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It was supposed to be a candlelight vigil, every flame lit in honor of a boy with no face and a planted gun. Aaron was unimpressed. His parents were crying nonstop, but that had become the norm at home, too. Everyone kept saying how sorry they were, how they knew Chris was a good kid and now he was surely in a better place, and how someday the truth would come out. Maybe it wouldn’t be until Judgment Day, but sooner or later the murderers would pay.

“They had to identify him with dental records,” he told one stranger. “He was in the morgue for a week before they notified my Dad.”



The woman looked nervous and shuffled away, comfortable with grief but unable to face righteous fury in a twelve-year-old boy. He watched her go, then wandered under the hand-painted banner: ‘In Memory of Christopher Birch: 1993-2010’. The chairs beneath were full of flowers, teddy bears, and angel dolls. As if his brother had been a toddler, not a young man about to graduate high school and move on to college and work and the real world. Aaron sat on the floor by a chair and gave one of the angels a contemptuous look. It had golden hair, blue eyes, and a peaceful smile, and it was entirely unwelcome.

“You look bored,” said a voice behind him and to the left. The tone was smooth and pleasant, the accent distinct. British, maybe? He turned, frowning. There was a man standing by the wall, half in shadow. White. Blue eyes, dirty blond curls, a dark suit. “I suppose these sorts of affairs are meant to be excruciating,” the stranger added.

“Who are you?” Aaron asked. “One of the newspaper guys?”

“Just your friendly neighborhood liberal.” He came closer, sitting on the floor next to the boy. “You do, though. Look bored. And angry.”

“Wouldn’t you be?” Aaron looked at the floor. “He was gonna go to college in the fall. He wanted to be a veterinarian.”

The man’s face fell into more somber lines. “I’d be very angry, if I were you.”

It almost sounded like an invitation to vent. Aaron glanced at him sideways and found a patient, expectant expression. It reminded him of the grief counselor his parents had gone to. He had been unwilling to ‘open up’ then, and he was just as unwilling now. His lips pressed into a thin line for a moment before he spoke again. “Why do you care? Who are you?”

“My name is Balthazar,” the man answered. “As for caring…” he trailed off as if searching for tactful words. Possibly he failed to find any. “In the grand scheme of things, this affair doesn’t affect me in any way. In that sense, I don’t care. But that’s true of everyone here save your own family. On the other hand, I do have a genuine interest in justice. Like you.”

It was so harsh and so unlike the syrupy platitudes he’d been choking down for weeks, Aaron actually smiled. It was painful and cold, but it was a smile. “Yeah, well, that’s honest at least.”

“I haven’t been accused of honesty in a few years.” Balthazar leaned over and plucked an angel doll off the nearest chair. “I will say honestly, though, I find these hideously tacky.”

“They’re stupid,” Aaron said, giving up on his own smile. “They just sit there praying, like that makes it okay. Angels don’t look like that.”

“Don’t they? What do they look like?”

“Haven’t you read the Bible? They’re huge and covered with eyes.”

“Oh, that’s much more interesting than chubby babies with wings.” He rubbed his chin. “Maybe I’d better read that.”

Aaron raised an eyebrow, not sure whether Balthazar was putting him on. “We used to go to Sunday School,” he said. “Every week, except in the summer. We haven’t been in a while.”

“This sort of thing does tend to make one lose faith,” Balthazar said, and it sounded genuinely sad.

“I keep praying,” Aaron went on, refocusing his gaze on the floor. “No one answers.”

There was a moment of loaded silence, then the man murmured, “I’ve been there.”

“Aaron? Aaron, honey, come here and say hello to your cousins,” his mother called from across the room. Her voice was hoarse from tears, but there was a frozen smile on her face, the look of a woman being gracious for the sake of her guests.

That was his family all over. Never let the world see you stumble. He sighed, frustrated with the pretense, and forced himself to his feet. He took a few steps away, then remembered his conversational companion. When he turned back to say farewell, there was no one there, and no sign there ever had been.

“Did you see that guy?” he asked his mother. “The blond guy with the English accent?”

“What? There’s no one like that here, sweetie,” she answered impatiently. “Now, look, this is your cousin Grant, you haven’t seen him in years…”



((TBC))

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The Angel Balthazar

September 2015

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