Bridget was in the middle of a dream about puppies gamboling across a green lawn, running toward her, when someone shook her. She jerked awake, blinking blearily. It wasn’t dark in the bedroom, mostly because of the brilliant, shining being standing at her bedside. She frowned at her guardian angel.
“Something wrong?” she asked.
Angel smiled at her. “Get up and get dressed. You have to pick up a priest from the airport.”
She stared at him as his words filtered through her sleep-fogged brain. A look at the clock said it was three a.m. “Now?”
“Don’t worry about where.”
The guardian angel telling her to do something that didn’t make sense wasn’t entirely new to Bridget. Once, he told her to take a cup of water to some random guy putting in a rock garden at his house three blocks away. Turned out, he had been on the verge of heat stroke.
Angel made no move to explain further, just gazed on her with his pleasant smile fixed in place.
“Okay.” She slid out of bed.
The whole time she washed up and dressed by the light radiating from the angel, Bridget kept waiting for further information. But the angel didn’t talk to fill the air. Message had been passed along and that was it.
She shoved her feet into her flops on the way out the door, remembering at the last second to grab her purse and keys.
She halted just outside her door. Street lamps spilled yellowish light onto the quiet street. Dark houses sat in silence as their occupants slept. In the distance, ocean waves splashed onto shore. Scents of salt and seaweed hung heavy on the air. It didn’t take long for them to arrive.
Sliding from the shadows under bushes, emerging from trash bins, and dripping from the palm trees and wax myrtles, the pitch-black demons came out like toads after a rain. Pale fires illumined their round eyes set deep in reptilian faces. Lips parted to reveal serrated teeth. They walked hunched on stubby, deformed legs or slithered on their bellies.
And they were all focused on her.
An animal terror rose along her spine. Her hand slipped into her skirt pocket, gripping her rosary. The links between beads dug into her palm.
Guardian Angel appeared by the car. No longer in diaphanous robes, he wore a green shirt, jeans, and sandals. The light, though, remained and it flared sharply. With screeches of horror, the demons fell back, hiding again in their slivers of darkness.
Bridget took a steadying breath and started to walk toward her car. “That outfit is new.”
“He needs you to have a companion.”
“Yeah, I guess a priest wouldn’t want to picked up by a lone woman in the middle of the night. Am I taking the priest to the rectory?” She opened the car door and got into the driver’s seat. The only other lodging in St. Brendan’s Cove was the lone motel and she didn’t think the priest would want to go there.
Angel, now buckled into the passenger’s side, didn’t answer. Nerves knotted her stomach but she reminded herself that he never led her astray before. Slowly, she backed out of her sandy lot and turned onto the road. She went down the short hop to the stop sign. Her lights spilled onto the walkway that descended over the dunes.
“Turn right,” Angel said.
She did so—and the landscape shifted. Instead of black ocean to her left and beach houses to her right, her surroundings dissolved and reformed into trees and modest, one-story homes. The road went from a narrow two-lane to a broad four-lane. She jumped, the car swerving sharply. One wheel hit the rumble strip. She pulled onto the highway, her heart hammering against her breastbone.
“What-what?” Bridget glanced over at him. “Where am I?”
“Don’t be afraid. Turn left at the next light and follow the airport signs.”
“Are you enjoying this?”
He didn’t answer.
She swallowed hard. She also started saying a Hail Mary under her breath. Angel’s smile widened and he said it with her.
After ten minutes, Bridget pulled into the pick-up lane of a large, sprawling airport. A priest in a cassock stood on the sidewalk, checking his watch.
“That’s him, I take it?” she said, even as she stopped the car in front of him.
The angel got out and greeted the priest, opening the rear passenger door for him. The priest thanked him as he took his seat. While Angel put the man’s suitcase into the trunk, Bridget studied him.
He wasn’t very tall, this priest. He had broad, square shoulders and a big nose that looked like a punch had flattened it a time or two. Lines traced across his forehead and creased the corners of his mouth and brown eyes. His hair was cut short, the sides buzzed. A small scar nicked his upper lip. Bridget couldn’t decide if he looked like retired military or retired boxer.
He looked up, suddenly, meeting her eyes in the rear view mirror. She smiled. “Did you have a good flight, Father?”
The priest lifted one shoulder in a shrug. “As good as can be expected, I guess.” He went to fasten his seatbelt. “I hope the hotel isn’t far from here.”
Bridget hoped so, too.
There were demons among the parked cars they drove pass. They clambered onto the hoods and roofs. Peeked out from behind the tires. Their pale-fire eyes made her think of anglerfish drifting in the deep, crushing ocean.
“Turn right,” murmured Angel as she came out of the airport.
A demon jumped onto the roof of the car with a loud thump. She sucked in a breath.
“Everything okay?” asked the priest.
“Yes, Father.” She flexed her fingers on the steering wheel. Claws scraped across the roof. “I just thought I saw a cat trying to cross the road.”
Another demon leaped onto the closed trunk. It pressed an angular head against the rear glass to glare at the oblivious clergyman.
Bridget forced a smile and said, “I don’t want to hit a kitty!”
The priest chuckled. “No, you don’t want to do that.”
A third demon crawled up from underneath to cling to the hood. That one opened its alligator-maw to hiss at her, forked tongue flicking the air. Horror dried her throat. It felt as if malice was a living thing pressing against her.
“I’m right here,” whispered Angel.
Bridget looked again at the rear view mirror. The priest laid his head back, his eyes closed. A new demon glared at him through the passenger window, the hate in its eyes almost enough to make her swerve. She yanked her gaze away, back onto the road.
“He’s an exorcist,” she whispered, the knowledge coming to her with a sharp certainty.
Angel grunted in affirmation, his lips pressed into a flat line. He gripped a short sword in his hand, the blade flat against his thighs. “Merge onto that highway.”
More demons attached themselves to the vehicle. The one on the hood shifted to cover the windshield. Angel reached out and tapped the glass with the tip of his blade. Hissing, the demon backed away, allowing Bridget to see as Angel continued to give directions. Her hands ached as she clutched the steering wheel. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see another demon on her window, glaring at her with bared fangs.
Angel’s quiet, calm directions took her pass the hotels. As light began to burgeon over the landscape—prairie with grass and scrubby trees—she pulled onto a long drive lined by fences. Screeching, the demons threw themselves off the car, scattering like a murder of crows.
Pasture lined the drive on both sides. Cattle and horses, their tails flicking away flies. A three-story house loomed in front of them, painted white with blue shutters. Two large medals were affixed to the pillars on either side of the steps. One was a miraculous medal and the other a St. Benedict medal.
A man in a simple grey habit stepped off the wide porch, a broad grin splitting his face. The exorcist came awake as they stopped.
“What?” he asked, blinking and sitting up. “Where are we?”
Good question, Bridget thought. Angel, his sword now gone, went to get the bag from the trunk. The man, the brother of some order perhaps, opened Father’s door.
“We were worried you didn’t get the message,” the brother said.
“Message?” Father got out of the car.
“Yeah. That a room had opened here and you wouldn’t need to be in the hotel.”
The door closed, muffling the conversation. Bridget heard the brother explaining confusion over whether the local parish was picking him up or someone from their oratory. She watched Angel hand over the suitcase to an increasingly befuddled exorcist. He opened the front passenger side, allowing her to hear the priest say that he didn’t know what Brother Bosco was talking about.
Both men turned toward the car. Brother Bosco bent down and knocked on the window.
“Go,” Angel said.
Not one to argue, Bridget put the car in drive and drove forward. She turned the wheel and found herself pulling into the sandy parking area outside her home. She slammed onto her breaks before she could crash into her azaleas.
Dawn’s light had broken the night, streaking rosy colors along the east. A surfer in a wet suit walked down the pavement behind her, board under his arm and a bag slung over his other shoulder.
“What was that all about?” Bridget asked.
The guardian angel, back in his robes, only smiled.