Darling Nancy awoke to the sounds of her sisters shrieking like wind through narrow corridors. She threw the covers from her frame, leaped out of bed and into her slippers. Down the cathedral steps she ran, tripping over her ornate robe, but not tumbling head over feet.
The screams came from the narthex, so there Darling Nancy sprinted, the shrillness of her sisters tearing along the stone walls.
‘Sisters!’ she called. ‘What has happened?’ The early gold and orange of morning was filling in the narthex.
Darling Pat and Darling Joan were kneeling over a body laying on the floor. They spoke abrasively amongst themselves, and loudly too. Darling Rose stood over them, panicked, screaming continually, while Darling Sissie and Darling Mary made attempts to calm her. Back and forth, in front of the cathedral archway, Darling Lou paced, speaking to herself. From a pew nearby, Darling Nettie tried to control her sobbing.
Darling Nancy approached the body and her sisters. ‘Who is this girl?’ she demanded, gesturing to the figure on the floor.
Darling Pat turned. ‘She says she is a messenger.’
‘And why is she on the floor? Is she dead?’ Darling Nancy peered down at the messenger.
Darling Joan shook her head. ‘Not yet, sister.’
‘But, soon, if we do not help her,’ added Darling Sissie, brushing her fingers through Darling Rose’s hair.
Darling Nancy faced her crying sister in the pew. ‘Please, Nettie, please stop weeping. The sound is like needles in my ears.’ She turned toward Darling Rose. ‘And the screaming must desist. That is like daggers to my brain.’
Both sisters promptly ceased.
Darling Nancy crouched between Darling Pat and Darling Joan. They all gazed upon the messenger girl.
‘What is her message?’ Darling Nancy asked.
The girl’s breathing was sporadic. Death was close, the Reaper’s breath like frost, its fingers icy and reaching. Time was short for the girl.
‘Is she a messenger without a message?’ Darling Nancy barked. ‘Speak, sisters!’
Darling Mary lowered her head. ‘She said that we would be consumed.’
Darling Nancy whipped her head toward Darling Joan. ‘Did you hear this message?’
Darling Joan nodded, shamefully.
‘And did this girl say what would consume us?’ Distant flames flickered in Darling Nancy’s eyes.
Darling Joan shook her head. Still silent.
Darling Nancy stared menacingly at the messenger. ‘And did she spout off anything else of note?’
‘One thing,’ Darling Lou spoke. She stopped pacing and came to stand beside Darling Rose. ‘She told us she was a Seraph.’
Slowly, Darling Nancy raised her head. She did not speak for some time. All remained quiet as the world beyond the cathedral began waking and working and going about the morning’s business.
‘Do not move. Any of you,’ she told them. It was not a request.
Darling Nancy stood and stomped away.
Several minutes passed, until she returned. In her left hand she held a lit candle, her right hand clutching a jar filled to the brim with clear liquid.
‘Move, move, move!’ she shouted, stepping into the narthex. She booted her kneeling sisters aside. ‘Stand back, or go outside.’
None of her sisters moved.
Darling Pat and Darling Joan jumped to their feet.
From behind, still sitting in the pew, Darling Nettie chirped, ‘What are you doing, sister?’
‘Back up, back up! More!’ Darling Nancy was snapping ferociously before she answered her sister’s question. ‘What I am doing is taking care of this beast within our walls!’
She nudged the messenger with her foot. ‘A Seraph.’ She choked out a single laugh. ‘She does not fool me. I’ve heard that the Devil can cite scripture for his purpose, and this is no different.’
Darling Nancy tipped the jar of liquid over the girl’s body, covering her from toe to neck in the fluid. She dropped the candle onto the girl’s chest.
The messenger erupted into a great blaze, without the need of a pyre. She tossed, but only for a moment, and she settled and she burned. She burned long into the day, the sun arced across the heavens. The fire of her body died by nightfall.
Darling Nancy bent over the destroyed carcass and carved off the head.
Once more, Darling Nettie was weeping in a pew. And Darling Lou was pacing. And Darling Rose was shrieking, but in her room, now.
Darling Nancy stepped out of the cathedral, holding the messenger’s head by the hair, Darling Pat following close behind.
‘We will hang the demon’s head from the archway,’ Darling Nancy informed her sister. ‘That shall deter any other demon from trying something like this ever again.’ She glanced back at Darling Pat, smiling. Darling Pat did not return the smile, but simply nodded.
Fixing the head of the girl above the archway, just so, Darling Nancy hissed, ‘We will be consumed… You are consumed, demon.’
She snapped her fingers, heading back into the narthex, and Darling Pat chased after, passing under the head of the messenger. Her hair brushed Darling Pat’s face. She shuddered and ran to retire to her bed. As did Darling Nancy. Her bones were filled with exhaustion, and what was done was certainly done.
Many years elapsed, time and death shuffling along, and Darling Nancy was called away for a religious mission somewhere deep in a horrid jungle. She hated it. But, there was no choice in the matter. ‘These savages need my God.’
Upon arriving back in her country by boat, she was escorted from the port in an open-air carriage. The ride was rather bumpy over the main road, and the horse had trouble finding its footing.
‘Sorry for the shaky traveling, mum,’ the driver hollered. ‘Officials started working on this road. Tore it up while you were gone. Seven years, right, mum? That’s how long you’ve been gone, mum?’
Darling Nancy stared at him, then finally nodded. She was distracted. The air was filled with the smell of burning. And the sky was darkening.
‘Hmm, lots of smoke up ahead, mum,’ said the driver. ‘Try and cover your mouth.’ The horse whinnied and trudged on.
The smell of fire grew stronger, the smoke denser, blacker.
Darling Nancy coughed violently, felt like she was choking. She bent forward in search of cleaner air by her feet.
The horse and carriage pulled up short, tossing Darling Nancy in the back, wildly.
‘Oh, mum, no!’ screeched the driver. ‘No! The church! It can’t be! Ah, don’t even look, mum!’
Darling Nancy did not listen. She lifted her head. And she looked.
Her home, the cathedral, with its endlessly tall spires, was a raging mass of gold and orange flames. The fire burst forth from every window and entryway. The spires collapsed into rubble and dust.
Sitting in the carriage, Darling Nancy watched as it all burned to nothing, her body shaking with horror.
She stared and she stared, and her eyes were hot and wet from the blinding glare of the flames. And Darling Nancy looked deeply into the fire. She gazed longingly into the inferno, how it fell the stones, and consumed. Oh, how it consumed.
And she looked to the archway and she could not look away. Darling Nancy had to count. And she counted to seven. She counted, again. Counted to seven.
There, draped from the top of the archway, were the heads. Seven in all. Her sisters, her darlings. Each face drawn in terror, and burning, burning, burning to ash, consumed into oblivion.