Every morning when the bell-ringing wagons would pass the home of Marjorie Laboux, she would gather her daughter Isabella and her mulatto companion Nikki Legêr inside their plantation home so they wouldn’t have to witness the cargo of heaped yellow fever bodies. If Marjorie would have had her way, she would have taken her girls and fled across the sea far from the grasp of the wretched plague. She would have rather lived happily in a grass hut with her babies than in this lavish New Orleans plantation fearing that each new day might be the one that brings their death. The body count had reached into the tens of thousands. Colonel Laboux, Marjorie’s husband and twenty years her senior, would have never permitted them to flee. He said that people looked to them for hope and strength. If they fled, the people’s hope and strength would flee with them.
Now, a guardian angel can influence but not interfere. They are supposed to be a voice of reason; a whisper of truth to guide a weary soul. There was no whisper that could reason with Colonel Laboux. He felt it was his duty to stay. Rupert could have whispered until he was blue and nothing would have changed. He was there every second of every day and he was helpless. He remembered the first victims who had turned yellow and died from the fever, how they had seemed a world away from his precious Marjorie, Nikki, and Izzy. But every day, death crept closer and hope receded in its wake.
Rupert wasn’t a poetic angel, but he would find himself lost in Marjorie’s lips as she gently blew the steam from the gold rim of her teacup. His eyes never missed the way her tongue would coat her full lips searching for just one more drop of sweetness at the end of her cup. At night when Marjorie would sit in front of her mirror and run her silver monogramed brushes through her wavy black locks he would imagine it was actually he brushing them until they were so sensuously smooth that a tangle wouldn’t dare discomfort his…his… Love.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Rupert Ausber Merrywether was fatally, tragically, and in all other ways, hopelessly in love.
As a simple angel, he would never have guessed that at that first instant when his pupils dilated and he felt that true pins-and-needles rush that comes from surrendering your soul to love that he was being watched. How long had they been lying in wait for the chance to see the chink in his angelic armor? Thousands of years? Nevertheless the time had come for a simple hero to become a complex hypocrite.
Rupert Merrywether rocked dreamily in an old chair watching Marjorie sleep. Something made him freeze. There was a change in the room, nearly imperceptible. A prism of light reflected from a ring on a black tattooed hand that gently brushed a hair from the face of the sleeping beauty.
“Look hea. De dragon what fell for dat princess. Now dey bofe stuck in dis tower.”
“You!” Rupert felt rage swell in his chest.
The black angel leaned down within inches of Marjorie’s sleeping face and said, “She is as beautiful as you is ugly. But you wasn’t known for being pretty, Mistah Rupert.”
Rupert’s sword rang from being drawn and its light filled the air between them as he swung and shouted, “She will not be pawed at!”
Gabriel met Rupert midswing, stopping the blade by catching it in his bone hand. He flipped the great sword like a baton and caught it at the hilt. “When her dat I love said dose tings, you said sedition.” Gabriel brought the sword crashing down on Rupert’s shield, knocking the big angel onto his back. “Mutiny!” he shrieked as another crash halved the shield. “Rebellion! Blasphemy!” The shield splintered and Rupert cowered, sobbing, on the floor.
Gabriel stood over the beaten and shattered angel. The rage in his eyes softened into something more sinister. “I am sorry, Mistah Rupert, I haven’t taught about dose times in centuries. I guess dat it steel hurts.” He pulled a huge hairpin from his head. His waist length dreds swayed like snakes as he paced. “You are right dough, Mistah Rupert,” He said while holding his sword high and examining it while he talked.
“A..about what?” Rupert swallowed and composed himself.
“If you wah human, you could save her and de little ones, too. You could take dem far from dis sickness.”
“But I have…”
“Don’t become a liah, Mistah Rupert.Tis too late. I hear what your heart whisper in de D-A-R-K-N-E-S-S.”
Rupert hung his head in shame.
“Here dem bells, do you now? Dey be yelling bring out ya dead. Twon’t be long dey be tossin dees little pretties on dem fires over at Jackson Barracks. It’s like dem fires burn all night now.” Gabriel swung the sword admiringly. “I don’t eben tink dat Mistah Curtis will believe I stopped Sarahyou with jus dees fingers. Dat be her name idn’t it, Sarahyou?”
“Who is Curtis?” Rupert asked.
“Oh, he be just an old friend,” said Gabriel absently. To himself he marveled, “De sword what melted de gate of Heaven.” He stuck the point into the floor and leaned lazily on the hilt. “Deh is a way for you to be a human.”
Rupert had never been more sure of anything in his life when he looked in to his tempter’s eyes and said, “Show me.”
“Follow me. We can’t be doin it in heah.”
As Gabriel turned to head out of the door, Rupert reached for his sword. Gabriel raised it out of the way and glared, “I tink I keep dis. Ebryting come wit a payment and you won’t need dis eenymore.”
Rupert followed the dredlocked Rasta down to the banks of the Mississippi. Gabriel walked around a huge live oak, eyeing it. “Dis will do.” He laid a gentle rub on the trunk of the tree and said, “Sorry old girl, but dis is for love.” He drove the sword into the trunk and the tree withered before their eyes. He pulled the sword free and blue light poured into his hand. He sat a small wooden box in the ground, opened it, and poured the blue light in.
“In dis box is a speshul kind of magic what will protect me from your resolve, should you regain it. Once you put dem hands in dat box de will never come out de same. Only H-U-M-A-N be what come out. Do you be sure dat de life of an angel be worth de love of dat h-u-m-a-n?”
Rupert didn’t answer, just bent down and put both hands in the box.
“Dat be two times dis night I see a hero become a hypocrite.”
“Just get on with it,” Rupert snarled.
“Let’s see de wings.”
Rupert extended his wings and the sight almost made the Prince tear up. The eighteen foot feathered wingspan was breathtaking. In all the eons of his service, Gabriel had never seen the wings extended. The most common color of angel wings was white. Rupert’s wings, when coiled behind him looked more like a bird molting, but when extended the colors separated and shined a rich golden brown with red tips. The Prince admired them and said, “I have never seen deh equal. Dis should be a sin.”
“It is! Now please hurry!”
The dark angel held the sword high. “Awaken Sarahyou.” Fire and light flew from the broadsword and night became day around the prostrate Rupert. One swing of the flaming sword severed both the wings.
“Something’s wrong. My hands won’t come out of here!”
“Oh, dat,” said Gabriel as he watched the wings slowly burn as the magic that held them together came undone and the sparks blended with the fireflies on the riverbank. “Dem wings have to come c-o-m-p-l-e-t-e-l-y out. Dat be too messy for me. Remembah, I favor music over surgery.”
The big angel tried frantically to pull himself free of the box but to no avail. “How are you gonna finish this?!” he yelled.
Gabriel seemed a million miles away as he wistfully ran his fingers through the last sparks of the burning wings as the wind carried them aloft.
“You have to do something, dammit!”
“Oh, not me. Don’t worry though. I brought h-e-l-p.”
At that word a one-eyed man with a wide scar from hairline to jaw stepped out from behind the dead oak tree. He flipped open an ivory handled straight razor that Rupert swore radiated evil. The man smiled.
“I tink he get it done befoe dawn gets heah. Dat Mistah Curtis, he good at de cuttin.”
Mr. Rupert Ausber Merrywether, the human being, a man with no history whom no one had ever seen before on the planet Earth, awoke in a military hospital two weeks later. It had taken three surgeries to save his life. A team of three army surgeons working in shifts, had stitched what was left of his back together until their own fingers were bruised and bloody. They had believed his attack may have been a Jack the Ripper copycat because of the extensive mutilation. Even after serving in the civil war, the doctors had never seen anyone survive after that much trauma. He simply had an incredible will to live.
It was the dead of night when his eyes opened and he realized he was human. As soon as he could stand, he found a blue army uniform and put on the pants and boots. He bit his lip at the pain of attempting to drape a shirt over his 600 stitches. He looked in the mirror as his patchwork back and vomited all over his army boots. He barely had time to marvel over his first ever vomit when his brain brought forward one thought, “Marjorie.”
The hospital at Jackson Barracks was only two miles from the Laboux mansion, but it seemed like an endless marathon as the new human trotted along the levee, opening a host of his stitches. He almost collapsed on the porch from blood loss, but even artillery could not have stopped him from opening that door.
He recoiled in horror at what he saw inside. Laying on the foyer was Colonel Laboux sprawled out with what was left of his head spread across the walls. The smell of decay almost made Rupert vomit for the second time in his short human life. He started to run up the stairs and almost tripped over the spent 50 caliber muzzle loader that had claimed the life of the Colonel. He again fought the urge to be sick as he headed upstairs.
Marjorie was sitting on the same spot where Rupert had fallen after drawing his sword. On her lap on each side were the bodies of young Isabella and little Nikki Legêr. Marjorie’s dark yellow eyes and feverish brow transformed at the sight of Rupert. “I waited for you,” she said in a hoarse whisper.
Rupert stared speechless at her. How could she know who I am?
“When my babies died, I killed my husband. If they couldn’t live, neither could he. I was going to turn it on myself next when an angel appeared.” She coughed hard, leaving her palm bloody. When she calmed, she continued, “Before you no one ever loved me. My husband was so old when we married it was more like a…a…business. I thought no Romeo would ever call me his Juliet. Until that Negro angel came. He said if I held this stone I would not sleep nor die until I tasted true love’s kiss… but there was a price.”
“Oh Marjorie, no.” Rupert felt real human tears fill his eyes. He rushed over to hold her.
“I felt you there. I always knew. I used to pretend you were brushing my hair.”
“What was the price?”
“Izzy has to stay.”
“What? What do you mean?”
“He said until we each knew love we were bound here.” She began to sob hysterically. “I betrayed h…her. I tr…traded my babies! I didn’t know… I just wanted to be loved.”
“But she’s gone. Only her body is here.”
Marjorie took a deep breath and steadied herself before she started coughing again. “She wouldn’t be here anyway if she was a spirit. She’d probably be at the orphanage. I used to take her there all the time.”
“Yeah, she loved to play with the babies.” Rupert reflected on the sacrifices they had made. “I was always there, wasn’t I?”
Marjorie put her hand around Rupert’s neck and the first time in each of their lives they shared the overwhelming power of love’s kiss. Then she opened her hand, dropped the stone, and slipped away.