Chapter 1:

To see, or be seen

Angel on Earth

The sun wakes, and my target wakes with it.

I watch her as she slams a hand down on her alarm, throwing her covers to the side. She's a violent riser, nothing peaceful about the way she stomps her feet into her slippers, rubbing her eyes with a closed fist. I move to the side as she approaches me, heading to the bathroom, and she walks past me without saying anything.

I wait patiently as she uses the bathroom, and I hear the water running as she brushes her teeth. She has the same routine every school day, I'm starting to notice. When she leaves the bathroom, she walks past me again, closing the door behind her. I wait outside as she changes into her school clothes. 

The rest of the morning rush is equally predictable. She sits down to eat breakfast with her mother and younger brother. I stand beside her and watch them eat, eggs and toast and fried vegetables. I don't sit with them or pull out a plate for myself. Even if I could eat - which I never have before - I can't draw attention to myself. Instead, I continue to watch, shuffling my feet impatiently. For a guardian angel, I don't do much at all.

When she's finished eating, she puts her plate in the sink and starts her walk to school. This is when I'm supposed to be the most vigilant. I keep an eye out for cars as she crosses the street, making sure the light stays green. I scan the area for suspicious looking people, anyone who might harm her. When she trips on a crack on the sidewalk, I rush to her side, but she catches herself before I have to intervene. Like I said, there’s not much to the job.

Sitting with her in school is probably the most relaxing part of my day. I sit with her in her classes, balanced on the windowsill so that I don't get bumped into by mistake. It's not as though anyone in her class can see me. If I brush against someone, they sometimes look around for the source, but they have nothing to look for. I'm nothing to them.

Sometimes I pay attention to the teacher’s words, but most of my attention is always on her. Shes quiet in class, never whispering to anyone or passing notes. When I was first assigned to her, I thought that she was a dedicated student, since she seemed so engrossed in her studies. I know now that that's not true. She spends most of her classes drawing in her notebook, and when she isn’t drawing, she's staring out the window. Sometimes it feels like we meet eyes, and my breath catches when it happens. But I have nothing to be concerned about. Like everyone else, she sees right through me.

She doesn't have any friends. That's one of the first things I noticed when I was assigned to her. I’m not sure why; she isn't rude, or annoying, or unlikable in any way. Maybe it's because she's quiet, although it feels like there's more to it than that. Rather than just not speak to her, it sometimes seems like the rest of the class pretends that she doesn't exist. If I could ask her anything, it would be why they look at her that way.

The lunch bell rings, and I follow her outside to the courtyard, where she sits under a tree and eats her lunch. I sit across from her and pretend like I'm her friend, keeping her company while she eats. Sometimes I even pretend to engage in conversation with her, just to entertain myself, but it just makes me feel sad in the end. No matter how many times I ask her how her day is going, or what she got on the last quiz, she can't hear any of it. And even if she could, I don't know if she would answer. Even though I’ve been assigned to her and have her file, I don't know much about her.

After school, she usually heads straight home to listen to music in her room and go online. Sometimes she paces, or makes herself a snack, or grabs her keyboard and sounds out a few notes, but she rarely moves. I pace during this time too, trying to keep myself occupied. It's not like I want to be assigned to someone who’s constantly in dangerous situations, but I do admit it’d be a little more lively.

Today, however, she makes a left at the school corner instead of a right, taking her in the opposite direction of her house. Mystified, I follow her.

“Where are you going?” I ask, my words falling on deaf ears. Talking is one of the only ways to keep myself sane. “Are you finally meeting up with a friend? Isolation isn't good for you, you know.”

No response, not that I was expecting one. She keeps walking, and I pick up the pace to keep up with her.

Finally, after ten minutes of walking, we reach an apartment building, and she starts climbing up the ladder on the side.

“What are you doing now?” I ask as I climb after her. I was annoyed before when she didn't do anything, but now I'm doubly annoyed. “You’re making my job harder, you know.”

She reaches the top of the building and starts walking further inward, pulling her phone out from her pocket. I watch her as she plugs in her headphones, sticking them in her ears. I crane my head to hear what shes listening to, standing directly beside her. It's a new song, I think, not one that I recognize. It's not like I've heard a lot of music in my life, so I don't have a frame of reference, but I think it sounds nice.

She must think so too, because she closes her eyes, hands clasped together in front of her. It would be a nice moment if she wasn't standing at the edge of a rooftop.

“Are you trying to get yourself killed?” I mutter, and wait for her to be done with whatever she's doing so that we can leave. Instead, her eyes fly open, landing directly on me, and she gasps, tripping backwards and tumbling off of the roof. I watch her fall for half a second before my instincts kick in then, grabbing her arm before she can plummet to the ground. I haul her back onto the roof, shoving her towards the safety of the middle, and cover my mouth with my hands.

It's nothing unusual, I tell myself as I try not to panic. She looks like she's having a similar struggle from her spot a few feet away, sitting so that her shaky legs don’t give way. It’s just the near death experience clause. She sees you now, but in a minute, she’ll forget she ever saw you. It happens to every angel.

“Um,” I say eloquently, and start climbing down the roof as fast as I can. I figure that the quicker I’m out of her sight, the quicker she’ll forget about me. Her memories will be fixed so that she thinks she never tripped, erasing me in the process, and everything will be back to normal by dinner time. No harm, no foul.

I hear her movement above me, first crawling, then rapid steps. I climb down quicker, further away from her, and I see her face appear above me, leaning over the top of the ladder.

“Who are you?” she shouts. “How did you get up here? How long have you been following me?”

I can't answer any of her questions, and she wouldn't believe me if I did. I jump off at the bottom of the ladder and round the corner, making sure to look over my shoulder at her every so often. Even if I'm being a coward now, I still need to do my job. If she breaks her head open while trying to chase after me, I’ll never be able to recover from that. I might even be erased.

I press myself against a wall, wishing I had a watch on me. How long does it take for the memories to be reformed? I was definitely taught this before I started, but I don't remember the number now. I count out seconds in my head, keeping a hand pressed over my mouth so I don't make any noises, and I wait. One minute, two minutes, three minutes. After five minutes, I feel like I should be okay, and peer my head around the corner. With the initial panic now gone, I turn my attention towards finding her and returning to my place at her side.

“Found you.” I jump in the air, spinning around to find her on my other side, chest heaving. How did I not hear her approaching? I'm worse at this job than I thought. She keeps a safe distance away from me, but her eyes are undeniably locked on mine. She sees me.

I decide to play it off as naturally as I can. “Hi.”

Big mistake. Her eyes narrow, and she takes another step away. “I called the police on you. They should be here any minute.”

I'm not sure what I should’ve expected, but I grimace at her words. “You shouldn’t have,” I say genuinely. When the police do arrive, they’ll see nobody but her, and then she’ll have more questions than she started with. “I'm not a stalker.”

“That's what every stalker says,” she says skeptically. “You followed me onto that rooftop.” I don't tell her that I've followed her many more places than the rooftop. That will only alarm her more.

“I had a reason,” I say, mind scrambling for an excuse that isn't the truth. I look upwards, willing the gods to give me guidance or strength or wisdom, but they give me nothing. Typical of them, I think bitterly.

“I’m waiting,” she says, and I realize that I have nothing.

“Oh whatever,” I say, folding my arms. “It's not like you’ll remember this in an hour anyway.” I've decided that the usual memory reforming process is just taking a little longer for me. Nothing to worry about. “I'm your guardian angel.”

She stares at me, which is just about what that statement deserves. “Funny,” she says tonelessly. “Is that what you’re going to tell the cops too?”

I'm not going to be telling the cops anything, I want to say. You're the one who's going to have to explain an invisible man to them.

“I’m being serious,” I say, trying to keep my tone even. I shouldn't get annoyed at her. She has every right to be suspicious of me. “My job is to protect you. I've been doing it for a while, but you haven't seen me until now." 

“Where are your wings then?” she asks. “Or your halo, or magical powers?”

“You don't know anything about guardian angels,” I say, frowning. “We don't have wings or halos.” We do have powers, but not the kind that I can show her offhand, so I don't mention them. “I'll show you something else, but you have to promise not to freak out.”

“What is it?” she asks, not stepping any closer, but tilting her head.

“My god’s light.” This doesn't register anything on her, so I explain. “It’s what angels have instead of hearts.”

“Show me,” she says, and I look one last time towards the heavens. Even in cases where humans see their guardian angels, we’re never supposed to show our god’s lights. But again, I get no response, so I unbutton my shirt and pull up the covering. Immediately, light spills out from the middle of my chest, and she covers her eyes, wincing away from the brightness.

“What is it, a flashlight?” she asks, and her skepticism makes me frown. There's really nothing i can do to convince her.

“Stick your hand in the light,” I say. “There's no flashlight there.”

She grimaces. “I don't want to.”

“Then you won't know if I'm lying or not.” I've done nothing to deserve her trust, so I add, “If I wanted to hurt you, I could have already. I was running away from you, remember? Not the other way around. And I saved you from falling off of that roof.”

She hesitates, but her curiosity wins out, and she steps towards me, hand outstretched. She has to turn her head so she doesn't get blinded, and I guide her hand towards it. She flinches away when I first touch her, but allows me to pull her hand towards… nothing.

“There’s nothing here,” she says, moving her hand around. Internally, I sigh in relief. Since targets aren't supposed to know about god's lights, I had had no idea what would happen if she touched it. Evidently, nothing.

“It’s only light. It has no physical form. If you keep pushing, your hand will come out on the other side of me.”

I can see the moment she believes me, because she yanks her hand back suddenly, eyes wide. She takes a step back, then another, then another, and I think that she’ll make a run for it, but she stops.

“What are you?” she asks, and I sigh.

“I’m your guardian angel,” I repeat. “Do you have any more questions?”

Joe Gold