It began in a neighborhood, quiet and commonplace, with a girl of similar qualities. Everyone knew her as “Audrey”, but her name was Celeste, and she was an angel; she just didn’t know it yet. Seventeen at the time, she was on the cusp of full-fledged womanhood, yet her face still bore all the innocence and naivety of adolescence. She was like a lily of the field, easily martyred for others.
She’d had a sheltered upbringing, her parents meaning well but ultimately suffocating her with an overbearing love that left no room to grow—to explore the world around her. They meant to protect her from evil and sin, never thinking she could be a light strong enough to overcome it. They always called her their little angel, a term of endearment stemming from how sweetly and obediently she followed orders, their dutiful daughter so kind to everyone she met.
She didn’t have many friends. It was a side effect of being educated at home and having few opportunities to socialize in their quiet suburbia. The neighborhood kids would sometimes allow her to join in their ruckus-making, although truthfully Celeste never much liked their wild games of throwing baseballs and butting heads. No, she much preferred exploring the small forest at the end of the cul-de-sac, being so fond of nature—most of all climbing trees.
It was her most sacred rebellion, this act of scaling large oaks and towering pines to touch the sky and feel the wind against her neck. It seemed the higher she climbed, the more the clouds above her would clear, parting the way for her to touch the sky. The kids thought her strange, but they all could admit she was fearless when it came to heights and thus often recruited her to fetch their frisbee when it got caught on a high branch.
Later, as she blossomed into a teenager, she began to develop some behavior problems which made her parents question if she was still their little angel. A storminess would sometimes overtake her, causing her to lash out with harsh words or scream without warning. She spent more and more hours outside, any excuse to escape her parents. Often times she wouldn’t answer to “Audrey”, acting as if it wasn’t her name at all. The other neighborhood adults assured her mother and father that it was perfectly normal for a girl of her age to be volatile, and yet they still thought something was peculiar about the stormy gaze she’d have and the fact that every time she’d lash out or cry, it would start to rain.
Despite this rebellion, they could still rely on her to tend her plants—ever her companions, apparent in the number of succulents on her windowsill and flowers in her garden. They flourished under her care: the pansies, poppies, and hyssop plants blooming with every touch and whisper. She even took to planting a tree, but not in her backyard, for she wanted it untouched by a human’s gaze. She planted this little fir in a small clearing deep in the forest, not far from a pond with water lilies. It was her own little secret, one she never shared. It felt more special to not tell anyone about it.
Nature was not her only respite though. Faithfully she would attend every service at the small chapel down the road, staring up at the golden stained glass like it was her savior. There was never any storminess on a Sunday morning, only sunshine and smiles. The pastor, charmed by her devotion and bright eyes so uncommon in his church, assumed it was the depiction of sacrifice that enamored her, but really it was the light shining through the crimson glass of Christ’s bleeding body that held her attention, making her feel whole.
There was something so lovely about the glistening redness on his palms and side, contrasting the pale cream of his flesh, the ebony of his bones, the silver of his thorny crown. This hallowed image of crucifixion was her favorite thing about the chapel, drawing her back like a moth to the flame.
Oh, she was undoubtedly an angel. The way her brown eyes were ancient, the way the dandelions on the sidewalk seemed to drift towards her, the way the lamplight at night always found her. In the church choir, her voice stood out from the rest as more soulful, more haunting. In school, her teachers thought her odd, a young woman with a penchant for dreamy stares and leaves in her dark hair. She never spoke but always listened. She was always alone but never appeared lonely. One student reported seeing steam coming off her during a sunshower as she walked home, like her body was warm enough to heat rain.
However, only one man ever knew what she truly was, because he was the only one she ever kissed.
Captain Thomas Pierce was the head of the police station, a stoic man of handsome features and a callous temperament. Little was known about his life, where he was from, or why he’d chosen to stay in their small town for so many years. Few even knew his first name. He was curt, cool, and closed-off, a man of intimidating presence. He behaved as such because had long ago decided to make himself hollow. Why allow yourself to feel in a world of so much suffering? And so he didn’t, so much so he thought he wasn’t capable of anything else.
It was an autumn evening when they met. It was late, and he was on patrol. Although generally his job revolved around paperwork and strategic advising, he often took night shifts to make use of his insomnia. There was a soft rain blanketing the town, a warm dampness in the air. All was quiet and dark.
He saw her first, a figure with a flashlight weaving between the trees of the forest. Suspicious, for no one was ever out at this hour, he dimmed his headlights and drove closer, parking his car at the edge of the clearing. At this range he could now better make out the figure on the move.
It was a girl, in a white cotton t-shirt that came to her knees.
Earlier in the evening Celeste had, after a long period of restlessness, wished to see how her little fir was doing. Sleep did not always come easy to her, and she often found herself craving an escape. So she climbed out her bedroom window and went into the night, a ghostly apparition with messy hair. She knew her parents would tell her it was wildly insensible to be out at such an hour, especially all alone, but what was there to fear? Death and danger seemed far away as she crossed grassy lawns and wet sidewalks. So preoccupied with her wandering thoughts she did not notice the police car following her, and thus when she returned from the forest some time later, heart happy from seeing her tree growing so well, she suddenly found bright light blinding her eyes.
Her serenity shattered as she dropped her flashlight in surprise, raising her hands to her face to diminish the glare. The car door opened and out stepped Captain Pierce, who now recognized her as the strange girl with the ancient eyes. He wasn’t at all surprised.
For a moment, neither of them spoke. The air buzzed around them, like a thunderstorm was near. Her dark hair was damp with raindrops, her shirt soaked through. The glow of the headlights illuminated her like a fallen star, a meteor ablaze soon to dissipate into dust. Audrey only saw the tall and ominous figure of a man she knew she should fear, and yet she did not.
“What are you doing out at this hour?” He asked, deep voice neither harsh nor kind.
She said nothing, only continued to stare at him, wondering what he was thinking.
“It’s dangerous for girls like you to be out this late.”
“Why?” When she spoke, her voice was questioning, almost childish. Reality seemed a bit altered, creating a blur between actions and consequences, fantasy and fate.
He walked around to the other side of the car and opened the door to the back seat. “It’s raining, so let me drive you home.”
She nodded and padded over, bare feet making crunches against the leaf litter and twigs. For a moment, they stood face to face. She could count the silver buttons on his uniform and smell a musky scent which she believed was aftershave. He could see the freckles on her nose, the small pool of water in the crevice between her collarbones. She was so dainty, so petite. He felt old and rusted in her presence. Ephemeral. A muscle in his jaw clenched, and he sighed with all the weight of a man tired of living an empty life. And it made Celeste sympathize, for reasons she didn’t fully know.
And then suddenly, she knew. She realized everything and all things all at once. And she smiled.
“Thank you, Thomas,” she whispered as she reached up and touched his face.
Captain Pierce was too surprised to say anything in return or to even stop her. How does she know my first name? He thought before noticing a golden ring on the middle finger of her left hand. He swore it glowed brighter than it should. When the pads of her fingers brushed the stubble of his cheek, he felt awash in peace, cleansed. This feeling only grew stronger as she stood on tiptoes and kissed him for the briefest of moments. Her lips felt impossibly warm, and suddenly he thought he must be floating for how euphorically weightless he felt.
And then suddenly it ended; she climbed inside, and he—in a daze—shut the door.
The drive was short and silent. Occasionally he would look back in his rear-view mirror, and every time she would unwavering meet his gaze. Questions like What are you? needed no answer, because he already knew. For the first time in a long while, he felt it. He felt everything.
When he reached her house (she made no comment about him remembering her address), she waited patiently for him to stop the car and open the door for her, as it was impossible to open the door from the inside. Once again, they stood face to face.
She looked up at him through her lashes. Once again she seemed so delicate and ethereal—a creature from another time and place. He felt the overwhelming desire to cry, tears beginning to form in his blue eyes as he looked at her with a mixture of awe and understanding.
“Why?” He asked at last, choking on his words.
She smiled, kind as ever. “Because I wanted to.”
He laughed—how long had it been since he laughed?—thinking she was a rebellious youth after all. And then she patted his cheek and hurried off to her house, feet squelching on the wet grass. Captain Pierce could only watch her go, and in the rain he thought he saw the outline of something feathery (were those wings?) folded on her back. And then he climbed back into his car and drove off, white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel.
They never spoke with each other again. Celeste disappeared shortly after, and it seemed nobody remembered her except for him. Her parents insisted they had no daughter, and the neighbors acted like he was silly to suggest such a thing. Life carried on like normal in their small town. He would have thought himself to be mad if it wasn’t for how sure he was of that night, how sure he was that it’d happened.
Because some nights, when the moon was full, he would go out to the forest, to a clearing near a pond with water lilies. And he would see the outline of a woman in white, tending a little fir growing there. And he would know that there was still a little good in the world and that everything would be alright.
A/N: Inspired by a dream on January 23, 2019
© 2019 Obliquity of the Ecliptic