Author's note: This is my entry in CrazyWords' Fairy Tale Challenge and is based on the story The Angel by Hans Christian Andersen.

“Whenever a good child dies, an angel of God comes down from heaven, takes the dead child in his arms, spreads out his great white wings, and flies with him over all the places which the child had loved during his life. Then he gathers a large handful of flowers, which he carries up to the Almighty, that they may bloom more brightly in heaven than they do on earth. And the Almighty presses the flowers to His heart, but He kisses the flower that pleases Him best, and it receives a voice, and is able to join the song of the chorus of bliss.”

This is what he said to me as we floated over the streets I used to live, and over the alleyways, where the real world was kept, out of the eye of those who existed in the world of the main streets. Here were the piles of rotting garbage, the makeshift box-and-newspaper homes of the homeless, the passed out drunks, the prostitutes pleasing their customers, and the non-prostitutes unwillingly pleasing the scum who had forcefully dragged them into this dark world.

I was glad to be leaving this world behind, truth be told. It was a rotten place, full of sin and suffering. Even at home I wasn’t safe. From the smut my Uncle used to watch on TV to the times he beat me for not reading my Bible enough, I’d had a fairly miserable eleven years on this planet. It was finally time for my reward.

We eventually passed an allotment that had been claimed by a rose bush, which had killed off everything else that grew there, and now even it was starting to wither, infected by the death in the air that choked you at every step in this dark underbelly of the city. The Angel beside me saw this and descended suddenly until he could reach out and touch it.

The Angel was an enigmatic figure. Ethereally and unnaturally beautiful, but seemingly not capable of showing any emotion besides some kind of calm inner peace. It had appeared to me the moment starvation took me. The process of slowly dying had filled me with both pain and fear, but the moment I knew I was dead, and I saw the Angel, I was glad.

“Which of these shall we take with us to heaven to be transplanted there?” asked the Angel, snapping me out of my thoughts. I shrugged my shoulders, and muttered the first words I had yet spoken to the Angel.

“The biggest, reddest ones at the top?”

The Angel was about to pick them, but I suddenly changed my mind.

“Wait! No. Pick the ones at the bottom, the ones that are withered and dying the most. They need our help more.”

The Angel smiled at me. It may have been pleasantly surprised, but it was hard to tell. It picked the roses at my request, and we flew on, but not to heaven.

We flew on through the city with a purpose. Well, the purpose was a mystery to me, but the Angel definitely had a specific destination in mind.

He stopped, hovering above a rusted metal skip parked haphazardly on the pavement of a narrow suburban street. The Angel had turned noticeably solemn, a little emotion escaping from his features. Without any warning, he started to frantically dig through the brick and rubble that filled the skip, until he unearthed a small, heavily damaged flowerpot containing a wilting lily. I also noticed that despite his unmoving passive face, there were tears in his eyes.

“In the house behind us lived a poor little disabled kid,” he began to explain to me. “He was hit by a car when he was three years old, and survived by a miracle, though he lost both of his legs. His family couldn’t afford a wheelchair, so he couldn’t even leave his room without his father’s help. During some days in summer, he would lie on the floor of his tiny room for about half an hour, warming himself in the sunshine, and pretending he was outside.

He only knew of plants and forests from pictures, or the sight of faraway hills when his family took him out for a walk down to the shops.

So, for his seventh birthday, both his parents bought him a lily between them, so that he had a plant of his very own to water, care for, and to watch grow. And grow it did. His every waking moment that was not spent eating or outside with his family was spent caring for this flower, giving it the water or sunlight it needed. Most importantly, he gave it love.

This little boy was two weeks shy of living to see his twelfth birthday when he passed away from a common cold. His parents promised to look after the flower on his behalf, but it didn’t take long before their busy lives made them forget about the flower.

Eventually they were evicted. I don’t know where they are now, and the house is getting complete remade from the inside out as the council demands. This flower was thrown out to join the floor, walls and furniture of my home.”

“Wait,” I interjected. “Your home? Then that means…”

The angel, now no longer even trying to keep his face passive or his tears inside, turned to me, wiped his eyes dry, and hitched up his ethereal robes to reveal that there were no legs underneath them. He gathered the lily with the roses and we then started to fly on.

“Where are we going?” I asked. “Are we looking for more flowers?”

“No, we have flowers enough,” he replied. “I just don’t want to fly up to heaven looking like this, so we’re going to settle down in the nearby hills to give me a chance to compose myself. Angels aren’t supposed to show emotion at any time. Also, don’t fly too close to the ground, people might see y-“

Before he could finish his sentence. Before I could adjust my course, I heard screaming from below. People in one of the main streets could see me. They were pointing and screaming at me. All except for one little boy who was staring right at me, staring right into my eyes, but the moment I stared back, I felt something pass between us. Something horrible. The little boy dropped dead.

I was too stunned to speak. The Angel took my hand and led me into an alley. He didn’t seem angry, but he was no longer upset. It seems my mistake had brought back the passive mask, although I’d have preferred him to be angry. As he looked at me with resignation and disappointment in his eyes, coupled with my own shock and guilt at what just transpired.

“We are Angels of Death,” he whispered gravely. “When we look into the eyes of another, we reap their soul. The only reason that boy’s ghost isn’t with us is that it was not his turn to die. His soul will be in eternal agony and suffering trapped in limbo until his time comes. No, don’t feel guilty. This isn’t your fault. I would be guiding you to heaven if I hadn’t let my feelings slip.”

I let this sink in for a few long seconds.

“But that doesn’t explain why people were screaming at me. Can everyone see us?”

“Only if we get close enough. And despite how we look to the dead, to the living we look very different. See for yourself.”

He led me to a window at the far end of the alleyway, and we stared at our reflections. I looked nothing like myself, and he looked nothing like the beautiful Angel I had been speaking to. We had no skin, no eyes, no mouths, no faces. All that looked back at us were blackened skulls.

We were monsters.

No, we were Angels of Death.

Written by Cyanwrites
Content is available under CC BY-SA

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