The Sneak Peek:
Angel wings. Yes, he was sure now, that was what he saw. The image emerged from its
chemical bath, flitting off the paper as if an angel had just exited stage left, rushing to the
sidelines, leaving behind the action in the center field of the photograph. He hadn’t noticed it
before on the test strip, but now he saw it, faint at first in the orange glow of the safety light, but
growing darker in contrast as he agitated the chemicals in the tray. There was the distinct curve
and arch of a wing, folds of curling feathers pointing down toward the earth, and something so
shadowed that he couldn’t make it out, but it might have been a face, turning to look at him. So,
he thought. It was happening again.
More than two years had passed, and now he thought he must have imagined the whole
thing. But recently he sensed it again, the hovering, the feeling of being watched, and of
conversations taking place about him, of higher beings looking in and commenting and directing
the motions of his life. It started when his mother died. He had since told himself that it was just
his grief playing tricks on him, that there was no God. If there was, why had his mother been
taken so abruptly? She was a believer right up to the end, and that was when the angels appeared.
Barely lucid for a week, she was vibrant and alive in these final moments, opening her pale blue
eyes so wide, full of happy tears and staring into the middle distance of her hospital room,
arching up from her bed with a look of wonder and joy on her face.
“Oh, the angels!” she cried, “They’re so beautiful. Can you see them, Jay? So
He held her hand and, though she lay motionless, he felt her slipping away from him. He
clasped her even tighter, but there was only this final moment of ecstasy and then she collapsed
back into unconsciousness. She died an hour later.
He had not seen the angels then, but it seemed he saw them everywhere after that
moment. Once he got back home to Seattle, he found them in song titles and store signs and
magazine articles. If it wasn’t the word, then it was their image. They followed him wherever he
went, reminding him of her last words. He knew it was a matter of selective attention, like
learning a new word and then seeing it everywhere, but he felt a presence along with it. The
sightings, as he referred to them, seemed to happen more frequently when he was feeling low, as
though he was being reminded someone was watching over him. His pragmatic view of the
world rejected this idea as frivolous and self-important. He saw no reason why he should be
entitled to any special attention, particularly from beings he didn’t believe in. In the fleeting
moments when he did believe in an afterlife, which he hoped for but would not commit to, he
wondered if they were emissaries from his mother. The sightings faded away about six months
after her death. If they were sent by her, and he wasn’t saying that they were, she seemed to have
moved on in the afterlife. He imagined she had better things to do.
But it had started again, first in subtle ways, but now unavoidably, showing up in his
photographs, his livelihood, in the one place where he could not ignore them. He saw now the
entire second roll of film was ruined by them. The first roll was unaffected so he would use those
for the client. The phone rang as he was hanging up the last ruined photograph on the drying clip.
Without leaving the darkroom, he picked up the phone.
“Hey, Jay! Whatcha doing?” A male voice said, hardly audible through the background
noise of a bar.
“Hey, Eddie,” Jay answered. “I’m working.”
“Are you in the darkroom? You’re the only guy I know who actually has a phone in his
bathroom,” Eddie chuckled. “Why don’t you bust outta there and come on down to the Croc to
meet up with us? The band is here. People are asking about you.”
“I need to finish up this job.”
“Man, you’re always working. Why don’t you do that tomorrow? Come on down to the
bar and have some beers with us.” Then the shrill sound of a woman’s laugh and a drummer
warming up in the background; the first band at the Crocodile was about to go on.
“Can’t do that, Ed. I’m on a deadline.”
“My sister is here, and you know, she’s asking about you, wants to meet you.”
“Maybe I’ll see you around tomorrow.”
“Ah, c’mon, what are you, a hermit? Don’t you like girls?”
“I like girls just fine. But right now I need to finish this job.”
His friend continued to cajole, but their conversation was interrupted by a sharp barking
coming from outside the darkroom.
“Bridget!” Jay yelled to his dog through the door.
“Man, what’s up with the dog? Maybe she wants you to come down to the Croc, too.”
The dog’s sharp bark reached an annoying pitch.
“Bridget!” Jay yelled again, beginning to lose his patience with both his dog and his
The dog’s barking continued uninterrupted.
“Maybe you should go see what she wants? This might be some kind of Lassie thing.”
“I gotta go …”
“Go see what she wants and then come down to the Croc!”
“Call me tomorrow, Ed.” He hung up the phone and yanked opened the door.
Bridget, his Australian shepherd, barely glanced his way. She sat in front of the sliding
doors to the balcony of his condominium, barking insistently.
“Bridget!” Jay called out, but the dog’s stare remained fixed on the balcony door.
She threw him an anguished look and rotated restlessly in a circle, finally settling down
again, still pointing at the sliding door. She let out one more sharp, insistent bark.
Jay looked at the balcony, but it was difficult to see through the sheer drapes against the
night sky. He thought it nearly impossible that someone would have climbed up six floors onto
his balcony, but he knew his dog and she was not a barker. Something out on the balcony had set
She gave him a whimper as he approached, looking relieved that he had finally come to
investigate. Slowly, he peeled back the drape and saw nothing. Bridget wagged her docked tail
encouragingly, her blue eyes tracking his every move. He petted her head and then ran his hand
down her merle coat, hoping to soothe her, but she let out two more staccato barks, so he felt
compelled to open the sliding door and let her out, just so she could see for herself that no one
was there. The dog raced by his legs and out onto the balcony, sniffing madly. Then she looked
up into the night sky and howled.
“Bridget!” he snapped at her. She lowered her head and gave him a sheepish look before
skulking off the balcony, collapsing inside on the living room rug.
Jay remained outside, feeling the evening breeze coming off Elliott Bay, slightly chilly
even for July. It was one of those nights when he could smell the sea. He looked across the bay
to the lights of Alki Point, but then the sound of a boat horn distracted him; the ferry was just
slipping out of Colman Dock on its ten o’clock run to Bainbridge Island. He peered over the
railing, down at the ground, but saw no one. Whatever it was that set off Bridget, probably some
bird, he thought, it was now gone. The noise from the rushing cars below on the viaduct sent him
back inside the apartment. The view was incredible, but the freeway hum prevented him from
spending much time outside on his balcony. He came inside and threw Bridget a perplexed look.
She peered up at him, her black snout now pressed firmly between her white front paws.
“Do you need to go out?” he asked her.
No reaction, other than apologetic eyes gazing up at him.
Okay, have it your way, Bridget, he thought, bending down on one knee and ruffling her
marbled black, white, and gray fur.
Then he remembered the angel wings and the hair stood up on the back of his neck.
Kim Nathan is an American author of historical and contemporary romance fiction. Her first novel was Sterling Redmond, a historical romance. Born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland, she relocated to Seattle, Washington in 1994, where she lives with her husband and cats.