Made In Heaven: A Birthrite Series Short by Tiffany Apan

A half-moon cast its light upon the wintry blanket covering the town of Plains in New York state. Cold breezes made their way down the sidewalk on Muholland, passing the recently vacant Blake residence before turning onto Elm Street.
Made In Heaven: A Birthrite Series Short
Made In Heaven: A Birthrite Series Short by Tiffany Apan
About a block down from the Livingston Museum (former holiday home to James Livingston, founder of the town in the 19th century) stood the Johnson residence, a two-story Colonial brick house. Only one member of the family was left inside on this eve, and he was making himself ready for what he knew would be a life-changing night. Eighteen-year-old Reginald stood in front of his bedroom mirror, combing pommade through his light brown hair. Taking in a breath, he regarded his reflection, contemplating what lay ahead of him and hoping that he wouldn't lose his nerve. Since that previous summer, he had been saving the money earned from his job at the five and ten (or at least what he was able to keep after helping his parents with household expenses), making tentative plans for this very night. The day the stock market crashed - a day also known as "Black Tuesday" - only a little over two years prior ushered in a recession and many changes throughout the country. Times were tough and for most families, money was tight. Thankfully, this town was one with a strong sense of community in which most were willing to step up and help a neighbor in need. Many Plains residents were also volunteering their free time at the soup kitchens in the city. But despite the inherent goodwill of the townsfolk, something sinister churned beneath the surface, and for a select few, it had been brought to light just prior to Thanksgiving. Since the end of November, there seemed to be a shift in Plains and its residents. This was especially so with Luis Kratz and Paul Turner, the fathers of Jimmy and Carl (two of Reginald's closest friends and former schoolmates). Anytime Reginald saw Mr. Kratz and Mr. Turner, both men regarded him in a rather peculiar but knowing manner, as if they were on the cusp of fully understanding. Reginald remained haunted by what happened to Jimmy, and felt guilty for keeping it from Luis. Even with Paul Turner, Reginald dealt with an inner struggle as he knew of Carl's true whereabouts. As for most other residents, they simply accepted the story of Carl and Jimmy running away to Elkton, Maryland and eloping with their girlfriends (even though it all made very little sense if one really stopped and gave the matter thought). To Reginald, everyone appeared to be under a kind of hypnosis, a in which their eyes were widely shut. Had that always been the case? he wondered. Whatever the answers to that question might be, there was no questioning the fact that everyone and everything was forever changed. Including and especially Gail. Reginald sighed as her image entered his mind. The two had started going together at the start of junior year in high school. Of course, this was not their first Valentine's Day together, but it was the first since the events that ripped all of their lives at the seams. Both were still reeling from losing their friends to a strange world and set of circumstances, as though it had taken place just yesterday. Even after three months, believing and accepting Jimmy's gruesome fate was difficult... ... “We have to go,” Reginald yelled. As the ground beneath Linda started to collapse, she looked up in time to see Jimmy rush at her, pushing her out of harm's way before he fell into the abyss. The remaining four friends stared in horror and disbelief as Linda screamed her love’s name. Winifred closed her eyes and sympathy filled Daniel’s... ...The memories still threw a wrench in Reginald's gut... ...As Linda crawled frantically toward the ledge in search of the boy she loved, dark-winged creatures were nearly risen. She protested wildly when the group took hold of her, carrying her away from the ledge... Volcanic rock and lava fell upon their path as they dodged the demons flying at them. They could see the portal just up ahead, starting to close. As blood-thirsty monsters closed in on them, the group made a mad dash. After allowing the women in first, the men followed... ...While Linda, Dorothy, and Carl had survived that night, none of the three returned to Plains. After the truth about Dorothy Blake's lineage was found out (a discovery that Reginald was still having quite a time digesting), she stayed behind out of necessity, as had Linda. Before falling into the Hellpit, Jimmy also uncovered some truths of his own heritage, which was somewhat similar with Dorothy's (what Winifred seemed to describe as some sort of ancient angel-human hybrid dating back to pre-flood Earth...). When their group escaped through Hector's cave and reached the safety of Winifred's cottage, it was also found out that Linda was pregnant. Of course, Jimmy had fathered the child. A baby that - for the time being at least - needed to be heavily guarded. As for Carl, he simply chose to stay with Dorothy, and the two married at Christmas. The Blake residence was now void of inhabitants, as Dorothy's father, Matthew, moved his wife back to Illinois. Mrs. Blake had also endured serious trauma, and was found in a horrific and deteriorating state in the basement of the old Fleming Orphanage on that fateful night. Reginald also made it a point to stay in touch with Matthew's cousin, Tahatan, a full-blooded American Indian from the Sioux lineage of the Blake family. His small house was located in a wooded area of Northeastern Pennsylvania near Wilkes-Barre. Reginald and Tahatan often corresponded through letters. Even in writing, the man had a way of making a person feel at ease, allowing Reginald deeper understanding to what was around them. Tahatan also provided assurance in regards to Gail, but Reginald still worried. After the couple returned home through the portal, both immediately noticed the spell that was cast over the town. No one seemed to notice they had been gone, except of course Dorothy's father. And while Mr. Kratz and Mr. Turner seemed to be experiencing an awakening of sorts, a dark shadow of blindness spread over everyone else. A darkness never present before (or perhaps was, but our eyes just weren't opened to it before). Then there was Gail. Shortly after their arrival back in town, the normally talkative, opinionated, and outspoken young woman was suddenly withdrawn. Even the release of the Warner Bros. romantic drama, Under 18, a film she had been panning since the previews due to some chauvinist themes, didn't seem to shake her as much as it normally would have. Sure she made the occasional comments of hope for its failure, but overall, she had become an empty shell. Reginald understood that this was mainly due to losing Linda and Dorothy, her two best friends. Since childhood, the girls had been inseparable. Of course, Gail still had Bernice, Caroline, and other girls from school to talk to, but it wasn't the same. Of course, Reginald was there for her but knew he couldn't offer the sort of companionship a close girlfriend could. Throughout this ordeal, he learned just how important a young woman's friends really were to her. In many ways, he felt helpless, as though he wasn't and couldn't be enough. He sighed, sitting down on the bed and opening the top drawer of his nightstand. Inside was a small, red velvet pouch. Since the end of junior year, Reginald had contemplated proposing marriage to Gail before graduation, even speaking with her father the day after Thanksgiving. After Alan Carr had given his blessing, Reginald started working even more furiously at pooling together the money needed for a ring. He even started browsing some nearby jewelry stores (hoping none of his schoolmates would see him and report back to Gail). But between helping his parents with home expenses and trying to save up for a car, there was not enough for even the smallest of engagement rings. Reginald was starting to give up hope of offering a proper marriage proposal, but in mid-January, his father called him into the study one night after supper. It was in there that Ben Johnson presented his son with an antique ring, one that had belonged to Ben's own mother prior to her passing. The band was made of white gold, and tiny diamonds were arranged in a floral design. It was a classy but unique ring and not all large, suiting Gail quite well. It was also just her ring size. His memories of his grandmother were fond ones as he recalled her thick, Russian accent talking of her homeland. It would mean the world to not only Reginald, but his entire family to see Gail wearing the ring. He took comfort in knowing that his girlfriend wasn't one for frills and large jewels, but the fear of being turned down remained at the forefront. Months ago, he had been certain that Gail would accept. Of course, nerves were hardly unusual in such a situation but their predicament differed from those of most other couples their age. Therefore, he couldn't help worrying. What if her view on life and marriage had changed since (literally) going to Hell and back? What if she decides that she does not want to get married after all? Reginald knew he would be heartbroken if such a thing were to happen. For him, Gail was definitely “the one." He loved everything about her, loved how she was unlike the girls her age who devoured dating advice columns and, even in the receding economy, obsessed over fashion trends. Gail was her own person, a girl with a mind of her own and one he found very attractive. His favorite pastimes included sitting with her in Chuck's Diner or a coffee shop, talking of history, politics, philosophy, and anything else that required one to think beyond the safety of the status quo. With Gail, what you saw was what you got. And I love what I got... Reginald slipped the pouch into his pocket. Drawing in a breath, he took up the three roses he had bought and headed downstairs to retrieve his coat. He was grateful his parents were already gone for the evening. Being alone in the house allowed him to focus more on how he hoped the night's events would play out. His plan was to take Gail to The Florentine, a popular Italian bistro in town (fortunately, he thought ahead enough to make reservations in early December, therefore securing them a table) before going to the place where he planned on proposing. He left the house, stepping out into the cold air. The winter night was beautiful and crisp. Snow covered the lawns and houses, and there seemed to be a million stars in the blackened sky. The moon shone overhead, lighting his path to the Carr residence. On the way, he passed by the Blake house and paused. Vapors left his mouth with each exhale as he regarded what now resembled an empty tomb. The events of only a couple of months ago played back to him and a ghastly image of Gavril Alexandru assaulted his mind, causing a shudder to escape down his body. There were times when he could still feel the ancient patriarch's presence looming from somewhere in the distance. Shaking away such thoughts, he steeled himself and continued to the Carr residence. After what seemed like an eternity, he finally arrived and tried to keep his hand from shaking as he rang the doorbell. Tonight their relationship would change, either for better or for worse. He took a step backward, his stomach doing somersaults. Inside the house, footsteps descended a staircase. Gail... His heart palpitated. When the door opened, there was his girl, dressed in red, a color that always suited her well. His breath hitched upon seeing how beautiful she looked. She smiled when she saw him, though her dark eyes reflected one forlorn. She very much resembled her mother, Janina, having inherited the Persian-Italian features, though her light skin was of Alan's German-Scottish lineage. To Reginald, she very much looked like his imagination's conjuring of Snow White, especially when she wore her dark red lipcolor. Smokey eye makeup gave her an edge and slight vampish appearance. To him, she was perfect. Every inch of her (and he had been allowed a full view on a few very precious and far too in between occasions). "Hi, Reg," she said, her voice uncharacteristically soft and timid. "Hi, honey." He extended his hand and she took it. As their gloved hands joined, the two locked eyes and their lips met briefly. "You ready?" he asked after a moment of silence. She nodded and he reached into his jacket, presenting her with the three roses, which she accepted with a faint but grateful smile and 'thank you.' The couple walked hand in hand to The Florentine, with Reginald feeling as though his heart might burst through his chest. Many times, he had rehearsed his marriage proposal, hoping that he wouldn't freeze when the time came. If she rejected him, he knew the healing process would be a long one. But for the time being, he decided to focus on having an enjoyable evening with her. If this is to be our last night together, I want it to at least be a memorable one. They arrived at The Florentine, stepping into the warm, crowded restaurant before being led to their table. As the couple glanced over the menu, Reginald stole a glimpse at his girlfriend, noticing how lost and far away she seemed. Nervously, he cleared his throat. "So...how's your literature paper coming along?" The question made him cringe. This evening was supposed to be a romantic one. Talking of school hardly suggested romance. Gail looked up, regarding him for a moment before answering. "Fine, I suppose. I need to do a little more research, though. I'm still not too happy with what I have so far and I want to do Mary Shelley justice. I'm also still perturbed about not being allowed to cover Kate Chopin. It's disgusting how the powers that be and lemmings of that time treated her. It's also not as though she was the only female of her time writing about the issues she did anyhow." The corners of Reginald's lips slightly turned up upon seeing the old spark present in his girlfriend's eyes. She had always been fired up over such subjects and was determined to acquire her aviators license just as Neta Snook, Bessie Coleman, and others like them had. He waited for her to continue with what she was saying, but the spark had only returned for that single moment. When she grew silent again, his heart sank. This Valentine's dinner was starting to feel more like an awkward first date. Carefully, he reached across the table and took her hand. He felt her tense, but then she relaxed. Part of him was growing irritated, though he tried his best at pushing those feelings away. This was Gail, the girl he loved. The girl he hoped to be married to. She had been through a lot and had lost a lot. We all did... As if reading his thoughts, Gail sighed. "I'm sorry, Reg. This has just all been so difficult. You know...?" He tightened his hold on her hand, his heart melting at the site of her dark eyes gazing at him. "I know, and I understand. But please...never forget that I'm here for you and always have your best interest." As Gail's eyes drifted downward, Reginald thought he could see her swallow and blink away tears. "I know." A slight crack was in her voice. "I do appreciate everything you're doing...and have done for me..." After the waiter took their order, conversation remained sporadic and stilted throughout dinner, right up until the time they were ready to leave. Reginald's heart was pounding as he held the restaurant door open for her. The two exited, and he anticipated taking her to the place where he wanted to propose. "Would you like to go for a walk?" he asked. "Sure," she replied. The couple walked the sidewalk, their gloved hands clasped around one another and their breaths producing icy vapors with each exhale. Reginald looked to the time he would be able to afford a car, but in this particular moment, he enjoyed walking with the girl he loved beneath a winters night sky. He wished for time to freeze, just like the snow covering the grounds, so that this moment might last forever. The two arrived in front of St. Gregory the Great Church and their steps suddenly halted. His light eyes and her dark ones turned up to the building. The old church was always quite beautiful at night, lit just enough from the outside to create an ethereal and almost otherworldly effect. We'll likely be getting married here, Reginald thought. Gail's family was Catholic and had been attending St. Gregory's since she and her brothers were small children. He glanced at his girl, seeing her solemn expression. "Would you like to go inside?" he asked, with more caution than he would have liked. "Maybe we can get warmed up a little." And I can work up my nerve again... Gail bit her dark red lip, before saying, "Okay." The two went inside, taking in the stone work and paintings of Heavenly figures. For some reason, the atmosphere of St. Gregory's felt different tonight. Different from when it was open for Mass. Celestial beings on the walls and ceiling seemed to gaze down knowingly as the couple entered, as though the angels were alive and ready to fly down from their places high above. As though our union is blessed. The thought passed through Reginald, giving him a slight jolt. He took Gail's hand. She smiled faintly at him, clutching the three roses as they walked down the aisle between the pews. Their procession was slow, their feet seeming to almost float. Despite all that occurred, being together this way was still quite natural for them. When they reached the front pew, Gail genuflected to the Holy Cross behind the pulpit before sitting down. Reginald hesitated, wondering if he should do the same. Or would that seem as though I'm trying too hard? While his paternal grandmother had been born into the Russian Orthodox Church, the rest of his family was a variety of protestant faiths, mostly Presbyterian. Since going steady with Gail, he had been trying to familiarize himself with the Catholic faith. He knew some would make an issue out of their union, but he didn't care and neither did she. He did, however, fear offending her. Especially now. If I do or don't genuflect... He turned upon feeling her eyes regarding him and saw a rather unreadable expression. Giving her a quick, bashful smile, he finally sat down, his heart rate increasing. The two allowed their gazes to wander the Sanctuary, taking in the exquisite artwork surrounding them and getting lost in the scenery. "Nice of you both to drop in this evening." The voice from behind wrenched the couple, causing them to jump and turn around in their seats. Father Louis, the priest at St. Gregory's, stood in the aisle behind them. Reginald flinched; he had not heard the priest enter. Gail hadn’t seemed to either. Perhaps we were just distracted... "Hello, Father," Reginald said. "Hi, Father," Gail added. The middle-aged, salt-and-pepper haired priest smiled faintly and nodded in response. Reginald knew that if Gail accepted his proposal, they would be meeting regularly with Father Louis for premarital counseling. The priest's eyes surveyed the room before returning to the young couple in front of him. "Rather dark tonight," he stated. Chills rose on Reginald's forearms. He understood what the priest meant and knew Gail did as well. Father Louis had been present throughout the ordeals of that November past, and was one of few individuals with knowledge and understanding over what was taking place (what still is). The old buildings and forest of the Fleming property remained quiet, but that same malevolence remained. As though it were lurking, lying in wait. Reginald and Gail both nodded, watching the priest's grave expression. In the dim light, the man's eyes almost seemed to have a slight glint. "They are still watching," said Fr. Louis, confirming Reginald's thoughts. "And waiting." The young couple looked at one another and then back at the priest. "They keep still for now," the man continued, "but that does not mean they have forgotten." He paused, as if considering making a confession of his own. "November...it was not the first time I have seen this evil." Reginald frowned. "What do you mean, Father?" Fr. Louis's eyes shifted. "My brother...he faced such forces years ago, shortly before his passing. I was still a young boy, not yet old enough to enter the seminary. But I remember. I remember him and how he was never the same afterward." The man's eyes returned to the two younger ones. "He was also a member of the clergy, a man of faith. But nothing could prepare him for what he witnessed on the night he--" Father Louis cut his words off, averting his gaze toward the large crucifix in the pulpit. "The night he what?" Gail managed. The priest returned his gaze to the two kids and shook his head. "Nevermind. Now is not the time. I understand this is a special night for the two of you and I do not wish to spoil that. Perhaps another time we can discuss such matters." "Certainly," Reginald said. I also hope to be meeting with you in the very near future...though for a slightly different reason... The priest studied the young man intently. For a moment, there seemed to be understanding between the older and younger. Another glint flashed in the priest's eyes, causing Reginald to let out a small gasp. He recalled receiving that same stare from Winifred and her son Daniel. They were able to read thoughts...they belong to an ancient bloodline similar to that of Dorothy and Jim... "Father..." Reginald uttered. He thought he saw the priest give a small, confirming nod. Reginald could also feel Gail's eyes shifting between her boyfriend and the priest, as though she too understood. But who is this brother he speaks of? And what happened to him? After a long silence between the three, Fr. Louis spoke. "You two have read R. H. Charles's The Book of Enoch the Prophet, am I correct?" Reginald and Gail nodded. "Read it again," the priest said, and after genuflecting at the crucifix, he turned toward his chamber. At the door, he paused, facing them once more. "Be safe tonight. Have fun, but keep aware." He regarded the young couple a moment longer, this time his eyes growing brighter, and filling with what appeared to be encouragement. "I think...we'll be speaking again very soon." The priest's eyes let off a small gleam once more before he retreated to his chamber. Reginald's face burned as he remained paralyzed in his seat. He turned to Gail, who regarded him rather inquisitively. In a way, he hoped she hadn't caught what Father Louis was implying (our prenuptial meetings), but on the other hand, such a notion also provided some hope. The couple took one another in, and he thought he saw the corners of her lips turn into something of a small, loving smile. In that moment, the couple once again felt as though the eyes of the saints and angels were upon them. And perhaps it was simply their imaginations, but for a mere few seconds, both would almost swear to hearing what sounded like music. A beautiful, celestial sound unlike anything either had heard in their Earthly lives. After sitting for a moment longer, the couple rose, walking up the aisle without a word between them, but their energies seeming to circulate through their linked hands. As they stepped out into the cold air once again, Reginald suggested going to Chuck's for hot chocolate. His heart was pounding all over again as he ordered two for them to go. After handing Gail her cup, he suggested a walk in the park. It was relatively close, a quick walk from the diner. Every one of his nerve endings was at attention as the park's entrance came into view. The two entered, walking up the stone path. A few other couples were there, some walking side by side while others huddled together and necked (the latter included their friends Evan and Bernice). Reginald and Gail continued toward the angel fountain. This was where he planned on proposing and was relieved when he saw the area vacant. As though that spot had been reserved specifically for them. The intricately cut stone angel, a seraph, towered in the middle of the now icy pool, four of its six wings wrapped protectively around it while the other two were fully spanned. Its many eyes were fixed on the approaching couple, as if awaiting their arrival. The statue's origins were unknown, save for stories of it being the work of an Italian artisan. Supposedly, it was erected at the time of the town's founding. Legends behind the Seraphim told of them being the angels closest to God. To Reginald this was befitting, as he saw Gail as the soulmate made for him. Made in Heaven... Drawing in a breath, he turned to face her. "Baby...are you warm enough?" She nodded, taking a sip from her cup. "Good," he said, trying to control the tremor in his voice. It was now or never. Whatever happened tomorrow, whatever was to occur with the old Fleming Orphanage on the hill and elsewhere could wait. For that moment, Gail was all he wanted, along with the reassurance of her wanting him as much as he wanted her. Her chocolate brown eyes grew curious, yet there was a sense of knowing as he set his cup down on the granite lip of the fountain's pool. When he rose, he reached for her, taking her hand and holding it for a second before speaking again. "Gail, honey, what we all went through back in November changed our lives. Until then, I thought that for certain...that I could be everything for you. But I've come to realize that while I can try...I simply can't. I know how much you miss Dorothy and Linda, and I know I can never offer the sort of companionship the three of you had together." She frowned, opening her mouth to speak, but Reginald stopped her. "Sweetheart..." He reached into his coat pocket, producing the small, velvet pouch. Gail's eyes grew wide, staring at the little red bag before looking up at him again. "Reg..." He held the pouch in front of him. "Sweetheart, you are everything I ever wanted. And since we started going together, all I ever wanted. And while I can't be everything for you, I want to always be here for you. We went through something that changed us and our lives, and I want to be with you as we go through the many more changes that life will bring. The good and the bad." He knelt on one knee in front of her, pulling the pouch open and producing his grandmother's ring. In one breath, he said, "Gail Sophia Carr, will you be my wife?" Her eyes widened and her breath hitched. Reginald watched with hope and great anticipation, his heart pounding while awaiting her answer. She swallowed, her body trembling as her eyes welled. Her lips made attempts at forming words as two tears slid down the side of her face, stung by the cold. Finally, she brought herself to nod and manage out, "Of course, Reg." She was barely able to utter the words, but she had said what he hoped to hear. Part of him was in disbelief as his heart soared, but another part had known all along what her answer would be. He recalled Father Louis's final words to them earlier and smiled. Under the night sky and the watch of the seraph, Reginald removed the glove from Gail's left hand and slid the ring on the appropriate finger before their lips joined in a passionate kiss. The cold winter night surrounded them as they were wrapped in one another and the comfort of their love. Both knew that they were headed toward an uncertain future, one that was of this Earth and not of it. Though however uncertain tomorrow might be, they would still have each other.

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