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Funny Fiction

   The damn feathers were falling from the sky again, pure white and everywhere. Abby brushed one from her face and returned to massaging her sore shoulder. Jake had refused a place in his carseat and was pouring all of his two-year-old energy into his new favorite pastime.

  “3-2-1 blastoff!” he yelled.

   Abby sprang into her part of this game and pulled him from the air after a launch from the back door of her aging maroon SUV. He always gave himself to the wind, fully expecting someone to catch him. Any more countdowns and she was going to be late for work again.

   “Okay. Time for car ride!” she told him with feigned excitement hoping it would be contagious.

  “Okay, Mama.”

   She seized the moment and strapped him in before the tiny tornado of indecision altered course. As she got in the driver’s seat, she gave a glance upward to see a clear blue sky through the slow motion downpour of feathers. No birds. No planes. Just absurdity.

  “Let’s go, Mama!”

  She rolled her eyes and started the car.

  

  

   Late but rebellious, she gave in to the indulgence of a coffee after Jake’s drop-off. The feathers were falling outside again as the barista called her name with the order.

   Abby opened her car door to leave and tried to ignore a persistent chorus of apologetic tones from behind, hastening her movement until she recognized the voice.

  “Excuse me, ma’am? Cassie Knowles from Channel 12,” Cassie said.

  “Oh, hi!” Abby said nervously.

   “Hello. I’ve been investigating reports of these featherfalls around town for months now, and —”

   “Crazy, right?! I was starting to lean toward mass hallucination. Do you know what this is?” Abby said.

   “Well…” Cassie said. “There have been several reports that they only start when a dark red SUV is around.”

  Abby’s felt a tingling heat of embarrassment in her cheeks.

  “So you think I’m setting these up?” she said.

   “Oh, that did cross my mind after the first few calls we got. A marketing stunt or extravagant social media post. But when I drove by and saw a dark red SUV getting covered with feathers and no cameras on it… I needed to see who owned it.”

   “Well, you found her, but I’m a social media hermit. Just as clueless as the rest about this,” Abby declared, her eyes stealing a look at the merciless clock. “I gotta run. My boss is a bit understanding, but his boss wasn’t hugged enough as a child —”

   “Can we follow you for a profile?” Cassie interrupted. “A day in the life of someone dealing with these feathers?”

   “Me? … Really?” Abby said. She furrowed a brow. The idea of being linked to an unsolved mystery appealed to her as much as finding a beehive in her walls. Though she wouldn’t mind if it uncovered an explanation for all the buzz. “Okay. Not at work, but maybe after?”

  “It’s a deal. Send me your address,” Cassie said reaching for her phone.

  

  

   As Abby pulled into a parking spot at work there was a strain, pop, and shutter, sinking the left side of her car and the entirety of her mood. Her facade of humor faltered. She took a deep breath, wiped away a tear, and let out a heavy exhale. Coffee and conversations had made her far too late to put on the spare. Gathering composure in the parking lot, she dusted off feathers from yet another silent featherstorm and walked toward the glass doors.

   It wasn’t a perfect job, but she had worked her way up from an intern over the last few years. At first, taking on more of the underwriting work from a colleague seemed like an opportunity for experience. But without a change in position or pay over the last year, that stepping stone turned into a lead weight.

   When Jake entered the scene she had only recently secured a position eligible for health insurance — a lifeline that spared her from potential destitution. Even still, one of the many surprises of a new child manifested in the term “dependent”, which extended health insurance to her baby but also shrank her paycheck at the least opportune time. Daycare, formula, food, diapers, and a slew of other things that weren’t in the parenting brochure put her “below the new lower-middle-class poverty line” as she’d heard it described.

   Abby was grateful for a benevolent coworker who played hero after work, wrestling the spare onto her driver side. She tried to push the cost of a new tire as far out of her mind as she could, but during the drive to and from daycare, the lean of her car kept rolling it back in.

  

  

   Abby saw Cassie and her producer waiting when she arrived at her apartment building. Brushing off the mortification of not having enough time to clean, she settled into telling her story. The catharsis of saying aloud all the financial troubles of being a parent today outweighed the unease of being on camera. She didn’t know how much of it would make it on air.

   Much to Cassie’s disappointment no feathers fell that afternoon. In fact, the next few days were amazingly uneventful and on schedule, which meant Abby found them blissful.

   Cassie’s text buzzed Abby’s pocket as she was reading to Jake one evening soon after. The feather fiasco had been shelved. Instead, a forthcoming segment would shed light on the challenges faced by single parents like her. Abby consented, but experience taught her not to waste water on the seeds of hope.

  

  

   She was eating lunch the next day when her cell rattled on her desk. Sunshine Kids. The daycare never called. Her heart raced.

  “Is Jake okay?” she said before the phone was even near her ear.

   “Hi, Abby. Unfortunately, there’s been an accident,” the owner’s voice said. “The paramedics say he’s going to be okay, but…”

  “The paramedics?!”

  “Yes, ma’am. He and Ms. Evans are en route to the emergency room.”

  Abby began a sprint to her car.

   “During a toddler trip to the park, Jake attempted to ‘blastoff’ from a picnic table. Ms. Evans caught him before he could land on some broken concrete, but they both fell. Some rebar pierced through Ms. Evans’ arm and caused a deep laceration on Jake’s right side. They were both rushed to Crestwood Regional.”

   The voice on the phone was barely audible over the pounding in her ears. The color drained from Abby’s face and keys rattled in shaking hands trying to find the ignition.

   It would have been easy to ignore the feathers falling like so many times before, except today they were pink. As a matter of habit, Abby brushed them off her clothes as she ran to the hospital doors. Something felt different, though. Wet. They weren’t pink. They were tinged with a bright red… was it blood? It only added to the horror.

   Jake was in surgery to remove a small piece of the shrapnel from his side. She couldn’t see him until the procedure was done. All she wanted was to touch him, hold him, and tell him that it’s okay to be scared. Instead she could only pace inside a sterile pastel-colored room, the slightest noise on the nearby heavy double doors getting her full attention.

   The nurse said it was not life-threatening. “Only an outpatient surgery.” And the reality of that set in on Abby among the low hum of the pediatric ward. Her health insurance would cover 80%, but percentages don’t offer the courtesy of explaining how much things actually cost.

   An hour later she was finally able to see him. He was pale but warm, breathing, and regaining consciousness. Her primal urge to pull him in close was converted into a stream of silent tears as she held his hand.

  The doctor prescribed rest, an antibiotic, and no more blastoff.

  

  

   At home she felt a twist of anguish every time Jake’s laugh turned into a cry of pain. After dinner, she made a makeshift mattress with blankets next to his bed and held his tiny hand as he drifted off to sleep. She nearly fell asleep, too, but decided the fluffy blanket in the linen closet would probably prevent a sore back tomorrow morning.

   Some of the bloody feathers were on the floor by the bathroom, and she dismissed them as having been stuck to her shoes until she opened the door. With a short shriek she recoiled. Bloodied and bruised on her bathroom floor lay an angel with wings half open.

   A hoarse voice in an accent she’d never heard said, “Abigail, don’t be alarmed.”

   Her first thought was wondering what happened to this person in drag and how did they get into her house. But the wings moved at the joints, had bloody scrapes on them, and drops of blood fell from inside the metal breastplate… Maybe this wasn’t a costume.

   “Who are you? How did you get in here?” It was the best she could put together on such short notice.

   “Apologies. The demons have taken such a strong interest in Jacob. I’ve been fighting them for months,” they said. They winced and pushed up into a seated position, aided by a gentle flap of the wings. It sent a small burst of blood-tinged feathers aloft.

   “Today, I failed” they said. “Presently I am too weak to stay hidden, but soon I will return to meet them. I just need time and good will to heal.”

   Abby’s defenses wavered, and she attempted to wipe away the blood from the angel’s head with a towel, who smiled weakly.

   “I thank you, but do not worry. I cannot die. I can only be weakened. I am quite embarrassed at the mess you see in this room, but I believe it will fade. It is only a manifestation of my injuries to mortal eyes.”

  “You have a name?” she asked.

  “I am an avatar of Sithriel.”

   Abby pulled out her phone and searched the words “stress-induced hallucination”.

  “I am quite real.”

   “Sure,” she said. Real or not, she still only thought of Jake. “So this may be a selfish question, but… if you’re here, where are the demons?”

   “Vanquished for the moment. They are not aware of wounding me so and are cowardly. They too cannot truly die and will return. I will be ready.”

   She took it at face value. What else could she do? Maybe she had fallen asleep and her mind was just trying to make sense of feathers blowing in from some ungodly hoard of geese. Maybe she needed to second guess her belief in an ulterior motive from politicians claiming wind turbines cause the mass murder of birds. Or maybe there’s really an angel on her floor and demons are plaguing her son. The insanity over the last several months and the exhaustion of her day made it all plausible.

   The thought of demons incited a panicked run back to Jake’s room. He slept, placid with a slight snore. If it was all true, she would fight off the demons herself if she had to.

   After some negotiating with Sithriel to move to her bedroom, she regained some privacy in her bathroom. She readied herself for sleep and returned to Jake’s side for the night.

  

  

   She was in the kitchen making breakfast when Cassie texted that the story would air that night. Abby was typing a message of gratitude when the angel called her name weakly.

   “I am so profoundly sorry, Abigail. I knew my presence here would keep them away, but they set to work on others afar.”

  “What are you even talking about?” she said while rubbing her temples.

   Her phone buzzed with a call from Sunshine Kids again. The owner had an even more measured tone this time. “We will be refunding a prorated amount for the month and will no longer be able to accept Jake.”

  “Okay…” Abby said.

   She was grateful for Ms. Evans and the hole in her arm, but in no hurry to bring Jake back to daycare anyway. She asked for details and learned the health insurance company had filed a lawsuit. Legal counsel advised the daycare to no longer admit Jake.

   A phone call later and an insurance representative was explaining he couldn’t provide information on the ongoing legal case, but temporarily any outstanding medical expenses would “fall to the patient”. “Once settled, a responsible party will compensate accordingly.”

  Abby wasn’t going to find $17,000 in the couch cushions.

  She ran to her bedroom door. “Hey, wings! How do we get you healed?”

  “Time and good will,” Sithriel said.

   She moved with a huff of frustration toward Jake’s room, hearing him stir. After getting him set at the table with a plate of sliced strawberries and a waffle, she texted several paragraphs to Cassie. Abby needed all the help she could get. She slumped back in the dining chair and tried to ignore the walls closing in. Jake threw his waffle on the floor and asked for more strawberries.

  

  

   The full day of distracting a toddler in pain exhausted her so much that she nearly forgot about being on television. After finally getting Jake to sleep, she caught the middle of it and cringed at her own voice.

   “I can’t afford a house, but I make a mortgage payment every month for daycare. And I know the wonderful people that take care of my son are barely making their ends meet, too. I love him, and I wouldn’t trade him for anything… But people here keep telling women that every life is precious, and as soon as a baby’s out of the womb no one wants to help pay the new bills. There’s just too much month left at the end of the money, and no amount of ‘personal accountability’ is going to change that.”

   Cassie closed the report explaining Abby’s most recent debacle, and how she’s an example, not an exception.

   She was dozing on the sofa when there was movement in her bedroom, and she sleepily went to see what her stress-induced hallucination was doing. Sithriel was standing, wings tucked, and adjusting armor. There were no visible wounds.

  “I am so grateful for your hospitality, Abigail, but it is time I leave.”

   The whole thing felt bizarre. She just said, “Okay. Well. Thanks for all you do.”

   Sithriel smiled stoically, stretched out wings that spanned wall to wall, and made a single graceful flap. The wind disheveled the room and forced Abby to close her eyes. When she opened them, the angel was gone. Quite convinced it was all in her head and seeing no blood on the bed, she fell onto it and slept instantly.

  

  

   The next morning her phone buzzed relentlessly on the nightstand. She thought it was her alarm until she saw the flood of missed calls and a string of texts from Cassie. In the days that followed, a lawyer offered help free of charge, and the hospital forgave the outstanding balance after public pressure. Abby and Jake became part of a new organization for single parent families campaigning for childcare subsidies and pooling money for unexpected costs.

   Abby was grateful for it all, but often thought about how ridiculous it was that a news report originally about feathers was the necessary catalyst to help all these people.

  

  

   A feather-free year later, Abby and Jake were driving along a pastoral road headed to a birthday party. No other cars were on the road save one: an old pickup truck going the opposite direction in the next lane. With a screeching of tires, it suddenly veered her direction. Abby pulled to the right while the truck pulled to the left at the last possible moment. Both vehicles came to a dusty halt.

   Abby stopped to assess Jake, who was scared but otherwise fine, and saw the driver of the truck running over and yelling apologies.

  “Is everyone okay?!” he said.

  “I think so. Are you?”

   “Oh, I’m so glad! Hit an oil slick and lost control. Tires caught traction just in the nick of time. Looks like both our guardian angels are working hard today.”

  “Don’t,” Abby said in a serious tone.

   Out of the corner of her eye she saw three white feathers land softly on the hood of her car.

March 02, 2024 04:40

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4 comments

Eliza Levin
22:35 Mar 07, 2024

This was a very engaging read, nice job! A lot of great lines in here--I particularly liked "experience taught her not to waste water on the seeds of hope." One small thing: I know this was just a short story, but I would have loved to know more about why the demons took an interest in Jake and how angels/demons work in this universe. This seems like the most intriguing part of your story and it might be interesting to expand on. Otherwise, this was a very cool take on the guardian angel trope and I'm very intrigued by the universe you'v...

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Gideon Bleak
01:57 Mar 08, 2024

Thank you for the gift of your time reading my ramblings and even moreso for the gift of feedback! Candidly, I also would like to know why the demons have taken such interest in Jake. As for the angels and demons, I had several notions. I gutted around 2,500 words to get to the contest limits. Perhaps I chose the wrong ones this time around and will do better next.

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Linda Lambert
20:35 Mar 07, 2024

I enjoyed reading your story Gideon…especially the humour and interaction between Abby and Sithriel…they are both interesting characters demonstrating the notion that angels around us are a normal thing…well done!

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Gideon Bleak
02:13 Mar 08, 2024

Thank you so much for reading! I've still got so much to learn about this craft, which I'm doing out loud and in front of everyone.

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