It’s past two, and the sun is blistering, blazing into my eyes like the parsonage we watched burn last night. Today is even hotter than the hottest Sunday at our country church, and my sisters wilt like daises in the ripples of summer heat, their church dresses withered and brown. We have left the shade of the trees behind—the field stretches endlessly before us.
Sweat pools into my belly button, slides down the backs of my knees, seeps from my armpits and into the bite on my forearm—still bleeding, raw and stinging in the sun. I hope the wound on Kate’s leg looks better than mine. She sniffs from behind me, and I glance back at her, thin tears making trails through the ash on her cheeks, like the silvery pathways of snails.
Mimi clasps my hand tight, watching her own feet as she drags her church shoes through the dirt, dark mud blemishing the pretty white Mary Janes. Drying blood mats into the hair above her ear, an appalling red amid her pale blond curls. The lacy hem of my own dress trails in the dirt, the bodice spotted with blood and ash—but this sacrilege feels somehow fitting. I’m not so sure about God anymore.
For hours I watch the sun arcing across the sky like a comet, willing it to slow its descent. It is a demure lover, almost kissing the horizon line as we finally reach the edge of the woods. I can almost sense the town, the voices of its people humming through the trees, the promise of safety so close; but the sun is nearing the horizon. Darkness approaches.
The heavy thud of the flashlights in my knapsack does little to calm my quivering heart. I want to run like a deer through the woods. I would be a rabbit, a bird. God, if you’re there, give me wings so I can fly away. God, give us wings. But Kate can hardly walk.
“We’ll stop here.” My voice is harsh against the silence of the darkening woods. Kate collapses to the ground.
“What about town?” Mimi whispers. She is pale with exhaustion, her legs quivering.
“We won’t make it there tonight. Kate needs to rest. So do you.”
“But they’ll catch us—” Her eyes widen in fear. I draw two silver flashlights from my knapsack and switch them on. Their beams cut through the dusk.
“They can’t get us while we’ve got these,” I squeeze her hand, trying to smile, praying my words are true.
We sit on the ground, safely concealed in the two beams of light, one pointed at Mimi and Kate, one at me. Illuminated, Kate nods off almost immediately. Mimi struggles to keep her eyes open, but loses the battle with exhaustion, mouthing her prayers and whispering, “Love you Allie” before her eyes flicker shut.
I cannot sleep. Instead, I search for our shadows.
They fled us yesterday, vanished when we stepped into the Sunday light to go to church, followed us when we frantically sought answers at the parsonage, crept through the shadows of the barns and the fields, waited till night, and burned the building to the ground, the entire town inside. Only we survived.
I raise my hand, wiggling my fingers in the beam of light, yet no darkness is cast. It is as if we three are invisible, the light shining through our very bodies. As if we are made of light. We are angels, I think.
I shiver, looking out into the darkness. I know they are there. They have followed us, those three, whispering through the grass, hiding behind the trees, running their tongues over their teeth, hungry for more of our flesh—waiting for when the light dies.
My flashlight flickers.
God, give us wings.