“Destiny calls when the angel sings
Flitting in darkness with silent wings”
-scrawled on the back of a polaroid
Jagged mountains line the horizon in all directions like cardboard cutouts in a child’s diorama. Bright sunlight and low fog have transformed the sky into a flat white blanket inches above my head. I fear it will fall on me for what I’ve done, for what I’ve taken, but I’m not turning back. My bare feet sink deeper and deeper as I trudge along the sandy path. I’m close.
The old woman at the lodge fought a lot longer than the others. Dark brownish blood foamed at her lips and she convulsed wildly in her four-poster bed, but she kept breathing through the night and into the morning. A lingering sour smell clung to everything, making me gag several times. I tried to be patient, but time was running out. It won’t wait for me forever.
She screamed when I pried the photo album from her hands. Her stiff grey eyes focused sharply on mine and I could see the truth as a statement and a question. The soup, I almost said but decided it didn’t matter. Instead, I held a pillow to her face until she stopped struggling and took the small, black key from the pocket of her pale pink nightgown. It was warm as I tucked it into the pocket of my jeans.
In the dim morning light filtering through the white gauzy curtain, I found the polaroid on the thirteenth page behind a thin protective layer of slightly browning plastic. Peeling it back inch by inch, I freed it from its sticky prison. Turning it over I saw the flowy cursive black writing and smiled tracing the letters with my thumb. It’s true. Tossing the rest of the album onto the old woman’s motionless body I walked out.
I’m holding the photo in my left hand now and I pull it to my nose and breathe in deeply as I’ve done hundreds of times during the seven hours of walking. It smells like plastic at first, but if I wait it’s followed by another scent far older. My body shivers with anticipation and deep recognition of the heavenly aroma. Damp stone. Wet Earth. Home. It’s waiting for me.
As I walk I notice my vision has a filmy quality to it, a haziness I’ve come to associate with sleep. It’s got to be the hypnotic effect of the singing. I feel it like a hook inside my belly pulling and pulling. The others didn’t believe enough to hear it. It chose me.
The path narrows and clusters of yellow flowers sit like torches on either side of me. They smell faintly of honey and are near enough to brush my arms as I pass with feathery softness. Without the lights of the highway, I feel as if I’m already transported to another place. Whiteness in all directions. Stillness too. Nothing but the soft, tender voice calling me with words I feel more than hear. So close now.
A turkey vulture cries and circles above me. Its distorted winged shadow stretches across the path and I resist the urge to look at it. The stories are real even if people don’t believe in them. It requires more than faith to get what you want. I’ve proven myself capable of radical actions. I’m willing to do what the others are not. I’m a true believer.
The steady regime of exercise, prayer, and meditation has prepared not only my mind but my body for today. Although I’m bone tired, it’s nothing like I would have been before I arrived at the lodge. The old woman taught me well and a spark of remorse threatens to ignite. I blow it out. She didn’t hear the song because she hasn’t suffered like me. Nobody has. It’s not my fault it didn’t choose them.
When the church comes into view it’s exactly like the picture. I pause to savor the moment, holding the polaroid beside it to compare the old image with the real thing. White walls with a slanted red roof. Square windows along the side with divided panes. A red steeple topped with a small silver cross.
I feel static energy course through my body as warmth, like lowering myself into a hot bath after a lifetime of freezing cold showers. It’s here. I found it.
Trembling, I force myself to walk slowly and steadily with my head held high. I didn’t come this far to make a bad first impression. After leaving the old woman’s room I changed out of my bloody clothes, braided my long brown hair neatly into two braids, washed my body, and dressed in a flowing white gown. I’d left all my possessions behind.
Plucking one of the yellow flowers, I add it to my hair and smooth the soft cotton folds of my dress. The scent of frankincense oil, woody and sweet, clings to my skin. Tears fall from my tired eyes. It’s all happening.
Three wooden steps lead to the door, but my feet have suddenly locked in place. They won’t move. It’s as if they are encased in iron bands. Using my hands, I pry each foot off the ground setting it on the step above. I repeat this for each step. It’s a long, hard process. Sweat drips off my forehead, leaving a trail of little dark brown circles in the wood behind me. When I reach the top I’m panting.
For days the haunting song has called me here and now as I straighten my back and stare at the red door the beautiful sound stops with a sudden crack. The silence envelops me and I fall to my knees. No! I’m too late.
Frantically, I struggle to stand and tug at the rusted doorknob with both hands. It doesn’t budge. Panic thunders through me, a storm of anger and frustration. Clenching my hands into fists I pound wildly at the rough door. Splinters tear into my skin and I taste blood in my mouth.
“No!” The scream comes from deep inside, an eruption more than a sound. It comes with a blast of exhaustion as I fall back to my knees shaking with full-body sobs. How could I have failed? After all I did. The image of the old woman’s face swims in front of my eyes. The others too. How many died? I swat the memories away.
Falling to my side I feel a stabbing warmth between my breasts. The key! I’d attached it to a silver chain and tucked it into my bra. How could I have forgotten? Hysterical giggles come with the realization. It’s not too late!
With a loud hiccup I stand, tucking a few loose strands of hair back into place. Embarrassment burns hot across my cheeks and chest. Several ravens caw loudly behind me but I don’t look back. Instead, I study the door.
Carved runes line the frame, deeply embedded in the wood with a slightly silver glow to them. The old woman would have been able to read them, but I can’t. I locate the keyhole, round at the top and straight at the bottom. Undoing the clasp on the chain, I pull it from my neck and insert the black key into the lock and turn it to the left. It makes a loud click.
Part of me expected music or bright lights to greet me, but when I push open the heavy door, I find neither. White light from behind me casts my shadow down a long, dusty aisle between rows and rows of dark wooden pews. It’s silent. Cobwebs hang saggy and thick from the rafters and it smells strongly of dust and mold.
“Hello?” I call.
A slight scuttling sound at the far end of the church echoes through the room for a brief second before returning to silence. I take a step forward and watch my shadow move ahead of me. It seems more sure of itself than I do and I watch it for a few minutes, listening hard. All I hear are the birds outside. They seem frantic. I ignore them.
With slow careful steps, I move down the aisle. Tiny pebbles and leaves stick to my bare feet. Most of the pews are empty but a few have old hymn books or bibles flipped open on the seats. The pages look thin and faded. If I touched them would they turn to dust?
Reaching the wooden pulpit at the farthest end of the church I’m disappointed to find it empty. No candlesticks. No crosses. No adornments of any kind.
A single deep note sings out into the darkness to my left. I feel my heart swell with the sound. It’s here! With a swift, light movement I rush down a flight of stone steps and through a long dark hallway. Suddenly, I crash hard into a solid shape. A door. Running my hands along the splintery wood I find a cold metal doorknob. I turn it and pull it open.
At first, all I see is the lamp on the desk. It’s the kind suited for a lawyer’s office, a gleaming golden base with an emerald green lampshade. A single sheet of paper and a brass pen is set in the center of the polished wood surface. It’s such a strange sight I almost laugh, but a sound beyond the desk stops me. I gasp.
Metal bars separate the part of the room I’m standing in from a cement square cell with rusty silver bars. The inside is covered in writing and pictures, like those you’d see under freeway underpasses or the sides of trains. Sitting huddled in the furthest back corner is the most beautiful creature I’ve ever seen. An angel.
Its deep blue eyes stare into mine and I feel the brokenness inside me stir like leaves in an autumn breeze. Its face looks carved from marble, smoothly perfect yet at the same time distorted and unnatural. It’s wearing a charcoal grey cloak covering most of its body and head. A single note escapes its ebony lips and I feel every cell in my body shudder in response.
Rising from the floor in a fluid effortless manner, it ruffles a pair of enormous dark feathery wings. Curving high above its head on both sides, they fall around it almost touching the floor. I imagine when they are open they’d easily stretch across the entire length of the church. A long, slender finger points at the desk and the pen zips across, clicking open.
Reluctantly tearing my gaze from the angel before me, I stare at the thick white sheet of paper. It’s written in a language I’ve never seen before, but I’m aware it’s a contract. A tiny flicker of doubt burns in my chest. An image of a red devil with spiraling horns, sharp black hooves, and bright yellow eyes flashes into my mind. Taking a step back I feel dizzy.
It’s the voice I’ve heard in song calling, guiding, and luring me. The angel stands at the bars now. Hunger lives in those blue eyes, but also love. I sense it wants me and I want it too. I grab the heavy pen and sign as fast as I can, my name a blurry scrawl of black.
The bars snap away and I fall. Feathers flutter around me and the ravens outside scream. What have I done?
Author’s note: My story is a day late this week because after writing 3,000 words I discovered my main character was in the wrong story. She refused to do the things I asked of her and therefore the devil would not appear. As a result, I started over this morning and came up with this short story partly inspired by the amazing Netflix miniseries “Midnight Mass.” Please let me know what you think in the comments below. I truly appreciate every like and comment. Have a safe and happy Halloween!
Short Story Challenge | Week 43
Each week the short stories are based on a prompt from the book “Write the Story” by Piccadilly, Inc. This week’s prompt was to write a story featuring a deal with the devil. We had to include the words regime, album, torch, lodge, highway, sandy, rune, contract, taken, and suit
Write With Us
Prompt: A fortune cookie comes true
Include: numerology, hilarious, dictionary, recycled, brick, ocean, meaningful, garbage, star, origin
My 52-Week Challenge Journey
- What is the 52-week challenge?
- Week 1: The Heart and the Stone
- Week 2: The Biggest Little Gift
- Week 3: It Bearly Fits
- Week 4: The Claire in Clarity
- Week 5: The Family Tree
- Week 6: Through the Glass Windshield
- Week 7: The Final Goodbye
- Week 8: Sunset, Sunrise
- Week 9: Returning Home
- Week 10: The Water
- Week 11: Aw, Phooey!
- Week 12: Meeting Time
- Week 13: The Old Man
- Week 14: Dani and the Queen
- Week 15: The Golden Muse
- Week 16: Honeymoon Treasure Hunt
- Week 17: The Red-Haired Beauty
- Week 18: Playing Games
- Week 19: One Thing
- Week 20: The Child
- Week 21: The Carrot
- Week 22: Apple Stars
- Week 23: Something in the Water
- Week 24: Midnight Wedding Vows
- Week 25: Chocolate Kisses
- Week 26: The Island
- Week 27: Take Me By the Hand
- Week 28: When the Snow Falls
- Week 29: Stitches in the Woods
- Week 30: The Peacock Effect
- Week 31: New Experiences
- Week 32: Blood Moon Messenger
- Week 33: The Masterpiece
- Week 34: The Blackberry Quest
- Week 35: The Broken Shell
- Week 36: The Octopus in the Room
- Week 37: With a Touch of the Tapestry
- Week 38: Meet Me at the Elephant Ears
- Week 39: The Wheels on the Bus
- Week 40: Room 313
- Week 41: The Cornfield
- Week 42: Afraid of the Dark