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Angelfall (Penryn & the End of Days, Book 1), Page 2

Susan Ee

  But Night stomps his boot on Snow’s back, right on the raw wound.

  Snow hisses in a breath filled with pain but does not scream. The others take the opportunity to slink back into position, holding him down.

  Night drops the severed wing. It lands with the thud of a dead animal on the asphalt.

  Snow’s expression is furious. He still has fight in him, but it’s draining fast along with his blood. Blood soaks his skin, mats his hair.

  Night grabs the remaining wing and yanks it open.

  “If it was up to me, I’d let you go,” says Night. There’s enough admiration in his voice to make me suspect he might mean it. “But we all have our orders.” Despite the admiration, he doesn’t show any regret.

  Stripes’ blade, poised on Snow’s wing joint, catches the moon’s reflection.

  I cringe, expecting another bloody blow. Behind me, the tiniest, sympathetic sound escapes Paige.

  Burnt suddenly tilts his head from behind Night. He looks right at us.

  I freeze, still crouched behind the moving van. My heart skips a beat, then races triple time.

  Burnt gets up and walks away from the carnage.

  Straight towards us.


  My brain clamps shut in fear. The only thing I can think to do is to distract the angel while my mother pushes Paige to safety.


  My mother’s face freezes wide-eyed in horror. In her panic, she turns and runs off without Paige. She must have assumed I’d push the wheelchair. Paige looks at me with terrified eyes dominating her pixie face.

  She swivels her chair and rolls as fast as she can after Mom. My sister can roll her own chair, but not nearly as fast as someone can push her.

  None of us will make it out alive without a distraction. With no time to consider the pros and cons, I make a split-second decision.

  I sprint out into the open straight toward Burnt.

  I dimly register an outraged roar filled with agony somewhere in the background. The second wing is being cut. It’s probably already too late. But I’m at the place where Snow’s sword lies, and there’s not enough time for me to come up with a new plan.

  I scoop the sword almost from under Burnt’s feet. I grab it with both hands, expecting it to be very heavy. It lifts in my hands, as light as air. I throw it toward Snow.

  “Hey!” I scream at the top of my lungs.

  Burnt ducks, looking as surprised as I feel at the sight of the sword flying overhead. It’s a desperate and poorly thought-out move on my part, especially since the angel is probably bleeding to death right now. But the sword flies much truer than I expect and lands hilt-first right in Snow’s outstretched hand, almost as if it was guided there.

  Without a pause, the wingless angel swings his sword at Night. Despite his overwhelming injuries, he is fast and furious. I can understand why the others had to dramatically outnumber him before cornering him.

  The blade slices through Night’s stomach. His blood gushes out and mixes with the crimson pool already on the road. Stripes leaps to his boss and grabs him before he falls.

  Snow, stumbling to regain his balance without his wings, bleeds rivers down his back. He manages to swing his sword again, laying open Stripes’ leg as he runs off with Night in his arms. But that doesn’t stop them.

  The two others who’d backed off as soon as things got ugly rush to grab Night and Stripes. They pump their powerful wings while running with the injured, leaving a trail of blood dripping to the ground as they take off into the night.

  My distraction is a shocking success. Hope surges in me that maybe my family has found a new hiding place by now.

  Then the world explodes in pain as Burnt backhands me.

  I fly backwards and slam onto the asphalt. My lungs contract so hard I can’t even begin to think about taking a breath. All I can do is curl into a ball, trying to get a sip of air back into my body.

  Burnt turns to Snow who can no longer be called snowy. He hesitates with all his muscles tense as though considering his odds of winning against the injured angel. Snow, wingless and drenched in blood, sways on his feet, barely able to stand. But his sword is steady and pointed at Burnt. Snow’s eyes burn with fury and determination, which is probably all that’s holding him up.

  The bloodied angel must have one hell of a reputation because despite his condition, the perfectly healthy and beefy Burnt slams his sword back into his sheath. He gives me a disgusted glare and takes off. He runs down the street, his wings taking him airborne after half a dozen steps.

  The second his enemy turns his back on him, the injured angel collapses to his knees between his severed wings. He looks like he’s bleeding out pretty fast and I’m pretty sure he’ll be road kill in a few minutes.

  I finally manage to suck in a decent breath. It burns as it goes into my lungs, but my muscles unclench as they get oxygen again. I revel in a moment of relief. I unwind my body and turn to look down the street.

  What I see sends a jolt through me.

  Paige is laboriously wheeling herself down the street. Above her, Burnt stops his ascent, circles like a vulture and begins to swoop down toward her.

  I’m up and running like a bullet.

  My lungs scream for air but I ignore it.

  Burnt looks at me with a smug expression. His wings blow my hair back as I sprint.

  So close, so close. Just a little faster. My fault. I pissed him off enough to hurt Paige out of sheer spite. My guilt makes me all the more frantic to save her.

  Burnt yells, “Run, monkey! Run!”

  Hands reach down and snatch Paige.

  “No!” I scream as I reach out to her.

  She’s lifted into the air, screaming my name. “Penryn!”

  I catch the hem of her pants, my hand gripping the cotton with the yellow starburst sewn onto it by Mom for protection against evil.

  Just for a moment, I let myself believe I can pull her back. For a moment, the tightness in my chest begins to relax with anticipated relief.

  The fabric slips out of my hand.

  “No!” I jump for her feet. My fingertips brush her shoes. “Bring her back! You don’t want her! She’s just a little girl!” My voice breaks at the end.

  In no time, the angel is too high to even hear me. I yell at him anyway, chasing them down the street long after Paige’s screams fade into the distance. My heart practically stops at the thought of him dropping her from that height.

  Long minutes pass as I stand panting on the street, watching the speck in the sky shrink to nothing.


  It is long after Paige disappears into the clouds that I turn around, looking for my mother. It’s not that I don’t care about her. It’s just that our relationship is more complicated than the usual daughter-mother relationships. The rosy love I’m supposed to feel for her is slashed with black and splattered with various shades of gray.

  There is no sign of her. Her cart lies on its side with its junk contents strewn beside the truck we were hiding behind. I hesitate only for a moment before yelling out.

  “Mom?” Anyone or anything that might have been attracted by noise would already be here, watching in the shadows.


  Nothing stirs in the deserted street. If the silent watchers behind the dark windows lining the street saw where she went, nobody is volunteering to tell me. I try to remember if I had maybe seen another angel grab her, but all I can see is Paige’s dead legs as she is lifted from the chair. Anything could have happened around me at that time, and I would have been oblivious to it.

  In a civilized world where there are laws, banks and supermarkets, being a paranoid schizophrenic is a major problem. But in a world where the banks and supermarkets are used by gangs as local torture stations, being a little paranoid is actually an advantage. The schizophrenic part, though, is still a problem. Not being able to tell reality from fantasy is less than ideal.

  Still, there is a good chance tha
t Mom made herself scarce before things got too ugly. She is probably hiding somewhere, most likely tracking my movements until she feels safe enough to come out.

  I survey the scene again. I see only buildings with dark windows and dead cars. If I hadn’t spent weeks secretly peering out of one of those dark windows, I might have believed I was the last human on the planet. But I know that out there, behind the concrete and steel, there are at least a few pairs of eyes whose owners are considering whether it is worth the risk of running out into the street to scavenge the angel’s wings along with any other part of him they can cut off.

  According to Justin, who was our neighbor until a week ago, word on the street is that somebody has put a bounty on angel parts. A whole economy is being created around tearing angels to pieces. The wings fetch the highest price, but hands, feet, scalp, and other, more sensitive parts, could also fetch a nice sum if only you can prove they’re from an angel.

  A low groan interrupts my thoughts. My muscles tense instantly, ready for another fight. Are the gangs coming?

  Another low moan. The sound is coming not from the buildings, but directly in front of me. The only thing in front of me is the bleeding angel lying on his face.

  Could he still be alive?

  All the stories I’ve heard say that if you cut off an angel’s wings, he would die. But maybe that is true in the way that if you cut off a person’s arm, he would die. Left unchecked, he would simply bleed to death.

  There can’t be that many chances to get yourself a piece of angel. The street might be flooded with scavengers any minute. The smart thing to do would be to get out while I still can.

  But if he’s alive, maybe he knows where they took Paige. I trot over, my heart beating furiously with hope.

  Blood streams down his back and pools on the asphalt. I flip him over unceremoniously, not even thinking twice about touching him. Even in my panic, I notice his ethereal beauty, the smooth rise of his chest. I imagine his face would be classically angelic if it hadn’t been for the bruises and welts.

  I shake him. He lies unresponsive, like the Greek God statue he resembles.

  I slap him hard. His eyes flutter, and for a moment, they register me. I fight the panicked urge to run.

  “Where are they going?”

  He moans, his eyelids dropping down. I slap him again, as hard as I can.

  “Tell me where they’re going. Where are they taking her?”

  A part of me hates the new Penryn I’ve become. Hates the girl who slaps a dying being. But I shove that part deep into a dark corner where it can nag me some other time when Paige is out of danger.

  He groans again, and I know he won’t be able to tell me anything if I don’t stop his bleeding and take him to a place where the gangs aren’t likely to swoop down and chop him into little trophies. He is shivering, probably going into deep shock. I flip him over onto his face, this time noticing how light he is.

  I run over to my mother’s upended cart. I dig through the pile looking for rags to wrap him with. A first aid kit is hidden at the bottom of the cart. I hesitate only a moment before grabbing it. I hate to waste precious first aid supplies on an angel who will die anyway, but he looks so human without his wings that I allow myself to use a few sterile bandages as a layer on his cut.

  His back is covered with so much blood and dirt that I can’t actually see how bad the wounds are. I decide it doesn’t matter, so long as I can keep him alive long enough to tell me where they took Paige. I wrap strips of rags around his torso as tightly as I can, trying to put as much pressure on the wounds as possible. I don’t know if you can kill a person by making the bindings too tight, but I do know that bleeding to death is faster than death by almost any other way.

  I can all but feel the pressure of unseen eyes on my back as I work. The gangs would assume that I’m cutting out trophies. They’re probably assessing whether the other angels are likely to come back while they’re wrestling the pieces out of my hands. I have to bundle him up and get him out of here before they grow too bold. In my haste, I knot him up like a rag doll.

  I run over and grab Paige’s wheelchair. He is surprisingly light for his size, and it’s far less of a struggle than I’d anticipated to get him into the chair. I suppose it makes sense when you think about it. It’s easier to fly when you weigh 50 pounds than 500. Knowing he is stronger and lighter than humans doesn’t make me feel any warmer toward him.

  I make a show of lifting him and putting him into the chair, grunting and staggering as though he’s terribly heavy. I want the watchers to think the angel is as heavy as he looks, because maybe then they’ll conclude that I’m stronger and tougher than I look in my underfed five-foot-two frame.

  Is that the beginning of an amused grin forming on the angel’s face?

  Whatever it is, it turns into a grimace of pain as I dump him into the chair. He is too big to fit comfortably, but it’ll do.

  I quickly grab the silken wings to wrap them in a moth-eaten blanket from my mother’s cart. The snowy feathers are wondrously soft, especially compared to the coarse blanket. Even in this panicked moment, I’m tempted to stroke the smooth down. If I pluck the feathers and use them as currency one at a time, a single wing could probably house and feed all three of us for a year. That is, assuming I can get all three of us back together again.

  I quickly wrap both wings, not fretting too much about whether the feathers are being broken. I consider leaving one of the wings here on the street to distract the gangs and encourage them to fight amongst each other instead of chasing me. But I need the wings too much if I am to entice the angel into giving me information. I grab the sword, which is amazingly as light as the feathers, and stick it unceremoniously in the seat pocket of the wheelchair.

  I take off at a dead run down the street, pushing him as fast as I can into the night.


  The angel is dying.

  Lying on the sofa with bandages enveloping his torso, he looks exactly like a human. Beads of sweat cluster around his brows. He is fever-warm to the touch, as though his body is working overtime.

  We’re in an office building, one of countless buildings housing tech startups in Silicon Valley. The one I picked is in a business park full of identical blocks. My hope is that if someone decides to raid an office building today, he’ll pick one of the others that look just like this one.

  To encourage others to pick another building, mine has a dead body in the foyer. He was there when we got here, cold but not yet rotting. At the time, the building still smelled of paper and toner, wood and polish, with only a hint of dead guy. My first instinct was to move on to another place. In fact, I was on my way out when it occurred to me that leaving would be almost everyone’s instinct.

  The front doors are glass and you can see the corpse from the outside. Two steps inside the glass doors, the dead man lies face up with his legs akimbo and his mouth gaping. So I picked this building as home sweet home for awhile. It’s been cold enough in here to keep him from smelling too badly, although I expect we’ll have to move soon.

  The angel is on the leather couch in what must have been some CEO’s corner office. The walls are decorated with framed black-and-white photos of Yosemite, while the desk and shelves sport photos of a woman and two toddlers in matching outfits.

  I picked a single-story building, something low-key and not fancy. It’s a plain building with a company sign that says “Zygotronics.” The chairs and couches in the lobby are oversized and playful, favoring fuzzy purples and overly bright yellows. There’s a seven-foot, blow-up dinosaur by the cubicles. Very retro Silicon Valley. I think I might have enjoyed working in a place like this if I could have graduated from school.

  There’s a small kitchen. I just about broke down in tears when I saw the pantry stacked full of snacks. Energy bars, nuts, fun-sized chocolates, and even a case of instant noodles, the kind that come in their own cups. Why hadn’t I thought to look in offices before? Probably because I’d
never worked in one.

  I ignore the refrigerator, knowing there’s nothing in there worth eating. We still have electricity but it’s unreliable and often goes off for days at a time. There must still be frozen meals in the freezer because the smell is not unlike my mother’s rotten eggs. The office building even has its own shower, probably for those overweight executives trying to lose weight at lunch time. Whatever the reason, it came in handy for rinsing off the blood.

  All the comforts of home without, of course, my family who would make it home.

  With all the responsibilities and pressures, hardly a day has gone by when I haven’t thought I’d be happier without my family. But it turns out that’s not true. Maybe it would be if I wasn’t so worried about them. I can’t help but think how happy Paige and my mother would have been if we’d found this place together. We could have parked here for a week and pretended that everything was all right.

  I feel adrift and clanless, lost and insignificant. I begin to understand what drives the new orphans to join the street gangs.

  We have been here two days. Two days in which the angel has neither died nor recovered. He just lies there, sweating. I’m pretty sure he’s dying. If he wasn’t, he would have awakened by now, wouldn’t he?

  I find a first aid kit under the sink, but the band aids and most of the other supplies are really meant for nothing worse than paper cuts. I rummage through the first aid box, reading the labels on the little packages. There is a bottle of aspirin. Doesn’t aspirin reduce fevers as well as get rid of a headache? I read the label, and it confirms my suspicions.

  I have no idea if aspirin will work on an angel, or if his fever has anything to do with his wounds. For all I know, this could be his regular temperature. Just because he looks human doesn’t mean he is.