Battered Wings by Sherryn Hind

Hildy Mark gasped finding an angel asleep curled up on the wool bales in the shearing shed. Kevin had called her a baby to believe in angels, but with long blonde hair and a pale blue summer dress that’s how the sleeping figure looked. A fallen angel though, Hildy thought, noticing the scratches and bruises on the angel’s face and arms. She also saw a love heart shaped mark on the angel’s cheek. She reached out a hand, but then the angel opened her eyes. Hildy shrieked and fled to the shadows of the shearing shed door.

‘Wait,’ the angel called after her. ‘Don’t tell.’

But Hildy ran and didn’t stop until she reached home.

‘Slow down,’ Hildy’s mum said. She stopped slicing tomatoes. ‘What’s the matter?’

‘The shearing shed-’.

‘Spooked ya again? I told ya there aren’t ghosts. Don’t listen to Kevin’s nonsense. It’s ya older brother tryin’ to scare ya. Come ‘ere,’ her dad said.

Hildy didn’t move. She looked at his shotgun lying in parts on the kitchen table. Boom, the kangaroo’s head exploded in the shine of the spotlight. She stiffened and clenched her fists. Never again.

‘Lunch’s ready,’ her mum said. ‘Kevin, you’ll say grace.’

An old dented, dusty ute pulled up out the front of the farmhouse. A man in a battered slouch hat knocked at the screen door. Hildy chanced a look. The man had a pointed face and black eyes that didn’t shine. She shivered. Kevin had told her stories about devils too.

‘Brian Retcher isn’t it,’ her dad said.

The man nodded. Hildy noticed the black coarse hairs on his arms and scratches on his fidgeting hands. He’s no farmer, she thought.

‘It’s me missus. She not right and she gone missin’. She blonde, with a love heart shaped mark here.’

Hildy’s head popped up. The devil tracked her. She ducked behind her mother.

Her mum said with a laugh. ‘Don’t take no notice, she’s shy with people she don’t know and even then with ones she does.’

‘She knows sumthin’.’

Her dad stared at the man for a moment, then turned towards his eight year old daughter.

‘Hildy?’

She shook her head, her long hair hiding her face. She clung tighter to her mother.

‘Whatcha see?’ The devil snarled at her.

Her dad’s bulk filled the kitchen and he shepherded the man outside. Everyone jumped at the sound of a door slamming and the old ute racing off.

Her dad returned all smiles. ‘It’s all fine.’

After lunch, Hildy snuck away from her family picking apricots in the orchard, behind the house and crept into the shearing shed. She clutched her school water bottle and an apricot with sweaty palms. Behind the wool press, she peeked on the angel, but didn’t see the broom and tripped. She froze in sight of the angel.

‘Are you ok?’

The apricot rolled forward. Hildy plonked the waterbottle down and scampered.

‘Come back,’ she heard before disappearing into the afternoon sunshine.

On the front lawn, a shadow engulfed Hildy’s tea party with her teddy and doll. She frowned and looked up about to yell at her older brother.

‘Where’s she, you lyin’ brat?’ the devil said.

Hildy held her breath. She covered her ears and rocked back and forth humming to herself. He yanked her upwards.

‘Tell me. Tell me.’ He waved her about like a stiffened cardboard cutout.

‘Let her go,’ said the angel, standing at the entrance to the yard, holding tight to the gate post.

Hildy’s eyes opened with surprise. The man dumped her on the ground. ‘I knew it.’ He glared at Hildy. He took half a step forward in the angel’s direction. ’Ya bitch, what lies have ya been tellin’?’

Hildy shrunk backwards. The angel tried to calm her with a reassuring smile.

‘No lies, they don’t even know I’m here,’ the angel said.

Hildy’s stomach gripped tight. Her angel looked scared, even more than before, comprehending her mistake. The devil flew across the lawn.

‘I’m gunna kill ya.’ He drew out a long blade knife and pressed it into the angel’s cheek. Blood dripped. The angel screamed.

Within the devil’s maniacal laughter, Hildy found herself picked up and inside the house. She stood before the kitchen pantry. Her fingers pushed through the streamers in the entrance and she slipped inside. Her heart pounded loudly. She thought she might be sick. Her father’s shotgun leaned up against the end wall, he hadn’t put it away. She broke out in a sweat and scratched at the inside of her arm. She found the cartridges, loaded both barrels and clicked the gun shut as her dad had shown her. She walked outside her whole body shaking.

Hildy let the screen door bang behind her. The devil stopped to look.

‘Run,’ yelled the angel.

‘Yeah “run”’, the devil mimicked. ‘Ya dead too. Stand up!’ He yanked the angel to her unsteady feet.

Hildy emerged out of the veranda shadows and into the light of the yard. Her feet shuffled, her breathing became ragged. ‘Leave her,’ she said in butterfly tones. She closed her eyes and tried again. ‘Leave, my, angel, alone.’

‘She ain’t no angel.’ He saw the shotgun aimed at him. He laughed. ‘Whatcha gunna do with that, give it here.’

Hildy pulled back the bolt and aimed the gun, just like her dad had taught her. ‘Go. Away.’

‘No.’ The devil sneered at her, his black eyes like huge holes and his lip curled upward to reveal jagged teeth. He lunged toward her.

The blast from the shotgun threw Hildy backwards and she bumped her head on the ground. She slipped into darkness. She awoke to find bright sunshine and a haloed sweet face smiling at her. Her angel. Hildy tried to smile.

‘What happened to your wings?’ Hildy asked.

‘You found them for me,’ the angel replied before Hildy closed her eyes again.

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