"Vampire's Friend" sequel
to "True Death" in Winifred Halsey, ed., Heaven and Hell,
Speculation Press, DeKalb, IL 60115 http://www.speculationpress.com
, November/December 2001
Heaven and Hell
by Winifred F. Halsey (Editor), Susan G. Sizemore, Hauf Michelle, Jody Nye, Susan Sizemore
"Vampire's Friend" is still in print in the anthology Heaven and Hell.
You may find this book on amazon.com -- there are some copies left.
Or read Jacqueline Lichtenberg's comments on her own story.
Ever since I wrote "Through The Moon Gate" for Andre Norton's Tales of the Witch World #2, I've wondered what the Vampire, Dorian St. James (a.k.a. Malory Avnel, Arnaud Lemieux and many other names), did to deserve falling through a gate into Andre Norton'sWitch World where he can walk in sunlight. "Vampire's Fast", a short story available at www.simegen.com/writers/, explores his origins and nature long before he fell into the Witch World. "True Death," also posted at www.simegen.com/writers/, brings Dorian and David Silver into direct conflict with the demon Xlrud who works for the god Dorian's first life was sacrificed to. These two stories were originally published in the revived Galaxy Magazine. "Vampire's Friend" tells of the crisis of conscience David Silver (now known as David Silberman) has because of his involvement with a Vampire, and brings him a Messenger from his own God.
David Silberman locked the door of his dry cleaning shop, and pulled it to behind him. The sun was going down -- not his favorite time of day anymore. But today, the eve of Yom Kippur, was the worst.
He moved out to the edge of the strip mall's parking lot and paused, staring down the side-street toward the Orthodox shul.
There were still many cars in the lot of the strip mall and the street was full of traffic. The goyim didn't know there was anything special going on in the world of Magic.
David had never been very religious, not even by Reform standards, until he'd seen a Vampire invoke a pagan god's assistance -- and get it.
He'd had another object lesson when that same Vampire had saved his life from a demon's attack by tearing down the doorpost of his room and thrusting it into his arms, kosher Mezuzah against his heart.
He'd often wondered if the Mezuzah would have saved him if it hadn't been so perfectly kosher. But most of all, he wondered if he'd really been saved. He'd participated in a revenge-murder, and had a pagan serial killer for a friend. He'd gotten involved in idolatry, not just regular magic. He'd never respected those who called themselves pious Jews but isolated themselves from other Jews and from everyone else. He'd just never had anything much to do with G-d. So why is my conscience bothering me?
He just didn't want the supernatural in his life anymore. He wanted to forget the Vampire and just walk away from it all. But he couldn't. The Link was permanent, maybe Eternal.. So he'd spent the last few months surfing the 'net for information, and every time had ended up at the website of this local shul reading something the Rabbi there had written.
As dusk gathered over the city, he felt the Vampire wakening in his mind, a growing buzz of not-quite awareness. The mental Link between them could only be closed, not vanquished. Lately, it made him feel unfit.
He started down the side-street toward his house, walking on the side opposite the shul, still not sure what he would do. Before he'd left the shop, he'd emptied his pockets and put on shoes that had no leather in them. He wore a hat. He could go into the shul, even though he hadn't bought a ticket to the High Holy Day services. I could just stand in the back.
It had been a year since he'd separated from Malory Avnel, or Arnaud Lemieux as he called himself in New Jersey. All year, the Vampire had scrupulously avoided stirring the mental link between them. He owned and operated a Motel 6 on I-80, leaving David to his Fairlawn dry cleaning shop and studying for his stock trading certification and his spiritual nail-chewing.
A morally upright, completely ethical, totally honorable Vampire who kills at least two humans a month calls me his friend. Worse yet, I call him friend - most of the time.
He paused across from the shul. It had been a brick church, circa 1900 that had burned down. Only the foundation had been left when the Orthodox shul had bought the land.
Some people were arriving, parking their cars in the lot behind the shul where they would stay until after dark tomorrow. The women were dressed in various colors, many of them wearing white, the married ones with their heads covered. The men wore business suits, white yarmulkes, and kittels, -- the belted white smock they would be buried in. No black hats and curls hanging beside their ears, but some men wore their prayer shawls while some carried theirs. The prayer shawls were white wool with black stripes - not a silk one, not a single blue striped one anywhere. Everyone wore sneakers and carried Machzorim -- the prayer books that contained the day's special prayers. I couldn't possibly fit in among them. I wouldn't know how to pray.
"G'mar Chatima Tova. Come on, you'll miss Kol Nidre if you stand out here!"
David started, stifling a gasp. It was an older man with a fringe of white beard and a jolly paunch. A hand touched his elbow, urging him on across the street. "The Rabbi's drasha you can afford to miss, but not Kol Nidre when Yussel's davening."
"Yussel's davening?" He couldn't remember what davening meant.
The man held open the door for David urging him inside. "He doesn't just sing, he really prays, and the Gates of Heaven open."
Davening means praying.
They came to the inner door to the sanctuary on the men's side, a stream of men shuffling in before them. David hung back. "I don't have a seat."
"No problem. My son is home with his week old son and his wife. They're both sick, so you can have his seat. It's a mitzvah to miss shul, even on Yom Kippur to care for the sick. We'll take turns staying home tomorrow, so you'll still have a seat all day. Manny Rubenstein," he announced, holding out his hand.
"David Silberman." He shook the firm, dry hand.
In a twinkling, the old man had procured a prayer shawl and machzor from a cabinet and installed David in the chair next to his own on the aisle near the door. While he exchanged greetings in Hebrew with everyone around him, David arranged the shawl as everyone else had theirs and looked at the black book in his hands. The printing had worn off the binding. Inside, it had English on one side and Hebrew on the other. He turned to Kol Nidre.
So far his hands weren't burning -- G-d wasn't rejecting him. He sat in a room full of ordinary people, facing three steps up to a stage with a beautiful cabinet, hung with a white drape, the Aron Kodesh, no doubt full of Torah Scrolls. An electric Eternal Flame hung over a lectern on the floor level facing the cabinet. On the stage, in front of the cabinet, another lectern faced the audience. Behind him a raised dais held the reader's lectern where men were gathering to begin the service. On the side-wall a Memorial Plaque had a lamp lit beside every name carved there. All pretty standard for a synagogue. But behind him, beyond a filigreed symbolic barrier sat the women and children, divided from the men. Everyone chatted as if this were just another ordinary day.
Then, a man opened the Aron Kodesh exposing the ornately dressed Torah Scrolls to view and everyone stood up, silence falling. David stood. The silence became palpable. The silence tensed. The door in his mind beyond which the Vampire lurked slammed shut, leaking not a whisper of Malory's presence. He's uncomfortable with the Torah. The silence thickened. The silence thrummed.
A baritone voice inserted itself without disturbing the blanket of silence and proclaimed melodiously, "Kol" paused, and enunciated, "Nidre" -- drawing the word out until it echoed back from the ends of Time -- "Ve-esarey" -- parting the fabric of reality, -- "Vshvuei" -- sculpting the silence -- "Vaharamei" -- reaching to the beginnings of Time -- "Vekonamei" -- the Torah Scrolls glowed, as if floating beyond the Gates of Reality.
On the second of the three repetitions of the entire prayer, David lost track of the words, carried on the sound of the voice that dripped tears of dread sincerity and earnest entreaty. The man wasn't singing. He was representing the whole of the people of Israel before the Throne as would the High Priest of the Temple.
On the third escalating repetition, David felt the Gates opening, felt the cold heat of Divine Attention, knew that attention was on him. A peculiar fear gripped him, a thing he'd never felt before during any of Malory's brushes with the supernatural.
And suddenly, he was standing in an ordinary room full of people, hiss of air conditioning dominating, lit with ordinary lighting. Then with an eruption of quiet shuffling and coughing they sat down, kids whining, and the sound of traffic passing outside with thumping stereos.
I don't belong here.
As the Rabbi rose to take the lectern on the stage facing the congregation, David put the prayer shawl and machzor on his seat, thanked the old man, and bolted for the door.
I am not going to try that again. I'll find a Reform shul if I ever feel the urge again. But I really, really don't want the supernatural in my life!
Outside, the street still bustled with Monday evening traffic. Three kids were playing basketball in a driveway. An airplane droned overhead. The sky was darkening, but you still couldn't quite see stars through the haze. No hint of the supernatural. No hint of time being visible, palpable, open to his senses from beginning to end.
Hands in his pockets, shoulders hunched, eyes on the sidewalk before him, he started toward home. He rounded a curve in the street, momentarily finding himself alone in the quiet residential neighborhood. Trees rustled, leaves crunched under his feet. A pigeon whirred to a stop, perching on a branch. It's dropping spattered audibly on the concrete beside his foot, missing his shoe.
Automatically, he looked up to Heaven, mouthing, "Thank You!"
Something streaked across the indigo sky leaving a rainbow froth behind, pointing to the space between two houses across the street. The rainbow froth evaporated without a trace, but David knew just where the something had come to rest -- next to his own house.
No. It was a decision surfacing from somewhere below his belt.
He crossed the street diagonally, cut across his own small lawn, and took the stairs to the porch two at a time. No. He fetched the key from the potted Holly, opened the door, and put the key back. No. The whole neighborhood was unnaturally silent. The stars were visible. It was now truly Yom Kippur. And his shoes were clean of bird dropping.
He went in his front door, touched his fingers to the mezuzah and kissed them, closed the door, locked it, and went through the living room to the kitchen. His fingers where he'd touched the mezuzah tingled pleasantly. That had never happened before. OK, You win.
He went out the side door to look in the alley beside his house -- the house Malory had paid for, in full, probably with money taken from the criminals he drank to death.
Buried in the thick ivy between the garbage can and the air conditioner was a lozenge shaped zone of scintillating color. Force Fields. It's an Alien from Star Trek.
He stepped back inside, closed the door and leaned against it. The subliminal whisper in his mind that was the link to Malory was still silent. The Vampire wasn't giving him this hallucination.
Although a fan of science fiction, an avid viewer of all kinds of fantasy tv, David had considered he had a good grip on "reality" until he'd met Malory.
Star Trek is not real. Whatever is out there - is real.
He took a spare blanket from the linen closet and went back outside. In the full dark, the glowing bundle lit the alley. The people in the adjacent house were away at shul, though they'd left the lights on.
He crept around the garbage can and waded into the ivy. Nerving himself up to it, he touched the glowing bundle. His hand jumped back of its own accord and the colors flashed and swirled where he'd touched. But nothing else happened.
He threw the blanket over the colored light and rolled the limp, flexible thing into the blanket. It didn't seem very heavy, and wasn't even as tall as he was. He heaved it into a fireman's carry and made for the back door. When part of the blanket touched the mezuzah, the light filtering through the blanket flashed white, then subsided leaving David's body tingling pleasantly, as his fingers had. Whatever this is, it's not very evil.
It was heavier than he'd thought. By the time he reached the guest room, his knees were sagging. He dropped the bundle onto the double bed and unrolled it.
Seen against the dark blanket, the glowing oblong seemed to have some structure, three pairs of calyx-like segments folded up around it, meeting in a zigzag line down the center.
He wasn't about to pry the segments apart. It was either an alien from another planet sans starship, or it was supernatural. It had taken a good fall, and it was hurt. He knew what he had to do, but he thought about it very hard first. He really didn't want to.
He waited. He raised one hand to the ceiling and waved it suggestively, "Nu?" No response. OK, you win.
He picked up the phone, dialing from old habit -- a habit unused for more than a year. The Vampire's answering machine said, "Leave a message."
"Malory? Pick up would you? This is David, and I've got a problem."
"Arnaud here. I doubt it's one I can help you with. I've been staying out of your way tonight."
The door in his mind trembled but stayed leak-proof. "Thank you. I do appreciate your effort. But I think you need to get over here. I've got something to show you -- explaining just won't work."
"You're inviting me into your house?"
David heard the eyebrow rise to the never-receding hairline. "Into my house, yes. Hurry."
The pause lengthened. "Half an hour. I'll bring the car."
"Fine, but hurry. Oh, and Mal, just in case it matters, please forgive me for any wrong I've done you this year. I sincerely apologize, and I'll do whatever it takes to make it up to you."
There was a long silence. "You are forgiven and you owe me nothing."
Forty minutes later, the Vampire rang the bell. Arnaud wore a dark silk suit with a conservative tie against a perfect burgundy shirt with a white collar. His shoes were polished to a fine gloss. He strode into the living room and headed straight for the guest bedroom without even glancing around. He had, after all, seen the place through David's eyes for a year.
The alien was still motionless on David's guest bed, wrapped in glowing swirls of color.
"Mal . . ."
"Arnaud," Malory corrected, absently as he circled the bed studying the oblong.
David told him everything, starting with the bird, the streak of color and working back to the otherworldly experience in the Orthodox Shul. "I'm not Orthodox. I don't know why I went there."
"It wouldn't have mattered where you went. It would have happened to you anywhere. I told you, you can't hide from the Potencies." Malory reached out and touched the alien.
It flashed, and Malory's hand sizzled and jerked away. Suddenly there was a human-shaped image sitting up on the bed, shrouded in gossamer color, but definitely there.
Two amethyst eyes appeared in the head, though the features remained blurred as if by a veil, and two arms with proper joints and hands appeared. The zone of colored-shimmer extended now behind the being and the knees appeared, though the feet were shrouded in moving mists. The trunk seemed androgynous, the skin a pearly white.
The eyes swept the room. The suggestion of a wide mouth, high cheekbones, aquiline nose, all in a pale face gave the impression of alarm, perhaps bewilderment -- confusion not fear.
Rubbing his scorched fingers, Malory spoke. "I know you?"
The being centered on Malory, assessed what he was, and scrambled back to plaster itself to the headboard. Before finishing the move, it relaxed, more of its face showing. "Oh, it's you!"
David blurted inanely, "You speak English! Ma Arnaud, does every demon in the universe know you?"
"Of course I speak English, how else could I deliver messages? Where's the demon, Meshobab?"
"There's a demon named Meshobab involved in this?" asked David, alarmed.
Malory said, "Sometimes they call me Meshobab. David, this Messenger is often called Bozez -- or that's what some people call him because he shines so brightly. He's not a demon, he's one of the Messengers your God sends to Earth, usually with good news. Is your message for us?"
Bozez seemed to take a breath to answer, then froze, inspected the room, peered at David, and frowned. "I don't know. I can't remember." And now there was panic in Bozez's voice.
Malory was so stunned, he forgot to breathe. David filled the sudden silence with the most inane remark he had ever uttered. "Well, you took a nasty fall. You'll remember soon."
Malory eyed David, and charitably ignored him. "Other than that, how do you feel?" He stood back, inviting the Messenger to stand.
Slowly the glowing layers of colored gossamer that almost resembled a person hitched to the side of the big bed and stood.
Once unfolded, the being appeared to have wings extending behind it, and the glowing nimbus around it seemed to concentrate over its head.
And then David realized what he was looking at. The prophet Isaiah had described the Seraphim, and David had memorized the passage from a recorded reading by Theodore Bikel. "In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple.
"Above it stood the Seraphim: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly.
"And one cried unto another, and said, Holy holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of His glory."
"You're a Seraph!" accused David.
"Oh, no nothing so glorious." Bozez fluttered nervously, but politely aware he was nearly filling the room, was careful not to knock the bedside lamp over. "I'm just a messenger." He looked worried. "But why am I here?"
Malory described the streak David had seen in the almost-night sky.
"I don't remember that."
"What is the last thing you do remember?" asked David.
"I was on my way down Jacob's Ladder." The being paced, wrapping his wings tightly about himself again. He muttered in what sounded like several languages. Malory listened intently, and David watched Malory.
Finally, Bozez turned to Malory and said, "Either I slipped on something, or the Ladder broke under me just as the Gate opened. Is this Enemy action? Is that why you're here?"
"I don't see how my god could be involved. Even my god can't break the Ladder. But cause you to slip? The demon Xlrud could do that, I think "
Bozez considered that. "No, probably not without the Lord's help " He whipped around to stare at David. "Where did you say you were at dusk?"
Mouth dry, David just stared. I am not responsible for an Angel falling to Earth! No! I didn't do this!
Malory repeated what David had told him of the experience during Kol Nidre.
David objected, "But the Gates don't keep Eastern Daylight Saving's Time. It's sundown at different moments in different parts of the world!"
Bozez heaved a sigh. There was no other way to describe the body-language message his not-quite body seemed to project. "I thought you had learned that from Xlrud. Time is a property of the Matter/Energy Interface. It doesn't exist above the Material plane because --" He broke into a grin that spread from eyes and mouth to infuse his aura with a myriad bright, scintillating sparks until he was a blinding white.
Malory shaded his eyes and retreated toward the door. "I can't take much of that, you know, Bozez!" To David he added, "See why he's called Bozez?"
The Angel reined in his brilliance, folding in upon himself again. "Sorry. But I remember!"
"Your mission?" asked David.
"No, just how Xlrud used you to try to get Meshobab away from The Lord and you foiled him beautifully." Deflated, he added, "But I've no idea what I was supposed to do now." The Angel sounded even more worried.
"My mother always said," started David. They turned to look at him politely. "Um, well, when you forget something, you should retrace your steps and you'll remember."
"Worth a try," allowed Malory. "Go on back up and see if you can find where you fell from. Maybe you'll remember. In any event, you can find out why you fell."
"I'm sure the Message had something to do with David and Time. You're probably right. I'll never remember as long as I'm embedded in Time. The Message may have something to do with why I fell. I'll be right back."
The gossamer wings of colored nothing unfolded and filled the room with shimmering blur. David was certain that the other two pair of wings also unfolded and whirred but he was too busy shuddering in awe to observe carefully. The whirring vibration produced by those wings apparently hit a note that resonated with the human nervous system.
Somewhere during this, he felt his body come apart into whirling sparkles, and coalesce again. And so did Bozez. Malory though, was no longer in the room.
"Did it work?" asked David.
"Would I be here if it did?"
"You said you'd be right back."
"Not that right-back. Meshobab! You can come back now." Bozez went to the door and opened it, moving out into the corridor. "Meshobab? I didn't mean to get so bright, really I'm sorry to distress you "
They found the vampire in the living room seated in David's reading chair, unsurprised at Bozez's failure to climb The Ladder. "Something is wrong. The Gate is open. The Ladder is still there. Why can't you climb it?"
"I don't know. I can't get a grip. It's like there's a piece missing."
David said, "You're probably still stunned from the impact of landing." He is not a fallen Angel! "It'll be better in the morning."
"I don't think so," said Malory. "That God of yours is up to something. Jacob's Ladder can't break. It is reality. His Messengers don't lose their memories. Xlrud might be playing some game here, but it wouldn't be working without Divine complicity. The Message is in this Situation somewhere. It's up to us to figure it out. And I think we only have until sundown tomorrow when the Gate closes."
That was the first sensible thing David had heard all evening. "I didn't mention," said David. They turned to him. "The old man - he said that missing the Service to care for the sick was a mitzvah. Do you think Bozez is sick?"
Malory considered the Angel. "No. He can't die."
"But he's in distress he's lost, cut off."
"Scared," admitted Bozez with an air of shame. "Nothing like this has ever happened before."
"So our job is to get him back where he belongs," said David. "And we have to do that before the Gate closes."
"How?" asked Bozez. "You can't climb."
"We could summon Xlrud " started Malory.
"Oh, no!" objected David. "No way can we control that demon. Besides, summoning, trapping and forcing a demon to do our will doesn't seem like a very Yom Kippur thing to do."
"That's it!" Malory got to his feet and began to pace. "We've been handed a problem and it's a test. We have to solve the problem within the rules."
"A game?" asked David, offended. "This is the most solemn holiday of the year!"
"A challenge. A lesson. A test," said Malory. "And it's not my god who's behind it this time. All this is beyond him. I can't even guess what this is really about."
David ran his fingers through his hair and shrugged. "Me, neither." Other than what Malory had taught him, David knew nothing much about magic, and most of the fiction he imbibed wasn't very educational.
Bozez said, "I think David is right. I think I have to go back up to find out what it's about. And I can't."
"You need a boost," said David. "We need some kind of magic that can catapult you over the broken rung in the Ladder."
"The Ladder can't be broken," insisted Malory and Bozez in chorus.
"Well, the illusion of it being broken then. From our point of view, for us at this moment in Time, it is broken. Maybe everyone else out there praying up a storm is getting Messengers to bring them Enlightenment, but our Messenger has amnesia. It's up to us to help the Messenger, not the Messenger to help us. So what kind of magic can boost an Angel into Heaven?"
They exchanged blank looks. Malory, Master of so many Magical Systems he couldn't even count them all just shook his head.
David paced the three steps across the living room and back again. He'd never paid attention in Sunday School. He'd memorized his bar mitzvah portion by rote, and actually had no idea what the words of the Torah actually said. All he knew about Judaism, he'd learned on the 'net over the last few months.
And suddenly he was back in the shul with Yussel's voice shaping the Silence into pure emotion, the image of the elaborately dressed Torah Scrolls floating in a haze of light, as if the inside of the Aron Kodesh was in another dimension. Over the Aron was inscribed the words sung in every Synagogue when the Torah was taken out to be read. Etz Haim, Hii.
"There's another way into Heaven!" said David. "There's Jacob's Ladder. And there's the Tree of Life. The Torah is the Tree of Life."
Bozez blinked skeptically. Malory said, "They're really the same thing."
"But not exactly the same. A real Torah Scroll -- not a printed book, but the real hand-written on lambskin, actual Torah -- the actual words given to Moses -- they have the power, the kind of Magic needed for this."
"I think he's got something," allowed Bozez cautiously. "It would be like climbing a different face of the Mountain. It's the same Mountain, but the terrain is different. There could be a glacier on one side while the other is clear. But we don't have a Torah Scroll. I can recite the whole thing from memory but memorized recitation doesn't penetrate to the Material plane the way the written document would."
"This night of all nights, every Torah Scroll in existence will be in use," said Malory. "The custom, as I recall -- and I think it's still practiced -- is for the men to learn Torah all night."
"I'll bet in Reform Temples they don't," said David, not actually sure.
"It wouldn't work unless the Scroll is perfect," offered Bozez. "Magically perfect."
Malory said, "There's that shul just down the street that David went to this evening."
"There'll surely be people there all night," said David. The kind of people in that congregation would surely observe such ancient custom -- at least some of them would.
"Good," grinned Malory. "Then we won't have to break in."
David envisioned a Vampire, an Angel and a lapsed Jew breaking into an Orthodox shul in the depths of the night on Yom Kippur. Malory could pull it off. He could turn to mist and sift into any building, and he was an expert on alarms. This is insane. But he couldn't help grinning at the image in his mind.
"I can get us in," said Malory. "I can make anyone there think we're members of the congregation. The cabinet where they keep the Torah Scrolls is probably a decorated fireproof bank vault the way it is in most shuls these days. Tonight it'll be open so we don't have to crack the safe."
"I don't know their customs," warned David.
"I can blend in," said Bozez, "at least when I remember not to blaze up too brightly."
"If we blunder, I'll be sure no one notices," assured Malory. "We'll just drift in, find a perfect Scroll, and Bozez will be on his way."
Five hours later, David was wondering how he could have thought it would be that simple.
The shul's front door had been unlocked, and they had just walked in ahead of Malory. But from there on it had gotten complicated.
Malory had winced and trembled at passing the mezuzah on the door, lagging behind them.
David had whispered to Bozez, "He's been telling me the truth, hasn't he? That he has eternal life because The Lord God of Abraham, the Creator of the Universe, Blessed him to offset the curse of a pagan god?"
Bozez regarded David meditatively. Then he allowed, "That's a good enough way to explain it. He's not Evil, he's just a victim. Don't blame the victim for the crimes of the victimizer. In fact, it's rarely a good idea to blame at all."
Behind them, Malory mastered his aversion and slid through the portal, hugging the left-hand doorpost, away from the mezuzah.
Then, in the lobby, he stopped, staring intently at the sanctuary.
Over a year ago, during their encounter with Xlrud, Malory had explained that his aversion to Judeo-Christian power was caused by his own god's curse clashing with the Blessing of the Eternal that he carried. The psychic noise did him no harm, but he suffered miserably -- even debilitatingly. Now, he couldn't keep the effect from leaking through to David.
"There are six men in the building," Malory reported with his Vampire senses. "Four in there, and two upstairs. I think six -- no seven Torah Scrolls. Four in there, and the rest are upstairs."
One man emerged from the main Sanctuary on his way to the Men's Room and greeted them casually. "Nachman is learning upstairs, and the Rabbi is down here. I'll be right back."
They decided to join the Rabbi in the Sanctuary. A space had been cleared among the chairs and a long table had been set up. The table was covered in large, leather bound books, gold-lettering on the covers, some open, some stacked.
As they came in, the Rabbi and a group of men were on the stage next to the Aron Kodesh which stood wide open. The Rabbi, a young, energetic, clean shaven man in shirt-sleeves, was holding forth. Every once in a while David recognized an English word.
All the Torah Scrolls in the Aron had been moved to one side, and the back wall of the Aron was open. The light in the Aron dimly illuminated a large space beyond the back wall, almost another room, lined with shelves, stacked with books. There was even a Torah Scroll.
"So," concluded the Rabbi, "we'll have to get that latch repaired after Yom Tov. Meanwhile, be very careful not to place a Scroll against the back of the Aron, it shouldn't fall open during davening. Chaim, remember not to let the time-lock engage after Ma'ariv tomorrow, and I'll have Irv get at it before Shacharis."
They carefully closed the back wall and rearranged the Scrolls so they rested against the side walls of the Aron. The one in the center was propped on a stand so it didn't lean against the back wall, and they closed the Aron, pulling the curtain across the door.
Then the Rabbi turned, saw them and greeted them heartily, inviting them to sit with him at the table. Everyone made room for them. David had no idea what they saw, he just grinned and nodded affably and pretended he knew what he was doing. The Rabbi began lecturing again in a mixture of languages.
Malory said, in a normal tone, "They will see and hear only three members of the congregation sitting here and listening intently even if we move about. And I was right, they didn't lock the Aron Kodesh, just closed it. Bozez, come see if you can find a Scroll that will work."
"Wait -- he's missing the point "
"Bozez, you're not going to sit here and teach the Rabbi are you?" asked David, unsure why he was appalled at the idea.
"Well, but The Rambam no, I guess that wouldn't be a good idea until I find out what my mission is." He rose to go with Malory.
"M-Arnaud, wouldn't it have been easier to make us invisible?"
"Not in here with all this noise," answered Malory. "It's too hard to concentrate." Scrolls and even the books produced a discordant, psychic shrieking David could feel despite Malory's efforts to shield him.
"David, sit there and pretend we're beside you to keep my illusion going. Give us time to see if there's a Scroll here we can use."
Malory and Bozez went to the Aron and opened it. No one noticed. The Angel reached out to touch the Scrolls, and the whole Aron burst into a superheated blaze of white that surrounded Malory and Bozez and started to billow out to fill the room. Nobody at the table noticed. They were involved in an argument.
It had seemed like an eternity before the two closed the Aron and came back to the table, defeated. Malory collapsed into his chair, and if David hadn't known better, he'd have said the Vampire was sweating.
Bozez said, "They're all very good, but none of them is perfect."
"We'll have to try upstairs, then. David, do you know where the stairs are?"
"I saw a broad, carpeted stairway in the lobby."
"Good." He paused, glaring hard at the men around the table. "Now they won't remember we were ever here. Let's go."
Following signs, they found the upstairs hall which normally was used for children's classes and larger celebrations. For the High Holy Days, it was rigged out as a second shul with portable lecterns and a small, beautifully draped, Aron Kodesh on a small stage.
At the door, Malory stopped them. "It's not so bad up here. I think I can get these men to join the ones downstairs. Just a moment."
By the time he'd finished, and the two men had passed them on their way to join the Rabbi, the Vampire was shaking with the effort. This is worse for him than he's letting on.
But now they had the large auditorium to themselves. And their luck held. The less ornate, plain wood Aron wasn't locked. And one of the Scrolls was perfect -- or perfect enough to suit Bozez. He blazed up so brilliantly that Malory complained again, retreating, and Bozez apologized profusely.
They took the jangling silver crown off the top spokes, pulled the long cover up, unfastened and unwrapped the binding strap, and put the scroll on the Reader's Desk to unroll it. "There, now see if you can use the words to Ascend," said David, casting his gaze upward and sending a fervent entreaty to Heaven.
Bozez passed his hand over the words, glancing apologetically at Malory, and then unfurled all his wings and filled the room with light, motion and color. But after a few moments, he shrank and wrapped himself up again. "Almost, but I can't get into it to climb -- if that makes any sense."
"I have an idea," said Malory. "You're going to need to traverse the entire Scroll, from the Beginning Word to the very End. It's the whole thing -- holistically -- that is The Tree. The little excerpt you're looking at now is only a twig -- it won't hold your weight." He began to move chairs. "Here, let's make a clear space to unroll the whole thing."
David looked at the diagonal length of the room, then at the Scroll. "It'll never fit."
"Well, let's see if enough of it will. Maybe it's like a plane runway. If he can get going, he'll take off before reaching the end."
They created an open strip of carpet from corner to corner of the room, carefully picking up bits of detritus, children's toys, and what-not to make a clean strip for the Torah. The Vampire's waning strength was apparent in his every move. He was in a hurry to get this done, knowing his strength wouldn't hold out against the forces in this building.
Bozez strove to keep his dazzling light down to levels Malory could stand, but as each page of the Torah Scroll was revealed, he got brighter and brighter. Finally, they had most of the Scroll exposed, laid out diagonally across the room. At last, Malory said, "OK, try it now."
Reverent, enraptured, and humbled, the Angel stepped onto the first words of the Torah Scroll, wings unfurling to fill the room again. Here we have all these elaborate rituals for reverently handling a Scroll," thought David, "and he goes and walks on it!
Bozez took a step, and then all David saw was a gossamer rainbow streak flashing along the length of the Scroll, and then his eyes just gave out from the brilliance.
When it was gone, the fluorescent lighting in the room seemed like total darkness.
He blinked his way back to Reality and yelled, "We did it! M-Arnaud, we did it!"
There was no answer.
"Mal?" He looked around. The Vampire wasn't in the room. He looked behind the stacks of chairs they'd made, behind the lecterns, and then saw the door was slightly ajar.
He found Malory in the hallway, fallen face down, as if he'd been fleeing the room when he passed out. Kneeling beside the Vampire, David found him as dead as his daytime coma ever made him. He hadn't turned to ash, which was a good sign. But it was still a long time until morning. He shouldn't be in his coma yet.
He wasted several minutes poking and prodding, pleading with Malory to wake up. He even tried opening the door inside his mind to let Malory talk to him mentally, as he had sometimes done during the day. Nothing.
Without Malory to control what the men were seeing, how could he get them out of the building? They'd walked down the street from the house, but David knew he'd never be able to carry the Vampire home, even if the street was wholly deserted which it wasn't.
He thought about going to get his car, but where could he hide the Vampire while he was gone? And there was the mess they'd made of this room. If people found it like that, they'd have the police here looking for a vandal.
And it would be daylight soon. He couldn't take Malory out in the sunlight.
He dragged the limp body back into the room and set about rolling up the Torah Scroll - normally a two-man job. He knew he'd never get it set to the correct page -- he couldn't read a word of it -- and he didn't even try to get it rolled up snug and tight enough. It was a big struggle to get the binding wrapped around it and fastened, and then with nobody to hold it upright, it was hard to get the covering in place because the spokes weren't close enough together and the Crown and Pointer wouldn't fit right either.
He'd just have to leave it that way, hoping they'd think some children had messed with it.
Rearranging the furniture by himself took more than three times as long as it had taken the three of them to move everything. He could barely budge the lectern by himself, and the rows of chairs had to be set up straight.
All that while, Malory lay dead, not breathing, heart not beating. David worked against the clock, but still by the time the room was presentable, it was close to dawn. He couldn't get Malory out of the building now before people began arriving.
And he had to get Malory out of sight and store him where no sunlight -- or children, would get at him until nightfall. Soon the building would be full of bored children and even more bored babysitting teens --
Usually, when badly hurt, the Vampire would recover with sunset. Maybe not this time, though.
He opened the door to the hallway and peered out. Voices rose from the lobby -- the small group of men who had learned all night discussing going home to freshen up before the day's services. "No, we shouldn't lock up. Tully will be here in a few minutes." A toilet flushed. A door opened, and the voices faded. The door closed, echoing through the empty building.
A few minutes. How long is that?
He had one chance, and he knew Malory would never thank him for saving his life this way. But the one dark place the children would not go was the cabinet behind the Aron Kodesh where they stored the books that were so damaged they couldn't be used anymore. The psychic "noise" that so disturbed the Vampire would be greatest there. He'd have daymares from it, but it wouldn't actually harm him. But it would make him helpless.
He's just stunned from Bozez's light. He'll recover, and everything will be fine. If we can get away with this, he and I won't have to move again.
The Vampire was much taller than David. In one corner of the room, there was a dolly used to move the folding chairs. How he'd get it down the stairs, David had no idea.
How did they get it up here? Where were the chairs normally stored?
He unloaded the rest of the chairs from the dolly, pulled and heaved the limp body onto it, and jockeyed it out the doors. The dolly about filled the hallway, and it was too wide for the stairs. He raced up and down the hall, past school rooms, and finally found an elevator in a corner.
As he reached for the button to summon it, the doors opened. He propped them open with his tush as he sidled the dolly into it. He ended up on the wrong side from the control buttons, and as he was maneuvering over the dolly to reach them, the doors closed and the elevator descended to the only other floor in the building. Then he remembered. The Orthodox wouldn't push elevator buttons on the Sabbath or Holidays, so they had the elevator rigged to run automatically all day.
It opened at the back of the caterer's kitchen right across from a huge closet full of folding chairs and what looked like a collapsed party-tent. He was tempted to store the body there. But the doors were open. Someone might want more chairs, and then what? Maybe rolled in the tent? But it was trussed up neatly, and no doubt was huge and heavy. And he didn't have much time.
He made for the Sanctuary, battering the swinging doors open with the bumper on the front of the dolly because he couldn't stop it in time. The dolly wouldn't go more than a yard into the room, there were so many chairs in the way.
Racing the clock, he ran up to the Aron, pulled the curtain, opened the doors -- lofted a hearty prayer of thanks that the doors were unlocked, -- carefully and reverently moved the central Torah Scroll, pushed open the broken door in the back, ran back to heave and drag the comatose Vampire up onto the stage, pushed the flopping body through into the dark cubby, where it fell in an awkward pile, replaced everything, closed up, and ran back to the dolly which was propping the door open.
"Oh, you didn't have to do that! It is my job, after all."
Aware of beads of sweat rolling down face and body, David looked up to see a wiry old man in black with fringes hanging out from under his jacket and a very large white yarmulka on his head smiling at him.
The shock paralyzed David.
"Here, let's get this back upstairs," offered the old man, pulling the dolly out of the doorway.
David went with it. "Uh, um, well, I didn't finish in there yet. I thought I'd be done before you got here."
"That's very nice of you - uh - I don't recall your name."
"David Silberman. I own Silberman's Drycleaning. I'm not a member here, but . . . "
"You wanted to do a special mitzvah for us. Our gratitude will be with you."
The old man insisted on helping replace the dolly, then pulled David into continuing his routine of picking up and straightening the covers on the lecterns, checking and arranging, returning books to their proper places, sorting the chairs according to the names on them by the chart on the wall, all the while reciting the rules about what they could and could not do on Yom Kippur to make the shul ready for the crowd. He wouldn't even knock down a cobweb.
All David could think of was the Vampire behind the Aron Kodesh. Malory's subliminal pain leaked through the portal in David's mind and he was beginning to regret this decision. There were nearly fourteen hours of this to endure. Even if he went home, he'd still feel it. But he couldn't go. He had to watch. He couldn't leave Malory alone here, rendered helpless by daylight and the excruciating psychic noise. But, if that rear door fell open, what could he do to prevent anyone from discovering the Vampire?
I should have hidden him in the shrubs and gone to get my car. No, I'd never have made it. Heaving a dead body out of the shrubbery in front of a shul at the crack of dawn on a weekday on a busy street -- no. On Holidays, the police patrolled the synagogues with special attention, particularly at night. He knew he'd have been caught. Irrational as it was, he knew it.
Eventually, the old man noticed him stopping to stare at the Aron Kodesh. "It is beautiful isn't it? It was made by one of our members, an artist. The Sisterhood made the drape for us, every stitch by hand. Wouldn't think anyone did hand embroidery these days, would you?"
"Uh, not like that. It's magnificent." It really was, but that wasn't the focus of David's attention at the moment.
"Young man like you . . . not married, are you? Ah, didn't think so, well, I'll talk to my wife about that after Yontef. People will be here in a few minutes. Let's check upstairs."
OK so it's not so different from a Reform Temple. They climbed the stairs together, David aching in every joint, moving as slowly as the old man. He pushed into the upstairs auditorium ahead of David and stopped. "Did you do this?"
"Uh, no," lied David. "Is something wrong?"
"No, it's just that the chairs are all straight. Let's get the table put away and check the Seforim."
They folded up and stored the table, stacked the chairs, and collected the stray books, putting them back in the shelves.
While they worked, people began to sift into the room, the noise from downstairs growing every time the door swung open.
As they went back down, the old man offered him another seat he knew would be vacant, but David explained he'd already been invited by Manny Rubenstein to share his son's seat.
"That's just like Manny. Terrible thing about his grandson. If you need anything, just let me know. I'll see you after Neela."
Then Manny arrived and collected David as if he belonged to his family, settling him with all the books he'd need. "Missed you for Ma'ariv last night. Glad to see you this morning. Yussel will be davening Musaf."
"That's wonderful," agreed David clueless.
There ensued five hours of ever growing, frustrated bewilderment. He never stood, sat, bowed, pounded his chest, or sang out an Amen on cue. Every so often, Manny or his son who replaced him periodically, would peer at the prayer book David held and flip some of his pages backward or forward for him, then point to the Hebrew text. After a while, they gave up and just swapped books with him, giving him the correct page.
The congregation sang four part harmony as if they'd rehearsed for weeks, but only the men's voices could be heard. There were long songs, responsive readings, and at odd moments, while the Reader was chanting, the congregation would burst into song for a sentence or two, then fall silent. And all of it in Hebrew. There was no way to follow it in English, but everything seemed to be repeated and repeated again.
After an hour or so he gave up and just watched the clock, trying not to concentrate on the growing headache from Malory's pain. And he prayed. Let Malory -- Meshobab -- recover! And let us get away with this. Just think how upset everyone here would be to discover a Vampire in the Aron Kodesh on Yom Kippur. We can't have that, can we? And I'd really like to know why Bozez fell off The Ladder, and if he's all right now. Ok, it's idle curiosity. I don't really need to know, but I'd like to. I took a liking to that Angel. And he kept arguing as best he could while the congregation prayed unintelligibly.
At breakfast time, he got hungry but when his stomach realized it wasn't going to get fed, it shut down until lunch.
The Rabbi spoke for about half an hour and David almost understood his point. "The Hebrew word for "sin" is "Chet." The prayer "Al Chet" is a comprehensive list of sins for which we ask G-d's forgiveness. The word "Chet" also means to "miss." When one misses a target, this too is "Chet." Teshuva --repentance -- is not only for sins which one may have committed, it also encompasses failure to fulfill whatever potential G-d gave us. That too is called "Chet" and requires amending our ways."
There was a lot of his potential he hadn't lived up to. He'd been taking the coward's way out for the last year, just because he was uncomfortable with having Malory in his mind, and Malory's supernatural friends -- and enemies -- in his life.
Right after the Rabbi's talk, Yussel took the podium and once more, for David, the Gates opened.
As the feeling of G-d's attention on him intensified, the pain from Malory's distress receded. He even forgot to be embarrassed when everyone around him dropped to their knees and put their foreheads on paper towels they had spread on the floor. They did it several times, and the final time he actually managed to go with them.
While he was curled on the floor, with Yussel crying out a Blessing in tones of raw entreaty, David suddenly knew he was guilty, and G-d loved him anyway. Tears erupted from somewhere deep within and wracked him with sobs.
As they stood up and rearranged their prayer shawls, people passed tissue boxes around and many noses needed blowing.
It was after two p. m., right after the men of Cohen ancestry had trooped up onto the stage in front of the Aron to recite the Priestly blessing when Bozez appeared again.
It was the first time all day that Malory's hiding place was out of David's sight behind a wall of bodies, and it made him nervous. If that broken door in the back wall of the Aron should fall open, the body would be discovered. The sun was streaming into the windows, lighting the whole area.
The Cohenim hitched their prayer shawls up over their heads while facing the Aron. The Reader called, "Cohenim!" and they turned to face the congregation, arms raised under their shawls, hands spread but invisible to the people. Most of the men around him had raised their prayer shawls or buried their eyes behind their books, or turned their backs. But David didn't copy them. He couldn't take his eyes off the Aron with so many people up there.
As the Cohenim repeated the words the Reader sang, in slow, solemn, precise tones, drawing out each word with melodic chanting in between, David felt a strange warmth and saw light swirling and gathering around and above the group of men. In the midst of the brightness, the compact form of Bozez appeared, glowing in shades of white, and unfolding rainbow wings until David could see his face well enough to recognize him.
The Angel's voice rose out of the men's chorus, blending the voices into a supernal harmony. The sound resonated in David's bone marrow, turning his flesh to gossamer light.
As the final word, Shalom, Peace, filled the room, Bozez swept his wings around himself, turned toward the Aron and held his hands up in the position of the Priestly Blessing. David knew it was for Malory. Then the overly bright Angel glowing even more intensely, flicked out of sight. A moment later, he was back. He looked David right in the eye, and formed words in his mind. "Oh, my Message before was that you should learn to enjoy the humor of the Situation. It'll make life around Meshobab much easier. Thanks for the lift!" A flash, and he was gone again.
The Cohenim shuffled and rearranged themselves completely oblivious to the Messenger, then the congregation was singing again. A number of people were wiping their eyes with tissues, but nobody had noticed the Angel.
They took a break then, many people going home for the interval, but the Rabbi gathering a group to learn more about the customs of Yom Kippur. David didn't dare leave except for a few moments to go to the Men's Room.
And an hour or so later, everyone came back again for the afternoon service. It seemed to David that they did everything all over again.
The next time they repeated "Al Chet" it turned him inside out. He could think of an instance where he'd committed each and every sin listed and somehow he understood what he had done wrong, and why it was wrong, and he truly was horrified at his own stupidity. He deeply regretted that he couldn't make amends if he lived a hundred lifetimes. Then he remembered what Bozez had said about Time, about Malory being immortal, about what it would be like to look at human life from an immortal perspective.
We take our sins too seriously -- that's why we keep doing the same thing over and over. We don't deal with the current Situation. We react to memories of similar Situations in the past and fail to live in the present -- and we miss the point. It's not that we take ourselves too seriously, it's that by reacting to new Situations as if they were in fact the old Situations that they resemble, we fail to live up to our potential. My current Situation is that I have the Supernatural in my life. I can't get rid of the Vampire without getting rid of G-d.
While he was still dwelling on how stunned he was by this revelation, and how much simpler it would make his life if he could manage to remember that insight after all this was over, someone blew the shofar.
It wasn't a recording, and it wasn't a pipe organ faking it. It was an actual, real, once-part-of-a-living-animal ram's horn someone blew their own breath into. He'd never heard anything like it before. It was a soul-shattering sound.
Each individual peal vibrated all the way through his flesh, sizzled through his brain, turned his eyes to jelly, and made him need to scream with fear, ecstasy, elation and humility all at once.
When the sound stopped, the Gate was closed. He knew it, all the way through to the center of beingness. He was no longer a focus of Divine Attention.
And with that, Malory's distress grabbed his whole mind and heart.
But a new Reader took a place at lectern near him and everyone kept right on praying. According to the prayer book, they were doing the Evening Service. It was several pages long, but they raced through it all at blinding speed which was just as well since Malory was awake and hurting worse than ever. The Vampire was helpless and scared, and just short of panic.
Hang on, Mal, I'm coming to get you out of there. It'll be all right. Bozez came back.
He felt the vampire's pained astonishment at his use of the Link. He was weak, and confused, but replied, "Take your time."
And then people were leaving. He had to thank the Rubensteins, and give his phone number to the old man who wanted to find him a wife.
The social amenities were very brief since it was a mitzvah not to delay breaking fast. And David managed to contrive to hide himself behind the open door of the book cabinet in the sanctuary as the old man was closing up. Shortly, the building fell into utter silence except for the cars starting outside, and people calling happy greetings.
When he was certain everyone was gone, he came out of hiding. All the lights were off except for the Eternal Flame, which could hardly be called a light.
By feel, he groped and stumbled his way up to the Aron. As he had guessed, the time-lock was not engaged, as the Rabbi had instructed, which meant that someone would be along soon to fix the latch. He turned on the little light inside the Aron, moved the Scroll and opened the back panel.
He found the Vampire sitting Indian fashion among the worn out books, the old Torah Scroll cradled in his arms, his head tucked down because of a low shelf, suit rumpled, tie askew, wearing a pained expression. "Dare I ask what happened?"
An Angel took a pratfall to teach me to have a sense of humor! Something inside David gave way and he burst into divinely inspired laughter.
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