The blizzard had come earlier than predicted. Carol and Sean Bell lay on the old pleather sofa beneath the plaid green throw, Carol against Sean's shoulder, watching the scrolling bar at the bottom of the local car ads, as each school listed its closing. Carol's eyes grew heavy. They watched out of curiosity, really, to know where the snow was bad and to know how their tax dollars were spent. The roar of passing snow plows muffled the dim chatter. Wafts of baked bread still lingered from the quiet dinner, the first dinner they'd had together that week, the first dinner that Carol wasn't working overtime at the hospital and Sean wasn't stuck in the garage in town.
The ads became more mundane and blended with each other. Carol's eyes lowered. It was strange. When did they decide to watch for school closings? They read the paper for the weather reports. She was going to have to go to work no matter what the weather was like. The blizzards brought more patients if anything. Yet when she read Centerville High School is closed it still brought her a gentle relief that swelled inside her heart. She sighed and flipped the channel to the end of some movie, with a man covered in ash and blood holding an equally filthy woman, both smiling before the fast music came to a slow finale.
“It's quiet,” she said into Sean's grey undershirt. He looked down with his deep green eyes, equally tired, but still young. “Don't you think it's quiet?”
He smiled and rubbed his palm over her sandy blonde hair. “It's nice. It's the first night you can get some decent sleep,” he said.
She sighed and rested her cheek on his ribs. The moment felt perfect. A husband and wife, cuddled on the couch, sheltered from the storm, half-asleep with full bellies and not a worry in the world just for the night. She ran her finger over his shoulder and felt him catch her wrist to kiss it. Carol had loved this man since the sixth grade. She remembered that they'd fought in their marriage, sometimes until Sean would drive out in the night, drunk and angry, and all of her anger would wash away with a river of worry for him. Why had they fought so bitterly? In the kindness of time, she had forgotten. She wished they'd never fight like that again.
“What are you thinking about?” he said sleepily.
“Nothing,” she mumbled.
“You are too smart to be thinking about nothing, Dr. Bell,” he laughed. Sean pulled a hair from her ear and wrapped it around his finger, brushing it with his thumb. “You shouldn't worry about things. We're too old to be worried about things.”
“We're not old,” she said less sweetly.
His eyes caught hers, alert. “Fine. We're not old. What's on your mind?”
“When we were young, we wanted to have babies, didn't we?” she said, searching his face. “Why didn't we have babies? It was a dream of ours.”
His eyebrows knit together, and his tired eyes suddenly focused like lasers into the space far above the ceiling. He was searching, too, for words that escaped her. “We tried,” he said softly. “I remembered we tried – like bunnies, all the time.” He caught her eyes and smiled wide. “Remember?”
She laughed, and he cupped her cheek. “I remember very well, Sean Bell. We got in a lot of trouble, too.”
He clicked the TV off, and the quaint living room was blackened. The green light from the cable box lit the glass coffee table and the cluttered photos on the fake cherry wood entertainment center. The blinking yellow light from the answering machine lit the computer, still lightly humming, in brief seconds. Outside, the trees clashed against each other as the winds pelted everything in their path. Sean leaned and kissed Carol's dry lips.
“It's not too late,” Carol whispered. “We're not that old.”
He smiled. “Of course not. Whatever makes you happy, my love.”
She cupped his ear and kissed the nape of his neck to work her way to his lips. He growled and grabbed the bottom of her shirt, and the familiar passion flared between them.
Then the hum and buzz of the house came to a deafening silence. The green light was gone. The computer was still. The phone light was no more. The shadows were complete. The light of the moon through the windows, the motor of the refrigerator, the hiss of the heating vents – all the of reminders of safety and function were gone. The wind gusted against the house and shook the windows, rattling the shutters, and scaring Carol beyond her passion.
“Just a power outage,” Sean whispered. “We're okay. Come here.”
A chill flew up her spine, and a reflex, something in her gut, told her to protect something. Something upstairs. She pushed aside the covers and took one of the pumpkin-scented candles from the table for a light. She found a lighter in the clutter pile on the desk and lit it. Sean stayed in his nest of throw blanket and remotes, smiling to her, inviting her to his den of lust. The twisting of her insides tugged her upstairs. Carol smiled to him and walked quickly up the narrow flight.
She stopped at their bedroom and pressed the door open. The bed was made, a sight not seen since before she'd taken the job at the hospital, and the clutter had been thrown into boxes in the closet to present a perfect magazine image of a bedroom. The crimson curtains – now as indistinguishable as any other shadow – were pulled shut against the drafts, but the room was cold.
The power had gone out, but the heat should not have. Carol lifted the phone and listened, but there was no noise. She plucked the charger out of Sean's phone and touched the power button, but the phone did not come on. It had been charging for over thirty minutes. Her wrist was frozen as she set it back down on the glass night stand.
Her legs were stiff, but she walked to the guest bedroom and pushed the door open until it banged against the pink wallpaper, punching a hole in the wall behind the doorknob. Sean called from downstairs. She threw open the closet, filled with her sister's old childhood clothes. Her sister had never liked these clothes, had said they were not her clothes but were Carol's best friend's clothes in a mislabeled box perhaps. Carol bent down and opened a trunk and found pictures of the beach, of a playground with children in strange poses. A swing in mid-air and a photo of just a slide. Sean had had strange artistic habits of taking strange photos of shadows and objects in motion.
“What happened?” Sean said, stepping inside. “Carol, what's going on?”
“I don't know,” she whispered. “I just feel so strange.” She felt a surge of hot pain wash over her neck and head. “Sean. Sean, do you feel that?” The next surge blinded her with its tendrils of deep burning ache. It felt like a thousand wild animals clawing into her face, through her scalp, running their claws down her shoulder and neck. Carol wailed. “Sean, what is this! Sean!”
She wiped at the imaginary animals and grasped her flesh. Was it a hallucination? Was she leaning against a live wire? Carol screamed and threw open her eyes, but when she looked, Sean was on his knees, his mouth open but with no sound coming forth, his face turning red and purple. She reached her hand to help him, but the pain made her rigid.
The room lit with brilliant fluorescent sun. In place of shadow that made everything black and formless, the light made all white and blinding to see. Carol looked over her shoulder and saw the light, framed only by the hints of a window, before it made all into a star. She closed her eyes and focused on ridding herself of the pain.
“Carol and Sean Bell,” said an angry baritone voice. It came from the light, clear and accented with an almost Italian origin. “I am Lester, an angel of Heaven. I am looking for someone of great importance. I need you to tell me where she is.”
Sean made a noise but could not speak. The light dimmed until the shapes of the room were visible, and in place of the sun, there was a man – a man with wings. He had golden flesh and armor, and his hair came down to his ribs. His eyes still glowed like stars, but they could feel his angry gaze as his aquiline nose moved with his rigid jawline. He levitated through the window and spread his pearly wings, so huge they took the entirety of the room. In his golden presence, he pain stopped, but the dull after-shock of the pain echoed through Carol's very core.
“Tell me where she is,” the angel commanded again. “I am out of time. I need to know now.”
“We don't know who you're talking about,” Sean said. He crawled to Carol and grasped her hand. “Whatever you want, we don't have it.”
The angel's nose pointed at Carol. “You remember through the spell in Our Presence. I can hear your thoughts. Her spell has weakened. Tell me where she is, woman.”
Sean looked to Carol, and for the first time, she saw terror in her husband. It was the terror her patients wore after the very worst car accidents, the terror of having escaped the maws of death, the terror after an explosion and running. This thing, this “angel” had done this to the man she loved. She knew she must look just as scared of whatever this being was.
“Sean,” she whispered, “why didn't we have babies?”
His chin quivered, but he shook his head. The pain came slowly through her neck, but in bursts like an electric whip. With each whip, she could see an image, each more vivid than the one before it. A girl, as blonde as gold, sitting atop a slide. A girl on Sean's lap with a book held before both of their faces. Report cards with A's and B's and a B- in math. A young lady in short track shorts and big green eyes running nearly last in the track team but smiling. She looked like Sean with her persistent smile and gentle hands. She looked like Carol in the hair, the wide hips, the short stature but long legs. The girl wanted an iguana. She wanted a dog. The boy band t-shirts didn't fit the girl anymore but she didn't want to get rid of them in case the bands were popular again. She was an emotional child. She was a good girl.
“Where is she?” the angel demanded.
“Go to hell!” Carol screamed.
Sean wrapped his arms around her and pulled her deep into the closet. The light was interrupted in the angel's eyes as shadow intercepted it. Deep in the pits of Carol's stomach, she felt the deepest dread she'd ever felt. It filled her with nausea. The stench of sulfur was overwhelming, and bile rose to her throat. The angel turned his eyes from her to the wall as it lit in blue fire in fine black lines. Between frolicking kittens and Pepé Le Pew, a pentagram of fire appeared, and from the flame, the scent of smoldering flesh and sulfur overwhelmed the air. The fires were hot and licked at Carol's back and hair, but she would not move. She heard the pattern of fire and guessed that the wallpaper and curtains were on fire, but she could not be certain without looking.
Carol grasped Sean's face and pressed it to her bosom as she turned her back to the fire and light behind her. She did not look at whatever would come forth from the fire or at the angel that threatened them. The light cast a shadow in the closet, a silhouette of the evil behind her. She saw a great pair of wings unfurl in the shadow. The angel cursed in its language, shrieking, and Carol squeezed her palms to her ears. Sean curled into a tight ball as he tried to mute the screaming of the angel. The screaming and cursing became wails of pain, lost to the air, and then they were silent. The light faded and was gone, but the fires from the room still flared, and the shadow of the black wings remained, as did the deep dread, the nausea, and the sulfur.
“Kill us,” Carol hissed, “or torment us, or whatever you do. You will never get her.”
The demon lingered a while longer, its shadow silhouetted in the closet with its hellfire. Carol dared not look at it. Sean made no noise, a silent, trembling toy in the corner. The shadow narrowed as its wings furled, and in an otherworldly sigh, the flames spent. The room was black and silent. Sulfur lingered in the air with its powerful dread.
A gust of wind threw itself into the windows again, freezing the room. She was trembling. Her knees shook so hard that she could not crouch a moment longer. She reached and touched Sean's cheek, and he opened his eyes, crying. She was crying too. Together, they nodded and looked into the room – their daughter's room – and saw the remains. White feathers lay across the charred pink carpet. The wall was black with wide gaps gone – new windows to the outside storm. Carol touched a ceramic fairy on the window sill. Its face had been melted in the fire.
A voice came from the hall. Carol shook so hard, her very bones ached. Every inch of her existence came to life in the impulse to kill, the impulse of an animal backed into a closet with no choice but to kill any angel or demon that had come back to fight. She saw only Sean, clenched tight within himself by the door, hugging his arms. His phone glowed in his hand with the familiar black box and number pad of a phone call displaced in the light. The voice came again. 9-1-1, what is your emergency?
“Send help!” Carol screamed. “Please! Help us!”
Beneath the snow of a blizzard, among the smoldering ash of hellfire with angel feathers beneath her feet, Carol Bell screamed. She screamed for her shattered husband who would need a lifetime of therapy from this night. She screamed for the pain still quaking in her body. She screamed for her daughter, her little girl that had been torn from her very soul by forces she could never understand. She screamed for many things that night, but to whom she screamed, she was not sure.