Angels Don't Have Dark Hair
The first-person shooter targets kept coming, but Phil maintained his cool. Move, acquire the next target, kill, repeat. His pop-up map revealed he was three-quarters of the way through his third objective of the night. He was on fire.
Grandma Linda’s frail voice called from the top of the basement stairs. “Phil?”
He hit the pause button on the Xbox controller and turned to look up the stairs. “Sorry, grandma,” he said. “I’ll keep it down.” He grabbed the TV remote and turned down the volume. He resumed the game, found a first-aid kit that brought him up to full health, reloaded, and headed down the next dingy corridor.
The basement stairway rung creaked behind him, breaking his illusion of fighting off hordes of Nazis. After he ducked his character in a corner, he turned quickly, saw grandma halfway down the stairs, and then turned back to his game. “Just a sec.” He peered around a corner, then proceeded to the junction at the end. A machine-gun toting Nazi jumped out and droplets of blood spattered on the screen. Shit! He centered on the target, fired, and dropped the bastard. His health read eighty-eight. He crouched behind a stack of sandbags and reloaded.
“Alyssa died,” grandma said. She sat next to him on the couch.
“Yeah, hang on.” On the monitor, he searched down the corridor. It was clear. He jumped over the sandbags and sprinted forward. More Nazis appeared. He sidestepped left, wasted each in turn, made it to the corner, and reloaded. The mission was almost complete.
Grandma touched his hand, and he jerked it away. “What are you doing?” he complained. A grenade landed next to his character and killed him.
“Damn it, grandma!”
“I heard it on the news.”
“Alyssa. Your girlfriend. She’s dead.”
Phil’s gut turned over. He put down the controller. Alyssa was dead? He’d just talked to her last week after she’d kicked him out of their apartment; before he had to move into grandma’s basement. “Oh, my God. Is it true?”
Grandma nodded. “The news said a cab . . . she was crossing the street . . .” She took his hand again, and this time, he squeezed it reassuringly. A tear ran down her cheek. She’d always liked Alyssa.
So had he, up until he’d lost his job and her nagging started. She finally changed the locks on him, forcing him to move out. That had only been six months after she’d talked him into moving in together. He didn’t like Alyssa much anymore, but he didn’t want her dead, either.
Grandma’s voice choked up. “She was always so nice.” He hugged grandma while she cried. “Why did this happen?” she sobbed. “It doesn’t make sense.”
“I don’t know, grandma.” He patted her on the back. “I’m so sorry.”
While grandma grieved, one single solitary consolation struck him; at least Alyssa would stop hounding him about the money he’d borrowed.
Two months to the date after she’d died, Alyssa’s spirit appeared to Phil. He was halfway through the fifth campaign of the night when she materialized out of thin air midway between him and the TV monitor. It was impossible, but she appeared, iterally, out of thin air.
Phil rubbed his eyes. At first, he thought he was dreaming, but the clock on the brick wall of the basement read only a bit past four A.M. The sun wasn’t even up yet.
She stood there, all five-foot-four inches of her, dressed in a plaid skirt and a crisp, white blouse, her brown hair done up in a neat bun, and as alive-looking as ever. She said, “Still spending all night playing video games, huh Phil?” She sounded the same, and she appeared real; as real and as opaque as his grandma had been two months ago when she told him that Alyssa had been run over by a cab.
She took a step forward.
The adrenalin he’d felt during the game was a gnat’s breath compared to what he felt now. He climbed away, over the back of the couch and toward the foot of the stairs. “You—you’re dead.”
She nodded. “It’s all right. I’m here to help.”
“Hel—help? Help with what?”
She stepped through the sleeper sofa. Phil blinked and shook his head to clear it, but she remained half-obscured by the couch.
“To help you get your life in order,” she said with a smile.
He held his hand in front of him, defensively. “My life is fine,” he said.
She laughed—a haunting thing that intensified the apprehension he felt. “Phil, you’re still playing video games all night and sleeping all day.”
Oh, God. She was here to haunt him. To nag him, just like she did when they lived together. “I don’t need any help from any ghost.”
“I’m not a ghost.” She stepped forward. “I’ve been assigned as your guardian angel.”
He shook his head. “No. Angels don’t have dark hair.”
“I read it in a book once. Angels have blonde hair. They’re not brunettes.”
“That’s ridiculous, Phil.” She floated toward him. He retreated four steps up the stairwell. She said, “Tomorrow, you’re going to meet Nick—the guy you met at my office Christmas party last year. He’s going to offer you a job.”
“I don’t need a job.”
“That money you stole from me isn’t going to last forever. That’s a nice Xbox and TV you have there. They’re new, right? What did they set you back, a grand or more?”
His terror retreated, replaced by white-hot anger. “This is about the money? I borrowed it. You kicked me out! What was I supposed to do, sleep on the streets?”
“It’s not borrowing if you don’t ask. Besides, I don’t need money; not anymore. We don’t use it where I exist.” She floated away from him, back over the couch and towards the TV. “Take Nick’s offer.”
She became more and more transparent until she faded from his view.