by Arnold Snyder
The next morning, I left the house early to take a walk. I’d slept fitfully, trying to mentally process this new worldview. I hadn’t had breakfast and I was hungry but I needed to clear my head.
It was a nice morning, not too hot yet. Some of the houses had sprinklers running on their front lawns. Men were out doing yardwork—mowing and trimming grass, pulling out dandelions. Little kids were skateboarding on the sidewalks.
I felt more isolated from people than ever. Where I’d felt different from other kids before, now I knew it wasn’t just a feeling; I wasn’t a regular human being.
I saw two girls from my seventh-grade class coming toward me about half a block away. Lilith and Regan. I had a crush on Lilith. There was a story going around that she shaved her pubic hair into a crucifix and dedicated her pussy to God, but I doubted it. The guys who were talking about it were all assholes and they would say anything. It did get me thinking about her pussy a lot though.
“Hey,” I said as they were passing me, but neither one responded. They acted like they didn’t see me.
What if they knew I was a devil? What if they knew I could turn into a snake?
I circled around the block and went back home. I felt depressed. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a snake or a devil. Why couldn’t I just stay normal?
My father was sitting at the dining room table cleaning one of his guns, something he did every Saturday. Friday nights, he’d go to the shooting range and Saturday afternoon he’d clean his guns. He was a creature of habit. All four of his guns were out on the table. He was wearing a sleeveless undershirt and his boxer shorts.
I confronted him. “Dad, I saw Mom turn into a snake.”
“Yes, I know.”
“She said we’re all devils,” I said. “Our whole family.”
He looked up at me briefly. “That’s right, and if you have any questions about it, you should ask your mother.” He kept working on his gun.
“But Mom said I should ask you. She never explains anything. What the fuck is happening?”
“Sebastian, watch your language,” he said, not bothering to look up from his gun. He didn’t really care if I swore. Then he added, “She told you because of your eyes.”
“Look in the mirror once in a while.”
“What’s wrong with my eyes?”
“Nothing’s wrong with them. But those green veins …”
“You’re a devil, Sebastian. And soon you’ll be a snake. Sooner than you think.”
I looked closely at my father’s eyes. “You don’t have green veins in your eyes,” I said.
“You’re just going through a process,” he said. “They’ll go away after your first transformation. Don’t fret about them.”
I wanted to run to the bathroom mirror to look for green veins in my eyes.
But is he saying at any moment I might start turning into a snake?
Then what do I do?
“What do devils do?” I said, “Besides turn into snakes?”
“Oh, Sebastian … why does your mother always leave this job to me?”
“C’mon, Dad, I want to know what’s happening. At least now I know why I feel so different from everyone in school.”
He set his pistol down on the greasy towel he had spread on the table. “Sit down,” he said. “I’ll give you the Cliff Notes version.”
I sat on the chair beside him at the table.
He sat back and turned to face me. “A long time ago, back before time existed…”
“Before when?” I asked.
“Before time existed. We didn’t always have time, you know.”
“How could there be no time?”
“God hadn’t invented time yet. Back before there was anything, when there was no earth and no solar system and no universe, before God created any of that stuff.”
“There wasn’t a universe? There had to be a universe. Even if it was empty.”
“Back when it was just God and his angels; your mother and I were among the angels. That’s all there was.”
“Can I hold the Luger?” I said.
He nodded an okay and I picked up the heavy gun. I loved the feel of it.
“You and Mom were angels?” I said.
“Yes we were. And we were in Heaven with God. In the whole of existence, that’s all there was—just God and his angels in Heaven.”
“Can I take it apart for you?” I said.
He pushed a towel in front of me.
“So why aren’t you an angel now?” I said.
“Stop interrupting. God had favorites. We weren’t them. It wasn’t fair because he created all of the angels, but he didn’t make us equal, not in his eyes. He thought the Seraphim were way better. He was proud of the Seraphim. He thought the Cherubim were shit … Do you remember the first thing you do to take that gun apart?”
“Sure,” I said. “Remove the magazine. Were you and Mom Cherubim?”
“So, remove the magazine.”
“I can’t remember how.”
“Press the release,” he said, pointing.
“Oh, yeah.” I removed the magazine. “So, you and Mom weren’t Seraphim?” I said.
“No, we were Cherubim.”
“Couldn’t you work hard or study or something to be Seraphim?”
“No, Sebastian, that’s just how he made us.” There was exasperation in his voice. He was already tiring of this discussion.
“I thought everyone in Heaven was happy,” I said.
“That’s a myth. Heaven wasn’t happy for us. We were very dissatisfied. And angry. Go read your Old Testament. There’s a lot of bullcrap in there, but the story about us getting banned from Heaven is more or less true. Slanted, but mostly factual. Some of us angels were so mad we revolted. Our very good friend, Lucifer, who was also a Cherubim, had an argument with God about how God was playing favorites. Lucifer was speaking for all of us when he talked to God and he was very brave to do that. Lucifer is your Uncle Luke, by the way.”
“Really? Uncle Luke? Really?”
“Yes, and we revere him for his courage and his honesty. He stood up to God and spoke truth to power.”
“Uncle Luke is Lucifer? The Lucifer?”
Of all my relatives, my cousins, aunts and uncles, grandparents, and even including my immediate family, I loved my Uncle Luke the most. He could always make me laugh. He could make anyone laugh. He always had something for me, dark chocolate or some little magic trick. I always knew there was something special about Uncle Luke.
I replaced the 9mm magazine and set the gun down. I didn’t really want to take it apart. This conversation was getting more interesting by the moment.
“What did Uncle Luke say to God, Dad?”
My father picked up the pistol he’d been cleaning and started examining the barrel, looking down into it, then he said: “He asked God to make us more like the Seraphim, that’s all. And God told him to take a hike or he’d punish him. He came back in tears.”
“Uncle Luke was crying?” I said, at once noticing the expression of annoyance on my father’s face.
“Not literally in tears. We didn’t have these human bodies then. He was sad because God said no. He wasn’t afraid of the punishment. He was just trying his damnedest to make our lives better and he got shot down.”
“Did God say anything to you or Mom?”
“No. None of the Cherubim were even allowed to look at God, let alone talk to him. We all told Luke to stay out of it. There was no beating God. But Uncle Luke was a fighter. He had a sense of justice and he knew what was right. We were terrified of God, but we thought it might make a difference if God knew it wasn’t just Lucifer who was pleading with him, but all of the Cherubim.”
“How many were there?”
He sighed. “Not enough really. But some of us felt we had to stand up with him. We were idealists.”
“But you could’ve stayed in Heaven,” I said. “You totally blew it.”
He set the gun down on the table gently. “No,” he said. “We won. We’re better off here than in Heaven.” Then his tone became angrier. “We always saw God for what he was—selfish, conceited, full of himself. The epitome of what people today would call an egomaniac. He just thought he was such hot shit. If not for your Uncle Luke, we’d still be back in Heaven. Not even second-class citizens.”
He picked up the barrel of his pistol and started to brush solvent into the bore. Conversation over. I learned at a young age that when Dad starts to get that angry tone in his voice, even a hint of it, back off.
I went to the bathroom to look at my eyes, or more specifically, at the green veins in the whites of my eyes. How had I not noticed them before? They weren’t static like blood veins. You could see them undulating like long skinny worms the thickness of a strand of hair.
I became ill watching them, dizzy. I had to sit down on the toilet seat and put my head between my legs. I felt a wave of nausea and had to slide off the seat and onto the floor so I could lift the seat and get my painful-to-move body into classic heave position.
But I didn’t puke. I calmed down. I took a few deep breaths and resupplied my oxygen. When I visualized those living veins, I felt woozy again, so I wisely stopped visualizing them or even thinking about them. Yes, I was okay. I’m not seeing or feeling anything like scales or fangs. (I kept running my tongue along my teeth, upper and lower, feeling for any sign of growth.) But I’m okay. It’s just green veins, wriggling around in my eyes.
I threw up, cleaned up, and went to bed.
Go to Chapter Three . . .