Nineteen fifty-four had been a hard year for the Winslow's. The small town of Oridun had watched sympathetically as the Winslow farm had suffered dramatically due to the unseasonably bitter winter. Old Mrs Winslow had passed on, the chill too much for her brittle bones and body; the birth of baby Sara Beth had placed a terrible strain on Betty Winslow, leaving her tired and drained, and certainly in no state to help Jack with the yearly harvest. The local residents had chipped in all they could, but the chill had hit them all hard too, and personal funds were near exhausted by the time spring finally rolled around. The whole town was fatigued, each member of the small community recognising only one force that had stopped them all from going completely crazy.
Charity Winslow, Betty and Jack's second youngest daughter.
A small, blonde child of four years old, Charity was Heaven in Mary Janes to the small town. Every morning Betty would pack her a small lunch to put in her pink metal lunchbox and Charity would "go visiting". Starting at the Becker's large ranch house next door, she would proceed to visit every single house in Oridun to chat to her "big family". In times of extreme stress she was the only thing that could make grumpy Mr Livingstone crack a smile, or make Mrs Elaine Botts take time off her busy gossiping schedule to listen to someone else.
When her father was in his deepest depression she would wrap her tiny arms around his neck and whisper jokes in his ear until he laughed. Her mother would smile faintly at the small blonde girl who looked so young, but was so beyond her years.
"Come on Charity, hun, time for bed," Betty said, tucking a strand of her daughter's fair hair behind her ear. Charity looked up from her drawing and smiled.
"Ok, Mama." She held up the paper, her pencil clutched firmly in her hand. "Do ya'll like my picture?"
"It's beautiful baby, now time for…"
Leaning over to have a closer look, Betty gasped, staring at the vivid colours and light reflected in her four-year-old daughter's sketching.
"Honey? What's this a picture of… exactly?"
Charity smiled serenely. "It's the angels Mama. The angels that whisper secrets in my ears."
Betty frowned. "What sort of secrets do they tell you?"
"They tell me what to tell the sad people to make them happy. They tell me that you're going to be just fine… and that makes me happy. And…they tell me that I'm one of them." Betty looked at her daughter closely.
"Anything else, baby?"
Charity's brow furrowed. "They tell me to be careful."
The night air was chilly, and Betty wrapped her arms around her frail body to keep warm. The howls of a lone dog echoed through the air, and filled her with a sense of foreboding.
It was 9:00pm and Charity wasn't home yet.
The wire door slammed shut behind her, making her jump. Jack's arms linked around her, his breath on her ear.
"She'll be fine, sweet. She's probably still up at Mary Clark's house.. You know how she's been real sick of late. And you know how much Charity loves to tell her stories- not to mention how much Mary likes listening to them."
Betty turned around to face him, her red eyes focusing on his. Jack started at how bad his wife looked.
"Jack, she's not fine. I can feel it. It's in my bones."
"Honey, she'll be fine! I promise ya'll that she'll be fine." Jack said.
"She's not fine! She's hurt… or something… or" Her voice caught. "Or worse."
They stared at each other soberly until the sound of the phone tore their gaze apart.
Jack flinched. "I'll get it."
And as he walked out the door slowly, ten minutes later, his face white, Betty collapsed on the porch, her hand on her heart. There were no words to describe the look on her husband's face.
Her beautiful daughter was dead.
Sheriff Langdon frowned as he stared at the black man in front of him, his hands bound behind him with thick metal handcuffs.
"What's your name boy?" He spat out, rubbing his hands distractedly up and down his club.
"Lenny Darl, suh."
"And you're here, why, may I ask, boy?"
The black man looked up, fear in his eyes.
"I can't tell you, suh. I need to show you sumpin first. On my hands, suh."
Langdon stared at the black man suspiciously, then turned him around and slowly uncuffed his hands. Raising them slowly, Lenny never took his eyes off the sheriff. A silver liquid dripped from his hands, and as it hit the floor, it dissolved slowly.
The sheriff took a deep breath, trying in vain to steady the beating of his heart.
"I'm going to ask you again, boy. Why are you here?"
The black man raised his head to the ceiling, tears running down his face.
"For I murdered an angel, suh."