The cool, crisp October air caresses your skin. The scent of hot dogs and popcorn hangs heavy on the air. A chill climbs your spin as you wonder into the darkness. The carnival music fades behind you. The incessant buzzing of games, music of rides and the screams from cheap thrills slowly fades away into the background as you approach a tent placed on the outskirts of the fair grounds. Again the breeze kicks up, reminding you that winter hangs like an ominous cloud over the October night. The smells of the carnival are replaced as the thick, rich scent of incense reaches your nose. The rich burgundies and golds of the tent lure you towards it, away from your companions and reality. The smooth texture of the tent slips along your fingers as you pull the curtain back and prepare to enter. “Come in, let me tell you a story,” a woman calls from inside the tent. She is hard to see amongst the candle light and incense’s smoke. You feel uneasy, but your feet more of their own fruition, and you find yourself seated in front of this woman. A large crystal ball lays on the table in front of you, candles are lit and flicker in the breeze that has followed you into the tent, her gold hoop earrings twinkle in the fire light, and a large all seeing eye graces the wall of the tent. “I have much to tell you,” the woman replies as she leans towards you and over her crystal ball. The ball begins to glow and you are transfixed by the images that begin to appear and the story that is about to be told. Rebecca Cross stared into the vibrant green eyes of her ten-year-old daughter and felt like the luckiest women in the world. She had a wonderful, happy child that filled her days with laughter and light. Her husband was back to work and the financial restraints that had burdened them the last few years, appeared to be ending. Michelle erupted in a fit of giggles as she snuck a taste of the chocolate chip cookie batter, Rebecca was currently stirring. Michelle’s auburn hair looked like spun copper as the afternoon sun from the kitchen window reflected off her long wavy locks. Michelle’s closest friend, Cami, scrunched up her face in disgust as Michelle popped the raw cookie dough into her mouth. “You’re gonna get worms,” Cami warned in equal parts fear and disgust. “My Mom says that eating raw eggs will give you worms!” Rebecca stared at her daughter’s best friend with affection. The little blond was adorable, seriously Shirley Temple cute, with her spiraled ringlets of blonde hair but Rebecca could not stand her parents. Cami’s parents seemed completely oblivious to the fact that they had a daughter, constantly working long hours and taking weekend trips whilst dumping their only child with The Crosses, not that Rebecca minded. It would figure one of the only things Cecilia Clark would tell her daughter would be rooted in fear and hypochondria. “Well, I’ve been doing it my whole life and I’ve yet to get worms,” Rebecca joked as she scooped a small clump of cookie dough out of the bowl and popped it into her mouth. Michelle immediately erupted into more giggles, clapping happily at her Mother’s bravery. Cami arched one eyebrow and stared intently at Rebecca, waiting to see if the scary raw cookie dough would claim another victim. Finally, when nothing happened Cami returned her attention to the bowl in front of them. She hesitantly scraped a small morsel of cookie dough from the side of the bowl, and with a look of determination oddly out of place on the petite, ten year olds face she popped the cookie dough into her mouth. Michelle squealed and clapped again to honor her friend’s bravery. The look of apprehension and determination quickly melted off Cami’s face as she realized what she had been missing, within moments Cami’s giggles matched Michelle’s. Rebecca reached down and lifted the bowl off the counter, ‘All right girls, we actually have to cook some of these.” Both girls gave simultaneous pouty faces. “What will Dad think if he comes home, and there aren’t any cookies? We promised him we were baking cookies today,” Rebecca reminded the girls. “And chocolate chip cookies are Daddy’s favorite,” Michelle rejoiced bouncing around the kitchen. “Alright outside with the both of you, I’m turning on the oven and I don’t want anyone getting burnt. Go play, I’ll call you for dinner.” Both girls scurried outside and into the back yard. Rebecca glanced to the neighbors yard, “Stay out of Mr. Wright’s yard!” she yelled to the girls. “The grass is tall enough we may lose you in there.” Rebecca shook her head. She knew Mr. Wright worked long hours, but he seriously had to start keeping better care of his lawn. A sharp, shrill scream cut through her thoughts as Cami came flying like a bat out of hell across the lawn, hiding her face behind Rebecca’s legs. “Mama Cross, make her stop,” Cami whined pathetically. Rebecca glanced up to see Michelle rolling with laughter as she clutched a small garden snake in her left hand. A chill rose of Rebecca’s spine and she had to physically shake it off. She had always hated snakes, too many years of Catholic school had taught her to draw the correlation between serpents and Satan, at least that’s how she rationalized her fear. “Michelle Faith Cross! You put that snake down this instant and stop torturing your friend.” Michelle did as she was told, but continued to smile the whole while, pleased with her little joke. Rebecca shook her head, that child had no fear. Not sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing, she scooted Cami out from behind her encouraging her to go off and play, and turned to go back into the house and finish the cookies and dinner. Later that evening Rebecca lay in bed listening to the deep breathing of her husband beside her, and reflected back on her day. Isaac had come home in time for dinner and they had all sat down to a pleasant dinner, complete with chocolate chip cookies for dessert. Isaac had spoiled the girls with complements about how delicious the cookies were, and what good cooks they were. He had arched his eyebrow when Cami had interjected, “and we didn’t even get worms either,” but bless his heart he had kept right on chewing. Cecilia had come to pick Cami up at 10 o’clock, far too late in Rebecca’s opinion, she had actually had to go in and wake the child from where she slept next to Michelle. Rebecca gritted her teeth and kept her opinions about Cecilia’s parenting to herself. She would like to tell the woman that Cami was a living, breathing human being not some possession to dress up and show off when it suited her. Thank God, Cami had been born adorable, she would hate to think how much less attention The Clarks would pay their child is she had been born awkward and gangly. Rebecca rolled to her side, pulling the covers up to her chin, with a feeling of contentment and peace she slowly dozed off to sleep. Suddenly Rebecca woke with a jolt. She was standing in a white room, with no visible doors or windows, the white so bright it actually hurt her eyes. She couldn’t be awake; this must still be a dream! A feeling of claustrophobia began to set in and panic rose in the back of her throat. What sick nightmare had her subconscious created for her? She really needed to stop reading those murder mysterious before bed. Rebecca was one heartbeat away from letting loose a blood curdling scream when she felt a presence behind her. She spun around with such force, that she almost lost her balance. Before her stood a man, he was tall with thick curly, black hair. He wore armor across his chest, forearms, and shins. He looked the part of an ancient warrior; only instead of a sword he carried a trumpet. Rebecca gasped when her gaze fell on his eyes. They were so clear, so absent of color that she thought he must be blind, but they were not the cloudy color of a blind man but clear. Those eyes held an emotion that Rebecca could not place, but she knew she did not want to be under their intense scrutiny. His gaze made her uneasy, like bugs ran along her skin; she wanted him to stop looking at her. It was then as her gazed skirted away from his face that the enormous gray wings registered. He had them folded to his back, but they were still clearly huge, rising above his shoulders and their tips sweeping the floor. “Are you an angel?” Rebecca managed to squeak out in shock. “I am the Archangel Gabriel, the messenger of God himself,” the man replied. “Why am I here?” Rebecca questioned with a calmness that shocked even her own ears. “I have broken My Father’s laws for he does not know that I speak with you. I have come to warn you. He cannot track my presence, for your dreams are the only area out of his control. Many of my kind and those gone beyond can communicate with those on your plan through dreams.” Rebecca’s head was spinning. Did he just say he was the Archangel Gabriel? The Messenger of God? Here to speak with her? If he really was an angel she needed to utilize this opportunity and ask an important question. How do we achieve world peace? What is the meaning of life? What happens when we die? What came out of her mouth was a very ineloquent, “Huh?” “I have invested myself fully in the human cause. I cannot leave his future to chance, and I am not ashamed to tip the scales in humanity’s favor,” he continued with little regard for Rebecca’s confused expression. “What are you talking about?” Rebecca snapped, finally finding her voice. She began backing away from the crazy man with wings. Her hands held out in front of her in an “I mean you no harm” type of way. She had no place to go though, the bright room was absent of any doors or windows and seemed to glow from within. Rebecca pinched the bridge of her nose and squeezed her eyes shut, the brilliance of the white room was starting to make her head hurt. “I don’t understand what you’re talking about. What does any of this have to do with me?”“You are the caregiver for hope. Without your protection humanity may have no chance. I need to you to protect him,” the angel claiming to be Gabriel stared expectantly back at Rebecca. “Oh, good that cleared it all up, thanks,” Rebecca retorted sarcastically. “Good, I am glad you understand.” Clearly angels were not fluent in sarcasm. Rebecca attempted to explain herself, to make the angel understand that he had the wrong gal, but as she opened her mouth to explain Gabriel began to advance on her. Panic filled her chest. He was an angel, a messenger for God, why was she so terrified? But her gut instincts told her to get away, to run. Rebecca continued to retreat away from the angel who was slowly moving her way, but her back hit the wall behind her. There was not where to go and no place to hide. As Gabriel neared, Rebecca saw fog role across his amazingly clear eyes, darkening them into a slate gray. She braced herself, squeezing her eyes shut, and waiting for the worst. Gabriel reached out and laid his hand on the side of her face, his fingers pressed against her temple. He leaned forward and whispered into her ear, “I am sorry, you must protect him.” Clarity filled Rebecca’s brain, she knew what he was talking about, she understood. She shot her eyes open with the words, “He is a She,” on her lips, but when she opened her eyes she was back in her bed. She sat up with a gasp, throwing the tangled blankets off of her. Surely there was some mistake, this couldn’t be accurate, the angel had to be mistaken. Rebecca let out a strangled sob as her new knowledge set in. Isaac sat up in bed, and reached for his wife. “What’s the matter Rebecca? Was it a bad dream?” Rebecca turned and stared into her husband’s eyes with his calm resolve, his loving demeanor. There was no reason that they both should carrying this burden, and in that moment she decided to keep it all a secrete. He was a good man and a good Father, why place this burden on his shoulders as well? “Yes, a bad dream,” Rebecca replied her voice still quivering from the now rescinding adrenalin rush. “Sshhh, shhh it’s alright, I’m here. Everything is fine and nothing will hurt you,” he cooed soothingly into her ear. Rebecca felt herself melt into his embrace, feeling safe and secure, but the evil that was looming and the destiny that had been set in motion was larger than them both. Rebecca felt as if a large boulder had been pushed from a hill and was gaining speed as it rolled in their direction. Sooner or later they would both be crushed by the weight of it, but until then it was her job to protect both Isaac and Michelle. She would protect Isaac by keeping him blissfully unaware, and she would protect Michelle from all that would threaten her. With this conviction, Rebecca took a deep breath and attempted to calm her shacking nerves. She would carry this burden, and she would do all in her power to protect those she loved. Rebecca smiled reassuringly at Isaac, although she was sure the smile didn’t reach her eyes. “I’m okay, I’m fine. Go back to sleep you have to get up early for work,” she reassured. Isaac hesitated for a moment unsure of whether or not to believe his wife. Rebecca smiled again in his direction. Reaching over and placing a kiss on her check he rolled over and closed his eyes, within five minutes Rebecca heard the deep rhythmic breathing that reassured her that he was again asleep. As quietly as she could she crept from the bedroom and slowly made her way down the hall. Pushing gently on her daughter’s door she slipped through and stood at the foot of her bed. Michelle lay amongst her stuffed animals, her auburn hair tussled from sleep, look as angelic as a child could. Rebecca longed to touch her, but didn’t for fear she would wake her. Without really thinking about what she was doing Rebecca kneeled by her daughter’s bed and began to pray. She prayed for her to be strong, she prayed for her to be able to handle the enormous task set before her, and she prayed that she would be able to protect her daughter from all the evils that now hunted her. Her daughter was the key to stopping the apocalypse. Her daughter was humanity’s key to surviving the antichrist. Sun streamed through the window as Michelle awoke to the sound of birds chirping outside her window. Rolling over she saw her Mother sitting in the old rocking chair in the corner of her room. “Mom, were you watching me sleep?” she giggled. Rebecca snapped out of her thoughts at the sound of her daughter’s voice. She smiled lovingly at her daughters groggy, sleep filled expression. “Yes baby, I was,” she admitted. “Why?” Michelle questioned with a look of confusion on her face. Rebecca racked her brain for a reason that would make sense to the ten year old. “I was so excited to go to the park today, that I couldn’t wait for you to wake up,” she smiled. Michelle’s face lit up with happiness. “Yeah!” she cheered leaping from bed. After a quick breakfast of oatmeal, Rebecca and Michelle made their way to the park. It was a beautiful Saturday morning, sun shining and a cool breeze keeping the day comfortable in the bright sunshine. Rebecca’s mood lightened with the rising of the sun, leaving her feeling much more confident than she did the night before. It was amazing how even the biggest problems looked less in the light of day. Rebecca sat down on a bench in the sunshine as Michelle hurriedly ran off to claim a swing. Rebecca looked around at the other people enjoying the park in the beautiful sunshine. She recognized many of the faces and smiled warmly at her neighbors and acquaintances. Rebecca’s eyes fell on the landscaper pulling weeds from a decorative garden on the outskirts of the play ground. At first Rebecca noticed nothing remarkable able the man, but just as she was about to glance away the man turned and glanced at Michelle. In profile Rebecca noticed that the man’s skin looked as if it was melting from his bones, in place of his eyes were to large gaping black holes, as if someone had scooped them out. His lips had disappeared leaving a crooked and horrify exposure of teeth like a macabre smile. Rebecca’s heart slammed in her chest and a scream rose in her throat. She shot to her feet and ran across the playground, pulling Michelle from the swings and shoving her behind her. Michelle stumbled behind her mother in confusion, peering out from behind her in equal parts fear and curiosity. “Stop looking at my daughter!” Rebecca screamed at the landscaper in terror. “I know what you are!” People began to stop and stare, parents began pulling their children from the playground equipment and moving them away from the confrontation. Rebecca wrapped her hand around Michelle’s hand and began pulling her as they back pedaled away from the demon landscaper. Finally reaching the sidewalk Rebecca turned to her daughter, “Ready for a game, baby?” she questioned. Michelle still shaken from what had just occurred looked at her mother in confusion. The little girl nodded her head in an apprehensive way, looking more than a little unsure of her Mother’s words. “We are going to race all the way home, okay? I don’t want you to stop, or slow down at all. Can you do that for me?” Rebecca quizzed her daughter squeezing her hand reassuringly. Again the little girl nodded, with slightly more resolve this time. “On your mark, get set, go!” Rebecca called and off they went. Rebecca never let go of Michelle’s hand as they ran the three blocks back to home. Along the way Rebecca saw more people like the landscaper, their skin hanging from their faces, deep gaping black holes where their eyes should have been. She also noticed one of her neighbors casting an odd shadow upon his lawn. As he checked the mail, Rebecca noticed large wings extending off of the man’s shadow as if he wore a set of wings, but his physical body showed no signs as to what was casting this shadow. Crashing through the back door, Rebecca slammed the door behind her and Michelle, locking it with a frantic sliding of the dead bolt. She quickly hurried around to the windows and other doors to ensure they were all locked, closing the blinds and curtains attempting to protect the evil from seeing in. Once that task was finished she let out a shaking breath. That would be the last time they went out. If that was the evil that lurked around every corner, those demons spying on her daughter’s every move, waiting till the time they would pounce. Never again! Rebecca’s thoughts wondered to the neighbor with the strange shadow. Where the angels stalking her daughter as well? What was their role in this? The images begin to fade in the crystal ball, you are drawn to the face of the little girl, to Michelle. Her auburn hair is slipping loose from its ponytail and beginning to curl around her face. She stares with large, emerald eyes at her Mother, a look of panic and fear on her face. As the images fade from sight, you can see the creases of worry lines on the little girl’s forehead, the shine of unshed tears in her eyes. Life would never be the same again, and somewhere in the ten year olds mind she understood this. The crystal ball clears and you are left staring at nothing. You glance up at the gypsy woman seated across from you, only there is no one. You have been so transfixed by the images she displays that you were unaware of her absences. You glance around the empty tent, the candles have burned down, and some sputter out in pools of their own wax. You slowly rise from your seat, pulling your sweater tighter around you, attempting to fight the chill that has suddenly began to climb your spine. You slowly make your way out of the tent and back out into the October night. The images you have just seen still clouding your mind. The carnival is silent, the rides shut down, the lights turned off and all the customers gone home. You glance around in a panic as the smell of incense again wafts by your nose; you turn and run to the parking lot. Towards the lights and the cars, and hopefully someone you know. As you flee you barely hear the soft whine of the violin and flute, as traditional Romani music floats along the breeze, you quicken your pace.