Horror & Dark Fantasy

Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017

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Fiction

An Army of Angels

“I have something I want to show you,” said Nancy. She stared at Jazmine from Jazmine’s front porch, wet and bedraggled. Nancy was a petite white woman with long hair the way teenage boys had long hair: tangled and perpetually in need of a good shampoo. Jazmine sighed and reached out to rest her hand on Nancy’s shoulder, then pulled back. They weren’t sixteen anymore, and that kind of intimacy was as unwelcome as Nancy showing up on her doorstep at eleven p.m., earnest and strange.

Jazmine sighed again, louder. “Are you off your medication again?”

“No.” Nancy snapped the word out, made it into shrapnel.

“Okay, then,” said Jazmine. “Okay. You can come in.” She took a towel out of the guest bathroom and offered it to Nancy, who took off her shoes and placed them neatly next to the door, then stood dripping on the carpet. Jazmine filled her coffee maker with water, then put a few bags of açaí berry tea into the filter basket and turned it on. Nancy half-heartedly tousled her hair with the towel. They stood listening to the burble of the coffee maker and the quiet tap of rain against the window.

“Well?” Jazmine asked finally. “What do you want to show me?”

“It’s not here.” Nancy looked down at her feet. Jazmine noticed that one of her socks was white, the other neon pink. “You have to come over to my place.”

“Really.” Jazmine took two mugs out and put them on the counter. “You walked all the way over here at eleven at night, in the rain, to tell me I need to come over to your place. You couldn’t have called?”

“My phone died.” Nancy shrugged. “I don’t know where the charger is. Anyway it’s not that far. And I figured that once I got here you’d drive us back to my place. I know you don’t like the rain as much as I do.”

Jazmine tapped her fingernails against the counter. “Nobody likes the rain, Nance,” she said. “Not in the middle of November, when it’s freezing out.”

Nancy stared at her, blinking slowly. It was hard for Jazmine to reconcile the Nancy in her living room with the memory of Nancy in high school, the too-cool, too-loud chick full of weird ideas, without ever noticing how weird they were. Even now, Jazmine sometimes missed that girl.

“So,” said Nancy. “Are you gonna come with me? I can just walk back if you don’t want to.”

For a moment, Jazmine considered letting her do just that. She could drink tea by herself, read a little bit before bed, and congratulate herself on, just this once, not being the good guy.

But it was cold out, and Nancy was already soaking wet.

“Okay,” she said. “But let’s wait for the tea to finish. I’ll put it in a couple of thermoses. Did you even bring an umbrella?”

“I had an umbrella. But I lost it a couple weeks ago, I think at the comic book store. Normally the guys there are real good about making sure I don’t forget things.”

“Mh,” said Jazmine. “What titles did you pick up?”

She let Nancy yammer about comic books while she poured them tea, got another towel for Nancy to sit on in the passenger seat, and poked around for an extra umbrella. Some of the superhero names she recognized from her own brief foray into geekdom, but much of it was incomprehensible. She would have needed subtitles, or at least footnotes, to follow her friend.

Jazmine followed her out to the car, still talking. She was more animated when she discussed comic books, more willing to look people in the eye, or at least enough in the face that it looked like normal eye contact. Nancy quieted on the ride back to her apartment, and fell totally silent in the parking lot.

“You know what?” she said suddenly, voice shrill. “Never mind. I don’t have anything to show you. Thanksfortheride.” She opened the door and hopped out while Jazmine was still parking, leaving Jazmine’s umbrella but taking one of the thermoses with her.

“Nance?” Jazmine called. “Nance!”

Nancy didn’t pause, and Jazmine rolled down her window.

“I would’ve just given you a ride!” she yelled. “You didn’t have to be weird!”

Nancy disappeared inside her apartment building.

• • • •

Their last year of high school, Nancy lost her mind.

“There’s an invasion coming,” she whispered to Jazmine during role call in home room. “I think I might be the only person who knows how to stop it.”

“What invasion?” Jazmine whispered back. It sounded to her like one of Nancy’s internet things, maybe a 4chan meme that hadn’t yet hit the rest of the web.

“I don’t know what to call them. I think they’re like demons. I think they come from Hell.”

Jazmine laughed, but Nancy just stared back at her, dark eyes woeful. “What we’ll need,” she said, her voice gradually gaining volume, “is an army of our own to fight them. An army of angels.”

The kids sitting around them turned in their chairs to see who was talking.

“I even know how to make an angel,” Nancy said. “It’s just that it’s so horrible. Who would be willing to do it, you know?”

“Sh,” Jazmine hissed. They were in their last semester, with an easy course load, and the last thing she wanted was detention with the warmth of summer at the door.

“I mean it,” Nancy announced, pushing her chair away from her desk with a screech and standing up. “Who will help me? Who will help me save the world?”

Jazmine swallowed and stopped laughing abruptly. The whole room was quiet for a moment, before the kids in the back row started cackling and the teacher up front tried to take control of the room.

“What we’re going to need,” Nancy bellowed over everyone else, “is an army of angels!”

But that was only her first public meltdown. She had privately been getting crazier and crazier for months, tiny outbursts and non sequiturs that Jazmine dismissed as Nancy taking on the bullshit persona of a manic pixie dream girl, stretching out her teenage identity the same way all their other friends were — except it was Nancy, so she was doing it weirder.

Starting with her army of angels rant, she got weird in a way that nobody thought was funny anymore. A way that got her parents to pull her from school, and send her to a “retreat” in South Carolina for four months. Nancy came back with her GED and a different set to her face. She was an adult after that, while Jazmine and the rest of her friends remained defiantly, pathetically eighteen.

But as long as Nancy stayed on her meds, everything was fine.

• • • •

“Where did you go last night?” Tim asked. “I thought I heard the car around midnight.” He’d come home from work bearing beef with tomatoes and a big carton of fried rice.

“It wasn’t midnight.” Jazmine took a couple of beers out of the fridge and poured them into pint glasses. “It was only a little after eleven.”

Tim raised his eyebrows.

“Nothing.” Jazmine sighed. “Nance walked over and I gave her a ride home.”

“Walked over? Here? From where?”

“I have no idea. Her apartment, maybe? Or the comic book shop. I don’t know.” Jazmine piled rice onto two plates and then distributed the beef and tomato, giving Tim a slightly larger portion than she gave herself. “She was acting a little weird.”

Tim laughed. “Nancy acting weird? I can’t believe it.”

“I do worry about her, though. I liked it better when she had a roommate. I don’t feel like Nance has anyone to ground her right now.”

“She’s holding down a job, right?”

“Yes.” Jazmine frowned. “At least, I think so. We haven’t talked about it lately.”

“You’re a great friend to her,” Tim said. Jazmine rolled her eyes. “No, I mean it,” said Tim. “You’re a really good friend. And sometimes Nancy uses that.”

“She doesn’t use me. She just doesn’t have anyone else to rely on.”

Tim shrugged and set up a folding table in front of the couch. He flipped on the TV, and, in a particularly chivalrous gesture, selected one of Jazmine’s period dramas over the reality television he preferred. Their DVR had caught the tail end of the program before, a local news segment. The reporter was interviewing a woman whose crying made her so unintelligible that they’d subtitled her.

“I’d never seen anything like it,” she sobbed. “I didn’t know this could happen here.”

Jazmine curled in beside Tim and dug into her rice, ignoring the TV. The house was warm; it had finally stopped raining. She felt good about her place in the world.

• • • •

Jazmine sat up in bed, thinking for a moment that she’d set the alarm on her cell phone wrong.

“Answer it,” moaned Tim.

She realized her phone was ringing, not buzzing its alarm, and stumbled out of bed to grab it from the bureau.

The screen displayed Nancy’s name. Jazmine closed her eyes and forced herself not to reject the call.

“Hello?”

“Jazmine? Are you awake?”

Jazmine closed the bedroom door behind her and flipped on the light in the hall.

“Yes,” she said slowly. “I am obviously awake. I was not before you called.”

“Sorry,” said Nancy, throwing the word out because it was necessary rather than because she meant it. “I changed my mind again. Can you come over?”

“What?”

“I need you to come over and see what’s in my closet.”

“What.” Jazmine pulled the phone away from her face and stared at the screen. Instead of a photo of Nancy, her screen displayed a picture of Toyman, the drastically underpowered Superman villain who could’ve been another Lex Luthor but instead focused his genius on shit like building toy soldiers with real guns. Nancy was silent.

“Okay,” said Jazmine. “I can come over tomorrow on my way home from work. You can show me whatever you want.”

“No,” said Nancy. “I need you to come over now.”

“Jesus Christ, Nance. Can you not get your shit together? Can you not even pretend to be normal for one whole fucking day?” The words came out in a nasty hiss, so Jazmine wouldn’t risk waking up Tim.

“Oh god.” Nancy lowered her voice to match Jazmine’s. “Did you already find out? Is that why you’re angry?”

Jazmine inhaled, exhaled, and forced her voice to a normal volume, expressing no more than a “normal” amount of irritation.

“Sometimes,” she said carefully, “I get upset when you treat me with what I perceive as disrespect. Things like asking me for a ride home by telling a weird lie, or waking me up in the middle of the night. Does that make sense to you?”

“I’m not disrespecting you,” said Nancy. “I just got scared that when I show you this, you won’t like me anymore.”

“What is it, Nancy?” Jazmine drew out the last syllable of Nancy’s name, the way Nancy’s mother used to when she was in trouble.

Nancy swallowed audibly. “I can’t tell you. You just have to come over and see it.” She sounded like she was about to cry, and Jazmine felt like an asshole. She was getting angry with her childhood best friend for being mentally ill.

“Please,” Nancy breathed. “If you don’t come now, I don’t think I’ll have the courage to ask you again.”

Jazmine looked down at her threadbare T-shirt and flannel pajama pants. “Okay,” she said. “Okay.”

• • • •

The door to Nancy’s apartment building was busted, and hadn’t been fixed since Jazmine and Tim helped her move in. The lobby smelled like urine, but the carpeted halls of the upper levels were mostly clean and mostly well-lit.

Nancy didn’t answer when Jazmine knocked, and the anger she’d swallowed to drive over here came hurtling back to the top of her consciousness. Jazmine pounded on the door, then stopped when it slowly opened, revealing Nancy standing in the middle of a dark room. Jazmine could still see traces of sixteen-year-old Nancy in the bones of her face, but she now looked more like a stranger than a friend. Her hair was stringy, her dark eyes wide in the shadows, her whimsically mismatched socks taken off to reveal bare feet with long white toenails that curled around her toes.

Nancy looked sick.

Jazmine’s anger drained out of her again, leaving a void.

“I have your thermos,” Nancy said. “I just wanted to finish my tea, not take it take it.”

“No, that’s fine.” Jazmine stepped into the apartment, but not enough that Nancy could close the door behind her. “I figured that was the case.”

“It’s around here somewhere.” Nancy gestured at the mess of her possessions, objects barely distinguishable in the gloom.

“That’s fine,” Jazmine said again. She raised her head up and stepped all the way inside. Nancy needed help, not awkwardness. All the same, she was careful not to lock the door behind her. “What did you want to show me, Nance? Is everything okay?”

Nancy dug the toes of one foot under the other. “It’s almost finished,” she said. “I didn’t want to show anyone, but I don’t think I can not show anyone, either. I don’t think there’s a right way to do this, so I’m just trying very hard not to do it all wrong.”

“Do what?” asked Jazmine. She reached out and took one of Nancy’s hands. Up close she could see that something brown had crusted under Nancy’s fingernails. She held on despite her disgust. Nancy squeezed her hand and then pulled her deeper into the apartment, to her bedroom. It was lit only by the light of a streetlight coming through the bare window.

“You can sit down,” said Nancy, releasing her hand. Jazmine looked around the room, but Nancy’s floor, her desk, even her bed was covered with a miscellany of junk.

“I’ll stand,” she murmured. Nancy ignored her, hedging toward the only other door in the room. Jazmine squinted at it, wondering where it could possibly lead, before she realized it was a closet. There was light coming through the crack between the door and the floor.

“Close your eyes,” Nancy ordered, without looking over her shoulder. “No, never mind, keep them open.”

She opened the closet door.

Inside, it was lit with what looked like high-powered LED grow lights. Underneath them weren’t pot plants or the beginning of a garden, but a raw, quivering mass of flesh, slick with blood. Jazmine gasped, and the thing opened several eyes and turned them all to look at her. The eyes were different shades of color, most brown and two of them a piercing green.

“What the fuck is this?” Jazmine shrieked, backing away and tripping over a stack of comic books. Nancy took her by the wrist to help her back to her feet, and Jazmine saw that the dirt under her nails was dried blood. Nancy started crying.

“I’m so sorry,” she said. “I didn’t know how to explain. Do you hate me?”

Jazmine stared at the monster, not her friend. It didn’t seem capable of movement or speech, but beneath Nancy’s tears she could hear the sound of it breathing.

“It’s the angel,” Nancy sobbed. “I made it to save us.”

Jazmine drew away from her. “What,” she asked slowly, “did you make it out of?”

Nancy just cried.

“I’m going home,” said Jazmine. “I’m calling the police.”

The angel blinked at her. Nancy stifled her sobs and stood up straight.

“You can’t,” she said softly. “Jaz, I won’t let you.”

Jazmine made a break for the door, scattering a pile of paperbacks. Nancy jumped after her, bare feet scrabbling for traction across the slick book covers, and she slipped and knocked her head against the door frame. Jazmine kept going, leaving the apartment door wide open and taking the stairs three at a time, clinging to the bannister for balance. Nancy charged after her, and Jazmine pulled her keys out of her pocket as she ran, determined not to stumble, determined not to drop them in the parking lot. She felt perfectly clear, aware of her own physicality in a way that she hadn’t been since she was cut from her high school basketball team. She wished she’d worn proper shoes instead of the hard-soled slippers that were the first thing her fingers found in the closet.

She made it all the way out to her car, key in the lock, before Nancy tackled her from behind, tangling her fingers in Jazmine’s braids and slamming her face into the car door. Jazmine arched her back and threw an elbow, catching Nancy in the throat. Nancy stumbled back, croaking, and released Jazmine to wrap protective hands around her neck. Jazmine hurled herself at the car, tearing the door open and clambering inside. Nancy reached for her, her own hand fumbling around Jazmine’s knee, and Jazmine hesitated only a moment before slamming the door shut on her arm. Nancy screeched, and Jazmine opened the door enough to let her withdraw before slamming it again and reversing at a speed that knocked her against the steering wheel.

She drove to the nearest fire station instead of driving home, and tried to decide if Nancy being crazy would outweigh Nancy being white in the eyes of their suburban police. Blood poured out of her nose, soaking the front of her shirt, and she wished she’d put on proper clothes, instead of just throwing a sweater over her pajamas and tucking her flannel pants into a pair of slippers. She looked pretty crazy herself.

But one of Jazmine’s uncles was a fireman, and firemen seemed like good people in a way that the police never did, so she wiped as much blood off her face as she could with her sleeve and went inside.

She passed the unmanned front desk. The whole building was dark, except for the flicker of blue television light from further inside. One man sat by himself, watching a South Park rerun in sweatpants and a wife-beater. He was at least a decade older than Jazmine, overweight without being obese, with a bald spot that had grown until what was left of his hair looked like a monastic tonsure. Jazmine walked toward him silently, until she stood between him and the TV.

“What the hell!” He jumped to his feet.

“I need help,” said Jazmine. “I think my best friend murdered a man.”

“What the hell,” the man repeated more softly, taking in her bleeding face and unsteady stance. “Hold on, honey,” he said. “Sit down. I’m going to get the first aid kit, okay? Sit down, and when I get back you can tell me what happened.”

Jazmine did sit down, and she started shaking, or maybe realized that she’d been shaking for a while. It was cool and dry in the firehouse den, and she closed her eyes, listening to familiar jingles as South Park cut to commercial.

When the fireman came back, he brought a slew of other men with him, all of them half-asleep and yet hyper-alert, men who were used to being wakened in the middle of the night to deal with other people’s disasters.

“It’s just a nose bleed,” said Jazmine, as a different man knelt and dabbed carefully at her face. “My friend attacked me. I think she killed someone. She’s been on meds for years, but I never thought she was violent, just sad-normal crazy, and now I think there’s a corpse in her closet.”

Jazmine couldn’t think what to call it, or what that angel was made of — only that someone had died to create it. She thought of the different colored eyes, and realized probably more than one person had died.

But there were no words to describe the angel, so she told the firemen Nancy’s name and address, and let them deal with the police. In the long quiet wait for something — anything — to happen, she fell asleep.

• • • •

“Jesus, Jazmine,” said Tim. He hovered over her, his face pale. “What did Nancy do to you?”

Jazmine tried to sit up without getting very far. She felt like she was wearing someone else’s body instead of her own. Someone clumsier and thicker.

“Hey,” said Tim. “Hey hey hey. It’s okay. Lie down. You want me to get you a glass of water?”

He didn’t wait for an answer, just turned around to retrieve a paper cup of water and lifted it gently to her lips.

“You have a concussion,” he explained. “Fortunately you went down surrounded by paramedics, so these guys have been taking care of you.” He gestured behind him, and Jazmine recognized the firemen in the next room, gathered around the television without paying it any attention. She was in an empty bunk room, with Tim crouched next to her and the firemen pretending not to watch.

“They said you were assaulted?” Tim said. “. . . By Nancy?”

“I think Nancy killed someone,” said Jazmine. “She showed me the corpse. I told her I was going to call the police, and Nancy attacked me. We fought in the parking lot.” She thought for a moment that she would cry, but when Jazmine paused for tears, there were none.

“Do we have to stay?” she asked. “I want to go home.”

“I don’t know.”

“Let the firemen make copies of our drivers’ licenses. Then drive me home, Tim.”

The firehouse turned out not to have a copy machine or a scanner, so Tim wrote out all the information on their drivers’ licenses long hand, and then carted Jazmine to his car. They left hers parked on the street, only a little bit crooked, with a new dent in the door that Jazmine was horrified to realize had been made with her own head.

Tim made Jazmine a mug of warm milk with whiskey and cinnamon, and kept her awake for a few hours by reading passages of The Little Prince, until the danger of a concussion had passed.

While she slept, the angel found her.

• • • •

The world boiled.

Jazmine hopped from one foot to the other. She was naked, and the world was a sand pit, glowing orange with the light of the sun. Even the air was hot on her tongue.

“Tim?” she called, looking around for her boyfriend. The world was empty except for sand and heat.

“Tim?” she called again. Then, as sand scalded the balls of her feet, “What the hell?”

When she turned her face to the sky, the sun burnt its image into her eyelids.

“Is this hell?” she asked, sure that Nancy’s talk of angels and the apocalypse had gotten to her.

“This isn’t hell,” said Nancy, who suddenly stood before her, as real as the heat. It was sixteen-year-old Nancy, in her blue-and-white striped knee socks, back after her hair got wild but before she started forgetting to wash it.

“It sure looks like hell,” snapped Jazmine, who had no frame of reference beyond childhood sermons.

“It isn’t,” said Nancy. “This is what the end of the world looks like. This is what happens without angels to defend us.”

Jazmine squinted past Nancy, then turned her head. In every direction, there was only sand, only nothingness.

“Nance,” she said slowly, “who did you kill to make that angel?”

Nancy shrugged. “I didn’t know them. It doesn’t matter.” She closed her eyes and exhaled. “No, it matters very deeply. I don’t even have the words to tell you how sad I am. But this is the only way to save the world, Jazmine. It doesn’t matter that a few people have to die. It doesn’t matter if you become a murderer.”

“Dammit!” Jazmine kicked the ground, sending a shower of sand into the air. “I’m sorry I didn’t watch you better, Nance. I’m sorry I didn’t make sure you were taking your pills. I’m sorry I wasn’t a better friend.”

Nancy put a hand on Jazmine’s shoulder. Her palm was cool, and Jazmine leaned into the touch, the only nice thing in this nightmare.

“This isn’t about schizophrenia.” Nancy offered a chalky smile. “And you saved me the only way you could. I love you, Jazmine. You’re my best friend.”

Jazmine stepped forward to pull Nancy into a hug, to forgive her for being crazy, to luxuriate in the temperature of her skin.

Nancy disappeared, and in her place was the angel.

It was not the same lump it had been in the closet. It held something approximating human shape now, with a ring of eyes around its head and legs that were long and coltish. It opened its mouth to speak. The hole behind its lips was rimmed with layers of teeth, like a leech. Instead of using a voice, it hissed.

“This is your fault,” Jazmine told it, her voice steady now that she was safe and dreaming. “Whatever the fuck you are, you ruined my best friend.”

The angel tilted its raw flesh head and reached out for Jazmine, to rest its hand the same place Nancy had.

Jazmine woke up.

• • • •

The police came late in the morning, and Jazmine was impressed by this show of civility, until she realized that the detectives had probably just spent the morning doing paperwork and running interference with the press. Tim held her hand for their brief interview, and once Jazmine had heard what she needed to, she stopped paying attention.

The remains of multiple corpses were found in Nancy’s apartment. Not whole corpses, and in some cases not even most of the corpses. But remains. They were very interested in what Jazmine had seen in the closet, because all that was left when they arrived was bloodstains.

Nancy Morvillo was found not in the parking lot, but a block away, making her escape on foot. When police approached her, she produced a gun and started firing wildly. The police responded with fire, and by the time they got her to the hospital, it was only so that a doctor could pronounce her dead at 04:07.

None of her shots had come remotely close to hitting anyone, and one of the officers present believed it was more suicide by cop than an actual attempt to flee the scene of her crime.

“Weird,” Tim told her later, “that Nancy would kill innocent strangers but have a hard time shooting cops.”

But Jazmine could not imagine Nancy killing anyone, and the idea of her with a gun was ridiculous, comical. Who the hell had sold a gun to a schizophrenic with delusions of the apocalypse?

“Did you contact her parents yet?” she asked, interrupting the detective speaking. She had a plain face and wide hands, which she gestured with while speaking.

“Yes,” the detective said, dropping her hands to her lap. “They’ve been informed.” She returned Jazmine’s stare, and for the first time seemed to notice the thousand-yard quality of it. She stood up abruptly, and the other detective followed suit.

“Ma’am, would it be convenient for us to follow up with you tomorrow?”

“Yes. That would be . . . convenient.” She let Tim escort them to the door. Jazmine wanted to appreciate their willingness to leave and let her mourn, but all she could think was that their friends had shot her friend, and then she hated them.

It surprised her, a little bit, how much she hated them.

• • • •

The funeral was crowded, with flowers occupying every corner, despite the family’s request that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Animal Welfare Society. Their choice of charity seemed somewhat inexplicable to Jazmine — had Nancy harbored a passionate love for animals, somehow kept secret from her best friend for all these years? But who would bother to keep something so normal and so nice a secret?

Probably a murderer would.

Probably a love for housecats was the least weird secret Nancy had ever kept.

The funeral was full of their friends and peers, but also enough strangers that Jazmine became convinced that most of them were reporters. They were well-coiffed, these strangers, and better-dressed than anyone she and Nancy had gone to high school with.

She hugged Nancy’s parents, and her mother pulled Jazmine tight and asked her how she was holding up. Jazmine rested her head against Nancy’s mother’s shoulder, and left in the middle of the service. There was no possible sermon worth hearing that could have been prompted by Nancy’s life and death. There was no message to be taken away, no good that would come of it.

Tim held her hand on the walk from the car to the house, and when he opened the front door, the angel was waiting for them.

It stood taller than both of them, the top of its sticky, hairless head almost brushing the ceiling. Enormous wings sprouted from its back, like bleeding, fleshy hands, large enough to carry all three of them away.

Jazmine screamed. Tim dropped her hand and stumbled back out onto the porch. The angel lunged at him, and Jazmine slammed the door shut in its face and tipped the lock, trapping she and it in the living room.

It dropped to one knee, shaking the floor.

“I require your help,” it said, bowing its head. Its voice was as raw as its face, with something harsh in it she had never heard in a voice before, like hot wind over sand at the end of the world.

“I’ll call the police,” said Jazmine, articulating each word carefully, and it wasn’t until all of them were out of her mouth that she realized how ridiculous they were.

Tim knocked on the door. “Jazmine?” he called.

“I will need an army,” said the angel, rising up to its full height. “I cannot save the world alone. And only you can build me an army.”

“Get out of my house!” Jazmine yelled. “Get out of my house and leave me alone!”

“I will teach you how to assemble us,” said the angel. “At first it will be difficult, but with time you will learn that it is easier than you might have believed.”

“Get. Out. Of. My. House,” she hissed.

“Jazmine?” called Tim again. He sounded concerned but distant, his lack of panic utterly inadequate to the situation. “Hon, what are you doing in there? Please unlock the door.”

“I will return for you,” said the angel. “Together, the world we can create will be beautiful.”

It disappeared.

Shaking, Jazmine unlocked the door and let Tim inside.

“Hon, are you okay?” He came around to face her and looked into her face with naked concern.

“Didn’t you see the angel?” she asked. “Why did you run back outside?”

“Hon — ” Tim squeezed her shoulder, “You hollered and pushed me out the door.”

“Nancy’s angel,” she said. “It came to visit me.”

Tim’s expression would have broken her heart, if her heart hadn’t already felt so broken. “Oh, Jaz,” he whispered. “I’m so sorry. Let’s sit down, okay? You’re under a lot of stress right now, and I think that concussion might still be with you.”

He guided her to the sofa, where Jazmine pulled her legs up to her chest and held them there.

“Nancy’s angel was in the house,” she repeated.

Tim murmured soothing words to her, about love and grief, words that Jazmine barely heard. Like distant fire, she could feel the heat of that desert dreamscape, no more and no less real than the angel that had shown it to her.

This was how Nancy had started, she realized. She wondered how long the angel had haunted her before Nancy capitulated to saving the world.

Jazmine hoped she could last at least as long.

Caspian Gray

Caspian Gray

Caspian Gray is a used car salesman who has previously worked as a funeral director’s apprentice, a pet nutritionist, an English teacher in Japan, a Japanese teacher in America, and a crystal healing “expert” in a head shop. He currently lives in Columbus, Ohio, where he shares a home with a tall man and a small dachshund.