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A Danyael story
I was walking around behind the 7-11 when I found the angel. I'd gone back there to toss some old trash into the dumpster, and I spotted a trickle of what looked like oil or syrup on the pavement. It was coming from behind the dumpster, sort of pooling near the wheels. I've seen enough CSI to be suspicious of pools of thick liquid in dark alleys, so I took a quick look behind the big metal box. I wasn't really all that surprised when I saw someone laying on the ground. I was surprised that it had a huge set of wings growing out of its back.
Now, when most people think of an angel, they think of a big, muscle bound blond guy with a wingspan that stretches out to the tips of his fingers. I can tell you that image couldn't be more wrong. These wings were huge. I mean huge. They were all bent up and broken, but they still poked up above the dumpster by a few feet, half-folded. They must have been twenty feet to a wing. It was one of those situations where you see something gigantic in front of you that you hadn't noticed before, and after seeing it wondered how on earth you possibly could have missed it.
The way the wings were bent up it would have been obvious to Mr. Ed that they were broken. There was a fatter part on the front of each wing, a bone of some kind I guess, that was angled sharply in unnatural directions, even breaking what I think was skin in some places. For some reason I'll always have a very clear memory of a large chunk of bone poking out, and wondering why it was pitch black instead of white. I could see that these big splits in the angel's flesh from which blood was trickling out onto the pavement.
The thing's skin was this pale, faded yellowish colour. It looked like it had some kind of old disease that you read about in frontier books – wan and wasted away. I could see its ribs clearly through the tightly stretched skin on its torso. As soon as I saw that, I realized that it was naked. The only things covering it were blood and feathers. It was sprawled in such a way that all of the important bits were covered, like an old photo or painting, so I couldn't tell whether it was male or female, or both, or neither. I tried to steer my mind away from that, afraid that if I pursued the train of thought any further I'd be burned alive on the spot.
That winter had been cold as Hell. Way colder than the last few, it was getting down below freezing almost every night the last few weeks before I found the angel. The weathermen were sweating to keep their jobs, and people were freaking out every time they had to drive anywhere. The only thing that had gotten me out of the house that day was that I'd had to park my car in the lot of the store the night before and walk the last four miles home. There were just too many cars stuck in the middle of the road for me to pass. I'd walked back that evening to pick it up, and decided to toss some trash in the dumpster while I was there anyway.
The pool of blood on the ground was steaming. I'm not sure if you've had the experience of seeing blood steam in the cold, but it's not something you forget easily. It wasn't just the blood that was making the steam, either. It was actually melting through the crusted ice and snow, which was running away in streams from the thick red liquid and refreezing in a pattern that looked a lot like a lava flow. For a second I had a weird flashback to the beginning of Alien, where the creature's blood starts eating through the decks of the ship, and they're all afraid it's going to reach the outer hull and space them all. I was wondering if the blood was going to eat its way all the way down to the magma layer of the Earth and start a volcano right there in the parking lot of the 7-11.
Now, I want to take a step back for a moment. I'm making it seem like I stood there calmly and rationally examined what was in front of me. That's not how it happened. I'm not sure why I can remember such detail about seeing it for the first time, but I can. That's where I'm getting the nitty-gritty. I can still remember it all perfectly, and this far out I'm able to write it down with some semblance of cohesiveness. I think at the time I dropped a glass Sobe bottle, which promptly shattered, and said something like "Holy shit." Ironic.
I think the sound of the glass breaking must have woken it up. Either that or it was awake already and just playing dead when it heard me walk up. But, when that bottle hit the ground, it lifted its head up and looked at me. I almost shit myself. I'm pretty sure the only thing that held my bowels in place was the fear that losing control would send me straight to Hell – Do Not Pass Go. The thing's eyes . . .hard to describe. They were incredibly dark, and huge. Bigger than the bottom of a soda can. The pupils covered most of them, but as it focused on me, I watched them telescope down to pinpricks. It looked like the iris was a shade of black as well.
The angel's head was a little more oval shaped than that of a normal person. It had kind of a rounded point on top, like an egg. The crown of its head was bald, and I could see scrapes and abrasions. The rest of its head was covered with long wispy fine hair. It might have been blond once, but now it was an almost albino white. Blowing around in the wind it probably would have looked like a ghost or something. Right then it was matted with blood and stuck to the damn thing's wings.
I looked at it, and it looked at me. I looked at it looking at me. I shivered in the breeze. I looked down at the broken glass, now mixed with the angel's blood. I looked away, back to my car. Basically I stood there with my dick in my hand, not knowing what to do.
The angel stared at me for what seemed like years. I mean, people toss that phrase around pretty casually when they want to say something important and tense happened. "That meeting went on for a million years." That's not how I'm using it. I mean the angel stared at me for what seemed like YEARS. I felt as though I was aging right there on the spot, watching my life race ahead of me, standing in the alley behind a 7-11, with an angel. If it had stared at me any longer, I'm pretty sure I would have died of old age, and they only would have found some bleached bones.
But it didn't. It closed its huge eyes, and lay its head back on the ground. Then it spoke to me for the first time. I expected a thunderclap of a voice, an explosion of sound that would vaporize my flesh. "MOSES LOOK AWAY". Something like that. At least for it to sound like Orson Wells. Instead, the voice sounded reedy and thin. It was like an old man whining about his medicine to a nurse. "I fell."
I cannot fathom what possessed me in the next moment. Maybe it was some kind of nurturing instinct I'd kept locked away for years. Maybe I felt sorry for the thing, broken and confused. Maybe it was controlling me, exerting some ancient power over humanity. Maybe I just went insane. I said, "Well, then let's pick you back up." and bent down to help it.
First I tried to swing it up into a fireman's carry. The angel itself was light enough that I could pick it up just with my hands around its waist. The problem was the wings. I couldn't lift them both at the same time, no matter how hard I tried. I stepped around behind the angel and tried to slip my arms under his wings and lift him. My arms weren't long enough. I slid down, and tried around his waist, like I had from the front. Too heavy and awkward. I finally settled on the fireman's carry, slinging the body across my shoulders, and trying to ignore the wings. They dragged on the ground, leaving a trail of blood and slush all the way to my car. I could hear the angle whimper as the bones shifted and bumped.
I set the angel down on the ground, leaning against my back tire, and tried to figure out how to get it in to the vehicle. Ford Escorts weren't exactly built to host the divine. Plus, my passenger door didn't open anymore. After a few minutes of deliberation, I finally popped the hatch back and took off the back dash. I walked around to the angel and held out my hand to it. It stared at my hand in confusion, then looked up at me and mewled piteously. I took that as a sign of permission, and leaned in and grabbed it by the waist. I picked up, and managed to turn it over in my hands, so that it was hanging face first toward the ground. The wings kept slapping me in the face, and every time I jostled them the thing opened its mouth and made a hideous cry. The strange thing is, you couldn't really HEAR the cry at all. It was that same sound that you can hear in the back of your ear when you turn on a television set – a strange buzzing, whining sound.
I was able to manhandle the thing back around behind my car, and then started trying to stuff it in through the open hatch. After a few minutes of this it got the picture, because it started trying to help. It scrabbled its weak, frail hands against the backseat before winding them in one of the seat belts, and then pulled forward. When it was halfway in its right wing caught on the roof of the car, and then slid in with a pop. The angel's whole body rocked in my arms and it opened its mouth and howled.
The unbearable sound set my brain on fire. It hummed in my ears and set my skull vibrating. I dropped my hold on the angel and staggered back, slipping on the ice and falling on my ass. My hands clutched at my ears, and I curled into a fetal position. The inside of my ear canal felt hot, as though the burning embers of a cigarette had been packed inside. I lay there for some time after the unsound stopped, and when I took my hands away from my ears there was blood on them. I stood up slowly and tried to brush some of the slush and snow off of my pants and jacket, then cleaned my hands in a snow bank. I put a little bit of the snow in my ears, and it made them feel better.
I walked back to the car, and took a look at the angel. It didn't look as though it was doing any better than I was. It lay limp, dangling half out of the car, wings wedged in the narrow space between the seat and the ceiling. I pushed its legs the rest of the way into the back and shut the hatch carefully. There was a new crack lining the back of the rear window, stretching from the lower left corner up to the center of the glass. I poked at my ears and wondered if I'd suffer any permanent damage. Then I went around the car and got in, starting it up.
The drive was long. I couldn't go fast because the roads were so icy, and the way home was all hills. The angel kept letting out little whimpers every time we went over a bump and its wings were jostled. It wiggled around and stretched out its neck, which was surprisingly long, and lay its head on my shoulder. It smelled of must and old man. Its skin felt hot and clammy on my neck and face. Its yellowed skin was splotched and pitted with age, and the wispy hair felt greasy on me. I stiffened up and drove a little slower, my heart pounding in my chest. I thought my muscles were just going to lock up and I'd be stuck in the driving position for the rest of my life (which would most likely be very short).
I tried to turn on the radio, but I couldn't find a station that was playing anything appropriate. I've always thought that a conscientious driver tries to play music that will connect with their passengers in some way. That way driving is more of a group activity, the hum of the road and music connecting people. I've been on long trips where the driver just turns on his own music and tunes everyone else out. Those are lonely, endless trips, heavy with emotional introspection. I try to avoid that. Also, I try to impress girls with music. Stupid, sure, but I still do it. I think maybe I had a thought to impress the angel with my knowledge of indi rock groups, but after turning on the music, it just sounded hollow and distant. I turned it off and finished the trip in silence, the angel's head gently rolling back and forth on my shoulder.
When I pulled into the driveway, the whimpering had mostly stopped. As I turned off the car, the angel raised its head and looked around. I think it knew it would need to get out of the car soon, because it wiggled its way closer to the back. I got out and popped the hatch with the catch under the driver's seat, and the angel slid most of the way out on its own. I only had to hold its wings still as it slid out onto the ground. It sat hunched forward on the ground, trying to keep the pressure off of the wings, each a painful and broken weight on its back. The driveway ran at a downward angle, so it was able to lean forward and share the weight of the wings between its back and the ground.
Once again I picked up the angel in a fireman's carry. I had to lean down at a sideways angle and hold the door open with my shin in order to get it inside the house. I counted my blessings aloud that my roommates were away on vacation for a few weeks as I staggered through the kitchen with the angel on my back. I was sort of talking to my passenger, I guess. As I turned to close the door behind me, its legs kicked out and knocked the spice rack off of the wall, sending spices clattering and rolling all over the floor. I stumbled into the living room and dumped the angel carefully onto the couch, before going to pick up the loose containers. My roommates were sensitive about their cooking supplies, and I didn't want to have to explain a huge mess as well as a non-rent paying member of the Heavenly Host.
After I had the mess picked up, I ran down to the basement to pick up the bits of my broken bicycle. A few weeks earlier Alicia had called me in a depressed funk, talking about killing herself. I ran out and jumped in my car to go check on her, and ran over my bike on the way out of the driveway. Now it was in bits and pieces in a corner of the basement. I grabbed the steel bars that used to support the seat, and a roll of duct tape, then headed back to the living room.
The angel had stretched itself out, spreading one of its wings partially across the room, with the other one curled next to it. I set the pipe and the tape down on the couch, and took a closer look at the breaks. The main fractures were up near the shoulder of the wings, dark bone poking out of the skin. Though I clearly recall the wings being crumpled and shattered when I first picked the angel up, now it seemed that each wing was merely broken in a single place. The others swellings seemed to only be bruises and dislocations. I took hold of the edges of the left wing gently, but firmly, and said "This is going to hurt." The angel looked at me in silence, and then closed its eyes. I planted one foot against its hip, and then pulled as hard as I could. With a loud slurping noise, followed by a quick pop, the bone slid back inside the grey feathered wing. To its credit, and my everlasting thankfulness, the angel didn't scream again. It just stiffed up and bucked once against me, then lay still, breathing deeply. I went to the kitchen closet and grabbed a bunch of towels, and then came back and wrapped the wound tight, using the duct tape to hold the towels in place. Then I put the pipe across the break and taped that to the wing, hoping that it would act as a kind of splint.
I began to arrange the right wing to similarly splint it, when I noticed that a light sheen of sweat had broken out on the angel's forehead. I used one of the towels to wipe its brow clean, and it squeezed my leg gently with its hand. Then I braced myself, grabbed the right wing, and pulled. This time it did scream. My eyes blurred and I hit the floor on my back. I'm not sure how long I lay there before I regained my sense of self. Blood was thick on my ears and hair. I found myself mopping up both my blood and the angels with the same towel. The blood looked the same on the faded white cloth.
The world around me was silent as a I worked. It took me a few minutes to realize that it was me that couldn't hear, and not the sound that had faded. On any other day being struck deaf would have sent me into a panic. That day I was simply so numb from my experiences that I just kept taping and wiping down the angel's wings. It has lost a lost of feathers in its fall, and long bleeding abrasions covered the yellowed skin where the feathers had been ripped away. I went to the bathroom and got the disinfectant cream. I could see the angel wince as I spread the cream across its cuts and bandages them. Either it didn't scream again, or I couldn't hear it.
When I was finished I stood there looking at the angel in the dim orange light of the ceiling lamp. It hadn't reopened its eyes. I think it fell asleep. Not knowing what else to do, I covered it in one of our extra blankets, then turned out the light. As I turned to leave, the light steaming in from the kitchen fell onto our big scream TV. A great crack ran through the center of it. I sighed, and went into my room, accidentally kicking a mound of Mountain Dew cans over. I watched them crash and roll around in silence, struck by the oddity of the imaginary expected sound in my mind not occurring in reality. The rolling and bouncing cans signaled the end to the numbness of my shock, and a wave of exhaustion swept over me. I lay down on my bed and closed my eyes.
Story by Nick Bergeron, Copyright 2009
Image by Cian Fenton, Copyright 2009