On Monday mornings, I send out a story via email: ultra-brief tales of 1,000 words or more, usually in genres including horror, science fiction, and the supernatural. Those stories collectively are called Once Upon A Time. I’ve also published several ebooks and compendium volumes of those stories so far.
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Father Gilmour was tired.
The week had been long, and the weather was against him during his entire journey. He had left his own parish at first light on Monday morning, and two days of travel on his trusty mare had brought him to the seat of the diocese just as the sun dipped below the horizon.
At the meeting to which he had been summoned, the bishop had spoken at great length about the duties of all men of God when the new century would begin in four short years. A time of opportunity and adversity in equal measure, he had said. Gilmour had kept his views to himself, as was appropriate. He didn’t think that the dawning of the year of our Lord eighteen-hundred would be particularly different from the year before, or the one after, but it was not his place to question the proclamations of his superior.
Gilmour had remained at the cathedral for one further day, in service of the very poorest of the city’s inhabitants, who would at any time be found congregating outside the grand doors, begging for food and money alike. And on Friday, again as the first true light of day appeared, he set off once more on his homeward journey. He fully expected to reach his humble dwelling in the parish manse in time for supper on Saturday, and his housekeeper would certainly be eager to tell him of every happening during his absence, no matter how minor.
The weather had not eased, and by the middle of Friday afternoon when he was already well out into the country, he was obliged to stop and seek shelter beneath a copse of apple trees when the rain began to overflow his oiled sailcloth hat. His mare was glad of the respite, and by God’s providence managed to find a fallen apple to chew on.
At first, the flash in the middle distance made Gilmour fear that a thunderstorm was on the way. It would be unusual for this time of year, but it would not be unprecedented. But the thunder did not arrive, even when Gilmour had counted fully to a hundred, and he felt his heart slow its quickened pace.
Then he saw them.
There were two strangers, moving through the undergrowth. They were dressed in a manner Gilmour had never seen before, and his immediate thought was for their wellbeing in the downpour. He got to his feet and picked up his hat from a nearby rock, waving it to attract their attention.
“You may shelter here, friends!” he called out, glad of the prospect of talking however briefly with human beings. His prior journey in the reverse direction had been a lonely one.
The two strangers, a man and a woman, came closer. The woman wore trousers, which shocked Gilmour for a moment before he controlled his countenance. Perhaps she wore these garments for travel, or perhaps they were visitors from a great distance away where customs were not the same.
Their outfits fascinated Gilmour. Their clothes were clearly of identical design, tailored to suit their respective forms, and of no cloth he had yet seen. They were light in colour and apparently also in weight, because both of them moved with ease. Their footwear had the appearance almost of a painted metal, but which flexed as they walked. And then there were the lights.
On many parts of their clothing, including their footwear, there was subtle iridescence, like a firefly glimpsed on the cusp of twilight. The lights were most concentrated on the parts of their costumes which did not precisely fit their bodies, instead protruding in small, flat rectangles, some of them with glass inlaid. He had never seen anything like it.
As they closed to within mere yards, and came below the gloom of the trees’ shade, Gilmour felt his own breath catch in his throat. The very air which lay closest to their bodies was in a state of agitation, which he could perceive by way of how it distorted what lay behind. It was as if there were the faintest sheen of water, or the most transparent smoke, surrounding them. And then he was afraid.
They were beautiful beyond measure, both the man and the woman. They were looking at him with interest, and he could see that their faces were free of the marks of illness or poor nourishment. Their teeth, incredibly for their indeterminate but definitely adult age, were white and perfect like those of a mere child. Their hair shone, and the woman’s was of a colour that Gilmour had never before seen, with something of fire and also something of the sky. A scent issued from them, sweet and clean, and somehow it made him think of the ocean.
These are the angels of the Lord, he thought, and immediately he fell to his knees and averted his eyes. He heard the woman laugh, and then the man spoke.
“He looks ideal,” he said. “And a religious man, given the collar. That could be really good. The ratings are always amazing when they think they’re meeting a deity or something. Lots of possibilities.”
Gilmour risked looking up at them again in his confusion. The woman had detached one of the rectangles from her hip, and now held it in her hand. She moved it in the air, looking at it all the while.
“Clean too,” she said. “No contagions. We can take him straight from here. They’ll need him in makeup, but other than that I think he’ll do nicely.”
The man reached towards Gilmour and he flinched, but the man just smiled. “Don’t worry, Father,” he said. “Just a little trip and then you can start your new life.”
Gilmour wondered if this was his moment to meet his creator, and he found himself desperately afraid of the judgement of his immortal soul. He closed his eyes once more, then felt a smaller hand on his upper arm.
The woman pulled him to his feet gently but firmly, with an unearthly strength. The man was doing something with one of his own rectangles, still attached to his astonishing costume.
“No need to be afraid just yet,” the woman said just as the air in front of the man split open as if cleaved with the Lord’s own sword. It revealed a void of blue light that seemed to lead to a different place that Gilmour barely had time to glimpse; a place of soaring spires and silver shapes flitting through an azure sky.
The woman’s grip was now iron, and she propelled him towards the doorway in the air.
“You’re going to be famous,” she said. “At least for a little while.”
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