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Authors: Valmore Daniels

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Angel Fire

BOOK: Angel Fire
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Angel Fire

Fallen Angels - Book 1

by Valmore Daniels

This is purely a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. This book may not be re-sold or given away without permission in writing from the author. No part of this book may be reproduced, copied, or distributed in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means past, present or future.

Copyright © 2011
Valmore Daniels
. All rights reserved.

 

Chapter One

Quia ecce Dominus in igne veniet, et quasi turbo quadrigæ ejus: reddere in indignatione furorem suum, et increpationem suam in flamma ignis.

(For behold the Lord will come with fire, and his chariots are like a whirlwind, to render his wrath in indignation, and his rebuke with flames of fire.) – Isaiah 66:15

I woke to
a world of fire and ash.

Forcing my eyes open, I willed the fog in my brain to lift. My lungs screamed for air, and I opened my mouth to breathe, but thick smoke clawed at my throat. Gasping with the effort, I somehow managed to get my arms under me and raise my head up off the floor.

Through the curtain of hair in front of my face, my eyes were drawn to the wedding band glowing white hot on the charred carpet, but the roaring fire dragged my attention away at once.

The plaster walls of my basement apartment peeled and melted under the rage of the inferno. Crackling and snapping in protest, the cheap pine coffee table in front of me collapsed. The fabric and cushions of the oversized couch were entirely consumed, leaving nothing more than the crumbling black skeleton of its wooden frame.

Intense heat washed against my skin as fire chewed at the edge of the rug on which I lay; but my first thought was not for my own safety.

“Mom—! Dad—!”

Razor blades tore at my lungs, and I couldn’t utter another sound. A dark blanket of nothingness began to creep over me once again. The thick smoke in the room clouded my vision.

A thundering crash from the other side of the room jarred me back to awareness. Splinters showered across the floor as the head of a red-bladed axe bit through the door. One more blow sundered the door and a bulky form pushed its way inside.

The intruder rushed at me, arms out. Strong fingers reached for my throat. Throwing my arm up for protection I let out a panicked cry.

“Darcy!” The man’s voice was muffled through a plastic mask and ventilator, but I recognized it as Hank Hrzinski’s, the fire chief. “You hurt?” he shouted. “You burned?”

Without waiting for a response, he hoisted me off the floor and onto his shoulders. Doing his best to shield me from falling embers and burning debris, he picked his way back out of the apartment. I faded in and out of consciousness. The smoke burned my lungs, and the jarring motion as the fire chief jostled me about almost made me retch.

Outside, cold air slapped at me. I sucked it in and immediately started to hack up phlegm and ash. Chief Hrzinski shifted me off his back and onto the front lawn as a paramedic rushed at me with an oxygen tank and mask.

Dimly, I was aware of shouting voices and darting silhouettes as a team of firefighters fought the blaze. Spray from half a dozen hoses disappeared into the fire consuming the house.

The roof cracked, and with a roar, fell in on itself.

I struggled to my feet. “Mom!” I screamed. “Dad!”

Someone grabbed my shoulders and pushed me back down.

“Mom!”

* * *

“I’m not your mama.”

I sprang out of bed, disoriented. My sheets were a tangled mess around my feet, and my shirt was soaked with sweat.

The remnants of my nightmare faded as I blinked and looked around. The familiar walls of my cell were as gray and unwelcoming as they had been since the first day I arrived at the Arizona Center for Women ten years ago.

Looming over me was the dour face of Jerry Niles, one of the meanest prison guards in our cell block. For years I’d had to endure his crude jokes and clumsy innuendoes.

“But who knows, I
could
be your daddy,” he added with a twisted leer that made my stomach churn. The memory of my dead parents rushed back and I had to fight to keep my eyes from tearing over.

I pulled the bed sheets up to cover my legs.

“What do you want?” I said. “You’re not supposed to be in here before wakeup.” A quick glance at the window confirmed that dawn had not yet broken.

“Warden said to bring you down to processing early. He wants you out of here before morning chow. Says it’s better for everyone else who’s left behind. Don’t want to remind them there’s a whole other world on the outside.”

“All right, fine.” I tucked a loose strand of hair behind my ear. “Just give me a minute to get ready.”

“I’ll help you get dressed,” he offered with a sickening smile.

I shuddered at the thought, and felt a wave of anger run through me.

Keep control!

“My eyes can see,” I said under my breath.

He peered closer at me. “What’s that?”

“Nothing.”

“Don’t give me that bullshit. Are you backtalking me?”

I gave a quick shake of my head. “No, sir.”

My response was automatic. Obedience was something they drilled into you early. They told you when to sleep and when to wake up, when to shower and when to eat, and after a while, you surrender to it.

But I was getting out on parole today. I’d have to learn to make decisions for myself, and not jump every time someone barked an order.

I gathered some courage, raised my eyebrows and waved him out of the cell. “Well, are you going to give me some privacy?”

Like the strike of a rattlesnake, Jerry thrust his face in front of mine.

“Don’t push me, Darcy. You’re not out yet, and lots can happen between now and then.”

I clenched my fists, bunching them under the blanket.

My tongue can taste.

Closing my eyes, I sat rigid as a statue, as if ignoring him would make him magically disappear. I continued whispering to myself.

“My mouth can smile.”

“Gibberish,” said Jerry. “Crazy in the head.”

In the bunk above me, my cellmate shifted in her sleep and muttered something.

Glancing up at the noise, Jerry straightened and took a step back. Curling his lips in a grimace of distaste, he barked, “Get dressed. Like I said, Warden wants you out of here today, you little firebug. We all do.”

I opened my eyes when he left the cell. He left the door open, but he remained outside on guard, just out of sight.

“I am in control,” I told myself as I released the bed sheets from a strangle hold.

Blackened streaks marked the cloth where my fingers had grabbed the material.

 

Chapter Two

I stood at
the bus stop outside the front gates of the prison and hugged my arms around my chest.

It almost never rained in southern Arizona, and when it did, it didn’t last very long. Of course, today of all days, the rain came down hard. I had tied my hair back in a ponytail, and whenever I moved my head, the wet strands ran along the bare skin of my neck and sent chills down my spine. My breath puffed out like misty clouds of smoke in the crisp morning air.

I silently prayed for sun as I searched the road with haunted eyes.

A car raced past and hit a puddle. I skipped back, but a torrent of water splashed all over my jeans and sneakers.

“Damn it!” I yelled. I showed the driver my middle finger, and he showed me his before his car turned a corner.

“Jerk!”

Trying to keep warm, I pulled the collar of my jacket tighter around my neck. Looking up at the dark clouds, I silently cursed. At the same time, I couldn’t help but wonder if there was a link between the bad weather and my release from prison. Or maybe I was just crazy and imagining the world was out to punish me.

Just as I spotted a ray of sunshine poking out between the clouds, the screeching brakes of a Greyhound startled me and I let out a yelp. After I put my heart back in my chest, I reached down and grabbed my duffel bag.

A middle-aged driver stepped off the bus as he covered his balding head with a cap.

“You getting on?” he asked, giving me an expectant glance. I nodded and passed him my bag. He opened a side panel and, with a grunt, tossed my bag in.

I took a step toward the door, but the driver cleared his throat.

“Ticket?” he asked.

“Huh? Yeah.”

I fumbled through my pockets in search of the voucher while trying to ignore his impatient look. After a moment, I pulled the ticket out and handed it to him. He waved me on, and I climbed the short flight of steps into the bus … and froze.

For the first time in ten years, I found myself facing a group of total strangers. My heart skipped a beat, my lungs seized and nausea washed over me.

I felt everyone’s eyes on me, angry and accusing. Did they know about me? About my past? About my affliction?

“Miss!” It was the driver. He made a shooing motion with his hand and grunted.

I tried to breathe, but anxiety gripped me.

“We’re on a timetable,” he said in a harried voice.

In a way, that helped calm me. It reminded me that even in the big chaotic outside world, everywhere you went and everything you did was by some sort of routine, and I found that very comforting. Inside, every minute of every day is regulated, and you can surrender yourself to it.

Slowly I regained my composure and steeled myself to join the strangers on the bus.

From what I could see, the only two seats still unoccupied were in the last row on either side of the aisle; only one was by a window.

The bus driver closed the door and eased himself into his chair. He touched the accelerator and the bus lurched forward. I grabbed the overhead bar before I fell on my face and, cursing the driver under my breath, picked my way down the aisle.

Two elderly women stared at me with pinched faces. I forced my eyes ahead, but I couldn’t avert my ears. The blue-haired old biddy sitting next to the window tried to keep her voice low, but I heard her anyway.

“I don’t know why they let them on the bus. There should be a rule.”

As I passed by, I set my jaw and pretended not to hear. I told myself not to let it get to me, but then her silver-haired companion clutched her purse tighter in her fat arms.

I barked, “You don’t have to worry about your purse, lady. I wasn’t in for robbery; I was in for manslaughter!”

They both gasped in astonishment, but I could take no pleasure in their reaction. I’d let myself slip, and that was something I had vowed not to do.

I walked past them, and ignored the sudden interest of the passengers who’d overheard me. All the while, I told myself to calm down. There was bound to be more confrontation in the days ahead, and if I couldn’t overlook two old gossips, how was I going to manage to control the rest of my life?

I had a sudden urge to turn around and run back into the comforting arms of the prison. Instead, I reached the seat by the window, sat down, and stared out as the bus pulled off into the strange and frightening world of my new found freedom.

I didn’t let anyone see the tears misting in my eyes. I didn’t let anyone know that, inside, I was just a frightened little girl who wanted nothing more than to have someone take me in their arms and say, “Everything’s going to be all right.” What I wanted and what I would get were two different things.

I’d met a lot of cruel and petty people in my life, and if you showed them even a tiny crack in your armor, they would see your weakness and attack. Hatred, misunderstanding, fear, and intolerance ran rampant in strangers, and if you let it get to you, it would tear you apart.

The passengers on the bus radiated everything from indifference at one end to complete animosity at the other. But I had to be strong. I had to act tough. I had to be as hard as stone.

Like a child afraid of the dark, I told myself over and over again to be brave.

There was much worse ahead of me:

I was going home.

 

Chapter Three

As the bus
hurtled down the highway, passing small towns, farms, ranches, decrepit barns and run-down gas stations, my anxiety slowly slipped away.

I absorbed every sight. I drank in the colors and contrasts. I gawked at passengers in cars and minivans. I let my imagination run riot with the notion that all possibilities lay ahead of me. The future was wide open, like the road ahead of us, and I felt giddy with the thoughts of how wonderful my life was going to be.

No doubt my fellow passengers wondered if I had come from a different kind of institution, the way I grinned like an idiot when I saw a herd of horses with their spring foals playing a game of tag in a grassy field.

I didn’t care. Let them think what they wanted; I was free and although I dreaded going home, I was looking forward to starting over and rebuilding my life. Fate had given me a second chance to do things right, and this time I was determined to do just that.

BOOK: Angel Fire
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