Sarah and Avalyn sat at the table while the priest prepared sandwiches at the kitchen counter. The ladies waited, hungry but patient. They’d all missed breakfast and were in danger of missing lunch as well. It was nearly time for dinner.
Making the sandwiches required little thought and Father Purgeon’s went elsewhere. He thought about everything Avalyn had said. Guardian Angels, some place called the Deadtime, souls not getting to heaven, and somehow his help was needed.
He wondered what Roman’s role was in all this. As far as the priest knew, Roman hadn’t met Avalyn prior to rescuing her. Just happened to be at the right place at the right time? He found the coincidence hard to fathom, hard to swallow, almost impossible to except.
He walked over to the table with a stack of three plates in his hands. Three six-inch heroes lay atop the porcelain pinnacle. He passed out the dishes and kept the top one for himself. “Dig in,” he said.
Trailing his invite where their hungry hands. They ate in silence for the first half of the meal. Mid-way through, Father Purgeon couldn’t help but ask, “Why does Roman need me, Avalyn? What am I supposed to do for him?” When she didn’t answer, the priest pressed on. “You said that I should remember everything I learned. Were you talking about my hobby, Angelology? Why?”
“You’re both going to need that information,” Avalyn said without looking up from her sandwich. “And then some.”
“Why does Roman need me?” Father Purgeon asked again.
“You have to keep him from falling further. He can’t lose himself completely. He can’t believe he is what he is. Cause he’s not. You’ve already been helping him. You have to continue. Besides, you’re going to have to teach him, tell him everything you know about angels and their brethren, the Fallen, especially their language.”
“You and Roman are connected. How?”
“I probably told you too much already,” Avalyn said.
Father Purgeon’s frustration mounted. She was being evasive. Why? If she needed him that much then why was she being so ambiguous? Why wouldn’t she tell him everything? “Why can’t you tell me?” He looked over at Sarah, glared at her. “What about you? Can you tell me anything?” He felt lost, like he was missing the plot of some epic story, like he was being fed miniscule morsels of an enormous meal.
“You know I would if I could,” Sarah said. “I don’t know what happens next, but I do know that this is bigger than you or me. I’m not going to let anything happen to Avalyn. Your faith will see you and Roman through this. You just have to be you, Father.”
Suddenly, Avalyn dropped her sandwich. “They’re coming, Father.”
“They know about you,” Avalyn squinted, as if trying to see something more clearly. “They think I’m here.”
“They? Who are they? And whoever they are, how would they know about me?”
“I don’t know. The visions come in flashes. I can’t see them clearly, not on my own. Not like when the Shadowy Man shows me things.”
There was a knock on the front door.
“Upstairs! Both of you!” Father Purgeon said.
Avalyn and Sarah rose, trying not to drag their chairs along the wooden floor. Sarah grabbed Avalyn’s hand. And as she did, she saw the look of fear in the young girl’s eyes. As they walked past the priest, Sarah leaned in to Father Purgeon and whispered, “Be careful.”
He nodded and shooed them upstairs with his hands. The knock came again, heavier this time, insistent. Father Purgeon ignored it, waited until they cleared the top step.
“Yes,” he said through the door.
“Father Randolph Purgeon,” the voice on the other side said. “Police. Open up.”
The police? Here? Why were they here? His heart thudded in his chest. His only link to Avalyn was Roman. Now he was getting somewhere. When Roman said that ‘they’ would come for her, he’d assumed Roman had meant vampires. He’d never thought that ‘they’ included the police. Vampire resources? He almost laughed aloud at the thought. Almost.
Upstairs, Sarah and Avalyn were out of sight, but not out of earshot, sitting huddled on the floor, hand in hand. They heard Father Purgeon unlatch and open the door.
“Sorry about that,” Father Purgeon said from the threshold.
“No problem, Father.”
Two men stood before him. One of them was in his fifties. About five foot eight. Grey hair, grey mustache. Crow’s feet clawing the skin around his eyes. The speaker was in his forties. Just shy of six feet. Brown hair, brown goatee.
“My Name’s Detective Larson. This is my partner, Detective Sands. Can we come in?” The officers had their badges out.
“What’s this about officers?” Father Purgeon asked, hoping he hadn’t stammered. “I’m in the middle of something.”
Larson glared at him with flat eyes. “It’ll just take a moment. We’re sorry to interrupt you.” Apologetic voice. Cold eyes.
Father Purgeon stepped aside, resisted looking back up the stairs, and closed the door behind the men, his heart beating so hard that he was sure the detectives heard it, but it wasn’t his heart that gave him away; the officers were staring past the foyer, into the kitchen, at the plates on the table.
“Company?” Sands asked.
Father Purgeon silently cursed. “Earlier, yes.”
“We’re looking for a missing child,” Larson said. “Found the mother murdered.”
“Heard anything about that?” Sands chimed in.
“No, I haven’t.”
Larson smiled at the priest. He knew he was lying. He enjoyed the priest’s discomfort.
It really didn’t matter how Father Purgeon answered. They knew about Avalyn. They knew he was involved. Behind him stood a coat rack. His black blazer, Sarah’s jacket, and a fleece they’d filched for Avalyn from the donation pile, hung on its arms. Father Purgeon casually placed his hands behind his back and felt for the pole.
Upstairs, Avalyn’s hand tightened around Sarah’s, clamping it hard, vise-like. Sarah turned to the girl. Their eyes locked. A firm resolve was set within Avalyn’s gaze. “I have to do this,” she said, letting go of Sarah’s hand. “Stay here.” Avalyn got up and made her way to the stairs.
Father Purgeon was ready now. He had a good grip on the pole. He was about to raise it, planned on whipping the pole up and over his shoulder and crash it right onto detective Larson’s head, when Avalyn’s voice stopped him.
“Hello, officers,” she said as she came down the stairs. “I can answer your questions.”
“Avalyn! What are you doing?” Father Purgeon shouted. He wasn’t going to let them take her. He reasserted his hold on the pole then brought it up. Larson was watching Avalyn come down the stairs, but Sands caught the movement and drew his gun just as the priest raised the make shift weapon.
“Drop it!” Sands said.
Larson turned, saw the coat rack in Purgeon’s hand, and the coat’s falling to the floor. He saw the look of determination on the priest’s face and found it funny. “I’d do what he says.” Larson drew his gun and pointed it at Father Purgeon.
Behind them, Avalyn reached the bottom of the stairs. She walked up to the detectives and placed a hand to each back. “Remember,” she said. Both men dropped to their knees, weapons falling from their hands.
Warmth past from her palms to their backs and spread throughout their bodies. “Remember,” Avalyn repeated.
And the detectives did.
Like Sarah, they remembered the light in which they came from, that they knew inherently was a part of them, that was them, that was a part of every living thing, and denied it. Their bodies shook and tears flew from their eyes. Both men held their heads in their hands. Avalyn pressed her palms harder into their backs. “Remember,” she said. “Remember.”
After several more moments of this, both men, almost simultaneously, opened their eyes. Unlike Sarah, whose eyes beamed with understanding and adulation, both detective’s looked troubled and confused. Afraid and terrified.
Then those looks turned to hate.
Suddenly, Sands reached for the gun by his knees. He aimed it at Larson, point blank range, and fired. Before Larson’s body crumpled to the ground, Sands turned the gun on himself, placed it to his temple, looked at Avalyn and said, “Fuck you,” and pulled the trigger. Avalyn and Father Purgeon found themselves splattered with blood and gore.
Sarah came charging down the stairs. She ignored the bodies and the blood. She only had eyes for Avalyn. She went over to the girl and hugged her.
The coat rack slipped from Father Purgeon’s hand and fell to the floor as he stared at the detectives and at all the blood. He tore his gaze away from the bodies. His eyes moved over the room, to the blood that splattered the walls, that lathered the back of the door’s latticework and overhead lintel, until finally they settled on the blood pooling on the foyer floor.
“What are we going to do now?” Sarah said to the priest, wiping the blood off Avalyn with the sleeves and corners of her own shirt.
Father Purgeon looked at Sarah as if coming out of a dream. He didn’t answer her. He was wondering how long they had before the detectives were missed. That depended on how bad they were wanted, how deep this went. He wondered which part of the thought frightened him more. He decided it didn’t really matter; both parts scared him plenty. He felt paranoia’s anxious ripples. Nothing wrong with that. Not after this.
“Get Avalyn a change of clothes, Sarah. Change yours too.” Father Purgeon said, eventually finding his voice.
Sarah nodded and let go of Avalyn. Avalyn dropped and sat on a step, grasped her knees with her hands. “I guess the truth’s not for everyone,” she said, wiping away the bone and brain fragments Sarah had missed from her eyes. She hadn’t expected the detectives to react that way. She’d thought that once she showed a soul its home, made it remember where it came from and why it was here, it would be filled with solace and bliss, knowing that they were a part of something that was bigger than they were. That showed them they were not alone in this existence.
“That wasn’t your fault, sweetie,” Sarah said. “Everyone’s not going to like what you show them. But you can’t let that stop you. You have to keep going. There are more people who’ll appreciate the gift you have.” She kissed the girl on the forehead.
Father Purgeon looked at Avalyn. He didn’t like what he saw. Didn’t like the way her face looked with blood streaking it. Didn’t like that far away look in her eyes, that same look he saw dominating them when he first met her.
“You should go upstairs. Get cleaned up. You don’t need to see anymore.”
Without looking up, Avalyn got up and went upstairs. Sarah watched her ascent, then glanced around the room, and met Father Purgeon’s eyes. They were both hoping no one had heard the gunshots. She turned and followed Avalyn.
Father Purgeon concentrated as he began to search Larson’s body for his gun. Sands’ would be next, but the blood distracted him, the gore disturbed him. Something told him that they were going to need the weapons. Besides, he’d already gone this far and there was no turning back. He found one of the detective’s guns underneath a thigh. He pulled it free with a hard yank and turned on the safety before stuffing it into his trousers. He never thought he’d ever touch a gun again. Not after the war. The war to end all wars. Afterward he’d sworn to never go near one, let alone wield one.
He searched the body and found two clips of ammo, jammed them into his back pocket, and searched the foyer for the other gun. He saw it lying in a pool of blood by what used to be Detective Sands’ head. He left it there for now and searched the body, found another two clips, then crammed them into his other back pocket. He got up and retrieved the second weapon, wiped the blood off it, and clicked the safety on.
Fifteen minutes later-too long in Father Purgeon’s opinion-they were ready to go, standing by the rear entrance. Avalyn had on an overcoat, two sizes too big; her boots one size too large. However, the cotton skullcap she wore fit her snug, as did the sweater she wore beneath the coat. Father Purgeon had changed into a wool pea coat, a cotton sweater, and trousers. He had on boots now instead of shoes.
“We’ll leave through the back.” He looked down at the bodies. “I don’t want to move them, and I don’t want anyone to see us leaving, especially if anyone saw these guys coming in. There’s a place on Seventh Street, think it’s called Neville’s. I want to go somewhere I’ve never been. Makes it hard for them to guess our next move. I know. Sounds paranoid. But if the police are involved, there’s no telling how deep this goes. We’ll discuss our next move there.”
Sarah nodded. “I think I know the place you’re talking about. I’ve never been there either, but I think I can find it.”
Father Purgeon looked confused. “What do you mean ‘you can find it’? We’re going together.”
“They’re looking for a priest and a girl, not a woman and child. It’s best we go on ahead of you, a five minute start, no more.”
He didn’t like it, but it made sense. “You’re right. Five minutes.” He reached into his coat’s breast pocket and pulled out one of the guns. “Here, just in case. I’m armed too.” He handed her the weapon. Sarah’s eyes widened. She knew how difficult this must be for him. He hadn’t handled a weapon since the war; he’d sworn never to use one again.
“I wish we had more time. Going to have to give you a crash course. Unless, you know how to handle one of these,” Father Purgeon said.
She shook her head.
He showed her how to pop the cartridge and reload, check the safety, point and aim. He told her to always grasp the gun with both hands, palm the handle, set her feet beneath her, brace for the recoil.
She shoved the gun into her coat’s right front pocket. He handed her the extra clips.
The sound of a ringing phone made all three of them jump. Sarah and Father Purgeon didn’t bother checking their mobiles. The ringing was too distant. It was coming from the foyer.
Though he didn’t want to, Father Purgeon made his way back to the scene of the crime. He felt the ladies follow.
The phone rang again. It sounded muffled. Father Purgeon thought it was coming from Sands’ body. He made his way through the foyer, avoiding the blood. When he reached the detective, he pulled up the sleeve of his own coat so as not to soil it, then bent down, shed aside the officer’s blazer, reached into the inside pocket, and pulled out the phone.
He didn’t know what to do. Should he answer it? Should he ignore it?
The phone went silent in mid ring.
He was about to toss it on Sands’ body when it came alive in his hands, vibrating and ringing. Same number on the display. Such a mundane thing never felt so evil in his hands.
Once more, he stalled. He went over the pros and cons of answering the call, of ignoring it. The girls behind him were silent. Not much help. He was tired of feeling left out, like he was in the dark. Tired of feeling like the only one who had to accept everything, on faith alone. This irritated him. He knew he was having a moment. The stressful events of the last couple of days, amplified by today’s violence, which in turn had dredged up the horrors of his past, had overwhelmed him, momentarily. But he was tired of hiding, now running, from an unseen enemy. He didn’t know what he’d get from answering the phone, if he’d get anything at all, but at least he’d hear the voice of his adversary.
He answered the phone.
“Sands? About fucking time? Don’t fucking tell me you got your phone on vibrate again!”
Father Purgeon said nothing.
“He’s dead,” Father Purgeon said.
“He’s dead too.”
Silence on the other end.
“What do you want? Why are you after us?” Father Purgeon asked.
Ten more seconds of silence passed before a response. “Who is this?”
“What do you want?” Father Purgeon repeated.
The line went dead.
Father Purgeon dropped the phone. “Let’s go. Leave your phone, Sarah. They could trace us.” He tossed his phone by Sand’s. Sarah did the same.
Father Purgeon looked at his watch. “We have to leave now. I’ll give you a head start. Five minutes. Go!”