It was completely dark now, and I was struggling to find my way. Evelina, you must get away from there, Daniel shouted inside my head. A tide of desire was still coursing through my veins, raising the temperature of my blood. A sweet, musky smell lingered about me—Crass’ kiss. He could be right behind me but I didn’t dare to turn. I walked fast, aiming toward the river. Soon I heard the rush of water and searched for the path that would take me home. When I found it, I broke into a run. But soon I was lost again. I stopped to listen, but instead of the trickling of water I heard voices and whispers. I looked around and saw lights popping around me, like glowing eyes or night creatures. Hallucinations, I thought. Which way? Daniel, help! I spun my body around, on the verge of panic. This way, I heard him and headed toward the lights, which turned out to be the glowing window lights of my neighbors’ homes.
Stumbling, I ascended a small hill and entered the paved road of the cul-de-sac with the five houses, one of which belonged to my family. The lights in our kitchen were on. I looked up toward the blinking streetlamp, which had been on the verge of dying since November. The bulb flickered violently until it cracked and went out in smoke. Darkness descended over the street. I kept on until my eyes could discern a tall figure standing by the side of my house. I stopped, wary of being seen. But soon, my step quickened and before I knew it, I was running toward him.
“Daniel!” I called, falling into his arms. Upon contact, our bodies wrapped themselves into a tight knot and I knew that from this point on, I would never doubt him again.
“I’ve been looking everywhere for you,” he said.
“No, I am the one who is sorry. I should have stood up for you,” he said and withdrew a little to look at me. “What happened to you?”
“It’s been such a bizarre night,” I said, reaching my hands toward my temples. “I feel like everything is out of control.” The images around me were still shifting and I could see circles of light surrounding Daniel’s head. “I tried to contact Sariel.”
“You never give up, do you?”
“He did come through. But then the whole thing turned into a disaster.”
“I’m sorry I abandoned you.”
“No, it’s not your fault. If Grandpa would only open up to me and hear me out, maybe I would listen to him more.”
“Are you ready to hear his story?”
“He told you what happened?”
Daniel nodded and, catching a glimpse of a moving curtain, suggested we go inside and away from the eyes of peering neighbors.
“Is Mom home?” I asked, climbing the stairs.
“No, she’s with her father. It’s her turn to hear it.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. Grandpa was speaking to Mom!
“Tea?” Daniel asked as I sat down at the table.
“No, I’d rather not. I think I need a break from tea,” I said, wincing at the memory of the pungent taste of the drink Crass had given me. I told Daniel about it, sparing the ghastly details.
“I’m sorry. I left you vulnerable to the predators.”
“It was my choice. I take full responsibility.”
Assuring me I would be fine, Daniel filled a small pot with water and put it on the stove.
“So tell me, what happened?”
“After you left, Jan was very disturbed. He wouldn’t even eat anything. I knew he was on the verge of breaking down so I decided to stay there. But he waited until after Mom went home before he finally started speaking,” Daniel said, sitting down across from me. “Had you not said what you did, we would probably wait who knows how long to hear anything, if at all. So thank you for being stubborn.”
“Oh, Daniel, all this time I felt so guilty for bringing anything up.”
“But you were right about him. He knew more than he was willing to share. You were also right that he did it to protect us. But you made him realize that withholding the truth was creating more damage than good.”
“But what was it that finally made him open up.”
“There was only one thing he needed to let go. Forgiveness.”
I thought of the passage in Ezekiel and smiled to myself.
“How is he now?”
“He’s tired. Very tired. The weight he’s been carrying had almost crushed him.”
Daniel’s words filled me with hope that grandfather’s condition would begin to improve now that he purged his system from secrets. That’s if it wasn’t too late. My brother leaned his elbows over his knees, and reached for my hands. Light emanated through his skin and I could feel the tingly warmth of their golden corpuscles. Daniel’s heat traveled up my arms.
“So tell me,” I squeezed his hands. “What did he say?”
“What he had been telling us was true, but only half of the story,” Daniel said. “Mom was indeed violated the night she conceived me. The part he didn’t tell was that the soul of the man who had done it was possessed by the spirit of a fallen angel. Since they don’t have bodies, they take over others. It’s like a feast for their spirit,” Daniel’s face expressed deep sorrow. “This is probably not what you wanted to hear.”
I shook my head but the revelation shattered the last bit of faith I had in the virtuousness of the angel. “No, but the truth’s purpose is not to make one feel better,” I said and closed my eyes. It was my turn to feel tired.
“I’m sorry, sister.”
“I thought he really loved me. But because of my gullibility, almost the same thing happened to me tonight,” I said, thinking of Crass’ advances to take my virginity.
“So you see how devious the fallen can be?”
“I still don’t see how someone devious could create people like you and Uri.”
“That’s because you don’t know what it means to live in our skin. It’s been a struggle since we were born. Each time something good happened to us, the rug was pulled out from underneath our feet. It was only thanks to our inner faith in some greater purpose and the generosity of people that allowed us to get this far.”
“The fallen want the souls of their children to return to them. This is how their spirit survives. They take back what they beget. But as Uri had told you, we are strong. Stronger than we may seem. Still, both of us came close to losing our lives. Numerous times.” Daniel narrowed his eyes. “The world is filled with demons seeking to possess people. The doctor who held me in the hospital, the parents who never came to pick me up when I was little, Stan, all of them were suffering from some degree of possession.”
“How about Grandpa?”
“Jan is a shaman, a spiritual warrior. But unlike his predecessors, he’s resisted his fate.”
The water began to boil and Daniel got up to turn off the flame and set the pot aside. He reached for a small pouch that rested on the counter and withdrew a handful of dry herbs, which he threw into the water. A pleasant aroma filled the air.
Just then all the lights in the house went out. The darkness made the glow around his body shine even brighter. I went to my room and retrieved the candle that was still resting up on top of my wardrobe where I had left it two days ago.
When I returned to the kitchen, Daniel was waiting with a box of matches in his hands.
“Rena came by the apartment yesterday,” he said, lighting a match. “She thinks we’re all nuts.” His comment made me smile.
Daniel and I returned to the table, our faces inside the flame’s circular glow. Metal objects sparkled, and Daniel’s face once more looked otherworldly.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m losing my mind,” I said, reaching my hand toward my forehead.
“I’ve been there many times myself.”
“I bet Rena never feels that way.” It was my turn to make Daniel smile.
Grandpa’s box and notebook were on the table. Daniel reached for the notebook and opened it on the first page. “Our mother’s story begins on this drawing,” he said, and turned the book around presenting it to me. It was the drawing of the two soldiers. One was pressing a gun to the other’s chest. A faint figure of what looked like an angel hovered in the background. Right above Grandpa’s initials was his request for forgiveness.
“It was a cold winter night. Jan was in a war, fighting against the Soviets. The man with the gun is a Soviet soldier,” Daniel pointed. “The other person is Jan. He said he came close to dying that night. The moment he captured in this drawing marked a turning point in his life. He summoned a spirit in fear, and everything changed from that point on.”
I thought of Grandpa trying to pass his knowledge onto me, warning me about asking spirits to do anything for us, emphasizing the debt that such action always caused.
“What made him so afraid?”
“To fully understand it, we need to go back a little further.”
As Daniel spoke, a rich story unfolded.
Our grandfather was born the middle child of three sons in a small village in the north of Russia. His mother, Julia, was of Polish descent. Jan’s father, Mir, our great-grandfather, was born in the Far East in a region known as Anatolia, into a small community of shamans. When Mir was sixteen years old, the local government began its campaign against the community, forbidding their shamanic practices and thus forcing many families to abandon the village. They claimed it was a campaign against charlatanism, though Mir was of the opinion that their plan was to use the shamanic knowledge for their own political purposes.
In order to increase the likelihood of preserving their spiritual heritage, the elders of the tribe decided it would be best for them to scatter. Mir’s family was to travel west. Caught under fire, Mir’s parents and younger sister did not survive the escape. Alone and frightened, young Mir fled in mourning, eventually reaching the Siberian taiga. He endured a harsh winter by hunting animals for their skins and food. After months of wandering, Mir stumbled upon a Siberian village and spent most of the summer watching its inhabitants from a distance. He soon realized that most were war deserters and labor camp fugitives from the First World War. By that fall, Mir was fully assimilated into the life of the small community. There, he met Julia, a recently orphaned daughter of Polish labor camp escapees, and they were married by the next summer.
Unable to deny his heritage that had led to his family’s demise, Mir began to heal residents of the village using his shamanic knowledge. Aware of her husband’s escape story, Julia tried to remind Mir about what could happen once his practices began to extend beyond their small circle. As his healing powers and popularity grew over the next two decades, Julia gave birth to three healthy sons. But few years later, his wife’s warning came to pass and history repeated itself when a government official from a nearby town heard about Mir’s abilities and sent his spies to gather information.
In an effort to protect his family and avoid working for the enemy, he and Julia plotted an escape. She had distant relatives who lived in western Poland, assuming they survived the war. Before their departure, Mir and Julia spent the night apart, Julia and the children staying with a neighbor, while Mir was busy making last preparations at their cottage. As it had been in the past, Mir’s intuition was sharp, although not sharp enough to spare his life. Their home was invaded that night and Mir was captured. With the help of the neighbor, Julia and the children escaped. They hid in the woods, awaiting the arrival of the neighbor and Mir. When one day the neighbor indeed came, he delivered sad news: Mir had been shot while attempting to flee.
After a long and grief-filled journey west, Julia and her sons returned to Poland where she found the village of her birth. While no family members awaited their arrival, there was an old house, almost in ruins, with an attached plot of land, waiting to be claimed. There, Julia and her three sons began their life anew, away from war and magic. But unbeknownst to her, her middle son, Jan, who was only fourteen at the time when he lost his father, had been already indoctrinated into the shamanic ways. According to what his father had told him, Jan had an inborn ability to invoke spirits. And soon those seeds started to sprout.
As the boys grew, Jan’s older brother moved north to a city by the sea and the youngest of the three brothers married the daughter of the local farmer and settled happily in an adjacent village. But Jan was unsettled. He wanted to go back to Anatolia, the homeland of his father, to better understand his strange heritage. When the Soviets invaded Poland a few years later, overtaken by inner rage and a desire to avenge his father’s death, Jan joined the Polish army. Thus, our grandfather journeyed east.
It wasn’t long before Jan realized not only the perils of war but also the true cost of his desire for revenge. Captured by the enemy, the members of his platoon became prisoners of war and faced imminent death. The night of his planned execution, using his still nascent abilities as the last resort, Jan invoked a spirit, calling upon his ancestors from Anatolia. To his great surprise, the spirit he invoked was that of an angel.
Consumed by the terror of dying with a soldier pressing his rifle to Jan’s chest, Jan begged the spirit to spare his life. The angel agreed, asking for an offering of his firstborn daughter in return. Jan conceded to the angel’s request, not fully understanding just what kind of an angel came to him in his vision or what exactly his request meant. The angel directed his hands at the soldier holding the rifle, and a line of lightning shot toward the soldier, causing him to misfire and Jan to lose consciousness.
The following day, Jan awakened in the forest. Unsure of how he had gotten there, and scarcely remembering what had transpired the night before, Jan started to run towards the
setting sun. He never found out what happened to the rest of his platoon, but he suspected the worst.
“So the angel saved his life,” I said.
Daniel nodded. “But there was a price to pay.”
“That’s why he wrote ‘forgive me’ beneath the drawing, “ I said, finally grasping the true weight of
those words. “He sacrificed Mom that night.”
Daniel nodded again before continuing the story.
Famished and in shock, Jan roamed the foreign woods looking for a way out of Russia. But the farther west he got, the more the mystery of his lineage and the angel’s appearance haunted him. Thus, after crossing the Polish border, he chose to stay in the woods longer in hopes of finding peace within.
There, he built for himself a modest dwelling. Spending his days collecting herbs, one day he stumbled upon a young woman foraging in the wild. Reserved at first, over time each made a step closer to their ultimate acquaintance. She lived nearby with her father. She was beautiful and kind and soon Jan was enamored.
After months of courting young Maria, Jan learned that her father was very much against the budding romance. He viewed Jan as an alien and a mad man, too dangerous to be around, too damaging of an influence. In an effort to dissuade her from visiting with the interloper, Maria’s father told her he often saw strange lights hover outside of Jan’s dwelling, and heard appalling noises, like murmurs and incantations of ghosts and animals scowling in entrapment. But Maria wanted to hear no such nonsense, and continued seeing Jan in the groves and meadows that lined the forest’s edge. But in her mind, Maria had finally come upon a kindred spirit.
As autumn encroached upon their little world—dimming colors, deepening echoes, and dampening scents—so grew the young lovers’ longing to embrace by the hearth in the open. Jan was well aware that Maria was her father’s treasure, one that he refused to relinquish. He was an ailing old man, a widowed man who had lost his wife prematurely, and was deathly afraid of loneliness and Maria’s curiosity of what lay beyond the forestland they inhabited. With Maria as his only family, Jan posed a threat to the old man’s stability. Taking things into his own hands, Jan hunted down a boar and prepared a feast for Maria and her father. As the scent of dinner steaming on a platter filled their home, Maria’s father’s nostrils flared and his heart opened. With many such feasts in line, Jan ingratiated himself enough to have the old man bless their union.
The following summer Maria’s belly was big enough to suggest a newcomer into their world. While the change delighted the young mother-to-be, it terrified Jan, the angel’s request resurfacing from the ashes of memories. He tried everything to disrupt the pregnancy by sneaking herbs into her teas and stews, all to no avail. In the end, she gave birth to a healthy boy and Jan breathed a sigh of relief. Two years later, their second son was born, though not without another wave of terror. Maria’s father passed shortly after the second son’s birth, and Jan looking at his blooming brood, adopted a belief that if the angel’s request was true, maybe he had changed his mind and had taken the old man’s soul instead.
With Maria’s daughterly duties unchained, Jan decided it was time for his wife to meet his mother, Julia. The journey was uneventful and the reunion joyful. Julia was relieved to see her son alive, let alone married and with children. For almost a decade, the expanded family lived happily in old Julia’s house and flourished. More animals were acquired and a new cottage was built. That was until Maria’s belly swelled once more. Plumped from age and prosperity, she hid her state from her husband, aware of his strange fears, until she delivered their last offspring while Jan was away visiting his older brother, Viktor, by the sea.
The child was a girl, feeble and small. Receiving the news via a telegram, Jan was beside himself with concern and returned home promptly. The scab that occluded his meeting with the angel broke open, recharging his anguish.
From the moment Jan met his daughter, his heart belonged to her. He vowed to guard her with his life, both against worldly ills and otherworldly afflictions.
As the girl whom they christened Krystyna grew, and their two sons married and moved out of their parents’ home, Maria would catch her husband looking at his daughter with increased sadness. In the attempt to hide his anxiety, he slowly lost his abilities to cope with ordinary affairs and withdrew within himself. Confused, she approached Jan to inquire about his strange moods. Bit by bit, and pushed to the brink of despair, he revealed to her the shamanic origins of his lineage, told her what had happened to him during the war, and described the angel’s apparition. He even shared with his wife his guilt over not complying with Mir’s warning never to summon spirits while in fear, and especially the agreement he had struck with the angel.
Jan considered talking to young Krystyna about his encounter with the angel but Maria strongly objected. She thought it was unnecessary to disrupt their daughter’s youth with disturbing stories that may not even be true. She was not convinced of the story’s full validity, suspecting that Jan’s fear of being shot by the soldier may have incited a hallucination, or that he had embellished what had happened, his growing fear distorting the memory.
When Krystyna reached her teenage years and began spending more time with her school friends, which to Maria’s relief spared her daughter the constant vigil her father kept over her, Jan’s gloominess seemed to lessen a bit. That’s until Jan’s older brother Viktor came for a visit, and the two of them began reminiscing about their forlorn childhood in the east. That night, Jan learned that his kin had a dark side.
According to Viktor, in an attempt to preserve Jan’s innocence and untainted talent for healing, Mir purposely omitted to tell his young son apprentice about a certain branch of the tribe that practiced sorcery. Viktor first found out about the dark sect by accidentally stumbling upon a ritual deep in the woods that was so chilling, it scared the boy and he waited a few years before asking his father about it. Mir kept away from the sect, directing his gifts toward the betterment of humanity. He called himself a true shaman and wanted nothing to do with the dark priesthood.
The ritual Viktor had witnessed was meant to invoke the spirits of the tribal ancestors, and included animal sacrifices and the usage of ancient symbols and chants, in order to keep their magical powers strong. Many birds were slaughtered that night to make cloaks that looked like wings. Viktor later gathered from several sources linked to the tribe’s high priest that their Anatolian tribe’s legacy reached back to the times of the Nephilim, its elders believing to be direct bloodline descendants of the fallen.
“That would mean that Grandpa himself could be a descendant of the Nephilim,” I said, startled by the discovery.
“It’s very possible and would explain a lot,” Daniel said.
“And if it is so,” I whispered, my eyes burning, “it would imply that so am I.”
Daniel and I looked at each other, currents of energy moving through the air. I felt like we were getting very close to disentangling my family saga, so I asked my brother to please continue.
Having realized that he was dealing with powers that were beyond his control, Jan’s inner state oscillated between despair, denial, and acceptance. He began having dreams of rumbling storms and consuming fires, out of which arose the angel’s apparition, coming to claim young Krystyna. When Jan tried to chase away the angel, it would turn into Mir, as if reminding him that he was chasing away his own. Coming to terms with his own impotence in the face of a great power, Jan shifted his focus from prevention, which would’ve been futile unless he chained his daughter to the bedpost, to planning post hoc, in the event the worst came to pass.
When, much to Maria’s delight, a young man had been spotted two evenings in a row walking Krystyna home, she shared the news with Jan. The young cavalier was from a good family, known around town by their high status and prosperity. Jan responded to the news with nothing more than a shrug and continued his ghostly existence. On the evening of the autumnal equinox he couldn’t take his eyes off his daughter, sensing a strange presence around her that trailed her like smoke, a clandestine air that made him suspect the worst. She ambled around the kitchen, preparing a supper, humming a strange tune.
No amount of delicate questioning made Krystyna open up to her father, as the girl and her parents consumed their evening meal. Grandma scolded her husband, insisting that their daughter was embarrassed, as she had obviously fallen in love. But Grandpa knew his quiet truth. Fallen, yes, but neither in love, nor with the one Grandma had believed. Their daughter had fallen into the trap of lust and enchantment.
Her blank stare and dreamy smiles confirmed it.
That night Jan refused to drop his guard. So when still dressed in her sleeping gown, Krystyna left the house just before midnight, he followed her. She passed the neighboring blocks and garden patches and entered the surrounding woods. The night was unusually warm, the sky cloudless and the moon full. Jan followed her until she settled in a corner of a glade.
From behind a hedge, Jan watched his daughter murmur something toward the sky, lie down on the ground, and caress the skin of her face with a feather. He decided to step out of his hiding and interrupt the process sooner. But to his anguish, he encountered an invisible wall of resistance he was unable to cross. Pounding on the barrier with his fists, he called her name, as storm clouds began to gather over his head. There was no rain, only thunder and lightning bolts, one of which must have struck Jan and he lost consciousness, just as he saw a silhouette of a man approaching his daughter’s body. He awakened at dawn, to find his daughter on the grass with bloodstains on her legs. He carried her home, silently weeping. It was done. He had failed.
Through the coming months, until the birth of Krystyna’s child, Jan worked tirelessly to help his daughter come to terms with what had happened. With Maria as his accomplice, Jan took his daughter away and lived with her in a remote mountain village until she delivered a son, whom she named Daniel. After giving the child up for adoption, he tried to help restore a semblance of normalcy in her life. Hoping the worst was over, some of Jan’s earlier vigor returned.
Delivering his daughter to the longing hands of her suitor, he stepped back, wishing for the couple to find happiness. But things did not go as smoothly, as he had hoped. From the start, Mom’s fiancée felt that her heart belonged to another. And he was right. Beneath the layers of repression, she longed for her angel, the “shining one” who would come back one day and take her to the stars,
Daniel reached into the box and took out a white feather and handed it to me. “Jan was the one who took away the feather Sariel left you in the meadow when you were little. Now you know why.”
“He was afraid that the same thing that happened to her, would happen to me.”
Daniel nodded again.
“Grandpa wanted Mom to forget him so that she could have a normal life with my father.”
“Makes sense right?” Daniel asked. “According to him, the angel had shattered her young soul. She couldn’t find herself after that.”
“But I don’t understand one thing. I’ve been remembering so much lately . . . my meeting Sariel epochs ago as a priestess. Was this all false? Is this memory just a figment of my imagination?”
Daniel took a deep breath. “I don’t know. All I know is that the spirits of the fallen still hover in the space between heaven and earth, reminding us of their presence. But we must never forget that they are the perpetrators and human women are the victims.”
“So in your view they are just monsters that take possession of naïve women only to ruin their lives?” I asked.
“Not to mention that they leave their children fatherless and in the throes of constant danger,” Daniel said.
Hearing all that from Daniel, did not convince me that Sariel was evil. To me, the angel was as lost as the rest of us.
I shared my thoughts with Daniel. “I feel like there is more to this story that still doesn’t make sense. I need to see him. At least one last time, or I will always be haunted by it.”
“You must do it then.”
“But that leaves only one option,” I said.
“I know,” Daniel said looking at the box resting on the table. “I’m prepared to take you to the gate.”