Kate barely ever made it home on time. She had to walk alone but she just couldn’t breathe properly. She was an asthmatic and her best friend was her father because she didn’t have any other friends at all. She was an irrational, twenty-something spinster trapped in a teenager’s body who was only beginning to explore the world outside her mind, although she could explain everything she observed to a blind man.
And so she did, for her father was blind and lived with her. She could draw pictures in his head. As she spoke to him after her long days, she could make him cry with longing for the eyes he no longer had, she could draw fetal shivers and trembles from his limbs for the joy he could find in the world again. Between wheezes, her voice possessed the words that only the chosen do. One of the few and far in between who were selected by no choice of their own to bring the world to those who couldn’t reach it, she sacrificed her social glove for the words her father couldn’t find.
If you asked what her secret with abstraction was, she’d probably blush and walk away from you, for her verbal skill only worked with her father. He often told her to write the things she said, but she could never manage it. There was something about the phonetics of the English language that drove her skill with description to shining. She simply could not replicate that when she wrote.
One day, as she was about five minutes from home on a road that was like an aisle lined with trees, she noticed that she was losing vision. Dark spots peppered her generally clear view. There was no breeze, there was only the slow ticking of her wristwatch. It ticked and it ticked with no regard for her new infirmity.
Kate was frightened witless. Thinking she had inherited her father’s malady, she stopped and tried to gather her breathing as she huffed and puffed in panic.
“Don’t worry, you’re not going blind.”
It wasn’t Kate that had spoken. Frantically, she looked around for the source of the baritone voice that sounded something like honey poured over French toast.
“No, you’re not going mad either. I’m here, Kate.”
Ignoring for the moment that the voice knew her name, she saw it. It was a creature that sat quietly at the periphery of her vision, nestled in the shadow of a dark spot. It walked around the fringes of her sight like a malformed fetus with monotreme limbs. It was a fanged baby with a squat, Italian walk. Wearing a large wall clock draped around its neck with a golden chain, it breathed with clicks and clucks that were all too much like the ticking of a clock. In truth, it was a nightmarish vision of what would happen if watches were given the lives of the people they watch.
Kate backpedaled, as though that would earn her safety.
“Scream, damn it. Scream!” Kate thought. But all that escaped her mouth were gasps. Her windpipe was strangling her alive. She tried to turn her head to keep the creature in her sights, with the instinctual bravery of a caveman. It stayed at the corner of her eye, as if it knew exactly which way her head were about to turn. As she started to go blue from asphyxiation, she fell to her knees.
“Show…show…your..self!” She finally managed to expel a challenge to the thing that had accosted her.
“Ah, so it speaks!” The creature returned, and broke into what she could only think of as a smile. It glided into view, said, “There!” and glided back to the periphery of her vision. The way it walked wasn’t right. In fact, it was downright unnatural. She had never seen anything so ugly or so flat footed move with such grace.
It slid toward her, slipped something in her pocket and slipped back to where it had been a moment before. Kate was frightened out of her tongue. She was almost unconscious. With her last strength, she reached into the pocket and drew out an inhaler. It was of the cheap kind. It was of the kind that her family still couldn’t afford.
She didn’t think past that. She popped it open, popped it in her mouth and popped the canister. It hissed and fell silent. Strangely, Kate felt life return to her. She flattened her tummy and took the deepest breath that she had ever taken. She looked in wonder at the inhaler for a few moments.
Then, deciding she was being rude, she addressed the creature in the periphery of her vision, “What… are you?”
“What? What am I? That’s the thanks I get for saving your life? Not even a who?”
“Who..who… are you?” Kate amended.
“Who, who? Stutters die hard, I see. I am no one to you. That’s yours,” it said, gesturing at the inhaler lazily. “It will never run out, it will never be lost. It is yours.”
“It… it will never run out? Who… are you? How can I… ever thank you?”
The creature sighed as if he had heard the question innumerable times. It probably had.
“Why, I’m an Angel, of course! And you can thank me by keeping that.”
“An….angel?” She asked in disbelief.
His stubby arms lifted up in a gesture of placation. “Yes, an Angel. The Angel of Time, to be more precise. There’s no need to look so shocked. I know. No white robe. No fluffy wings of a dove. Nevertheless, I am an Angel, and that inhaler is yours. There is no cost but one. You must tell no one about it, or what it tells you. Except your father.”
“I…must…tell no one?” She asked, not understanding. She had no one to tell but her father.
“Yes, you must tell no one. I’ve been watching your case. I’m here to help. If you listen to that inhaler, it will help you write down what you could only vocalize so intermittently while you choked. It will inspire you further. Your father deserves that. He is a good man. I cannot give him back his sight, but I can give him a better you. You listen to it, and you will speak and write things that no man or woman has ever written, or has ever been capable of writing. You would not be able to come up with these things even if you had sold your soul to the Devil. It will make your life better, and it will make your father’s life brighter. You just cannot tell anyone about it. You cannot tell anyone what it tells you. That is only meant for your father. The moment you tell anyone anything you are not supposed to, our deal is null and void. I’m tampering with free will, after all, even though it’s minimal interference. I’m not even supposed to be here. Once you seal this deal, I will never have been here. You never did see me.”
She just stared. And then, on a dusty aisle of trees on an autumn day, Kate sealed a deal with an Angel as red leaves floated down to carpet her path home.
From that day onwards, her father and she led a charmed existence as she created works of literature that were born to be read aloud like no other works of literature before. She had a singular audience – her father. She never told him where she found the words from, though. She didn’t think he’d believe her. As he heard Kate’s stories, his world came alive. He began to grow to the pink of health. He smiled often. The inhaler spoke to her, gave her inspiration, filled in the blanks, suggested words, removed redundant commas, dotted her i’s and crossed her t’s.
Her father profited. You could say that it wasn’t Kate that was a prophet at all, because that is not what Kates are for. It was the inhaler that inspired her. You see, it was a channel to God, to His mind itself, and every puff she took gave her a manageable dose of that infinite intellect. Kate was but the medium for that transference.
A few blissful years later, the inhaler spoke to her on a sticky summer’s night. It had her write this essay out. It made her completely finish it, and doubly proofread it. It was a magnificent work on the unending toils and beautiful idiocy of Man. In desperately clear accordance, it spoke of Hannibal and his untimely mistakes, of Napoleon and his pride, of Judas and his helplessness. It spoke of beautiful ideas that men had never thought of before. It was the perfect essay. The inhaler dictated it to her, a paragraph for every wheeze.
Kate knew it. She knew that this piece of writing could welcome her emergence from the shadows. This was the work that everyone could pause and read, and then ponder her genius. The judgmental old men who ran her school would puff on their pipes and pompously proclaim, “Indeed, what a bright young woman!” They would then proceed to hammer and prod her writing for inherent flaws, but they wouldn’t find any, for the essay was flawless. The parents and lovelorn would read it with the most interest, and walk away from it with the most haunted expressions on their faces.
Humanity was the bell that this rope was tied to, the gong that this hammer would draw its deepest note from. You see, the inhaler in its repeated inoculations had stumbled upon the Secret of Life in the mind of God, and had pandered it to Kate, a secret for her keeping. Her masterpiece could have drawn thousands, even millions perhaps to enlightenment, or to whatever needs their spirituals goals decreed. It was the meaning of life on a page.
It was meant for her father. It was meant to make him appreciate the sum of his life. Kate was just not the secret keeping kind anymore. She was a nice girl, and wanted to give everyone else the knowledge too. When the inhaler read this in her mind, it was infuriated at her stupidity. It also knew that there was no way that it could change her mind. It had set like dried concrete.
The inhaler sent the signal to heaven that notified the Angel of Time of a breach in contract. The Angel arrived promptly and beseeched Kate to desist. It stood in the corner of her eye ugly as ever and spoke eloquent words asking her not to reveal the Secret of Life, for that would definitely get it in hot water with God.
When begging failed, it turned to Philosophy. It told her to see the lesson in the essay. It told her that the knowledge of God’s greatest Secret was not bliss, for it dulled the sparkle of life. It told her that just because most people can’t see it doesn’t mean that the life doesn’t shine; it does, with or without their knowledge. It gave her the age old cliché, “It is not the destination but the journey that matters.” Kate exacerbated the argument, bringing up the Angel’s hypocrisy, mocking his crisis of Faith when it came to her father.
“If it is the journey that matters, why did you give me this inhaler? If it is the journey that matters, why did you not let my father journey on that same path that we were on all those years ago?” She asked.
“It was an act of kindness, but the only crisis of faith I’m having right now is around the faith I had in you. Around your talents. They have all come down to nothing. You waste your time, don’t waste mine. Our deal is void.”
Kate got angrier at this. She screamed at the Angel of Time, “Fine! Our deal is void!”
“It is agreed.” The Angel muttered as though the line were a catechism, a ritual completed.
She threw the inhaler out her window and heard the telltale scrunch as it hit the concrete pavement eight floors below. The Angel looked glum as it disappeared. It was afraid that it would henceforth be called the Angel of Secrets, but it had no choice in this matter.
After she realized that it wasn’t coming back, Kate immediately set to work printing out flyers and pamphlets, distributing the Secret of God, once again making the wheezing sounds of industry. She could barely contain herself. She had never been a prophet before.
Her father sat forgotten at home, wondering where his daughter had gone. He needed to hear her speak her magic. Kate was on the streets reveling in prophecy. She swallowed the attention whole as people began to read her sheets of paper.
They snorted in derision, crumpled them up into little balls of lost thought and threw them away. It was as if the Angel was speaking to her again, “They do this in ignorance, but they do it in righteousness. They must teach themselves. They cannot listen to a robed hypocrite proclaiming the word of God. They won’t listen to you. You don’t speak from God, but from yourself. You cannot muddy their free will.”
She ran as she always had from people, but this time from her debacle. The sound of her wheezing drowned the sound of her weeping. One of her pamphlets flew gracefully after her on the wings of the wind. It read, “I’ve discovered the Secret of Life. It turns out that it is Protein.”