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Mark had only marginally understood what Enoch had meant about time flowing differently in the parallel world of darkness.
He honestly couldn't tell if hours or minutes had passed between one of his mother's visits to the room and the next. Of course, the mind blowing kisses that he had been receiving since his arrival might also have had something to do with it.
"Shhh. Here she comes again." Mark whispered as his mother's ethereal light shown into the room.
"You don't have to be quiet. She can't hear us." Enoch told him honestly.
"I know you say that, but it still... what's she doing?" Mark asked suddenly as he stepped away from Enoch's side.
"It would appear that she is going through your personal belongings."
"I know that you don't like it when I say bad things about my mother, but if she keeps that up, I might not be able to stop myself."
"I believe, that in this circumstance, I might be able to overlook such a breach in etiquette."
"I love you, E." Mark said as he once again turned to pull him into a hug.
"But will you still love me in a thousand years?"
"I can't wait to find out."
* * * * *
Patsy had left the room again, leaving the boys free to express their love for each other. As the kissing became more intense, Mark suddenly stopped and pulled away.
"What's wrong?" Enoch asked with concern.
"I forgot lube! And I was at the resource center yesterday where I could have picked some up!"
"We may have to explore other options."
Mark giggled, then said, "Actually, that might not be so bad."
Enoch then moved in to give Mark another long, lingering kiss.
"Ahem." A deep voice said from nearby, causing them both to jump.
Both turned to see a remarkably handsome, albeit somewhat rugged looking man staring back at them. While the man's body was certainly fit and attractive, the thing that drew them were the man's long dark hair and chocolaty dark eyes.
"You can't be here." The man stated firmly.
"We already are." Mark informed him slowly.
"You can't remain."
"Unless you know of a way out, I don't think we've got much of a choice."
After a moment to consider that, the man said more calmly, "I see what you mean. Let me start over. My name is Auziel, but you can call me Oz, if you like."
"I'm Mark and this is Enoch." Mark said carefully, still cautious of the unknown stranger who had somehow joined them.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, both. But you still can't be here."
"Why not?" Enoch asked timidly.
"Mainly, because this is a place for the dead and... well, you're not."
"But we aren't hurting anyone by being here. Can't we just stay?" Mark asked plaintively.
"You may not have hurt anyone yet, but you soon will. The two of you together are producing your own spiritual light. Sooner or later, you'll attract those who are seeking the true light. And it could end up being very bad for you."
"Do you mean lost souls?"
"No. Well, yes. Lost souls will be attracted to you, but no, that's not who I was thinking of. I'm speaking of those who feed on lost souls, the demons. They are attracted to spiritual light so that they can devour the souls of the departed and drain their spiritual energy."
"I have been here for nearly one hundred years and have encountered no such creatures. Only some hostile spirits who wished to overtake my physical body." Enoch said reasonably.
"Were you here alone all that time?"
"Yes. I was alone until Mark arrived... a matter of weeks ago, I think. It's difficult to follow the passage of time, here."
"Actually, it was just over a week... at least, as far as I can tell." Mark gently corrected.
"Your light alone probably wouldn't be enough to attract anything. These creatures are attracted to the divine light that comes to collect the souls of those written in the book of life."
"What about everyone else?" Mark asked curiously.
"That's something that the living aren't really supposed to know about."
"Because it makes our jobs a lot harder. I'm here to collect souls for the realm that I serve."
"Don't you serve God?" Enoch asked with astonishment and a bit of fear.
"I do and I don't. I was one of the angels who stood with... um, the defeated one, in the great war. I was cast out of heaven, so I no longer serve the Father in that sense. But I work to maintain order and attend to his children in the afterlife, so in that way I do serve Him by playing my role."
"So, are you a servant of Satan?"
Oz looked at Enoch with surprise, then hurried to explain, "No! I suppose it would sound like that to you. The great war occurred because... the defeated one, and a large number of angels disagreed with what the Father had planned. We thought that having a heaven for only the chosen few who were written in the book of life was horribly unfair to the rest. Two thirds of the angels stood with the defeated one to call for an afterlife to be provided for the souls of the good and decent people who didn't make it into the book."
"And I'm guessing you didn't win." Mark said slowly.
"It depends on how you define winning. The Father called upon the angels who were loyal to him to cast us out of heaven, never to return. When the war was over, all of us those who stood with the defeated one were relegated to the underworld. Although the defeated one tried to band us together as one unified force to renew the war, few of us had the will to fight a sustained battle. Instead, we tried to make the underworld into a home. Eventually leaders arose from within our midsts with different views on how the souls of the departed should be handled. When a soul passes into limbo, where we are now, we examine him to decide where he will be most welcome."
"So everyone doesn't go to heaven or hell?"
"Technically, I suppose that they do. There is heaven, where the Father and his most loyal angels live and welcome the souls of His followers who are written in the book. Then there is hell, but hell is subdivided into a variety of regions, each with its own philosophy." Oz said carefully.
"So, are you here to take us to hell?" Mark asked as he moved a little closer to Enoch's side.
"No. You two are alive, I will return you to the realm of the living so that you can continue to live and grow. And, at the end of your days, hopefully your souls will be destined for a place that you can enjoy for all eternity."
"How can we do that?"
"By living. I can't tell you anything except to live your lives well and make decisions that you believe are right. If you will do that, your final judgement will bring you to the proper place."
"We can't go back. There's nothing for us in the world of the living."
"Let me take care of them!" A voice boomed from the doorway.
There stood a man with dark golden blond hair and a sword in his hand. The man was certainly more muscular than Oz, but his cold merciless blue eyes negated any beauty the man might have possessed.
"Rogziel, this doesn't concern you. I'm sorting it out." Oz said firmly.
"They are living beings in the realm of the dead. One stroke of my sword will sort them out rather effectively."
"No. They aren't destined for your realm, they do not concern you."
"I serve the Father, so they do concern me."
"Please, Rogziel. Don't do this. They are children. Let me return them to the world of the living so that they can continue to grow. To cut their lives short will automatically condemn them to eternity in the underworld. Wouldn't the Father want them to have the chance to ascend?"
"Don't play word games with me, Auziel. They don't belong here and I won't allow them to draw righteous spirits away from the Holy Light."
"I don't want that either. Please give me time to work things out for them in the mortal world and I'll send them back."
"Work quickly, Auziel. If I find that even one of the souls of the righteous has strayed due to their presence, I will strike them down for the good of all." Rogziel bellowed, then turned dramatically as he left, revealing his huge white wings which hadn't been evident in the meager light.
All three of them stood quietly for a moment, until Oz finally said, "Guys. Stay here and stay calm. The brighter your light shines, the more likely you are to draw unwanted attention. I'm going to go and try to arrange things for you in the mortal realm."
"Is there anything we can do to help?" Mark asked quietly as he was fighting to comprehend the severity of their situation.
"Just keep calm and quiet. I don't know how long Rogziel will resist the urge to come after you." Oz said gravely, then turned to leave.
In doing so, he revealed his massive, dark wings.
Mark and Enoch held on to each other as they watched Oz walk toward the wall, then fade into nothing.
* * * * *
"My flight just arrived, I'm at the airport. Are you still at the house?"
"No. Stay there. I've got the address and I think I still remember how to get there."
"Don't worry, Pat, I'll find him. Remember, this is what I do for a living. I'm really good at it."
"I'll be there as soon as I can. Just hang in there."
* * * * *
Derek anxiously awaited his turn at the cab stand, outside the airport. Being as late as it was, it was fairly busy.
"Where to?" The cab driver asked as Derek climbed into the back seat of the car.
Derek told him the address, then waited for the cab to pull away from the curb.
"That's going to run you tween thirty and forty dollars. That alright?" The cabbie asked to be sure.
"Yes. Fine." Derek said distractedly.
"In town on business?" The cab driver asked curiously as he pulled away from the curb.
"Not really." Derek said darkly.
"Ah! Pleasure, then?" The cabbie asked with a smile.
"No. Not really." Derek said as he finally resolved himself to holding a conversation with the chatty man.
"So, what brings you to town? Don't tell me that someone suckered you into coming here as a 'tourist destination'." The cab driver asked incredulously.
The absurdity of that elicited a smile from Derek, then he answered, "My ex-wife called and told me that our son is missing. I just came down to see if I can help her find him."
"Your kid in the habit of running away?"
"No. Mark's never caused us a moment of trouble. As far as I know, he's never even threatened to run away."
"Believe it or not, this isn't the first time I've heard a story like this. Let me do a little poking around and see if I can find out if any new baddies are in town or anything like that. Can I find you at the address where I'm dropping you off?"
"Yes. As far as I know, that's where I'll be staying. And if I'm not there, that's probably the best place to leave a message for me."
"Nothin'll prolly come of it, but I'll sniff around and see what's up. Someone without a car can't get nowhere around here without a cab. Too damned spread out."
"Yes. I suppose it is. Thank you..." Derek hesitated when he realized that the man who had offered to go out of his way to help him had yet to give his name.
"Here's my card. Call me if you're needin a ride somewhere and I can fill you in on what's been stirrin in the weeds."
Derek accepted the card and read it before saying, "I may just do that. Thank you, Oz."
* * * * *
When the cab arrived, Derek made sure to give the driver a generous tip.
As soon as his ex-wife stepped out of the house, all thoughts of the plane trip and the cab ride were distant memories.
"Is there any news?" Derek asked hopefully.
She shook her head, unable to answer verbally, for fear of bursting into tears.
Derek pulled her into his arms to comfort her as the cab pulled away.
He held her for a moment before he realized that he hadn't taken his suitcase out of the cab, but he was relieved to find that the cab driver had taken the time and trouble to take the suitcase out before leaving. He was glad that he had given the man a decent tip.
"Do you have his cellphone number? Maybe we can try calling him. Or, if he doesn't answer, I might be able to get a listing of his phone records." Derek asked, falling into 'detective' mode.
"Remember when we looked at getting him a cellphone? All those horrible contracts? We decided to wait."
"What about the house phone?"
"It's supposed to be turned on Friday."
"Then how could he have called for a ride? You don't think he would have set off on foot, do you?"
"I have the only phone; the cellphone in my purse." Pat said in realization.
"What about his computer? Did he take that with him?"
"Um, no. It's upstairs in the study, beside my bedroom. Besides, it doesn't have Internet access. There's no way he could have used that."
"I'd like to take a look at it anyway. I'd like to see if he has anything in his email or instant messaging programs that might give us a clue."
"You can look at it if you want. But I don't remember seeing him on his computer since we arrived."
"Do you have any idea why he might have wanted to run away?"
"He was mad at me. When I got the job in New Mexico, he said that he didn't want to leave here. He's made friends..."
"What friends? Do you know their names?"
"Yes. Of course. You remember Joe Bob, don't you? Mark's become good friends with some of his older children. They've been over to visit with Mark a few times."
"Do you have a phone number? I'd like to talk to them."
"Yes. I didn't think..."
"What about the job? Did this happening cause you to lose it?"
"What? No... I don't have to start until Monday. But if this hadn't happened, I was going to drive us to Santa Fe today so that we could get settled in before I have to start work."
"I took some family leave time when you called me, so I don't have to hurry right back. If things end up dragging on too long, I can stay here and keep looking while you go and get your job established."
"I can't... I should be here."
"I know what you're feeling, Pat. I'm feeling it, too. But you need to be practical. No matter how things turn out, you're going to need your job. And don't forget, this is what I do every single day. I'll find Mark. Trust me."
"I suppose you're right."
"Now, why don't you call Joe Bob's kids and see if there's any way I can talk to them. While you're doing that, I'd like to take a look at Mark's room to see if he left us any clues."
"I'll show you where it is."
* * * * *
"The haunted room?" Derek asked with surprise.
"Yes. It's the one he picked."
When Derek walked into the bedroom, he automatically reached for the light switch.
"There's no electricity in this room. That's why he's been keeping his laptop in the study." Pat said frankly before leaving to make her call.
Using what little light filtered in from the hallway, Derek gave the room a cursory inspection then decided to go to the study and check out the laptop first.
* * * * *
As a police detective, Derek knew a few tricks, so it didn't take him long to gain full access to his son's computer.
His first stop was the instant messenger program, but he was surprised to find that it had never been installed. From there, he went to the email manager, but found that the most recent email was over two weeks old and that nothing in his 'inbox' was the least bit suspicious.
From there, he checked the browser cache, to see if Mark had been visiting any Websites that might have made him a target for some sort of predator, but once again, he found nothing out of the ordinary. In fact, in his experience, his son's surfing habits were actually a bit on the tame side. The few 'adult' sites that he had visited were of some of the most generic young adult models and quite a few of the pictures in the cache weren't even fully nude.
After finally resolving himself to the fact that there didn't seem to be anything of relevance on his son's computer, Derek went back to do a more thorough investigation of the bedroom.
* * * * *
"That's my dad." Mark said cautiously as he watched his father trying to figure out how to light the oil lamp.
"You look more like your mother."
"Yeah. It's the James family genes. They're strong in me."
"They certainly are." Enoch said, then gave Mark a quick kiss.
"He's going through my stuff!"
"He is probably trying to detect clues as to where you might have gone." Enoch said seriously, then added, "However, no matter what he finds, I very seriously doubt that he will think to look for you in limbo."
"Yeah. Probably not." Mark said slowly as he continued to watch his father's activities.
* * * * *
"Is it important for you to talk to them tonight? If it is, I can drive you over to their house. But if you can wait, Joe Bob Jr's off tomorrow, so he can stop by here in the morning to talk to you." Pat asked from the doorway.
"Tomorrow will be fine." Derek said distractedly as he slowly went through the folded clothes in the dresser.
"He said tomorrow will be fine. He'll be waiting for you here at the house." Pat said before hanging up her cellphone.
"Have you noticed if there's anything missing?" Derek asked as he walked to the chifferobe and opened it.
"I haven't seen Mark's flute around. But I haven't really noticed anything else. Of course, I haven't really been in here very much since we moved in. I've been focused on other things."
"Of course. I just thought I'd ask." Derek said as he looked carefully at the unusual collection of both modern and vintage clothing.
"Mark started wearing a button up shirt and a waistcoat when we arrived. I should have taken a picture, he looked so handsome." Pat said as tears filled her eyes.
"I would like to have seen that."
A knock on the front door caused them both to look up in question.
"Maybe it's someone who knows about Mark." Pat said quickly as she dashed out of the room.
Derek looked around one last time before blowing out the lamp and following.
* * * * *
"It's for you." Pat called from the front door.
"For me?" Derek asked in surprise as he walked down the stairs.
"Did some checking, like I said I would." Oz said from the doorway.
"What did you find out?" Derek asked hopefully as he hurried to the door.
"Not much. I talked to a few friends of mine, who hate to see it when kids go missing. They checked their log books and from what we could tell, no cab company in the area has dispatched a cab to anywhere near this address. I don't know if that helps, but I thought you'd want to know."
"Thanks for checking." Derek said sincerely.
"My friends, they're going to do a little sniffing around and they might be able to come up with some leads that the police wouldn't be able to follow up on. I can't say that they'll find anything, but it won't hurt for them to look."
"Thank your friends for me. I really appreciate it."
"Sure thing. Expect me to be stopping by after my shift tomorrow. I'll tell you what we found."
"I can give you my cellphone number..." Pat quickly offered.
"I'd rather not. I don't like talking on those things any more than I have to. You never know who's listening." Oz said before turning to leave.
"Thanks again." Derek called after him and received a casual wave in response.
* * * * *
"It's really getting late. Why don't I fix up a room for you?" Pat asked as they walked back inside.
"Actually, if you don't mind, I think I'd like to stay in Mark's room. Maybe it'll give me some kind of inspiration about what Mark was thinking or had gotten himself into."
"Don't you need to preserve the scene in case you need to dust for fingerprints or something like that?"
"As far as I can tell, no crime has been committed. And I really get the feeling that there's something there, in that room, that I'm just not seeing."
"If you think it'll help, go ahead."
"I'll see you in the morning. Try to get a good sleep." Derek told his ex-wife gently.
"I'll do my best." Pat said before walking around the first floor and turning off lights.
Derek waited for a moment, for her to be finished, then walked up the stairs at her side.
* * * * *
Mark and Enoch followed along and watched as Derek went around the room, carefully looking at things. He seemed to take a particularly long time looking at the top of the dresser, where the wooden soldiers had been.
After some more snooping around, Derek finally gave in to his tiredness and started to get ready for bed.
As they watched him peeling off his clothes, Enoch absently commented, "You do get some features from your father."
"What do you mean by that?"
"You have much the same body type. You are more... fit than I recall Mark, the other Mark, being."
Mark looked at his father, who was now climbing into bed, wearing only his boxer shorts, then said, "Well, I guess if that's true, I'm okay with it."
"Hey, guys. How's it going?" Sounded from behind them.
They turned in time to see Oz forming into being, out of the darkness.
"We've been staying calm, like you said." Mark assured him.
"Good. That makes things a lot easier."
"So, what have you found out about us going back to the 'real' world?"
"I'm still working on it, just hang in there." Oz said seriously, then added, "I think that I'm going to be able to get things pulled together before too long."
"That's great! You're setting things up for Enoch, too?"
"I'll do as much as I can. If he's been out of circulation for nearly a hundred years... it could get complicated."
"It's okay. We trust you, Oz. If you say it's going to be alright, we'll do our part." Mark assured him.
"Yes. That's actually what I'm here to talk to you about."
"Regular humans aren't supposed to be able to verify the existence of ethereals. It buggers the works. But, hey, what kind of a fallen angel would I be if I didn't break some rules now and then? Even so, you two have got to promise me, no tabloids, no interviews, no 'tell all' books... nothing. If you two start spreading around where you've been and what you've experienced, I won't be able to stop Rogziel, or one of the others, from shutting you up permanently."
"We won't tell anyone. I promise." Enoch said timidly.
"Who'd believe us, anyway?" Mark added.
"Actually, you'd be surprised." Oz said consideringly, then became more serious as he said, "I've got a few more things to line up. Remember to keep calm and not draw any attention to yourselves."
"We'll do our best." Mark said simply, then watched as Oz walked away and faded into the darkness.
To Be Continued...
Editor's Notes:"As far as I can tell, no crime has been committed. And I really get the feeling that there's something there, in that room, that I'm just not seeing."
Little does he know what he's not seeing, for sure.
Hopefully there will be a solution that will materialize soon.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher