We call them Angels.
Who coined the term first, nobody knows, but it caught on, unexpectedly, in a time when its original meaning from the biblical lore has long been forgotten.
The word couldn’t be further from the original intent. Or too close, depending on who you talk to.
The first ones to ascend were children. Everyone under the age of eighteen who died tragically and unexpectedly in car crashes and freak accidents. They returned exactly thirty days later, well and alive in their homes, causing confusion and shock in those they left behind. But when they returned, they were different: wiser, older than their years, no longer the children that their loved ones knew. Many believed they were gifts from God, miracles, heralds of heaven on earth. Some believed they were abominations.
What happened to them, exactly, remains vague and slightly ominous to this day.
It was all peripheral to me for a while. Truth be told, even though the world was descending into an existential crisis of sorts, our day to day lives remained unchanged. Angels or not, my typical day consisted of me going to work, watching the clock strike four, then going back home to take care of my little sister and have myself a glass of wine while waiting to fall asleep to the drone of the television.
In my completely selfish little bubble, I really didn’t care one way or the other. Until, of course, my sister died, and my life was suddenly less meaningful than before.
Kristen, my little sister, was the only reason I got up in the morning, day after day. Our parents died a few years back and we only had each other. Being five years older, I was supposed to take care of her, but really, she took care of me. She was sixteen going on thirty, mature for her age, and whip smart. Much smarter than me. And stronger.
My heart splintered into pieces when I got the call from the hospital: There was an accident… She just got out of surgery. Ma’am, I’m sorry, I really can’t tell you more. But you should get here. As soon as you can.
I knew she wouldn’t come back. Not the same, anyway. Angels never do.
I wait for her return today.
I was sitting at my kitchen table with a glass of wine in my hand, watching the clock, when I heard her familiar voice. It sent a chill down my spine.
“Hey, big Sis.”
She seemed to have materialized in my kitchen. One moment I was alone, then she was there. It was uncanny.
“Kristen.” As many times as I have said her name in my life, today it felt foreign in my mouth. I was planning on a sisterly hug or maybe some tears but instead I felt an uneasy feeling in my stomach. “You’re back.”
My sister, or the girl in my kitchen who looked like her, smiled at me with her eyes crinkling at the corners. A friendly, open, beautiful smile. The only problem was that it wasn’t Kristen’s smile. Kristen usually smirked with her chin slightly jutting out. Confidently, unapologetically.
“How have you been? I hope you’ve been taking care of yourself.”
If wallowing in depression is considered taking care of myself, then I have certainly been doing that. I eyed her warily. “Where did you go?”
A chuckle bubbled out of her mouth, catching me off guard. “You never were good at small talk, Sis.”
That, at least, was true. You didn’t have to be supernatural to presume that about me though. “Kristen.”
She looked sad. “Is it not enough that I’m back?”
Is it? My heart ached. I wasn’t ready for this. It should have been enough, but it wasn’t. I felt nauseous. “I need to know. If it’s really you.”
There was a pause. A beat too long. “Of course it’s me.”
I stayed silent, swallowing what tasted like bile rising up in my throat.
I should have expected this. I did my research. The Angels were all painfully tight lipped. They all gave vague soothing answers and submitted willingly to medical tests, which came back normal. Their answers to questioning were all eerily similar and consistent, almost as if they were collectively coached. Still, nobody could deny they were all friendly, polite, perfect children.
But not the same children.
Looking at the girl in my kitchen, I felt certain of this, deep in my bones. Kristen was gone. This girl, whoever she was, was not my sister. My stomach churned and it was all I could do to keep myself together until I reached the bathroom to vomit my dinner.