Authors: A.J. Norris
Located in an affluent suburb of metro Detroit lived the man Brandon would murder. The 9mm remained under the passenger seat of his car. He had purchased rounds for the cold steel. They remained in the center console. Looking back on his life up until now, he could pinpoint the exact moment his life turned to shit. It wasn’t because of being orphaned as a baby or growing up in shitty foster homes with people who did it for the check, not that he thought all foster parents were the same. Nope. It was the moment Reed had happened. Brandon couldn’t help but feel the bastard got what he deserved. Hoped he was rotting in Hell too. A therapist he’d opened up to once told him there were special places for people who committed crimes against children, after their deaths. Sounded like a cliché, but nonetheless he hoped it was true. She was also the same person who told him all things happen for a reason, that God had a plan for everyone.
Until recently, a series of shrinks over the years had convinced him he’d made up what happened on the side of the highway, because the truth had been too terrifying for his mind to handle. Now, he wasn’t sure what to believe. He wasn’t even sure he had seen Amalya earlier. She looked differently than he remembered. Of course, twenty years had passed, including a lot of time spent in denial.
Sitting in his car on an unlit street across from the address he’d been given for hours would not get him debt free, it only made his butt numb. A light came on in the house at the top of the staircase. From the large windows in the front of the house, he saw someone walk down the steps, likely on their way to the kitchen for a glass of water. The man wore plaid pajamas.
Brandon rubbed his face with his palms. A few minutes later the dude went back up the stairs and the light switched off. As far as he could tell the man was married. There didn’t appear to be any children living in the home. He was grateful for that, but the wife would be a problem.
He started the car and drove away. Tomorrow he was going to check out the neighborhood.
Brandon arrived home and pulled into the garage. Before getting out of the car, he felt around under the seat for the gun. He decided not to leave the weapon concealed in case the police pulled him over and wanted to search the vehicle. It probably wasn’t going to happen since he obeyed the traffic laws like his life depended on it. He didn’t have a license.
His hand grazed over something. Feeling around on the carpet, he felt it again, snatching the silky textured object between his fingers. He brought the object up. It was a black feather.
Wind blew across the cornfield giving Joelle the lift he needed for a few precious seconds of frantic wing flapping. They swooped down. Elliott held on tight to Joelle’s jeans. Stalks whipped him in the face.
“Told you I was tired,” Joelle laughed.
“Just get out…ah, God…of…ah! Asshole!”
When they finally cleared the top of the crop, Joelle hollered, “Yahoooooo!”
Elliott couldn’t help but laugh himself, even though he was scratched to shit and had pieces of corn stalk stuck in his hair.
Joelle took them to a clearing in the middle of the field. Elliott dropped to the ground with a huge grin on his face.
“Admit it. That was
some,” Joelle said as he slowed his wings and landed.
Elliott shook head, still smiling. “You’re crazy, you know that?”
“Yeah, I know. Let’s
do that again.” The wide eyed look said it all. Joelle absolutely hadn’t done that on purpose.
Elliott knelt on the ground, picking up handfuls of dirt and tossing them aside. He sensed Joelle’s eyes on him. “She took off.”
“Figured.” Joelle put a hand on his shoulder. “I’m
going to ask what happened.”
“Of course not. I’d tell you about it if I wanted to.”
“Fucker.” Elliott blew out a breath. “My head’s not right…”
Joelle held up a palm. “Wait. We need our brethren for this. You need to commune.”
“Ordinarily, I’d disagree with you. I think you might actually be right though. This time.”
Elliott and Joelle teleported (Amalya had called it “poofing”) to the private gathering for angels in the greater Detroit area located in the basement of Eternity. The only way into the private gathering place was via a special elevator. They entered the lobby and he recognized the angel named Gregory.
“Good eve—oh my God, Elliott?”
What happened to your wings?
was implied, though not said aloud. “I haven’t seen you in twenty years or more, I’d say.” Tears welled in the Gregory’s eyes.
Elliott could do without the empathy, especially since it wasn’t about the number of years.
“Is Maxwell around?” Joelle asked, saving Elliott.
“Um…yes. He’s in the back.” Gregory sniffled.
meant he was getting his knob waxed by a talented rarely seen female angel. It was the only time Max went to their home realm, Arcadia. He didn’t do human sex; he didn’t want to risk pregnancy. Female angels didn’t normally reproduce, as they were warrior class.
As Elliott and Joelle made their way past the lobby and into their private haven, Elliott noted the décor had changed somewhat in the years he’d been gone. Purple was the mainstay color now. Tapestries of beautiful angels and demons warring hung on the walls. Lush carpet lined either side of a polished brick walkway. Guardian, Redeemer, and Soaper angels lounged on backless overstuffed sofas.
Elliott’s stomach growled upon walking past the length of a banquet-sized feast. He stopped to pick at the cut-fruit display—flowers made from cantaloupe, surrounded by strawberries, pineapple, grapes, and melon.
Joelle noticed his friend was no longer at his side.
Elliott shook his head. “Naw. Tell Max I’ll meet him out here.”
Joelle walked toward the set of French doors that led to their realm and disappeared into the mist, returning almost immediately with Max. In reality there was no telling how long Joelle had actually been gone. The doorway acted as a time machine. Anyone who entered Arcadia through the portal returned to almost the same moment in Earth time in which they had left.
“Holy crap-balls. Joelle told me, but…man, Elliott, from the way he described, I thought you’d be missing some feathers or at the least have stumps. There’s
left,” Max said.
The acute ache returned. Elliott’s heart throbbed. He didn’t bother concealing his sobs in the presence of Maxwell the Healer. The angel had dyed hair, usually a different color each week, and this week it was hot pink and he wore fake fur leopard spotted pants. No shirt. And black platform boots. Some things never changed.
Max ran a hand over Elliott’s fleshy gashes. “Man…ah.” He face-palmed. “I dunno.”
“Haven’t you ever seen anything like this before?” Joelle asked. He caught Elliott, who wavered on his feet, by the elbows and held him up.
“Yeah, they did it themselves. Wanted to. As far as I know, their wings never grew back.”
“Fallen right? And they did it themselves. Isn’t that different?” Joelle spoke for Elliott. The wingless angel continued to tremble.
“Um, interesting. That might be something. I’ll have to check into that and get back with you.”
“The wounds haven’t healed,” Elliott whispered.
“What?” Max asked with concern in his expression.
“They haven’t healed yet.”
“Could be a good sign. I’ll keep you abreast of anything I find out.” Max cuffed the Redeemer on the shoulder. “I sense there’s more troubling you, same as before.” Elliott nodded.
Max placed a hand on each side of Elliott’s face, cupping his lower jaw. No ceremonial eye closing or deep breathing for this guy. A yellow glow emanated through the back of Max’s hands and Elliott felt his cheeks warming. A tingling sensation traveled up to the top of his head and down to his toes. Sensual would be the only way to describe the feeling, although there wasn’t anything sexual about it. He tilted his head back and moaned. Then the sensation was gone.
“I have removed as much of the Taint from your trip to Netherworld as I could. You’ll have to find a way to be stronger than what’s left.”
Joelle let go and Elliott sagged to the floor on his knees, his body curled over his thighs, with his hands and arms protecting his head.
Amalya found herself in the woods. When she left Elliott, she concentrated on Aba. She needed to find out the name of the soul he’d selected. The Brandon situation overwhelmed her. It was too hard and much too intense to deal with.
Looking around, she wasn’t at all surprised. Spooky forest in the middle of the night. Creepy. Just like him.
“Aba!” Leaves rustled behind her. She spun.
His low, rumbling, sinister laugh sounded next to her ear. She turned around again. No one was there.
“My God, will you quit that?” Although she was disturbed by the theatrics, she didn’t want him to know. She swallowed hard.
The beast pawed the ground, kicking dirt and twigs behind him. “There’s no shock you have come crawling back.”
“Am I crawling? And I’m not
“Aren’t you?” He came up close so she had to look up at him. Stepping back, she noticed the lack of clothing on his part. Or parts.
She looked away quickly.
This was a mistake.
That stupid laugh again.
“I called you because—”
He raised a clawed hand to silence her. “I already know why, Amalya.”
The three-quarter moon shone through the treetop canopy, creating an eerie cast on Aba’s skin.
“Get on your knees!” Birds or something with the capacity for flight took off out of the nearby trees.
“What? No way.” She curled her wings around her as if they would shield her.
“If you want the name of the soul, you’ll beg.”
Her head swam.
He stood behind her again, stroking her feathers. Then pain like a needle prick. The feather he stole was waved in front of her face. “Thisss, I will keep,” he hissed.
Her heart pounded and her emotions didn’t feel like her own. Again. She needed to fight whatever hold he had on her mind.
“That’s mine,” she said without conviction.
“I gave you these wings. If not for me, you wouldn’t have them. Remember this. Always.” He plucked another one. She winced.
“O-okay.” She slipped away from him.
He grabbed her arm, scratching her in the process, and marched her backward into a wide-trunked oak, mashing her wings against it.
Her hands wrapped around the tree trunk, palms flat. No…wait, she hadn’t done that, he had put them there and held them. But the action seemed like her idea. Clutter filled her mind, thick as a hoarder’s collection in the height of their neurosis.
He dipped his head low, his mouth a breath away from hers. Eyes cobalt blue. “You will be begging,” he breathed. His lips smashed against hers.
Amalya opened her mouth, allowing the beast access, returning his kiss. He softened. She sucked at his bottom lip, lulling him into a trust, then clamped down on it with her teeth biting as hard as she could until she tasted a hint of copper.
The beast grunted and stepped back. A claw came across to slash at her but she ducked. Scrambling away on her hands and knees, the jagged tree branches cut up her knees. If she could just get further away, she could fly…
Unyielding hands grabbed her feathered extensions. “Ahhhh, shit!” Agony lanced through her body as her wings were yanked up by the crests, bending them the wrong way. A bone snapped. “Ow, ow, ow!” Bile rose and she gagged. Tears ran down her cheeks. She grappled for anything she could reach to help her as she was dragged toward him. Only loose twigs and dried leaves were scattered on the ground. She tried digging her fingers into the dirt. He picked her up and flipped her over. “Ouch! Ow…ow.” She couldn’t open her eyes for the pain of her cracked wing.
“Look at me!” the beast roared. Spit pelted her face and neck. Her eyes snapped open but with her vision blurred from tears, his face appeared distorted. He was even uglier than she remembered: yellowed fangs; flared nostrils; beady ice-blue eyes; black skin, the color of a chalkboard. His breath was hot and smelled sickeningly sweet, like an alcoholic’s the morning after an all-night binge.
He squeezed her jaw. Sharp fingernails curved into her flesh—blood welled, trickling down the side of her neck. She clutched his wrists in a failed attempt to scratch him deep enough so he would let go. Again, that ominous laugh. A low grumble turned into a cackle.
“You will always be weaker than me.”
“Elliott,” she squeaked.
Cocking his head to the side, he said, “Yes. Where’s that little wuss who needed his
to bail him out?”
Amalya concentrated on Elliott’s features. Those dark eyes, pale hair.
Aba snickered with a gleam in his eyes. “Oh, and before you go, the soul’s name is Damien Stone.” He let go of her and ran off, leaving her shell-shocked and wide-eyed.
Amalya knew this wasn’t the last she’d see of the Devil. This was too easy.