4.

You turn your head away, unable to look at him, unable to accept your terrifying, impossible situation. So many thoughts are whirling through your mind you don’t know how to pack them together into any kind of logical sense.

All you really understand is the feel of his fingers probing your head and that you’re almost naked and totally within his control, whoever he is: a man with wings and unearthly black eyes.

Where has he taken you? It almost looks like you’re in the clouds; clouds that coil and surge and crash against each other like waves. You could almost describe it as a storm except there’s no thunder or lightning. There is a wind, however; you can hear it howling and whistling and blasting all around you, though somehow you feel none of it. It’s like you’re in the eye of a storm; in some unnatural place where nothing makes sense.

Your throat dry, you give a hard swallow. Wherever you are you’re far away from home.

He moves to your ears, pushing and pulling at them. You can only guess what he’s up to. Tears swell in your eyes as you think of your mother. You hope she’s not injured. She’s not a young woman. You should have let her go and rushed away the moment you realised that this man was after you.

Woulda. Shoulda. Coulda.

Your mother will be all alone now, terrified and wondering. It’ll put a lot of pressure on her heart, which is already weak. It might even put her into hospital. More tears course down your cheeks.

‘Look at me,’ the winged man speaks.

You turn your head with surprising effort, your body resistant.

‘Open your mouth.’

Your eyes widen. Your heart pounds in your throat. This is it. This is it! He’s going to kiss you and do … and do what he needs to do. With a choke, you part your lips.

‘Wider.’

You obey.

‘Wider!’

Confused, you open it as wide as you can.

He takes your chin as he looks into your mouth. ‘Poke out your tongue.’

You do.

He releases you with a shake of his head. Next he moves to your neck and shoulders. You shiver in horror as he strokes his hands over your skin. They’re big, heavily calloused and as pale as the rest of him. He lifts your arms, first your right, then your left, looking in your armpits and on the insides of your wrists.

Next, he turns to your breasts. With a jerk, you grab at his hands.

His eyes flash. ‘Release me.’

You shake your head tearfully. ‘No.’

He looks up, his eyes fastening on something to your left. You follow his gaze and gasp. A second winged man steps out from the swirling mist, his eyes and hair as black as the other’s.

‘No!’ You try to sit up but the first winged man pushes you back down, pinning you to the stone with one flat hand in the middle of your chest. The second man pins down one arm while a third man suddenly appears and does the same with the other. How many are there? How many are waiting and watching within the mist? ‘Let go! Stop!’

Ignoring you, the first man turns back to your breasts. You turn your head with a helpless moan. He touches them, raising them up one at a time, then pushing them from side to side. Strangely, his attention feels sexless. You’d almost call him efficient. It’s almost as though he’s looking for something. You feel a small rush of relief, followed by a surge of dread.

Looking for what?

He checks every square inch of you: all down your waist and legs, between your fingers, on the soles of your feet, even between your toes. When he’s finally done, he doesn’t look happy: his eyes seem to have sunken further in his head and his lips are pinched so tight they almost vanish into his white face.

He nods at his two companions. You give a little cry when they flip you over. Again, his hands roam all over you as the others keep you pinned. His ‘search’ feels more desperate. He’s not so gentle anymore and each time he fails to find what he’s looking for on one part of your body, he grunts or sighs in frustration.

After finishing with your legs, he suddenly stops. It feels like a long time where you just lie there, your hip bones pressing painfully against the altar. An anxious, creeping feeling snakes up your spine. What’s he going to do next?

Then suddenly, he grabs your underwear, and you shriek as he tears it down the middle. All you can do is bite your lip as he spreads open your cheeks. After a few moments, he releases you, and you shriek again as you’re rolled back onto your back.

You look up at him, your eyes meet, and you can see his desperation. His eyes are somehow blacker than ever and frown lines etch the corners of his mouth. Should you be worried or thankful that he isn’t happy?

‘Lift your backside,’ he snaps.

You do, and he slides down what’s left of your underwear. ‘What are you going to do?’ you say, snapping shut your thighs.

‘Push up your knees and open your legs,’ he commands.

‘No,’ you croak.

‘Do it!’

You shake your head uselessly. Two more men step out from the mist. You don’t need more incentive. Weeping, you pull up your knees.

‘Open them.’

You do—slowly. But he’s impatient. You gasp as he pushes them out far enough that they rest flat against the altar. More tears leak down your cheeks. You feel filthy, ashamed and humiliated. Here you are opened up to all these terrifying, strange men.

You suck in a breath as he touches you down there. Thankfully, this time, he’s not so rough. In fact, he almost feels … reluctant. You can’t look. You can’t look at any of them. So you close your eyes.

Using his fingers, he opens you up. After a few moments, he peels back your inner lips. What does he hope to find there? What exactly is he looking for?

He sucks in a breath. You hear the other men stir, and you can almost feel their excitement. You open your eyes. The man touching you looks pleased. He’s even smiling a little bit; a small tilt to the corner of his mouth.

You don’t like it. Somehow, you prefer him unhappy.

‘What?’ you say fearfully. ‘What have you found?’

‘You are the one.’

‘The one what?’ You don’t like the way he is looking at you. You don’t like the way any of them are looking at you. They look almost …. greedy. The two holding your arms release you and you promptly pull yourself into a sitting position, clutching your knees to your chest, concealing your nakedness as much as you can.

He doesn’t answer. Closing his eyes, he raises his face to the sky. The others do the same. All at once they slowly lift their arms, and as they do their wings spread wide at their shoulders. Despite your fear, you can’t help but watch in awe. How can something be so utterly horrifying and yet so wondrous at the same time?

You can’t stop staring at them, mesmerised by their other-worldliness, entranced by their surprising masculine beauty. Their porcelain-like skin seems to glow against a light that isn’t there. Their strong perfect faces fill with ecstasy, smoothing out their expressions until they look like they’ve been etched in stone. And their muscles—you’ve never seen such extraordinary definition. They all wear some kind of soft linen pants but above that they’re all bare—and hairless.

They don’t look real. They can’t be real.

And what about their wings? The black of their feathers matches the darkness of their hair. They all look similar but they are far from the same: different jawlines, different cheekbones. Like brothers or cousins. Are they angels? Are they demons? After all you’ve seen so far, you can’t help but wonder.

The light on their faces glows brighter until it turns blinding. You narrow your eyes into slits. Your heart lifts at the thought that these must be angels, not demons, despite the blackness in their eyes, despite their ruthless kidnap. Why else would they glow so much?

Then everything bursts into flames.

5.