Angels on My Shoulder
The icy hand of panic seized Ryan’s heart and sank its teeth into his guts. He frantically crabbed away through Chinese take-out and Bud Light which he had knocked from the kitchen counter as he toppled from his stool. His rapid retreat ended when his head collided with the refrigerator door. The thud echoed in his head and knocked his hammering heart back into his chest.
“Who…who…who?” his tongue refused to make any other sound.
“Am I?” the stranger asked.
Unable to get his quivering lips to form words, Ryan simply nodded.
“Come back up here and sit down.” The stranger patted the seat Ryan had vacated in such a hurry. “I’ll explain everything.”
Ryan slowly shook his head. He wasn’t sure if any of his other parts were working and didn’t really care to find out. He certainly wasn’t ready to cozy up next to someone who materialized from thin air.
“Oh, come now.” The stranger flashed a toothy grin. “Is this the face of someone out to do you harm?”
A stupid stare was the only answer Ryan could muster. The face smiling down at him was his own. Ryan raised a trembling hand and tried to get his mouth to make an intelligible sound. The stranger wearing his face went on smiling as he slipped from his seat. Ryan jumped back thumping his head on the refrigerator again. The smiling stranger squatted beside him, gently closed Ryan’s gaping mouth with one of his fingers and leaned closer.
“Let me help you,” the stranger whispered. He extended a seamless palm Ryan’s way.
Ryan lifted his hand into the stranger’s. He seemed to float onto his feet. The stranger guided him back to the empty stool.
“You see, nothing to be afraid of,” the stranger assured him with a wink.
Except for a quick shiver of dread, the stranger was right. His fear was gone. Ryan wiped cold sweat from his brow and heaved a sigh of relief. Whoever this guy was, he was solid enough.
“Yes, I’m real,” the stranger said. “You’re not losing your mind; quite the contrary.”
“Who are you? Where’d you come from?” Ryan asked.
“That’s not important. What’s important right now is what I can do for you.” The stranger gave Ryan a pat on the shoulder. “Let’s have a beer and talk it over.
Without waiting for an answer, the stranger crossed the kitchen and retrieved two bottles of beer. He popped the caps from the bottles with a flick of his thumb before settling in next to Ryan.
“That’s quite a mess you’ve made there,” the stranger said sipping beer and pointing at the floor.
Embarrassed by the results of his panicked reaction, Ryan fought off the urge to clean it up and settled instead for a sip of beer.
“It wasn’t my fault,” Ryan whimpered. “You scared the crap out of me.”
“I hope the latter is an exaggeration. Of course, none of this mess is your fault,” the stranger assured him. “That’s why I’m here. We’ll have this whole room cleaned up in no time. No one will ever be the wiser.”
“Do you really think so?” Ryan asked.
“We’ll have the place looking like new.”
“But how?” Ryan wanted to know. “How am I ever going to explain all this?”
“Leave that to me.” The stranger pointed to the sink. “You get some trash bags. By the way, do you have a real sharp knife?”
“Sure, I’ll just go—"
“You’ll do no such thing,” a voice boomed from across the room.
Ryan froze on the edge of his stool. His companion muttered a curse and drained his bottle of beer. Neither took his eyes off the newcomer. Broad of shoulder and powerfully built the man filled the doorway. His big hands were balled into fists that rested on his hips. The disapproving scowl on his face and the fire in his eyes dared the drinking buddies to disagree.
For his part, Ryan could not have disagreed even if the notion occurred to him. He was mesmerized by the tall man’s face. Once again someone else was using his face.
“Enough!” Ryan screamed, fear turning to anger.
The effort left Ryan panting. The tall man’s hands dropped to his sides. The other’s impish grin vanished. It took several minutes for the heated flush to recede from Ryan’s face, but he had center stage.
“I want some answers,” Ryan fumed. “And I want them now.”
“Very well,” the tall man replied. “Ask your questions.”
“Let’s start with, who are you?”
“I had supposed that was obvious.” His hands were back on his hips. “I’m you. More precisely, I’m the spirit part of you.”
“You’re a ghost?” Ryan cocked his head for a better look at the spirit.
“No, nothing like that.” The tall man heaved a tired sigh. “Forget all that junk you read about ghosts and goblins. I’m your spirit, the part God breathed into you.”
“I don’t believe in God,” Ryan shot back.
“And yet, here I am.”
“That doesn’t prove anything,” Ryan said.
He glanced from one reflection to the other. Suddenly, a light came on. Ryan’s eyes widened.
“Oh, I get it. Like in the cartoons. You’re like the little angel sitting on my shoulder.”
“Not exactly, but that’s close enough.”
“Well, if you’re the angel.” Ryan slowly turned around. “Then, you must be…”
His voice trailed away as the other man with the Ryan face blushed and flashed a wide smile.
“In a manner of speaking,” he said with a shrug.
“You’re kidding, right?” Ryan asked his visitors. “This is some kind of joke, right?”
“Why do you say that?” Halo Ryan asked as a halo appeared above his head.
“Because this whole thing is crazy,” Ryan protested. “I’m crazy. You’re not real. I’m finally having some kind of breakdown. That’s it, the stress has gotten to me.”
A horned Ryan flicked the doubter’s ear with a long fingernail. “Real,” he chirped.
“Ouch!” Ryan jumped from his seat rubbing the injured ear. “That hurt.”
“Of course, it did,” Halo Ryan said. “Reality hurts.”
“So, why now?” Ryan asked. “Why today of all days?”
“This is a pivotal moment in your life,” Halo Ryan explained.
“Gee—you think?” Ryan snapped back.
“Old tall and sour has no sense of humor,” Horned Ryan said. “Just ignore him.”
“Just ignore him,” Halo Ryan mocked. He swept a long arm around the room. “You see where his advice has gotten you, don’t you? It’s time to do the right thing.”
“The right thing!” Horned Ryan was on his feet, his face ablaze. “The right thing for who?”
“Whom,” Halo Ryan corrected.
“Who, whom—whatever. You’ve been doing the right thing for the last twenty years. The trouble is, it’s always the right thing for everybody else. Isn’t it time to do what’s good for you for a change? Why not live a little?”
“Do what he’s suggesting, and it will be very little living.” Halo Ryan warned. “This is not something you can pretend never happened.”
“What would you have him do?” Horned Ryan asked. “Shout it from the housetop? Hold a press conference to say how sorry he is for his lapse in judgment. This is the real world we’re talking about.”
“Must you always be so melodramatic?” Halo Ryan said. “A simple phone call to George Deats should do. Explain what happened, let George help you.”
“You call George, and one phone call is exactly what you’ll get,” Horned Ryan said. “You can’t tell anybody about this, especially the police.”
Ryan looked over the room. A single tear escaped his eye.
“You’ve got to call George,” Halo Ryan insisted. “You know that.”
“It wasn’t my fault,” Ryan explained.
“It’s the only way.”
“It’s not the only way,” Horned Ryan whispered in his ear. “It’s his way. My way or the highway; hasn’t that always been his advice?”
“It’s the right thing to do,” Halo Ryan said.
“Says who?” Ryan asked.
“Now, you’re talking,” Horned Ryan cheered.
“God says,” Halo Ryan replied.
“Oh that’s rich,” Horned Ryan snickered. “Take a look around Ryan. It’s too late. God had His chance. Where was He when you really needed Him?”
“God will help you through this,” Halo Ryan promised.
“Do you think God’s going to help with that?” Horned Ryan pointed at the figure on the floor.
Ryan’s eye followed the gesture down to the body of his wife. Her blonde hair, stained crimson, floated atop a puddle of congealing blood. Ryan didn’t begin the day planning to kill her. He just snapped. The frying pan was in his hand and then it was crashing down—again and again. He could still hear her skull cracking each time he brought it down. He didn’t like to think Halo Ryan would lie to him, but the truth was plain to see. It was splashed all over the kitchen. God, if there was one, was never going to forgive this. Ryan turned to the figure on his left and gave him a silent nod. The evil one no longer looked like Ryan. His smile had a malevolent twist as he slid a large knife across the counter in Ryan’s direction.
“Little pieces will be easier to dispose of,” he promised.