The Christmas Angel
Dusk had fallen, and brought with it a heavy fog that had descended as quickly as though a curtain had been drawn across the horizon.
The young woman shuddered and pulled the collar of her coat up around her neck, regretting her decision to brave the elements and await her husband's arrival outside of her car, which hunkered uselessly by the curb-side a few feet away. She debated climbing back inside as she felt the tips of her fingers beginning to tingle from the chill in the air, but was afraid that in the dense fog she would be overlooked when her rescuer finally did arrive. She peered through the back passenger window of the car and smiled as she spied her infant daughter sleeping in her car seat, a pacifier dangling precariously from her open lips.
"At least you're warm," the woman sighed, beginning to stamp her feet to keep her toes from numbing. She glanced at the roof of the car, to which was strapped a rather spindly Christmas tree. The woman glowered at the cursed shrub, her reason for having left her home this wintry December evening. The damned tree was a rather pathetic excuse for a holiday decoration yet had still cost her forty dollars being that she had neglected to buy one up until three days before Christmas day itself. She had presumed that this would have driven the price down, but when she had arrived at the lot she had discovered only three trees remaining and a rather greedy lot owner grinning in satisfaction.
"Left it a little late darlin'," he had drawled, pausing only to expel a wadge of tobacco from the corner of his mouth. He wiped at the resulting trail of saliva on his chin with the back of his gloved hand. "Got three trees left, fifty dollars a piece, or I could do ya a deal on all three."
"Why the hell would I want three Christmas trees?" the woman had demanded, angry not only with the lot owner but with herself for having procrastinated on the tree-buying front. "And those trees are barely worth fifty cents!"
The guy shrugged, jamming his hands in the pockets of his coat and shifting from one foot to the other, "Ya could always try Walmart? Get one of them plastic pieces of crap. That way ya won't have to concern yourself next year either."
The woman bristled at the very suggestion. This was her daughters first Christmas, and she didn't want all the photographs to feature a plastic monstrosity that could scarcely support a bauble and a length of tinsel. She scanned the row of tired-looking trees and stabbed her finger in the direction of the middle one.
"I'll give you forty," she said through gritted teeth.
She had barely driven six miles down the road before her car engine had suddenly begun to sputter in a rather worrying manner. Her eyes widened as she wrenched the wheel, directing her car towards the side of the road.
"Not now, not now," she had pleaded, staring helplessly down at the wheel as though some answer to her predicament may lie within. The engine gave one final pained cough and then died.
Twenty minutes, her husband had promised when she had called him from the roadside payphone, but that was over an hour and a half ago. She had grown increasing angry and wary as the darkness had descended around her. Despite this, she forced herself to remain at the side of the highway, torch in hand and eyes desperately scanning the distance.
"Come on…" she muttered, the cold and six weeks of sleepless night beginning to fray her temper. In a sudden outburst, she rammed the torch into the side of the car.
"Car trouble ma'am?"
The voice pierced the night, and the woman shrieked as she spun on her heel to greet it's owner.
"I'm sorry ma'am, I didn't mean to scare you," the man placated, his hands raised slightly in front of him as he approached the woman. She sighed in relief at the stranger who appeared to be smiling warmly at her. She forced her tensed muscles to relax and gestured to her car with the torch.
"Damn thing just up and died on me," she explained, her voice shaking a little, betraying that she had not quite yet recovered from her shock. Her eyes ticked briefly to the passenger door, behind which her daughter was nestled snugly in her seat.
The man shook his head and chuckled softly.
"Don't you just hate it when that happens?!"
He stepped directly into the beam of light cast from the woman's torch, and in that moment she recoiled as she surveyed his features. The man was horribly disfigured, his face scarred along the ridge of his brow and nose. His eyes… his eyes glowed a feral yellow, piercing the darkness like headlights. A low growl escaped his throat and before he had taken another step toward her, the woman began scrabbling in her pocket for her car keys.
The man reached her within less than a second, having crossed a distance of over ten feet in an impossible length of time. His arm pinned her effortlessly against the side of the car, and the motion stirred the baby in the back from her slumber. The child blinked, eyelids fluttering, and then began to howl for the familiarity of her mother's arms. The woman clawed at the stranger's arm desperately, choking and coughing as he forced her head back in order to expose her throat.
"Please… stop…" she cried out, beginning to beat the man over the head with her torch in an attempt to free herself. The guy snarled, baring a row of glistening, pointed fangs, and wrenched the torch from the woman's grip.
"Shut up bitch," he growled, his voice an unrecognisable rasp now. The woman began to hyperventilate, her eyes sweeping the road for aid. Two more figures stepped out of the fog and for a moment the woman's heart swelled with hope.
"Hey, Lyle!" one of the men called out as he approached the car, "ya gonna share or what?"
Tears brimmed in the woman's eyes as the two men stepped forwards revealing their faces to be almost identical to that of the man who restrained her. He now chuckled and leaned in closer to her neck, his teeth bared. Oh my God, he was actually going to bite her! The thought flashed through the woman's mind and she began to pound at his chest with renewed vigour. She had to protect her baby from these madmen.
One of the advancing strangers suddenly halted in his tracks, his eyes widening as the tip of an object burst through his chest cavity.
"Oh sh…" the curse died on his lips as his body seemed to explode into a pile of ash that was swept up on the breeze. Where he had stood, a tall figure was now revealed yielding a jagged length of wood, which he spun somewhat effortlessly around in his hand. His clothing was dishevelled and dirty, his long ebony hair pulled into a ponytail, and his general appearance that of a vagrant. But the woman was oddly comforted by his arrival, and the penetrating gaze he affixed upon her. The ghost of a smile played across his lips and in an instant she new that he was a friend.
"What the hell?" the guy doing the restraining demanded.
"Let her go," the new arrival ordered, standing so still he barely appeared to be breathing at all. His voice was soft and reassuring yet somehow dripping with menace.
"Oh yeah sure," the second man chuckled, shaking his head incredulously at the nerve of the guy. "We'll just give up our dinner cos you said so."
"Hey buddy, who the hell do ya think you are?" questioned the man who had been dubbed 'Lyle'.
"Hey, hey Lyle, do you think he's Cagney or Lacey?" guffawed the second man, growling as he affixed the stranger with a deadly stare, "cos I think he's dessert."
Before Lyle could flinch, his buddy launched himself into the air and landed in front of the tramp, who rather deftly side-stepped a punch aimed at his head. The second vampire rained a serious of blows down upon the man, who deflected each with his forearm, never allowing a single punch to connect with his body. The wood flew from his hand and rolled underneath the car, but he gathered the lapels of the vampire's jacket in his fists and launched the creature backwards into the car. The driver's side door buckled under the impact and the infant's screaming heightened in intensity.
Lyle dropped the woman onto the ground, shooting her a warning glance that said 'don't move'. She pointedly ignored this and scrambled backwards out of harms way, beginning to forage in her coat once more for her lost keys.
Lyle leapt at the stranger, his jaws gnashing as he attempted to tear his throat out. He seemed to take the man by surprise and managed to knock him to the ground, but seconds later he had flipped onto his feet again.
"You," Lyle hissed, recognition flashing behind his soulless eyes. "We thought you were dead."
The stranger shrugged, offering a lopsided smile as his only apology, before he viciously backhanded Lyle. A split second later he leapt into the air, landing metres away on the roof of the car which was currently under attack from the second vampire. He was busily attempting to wrench the passenger door from its hinges, having finally registered the presence of the child in the back and deciding that a small meal was preferable to none. The baby keened like a wounded animal, clearly terrified by the din. Her mother had been in the process of surprising the attacker from behind with a rock she gripped in her hand when the tramp had landed on the roof of the car. He reached down and snapped a branch from the Christmas tree, before aiming a kick at the jaw of the vampire, who stumbled backwards. The other man jumped from the roof, landing before the demon where he rammed the tree branch home into his heart. He walked through the resulting cloud of dust without flinching and advanced upon Lyle, who seemed almost to be whimpering from his position on the floor.
"Please, I'll share," Lyle promised, scuttling backwards on his palms, "you can take your pick…"
The vagrant shook his head in evident disgust and plunged the make-shift stake through the remaining vampire's heart, cutting short his pleas. The woman sagged against the side of her car in relief as the man vanished in a grey cloud of dust. Finally, she pulled her keys from her jeans pocket and began rescuing her daughter from the battered vehicle with shaking hands.
The tramp stood quietly surveying the young woman as she cradled the baby close to her chest, rubbing her back and murmuring softly. She affixed a watery gaze upon the stranger who had saved them both.
"Thank you so much," she whispered, her voice cracking with emotion, "you saved us. I don't know who those people were but they were going to…"
The man nodded once, confirming the woman's suspicions.
"You shouldn't be out here alone… in the dark," the man offered, glancing at the floor as he continued softly, "there's more things can happen out here than you know."
The woman opened her mouth to respond but was distracted by the sudden appearance of headlights in the distance. She breathed an evident sigh of relief and began frantically waving with her free arm at the car, which slowed as though to stop.
The man seemed to be peering intently at the infant, who was wriggling in her mother's embrace and gripping onto the collar of her coat with chubby fists. Her wide, hazel eyes were affixed on the man before her, who seemed to be holding his breath as he surveyed the silent baby.
"She's beautiful," the stranger finally murmured, more than a little sadness prevalent in his tone. The woman returned her attention to her rescuer, and then nodded her agreement.
"She's my world. I don't know how we can ever repay you…" she paused, squinting at the dirt-caked stranger, "what's your name?"
"Joyce, honey!" a man's voice called, alarmed. A sandy-haired, slightly heavyset man jogged towards the little group, his face twisted into a concerned frown. The man arrived at his wife's side and enveloped her with one arm, taking in the damage to the car and then the presence of the tramp.
"What the hell…" he thundered, taking a threatening step towards the tramp who made no move.
"Hank," Joyce said sternly, laying her hand on her husband's arm in a restraining gesture, "Buffy and I were attacked, this man saved us. He fought these guys off… he was so brave."
Hank glowered at the taller man for a second, clearly dubious, before returning his attention to his family. "You ok?"
"Fine," Joyce responded, her gaze never wavering from the mysterious figure in front of her. Hank wandered over to the car, apparently satisfied of the safety of his wife and daughter, and began groaning at the cost of the impending repair bill. Joyce smiled somewhat embarrassed and simply shrugged.
"If there's anything," she began, "food, a place to stay… money…"
"Nothing," the stranger cut in curtly, "I'm just glad you're safe… and er, sorry about the tree."
Joyce turned to survey the Christmas tree, which had shed all its pine needles and several of the major branches. It would take more than a little tinsel and a box of decorations to rectify the damage, as the tree was now nothing more than a skeletal frame. Joyce groaned inwardly but plastered a smile on her face as she turned to regard the stranger.
He was already retreating, and rapidly vanishing into the fog.
"Wait…. Your name!" Joyce hollered into the darkness. The reply came from the distance, but was as clear as if the stranger had spoken it into her ear.
Traces of a smile drifted across Joyce Summer's lips and before it was realised, the man was gone.
Angel. He truly had been.
Gathering her daughter closer to her chest, and planting a kiss in the midst of her golden hair, Joyce whispered to noone in particular, "Merry Christmas… Angel."
AN - I hope you all enjoyed this short story. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!