Annihilation: chapter 19

The opening of Chapter 19 of Seven Archangels: Annihilation is the scariest and most violent scene I ever wrote. MindFlights Magazine just posted that chapter in their continuing serialization of the novel.

There will be spoilers if you go on reading. Just so you’re warned.

The chapter consists of two parts, and I deliberately set them in juxtaposition. The second half is the most life-affirming scene in the book, and the first part is all the more terrifying because it throws into high relief the way evil can take something inherently good and turn it toxic.

Chapter 19 opens with Beelzebub “taking care of the problem” with Mephistopheles (as Satan instructed him to do in chapter 17). If you haven’t been reading the entire book and you just want to see “scary” and “violent,” it doesn’t quite have the same impact if you don’t realize they’re a bonded Seraph/Cherub pair, and all along we’ve been seeing from the good guys the power of that kind of bond, how it can empower both and bring both closer to God. Here, Beelzebub uses it like a club.

Mephistopheles isn’t innocent at all; he’s been going along through the entire book thinking of himself and himself only. But he didn’t deserve what happens to him here. It’s not only the violence that’s upsetting; it’s also the lost potential. It’s the heartbreak. It’s the betrayal.

When I wrote this scene, I knew what was going to happen. I’d been reading the “toxic families” forum so I understood the dynamics of a toxic relationship, even though a lot of that never comes to the surface. Normally the Kiddos interrupt me about every ten seconds, so this time, I turned on the TV, went upstairs, plugged in my iPod headphones, put on a Styx playlist. I started writing. At some point, I looked up to find the kids had come up the stairs, seven or eight songs had played, and the scene was finished, but I hadn’t been aware of any time passing.

The second half of the scene shows another Seraph/Cherub bond, one that’s working as God intended. Raphael here is at his best, and his bravery, his calm, and his strength are what make that scene what it is, but also Gabriel’s cooperation in doing the impossible, their pairing, and the absolute trust between the two of them. At the end of it, when there’s that gasp as Gabriel “breaks the surface of reality” and he’s looking right into Raphael’s eyes, that’s my favorite moment in the chapter. Possibly my favorite moment in the novel.