Silently I watch from my vantage point high among the brittle branches of a naked tree that just weeks before was bursting with leaves caught in the brilliant color-changing onset of autumn. Lights from an approaching car appear a ways down the road, from out of the dusk on this bitter early-December evening.
It races past in a blur of muted color, chrome and motion, the faint sound of music thumping within; its passengers completely unaware. The roar of its tires on the pavement fades into the distance and disappears altogether as it rounds the next curve. Dry leaves kicked up in its wake settle once again to the earth, skittering across the black pavement as the stillness of the impending darkness returns.
The hint of warmth from the cloud-obscured sun, having slipped below the horizon, fades rapidly now, as all that has lay prone to the light of the day begins to give up any bit of collected warmth in exchange for a blanketing of chill. A slight change in the direction of the piercing, frigid evening breeze lifts the putrid smell of death and its gruesome aftermath to my nose.
In the tall dry grass below me, not far off the shoulder of the road and down a steep embankment, a tied black trash bag leaks most repulsive odors into the night air . . . foul gases released by the decomposition of the flesh and the growth of squirming maggots contained within.
The mere thought of being on the ground places me there, out of the tree now and kneeling protectively in the grass beside the unfortunate soul in the bag. Dampness from a small patch of lingering snow seeps through the knees of my pants as I gently untie the knotted yellow plastic strap and pull apart the gathered bag opening.
Out of the corner of my eye, I notice a lone black crow standing on the rusted guardrail running along the roadside. It side-steps several times, its head impatiently bobbing and darting about, eyes blinking, dark as night.
The children's voices of long-gone school friends from my distant grade school past echoed in my head, "One crow means sorrow, two crows mean joy, three crows a wedding, four crows a boy, five crows mean silver, six crows mean gold, seven crows a secret that's never been told."
I open my mouth to greet the ebony magpie and deflect the sorrow it brought, but stop just short of forming words. I thought better of the situation. There was certainly sorrow to be felt here. It watched me with beady eyes twitching, head jerking nervously.
To the left of the body, a faded plastic shopping bag hung up on a stick flutters in the breeze. Beside it a clear bag with a half-eaten submarine sandwich molding inside. Not far away from them, a flattened coffee cup lays pressed into a field of cubed glass remnants of an accident. I catch sight of the moon ascending behind the forest of skeletal trees and contemplate the discarded items left by the roadside.
As I pull back the plastic bag revealing the broken, rotting body, the weary head rolls toward me, its pale milky eyes staring blankly upward. I adjust the bent glasses lying across the bridge of its rotting nose.
The crow calls out suddenly and flies away in a flutter of startled wings as a warm peace washes over the scene, and another winged creature appears, seating itself on the guard rail, its gentle wings folding behind, watching me. The night sounds that have been all around are abruptly silenced, and I slowly raise my head, turning to take in the presence.
"I'm not ready to go yet. They'll be here. Someone will be here soon . . . my email to Officer Connors will lead them."
"Your time here has ended. You, the soul, have been separated from the flesh. I've granted you a great deal of leniency and time as it is, but now that too has drawn to a close and you must accompany me or risk . . ." His words trailed off.
"Risk what?" I pleaded.
His eyes locked on to mine, the crushing weight of his words bearing down on me, "The window is closing . . . YOUR window is closing. If you are to come at all you must come now, or be left behind to walk this world forever."
I looked away sharply, back to the body, "It's been so many days, I know. Please just a few days more. Someone will come looking. It's only a matter of time now before they piece together what happened to me. They have to know that she blamed me . . . that she poisoned me . . . dumped me here."
His voice was louder this time, "You must come with me this night. I cannot hold this off any longer."
I pleaded, "Once my note is received, my suspicions will begin to unravel for them what happened, she'll break and tell them where I am, I know it. She's not that strong. The police will be looking. They'll be looking right here where our accident was . . . where . . ."
The angel turned again to look down on me, "Yes. You both lost something very precious that night."
My heart and mind reeled with guilt and pain, "It was unavoidable. The deer jumped right in front of us, the hot coffee and sandwiches flew all over the car as we skidded off the road through the guard rail. I checked the car seat just that morning and it was secured."
I pulled a tattered business card from my breast pocket . . . below the shield it read OFFICER CONNORS with his phone number and email address adjacent. I hazily remember staring at the hospital room ceiling as he slipped it into my hand and he told us the horrible news.
Tears filled my eyes. "My email will lead them. They'll come here to where it happened and find . . . what's left of me. The forensic evidence my body holds will reveal what she did to me. I can't let the animals out here eat that evidence; all I need is a little more time!"
Nodding his head knowingly, he stood, walking beside and running his hands over the joint where the rusted piece of guard rail joined the gleaming new section, "Do you have any idea how many times I have heard that? Those very same words? ALL I NEED IS A LITTLE MORE TIME."
I hang my head, realizing how shallow my human words must have sounded to this magnificent creature. "When I was a child, I was deathly afraid of the dark. I spent years of my life lying awake in absolute terror watching shadows on my wall, things moving outside my window. It never left me, that fear. I have always slept with the light or the TV on. I can't stand the dark. It suffocates me with fear. Please let me wait with my body until first light."
The angel silently, grimly nods as his wings spread wide and he is gone in a blinding flash of warmth.
As the balmy glow fades, I am once again alone in the bitter cold darkness . . . just off the roadside, down a steep embankment with the bag of my mortal remains.
I adjust the glasses lying across the bridge of my nose. The symphony of forest noises slowly resumes to fill the silent void as in the distance, flashing blue lights atop a car appear a ways down the road.
Silently from his vantage point high among the brittle branches of a naked tree that just weeks before was bursting with leaves caught in the brilliant color-changing onset of autumn, the angel watches the lights from the approaching police car appearing a ways down the road.
As the squeal of brakes fills the night air, I am suddenly enveloped in warm, pure white light which fades to darkness, and my window closes as I ascend.