Alyssa woke with a jolt. As if someone had stuck her with sharp prongs attached to a car battery; her heart pounded in her chest as sweat trickled down her brow. Somewhere in the background, the harsh repetitive tones of an alarm clock buzzed without pause. She couldn’t see anything but a hazy white light. Worst of all, her breath felt too hot and too moist in front of her face, as if she were breathing the same air over and over again.
Which she was.
With a heavy groan, Alyssa moved a hand up to her face and pulled the piece of paper off her head. She let out a slight squeak of pain as a bit of tape tugged at her hairline before it finally came loose. A slight hiss escaped her lips as the light flooded in. Without the paper’s meager protection, she had to pinch her eyes shut once again.
Morning had come. Seven thirty in the morning, if that alarm beeping in the background was her cell phone. Work started in an hour. They were supposed to be getting a new shipment of lumber in. Lumber she would end up hauling around for the majority of the day. Better than dealing with customers who didn’t know what they wanted, but she would come home too exhausted to do much of anything.
Confusion settled in. For the life of her, Alyssa couldn’t figure out why she would have fallen asleep on the floor. She didn’t drink. At least not on work nights. And—finally squeezing her eyes open—why in her parents’ bedroom?
Alyssa stayed lying on the floor, staring up at the unmoving ceiling fan with a blank mind. Her mind didn’t stay empty for long. Another jolt ran through her body, shocking her to full wakefulness as she recalled everything that had happened the night before. Clutching a hand over her mouth, she sprinted out of her parents’ room and into the hallway bathroom. She threw up the toilet seat and voided what little her empty stomach held. Maybe it was a good thing she hadn’t been able to eat much the night before.
Finished with the toilet, she stood on shaking legs and staggered to the sink to wash her face. Hot water took too long in her house so she made do with freezing cold. Alyssa eyed the shower. She needed one without a doubt, but perhaps later. Besides, cold water had the added benefit of further waking her up. While at the sink, she took the time to brush her teeth. The toothpaste helped to get rid of the foul taste in the back of her throat.
Alyssa sighed as she stared at herself in the mirror. The deep bags under her eyes told of how little rest she actually got during her sleep. That she had slept at all was a surprise. The police hadn’t woken her. Neither had her mother. Even if all the occurrences of the previous evening had been nothing more than delusion, she had definitely woken up in her parents’ bedroom. Her mother would have woken her for that alone.
Shaking her head, Alyssa shambled away from the bathroom. She stopped and closed her eyes. Taking a deep breath, she built up the courage to look down the hall.
Dirty footprints led from the entryway all the way up to her brother’s room. There, a set of legs stuck out of the doorway.
The night’s events had definitely not been a fabrication.
Alyssa walked past the pistol lying on the floor and leaned around the entrance of the closet. Sure enough, a body still sat slumped against the wall beneath her mother’s dresses. She didn’t actually enter the closet. She just stared long enough to ensure that she wasn’t hallucinating.
Too long. A sick sensation welled up again. She turned away before she felt the need to rush off and dry heave over the toilet again.
The distant cell phone finally ceased its noise, pulling Alyssa’s attention back to the fact that it was clearly morning and no one had woken her or shown up to look over the bodies. No police, no parents, not even a concerned neighbor. Had that break-in at the bank occupied her mother for the entire night? What about the gunshots? The angel had said that neighbors heard them and called the police.
Of course there was no sign of the angel. She hadn’t been real. Which meant that her knowledge hadn’t been real either. The idea that the neighbors had called the police was simply that, an idea that her subconscious had cooked up. After the adrenaline had worn off, she must have fainted. All that light show at the end had merely been spots in her eyes as she passed out. Nothing more.
On her way to find her cell phone to get some real help, a piece of paper crinkled underneath her foot. The paper that had been stuck to her face had fallen next to her discarded pistol. She hesitated with a fear gnawing at her heart of what she might find written on it. Yet, at the same time, a curiosity struck her. Someone had found her. Alyssa wouldn’t have taped a note to her own face. And they had left her in a home with two dead bodies.
Her hand snatched the paper and flipped it over before she could reconsider. An elegant script covered the entire page. She couldn’t even call it handwriting; the lettering looked like something out of her medieval art history textbooks. Hard to read, but Alyssa managed with only a little trouble.
You great fool. Last night was supposed to have been a jolly time of feasting on souls. Thanks to you, I have such a mess to clean up. You stay put. Once I finish, we shall decide what to do about you.
Alyssa crushed the paper in her hand, clenching her fist tightly in an attempt to keep her hand from shaking.
That angel had called herself Tenebrael. The same name as on the note, if a longer form. She had been real. Alyssa didn’t want to believe it, but there was only so much she could wave away before she had to start accepting reality. Even if that reality was stranger than fiction. With an actual physical message, that point had been reached. Between the extremely precise nature of the handwriting and the style of the lettering, Alyssa couldn’t delude herself into believing that her hand had written the message. Doctors had better handwriting than Alyssa did.
But if Tenebrael had been real, that light show must have meant something. All those glowing lines and the angel shouting about claiming her. Was she dead? Clearly not as dead as the two other bodies in the house.
No. She couldn’t be dead. The note said that Tenebrael would be back to deal with her, whatever that meant.
Alyssa sure as hell wasn’t going to stick around to find out.
She stalked down the hall and carefully averted her eyes from the corpse as she retrieved her cell phone from the couch. Returning to the hall, she stepped back over the legs and made her way toward her parents’ bedroom. She didn’t dare look around until reaching the door just before. Her room. There, she shut the door and sat down on her bed, looking over her phone.
No text messages. No missed calls. Just the notification that she had missed an alarm.
To start with, Alyssa dialed her mother’s cell number and held the phone up to her ear.
“We’re sorry; we are unable to complete your call as dialed. Please check the number and dial again. If you need help, hang up and then dial your operator.”
Alyssa blinked, staring at her phone. She had used her speed dial. There shouldn’t have been any chance for an error. Just in case, she tried manually dialing.
“We’re sorry; we are unable to complete your call as dialed. Plea—”
Fine, she thought as she scrolled down to her father’s number.
“We’re sorry; we are unab—”
Grinding her teeth together, Alyssa dialed out nine-one-one. She had never called the emergency services line before. No situation had ever required it. But if two corpses wasn’t an emergency, she didn’t know what was. Pressing the phone against her ear again, Alyssa just about let out a scream.
Listless hands dropped to her lap as Alyssa flopped back on her fairly spartan bed. Her foam pillow caught her head. “What is going on?” she mumbled. Holding her phone above her, she accessed the web browser. Not that she expected it to work.
To her great surprise, it did. The pages loaded. Images displayed. Everything worked. Sitting back up, she quickly ran a search on her address and clicked on the first link—an article from the local news station.
“Two dead in robbery gone wrong?” she read the header. “Police responded to reports of gunfire late Tuesday evening, finding Alyssa Meadows dead within her own home from multiple stab wounds!” Alyssa patted down her chest, finding nothing but her unbroken sports bra. The ridges of her bare stomach had a slight sheen of sweat, but no cuts or scrapes.
She kept reading, finding out that the body in the closet had apparently survived his excursion into her home while she and his son had perished, exactly as Tenebrael had said the evening should go. The only difference had been that she died in her parents’ room, instead of elsewhere. Neither her mother nor her father had been available for comment. Down in the comments section, people complained about the level of crime and safety in the city, expressed condolences, and a few even claimed that they knew her. She didn’t recognize any of the user names of the latter group. Maybe people she went to high school with. Maybe coworkers from the warehouse she worked at.
The more Alyssa read, the sicker she got. To the point where it was a good thing she had already thrown up. Everyone was acting as if she had actually died. Tapping on the comment box to correct them just made an error message pop up saying that her browser had been blocked from responding.
Because of course.
Alyssa sprung to her feet. Renewed vigor filled her as she kicked herself for feeling down. If everyone thought she was dead, she could simply walk out and show them otherwise. The house had doors. Windows too.
She turned and…
Sweeping her eyes past her knick-knack covered dresser to look out the window killed off her sudden elation.
The neighbor’s house wasn’t there. Neither was the fence. Or any of the other neighbor’s houses. She couldn’t see the streets either.
A grassy field stretched out until it crested a slight hill not far away. A tree here and there broke up the grass. And yet, despite the absurdity of not having neighbors anymore, Alyssa found her eyes drawn upwards into the bright blue sky. A sand-colored ring sliced the sky in two. Just like she had seen in science textbooks around Saturn. A dark streak broke the flat plane of sand, giving it a little depth. And behind the rings, half a moon peaked out. Despite the bright daylight, the moon looked almost sickly. A gray similar in tone to that angel’s skin. Unlike the moon she had seen nearly every day of her life, this moon lacked the dark craters. The flat and unshaded disk looked fake against the blue sky.
“Maybe…” Alyssa said as she staggered back to sitting on her bed. “Maybe I did die after all.”