Cecelia squirmed as her grandmother finished strapping her into the car. It was a warm day, the air heavy with the scent of spring, and the sky was a bright blue. Not a day six-year-olds wanted to sit in a car. She wanted to run in the garden amongst the fairies and play at being a ballerina in her pink shoes.
Her grandmother pressed a kiss against her slightly sticky cheek. “Be a good girl for your mother, Lia,” she told her. “And remember…”
“The fairies are our secret,” Lia pressed a finger to her lips with an exaggerated wink and a smile. “Yes, granny.”
Her grandmother straightened and put her arms around Lia’s mother. Through the windscreen of the car, Lia could see her father finishing off a last-minute repair to the porch railing. His toolkit was open on the floorboards and his jeans slipped down to reveal the band of his underwear as he bent over it. She giggled.
“Remember, Clarissa…” Her grandmother said with fervency.
“Ward myself and Lia every day, I know mum, I know,” Clarissa hugged her back awkwardly, her belly swollen with the baby brother or sister that was due within a few weeks. “And watch out for the Wingless.”
“At all times,” Lia’s grandmother held her by the shoulders. “We are the last of our line.”
“All done,” Lia’s father said with a grin as he joined them. “Next time we come, I will get up on the roof for you, Doris, and have a look at the tiles.”
“Thank you, James,” Lia’s grandmother replied warmly. “Now off with you three. The day is getting old, and it is a long drive for Lia in a warm car.”
“That house,” as he reversed the car out of the driveway, Lia’s father muttered to her mother, as he always did. “Needs a full renovation.”
“She will never do it,” Lia’s mummy replied through her teeth as she was smiling and waving farewell to her mother through the windscreen. “That would mean having someone into the house or leaving it.”
“It is just not healthy to be a shut in like she is…”
“She has her reasons.”
Her grandmother did not like to leave the house because she was scared of the Wingless, Lia thought. The Wingless were the monsters of the stories that her grandmother told her sometimes as they gardened amongst the fairies. The stories were a lot more interesting than the old, smelly book that was kept in the secret tower hidden through the walk-in-wardrobe of her grandmother’s bedroom.
Lia’s eyes grew heavy, and she drifted off to sleep, soothed by the warmth of the car and the gentle hum of the engine.
Screams woke her, and she opened her eyes into nightmare. The front of the car had crumpled in, the windscreen shattered, and there was blood, thick and brightly red like paint, on the driver’s side window. The car spun, whipping her hair over her face. Black smoke rose around them, and her father hung limply against his seatbelt, dragged forward by the motion. Her mother’s scream ended abruptly as her head struck the glass on her side, leaving behind a circular pattern radiating lines and a bloody imprint.
There was smoke inside the car, and Lia could see the bright yellow and orange of flames from where the bonnet had crumpled. She screamed, her voice high and shrill in her panic.
The car stopped spinning, but the flames grew, and her parents did not move.
“Mummy,” she pleaded fighting against the straps that bound her in place. “Daddy?”
The smoke within the car bit at her lungs and she could not take a breath to scream without coughing. She tried to call for her parents, tears and snot streaking down her face, but they could not hear her.
“Please, mummy,” she gasped out.
The car shuddered as something heavy landed on the roof, and she looked up as the metal creaked and groaned, pulling back from above her. A man leaned in through the door, a beautiful man with wings like the pictures in the book in her grandmother’s secret tower. His hair was as bright as the sun around his face, and his eyes were the same colour as the sky. The feathers of his wings were white and spread wide behind him, as he leaned in.
He tore through the straps holding her and shifted position on the roof, going down on one knee, so that he could take her under the arms and lift her up. She wrapped her arms around his neck, and he held her against him, murmuring comfortingly words that she could not quite make out.
He jumped from the roof, using his wings to carry them high above the road. Over his shoulder she could see the flames engulf the car, with her parents in it, and she wailed. He coasted to the ground, landing lightly some distance from where the car burnt, and laid her out onto the grass.
“Shh,” he said. “You will be safe now, little slave.”
He rose and leapt into the air, his powerful wings carrying him high into the sky until he was lost from sight, one of his feathers drifting down to land in her lap.
A car pulled up, and a woman leapt out of the passenger side, running to Lia. “Are you alright little girl?” She dropped to her knees beside Lia and examined her for injuries. “What is your name? Who was in the car? Wade,” she called out over her shoulder, her eyes flashing golden in the light. “You will have to drive to the nearest house and call the police and ambulance.”
Lia searched the sky for the winged man. “Cecelia.”
“Mum?” A boy had gotten out, a teenager all long limbs and overgrown dark curls falling into golden-brown eyes. “What can I do?”
“Raiden,” the woman had finished examining Lia. “Come here, sit with Cecelia for a moment, whilst your dad and I…” She gestured helplessly towards the burning car.
The teenaged boy sat next to Lia. “Hi,” his smile was bright, but his eyes were worried. “I am Raiden,” he put his arm around her pulling her against him. “I have little sister about your age. Her name is Tara. And a brother, Ethan, but he is a pain in the arse. Do you have any brothers or sisters?”
“No. My mummy and daddy,” her face twisted with her distress as she watched the man and woman trying to get close enough to the car to try to help her parents.
“Shh,” the boy said, just as the angel had done. “It is alright, Cecelia, it will be alright.”
He stood and picked her up. She wrapped her arms around his neck and her legs around his waist, clinging and finding comfort in the scent of his hair and the warmth of his skin. He rubbed her back as he walked towards his parent’s car. He slid into the back seat, holding her, and closed the door behind him, shutting out the roar of the flames and the voices of his parents.
Another car had pulled up and there was a conversation, the adult’s voices rising and falling, muffled by the car in which they sat. Sirens in the background drew Raiden’s attention, and he turned to look out the window as a police car came to a stop.
“See,” he told her. “The police are here.”
“It was the Wingless,” Lia sobbed out against his shoulder holding to him tighter. “The Wingless came to get us.”
“The Wingless?” He repeated, confused.
“And the angel saved me.”
“Alright,” he said the same tone of voice that her father had used when she had told him about the fairies before her grandmother had told her that they were a secret.
The car door opened, and his mother and a police officer filled the space.
“Good job, Raiden,” his mother said warmly. “Come here, sweetie,” she reached out her arms.
“No,” Lia clung to him. Somehow, deep down inside, she knew that she needed to stay with the boy. That she was safe as long as she was with him.
“Come now sweetie,” Raiden’s mother was gentle. “You have to go with Office Calston. She is going to take you to your grandmother. Come now, let go of Raiden, Cecelia,” there was a magic in her voice, and Lia recognised the sharp stinging scent of it, releasing Raiden in surprise. “This is Cecelia,” Raiden’s mother told the police officer lifting Lia free of her son and transferring her into the female officer’s arms.
Raiden met her eyes over the shoulder of the police officer she was carried away.
The white feather that she had been clutching drifted from her fingers, picked up by the wind and kicked under foot.