The homeless man sat on the dingy stoop of the abandoned factory across the street from Rose’s apartment building. She always saw him when she gazed out her bedroom window. The humpbacked figure sat beneath the street lamplight, as the night shadows danced around him.
To Rose, he was a sad figure, someone to pity, someone for whom to feel compassion. He never scared her, not even when he looked up and stared at her window. He seemed to pierce the darkness and cast his gaze upon her. An instant later, his head would droop back down on his crooked shoulders. Rose knew he had not seen her, that he could not see through the double-paned window, into the darkened bedroom lit only by the faint reading lamp on the nightstand.
Every night, unseen, Rose would give the man a slight wave and tell him a silent goodnight as she switched off the lamp. He was always there, motionless, like a misshapen statue.
One night, as Rose’s eyes searched the murk for the reassuring beam of light across the street, she noticed the hunched vagrant was not in his usual place.
Lightning flashed; thunder roared. A big storm was coming, and Rose hoped the drifter either made it to the safety of the tattered awning above the stoop, or had found decent shelter elsewhere.
Regardless, she gave the usual tiny wave and wished the hunchback goodnight as she turned off the light. She settled her head on her pillow, waiting for sleep and listening to the roaring storm.
Rose’s eyes flew open. The storm had abated, and far away the sounds of tires driving on wet pavement shimmered in the silence of her apartment.
A sound had awakened her. A click, like the click of a deadbolt.
Rose’s heart pounded as she kept still and listened to the darkness beyond the bedroom. Her hand slid out from under the covers and edged towards the nightstand, seeking her cellphone. Rose paled as her fingers touched only its wooden surface.
It’s in the living room, she cursed herself as her pulse quickened.
Rose held her breath when she caught the distant sound of shuffling feet.
Despite the black overcast night, light peered through the window-grilles and Rose, frightened as she was, found it comforting.
Muffled footsteps approached her closed bedroom door.
She shifted her body towards the light glimmering through the window. From the height of the bed, Rose had a view of the abandoned factory and its stoop. There, in the lamplight, sat the humpbacked figure, and Rose’s heart skipped with relief.
As unknown fingers closed around the bedroom doorknob, she was hyper-alert and comforted by the sight of the strange, yet familiar, vagabond across the street.
The doorknob turned; Rose stifled a sob and fixed her gaze on the slouching figure bathed in the golden ray of the street lamp.
The bedroom door inched open with a muffled squeak.
Rose’s hand crept towards the window.
Help me, she implored in the same mind-voice she always bid the hunched tramp goodnight.
He looked up at her as if he heard her prayer. He glared at Rose’s window and, for an instant, his eyes glowed with a silver spark.
Rose’s spine crawled as the footsteps and presence of a big man approached her bed. Her fingers curled around the bedsheet as the sound of deep, lustful breaths reached her ears, and a human warmth inched towards her neck. Still, she kept her gaze fixed on the crooked beggar in the streetlamp.
The hunchback, his eyes still on the window, rose from the stoop. He rose and rose and rose until he stood straight and tall and powerful.
Rose’s heart pounded.
A hand crept up her back and shoulder, then cupped her breast as the intruder lay down beside her. His hand wormed its way to her neck, feeling every inch of her clammy skin, and settled over her mouth.
“If you behave,” the invader growled, “I won’t kill you.”
The radiant figure across the street entranced the immobile Rose, as a white pearlescent wing unfurled from its back, then another.
In a flash, the figure took flight, passed through the windowpane, and alighted on Rose’s bed. It grabbed the screaming prowler by the neck and hurled him against the wall.
The prowler, frightened out of his wits, scrambled to stand while the angel stood tall and defiant with arms akimbo and wings splayed wide over Rose.
The intruder clutched at his face as if it burned, then tottered and clambered out the open bedroom door. Rose heard his frenzied screams as he bolted from the apartment and stumbled into the hallway. The inky gloom swallowed the manic would-be rapist as he floundered across the street, and his terrified yowls faded in the distance.
Soft, loving fingers now brushed Rose’s cheek; she turned her head to meet the angel’s gaze. His smile reached the golden-silver twinkle of his eyes. He bent down and kissed her forehead.
“Thank you,” Rose murmured, but the angel had vanished.
As the fright ebbed, she gazed out towards the abandoned factory stoop. In the lamplight, she saw the comforting hunchbacked figure.
Rose gave her customary little wave and bid him goodnight.