Maggie was still awake, but not because of the man who called himself Adam. In bed, she stared at the ceiling, eyes open wide, because of what happened after.
Unsure what to do with Adam, and unable to find any relatives, she couldn’t even find evidence of his existence: no birth certificate, no matching prints, no driver’s license or hospital records. The psych consult she’d requested never showed up; the doctor she’d spoken to on the phone just laughed when Maggie mentioned that the subject claimed to be almost seven hundred years old.
With few other options and a desperate desire to get home, Maggie put Adam in lockup so he’d have somewhere safe to sleep the night. She told him they’d sort things out first thing in the morning, though she wasn’t entirely sure he understood.
It was on her way out that it happened.
A note had been scribbled on a wrinkled piece of paper and placed under her windshield wiper.
She pulled it free and formed the words with her mouth as she read.
Maggie looked around. What was this? Someone pulling her leg? Who would leave something like this on her car? And don’t let who out of her sight?
It was absurd, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that the note was referring to Adam.
And the ampersand… Was that supposed to be a signature?
She balled up the paper and threw it in a trash bin, deciding it was a dumb joke from one of her coworkers. Or maybe it was some goofball making a prank video for the Internet.
Maggie hadn’t even made it halfway home when she found herself thinking about it again. She tried to push it aside, she didn’t want to think about it or believe it. But she knew.
The note was a warning, and it was about Adam.
Trying to ignore her intuition, she found her mother asleep on the couch with the TV tuned to a game show. A fresh, but cold, plate of food was waiting on the card table where they ate meals. She ignored it and went upstairs to Riley’s room, where she hugged him and held him and talked to him for over an hour. By the time she’d finally gotten him to take his medicine, it was almost 8 o’clock. Maggie tucked him in for the night with a kiss.
She busied herself with other tasks until bedtime, where she ran out of things to distract her from thoughts of Adam. The impossibly tall, bushy and bearded old man down at the lockup. And the strange note attached to her windshield that carried a warning of… something.
Maggie was wide awake at 1:58 when her phone rang.
She sat straight up. A call at this hour could only mean trouble. Something was going down at the station. No one else called this late, and her number was unlisted.
Her heart thudded hard when she looked at the caller ID. It wasn’t work. There was no phone number, and where the caller’s name should have been, there was a single character.
Swallowing hard, she answered the phone. The caller spoke first.
“What do you think you’re you doing?!” said the voice, almost yelling. “I told you not to let him out of your sight!”
The caller was masked behind a voice modulator. Maggie couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman, but they were irate.
“Who is this?” she said.
“Margaret Constance Maguire, he chose you for a reason. Every moment he’s here, he is in danger. We all are.”
Maggie’s chest cramped. Nobody knew her middle name was Constance. She despised the name and refused to use it.
“Who is this?” she demanded, stronger this time.
“The Seven will come. You must protect him.”
“But I–” she stammered.
“Protect him, Maggie. The Seven will come. Protect Adam.”
Maggie had to use her phone to light up the holding cells as she crept in, trying not to wake up the prisoners. Fortunately, the cell she’d placed Adam in was just to the right of the entrance.
She found him sitting on a small bench in his cell alone. His eyes were open, fully awake; he stared at the ceiling, saying things too quietly for her to hear.
Maggie was about to say something when she heard mumbling in the cell across from Adam’s. Dixon was there, passed out on his stomach and jabbering in his sleep.
“Remember…” said Dix in a delirious voice, eyes shut tight. “Doors and boxes and… and remember…”
She glanced back at Adam, who was now staring at Dixon, too, before his eyes met hers.
She whispered, “Hungry?”
Adam said nothing.
“Let’s get you something to eat,” she whispered. Then she added, “We don’t even have to drive this time.”
The bell over the door at Bruno’s Diner spun end-over-end and clanged loudly as they entered. It was an old establishment, just across the street from police headquarters. There were other places to eat in Baltimore that were open twenty-four hours, but this place was a tradition among cops — especially those who worked the graveyard shift.
“Hey Lucy, how’s it going?”
The ponytailed woman behind the counter gave a friendly nod as the smell of gloriously thick grease overpowered Maggie’s senses. The place was small, capable of seating about fifteen or sixteen patrons, its interiors neon and chrome. It wasn’t a tacky/retro thing; it was just old. Bruno’s Diner had been in operation for over seventy years. Lucy was a third generation owner.
Only one of the four tables was occupied — by what appeared to be a couple of college students — and there was an older man eating alone at the counter. The college girls ogled Adam’s strange appearance without subtlety; the man at the bar never looked up from his oatmeal.
Maggie led Adam to a tiny booth at the front window, and she demonstrated the sit-and-slide maneuver needed to enter it. He caught onto this faster than he had getting into the passenger seat of her car. He placed his big walking stick in the seat beside him; Maggie imagined it was a third person joining them at the table, and smiled at her private joke.
Lucy brought them a pair of menus and asked who Maggie’s “friend” was.
“I am Adam,” he said in his stilted, formal intonation before she could reply. As before, he seemed surprised to not be recognized.
Lucy shot Maggie a look and retreated to the kitchen.
Maggie glanced at the menu to be polite, but already knew what she wanted.
“I’m craving a cheesesteak,” she said. “What are you hungry for?”
Adam never showed any interest in his menu. He was taking in their surroundings when she asked her question. He stared at her, confused.
Whether or not Adam was really the Adam — which of course he wasn’t — it was obvious he was used to living off the land. Way off the land.
Everything is so foreign to him, Maggie thought. Has he encountered civilization before? Has he ever ordered food before? Does he know how it works?
“Pick anything you want,” she said, trying to be friendly, and still feeling a little guilty for putting him in lockup when he hadn’t committed any crimes. “This is my treat.”
Adam seemed to consider this. Finally he answered.
“Is it possible to get charred ibex or gazelle?”
Maggie fought the urge to laugh. If it had been anyone else, she would have assumed they were kidding. But this guy… She wasn’t even sure what an ibex was, but she was entirely confident that Bruno’s didn’t have it.
Lucy reappeared, pad in hand.
“I’ll have a cheesesteak and fries. And water,” said Maggie. After glancing at Adam, she added, “Make that two.”
Lucy vanished, and Maggie and Adam sat in silence for a few moments. There was an awkwardness to it, but Maggie still found herself drawn to this man. Not in a romantic or physical way. It wasn’t that simple. There was just something about his presence that was soothing.
“Why are we here, Officer Maggie?” he asked.
She was caught off-guard. She didn’t have a good handle on the answer herself. Why were they here? Guilt? Responsibility? That “Ampersand” person?
When she didn’t answer, Adam added, “The man I am looking for… Might he be found here?”
“Uh, not that I know of. But about that… I might be able to help you find him if you can tell me something about him.”
“He is a man,” said Adam.
“Yeah…” said Maggie, trying not to sigh in his face. This was probably a useless line of questioning. “Is there anything unique to him? Something we could use to identify?”
“He bares a mark on his skin.”
“He does?” Now they were getting somewhere. “Where on his skin?”
“I do not know.”
Now she really did sigh. “Then I don’t see what good it’ll do. Anyway, I just thought you might like something to eat,” she said. “A real meal, not that stuff they serve at the station.”
“You do not believe me,” he said. His tone of voice said this was an argument, a point that invalidated her reasoning.
Maggie thought about disagreeing, but knew immediately that it was pointless. She didn’t know this man; why lie to him?
“No,” she replied. “It’s nothing personal. It’s just… not possible.”
“What about me is ‘not possible,’ Officer Maggie?”
“Call me Maggie.”
“Maggie,” he repeated. “Why do you not believe me?”
Maggie frowned. “Well… no offense, but why should I? I can tell that you believe everything you’re saying. But truthful isn’t the same as factual. I mean, come on — it doesn’t make any sense. Even if I believed in the Garden of Eden and the Bible and stuff… Like, if you really were Adam — the Adam… Well, for one thing, no way would you be speaking English.”
“English,” he repeated.
“Our language,” she tried again. He still didn’t understand. “Our tongue, our speech. The words we’re saying. There are thousands of different ways of talking, from people all over the world—”
“Humans cover all the Earth?” he asked.
“I assumed it would be so, someday,” said Adam. “And now you make these remarkable structures, and move from one to another in ‘vehicles’…”
“Right,” said Maggie. “And people in different parts of the world speak different languages. Like, there are even different forms of English. Why would the Adam of the Bible talk like an American?”
Well, sort of like an American, she thought.
Adam considered her for a moment and then looked away, gathering his thoughts. When he spoke again, the authority and confidence had returned to his voice.
“I do not know what a ‘Bible’ is, or how many years separate us. Yet I have walked across time, from my age to yours. Is this common?”
“What, time travel?” she replied. “No, definitely not.”
“Thus I am the first human being who lived, yet I here am, in this place and time, many years later, sitting with you. And your curiosity is aimed at the tongue I speak?”
Maggie chuckled. “Fair enough. If time travel were possible, I suppose ‘speaking the language’ of the locals would be less of a challenge. So… say I believe you. You’re Adam. Married to Eve, lived in the Garden of Eden. How did you get here?”
“I walked,” Adam replied.
Maggie started to laugh, but then froze. “You’re serious.”
Adam continued. “It is my custom to walk in the forest at dawn and speak to the Creator. He hears my requests, my desires, my pains, my joys. I hear his commands and his heart.
“As we were talking, I was there, and then I was here. Where I met you.”
“So you’re saying you were brought here. By… what? God?”
“From where else could such power come?”
“And he gave you the ability to speak English?”
“Yes,” said Adam, as if it were obvious.
Maggie absorbed this. She’d never believed in God; the world was too painful and cruel a place for a benevolent God to be real. She saw evidence of that every day. “Adam” wasn’t about to change her mind.
Sure. Why not.
“To what end?” she asked. “Why would God bring you here?”
“As I have said, I am here to find the man with a mark on his skin.”
“What for? And what happens after that?”
Adam again seemed to think the answer was obvious. “After three days have passed, I will be returned to my time.”
Lucy returned with their sandwiches. Adam disassembled his, bread, cheese, and meat, examining and smelling each one individually. Satisfied that whatever this was, it was indeed edible, he put it back together.
As Maggie watched Adam awkwardly pick up his sandwich and sloppily mimic her movements, it occurred to her that it was probably a good thing she hadn’t gotten him something that required utensils to eat. She doubted they had forks or spoons in his time.
Get a grip, Maggie. You sound like you believe him.
At least he was enjoying his sandwich. If his expression was any indication, each bite seemed to put a marvel of modern ingenuity into his mouth.
“May I ask you a question?” said Adam, unconcerned that his mouth was open while he was chewing.
“How long has it been?”
“From my time to now,” he explained.
Maggie let out a long breath and sat back in her seat.
“I guess it depends on what you believe,” she said. “Science tells it one way, religion tells it another. Some believe that God made the world, that Adam and Eve were real, and that it’s only been like, I don’t know, seven thousand or ten thousand years. Scientists say it’s been billions of years since the universe came into existence. They say the story of Adam and Eve is a metaphor, if anything–”
Adam dropped his sandwich on his plate, staring at her with an angry glare.
“You have not the right to decide what is fact,” he said, his voice raising a notch in volume.
Maggie backpedaled. “It’s just their opinion—”
“Opinion,” Adam echoed. “Is it also an opinion that we are in this ‘building,’ eating this meal?”
Maggie thought fast. “Okay, sure… Opinions aren’t relevant to some things.”
“And what are those things?”
Maggie suddenly had the feeling she was back in college, being questioned by a stern professor.
“You know… The stuff around us,” she said. “What we can prove is real. We can’t prove what happened at the dawn of time because nobody alive today was there to see it.”
“I was,” replied Adam. “I watched every creature come into existence. I gave each one its name. I smelled the aroma of the first flowers to ever bloom. The first blades of grass tickled my toes as I walked upon them. Is it a story that these events happened, or is it history?”
Maggie was silent, unwilling to say.
“My existence is not defined by your belief,” he said. “Her opinion of me—” he pointed at Lucy, behind the counter, “—is irrelevant. Their thoughts—” he pointed at the college students across the diner, “—about who and what I am mean nothing. I am real. I am a fact. I am sitting before you. Eating the same food as you. Talking to you at this moment.”
Wow. Okay, he’s not an idiot.
“People tend to stop believing in what they can’t see with their own eyes,” she said. “In my experience, that’s why people don’t believe in God.”
Over Adam’s shoulder, Maggie noticed two sets of eyes were watching them. The college girls across the diner, in their own booth, had stopped talking. Maggie got the impression that they were straining their ears to listen.
“So for your people,” Adam said, “what is ‘real’ is what can be proven?”
“I guess so. Yeah.”
Adam’s expression darkened, his eyebrows bunched and his eyes racing back and forth across the table. He appeared to have lost all interest in eating.
“Tell me of ‘religion’ and these ‘scientists’ you spoke of…”
Maggie thought about how to explain it to someone who’d never heard of either. That was quickly becoming a habit. She tried to remember what her philosophy professor had taught her.
“Religion is a belief system. It tries to explain matters of the soul. And what may be waiting for us after death. Science explains the natural world. I think scientists define it as something like ‘the observable rules that govern the universe.’ Science is about the physical, religion is about the spiritual.”
“Then they are both belief systems,” said Adam, defiant. “The physical and spiritual inevitably lead to God.”
Maggie hesitated. His beliefs weren’t going to be swayed no matter what she said, but how could she make him understand the realities of the 21st Century? “Scientists don’t take the stories of God literally. The things they observe from nature prove evolution.”
“Evolution,” he repeated. It was a foreign term.
Maggie nodded. “It’s a scientific law — or maybe a theory, I forget — that says every living thing came into being slowly, evolving from one form of life to another. We started as single-cell—” she caught herself, and regrouped, “—um, as tiny creatures, smaller than you can see. I’m not an expert, but as I understand it, from there we evolved into fish, and then lizards or something, and then apes, and then we became humans. All of this took billions of years. And life came billions of years after the Big Bang — this huge eruption in space that everything came out of.”
Adam was staring at her as if she’d sprouted fur and was chewing on an acorn. Uncomfortable at his gaze, Maggie turned away.
Behind the counter, Lucy jumped and began writing on her order pad. Had she been listening too?
It was a few minutes before Adam said anything, but he never stopped looking at her as he thought.
“In the years since my time, people have decided that God did not create them, that I am a fantasy, and that they used to be monkeys?”
Maggie shrugged. “Well…”
Adam looked away, through the diner’s window. “The Deceiver has been busy,” he concluded.
Those stunningly blue eyes of his were deeply troubled. Maggie couldn’t decide if he was sad or angry as he examined the streets and buildings and lights and the world beyond the booth where they sat. Trying to imagine what he was thinking made her head hurt, so she took another bite of her sandwich while he processed.
“What do you believe, Maggie?” Adam asked.
She gave a tiny shrug and sighed. “I don’t know…”
“You do,” said Adam. “Speak plainly.”
Maggie had trouble meeting his gaze now, so many thoughts pouring through her mind.
You really want to know what I think?
“I have a son. Riley. He’s five. And he’s sick. He’s been sick for most of his life. I would do anything for him, give anything to make him better…”
No, stop it. She wouldn’t cry, wouldn’t let the despair take hold of her, not here in front of a total stranger who was probably a crazy person.
“I believe in him,” she finally said, swallowing. “He’s everything I live for.”
Adam was sensitive, she had to give him that much. He seemed to grasp instantly that this was a difficult subject, and the compassion on his face was profound. She appreciated his silence while she regained composure, beating those raw emotions back down where they belonged.
“The child’s father…?” Adam asked gently.
Maggie shook her head. “Ian. He’s out of the picture. He was in the military — it’s like, a big group of soldiers — and he went overseas, to another country, to fight in a war. He was great, really fun, charming, he cared about me. But the war changed him. He had sort of a sickness from the bad things he experienced during the war. Riley was born while Ian was away, and when he came back, he had panic attacks every time he got near the baby. I think a part of him felt guilty for missing his son’s birth. It all got to be too much for him, and he’s… He’s not part of our lives anymore.”
Maggie looked up. There was such compassion exuding from Adam, it was overwhelming. Looking at him made her feel more emotional than before.
Desperate to change the subject, she said, “You probably don’t even know what war is, huh?”
His expression shifted ever so slowly. “Eve and I once witnessed a great battle. A conflict without equal.”
“Without equal, really?”
Adam took a deep breath and sat back, settling into his seat. “Life in the Garden was very different than life after. When I say that it was peaceful, I do not mean it as you think of it now. Everything — the animals, trees, insects, the air, the oceans, everything the Creator made — had a purpose, working together as a single, perfect system. All was in balance. There was not a single flaw.”
The entire diner had fallen silent as Adam spoke; no clanging silverware or dishes, no chewing of food. She couldn’t even hear anyone breathing, including herself.
“One night, after darkness fell, Eve and I experienced fear for the first time. Night in the garden meant a pure stillness. It was… impossible to describe. The animals slept when we slept, so there was a beautiful silence when we rested. Until it started.”
“Until what started?” asked Lucy, still at the counter.
“Howling,” said Adam, rubbing his fingers along the worn bark of his walking stick. “Whining. Growls. Hissing and chirping. It was happening together, louder and faster than we’d ever heard it. The animals were frightened. Terrified.
“Eve pointed at the sky. It was always clear in the Garden. After we left, we never saw such views again. We could view eternity. Countless points of starlight, filling the dark sky, illuminating the world with a soft glow. We could see to the farthest reaches of creation. It was breathtaking, and I never grew tired of it.
“This night, we watched as great flashes of light filled the sky. Smaller flashes streaked across the horizon. Fire fell to the Earth.”
Maggie felt as if a spell had been cast, and it was impossible to look away from Adam’s face or tune out his magnificent voice.
“We hid in a grove of bushes as the bursts of light grew brighter, their intensity blinding. Back and forth flew great, branching sparks of light. In our daily conversations with the Creator, nothing like this had ever been spoken of. It was as if all of creation was being violently ripped apart. I held Eve tightly, and she clung to me, but we said nothing. We cried together as we watched in terror. We were so different then… So pure…”
Adam’s wistful voice trailed off for a moment as he was lost in thought. But only for a moment.
“We cried because the stars were disappearing, one by one,” he said, his throat constricting and growing softer as he relived the moment in his mind. “Hundreds of stars. Maybe thousands of them. They went dark, and never shone again.
“But the Creator heard our cries, and spoke to us. ‘From the moment I breathed life into you, you have trusted me to provide everything you need. Trust me now. Rest deeply this night. By morning, all will be well.’ I wanted to ask him what was happening, what we were seeing. But I immediately slipped into a blissful sleep, just as he had said. When we awoke the next day, the world was at peace once more.”
“So what was it?” asked one of the college girls in little more than a whisper.
Maggie turned and saw that they had moved to the counter, sitting on stools beside the old man, who had also spun in his seat to listen.
“Yeah, why did the stars go out?” the other girl asked.
“Many years later, long after we were removed from the Garden, the Creator told me of a war that had long ago been waged across the heavens. One of his angels had led a revolt, because he believed himself equal to the Creator who made him. He was cast out of Heaven by the Creator, and took his followers with him. I cannot say if that was the terrible thing we saw in the sky that night, but I believe it to be so.”
“Why didn’t you just ask your Creator if that’s what it was?” croaked the old man at the bar, scowling.
Adam looked at him for a moment in silence. “I do not question him. Some knowledge comes at too dreadful a cost. That is a mistake I will not make a second time.”
Some knowledge? Was he talking about the “forbidden fruit” or whatever it was?
Meh. He may have been a great storyteller — mesmerizing, even — but Maggie still wasn’t buying that he was the Adam of the Bible. Even so… She couldn’t dismiss outright how tantalizing a notion it was, that he had memories from the beginning of time. If it were true, what an amazing thing it would be. Historians would have a field day…
Maggie was so lost in thought she didn’t notice Adam playing with his food. He was arranging two long pieces of bread crust on his plate the way you might arrange jigsaw puzzle pieces.
“What’s that?” she asked.
“This is the marking on the man I search for. Do you know it?”
Adam spun his paper place mat to face her, and Maggie blinked.
It was a seven.
The Seven will come.
Maggie opened her eyes. She was on her back, on the floor, staring into the face of a concerned Lucy and Adam. A high-pitched scream was coming from somewhere.
She gasped and swallowed, and realized the scream was coming from her own mouth.
“What happened?” she asked, and it came back to her as she said the words.
That horrible, horrible face…
She trembled as Adam’s vice-like grip lifted her slowly off the ground and smoothly placed her back in the booth.
“Are you alright, honey?” asked Lucy.
Maggie nodded and Lucy ran off to retrieve something from the kitchen.
“You saw something — it was behind me — and you collapsed on the ground, screaming,” Adam explained. His manner was kind but his face stern. “Maggie… What did you see?”
“I, uh…” she began, trying to find the words. She wiped at her cheeks, finding tears there. “It was a… a figure. Arms and legs and a head like a person, but… it was like a dark black shadow. Or a silhouette. No details except its face—”
She shuddered hard, and Adam placed a calm, strong hand on hers, atop the table. After a few moments, her trembling stopped.
“It—it had eyes and a wicked smile, both made of fire. The smile went across its whole face. It was the most awful thing I’ve ever seen. It was there, right there, and it was staring into me. Like it knew me. And it wanted me afraid.” She pointed at a spot just inches over Adam’s right shoulder, quivering again.
Adam turned his head to look; of course there was nothing. She’d only glimpsed it for a split second. But she hadn’t imagined it. She could never have imagined anything so horrid.
Lucy returned with a cold, wet towel.
“Sound crazy?” said Maggie.
“It does not,” said Adam, grim.
Maggie tried to force the image of that terrible smile out of her head. “Then what was it?”
Adam stared at her with new eyes. “The Deceiver is busy.”