Simon seemed like a nice guy. He was tall, with longish, dark hair. He was broad but slender, not a hulk like his father. Still, I wouldn't want to tangle with him. He looked like he could hold his own. He had a quieter nature than David, too, not so severe. When I first met him, I jokingly apologized for having his car towed, and he just laughed. "I was supposed to come and see you at the station," he said, "but you didn't come in that morning."
"Yeah, I was a little busy," I laughed. It was a strange thing to joke about, I guess. While he was at the station picking up his car I was, apparently, lying in a freezer across town. And now Betty suspected Simon of putting me there. Poor bastard. I wouldn't want Betty on my case like that.
"Look, I work for them, they don't work for me," said Sheriff Freddie. "I don't know what to tell you." We were standing outside looking at the damage to the outer wall. Inuichuk, David, Simon, Dad and I were there, along with a few other knights. The Sheriff had just arrived.
"This is a violation of our rights!" David yelled at the Sheriff. He hadn't stopped fuming since the intrusion more than an hour ago. If I understood the story, everyone seemed to think that one of the Ravens had broken into the castle or whatever the hell they called the place and carried of Joseph Mollel from his cell. I had to admit, I was happy for the guy. Something about these knights bugged me.
"You can scream at me all you want, David, if it helps you cope. Nevertheless, there's not a thing I can do about this," the Sheriff said, smiling at David. "Let's remember that we are all friends here."
"Why would the Ravens do this?" asked Simon, standing beside his father and addressing the Sheriff.
"I'm sure I don't understand much of what these birds do," answered the Sheriff. "I trust them, however. I'm sure it will work out in the end."
"If you knew something, would you tell us?" Inuichuk asked.
"I've got no reason to lie to you, Inuichuk," Freddie replied. "I make it my business to know as little as possible." He smiled.
I liked Freddie. He seemed to me to have the perfect temperament for a peace officer, a thing I had come to appreciate in my time on the force. A lot of people back on the force pined for the old days when the authorities seemed to wield absolute power. Me? I didn't trust unchecked power. I learned that from my dad, though I wondered now if he had forgotten that lesson. It bothered me that he had given up being Sheriff here to join these knights. I just didn't seem like the dad I remembered. It had been a long time, though. I hadn't had much of a chance to talk to him about it.
One thing was certain, there was no way I was going to join these guys. I wasn't sure how to tell them, I was a little nervous about how they would take it, but I knew that I could not join. I just wanted a quiet life for a change. No duties. No responsibilities. No authority. Maybe I could hook up with a nice girl, like Naomi. I didn't have a lot of hope that a great girl like her wasn't attached to some lucky guy already, but I liked to imagine asking her to dinner, getting to know her, seeing what developed.
The knights and the Sheriff exchanged a few more words, but I stopped paying attention. Pretty soon the group broke up. Simon said his goodbyes, even nodding over to me, and walked off. He was heading back to Earth, to the living world. I envied him a little, but not as much as I would have a few days before. I was starting to see how life here could be pretty nice, if I could just avoid the nutball knights. David and the other Knights headed back into their fortress. Dad was going with them, and he turned and motioned for me to follow. I mimed a yawn to tell him I was sleepy and made a thumb motion back toward his place not far from here. He got the message and nodded goodbye, and I turned to go before anyone changed their mind.
"So, Al, how are you getting settled?" It was Sheriff Freddie walking up behind me.
"Pretty good," I said. "I'm staying with Dad for now and figuring out my next move." He walked beside me as I headed for Dad's place.
"Thinking of joining up?" he asked, motioning toward the knight's fortress behind us.
"You know," I said, "not really. I'm not sure they'll take it well when I refuse, though."
"Oh, don't worry about it," he smiled. "They get very serious and loud, but they're not bad people."
"You think I should join?" I asked, surprised.
"Oh, hell no," he said. "Stay away from those nuts. They may not be bad people, but they're all fucking loonies, if you ask me."
I laughed, feeling more at ease with that answer. "That's my impression too," I said. "To tell you the truth, I'm looking forward to a quiet life."
"Yeah. I'd like to meet a girl, maybe spend a little time getting to know her."
"A girl," he said. He sounded a little distant.
"Right," I continued. "Hey, what do you know about Naomi, the greeter girl?" I turned but he had stopped a couple of steps back. "Is everything okay?"
There was a Raven sitting on his shoulder. I didn't think it had been there before. As I thought this, another Raven came and perched on his other shoulder. It cawed loudly, and Freddie winced at the noise in his ear.
"What's wrong?" I asked, taking a step toward him. As I said it, two more Ravens flew in from the left and landed on the ground between us. Three more flew in from the right and did the same. Hearing flapping and cawing behind me, I turned. There were at least a dozen Raven behind me and to the sides. I was completely surrounded. "What the hell?" I said. I remembered that hole in the building back there and my hair started to stand on edge. I looked at Freddie.
"I'm so sorry, Al," he said. There were tears in his eyes.
"What...," I started, but then I stopped. One of the Ravens, directly between Freddie and me, began to unfold before my eyes. With a strange, ruffling sound he grew and grew, towering over us. With in a few seconds there was, standing between the two of us, a gigantic, black shape like a man with massive wings. He was so pitch black, I couldn't make out his features. He was like a silhouette in front of a bright light. I could only make out his huge body and wings and the pure white glow of his eyes.
Suddenly Freddie screamed and fell to his knees, agony on his face. At the sound, the Ravens all around began to circle in a black cloud around us, all but the one huge shape. Dark Angel, that's what someone had said earlier. Dark Angel.
"Sheriff!" I started to move toward him, but the Dark Angel put a hand on my head and pushed me down to my knees. The Sheriff screamed out again, his face a mask of pain. Then, from nowhere, two bright spots of light appeared in front of him. They looked like they had come right out of his chest. He collapsed to the ground, panting.
"What's happening?" I yelled, and I struggled in vain against the hand holding me down. The two lights moved slowly toward me.
"The keys of life and death," said the Dark Angel in a deep, raspy voice.
"What?" I was terrified. The lights came closer, and the hand pulled me up straight. The cloud of Ravens weaved all around and cawed madly. The sound of their wings was deafening.
Then, the lights touched my chest, and my mind exploded. So many names. So many lives. So many voices. So many faces. So many names. So many lives. So many voices. So many faces. I knew I had gone completely mad. I was possessed by all of humanity. No. Not all, only the dead. I was possessed by the resting dead. I knew each of them. Their names. Their families. Their voices. Their faces. I knew them all.
"You are the keystone," said the angel's voice. "You hold the keys."
I collapsed then, overwhelmed by the voices within. As I slept, my mind went to work. My mind grew. New connections were made. New pathways were opened. New patterns and structures were built to deal with more information than I had ever imagined. By the time I awoke, blinking, sweat-soaked and dazed, lying face down on the ground, I had it all worked out. I knew how to know these things. It was all in there.
"How are you feeling?" I knew the voice. Farrokh Bulsara, though he went by Freddie Mercury. Born on Zanzibar in Africa. Musician, singer and composer. Died in 1991 of complications from AIDS.
"You sang for Queen," I said, trying to sit up.
"I know," he said, smiling. "Let me help you." He wrapped an arm around me as I pulled to me feet and helped stabilize me for a second. "Are you well?" he asked.
It was strange, knowing so much about him. "What happened?" I asked. I looked around. The Ravens were all gone.
"Don't you know?"
I thought about it for a minute and it came to me. My heart sank a little. "I'm Sheriff."
"I'm afraid so," he said. "Sorry. I know it's not what you wanted."
I shook my head in disbelief. "But, why?" I stared intently at him. "Why me?"
"Who knows?" he said. "Damn birds do what they want. Can't say I'm sorry to be done with the job, to tell you the truth."
"Is it hard?" I asked.
"You don't sleep. You don't rest. You're always on the job. No breaks. No vacations. No end until the damn birds pick someone else. Hard?" he said. "It's a piece of cake."
I smiled at Freddie. "So, what will you do, Sheriff?" I asked him.
"Call me Freddie," he said with an ironic grin. "First, Sheriff, I'm going to go take a fucking nap. Then, when I wake up, I'm going to take another one. Then, after, that," he started walking away, "I'm going to do whatever the hell I want to do. Good luck." And then he was gone.