© By Julie Gray
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is the first chapter of a short story I started writing back in 2017. It is probably less than a draft and has had many reiterations since I first started writing it. To help me visualise characters for my fiction writing I pretend what I am writing is playing out as a movie and this is always my process. So to assist with this here are the players and the characters of this story:
Milly played by Eliza Scanlen
The Angel played by Boyd Holbrook
SHORT STORY TRIGGER WARNING – This short story contains elements of assault, sexual assault, violence and death.
The dirt made a thumping sound as it hit the back of Milly’s head. Milly lifted her shoulders, shook her hair and kept walking. Her hair was so dirty now, a little more dirt wouldn’t matter all that much.
“Dirty Milly!” one of the school children taunted from across the road
“Dirty Milly–she ain’t got no parents no more. Caus’ they’re dead and buried! Dead, buried, done and gone!” another teased, pulling hard on Milly’s hair as they ran past.
Milly didn’t care for what the school children said about her. It was much of the same thing day after day. The school children always teased and hurt Milly. Well, almost everyone did, even the older children her age who knew better.
Milly thrust her stick out at the children, who scattered just as quickly as they had gathered.
Milly carried her trusty stick with her everywhere she went, and she would use it on the school children if she needed to. But the children weren’t all that bad. There were worse things that could happen to a girl on her lonesome. Milly knew all too well what those things were. Sometimes strangers would bother Milly when she was trying to find somewhere to sleep. And sometimes they’d hurt Milly. Sometimes, they’d hurt Milly real bad.
But nothing would get Milly down today. Milly was going on an adventure! Those worthless school children had teased Milly long enough about the bathtub up near the Ol’ Miller farmhouse.
After the big shoot-out a few months back, nobody went near the abandoned farm. A few men from the town got themselves shot dead. And now the place was said to be “cursed” and the dead haunted the old farmhouse. Well, that’s what all the townsfolk said, anyway. Milly didn’t believe a word of that. Well, not entirely.
Everyone in the town stayed well away, especially now that members of the Jackson brothers and their gang were still hiding out near the hills behind the farm. But Milly didn’t care about that either. Milly only wanted to see the bathtub because Milly believed what all the school children were saying about the angel.
Milly had listened well to all the stories about the ‘angel’ bathing in the bathtub way up on the hill near Ol’ Miller’s farm. She remembered the school children saying how the sunlight reflected off his wings.
Well, of course, Milly had to believe in angels. That was how she was brought up. And story or no, Milly just had to see this angel for herself.
Milly walked for a long time before she realised where she was. She was humming and jumping along and whacking her stick about in the air at the birds flying overhead when she could finally see the hills looming up in the distance. Milly stopped in her tracks and looked around. She was getting closer. The bathtub was just over the next rise.
Suddenly, Milly didn’t feel too good. Fine beads of sweat formed on her forehead and upper lip. She felt the whole ground move as if the earth danced a little jig.
Milly finally caught her breath. She looked down at her tattered and worn shoes with her toes poking through. She took her stick and jabbed gently at her big toe. She was delaying the inevitable.
If she didn’t do this now, if she didn’t talk to the angel in the bathtub, she would surely be the biggest joke in the entire town forever and for all eternity.
And that was a long time.
And she would never get to ask the angel about her Ma and Pa.
Milly took a deep breath. She could do this. She held onto her stick and crept up the side of the hill around the bushes to where she was told the bathtub would be.
But when she got there, there was no bathtub.
Milly felt that familiar feeling in her stomach. That hollow feeling like she was dangling off the edge of a cliff. She looked around in a panic. She looked high and low. No bathtub. Milly felt tears welling in her eyes but she quickly brushed them away with the back of her hand and kept running around, looking everywhere for the bathtub.
But Milly knew it wasn’t there. The school children had tricked Milly into coming all this way for nothing to this dangerous place.
Milly finally stopped looking. She turned around and walked the long trail back towards town. She suddenly felt tired, hungry and cold with the sun on the other side of the hills. She didn’t even realise she was walking in the opposite direction to where she’d come from, right towards the Old Miller farm house.
With her head hung low, Milly also didn’t notice the horse grazing in the grass a way’s off. She just dragged her stick behind her, her heels dragging alongside in unison, without even the energy to hum or even whistle a tune. Her grumbling stomach was the only sound she could hear, the birds didn’t sing and even if they did, Milly wouldn’t care at all.
“What in hell!…” a voice broke the silence, startling Milly.
Milly tripped and lost her footing and fell right onto her backside. She looked up; the sun hitting her right in the eyes until all she could see was the faint outline of someone or something in front of her. The figure was so illuminated, Milly had to lift her hand to cover her eyes from the blinding sunlight.
There, right in front of Milly, was what she could only describe as an Angel. And what do you suppose this angel was doing out here in the middle of nowhere?
Taking a bath, that’s what!
Milly let her eyes adjust, squinting and what not, and when she finally focused on the owner of the voice, Milly’s breath caught in her chest like she was going to choke something awful.
“I could have shot you dead!”
Milly rubbed her eyes a couple more times and finally moved out of the way of the sun’s glare. The shadow of the hillside covered her skin in goosebumps. She slowly stood up, grabbed her stick and just stared at the man in the tub.
It was surely a man. It looked like a man, anyway.
He was pointing a gun at her, his wet hair was covering half his face, the water dripping everywhere.
“What the hell are ya’ll doin’ up here anyway? You lost?” the man asked Milly.
When Milly realised he was talking to her, she suddenly felt very uncomfortable. What was she supposed to say to an angel anyhow?
Milly shook her head.
The man in the bathtub looked Milly up and down, his eyes finally fixing on the holes in her dirty shoes. Milly’s toes suddenly felt as big as an elephant, as if the entire world could see just how big and naked her toes were poking out of her shoes the way they did. Milly wanted to die. What must this angel think of Milly’s disgusting, dirty, toes? She tried to cover them up with the other foot but that shoe was just as bad.
“You bring anyone with you… you fixin’ to rob me, that it?” he asked, cocking back the hammer on his pistol and looking around suspiciously.
The sound of it made Milly jump. She closed her eyes and shook her head again, so hard she thought her head might just roll off her shoulders.
“Well? What cha doin’ up here?” he asked again, his voice a little harder, a little meaner than before.
“I… I came to see the angel… the angel in the bathtub!” Milly blurted out so fast and in that nervous way she always hated when she was scared to bits. How she wished she could just pull all those words back into her mouth. Milly shut her eyes.
If the angel was going to shoot her, she was going to die with her eyes closed.
“You came to see the what now?!” the man asked, sounding half amused and half intrigued at the same time.
Milly realised she still had her eyes closed. She opened them again slowly, the right eye first and then the left, and saw that the man had lowered his pistol, but he was still looking at her with an odd expression. He was throwing water over himself in all directions, but he never took his eyes off Milly. Milly had a thousand and one questions, but most of all, she wanted to ask why God would give an angel a gun.
“You simple or somethin’?” the man asked
Milly cleared her throat.
“I may talk with a slow and cautious manner but I am no simpleton,” Milly replied, the words coming as slowly as a snail, but it was a line she had rehearsed many times for just such an occasion.
“Uh huh… well, I tell you this for nuthin.’ I ain’t no angel. Whatdy’ya think this is I’m washin’ off my body?”
Milly knew very well what it was, but she didn’t want to reply too quickly incase the man thought her too presumptuous.
“Well?” the man asked again
“Stardust… from your wings!,” Milly mumbled under her breath
“What in tarnation… hell no! It’s blood from all the men I just got done killin’. And dirt and god knows what else…” the man replied.
“Psssshh… stardust! Where in the hell did you get that from? Do you see any wings on me? You gotta stop listenin’ to those fool kids… or you’ll go crazy,”
The man was grinning and shaking his head.
Milly felt embarrassment flush her cheeks red as an apple.
“So, you go to school with these kids or what?”
“No… I’m too old for… school,” Milly replied, looking at the angel shyly.
“How Old Are You?” the man asked, throwing water over his back
Milly started counting in her head.
“I’m… almost sixteen,”
“Sixteen!?! Why you don’t look a day over twelve… you’re too tiny to be almost sixteen!” he replied.
“Well, my pappy said that what I lack in stature, I make up for in heart!” Milly said, beaming with pride.
“That a fact?”
“Yes sir Mr. Angel”
“Quit with that, I told ya, I ain’t no angel!” the man snapped
Milly looked downward.
“How old… are you?” Milly asked, without looking up.
“22, be 23 in a month,” the man replied
Milly thought about this. 22 didn’t seem ancient for an angel. In fact, he must have been the youngest angel just about in the entire existence of angels everywhere. Milly looked up at the man again with one eye half closed, blocking out the sun.
He looked young. For starters, he didn’t have any hair on his face anywhere, which was kinda strange and unsightly looking. But Milly thought it was ordinary for an angel to look clean on the count that “cleanliness was next to godliness” so she silently agreed that it wasn’t wrong for an angel not to have any hair on his face. His hair was dark blonde, shoulder length and straight, but Milly thought it was most definitely the man’s eyes that gave it all away. You could just tell he was an angel because his eyes were the bluest blue eyes you ever saw in all the world!
“Where’s your family? Got any brothers? Sisters?” the man asked.
Milly just shook her head
“Where your parents at then? You should go on back to them now…”
“They’re dead, gone and buried…” Milly replied, whacking her stick absently around in the grass
“Why’d you come up here?”
“The school children… in town. They told me about the angel,” Milly replied, her voice trailing off.
“Well, you got some grit comin’ up here, girl. But you need to get on back to town now. And just ignore those silly school children, they ain’t got nothin’ on you if you came up here all on your lonesome,” the man said.
Milly just looked at the man, eyes wide, face sullied and a mouth full of words that just wouldn’t come out.
“Go on now girl … get!” he said
Milly didn’t want to leave, but she knew better than to overstay her welcome, especially in the company of an angel.
-END OF PART I-
Part II of this story is here