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November 8, 2010
An old man wanders down the streets he grew up on, taking notice of every alteration. His neighbor’s mailbox is now blue instead of black, the names of the roads are different, and the people have changed, but the neighborhood is still his. And the park is still there. Sitting beneath the pale moonlight, the swings and tunnels lay empty in wait. Waiting for him. He pries the rusted gate open and steps onto the mulch for the first time in seventy years.

I’m not as spry, he thinks to himself as he shuffles his feet over the ground. Despite the decades that have passed, he feels at home in the park. Here, nothing ever changed. He can’t recall what had compelled him to come back to this place, but as the wind chimes brush together in their eerie song, he is drawn back through his memories, back to the young child he used to be.

* * *

The boy jumps through the hoops of the playground. His jeans are torn, his hair is full of leaves, and dirt plasters the undersides of his fingernails, but he is young and cares little for cleanliness. He is playful and mischievous and…wary. If his mother finds him outside and in the park at this hour, she’ll not let him out for a week. This is why, when the strange girl comes, he flees the monkey bars in favor of a more inconspicuous spot.

Behind the purpling leaves of the bush, he watches her as she squishes her toes in the mulch, digging into the soft dirt below as she glides gently back and forth on the swing. Her red polka dot dress wraps tightly around her stomach and falls just below her knees. It flows outwards near the end, like a ballerina’s skirt. She whispers a foreign song while pushing the ground away from her, launching herself into the starry sky. Swinging makes her feel closer to her birthplace. She is nearly touching it, reaching her fingers upwards. Always upwards.

Like an angel, he thinks. He imagines wings bursting from the taut skin of her back, the bone flaring out into the night. And as they bloomed into the crisp air around them, soft downy feathers would sprout from the marrow until they caught the ebb and flow of the wind. Just as he thinks it, the breeze picks up and swirls her crow hair. It dances into a halo above her head and he smiles. Like an angel.

He blinks, expecting the image to disappear, as all imaginary things do. But as he forces his eyes open and closed, the girl remains the same, wrapped in light and invincible against the rain that had begun dripping from the clouds above. She just smiles and looks up into the sky, feeling the cool breeze glance over her skin. It had been a long time since she’d felt so free of restraint, so able to enjoy the world she watched over.

If only the boy would realize how lucky he is in this moment…to glimpse an angel in her true form. But how was he to know the feeling would fade so quickly?

From the depths of the earth, he sees the vines growing, curling around the bare feet of the angel, but she doesn’t notice, doesn’t notice until her swing abruptly jerks and she’s pulled away from the blue seat, knees scraping painfully across the ground as she lands among their snarling heads, trapped. Wings thrusting forward, she tries to use the wind to escape their unwelcome embrace, but they grow with frightening speed, tangling around her in a web too strong for her to break. She cries out, the sound of her desperation echoing through the night sky, the pain in her voice cracking something deep within the boy and he sees through her eyes. His mind twines with hers, a connection sparking to life – so strong that he feels the air pass through her feathers as she tries, again and again, to escape the end that fate has made for her.

Her attempts to break free are futile and he knows it the same second she does. The earth has tied her to the ground, bound her angel wings, and stripped her of her birthrights. He feels her anguish as it sweeps through her, feels her need to fly as if it were his own. A faint tickle on his cheek draws his hand and he finds that he is weeping.

A single vine breaks from the ground, separate from the others. It twists around the angel’s neck, dragging her down, violently disturbing her flawlessness in the wake of its actions. Her loud cries become muted, quiet whimpers against the strain of the demon’s vines. The boy realizes, with some trepidation, that he’s witness to murder. Surely, that’s what it was.

As soon as the thought comes to him, he steps out from the bushes. But it’s as if he doesn’t exist. She doesn’t see him. Can’t see him.

Slowly, he walks to her, his sneakers moving over the wetted grass and into the mulch, hands shaking and fear creeping up from somewhere deep within him, settling on his tongue. Bitter. Even when his feet stand an inch apart from her knees, she remains hunched over, ashamed of her captivity. The way the vines are cutting into her back makes him cringe. Small fissures in her skin have broken into cuts, trickles of blood sliding from the wounds. He’s not surprised that she doesn’t look up, so lost in pain.

“Estic maleït,” she whispers, ever so softly. The boy struggles to hear, but it isn’t a language that he recognizes; they aren’t words that fit together.

His hand trembles as he wraps his small fingers around the gnawing vegetation, but as if she finally felt him there, the angel lifts her chin, acknowledging him for the first time.

“You see me,” she says, a flutter of confusion across her remarkable features.

He shivers at the sound of her voice. It’s air-light, but her slanted accent is clipped and strong, commanding in its own right. Not once do her eyes leave his face as he struggles against her restraints. The vines seem to shrink away from his hands, terrified of mortal touch. One by one, they fall free, leaving their inflictions upon her alabaster skin. Her wings are broken and bloodied – useless now, but as the last of the demons die and crumble to ash against the dirt, her shuttering breath eases.

Her blood smears over the boy’s skin as she grabs his hand. She gently pulls his fingers open, pressing a small necklace into his palm. She says, “I am yours now.”

Speech refuses to come to his lips as he stares, captivated, into her wide eyes. They’re bursting with gold and shards of green, soft with age yet sharp with wisdom. How hawkish she looks in the moonlight, so powerful and calm.

“Come,” she says, taking him by the hand and leading him out of the park. Her warmth against his palm is comforting, easing the shiver that had bent around his spine. They walk together, pushing open the freshly-painted gate. The pavement of the street is wet from rain, smelling as rain does. The boy breathes it in, soothing himself as the angel leads him toward his house. Her hand is still clasped around his, the connection between them still strong. He can feel the cool whispers of water as her bare feet touch the ground, lightly skimming the black top as if she doesn’t need the solidity of it at all.

When the porch lights of his house come into view, the angel stops abruptly, gently tugging at his hand.

“Your mother is waiting. I can go no further.”

“But your wings…”

“They will heal.”

The finality of it strikes the boy, but as he turns to go, he sees her out of the corner of his eye. She is the girl in the red dress again, a girl without wings or bleeding skin – a girl only. He wonders how long she’ll stay hidden, how long she’ll keep her secret behind the cloak of human skin. Just as his mother opens the front door to chide him, the angel fades away into the darkening night, indiscernible from the air around her.

* * *

My angel, the old man thinks.
Deep inside the pocket of his trousers lays the medallion an angel had once given him. He pulls it out, rubbing his calloused thumb over its elaborate grooves. After that night on the playground, he’d always felt her there, watching. She had blessed his childhood and his wedding, his children and his life. But it isn’t until now that he’d returned to the spot where they’d met. It isn’t until now that he feels her wings beat with the thrumming of his heart once again. They’re powerful, moving faster and faster. The old man clutches at his chest and the medallion drops to the ground. The beat of her wings pounds in his ears and he kneels, slipping into her arms so she can take him up. Now they’re both free.

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This article has 3 comments. Post your own now!

Ketran said...
Dec. 4, 2010 at 3:31 pm
Sad ending, but still really good:)
MountainPoet said...
Nov. 11, 2010 at 3:39 pm

I enjoyed this greatly! It caught you and pulled you along.

Very good work. :)


-Mountain Poet

Wither replied...
Dec. 4, 2010 at 3:20 pm
Thank you! :)
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