Chapter One: Wreckage

The crash.

Dear God, who hated them all and wanted them dead and gone, the crash had been more horrible than anything she'd ever experienced in her life. The car rolled once, twice, three times, more. A baby screaming. A woman – it had to be Charlie – screaming too. The window glass smashing against her head. Audrey couldn't even muster a scream of her own.


"…Our Father, who art in Heaven…"


"…hallowed be thy name…"

An angel had done this to them, damn it! An angel! The car seemed to revolve as if in a dream, and something snapped in Audrey's thigh with a blinding blaze of agony. Images flew through her mind as she was tossed within the metal coffin of the police car like a doll in a dryer. Images of the little fat naked cherubs her grandmother used to keep on top of the old television set in her apartment. Little badly-painted angels with big dopey Precious Moments eyes, clutching patched teddy bears and puppies in dust-caked arms. Stupid looking, cheap, crappy things picked up at the dollar store by an indifferent daughter on the way down and displayed with gratitude by a mother who desperately wanted to pretend that she was loved. Even then it made Audrey sad…


A nativity scene in front of the Rotary Club that they put up every Christmas in her hometown. The little wooden stable, the crouched plastic figures of sheep and wise men and a crooked hump-backed camel lit from within. Joseph leaning over his wife and the little glowing Son, Mary looking trim and pious just hours after giving birth, little baby Jesus fat and happy and white. And the tall angel standing protectively nearby, the snow piling up on its brightly colored plastic shoulders and the trumpet it held to its lips.


Some stupid church pageant she'd been in. A white bathrobe, her father's? A halo of silver tinsel and cardboard wings held onto her back with gold satin ribbon. What were her lines? The ones she's practiced for weeks in advance, over and over in her bedroom mirror to make sure she didn't get them wrong and embarrass herself in front of a whole Sunday School who already thought she was a freak because she wore black nail polish at the age of nine and had read everything Anne Rice ever wrote. Practice the lines, damn it. Practice! "Do not fear, Mary, the Lord is with you. Do not fear, Mary, the Lord is with you. Do not fear, Mary, the Lord is with you…"

It was Gabriel, wasn't it, who came to the frightened woman-child over two thousand years ago to tell her that her small womb held the secret to the salvation of mankind. Shivering with terror, the holy glow from his presence casting shadows against the surrounding bushes, Mary on her knees in reverence so long ago before the very creature who has just ripped the roof off their car in an attempt to kill the next great Savior.

Irony was such a bitch.


And the car finally fell still, rocked once like a fishing boat with a hull breach, then settled with a tinkle of broken glass and splashing motor fluids into a broken heap on the sandy ground. Silence.

The last thing Audrey saw before she succumbed to merciful darkness was blood streaking her dirty blonde hair, matting it into a lacework across her left eye, and the high distant stars beyond. Then there was nothing.