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THE 903 swung deep into
before beginning its long trek back towards H Street. Calliel hopped off at a dark
corner stop without street signs, well past my stop. He watched as the bus
disappeared down the hill, then crossed the street.
The sidewalks here were new, and so were the homes, which stood like shadowy sentinels in a lonely half-circle in the middle of a field a quarter mile off. They appeared empty, the freshly laid and rain-glistening asphalt of the street leading to them ending abruptly just a hundred or so yards on in a dirt road that devolved into a weed-choked path. He marched along the road and then onto the path, his footfalls crunching, until he came to the leftmost house of the cul-de-sac. He crossed the porch and reached for the handle of the front door and twisted it. Certainly not to my surprise, it opened. He went in. I was tugged through just before he closed it behind him.
I didn't know what to expect. Did angels kick off their shoes and pour themselves a cold one and catch up on the news or their favorite TV show? The home was furnished, and there was power coming to it—he reached for a lamp and clicked it on—and then, indeed, he sat on the sofa after taking off his longcoat and pulling off his boots. He took a deep breath and leaned back and closed his eyes again. A few minutes later he rose and walked into the kitchen and opened the fridge.
There was food in there—leftovers! And beer! He opened a half-empty bag of deli turkey and made himself a sandwich; with a bottle of what looked like a micro-brew he devoured the sandwich over the sink before moving back to the living room, bottle in hand, and sat back on the couch.
Was this some sort of halfway house for angels? Did other angels use it too? Would others show up later like dormmates in a college?
I glanced around for a Bible or other religious literature, for a cross, a rosary, an altar complete with a knife for sacrificing lambs, anything. But there was nothing.
It was a nicely furnished home. Television, cozy furniture, warm lighting. The art here and there wasn't religious in theme; instead it was tasteful with the feel of being original and perhaps even a little eccentric. A twisted driftwood piece sat on the TV; on the wall behind it was a painting of a young girl standing on the concrete remains of a pier, looking seaward.
He stood abruptly and downed the rest of the brew in two large chugs, set the empty bottle on the coffee table, then made his way into a little study adjacent to the master bedroom. On a nice roll-top desk was a laptop. He sat and pulled the cover up and logged in.
Angels—using computers? What was his log-in: "DivinePresence"? Was his password "NoHellforYou23" or something similar?
I looked. His log-in: Calliel. I have no idea what his password was, since it showed up as nothing but black dots in the entry bar. Soon he was on Google, where he typed my name in the search field: "Ray Wilms." He hit enter and waited as the results came back.
I stared, astonished.
There I was, link after link after link. The top of the page read: "About 4,600 results (0.16i seconds)."
"i"? As in "imaginary"? As in the set of complex numbers?
I peered at the links. Calliel took his time looking them over. I didn't know if that was significant or not.
The first one:
RAYMOND DOUGLAS WILMS—
San Diego, California
The light-green text just beneath read: "Ray Wilms"
No period, no "http" or "https," no ".com" or ".net" or ".org" or even ".god."
Beneath that was text: "Professor of Mathematics at
, 13 years.
Sixty-two years old; birthdate: February 24, 1952. Projected deathdate:
2011—2015. Primary life habits ..." San Diego Cooperative
But the text ended.
What did it say about my “primary life habits”? And what did it say after that?
How did Google know about my "primary life habits"? Was there some sort of heavenly Google, one that angels used? It sure as hell looked like it—pun intended!
Was Google run by cherubs? Was God the CEO? It seemed entirely unlikely, especially when I considered the company's many greed-driven policies and intrusions into users' privacy. Google's mantra of "Don't Be Evil" had more holes in it than a dartboard in an Irish pub.
No, this was a different Google, one that just happened to share the earthly one's name and knew a great deal more.
I gazed at the next two links, which was all I could see over Calliel's right shoulder. I tried getting closer; I turned and blew air as hard as I could, hoping the thrust would move me. No luck.
I turned around, stared. The second link read:
In green: "cynicism"; beneath that was an incomplete sentence: "The death of his mother (August 19, 1973), coupled with ..."
I gaped, speechless. The mention of Mom twisted something very unpleasant in my gut. And I knew what "coupled with ..." meant. I didn't want to think of it, and pushed it out of my head.
The third link read:
The green writing beneath it: "Assignment: Calliel.” Beneath that: "Probability of success: less than two percent."
Calliel didn't seem to notice his name or the dim probability statement, but I sure as shit had. What "probability of success"? The probability that I would make it into Heaven? Two lousy percent?
"Click number three!" I shouted. "Number three!"
But he didn't. Instead he scrolled through several pages before finally settling on a link I couldn't see due to his body blocking the way. I tried to read what came up; the URL bar read only "history."
Cynic was a word I kept seeing over and over again. So was skeptic, atheist, bitter, angry, rude, overbearing, and arrogant. I spied the word victim shoot by several times, and involuntarily closed my eyes each time afterward.
The link he clicked next came up with a hi-res photo of me walking out of Lory Hall, one I didn't know existed. There were others beneath it: me on the trolley, me at the supermarket, me at home grading papers, even one of me emerging from the shower with a towel around my waist!
I tried reading the text (and the URL bar at the top), but received yet another surprise when it wasn't in English, but in a language that literally made my eyes water. Many of the letters began almost invisibly, darkened, then faded out (left to right). Others weren't in black text but in the entire spectrum of the rainbow. Still others seemed to move and shift about, which caused the fadey letters to change. I couldn't recognize anything like punctuation or structure. Calliel, however, didn't seem to struggle at all. He sat back in his chair and read, or did whatever one does with information presented in such a way.
(Was it even information as humans knew it? The researcher in me was fascinated. Did this "language" somehow make it possible to solve complex mathematics problems otherwise considered unsolvable?)
Here I was in all my glory, and I couldn't read what the hell was being said about me! I wondered aloud why some of the links and text were in English and not this uber-language, then shut up. It made no difference in any case; and in any case whatever that uber-language had to say about me couldn't have been all that complimentary. I was almost grateful I couldn't read it.
He closed that page, then opened several more. Again the language was indecipherable; more photos that I had no idea had been taken came up. I realized no such photos could have been taken. There was one of me sitting at my kitchen table, head in my hands, an open newspaper pinned beneath my elbows and a half-eaten bowl of cereal pushed out of the way. I remembered that day: it was less than a year ago, just before I met Calliel. No one was there with me. That was a large part of the reason I was in such a desperate, lonesome state!
Imagine my surprise when he called up YouTube!
Videos of me! Pages and pages of them!
He got up, and I received a third shock: I didn't get tugged along with him! Moments later I heard him peeing. I heard him zip up, and then ... wheee! Like a stretched rubber band I zoomed out of the study back over his shoulder while he fished in the fridge for another beer. He twisted the cap off and tossed it on the counter, then shuffled back into the study, where he sat once more and started looking over the videos.
While he was peeing, I'd gotten a good look at them, and hoped—hoped—he wouldn't click any of them. For they were, top to bottom, the most reprehensible moments of my sorry existence. A video Hall of Shame of Dr. Ray D. Wilms' pathetic life, titled with dates in bold.
He clicked on one anyway. My gut sinking, I looked away. But that didn't keep the sound from coming through. I knew what video he had selected and the moment in my life it highlighted. Or, rather, lowlighted.
"You don't have a clue, do you?" I heard myself say in stereo. I was speaking to a student, one whose face I will never forget.
"I ... I do ... just give me a chance, Dr. Wilms ..." offered the boy. My memory of his voice I must have diluted somehow, because he sounded even more intimidated and desperate than I remember.
"D-Y BY D-X," I shouted nonsensically. "Generalized to indefinite integrals given WHAT CONSTRAINTS?"
"Uh ... the ... the curve ... assuming the curve is ... is smooth in the n-neighbor—?"
"You have no idea what you're talking about, do you?" I heard myself demand. "Not a single clue."
"I do!" he protested. I shriveled inside myself to hear his voice again. I tried poking my spiritual fingers in my spiritual ears to block out the audio, but heard him stutter, plain as day: "I ... I … I'm just nervous is all. I know this…. I ... It's only half a point, Dr. Wilms, half a point! I can't afford to take this class again—"
"It's done," I heard myself say with all the emotion of an executioner. "I've already submitted final grades. You got a D-plus, Mr. McMann, and will have to retake this class and obtain a passing grade in order to complete your major. Good day."
I didn’t watch the video, but I might as well have. The memory of that crestfallen kid walking out of my office was there, vivid as it was horrifying.
The video didn't end there, as I knew it wouldn't. I heard Calliel chuckle darkly when the worst part of it came, which was me erasing the boy's passing C-minus on my yet-to-be-submitted final grade ledger and changing it to a not-passing D-plus.
The video ended.
Eyes closed, I waited for him to click the follow-up video that had to be there, one that detailed the boy's suicide a week later. When I heard nothing but the quiet, steady clicking of the mouse's flywheel, I cautiously opened my eyes and looked.
He quit surfing and took a swig of beer. The video he chose next featured me dressing down a thoroughly overwhelmed customer service representative at the cable company I subscribed to for overcharging me $4.99 and who had no idea how to resolve the matter.
"You've got no education, do you?" I heard myself ask, poison in my voice. "You cuddled that worthless high-school diploma like it meant something, and then you went husband hunting while fantasizing about shitting out kids, and as a result the best you’ve ever managed in life is this, a minimum-wage food-stamp grind and mind-numbing ignorance that you’ll pass on to your progeny!”
I righteously pounded the counter with the last two words.
Like the first video, I couldn't watch. I heard the woman croak, "Ex-excuse me ..." and leave her post crying. I heard myself yell, "Now who the hell is gonna help me? CAN I PLEASE GET SOMEONE WHO KNOWS WHAT THE HELL THEY'RE DOING?"
It was an assistant manager, as I recall, and indeed the video revealed his calm voice after several suffocating moments weighed down with shamed silence.
"I can help you, Mr. Wilms ... If you'd just lower your voice, I'll take care of you ..."
"It's DOCTOR Wilms, thank you, and I'll lower my voice when I get some satisfaction!"
"Will do, Dr. Wilms," said the man, not intimidated. A few moments later, and after some rapid clicking on computer keys: "Your account has been credited $4.99. It'll appear on next month's statement ..."
Like the first video, the most shameful moment had yet to occur, which Calliel clicked and watched this time: that of me sitting in my car slamming my fists on the wheel and shouting, "FUCKING INGRATE DUMBSHIT APEFUCK ASSHOLES! FUCKING SHIT-FOR-BRAINS BITCH! FUCKING RIPOFFS! ..."
And on and on and on.
It didn't stop there. Calliel was a good researcher, as it turned out. He watched video after video after video, studying me with Zen master-like concentration. He'd lean forward every now and again and write on an open note pad (in that indescribable language, remarkably).
He got up to pee several more times, and to fetch more beer. The bathroom runs always had me decoupled from him, only to reattach when he flushed and left. I conjectured there must be some privacy function in the anchor. After all, I wouldn't want someone to watch me piss. When it happened a fourth time I settled on that as my working hypothesis and left it at that.
The shame of my life was laid bare those long hours, and I couldn't stop the tears from welling up and spilling over. My life had been an utter failure. The proof was in the endless links and the angel clicking on them. It was digital Chinese water torture.
The saying goes that you see your life flash before your eyes before you die. Well, for all intents and purposes, it's true. At least for me it was.
I didn't question the gross unfairness of it. After all, there were bright interludes in between all these woeful and horrid moments. But I found myself praying he'd not call any of them up and watch them. Somehow they were more shameful than these shameful acts, given that the man granted them so completely polluted them by way of his actions afterward. It was like taking a gift from a loved one and trashing it with as much contempt as possible as the loved one looked on, hurt and sad and not understanding.
It was midnight when he stopped watching my awful life for a few moments and typed in the searchbar: "Nora Williamson."
The woman Calliel spoke to on the bus came up.
He smiled. So did I.
The top link read:
NORA JEAN WILLIAMSON—admitted into Heaven 9:43 pm