December is here, and this very strange year is almost over. This story appeared on the Hagstone Publishing website a few years back. Since Hagstone is no longer with us, I thought I would bring the stories I wrote for the website home to my personal website to share with you all. I'll probably add one a month until they are all back home with me.
Shelby saw her first angel the night her father died. She was ten years old.
The heart attack was nothing like the ones in the movies. Father didn't clutch his arm, or choke, or seize up. He just looked at Mother and said her name once, then pitched forward into his plate of boxed macaroni and cheese with peas and tuna, something Shelby would never eat again.
Mother screamed and lunged for the phone, and the angel appeared behind father's chair.
It was a fierce thing, with wings of shadows and steel, and it filled the room with a scent like clove cigarettes and cold metal. Shelby wasn't sure it was really an angel, but she couldn't allow herself to imagine anything else coming for her father.
"Is daddy dead?" she asked it.
Its frightful, bottomless eyes fixed on her face, and it lifted one long finger to its lips.
Across the room, the phone at her ear, Mother did the same, and Shelby understood Mother couldn't see it.
In Sunday School a week after the funeral, the teacher read a story about angels. She showed a picture of a woman in a white dress with soft, feathered wings, and Shelby said, "That's not what angels look like."
"Have you seen one?" the teacher asked. Her voice was thick with contemptuous laughter.
Two weeks later a therapist told Shelby the visitor had been a hallucination brought on by the shock of seeing her father fall dead into his dinner. Shelby was afraid to argue. When weeks passed with no further delusions, Shelby's mother stopped talking about medication. They never spoke of the visitor again. In a few months Shelby stopped cringing whenever she saw a shadow.
Years later, she walked home from school on a spring afternoon. The white-blooming cherry trees along the sidewalk buzzed with bees. The sky seemed farther away than it should be, the blue nearly obscured by a fine frosting of cloud. She was thinking about Nancy Cartwright’s lips.
Nancy smelled like nag champa incense and tasted like vanilla lip gloss. Shelby had never liked incense before, but now she was thinking about buying some. Nancy’s mom said it smelled like a bunch of damn hippies in Nancy’s room, but paid for the incense anyway. Shelby's mom would never do anything like that.
Shelby was lucky the cars crashed into each other before she reached the intersection. She wouldn’t have remembered to look both ways before crossing, because she was thinking about standing under the bleachers and kissing Nancy while the cheerleaders practiced forming a human pyramid at the edge of the football field.
The horrible squeal-screech-crash sound of metal succumbing to the laws of physics yanked her from her reverie, and she stumbled to a stop at the curb. A small silver car — a Toyota, maybe, or a Honda — had collided head-on with a Subaru Outback. Lacy shadows from the cherry trees danced over the twisted, crushed metal. The sunlight glinted off thousands of shards of broken glass scattered across the asphalt. Shelby felt a sting on her cheek and reached up. A tiny bead of glass fell away, and a drop of blood reddened her fingertip. She thought, vaguely, how if it wasn’t for safety glass she’d be bleeding more.
Then a looming form darkened the air above the cars.
In the years since her father's death, Shelby had changed her mind about god plenty of times, and had finally settled on letting deity remain a mystery for other people to worry about. But she'd never changed her mind about the angel, no matter what the therapist and her Sunday School teacher had said. She knew real when she saw it, and this dark, sharp, frightful spirit was more real than real. The question of who else could see it had no bearing on its reality. It also had no effect on the shivers of terror that raced over her body, icing her skin despite the balmy afternoon.
She wanted to look away, to run and hide. She could only look at the angel.
She was sure this wasn’t the same one who had come for her father, though it too was stitched of darkness and power. There was something different about this angel's eyes: sorrow, maybe, or pity. This angel, too, raised a finger to its lips. She nodded once. She had learned her lesson after her father’s death; she would never tell anyone again. The creature leaned into the car, somehow, and pulled something out - a pale shadow, formless as fog. The angel and the shade vanished, and Shelby realized the driver of the little silver car hadn’t survived the crash. She was trembling head to foot, so hard her knees buckled. She landed on her butt on the curb.
She realized one driver was still alive. She called 911.
She’d known when she entered school she would have to face the angels again, probably many times. She’d decided it was worth it. Two weeks into her first residency as a nurse, Shelby had been waiting for this moment with dread.
Harry was dying, and he was afraid. She held his hand, and he squeezed hers tight, fear lending his wasted hands more strength than he'd had in days. Shelby was afraid too, because she knew the angel - or whatever it was - would come for him.
For Harry’s sake, she forced herself not to flinch when the tenebrous spirit cast its gloom over the bed.
It did not raise its finger to its lips, and understanding flooded through her. She squeezed the dying man's hand, gently, and forced herself to smile.
“It’s okay, Harry,” she said softly, before she could even think. “Can you see it? There’s an angel here to take you home.”
Harry’s shuddering stopped. For the first time, Shelby realized, someone believed her, probably because he needed to.
He stared at her with wide eyes and said, "I'm afraid."
She squeezed his hand. “It’s okay,” she said again. “He’ll take care of you. He’s beautiful.”
And she realized it was true.
story ©Michelle Simkins, 2017
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