A RED ANGEL HOLIDAY
(WARNING – SPOILERS!)
This short happens between the last two chapters of CHAOTIC SOULS. Proceed with caution!
Vermy took a look at the red bow on his present, hissed in displeasure, and crawled up my leg.
I tried to disentangle the demon from my jeans, but its tiny needle-sharp claws dug all the way in. Ouch.
“Vermy,” I said, wrestling him away from my leg. “You’re going to like it, I promise.”
We were home, inside Davis’s building’s entrance. A plastic Christmas tree that had seen better days stood in a corner, and garlands covered the top of the small row of mailboxes. Someone had thrown a thin blanket with snowflakes and Santa sleds over the old sofa, and even Davis was acknowledging the cheer by hanging the tiniest of tiny festive wreaths on his office door.
I’d caught Jonas using the zoom on his phone camera to examine the details and take photographs. Not the smallest he’d seen, he’d assured me, but a friend of a friend of a buddy was into miniatures and might be interested.
Keeping Vermy under one arm and getting soil and bits of twigs all over my sweatshirt, I reached down and tore the bow off.
“There,” I said, holding him in front of me like I was about to throw Simba into the masses. “No more bow.”
Vermy squirmed with another hiss, and I put him down. He slunk forward and sniffed the empty wooden apple crate I’d gotten for him. Then he poked at the thin slabs of wood. Finally, he jumped in. I had lined the insides with layer upon layer of expensive moss, and to my relief, he seemed to find it delightful. He rubbed the green and brown stuff, then began to lick his butt.
“Happy Holidays!” Victory achieved, I went up to my room, taking off my sweatshirt on the way. Technically speaking, it was still five hours to Christmas, but Vermy wouldn’t know the difference.
I threw the dirty clothes into the laundry basket and put on a sweater. The same sweater I’d worn on Christmas Eve for the last four years since Gloria had given it to me.
Ever since I’d gone to live with Gloria and Sol and Ramón as a little kid, we’d celebrated Christmas together. In true family tradition, they’d invite friends and family and have a huge and boisterous dinner together. Then, after we were full to the brim, Sol and I would sneak somewhere and watch a cozy Holiday movie together, laughing at all the tropes but eventually weeping like babies at the romantic ending, wishing we had better luck with boyfriends.
I touched the two brightly wrapped presents lying on my shelf in front of a cheerful paper Christmas tree cutout and rearranged them slightly, angling them so they could catch the light just a little better.
For the first time since I could remember, I would spend Christmas Eve alone.
There would be no boisterous gathering at the Reyes’ this year. Gloria had invited me to go to a family member’s party, but I’d declined. I knew Ramón would go, and I didn’t want to ruin his Christmas.
Like me, he was sure Sol was still alive, doing her darnedest to return to us. Also, like me, he blamed me for it.
With a sigh, I went to get my dinner feast ready, aka lasagna—serves three to four people—and grabbed my celebratory drink of choice, a bottle of soda.
Sol might not be here to get her present, but that didn’t mean I would let our traditions die.
Back in my room, I propped my laptop on the desk chair facing the bed and got comfy over my blankets, headphones on and bowl of delicious lasagna in my lap.
The door slammed open.
“Ana,” Too Good exclaimed.
I choked on a mouthful of pasta, meat sauce, and fake Bechamel sauce. “What are you doing here?” I managed between coughs.
He ignored my question and ambled in, studying my setup with all the obvious curiosity of a twelve-year-old kid. “What you doin’?”
“Aren’t you supposed to be at your friends’?”
“Nah. Didn’t feel like going.” He got on the bed and sat cross-legged by my side. “What are we watching? Can I have some?”
“I only have one fork.”
Too Good jumped off the bed and trotted out of the room. Before I knew what was happening, he was back sitting by my side, fork in hand, eager to get started.
“I don’t think you’ll like this movie,” I warned.
“Eh,” he answered and dug into my lasagna.
Our lasagna now, apparently.
I disconnected the headphones and pressed play on the movie. The sounds of city traffic filled my room as a beautiful woman dressed in a sharp business suit and carrying a cup of coffee crossed a busy intersection while talking on the phone.
Too Good watched in fascination as the woman told her boss she had everything ready for the meeting and hastened into a big, gray building, then dumped her coat on her assistant.
Could… Could it be Too Good had never watched a cozy romantic Holiday movie? From what I knew of his past, he’d spent his days living in the streets or with a fellow summoner’s kid. Not the kind of atmosphere that lent itself to this kind of entertainment, probably.
Oh, boy. This was amazing. I couldn’t wait to see his reactions. Would he hate it and call it a gross girls’ movie, or would he laugh at it while trying not to appear teary-eyed by the end?
City Woman had just gotten abandoned by a taxi in front of a run-down cabin, property of the man she was supposed to convince to sell his lands, when Jonas, one of my half-demon housemates, appeared on my threshold.
“Yo,” he said, knocking on the door.
Too Good jumped and blinked at Jonas like he was the Ghost of Christmas Present.
“What’s up?” I asked, pausing the movie.
“Nothing much. Bored. What are you guys doing?”
“Watching a movie.” Too Good pointed at the laptop with his fork.
“Cool. My uncle’s best friend’s second boyfriend used to work at the movies. Was some kind of assistant, or something.” He walked in, pushed the chair flush with the desk, and squeezed into the small space between it and the bed. Needing no further prompting, he pressed play.
On the screen, City Woman discovered her toilet was in a tiny outhouse in the back and ran back into the cabin to throw herself into the moth-eaten bedsheets when the whole thing crumpled under her, making us laugh at her sputtering.
We must’ve laughed a bit too much at her antics, because Tara stomped her way up to my room.
“What the f—” her eyes fell on Too Good “—figs are you guys doing?”
Too Good snorted, attention riveted on the laptop.
Jonas waved at her. “Yo, Tara. We watching a movie. Wanna join in?”
Her lip curled slightly as she surveyed the crowd. “How? Sitting on your lap?”
Jonas opened his arms and grinned.
“Get lost,” she said and turned on the light in the common space. “Let’s watch it on the TV like normal people.”
“Didn’t mind my lap last Friday,” Jonas muttered as he stood up.
Oh, really? I grinned but kept my thoughts to myself. Perhaps I’d maneuver them under some mistletoe to see what would happen.
As we filed out of my room, the buzzer from the front door sounded.
“Food,” Jonas said. “Awesome.”
He went bounding down the stairs as the rest of us looked at each other, unsure of what to do. Too Good shrugged and claimed the best spot on the sofa. Tara went to get some drinks while I found the movie on the TV.
“We already watched the start,” Too Good complained when I didn’t fast forward.
“Tara and Jonas haven’t.”
The kid grumbled but lit up again when Jonas returned with a couple of boxes of large pizzas.
“They deliver on Christmas Eve?” I asked, surprised.
“Personal favor,” he said. “I know a guy who works with the sister of the lady who runs their accounting.”
Of course he did.
He put the boxes on the coffee table in front of the sofa, and Too Good attacked the pizzas like he hadn’t just consumed half of my serves three to four people lasagna.
Tara and I squeezed on either side of Too Good. Jonas chose to sit on the carpeted floor again.
“Uhm,” said a voice from the stairs.
“Holy Hell,” Tara exclaimed, startled. Her eyes narrowed. “Lenny?”
Who the heck was Lenny, and why was he standing on our stairs? I glanced down at Jonas, but he appeared unconcerned.
“He brought the pizzas,” he said. “Told him he could stay for a bit.”
I tugged at Tara’s sweater behind Too Good’s back. Who is that? I mouthed.
Tara brought out her phone and a few seconds later, a text notification pinged on mine.
One of Leo’s buddies.
“Let’s watch already,” Too Good whined between bites of pizza.
Tara shrugged. “Sure, I guess.”
“Great.” Lenny took off his winter jacket and scarf and hung them on the banister, then went to sit on the side. “What are we watching?”
“Christmas movie,” Jonas said.
Well, at least he wasn’t expecting Die Hard. Tara pressed play, and we settled in to watch, laughing at the jokes in the movie, and making dumb comments about the more outlandish happenings.
“I see you guys already got dinner covered,” came a deep voice from the landing.
I inhaled my soda. Too Good squawked and all but crawled into my lap. Tara almost fell off the sofa. Lenny straight hid behind the couch.
Davis watched us with amused eyes, even though his expression was severe.
“I didn’t know you were in.” I pressed a hand to my chest, attempting and failing to calm my heart down.
“Surprise.” His gaze narrowed on Lenny, who was peeking over the arm of the sofa.
I understood then—he must’ve sensed a new demon was in the house and had come to investigate.
“Come join us,” I said cheerfully. “We’re watching a movie.”
He harrumphed but came over, two big plastic bags in his hands.
“Clear this out,” he ordered.
Jonas and a hesitant Lenny moved the half-empty pizza boxes to the kitchen section of the common space, and Davis began filling the coffee table with containers of food. Expensive-looking food.
His gaze caught mine, and I had the sudden thought that Gloria or someone must’ve talked to him. That this feast had been intended with me in mind.
A huge lump formed in my throat.
“Oh, man.” Too Good’s eyes widened at the new offerings—chicken, lamb, potato gratin, sides, and even sushi. “Nice.”
Jonas and Lenny returned with extra cutlery. Too Good was evicted from the sofa onto the floor so Davis could have a seat, and, once again, we resumed our watch party.
In all my years on this planet, in all the years the previous Red Angel had spent gallivanting on Earth, I’d have never guessed this is how I’d one day spend my Christmas Eve—with a summoner kid and a bunch of part-demons, watching movies and eating a selection of the world’s cuisine.
My phone rang, and I blinked the sudden wetness in my eyes away.
Sol would’ve loved this. Zel would’ve loved this.
Next year, I promised myself. We would do this again next year. Together.
Excusing myself, I walked into my room to answer the call.
“Hey, Ana,” Leo said over the phone in the happiest of tones. As per usual, loud electronic and techno music filled the background. “We’re having a bit of a party. Wanna come?”
I walked to the window and looked outside. It was dark and cloudy, but no snowflakes were making their way to the ground yet. Couples and small families hurried along the street on their way to their own celebrations. A tall figure dressed in a long black coat stood by the entrance of our building. I crammed my face against the cold glass, trying to see better.
“Ana?” Leo asked over the phone.
“Thank you for inviting me.” Noises from the movie accompanied by loud laughter came in from the common room. “Seriously, thank you. But I’m good.”
“No problem,” he told me happily. “Thought I’d ask. Maybe for New Year’s?”
I swallowed hard. I would not cry. “Sure, maybe.”
My gaze drifted back to the stranger in front of the building, and suddenly all the hairs on the back of my neck stood to attention. Oh, hell.
Pocketing the phone, I hurried out of my room and down the stairs. The cold air outside was a slap to the face when I opened the front door, and I shivered.
The demon smiled down at me, his features dark and mysterious under the street lamps.
“What are you doing here?” I glanced up, wondering what Davis would say about this. Ah, well, Holiday spirit and all that. I opened the door wider. “Come in.”
Aszu’s eyebrows arched. “He might not approve.”
“Yeah, but I’m freezing.”
With a low chuckle, he stepped inside.
“I thought I might see how you were doing.”
We hadn’t talked since shortly after the whole Chaos fiasco, and I hadn’t really expected us to for a long time. Aszu’s hauntings were usually around the underground market, and I had no pressing need to go anywhere near it. It brought too many memories of me and Sol’s adventures. Me and Zel’s.
“I’m good, thanks.”
“No sign of…?”
“Nope,” I snapped, getting the word out before I started getting teary-eyed all over again.
“He’ll come,” he said with an assurance that helped warm my chilled body. Not that I doubted he wouldn’t—or Sol—but it helped to hear it from someone else.
I rubbed my arms and went to the stairs. “Come upstairs. You might as well stay for a bit and enjoy the food.”
Laughter burst out of me. In all my dealings with the demon, I’d never seen him at such a loss for words. “Get going, demon. Riches await you.”
He followed me up to my floor, probably wondering what kind of trick I was roping him into.
“Ana,” came Davis’s growled warning.
“Hey, all,” I said brightly from the landing. “We have a guest.”
Utter silence met my proclamation. Davis had stood from the sofa. Too Good was staring at us with his mouth open, probably recognizing Aszu from the warehouse fight. Jonas and Tara looked horrified, like they were about to go hide behind the sofa like Lenny had done earlier.
The only one not mad, horrified, or shocked about the whole thing was Lenny. He bowed deeply to Aszu, then grabbed a slice of sushi roll.
I supposed that, being one of Leo’s people, he was used to seeing Aszu around the market.
“We’re watching a Christmas movie,” I told Aszu. “Wanna stay?”
Aszu’s mouth kicked up at the corner. He nodded at Davis. “Is that permitted?”
Davis looked ready to throw me out a window, then grab what remained of my mangled corpse and throw it out again. His fists tightened, and he opened his mouth to answer—
“MERRY CHRISTMAS!” The door of the one empty room on the floor crashed open, and the Archivist jumped out dressed in a red dress and a Santa Hat. “Ohohoho!”
Chaos erupted. Food flew everywhere. Cutlery, glasses, and plates clinked as they were abandoned at will.
Too Good shrieked and scrambled into the kitchen, where he jumped onto the counter. Tara let out a string of loud curses as she rushed into the bathroom and locked herself in. Jonas and Lenny got stuck trying to get into Too Good’s room. I almost fell down the stairs trying to leap away.
Davis grabbed a knife and brandished it in front of him.
“It’s the witch,” Too Good cried from the counter. “Get it out! Get it out!”
Aszu began to laugh. Loud, deep belly laughs.
The Archivist looked at us. She was a Santa Horror come to life in her strapless red dress trimmed with white fluff showing off her pale, papery skin and thin limbs, her hair flowing free like a centennial version of the girl from the Ring, and her glinting, excited eyes darting everywhere with evil glee.
She straightened and put her hands on her hips, her wrinkled mouth forming a sad, downward arch.
“What? Don’t you guys like Christmas?”
After that, things remained chaotic for a little while—in the very best way possible. Davis yelled at her. The Archivist ignored him and crawled onto the sofa in that spider-like way that made all the hairs on my body stand straight, then cooed over the food. Slowly, everyone abandoned their hiding spots and returned to sit around the sofa, Davis being the only one brave enough to sit on the sofa.
Aszu said nothing, his expression back to blandness, as if he hadn’t been laughing like the best of us at the Archivist’s entrance. He watched the movie, leaning against a wall, and soon everyone relaxed enough to enjoy the night. After the one movie came another, and then someone put on live streams and we spent the rest of the night laughing at people’s antics.
At some point, Davis managed to kick the Archivist out, and Aszu left soon thereafter. Davis himself disappeared into his office, and Too Good ended up snoozing on the sofa while the remaining three part-demons laughed at the TV.
I sneaked into my room, feeling warm and full and strangely happy. As far as Christmas Eves went, I wasn’t sure this was reproducible, but I sure hoped so. It had been nearly perfect.
My gaze fell onto the two presents—an aviator hat for Zel and cute, thick fluffy socks for Sol—and my heart skipped a beat.
There was an addition.
The shelf was in shadows, illuminated by the light seeping from the landing and the common room, but it was more than enough to recognize what it was.
Had Zel been here? No, he wouldn’t be this mean—leaving a feather, then disappearing. Not after what we had gone through.
Someone else, then, leaving me a message of hope. Of all the angels I knew, there was only one who had the heart to do something this nice—Iriel.
“Thank you,” I said into the air. I got no response, but I didn’t mind.
This Christmas Eve had been nearly perfect.
Next one, it would be.
Placing a soft kiss on the feather, I left it on the shelf, then retrieved the bag with everyone’s presents from under my bed and went back into the common room.
Thank you for reading! I hope you enjoy your favorite celebrations and that they bring you all the joy in the world!
Copyright © 2022 Isa Medina