An Excerpt From Angel Fire, a Novel by Patricia Carragon

Angel Fire is a novel, inspired by personal experiences and nightmares, that delves into the lives of three women protagonists, Sarah Kahn, Kate Robbins, and Dana Chu, living and working in New York City during the ’90s through the post- 9/11 world and the Obama election. The book is comprised of over 57,000 words, broken down into twenty-one chapters and an epilogue. The narrative contains elements of magic realism/ urban fantasy, and beyond the wry humor, there are bizarre twists involving erotic dreams, curses, cats, and paranormal visitations from a precocious ten-year-old girl named Allie, turning this story into a psychological thriller.

Sarah Kahn couldn’t find her slippers. A cold sweat dampened her brow. Her thoughts wrestled with questions. Her intuition compelled her to write what she saw; otherwise, something bad might happen.

Like slumber sheep, her dreams demanded a recount. She wondered if this was a premeditated joke. Was stress the culprit? Why was she upset over the child’s threats? She had never even met her outside of her dreams. However, Sarah, a sucker for superstition, believed, without understanding why, that this kid wanted these chapters written, and Sarah wanted to write a novel.

            She pulled her long mousy-brown hair back into a ponytail before activating her Mac. She created a folder called The Allie Chronicles and placed a new Word document inside of it. She bit her tongue as the story moved across the screen.

            A girl named Allie skipped across the playground. The sky was a perfect shade of blue, like her blue mini-dress trimmed in white lace. The sun was shining—a perfect setting designed for children’s stories, but this wasn’t a perfect story.

            She skipped toward the monkey bars, singing. Her song had no title. She had complete ownership of the playground. Like a chimpanzee, Princess Allie swung from one bar to another, grunting. Joy radiated throughout her kingdom, and her world was perfect now; no nasty bullies or grown-ups around to spoil it. As she swung closer to the sky, she forgot how pretty clouds could sometimes turn ugly and chase Mr. Sunshine away. When she saw a dark blur move through the azalea bushes, she stopped singing. Was the blur a dog, a cat, or a rabbit? Allie had to investigate.  

            Sarah stopped typing. She recalled yesterday’s dream and a few she had been having over thepast weeks. They involved Allie’s mother, and Allie was the narrator. Sarah’s fingers moved backinto action.

            Allie became a loner due to circumstances. She was born Alexandra Katherine in New York City, a mistake conceived by deception between two feckless people. Back in the late ’50s, her mother, Siobhan O’Neal, an auburn-haired Bronx girl, was looking for a rich hitch at Steinberger’s Department Store. Allie’s father, Charles Hudson, a wealthy middle-aged schmatte merchant of Jewish descent, was peddling his wares to the girls on the sales floor. He had accidentally planted a few seeds, and those seeds had often sprouted on the doorsteps of orphanages.

            Allie’s story had originally been written more than fifty years ago in a journal kept by Siobhan O’Neal. Siobhan had wanted to be a writer, but her lack of motivation, coupled with low self-esteem, kept her out of City College. Much to her parents’ dismay, she took a job as a salesgirl at Steinberger’s and pursued her writing at night.

            Shamed by her Catholic family for her reckless sin, Siobhan moved out of the Bronx apartment off Fordham Road. She spent the rest of her pregnancy on her own, her abortion expenses covered by the reluctant Charles.

            In a dingy office at Goldstein’s Mercantile Warehouse down on West 54th Street, she handed $600 to the stocky matron who claimed that Dr. Samuels was on the way. But the doctor never showed up. The matron looked at her watch and said, “Sorry, honey, these things happen,” and then packed her bag, pocketed the money, and departed. After the woman left, Siobhan paced the hallway. The November chill crept through the broken window. She didn’t know what to do.

            An albino mouse scooted past the stairwell. Siobhan’s mother believed that the souls of murdered people lived in mice. Seeing the ghostly mouse frightened Siobhan, as she feared that this was a bad omen. 

            She thought about the journal kept in a drawer by her bedside. Each page became an evolving story of her life, as if a fortuneteller were speaking through her fingers—meeting Charles Hudson, the wealthy merchant who had knocked her up and left her to pace these cold hallways in this godforsaken warehouse, waiting for the abortion that would never be. And she would die giving birth to this child, Alexandra, and the child would be born cursed. Something terrified her about this journal, but she needed to write another entry each night. Writing was her addiction and only fulfillment in life.

            Yet she refused to cry, too proud to admit her loss. She slowly walked down the stairs, accompanied by echoes from her shoes. Her faithful loafers took her to the subway and to her walk-up on West 115th Street. She immediately called Charles but, as usual, he wasn’t available.

            Seven months later, she was admitted to the emergency ward at Mother Cabrini Hospital. Avoiding her pleas for money, Charles conveniently took a trip to Chicago. Due to complications caused by fibroids and internal bleeding, the Caesarean delivery proved fatal. From the baby’s neck the doctors and nurses removed the tight noose made from her mother’s umbilical cord. They thought it was a miracle that this baby had survived.

Deirdre Smith, one of the nurses, kept her promise to Siobhan, recalling her request as she was being wheeled into the delivery room: “If it’s a boy, call him John Michael; a girl, Alexandra Katherine.” Siobhan had had a premonition that she would not live to see her child. 

             The motherless newborn screamed like a banshee. Deirdre made the sign of the cross before swaddling the bathed infant in a blanket.  

            The O’Neals buried their daughter at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx and forgave her. Little Alexandra was transported to Elisabeth Styles’ Home for Children in Manhattan and wasn’t forgiven. The family wanted no part of the demon child with fiery hair. As far as they were concerned, this wailing creature had killed their daughter. Their motto was: “Keep her out of sight and mind, and let God take care of the rest.”

            After saving the document, Sarah’s fingers paused. She sat motionless, watching the screensaver flip from one scene to another—kittens, ranging from domestic shorthairs to exotic. Cute, but they couldn’t appease her irritability. With the coming of sunrise, the strident tweets of the birds kept her up for a while.

            As Sarah turned off the computer, she thought about the Steinberger’s connection, since she worked for Steinberger’s Department Store too. She shrugged it off as a coincidence. She was a secretary, not a sales associate. She placed the laptop back on the second-hand mahogany desk. Her new Stearns & Foster twin mattress looked more inviting than ever. The birds got less vocal. It was Saturday, and she didn’t have to go to work. She crawled under the covers and drifted into dreamless sleep. 


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