Authors: A.J. Norris
Amalya’s fingers splayed out beside her and smoothed over something soft and silky. Her eyelids snapped open, but she couldn’t focus. Something stroked her hair. A white curtain framed her face. Had everything been a nightmare?
“Where am I?”
She blinked. Once. Twice. Three times. The force of gravity had changed. Either that or she’d been paralyzed. “Uh,” she gasped.
“Shhh. It’s okay. You’re safe.”
Elliott’s face came into focus. His long platinum blond hair hung down creating a private world for them. Amalya took a deep breath. Cedar. Fresh lemons. Lavender.
“Am I alive?”
“Yes and no. The good news is we’re out of Netherworld.” He eased his back against an ugly couch.
Amalya didn’t hear anything past ‘yes.’ She smiled. “Really? I’m alive? I’m alive.” She clutched his hand, and with his assistance she sat up a little, getting an instant head rush. She used both his hands to steady herself. Something prevented her from getting her torso fully vertical.
Glancing over her shoulder, she sighed. Oh, that. She still had wings. Moaning, she let herself fall back against the green plaid couch.
Lying on her back, she looked up. A faint yellow water spot stained the ceiling where it and the paneled wall met. The paneling from a decorator’s perspective was atrocious, but it had a certain warmth. She glanced around the tiny room which must be an apartment based upon the layout of the place. In addition to the crappy sofa, there was only enough space for a coffee table and one sad looking brown chair with a lever to raise the footrest. Cut out of the wall opposite where she laid was a pass-through to a galley kitchen. There was also a hallway off the room that she assumed led to a bedroom or two. Oh, boy.
Amalya turned her head expecting to see the back of the sofa, but instead of cushions, there was a wall. A gap existed between the seat cushions and the backrest.
This is a weird couch.
Elliott sighed softly. “It’s for wings.”
“What?” She looked up at him.
“The hole in the couch.” He had a distant expression on his face. He began chewing on his fingernails.
“Oh.” She remembered he no longer had any. “Will they grow back?”
“I don’t know,” he whispered between bites.
“Can you, um, er, ask someone?”
“Yes, can you ask G-G—?”
A bit of nail was blown across the room.
“We call him Deus. And no, I didn’t ask.”
“Because you don’t ask Him these things.”
She furrowed her brow. “You’re supposed to be able to ask Him for things, right?”
He sighed again. “Amalya, just leave it alone. Please.”
“Did the wounds heal?”
“No. Not completely.” He leaned forward and put his elbows on his knees.
“Well, that’s a good sign right?”
He chuckled in exasperation. “Amalya…just stop. I don’t want to talk about it.”
She sighed. “All right. How’d we get out of Hell or Netherworld, or whatever that place is called?”
“You were there.” Another one of Elliott’s nails went flying.
“Why won’t you just tell me? I didn’t see anything after I passed out. Wait, shit, did I die?”
“You were already dead.”
“Just not spiritually. Yeah, I get it,” she said.
“No one can die spiritually. That’s a load of crap. You can lose your sense of self though. Your body, I guess is a better way of putting it. Even when demons are ‘killed spiritually,’ it’s just their body turning to ash. But their soul lingers and can never be redeemed. It can never leave Netherworld.”
“Aba wanted to do that to you?” She looked at the yellow stain on the ceiling. Anything would be better than watching him propel bits of fingernail across the room.
He scrunched up half his face and tilted his head. “You, actually.”
“Then how come, if I was the intended target, did we get free?”
“Because you thought the target was me. You saved me. Abaddon was trying to trick you.”
“I seem to making a habit of saving people. I’m a real hero. And just look at how far it’s gotten me.” She moaned.
Oh my God, Abaddon was short for Aba. That liar.
“All things considered, you made out all right, but you have some work to do.”
“Work? Are you kidding me? I’m dead, remember?”
Elliott laughed. The sound could only be described as rich. “Deus made a deal with the Devil for your soul.”
Oh, is that all? Great.
“But I saved an angel’s life.” She winked.
His reaction surprised her. He blushed. But it faded quickly.
“I know, but when you,” he let out a breath, “when you…”
“When I what?”
“When you were
Abaddon, he poisoned you with Taint.”
Her eyes widened. “
“It’s hard to explain.” He looked at his hands, examining the nails.
Amalya watched him. Apparently one of the nails might not be quite short enough. “Well, try me.”
“Taint is Aba’s essence. It stays with you. Everyone lives with a little and it’s manageable for most people. It takes many forms; jealousy, anger, distrust, paranoia. There’s more, although they aren’t pure forms.”
“Why do I get the feeling what I have is pure?”
“Afraid so. You were poisoned directly from the source.”
“But I don’t feel the Taint. I mean—”
“You wouldn’t. It grows stronger over time.”
She suddenly felt protective about them, gathering them in close to her body. Taint had caused them to grow. She sensed Elliott’s eyes on her.
“Your wings are beautiful. I wanted to touch them as soon as I saw them.”
She flushed. The thought of him touching them made her shiver. “They’re black.”
“I know.” His eyelids were at half-mast. She could guess what he was thinking and smiled.
“You can touch them if you want.”
Placing a hand on the cushion at her hip, he leaned down. He ran a palm along one of the top arches of her wings. She closed her eyes and moaned, carried away by the new sensation. His touch felt erotic. What was the deal with that? He seemed to enjoy it as much as she did. Then he stopped, got off the couch, and went to gaze out the sliding glass door.
The angel stared outside. When he didn’t move for five minutes, Amalya became curious to see what he was looking at so intently through the glass. She pulled herself to a sitting position. Straightening out her legs, she placed her bare feet on the putrid yellow carpet. When she took a step toward him, she almost tripped over one of the shoes Aba had given her. She looked around for the other pump. It was missing. Damn; she’d liked them too.
She stood beside him about to take her first glimpse of Earth in ten years. The fact that it had only been a couple of days for them didn’t matter; she was nervous. All she could see was an overcast sky, reminding her of the last moments of her life. She had to step closer to the glass to get a better view. The balcony beyond the door-wall was enclosed with a black wrought iron railing. They were up high, maybe on the top floor of a ten or so story building. She expected to see snow on the ground. Instead, grass covered the courtyard below. What had happened to winter?
“I thought you said only ten years had passed? There was snow on the ground when I…”
“Time stands still in Netherworld. Another few hours were wasted in negotiations and two days were…look, you were out of it and had to soak in those healing baths or whatever…” Elliott’s face tightened like someone trying not to cry.
Her eyes widened. Two days equaled ten more years.
It’s been over twenty years?
The look on his face made her forget how much time she’d lost. It didn’t seem important anymore. “Are you okay?” Amalya asked.
“Just tired. I need some sleep.”
“It’s fine if you’re—”
“Please…I’m so tired.” Without saying any more, he turned and left the room.
She followed him into the kitchen.
He took a knife out of the butcher block, twirled it on his palm, point down. “Elliott, whatever you’re thinking. Don’t.”
The knife clanged into the stainless steel sink. Grabbing the edge of the basin and counter, he roared. No words, only sorrow and regret in the form of noise.
Amalya’s body heat warmed Elliott from behind. When her hands snaked around his waist, he stiffened. “I…” his breath caught, “this isn’t a good—”
“Relax. It’s just a hug.” She flattened a cheek between his shoulder blades. A white t-shirt covered his scars. “Is there somewhere we can lie down? I’m tired too.”
She released him and took his hand. “Where? Show me.”
He faced her. “Amalya, this isn’t…”
She smiled and mouthed,
“It’s just we have work to do.”
was the one who had work. And I say we both need sleep first. Whatever it is can wait.”
He groaned but led her down a hall to a closed door. They stopped and he knocked.
“What?” a groggy man’s voice asked.
“Need the room. Tired.” Elliott was about to say something else when the door opened.
The angel standing inside the bedroom looked them up and down starting with their feet. Elliott had talked to the other angel when he first arrived at the apartment. They were both surprised and happy to see each other. Elliott had practically dropped Amalya, forgetting for a second he was carrying her. For over twenty years, Elliott’s best friend, Joelle, had waited for his return. Elliott had expected things to change between them, but he was still the same old Joelle, a straight up smart-ass.
“Okay, here you go, don’t get your panties in a twist.” Joelle stood aside to allow Elliott and Amalya to enter the bedroom.
“Grumpy,” the white winged angel said examining Amalya’s wings. “I’ve never seen black before, well, there was that
“Who are you?” she said, glowering at him.
“No one,” Elliott answered.
“Someone’s cranky. Is that how you introduce your best friend?” The other angel shook his head and stuck out his hand. “Joelle.”
“Amalya.” She offered her hand to shake, but Joelle brought her knuckles to his lips instead. An awkward grimace appeared on his face. His eyes locked on her.
Elliott sneered at him.
Joelle let her hand go.
Elliott edged her behind him. “Don’t. Touch. Her.” He poked a finger into the other angel’s chest with each word. He’d noticed Joelle eyeing her since they’d arrived and he didn’t like it.
Joelle raised his hands in front of him. “Take it easy, man. What’s your problem?”
“I don’t have a problem. Just don’t touch her. She’s—”
“Hey. I can hear, you know.” Amalya said.
The angels ignored her.
Joelle’s brows raised. “Well that ain’t good.”
“No shit, Sherlock. What was your first clue?”
They both smirked at each other after a tense moment of chest puffing.
Joelle’s taut posture eased. “Listen, man, you know I have your back. And I didn’t tell you before, but I’m sorry about—”
say it.” Elliott’s voice caught.
Joelle took a deep breath. “I forgot earlier, but Deus wanted me to give you something. He said you’d know why.” He produced a pair of black ridged spiral horns from the side pocket of his cargo pants and handed them to Elliott. The winged angel left down the hallway without another word.
“Um, what was that all about? I’m tainted?” Amalya’s eyes were wide and her hands were spread out in question.
“We talked about this already.” Elliott ushered her inside the room, shutting the door behind him. There were two additional doors inside the bedroom; he walked toward the walk-in closet and opened the door. He groped around in the dark until he found the pull-chain for the light bulb. The bare bulb was bright; he averted his eyes until they adjusted. Up on the shelf above the clothing rod, he located a Nike shoe box. The contents clanged as he pulled it down. He flipped the lip open and tossed Aza’zel’s horns on top of the many others.
Elliott put the box back where he found it and shut the light off. When he turned to exit the closet, Amalya was standing at the doorway staring at him.
“What are you going to do with those?” she asked, breaking the silence.
He brushed past her and sat down on the bed.
She gaped at him with arms crossed over her chest. “Elliott?”
“What? You said you wanted to lie down. Do it.”
Amalya huffed. “But I thought I was
“Do you want to rest or not?”
“Are you sure? I might
“Not the first time.”