The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist. A few days ago that was just a line in a movie, but not anymore…
My name is Gabriella Smith, and for the last year and a half I have been having nightmares. Nothing too unusual or so I thought. I go to sleep and dream that I wake, unaware that I am still sleeping. I look over at the clock by my bedside and every night it reads the same time, three in the morning. I thump my fist on my bed in frustration, angry that I have woken when I know I have to get up early the next day.
I stare over at the book on my bedside table; it doesn't look very stimulating. I decide hot milk may be the best answer. I get up and switch on the stove. When the milk is ready I drink it down but it does not have the desired effect I am looking for. I sit in front of the TV, knowing that if I turn it on I won't get any sleep, but my gut feeling is that may be the case anyway. So, I turn it on - unnatural light radiates throughout the darkened room.
A strange programme is always on. I see a man; he is standing in the corner of a well-lit, empty room. He is dressed in a black suit, which is in stark contrast to the bright white light that fills this room. The man is leaning on a cane, giving me the impression that he is old. I can't see his face as he is looking at the floor, not letting me verify my impression. He speaks without lifting his face.
"You know I don't exist," he says in a soft, gentle voice.
"I know, of course you don't exist," I answer, as if I know exactly what he means.
"That's right, keep believing that," his voice now seems almost hypnotic.
"Or else?" I answer defiantly. I surprise myself by this defiance, as I have no idea what I am defying.
"Insolence, I have told you before about this," his voice is now angry.
"I will believe what I want to believe." With these words the man leaps from the screen. His nose practically touches mine before he stops his rapid movement. He isn't old at all; he is young and handsome. His hair is black and hangs down to his shoulders. His skin is pale and almost luminous but nothing can take my gaze away from his deep black eyes. I see something in them; I see a glimpse of a world full of fire and torment, where abandoned souls are cursed to remain for all eternity.
"You know I don't exist," he says gently, and somehow looking into his eyes I am convinced.
"You don't exist, I know that," I answer.
"Good, good." As he says these words he retreats back into the screen and disappears. I wake up with a start and realise I have been dreaming. I must have walked in my sleep, as I am sitting in the armchair in front of the TV.
Every night I have this dream, I have no idea what it means. I think about it for a few seconds when I awake, but as I fall back to sleep I forget about it; I don't think about it during the day as if it's a perfectly normal dream to have. Yesterday this changed.
I was on my way to work and was running late as usual. I was putting on my jacket, while closing my front door, grabbing my keys, and running to my car. As I was about to put the key in the door I felt a breeze gently caressing my face. It distracted me, and my hastened fluster stopped immediately. I heard a child cycling on the opposite side of the street. She looked at me and giggled, she made me smile. I had never seen this child before. I was immediately concerned that her parents were not with her, but the child did not seem concerned at all, which put me at ease. I watched her for another few seconds. I was about to go over to ask her where her mother and father were but was stopped in my tracks as I saw her father come behind her and start speaking to her.
"You're doing good Jane," he said, reassuring his daughter. On the front of her bike was a small stuffed bear. The breeze that had touched my face now meandered over to the pair and dislodged the small bear from its unstable perch. Jane was about to climb off her bike to get it but her father stopped her.
"No honey, I will get it." I was suddenly struck by a feeling of dread as the man walked out onto the road. A car turned the corner abruptly and gained speed as it travelled up the street. As he was bending down to pick up the toy, the driver didn't see him. The car hit him with such impact I knew he was dead. I immediately ran across the road with the intention of covering the little girl's eyes. She was too young to see her father bleeding in the street. I picked her up and tried to turn her away but she wanted to see her father. She looked down at his mangled body and I could not help but look myself. To my amazement, just for an instant, I saw the man from my dream. He lifted his finger to his mouth and uttered:
"Shhh! Remember, I don't exist," and with these words he dived into the body that was lying on the ground and disappeared. The dead man was not disturbed by this action but yet somehow I knew something had been taken from him.
I was still holding the little girl when I heard the shrill sirens of an ambulance and a few police cars. An officer got out of one of them and ran over to the body.
"We're too late."
"You don't say," I thought.
The young officer immediately looked up at me and said, "That's not quite what I meant." I looked over at him, slightly confused by his last statement. He answered me like he had heard my thought. I was distracted from my confusion by the paramedics arriving and loading the body onto a stretcher.
"Are you the mother?" one of the other older officers asked me.
"No I live across the street, I saw it happen."
"What about this guy here, was he speeding?" the officer pointed to the driver, who was completely distraught. He had brought his car to a sudden stop after realising he had hit someone.
"No, no more than he should have been; it was a complete accident, no one’s fault."
"Would you mind coming down to the station to make a statement?" the young officer asked.
"Of course not, anything I can do."
When I reached the station the child was taken from me and given to her distraught mother. The mother thanked me for looking after her daughter. I felt completely sorry for her; what was her life going to be like for the next five or ten years? Would she ever get over this… would her daughter?
The young officer came over and interrupted my thoughts.
"If you wouldn't mind coming with me to make your statement."
"Lead the way." I followed him down a long corridor to the last interview room. He shut the door behind us and we both sat down.
"What were you thinking?" he asked, in an accusatory tone - I didn't expect this reaction.
"He was right there, and you did nothing."
"What do you mean? I'm not a doctor I couldn't have done anything."
"Don't play games with me, I know what you are. We're the same; we are celestials, Soul Protectors. You should know me by sight."
"I don't know what you're talking about." With this I got up to leave.
"You can't walk out on me. We have a lot of work to do." I ignored this, thinking it was obviously some sort of sick joke. I looked over at the mirror, imagining the other policemen were standing behind it, laughing at me. As I placed my hand on the door, he grabbed my arm and twirled me around.
"You know what I am talking about; look at my eyes," He held my face so I had no choice but to do what he demanded. His eyes were deep and blue, and I was sure I could see something behind them. It was a land - a beautiful land with blue skies, green forests and sweeping valleys; just looking at it filled me with a sense of peace. I was suddenly reminded of my dream. It was the first time I had thought about my dream during the day. I began to get very frightened. I pushed him away; he flew back towards the other wall. I never realised how strong I actually was. As I ran away from him, he called after me but I didn't listen. I had had enough of him for one day.
That night I was afraid to go to sleep. I hadn't thought about my dream before; maybe a few seconds after I awoke but nothing more than that. Now it was all I could think about. That policeman, what was he talking about? At eleven I heard a knock on the door. I wouldn't usually answer the door at this hour but I knew who it was.
I went to the door and there he was; the young police officer asked me if he could come in.
"Of course," he was not in his police uniform anymore; he was wearing jeans and an Iron Maiden tee-shirt. He carried a six-pack of beer, placed it on my table, and then kicked out a chair and sat down. He was making himself at home.
"Well…" he began.
"Well what?" I shrugged my shoulders in response.
"Well, you are certainly more receptive to my presence than you were this afternoon."
"What's your name?" I asked.
"Chael, Chael Smyth; Smyth with a y."
"Chael, that's an unusual name."
"It's an old name, an ancient one."
"We have the same last name." Chael smiled as he removed the cap of one of the bottles of beer he had brought.
"Funny that a name meaning angel or celestial… and then the same last name, a very common last name… it's a mystery."
"Not quite the same last name; my name’s spelt with an i."
"Oh you're right, we are completely different," Chael said sarcastically. At this I got irritated with him.
"What do you want from me?" I asked.
"I want you to know and remember what you are."
"Then tell me what I am."
"Do you remember your old Bible stories?"
"I don't believe in God, I am an atheist." This made Chael smile again.
"An atheist, that's a new one, ok… well are you aware that there are quite a few billion people in this world who do believe in some sort of deity?"
"I am…" I was getting irritated at his patronising tone. "Get on with it."
"Have you heard of the fallen angels?"
"Are you going to tell me I am a fallen angel?" I said sceptically.
"No not quite. You know the story, they were cast out of heaven for having an eye for those human ladies. Who can blame them - they were very hot." I was now completely exasperated, his blithesomeness was even more irritating than his sarcasm. "Well, do you think that all those angels who slept with all those women didn't have any offspring? You are a product of that union." I sat down astonished.
"That can't be true ."
"Of course it is true ."
"Think about it, Gabriella, do you remember your parents?"
"They died when I was young."
"Nonsense, you can't remember them because for thousands of years we have been fighting our fathers to get peoples' souls into heaven." I got up from my seat.
"That's not true ; I haven't been fighting for human souls." His story was outlandish.
"What did you see when you looked into my eyes this morning?"
"I saw a peaceful place."
"Every one sees something different. You saw a peaceful land because that is what you crave. And why would you crave that if you hadn’t been fighting in a war?"
"Why can't I remember any of this?" I was starting to believe him; somehow I knew he was telling the truth.
"I'm not sure. I have seen you before, about a century ago, but we didn't speak."
"Can we die?" I asked.
"No, but we can get trapped in Hell, and that's not pleasant."
"I have been having these strange dreams for a year or more. I see a man in a room and he is telling me that he doesn't exist. He jumps out of the screen and warns me not to believe in him, and when I look into his eyes, I see Hell."
"You see your hell, it is different for everyone. When kids look into my eyes they see Disneyland without any height restrictions or queues."
"So what is Heaven like?"
"I don't know. I doubt you and I will ever see it."
"So we protect souls?"
"Yep, that's right."
"So when you die it's not how you have lived your life, it's who gets to you first."
"No, no… you don't understand. Good humans with faith go straight to Heaven. People who talk to God are easy to find. God knows where they are. The malevolent go straight to Hell, but there is one more category of people, the faithless."
"Do you think it is fair that people who have led good, decent lives but just don't happen to believe in any sort of God should be condemned to the harshness of Hell?"
"I know many people who would."
"That's the Devil’s minions talking; do you think that children should go to Hell; babies?"
"I can't say I have ever thought about it."
"You have; you just can't remember, and that worries me… or maybe it shouldn't, he is obviously afraid of you. I wonder why? And you don't remember anything?"
"Nothing; I remember my life, I remember my parents dying, and how that made me feel. I remember my aunt taking me in and then she was killed. I remember my job and my life over the past twenty five years, but nothing about a war with devils or protecting peoples' souls."
"Well we will talk about that later, we have a soul to retrieve."
"Hurry up, we have work to do?"
"I can't I don't remember how to retrieve a soul."
"We have until sun up tomorrow morning to get that man out of Hell or he will be lost for ever, come on."
"Where are we going?"
"Outside, you saw him jump into the ground outside, didn't you?"
"Yes, but how can I help you? I don't remember anything."
"Well you're going to have to learn, and quickly." I then went with him outside, unsure what I could do to help. The body had been cleared away but there were still bloodstains on the ground. "Well, are you ready?" he asked.
"Ready for what…" but I didn't get a chance to hear his answer. He took my hand and we both dived into the pavement. The pavement swallowed us up like we were welcome visitors. It's hard to describe the experience; we were both being pulled further and further down. The environment around us felt soft on my skin, but as I plummeted down through the earth I was getting hotter and hotter. I finally realised I was actually travelling at fierce speed down into the depths of hell.
When we got to our destination we were submerged in water. We both swam to the surface. When my head was above the surface I took a deep breath and wiped my hair away from my eyes. I wanted to examine my surroundings. I was in a lake which was flowing through a large, empty atrium.
"Where are we?" I asked.
"We are in the middle of the River Acheron. Thousands of years ago this room was filled with the Unbaptised Virtuous. Then we invaded and freed them. Lucifer was so outraged he petitioned God and said that if a soul lasted one night in hell it should remain there for ever. God had no choice but to agree; we had defied the divinity that governs us all by freeing people from Hell. This used to be the place you were sent to if you were a good person but just did not have a faith; it was quiet and secluded - no torture. The Unbaptised Virtuous were able to talk to each other. It wasn't a bad afterlife but we didn't agree that these people did not deserve heaven, especially when one of the tasks of being a devil is encouraging the faithful to become faithless. Always be suspicious of people who ask if God existed, how could he let this happen?" He gave me a knowing look.
"So, he continued, "we stormed the gates of Hell. We were the last hope these people had. Lucifer was so angry he stopped using this place, other than to hold the Unbaptised Virtuous for one night before they would be condemned with the rest to Hell. In reaction to this God gave us the power to protect souls and spirit them to Heaven as fast we could."
"I still can't remember any of this."
"You will. Now we have to find that man from this morning." We walked for what seemed like hours, and the atrium and river seemed to always stretch out before us; there seemed to be no end to it.
"We are not going to find him before morning."
"Ssshhh! Do you hear that?" I listened, but heard nothing.
"I can't hear anything."
"Be quiet… He's just around that corner." I looked forward and in this long monolithic atrium, there suddenly appeared a corner.
"I see it," I whispered. We ran, and there he was: the man from this morning, sittingon the ground, rocking back and forth, praying for a miracle.
"Oh, of course, now you pray," Chael said sarcastically. "Come on," Chael grabbed his arm and pulled him to his feet. The father looked over into Chael's eyes and was immediately comforted; he knew we were here to help him. We ran back to the edge of the lake and were about to jump in when we heard a rumble in the distance. It seemed to get louder and louder. I kept looking towards it; I wanted to see what was making such a loud noise. I had not felt this sort of heat since we had climbed out of the river but now I felt it again. It was radiating from the other end of the corridor; I was transfixed I had to see what it was.
"Come on," Chael called up to me, he was already in the lake with the lost soul.
"I will follow."
"We have five minutes before we get trapped here," Chael warned.
"Go then, I'll follow." For the first time since yesterday morning I knew exactly what I needed to do. I looked away from Chael, who had already dived downwards with the lost soul, making their escape. I looked up again towards the searing heat and saw him. There he was, Lucifer. He was walking towards me, flames following him. As he got closer I could see this was not a normal fire enshrouding him. Each flame had a face; the faces were screaming and writhing in agony. These were the tormented souls of Hell that accompanied him, and they were burning for all eternity.
"I warned you not to believe," Lucifer bellowed.
"And I told you I will believe what I want to believe."
He threw out his arm and it struck me with such force that I went flying through the air and crashed into the wall behind me. I knew that if I had been human, this blow would have killed me. I flew back towards him and struck him. It was his turn to hurtle back towards the wall. When he landed, instead of getting up and attacking me, he just rubbed his bruised lip and smiled. "I knew I was right about you, I knew you were more powerful than all the others. I think you had better go - you're running out of time." I could hear a clock ticking; I knew I had only sixty seconds to get back to earth. I dived into the River Acheron and travelled up through the earth, emerging at the very spot where it had all begun.
"I thought you were lost," Chael said on seeing me.
"I nearly was, he let me go."
"He let you go?" Chael grinned. "He sometimes has an odd sense of fair play." Chael and I were distracted by the dawn which was about to break. A bright light shot down from Heaven and engulfed the soul we had retrieved. "Well, our work here is done; I will see you again, I hope."
"Before you go… River Acheron… Unbaptised Souls?"
"I know, Dante got me drunk one night and I said a little too much."
"And the Iron Maiden tee-shirt? It isn't very celestial."
"I'm incognito; plus they're a great band." He smiled, waved good-bye and walked away.
That night at three o'clock I awoke. I went into the next room, and there he was on my television screen again. This time he was facing me.
"I am going to give you your memory back," he began. "I want to face you again some day without any tricks. I think you might be fun to fight." With this, he jumped from the television and kissed my forehead. "I will see you again some day," he uttered, then disappeared.
As soon as he was gone my mind was filled with memories. I saw a battle, I saw myself leading the charge and storming Hell. I saw soul after soul I had protected, and for the first time in a long time my life had purpose.
My name is Gabriella Smith, I am a Soul Protector, and I am ready to save the world… one soul at a time.