By David R Castro
He only spoke in whispers, and only when little Rosemary, or Rosie as she was called, was alone. Rosie told her parents, who believed it to be the typical imaginary friend nonsense, and only played along. Was it strange that her friend apparently only talked to her, so when Rosie was asked to draw him, she didn’t know how. Probably, but no more strange than the neighbor’s boy whose friend was a green and tan dragon with talking sharks for arms.
His name was, apparently, something that Rosie had trouble pronouncing, and was nicknamed Andi-With-An-I, as she would tell anyone who would stand still long enough to listen. In this, Rosie was much like other kindergarteners, always quick to give people their life story if given the chance. He, as it was important to know that even if Andi-With-An-I is a girl’s name, he is a boy, and he is old. In her words, he’s older than Grandpa old. This, too, was strange, but children are strange, and her parents felt it would be bad to let her know how much her friend quietly freaked them out.
They would watch her mouth move when playing by herself, speaking to Andi-With-An-I while never uttering a sound. That didn’t help with the creepy factor of everything going on. Rosie’s parents talked to a friend of theirs who was a shrink, and was told that in so long as her play wasn’t leaning towards violence or danger, it’s best to just let Rosie do what she was going to do. At nearly eight years old, she was almost to the age when most children forgot their imaginary friends anyway.
The shrink friend wasn’t wrong, as within six months Rosemary stopped mentioning Andi, and started to ask to be referred to by her full name. This was normal, and her parents thought all that had come before was a sign of an (admittedly impressive) creative streak that they hoped would translate into some kind of art later in life, which it did.
Rosemary, at age ten, began to paint with watercolors, dark and rich swirls that, though they lacked real form, nevertheless evoked a wave of emotions in the viewer. Longing, particularly the kind of homesickness born of knowing that you will never return to that place. There was pain and hate, rage and self-loathing. The want for redemption, the need for approval, and then the sudden feeling that you made the right choice after all. Independance and and a sense of will so strong as to overwhelm your own. Every person who saw her work saw the swirls of almost rune-like yellows in the darks and though none of them would call it a masterwork, as it was something ugly to be sure, but by the same token, it was powerful. When asked what inspired her to paint it, Rosemary would tilt her head, as if listening to something, then tell whomever asked something different each time, whatever they needed to hear to explain what they felt. They were words that a ten year old girl shouldn’t yet know, but either way, they all listened, and came away with some little understanding that they didn’t have before.
On the week of Rosemary’s twelfth birthday, on a night where everyone went to bed early, someone else decided that they would become a pivotal part of Rosemary’s life by selecting her house to be the one to rob. Not that this man was particularly good at it, as her parents heard him; her father came downstairs with the bat he kept but had heretofore never used.
He tried to defend his house and home, tried his best, but it wasn’t enough. The robber might not have been the stealthiest but he was very much a brute. Her mother called down and peeked around the turn of the stairs. Thunder roared in their little home, waking Rosemary. This villain clearly hadn’t done his homework, not bothering to look at the pictures that hung everywhere, digging through the drawers, shoving things into a backpack.
Something made Rosemary get out of bed, and walk barefooted to the stairs, where she found her mother, gasping for air, the carpet below her dark and wet. The whispers returned in a way that they hadn’t for years, in a way that she could only barely feel when she painted. The marks and symbols that filled her mind then came back to her, and more.
“He will hurt you, if he knows you’re here little Rosie. You must be fast, and quiet, and draw what I’m giving you. Use what is before you.”
She did. She pressed her small hand into the sticky and warm carpet and drew the symbols on the walls. The voice returned.
“The final one, now, draw this and ask. You must ask me to help you, to protect you, my sweet friend.”
She nodded to herself, biting her lip to hold back tears. She drew together the last of the five lines, and closed them in a circle, pressing her hand in the space where they all crossed. “Andi, please help me.”
“My real name, I know you’re big enough to say it now. You must use my real name.”
She paused, and nodded again. “Andirel, please help me, please, please, please.”
The robber looked up and raised his gun to her. Even with her darkness adjusted eyes, it was hard to see as what looked very much like her shadow moved from the floor along the walls. It grew in size as it passed, and its one outstretched clawed hand melted into one pointed length. It peeled itself off the wall and flew towards him with feathered wings that smelled of soot, charcoal, and sulfur. Shadow became real, pale flesh of his bare chest and burning feather wings, that with one flap closed the distance.
“Don’t look Rosie, look away, now.”
And she did. She didn’t see what became of the robber, and where the various parts of him landed. She didn’t witness what Andi-With-An-I looked like as he tore apart the robber’s body but kept something, something that would have looked like the robber made of red light if she were watching, whole. Whole, that its, until it took bites out of it with a mouth far too wide. It was all of a minute, if that, until Rosemary heard the soft pattering of bare feet come close to her. She flinched back, but stopped when she saw it was Andi.
“You did well child, in your time of need. I am sorry for what happened.” The angel, as even Rosemary knew what they looked like, even with the small fires that seemed to wick across its wings and scars she could see that all but covered his skin. He looked at her with an expression of caring, even if it didn’t show in his cold black eyes. He reached out and stroked her cheek with his hand, and Rosemary had never felt anything so cold. “The police will be here soon, and they will take you someplace different. Soon, I think, your aunt will come and you will live with her.”
Even as he said the words, Rosemary could hear the sirens in the distance. “I don’t want you to go, please Andi, don’t go. I’ll be alone.”
“You were never alone, little girl. I have been with you from when you were still in your mother’s tummy, I held your hand when you took your first steps and shaped your first words. You are never alone, as I walk in your shadow.” He drew her into his chest, and the cold of his skin countered by the unbelievable heat of his wings. Releasing her, he held her hand and took her back to the wall, were the symbols and star were drawn in drying blood.
“I am always here, and if you ever feel scared, alone, or just need to talk, you know how to call me.”
The lights and and sirens drew near and he kissed the top of her head, and waved his hand, stepping back behind Rosemary. As he did, the drawing on the wall faded from view, and when the first officer came into the house, gun drawn, he found signs of a break in, Rosemary and the bodies of her parents, but no criminal at all. They would never find who killed her parents, as they placed her in protective custody until her mother’s sister came to collect her and her things. But then, and more so as she grew older, Rosemary knew that he got more justice than any court could have ever given him.