Authors: Adrienne Kress
Tags: #Young Adult, #Fantasy, #Romance, #Juvenile Fiction / Paranormal
A Division of Diversion Publishing Corp.
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New York, New York 10016
Copyright © 2013 by Adrienne Kress
Cover designed by Adrienne Kress and Clarice Thornton
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.
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First Diversion Books edition June 2013.
They come out of the sky and take you.
Everyone knows that.
Why? Nobody could answer that one. Not really. Not when you thought about it. Sure the conclusion was that it was a Glory, but what happened after they came, after they took, after they left? No one could say for sure.
The first time it happened, it freaked everyone out. This was god-fearing land. It said so right on the town sign. You knew the second you passed into our community that this was a god-damned god-fearing place.
I’d always wondered if it was maybe ’cause we feared god so much that they came.
Anyway, the people here couldn’t understand why they came when folks went to church every Sunday. Everyone blamed everyone else. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, though. Well, as far as I could tell.
They’d started coming six years ago, just that one day, just after the sun had set. They came, they took, they left. They scared the shit out of everyone. When they came the next year, same day, same time and everything, that’s when people started thinking there might be more going on. That’s when the church went up. I mean, we’d always had churches here, but the other church was built. The one devoted to them.
The Church of the Angels.
See, people were conflicted, and the only way to reconcile it all was to see it as a Glory. It couldn’t be that we were being punished. I mean, some had speculated exactly that—that those who were taken were bad. But then someone pointed out that Georgia Banks had been taken. There was just nothing about Georgia Banks that was sinful.
Then a newcomer, a man by the name of Pastor Warren, explained it to us. He pointed out how god-fearing the town was and that maybe this was all a holy blessing or something. I mean, they’re angels, right? And they take them straight up, right? It wasn’t like they were going…you know…down. Maybe we were looking at it all wrong.
And the new church went up.
Pastor Warren saw to it that the church went up.
People went to the new church because they claimed they wanted to thank the angels for choosing us. They claimed it was to pray that next time they could be taken too. But that just wasn’t the way of it at first. In the beginning they went to the church and prayed to be left alone. They left offerings and hoped that if they said just the right thing the angels would let them stay on this earth some time longer.
The third year there was a celebration. Instead of locking ourselves in our homes, windows boarded up like some hurricane was blowing our way, we all made our way out to the gazebo in Codghill Park. It was like Fourth of July, banners blowing, fireworks and everything. Hot dogs. And the little kids playing carnival games. When the time came and we couldn’t be sure for sure they’d come again, we stood and waited and looked up into the sky. The silence was meant to be reverential, but I could feel the terror. The dogs could feel it too, twitchy and howling, yanking on their leashes. Buster broke clear off his chain, and Buster was such a good dog most of the time.
Then there was a scream, and Bernie Wilcox went flying into the sky. He was the first they grabbed that year. We saw the shadow behind him, thick arms wrapped tightly around his chest, and wings that spread twenty feet across the sky.
You never saw them come down, but you always saw them fly up. Some reckoned it had something to do with the extra weight, but they were angels, and I just didn’t see them as finding things particularly heavy.
My thinking was they didn’t want to be seen coming in because then we might be able to run away. But they wanted us to see them leave. Because they wanted us to know that they’d been.
Fourth year there was another celebration. By now Pastor Warren had started to really convince us of the Glory. Well, most of us. So this time we tried something different. We thought that maybe we could think a couple steps ahead—that maybe if we gave them some individuals, at least in that way we could have some control over the situation. It was a really strange celebration that year. You had, standing on the makeshift stage, these hardened criminals sentenced to life or worse. But then you also had the volunteers, the ones who wanted the Glory. Saints and sinners you could say, but I couldn’t quite understand why, when we’d decided that the angels were taking folks to their Glory, why you’d be sending up the sinners. I didn’t think they’d much want that side of the stage.
Didn’t want the saints either for that matter. They took whomever they pleased from the crowd and left.
We decided after that to just to go back to the celebration idea. Try just to have a good time. Pretty hard, really. Though we gave a good show of it.
Fifth year they took Chris, my best friend since we were little and who I’d just had my first kiss with the week before.
Sixth year, I shot an angel in the face.
“I’m not going to the celebration. I don’t know how I can be more clear about that.”
My mother looked at me with those wide eyes of hers. Those big blue eyes that I did not inherit.
“They’re not coming for me.” In my mind, nobody’s ever interested in me. Then: okay can you be any more pathetic? In an attempt to make her feel better, I stood up and walked over to her. “You aren’t losing your daughter tonight. You don’t need to spend any precious last few moments with me.” Obviously there was no way I could know that really, still…
“Your mother’s just scared for you.” My daddy. Always palming off fear onto my mother. Thing is, he’s just about as freaked out as both of us. Poor pragmatic physics professor.
“It’s not just about her,” replied Mother. “What if one of us gets taken, what then?”
Daddy laughed. “You are the most gorgeous woman in Hartwich and definitely don’t look your age, but, sweet pea, they aren’t coming for you.”
It was the truth. The angels didn’t much seem to like anyone over the age of 35. And also the thing about my mother not looking her age and being the most beautiful woman in Hartwich.
I suppose from a distance we kind of looked the same, but up close you’d figure out fast that you’d made a mistake. We both had naturally pale yellow, wavy hair, but that’s really where the comparison ended. She was long, lean, slender, and graceful. I was…not. I was, I guess, average height, more…rounded. Mother always said it was curvaceous, like the glamorous Hollywood actresses in black and white movies. I’d seen them. Those actresses always looked big compared to today’s standard. Okay, and logically I knew that today’s standard was stupid skinny, but emotionally…look I was a teenage girl dealing with insecurities as much as the next person.
As a kid I’d been a lot like my dad—kind of scrawny in build. And then puberty happened, and that just messed everything up. I didn’t look anything like Daddy anymore. I’d kind of always wanted his deep brown hair, so rich looking, even now flecked with gray at the temples. But no, I seemed to be this creature of my own creation. Heck, they both had blue eyes. Mine were brown.
“Well,” replied Mother, playfully punching Daddy in the shoulder, “then they definitely aren’t coming for you either.”
“Oh, absolutely not.” And he kissed her on the nose.
It was nice that my parents liked each other so much. But did they have to be so adorable about it all the time? Especially today? I knew they weren’t doing it on purpose, but watching them made my stomach feel even more hollow than it already was. I’d had that kind of relationship with Chris. That was us. Except we weren’t married. Or even dating. But just about. Just about.
“I’m not going,” I said again, now desperately fighting back the tears.
“Then you’re not going,” said Daddy before Mother could say anything. “Maybe we shouldn’t either.”
“We have to go.” Mother’s voice sounded thin, panicked. “It’s a rule.”
“Actually it’s not,” I replied. “There’s no rule stating you have to go to the Taking. You just can’t be out of town.”
Mother glared at me. I knew there was more to it than some stupid town law. My mother was pretty cool, but she did care a little too much about family reputation. I’d always assumed it was a Southern thing, an excuse she gave me a lot, like I didn’t know, like I hadn’t lived here almost my entire life. Her family had been here ages, and her moving away and marrying some scientist from the north had been a pretty big scandal at the time. When she’d brought us back here when I was a baby, she’d had a lot of making up to do. Add to that the fact that we didn’t attend the Church of the Angels…the Taking was an important event to be seen at.
Look, I got the logic. I just didn’t like the premise. Who cared what people thought of us?
“You guys should stay home. How much you want to bet Chris’s family are?” I added.
“Honey…we have to…”
“Fine. You go, save the family reputation. But I’m staying.”
Daddy opened the front door then. It was a signal that the conversation was over. Mother looked at him and then back at me. Then she pulled me into a tight hug. “I love you,” she whispered into my ear.
“I know,” I replied.
When she was finished, Daddy repeated the action, and then, finally, my parents were off. I listened as the car rolled down the driveway and out onto the road. I sighed. Thank god that was all over with. It felt good to finally be alone, and yet, at the same time, I had to admit I was a little scared. What if the angels did come for me? Shouldn’t I really just put up with going to the Taking and being with the rest of my town so I could at least be with my parents? In case?
But the thought of being one of the crowd made my stomach churn, and I knew I’d made the right choice. This last year I’d gotten really good at keeping to myself. Excuses ranged from the practical to the ridiculous, but at least with the Taking I had the upper hand. My parents had watched me mourn for Chris all year, and the anniversary of his taking wasn’t exactly something they could expect me to celebrate. But I think they were worried about me, about how isolated I’d become over the past several months.
There was also the small matter of my totally and completely thinking Pastor Warren was full of shit and how watching him standing in front of all of us like some god or something always got me seriously angry. You might think that would be an odd reaction considering the town was deifying something pretty obviously real.
Let me tell you about Pastor Warren.
When Pastor Warren came to town after that first year it happened, with us all scared out of our minds, I’ll tell you, some people left. They left right away. But most of us stayed. We didn’t think it would happen again. And when it did…well, it takes a lot to convince people to leave their homes for good. Especially when something happens only once a year. It’s like people who live under a volcano or on a fault line: the odds are in your favor. Technically. And when you’ve got so many families that have been here since before the Civil War, it’s hard to convince people to just up and leave.
Of course, the fact that it happened the same time every time, and that it would keep happening, well, it took a couple years for the realization to take hold. Funnily enough, it took those same couple years for Pastor Warren to take hold. By the time it dawned on most of us that this was a serious business, Pastor Warren had officially got his position in the community.
He wasn’t just some religious leader, not like Father Peter at the Catholic Church. It was more than that. By that point he’d become the town’s hero, in more ways than one. It was Pastor Warren who gave the town confidence that the angels’ coming was a Glory. It was Pastor Warren who made folks not feel frightened, who convinced everyone that we should not fear being taken as it was a great honor. Taking away the fear like that was a big deal. To feel safe…who doesn’t want that? It was also Pastor Warren who told us we were special, our town, for being chosen. And everyone likes feeling special.
Then there was the dealing with the media thing, which was his idea too. The second year when it happened again, news crews visited the week after when they realized it wasn’t just some fluke. Even though our town was so hard to get to, they’d still made it. We didn’t like being the center of attention, and at this point we still weren’t convinced of the Glory. We still looked at the angels like they were a bad thing, like those that were taken had died as opposed to being chosen. Didn’t like the media taking advantage of that.
It was Pastor Warren who solved the problem.
We lied. The whole damn town. We lied. The third year we were planning this huge celebration anyway, so Pastor Warren arranged for us to do it a week early. It wasn’t like the media were keeping track of the dates. We arranged everything, invited all these different news people to come check it out, and they all traipsed around the bayou to get to our little town. We set up the celebration, even arranged fireworks, and when the sun set we all waited with anticipation. Well, the media did. We all knew the truth. Nothing happened of course, it being the wrong day and all. Pastor Warren was proclaimed a fake, our town called attention seekers, we even made it on the top ten hoaxes of the year on CNN.
Mind you, there were those few outside our town who still believed, who still moved here or at least came at the end of August to see for themselves. I mean, folks had tried to take pictures when the Taking happened, but they were kind of like the Bigfoot pictures—blurry, out of focus. Even the few videos that had been shot didn’t look like much. It was hard to capture what was happening on film when you didn’t know where they’d show up and who they’d take. There were even a couple websites devoted to the angel thing. One featured online worshippers of Pastor Warren and his church. Another tried to explain it all away as a conspiracy. But they were small homemade sites, and no one of any significance took note of them. The media had been humiliated, and they wanted to forget us as quickly as possible. So for the most part we were left alone.
Pastor Warren made people feel safe, protected, and special. He told us it was best if we were left on our own because no one else would really understand, to keep it all quiet because that’s what the angels wanted. They chose us. They didn’t choose anyone else. That’s got to mean something.
And still the day of the Taking would come. And people would be nervous. You’d think it would be simple to avoid, right? Throw some stuff in an overnight bag, head out to New Adamstead for the night, forget the entire thing, and come back in the morning. Easy.
Not with Pastor Warren in charge. He started to preach to the nervous. We must honor the angels as they have honored us, he explained. He told us that the biggest day of our year was the Taking—that we must worship together on that day. That if you pack up your car and leave, you can’t ever come back. Because if you do leave on that day you aren’t a true believer. To leave on such a day is heresy.
If you do leave…
Douglas Earl tried it. Took his family, left for the day and night, came back the following morning. The town wasn’t too happy about that. Third night back, his windows were broken. Couldn’t prove who did it. The tires of his truck got slashed, a fire started in his trashcan. People in the town were already pretending he and his family didn’t exist, so the cops were of no help. And all this would have been enough punishment for anyone. But then Pastor Warren convinced the town council to pass a rule. Now if you left the town, you actually weren’t allowed to come back. It wasn’t a matter any more of being ostracized or considered a heretic. Now it was a matter of law.
Douglas Earl and his family were forced to go.
You can leave Hartwich. You can leave Hartwich any day of the year. You can go on vacation. You can go to the city for dinner. You can teach physics at Tulane in New Orleans. And if you come from an old family, if your mother has a special status in the community and is as pretty as they come, you’re even allowed to not attend the Church of the Angels on a weekly basis.
But you don’t leave on the day of celebration. It’s the will of the angels.
And that’s a good thing. Remember, and always remember, the angels are a