At the motel phone booth, I hesitated before calling home. Lying to my parents was something I was not accustomed to, as I never before needed to do that. Mom let me be out as long as I was with people she knew and as long as my grades at school didn’t suffer. In this particular case, I failed on all counts. I was prodding the depths of my family’s secrets with someone she didn’t know even existed, far away from home, and after having already fallen behind in my studies. But since I knew that there was no chance that I would make it home before bed, I had no choice but to call. I had to at least let them know I was safe.
I put a coin in the slot, and dialed the number. Dad picked up. Crossing my fingers I told him that we were extending our study session since there was a lot for me to catch up on. He said it would be better for me to come home sooner than later. Grandfather had another attack. The doctor was on his way to determine whether he needed to be taken back to the hospital. Dad relayed to me how Mom was concerned because she had no way of contacting me all day. I told him I’d do my best to get there soon and hung up before another untruth escaped my lips.
“I hate lying to them,” I said to Uri.
“You could have told them—”
“Grandpa had another attack,” I said quickly. “It seems to be happening a lot lately.”
Uri and I went outside and paced in front of the hospital, monitoring for activity. People and cars were still abounding, though less so as the light outside grew dimmer. Once the sun’s disk was almost skimming the Earth’s skyline, its orange glow making the piles of snow on the side of the
streets glisten like gold, we entered the premises and rounded the building.
Scattered coal, broken glass, and scraps of paper littered the blackened cement floor of the back plaza, where three piles of the black rock stood still and silent like small pyramids. Without Stan to aid our journey, but sensing no lurking danger, I walked toward the back entrance, opened the door, and went inside. Uri followed me in, shutting the door behind us. Inside, the scent of burned coal and sulfur brought back memories. In darkness, I turned my head toward Uri, my face almost slamming into his chest. I told him that if we went in the direction away from the heating room, we would eventually reach a set of stairs leading to the main floor of the hospital.
“In that case we should go the opposite direction.” He found my hand and pulled me toward the blazing furnaces.
The temperature inside was climbing until we passed the roaring flames, rounded the corner, and entered a narrower arm of the hallway. Uri stopped us the moment we heard the squeak of doors opening, followed by rushed footsteps that sounded like woman’s heels stomping over polished stone floor. Uri and I looked at each other and let out our long breaths once the footsteps retreated.
“Now. Quick,” Uri pulled me forward. We took another turn and ran until we reached a set of doors with an eerie dim light blinking and buzzing above its frame. Uri caught the doors just before they shut in front of us.
“Lucky,” I whispered, once we were both inside. He placed his finger on my mouth, signaling me to keep quiet.
Pacing forward on our tiptoes, we looked around. Dim lighting illuminated the corridor, lined on both sides with small windowless rooms. One looked like an office with piles of papers stacked on a desk. Another was empty, save the floor-to-ceiling metal filing cabinets. The lights in the corridor grew darker toward its end where we noticed a set of closed doors with a small, round window like a porthole on a ship.
“Is he here?” I asked Uri.
We approached quietly, wary of our surroundings. Before we reached the end of the corridor, we passes another room that looked like a cross between a morgue and a classroom, with square metal drawers on one wall, and a blackboard on another. In the center stood an empty hospital bed, surrounded by all sorts of machinery and monitoring devices and a large model of a human brain. Uri and I exchanged glances.
“This is it,” I said, placing my hand over the knob of the last door.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Uri asked.
“More than anything in my life,” I said and pressed down the lever.
We entered a dry, sterile room that smelled of chemicals and a moment later, the lights flickered on automatically. It was a small foyer, an interim space. Heavy steel door with a square glass window separated us from one more room. Uri pressed a button on the wall and the lights went off, allowing us to see a dim red glow coming through the small glass opening.
“It looks like a darkroom for developing photographs,” I said.
“Or an aquarium,” Uri said, and opened the doors.
He was right. The air inside the room was warm, moist, and thick. At first, my eyes travelled to the source of light—a red bulb in a far right corner of the room—and then to the large object dominating its center: a rectangular glass container filled with liquid, just like an oversized aquarium.
Walking toward it, I reached for Uri’s warm hand and he responded with a light squeeze. I was beginning to tremble. Inside the water floated a body.
“We found him,” I said, released my hand, and reached for the glass enclosure.
“Daniel,” Uri said, leaning over the tank. “It’s been so long, my friend,” he said.
Daniel looked frozen in time. His eyes were shut, features expressionless, skin whitewashed, and aside from a pair of underwear he was naked. All but his face and toes were submerged. A ganglion of cables like dendrites extended from his temples and chest, linking patches of electrodes to a beeping monitor, the active brain of this chamber.
I bent over the glass wall, just as a tear descended down my cheek and fell into the water, causing concentric ripples that nudged Daniel’s hand. I reached my hand and touched Daniel’s cheek. His skin was warm, the same temperature as the liquid. I touched my wet finger to my lips and tasted salt.
“How are we going to take Daniel out of here?” I asked Uri. “It’s freezing out.”
“I brought an extra set of clothes,” he smiled at me. “We travelers always come prepared. But he’s very weak. We will have to carry him.”
Uri picked up a clipboard with a sheet attached to it, lying on an adjacent table. It was a log of medication administered to Daniel.
“Looks like he was just given some sort of a sedative.”
I looked at the sheet. “I know what this is,” I said, pointing at one recent entry. “My grandpa used to take it. It’s a muscle relaxant.” Flashing back to the day I last saw my brother, I realized that the reason the water in his room tasted so bitter was perhaps because it was tainted with medicine.
That’s why I was so sleepy. “We can’t count on him walking or responding much after what he was given. What do we do?” I asked, panic seeping through my words.
“Keep calm and improvise. Fast.”
The idea of losing fragile Daniel during our mission cast a dark cloud over my already taxed mind, a cloud that became even darker with Uri’s somber reminder that we better act quick if we don’t want to risk getting caught.
I looked at Uri, and then at Daniel, before reaching into the tank and ripping the patches off Daniel’s skin. I was angry at the people who brought him here, angry at the whole world for allowing such injustice to take place. Because he didn’t have a family to protect him and because he possessed a brilliant mind, he became a target. I blamed myself for not acting sooner and giving into my doubts.
Uri was gently tearing the bandages off Daniel’s arm before withdrawing the IV needle from the inside of his elbow. The thought that we had no clue what we were doing crossed my mind and stalled my movement. What if we were endangering his life rather than saving it? I looked at Uri with teary eyes.
“Let’s take my brother home.”
“This is why we’re here.”
Floating unattached, Daniel was ready to be lifted out of the water. We did so together, Uri holding Daniel under his arms and I by his feet, and we placed Daniel on a table covered with white linen. Daniel weighed as much as a feather.
“Quick, we need to dress him,” Uri said, asking me to dry Daniel’s body with the sheet while he took out the bundle of clothes from his backpack. “We used to be the same size. Now he’s merely half of me.”
Uri and I worked in haste, bumping into each other, dressing Daniel. His body was limp. While I held him in my arms, Uri put his thin legs through the opening in his trousers, wrapped a scarf around his neck, put a wool hat on his head, and slipped a pair of ski gloves over his thin hands. I wanted to have a moment with my brother, hold him tight, cradle him, whisper to him how happy I was to see him in hopes of him hearing me, the way an unborn baby hears its mother’s words in the womb. But the pressure to leave the hospital without getting caught was mounting. At any moment, someone could return and find two intruders stealing their research subject, and with it a load of secrets. With Daniel dressed, Uri and I agreed that I would carry our backpacks while he carried Daniel in his arms.
“Almost out of here,” I said, hearing the third set of doors slam shut behind us as we shuffled our way across the dim hallway. Both of us were breathing heavily.
We didn’t stop moving, not even to look over our shoulders, until we exited the building the same way we came in and reached the fence surrounding the hospital. All I could do was hope that no one saw us. We waited in the dark before crossing the street, away from the lamplight, until the front of the building was clear of people, taking a moment to think and catch our breath.
Daniel’s eyes were still closed and his body lifeless. The only indication that he was alive was a faint cloud of steam coming out of his mouth and nostrils. I adjusted the hat on his head to make sure it covered his ears and added my own scarf around his neck.
“Daniel,” I said to him. “If you can hear me…This is not a dream. You are coming home now. Your mother waited nineteen years to see you again.”
Daniel’s head steadied a bit and his eyelids quivered.
“Let’s go before he gets too cold,” Uri said and lifted Daniel.
Noticing that Uri was following my lead, I aimed for the closest bus stop. “I hope we luck out with the return train,” I said. Laying Daniel on a bench, we checked the map and schedule displayed inside the small waiting area. The bus arrived in less than five minutes and while it meandered a bit, skirting the edge of the city, the train station was its final stop. Taking up the entire back row of seats in an empty bus, I kept looking at Uri and Daniel, two friends connected by a mysterious cord. Both had their eyes closed, but sensing my gawking, Uri spoke.
“We are a good team.”
“Thank you for everything.”
“Things might get a little heavy now, more complex at home. Don’t expect a rosy welcome. Be prepared.”
“Thanks for being an optimist,” I said.
“Just practicing being a realist.”
With a seven-hour wait at the train station (the next train was scheduled to depart at four in the morning), we located an empty bench and positioned Daniel so that his head was resting on my lap. I stayed with my brother while Uri bought our tickets and called Rock to update him on our estimated time of arrival. I held one palm over Daniel’s chest and the other just under his head, hoping to pass my warmth to him. When Uri came back, we switched places. Uri covered Daniel with his jacket and I offered mine to place under Daniel’s head to serve as a pillow. It was warm inside the station but Daniel’s skin was as cold as ice. He was sleeping, his breathing faint but rhythmic and steady. Leaving Uri with my brother, I left in search of something hot to drink.
When I returned holding the biggest cup of hot tea I could buy, and three pastry buns, Uri was bending over Daniel, whispering something to him. I set the food down.
“Is he awake?” I asked.
“He seemed like he was trying to wake up. I told him we were with him and then he turned limp and fell asleep again. I’m growing concerned.”
“You think he’s gonna be okay? What if his body needs the medication?”
“It might. Let’s hope he heard me and is just resting.”
“I brought us some food,” I said, suddenly realizing the absurdity of trying to feed Daniel anything solid. I ate half of my bun and Uri devoured the rest. When the tea had cooled off, we sat Daniel up and I tried to give him the liquid with a plastic spoon. He was swallowing, so I continued until his cheeks became a little warmer to the touch.
“I have no clue what we’re doing. The rescue mission was almost too easy. Will things get a turn for the worse now?” I asked Uri.
“Better not tempt fate.”
At two in the morning, Daniel’s body began to fidget, waking both of us up. He was lying across our laps, his head on thighs and his legs on Uri’s. I tried to give Daniel more tea, which had gone cold, but he barely drank any. Soon his whole body was trembling.
“He must be going through a drug withdrawal,” Uri said. “He was pumped full of stuff, his body is probably dependent on it.”
Not knowing what else to do, I kept stroking Daniel’s head and asking him to hang on a little longer. Soon both Daniel and Uri were sleeping again. I kept checking Daniel’s pulse and breathing. Both were feeble, but present. I saw an inkling of a smile on my brother’s face and the sight warmed my heart. I did not fall asleep until the train arrived. We had half an hour to board. Carrying Daniel’s body, Uri’s step was wobbly.
We grabbed the first empty car. Each side was lined with three joined seats. We set Daniel down and stretched him across all three, lifting the arm rests, once more using our wardrobe to make him comfortable. For a brief moment, he opened his eyes and looked at our faces in astonishment, and then his head rolled back and he lost consciousness.
When three hours later the train pulled into the final station and we saw Rock waiting outside his car through the window, I wanted to cry with joy for being so close to home at last. I did not want to even think of the upheaval that Daniel’s arrival could cause. The train stopped with a loud screech. I gathered our things. Uri picked up Daniel and we were off.
“You can’t take someone off medication and expect that they’ll just wake up and go back to normal,” Rock said, navigating us home as I continued stroking Daniel’s head. In the morning light, his skin was the color of snow.
“This is why we have doctors,” I said. “The good doctors.”
It was almost eight in the morning when Rock pulled up to my house. I opened the garage door, which squeaked louder than ever, as if broadcasting my arrival to the whole neighborhood. Dad’s car was not in the garage. Rock wanted to help, but we thanked him and sent him home with a promise to call later with an update. The less people, the easier it would be for Mom to cope.
We climbed the stairs from the basement to the main floor, which took us a long minute of hard effort. We were both exhausted. Daniel kept waking up and we kept pausing. He looked disoriented, but seeing our faces seemed to put him at ease. When we finally entered the main floor, the house was quiet and cold. There was no sign of anyone inside. We laid Daniel on my bed and I went downstairs to turn up the central heating.
“Maybe we should give Daniel a bath?” I asked, walking into my room.
“Excellent idea,” Uri said. “It will warm him faster.”
“You think I should try calling them?”
“It is your decision, Eve.”
I took a deep breath and nodded. “It is time.”
I started the bath for Daniel and put a pot of milk on the stove. I then walked to the phone and dialed Grandma’s number.
Mom’s sleepy voice answered.
“Mom, it’s me. I’m at home. I’m so sorry I didn’t come to be with you last night,” I said, my voice breaking.
“It’s okay, sweetie. I knew you were studying. Grandpa is home with us. He’s sleeping. He’s going to
“I called and Dad said you wanted me home—”
“I was just worried but I was also glad you were preoccupied. I didn’t want you to witness any more of this. You can come see him after school. Is your father home?”
“No. His car is gone.” I heard Mom take a deep breath. “What happened. Mom?”
I detected a brief hesitation. “He left. I think this time for good.”
Pressing the phone to my ear, waiting for her to fill the silence, I leaned on the wall behind me. Dad left us. This is why the house felt so empty and cold when we arrived. It was more than physical vacancy and the heating not being on.
“I’m sorry, Mom. Are you holding up okay?”
“Yes, fine. We actually had a good talk last night. He tried but he’s just happier elsewhere. And it’s wrong to force him to stay.”
We both fell silent. To me, the news was relieving in light of whom I’d just brought home. It was better for Dad to be away. “I’m sorry for robbing you and Rena of your father.”
“Please Mom, never think that.”
“Still, I feel guilty.”
“Mom, could you come home?”
“Aren’t you going to school, honey?” she asked.
“No. And I wasn’t studying last night. I lied. I’m so sorry. I just need you at home. And Rena. Please come quick,” I said, trying to control my emotions.
“Did anything bad happen? Are you all right?”
“Yes, I am fine. But you have to be here to understand. It’s too hard to explain. Please hurry.” I hung up the phone and ran to the kitchen, barely catching the boiling milk from spilling all over the stove.
Holding the cup, I knocked on the bathroom door. “I brought some milk.”
“Come in,” Uri said, and opened the door for me. Daniel was floating in a bath full of foam. “We could’ve done without so many bubbles, you know.”
I smiled and entered. Daniel was awake, looking at me with his large green eyes, which seemed even bigger on his emaciated face. I set the cup on the tub’s rim and squatted next to my brother.
“Daniel.” His name was all I could say before my voice broke.
“Thank you,” Daniel said faintly, and closed his eyes. He seemed weak but no longer in danger of losing his life.
I gazed at Uri. “He looks like he’s not even sick. Just starved.”
Uri nodded. “We are stronger than most people. He is going to be fine.”
“We?” I asked standing up. “Please, Uri, I can’t take anymore withholding.”
“I won’t withhold. You are ready to know.” Uri walked closer to me. The pupils of his eyes were almost as large as his irises, which were now but tiny blue outlines. “We are not exactly human. And you remembered right—Daniel and I are of the same kind,” he added, looking at Daniel. “That’s how I know that your brother will be fine.”
“Not exactly human? What are you?” I looked at Daniel, whose eyes were closed, and then back at Uri. “Please, tell me,” I asked, the current emanating from Uri’s eyes making me dizzy.
“We are the Nephilim. Sons of fallen angels.”