"The Kindness of Strangers"
STANDARD DISCLAIMER: The Prophecy belongs to Gregory Widen and I'm not making any money from this.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Despite repeatedly e mailing The Powers That Be here on FFN, there is no category for the The Prophecy series of movies. So, I guess I'll post them here.
Having received his instructions from The Boss, Gabriel took wing and descended through the Celestial Spheres until he reached the plane on which Earth was located.
The part of the Earth that he was meant to visit was now experiencing night, and he saw few lights in the vast ocean below: Ships passing in the night.
Though no human could have seen it at this distance, Gabriel's sharp eyes picked out the coastline of the place where he was headed, and he swooped lower.
He had always enjoyed flying at night, the feeling of the wind in his hair and the glorious sight of the stars up in the Heavens. And now that he was back in the fold, The Boss had trusted him with a very important mission to deliver a very important Message. He was once again doing what he'd been created to do, and he had never been happier.
Suddenly, his head came up as he caught the hint of a familiar scent, and he reached for the dagger sheathed in his boot.
Too late. The other angel slammed into him from above. Gabriel glimpsed the flash of a knife in his attacker's hand and made a grab for it. His wings collided with those of his attacker, and for a moment he was sure that they would both go down into the ocean in a tangle of flapping wings and flailing limbs.
But no, he managed to right himself. He could still hear his attacker's wings beating somewhere overhead, and he managed to get his dagger out of his boot as he swooped upwards, giving a shrill cry of warning, of intent to do harm.
He heard a dull thud and there was a sudden pain on the top of his head. Then everything went black.
The first thing to register was the voices. People – humans – talking.
The next thing to register was that he was wet, that most of his body was immersed in water and that his wings were soaked, pulling him down.
His cheek and elbows were resting on something cool and smooth, and his arms were up above his head, seemingly on solid ground… and keeping him from sliding completely into the water. The mingled smell of saltwater and chlorine was overpowering.
Gabriel opened his eyes.
"He's awake! He's awake!" human voices murmured all around him. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a red-haired woman in a long black evening gown cross herself, tears streaming down her cheeks.
He couldn't seem to orient himself, couldn't figure out where he could possibly be. He had been flying over the ocean, but now he seemed to be on land… but where?
A silver-haired man dressed in a white uniform came hurrying over. He knelt near Gabriel's head and set a little black bag down next to him.
"Well, hello there," the man said softly, his British-accented voice full of wonder. "I'm Doctor Roger Langford. And you've apparently had quite a fall." The doctor reached out hesitantly. "May I… I want to examine you. Is that all right?"
Gabriel opened his mouth to reply, to say that he would be just fine, but nothing came out… at least, nothing that the awestruck humans all around him could understand.
He realized dimly that he was speaking in his own language, the language of the angels, much of which was beyond the range of human hearing. He shut his mouth and closed his eyes, gathering his thoughts and willing his vocal cords to behave themselves. He was God's Messenger, after all; communicating with these people was his very reason for being.
He opened his eyes and looked up at the man in white who still knelt patiently beside him.
"Where I am?" he finally managed.
"You're aboard the Carnival Liberty, on the Lido Deck, half in and half out of the Tivoli Pool."
Ah, that explained a lot right there. He raised his head and tried to pull himself out of the water.
"No, stay still," the doctor advised, reaching toward him but still not quite daring to touch. "Something may be broken."
Gabriel experienced a sudden moment of absolute horror. "I can't move my wings."
"I shouldn't wonder!" the doctor said briskly. "They're completely underwater, quite soaked, and probably very heavy! I doubt we'll be able to lift you out of there." He turned his head and spoke to someone over his shoulder. "I think we're going to have to drain this pool, please!"
"Right away, Doctor!" a female voice replied, and there was a sudden flurry of activity as people dressed in red, white and blue tee shirts and matching shorts scurried about, presumably to fulfill Doctor Langford's order.
Even more distressing than his inability to move his wings was the sudden realization that his connection with The Word was gone, switched off like these humans would turn off a radio.
Maybe it was due to his recent knock on the head. Surely The Boss hadn't deserted him for merely being unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time… had He?
Meanwhile, Doctor Langford had turned his attention back to his unlikely patient. "Do you hurt anywhere?"
"My head… and my pride!"
Doctor Langford gave a short laugh. "All right, so we can assume nothing's broken."
"Yeah," Gabriel agreed. "Probably not." Except for my connection to The Word! he thought but did not say; no use in giving up more Mysteries to these humans than necessary.
"Good," the doctor said, turning away to address the crowd. "We'll need to get some people in there to hold his wings up as the water drains," the doctor instructed. "Otherwise, their weight will drag him right back down into the pool." Gabriel heard splashes as people jumped in and swam over.
"Hey," a man greeted him, not yet daring to get too close. "My name's Gary, and I'm going to grab your wing… is that OK?"
Gabriel would rather not have had his wings touched, but he couldn't really see any alternative. The water was already beginning to recede, and his waterlogged wings were indeed pulling him downwards now that there wasn't enough water to keep them afloat.
"Yeah, sure," he agreed, not sounding at all happy about the prospect.
Gary grinned. "I'll be gentle," he promised. Though this man didn't know it, he had made an apt jest, for angels only allowed their wings to be touched by other angels… and then only during the most intimate interactions between a pair that was especially close.
"I'm Ben, and I'll be gentle too," a male voice said on his other side. "May I?" Gabriel turned his head and saw another man, this one in evening dress, standing near him with a questioning expression on his face. Standing there. Well, this pool must not be very deep, Gabriel thought. The angel was tall for a human male, but that didn't matter much when one was being dragged down by a gigantic pair of saturated wings.
"Yeah, sure," he said with a sigh of resignation. "Do your worst."
Gabriel closed his eyes, trying to shut out the feeling of alien hands on his sensitive wings. It was a humiliating violation, and he bore it as best he could. He really had no choice, unless he wanted to sit on the bottom of an empty swimming pool until his wings dried out enough for him to be able to fly.
At last, the pool was completely drained, and other hands reached down to help pull him out.
"Up you go," Doctor Langford said with a grunt of effort as he hauled Gabriel out with the help of Gary and Ben. "That's better, isn't it?" the doctor said in a soothing tone as he helped Gabriel sit upright, with his feet dangling in the empty pool and his soaked wings carefully spread out behind him.
"Yeah, it's better," he agreed faintly. "Thank you."
Now that he was upright, Gabriel could clearly see the bright strands of festive lights strung high above the Lido Deck. Craning his neck to look higher, he saw the distinctive red, white and blue funnel that identified this vessel as a Carnival cruise ship. These were familiar sights in the night, but they were sights that he was accustomed to seeing from high above. No wonder he hadn't been able to figure out where he was when he'd woken.
The doctor moved to sit beside him and held up his own hand, like a puzzle. "How many fingers?" he asked.
Gabriel blinked. "What?"
"How many fingers am I holding up?" the doctor repeated patiently.
Gabriel frowned; he knew a trick question when heard one. "Two fingers… and a thumb."
Doctor Langford's eyebrows went up in surprise. "Ah. Well, that wasn't quite what… all right, good. Now, follow my finger…" He held up his index finger and moved it back and forth in front of Gabriel's face. "Good, good." He reached into his black bag and produced a penlight. "Look straight ahead," he instructed, shining the little light directly into Gabriel's right eye.
"Hey!" he protested, pushing the human's hand away. "That's bright!"
"I know," Doctor Langford sympathized. "But I need to examine you. You have a head injury… you're bleeding."
"I am?" Surprised, Gabriel reached up to touch the top of his head and was even more shocked when his hand came away wet with blood.
"I want to be certain that you don't have a concussion," the doctor continued in that same reasonable tone.
Gabriel waved away the human's concern. "Aaaah, I don't have a concussion! And even if I do, it's no big deal. It'll go away on its own."
Though he was out of the water, he was still uncomfortably wet. His wings were soaked, his clothes were drenched, and he could feel that his boots were full of water. He brought his right foot up and pulled off a tall black boot, dumped the small amount of water into the empty pool and tossed the boot aside. He repeated the process with his left boot, and made a little noise: Hnhhhuh.
"What's wrong?" the doctor asked.
"Lost my knife," he said shortly. "It was one of my favorites, too." He tugged at his clothing. "Wish I could get this stuff off…" he muttered.
When visiting Earth in the guise of a mortal, Gabriel favored a long black coat and black leather pants… but not when acting as God's Messenger, and especially not when delivering highly important Messages to highly important humans. No, at times like these, he had to look the part.
So tonight he had chosen to wear a long royal blue cloak brocaded with silver thread over a loose black silk shirt and trousers… and the whole thing was now likely ruined by his recent dunk in chlorinated saltwater. His trumpet hung from a silver chain link belt around his waist, and – miracle of miracles! – he hasn't lost it when he'd plummeted to Earth. He detached the trumpet from his belt and absently dumped water out of it, and then set it down close by to dry.
Two men suddenly pushed their way through the crowd and hurried over: A man in a white uniform similar to the doctor's, and a man in black with the white collar of a priest.
Both of the new arrivals gaped down at Gabriel in astonishment, and then hastily crossed themselves.
"This is the ship's captain, Giovanni LaRosa," Doctor Langford introduced. "And the ship's chaplain, Father Francis Xavier."
The priest knelt, not daring to get too close. "It's such an honor… to – to have you here… to have you grace us with your presence – "
Gabriel ran a hand through his wet hair. "Yeah… Francis. See, this little visit wasn't exactly my idea. I got attacked."
The two new arrivals looked properly horrified and crossed themselves again.
"Attacked? But who would dare?" the captain asked in a thick Italian accent.
Gabriel snorted. "Plenty of people, believe me."
Captain LaRosa was outraged. "Never!"
"Oh yeah, there are lots of angels out for my blood," Gabriel assured him in an offhanded tone.
Father Xavier was shocked. "It was another angel who did this to you?"
"Yeah… Jones… he whacked me on the head pretty good."
The priest looked puzzled. "Please forgive me… I'm not familiar with an angel named Jones."
Gabriel almost laughed. "That's what Zophael's been calling himself lately… Zophael Jones. Stupid, huh?"
The priest didn't quite dare to comment on this. "And may I… may we know your name?" he asked, his head still bowed in reverence.
Gabriel smiled ruefully. "This isn't how I usually do things… usually I introduce myself right off the bat – you know…" He spread his hands in an expansive gesture. "Be not afraid! Behold, I am Gabriel, blah blah blah, and all that other stuff." He let his hands fall and shrugged, his huge wet white wings rising and falling slightly with the movement of his shoulders. "But you guys aren't really getting me at my best."
A shocked murmur went through the crowd: Oh, Gabriel, he's Gabriel, look, there's his horn – sitting right there! That's the angel Gabriel…
The priest gasped and turned pale. "How may I serve you?" he asked, bowing his head even lower.
Gabriel cocked his head. "You know what I'd really like? I'd really like a cup of coffee. With cream and sugar if you got it."
Someone was sent off into Emil's restaurant to fetch the coffee. While Gabriel was waiting, Doctor Langford knelt up and probed the top of his patient's head, muttering vaguely about stitches.
"Stitches? I don't need stitches!" he protested.
"You may be an angel, but I'm the doctor," the human replied rather tartly. "So I'll be the judge of that."
"How dare you speak to him like that?" Father Xavier demanded.
"Aaah, that's OK," Gabriel said quickly. "I don't stand on formality too much, and I like people who say what they mean straight out."
"Because you're like that yourself, aren't you?" the doctor guessed.
"Yeah," Gabriel agreed. "I've been told I could be more tactful."
The red-haired woman in the long black dress who had been crying earlier appeared at his side, bending down to offer him a steaming mug of coffee.
"Thanks," he said, taking it. She gave a wordless little nod and withdrew, clearly overwhelmed by even this brief contact with him.
"Let's clear all of these people away, please," Doctor Langford said briskly. "All right?" Immediately, the captain and the crew began working to disperse the crowd. "And let's close this area off completely until we get him moved somewhere else," the doctor continued. "Gossip's sure to get around, and I don't want gawkers."
A little red-haired girl in a bathing suit and shorts came forward holding a big blue beach towel emblazoned with the words, "The Fun Ships of Carnival" and the cruise line's logo.
"Here," she offered shyly, holding the towel out to Gabriel. He noticed that she had a bright pink glittery flower painted on one cheek. "You're all wet."
Gabriel smiled at her as he took the towel. "Thanks." He wiped his face and scrubbed his hair vigorously, staining the towel with blood.
"You can't keep it, though," she continued in a serious voice. "They'll charge you a whole twenty-two dollars if you don't bring it back." Her eyes widened as she contemplated being fined such a vast sum of money.
"Robbery," Gabriel agreed with a completely straight face. "Thanks for the tip, Brigid."
"Of course you can keep the towel!" the captain said immediately.
The priest spoke at the same moment: "They can charge it to me!"
But neither the angel nor the child was listening.
"How did you know my name?" the little girl asked curiously.
"I know everyone's name," Gabriel told her, tweaking her nose and making her giggle. "I knew you before you were ever even born."
"And your name is Gabriel," she said thoughtfully. "Are you the angel we learned about in Sunday school? The one who told Mary that Jesus was coming?"
"Yeah, that'd be me," he agreed with a slight smile, and was oddly pleased to see her deep green eyes widen in wonder.
"All right, little lady," Doctor Langford said briskly, giving her a pat on the head. "Go and find your mum." He rummaged in his black bag, producing a little bottle of hand sanitizer and a pair of rubber gloves in a sterile paper wrapper.
"She's right over there," Brigid said, pointing to the red-haired woman who'd brought the coffee. "And that's my dad," she continued, pointing at one of the men who'd helped Gabriel out of the pool – Ben, the dark-haired man in evening dress.
"I thought I asked for this area to be cleared," the doctor said over his shoulder.
"Aaaah, let 'em stay," Gabriel said, and nothing further was said about them leaving. "Ow!" he suddenly exclaimed, flinching away as Doctor Langford cleaned his wound with something smelly that he'd gotten from his bag. "That stings!"
"I had to have stitches once," Brigid told him. "I fell and hurt my knee." She pointed to the scar, a long silver line against her newly tanned skin. "It hurt when they sewed me up. Mommy held my hand." She frowned, thinking. "Do you want me to hold your hand?" Before he could answer, she plopped down next to him and took the hand that wasn't holding the coffee mug.
"Brigid, for Heaven's sake, don't pester the angel!" her mother scolded in an Irish brogue. She came striding over, clearly intending to drag the child away.
Gabriel looked up at her. "Maureen… don't worry about it."
Her eyes grew huge and she put a hand over her mouth, awed that the Archangel Gabriel himself had called her by name. She crossed herself and retreated to stand with her husband.
"Hold still, please, Gabriel," Doctor Langford said pleasantly. "Now, you're going to feel a little stick, and then a slight burning… and then – hopefully – nothing else until long after I've finished stitching you up."
"You know… Roger… you don't have to do this. I'll heal fine on my own."
"Quiet now, I'm trying to concentrate," the doctor chided.
With a sigh, Gabriel finished his coffee and set the mug down on the ground beside him, near his trumpet. "I know someone with hair like yours," he told the little girl, absently stroking her coppery red curls.
"His name's Simon."
"Where does he live?"
Gabriel smiled. "In Heaven."
The child's eyes widened. "Is he an angel too?"
Brigid frowned. "Why did that other angel hit you on the head? Doesn't he like you?"
"Not much," he replied shortly. "But that's OK… I don't care if people like me or not."
"I like you," she told him seriously.
He was surprised, but quickly recovered. "I like you, too."
"Good. We're friends!" she said, beaming happily and giving his hand a squeeze.
Gabriel saw that the girl's mother – Maureen – had gone even paler than her usual milky-white color, and smiled to himself. He knew that never in her wildest dreams had she imagined that a daughter of hers would befriend the Archangel Gabriel… let alone under such bizarre circumstances.
"You talk like Daddy," the child said.
"Yeah?" Gabriel replied, not sure what she meant but going along with it.
"All right," Doctor Langford said, snapping off his rubber gloves. "We're all done here. How's your head feel?"
"It doesn't," he said, reaching up with his free hand.
"No, no – don't touch!" The doctor scolded, grabbing Gabriel's wrist. "The lidocaine'll wear off in a little bit, and then – "
Gabriel felt a tingling sensation on the top of his head. "I think it's wearing off right now."
Doctor Langford nodded. "You've a fast metabolism, haven't you?"
"I guess," Gabriel replied with a shrug.
"Hmm. Well, here's some antibiotic ointment – " the doctor pressed several small packets into Gabriel's hand, " – I've bandaged your head, but you'll need to change the bandage daily. Now that the lidocaine's wearing off, come and see me if the pain's too much and I'll give you something. You won't need to have the stitches out – they'll dissolve on their own as your body absorbs them. Don't take aspirin or drink alcohol for at least a week, all right?"
Gabriel nodded and pulled his hand out of Brigid's. "Sure." He put on his boots, swung his legs up out of the pool and stood up a bit unsteadily. After a moment, he flapped his wings, shaking as much water out of them as he could; they were still quite wet, but no worse then when he'd get caught in the rain. "I gotta take off, Kiddo," he told the little girl. She nodded silently, her eyes wide.
"I'm not sure that's a good idea," Doctor Langford said, rising. "I think we should see about getting you a stateroom for the night."
"I'll see to that personally!" the captain promised, hurrying off.
"But I can't stay here – " Gabriel began.
The doctor overrode him. "Listen to me, Gabriel. You've got a head injury, and could possibly have a concussion – "
"Aaaah, I'm fine," he said dismissively. "Anyway… I have an important Message I have to deliver, you know?"
"I'm sure you do," Doctor Langford agreed. "But surely it can wait a few more hours, until you've rested a bit and eaten something – "
"Nope. I gotta go." And maybe once I take wing, I'll be able to hear The Word again…
He felt sure he was forgetting something, and patted himself like a human trying to locate the pocket where he'd put his car keys. He frowned. "Where's my – " He spotted his trumpet, still sitting on the edge of the pool, right where he'd put it. "Ahhh ha!"
He bent to retrieve it, and everything went black.
ADDITIONAL AUTHOR'S NOTES: The Carnival Liberty is real cruise ship and belongs to Carnival Cruise Lines. I didn't put this at the beginning because I wanted Gabriel's landing spot to be a surprise to you, my Faithful Readers. Captain LaRosa, Father Xavier, Doctor Langford, and the various other crewmembers and guests are all my own invention.