CHERIE DE SUES
"We are each of us angels with only one wing,
and we can only fly by embracing one another."
“There’s my mom, see you later Candy.” Alexa pushed the double glass doors and ran carefully through the snow to the car.
Her mom shook her head pointing towards the back seat. “Alexa you’re all wet honey, this is Vermont, not Florida." She sighed. "Okay, get in the back. You’ll have more room to get dressed.”
Alexa jumped in, closed the passenger door of the back seat and buckled up. Candy stood motionless behind the glass door of the high school pool with a scowl on her face.
With a grin, Alexa turned around in her seat enjoying the beating she'd given Candy in the pool. Her teammate's feelings were so easy to sense. No challenge at all.
The car moved slowly out of the parking lot as she wiggled out of her warm-up jacket and sweat pants. Practice ran late and they were in a hurry to get to the Cineplex. A new chick flick had just come out for Valentine’s Day and it was Friday night.
Dancing around in the back seat of the old SUV, Alexa pulled up dry jeans over wet legs. She zipped up and looked at the darkening sky out the side window. Grey and purple laced clouds from the big snowstorm predicted for later that night were beginning to roll in from the East. They looked like a black eye and bad weather freaked her out.
The mushy mom music rolled over her as she wrapped her favorite green sweater tighter around her chest. Her mom was taking the back road to the Cineplex.
“How was practice tonight Alexa?”
“Oh you know the usual.” She preferred Alexa used her free time with the self-defense classes she'd arranged instead of being on the varsity swim team. “Sam Trucker offered to drive us to the next swim meet this weekend against Washington High School.” Alexa laughed and met her mom’s deep green eyes that matched her own in the rearview mirror.
Her mom crinkled her nose with distaste.
Coach Trucker had a serious thing for her mom, but she didn’t seem to feel that way about him—or any man since her dad left them when Alexa was only a baby.
“Tell him thanks, but no thanks.” Her mom caught her eyes again in the mirror and winked.
Alexa rolled her eyes. “You know it wouldn’t hurt to just go out to dinner with the guy, he is nice.”
Instead of a reply, her mom turned up the music and Alexa sat back for the rest of the trip. Maybe her mother was waiting until she left to go to college next year. Some parents never dated openly around their kids, like Chris and Susan’s mom. Alexa sensed she could be too stubborn and set in her ways after fifteen years of loneliness. When Alexa brought up the subject, her mom always reminded her that stubbornness was an Irish family trait they both shared.
She peeked at the speedometer and sighed—her mom was driving her usual thirty miles an hour. Not a bad idea tonight as she listened to the tire chains rattling under the car, hungrily grabbing the frozen road.
Outside the window, the snow began to fall harder, quickly covering the trees and road. She shuddered. Back roads in Vermont made her a little nervous. The houses were too far apart in the outskirts of their small town.
When the street lamps came on, she relaxed a little.
The car lurched forward and her damp athletic bag fell to the floor. She ducked down to take it off the carpeted floor before her mom had a fit. Suddenly the brakes locked up, throwing her forward into the passenger’s seat back.
“Ow, what the…?” Alexa sat up quick rubbing her head, then leaned between the seats to see why they'd almost stopped.
Alexa gasped in terror. The windshield was obscured by a huge bird-like creature flying with its back to them a few feet away from the car.
“Mom?!” Her heart sank as a feather smacked into the windshield. This wasn't a dream.
“Hold on tight Alexa!”
Her mom swerved around the massive wing span, but the bird stayed ahead of them, obstructing the road ahead. A loud, high-pitched screech forced Alexa to hold her ears in pain. She closed her eyes to shut out the horrific sight.
The car shuddered as deep scratches resonated from the front end of the vehicle. Alexa's eyes flashed open to see sharp talons dangled from the bird's large torso, puncturing the metal of the hood for a hold.
“Make it stop!” Alexa couldn’t hear herself scream.
The bird slowed its powerful forward motion to attach to the grill. Her mom stomped the brakes hard, to lose the creature.
The thrust pressed Alexa painfully forward against the seatbelt. In seconds, the car lurched forward again, pounding her body back into the seat. Her mom tried desperately to weave past the tenacious beast of black feathers and leathery skin.
Alexa'd never seen anything like it—not a bird or a bat, but a horrifying combination. The creature turned its massive head toward them and let out a trill of screams while flipping midair around to face the windshield.
She screamed in fear as sharp teeth snapped open and closed. The adrenaline coursing through her body drove her heart into a race.
What is it? Why won’t it go away?
The creature spread its talons wide to attach itself to the car, and her mom punched the accelerator to ram it. Her instincts were good and the lower half of its body crashed loudly into the windshield. There was a crunch as the safety glass broke into spidery webs, but it held. She hyperventilated wildly as a whimper slipped from between her lips.
Please God let it be dead.
Incredibly, she saw the bird move. Talons scraped the windshield and roof trying to make a purchase over her head on the luggage rack.
Her mom sped up and the chains scraped the pavement beneath the snow as she tried to dislodge the beast. Alexa gripped the seat and armrest to keep from being thrown from side to side.
Metal peeling from the roof echoed in the car above her head. She instinctively lay across the backseat and between the seats, her mom took a gun from her purse. Alexa froze with disbelief as her mother quickly released the safety, angled her wrist to the roof, and fired.
The sound in the enclosed car was deafening. She moaned and shut her eyes with fear, trying to cover her ears. Another shot fired and Alexa willed herself to sit up, see if the monster had dropped onto the frosty road behind them.
Instead, its fiery red eyes were only inches away from her own. Alexa gasped in terror as survival instincts kicked her in gear. Anger made her release the button on her seat-belt. She scrambled back away from the clawed grip holding the edge of the rear window.
"Baby, move to your right!"
The red eyes of the creature stared at her, snapping its razor sharp teeth viciously. She moved to her right, sickened that the thing thought of her as prey.
Her mom’s arm extended from the front seat and fired a shot through the back window. The bullet smashed through the glass, hitting its target—the inverted head of the monster. An explosion of bone and blood splattered her face.
Alexa recoiled from the sticky mess and wedged deeply into the tiny foot space. She closed her eyes and furiously wiped at the bits on her face in revulsion.
"I love you Alexandria."
Her mother reached for her and squeezed Alexa's shoulder, then prayed loudly taking a tight curve to the left. The tires whined to stay on the road, but the force put the vehicle into a tumble.
Alexa clung to the seat frame squeezing her eyes tightly as flecks of glass ripped at her face and body. She lost her grip when the car stopped abruptly upside down against a solid object. Instantly her body flew out of her small space, and she fell on her back.
Her mom moaned as a tire blew out somewhere above her head. Alexa struggled to snake out of the backseat, cutting her hands in the broken glass to get to her mom.
Over the howling wind of the storm, she could hear wet labored breath, and could smell blood. Her mother was still harnessed, holding her side as pulsing bright-red blood slid between her bone-white fingers.
Alexa knew she was badly injured, but what could she do? She laid her head next to her mom's and put her hand on her heart with love like she’d done with Alexa her whole life. She kissed her mother's cheek and all the power in the car went out. They were in complete darkness.
Her mother's gurgling slur made her stomach churn with fear.
“I’m okay mom.” Tears rolled down her cheeks.
“Be strnnnng, Alexa love you.”
Her mom struggled with the words. Alexa heard sirens in the distance and hope surged within her.
“He will come for you, Alexandra.” The words came out slowly to be understood.
“Who will come, mom? My father?” Her mom'd lost so much blood. The seat and carpet were drenched. She shuddered pressing her face onto her mom's cheek that was so cold next to hers.
“Mom, you’ll be okay their coming for us because of that emergency thing you installed in the car.” Alexa silently prayed it wasn’t too late as the thump of her mom’s heart under her hand was too slow.
“Yor specl…yor dad specl too.”
Blood oozed out of her mouth, and Alexa tenderly wiped it away with her sweater sleeve with shaking hands.
“Mom your special, I love you.” She whispered, desperate to keep the connection. “I love you, don’t leave me.”
“Alwas be ith ou…”
Alexa heard her mother's breathing stop.
Her only family, her mother was gone.
She couldn’t move as the siren’s got closer. Her tears froze on her face and she shivered. She was all alone now.
From somewhere behind her there was a girl's laughter. Alexa turned and ducked to see out the back window frame filling with powdery snow blown in from the frigid breeze.
A lone figure approached from a distance in a long black coat with the hood up, laughing with sickening glee. The street lamp cast her youthful face into an eerie yellow mask as she tramped quickly through the snow towards the car.
Alexa was repulsed by her. The girl seemed to see her, yet she was in pitch blackness. She considered whether to move towards her for help, but a strong instinct held her back.
Bright headlights of emergency vehicles flashed on the snow illuminating the sprawled headless creature bleeding in the snow between them. Holding her breath, Alexa watched in horror as the girl picked up the creature's severed head, held it to her breast and screamed in pain. Her face contorted with hatred as she stared into Alexa's eyes and sliced the glacial air with an ear-shattering shriek.
Heartsick and frightened, Alexa shrank back towards her mother—her sweet mom who symbolized protection and love as she trembled. She remained hidden as the girl disappeared with the remains of the dark-winged beast.
She just vanished.
Alexa held her mother and watched the intermittent red and white lights of the paramedic truck come closer before losing consciousness.