Excerpt: Virtue of Death

Shrouded by shadows, Sera, alongside her best friend, Cheryl, stood on the desolate bridge, watching, waiting. An itch raced up and down her spine as her wings, hidden beneath a thin layer of skin, anticipated their release, and Sera braced herself for what would happen next.

A black car without headlights came from the north, and the itch changed to a burn. This is it. Sera watched in horror as the car crossed the line, gathering speed as it went. From the south came the sound of squealing brakes and tires as they struggled to grip the road. Then the crash of metal on metal was heard as the front ends of the vehicles collided. Married together by sheer force, the cars spun 180 degrees and slid down the road. The heavy smell of burnt rubber washed over her like a violent wave.

Invisible to the world around them, but not to each other, Sera watched as Cheryl unfurled her delicate, yet powerful, green wings. She glowed white and held her hands in the air, holding an unseen force at bay. The intense look of concentration told Sera how much Cheryl struggled to control the careening automobiles. The cars broke the guardrail and were both left teetering precariously on the thin line of balance that kept them from falling into the depth of the choppy waters below. Cheryl dropped her hands. The light glow faded, her pale green wings retreated, and she looked human again. “Not good enough,” Cheryl muttered with a determined look on her face. She sprang forward to the cars and, in moments, had dragged a man and his infant son to safety.

Then Sera changed out of her human form, grateful for the release that came with transformation. With her ice-blue wings spread open behind her, she radiated light in a matching hue. She took slow and deliberate steps in the direction of what used to be two cars. The front ends of both cars had flattened and disappeared, much like an aluminum can on the forehead of a drunk guy at a bar.

The driver of the speeding car without headlights lay atop the jagged, broken glass of the windshield scattered on the dashboard of the car he had hit. Blood seeped from his abdomen, his breathing shallow, as he moaned and writhed in pain. At least he’s conscious. As she stepped closer, the stench of alcohol—whiskey, to be precise—mixed with the smell of scorched tires and blood in her nose. She struggled to keep her stomach contents from traveling north.

He nodded in recognition when he saw her, and as she stepped closer, his upper lip lifted in a caustic sneer. She held out her hand with a smile that was very hard to muster.

He spit on the hand she extended to him. A tight pink line replaced the smile on her face.

“I know what you are. You’re death.”

“An angel of death, yes.”

“The hell if I’m ready to go. Go tell your boss that.” He rattled off a few more choice profanities, and Sera recoiled from the hate in his words. This is going to be harder than I thought.

She took a few deep breaths so she could tamp down the frustration before speaking again. “Do you remember what happened tonight?”

“Yeah, was out celebrating—my boy’s finally going to be a daddy.” The night was going to end with that man never getting the chance to hold his grandchild, and the part of her that wasn’t disgusted by his saliva on her hand wept for his loss. “My wife called and told me to get home, so I left. I was driving, and that car hit me.”

Sera struggled with what to say next, but she knew that blaming him for the accident wasn’t going to accomplish anything. Not that any of it mattered; the more pressing situation was convincing him to take her hand. She took a cleansing breath and replaced the irritation in her voice with compassion.

“What do you feel?”

He paused and looked around. “Pain and heat.”

“That is my heat you feel. It is meant to be a comfort as you pass from this world to the next.”

“I told you. I’m not ready to go, and I ain’t gonna.”

“You flew through two windshields. Humans are not made to withstand that kind of force.”

“In the Navy, I was shot at and beat up. This body can take anything.” He raised his arm in an attempt to make a muscle, and the pain registered on his face. He adjusted for a better view of the parts of his body that screamed at him in pain, but the shift in weight broke the delicate balance the vehicle made when it came to a stop. The car tumbled over the edge of the bridge in slow motion and flipped upside down as it fell into the water below with a splash. Sera opened her mouth to call to Cheryl for help, but no words in her vocabulary fit the moment—if she could swear, it would have been an excellent time to do so.

Red lights flashed and sirens wailed in the distance. Sera’s attention returned to the water, where the man’s head popped above the surface, but it vanished just as quickly as it appeared, as a small wave lapped around him. Sera flapped her wings and lowered herself from the bridge, her light illuminating the man’s struggle to stay afloat in the water tinged with his blood.

She concentrated and appeared inside his head, both of them standing inside an area filled with white light, his jumbled thoughts streaming around them. Even there, the stench of whiskey assaulted her nose.

“How long do you think you can do this?” she asked him.

“I don’t know, but I’ll die trying.”

Her gaze softened, and she placed a hand on his arm. “That is exactly the point, you will. Or you can come with me, to the possibility of something better. Or ignore me and suffer something much worse.” She glanced around in fear; she hoped her threat hadn’t brought out the evil that searched for wayward souls. She exhaled loudly when she realized it was still just she and the man wrestling for his existence.

“I’m supposed to have a grandbaby soon. I have something to live for.” As soon as he said the words, his shoulders shook, and tears fell from his eyes.

“You will be able to see your grandchild. You may never get the chance to hold him, but you will see him.”

“How do you know? How are you so sure?”

“I don’t know for sure. I just take you to judgment. It is all on you whether you pass or not. But I do know that once there, you are able to see the conclusion of your unfinished business.”

“But that’s only if I go to heaven.” The man dropped to his knees and looked at her with crestfallen brown eyes, but he made no move to stand up. Physically, his body had begun to give out, his grasp on life weakening with each word, even inside his head. Her time was limited.

“I don’t know the answer to that. But this is your choice.” She placed her hand close to his.

Once again, he eyed her outstretched hand with disgust, but he kept his bodily fluids to himself. Well, that’s progress, right?

“Can’t I just offer to quit drinking, go to church, mend my ways, and live?” He looked up at her, cheeks damp and eyes that pleaded with her more than his words ever could.

Sera shook her head. “Sadly, it doesn’t work that way. Second chances are not my department. My job is to make this moment easier, not to stop it. I’m sorry.”

He nodded at her. “Thank you for being merciful,” he whispered.

His thoughts fading to darkness around her, she put out her hand, and he silently took it. As the man’s fingers wrapped tightly around hers, his earthly vessel released its last breath and freed its hold on his soul. A wisp of light trailed behind her as she led it to the heavens. High above, among the stars, she glanced down to see his physical remains fall beneath the surface of the water to his final resting place.

She returned to the bridge and nodded at Cheryl. “It is done.”

They flew away from the scene of the accident just as the emergency vehicles screeched to a stop in front of the one remaining car from the wreck.

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