Very Important Business
"Sometimes you wake up. Sometimes the fall kills you. And, sometimes, when you fall, you fly." –Neil Gaiman
The Prophet makes his way to the airplane, quite unsure of what he is heading toward; he is being driven forward by a force he cannot comprehend, but still, he is entirely faithful in his travels. Do you see the range? Do you see how all of these souls, fulfilling entirely different roles, are drawn to the same exact same thing, with largely different reasons? It is fascinating. And yet, the cards are still to be drawn.
Thus is how the next card was drawn.
"Val, what are you doing?"
Valentina Quinn said this to herself in the solitude of her empty kitchen. She was up earlier in the morning than she would have normally cared to be, but going back to bed was impossible. There was no slipping back into dreams for her; never had been, never would. Besides, if she remembered correctly, the dream she'd been having was a rather odd one. Unpleasant at many points, yes, but at other times, strangely comforting, like a lullaby that she felt was simultaneously familiar and completely foreign. Very peculiar, very unlike her; she rarely dreamt at all, to be perfectly honest. Dreams were for unrealistic foolish-hearts and naïve brats; not a woman of science as herself. She really couldn't fit them in to her schedule, couldn't deal with the agitation of something as silly as dreams.
But sometimes she envied them, asinine as they were.
And now, there was the conundrum of what in the world was she doing, awake at this hour? Her biological clock was pristine and concise. Every day was a 6 a.m. morning, no ifs, ands, or buts; wake up, put on slippers, make bed, make coffee, eat jam and toast, drink coffee, shower, put on clothes, put hair in ponytail, put on minimal make-up, feed cat, then go out door, lock it, and drive the Jetta over the hospital to start another day of work. How could it get any better? It was a perfectly worked out schedule, no opportunity for anything to go wrong or distract Val from her very important job.
She helped people. She was a doctor. And by God, she liked it.
She'd wanted to do this her entire life. No, not nursing, not that wimpy almost-doctor stage of existence; all Val could think of when the word "nurse" came up in conversation was the kind that consisted exclusively of fat, aging women, adorned by too-large spectacles, sitting around in floral scrubs in the fluorescently-lit offices of elementary schools around the nation. Yes, the nurse's office: the place lazy children escaped from class to; the place where you could almost be guaranteed a pass out of school for hamming up an "illness" adeptly enough; the small room with marble tiles on the floor and a hammock on one side of the wall, stocked with rubber pins to catch any unsightly vomit; the room that provided a fresh break of scenery as compared to sitting in the same dull classroom for the entire day. Notwithstanding her slight contempt for the position of "nurse", the nurse's office was a welcome refuge in her childhood, and even Val had to admit that she'd enjoyed the company of those lonely old women.
Oh, but childhood. Such a silly thing. Youth was an overstated thing in Valentina's honest (and eagerly shared) opinion; her own was stored and locked away tightly behind a vault of impenetrable steel, forever prevented from rearing its ugly head into her thoughts. If one was to present the story of Peter Pan to her (and it was a tale that she was quite familiar with), she would consistently remark her empathy only for Mr. Darling. They were foolish children piddling around with nonsense notions about pirates and flying boys and pixies, and it was only right that the father punish them for being so ignorant.
But nobody was asking her about Peter Pan or childhood, were they? No. She was sitting in seclusion, basked in the glow of a sun that'd only recently peeked over the horizon to illuminate her tiny slice of America for about twelve odd hours. Free time was what she hated the most in her life, and the seconds rolling by as she sat helplessly in the kitchen only added to her dissatisfaction; this, her forlorn seat in an empty kitchen in a desolate house, showed all too well how alone in life she really was.
Who needs people, though? Or at least the kind that come into your life promising the world and the greatest love you will ever know, only to rip your still-beating heart out of your chest and then proceed to stomp on it gleefully. The kind that take the title of father too loosely to even fit the bare minimum requirements, the kind that take the title of mother too seriously to be anything else than overbearing, and the kind that always, always, always found a way to leave Val sooner or later. Be it death or the end of a relationship, they always left her.
She slapped an old apple off the counter in frustration, not caring that it splattered against the floor and made gooey entrails. This was the bullshit that ran through her head when she was left to her own devices like this, and this was why she kept herself so busy. To push it away. To make it all shut up. And to do the one thing in life that made her even slightly happy: help people. Did she have problems with social interactions and actually caring about a single individual? No doubt about it. But taking on society as a whole, facing off against crowds of faceless people clamoring for aid and succor… this was where she belonged. And Val enjoyed this position. She did well with her job. She got awards, good pay raises, and respect amongst the staff at the hospital, along with other good things. Sure, she'd never bother to actually make friends or to seriously involve herself in one patient's case, but the machine of her medicinal propensity was a well-oiled machine, and no one cared much whether she was Mr. Rogers or not in the ER, as long as she kept on working and kept on saving lives. There was no failure involved, no bad feelings, no heartache to worry about; all came out according to plan when Valentina Quinn was included.
Apparently, however, this principle was not currently applicable; her morning was not coming out according to plan in the least, and it was pissing her off. Badly.
But still… when she awoke from her slumber, thoroughly confused by her premature rising, she'd felt very good. It was quite like someone had given her a long, thorough massage over her entire body. Almost like a spa day, something she hadn't treated herself to in months. Maybe even a year or two, if she was to be honest with herself. And God had it felt good. Very rarely in Val's schedule did it allow her to feel good. Or angry. Or melancholy. Or anything else other than an emotionless robot, really.
She supposed she liked it. Being empty. She enjoyed it more than being a walking whirlpool of emotions, most definitely… but at times, when it was late at night and her desolate house seemed even more lonely than usual and she was at the cusp of falling headfirst into sleep… she cried. Not much, mind you; never more than a few sobs, that would be unreasonable. But nonetheless, the sorrow would drip out of her like a leaky faucet. Val wasn't quite sure if she hated it or loved it. She wondered at times if it was both. Oh, the chagrin of being alive.
It was at this moment that the cat, named simply Juliana, jumped adeptly upon the counter at this moment. Valentina stared across the surface to her one and only companion in the shell of a home she lived in. Juliana was both a Somali and a molly, a coincidental homonym of which someone else might have found worthy of a chuckle (but Val did not); she hadn't known when buying the kitten that they were one of the friendliest cat breeds, as she had been more preoccupied with its fox-like appearance. Indeed, however, Juliana was quite a warm, inviting cat, and she provided all the company Valentina Quinn could possibly need within a day.
So, obviously, it was quite rare she ever paid that much attention to her at all. It didn't fit into the schedule, and making relationships was just not something she could do. Talent could only reach so far for her; it didn't include social interaction. This queer morning, however, Val decided that perhaps, just perhaps, she would attempt a bit of emotion. She wouldn't exceed her quota, no, not at all. It was crazy talk to think of breaking her own rules, her regiment of daily life. Pure insanity.
"Do you hate me?" she said to the cat. It stared at her with even, unfaltering eyes, blinking only once.
"I wouldn't blame you, you know. If you do. I would be a horrible mother. You're just an experiment to validate my hypothesis."
Still Juliana stared, never wavering in her rapt attention for Valentina.
"Yes. You'll die one day, fat and old, and I will bury you. You haven't been a pest. I suppose burial is appropriate enough. And me? Why, I'll be the same. Static. Stoic. Safe."
The cat's eyes focused relentlessly, as the gaze of a sculpture.
"And then there will be another cat. Not a replacement, per se, but just another patch to plug a pesky hole. I might note to you, however, that I believe you may have been the best cat to grace my existence."
A slow, purposeful blink from the feline.
"…I think I'm sorry you had to end up with me."
"Why, what's wrong with you?"
Val had seen the cat's lips move, but she didn't really believe it.
"I'm sorry?" she said, sounding empty. Had the room become deathly quiet? She swore it had.
"I said, 'what's wrong with you?' You're not the worst thing to walk this earth."
Val nodded cautiously. This wasn't in the schedule.
"Might I ask how you came to be capable of speech? That is, if I'm not hallucinating, which is highly more likely?"
Juliana seemed to shrug. "That doesn't matter, really. There was a message that needed to be delivered, and you weren't paying much attention to anything but yourself until you decided to talk at me."
"…True. If this was, hypothetically, an actuality, then I would suppose you are not really my cat?"
Again, the thing-that-looked-quite-a-bit-like-a-cat-but-then-again-might-not-have-been appeared to shrug nonchalantly. "It's a vessel. What does it matter if there are two pilots? But that's beside the point, Valentina. Your mind is so rigid and reactionary that you won't be able to receive the message. In effect, you can't be able to. You'll treat it all as a feverish dream or wishful thoughts and then squash it in the cold machine of your brain. No, for this, Valentina Quinn, you will need much more… supervision, I suppose."
Val had been discreetly attempting to pinch herself into waking, but it seemed not to be working. Perhaps it was a very deep sleep. This was why she disliked dreaming so very much: it led to confusion and general nonsense, nothing that could be tolerated in her psyche.
"Could you repeat that last part once more? I didn't quite catch it."
It smiled knowingly. "You need a guiding hand, Val. Without one, you'd be sitting on your ass denying your own life and God knows that you've been doing that for far too long to be necessary anymore. This is a bigger plan, Val, but from me to you on the most personal level, you need to wake up. Stop being a machine. You have a heart for a reason."
"I prefer my dreams not to tell me what to do, thank you very much," she replied, wondering if the impact of jumping out a window would cause her to rise from this foolishness her mind has somehow concocted. "Now, if you would excuse me Not-Juliana, I would like to test another hypothesis. It's very important business."
"Oh, I quite understand the matter of very important business, believe you me." With that, Val had already turned around to rise from the chair and was unable to see the not-quite-a-cat running across the counter toward her. She flipped around once more to make a remark and was instead met with an airborne animal heading directly for her face. She didn't even have the time to lift up her arms in self-defense. Val merely stood, puzzled by the fact that on a very, very deep level… she felt sort of relieved.
A pigeon watching from its perch on a high wooden fence observed the woman in sweatpants and a tank top having convulsions in the kitchen through a window. It watched half-interestedly, preferring to look out for any dropped food or exposed trash to snack on. When the woman came bursting out of her door with her feline companion following closely behind, however, the pigeon became immensely interested. These big, lumbering meat-sacks tended to be much more fun when they were frantic and insane like this. The pigeon prepared for a show.
The woman stumbled across the lawn, seeming to be at war with her own body. One moment she was running to the car, the next she was tripping to the left or to the right, any direction but that of the Jetta (which the pigeon had contemplated shitting upon before deciding upon the large and shiny Hummer two doors down). The cat remained at her feet, trying to guide the meat-sack's legs toward the automobile. The pigeon was entranced. It was quite the amusement.
Eventually the woman guided her jerking limbs over to the car and climbed in, shouting nonsense in a language that was half-English and half-divine all the while. The pigeon knew divine language because it had once been possessed by a guardian angel during an attempt to steer a young boy from walking down an alley. It had succeeded, so the pigeon never knew quite exactly what it had been preventing, but still, it had felt proud. The pigeon, realizing that this was no mere act of insanity but of heavenly conquest instead, decided close inspection would be needed. As the Jetta jerked its way out of the driveway into the street, the pigeon could only hope that this woman would not crash on her way to her destination and unwittingly send herself to the pearly gates.
Although it might have been a little fun to watch.
Maybe more than a little.
Through the roads, the woman sped, teetering on the verge of being pulled over with every mile gained but seemingly invincible to any police detection. Heavenly intervention? It was possible, quite possible. Of course, it did help that it was so very early in the morning; practically no other cars were travelling the main roads in any case. Yes, if there was any time to drive like a lunatic on a public highway, before dawn was perhaps the best chance of all.
In what must have been about half an hour later, or perhaps later, the woman had parked the car haphazardly in the parking lot of the nearest possible airport. Albuquerque International had never been a point of interest to the bird until now. More than likely never would again, but the pigeon found itself invested in this possessed woman's mission. Through the revolving doors, it flew in swiftly behind her, perching upon the ledge of the second floor and peering down at the ticket register. She had next to nothing on her, not even a purse, but somehow the pigeon knew she would have the money to pay for a ticket. Indeed, upon the wary clerk's inquiry of payment, the woman stuffed her hands into her pockets and pulled out what turned out to be exact change.
The pigeon wouldn't have minded some celestial compensation like that, maybe in the way of worms or some crunchy insects. That would be nice.
Was it just a coincidence that the next possible flight was leaving in mere minutes? Perhaps. These things were not for the pigeon to understand. Instead it observed once more as the woman's body convulsed and shivered its way up across the floor, clutching the ticket to its chest like a madman. Stumbling past the tired, watching eyes of the graveyard shift and the occasional drifter glued to a seat, asleep or near to being it, the woman made her way to the plane.
With much determination, the godly being steered its vessel through the tiny door at the end of the corridor, ignoring the airline staff's alarmed looks. She looked like an insane asylum escapee, for certain, but even though the pigeon had not dared to venture any further, it knew not a single soul would trouble this puppet. The thing that could be called God, among many other titles and approximations that had rendered It to the point of namelessness, took quite good care of Its subjects.
The pigeon suspected that this was very important business, indeed.