All right, boys and girls! It’s Monday, so that means a new fantasy free read. This one is “Where Angels Tread,” a bittersweet little story from the historical fantasy worlds of Sorrows Hill.
When the Reverend Henry Chilton sees the angel, he drops to his knees sobbing with joy. The half-scribbled sheets of tomorrow’s sermon fly from his desk, floating down on a summer-scented breeze from the open window, and his teacup, caught by an unwary elbow, shatters into porcelain shards on the floor.
He was writing the sermon when a sound like the rustling of pigeons in the rafters made him look up. And there was the messenger of God, settling demurely onto the top of his bookcase, dangling bare white feet over his head.
The angel’s translucent skin is luminous and perfect. Fair hair tumbles over the bones of its classic face. And the wings — God, the wings! Think of the blinding white of swans, the sweet softness of doves. Those wings are muscular and functional, and they drape the angel’s shoulders like a velvet cloak. Chilton’s mouth is an O of fascinated delight.
Kneeling among the fragments, trousers soaking in cold tea, the Reverend Chilton raises his eyes skyward and gives thanks. Finally, finally: so long he’s prayed, so long he’s waited!
Tears slip from the reverend’s eyes. Ever since he was a child he’s wanted to see an angel. When he got to seminary he prayed till his throat was raw, begging God’s favor for just a glimpse of one of those celestial heralds. And now, after all these years, all these tedious postings to backwater towns and Sunday after Sunday of earnest sermons to indifferent flocks, success! A visible mark of God’s own grace.
“Reverend? Reverend, you’ve got a visitor.” A sharp rap on the door rips Chilton’s attention from the angel.
“Who is it, Mrs. Reedie? I’m busy with the sermon just now.”
“A young man, Reverend. He says he’s come all the way from Richmond to see you.” Mrs. Reedie’s voice drops. “Quite well turned out, he is. Shall I have him wait?”
Chilton glances at his other visitor. The angel cocks its head like a listening dog.
“I said, I’m busy, Mrs. Reedie. Tell him to come back after supper.”
The housekeeper’s sniff is audible through the door. Ignoring the staccato tap of her heels down the hall, Chilton turns back to the angel.
“So sorry, holy one. As I was saying — what have you to tell me? How am I so blessed on this day?”
The angel regards him blandly and preens a wing. Chilton draws a breath and tries again. “How may I serve you? Only speak –”
“Reverend Chilton?” The doorknob rattles.
“For the last time, Mrs. Reedie! I am busy!” snarls Chilton.
Scuffle of footsteps; gasp of outrage. The door flies open on Mrs. Reedie’s furious face, and a young man shoves past her, closing the door neatly behind him.
“Don’t you remember me, Reverend?” he asks.
Chilton swallows. Something in this gorgeous young man’s lean face and long narrow nose , the curl of dark hair on an expensive white collar, tickles his memory.
As the silence stretches, the young man’s mouth twists.
“Laurence Shandy, Reverend. I’m Laurence. It’s been twelve years.”
The silence turns leaden. Chilton forces a smile.
“Laurence, yes, of course! You’ve grown up. Doing well, by the look of you. I wondered what had become of you.”
“Did you?” asks the young man silkily. His hand slips free of his pocket. Sunlight gleams along the barrel of a tiny pistol. “Couldn’t you guess?”
“Put that down.” Chilton backs a step or two. “Laurence, put that gun away . . . you moved to Richmond, didn’t you? That’s what it was, your father took up a new post at the hospital in Richmond. Isn’t that right?”
“No.” The gun trembles in Laurence Shandy’s fingers. “Twelve years, Reverend Chilton . Twelve years in that hospital. Locked ward. I tried to kill myself. Tried to escape to kill you. I prayed, I wept . . . I remembered every moment of what you did to me. And what you said about me, after.”
God, yes, Laurence Shandy. Big mouth boy with a rich, angry father. The only way Chilton had got out of that one had been to assert, again and again and again, how the lad was crazy, possessed maybe, misconstruing his pastoral ministrations like that.
“But, “ Shandy continues, “You always said, if you pray hard enough for long enough, God hears. And so it is.”
“What — ” whispers Chilton, eyes on the dancing barrel of Shandy’s weapon, “what did you pray for, Laurence?”
“I prayed for justice.” Shandy’s finger tenses on the trigger. “And an angel to guide me.”
The shot sounds a little like a cork popping. Blood flowers on the front of Chilton’s good shirt as he topples to the floor. On a rustle of heavenly wings, the angel rests its fabulous head on Laurence Shandy’s shoulder.
Henry Joe squints through the smoke at the little white storefront. Who hasn’t heard of Mama Silva? Catty corner from the boarded up liquor store, Mama Silva’s open all the time, working fearsome magics in her back room behind a curtain made of beads . Crack heads and knife fights and sirens in the night: Mama Silva just goes on. She’s older than the mountains and wiser than the moon, and she plays with people’s lives like they’re puppets on strings wet with blood.
Henry Joe keeps as far away from magic as he can. Before she died of drinking, his mother told him how the night that he was born, the wind cried till the dawn came, and when the sun came up, there were three feathers on the windowsill: one black, one barred, and one grey like a dove’s. She carried her newborn boy to the window, she said, and when he saw those feathers his tiny little hand reached out sure and strong, and picked up that black feather by its quill.
She spent her life convinced her fifth-born one had been touched by the Spirits, and Henry Joe’s spent his whole life running from the thought.
If that’s possible, Mama Silva scares him more than Nettie Chubai. So he and Sam sit staring at each other, at Mama Silva’s front door, at anything but that damn sack. They could be here all night while Sam screws up the nerve to pick it up, and Henry Joe can’t stand that crawling dread any longer.
“Ah shit,” he says, and swinging open the door, he grabs the thing from the seat. The sudden weight of it, far more than its size should allow, drags his arm to the ground. Sam’s eyes roll; he flings open the door and starts down the sidewalk, never looking back. Henry Joe hauls the sack up into both arms, ignoring the squishy shifting of the contents, and follows Sam to Mama Silva’s door.
Sam Bass eases open the carved front door and they step into a little room full of golden lamplight and the smell of incense. Shelves along the wall hold votives and little pots labeled in Spanish. Crucifixes and statues of the Virgin fill a glass display case in the front. By the window two old women dressed in black and silver whisper, heads together, over a box filled with bundles of dried herbs.
Beads rattle like mesquite beans. Henry Joe glances up, mouth suddenly dry. Lamplight fractures like tiny rainbows on the crystals hanging from the doorway of another room in back. They part, and a small woman in black steps through.
She has silver hair piled high with combs and the hard proud face of a Mayan queen, and with a smile she holds out her hand to Sam Bass.
“Welcome, mijo. And how is your tia keeping?”
Sam casts a wild eye at Henry Joe. His voice creaks. “She’s, well, she says, uh, hello. She sends this.”
Cued, Henry Joe leans around from behind him. The contents of the bag sag moistly against his chest. His arms ache from the weight. “Where do you want it?” he hears himself say.
“Give Nettie my thanks,” says Mama Silva, and reaching up, she plucks the sack neatly from Henry Joe’s grasp. Lifting it in one hand like a grocery bag full of feathers, she gestures the two of them into the curtained room.
The two old women by the window glance up from their herbs. Smiling, Mama Silva tells them something in rapid-fire Spanish; they beam at Sam and Henry Joe.
That smile sends a worm of fear across the back of Henry Joe’s neck. He clears his throat. Mama Silva turns her black-ice eyes upon him.
“Come in, querido, and have some tea. I knew your mother, once.”
Deep in the hour just before dawn, Adam jolts awake. What did he hear, out there on the makeshift front porch of this battered old Airstream? Or was it nothing but a dream of gunfire and roadside bombs in that other desert, half a world away?
He lies still, listening. No sounds now but the usual ones: a night bird’s sleepy chitter, yip and giggle of coyotes down the wash. But after a moment, there it is again, a rustle and thump right out front.
“God damn it,” says Adam. Where’s that crazy streak of witching when you need it the most? Well, he’s got other ways to handle business. Swinging out of bed, he reaches for the gun beside his pillow.
Readers of my flash fiction “Glitter Girl” have met the world weary witch Adam Voss. “Glitter Girl” was told in Adam’s words as he met the pretty rich teen who thought what she wanted was a spell for love.
I wrote that story a while ago, but I’ve always liked the narrator and his cynical take on love, witchery and power. So a few weeks ago he got his own name and backstory, and I’ve been working on giving him more of a role to play in the goings on of the Moon Road universe.
“Run With The Moon” is a new short story that brings together Adam and another new Soledad City character, Velocity Girard.
You’ll see more of her in the upcoming novel “A Patch of Cool” and other Soledad stories. I’m also working on a short piece that explores Velocity’s backstory – stay tuned for that.
Soledad City isn’t meant to be a catchall for every magical creature in the world, but the desert really is a strange and wondrous place, well represented especially in Terri Windling’s lovely, lovely book The Wood Wife. (Read it!) I hope this little story captures a bit of that wonder.
Want to read the rest of “Run With The Moon”? Part Two comes next Monday, June 27, 2016.