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With Wings of Beauty and Death


Acclaim:Published on Wide Awake Screaming webzine.


With Wings of Beauty and Death

When human civilisation was destroyed, it looked like the end of the world. Many believe it should have been. Our merry lives came to an end so swiftly, we almost didn't know what hit us. But we did know. Oh yes. We had many stories passed down the generations, so very quickly we recognised what we saw.

I'll never forget the final moments, burned as they are into my mind. It was a beautiful summer day, with brilliant blue skies and warm sun beating down. I had taken refuge from the sun for a moment in a small diner in downtown Manhattan. A pretty waitress with long hair and mischievous smile was setting a cold beer on the table in front of me.

Suddenly she looked up. Her smile melted to the floor. I turned and followed her gaze out the window. In the street people were stopping in their everyday tasks, and turning their heads skywards. Cars pulled over to the side of the road and the drivers stepped out for a better view. Office workers leaned out of windows, struggling to see the heavens. I watched, and the light faded slightly before my eyes. The passers-by spoke to each other in hushed voices, and children pointed at the sky in mute wonder.

I rose from my chair, gently pushing the stunned waitress aside, and walked out into the street. A few people, moving to get a better view, walked into me and bounced off, before moving on without apparently noticing. Puzzled by this display of strange behaviour, I turned my head upwards, shielding my eyes from the sun.

I was greeted by the most incredible display. High above, clouds of black and red rolled across the sky, swirling and unfolding as they went. At the edge of each cloud a flow of red washed outward. The skies slowly turned from a radiant blue to deep ruby.

My mouth gaped open. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. I looked all around, seeking confirmation that other people could see it too. The fixed gaze of awe on each person's face showed me that they could. Every spectator had stopped in wonder and surprise, unable to comprehend or understand what was occurring.

I turned my eyes upwards again. The clouds continued to move across the sky, but rather than covering the sun, they circled around it. The defiant sun beamed down, a glowing ball of yellow and white trapped by the hordes of dark clouds. It seemed for a moment as a graceful ballet, the sun taking the lead role as a thousand extras swirled and whirled around it. Each cloud moved gently but surely, drifting into its place with slow but determined motion.

The hush of the crowds slowly gave way to nervous exclamation, as the billowing mist became certain of its actions. Crimson and black flowed about the sun, gradually encroaching on the strong light. A vortex formed; circular streaks of red interrupted the dark fog above us. Then slowly the light dimmed as the sun seemed to recede, and the watching masses made a joint intake of breath as the cloud enveloped the sun.

We stood, all the people on the street, thinking as one. In the dimmed light, I could see men and women exchanging worried glances. Children became agitated. The air around was warm and still, but far above the clouds continued spiralling, twisting to the point where the sun had been.

The air felt alive with static electricity. The populace of the city gently loosened their collars and breathed deep as the atmosphere closed in around us. I slowly became aware of noise, not centred on individual people, but a product of the gathering as a whole. No conversation, but quick exchanges and tense shuffling gave a constant audible background. Somewhere a dog barked; the sound echoed off buildings and flowed over the people, inducing more activity in the crowd. The constant pressure of the air rose slowly with the volume of noise.

Just as panic began to set in and nervous mothers comforted crying children, a sudden hush fell over the crowd again. People pointed skywards once more, a few smiles breaking out on faces.

I followed the growing sea of arms upward to the constant motion of the vortex in the sky. The clouds were still churning silently, but at the centre of the vortex a bright patch of sun became visible. Slowly the spinning cloud thinned out and dispersed around the sun, a growing hole in the blackness where brilliant white light poured out. Relief flooded out as more and more of the sun came into sight.

I couldn't suppress a huge grin as I saw the glowing ball of fire, wiping nervous perspiration from my forehead. Never had I been so pleased to see it. The darkness vanished in the increasing light from the sun, and good spirit started to return. But my grin soon faded as the clouds continued to pull back, revealing the edge of the yellow-white circle. Instead of meeting blue sky, it met red. The sun sat as a glowing sphere in a sea of ruby. The crowd made another hushed intake of breath as the clouds surged backwards further, revealing more and more red sky.

I rubbed at my eyes and looked again in disbelief. The clouds still swirled in their circular dance, but no more did they retreat from the sun's heat. Instead they formed an undulating sea of black and crimson, leaving the sun in a red hole punched through the clouds. The gathered crowds could not believe what they saw. I bit my hand unconsciously, the pain snapping me back to the reality I was seeing. It felt like a dream, though the world was as real as it could ever be.

In the nervous gathering, not a word was spoken. All eyes were on the hole, waiting to see if clouds or sun would become the eventual winner. Minutes passed unnoticed. Expectation hung in the air. Then a shape raced out from the clouds, a black silhouette against the strong light. The shape flowed across the sun casting shadows across the ground. Whole buildings fell into darkness as more and more of the shape reached out from the clouds, consuming the face of the sun.

Panic returned quickly, but momentarily. As the black silhouette flowed out from the clouds and around the sun, it shifted. The blackness twisted and turned and fell to earth, racing downwards to meet us at high speed. Voices rose quickly as the shape poured down to the city, uncovering the sun and giving the dark mass a glowing aura. The falling mass looked as though it would hit the buildings and crush the city, but as it came level with the rooftops, the base spread out in a widening and thinning circle. Finally we saw the truth of what it was.

The thinning silhouette above us became several small shapes. Hundreds, thousands of them, each one the same basic construction. A humanoid body was visible against the sky for each, and coming out of the body also, a pair of delicate wings. The crowd gasped in awe.

The column continued flowing down to the city, spreading out into more and more of the creatures, flying lower and lower above the crowded streets. The wings on the back of each one were translucent, thin and flimsy looking but staying rigid as the creatures glided overhead. On every wing there was a trim of long feathers at the edge, fluttering in the breeze. I turned my head to follow some of these beings as they shot past, my amazement plain for all to see.

Finally the dark, silhouetted top of the column reached the city and the last of the creatures started to disperse. All eyes turned towards them to see where they would go.

But they did not go. The final ones flew in a circle around us, keeping perfect formation while bunching closer together. There were hundreds still, but so few next to the many that had disappeared to other parts of the city. They moved quickly but gracefully, swooping around buildings and dodging signs, gradually slowing down further with each pass. Finally, when it seemed they could not slow further and still remain in the air, the moving group of wings and limbs made a last large arc before flying down the wide street towards us.

The crowds parted slightly, clearing the flight path of the beings flying above. Reaching a crossroads, a widening circle of people formed on the ground as the strangers in the air suddenly flew vertical. They rose up into the sky, coming level with the rooftops, and then abruptly stopped moving.

I watched in wonder, still shielding my vision from the sun's glare, as the many winged visitors hung in the air for a second. Then with wings unfurled behind them, they slowly drifted to earth.

The spectators cleared the ground slowly, shuffling away while wanting to see who the new arrivals were. We watched them coming gradually downwards, each one standing upright, arms stretching out along the line of the wings. The frail membranes caught the air and kept their descent at a gentle pace. Their heads turned to gaze down upon us, as we looked up in awe and wonderment. The shining light above gave them a halo around their silhouetted heads.

Oh-so slowly they fell, feathers fluttering in the breeze, toes delicately pointed downwards, until finally they reached the hard concrete and came to rest softly. Straining to see past the crowd, I caught my first glimpse of these wondrous beings.

They stood in a large, loosely packed group, all similarly attired. Each of them was dressed in the purest white clothes, with long sleeved shirts and white shoes. Delicate hands extended out from sleeves, revealing perfectly formed fingers and narrow wrists.

There were men and women in the group. Each of them had a beautiful face. Eyes and ears were spaced exactly, all features perfectly proportioned. All of them had wonderful thick hair, perfectly arranged in dark curls rolling down elegant shoulders or blonde waves flowing across the top of the head. One striking woman had a great volume of blonde hair tied back, revealing the perfect lines of her skin that flowed around her face and head and down her neck.

And, oh! The skin, out of all things, was most spectacular in its radiance. Every curve was clothed with the smoothest of skin, gently coloured but not tanned. There were no hairs on the body, no bumps, no blotches, no blemishes of any kind - just flawless surface.

The crowds were taken aback, stunned by the precious vision before them. Truly, these were angels! The creatures looked at each other, exuding glory and greatness, then as one their translucent white wings folded onto their backs, fine feathers swaying on the edge momentarily.

A hush hung in the air. For many seconds nobody stirred, uncertain as they were in the presence of such splendour. Then three of the angels stepped forward from the front of the group towards the throngs of observers.

The crowd took a collective step backwards, then stopped. The beings approached with a flowing walk, gentle smiles on their exquisite faces. They stopped just a few paces in front of the crowd, one male figure in the middle flanked by a blonde woman and a dark-haired man. The crowd drew in a soft breath.

The blonde woman stepped away from the others, and walked slowly along the line of watching humans. Her smile remained fixed on her face, but was joined by a look of curiosity. Her eyes were a deep brown colour with perfect whites, each eye moving up and down the forms in front of her, examining the strange welcome carefully. She paced slowly, small but precise steps carrying her some distance. Then, for no obvious reason, she spun on her heel and walked back along the line.

As she once more came level with the other two of her kind, she stopped in front of a short man in scruffy clothes. Her hand reached out gently, and a single finger with manicured nail traced a line up from his chest, up his neck and out along the underside of his chin. As she did so, she applied a slight pressure, gently pulling the man forward a step.

Her eyes shone with friendly goodwill. She turned to look at her companions, her body twisting sideways, finger still resting under the man's chin, pushing his head slightly upwards. From further back in the crowd, I saw the woman's wings folded on her back, and was just able to make out the shapes of her people through the thin surface. The feathers remained motionless in the still air.

The male in the middle of the three looked at the woman with a sweet smile, and nodded gently in her direction. Then he turned to the crowd and opened his arms out wide in front of him.

The sight of him was incredible - impeccable blonde hair curled in waves across his head, sitting atop skin that glowed with good health. Caring eyes met the crowd as he offered up his gentle embrace.

A businessman in dark suit and thick-rimmed glasses met the eyes of the angel to the front, feeling the greatness before him. He looked around nervously. Then hesitantly the man in the suit walked forward into the arms of the angel.

The angel closed his arms around the man in a long embrace that gave promise of love and warmth. Caring eyes studied the crowd as the man embraced back. Then, the angel released the man slightly, and the angelic head tipped down to kiss the man's neck.

At first the businessman didn't move, absorbed as he was in the divine embrace. Then suddenly all his limbs tensed. He let out a quick breath of air, but no sound came. The angel closed his eyes, his mouth still pressed to the man's neck. Sensing something was wrong, the crowd tensed slightly. The angel held onto the man's rigid body, before finally the kiss ended, and the angel looked up.

The businessman stepped back slightly as the angel released its grasp; in unison the crowd inhaled sharply at what it saw. The man had become a deathly white, all colour gone from face and hands. On the side of his neck, a thin trickle of blood slowly ran out from two small holes. Swaying for a second, the man's body fell awkwardly backward, the last traces of life fading away.

All eyes turned again to the lead angel. He still stood there as a vision of perfection, but a different light shone in his eyes. His head turned slightly, though his gaze remained fixed on the people in front. Opening his mouth as if to speak, all eyes saw a set of perfect white teeth - with two white fangs.

A sound came out from the angel's mouth that was as tuneful as it was strange. A perfect series of noises produced from deep within his flawless form. Then his mouth closed into a huge grin.

As one the group of angels spread out into the crowd. The woman at the front turned her head sharply, open mouth revealing two deadly pointed teeth before she grasped the scruffy man by his shoulder and pulled his neck up to her. The man's resistance was wasted as her strength overwhelmed him. She quickly drained him to the same white as the businessman before, dropping the body on the floor and grabbing a new victim.

Terror ran through the crowd as the angels set about feeding. Each angel had a similar set of perfect white fangs, exquisite fingernails digging into flesh to drag back the fleeing populace. The crowd surged in all directions, people at the back being trampled as the people at the front were drained. I ran with the rest of them, pushing my way past obstructions and other humans, racing down the streets, only to find that everywhere in the city there had been watching crowds. Groups of angels were on all sides, killing, draining, feeding. It was a horrendous slaughter; humans treated like cattle.

Thousands died that day in the first minutes alone. Small groups of us raced through the city, hiding in buildings, stealing cars, trying to avoid the angels every way we could. Every corner revealed another massacre in progress. Every turn in the road revealed more horror and despair. But one vision drove me on - the lead angel, head tipped back in a silent fanged laugh.

The race through the city was not hopeless. In thinning numbers and through stealth, we made it out into the countryside alive. We hid where we could, in caves, undergrowth, rivers... Within a day, all life within a mile of the city had been killed.

And so we're at the present day - surviving by foraging for suitable plants and fruit, hunting what small creatures are left in the wild. We daren't go back into the cities, not even for a short while -the angels are in far greater numbers, easily able to hunt down any humans foolish enough to try. Instead we must make do surviving outside, keeping someone on watch and hiding whenever we see the winged forms approaching. At first it was quite common to see their patrols flying overhead, hunting us down, but now they are rare. Some people even say they are letting us live, for every child we have is another food source to them.

We are only small groups and scattered individuals now. Our once great society has fallen. I guess I am one of the lucky ones, for I still have people around me. Though I too had to forget my family and their suffering at the hands of the angels.

Through it all, no one stopped to blame humanity for our defeat. No one suggested we should have fought back or resisted harder. There was nothing we could do. No amount of preparation or planning, no tools to fight with could have stopped what happened. They are too many and too strong.

But one thought does remain, one last regret. I wish, as do most people, that the tales of angels and the legends of vampires had simply said, long ago, that they were talking about the same creatures...

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