POETRY

1

CHERISH WEEKS
GREED One day I woke from a terrible dream, I was bent, I was broken, what happened couldn’t be. But it was, and I wasn’t, and I was no longer ‛me.’ I reached out to arms that could hold me, because my arms were empty and worn, but I never felt you touch me, never felt a welcomed hand of warmth. There should have been skid marks in the carpet, fire from all of the shoes— of people running away from me, not knowing exactly what to do. But I didn’t require a lot you see, just a shoulder or ear, I only wanted someone to hold me close, and prove that they'd always be near. Now almost two years later, the ache still burns in my chest— not only from what I lost in the fight, but the friends who swore they were ‟best”. Through thick and thin they promise you, through hell or high water, but when its you and only you, its an escape they’re surely after. And I admit I should have known better than to think they’d be there for me, especially since I had been there for them, in other's heartache spells greed. They never knew the secrets, and they’ll never know of the shadows that haunt me still— they only see what they want to see, never past what just cannot be healed. Always using, abusing. Never ‛hello’ , always ‛good-bye’ living this life, honestly— is confusing, because I have learned true friendship is a lie

2

DAMION WOODS
A CHANCE My eyes blur with weakness. I am a champion of my misery and a hero of my faith. Dirty fingernails and bloodstained hands touch me as they have touched you. We are both to scared to say, to scarred to know. We are deep, passionate, and empty. You know nothing of the kind yet you have opinions about everything. You have guilt bottled up and anger in store. I have a chance. Oceans of emotion run through our veins. The apparition in your eyes turns away, and you hide in the dark. You wait for nothing and get it all. I am the sickest of healthy hearts, so cold and blue. Now, here comes the fire they've been talking about. The flames torch my sins and your dreams. There's a disaster on the horizon as the sun melts away. Darkness falls around you. I have a chance. I am the strangest creature on two legs. You are the ugliest thing with a pulse. We breathe in smoke and blow out air. It has something to do with intelligence, but I'm not sure what. There are questions that I can't answer. Lies you're to comfortable to tell. Do you know where the truth in guilt lies? I'm so scared, but still not worried. Years turn like pages in the annals of time. I have no chance.

3

DEZ REED
A SAD LITTLE BOY (BETWEEN HERE AND THERE) The sun forgets to shine upon lonely lives Cold like the stare from jealous green eyes Kills any fabricated idea of serenity And makes you resist the power of divinity Resort back to your toxin induced self Put Mr. clean and sober back on the shelf I’m sorry that it’s not pretty like glitter Who’s gonna turn first when you’re this bitter Let half a pack of cigarettes burn in the ashtray When you sit to review another shitty day That fire in your belly has been reduced to ash Along with the flame your essence is cashed Smells like poison smoke from a burning flag Or the beating heart you’ve got in the bag Painfully oblivious to dirty Satan's ploy If you're the devil you're a sad little boy Pre-disposed to the fantasy that you create Over-exposed to this twisted sense of fate Feel so safe and secure in state of loneliness You're so empty with pain, please may god bless Before you crack up and get sent away And they burn you down like the voices say I'll scatter your ashes only a couple of inches You've spread yourself thin for to many winches Used up all of you to be thrown in the trash I'd buy you back out if I only had the cash Clean you up some and make you like new Wipe off all the shit you've been through Back out front you go for a pricey sale Turned your cheap trick and the pay failed You're just something to play with, a nice pretty toy I hate to say daddy thinks that you're a sad little boy

4

DEZ REED
ANGEL IN THE EYES OF THE DEVIL She's a poison apple pouring over with absinthe and ecstasy With a sour tongue and sugar lips, and a nice smokey finish Lace lingerie, blood roses, and chocolate make her feel sexy A soft touch, wet kisses, bad sex, and you make her grimace There’s seduction in those eyes and a diamond stare Its her milky white complexion, and the fire of hair The daggers in her hand, and the bullets in her tears It’s the look of her worries and the shake of her fears Desperation, anxiety, shock, fear, love, and grief Shame, regret, remorse, pity, passion, and empathy The cold prison of her heart jails you like a thief Looks at you with compassion but has no sympathy Maybe she’s a razor blade or a shard of broken mirror Brush her hair out her face, clear the blood from her lip You wipe off the makeup and dirt, her face gets clearer And then she shortcuts you like a blade from the hip There’s seduction in those eyes and a diamond stare It’s her milky white complexion, and the fire of hair The daggers in her hand, and the bullets in her tears It’s the look of her worries and the shake of her fears Desperation, anxiety, shock, fear, love, and grief Shame, regret, remorse, pity, passion, and empathy The cold prison of her heart jails you like a thief Looks at you with compassion but has no sympathy She is the Eve of the apple of the eye of the beholder She is the beauty infallibly, you can't wait to hold her Evil as she may be, she's an angel in the eyes of the devil

5

EMILY MARIE
LATE NIGHT Music. Guitar, banjo, harmonica, Rasping voice in my ear. Soul shattered, saved. Soundtrack to a life of nothing. Please save my soul; Nothing else can. I don’t want it to. Walking, nay, sitting contradiction. Voice rasping in my ear, Leave me to my void.

6

EMILY MARIE
WEST VIRGINIA Boredom, shock, misery, laughter; Constantly seeking meaning in those ancient mountains, In that timeless river. Life drags by in an endless shuffle of paycheck to paycheck existence. Day by day, hour by hour, Searching for understanding. Mud, cold beer, cigarettes— What else is there? Life is a crazy planet.

7

FICTION

8

CHERISH WEEKS
KEEP DIGGING I concentrate on the mug nestled between my bare hands as the frost on the window pane grows. The wind rustles leaves and trees and presses the house to moan. The warm liquid swimming past my lips is tasteless, but its purpose is served, except the hot chocolate box never claimed they could warm a soul, just hands, mouths and perhaps a stomach or two. I glance at the pictures scattered here and there, creating a new rug over the Asian one, this ache has become my life. I have traveled very rarely, I have loved hundreds, if not thousands of people. I have slept with only the ones on one hand of five fingers and have still been blamed for more. I have been down and out with the best and worst of them and have had nightmares that require more than just a splash of liquor. Sleeping pills and diagnosis, red tape and white flags, pens and pencils, paper that refused to erase what I was truly thinking. With these memories in tow, I take turns staring at his empty face and a pane full of frost that chills the bones and ghosts that reside in this house. Sometimes on the whispers of wind that past through these old walls, I hear my name or small endearments like “sweetheart” “my love” and “my sweet” and I know that it isn’t just the memories speaking any longer, but something stronger – something that lingers just beyond my grasp, perhaps observing this hole I have created. All the while never handling an actual shovel, just a spoon, a pen, and the awkward shards of a broken heart or two. You never know what you will unearth, even my ghosts know this, but my hands refuse to be consoled, they just keep digging; for answers, for bones, for the ashes they never smoothed across their palms.

9

JAMES RAPTOR
A RESCUE OF TWO Authors Note Hello reader! You are about to read a book full of adventure, terror, action, love and lots of humor. Okay not so much humor, but you will know the comic relief when you meet him. However, if you just dive right in, like a ton of people who like me skip these notes, you are missing this story's back story. Which helps put a lot more sense behind this. It all starts in the future, far in the future. Precise events are in time lines at the back of this book. The world is eco-friendly, people are getting along, and one board teen happens to figure out how to manipulate DNA of a living creature, in order to change anything about it. Patented and sold to a plastic surgery firm for several million, this device allows anyone to look anyway they want. At first, getting yourself a pair of say, fully functional wings is controversial, but eventually it catches on, and having animal or even plant parts, or looking like an elf becomes the norm. Then, like all great inventions, it's turned for use in war. A scientist is made to create a biological super weapon which will kill any human it infects. He gets really close, before being arrested for not paying the human testing fee, and the test subject is set free. A happy ending? Of course not, This is a beginning, you should remember! Now, it turned out that the bio-weapon worked by randomly recombining the victim's DNA. The test subject met with his eight usual friends, and a tag-along, and passed the virus to them, but after that, the virus mutated into the very thing it was intended to be, and everyone except for the ten who first got it ended up dying horrible deaths, and spreading it along. Now, a few thousand people who had not been infected did some research, and found that the only way to survive the so called Virus of Death, was to become another species. But how to do that? Oh right, with that thing that one guy invented! Now, it was agreed that a humanoid animal was the only way to go, but since no one could agree on what Human 2.0 should look like, they decided to take a page out of role playing games and just have different races. So when you see a name of an animal which is capitalized, that means it’s a sentient humanized version of it, not a talking fox or what have you. This is not a children's book. Oh, I forgot, after those few thousand or so saved themselves, the infected decided to take revenge. There was a huge cataclysm and everything went clear back to the stone ages. Lastly, remember the military was mucking around, to make super soldiers. So you have a few people running around with a supernatural ability, there is a vast array of powers and anyone with one is called a Paranormal or a whatever power they have. Now sit back and read of what might be.

10

September 30, 6078 A.H. The Fox jogged through the rocky mountain pass. He was nothing special to look at, average height, slim athletic build, plain black fur, jade eyes, bushy tail. A normal Fox, could be any Fox. Except for his clothing. He wore a battered army uniform, jacket, trousers and knee boots as black as his fur, and a tattered blood colored cape, which was so ragged it barely flapped in the breeze. He was dressed as a fighter, one who had survived a lot in his time. His weapons clinked and shifted as he went down the pseudo trail to the forest skirting the mountain. He had not had time to secure them, anyone watching him may have noted. Though no one else was anywhere near this desolate region of the Kingdom. No one who would think before shooting a lone warrior at least. He jogged for hours, as if he wanted to put a great amount of distance between himself and something terrible, but did not have the energy to run. His pace never changed, not even when he crossed the vivid line of rock and plants and entered the large birch forest. Any observer would note that he did not seem to have any particular direction in mind, as long as he was headed away from the north coast. Around the towering trees the Fox jogged, zig-zagging his way through the forest. Then suddenly as a clearing loomed just ahead of him, the Fox stopped. The large patch of tall grass in front of him was occupied. He crept closer to the end of the trees, straining to get a closer look at whom ever lay within so he could decide to go through or around the clearing. Bandits formed a ring in the center, he saw. They were well armed, but carried their weapons as if they just bought them and had no clue how to properly use them to kill. No armor could be seen, though their clothing could be made of Fabristeal and therefore invulnerable to bullets, Like mine, he thought. The motley crew in the clearing posed no threat to him the Fox decided. They were a sloppy, under-trained, undisciplined force which had somehow got a hold of Ex class laser weapons. Were I still a Commander, I would tell my men to take a good look at these fools. They are nothing less than the bottom of the barrel of warriors. The Fox would walk right through the clearing. Just as he was about to take the step on to the grass, the quiet murmurs the bandits were conversing in came clear, “I say we kill her now! I don't care how much we cold get for her at Port Nor, she almost bit my trigger finger off! We could sell her gear for plenty anyways. The damn bitch!” The sound of foot meeting flesh shattered the after morning air, and the last shred of sanity the Fox had left. They had a prisoner. One whom was brave enough to fight his captors, just as he had been. They were beating the prisoner, just as he had been. They would die, just as his captors would. The world seamed to blur and spin out of existence, only to snap into an ultra-sharp focus on the vile rabble ahead, with every other thing a shade of gray. He had no recollection of drawing his weapons, but his saber and pistol were in his hands. 11

The picture suddenly changed, and half the bandits lay on blood soaked grass with another in death troughs on the end of his blade and another falling atop a corps with a finger sized hole in its head. Then suddenly the world was back as it normally was, and two bandits were running screaming into the forest. Bastards! He cursed in his mind, firing at the fleeing Wolven and Chipmunk until the pistol clicked as if to say, “I am empty now. You can stop.” The Fox growled in anger, holstering the pistol with a violent jerk before wiping the blood from his saber and sheathing it once more on his back. He turned to see if he had accidentally killed their prisoner, and was shocked to see that she had untied herself and was walking over to him, smiling. She was an Orkrillian, commonly called the Squirrel Folk by others. He had fought her kin on the seas between Fruga and her homeland. The prisoner was female, her shape proved that. The fact that he knew that much was surprising, considering his upbringing in an all-male army. She didn't even pause to put on the clothing and equipment they took from her. . . Why? The Fox was confused, this female did not act like anyone he had ever seen. She said something to him, though he was not paying attention, and it didn't sound like English anyway. The former prisoner paused as if expecting a reply, frowned then repeated herself in broken English, “Thank. Why you leave no me for?” The Fox blinked as he tried to understand, then answered. His voice was raspy as if he didn't use it much. “I like you. I am sorry for killing them all, if you wanted some for your self. What is your name?” The kindness he showed did not fit his form, he carried himself as one who received and gave only cruelty, but she did not seem to notice, or to care if she did. “No understand you I.” She said, mismatched blue and jade eyes squinting in confusion. The Fox laughed. At last, a challenge that doesn't involve pain. “I,” he began speaking slowly and gestured with each word, “am sorry for not leaving some for you. What is your name?” She flicked some of the mud and filth from her fur, revealing it to be a light tan and replied, “Need... sorry... you no. I joking am. Understand you no.” The Fox placed his hand on his chest, “Taurn,” he said then pointed at her, “your name?” She frowned again and looked around for a few seconds, before sprinting over to a rose bush and without moving a single petal plucked a leaf from a branch then held it up, “Name is I.” She exclaimed pointing to the leaf. “Your name is Rose Leaf? Why didn't you say so?” “English name for no I.” she said shrugging. Taurn laughed again, harder than before. “You don't translate a name! And you should have said 'no English for my name' we can work on words later, let’s go for the 12

order now.” He was beginning to have fun for the first time in his life, “In your words, what is your name?” It took a moment for Roseleaf to understand but she answered, “I name, Shesara'gentu'tal'na.” “I think I will just call you Roseleaf. Or how about Rose? Is that okay?” She thought for a moment and spoke again, her English a little better this time, “You name I Rose okay. Take stuff you?” she said pointing at the fallen bandits. She offered me a share of loot which is rightfully mine? He thought with a little anger, Oh, it was a joke, he finally realized, she made a joke to a guy who doesn't even speak her language. She was wonderful, he decided, she needed to be protected, especially in this area, which not even the Guard patrolled. “Yes I will take some of their stuff. But not much,” he answered with a chuckle. “I carry for you?” she asked. “No I can manage. I will take you to a village safely you funny little flower of a female.” She understood that it seemed, Rose shook her head, “You I go with must. You save I. You I Hieargh.” “You owe me a life debt?” He could understand that, his men had done that once or twice. “Yes. Me mean I?” Taurn nodded. “Me like me!” Rose exclaimed. “You like the sound of that word huh? Well pack up and follow me, I want to go far away from here.” Taurn spun to walk away. “No go you me! You me... Desra'ell Hieargh.” Rose's face grew angry, “No you understand me. You English speak me.” Taurn did not want to keep speaking, this was the longest conversation he had ever had and his throat was getting sore, but something about Rose made him continue, and for a half hour he did nothing but teach Rose words. She was the one who stopped him teaching, with, “You stop. Me can speak me want speak then. You me no can go now, you me must do Hieargh now to next sun up.” “A ritual?” Taurn asked, he had no pleasant memories involving rituals. Rose nodded, she was a fast learner, and got the meaning of the word instantly, “You me Heiargh ritual fun be. You me... me no speak it.” “Say 'I don't know the word' next time. Can you gesture it?” he asked. Roseleaf shrugged and shook her head, unable to come up with an appropriate gesture. Taurn sighed in reply then replied, “Well then, once you have the English to tell me, tell me.” 13

Rose was positively glowing with joy, much to Taurn's confusion. “You own me till save you me. You me Hieargh. Okay it, me like you,” she answered. “We have a lot to teach each other. Well we need to go now, it’s not safe here.” They left the clearing side by side, hands intertwined, walking south together.

14

HUBERT L. MULLINS
THE NEXT THIRD ‟We’re never going to make it.” ‟We will make it, trust me.” Clarice glanced over to her daughter and noticed the blaring noise coming from the headphones wrapped around her head. She grabbed onto the left ear-bud and pulled it back so she could repeat, ‟we will make it,” so her daughter could actually hear. It was a typical soccer day for Clarice and Julia Mitchell. They sped down the I-82, desperately trying to reach the high school before the afternoon gridlock. The Cougars were set to take on the Devils, State’s 5-0 champions. Nearly every parent who had a child attending Alberton would be at the game in hopes of watching their mediocre Cougars slice the Devils out of the finals. Julia, or Jules as she was called by mommy Clarice, was one such child. Her daughter would be playing today, hopefully, if they arrived before kickoff. ‟We should just go back,” Jules said, putting her socked feet up on the dashboard. The dingy bottoms clashed with the Hello Kitty stitching on the sides. She twirled her gum with her finger and gave Clarice the sad puppy-dog eyes. It was more out of sarcasm than the genuine desire to turn around. She didn’t want to play—never did—but Clarice insisted she take part in something that would reflect nicely on a college application. Cheerleading was for stuck-ups, she had told her mom. Basketball was too extreme for her delicate nature, she had also said. Luckily soccer was just right. Not too strenuous, not too flashy, and just enough exposure to look kindly on her college resume. ‟We’ll make it. If you don’t play this one, they’ll make you quit. And then what?” She gave her daughter a scolding look that didn’t seem to get through. Jules’s head-bobbing made Clarice realize she hadn’t heard a word. ‟You’re going to have to get your act together, Jules. You can’t expect to coast along and hope things simply come to you. That’s not how the world works. I can’t keep you on course. Sooner or later, you’ll have to step up and make decisions for yourself, you know?” ‟What?” the oblivious daughter said, pulling her ear-bud aside. ‟Nothing,” Clarice breathed. ‟We’re almost there, get your shoes on.” She pointed to the cleats bouncing around on the floorboard. Engelby was a small town, at least by Californian standards, with a population of nearly a quarter million. Currently, they were driving along Baker Street, the route connecting the suburbs to the outskirts that trailed the city. It was much easier than going directly into Engelby. They could stay on the two-lane, miss most of the schools, the airport traffic, and the rush-hour surge of workers coming from downtown to their suburban lives.

15

Clarice glanced out the window and noticed several plumes of smoke in the distance, over the towering skyscrapers of Engelby. Something over there was on fire, but she didn’t think anything unusual of it. This time of year, with this type of heat, something was bound to start them. After all, those poor folks in San Diego and L.A. were losing everything they owned to such wildfires. The crisp October air brought the faint smell of charred wood through the quarter-inch cracked windows. ‟Look, a shooting star!” Jules said, springing up in her seat. She pulled the headphones around her neck and followed it with her finger. Clarice peeked over the wheel, resting her chin on it so she could watch. It looked like a falling star, but she knew better. ‟That’s a meteor . . . or something, Jules.” It was flaring red, as if on fire and there was a thin trail of smoke in its wake. Within just a few seconds, it disappeared behind the mountain of buildings in the distance. ‟Don’t you mean meteorite? Once it enters Earth’s atmosphere, it becomes a meteorite.” ‟Whatever,” Clarice almost said before slamming on the brakes. The tiny two-seater Del Sol screeched to a stop as she desperately tried to keep her bumper from kissing the one belonging to the mini-van in front. Her hand reached across and pushed Jules back, a normal reflex of such narrow escapes. The daughter pushed PAUSE on her IPod and rolled the window down to look out. There was a long, white feather floating on the wind that landed squarely on the windshield. Someone up ahead must have hit a duck or swan or something that frequented the Lotus Creek. ‟We’re definitely not gonna make it now,” she said. Clarice gave a sneer and quickly rolled her own window down. Cars were stopped along the road as far as she could see. The other lane, although empty, was also choked. She spotted a couple of vehicles parked sideways and wondered if anyone was hurt in the pile-up. There was smoke rising from the center of the street and a car alarm’s annoying warble echoed back to where they sat. It was unnaturally quiet. She was about to say something to Jules but noticed two more shapes in the sky. They were meteorites, as Jules had corrected. One was heading north, toward the city and the other was headed east, toward the mountains. A jumble of car horns squealed behind the girls. Several people had already abandoned their vehicles and started walking past to investigate the holdup. Jules placed her IPod in the center console and sat back with her legs crossed. She reached across to the steering wheel and gave it a couple of punches. Clarice flashed her a bothersome look and blew the hair out of her eyes. ‟I guess I’m not playing today,” her daughter said, and then started kicking off her cleats.

16

‟Yes, you’re playing. Stay here.” Clarice snatched her cell from her purse between the seats, unbuckled her seat belt and pulled the door open. ‟Wait, where are you going?” ‟To see what’s going on. Stay put.” If they were going to be late, she should at least call Jerry and let him know. Jules had a way of making things ‘not work out’ when it didn’t suit her interests, so she needed to inform her husband that this was not one of those instances. She flipped the phone open. No bars. That was odd. Baker Street was a clear shot to the towers. There should have always been service on this road. She tucked the phone back into her pocket and started toward the holdup. There were cars everywhere and not just in line waiting to get through. They were pulled over to the sides, some in the ditch and others parked across the main road. Doors stood open, as if the vehicles had been abandoned with no regard to possessions kept inside. A large, gathering crowd dominated the street up ahead and water sprayed into the air like a fountain at the far end. Apparently a car lost control and hit a fire hydrant before coming to a stop. With the way people were huddled together, Clarice was certain she was about to come upon a grisly scene. The police and first-responders were yet to arrive, so the accident ahead was untouched—no yellow tape, no body bags—just a horribly bloody person that crashed through a windshield. Although it wouldn’t be the first time she’d seen a dead body, she wasn’t sure she was ready to see the condition in which the accident left it. Gently, she parted between a pair of disrespectful Asian tourists toting video cameras and looked. It wasn’t anything like she suspected. There was a woman lying on her back, unmoving on the ground. She wore a white robe that looked similar to a hospital gown only this one was long and thick. Her hair was messy—blond, unkempt and matted to her face by blood. Small trickles of red ran down her forehead and nose, ending against the puffy swell of her bottom lip. Her dainty fingers and toes were clean and clear. It was the best manicure and pedicure job Clarice had ever seen. The pavement beneath looked dented in and cracked in a circular pattern like a spider web. A couple of cars around her were completely turned over, one of which had landed on the busted fire hydrant. The cracks in the road seemed to extend for twenty feet past the initial circle beneath the still woman. ‟What happened?” Clarice asked, looking at the two overturned cars currently dumping their fluids across the pavement. ‟Which one was she in?” ‟Neither,” a man said, holding his camera phone out to snap a picture. ‟She fell out of the sky.” ‟What?” Clarice almost laughed by his sincerity. Several other people turned to her with a solemn stare. They either believed his words or witnessed it themselves. 17

‟There’s another one!” someone said, pointing to the sky. A fiery meteorite zipped past them and plummeted toward the city. ‟Look at the fires,” a man said. ‟They are falling all over the place.” ‟A plane crash,” Clarice suggested. ‟It has to be from a plane crash. I mean, it could’ve broken up in the sky and these are the passengers.” ‟I don’t think so,” the one with the camera phone said. ‟Look at how they enter. They’re on fire. She’s not burnt.” He pointed to the motionless woman on the street that had everyone’s eye. Her makeup looked Clinique counter flawless. ‟Plus, look at this damage.” He waved his hands toward the car. ‟I saw it. It was like a bomb when she hit.” ‟You saw her fall?” Clarice asked. This was extraordinary, although there was a certain sadness that came with it. ‟Oh yes, that’s my car there.” He pointed to the one overturned on top of a mailbox—a small red Mini Cooper that was emptying transmission fluid across the sidewalk. ‟I was just driving along, heading to pick my wife up from work when BAMM! She falls right out of the sky in front of me and this shock wave goes out and turns my car on its side. Pavement rippled liked a rug. Something’s not right about this.” ‟Has anyone checked her?” Clarice asked. No one said a word. The man with the camera phone snapped pictures of the damage, the videographers kept rolling and the gawkers unsuccessfully attempted to speeddial friends and family to tell them what was happening. It all made Clarice a little angry. She was tired of always taking the initiative. She knelt by the fallen woman. There were small tufts of smoke coming from beneath her, as if she generated heat upon impact. With a wobbly hand, she reached out and touched the woman’s sleeve. It was hot. In fact, her entire body was sweltering. Clarice didn’t know if that was a good thing or not. The woman’s flesh felt warm, moist, and maybe even alive. ‟Someone help me!” Clarice called, grabbing the motionless woman’s arm. ‟We should wait for paramedics,” the camera phone man said. ‟Not gonna happen,” a woman said from the crowd. Her eyes darted up and down and she nodded as she conversed with someone on the other end of her cell. Apparently the reception was awful by the way her finger jabbed into her free ear and her eyes searched the sky. ‟My husband just told me that most of West Engelby is on fire. Firstresponders from Cedar Point and West Malameno are tied up there. I don’t think help will be coming for awhile.” That was all the way on the opposite side of the city. If they all left now, it would take an hour, perhaps longer if traffic was just as choked in other spots. It must have been a large fire, ginormous, as Jules would say, if two counties in opposite directions had been called to aid. ‟Someone help me, please,” Clarice said.

18

‟I will,” a man offered from the crowd. He was a tall guy—young, attractive and his eyes were genuine. She cracked a tiny, awkward smile and nodded her thanks. ‟I’ll pull by her shoulders. You cradle her head,” the man said. ‟Name’s Henry, by the way.” ‟Clarice,” she said, maneuvering around to get into position. She squatted above her and placed her hands around the lady’s head. ‟On three,” Henry called. ‟One, two, three!” Together they hoisted and it felt like lifting an empty pillowcase. She was so light in fact, that they forced her well into a sitting position. What happened next was completely unexpected. As soon as her back was off the crumpled pavement, a pair of gnarled, broken wings sprang out and snapped into place like points of a switchblade. They shuttered violently, as if trying to align themselves and reach their normal span. Small cracks ran through the veins. Clarice struggled to keep from dropping her, both out of surprise and the sheer strength of the wings taking on a life of their own. ‟Oh my god, she’s an angel!” someone said from the crowd. ‟Why has this happened?” another called. A stir of tiny white feathers coasted on the wind. Suddenly, the angel’s head shot up, her eyes opened briefly—just long enough see blue orbs of water, cool and deep—then clamped shut, and she began muttering. People were backing away, covering their mouths with hands and spewing nonsense about the end of the world. Perhaps they were right, Clarice thought grimly. The angel was slipping in and out of consciousness but she didn’t seem to be aware of what was happening. Her fingers curled up and twitched as if an electrical current was coursing through her crumpled body. ‟We need to get her to a hospital,” Henry said. ‟My car is a two-seater and I have my daughter with me,” Clarice said. ‟I have a truck, but I don’t know this city. I’m just passing through on my way to Johnson City,” said a more panicked Henry. Clarice looked back to the long line of cars and listened to the constant wails of the horns. The soccer game was a bust. This was much more important. If this girl really was an angel, wasn’t it was everyone’s duty to make sure she survived? ‟I’ll go with you,” Clarice said. ‟Grab her feet.” Together, they lifted the frail body and the wings continued to protest the movement. They fluttered against the strong wind. Clarice and Henry gently laid her atop a blue tarp in the back of his pickup. He pushed aside a toolbox and a cooler and made room for her head. ‟I’ll be right back,” she said, hopping out and jogging back to the car. Jules was still sitting there, air-conditioner blazing and headphones cranked. She smiled at the approach of her flustered mom and pointed to her watch.

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‟C’mon,” she said to her daughter. She reached inside, pulled out the keys and then rolled the window up. ‟We have to go somewhere.” ‟What? Where?” Jules asked, obviously not liking the prospect of being inconvenienced. ‟The hospital. There’s something you’re gonna want to see.” Reluctantly, she rolled up her own window, stepped out, and followed her mom past the maze of parked cars to the truck holding the angel. Her eyes lit up in recognition and she covered her face with her hands. It was one of the few times Clarice had seen her daughter react this way. Seeing a mythical figure materialized before one’s very eyes was something to behold. ‟I need you to ride back here with her,” Clarice told her. ‟We’re taking her to the hospital but this nice man doesn’t know the way.” ‟Henry,” he said, holding his hand out for Jules to take it. ‟Jules,” she returned, obviously not preferring the position in the back. Clarice left her car parked in the middle of the road. The overturned vehicles would be blocking the rest of Baker Street for hours. She joined Henry in the cab and he quickly threw it in reverse, then bolted down Fremont, off the two-lane. He turned back around and floored it while Clarice gave him instructions to get to Mt. Angeles Emergency Hospital. How fitting, she mused. For what seemed like an eternity, there was silence. Things had changed drastically in the last few minutes. She’d gone from riding down the street with Jules to riding shotgun with a man she’d just met. The truck smelled of oil and grease—something Jerry would never allow of his own car. Just that simple, unfamiliar scent made her grasp just how real the situation was. ‟Why is this happening?” she asked. ‟I don’t know,” Henry said, nervous eyes watching the road. ‟Are you a religious person?” ‟A little. I mean, I go to church on occasion but I’m not fanatical.” ‟Do you think this is Armageddon?” ‟I hope not,” she said. ‟My girl needs to finish college first.” There was a nervous smile on her face but it was forced. She peeked through the back window and saw Jules, pale-faced, staring at the lifeless body of the angel. The wings still shuttered involuntarily. ‟Something’s not right here. God’s kicking out angels. I’ve never heard of such a thing.” ‟Maybe it’s not that he’s kicking them out,” Clarice said. She was about to follow-up on that but Jules started banging ferociously on the back window. ‟Pull over! Pull over! You’ve got to see this!” she was saying.

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Henry slammed the brakes and turned into an alley by the strip mall. He threw it into park next to the dumpsters and both got out to see what Jules was making a big fuss about. In her fingers were the angel’s white feathers. The wings were falling apart, crumbling away like ash. Once bright, silky feathers, they were now becoming dingy, gray puffs of plumage. ‟It just started. It’s like they’re decaying,” Jules said. Clarice reached up and grabbed the thickest stalk of the angel’s left wing and without so much as a tug, the entire appendage broke off. She gasped but the angel appeared oblivious to any pain or any sense of amputation. The wing fluttered on its own in Clarice’s hand and she felt like she was going to be sick. More out of instinct than fear, she dropped it where it hit the ground and flew apart. The feathers were like a tiny vortex that swirled around and blew out of the alley. Just then the angel started to speak. Her eyes rolled back into her head and her voice stuttered, but it was still there. It was a high-pitched voice, very angelic as Clarice would have guessed. Most of her words were rambling but a few seemed to stand out to Henry who had his head craned to the side, listening to her soft-spoken tone. ‟Did you hear that?” he asked the girls. ‟No, what?” Jules leaned in so she could better listen. ‟Seraphim,” the angel breathed. ‟The Seraph . . . forced us.” ‟Forced you?” Henry asked. ‟Forced you to do what?” ‟. . . forced us . . . out,” she said, then continued on with what sounded like ancient gibberish. ‟You guys, something isn’t right here,” Jules said. ‟I have a bad feeling about this. Let’s just go, let’s just leave her here.” That garnered angry looks from both her elders. ‟Are you serious?” her mother said. ‟Just dump her in the alley like trash, I suppose?” ‟I just have a very bad feeling about this, mom.” ‟Of course you do. It involves getting your hands dirty. Let’s just take the easy way out and unload her and then go home. That’s what you want, huh?” ‟Ladies, please, we need to get her to the ER,” Henry chimed in with a voice of reason. His hands were shaking and Clarice knew he was just dying to light up one of the Marlboros tucked in his shirt pocket. ‟Just talk to her,” Clarice said. ‟See if she can tell you her name.” Jules shook her head, a very uneasy look in her eyes as she climbed back into the rear of the truck. Henry pulled out again, leaving the alley empty with dancing feathers and ash. ‟Head that way,” Clarice pointed out, redirecting him to get on the four-lane. ‟What do you think she meant by that?” he asked, pulling his seat belt across. ‟What?” 21

‟The Seraph forced them out.” ‟Oh, I’m not sure. I’ve heard that word before, but I can’t recall what it means,” she said. ‟The Seraph is the caretakers of the throne of God. They have six wings; two to cover their faces, two to cover their feet, and two to fly.” When Clarice gave him a suspicious stare, he smiled and added, ‟Catholic boy, born and raised.” ‟But they’re all angels, right? Why would these be forced out?” ‟Why would the Seraphs be the ones to do it?” Henry countered. ‟Think this angel was a threat to the throne of God?” Before Clarice could answer, a car swerved into their lane, smashing against the front side of the truck. She grabbed onto the door’s handle and turned to check on Jules who was clinging to the edge of the truck’s toolbox. The angel was still unconscious, but her head lolled back and forth. Henry sounded like he was about to yell out obscenities or at least hammer the horn, but he pushed Clarice to look out and see what had quieted him. The car that struck them was rolling to a stop, its left blinker flashing. On its hood was an angel, spread out with her wings fluttering across the windshield. The vehicle’s entire front half was crushed beneath the force of the celestial being’s impact. ‟Oh my god!” Henry said, looking straight. Clarice followed his stare and saw several fast moving shapes falling from the sky. There were dozens of them. Traffic on the four-lane had nearly stopped. People were getting out of their cars, watching the sky, the road, the city. Angels plummeted from the heavens and landed on vehicles, buildings, and even the freeway. A large semi barreling down the highway on the opposite side turned sharply to avoid a fallen angel and ended up on its side where it skidded fifteen feet before stopping. ‟Hold on, Jules!” she screamed through the back window as Henry desperately tried to avoid parked cars, wrecked cars, and racing cars that zipped past. More plumes of smoke rose in the west, in the city. There had to be thousands of angels. They were being . . . forced out, and onto Earth. ‟This exit!” she screamed to Henry, pointing to the big number seventeen. ‟The hospital is only a mile away.” He nodded and floored it. There was a thin sheen of sweat forming on his forehead and Clarice totally sympathized. This day had taken a brilliant turn for the worse. Did anyone, be it prophet, poet, or madman see this coming? The road leading to the hospital was a bumpy one and Jules cradled the head of the angel in her lap. Clarice kept a constant watch and realized just how uncomfortable she was. It was but a short trip once off the exit. Hopefully the road to the ER entrance would be clear— —but of course it wasn’t. There was a row of cars lined up for fifty yards. It ended at the ambulance dock in the rear of the hospital. One such ambulance simply sat on the drive-through, its lights 22

flashing with no way out. Clarice stepped out of the truck and stood on the stoop to see above the littered vehicles. ‟Oh God,” she whispered. Henry stood up on his side and looked over, as did Jules, who probably had the best view of all. ‟These people are bringing angels too,” she said. Nearly all of the parked cars had some sort of residual feathers lingering about, latched on by lint or grease. A steady flow of people carted the fallen many toward the ER entrance. Today, Engelby was full of saviors. ‟Mom, I know you think I only want the easy way out, but please, let’s just leave her.” ‟Jules, no!” Clarice said, pulling the door to the bed down. ‟You can’t be this selfcentered. She needs our help!” ‟There’s something wrong with her, mom! Can’t you see it? This isn’t a gift from God!” She had tears rolling down her face and with it, her mascara. Henry shook his head and stepped between the feuding girls. ‟Look, thanks for helping me get her here. I can carry her the rest of the way.” He fished around in his pocket and pulled out a twenty-dollar bill. ‟Here, call a cab back to your car. That is, if one will come.” He smiled as his twenty dangled before him. ‟No, no,” Clarice said. ‟That isn’t necessary, but thank you.” She glared at her daughter for her sudden outburst. ‟But we will be heading home, I believe. There’s not much more we can do from here.” ‟Thank you,” Jules breathed. ‟But I still can’t get service on my phone,” Clarice said, holding it up to the sky. ‟Maybe the angels are blocking reception.” ‟Could be,” Henry said. ‟One of them may have struck the tower.” ‟So we’ll need a payphone which means we’re going into the hospital anyway.” Clarice smiled a bit at her daughter who only bit her bottom lip and looked elsewhere. ‟C’mon, we’ll only be a second.” The sky was still filled with zipping streaks of fire. The very air danced with feathers like the ash of some down volcano. The various impacts could be heard all across the city as the trio began walking toward the ER’s back entrance. In the distance were explosions, the whirl of chopper blades, and the sirens of ambulances and police cars. Engelby was in total disarray and it didn’t look to be getting better anytime soon. As Henry carried her away, Clarice and Jules stayed back and watched the lifeless form of the angel dangle in his arms. Her limbs hung lifelessly around him, her palms open. There was a small curl of flesh split open on her finger that seemed to widen right before their eyes. It was like the skin was peeling back on its own, deteriorating as the wings had. Mother and daughter exchanged glances and kept their distance still.

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Henry turned to the side as to not bang the angel’s head against the door frame but the nearsighted motion detectors made the glass doors close prematurely and he had no idea her foot crashed heavily against it. A tiny gasp escaped him and he checked her eyes to make sure she didn’t register pain. Although he didn’t see anything happen, Jules and Clarice witnessed something peculiar. ‟Henry, wait,” Clarice said. The interior of the ER was packed. Angels were propped up in seats, some were on the floor and others were on the laps of those nice enough to bring them for medical help. Jules’s eyes shifted nervously and she waited outside of the automatic doors. Clarice held the angel’s foot up and showed Henry. His face turned three shades whiter. The flesh across her ankle had been completely rent by the door and not because of a forceful collision. Her pasty skin bunched up like a rug but there was very little blood. It was as if the flesh had dried up like a piece of meat left in the sun. Beneath it was not bone or muscle, as Clarice would have guessed. Beneath the tattered remains of her flesh was a dark green scale, much like the hide of a lizard. With a very shaky hand, she reached up, grabbed the heap of decaying tissue, and pulled. It came off like a loosely fitting sock. The angel’s entire foot was reptilian in nature. The green scales were shiny with small red veins running through them. Pulsing through them. Her once beautiful toenails were now solid black and sharply tipped. There was a sudden, overwhelming feeling that swept across Clarice and she feared her daughter’s reluctance had been justified the whole time. ‟Henry, put her down!” she said. Even he didn’t disagree this time. He propped her up in a corner next to another angel and stepped back. A few curious onlookers seemed to question their actions but after today, nothing was as strange and unusual. Just as they were about to leave the hospital—she had completely forgotten about making a phone call—a man holding a large, double-barreled shotgun came storming inside. People went into a frenzy; they abandoned their angels, shouted pleas and backed into the corner. Hostages weren’t what the man wanted, however. ‟Everyone needs to leave this place immediately,” he spoke in a calm voice. Jules was standing outside, eyes welling with tears. She didn’t understand what the seemingly crazed man wanted. ‟What’s happening?” Henry asked him. ‟These are not what you think they are,” he started. But before he could explain, their angel—alert and focused—sprang to its feet, garnering screams and cries of surprise from nearly everyone in the ER waiting room. Its eyes were filled with madness and held a faint, red glow. Its clawed fingers snaked their way toward the man’s face. He pumped his gun once, then held it out and pulled the trigger. The entire waiting room clamored alive by the sudden bright light and deafening noise in the confined area. His buckshot splattered across the white robe of the angel, the force of which sent it flying back across the room. There was blood but not much. The an24

gel’s gut was open and still it continued to stagger around. A large glob of black goo fell from its lips as it looked at its tormentor with hate-filled eyes. ‟Everyone out!” he said, pumping the gun again. He held the barrel up to the creature’s face and pulled the trigger. For a moment, Clarice could see exactly what was beneath, just like the foot of the one they brought in. These were no angels—these were something else. There were horns—Clarice could have sworn just before its face melted from the peppered buckshot she could see two, gleaming horns atop its head. These were demons. The inhabitants of the ER filed out behind him and gathered in the parking lot, leaving the silent room with the collection of stirring creatures. Above them, the heavens continued to rain down abominations. Clarice put her arm around Jules and allowed her daughter to bury her head against her chest. Both shed tears of fear, of sadness, and of solemn wonder. ‟These are wolves in sheeps’ clothing,” the armed man told his congregation. ‟They are the next third, my friends.” ‟The next third?” Jules asked. ‟That’s right, little girl. When Lucifer was cast out of heaven for trying to ignite a war, God sent a third of the conspiring angels with him. It would appear this is the same thing all over again.” ‟Then why are they here and not in hell?” Henry asked. ‟Maybe the devil doesn’t want ‘em. Or maybe this is the herald for the end of days. Fire from the heavens . . . sounds familiar?” ‟Seraph!” Clarice blurted out. ‟Our angel said the Seraphim forced them out.” ‟I’m sure they did. The Seraphim aren’t about to let vermin like that get close to our Lord’s throne.” As he spoke, his clerical collar could be seen beneath the folds of his jacket. ‟Everyone needs to get home, grab supplies, and get to a safe place. If you need guidance, we’re going to be meeting at St. Brigid’s in two hours. This is about to become a horrible age for us all.” ‟But they can be killed, right?” Henry said. ‟I wouldn’t think so, no. Not by our weapons. They can be slowed down, as I just demonstrated.” The priest smiled. ‟Even the ones you brought here . . . the ones that look like they are clinging to life after the heavenly descent will rise again. They are only stunned by the fall.” ‟How many are there?” Clarice asked. ‟If this is truly a third of the angels there are quite a few. Everyone on Earth has a guardian angel. That’s a third of six-point-six billion people. You do the math. That’s not even counting Archangels, Powers, Cherubim or any of the other spheres that now elude me.”

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Clarice and Jules both exchanged nervous glances. Those were overwhelming odds. They needed to put as much distance between them and the hospital as possible . . . and now. ‟Thank you for your help,” Henry told Clarice. ‟C’mon, I’ll give you a ride back to your car.” She smiled and nodded. ‟God be with us all, right?” Jules was eying the sky, watching the heavy shapes plummet to Earth, each with the intent of creating havoc. ‟I guess the game is canceled, huh?” the daughter said, a hint of sarcasm in her voice. ‟I’m so sorry, sweetheart,” Clarice said, ignoring what she said. ‟For what?” ‟You took the initiative for once. You knew something was wrong and tried your best to bring it to our attention and we simply shrugged you off. I’m proud of you for standing your ground when you knew something was out of place.” ‟Thanks, mom,” she said, allowing herself to be brought in for a hug. As the three headed back to the truck, they could see fire on the horizon. Engelby was blazing. Demons in sheeps’ clothes were falling all over the place and with each impact, a little piece of Earth was damaged. Clarice could only imagine if the entire world was experiencing the same thing—New York, Munich, London, Paris, Dublin. The planet was entering into a dark time and if people didn’t learn to pull together, to trust one an other, and take it upon themselves to make a difference, it would be a cold, black place for a long, long time.

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