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1

Rosalee Amador had sought refuge. Walking home from the library, she found the brick paths abandoned. The night screeched with the insect chorale. The lamps cast light, which cast shadows. If someone walked behind her, she would not have heard him. If someone were in the abyss over the main square, she would not have seen him, but he would have seen her. What life could come from the darkness?

Her dorm was on a high hill. Two lampposts marked the first stairwell, ascending through woods. She would still have to cross the square to the complex, walking up three more flights past three more dorms before reaching her own. Once in her building, she would have to climb three stairwells before reaching her hall.

She stared into the void between the twin lights. She mustered her courage. She called herself ridiculous for being scared. She dismissed her girlish fears. In the end, she did not move forward because of perseverance. She felt exposed standing alone in the light.

An instinct told her to run, to dash up the stairs and home. However, even though she was alone, she still felt someone could have been watching. How stupid, how stupidly afraid, she would have looked. She did not want to be this person, afraid of shadows. She wanted to be strong. She wanted to face the world, to show it she could take care of herself. This sense of proving her maturity kept her from running, until she heard the voice:

“Hello, beautiful.”

She looked up and saw two dark figures at the summit of her climb.

“Need someone nice and strong to walk you home?” said another voice.

She first imagined telling them off and pushing her way through. Although, she next imagined in a visionary’s flash two more dark figures moving in from the base of the stairs. She turned and ran.

“Get her.”

She heard the pounding of their feet and their panting breaths as they took chase. She screamed once, knowing it was useless. No one would hear. She ran past the emergency phone. Even if she got through to Public Safety, they would have dragged her away before an officer came. She could not outrun two guys for long. Running alongside the administrative building, she headed deeper into the campus, away from the main lawn, the main gate. The alley grew darker, but a pinprick of light guided her to the end. She reached the light, coming to a small garden, two walkways crossing through beds of flowers to a stone wall lined with gargoyles. The light had come from a golden lamp at the square’s center. Before her was a little chapel with arched wooden doors and windows. A window pictured The Mother rocking her child.

When she heard yells, she prepared to run but collapsed. Her chest burned. Her legs felt like jelly. She cursed herself for not hiding, for not running, but she had never known this place existed. Shuffling her feet, she staggered to the doors and hid inside the dark chapel.

In the light streaming through the window, she saw a broom propped against the wall. She slid it through the doors’ iron handles. She stayed low, peeking outside the window. Through a red pane, she saw the two boys, rosy figures bustling about, unsure of where to go.

“You lost her, idiot.”

“She’s probably in the church.” He pointed at the doors.

They lowered their voices. She only heard murmurs. One had his hands up in the air as if to surrender. He just kept pointing. His friend punched him in the shoulder then went stumbling out of the square. The other followed. They disappeared into the alley, but Rosalee decided to sleep in the chapel.

She groped in the dark, touching the edge of a pew until reaching the wall. She moved with one hand feeling the air ahead. She touched wood, the confessional. She nestled inside, slipping off her sneakers and stretching her feet. She took her books out of her bag and rolled it up into a pillow. She pulled her arms into her gray Fairfield University sweatshirt, curled up her legs on the seat, and fell asleep leaning against the wall.

She was too exhausted to dream but too cautious to sink into full unconsciousness. She slept with the smell of the old wood and the creaking of the old floor. The dark was a womb. She could not see the world. The world could not see her. As she started to surrender, to allow herself to feel safe, a white light filled her eyes. She opened them unsure if she had crossed the frothy boundary between dreams and reality. She saw darkness. Had she opened her eyes or closed them?

The edges of the door glowed, the light seeping in. Forgetting what brought her here, curiosity took her hand and opened the door. She covered her eyes as the illumination washed over her. Peeking over her hand, she saw someone in the center of the radiance, a man floating. His light revealed a hundred aisles of pews. Rosalee saw the church had a second story, a gallery of stone arches propped on Grecian columns wrapped by the leafy vines etched into their façade.

The angel floated down. His hair golden, his white robes whipping in currents of wind, his being aglow, he perched himself on a pew. She crept towards him, reaching out and touching his shirt. It looked like silk, but warm and searing, it felt as if woven from sunlight. He remained there, smiling. His eyes were a pale blue; the daytime sky drowning in celestial orbs.

She touched her lips like she could take in the residual essence of his being on her fingertips.

“You don’t have wings,” she said.

“I am a warrior granted certain rites to defend heaven.”

The tips of his boots were diamond. His pants seemed standard Reginal issue, except they were white, not black. This was magic. A prank. She believed in God but not in angels.

“I have a message,” he said.

“If the Almighty has words for me, he would whisper them into my soul. Not send some glorified mailman,” Rosalee replied.

“Is that what you want... for Our Father to speak to you?”

“Is that odd for a daughter to want encouraging words from The One who was supposed to protect her, to guide her?”

“He never promised harm would not find you. And you are protected. But this is now. Do you want The Spirit’s inspiration or Life’s answers?”

Rosalee scratched her cheek, a nervous tick. Her breath became labored. She could have screamed, losing herself to the surreal, but she closed her eyes. Locking herself in her mind, she searched for an explanation that would keep her grounded. She was not willing to be stupid, though. She knew her friends would not invoke such elaborate magic for a hoax. They were not tricksters. She must have wronged someone. Maybe a boy had watched her from a distance, weaving fairytales in his mind of how he was her hero.

In her pocket, she found a potion, smashed it against the wooden floor, and said:

“The truth of my mind and of my eyes is now revealed. Whatever magic, let it be unsealed.”

The angel cocked his head. His lips had uncurled from their smile, pursing.

“Magic,” he said, “is but a glimpse of The Divine. It is a droplet from a waterfall, a grain of sand from a desert. Do you not understand why I am here? You prayed for a protector, and I am here. You needed to feel safe. I am here.”

His forthright demeanor made him more concrete to her. She became aware of a draft, the coolness prickling her. The horror she had the sense to know, and had forgotten in this fantasy, returned to her. She did not fear the terror; she welcomed it. She was not afraid of the dark; she dreaded what monsters might use it against her. These feelings were her first defense. They did not terrorize her, they warned her of those who might. She knew now this was a trick. This was magic. Those mages who had chased her were still outside, and they had created this angel of light to lure her back into the dark.

“How did you protect me?” she asked. “I didn’t see you swoop down from a cloud and righteously cut off their heads.”

“You didn’t want me to. You just wanted them gone.” He looked at her like she was an odd bird flitting about in a cage. His eyes moved across every corner of her face. He inspected her, and Rosalee believed she was not meeting his approval.

“Fine,” she said, spilling a tear. “You just wait here and watch until morning.”

“We must make a contract first. Then I will forever be at your service.”

Mages were not supposed to possess magic this potent. This illusion had been crystalized into her reality. But what was the point? They were wary enough to tread away from the sacred. They were Neanderthals, prowling at night. Boys that crude could not so finely mill their essences to create something so beautiful. The garden. The chapel. The angel. She had stumbled into ancient witchery. She wanted to touch his face.

“I believe you,” she said.

Smiling, he shed a tear. This need for her acceptance brought a safeness within her, allowing an awareness of her feelings. She admitted that she had been concerned with his judgment. She wanted him to be true. She wanted him to like her, to protect her, to love her. In his tear was an explosion of possibility that eradicated her skepticism. Their hearts revealed, there were no more words. Their souls reached for each other in a moment of silence. He saw her need him. She saw him need her. They found an elation magnified by this cycling awareness. Needing each other and needing to be needed–love being given to be returned, to be given, to be returned. He held his hand out, she touched the tip of his fingers. A pearl fire ignited her in aura. Her clothing burned away in curls of white flame. The tips of their fingers touching, he guided her towards him. His own clothes evaporated in the light. His robes cloaked them in dreams. She could not see beyond the light. She felt no boundary. They existed in grace. Bathed in the fabric of heaven, their bodies touched. She felt the weightlessness of pure being, the ecstasy of union. She lost her body in the light.

She smelled smoke and heard the crackling sear of fire. A stuffy heat choked her breath away. She felt dirt beneath her. With each sense, she found her body. She remembered herself. She felt silk clinging to her. Sweat. She coughed bringing her lungs into being. Piece by piece her mind recollected her sense of self through her world. She was a woman. Two men had chased her. She had met an angel. She opened her eyes and saw the town on fire. Morning had come.

Flames brought the stores of Main Street crashing. Bodies were charred in their cars and on the sidewalk. In a white gown, she walked barefoot, cutting her feet on shards of glass. She walked the miles through the town, stinging blisters covering the soles of her feet. She could not take their cars. She could not take advantage of the dead.

The fire washed over the town. She reached the burning forest. The flames never touched her, parting in her path. She made her trek to the highway, stumbling into the street. Sirens. A pack of sleek gray sports cars came screeching to a halt. They reminded her of a flock of eagles, but eagles migrated alone. She collapsed. A man in uniform ran to her.

“Are you okay, Miss?” he asked.

He wore a red shirt with black trousers and boots. Over his chest, a phoenix was embroidered in tribal flames. The Reginal had come. She was safe.