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Sleeping Beauty

(Vatican City, 1690)

This temporal plane drags on and on, Beauty thought. Damnable – never ending tedium! All I do is search, waiting for her to appear again! The fallen Seraph remembered the feeling of walking up and down among the stones of fire. Back then, in my glory, finding “Eve’s seed,” would have been easy, she thought, but now! look at me now! Chained to time! Your cruelty towards me knows no bounds! I hate you! She screamed as she thrashed about.

Composing herself, the Red Seraph thought, the worst of it, is that I’m forced to deal with disgusting mortals. They’re everywhere, like rats! Endlessly gnawing through their meager days … and for what? – nothing. They build up, pull down, live, die, only to be repeated again and again by the next generation, and the next, and the next... It is so…boring. Scratching her nails on the floor, making a terrible chalkboard screech, she thought, Solomon knew the truth and I know it too – it’s all vanity, and I’m bound to it! Turning over, looking up, Beauty growled and exclaimed loudly, “I hate you!”

Above her throne

Her body materializing, she gazed up at the wall, admiring her symbol of victory. Moving towards it, she felt the nail in his feet. Scrutinizing his contorted face, perfectly recast in silver, with her teeth clenched, she said, “I will win.” Then, as if turning a page, she refocused on the business at hand, musing, “the old man has reached the end of his usefulness. I might get another 15 to 20 years out him, but if he expires suddenly, that would be – inconvenient. Red sparks flashing from her eyes and fingertips as she promised herself, I cannot risk any delays, I will not spend a single moment more in this temporal existence than I must! Turning and sitting down heavily on her throne, she consciously arranged her wings to show her thighs, waiting.

Her obsidian throne, adorned with seven dragon heads, sat directly under the large, silver cross above her, hanging opposite the entrance. Two dragon heads lay adjacent to each foot, one at the end of each arm rest, and three grouped together as the crest to the high back, the largest in the middle, mouth open, teeth bared. Their eyes, fitted of red gemstones, mimicked hers. Above and behind them hung her symbol of victory: A life-sized silver crucifix with an incredibly detailed image of Christ in his final hours of agony. Below hung a plaque that read, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani (My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?)”

Spiraling downward

Meanwhile, spiraling downwards into her layer, Tim’s eyes strained to see in the dim light, hand on rail, his feet careful for the next step on rough stone as they descended. At the bottom, through an enormous wrought iron gate, the two monks entered into a spacious chamber, seemingly too big to be underneath the Vatican. The floor, like some black glass mirror, reflected thousands of candles on tables above it. Jenkins, motioning for Tim to stop. stood still. Finally, after some time, a female voice said, “Speak.” Slim Jenkins answered, “Your majesty, we, your humble servants, await your order.” The overpowering stench of rotten eggs, which Tim assumed to be sulfur, swirled about them. Taking shallow breaths, he waited, hands clenched, chest tightening with dread.

You surprise me

Seeing the two priests enter, a faint smile crossed Beauty’s lips. Oh my, isn’t this a surprise – he looks just like him! Briefly, boredom’s oppressive curtain lifted as she remembered, in exquisite detail, the day John Lambert dared look upon her 52 years ago.

Beauty remembered the ill-fated monk well. Writing letters, she’d felt him enter. He trembled like a leaf entering her chamber. Pathetically holding up a small cross, his hands clasped tightly, he slowly fell to his knees in adoration, desperately mumbling some prayer.

Standing up from her baroque writing desk and turning, looking directly into his astonished eyes, saying, “Odd, I don’t remember inviting you here.” Reaching out with her powerful mind, gripping his entire body, she lifted him to eye level, his feet dangling in mid air. With interest, she watched the interplay of surprise, horror, repulsion, and groveling worship dance across his face. “Priest, exactly what did you think you’d find behind that golden gate?”

Our Father, who art in heaven

Relaxing her invisible grip slighting, the desperate monk had cried out, “Our Father who art in heaven, hollowed be thy name…”

“Silence!” she had screamed as the cavern shook.

Laughing slightly, she taunted, “Foolish priest, your faith is pathetic. Are you from that group of nuisances – The Faithful? Tossing him up like a rag doll she asked, “This god you pray to, where is he now? You call to him, does he answer?” as she flipped him up and over, barely catching him before he hit the floor. Shaking her head slightly back and forth, both eye brows now raised, she said, “I do not see him, do you?”

Allowing his mouth to relax once again, he cried, “Father, deliver me from evil!” Then, raising him, her invisible hand squeezed harder as she forced the life out of his body.

So delicate

Looking at hin, she caused his arms to fly outwards as as his legs came together straight down. She said, “So – delicate,” his flesh pulling away from his bones as she stretched him, slowly.

I’m not supposed to kill you, but you did violate my domain of your own free will. I think I can bend the rules a little. The helpless priest’s face turned from horror to agony as his joints began dislocating one by one, each socket making a sickening popping sound as they did. Suddenly, her play thing went limp. Shaking it a bit, vaguely annoyed, she’d tossed his it outside on the altar. The golden gate swinging closed by itself, as she sat again, resuming her correspondence.

Now, today, by some sick twist of fate, the unfortunate priest’s son stood before her in exactly the same place. The resemblance was remarkable. Beauty wondered, How could the son of the man I pulled apart like a helpless spider come to desire to lead my Order? This, she thought, intrigues me.

Speaking in a seductive tone, melodic in nature, Beauty said, “Cardinal Jenkins, you surprise me, and that’s very hard to do. The irony must not be lost on you, I know it is not lost on me.”

I beg your indulgence

“Your majesty, your humble servant begs your indulgence. I am growing old and, despite your immense powers, my human body is failing. I may pass away unexpectedly, causing you difficulty. To prevent any possible disruption, I offer Timothy Lambert as my second. If I die, he will take my place, continuing your plan. I have trained him for many years and advance him now for your examination.”

For a moment the Red Seraph just stared, calculating permutations. This was certainly a nexus, but the probabilities presented no clear path forward.

Slim Jenkins, not having seen her ever hesitate before, feared she might kill them both. The ancient priest felt his heart sink at the thought of all his years of sacrifice amounting to nothing.

Then, standing, great red wings extending like a bird of prey, she looked down at the trembling monks, saying, “Your apprentice may approach.”

Look upon me

Feet like lead, somehow Tim willed them to move towards her. As if in some waking nightmare, his body would not obey as quickly as his mind instructed. Reaching the foot of her throne, she commanded, “Look upon me mortal.” Tim, lifting his eyes, felt his mind stutter as his body shook. Heart racing, his simply could not comprehend. Blood red gossamer wings, six of them, extended from behind her bare shoulders. A perfect female form – no, a living Aphrodite – stood towering at least seven or maybe eight feet tall, gazing down at him with red eyes. No statue of any idealized woman in the Vatican above, came close to her unearthly beauty. Transfixed, Tim dared not move or say anything, least he fall down and worship her. Only the camel hair shirt beneath his robe caused him to feel anything remotely familiar.

Descending seven steps, she bent down, sniffing carefully at the side of his sweating face. Her lips parted as her tongue extended, licking his cheek, saying “I smell – fear, and taste – great hate.” She surmised, “You are outwardly a hard man, Timothy Lambert, yet – something about you isn’t right.”

Her tongue, velvet and wet, left a sweet, sticky feeling on his face. Adoration swelled in him, leaving him bewildered.

She turned, ascending again, then sat down, saying, “Young Cardinal Lambert, do you know why we call ourselves, ‘The Order’?”

Tim, mouth dry, his body raging, did his best to speak normally. “Because, your majesty, for there to be absolute order, there must be unquestioning obedience.”

Free will

“True, however your understanding lacks scope,” she answered. “There is a much broader purpose you must realize if you are to serve me. For there to be order, as you say, there must be absolute obedience, yet despite my best efforts, we see nothing but chaos in the world. Do you know why?”

Tim, thankful for his thick robe, thought hard, choosing his next words carefully, “Because, your Majesty, mankind exercises free will.”

The visible portions of her red wings shimmered slightly as she uncrossed her legs, clasped her hands, and leaned forward, “Precisely! the word escaped from her lips like the hiss of a snake. Free will has been the bane of this world ever since he created it! Freedom to choose one’s own destiny is synonymous with disorder, pain, and suffering. Mankind is nothing but a failed experiment in personal choice, proving beyond a doubt that they are incapable of choosing good.

“As a possible successor to Cardinal Jenkins, your reasonable service is to break down what is false so that my true order prevails. I offer peace and safety in exchange for simple obedience. Under my guidance, a new age of reason is rising from the ashes of Europe’s long and costly wars. Standing, wings extending, she declared, “Under my benevolent covering, mankind fulfills it’s destiny and take it’s place among the stars of heaven. I ascend into the sides of the north to my rightful place as your god – and you shall be my people. Your life, or your death, serves only this purpose. Do you understand?”

World order

Stunned and temples throbbing, Tim answered, “Yes, your majesty, I understand. We must destroy those who practice free will so that your order may save us.”

Quiet for moment, looking intently into Tim’s eyes, Beauty glanced towards Cardinal Jenkins, saying, “He has your intellect, I’ll grant you that, but there is – a weakness in him.”

Interjecting quickly, “Yes, your majesty, he may not be my equal yet, but I believe in time he will prove himself useful. I know he will serve you well.”

Suddenly, an unseen force closed around Tim’s entire body, like an invisible hand, lifting him off the floor, pulling him upwards, stopping only a few inches from her flawless face. Every bone in his body seemed to stretch outward in excruciating pain.

Sniffing again, Beauty said, “Odd, most mortals fear me, but I sense in you only – rage.”

You can always kill him later

Jenkins added, “Of course, your majesty may do with this mortal as you please, but consider that I have trained him for many years and prepared him to take my place with great forethought. He is a viper among vipers, ruthless and efficient. If I must begin again, it will take time to find a suitable replacement and I may expire before I can. I request that you give him a chance to serve you.” Then, after a brief pause, he added, “You can always kill him later.”

“True,” Beauty said in agreement, releasing Tim to fall and crumple to the floor before her, gasping for breath. Turning, ascending the steps again, she said, “For the moment, he will be your second. It seems, though, I will most likely kill him,” Beauty finished in a disinterested tone.

Then, sitting on her throne, covering her face and feet with her wings, she said, “Leave me now.”

You knew all along!

Cardinal Jenkins came forward, helping Tim to stand, and they both bowed continually as they backed away from her throne.

Outside and partially up the curved staircase, Tim retched the contents of his stomach, then wept in great sobs on the stone steps. After a while, still on hands and knees, spitting out the last of it, he said in an anguished whisper, “You sadistic bastard, you knew all along!” Managing to sit back after a moment against the stone baluster, wiping his mouth with his sleeve, Tim said, anguish still his eyes, “She killed my father! She pulled him apart!”

After controlling himself with the greatest of effort, he looked up fearfully at the old Cardinal saying, “What have you done? How will I protect my Fiammetta?”