The pain was unbearable. I felt as if every part of me had been beaten with a hammer. Every muscle ached; every bone felt broken, and my head felt as if it would explode at the slightest thought. I wanted to cry out, to voice the anguish that tore at my soul. Yet, I could find no voice, and darkness was all around me as if my eyes would not open. I yearned to scream, as if that simple act might lessen the agony, reduce the torture.
Time passed slowly, and I began to wonder if I was perhaps in hell, but after minutes that seemed hours, I began to feel parts of my body. My hands moved, my feet, and yet the source of the pain I felt was not in those extremities. I felt breath move in and out of my lungs, also without discomfort. My fingers felt the touch of loose dirt. It was becoming apparent that the agony I felt was not a physical pain, but an emotional one, and I wondered what had happened to me to cause such excruciating anguish.
I realized the sensation that was overwhelming me was one of loss. Like a part of me had been ripped away and disposed of. I felt incomplete, only a shadow of who I was supposed to be, only a small piece of the whole.
I willed my eyelids to open, and at first, they wouldn’t obey, but slowly they began to part, and I was blinded by the sudden brightness. I realized I was outdoors, lying on my back, and the light was the sun. As my eyes fluttered open more and more, I saw blue sky above. I moved my eyes and saw fluffy puffs of cloud floating high in the distance, like balls of cotton. The sunlight felt warm and soothing.
I tried to move my arms and legs, but they were stiff. Eventually, I was able to pull myself up to a sitting position and could see the shallow crater within which I lay. As I stood, my legs wobbled at first, but then I gained my balance and felt strength returning to my limbs. I stepped out of the crater, staring in wonder at a place where it seemed a bomb had fallen, or a meteor. A pile of red dirt ringed the depression.
The area around my crater was flat plains, bordered by large hills on two sides, covered with trees. The plain was covered with high grasses and wildflowers, with clumps of maples and oaks here and there. From my current vantage, I could see nothing else. I wondered where I was.
Then another question forced its way into my thoughts.
Who am I?
I couldn’t remember my name. In fact, I couldn’t remember anything. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. I knew language. I had educated knowledge, but no memory at all of anything that included me. I felt my pockets. No wallet, no identification. Nothing that might tell me who I am.
I examined myself thoroughly and was relieved to find I had no injuries, which seemed very strange. I had no cuts, no bruises, not even a scar that I could find.
Who am I? How did I get here? What had happened to me?
The questions in my mind demanded answers, but none were forthcoming. I was lost, in the middle of nowhere, and without memory of how I’d come to be here. Yet, for some reason, I suddenly knew I was in the United States of America. I was aware of my general location, but unsure of how I’d come to know that.
If I was going to find any answers, I knew I needed to get moving. The sun was just above the horizon, but was it rising or setting? An odd sensation came over me, and for some reason I couldn’t explain, I felt sure it was morning, and I seemed to know which way was north. How could I know that? It must be some residual memory, something my evident partial amnesia had not erased.
A roaring sound from overhead caused me to look upward. A plane flew high towards the east. As I gazed up at it, I suddenly felt as if I was flying toward the plane, but soon realized I had not moved, only my vision had. I could see the markings, faces in the windows, and felt knowledge began to flow into my mind. The plane was a Boeing 747, carrying eighty-four passengers and crew, and heading for the Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City.
How could I know that? It was as if something, someone, had sent me the information. The sensation was so strange, unnerving, and for a fleeting second, I wondered if I was cybernetic or something. I’d seen movies, so such a thought, to my confused brain, seemed a plausible explanation. Yet, there was nothing that would indicate such a thing. No diodes, no terminal points.
I was flesh and blood, wasn’t I? I picked up a rock and scratched the flesh of my forearm. Blood oozed from the wound. I sighed, relieved. That was normal, at least. Yet, my mind seemed far more calculating and faster than should be humanly possible. My vision had zoomed in on an object that was miles away. That was not normal.
Looking at the scratch on my arm, I was shocked to see the wound closing itself, healing at a rapid pace. Within mere seconds, there was no wound at all, only a small amount of blood drying on the surface. More questions. No answers.
“I better get moving,” I said to myself. Hearing my own voice reassured me that I was alive. My voice was deep and natural, and nothing seemed odd about it. I began a strong and fast-paced stride to the east, easily making my way over the uneven terrain.
A thousand-yard jog brought me to the edge of a field of wheat, the first sign of civilization I’d seen in this open landscape. An asphalt road lay beyond.
The field was large, the wheat still young and growing. A rolling center-pivot sprinkler system watered the growing crop automatically. I had to dodge the sprinkler to keep from getting soaked, but I eventually made it to the road, a rural two-lane blacktop running north and south.
Not sure which direction to go, I headed north. It wasn’t long before I heard a vehicle approaching from behind me, and turned to see a late model, black Ford pickup coming up the road. I stuck out my thumb, hoping to hitch a ride, and the truck graciously pulled over to the side.
“What’n tarnation are ya doin’ out here on foot?” said the elderly gentlemen behind the wheel. His face was worn and rugged from outdoor labor, with bright gray eyes and a concerned smile on his thin-lipped mouth. He wore a plaid shirt and blue jeans, with dirt-caked, brown boots. A wide-brimmed straw hat sat upon his head, shading his face from the bright summer sun.
“Hi,” I said with a wave of my hand. I figured it best not to have to answer too many questions until I knew more about what was what, so I made up a plausible story to explain my being alone on the highway. “I … uh … broke down and didn’t have my cell phone with me. Can you take me to the nearest town?”
“Well,” he said, “I jus’ left Hinton. I’m headin’ up to El Reno to get some parts for my sprinklers. I can take ya back to Hinton if ya need, or you can ride with me to El Reno.”
I smiled and nodded as I opened the passenger door. “El Reno will be just fine.” The name of the city tugged at my consciousness. Not a memory, exactly, but I felt as if something waited for me there.
He returned the smile and nodded pleasantly as I climbed into the cab. “Not a problem. Bill Hutchins is my name. Glad to give ya a hand.”
I would have loved to tell him my name, but I had no idea what it was. Thinking fast, I made one up on the spot. “Zak Storm. It’s a pleasure.”
We shook hands. He put the truck in gear and continued north along what I suddenly knew was Highway 8. I found that knowledge odd, as I couldn’t recall ever being out here before. I also knew Hinton was a small town in the western part of Oklahoma, and he was heading toward Interstate 40, which would take us east to El Reno.
“Storm, eh? I don’t recall any families around these parts named Storm. You look like ya had a rough time.” Bill nodded at my clothes.
For the first time, I realized my clothes where in shambles, as if I’d been wrestling with a mountain lion. My jeans were covered in dirt and huge rip ran up the lower left leg. My blue-cotton shirt was torn down one side and covered in dirt and black soot, no doubt from the burned-out crater I’d awakened in.
“Uh … I had a hard time under my car, trying to see what was wrong. It’s a ’96 Camaro, low to the ground.” It was amazing how quickly I seemed to be able to pull such plausible explanations out of my –
“You should get ya a truck. Much easier to work on than them sports cars.” He grinned, interrupting my thought. “Did ya lose your ring?”
I was caught off-guard by that question and looked to see a white circle around the middle finger of my right hand, indicating there had been a ring there. The skin around it was darker from sun exposure. These country farmers sure are observant.
“Yeah, not sure what happened to it. Must’ve come off while I was under the car, but it’s nothing special.”
I had no idea if it was special or not. The fact that it was on my middle finger told me it wasn’t a wedding ring. I hadn’t even thought about whether I was married or not. The width of the band on my finger indicated it had been a large ring.
Was this something important? Was this a clue to my identity? I should have searched the area around the crater. Maybe I can come back and search later.
“Zak!” said Bill for the second time, bringing my thoughts back to the present.
It took a second to realize he was calling me by the name I’d made up. I looked at him apologetically. “Yeah, sorry. Was thinking about my car and how much it’s going to cost me to get a wrecker out there.”
“That’s ok,” he said. “Jus’ wanted to tell ya that there’s some jerky in the glove box if yer hungry.”
“Thanks.” I opened the glove box to find a large bag of homemade jerky, about a pound or more. I opened the bag and took out a stick, biting into it and chewing. It wasn’t bad. In fact, the taste was very intense and appealing.
The drive didn’t take long, less than thirty minutes. El Reno was a busy if not overly large city. As he drove down a road near the Interstate we came across a donut shop. That same pulling sensation that had prompted me to go to El Reno, pulled at me when I saw the shop. I felt a strong desire to stop here.
“This’ll be fine, Bill,” I said. “Can you let me out here?” Bill pulled over and stopped, allowing me to exit the truck.
“Ya sure you’ll be alright?” he asked.
I nodded and smiled. “I’ll be fine. Thanks for the ride.”
“Anytime.” Bill nodded, gave a polite wave, then pulled away back onto the street.
I looked at the little store. The sign read Heavenly Donuts. It was a small establishment with a large front window and a few booths; a line of six stools sat along the main counter. I had no wallet, no identification, and no money. As I passed through the door, I expected to get some stares at my tattered clothing, but none of the four middle-aged patrons gave me a second glance as I walked to a booth and sat down. A young woman wearing a white apron, and holding a pen and pad, came up to me.
“What can I get ya?” she asked.
I was thirsty and didn’t want to come off as a bum.
“How about a coffee and a glass of ice water?” I wondered if I would go to jail if I couldn’t pay for the coffee.
The woman brought my order within minutes. I drained the cool water, leaving only ice in the glass.
What am I going to do? Why am I here?
I didn’t understand why, but for some reason I felt drawn to this place. I felt as if this was where I was supposed to be, even though I couldn’t remember ever being here before. It was an odd feeling, like a sixth sense that I couldn’t fully comprehend, but I knew I was waiting for something to happen.
I took a sip of the coffee as thoughts raced through my mind. Then I heard a voice that seemed disturbingly familiar. “Geez, Zak, you’re a mess. What happened?”
As I tried to place the voice in my addled brain, a young woman in blue jeans and a white button-down blouse slid into the booth across from me.
The first thing I noticed was her short, dark, pixie cut. Below that was a heart-shaped face, beautiful despite the lack of make-up; full lips, a button nose and intense, sassy blue eyes that now peered at me with a look of utter confusion.
I took in all these details within mere seconds. What hit me like a hammer to the head was the large, golden band on the middle finger of her right hand, and especially the intricately carved symbols across the top. It, too, felt familiar, like it was me that should be wearing that ring.
“Do I know you?” I asked, turning my eyes back to her face.
“What?” she asked with surprise. She noticed my right hand. “Zak? Where’s your ring?”
This woman knew me. My name really was Zak. My mind reeled. Did she have the answers to explain my bizarre situation?
Swallowing hard, I said, “I don’t know. I seem to have lost it.” I met her eyes, which bored straight into my own. “I can’t remember who I am. You know me, right? Can you tell me what’s going on?”
I watched as her eyes reflected first confusion, then concern, and finally settled on pure amusement. This was followed by a sudden outburst of laughter.
“Oh, you’ve got to be kidding. This is truly priceless.”
Her mirth-filled eyes looked at me with delight, but also with a hint of concern. My mind wandered over the possibilities. Was she my sister? A girlfriend? Or just a companion?
She reached across the table and took my hands in hers, which sent a jolt of familiarity through me. Her gaze turned to one of compassion and a small, appealing smile crossed her lips.
“Zak? We’ve got to find your ring. Do you know where you lost it?”
That touch told me we were more than friends. I couldn’t recall when or where, but I knew that at some time in the past we’d shared an intimate relationship.
“I know where I woke up, in a hole in the ground, if that’s what you mean.”
“Come on,” she said. “We have to find it.”
She took me by the hand and pulled me from the booth. She paid the waitress for my coffee and led me outside to a red ‘96 Camaro convertible. The top was down, revealing the white, leather interior. So much for my great imagination and original thinking. Seems what I thought I was making up for Bill was the truth.
“Get in,” she said as she hopped over the door into the driver’s seat.
I climbed into the passenger seat. “Who are you, exactly?” I asked, my mind whirling.
She looked at me and smiled, a warm and loving smile that I found mesmerizing, as she started the engine. “I’m Uriel, your partner.”
“My partner?” More questions began to fill my mind. The confusion was maddening, especially with someone sitting next to me that seemed to know everything I didn’t.
“Look. I’m Uriel. You’re Zachariel. We must get your ring. Once you put your ring back on, all your questions will be answered.”
She peeled out of the lot in a hurry and sped off down the street, back towards I-40.
I turned to Uriel and opened my mouth to ask a question, but she held up a finger to silence me.
“No more questions,” she said, her face scowled with exasperation. “The ring will bring you all the answers. You must have lost it where you woke up. It probably came off during your descent.”
Descent? What in the world was she talking about?
“Just one question,” I said.
She put her hand back on the wheel and sighed. “Ok. One.”
“Am I human?”
Uriel’s eyes glowed with delight as she gave a short bark of hilarity. “No.” She said no more.
The drive didn’t take long, and following my directions, we were soon on Highway 8 where I had hitched a ride with Bill.
“It’s just over a thousand yards west, on the other side of that wheat field,” I said. pointing.
Uriel pulled off to the side of the road and stopped the car. “Ok. Get out.”
I climbed out of the car and gazed across the field still being watered. I had a sudden feeling of going in circles, now back where I started, and still having no idea of who…or what…I was.
I suddenly felt Uriel’s arms around me from behind, holding me tightly against her with a strength I found surprising. That embrace left me with a warm, tingly sensation, and I couldn’t suppress the smile that came upon me.
Without warning, there was a sudden whooshing sound and we rose into the air. Turning my head, I saw a great pair of magnificent, golden-feathered wings as she flew us across the field at a swift pace.
Moments later, I saw the crater below. We descended and landed next to the burned-out hole in the ground, where I had first roused from unconsciousness.
“Search the area,” she said. “It has to be here somewhere.”
As she started to look around, I saw those beautiful wings fold, then seem to be absorbed into the back of her blouse until they were gone. It was hard to concentrate on searching for a ring with my mind so full of questions and possibilities. I couldn’t have been more confused if I’d fallen down a rabbit hole into the arms of a mad hatter at a tea party. She said we’re not human. What were we?
My head reeled with questions and speculative answers as we searched the crater. It didn’t take me long to find it in the loose dirt around the crater: a large, golden ring, identical to Uriel’s. I picked it up and it felt familiar. It felt cool to the touch and yet I could feel immense power emanating from the ring.
“I found it,” I said, holding it up and examining it.
“Well, don’t just stand there gawking at it,” she said, crossing her arms impatiently. “Put it on!”
As I slipped the ring onto the middle finger of my right hand, a furious rush of energy washed through my body. I felt my strength and stamina increase a hundred-fold, and all I had forgotten came pouring back into my mind. The sensation was one of intense, fantastic relief and comfort, mixed with a veritable surge of power throughout. I was whole again. I was Zachariel.
I was a Stormguard!
“Zak?” Uriel asked with a touch of concern.
I stuck my right thumb up in the air and nodded, chagrined by the fact I had lost my ring in the first place, not to mention my mind. My ring was what gave me the power and ability to do what a Stormguard must do. Without it, I was far more vulnerable, and the impact with the ground had evidently caused a concussion, and amnesia.
“I can’t believe that happened,” I said with utter embarrassment, as the biological and electronic interfaces between my nervous system and the Halo, my ring, once again integrated. The ring and I become one. This was the part of me that had been missing.
Uriel’s humorous amusement at what had happened to me, now that I was restored, finally overcame her concern and she burst into a tearful fit of laughter. “At least you’re back to normal.”
I looked at her, realizing that for a short while, I was barely more than a human. Then I realized the hilarity of the situation from her point of view and laughed. “Well, I could laugh at this as well, except now I know what happened to me.”
“Well, now that the fun is over, what’s the assignment?” she asked, her laughter subsiding. Her eyes grew intense and the smile faded away to a sterner expression, her jaw set tight.
With my memories restored, I remembered why I was here and why I had planned to meet with Uriel at the donut shop in El Reno. I also remembered how I had lost my Halo in the first place. The humor of the entire situation gave way to more dire concerns.
“It was a bolt of dark energy that dislodged my ring as I descended,” I said. “The Fallen are up to something, and it’s now apparent they didn’t want me arriving on Earth. Or to meet with you.”
Uriel opened her mouth with unspoken shock. For the Fallen to attack a Stormguard in this manner was not a normal event. She understood the implications of such an act. The Fallen were well known for trying to cause trouble, but this attack had to be an act of sheer desperation.
We are Seraphim, from the planet Seraph, in the galaxy humans called the Tadpole Galaxy, or Arp 188. The Fallen are the sworn enemies of the Stormguard. Members of our race that had abandoned the principles upon which our civilization had been founded. We protected lesser civilizations, allowing them to mature naturally. The Fallen, if left unchecked by the Stormguard, would simply conquer new civilizations and enslave them.
Technically, we were an alien race, but those times we’d been seen on Earth had been classified among the humans as angelic visitations. While we did not encourage it, and even tried to prevent it, some thought of us as messengers of God. The truth was, we were simply beings from another world, and we did what we could to protect Earth, and other worlds, from the influence and domination of the Fallen. Our lifespan was eons compared to human lifespans. We weren’t exactly immortal, nor invulnerable, but we had technology that humans would perceive as magic or miracles.
“What are they up to?” Uriel wondered aloud.
“That’s what we need to find out. Our orders are to search for their base of operations, somewhere near here.”
Uriel’s mirth had now fully given way to her staider nature, which I knew all too well. “Then let’s get started. I assume you have a lead?”
I nodded, ready to get on with our task. “There’s something unusual going on at a place called Red Rock Canyon.”
Without another word, we both spread our wings to fly back to the car. In this state, we were completely invisible to human eyes, thanks to our Halos, but we generally traveled in the guise of humans. Once at the car, our wings were absorbed back into us via our Halos. We hopped in the Camaro and headed south towards Red Rock Canyon. As we drove, I explained the emanation of power that our boss, Gabriel, had detected. The trace of that energy signature led to the vicinity of this public recreation area.
We hadn’t been sure that this was any reason to worry at first, but with the attack during my descent, it was clear there was indeed a reason. The Fallen were up to something, and it was our responsibility to find out just what.
The story continues in Episode 2, coming January 1, 2020. Stay tuned for more adventure!