THE train rattled, a rata-tat-tat, a rata-tat-tat, ending with a drawn out horn as it whooshed past. The girl standing under the street light turned towards the sound. She could see the train’s cars flying past in between the distant buildings, a blur of colors, grey and blue and a burnt red all blending together. One minute there and the next gone. She tossed a ball up and down in her hands, up towards the street light, which turned everything in the darkness a pale sort of yellow.
She leaned down and squinted at some writing that someone had chalked onto the sidewalk: a hand with the middle finger sticking up all done up in orange and pink. Underneath the drawing someone had written in white chalk in capital letters: UP YOURS.
“Ridiculous,” she said as she paced back and forth. “So angry,” she muttered. “So…undisciplined.”
“You of all people should know,” said a hissing voice next to her elbow, with a faint laugh.
The girl jumped. “God! You scared the shit out of me!”
She looked down at a green and white striped snake who was stretched out on a blue garbage can. “Of all the forms you could choose, and you come to me like that.”
“Oh, forgive me your great worshipfulness,” hissed the snake. “Next time I’ll come as a chipmunk…or a kumquat.”
“A kumquat? What the hell is that? Anyway, it feels like I’m talking to the garbage can. I’m sure it looks like it, too.”
“Hey, if cans could talk,” said the snake, with a slither of his tongue and a wink. “I wonder what they would say?”
She looked across the street at a rundown convenience store. It was a white square building, with a faded coco cola sign out front. “Probably something like it stinks in here.” She noticed that the neon sign was supposed to say Jerry’s, but an R was missing. “Have you heard from the master tonight?”
“Not a thing. I thought that is why you called this meeting?”
“My job was to watch this small town. Watch the train, watch the exports, watch the people, and yet…nothing. I haven’t heard from anybody in weeks.”
“Have a little faith Gen,” said the snake. “That’s what we are here for.”
She folded her arms across her chest, as the wind rustled a chunk of brown hair by her face. Freckled, blue-eyed and dressed in a red t-shirt and shorts, she felt trapped by her boyish figure, by the fact that she never could grow up, no matter how much she wanted to. She scratched at the sweat that had gathered at the back of her neck.
“It must be on the train,” she said as she swatted at a fly that flew in front of her face. She watched with wide eyes as it buzzed in front of the snake who swallowed it down with a big gulp.
“You’re disgusting,” she said as she turned away. “I can’t believe I spend time with you.”
“You love me,” said the snake. “I just know it. Anyway, tell me about this town. Any diamonds in the rough?”
“Some. There was a baker who gave me an extra doughnut in my box yesterday, but he thought it was for my mother.”
The snake gave her a side-long glance. “How are the live-in parents doing?”
He wasn’t stupid, he knew what she wasn’t saying.
Genevieve scratched at an itch on her nose. She wriggled her shoulders. The itch was spreading. It felt like the time she had gotten poison ivy when she was a kid at summer camp.
“Can we go get a coffee or something?” she said as she scratched at the freckles on her arms. “I can’t stand under this street light anymore. I feel like a hooker.”
The snake snorted. “You’re breaking out in hives again, aren’t you?”
“I am not.”
“Stop worrying.” He flicked his tail toward her and managed to poke her in the side. She glared at him.
“Stop that,” she said.
“I don’t think snakes drink coffee.”
“Change then,” she said and she was already walking down the street. She heard a grunt, and then there was the sound of footsteps behind her.
She looked down at her friend’s blue tennis shoes, jeans and then up to his blonde-silver hair. His brown eyes twinkled with mischief. “So, where are we going?”
The only thing open was a 24-hour diner that promised the best fried chicken this town has to offer! “That’s promising,” muttered the girl as they walked inside. “And there’s a KFC next door.”
“They are hardly the best,” said their hostess, as she grabbed their menus. She had long, silky brown hair and smooth skin. “Will you guys be having dinner? We have a separate dinner, dessert and breakfast menu. “
The man standing next to Genevieve scratched at his head. “Haven’t decided yet. Why don’t you give us all three.”
Over pancakes, sausage, and bacon they talked about the master’s plan.
“So, you want to board a train?” said Genevieve as she forked a bite of pancake in her mouth. She chewed slowly and then swallowed. “After we were told strictly by the master to leave it alone? It’s clear dark territory.”
“Well, what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him,” said her friend, mentor, and sometimes brother.
“He’s all-seeing, he’ll find out, Gaven.”
Gaven shrugged and started eating some bacon. “You know what I like about earth-food?”
“What’s that?” she said as she stared at the ice in the bottom of her empty glass.
“The grease.” He took another bite of bacon and crunched it loudly.
“You’re disgusting,” she said, but she couldn’t completely hide her smile. He kept her sane this friend, who looked like an older brother. Gaven was tan all over, with blue eyes and brown hair. He looked like the type of guys that girls her age would probably giggle over. But she wasn’t a little girl.
She watched him as he set down his fork. “You didn’t tell me about the parents?”
“They think I’m twelve,” she said with a grimace. “They treat me like I’m twelve.”
He sighed. “If you’d just repent…”
“I’ve said my sorrys, what do you want from me?”
“This punishment won’t last forever, Gen.”
She stirred scrambled eggs around her plate. “That’s not what Harry said.”
“Harry is a wicked angel, Gen, you know that.” He gulped at his orange juice. “God, that’s good.”
“He said something about the master telling him it was true. How I was stuck like this. Forever.”
“Nothing is permanent in this world, you know that. It’s life and death and high calories.”
She stuck her tongue out at him.
“There,” he said as he saluted his empty juice glass at her. “Now you’re starting to act your age.”
An hour later, they shivered in the dark next to the train tracks. The place was lit by street lights, and the usually brown-dirt looked a strange purple in the darkness. “What are we doing here?” she hissed, as she hugged herself against the early morning chill. “We are going to get ourselves killed.”
“You can’t get killed if you are already dead, and besides, we are invincible.” Gaven bounced up and down on his feet. He glanced at his watch. “It’s passed 3am, something’s wrong.”
Genevieve gazed down the tracks, it ran through trees and behind buildings, but the only thing she saw were the hills on the other side of town. She looked across the tracks at the run down factory, stretched out in front of it was mounds of dirt, bulldozers and holes in the ground. Whatever they were building, it looked a mess.
A train horn sounded in the darkness, it was faint and growing closer.
“So we are going to jump onto it as it comes by?”
“That’s the plan,” said Gaven.
Genevieve didn’t like this plan. She didn’t like anything about the dark just then, the way morning seemed so far away, the way the smell of the trees and dirt smelled sweet just then, and heavy. “Something’s here,” she hissed and turned around. But beyond the light that lit up the construction site and part of the tracks, she saw nothing. She heard the scuff of someone kicking a stone in the darkness, the sound of a muttered curse. A man’s voice.
“Who’s there?” she called out.
They saw the glow, first. Of eyes that snapped on, like someone had turned on a light switch. Glowing faint at first, and then closer, she gasped as two orange and fiery red eyes appeared. She thought she should be scared, but for some reason, Gen thought of campfires and felt like lying down and going to sleep.
“Knock it off, Gill,” said Gaven, “We know it’s you.”
“Oh, the master’s going to kill you,” said a deep voice, gleefully.
“Gillian!” cried Genevieve. She heard laughter and grunts as Gaven punched him in the gut. The glowing eyes disappeared. Not all of them knew how to use glamour.
The train appeared on the track, rushing closer, growing bigger. Just as Genevieve was about to open her mouth to let Gaven know, there was a rush of heat, and white light and the front of the train exploded in the darkness.
They were trying to rustle through the broken pieces in the darkness, lit only faintly by the burning embers of the wreck. Everything smelled of soot and burnt meat.
“There weren’t humans on this train was there?” she thought with horror.
“No,” said Gillian as he flipped over a burnt piece of wood. “The trains are used for cargo.”
In the darkness, Gen could see the faint outline of his dark cloak. He was the same age as Gavin, but where Gavin was muscular and tan, Gillian was pale, black haired and gaunt. The three G’s the others sometimes called them, and other things…but Genevieve was just happy to have friends. Being dead could be a lonely thing.
Gaven came to stand by her then and she looked up at his shiny eyes. He grabbed her elbow suddenly, as a figure stepped out from the darkness in front of the simmering embers of the train wreck. She had momentarily forgot about the rest of the train, but its tail end still waiting in the darkness, white and silent, expecting.
“Oh, in-between-ers,” a voice hissed as it stepped closer. “This night just gets better and better.”
“Don’t come any closer,” said Gaven. “We are not here to fight you.”
“What are you here for then, if not to sabotage our plans?” said the voice, dark and raspy.
Gilian came up to stand on the other side of Genevieve. “We are here for answers,” he said. “There is no place for you here, demon.”
The figure laughed and Genevieve felt a chill in her heart. She could never be this evil. She felt a sudden feeling of hopelessness. Maybe she really was just a little girl after all. “I can feel your hopelessness, your distrust,” said the figure. He lowered the dark hood that he wore. Besides a chill, he stank of fire and fish. His face was all white, his eyes were completely black. He had no hair, and a thin black slash for a mouth. “Tell me, how goes your revolution?”
“Our business is none of yours,” said Genevieve as she held Gaven’s arm. “What are you doing here?”
The figure tilted his head towards the cold wind that blew through the trees and stirred the ash at his feet. A glowing piece of wood glowed orange and then caught on fire. He studied his claw-like fingernails. “I don’t waste my time talking to children. I wonder…does your master know your here?”
Genevieve remembered the first time she met the master. The thing they never tell you when you are saying your goodbyes: how quiet death is. For a long time she felt like she existed, except there are no formal introductions to the places you wake up in. In Sunday school she learned it this way: You go to Heaven if you are good; Hell is for the sinners and the unclean. But what she didn’t know, was that there were places that existed for the In-Between. Limbo wasn’t just for those who slept and never woke up.
Limbo was the place you went if you weren’t quite good enough. Limbo was for the punished who’d repented. It was for the few stranglers of the Great Fall, back when Lucifer had tried to make a claim to earth and all its inhabitants. A war they were still fighting, actually. Some from the Great Fall were trying to make right what they had done. Some were sent there because they weren’t quite done with where they had been. Some thought that it was a place to be alive again, but Genevieve wasn’t so sure. Neither Angel or Demon, the “In-between-ers” were neither living or dead. They possessed the skills and strengths of an Angel, but they weren’t all-seeing like some, and they had the limitations of a human body.
Genevieve felt like a broken record sometimes, living a life that she had a few times before. Moments never change, regrets still exist and living life like a human constantly reminded her how fragile and stupid they were sometimes. She was sick of making the same mistakes over and over again.
But the man they called Master gave them a purpose. They were the insiders, helping to fight a war that the Angels struggled with. They could blend in, they could be the eyes in every corner.
She vaguely remember Heaven, just a warm place and fighting for life. She remembers struggling to breathe, twisting her arms around in the murky river, trying to kick at the thick, car window. Between bursts of unconsciousness, she felt warmth surround her and then there was nothing. She woke up in a white room. There was no smell, no breeze, nothing. Just a ever present fog and the feeling that she had forgotten something, left something behind.
She wore a hospital gown and sat up on the bed that you see in a doctor’s office. A man approached. He wore dark rimmed glasses and had a Clark Kent type of feel, and a presence about him, a strength. His eyes were not natural either, they were a wide blue almost purple, and his ears were pointed at the tip. He wore a white lab coat. When he was closer, Genevieve could see the tops of feathered wings poking over his shoulders.
“You’re awake,” he said. “Good.”
“You’re an Angel,” she said, and was surprised to hear her own voice. It had felt like a long time.
He sat down in a desk chair that seemed to have appeared out of nowhere. “Sort of.” He eyed her over a manila folder that had also appeared in his hand. “First time driver, huh?”
Genevieve blinked at him. “I’d rather not talk about it.”
He rolled back in his chair as he looked at her. “Let me put it this way for you. Heaven is not quite ready for you, you’re too good for Hell, and you were too young to die. At sixteen you are supposed to have the whole world in front of you. What if I said you could make a difference for others instead?”
That was how it started.
The demon was still looking at them. “He doesn’t know, does he?” He grinned, and Genevieve shuddered. His teeth were filed down to points, for gnawing on flesh.
“What are you going to do?” said Genevieve.
He looked the three of them over. “Oh, wouldn’t you like to know.”
Genevieve’s skin itched; it felt like a hundred stinging ants were crawling across her stomach. She was burning. Her forehead was sweating. “He’s going to burn us from the inside out!” she gasped. Gaven and Gillian both groaned suddenly and dropped to their knees.
“Make him stop!” cried Gillian as he fell towards the ground, gasping for breath.
“Do what?” cried Genevieve as she struggled to stay upright.
“There’s nothing to do,” gasped Gaven. “We’re already dead.”
“That you are,” said a voice that was familiar, and scary at the same time.
And there he stood next to the ugly bald-headed demon, looking resplendent in his white suit, and colored sunglasses. His face was slightly rough with a day’s worth of scruff, but other than that, the master looked smooth and handsome and powerful.
“Why are you here, Lyle? I hear your master is half-way around the world right now.”
And then the pain fell away. Genevieve fell onto all fours next to the boys.
The demon named Lyle turned toward the master slowly. He scrunched up his already ugly face into a scowl. “Samyaza.”
“Please,” said the Master. “Samuel is fine.”
“Your name doesn’t matter to me,” hissed Lyle. “Who are you to question where I am?”
“It matters when you hurt,” (he said as he glanced at the three teenagers,) “Those that are close to me.”
Lyle spat on the ground, and the dirt hissed and sizzled where his spit fell. “In-betweeners.”
“We prefer the term, “Watchers,” said Samuel.
“You think you scare me? You are no more welcome in heaven than I.”
“We have been pardoned,” he said and the ground seemed to swell under his feet. He was growing, no, he was rising. Genevieve saw the wings sprouting out from his back. He seemed to glow with a faint light. “Would you like to see?”
“Save your holiness,” gnashed Lyle between pointy teeth. He glanced at the smoldering wreck of the train. “My work is done here anyway.” He turned into the darkness and disappeared.
“Oh man,” said Gill as he slapped Gaven on the back. “That was a close one!” But he quieted as their Master, Samuel, turned towards them.
“Stay out of trouble, I said. Watch the town, I said. See what sort of exports are coming in. Are you three incapable of following instructions? Or are you just stupid!”
Genevieve flinched as she scrambled to her feet. His wings were still extended and although she couldn’t see his eyes beneath his green-blue sunglasses, she didn’t need to. She’d seen his eyes flash a silver and gold in a rage before.
“It was my fault.” She stepped forward as the two boys bowed their heads. “I told Gaven I thought there was something on the train. We came to investigate. Gill found us later.”
“I don’t care what happened,” said Samuel. “We can’t let them get the best of us, again.” He turned his head and his sunglasses flashed a teal color. “Do you even know what happened with the train? What they blew up?”
“We were working on that when you showed up,” mumbled Gaven.
“Shut up, you,” said Samuel, and then he jerked his head over to the wreck behind him and moved a smoldering piece of wood out of his path and set it down gently. “Well, let’s get this sorted out.”
Genevieve never seemed to know which side their Master was on. And it bothered her more than she cared to admit. Hot and cold, he ran. Like two different types of weather. It was exhausting.
Yes, the Watchers, or In-betweeners were pardoned, but if being forced out of Heaven to live on Earth was punishment, it certainly felt like it. They were alone. One of a kind, and yet never resting. Sometimes Genevieve felt like she ran a marathon that never ended, and she was always dying of thirst.
She watched Samuel turn over a burning log and pick up a smoldering box. She or the two boys would have hissed and been burned by the heat, but Samuel was a lot older than them. And he had his wings. She wondered if they would ever get a chance to earn wings.
“What is it?” she asked him.
Samuel cursed and threw the smoldering box into to dirt. “Food,” he hissed.
“Those fucking bastards,” said Gaven.
Samuel’s sunglasses flashed as he turned towards him. “Watch it.”
“So?” said Gillian. “What will that do? There’s plenty of food, here.”
The Master jerked his head toward her. “Tell them.”
“Well…not really,” said Genevieve.
“What do you mean?” said Gaven. “What did we just eat a few hours ago?” he laughed. “Dirt?”
“No, and the new districts are fine,” (she glanced around) “Here in old town is different.”
“What do you mean by that?” said Gaven.
“There’s a lot of poverty here. People depend on the free shipments the train brings in. Mostly stuff from the government. Goes into food pantries and the like.”
“The free shipments cut down on stealing,” said the Master. “The government finally found out that people were starving and stealing for food and they did something about it.”
“So without the food to keep people off the streets?” said Gaven, but he didn’t expect an answer.
“Well, shit,” said Gillian. “Mama ain’t gonna like this.”
“Shut up,” said Gaven as he smacked him in the head. “There will be riots over this stuff, idiot. We got our work cut out for us.”
“My foster parents are even depending on it,” said Genevieve.
“We’ll see that they are taken care of,” said Samuel.
“What about me?” said Genevieve and then she instantly regretted it as he turned towards her.
“What about you?”
She gestured to herself. “When will I be taken care of? My punishment? When will that be done?”
“When you’ve realized the seriousness of your actions.”
“When I’ve realized the seriousness of my actions?” She was seeing her parents gray heads in the cemetery, her little sister’s bowed head. She took a deep breath. “I shouldn’t be punished for mourning for what I had. For missing those I loved.”
“No one is allowed to make contact,” said Samuel. “And you tried. Your little sister saw you.”
Genevieve bowed her head, her hands clasped in front of her. She was aware of the other boys growing quiet. “Forgive me, Master. I will not let you down. I will not forsake the mission. I am your servant, and a servant, always,” she breathed, although her heart felt broken. “I will protect, I will watch, and I will listen. I will be the eyes that are not seen, the ears that are not forgotten. I will be the sight for others who have none.”
The wind blew between the trees and one of the boys cleared their throat. She glanced up into the Master’s face and looked him in the eyes. Something that she had never done before. “Please,” she added. “Give me one more chance.”
And then something happened that she did not expect. Their Master sighed deeply and he pushed his green-blue shades on the top of his head. His gray eyes looked old and tired.
“So may it be.” He waved his hand and she felt a ripple of heat, and a tickling in her skin. She looked down at her long legs and red painted toes.
She sighed and looked up at Gaven and Gillian and smiled.
She was sixteen again and happy, and ready to save the world.