A Wings of Faith short story
In a world without hope that kills what it can't understand, a solitary priest who has lost all he ever loved may be the last man to still believe in Angels. In the end, his belief may be all that can safeguard the fate of two Angel lovers—and restore his own faith in the power of love.
The rustle of feathers drowns out all other sound.
The weight of the wings… the weight of the world….
We neededto believe. That’s what the old stories said. The Angels existed because we needed something to believe in, some way to make sense of the world. Angels were our faith made flesh, created to be guides, to defend us, fight our demons and take our dying children into their arms to guide them to a better place. But when our world started to die, we lost faith. We tore our saviors down and abandoned them. Worse, we persecuted them until there were few left. They had no way to defend themselves.
Now they walk our earth as faithless and lost as we ever were.READ MORE
I’d spent years holding tight to my own faith, my own certainty I could save the Angels, even when people scoffed. Pressing my knees into soft earth, closing my eyes, I concentrated on the struggling warmth of the sun on my back, the cold earth under my bare feet and seeping through my clothing. It was the connection that grounded me and let me find peace.
“Dominick.” Once, I’d felt foolish, talking to his gravestone. Over the years, I came to need the sense of not being alone. Of all the voices I ever wished to hear again, his was the one I most wanted and the only one that never came to me. I could only hope he, unlike the other ghosts and spirits who vied for my attention, had found a peace in death that did not need my input.
Running feet clattered on the sidewalk outside the fence. Sharp cries of anger disturbed the still morning, cutting through even the clamor of voices inside my skull.
“There! He’s over there!”
The shout brought my head up from contemplation of the green carpet of grass where I knelt. Tears, caused by the intrusion of the siren voices in my head, already covered my face. Voices of the dead always called to me, painfully loud and incessant when death came too close. They reminded me of the brother I couldn’t save, the people who didn’t want to be saved, and the worst hurt of all: the love I’d lost so completely, there wasn’t even a body left to bury. Pain watered my eyes, made it hard to breathe.
I searched out the source of the shouting. It was happening again. Another death I wouldn’t be able to stop. Another bit of Faith and Love cut down for the crime of simply existing. The Angel met my gaze just as the bullet took him between the shoulder blades, between his wings. Blood dribbled out the corner of his mouth and he fell.
I watched him crumple, but all my tears were spent. I had none left for him. At least his death was quick. The voices grew to a crescendo, making me gasp and clutch at my splitting head. Nausea swelled, my vision blackened; then, as suddenly as it started, the song stopped. For a moment, the world held its breath with me.
I spread my fingers in the soft new blades of grass in front of me. Snowbells pushed their heads from the loam between my thumb and forefinger and opened their petals to the weak sun. I watched their progress through a watery veil before standing and moving off the patch of earth over my brother’s grave. This gift of life only came to me through the agonizing pain of the voices.
For ten years I’d kept this patch green. I could have saved him, but he wouldn’t let me. He told me to save my gift for a better cause and not waste it on a whore and junkie. He could call himself whatever he liked. He was still my brother. The headstone took my weight as I rose, the granite rough and cold under my fingers despite the weak spring light struggling through the overcast sky. I traced the words, “Beloved of”, with a finger and sighed. There would be no headstone for the fallen Angel.
Curious watchers and souvenir seekers already surrounded the corpse across the cemetery but I took my time. The vultures turned and watched me. Only the children didn’t cross themselves and step back as I drew near. They scrutinized me with big, too bright eyes in faces pale from living too long already under the city’s roof of smog. What they had witnessed frightened them, yet left them spellbound by the shadow that had passed so close but this time left them untouched. I wanted to reach out to those young ones even as mothers pulled them back, veined hands on their shoulders, rough words in their ears. No one believed any more. Belief was luxury in a dying world.
A few morbid onlookers crouched to peer into the Angel’s still face or reached out to touch the wings. Supple feathers, lifted by thin fingers of wind, added their soft susurration to the jangle of sound inside me but did nothing to ease the dissonance.
“Leave him alone,” I told them in a jagged voice. I took one young girl by the hand and helped her to rise. She backed away, looking up at me, waiting for me to tell her it wasn’t real. I could only smile sadly and push matted hair out of her face. The sleepless bruises under her eyes and dirt smudged across one hollow cheek told me she had no adult to hold her back. There might be hope for her.
“He ain’t no flower, dude. You can’t bring him back.”
I tore my eyes away from her hopeful face and glanced at the speaker. I smiled. His backward shuffle shifted the crowd to allow his frantic escape. Someone snickered.
I knelt in the slush beside the crumpled wings and carefully pulled strands of dark hair away from his beautiful face. He stared up at me with empty eyes. Closing my own eyes, I put a hand on his cheek. I could feel the power of that song inside me, waiting, pulsing, wanting me to use it. Instead, I closed his eyes and laid a hand on his shoulder. A few whispered words and he slowly faded to nothing leaving only some scattered feathers to tumble, down over quill, away on the breeze.
“Shit. Crazy priest,” someone muttered.
Slowly, the crowd dissipated back into the city. Even the girl with the red coat and grubby face, who clearly wanted more from me than one whispered prayer sending the Angel on, eventually wandered off. The children were always the last, the most reluctant to leave. They were always the first to come, the last to go, the closest to understanding if only their guardians had any faith left to help them bridge the gap. But no one cared. Was I any better? I wondered, as I watched her shuffle through the thin snow and rotted leaves. She turned back a half dozen times to look at me, but I never quite worked up the courage to call her back.
The distant sound of traffic horns, a dog barking, even the wind in the trees overhead didn’t cover the sound of wings rustling behind me. He was there, with the rest of my nameless chorus, waiting now for his turn, if only I knew what they wanted. Clearly, remembrance wasn’t enough. I picked up the bullet that had killed him and put it in my pocket.
“How many more of you are there?” I asked my host, looking slightly over my right shoulder, knowing I wouldn’t see anyone. They never answered.
I thought I’d seen every cruelty a man could inflict on another human being. Then the waters began to rise, forests died, crops failed, the skies disappeared behind a bank of filth, and suddenly, killing each other wasn’t enough.
The new prey wasn’t human, of course, and maybe that was the trouble. The Angels should have defended us, but how could they? How could they fight what was in our hearts? How could they know where to begin? Against the assault of such pure violence and hatred, they had no defense. Their passive acceptance of their fate angered tormenters who wanted a fight, something to rally against, some enemy against which to struggle and prevail. All they got was a dying world and a dying race, neither of which ever fought back. At least, they never fought back in any way the brutal race of man could understand.
The sole sign of the Angels’ passage was in my head, and I was nothing more than a crazy, forgotten priest in a cemetery empty of all life but for what I brought to it. I had only prayers I whispered without knowing where I’d learned them, and memories that stretched back and ended with the first Angel deaths I’d witnessed; my beloved, my brother, both gone beyond where even I could hear them. It wasn’t enough.COLLAPSE