Don’t look at the cameras. That’s the first thing she remembered learning when she first became a hero. Pretend the cameras are invisible, like they’re not there. It had been hard to do at first. News cameras and studio cameras were always big and bulky, even as personal cameras got smaller and sleeker. They were hard not to look at. As a kid, Angela didn’t understand why grown-ups played pretend like that. It took her a while to get used to it, and a lot of footage exists of her looking straight at the camera when talking to whoever was interviewing her, but that was okay because her agent told her it was part of her early charm. The naiveté, the innocence, it’d done a lot to boost her popularity.
Angela was a hero. She was her older brother’s sidekick. Michael was young when he first started out, very young, but Angela was younger still and Michael took it upon himself to protect his sister from the world even as they protected the world from the evils that plagued it. Things were simpler then. Now they were a mess of late night talk shows, high priced charity events, and every once in a while, actual superhero work. Tonight, though, was going to be a talk show night, and Angela hated those.
“Cherub, five minutes,” said a woman with a clipboard.
“We got it,” said Angela’s agent, Miss Woodward.
Angela kept looking at herself in the mirror. It was bad enough that she couldn’t help seeing her every flaw jump out at her, but the fact that she was about to go on live television only amplified the feeling a million billion times. Someone from Makeup was putting some finishing touches on her face, but nothing could fix what she saw.
“What’s the matter, sweetheart? You look like you ate some bad sushi,” said Miss Woodward.
“Just trying to keep my head on straight,” said Angela.
“You’ve done this a hundred times, darling. Just stay loose and relaxed and everything will gel into place,” said Miss Woodward.
“Right,” Angela sighed.
“Remember what we worked on yesterday,” said Miss Woodward.
“The three C’s,” said Angela.
“What were they?” asked Miss Woodward.
“Cheeks, chest, cheeks,” said Angela.
“Perfect. You’ll knock them dead tonight,” said Miss Woodward.
“I wish,” said Angela.
“What was that?” asked Miss Woodward. The whole time the girl from Makeup never stopped messing with Angela’s face and it finally drove her bananas.
“Okay that’s enough!” Angela screamed. The Makeup girl and Miss Woodward stared at her in shock.
“I think you’re done here,” Miss Woodward said to the girl from Makeup, who quickly packed her things and left. “What the hell was that?” Miss Woodward asked, calmly but coldly.
“I can’t take this anymore. I’m so tired of putting on a face and dancing for these people. I don’t want to keep doing this,” said Angela.
“Those people are your fans and supporters and more importantly our contributors. A little song and dance every once in a while is worth it to pay the bills,” said Miss Woodward.
“They’re here for Michael. They don’t care about me. I’m nothing but a cute sidekick to them. That’s not who I am anymore. I want to be me instead of pretending that I’m some lollipop sucking five year old in a teenager’s body,” said Angela.
“We got rid of the lollipop thing years ago,” said Miss Woodward.
“That’s not my point! I can’t be me. I can’t do what I really want to do,” said Angela.
“Do you even know what that is, honey?” asked Miss Woodward.
“Yes I do. No one ever bothers to ask me but yes I do know what I want to do. I want to be a hero. More than that, I want to actually help people. Like full time. All these TV appearances I do, it eats up more than half of my week. I barely get time to train or help the innocent let alone have any free time. I haven’t hung out with friends in years. I can’t take any more of this freaking strutting for the cameras. I have a dozen people breathing down my neck, telling me I gotta do this and act this way and argh it’s so irritating!” Angela shouted.
“Calm down,” said Miss Woodward in that way of hers that could stop an avalanche in its tracks. “We can talk about this later. Right now, you have an interview to do in less than a minute. Focus on that and then we’ll talk about everything you want to talk about. Okay?”
“Okay,” Angela said, trying to hold her feelings at bay.
“Good. Now off with you. Your fans are waiting,” said Miss Woodward. Angela grabbed her helmet and hovered wordlessly for the door. Once she was out of the green room, Miss Woodward sighed and sent a very important text to a very important person.
“You’re going to make us late, sis,” said Michael with an easy going grin. The grin became a frown when he saw his sister’s face. “Don’t want to talk about it?” he asked as she flew next to him.
“Nope,” Angela said.
“Roger,” said Michael.
Angela was silent for a spell. Then she said, “It’s not like I’m asking for the whole world. I just want a little more freedom to do what I want. I don’t care about branding or any of that other shizz.”
“You changed your mind quick,” said Michael.
“Michael, I’m serious. I can’t keep doing this,” said Angela.
“I need you to do it one last time at least. Then we’ll sit down and talk, okay?”
“Do you read from the same script as our agent? Jesus Christ,” said Angela.
“Thou shall not take the Lord’s name in vain, my sister,” said Michael.
“Sorry sorry,” said Angela. An aide appeared, also holding a clipboard.
“You’re on in ten,” said the aide.
“We’re ready,” said Michael, only now his face was serious and sophisticated. Regal and reserved. He was no longer Michael but Seraph. Angela put her helmet on. Now she was no longer Angela, but Cherub.
“They’ve come all the way from L.A., give a nice warm welcome to our two favorite Nationals, Seraph and Cherub!”
Seraph and Cherub flew out from behind the curtain, wowing the crowd. They were in their fully powered forms, glowing golden and magnificent. Seraph had his majestic wings spread wide, highly detailed and feathered as a bird’s wings would be while Cherub had her little budding wings that were still round and fluffy, a form she had to maintain consciously because she had to stick to her closely vetted, focus group tested look. They descended like angels from heaven to the stage where two chairs awaited them.
“Wow, you two are looking… aren’t they looking great?” asked Larry Burns, host of Burnsides. The crowd roared their approval as the two guests sat down. “You’ve been busy this month, Seraph.”
“You’ve had a couple of red carpet and black tie events, you appeared in San Francisco during that whole fiasco,” said Burns. A few chuckles from the crowd.
“Don’t be too harsh on them. The Knights of Saint Francisco are a valorous bunch. They just didn’t have the firepower or skill set to fight that sea beast,” said Seraph.
“There’s a new thing trending on Twitter now, they’re calling it Squidpocalypse 2016. There it is,” said Burns as a picture was put on the screen of Seraph and Cherub flying through the giant squid’s sharp and armored tentacles. Someone had photoshopped big evil eyes on the squid.
“I don’t know what to say to that,” said Seraph. That got a big laugh. The whole time Cherub was struggling to keep a smile on her face.
“Cherub, how are you?” asked Burns.
“I’m good, how are you?” asked Cherub.
“Things are going swimmingly here in New York. People still say that right? Swimmingly? So tell us what you have going on,” asked Burns.
“Well, Larry, I have a few projects I’ve been working on. As you know my brother started a charity fund for children who’ve lost someone due to superhuman activity,” said Cherub.
“Yes. It doesn’t happen often, I hear, but it’s a terrible thing,” said Burns looking solemn.
“Yes… well I’ve been going around the country and raising awareness and money for the charity, which is called Heroes for Angels and we believe that every boy or girl who loses someone is a budding angel that needs our love and attention,” said Cherub.
“What a big heart you have. You’re doing great things, Cherub,” said Burns. That got a nice round of applause from the audience. Cherub’s spirits lightened a bit and her smile became a little more natural.
“Thanks. Thank you,” said Cherub.
“You’ve really come a long way from the little girl we used to know. Do we have a picture? There it is,” said Burns as a picture from Cherub’s past came on screen. It was of one her first appearances on the Early Show. There she was sitting in a big fluffy chair and her legs couldn’t even touch the ground. She had on the first costume she’d ever worn as Cherub, this dainty little thing that looked like a cross between armor and a tutu. And there was that fucking lollipop, stuck in her mouth by some fucking producer to calm her nerves before the show and somehow it had become a part of her image for years, something she still hadn’t quite shaken off.
“Yep, that’s me,” said Cherub with a strained smile.
“So let’s talk boys,” Burns said coyly.
“What? Okay,” said Cherub. The light headed feeling in her head must have been the whiplash from the sudden subject changes this master of late night was enacting on their conversation.
“Is there anyone on your radar?” asked Burns.
“No. No one’s on my radar,” Cherub, trying to sound like the cute naïve girl everyone wanted her to be. She could see Miss Woodward off stage, staring daggers at Burns. This was obviously way off script.
“We’ve heard tell that you’ve been spending time with a certain someone. Eric Messina? Son of John Messina the Hollywood director?” asked Burns. Now Miss Woodward was harrying someone to get a producer to stop what was happening.
“Eric’s my friend. We hang out sometimes. There’s nothing… um… there,” said Cherub.
“What about the rumor that Captain Boom’s sidekick, Flak, has been shall we say trying to get you in his blast radius,” said Burns. Another roar of laughter from the crowd. From the supporters and contributors. From her supposed fans.
“Um…” Angela struggled to stay on top of his questions, to stay a step ahead, but this guy was going hardball on her and her composure was going downhill in a hurry. She looked to her brother, involuntarily of course, but the people who looked at the footage later would say that that was evidence that there was some truth to the matter of Flak’s blast radius. Seraph kept his calm face on, but Angela could see the twitch in his eye. The one he got whenever there was doubt, whenever his emotions threatened to boil over.
“Where’d you hear that, a tabloid? Do you believe everything you read?” asked Seraph with a cool laugh.
“So that’s a no I take it,” said Burns with that cock eating smile of his.
“The rumor mill has been spewing that one out for a while. Besides, between you and me I think Flak has his eyes on the other team,” said Seraph with a knowing look. Half the audience laughed at that. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that,” Seraph added. That got the whole audience laughing that time. Meanwhile Angela was dead inside.
“We’re going to get that guy canceled,” said Miss Woodward on the limo ride home.
“You got that right,” said Michael.
“All of his sponsors removed,” Miss Woodward continued.
“I told you he’d try to pull something like that. Guy’s trying to be the next Howard Stern but doesn’t realize late night isn’t freaking radio,” said Michael. Angela had her head buried in her lap as she held her legs.
“Angela, sweety, darling, it’s going to be okay,” said Miss Woodward.
“No it’s not!” Angela screamed, her voice muffled by her arms.
“Sis, I’m as angry as you are, but…” Michael was cut off by Angela’s tear-stained hate filled face looking up at him.
“No. No you’re not. You have no idea what I’m feeling. None of you do. I’ve been a good little girl for years doing exactly what you people tell me to do, which is lie to everybody, including myself. I do want to flirt with boys and go on dates. I want to do all those things but I can’t because that would spoil the image I have of a good little angel who doesn’t do anything wrong ever. And I can’t do any kind of actual hero work because I have to humor these pervy old talk show men. I can’t take this pressure anymore,” said Angela.
“Sis, our ‘image’ as you call it is a small price to pay for what we do,” said Michael.
“He’s right, it’s just another part of the job, honey,” Miss Woodward added. “Without your celebrity appearances, people don’t show up to the galas or donate to our causes or vote the right way come election time. It may not look like it, but superhumans are on shaky ground right now, have been for a while. You need all the positive P.R. you can get.”
“I don’t care about P.R. Why do we even have to worry about P.R.? We’re heroes. Why do we even need you?” Angela asked Miss Woodward.
“You need me because Atheism is up and church membership is down. You want to be palatable to a country in denial about its religious leanings? You need to come in an easily digestible package. That’s why we’re pushing our family friendly ‘secular messengers of peace’ angle. If it weren’t for me you’d be kicking cans down a long Mississippi road instead of being a member of one of the biggest teams in the nation. Yes, Mississippi, don’t give me that look. It’s the only place they’d accept heroes like you. You think the people of San Francisco would have welcomed you the way they did if they thought you two were judgmental hardcore right-wing prayer warriors? Which they did, by the way, before you came to me. I’m the reason you’re here in the big leagues playing with the big boys, making millions for just causes across the world. You don’t like it, you can go back to that rat infested apartment in Queens for all I care,” said Miss Woodward.
“Maybe we should,” said Angela defiantly.
“No no let’s all calm down now,” said Michael, looking at Angela with equal parts concern and frustration.
“We were a lot happier in that apartment, Michael. We wanted to make some kind of meaningful change in the world. Now look at us. We’re celebrities, not heroes. Our every move is controlled by a dozen different people. Publicists, agents, managers. I’m sick of it! I want to be able to live my life how I want. I just want to be me!” Angela said, burying her face again.
“You say that but you’re still growing and figuring out what you are,” said Miss Woodward.
“How? How can I grow up when everyone treats me like a kid?” asked Angela.
“Okay. Okay. Tell you what. I was able to get in contact with someone who might be able to help us. You want to try something different, that’s fine. We can all stand to do a little update for you, bring your image a little closer to what you’d like. We’ll give the world a brand new Cherub that isn’t the cute little girl anymore. Sound good?” asked Miss Woodward. Angela cleaned her face.
“Yeah. Okay. Sounds good,” she said.
The rest of the week’s television appearances of Seraph and Cherub were canceled because of some heroic business which had suddenly popped up. It was a cover for Angela to meet and work with the number one name in celebrity reinvention, Mark Lewis. Miss Woodward brought her to Mark’s studio in downtown Los Angeles and introduced the two of them.
“Baby baby baby, it’s been ages since I’ve seen your face,” said Mark when Woodward approached. “And who’s this little firecracker?” he asked when Woodward presented Angela.
“This is Cherub of the Nationals, Seraph’s sister and partner,” said Miss Woodward.
“No way. America’s Sweetheart in my office?” asked Mark.
“That’s not who I want to be anymore,” said Angela.
“Of course not. Otherwise why would you be here?” asked Mark. He led them to his actual office, or personal workspace as he liked to call it, and sat Angela down in a swivel chair facing a mirror.
“Do we have any initial thoughts?” Miss Woodward asked. Angela thought for a moment but as she opened her mouth to reply, Mark came in at a million words a second.
“Okay first off, hair is too drab and boring. It’s gotta go. I’m thinking we do something a little more punk, a little more freestyle. Nothing too extreme, just a nice bump up the scale from Girl Scout towards edgy rocker chick. That’ll be our goal a few years down the road,” said Mark.
“What? Hold on, I like my hair,” said Angela.
“No offense, honey, but brown is out and bangs are so 2014. We’re gonna go with blonde with black roots, make it a little dirtier up around here and maybe go with a curled look. Oooh or maybe a wave,” said Mark as he played with Angela’s hair.
“And we’ll put you on a diet, get rid of all this cute little baby fat you got around here,” Mark said, grabbing Angela’s cheeks.
“Hey,” said Angela, getting pissed off fast.
“And we’ll need to update the wardrobe, something sleek and fast and sexy. Which means we’ll be getting rid of these,” said Mark as he grabbed Angela’s love handles.
“Hey!” Angela shouted. She pushed Mark away and got up out of her chair.
“Okay we don’t have to do the diet, we can just do some lipo,” said Mark.
“Shut up. Just shut up, you creeper. You touch me like that again and I throw you out your office window!” Angela shouted manifesting her wings and aura.
Angela’s wings were in their full unfurled state, not small and fluffy like Woodward encouraged her to maintain for the cameras but wide and bird-like, like an eagle’s wings.
“Whoa! Whoa. I like it. I can work with this,” said Mark. He wasn’t scared at all. He’d worked with Garbage Man and Sharkteef the manshark. A little teenager with a temper didn’t even phase him.
“Did you hear me? I’m not working with him if he keeps being so handsy,” said Angela.
“He’s a professional, dear. He does this all the time. Relax,” said Miss Woodward. Angela couldn’t believe what she was hearing. This couldn’t be a normal thing.
“Do something for me, try to make your aura a little lighter. More yellowy,” said Mark.
“Why?” asked Angela.
“Just do it, I’m having a vision,” said Mark. Angela looked at Miss Woodward.
“You wanted this,” Miss Woodward said. Angela turned her wings and aura off.
“No. Not this. This isn’t what I meant at all. I don’t want to reinvent my image. I don’t want an image at all,” said Angela.
“We can do that too. Just follow my lead and you can be anything you want to be. We’re just spit balling here,” said Mark.
“Once again no one cares about what I think. Can’t anyone listen to what I want for a change?” asked Angela.
“Darling, you keep acting like we have you on a leash, but all we want is to protect you,” said Miss Woodward.
“No, you want to protect your investment,” Angela said accusingly.
“A lot of people have invested a lot of time and money in you. The last thing we want is to watch you implode in a drug fueled death spiral. Happens all the time in our business when people your age are given their first taste of freedom. Is it so wrong that we don’t want that for you?” asked Miss Woodward.
“Did you ever stop and wonder why that happens? Did you ever consider that maybe it’s because of people like you?” asked Angela. Miss Woodward walked over and smacked Angela on the face, knocking her backwards. It stung.
“If I were your legal guardian I would ground you for the disrespect you’ve shown me and Mark, but since I’m your agent and manager I need you in tip top shape. So cry your little heart out and get over this little breakdown you’re having. Angst and write in your diary and do whatever it is you need to do, but once you’ve gotten it all out of your system we’re going to get back to work. Do you understand? You wanted different so here we are. This is how we do different in our world,” said Miss Woodward.
“Don’t wreck the real estate too much,” said Mark, with an amused grin.
“You’re a crazy… cold hearted bitch!” Angela screamed.
“That’s what you pay me to be so you can concentrate on being a sweet little angel. But you were right, you know. The boys in marketing agree. It is time for a little change,” said Miss Woodward.
“Marketing? What are you talking about?” asked Angela.
“We’re taking the Cherub property in a new direction and you’re coming along for the ride whether you like or not. So listen to Mark and do as your told,” said Miss Woodward.
“This isn’t what I signed up for, Woodward. I want to be a hero not a fashion statement!” Angela yelled.
“But this is what you signed up for. You must have not read your contract closely enough because it’s right there in plain English. Your life is yours, but your image belongs to my firm. I promised the very best in public relations and image management and that’s what I’ve given you. Now times are changing and you have to keep up or you’ll be left behind. Simple heroics aren’t enough anymore, darling. You have to play the game or let yourself slip into obscurity,” said Miss Woodward.
“This was never my choice, was it?” asked Angela, tears streaming down her face.
“Now you’re getting it. Come on, get up. We have work to do,” said Miss Woodward, offering her hand.
“Forget it,” said Angela as she ran to one of the huge windows of Mark’s office.
“Stop! Angela stop! You’re under contract,” said Miss Woodward. Angela jumped out the window, spread her wings, and flew away.
“There goes your investment,” said Mark.
“She’ll be back. Then I’ll have a talk with her and her brother to make sure this never happens again,” said Miss Woodward.
Only she didn’t come back. Angela had flown the coop, as the papers and news networks and internet commentary sites repeated endlessly. Michael reported his sister missing the next day when she’d been gone for over twenty four hours. Angela had flown far. Very far. Like northern California far. She’d flown all day and all night, crying on and off for a long time before she’d made the decision to run away for good. She realized she’d never be free from this death grip her celebrity status had on her. She abandoned the conservative clothing her agent made her wear and borrowed some loose fitting sweats and a hoodie from a donation truck as it drove towards a redistribution center.
When night fell on the first day of her exodus, she slept on top of a water tower to keep from being seen. The next day she found herself in a sleepy little town on the coast. The sea breeze helped clear her harried mind. She couldn’t run away forever. She had her brother, she had some friends, and her colleagues in the Nationals she would miss. Her life, as much as it sucked, was the only thing she had. She started rationalizing her return home before she’d even decided that’s what she wanted to do. Someone was bound to recognize her anyway, she figured. Someone would see her face on a milk carton and call the authorities. Even if she wanted to disappear from the world she would slip up eventually and then she’d be dragged home by her brother. The story of her running off and her return would be in the news cycle for a minute and then it’d be back to business as usual and all of her protests would be forgotten. All of this was pointless. What the heck was she doing running away? She could never escape her life.
On the third day, she awoke to hear the call of seagulls as they flocked around a garbage dumpster. She listened to her stomach and went to find food. She’d barely eaten the day before, she’d been so upset, but now her body hated her and wanted a cheeseburger. Angelic energy has to come from somewhere after all. She floated down behind the vacant three story vacation home she’d slept on and walked toward the nearest source of food she could find.
“Hi,” someone said. Angela looked around but she was alone on the side street. “Up here.” She looked up and saw a seagull perched on a road sign.
“Are you talking to me?” asked Angela.
“Yeah,” said the seagull.
“Okay. What do you want?” asked Angela.
“You don’t seem very surprised that I can talk,” said the seagull.
“Eh, I’ve seen weirder things,” said Angela, and indeed she had.
“I bet. I saw you fly off that beach house. You’re like a superperson right?” asked the seagull.
“I guess,” said Angela.
“I was wondering if you could help me,” said the seagull.
“Who are you?” asked Angela.
“My name is Albert. I used to be a person,” said the seagull.
“What happened?” asked Angela.
“Well, there was a big supervillain attack around here last year. It happened during Snowpocalypse 2015. All the big super teams and heroes went to the Northeast and New England to stop all those cold and winter themed villains from getting too out of control and so no one noticed when a madman with a morph bomb came and attacked my home town. At least, I think that’s what he called it. It looked like a bomb anyway. Almost everyone that got hit by the toxic cloud it unleashed were turned into different things. I became a seagull. Others weren’t so lucky.” Albert shivered. “It wasn’t pretty. So things got pretty crazy for a few days. One person who was changed by the bomb tried to use his new form to stop the madman, whose name I think was Professor Genius or something weird like that, but the poor guy got melted by a death ray. So then finally a week after the attack some black vans showed up and disappeared Professor Genius in like two seconds. A bunch of people got cured, but the few of us who were up for the cure last noticed that the people who’d already been changed back to normal weren’t the same. They acted like they didn’t remember what happened and a few of them ended up dying from like internal hemorrhaging and stuff. Anyone who refused treatment were hunted down and forcibly changed and had their minds wiped. It was scary stuff. So I ran away. Well, flew away. That was a year ago and I’ve just wandered from town to town ever since.”
“What a sad story,” said Angela.
“Yeah. But what can you do, you know?” Albert said with a shrug.
“Maybe I can help you,” said Angela.
“Would you? That’d be swell if you could. What can you do?” asked Albert.
“I know a few tricks,” said Angela. She gathered angelic energy in her palms and pointed it towards Albert. The energies flowed around the seagull, but nothing seemed to happen.
“What was that?” asked Albert inquisitively.
“That was my healing touch. No change?” asked Angela.
“I feel a lot better, wings aren’t so stiff now, but still a seagull,” said Albert.
“Hmm… I don’t have any kind of divine transformation reversal power. Super science or magic may be the only things that can help you,” said Angela.
“Damn it. I guess I’m stuck like this,” said Albert.
“I know some people. They might be able to help you,” said Angela.
“Who do you know?” asked Albert.
“I… well they’re really smart and resourceful. I’m sure one of them could find a way to change you back,” said Angela.
“Thanks. That’s the best thing I’ve heard all year. You’ve given this old bird some hope,” said Albert. Angela smiled.
“Well, I’m glad I could do that for you,” she said.
“So, who are you? Sorry I talk so much. I never even got your name. People freak when seagulls talk to them so I haven’t had many conversations,” said Albert.
“Don’t worry, it’s fine. My name is Angela.”
“A name fit for an angel,” said Albert.
“Yeah, that’s the point I guess,” said Angela.
“Where are you from?” asked Albert.
“I’m from L.A.,” said Angela.
“That’s a ways away. Well I guess not when you can fly but… you know what I mean,” said Albert.
“Yeah I do,” Angela said with a laugh. “You hungry? I was trying to find some breakfast somewhere.”
“Oh yeah. So hungry,” said Albert.
Angela walked down the lonely quiet streets while Albert flew overhead. She found a little greasy spoon at the edge of town and got something to go with the meager funds she had left. She sort of wished she’d thought to bring more cash with her, but in the end it didn’t matter. If this was going to be her life now, she’d have to figure out another way to earn her keep. She sat in a park by the water throwing pieces of a breakfast sandwich in the air so Albert could catch it in his beak.
“You’re really good at that,” said Angela, laughing the whole time.
“When you gotta compete with a hundred other birds every day you get good at certain things,” said Albert.
“How’s your flying?” asked Angela.
“Nothing to shake a stick at,” said Albert.
“Wait, does that mean you’re good or bad at it?” asked Angela.
“I’m not that good. I can barely navigate wind currents. Landing took me a week to get down. I got a lot of bruises in the beginning,” said Albert. Angela looked around to make sure no one was nearby.
“Show me,” she said.
“How do you mean?” asked Albert. Angela unfurled her wings and floated upwards.
“I mean show me,” she said.
“But I just ate,” Albert said with a chuckle. Angela laughed.
“Come on,” she said.
Albert flapped furiously to get some air, then he was cruising above the waters right off shore. Angela gave an impressed nod and a polite golf clap and then followed suit. She flew close to Albert and followed him out to sea. Albert gained some height, sensing when and where the wind was blowing and did a barrel roll. Angela did one of her own. Albert went into a dive and pulled up just before hitting the waves. Angela did the same, even dipping a finger in the ocean just to show off. Albert gave a big seagull squawk and started flying as high as he could. Angela followed close behind. The higher they went, the more they could see of the shoreline and small town. Angela felt alive and free for the first time in a long time. She flew all the time as part of her job, but not like this. This was more fun. Maybe it was because she wasn’t alone. No. It was because she didn’t feel alone.
A flash of light snapped Angela back to awareness and out of her own head. Albert seemed to have noticed it too.
“What was that?” he asked.
“I don’t know. I’m gonna check it out,” said Angela. She flew to where she thought she saw the light, near the town’s Main Street area.
There were few people in town since it wasn’t tourist season but Angela could hear them screaming. Something was wrong. She found the problem right away, a great demon of a kind not seen in ages was ambling down the street, roaring an inhuman roar.
“The time is right. This town is ripe for the harvest,” said the demon in it’s bellowing hellish voice. It stood seven feet tall, all bony and thin with barely a muscle on it, but it walked with purpose and shot hellfire from its mouth at the buildings on either side of it.
“Oh no! We have to get out of here,” said Albert once he’d caught up to Angela. She was perched on a rooftop across the street.
“Go,” said Angela.
“Okay. Wait what about you?” asked Albert.
“I have to do what I have to do,” she said, almost sounding resigned, defeated.
“What are you talking about?” asked Albert.
Angela flew down to street level and faced the great demon.
“Ah, what is this?” the demon asked, sniffing the air around it. “A tasty morsel come falling down from the heavens? For me? My luck has been so good this day.”
“Stop, demon, and go back to the pit from whence you crawled,” said Angela.
“Little girl, you are no warrior to command me. You are no captain of the host. I was a great power before the fall. I ruled over all the stars in the eastern sky. You are nothing to be feared. Pitied, perhaps, but not feared,” said the demon with a devious cackle.
“Let’s see how scared I can make you,” said Angela as she radiated her fully powered form outward. Her wings were a golden brown, outlined by heavenly light as was her hair which blew in wind of her own making. Her aura coalesced so that to passerby it seemed a halo of energy formed around her head. She summoned her spear of Just Violence to her and it formed from golden energy in her hand. She whipped and spun it around her.
“There is more to you than I first surmised,” the demon said before spitting hot fire at her.
Angela flew into the air and dove at the demon. The demon slashed at her with its claws, but she dodged and pierced its side with her spear. It screamed in pain as its flesh sizzled at the very touch of the weapon. It turned and shot more hellfire, missing Angela but hitting the surrounding buildings. Angela shouted a liturgy of faith which caused the demon to fall to its knees. She dove again, aiming for the demon’s neck. The demon saw her move and parried with its claws. One moment of Angela’s defenses floundering was all it took for the demon to gain the advantage. With claws of unholiest impurity, it dug deep into Angela’s side, causing her to scream in agony. Angela tried to kick the demon away, but it was not done. It grabbed one of Angela’s wings and pulled and pulled until it tore away in a flash of light. Angela screamed again.
The pain was beyond anything she’d ever felt before. This was worse than any of the training she and her brother had endured in the hall beyond light. This was too much. She put tip of the spear on the demon’s neck and tried to push it in, but the pain made her slow and the demon knocked her spear away in disgust.
“I can see in you now, what you were meant for. This hero business was not your true task on Earth. Oh what a naughty little angel you’ve been, straying from the light of your mission,” said the demon with a cruel laugh.
“I will smite you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the…” The demon smacked Angela in the face before she could finish. She hit the ground hard. That had definitely broken something.
“You are finished. I will tear you apart piece by piece and drag you to my kingdom in the wastes. I will hang you from my mantle so that my rivals may see what sweet meats I was able to enjoy during my brief sojourn to the land of California. I will defile you in every way imaginable, child, and even as you beg for the sweet mercy of death I will not let you have it until I’ve sucked every single drop of innocence from you. Then I will take the dirtied, tattered remnant of your soul and put it in my special collection that I keep in the very deepest darkest pit I possess. Do you feel worthy now, to be treated so specially by me? Do you appreciate what awaits you, sweet little angel?” the demon asked.
Angela held her face. It stung. It’d stung like that before.
“You. Who do you work for?” Angela asked.
“Ha! You can barely speak and yet you dare to question me? I work for no one. I am my own master,” said the demon.
“You’re good but you’re no Prince of Lies. Someone summoned you here. Someone with a lot of spiritual mojo. Spill it, demon. Who summoned you?” asked Angela.
“Enough. It is time to enact my will upon your mind, body and soul,” said the demon.
Angela summoned her spear to her and with a burst of energy, flung it at the demon. The demon easily dodged, but as it moved it realized the spear throw had been a feint. It turned too late to see Angela lay her hands on its body. It screamed as a warm, loving light entered into it, burning away the hate and the greed and the malice. It was losing itself. It struck Angela again, but the power of forgiveness was too strong and Angela offered her other cheek for it to strike. It bellowed in pain and agony as its body faded away to nothing. Angela collapsed. Albert flew to her side.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
“I will be. First I have something I gotta do,” said Angela.
“Hey, you need to rest or something. That fight took a lot out of you,” said Albert.
“No rest for the weary. I have to go,” said Angela.
“You can’t. That thing ripped your wing off. I saw it,” said Albert, hopping around like a worry wart.
“Don’t worry, I know what I’m doing. I’m a professional,” Angela said with a pained smile.
“It’s been days. Where could she have possibly gone?” Michael asked as he paced his loft.
“Your guess is as good as mine, my dear,” said Miss Woodward.
“I’m so worried. I can’t even eat or go through my work out routine. I’m losing it. We should have found her by now,” said Michael.
“She’ll turn up soon. We have the best people on the job,” said Miss Woodward.
“She’s my only family. I don’t know what I’d do if she never came back,” Michael said, holding back tears.
“Relax, sweetie. She’s an angel. She can take care of herself,” said Miss Woodward.
“You got that right,” said Angela flying through the open window.
“Sis!” Michael said, racing to embrace her.
“Hey bro,” Angela said.
“Where have you been? Why did you run away like that? Are you okay?” and many other questions came tumbling out of Michael as he hugged his sister.
“Yes, where have you been?” Miss Woodward asked.
“I think you know,” said Angela.
“What are you talking about?” asked Michael.
“Our ‘agent’ or manager or whatever she is has been manipulating us this whole time, Michael. She’s an agent of darkness who infiltrated our organization,” said Angela.
“Ha! My sweet darling, you’re being a little overdramatic,” said Miss Woodward.
“I’m being dead serious,” said Angela with righteous fury in her eyes.
“I know you’ve never liked me but that is hardly cause for leveling such an accusation at me,” said Miss Woodward.
“You slapped me in that pervy guy’s office. You slapped me and it hurt and it shouldn’t have hurt. I have a barrier around me that protects me from mundane physical harm but your hand went right through it. I didn’t even think about it until I’d been away from you for a few days and then it hit me. Oh, and a demon attacked the small town I spent the night at. And not just any old imp but a major demon from a lower pit. It almost killed me, Michael, but when I figured out who sent it I was able to banish it from our plane,” said Angela. Michael turned to Miss Woodward.
“Woodward. You laid your hand on my sister?” he asked.
“She’s being hysterical, Michael. She’s a teenage runaway who realized the poor decision she made, came back after a week and is trying to justify her actions by making up stories. You shouldn’t believe the ramblings of a little girl,” said Miss Woodward.
“No more games. I command you to reveal your true form!” Angela shouted, calling upon the divine within herself. The room fell silent. Miss Woodward looked around.
“Are you done?” she asked.
“No. But you are,” said Angela. Miss Woodward saw the look on Michael’s face, then looked down to see her feet had become fiery cloven hooves.
“You little bitch. When did you get so powerful?”
“Damn you, foul devil! You’ve been tricking us for years!” Michael said, sprouting wings and halo.
“Sit down,” Miss Woodward said. Michael fell on his butt and his power dissipated. “You are lost to your own cause. You have no power here.”
“Sis, run,” Michael struggled to say.
“You however, were always resistant to my suggestions and my hypnotic gestures. I realize now why you were sent with him,” Woodward said as she stood and approached Angela.
“Light!” Angela yelled, emitting a burst of blinding light from her palms. Miss Woodward’s eyes exploded from the brightness. “Spear!” Angela summoned her spear and threw it into Woodward’s chest, skewering her. “Fury!” She lunged forward, fist burning with indignation, ready to deliver justice to the unjust. Miss Woodward caught Angela’s wrist and threw her through the wall and into the kitchen.
“That’s the problem with you angels. Always showing your best hand before the chips are down,” said eyeless cloven hooved Miss Woodward, spear still stuck in her chest.
Angela grabbed a kitchen knife and infused it with her angelic power. She flew at Woodward, slashing viciously but Woodward dodged expertly, as if her eyes had been purely decoration. She kicked Angela in the stomach, rupturing several organs and breaking a bone or two as she hit the marble mantle above the fireplace.
“Sis! Stop it, please! I beg you,” Michael pleaded.
“Oh how long I’ve waited to hear an angel beg for mercy. Strange, now that the moment is here I feel unfulfilled. Maybe you need to beg a little harder,” said Miss Woodward. Angela coughed up blood and crawled away in vain as the thing wearing Miss Woodward’s body came closer.
Angela was in so much pain. Her wounds from the last fight still hadn’t healed completely and now she was getting her butt kicked again. She saw Michael crying and unable to move. She saw Woodward changing, shaking off her skin and bones like so much fabric. Woodward’s true form was a terrible thing to behold, a chimera of animals and monsters undreamed of by the human mind. Angela closed her eyes and did the only thing she could think to do. She prayed.
“Take me instead!” Michael screamed when the demon was almost on top of Angela.
“You’ll get your turn. In the meantime, keep begging while I take her apart piece by piece,” the demon said, its voice echoing with the screams of the damned.
Suddenly a seagull flew to the windowsill and looked at the demon. The demon looked back.
“Wow that’s freaky,” said Albert.
“Did you just…” the demon sputtered.
“Yeah, I’m a talking seagull,” said Albert.
“Fly away, pest. I’m busy here,” said the demon.
“Sounds good to me. I was just a distraction anyway,” said Albert.
“What?” the demon asked before being engulfed in a pure and holy light.
“Hurt my body all you want. It is but a vessel for the Divine Will,” said Angela, slowly standing.
“You will never win! I will tear down everything you’ve built and sully the name of heroes everywhere! Everywhere!” the demon yelled. Angela pulled the spear out of the demon’s chest and it burst into sin-cleansing flames.
“Via con Dios,” Angela said before bringing her spear down and cutting the demon in twain from top to bottom. The demon froze, then gurgled, then fell sideways in both directions, disintegrating into a thousand dark fragments, leaving behind naught but an evil stain on the carpet.
“That’s going to be a bitch to remove,” Angela said.
“Angela!” Michael said as he ran to hug his sister. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. She was here in our lives all this time and I never noticed. I never saw. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. You wanted the best for us. For me,” said Angela.
From then on, the brother sister duo went on to become full time heroes. Albert was changed back into his human form with help from Angela’s friends in the Nationals. Captain Boom’s sidekick, Flak came out of the closet, to everyone’s surprise. Angela spends more time volunteering to help the disenfranchised across the nation and she still hangs out with her friend Eric Messina. Larry Burns lost his show and his marriage after it was revealed that he had an affair with a trans-species staff member. Miss Woodward currently resides in the fifth circle of Hell and is very much not enjoying her demotion to pit cleaner. She plans to return to a plane near you very soon.