Happy Holidays everyone! I’ve said it a million times and I’ll say it a million more. I never became a professional writer for the money. It’s damn near impossible to make a living in the internet age as a novelist or journalist. I do it because I love it. Plain and simple. That being said, I’m going to give you all six stories between now and Christmas absolutely free. All of these appear in my short story collection “Six From Five Seven”. You can purchase a copy if you feel froggy, but I refuse to beg. I’m not starting up a clothing line either. No rules, just write. Enjoy!
(Originally written for an ill-fated Twilight Zone tribute anthology, but the organizer was unable to obtain the proper rights.)
The tears finally gave in to gravity and fell toward the floor with great velocity. Splashing silently atop her polished boots, a tiny hint of the light spectrum could be seen through the young girl’s clouded eyes as though it was the only illumination in the fading evening glow through the skylight. Instances such as this were becoming more and more frequent. Inhaling deeply to hide any signs of her current sadness sat a firefighter by the name of Angel Burns. The irony of her name was a cruel fate on this day as she perched atop the rear step of the rescue vehicle marked number 1033.
She realized all too late that sucking in her sadness was one of the bigger mistakes she could’ve made. The overwhelming smell from the gasoline fumes and tires heated by the afternoon sun burned her senses. If her eyes weren’t already so full of tears they would’ve been anyway. A small price to pay, though. The last thing Angel wanted any of them to see was the fact she was nearing her breaking point.
Angel could hear the early signs of a radio crackle and prepared for the worst. In the seconds before the voice revealed itself, her mind raced wondering exactly what useless task the powers-that-be had in store. Last week, it had been the solo washing of the fire engines while forced to wear nothing but her T Shirt and cargo shorts. The men watched anxiously from the stairway landing in hopes a nipple would poke through the fabric caused by contact with the frigid water. Angel was a slave in this man’s profession and began to wonder if the unemployment line was a better solution than following her passion. No fucking way.
“Firefighter Burns, what’s your status?” came the raspy, familiar voice over the radio.
“I’m coming out of the bathroom, Chief,” Angel replied.
“Well…it’s a damn shame I missed it. If you give me a few minutes, I can be right down. Think you could just pretend to be going to the bathroom again? I kind of have a thing for that, you know…”
“Ha!” Angel responded, cutting him off with a hint of disgust in her voice “I’m going to tell you like I’ve told you a hundred times before. If you think you can handle what I do in there, feel free to join me. Remember, I eat the same food you guys do while I’m on shift. Think about that for a second. Let it soak in.”
“You make a valid point,” the Chief responded, “I don’t think I’d want to spoil this pretty little image of you I have in my head by walking headfirst into something like that.”
Angel grew tired of the conversation.
“Was there something you wanted?” she inquired sharply.
“Yeah, I have a list of tasks which need to be completed before your shift ends in the morning. I’m sending it to your email now.”
Angel’s stomach hit the floor in anger as the sudden orders were barked. Deep down, regardless of what was promised earlier in the week, she knew this was going to be the case. She knew they were going to find a way for her to miss out on the promise she’d made to those sad little eyes before leaving the house that morning.
“Dammit, Chief Dan, you promised I could go home and watch fireworks with my daughter tonight! I promised her! I promised her this morning because you said you would make it happen!”
The Chief accidentally keyed the mic before he’d finished his sinister laugh of satisfaction. A second voice could be heard behind his as well.
“It is what it is,” the Chief replied while gathering his composure “We all make sacrifices here.”
Chief Dan was her new boss and he’d had it in for Angel since long before the title was bestowed. She refused to give up and she refused to quit. Her mother wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. Neither would her daughter.
At age nine, Angel lost her mother to a tragic house fire and the job of preventing other’s from doing the same was her life’s ambition since the day she’d met her former boss, Chief Jake. She’d met Chief Jake when he was just a rookie. Belonging to her hometown fire station, he’d been the one to rescue her from the burning house. Waking up in his younger arms was a blessing yet to be matched in her adult life.
She’d spent a year in a foster home before Jake and his wife endured the legal process and adopted her. Claiming her as their own, the couple raised Angel the best they could while she listened attentively to every fire-filled horror story and mimicked his every move. Young Angel spent her summer vacation days away from school with him at the station. Upon high school graduation, he placed a St. Christopher’s necklace and pendant around her neck with a soft kiss upon her forehead. She recognized it all too well. It belonged to her mother. It was all that remained of her after the fire. In the ten years since, Angel hadn’t removed it from around her neck.
Losing touch with the couple for a few years after her high school days, Angel had been the victim of a failed relationship and an unplanned pregnancy. She went through the trials of drug abuse and homelessness until she was rescued once again by her childhood savior. Reaching his hand out to her as she lay half sleeping behind a downtown dumpster, Jake offered to put her through the fire academy after Angel’s daughter was born and helped her get a job at his retirement post at Ellen Air Force Base. She wasn’t going to miss out on her dream shot.
Angel passed the academy with flying colors. Landing a good paying career and a home of her own, she now raised her young daughter in comfort and safety…but this made a few people jealous. Dan, then the Assistant Chief, hated the way Jake babied her and argued up and down the chain of command for her termination. It never came. It wasn’t until Jake’s health began to fail when he saw his opportunity.
Jake had run headlong into one too many structure fires in his youth and soon succumbed to lung cancer. Upon his death bed, he made his replacement swear to keep Angel on the base’s civilian crew without a chance of termination. Dan agreed but soon began to do everything within his power to make her quit of her own free will. If that was the case, his vow was fulfilled without guilt. Angel had been put through hell since Jake’s death. He’d informed her point blank on more than one occasion that firefighting didn’t belong in a woman’s world. What did he know?
“Firefighter Burns…are you still there?” the voice approached again.
“Yes, Chief,” she sighed “I’ve got nowhere else to go.”
“Good girl, Angel. You remember that. You’ve got nowhere else to go.”
Any minute now, the sexual advances would come. They always did. She endured nauseating nightmares of the man sweating on top of her to secure her future employment. Never. In the end, quitting was not an option. Success was the only acceptable outcome. She had to do it for Jake. She had to do it for her mother. She had to do it for her daughter. Most importantly, she had to do it for herself.
“You know, you could always come up to my office and help me change my mind,” stated the man over the radio with a whispering, slimy voice.
There was silence as the girl vomited slightly into her own mouth. Angel refused to play into the conversation. It was nothing but a trap and she’d already begun to gain a false rumored reputation among the civilian co-workers and military personnel she’d taken an oath to protect. It was disgusting but it was the way of things. She’d never even been allowed to help put out a single fire. She was a slave for the dirty work no one else wanted to do.
Glancing down at her phone in the convenient silence of the vehicle bay, Angel checked the received email to plan the rest of her day. She was far from amused.
“C’mon, Chief, it’s the Fourth of fucking July! Let me go home and blow shit up with my daughter!” Angel screamed in disappointment.
“No ma’am,” Dan replied, “You’ve got fire extinguisher inspections to do until daylight and you’re not going home until they are all completed!”
Angel’s patience was wearing thin. Today might very well be the day…
“Why can’t your rookie do this shit, man? All he’s doing is sitting up in your office giggling at this stupid conversation! I know he is because I can hear him, too! Put his ass to work for a change and let me be a mother!”
There was another long, uncomfortable silence which followed the back and forth. Angel’s chest was heaving with panic. Anxiety had taken over her sadness and the exit door to the fire station was looking closer and closer. Remembering her daughter, she attempted to calm herself once more. Finally, Chief Dan added to her misery.
“I tell you what, Firefighter Burns,” he continued “Since you want to be a whiny, little bitch about all of this, you can do these inspections in full bunker gear with an axe and SCBA set up! Do you understand, young lady?”
She hated it when Dan scolded her like she was one of his children, but her options were limited. Defeated, Angel slumped back onto the step of the rescue vehicle. Quitting wasn’t an option. Neither was desk sex with her boss. Flinging open the metallic door to her equipment cage, she began to slip into her full gear to get on with the rest of her shift. The sudden rustling of the fabric stirred the smell of smoke from training sessions and it both excited and saddened her. Angel found the smell of smoke to be stimulating. Sometimes, it was in a sexual way and any type of arousal on her part was ill advised during her current situation. Unfortunately, she’d probably never smell it again while gainfully employed in this chosen career. The Chief called down one final order on the radio.
“Submitted for your approval,” he joked at her expense “a young mother with her own Mommy issues and a dead idol should give up and go home rather than pretend she’s some kind of superhero. Superheroes don’t really exist, Angel.”
Angel’s head buzzed with possible retorts.
“Approved…” she whispered.
The click of the radio echoed among the tin walls of the fire station as she turned it to the ‘off’ position.
The sun had started setting and she could faintly hear the exploding fireworks at the fairgrounds on the edge of the base over the hiss of air in her SCBA mask. Occasionally, a passing summer wind would jingle Angel’s accountability tag securely attached to her helmet. It reminded her of summer days on her mother’s porch swing with nothing but the sound of wind chimes filling the air around them. If only her mother could see her now and the slave she’d become. Accepting this treatment was no way to honor her memory. The long journey to the hangar had begun.
Slowly crossing the empty, motionless flight line, the sweat was already collecting in pools underneath her arms and breasts. Angel wasn’t a large girl by any means, but she’d been blessed with her mother’s perfect curves. In the end, it left tons of places for moisture to gather on a summer day. It was embarrassing at times. A July day in North Texas was certain to hit above the one-hundred-degree mark and stay that way long after the sun vanished. The humidity was what killed you. Wearing a mask, air tank, and fireproof clothing? Angel was almost certain she wouldn’t make it halfway to the ancient hangar before falling out from exhaustion or dehydration. If that happened, there would be no one on her side to offer assistance. The military members normally encountered on this trek were home with their families. She had to keep it together and continue to move.
Leaning hard atop the axe she’d turned into a makeshift crutch, Angel grew closer and closer to the dilapidated structure. The clanking of the metal blade hitting hard on the asphalt pierced her eardrum with each strike. Surely no one would care if there were a few hundred holes in the middle of a military flight line, right? Laughing to herself inside the SCBA mask, she lost her balance and tripped over the blade of the axe. Fortunately, she didn’t feel a thing when she hit the lava hot ground because of her bunker gear. The fading sunlight now filled the limited view of her air mask. She took advantage of her predicament and laughed loudly inside the apparatus. No one was watching. The Senior Firefighter, Assistant Chief, and Lieutenant were all at home enjoying the benefits of seniority. Chief Dan and the new rookie were probably too busy looking at porn videos on the government provided internet. No one cared. She placed all her weight against the handle one more time and returned to her feet. Her destination was finally within reach. Hangar 101.
Her co-workers had given it the nickname ‘The Haunted House’ and Angel heard the creepy stories time and again long before she’d ever joined the department. Chief Jake spun yarns of noises and moving objects on an almost nightly basis at the family dinner table, but she always brushed it off as nothing more than something to get her blood pumping. He would do anything to get a rise out of his adopted daughter. He was missed and loved but no longer available to hold her hand when she entered this nightmare structure alone.
On several occasions, Angel experienced phantom footsteps and slamming doors. Probably a product of the wind or rodents, her mind couldn’t help but play cruel tricks on her. She hated this place and Chief Dan knew it. That was why she was sent there on solo missions all the time. He would do anything to get underneath her skin in hopes of her packing her locker and going home for good. Not tonight. Regardless of the broken promise and the sad face of her daughter waiting at home, she was going to brave the old hangar and get on with life.
The bay doors of the structure stopped working years ago due to the imminent settling of the foundation from decades of Texas droughts and floods. Built in the beginning of World War II, it was the oldest hangar on the field. A dust covered dual propeller B-26 Marauder was stored there trapped for all eternity and it didn’t look like it minded too much to be in its situation. The old man had flown one mission too many in the war and probably enjoyed retirement. It stood alone with a sense of majesty among the abandoned fabrication machines and saws which made up part of the old aircraft repair operation. Life had passed it all by as the new buildings, hangars, and technology came into existence.
Probably the worst detail about Hangar 101 was the fact it was placed at the far end of the field nearest the perimeter fence which separated it from the town of Twin Oaks, Texas. The community had developed a major drug infestation over the last decade, and it took every person employed at the base to keep the vagrants, drifters, and dope addicts from setting up shop or residence there. Again, this was another thing that ate at Angel’s soul. An attractive, young woman checking expiration dates on fire extinguishers that would never be used in a possible den of thieves? No, Chief Dan didn’t want her to quit. He obviously wanted her dead! At least she had her trusty axe by her side…although she could barely pick it up. Swinging it aggressively at an attacker would be a useless gesture. Probably a funny one. Taking a deep breath, Angel reached for the door to face whatever unseen nightmares awaited her.
The metal side door to the hangar squealed open and she was immediately brought to her knees again. A burning sensation around Angel’s neck led her to believe a spider had somehow entered her bunker gear and she danced frantically to remove it. Whoever was lucky enough to be watching the security cameras was having a good laugh. It ended as quickly as it had begun. Exhaling a sigh of relief, Angel stepped inside and secured the door behind her. One of the last things she wanted was someone to sneak in behind her or the Chief seizing the opportunity to seduce her in the darkness. It was a disgusting vision which she removed from her head almost instantly. She removed her SCBA mask and spat to the ground as though the thought invoked some type of physical taste in her mouth. Then, she smelled it.
Running as fast as her tiny legs would carry her with the added weight of the gear, Angel entered an abandoned office on the far side of the hangar. Filled with smoke, a small fire had been deliberately set inside of a cast iron pot atop the ground by an unknown intruder. It appeared as though someone set up a temporary camp and she clutched her axe tightly at the ready. There was no one in sight. Perhaps she’d scared the vagrant away when he heard her open the door? Perhaps he was watching her every move from the shadows and waiting for his opportunity to strike? Regardless of the confrontational outcome, the mystery guest wasn’t leaving without bleeding. Slowly, she stepped forward toward the light of the small flames.
The makeshift sanctuary held no clues to the identity of the intruder. A half empty bottle of water and candy bar wrapper were the only evidence left behind since her last visit but, upon closer inspection, the numerous footprints on the dust covered floor told a different story. Angel was ready. She searched her surroundings with curiosity and caution. The door she’d entered was the only possible way in or out due to the settling foundation. The door on the opposite side of the hangar was padlocked from the inside meaning someone was still in the hangar with her. Glancing around at all possible exits to the old office, she noticed the unwanted guest left one last clue to his or her identity. A small book…
A tattered single subject notebook lay only inches from her. It’d seen better days. Upon further inspection, odd symbols filled the cover and a chill sped down her spine with lightning velocity. Dead center, a messy pentacle was drawn in what appeared to be blood. Animal or human was the conundrum which remained. Picking it up with her gloved hand for the sake of sanitary protection, Angel flipped through the pages one by one.
Blank page after blank page, she was beginning to think this mysterious notebook was yet another dead end. With each turn, she came no closer to possibly identifying her newest foe. Suddenly, directly in the center of the ancient pages, a smear of black ink caught her attention. She paused. Three tiny words caused her mind to race in several directions at once.
“Make A Wish”
A wish? Oh, the wishes she could make at this very moment. First of all, she wished she could get out of this ridiculous bunker gear and back into her shorts and t-shirt even if it was nothing but an open invitation for the Chief to stare at her ass. Second, she wished she could run out of the death trap of a building and never return to it with her life still intact. Finally, she wished she was across the highway at the fairgrounds treating her daughter to the holiday fireworks display destined to begin at any moment. A dozen or so more wishes began to line up single file in her thought process. Make a wish? Sure. How much time did this intruder have to listen to her wishes?
Who would write such a thing in an empty book with nothing else on the surrounding pages? Was this some type of spell being written in the pagan publication she’d interrupted upon her entry? Perhaps a keepsake from long ago that the intruder held dear? Why would he leave it out in the open for just anyone to find? Her wishes began to fade away into questions and her sense of fear returned regarding the whereabouts of the trespasser. Glancing down at the book one last time, Angel made her wish aloud. She looked around the hangar and listened attentively for any signs of movement in the darkness. Her evening’s predicament brought forth the only wish which would’ve changed things forever.
“Make a wish?” she announced “Sure. I’ll make a wish. I’ll play your game. I hope you can hear me because I’m going to make it as loudly as I can. I hope you’re listening. My wish is that this damned fire of yours was ten times bigger and everyone back at the station could see me put it out. It was what I was trained to do, and I’ve never fucking got to do it in five years. Never! This is my wish! Do you hear me? This is my damn wish. I want this whole haunted hangar to catch on fire and for everyone to see me put it out by myself. I want to be the hero of the day for once! I want them to know I can handle anything that comes my way. I’m tired of being the extinguisher girl. I’m tired of being a sex object. I’m tired of everyone doubting me. I just want my chance to prove myself. This, my unknown friend, is MY wish!”
Laughing aloud in the silent, smoke-filled office, the echo of Angel’s dreams rang out to no avail. Even though it lifted weight from her shoulders, she heard no reply and didn’t pick up on any movement from the hangar. Glancing downward into the blinding flames, a tear left her eye but vanished with evaporation before ever touching the fire. Play time was officially over in Hangar 101. It was time to call for backup and hope the call didn’t go unheard. First things first…
“You know what? To Hell with you and your little book. I read your words and I made my wish. I’m about to teach you a valuable lesson when it comes to entering places you don’t belong and where you’re not wanted. Do you hear me, you invisible shit? Come on out and face me! I’m not going to call Sheriff Liberman and have you arrested. I just want you out of here. My job is hard enough without having to deal with drug addicts in the dark. I’m a freaking fire fighter and this is way outside of my job description! Please come out!”
Nothing but continued silence remained in the building upon the finale of her speech. As far as she was concerned, the intruder was asking for what she was about to do. Reaching high into the air, she held the book above the lonely, dwindling fire and paused for one last moment. There was no point in hesitating anymore. Angel went for broke.
“Okay…you asked for it!” she promised one last time “Screw you and screw your little book!”
The tattered pages were already headed toward the flames when a commotion came to life in the darkness behind her. Like a bullet from a gun, a young man in soiled clothing came from behind a rusted file cabinet. Reaching in her direction as he approached Angel’s location, unintelligible words escaped his mouth in obvious excitement.
“No! No! No!” he screamed frantically.
He was too late.
A bright flash of red exploded from the fiery pot and an unseen shockwave took both Angel and the unknown stranger to their backs. Every pane of glass that remained in the old hangar shattered to the ground with a loud crash. The small fire now shot uncontrollably to the ceiling of the building in a brilliant burst of heat. Crawling away on all fours, the stranger pulled Angel by her collar into the darkness from where he came.
“Lady, do you have any idea what you’ve just done?” he screamed at her “Do you know what you’ve just unleashed?”
“Let go of me! Let go of me!” Angel fought with all her might.
It was useless. The young man’s grip was too tight, and he insisted on removing her from the room. He dragged her up the ramp of the abandoned plane. Dropping her behind the co-pilot seat, he dug through his backpack with a purpose. All Angel could think about was the potential weapon he’d soon be using to kill her. She braced herself for the worst. Thoughts of her daughter filled her mind and the impending chance she’d never get a chance to say goodbye. Whatever this man didn’t slice apart would be consumed by the ever-growing fire that engulfed the building. The burning sensation around her neck irritated her worse than before and she was beginning to realize a spider wasn’t the cause.
“We have to get ready,” instructed the stranger as he handed her a tiny dagger “The knife has been blessed by a priest, but I doubt it will be enough to keep you safe. He’ll be fully manifested soon!”
“Who in the hell are you?” Angel screamed, dropping the knife almost instantly as the cold steel touched her trembling hands.
The mysterious young man paused in his fumbling to realize that no proper introduction was offered. He had a smooth, yet dirty baby face which looked like it only required the use of a razor on a monthly basis. His hair was short and messy and gave the appearance of someone who rarely found the convenience of a shower. His clothing had seen better days as well.
“I’m a hunter,” came the inevitable explanation.
Angel was more confused now than ever. In Texas, hunters carried guns and were a little bit harder to see due to the camouflage. A hunter? The scenario and his behavior reminded her nothing of the sort. Hunters didn’t usually start fires in aircraft hangars and rely on witchcraft to stalk their prey, either. The man could sense her confusion.
“I’m not a hunter like you red necks are used to. I’m a paranormal hunter. Demons, ghosts, werewolves, vampires…shit that goes bump in the night! Let’s just say you’ve got one heck of a bumper about to come your way. My name is Justin, by the way…”
The mysterious stranger continued to search his belongings but sighed in defeat as though something important to his current plight was missing. Holding his head in shame, he looked Angel deep into her eyes and paused as though there was something he wanted to say. He cocked his eyes slightly to the left, shook his head breaking his train of thought, and asked anyway.
“I know this is going to sound like a stupid question and I’m almost certain the answer will be a negative one…but trust me, it’s important. You wouldn’t happen to have any holy water, would you?”
“No!” Angel exaggerated “I left it on my dresser this morning right beside my magic beans!”
Shaking his head once more, Justin just smiled out of the corner of his mouth. He continued to search the backpack for anything that could assist him with his current state of affairs. Nothing. Throwing it aside, he backed next to Angel at the entrance to the cockpit and took a deep cleansing breath. Looking at her habitually from the corner of his eyes, he took one more deep breath for good measure. Those breaths were now numbered.
“I know you think this is weird and cute and all…but the two of us are about to be in a world of hurt if he finds us.”
Angel had endured enough of the mystery.
“Who are you talking about…”
“Look, lady!” Justin interrupted “I’ve been fighting this guy for a very long time so shut up and listen to me!”
Caught off guard by the sudden shushing, Angel agreed to deny her argumentative instinct and listened to the man who obviously knew way more about the situation. The tone in his voice was serious and deadly. Most importantly, he didn’t appear to be playing games. Regardless of all the demonic talk, she knew he might be the only one to get her out of the burning hangar.
“His name is Xaphan. He is a fire demon and the keeper of the furnaces of Hell. He is a bad son of a bitch, too. I’ve traced back my family lineage and we’ve been fighting him through the generations for as long as I can tell. He’s got it in for us, alright? I don’t know which one of my ancestors pissed him off, but he hates me and anyone I’m related to!”
Angel listened as Justin told his tale. Hanging on his every word, she didn’t know what to believe and what to dismiss as lunacy. None of this made any sense to her. Demons? Paranormal? This stuff wasn’t real! Was it? Generations of a family fighting the same demon repeatedly? She quickly silenced her mind and prepared for more craziness. Justin continued…
“The bad thing is, when he gets his hands on one of us, we die. We don’t come back to life. When we defeat him, he disappears until the next generation is born and he comes for us again. Over and over and over. He has burned my family alive one by one, and he’s shown no signs of stopping. We’ve been playing cat and mouse for almost a decade until I came across this pagan spell on a journey in Ireland three months ago. I was looking for ancient, Celtic magic to help defeat him and I found what I was looking for. I trapped his ass in that book and followed geographical ley lines to this location to open a rift into another dimension and throw his ass in…”
Ley lines? Demons? Other dimensions? Trapping guys in books? Angel became dizzy with the possibilities. Whatever this guy had smoked was beginning to affect her as well because she was almost buying into his bullshit. What in the hell did she stumble into today? Internally, she wished she was checking expiration dates on fire extinguishers instead.
“…until you threw it in the damn fire! I mean, it was stupid of me to have a fire going right next to a book containing a fire demon, but I didn’t plan on throwing it in there! I swear lady, if we get through this, I don’t know if I want to have sex with you, because you are kind of cute, it’s been a while, and this is going to be a sex inducing traumatic event…or slap you across the face. Either way, both of those scenarios are almost sex inducing in my line of work, so we will probably be having sex if we survive…”
“You’re just full of yourself, aren’t you?” Angel interrupted his rant “I doubt very seriously we will be having sex because I don’t even know you. As a matter of fact, I think you’re borderline crazy and I’m not sure if I believe anything coming out of your mouth. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to do one of the only things that tends to get me aroused. I’m going to go put out the fire like I’ve been trained to do, walk out of here, and call the cops. If you try anything, I’m going to bury this blade in your forehead. Deal?
Justin shook his head with a smile of disbelief. They never believed him until it was too late. He had to try his best to save this poor girl.
“Look, ‘Peaches’. Can I call you ‘Peaches’? Your ass kind of looks like a peach. Anyway, this thing has killed almost every member of my family including my mother, my grandmother, and my sister when she was just a baby. You can’t put that fire out. Water won’t put his fire out. He is a demon. A freaking demon. We’re not making it out of this building without a fight. This, I can guarantee you.”
“Angel,” she paused him “My name is Angel!”
“Well, nice to meet you Angel,” Justin acknowledged “You need to sit your fruity butt right here in this plane and let me do my thing. With any luck, he will just go after me and leave you alone. I really don’t want to watch this guy roast anyone else with my own eyes. I’ve seen enough.”
Angel noticed the sincerity in his voice, and it made her slightly nervous. Either everything he was saying was completely true or he’d been telling himself this story for so long he was convinced. She was either sitting beside a real paranormal hunter or a psychopath. Neither of those were comforting thoughts while trapped in the ancient aircraft.
“Besides,” Justin concluded “What are the odds of your last name being ‘Burns’? He only goes after people by the last name of ‘Burns’. My family name. My family curse. Burns. He’s a fire demon who likes to burn shit. Ironic, isn’t it?”
Angel’s stomach tightened as her neck burned with fierce heat once more. She was just about to protest Justin’s new revelation when the hangar went dark. The fire suddenly extinguished itself and the crackling of flames went silent. An odd sensation filled the surrounding air while frightening footsteps paced the plane around the two of them. Someone was definitely there. They were not alone. Initially, she’d hoped the self-proclaimed paranormal hunter was making it all up. That thought was squashed when a man began to speak in the shadows.
“Oh, Justin! Where are you?” came the smooth, confident voice of the unseen presence “Come out, come out wherever you are! I’ve got something for you, Justin!”
Justin placed his head in his hands with the invitation. Peeking through his fingers at a confused, frightened Angel, he whispered his warning to her with sincerity. He hoped she was open minded enough to take him seriously. Anything less was destined to get her killed.
“Listen to me very carefully and nod if you understand,” Justin whispered, never breaking eye contact “He’s in a joking mood. That means he’s not going to kill us quickly. That means he’s going to kill us slowly and enjoy every single minute of it. Now, if you want to die slowly, then don’t listen to anything I say. If you want to die quickly, don’t listen to anything I say. If you don’t want to die at all, then you’re going to have to shut up, follow my lead, and be braver than you’ve ever been before. I don’t mean ‘haunted house at Halloween with your boyfriend’ brave, I mean ‘rattlesnake between your legs and being perfectly still because you’re four hours up a mountain and will probably die if you get bitten’ brave. Trust me when I say this is the most dangerous situation you’ve ever encountered. If we’re not successful in destroying him or escaping this hangar, this will be the last day anyone you love or care about sees you. There will be nothing left. Not even your clothes. He will burn us to dust with a wave of his hand and not think twice about it. You do want to live, right?”
A tear ran down Angel’s cheek as she nodded in agreement. She was frightened beyond rational thought and believed every word of his speech. All doubt disappeared when she noticed not a hint of humor in the eyes of the man who obviously had all the answers. For the first time since her days on the streets, she was in fear for her life.
“Who is your little friend, Justin?” the demon announced his presence again “Haven’t you learned by now it isn’t healthy for you to make friends? Haven’t I tortured you enough, my boy?”
Angel was beginning to panic as the demon mentioned her presence, but Justin quickly calmed her by placing his hand firmly against her mouth. Shaking his head in disagreement, his dark eyes were soothing to her troubled soul. He showed no signs of fear for the doom which paced the perimeter of their hiding spot. He whispered again deep into her ear.
“If he makes it outside of this building and is confronted, those people will die. I don’t know what you think about anyone else around here but whoever they are don’t deserve to be killed over something I, or inadvertently you, messed up. We need to get out of here, get behind him, stab him in the back with the knife I gave you, and go have a beer somewhere. Shake your head ‘yes’ if you understand.”
Nodding in agreement again, Angel and Justin scooted as silently as possible toward the plane’s exit ramp. From the sound of the being’s voice, he was somewhere between the cockpit and the inoperable front doors of the hangar. Unfortunately, her bunker gear wasn’t making this escape entirely easy. Tapping her hand against her helmet, the accountability tag jingled against the metal floor of the plane. Quickly, Justin slammed his hand on top of it giving her another look of disapproval. He placed his index finger to tightened lips and shushed Angel with seriousness. They continued their quest.
Angel and Justin reached the concrete floor of the building and quietly came to their feet. Ducking behind the ancient machines stored in the hangar, they moved cautiously from cover to cover. Angel peeked above an old band saw to catch a glimpse of the would-be killer with her own eyes. A tall, cloaked figure stood in the open air of the building surrounded by moonlight’s shimmer from the freshly broken windows. Entering the office from whence the entity manifested, she grabbed her axe with certainty.
“What in the hell do you plan on doing with that?” Justin inquired “You’re not going to do anything other than piss him off. He’s already pissed off, remember? I trapped him in a book. They don’t like it when you trap them in books!”
“I don’t know,” Angel replied “I just feel safer having something in my hands! I’m new to this kind of insanity so back off! Besides, I’m not the one who wrote ‘Make A Wish’ in the damn book! That was you!”
“I didn’t write anything in the book, darling,” Justin revealed “That was all him. He tricked you and you fell for it!”
Angel removed her jacket to give herself more mobility in case a potentially worse situation occurred. Adjusting her mother’s necklace to ease the still unidentified burning sensation, she caught Justin staring at her sweat covered t-shirt. He immediately picked up on her discomfort and broke eye contact.
“What?” Angel begged the answer “You’ve never fought a demon during a wet t-shirt contest? Amateur…”
Justin motioned for her to take the right flank of the hangar while he occupied the left. Even though she hadn’t the slightest idea of a plan, it was easy to understand the destination. She was obviously the decoy who was going to trip over her own boot laces, get his attention, and Justin would stab him in the back! Too easy, right? Her knees buckled at the thought. Angel still wasn’t completely convinced she wasn’t about to deal a death blow to anyone other than a regular human being in a Halloween costume. Still, why take chances?
Angel began to feel uncomfortable all over again without Justin’s presence nearby. She didn’t like it one bit. As the two of them moved from hiding spot to hiding spot in unison, Angel could see the intended target had removed his cloak allowing his slick, black hair to shine in the lunar luminance. He looked nothing like the demons she’d imagined in childhood Sunday school and hesitated to complete the planned encounter. Taking the life of an unsuspecting human was not something she was willing to accept. The judge would throw her underneath the jail! Explaining crazy stories about demon hunters and magic books would only ensure commitment to a psychiatric facility for sure. What would her daughter do in her absence? Without a snap of warning, the targeted individual turned to look at her with black, piercing eyes. Frozen with fear, she could see her own reflection in the dark ocular pools as she screamed uncontrollably.
“Hello, Angel Burns!” Xaphan exclaimed with excitement “It’s been a while…”
Angel continued screaming as she dropped her axe and headed as far away from the demonic entity as possible. Reaching the office, she screamed for help on the radio for anyone who would listen. Xaphan walked slowly toward her with confidence and purpose.
“Well,” he continued his monologue “I never thought when I popped out of that book tonight, I’d get to kill two Burns with one stone! Where have you been hiding your whole life, my little princess, and how did you manage to stay off my radar?”
Angel continued to scream on the radio but knew it was useless. Backed into the corner of the smoke-filled office, the demon advanced slowly on her position. What in the hell was he talking about staying off his radar? How did he even know who she was? Why was no one answering her on the fucking radio? What would they be able to do if they even got there in time?
The hanger came to life as the demon’s hands filled with fire causing his black eyes to reflect the yellow ferocity. In the new light, she could see Justin advancing on his position. Slightly pissed that she’d been intentionally placed in harm’s way to accomplish his mission, her mouth took over.
“Look, mister, I don’t know who you think you are or who you think I am, but I’ve never met you before in my life!”
“Of course you have, dearest!” Xaphan replied sarcastically “I used to visit you in your sleep when you were a little girl and plan on how I was going to lay waste to your whole family. Your mother walked in on me one night, standing at the foot of your bed, so I went ahead and finished her off instead.”
Angel’s fear turned to uncontrollable anger as the demon spoke of her past with anything other than happy nostalgia. Numb to the approaching danger, she searched around for anything that could be used as a weapon or projectile. Nothing. She focused once more on the approaching foe as he entered the doorway. Facing him courageously, she screamed in agony as the burning sensation under her shirt reached ultimate intensity.
“Oh, no ma’am!” Xaphan jested “It’s not time for the screaming to start just yet.”
“Just get it over with!” Angel protested his delay “What are you waiting for?”
She knew every second she kept him speaking gave Justin a chance to work his magic on the evil she now truly believed existed. It was easy to tell he was dying to explain his every move to the frightened girl to keep her terrorized. If Justin failed in his plan and Xaphan became bored with the festivities, Angel was sure her life would end. She had to fake it as intensely as possible. Was she faking, though? Was this really happening?
“You know, this all sounds vaguely familiar to me,” Angel taunted “I think I saw this once on an episode of bad television.
“Charming to the last, my Angel,” Xaphan referenced “You may be right. Yes, when I’m not burning little girl’s mothers to death, I do watch some television from time to time.”
“What do you want from me?” she screamed toward her captor “What did I ever do to you?”
The demon smiled with satisfaction as his narcissistic chance to monologue returned.
“Didn’t you listen to what the young man was telling you in the airplane, Angel? Yes, I heard every word, and I knew where you were. I just like to play with my victims from time to time. You? I’ve been looking for you for most of your life and dying for the chance to kill you. I’ve been killing members of the Burns family for as far back as I can remember. I’m not even sure if I recall why I do it. Mostly for fun, I guess!”
The demon advanced closer to her cornered position and began to dance from side to side with flailing hands as he continued his story. Completely in control of the situation, he extinguished his fire causing the darkness to surround the two of them once more. In the dimly lit office, Xaphan motioned for a chair, and it slid to his location without hesitation.
“You know,” Angel spoke, frightened “That’s some cool Jedi shit you did with the chair. I think you may be in the wrong business, mister.”
“Don’t change the subject, you little witch. Fate has brought us together again on this evening and I plan on taking full advantage of it. How in the world did I miss out on you all these years? What kind of unknown magic has kept you safe from me? Honestly, I should’ve just killed you both at the same time on that night, but I couldn’t find you after I took care of her. It was as though you were somehow shielded from my vision. You’ve gone your whole life up to this point not knowing you were a target of my wrath. I hope you enjoyed it. I hope you loved every minute of it. Just think about it. You didn’t have to live out your life like that miserable little snake Justin who is out there in the dark hangar hiding for his life. He sacrificed you to save his own ass. That was his plan from the very beginning. He never intended on saving you and now I have what I’ve always wanted. Don’t worry, I’ll get him before the night is over.”
“Then why are you hesitating?” she taunted “Why don’t you go ahead and finish the job?”
“Oh, I plan on it, my love,” his voice intensified “Just as soon as I take care of this one little rat I have sneaking up behind my back!”
Immediately, the demon turned with hands ablaze and filled the hanger behind him with incredible fire. Catching Justin in the flames, he stepped closer to the young hunter halting his advance and chance for any type of glory or rescue of the young girl. The smell of burnt flesh filled the air as the unsuspecting man screamed in agony.
“NO!” Angel screamed “You son of a bitch!”
The young girl rushed the monster with hatred as he turned to face her again. Reaching out his blazing hands to halt her useless advance, dozens of neon sparks shot from Angel’s chest and illuminated the darkness of their makeshift battleground. Xaphan pulled back his hand in terrible pain. The demon moaned in shock as his nemesis bathed in a fluorescent purple glow. Pulling the St. Christopher’s necklace outside her shirt instinctively, Angel glared at her enemy with hatred. Her mother’s necklace took over the fight and saved her from certain demise. Once thought of as nothing but a useless trinket full of memories and shattered dreams, the necklace whispered encouragement to the wearer. She felt no fear. The demon glared at it with interest as the flames surrounding Justin disappeared to reveal his smoking, horribly burned body. He was still breathing.
With an almost instinctive wave of her hand, Angel sent forth a burst of psychokinetic energy which blasted the demon deep into the hangar’s darkness. Advancing on his position with surety and stepping over the injured hunter, she spread both her hands with shocking velocity. The malfunctioned hangar doors creaked as they slid from their moorings and the demon attempted to gather his composure. With one final pushing motion, Angel threw the entity onto the flight line with incredible force. The old Marauder’s wheels squeaked to a stop a few feet from his location. The battle for survival had begun.
A million memories flooded the girl’s brain with pain filled impulses. The lessons taught by her mother during childhood, repressed and forgotten by the traumatic house fire, came rushing back into reality. She knew all about Xaphan. She knew of her family’s horrible battle against his evil. Angel had been prepped from birth to face him on this day. Reaching an empty hand to her right, the fire axe flew through the air and came into her grip. Almost as though it were scripted, the St. Christopher’s necklace wrapped itself around the skinniest part of the handle bringing the tool turned weapon to life. The glowing essence of the goddess was blinding in the darkness.
“That necklace!” growled Xaphan “That damned necklace. St. Christopher, The Martyr. I should’ve known. Your mother was trying to put it on that night but couldn’t do it quickly enough. I got her first just like I’m going to get you. You can’t stop me, Angel Burns. I am Xaphan, keeper of the fires of Hell…and you are nothing to me.”
“If that’s the case, why do you look so scared, demon?” Angel stated calmly “I’ve spent my entire life not knowing who was to blame for the death of my mother. Now that I know who you are, it all makes sense. I remember lessons about you. I remember fearing you as a child. I don’t fear you anymore. This ends tonight.”
“If it ends tonight, Angel, it is only temporary!” the demon promised “I’ll be back again. I’ll be back to burn your daughter in her sleep like I should’ve burned you! I am immortal! I am eternal! I am unstoppable!”
Coming to his feet, the demon ignited his hands in a spreading motion and circled the combatants in a wall of flames. Staring each other down with glares of animal-like focus, they jockeyed for position. The tension regarding who would make the first strike broke when the demon opened his mouth to taunt his enemy.
“Make your wish, Angel. Make your wish and prepare to die a horrible and painful death like you should’ve done years ago. Like your mother!”
Clocking into work that morning, Angel never once imagined the craziness which would’ve ensued upon the request of checking dates on fire extinguishers. As a matter of fact, in her current state of mind, she no longer worked there. She had another purpose. She’d had another purpose all along. She was a guardian. A savior. She was a protector unsure of her destiny. All she did know for sure was this paranormal asshole was going to bed tonight for another generation.
“I wish my mother was alive today to see what I’ve become,” Angel said with confidence.
Suddenly, the demon removed the fire from his hands and placed one of them at the edge of his chin. Concentrating in deep thought, he straightened his finger in a pointing motion to reveal a temporary thought of insanity. Pausing again, he continued to think deeply.
“You know,” he exclaimed aloud “I’m pretty sure I can make it happen for you!”
He waved his fiery hand as the vision of Angel’s mother came to life. The demon stood with statuesque certainty and a twisted smile crossed his face. He had found Angel’s weakness.
“Well, what are you waiting for, Angel Burns? Go get her. Go see your Mommy! You made your wish, and I granted it! Isn’t this what you’ve always wanted? Doesn’t this make it all better? Go. Show her what you’ve become.”
Angel complied without hesitation. Standing before her for the first time in two decades, she rushed to embrace her mother without second thought. The lady looked as though she hadn’t aged a single day since their last encounter and Angel sobbed like the child she once was. Before they could hold each other one final time, her mother offered an excited warning.
“No, Angel! It’s a trap! It’s a trap!”
“…and now you get to see me burn the bitch all over again!” Xaphan barked as he shot streams of fire in the guardian’s direction causing the memory to fade into vapor.
Severe hatred filled the young girl’s veins as the purple glow returned to her skin. With great speed, Angel rushed the demon’s location slashing his face with vengeance. Stumbling backward and screaming in pain, Xaphan clutched his eyes. Confused, he flailed his limbs in the hopes of connecting with anything. Nothing existed. Angel retreated to the far wall of the flames to line up the master stroke on her eternal foe. She watched with a smile as he stumbled blindly against the black top of the flight line.
“You bitch!” He screamed “That was unfair and totally uncalled for. I gave you exactly what you wished, and you slapped me in the face with an axe! No more Mr. Nice Guy, Angel Teal Burns. You’re playing dirty pool, old girl, and I’m here to oblige! I had every intention of giving you a fighting chance, but it appears as though I’m going to have to pull out all the cards!”
Again, the fire demon circled her former position in the darkness, but it was no use. He heard no footsteps and no longer smelled her fear. None existed. Suddenly, he broke into uncontrollable laughter in the darkness as the nearby fireworks display came to life. As a hundred children from the small town beyond looked skyward in amazement, Xaphan offered his final threat.
“I tell you what, coward,” he remarked “If you won’t reveal yourself to me, then I’m going to visit that little gathering and reveal myself to them. I seem to remember someone’s original wish to be that the fire was bigger, so they could put it out. As you wish, Angel Burns. As you wish.”
With the crackling of intense fire, the oxygen from around the circle was consumed as the demon grew in size and power. He growled a blood curdling cry which echoed off into the distance beyond Ellen Air Base for miles. Still unable to see, he listened to the cries of the young spectators to gather his bearings. Slowly, he stumbled forward into the fire lit darkness to accomplish his deed.
Angel broke through the glass of the Marauder’s cockpit and straddled the wing of the aircraft for a higher vantage point. The demon was unaware of her presence and seemed to no longer care. He’d met his match and knew there was no hope of defeating her. His final thought of mass destruction consumed his attention while Xaphan steadily advanced on his intended goal. There wasn’t a hope that Angel was about to let it happen. She made her last move.
Running the wing of the plane, her trusty blade glimmered in the night sky as she leapt into the air above the demon. The wind rushed through her ears as the events unfolded in slow motion. She held her weapon at the ready for the impact of fate. With a deafening clap, Angel buried the blade of the axe deep into her foe’s skull. Gravity soon gave way to mass as the demon howled horribly. Sliced into two halves and writhing, the rotten flesh of the once magnificent entity burst into flames which engulfed Angel on all sides. Sucked back into darkness, the flames disappeared leaving behind a nauseating scent of Sulphur. The demon was no more.
Chief Dan and the rookie came running quickly to the hangar after seeing the area engulfed in fire from their perch at the station. Thinking he’d accidentally sent Angel to her own death, they arrived shortly after the battle between the glowing girl and the unknown entity. They didn’t dare interfere. They didn’t know how.
Attempting to grasp a logical explanation of what the two of them had just witnessed, their heads spun with endless possibilities. From what they could tell, their partner was glowing, fighting a fire monster, and killed it with an axe. Yes. That was exactly what they saw, but it didn’t make a damned bit of sense. Someone had to explain the damage that occurred in Hangar 101 but the last thing either of them wanted to do was piss off Angel Burns ever again.
Angel removed the St. Christopher’s necklace from the handle and secured it tightly around her neck in the smoky hangar. Slinging her weapon of choice over her shoulder, she lifted Justin to the other and walked to the flight line. Saving his life was the least she could do after nearly giving his. Besides, he still owed her a beer. She wasn’t the kind of girl to overlook a promise. After tonight, she could use it.
Angel dropped her badge to the ground in defiance knowing she would never wear the uniform of a fire fighter again. Her true purpose was given on this night in an act of horror and revelation. She was a hunter of all things evil. A guardian to those who didn’t contain the power to protect themselves. In a way, she’d always known this was her lot in life but never to this capacity. As she cleared the smoky hangar and exited into the warm, July night, she caught the glare of the two men standing motionless against the star filled sky. Still in shock from what they’d witnessed, Angel could feel their knees begin to quake in her presence. She continued her approach.
“Chief Dan,” spoke the rookie “I’ve seen some straight up crazy shit in my life. I’m talking some straight up crazy shit. I’ve seen camels blow up in Iraq and seen tornadoes tear up every trailer in the park except for the one that belonged to the preacher. What in the hell did we just witness?”
Chief Dan stood speechless at the vision of the approaching girl carrying the near lifeless man upon her shoulder without any assistance. His weight wasn’t even slowing her down. Unfortunately for Dan, Angel wasn’t breaking eye contact as she walked in his direction. This made him nervous. The rookie rambled his nonsense on into the night.
“All I know is I saw Angel beating up on that walking fire and she was all purple and stuff. I mean, how are we even going to write this up in the paperwork? My country ass won’t even know where to begin, Chief! What if they run the cameras back and see what we just saw? They’re going to lock us up in the crazy house for sure! Not to mention I am scared to death of that girl now and I don’t want to sleep under the same roof anymore. She was purple, Chief! Purple! Are you even listening to anything I’m saying? What in the hell was that?!
The Chief finally broke his silence with an exhale and motioned for the young rookie to shut his mouth. He shuddered to think what was in store for either of them when the young girl finally reached their location. He prepared for the inevitable.
“That, young rookie, was a superhero. Don’t bring it up again, don’t make eye contact, and don’t you dare piss her off. She has an axe.”
(Read the complete story in the novel Extinguished by Death’s Head Press!)
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