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In the Arms of the Angel This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

He’d been watching them for hours.
It was coincidence that he’d found them at all; his routine trek through the woods had taken a strange turn, on account of the heavy snow that congested the trail. He’d taken another path, which ended at a crystalline lake, created solely from the melted snows that made its way down the mountainside. Upon reaching it, he’d sat down to take his lunch, though the sky had already darkened with nightfall. Winter was finally here, and it was here to stay.
When he was done eating, he’d contemplated whether he should head back the way he’d come, or risk the dangers of night and stay a little longer. After a short time, the curious boy inside him had won over, and he stayed; the lake was entirely new to him, and he was intrigued.
As he explored the area surrounding the lake, the moon rose. Its pure, bright light illuminated the trees around him, turning the waters to silver. For a moment, he was the only person in the world, the sole occupant of a shining utopia made just for him. The still waters reflected every branch, every leaf that crowned its waters, shining their images back to them. It was beautiful.
The stillness was like a living thing. It blanketed every surface, gently hushing the world into a state empty bliss. The only sounds to be heard were the ones that he created: the crunch of his boots on the fallen leaves, long since lost their color; the swish of his clothing as it brushed against a tree branch here, a tangled shrubbery there; and the heavy rush of his breath, like a scream to his ears, which above all reminded him of his humanity. No matter the serenity of this place, he knew in his heart that he didn’t belong, that he was an intruder, stumbling upon this haven by happenstance, a twist of fate.

But he couldn’t leave; the thought had never crossed his mind.

As he walked around the perimeter of the lake, he came across an enormous boulder. The thing was old and sprawling, laying half in and half out of the water. The trees seemed to grow around it, as if in respect of its obvious age, leaving an unprecedented view of the moon above. There were no stars, the moon being far too bright to allow them dominion this night.
The temptation to climb up to the boulder’s peak was too great to resist. He walked up to it, placing hands and feet on various handholds, of which there were many. When he reached the top, he lay on his back and gazed up into the sky. A light breeze—strangely warm, considering the season—whispered over him, making him sleepy. The rock under him seemed molded to every part of his body, and he could almost think he was lying on a bed of feathers. His eyelids were getting increasingly more difficult to keep open, and before he knew it, they were closed completely, and he was drifting off into slumber.

?
He awoke to the chime of laughter.

The sound, oddly enough, did not startle him. Upon hearing it, his eyes simply opened, and he was awake. The laughter was pure and gentle, and brought to mind the simplicity of the shining moon, the cool, crisp beauty of the mountains, the soft presence of a morning cloud. He sat up and looked around.

What he saw would change him forever.

Two figures danced gracefully on the water. Both were beautiful—more beautiful than anything he had ever seen. One was a man with golden hair that fell to his shoulders, the other a woman, who seemed to radiate goodness from every fiber of her being. It was from her that the laughter had come, though the man looked equally as kind-hearted. They held each other in their arms, their heads close together, and their lips an inch away from touching.

With a jolt, he realized that they were nude. And yet, oddly enough, she did not inspire any sort of desire in him. Carnal lust was beyond them; they were too good to commit such an act, and so did not encourage his body any further.

They were of peace. And love.

But none of that—not their nudity, nor the fact that they danced above the water—held his attention. What shocked him the most was what held them aloft.

Wings.

Spanning ten feet wide each, their wings were beautiful. Gazing at them for long brought tears to his eyes, and he felt ashamed that he should look at them. These creatures were so holy, so full of light, that he knew they were not meant to be beheld by him. Human eyes were destined for far uglier sights than these, and he was blessed.

The woman’s wings were of purest white, a sharp contrast to her raven hair. She beat them in lazy circles to hold herself in the air, though she seemed not to notice that she was doing it at all. The man’s, on the other hand, were a deep russet-gold. They reminded him of a blazing sunrise that lit the earth with its fire.

As they twirled slowly, he couldn’t help but notice how different they were. The woman was the image of purity, a creature that was not simply of the night, but one who shined there. The man was quite the opposite. His presence was one of warm simplicity and honesty; a creature of the sun. And yet, somehow, they seemed made for each other, as if their love was something timeless, without beginning or end.

He blushed. This sight was not meant for his eyes; it was too tender, too sacred, to be intended as anything other than a secret meeting between lovers. He resolved to go home and leave them to dance the night away in private, their little world undisturbed by prying eyes.

But his body was frozen. He could not look away.

He knew that he could never move, not knowing what he would be leaving behind. They were so enthralling, so deprived of sin, so… angelic.

He lay back down again, his arm cradling his head. For hours, they drifted in circles just above the lake, their feet sometimes touching its surface, though they did not disturb the waters. They did not do much else besides that. They did not speak, only smiled knowingly at each other. The woman did not laugh again, though she seemed ready to burst into song at any moment.

They simply danced.

For the second time that night, the man found himself drifting off into a dreamless sleep, lulled by the serenity that emanated from the lovers. It was many hours before he woke again.

When he did, he sat up and rubbed his eyes. Dawn had approached while he rested, and for the first time he felt truly tired. It was if the lovers had kept time away from him, allowing him a chance to glimpse that which had never been glimpsed before.

True love.

He looked over the lake, now alive with animal life. A deer nibbled at the grass on the opposite bank; a squirrel chattered at an unseen adversary hidden among the branches of an ancient oak; a duck swam happily under the exact spot where the lovers had danc—

Had danced? In a panic, he looked for them, but he had been right; they were gone. The air above the lake seemed empty without their presence, so devoid of life. The silence rang out in a different way, now that they were gone, as if there truly was nothing there.

It was so lonely.

He waited for hours to see if they would return, but in his heart, he knew they wouldn’t. That knowledge brought bitter tears to his eyes; tears of loss.

He would never see them again.

He cried out in despair the entire journey home. He felt as if his soul had been torn into pieces and trampled in the mud. He shook at the prospect of living the rest of his life alongside this terrible pain, this hollowness inside him. And he wouldn’t.

He couldn’t.
?
Over the years, he would learn to bear his sorrow. Though it would never lessen, he at least learned to live with it. His life continued on as any man’s life would, full of loss and accomplishment, of life and death, of hope and despair. He never could tell anyone of his encounter—to do so would have lessened the experience in his eyes—yet many would say that he had changed, though for better or worse was debatable.

And on some nights, when the world was quiet, when winter held all in its grasp and the moon turned all to glass, he would go down to that lake, and sit for awhile, gazing out at the silver water.



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