Being relatively new to this city, I didn't know which streets to avoid. I had no idea I'd been walking straight into a pit of trouble. Honestly, at the time, I didn't care about possible danger. I just wanted to get back to my apartment before it got too far into the early morning hours. That is, I didn't care until that danger was staring me right in my face.
Gangsters, mobsters, I didn't know what they were. But I knew they were bad men. And I had made a wrong turn and interrupted a meeting of theirs in some alleyway. Needless to say, they weren't happy with outsiders hearing their exchange of words. I'm not a strong person. I'm not fast. I don't carry any weapons, or pepper spray. In less than a minute the men had me restrained. That's where I am now. Struggling helplessly in the grasp of two of these men. One in the group talks of putting a bullet in my head. A second proposes the idea of rape before death. They all seem to like that idea more than the first. I feel my eyes conveying every ounce of my fear, and even though a scream is in my throat, I can't seem to let it out. One of the men is now putting his cold hand up my skirt. Another beside me is whispering dirty things in my ear that I don't pay attention to. My vision is blurred by tears. All I wanted to do was go home.
There is sudden gunfire; loud, making me flinch. No bullets are coming from any of these men around me. They are as surprised as I am. What's happening? The two men holding me are blocking most of my view of the surroundings. So I close my eyes, wishing this were a nightmare. More gunfire, closer, and I can tell the men by me have pulled out their own weapons and begun firing back at whatever struck first. I reopen my eyes. I see one of the men, anger written upon his face, pointing his handgun at me. Terror strikes my heart within the quarter of a second it takes for the bullet to hit my abdomen. Instant searing pain. I cry out, in the midst of all this gunfire, and I sound pathetic as I do. Only a few moments pass and I am already crying, tears rolling down my flushed cheeks. I feel like I can't breathe, though my lungs are uninjured.
The hands that have been holding me finally let go. I collapse in a heap, sobbing, gasping. I am free. They are all distracted by this enemy of theirs that I still haven't seen. But I cannot leave. I am weak. I cannot force myself to my feet, or even crawl. I can't tell if the bullet is still inside me. Either way, the pain is unbearable. I curl up on the hard ground. I allow my tears to flow freely. I can't think straight. All the noise around me, the blasting of guns, the shouting of the men, it all blurs together. It becomes something similar to the roar of a train, and it sounds so loud, almost right inside my head. Maybe it really is in my head. At this point, I cannot tell. I press my hands against my wound; feel my own warm blood seeping out. I breathe hard and heavy. My eyes frantically scan for some sign of help, but like the noise, my sight is beginning to blur as well. Am I dying already? I want the noise to go away. It's so loud. I close my eyes and pray. Pray to God, pray to nothingness. I am desperate. I don't know what I'm desperate for. Desperate to live? Desperate for the pain to stop? I am desperate to go home, lie on my couch, and read a book. As I lie here, shuddering and feeling like I need to vomit, I notice that my thoughts are even blurring together now. I can't make sense of myself. So I try to stop thinking. So much noise, so much pain, not enough air.
Suddenly, it stops. The noise, at least. The pain is still there, but not as intense as it had initially been. Everything around me is quiet; save for soft voices nearby that I don't recognize. What happened? Did I pass out? I feel entirely drained. I want to ignore everything and go back to sleep. I want to sleep forever. I don't want to open my eyes. But I do, and I see a young man kneeling over me. Who is he? He wasn't part of the gang of men who had tried to rape me. His eyes are closed, and he is muttering something. I can't make out the words as he lightly breathes them. His hand traces a cross at my chest. I don't know what to think of it. When he is finished, he opens his eyes. His meet mine, and he smiles at me. This smile is warm; it matches the care and remorse in his eyes. He touches a hand to my head, so gently. Somehow, despite all this pain that still pulsates through my being…I feel better. I feel safe. I want to smile back at him, but I feel so weak. I can hardly keep my eyelids open as I stare back at him.
"Connor, is she awake?"
This voice comes from somewhere right beside me. Turning my head just enough, I see kneeling over the now-dead body of the one who had shot me, another new young man. He has a face just as sweet as the one I woke up to. I can see his eyes are just as warm, though his sights are not on me, but on the one over me, who answers softly, "Yeah, Murph. She needs help soon, though."
Their voices sound so far away. I feel so tired. I feel numb. I feel detached. I feel far away. I feel like…I'm not even part of this world anymore.
Could that be? Am I gone from this world? Am I dead? Are these two…?
I rotate my head again to watch the second mysterious man. I watch as he crosses the deceased one's arms over his chest, places pennies over his eyes, says a prayer, and traces a cross over him, all with gentle motion. He turns and his eyes meet mine. He smiles, kindly, warmly. It brings a peace within me. Suddenly I am in the arms of the man I woke up to, being lifted off the ground. I can tell he's being mindful of my wound, trying not to cause me pain. I rest my head against him. Even though it does hurt, I still feel secure here, with them. I am carried past the dead bodies of all the other men who had tried to wrong me. I can see that all of the bodies are the same; arms crossed over their chests and pennies in their eyes. Are they free from their sins? My eye catches a small cross in my lap, hanging from a long string that wraps around the neck of the man who is holding me. It must have fallen against me when he picked me up. My hands grasp it, and I hold it tightly with nothing but faith. It's clear to me now; these two are angels from heaven. I finally have the strength to smile.
A white ceiling, slowly coming into focus. I stare at it for a few minutes. More than a few minutes. I don't know how long my eyes stay set on those tiles. My body feels achy, but not, at the same time. I feel as if I've been sleeping for days. Perhaps I have been. Eventually I force myself to look around the room, and I find that it's a hospital room. An IV is beside my bed, but it is not attached to my arm. I guess I no longer need it. Why did I ever need it? Then I remember; I had been shot. Quickly I feel for the bullet wound under the covers, but my hand only finds bandages over the area. I've been treated. Of course, I am in a hospital. I want to sit up, but I also don't want to risk it. It could create discomfort, and I'm not ready for that yet. So I go back to staring at the ceiling, slowly remembering that night I was hurt.
Half an hour goes by, and I've recovered all the memory. The bad men, the gunfight, the wingless angels… but who brought me to the hospital?
The door to my room opens and a nurse enters. I acknowledge her. She seems happy that I am awake.
"You were out for a few days," she explains while performing her nursing duties. "You're lucky that bullet didn't hit anything too important. You'll have to take it real easy for a while, but there won't be any permanent damage." She has something of a country accent that manages to make her tone sound naturally kind. I smile at her, then ask my question.
"Ma'am, do you know who it was that brought me to this hospital?"
"Well," she blinks, "witnesses say it was the Saints, but I myself don't know for sure."
Confused, I ask her to clarify. "The 'Saints'…?"
"You don't know the Saints? You must be new around here." I nod, and she continues. "The Saints are these two Catholic boys who get rid of bad men and wrong-doers, and all that whatnot in this city. They're vigilantes, but a lot of people support what they're doing." The look on her face suggests that she is torn in her own beliefs. "Myself, I like that they're cleaning the streets and helping people like you, but they seem to be real violent about it."
I think about this for a moment. The two young men who had helped me wore Catholic rosaries…they must have been these Saints the nurse is talking about. I run the scenario of that night through my mind. If those two go after criminals and such regularly, they might not have expected an innocent person in the mix; in other words, me. Still, they helped me, brought me to a hospital… I can't help but smile. The nurse notices.
"Hm?" she breathes out of curiosity.
I shake my head a bit. "I remember them from that night, it's just..." A pause, then I continued. "At the time, I was in so much pain, everything seemed so surreal, and I was so disoriented. I had really believed that those two were angels from heaven."
The nurse returns my smile with one of her own. "Did you see halos over their heads?" She chuckles heartily. "You went through a lot that night, dear. I wouldn't be surprised if you told me you saw a unicorn in the background, too." After finishing up her duties, she tells me she'll be back soon with food and medicine, and then leaves the room, shutting the door behind her.
I sigh and stare at the ceiling some more. My eyes close, and I drift through memories of that night. I remember how peaceful it felt to look into the eyes of those young men. How I felt that I would be okay, that everything would be okay, whether I lived or died; I felt there was nothing to fear; I felt safe, and warm. I never saw halos or wings, but I felt there was still something about those boys.
Upon opening my eyes and returning to the present, I find myself smiling. Though no one is there to hear me, I speak my conclusion aloud.
"I still think they're angels."