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Dusty
by Sandy Deluca

Dusty stood alone, wondering if the man--the angel--would come tonight. Soft lights glowed in apartment buildings around her; the living, settling into comfortable chairs, eating late dinners, falling in love. She thought she had known love once--but it ended too quickly--like life itself often does.

Snow drifted, fell on sidewalks, swirled in the chilly early evening wind. Eyes shimmered within intricate flakes; spirits of those long dead. Feathery hands reached out to her. Phantom choruses serenaded. If she looked hard enough she could see them and their celestial cathedral--a gateway
between Heaven and Hell--a place she could not reach. They stood within gables, lined altars, knelt in pews--souls of both dark and light.

She was bound to the Earth. Dusty--little girl--little waif. A ghost--wearing a skimpy jacket, and
torn jeans. Dark hair hung in limp ringlets down her back, sleepy eyes stared at traffic easing by. She gazed at pedestrians, bundled from head to toe in winter garb. The living couldn't see her. They couldn't see any of the ghosts who haunted the city.

*************

Arturio ached for the ghost girl, Dusty. He had watched her since her death. But he knew that her time had not yet come.

Ashes fell around him--ashes of the dead. He long ago had grown tired of his penance on earth, his duty as a gatherer of lost souls. He longed to be released from his prison as other fallen angels had been. He knew it would be years before he could claim Dusty as his--years before her spirit--her wispy life would free him. He needed her to end his sentence--one who was born, and who died on the winter
solstice. But he would have to wait--until she realized the truth.

Until then he watched her each night--each passing year, unable to reach out and touch her. He could merely walk by, never allowing his eyes to gaze into hers. "Until then," he whispered as ancient phantasms of the city gathered around him, praying to the dark angel, whispering his name in vain.

****************

Dusty, invisible in death as in life, one of five children. Her mother always too busy, too involved with
some guy or another, too drunk to notice Dusty, never realizing at the age of fifteen her daughter had fallen head over heels in love with a boy named Antonio.

He introduced her to drugs, thievery and physical abuse. On the night the police found Dusty's battered body in the alley--around the corner from where she now stood. Her mother was half way to California, a bottle of whiskey in one hand, the other tucked inside her latest boyfriend's jeans--too far away--too busy to notice Dusty.

Her spirit left her broken body as Antonio ran away, money stolen from an old man tucked in his pocket--the man's body in a parked car a few feet away.

A stray cat sniffed at her for a moment, then slipped away into a maze of garbage and rusted pipes. She rose upward where figures flickered by, none of them seeing her. The cathedral stood in the distance, wavering, cloudy. And even the gods, goddesses and saints who waited in the light only looked past her--to others making their way to the ethereal gates they guarded. She turned around, believing that she had been meant for the darkness. Falling like a cracked and withered Autumn leaf.

Demons brushed by, indifferent to her presence, too busy to welcome the waif of a girl named Dusty. The specter walked behind her, blending with the shadows until she came back to earth, to wander in confusion--her purgatory.

As time went on she learned there were others like her; Gelica and the boy named Billy, who drifted to her side when the sun sank behind the towering mall. He pressed close to her, as if trying to find the warmth death had stolen, whispering, peering at her with dull blue eyes.

Gelica wavered above them, yellow hair glowing beneath the winter moon, eyes laughing as music floated from bars by the water. She recited the same litany each evening. "I died in my dressing room. Took too many pills and never made my next number."

"Why didn't you go to heaven or hell?" Dusty asked the same question.

"Nobody came to claim me. I never tried to get into either place. I stayed here. It's where I want to be--for  now anyway." She spun around as the music changed, an old disco tune, upbeat, lively. "Always loved the music." Her white face twisted in a macabre grimace.

Billy sighed. "I'm waiting for my Dad." Tears glistened in his eyes. "The cops called him after the car accident. I heard them say he'd come for me, to bury me near Mom, to take me home."

Dusty touched his face. "That was a long time ago. Isn't it time you tried to move on?"

"I don't know. I lost track of time. But it hasn't been that long--I think." He looked up at the moon. "My dad should be coming."

Dusty knew Billy had died thirty years before, in the famous car accident over by Sable Hill. Billy had been the victim of a hit and run by the drunken mayor. It happened when Gelica had been alive. One night she gave Dusty an account of the accident, how they‚€™d found Billy's body twenty feet from the car he'd been driving.

Billy's image flickered as he moved gently away from her, rising above the city, then out of sight.

Gelica shook her head. "If you kids want to have a good time, take a walk to the pier some night." She spun  around again, her sheer dress rose above transparent thighs. "You just don't know how to have fun. I love it!" She sailed away, towards the laughter, the music and the life she once lived.

Dusty smiled weakly at the happy-go-lucky ghost, knowing in time she'd grow too weak to hear the music, to appreciate the thrill of the night life she loved when alive.

A vision of the night she died flickered. Blood splattered the windshield where an old man slumped over the wheel of his car.

******************

Arturio looked to the stars, to the crescent moon hanging above. Sighing, he noted another decade had passed, another slice of eternity lost without Dusty's touch. Tucking hands into bottomless pockets where lofty spirits congregated, where the Realm of Shadows existed for that moment in time, he thought of her slight form, of her lips, the way she rode the wind through the city--graceful, sensuous--vital to his redemption.

********************

Dusty was alone again, the snow intensifying, wet sloppy, flakes slapping into windows, brick and cement. The traffic had nearly stopped and the dull rumble of trains running beneath the city mingled with distant music by the water.

Each night at this time, when the shopkeeper across the way shut off his lights and closed the blinds, the man, the angel--the one who'd followed her the night she died--strode out of the darkness. His face luminous white, eyes seemingly smudged with ash, lips stained with red. His steps sure, confident, strong, seeming to search the night for some sacred treasure, perhaps a wish made long ago on a
mystical moon. He seemed to look right at her, eyes piercing through the invisibility, penetrating her cloak of death--remembering his vigil on the night she died. And she wondered if he saw her again--if just for a moment--a flicker of light flashing before his eyes.

He rounded the corner, long hair catching on the wind, diamond earring glowing beneath neon lights. Perhaps next time she would follow.

And then a soft masculine voice whispered, "Fallen Angel know neither heaven or hell."

She remembered Antonio, his knife, the look of terror on the old man's face, and how her own hands shook.

***************

The angel sighed as the ghost named Gelica followed him, floating, longing to touch him. Quickly he turned, opened his arms to welcome her. Smiling into her transparent face he said, "Walk with me, savor the earth for while more, and I will tell you of the Realm of Shadow."

Gelica touched his cold face. Visions of angels, wings fluttering as dark faces with gleaming eyes, appeared in the velvet sky--with the stars and all creatures of darkness and light.

"Will I become like them." she whispered as he took her hand.

He didn't answer, only held her close. "Walk with me a while."

***********

When the sun showed its orange face over buildings, casting rays on dirty store windows, making snow shine like white glitter, Dusty drifted like mist, through the city. Like a puff of smoke, a soft breeze, She walked by the living, feeling their warmth for a moment, hearing their words ring--prayers, curses, promises--songs of life.  She wondered where he could be, the angel who strode out of the darkness, the one who pierced her heart with his eyes. Then she saw him, seated by the window in Luciano's, the Italian restaurant at the corner of Grant and Fairway. He smiled at a woman--Gelica-- seated next to him. He leaned over, kissed her, wrapped her in his black cloak.

The waiter brought two steaming plates. The scene grew dim as mist moistened the window, leaving only faint images behind it, blocking Dusty's view.

She kept moving through the city, watching the clock on the tower of city hall. Time kept moving. She thought about him.

Later she passed the Italian restaurant again. Now the window was boarded up. A sign on the door said Luciano's had moved to Alms Street.

"Perhaps more than hours have gone by. I've lost track of time, the same as Billy," she whispered. The sky darkened, snow flurried, wind whipped at her face. She still wandered as people made their way into other restaurants, crowded into booths, ate salads, drank wine and discussed the busy day at work.

Shadows grew longer. She thought about the man with the charcoal-lined eyes. The living made their way home when the clock struck five--others stopped for drinks in dimly lit cafes. Women rushed into department stores to buy perfume or hosiery for late night dates.

She wondered how many hours, days, years it had been since her death.

As Billy cried, pounding his head against cold brick, calling for Gelica, Dusty wondered about if she would ever know a heaven--or a hell where her weary soul would spend eternity.

Billy reached out for her, "Dusty I think I'm drifting away. You seem so dim lately."

Dusty shook her head, "I think I'm the one who's drifting away, Billy." A tear trickled from her eye.
Billy's voice became an echo, silver chimes in a dream.

She remembered the old man's raspy voice as he begged for his life--as she too pleaded with Antonio. The knife gleamed beneath a full winter moon--the solstice moon.

***************

The angel spread his dark wings, casting a great shadow over the city, blocking the moon from view. He chuckled softly as he glimpsed buildings--life--death, concrete and souls that were all a part of the place where he had lived for decades--nearly a century of watching structures rise and fall, witnessing the births and deaths of many. Tonight he'd be free, leaving the city to others of his kind.

"For Dusty will be mine," he said, letting out a cry, a bellowing sound like thunder.

******************

When the shopkeeper across the way shut off his lights and closed the blinds, the angel strode out of the darkness. His coat was open, whipping in gusty air. He walked quickly, his gaze seemingly fastened on Dusty. He brushed by her, a tiny smile curling at the edges of his lips.

Another vision of the night she died wavered. Blood trickled from the old man's neck. She pointed the knife she held at Antonio, hands shaking. With cat-like swiftness he lunged at her.

The vision dissolved and she followed the angel. The top of his head was visible through a crowd of young people who made their way to a punk rock nightclub. She floated, concealed in shadows. And
when he glided down deserted subway stairs, a place where trains had ceased running years before, she hovered above him. She gasped as he looked upward, spread wings of shimmering black feathers, tipped with gold. Then, smiling, he raised his hand to her.

She reached out for him as smoke rose from cracked pavement and orange flames licked at his feet--consuming her spirit. He smiled again, clutching her hand, eyes swirling with silver and red. Fire swallowed Dusty as the world became invisible.

Angels beat their wings; fragile white faces, hands reaching out. Blood drenched the marble staircase where they stood. Their sighs mingled with the snow.

And when only ashes remained where the little waif spirit had stood, Arturio reached down and brushed his hands through the dark remains. He then ran his finger  around each eye, intensifying the black that already lined his eyes. "Charm of life and death," he whispered. He stared at her remains, sniffed at the acrid smell and waited for what seemed another lifetime.

A wispy breeze ruffled his coattails, picked up the edges of his hair. He spread his great wings, taking flight, tasting freedom. He rose high above the cathedral. Phantom faces upturned; watched him. Elongated fingers pointed. Dusty's lips quivered, as she too watched his ascent from the gable where she stood. Then she opened a door to the world where she would reside for eternity--with other
murderer's and thieves...and began her climb downward.

© Sandy Deluca

The fiction and poetry of Sandy DeLuca has been published in numerous small press publications, including the Divas of Darkness Anthology, Mindmares, and The Edge~Tales of Suspense. This coming year she will have work appearing in such places as Space & Time, Welcome to Nod, The Urbanite and Whispers From the Shattered Forum. Sandy is editor of Goddess of the Bay Publications. She is currently working on a novel.

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