what every man wanted and his pain just made him appreciate it and be more alive. He was one of the happiest people I ever knew.”
“Was he a masochist? Did he go out of his way to cause himself pain?”
“No, of course not. He did everything he could to minimize it and live as normal a life as he could.”
“And he was happy and joyous in his life.”
Michael looked down thinking. “Yes. You could say that.”
“Yet…” Apollyon sat back. “He was in constant pain, until surgeons figured out how to fuse and pin him together and end his pain.” Apollyon rested his elbows on the arms of his chair and templed his finger tips. “Tell me Micheal, at what point, in your surrogate father’s life, was he the most depressed.”
“It was after his surgery. But he said it was a normal reaction to not taking the pain medication any more.”
“Which came first the chicken or the egg?”
“Excuse me?” Michael trying to imagine how his father, surrogate father, was after his surgery.
“Had he stopped taking the medication before the depression set in?”
Michael thought, his eyes opened wide. “Before. He became severely depressed within days of the surgery. I remember asking him what his pain level was like and he said he thought he’d really be a lot better and he’d able to cut back on the pain medication once he had healed from the surgery.”
“My mother was extremely worried. She said she had never seen him this way before. Not even at his most bitter after the accident. He had been angry, but not depressed.”
“And why do you think that was?”
“I don’t know. I can’t imagine.”
“Because he was lost Michael. He didn’t know who he was. He was not the man from before the accident. He was not the man from after the accident. His identity was gone. He had been in pain for so long that that’s who he was. In a matter of days, after the surgery, he was no longer that person. As strange as it sounds his life centered around enduring and surviving his pain. Suddenly he wasn’t that person and he was completely adrift. He was in someone else’s body, because it was not the body he knew. And the young virile man he was when it all started? That young virile man was gone.” Apollyon sat back in his chair.
“He was old. All that time he was in pain he distanced himself from his physical being. His suffering precluded any thought that he was getting older. All those years were just lost and he woke up in an old body that didn’t suffer the level of pain that he had been through. But he was not the body he remembered either. This one had lines on the face, tired easily, was fused and pinned together and no amount of exercise was going to bring back the man he was before the accident. So he had to rebuild himself from nothing. If it hadn’t been for your mother, and even his love for you, he might have never come out of the depression, or even killed himself.
Michael considered this.
“But that was because it was basically instantaneous, had it been more gradual he would have dealt with it better. The human soul is extremely resilient and adaptive.” Apollyon continued. “There is nothing it can’t become accustomed to, given enough time and familiarity. How do you think naked children, who live on trash heaps in the Philippines, can smile?”
“I never thought of that.” Michael said thinking of some documentary he’d seen on those children.
“It’s what they know. It is the nature of the human soul to be happy. It is thought, freewill, and a desire that torments the soul. The desire to achieve, to do better. It is your incredible capacity to hope… that is man’s triumph and downfall.” Apollyon raised his index finger in front of his face. “That is what torments the soul. Why do you think artists are always portrayed as tortured. Because they seek to create something perfect, a reflection of the art in their soul, and nothing is perfect. Even if it is to one person,” Apollyon shook his head. “It could be total garbage to another.”
“So what is it that you want to gain exactly?” Michael asked fighting the urge to drum his fingers on the table. “If I achieve my trials and you get what you want, what… what will that be?”
“I will be free. Free to do as I please.”
“And what is that?”
“I will give them endless hope. More hope than the world has ever known… and… I will keep them all from ever achieving their goals. They will get close and fail. They will succeed just to have it all taken away and be reset to zero. They will get close enough to believe if they try again they can make it. No amount of failure will make them rethink their desires. They may shift them, try different mountains, even lower their expectations, but they will always, in the end fail. All of that futile energy, feeding me and mine.”
“How will you do that?”
“From example. The news will be full of random success stories, from very young, to old. 90 year old street musician has number one record, because he never gave up! I will be awash in energy. I’ll be able to take on my older brother. Maybe I’ll have a pure-blood offspring, or even two, or three.” Apollyon looked at Michael.
“No offense, but it’s a lot easier to build a bear like you than to make one from scratch our way. I’ve never seriously considered it, but I am curious.” He shrugged. “I digress. To continue. Only my demons will succeed, to show the world success is possible. Their glorious successes will tempt all others to try and try again, because living a simple life will never be enough. No matter how often they fail. No matter how many times they fall. No matter how often they have their victory taken from their outstretched fingers, they will try again, because they will have hope and I will never let them loose that hope and they will suffer through all eternity. Never being satisfied with what they have. No matter how much I allow them to achieve. That, my son, is true hell on earth.”
Michael sat back. “Amazing. And what will become of me?”
“You Michael, should you succeed, will be the one with the most. You will be the ultimate icon of hope and possibility. You will be the one that they will all look to and say, if he can have all that, I can certainly have more than I have now.”
“But really father. Isn’t that the way the world works now?”
“Yes and no. Many fall into the trap. Find success and then risk that success for more and lose everything. Many perpetually suffer trying to attain the unattainable. Giving themselves solace in the idea that once they achieve this larger than life goal, the reward, the accolades, the sex, or power, or devotion of fans will all be worth it. You can go to Los Angeles and view homeless people, dirty, stumbling along the street, in a constant dialogue with themselves and see the madness it brings. But in those crazed minds there’s still hope, there is a seed in many of those… Zombies, that still believes they are one lucky step away from ruling the world if they can just get a chance to do it.”
Apollyon reached for his wine. “Those are my some of my greatest successes. The entertainment industry is full of my demons and minions. How do you think the casting couch has survived for so long, they protect each other.”
“The problem now is that hope fades, or the futility of it all become apparent. Many, if not most, eventually learn to live a simpler life. More often than not they end up in his corner when that happens. Though I have to say my demons’ creation of social media has done wonders to keep my lamp lit. But still it is only temporary. At some point there will come a backlash and people will get all spiritual again.” Apollyon shrugs. “It’s a cycle. What are you going to do? But if you succeed Micheal… Apollyon nods. I’ll finally have the upper hand.”
“If I decide not to risk it?”
“You would become a normal, you would become one of them and forget all this. At least you wouldn’t feel so different amongst your peers.”
“And if I say yes and fail?”
“You will take the role of the dragon from the brother who preceded you.” Apollyon fixes his gaze on Michael. “The role of the dragon is to channel all the pain of the world into my power. You feel everything then pass the clean energy on to me.”
“Does this hurt?”
“A lot.” Apollyon said, over-enunciating the words.
“Sounds like fun. And no one has ever succeeded.”
“Okay and if I turn down facing these…”
“First you will forget this meeting.” Apollyon began examining his nails. “Then gradually things… school, athletics, etc., will become increasingly difficult. You will slow down.” Apollyon rubbed his finger tips together, paused and looked at Michael. “You will become Jim Kastor’s real son. Since his actual blood does not flow in you, I will have to model you in his image. But the person you are now. The consciousness that is you. That person will die.”
Michael sat hunched over and stared down. “I am very depressed.” Michael took a deep sigh and sat up. “Okay, what do I have to do? Slaughter a few lambs? blaspheme?”
“I’m impressed. It’s very courageous of you to so readily accept this challenge, knowing that none have ever succeeded, and the suffering you will endure if you fail.”
“I don’t want to wake up in somebody else’s body and not know who I am. If I’m no longer going to exist as myself, I’d might as well take a chance.”
“You will face four trials of manipulation. The tuck and split games you play with your girlfriends have been warm up for the Olympics of emotional exploitation.”
“I have to seduce a bunch of women?”
“No. Nothing that simple. You will have to face four humans, each devout in some way and you will get them to forsake their faith and give themselves to me.”
“Sounds great, when do I start?”
“When the time comes, I will return and lead you to the first trial. If you succeed, My Champion will lead you to the next. If you complete each of the four trials, I will gain direct the upper hand and you Michael, will be my rock star human.” Apollyon smiled and Michael nodded.
“What’s to keep me from getting bored when everything is handed me?”
“Oh the game won’t be over and it’s going to get real. He,” Pointing up. “hasn’t been put on his ass ever and he’s not going to be happy. If you’ll excuse the cliche, All hell’s going to break loose. You’ll still be in the game, but you’ll have a different, bigger, role.” Apollyon rubbed his hands together eagerly. “It’s not going to be boring.”
“Okay. What now?”
“There is still much for you to learn before the end of the millennium, Michael. Continue the path you have set for yourself. If your ever in doubt, pray.”
“To me, idiot. I will come to you when the stars and planets are wherever it is they’re suppose to be. I don’t follow all the astrology nonsense. They’ll send me a memo.”
Apollyon pointed up. “There is one more thing.” Apollyon paused. “Your mother, she knows about us and she may try to convince your stepfather. They could be trouble. If nothing else, they’re going to be a pain in the ass.”
“What? You want me to kill my stepfather?
“And your mother.”
“My mom? She is my real mom right?”
“Don’t worry she’s not one of mine anymore. Neither is he. They’ll both be fine. They’ll be reset for better lives.” Apollyon studied Michael. “Are we good?” Michael nodded.
“Good, then we have nothing further to discuss.” Apollyon stood up. Michael I think you’re a winner. Just don’t let your human side get the better of you.”
“What? you’re leaving?”
“Yes, I have business to attend to. Kill your parents and I’ll know you’re ready. Don’t and I’ll have to rethink it. I’m not throwing down and risking my champion if you’re not up to it.”
“I’ll let him explain that himself, when the time comes.” Apollyon picked up Michael’s wrapped left overs and walked away. Michael watched him, but wasn’t sure the exact moment that Apollyon suddenly wasn’t there anymore.