EVERYTHING HAPPENED fast, so much so that it never felt like it was even happening at all. It was a neat week of happenings, and then that was it. I was alone. The world was over.
The first day began drearily, a routine morning of filler schoolwork as we approached the end of the year. But somewhere between lunch and gym, someone must have checked their phone, because soon there was only one thing on everyone’s mind: aliens. Or angels. It was hard to tell. No matter what they were, they were here and they weren’t human.
There were photos and videos all over the web. They floated in the skies, above forests and cities. No one was sure what should be done about them.
It was all so wild. You hear, all your life, that we’re probably not alone in the universe. But even when you read the stats that we’re likely going to find aliens within your lifetime, it never seems real. It’s just like a fun piece of trivia. You think there’s other life out there? Cool. Good for you.
So when it happened, it happened… exactly as one might expect, actually. Speculation, conspiracies, riots, and general mayhem. And yet, calm. I mean, this was probably the biggest event in human history, but what could you do about it? Leave the studying to the scientists, the curiosity to the brave, and the rest to those with the will; all the rest of us could do was watch and wait. And sleep.
I went to bed early. No matter how exciting something is, it gets boring after a few hours to just stare at the same photos and videos. My dreams were empty. My life hadn’t really changed.
Day two was when it turned bad. The angels started moving. They had never done much more than sit gently, and each seemed to carry a pearlescent hue. I suppose, while their appearance was rather unexpected, little could be found that was disheartening about them. Each pulsated, softly, like they might carry a heart somewhere below those feathers.
Then they began to move. And while there was still that faint air of peace about them, and that tendency to pulsate, they were suddenly unholy creatures to my eyes, so wrong and so awful. They had eyes; this was always known, always observable. But when they opened all at once, multicolored orbs that were only broken by patches of feathers, I had to avert my eyes from my laptop’s screen. There was something knowing about their bodies, something awful.
To see a video of a woman—who had just the other day been the first person videotaped touching one—ripped to shreds in a brutal display seemed unsurprising to me. There were religious types who had been, cautiously, considering these angels to be true messengers of God. Their ideas were forced to quickly change, though some still stuck to the idea: the angels didn’t kill everyone who came to them. Some were spared. Some were not.
People offered themselves to the angels’ judgments, circling them and waiting to be chosen. Some would die. Some would not.
I’m from Brattleboro, a small town in the corner of Vermont with a population of about twelve thousand, and we had one angel watching over us. It had found its perch on the stone of the library roof, and whenever I walked past I averted my eyes.
Ken Stark was the first to die in our town. He was nice. Bookish and pale. Paler in death. I had watched it all, the angel swooping with those great wings, and then Ken Stark was nevermore.
And thus, day two ended in fear. We hugged each other and we cried, the radio and TV blasting all night long, listening even in our sleep for updates.
Day three brought hope. All good things happen in threes. The angels didn’t move much but to kill. People started ignoring them. Life went on, sort of. We adapted. I was still going to school, even with the absence of many teachers and students. I didn’t really know why. I guess I needed something to take up the day.
The world came together by the third day. Most nations didn’t enjoy having so many of their citizens killed and didn’t mind putting away past troubles if it meant ridding the world of these monsters. Suddenly, everything had to happen at dangerous speeds. Plans of military strategy were developed with a desperately minimal attention to detail, the hope being that anything would be better than nothing in terms of a response.
The news was supplied with boundless reels of identical footage from the front lines—a concept that had lost much of its meaning as the enemy could be found everywhere. Casualties rolled in, separated into civilians and soldiers. Angels could die, it was discovered. They could bleed. There was still hope. Success was hard, but we looked past that as much as we could.
The fourth and fifth days were one and the same. There was no turn of date, just blood and death. And the news was perpetually on, bringing us fear and comfort. It seemed every time we killed one of them, two more would appear.
I quit school on the fifth day. There were more angels in town now. Three of them. The library angel rarely moved, but the new ones roamed like parade floats. They followed the streets, pacing them out over and over again. When they turned the corner, doors slammed and blinds dropped. I watched them and I waited. They were always looking at you, no matter where they faced. They radiated knowledge.
We had little left to cling to, and I found myself the calmest in my family. My mother and father were no longer working, staying at home and trying to keep themselves busy with hobbies. I watched with scorn. It wasn’t that I had no fear. I just didn’t want to fear, and be as weak as they were. Each night, no matter how distant I tried to be, I would sit with them by the television and eat dinner. On the second night, my mother had cried the most. By the fifth, my father and I had joined.
I’m adopted. Or, I was adopted. My parents died in a house fire when I was seven, and I spent a number of days living in the woods before I was found and the authorities realized I hadn’t burned to death. I settled into my foster family fine, and truthfully, I don’t have much memory of my life before them. It’s a crazy sort of past, I know, but it’s always been a strange piece of trivia to me, something I can tell strangers to gather a little bit of sympathy. I don’t think very much of it these days.
I never felt more separate from my family than in those last few days. I loved them, right, I loved my parents, but I don’t think it was until the last few days that I gathered the strength to tell them this. On the fifth night, we ate pancakes for dinner with all the lights on, five candles on the table, and the television playing on mute. We tried to talk, but a weary nervousness had overtaken all of our interactions lately. My mind was full of desperate thoughts, for the right moment to tell my parents I loved them. It sounds ridiculous, but it was my reality.
By the end of dinner, I felt sick and ashamed. I waited until I was on the stairs, heading to bed early at eight, to shout an “I love you.”
They didn’t acknowledge it was the first time I had said this. My mother simply said, “I love you too,” and that was it.
All I did over those few days was paint. But the angels were hard figures to work off of. I couldn’t quite decipher their bodies. Sometimes I’d take my sketchbook and try to draw them from afar—but I had no talent for such formless creatures.
On the sixth day, the day we were created, we lost it all. The angels, slow as they were, as hovering and vast as they could be, began to kill without discrimination. And they never stopped. It lasted all morning and all day and all night. First the major cities, the thick populations taking the longest.
It was almost a perfect wave of south to north, of west to east—the angels in the surrounding towns would only move when the ones in the city had finished their work. The major news networks died off pretty fast. Their cameras were still locked in place, and for a few moments we stared at the bloodied desks, bodies slumped down in the gathering pool of red. A shuffling movement at the edge of the screen reminded us of the slim angel that had crept in to kill them. It had gently avoided damaging the equipment.
We turned to national radio, and when that faded out, we kept to the Internet. But even that began to depopulate. And finally, when our local radio station fizzled out and there was just static….
Well. We were scared. Too scared. It was almost midnight, and we sat in the living room. My mother had a book in her hands, her thumb holding her place as she watched the door. My father sat next to her on the couch, breathing heavily. My mother kept shushing him, whispering to him to keep quiet. There was no way to tell if an angel was coming. There was merely the feeling of dread and the idea of rightness that of course we would die tonight. I sat in a chair across from my parents, sketching our cat, and the whole time I was thinking to myself, This seems to be it.
But then our bird clock tweeted the call of a summer tanager, and I didn’t really realize it at first, but I was lying on the floor quite suddenly and staring up at the wall—and it was twelve twenty. All I could think was That’s odd.
Then I got up, and I realized my clothes were wet with blood. And I was still alive.
The seventh day had come, and I was all alone.