Don’t Kill the Messenger
Making my way down the sidewalk, breath puffing out in tiny gray wisps, I decided this was my “Bah, Humbug” year. I wanted to escape the holiday hoopla and spend my Christmas Eve curled under a blanket with a book and a steaming mug of hot chocolate.
Ready to start my quiet evening at home, I’d discovered there was no hot chocolate and briefly debated whether or not it was essential to my happiness. The chocolate won.
The 24-hour quick mart was willing to take my money any time of year, and with few people on the street this late, I’d be home before midnight. I had bumped into only one man hurrying in the opposite direction.
Looking back as he rounded a corner, he hadn’t seen me and would’ve flattened me if his reflexes hadn’t been sharp. Fair and attractive in a Chaps-model kind of way, he’d been under-dressed for the weather, wearing only a sweater and jeans. We’d both been on our ways with muttered apologies.
The only sounds as I neared the Christmas tree lot at the corner of the park were those of my boots crunching snow and the rustling of my plastic bag. The soothing cadence of the walking white noise let my mind wander.
From within the evergreens ahead, another man stared at me, and I increased my pace. He shot forward as I passed to grab my arms. I dropped my bag as he tightened his grip and dragged me into the trees.
I saw stars as he slammed me against a temporary wall, placing one big hand around my neck to hold me. Pressing his face close to mine, he drew in a deep breath. Displaying a mouth filled with rows of tiny, sharp teeth, he grinned at me.
“You smell like angel,” he growled. “Where is the messenger?”
My brain shut down. This creature that looked like a calendar boy for shark-of-the-month just smelled me. I giggled hysterically. Sharp-tooth shook me again.
“Where is the messenger?”
“What messenger?” I didn’t think he’d believe me if I explained that I’d only come for a mug of hot chocolate.
He squeezed my throat, and self-preservation kicked in. Screaming, I tried to deliver a solid groin kick, but he saw it coming and threw me to the ground. I couldn’t breathe.
“You reek of Gabriel,” he said. “Tell me where he is, or you will die.”
“Not tonight.” From over Sharp-tooth’s shoulder, I watched as the man I bumped into earlier grabbed a holly bough and thrust it through my attacker. Hideous mouth opened wide, the creature evaporated in a cloud of sulfurous smoke.
“I heard you scream,” said the stranger, crouching to help me sit up. “We need to get off the street.”
“That thing wasn’t human.”
“Demon,” he said, looking grim. He took my arm and ushered me toward the sidewalk. “Do you live near here?”
I blinked hard, thinking I’d misheard. “Demon?”
“Yes.” He narrowed an intense tiger-eye gaze on me. “Do you live around here?”
I gave him my address. He began to hustle me along, scooping up my bag as we passed. When he handed it to me, I accepted it without protest.
“It said I smelled like angel—that it was looking for a messenger.” Alternately watching the man and my feet, I stumbled after him. “Are you the messenger? Are you Gabriel?”
He didn’t answer. As we passed under a street lamp, I felt myself go numb as I saw the strange shadow he cast on the ground. Within the pool of light, his shadow stretched high and rippled on either side of him like phantom wings. I stopped cold.
Messenger. Angel. Gabriel. “Oh, my God! You’re an angel!”
Slapping my hands over my mouth, I was mortified that I’d just said God in front of an angel. Looking green at my outburst, he eventually nodded.
“I am called Gabriel, and I am an angel.”
“Demons are real, and they can kill angels?” My world tilted.
“Unfortunately, yes,” he said, reaching out again to tug me onward. “I am a messenger, called Gabriel after my commander.
“As part of the Host, my essence is linked to others of my kind. The demons chasing me used a spell to bind me to earth in hopes of using me in a ritual to destroy my kind. My link to the others would have crippled them at my death.”
I remembered how distracted he had been earlier, not by cold, but by evil creatures hunting him. “What happens if demons destroy your kind?”
Gabriel’s handsome face hardened in dark shadows. “What always happens in war. Kill the messengers and cut the lines of communication. Things break down, and faith declines. Humans suffer.” He grimaced at the thought.
I could see my Victorian up ahead, looking serene and inviting. Who’d have thought I’d spend Christmas Eve caught between angels and demons?
Throwing a sideways glance at me, Gabriel spoke very softly. “I’m sorry you had to find out about our existence in such a terrifying way. I wouldn’t want to see you burdened by this. As soon as my binding spell breaks at midnight, and you are safely indoors, I will leave.”
“You made it,” I said, looking at my watch. “It’s past midnight.” Facing him, I asked, “They don’t win, right?”
“Tonight, we are safe.”
Not quite the reassurance I wanted.
“Do you get to fly away now?”
Gabriel smiled. “Go inside. Leave my getaway to me.”
There were many questions I wanted to ask, but I settled for one.
“Will I see you again?”
Glancing up at my window, his tiger eyes took on a mischievous glint as he spotted the flashing angel on top of my Christmas tree.
I felt more than saw him leave in a rush of air. Turning to look, I saw a single opalescent feather drifting toward the ground.
Celebrating the holiday didn’t seem like such a bad idea after all.