Return to Sender
by James Maxey
I'm at the window, looking out over the dribble of traffic at two in the morning. In
the window's dim reflection, Brother Anthony frowns as he studies the items
spread out on the bed -- various receipts, a few blurry pictures, handwritten notes.
In his brown wool monk's habit, with the shaved tip of his scalp gleaming in the
lamplight, he looks like he's walked straight out of the fifteenth century. He
doesn't fit amid the modern furnishings in this hotel room on the twenty-third floor
of a high-rise. He wears his otherness for everyone to see.
I place my hand on the window, my fingers meeting those of a matching phantom.
My window-ghost stares into my eyes as if she doesn't recognize me. I'm dressed
in a Backgammon Pizza uniform -- checkered shirt, navy pants, a cap with a
bright red brim. My braided hair drapes over my shoulder and hangs down my
chest like a black serpent. Like Sampson, I'm forbidden to cut my hair. But, even
with locks down to my hips, I pass for an ordinary college girl with a side job
delivering pizza. I look like I'm part of this world. It's only inside that I feel so out
Brother Anthony clears his throat. "This intelligence isn't very useful, Crystal." He
picks up a white slip of paper. "What is this? 1/2 pep, sg, x chez?"
"That's the pizza order of the Golden Veil."
He furrows his brow, not fathoming the code. Pizza isn't on the menu at the
monastery. I had my first taste only a month ago.
"Delivery driver may not have been the best cover," I say. "It's easy to get to
Westcott's house, but I can't see much from the front door."
"Make conversation. Have them invite you inside." He offers this advice as if it's
something I wouldn't have come up with on my own. I resist rolling my eyes.
"They would have been suspicious if I asked too many questions early on," I say.
"Now they're used to me. It'll be easier to gain their trust."
I sound like I have some grand strategy. I'm clueless as to how to talk my way into
the Golden Veil meeting house. The monks have trained me endless hours for
combat, but never spent a single minute training me to make small talk. I know the
true names of 3,333 angels, their realms and principalities, but don't know the
name of a single professional sports team. Bill Westcott, the leader of the Golden
Veil, gave me an opening on my second trip to his house. There was a football
game on in the living room and he asked what team I rooted for. My brain locked
up. All I know about football is that it's the sport where the ball isn't round.
"We're running out of time," says Brother Anthony. "It's two weekends until
Halloween, and we still don't know which of hell's minions the Golden Veil plans
"I'll go back next Saturday. They always order pizza. If they're up to something,
I'll find out."
"You used the word, 'if,'" says Brother Anthony.
I cringe, anticipating a scolding.
"Crystal, our success depends on your unwavering faith. You cannot doubt for
even a moment that your cause is just! These men will unleash a terrible evil into
the world if you aren't vigilant."
He doesn't look convinced.
My window-ghost isn't convinced either.