Margaret put on her old wool sweater and tore up the gas bills in disgust.
“That’s why it’s cold! I’m two weeks late, heartless bastards, right before Christmas!”
She headed from the mail slot in the front door back into her kitchen, the crumpled up pieces of the gas bill still clenched in her hand.
The old woman made double time across the hard wood floor, moving much faster than her 75 years would normally allow, the anger spurred her on.
“This wouldn’t have happened in the old days” she mumbled.
“In the old days they’d give you a month, maybe longer, they’d send you two, sometimes three, notices in the mail threatening to disconnect. Then a man would come over personally to turn the switch. If you were lucky, you caught him and paid him a couple dollars and he’d leave your heat on. Nowadays, some bastard sitting in a cubicle does it with his computer. One slap of a key and you’re done. They’re never attached to the misery they bring. “
She dropped the pieces of the gas bill into the kitchen wastebasket and watched them flutter down to the bottom.
“Ah well, such is life!” said the old woman out loud.
She knew this would happen the day Billy died, he had gone so young. She remembered the hospital, praying at his deathbed, feeling guilty for thinking about herself but without his money, what would she do?
Margaret went into a nearby cabinet and pulled out a pot to fill with water. “Well, at least the water hasn’t been shut off yet”, she thought. She put the pot on the stove and prepared to brew some tea.
“A little tea to warm the insides” she mumbled but the gas stove had been shut off.
Not ready to give up, she returned to the sink, dumped out the tepid water and turned on the faucet again. This time she turned the heat up to the maximum. In no time the steam from the hot water touched the old woman’s nostrils.
“That’ll do just fine” she said. Margaret prepared her tea, grabbed some shortbread cookies then retired to the living room.
Wrapped up in a shredded blanket, she plopped down on a sofa and turned on her television. It quickly roared to life.
“At least the TV works” the old woman said out loud.
She moved through the channels, stopping at a local weather station.
“Record lows this morning and we’re headed for subzero temperatures tonight!” The weatherman grinned, almost as if he was aware of Margaret’s predicament.
“Crank up those thermostats, we could be in for a doozey” the weatherman snickered.
Margaret clutched her blanket tighter. She could already see her breath in the room.
She’d heard the stories, elderly people freezing to death in their homes. I’ll bet they were all alone like me, she thought, no family or friends left to watch over them.
The thought of being alone frightened her.
“Is this how it’s going to end?” she said out loud, “an old woman freezing to death?” Margaret turned her attention back to the television, a beautiful woman was hugging a beautiful man in front of a roaring fireplace, aren’t they happy she thought, young dumb and full of life, just wait till they get older, their parents will pass on and their own children won’t have time for them. The thought began to fade as Margaret pulled the blanket more tightly around her body. She began to feel very tired.
The next thing Margaret could remember was a knocking sound. The undecipherable sound became clearer and clearer, until she was finally able to identify it as the sound of someone knocking at her front door.
“Who is it?” asked Margaret getting up groggily from her couch. The temperature must have dropped to 10 degrees, she thought. Her eyes were nearly crusted over with ice.
“It’s Michael Angelika, Miss Hudson. I’m here on behalf of the gas company”
Margaret looked through the peephole. He was about 6’2, clean cut and dressed in typical worker garb, he wore a hat that said City Gas. Margaret thought his face looked angelic.
“Please come in” she said “I’m sorry for being late on the bill.”
“That’s not why I’m here” said the man. “We believe your furnace is in need of repair.” “Oh” Margaret replied, “I thought they stopped doing that years ago?”
“Sometimes, when problems arise we’re obligated to take a special interest in” said the man as he stepped through the doorway.
Margaret felt hope in her stomach. It was as if God had answered her prayers. “How are you doing today?” asked the man with a smile on his face.
“Well, it has been cold, but I managed.” said Margaret.
“That you have!” replied the man, “now if you’ll kindly point me in the direction of your furnace.”
“I’m sorry, of course” said Margaret. She led the man to the back of the dwelling.
The man approached the furnace, pulled a screwdriver out of a bag on his belt and began to unscrew the main plate.
“Are you living here all alone?” He asked.
“I have been for the past few months, my son died recently.” She said.
Admitting her son’s death to a stranger seemed to put an unnatural ring on his demise.
“I’m sorry to hear that.” said the man.
“That’s alright. He had leukemia, safe in God’s house now”. Margaret announced, trying to put closure on the subject.
“I see,” said the man with great sympathy in his voice. “When we’re born, we are flocked with onlookers but when we die those same onlookers all turn away in fright, as if death is a horror instead of a final peace”.
The man got up from the furnace and turned to face Margaret.
“Well Margaret, I’ve got some good news and some bad news”.
She studied his face. Although he showed her no emotion, she could clearly see the pain in his eyes.
“Tell me the good news first.” She said at last.
“Your furnace is broken.” said the man. “But it can be repaired”.
His eyes meet her own. “What’s the bad news?” asked Margaret matching his intensity.
“It will be tough getting parts just two days before Christmas,” he replied “my gut feeling is a week maybe more, it’s just too old to repair, might be better off replacing it.”
“Oh” said Margaret, the cold air numbing her toes. “I guess, they don’t make em’ like they used to.” She managed a weak smile.
“I just can’t tell you how fed up I am with this new generation, this ‘me first’ attitude. We are living in a throw away world, nothing gets fixed anymore, when something is old we just toss it out and get a new one” said the repair man.
“I know what you mean” said Margaret. “It seems like we do that with people as well”
Michael Angelika smiled at the old woman. He put his tools back in his bag.
“I hope you don’t think me too forward to ask but, would you like to come back to my place, you know, just for a couple days? This temperature is dropping as we speak. It could be well below zero before nightfall.”
Margaret was taken back by the man’s request.
“Goodness, I can’t remember the last time someone was so kind to me but I have to refuse. I’ll make it through on my own, don’t you fret.”
Michael smiled at her again. His eyes showed her a deep almost inhumane sympathy,
“Would you mind if I stuck around for a spell, just to make sure you get off alright?” Margaret studied the man’s face again, this time even more closely. In it she could find no anger or animosity. She felt an overwhelming need to touch him but refrained.
“You are too kind” she said at last. “Would you like a bite or a hot drink?”
“That would be fine” the man replied.
Moments later, they were both sitting down in the living room enjoying a tepid cup of tea and some wafer cookies.
“I’m sorry. I don’t have much to offer you” said Margaret.
“This is fine” replied Michael, appearing strangely comfortable in the cold house.
“So, what kind of last name is Angelika anyway?” asked Margaret.
“Old.” replied Michael, “It’s been the pedigree of my family ever since I can remember. It’s a universal name, one that breeds faith, family and trust.”
“I see” said Margaret, something in the back of her mind was unhappy with his answer.
She felt in her heart that there was no reason not to trust him, yet she carried the feeling he knew much more about her than he was letting on. She couldn’t help but wonder if his coming there today had more purpose than to fix a furnace.
Michael seemed to read her thoughts, with a slight sigh he suddenly said, “you’re right Margaret, I didn’t come here to fix your furnace.”
Margaret was startled. “Why did you come here?” she asked, fear in her voice.
“There is no need to be frightened” he said to her gently, “I am here because of your strong faith and good will towards others, especially your son”.
“I don’t understand” stammered Margaret.
“Yes, you do” said the man, “search your heart”. “I am the archangel, Michael, and I’m here to defend your soul.”
The truth hit Margaret like a ton of bricks. She looked down at her feet. The toes she could no longer feel were blue, and the blueness was slowly crawling up her body. “I’m not alive anymore, am I?” she asked.
Michael shook his head no.
“You died a few hours ago, the temperature drop was too great. You passed on while I knocked at your door.” Reality sets in on the old woman but she was comforted by the presence of Michael.
“You said you had to defend my soul, from whom?”
“From the darkness” replied Michael.
“Why?” Margaret asked, “I haven’t done anything to anyone, not a bad word, not a vile thought, I’ve always been thankful that I’m alive”.
The angel grinned back at her. “And that is precisely why the darkness is coming for you. Spirits as pure as you, are the diamonds of this age. You represent what is still good in mankind and the darkness will do anything to destroy it.”
Margaret got on her knees and began to sob. “I don’t want this to happen” she said.
The Angel stood and placed a hand on her shoulder.
“Do not cry daughter of Eve, you have chosen to stay, you have welcomed my company, have no fear. I will not let the darkness harm you.”
The Angel looked deeply into her eyes and she believed.
As if to challenge this point, the darkness used this time to make itself known. It began as a humming sound in a dark corner behind the furnace. As the hissing became louder, it became clear, Margaret could make out thousands of voices calling her name. “Maaaaaaarrrrrrrrgggggggaaaaarrrrrrrrrrretttttttttttt!”
“Why is it doing that?” she asked.
“It’s the voices of the damned” he replied. “They want to beg your forgiveness”.
“Make it stop!” the old woman said getting behind the angel for protection.
“I cannot” replied the angel. “Evil has a will of its own”.
Margaret’s eyes stayed with the furnace. The darkness behind it seemed to grow at will. It seemed to be feeding off the fear in her heart. Soon it covered half the room.
The angel stood his ground the entire time, eyes on the darkness unwavering.
At last the darkness spoke “Step aside angel of God!” The entity hissed.
“I will not”, replied the angel, whose voice was as calm as it was that afternoon.
“Why fight?” said the darkness. “My power grows stronger as yours dwindles”.
As if to prove the point, the darkness took over the entire room until only a small circle containing the angel and Margaret remained.
The old woman shuddered with fright, “make it stop!” she gasped.
“I cannot” replied the angel. His voice was still strangely steady.
“Come old friend” said the darkness who fashioned a pair of arms out of thin air and began to coo and caress the angel. “Why fight? What is one more soul one way or the other?”
The angel continued to shield the old woman. “Every soul is invaluable” he replied.
“So, I take it you’ll fight till death?” the darkness asked, anticipating this response. “It is my destiny.” The angel replied.
“Very well then” said the darkness.
Michael stood his ground. He expected a full frontal assault from the darkness but it never happened. Instead he felt a sickening feeling inside his stomach. He looked down at his own body and was surprised to see a hand forced through it. It was the hand of Margaret! She pushed him roughly to the ground. He spat out angelic blood. The darkness laughed as it began to consume him.
“That worked better than expected” said the darkness as it inched its way up Michael’s body “We must use it again!”
“We must!” replied Margaret, her true colors now revealed.
Michael looked into her contorted face, her skin was blue, her eyes black as night.
“Why?” He stammered “Why have you betrayed me?”
The old woman laughed. “Do you, of all creatures? Really need me to answer that? Michael stared at her meekly and then nodded.
“We are living in a throw away world Michael, and we are throwing away God! Who needs faith when we have science? Why worship the old God when we can create something new? You are the old furnace that cannot be repaired. Accept your destiny!”
The mighty angel shed a single tear as the darkness took over the rest of his body. In a short time, he too was as blue as Margaret, with eyes as black as night. He could feel the hatred, the loneliness, inside his head. He knew now that the old woman was rotten to the core. She despised God and blamed him for her son’s death. She had gone to the dammed and begged for revenge. A plan had been carefully constructed and he had been the prize. He could feel his body slowly being sucked into the netherworld. In a few hours, he would be offered to Satan.