I watched as she shuffled through the vestibule and into the church. The building was empty. Typically a priest lived on the grounds, but he had decided to take a brief sabbatical. The only ones in the church were Beth Gallagher and I, which would make our encounter go much smoother. She didn’t know my name, but she was about to summon me. All people in trying times make supplications to me whether they know it or not. Abraham had called out to me when the time came to sacrifice his son and I had shown him compassion. I am Zadkiel, the angel of mercy.
Beth had fallen on hard times since the curse had been laid upon her a few years back. One of her legs had been broken in a car accident years ago and it had never healed right. She was covered in carbuncles that tore open and wept pus at the slightest movement which stung like salt poured into a wound. Her musculature had been degenerated by wasting diseases. She had been living on a friend’s couch for the past month, but they were about to kick her out and she knew it. She had nowhere else to go and as people always do in these situations, she turned to faith.
Her faith was nothing spectacular. Like many, she had lost it in her youth. She had become disenchanted with the world and it soon spread and contaminated her faith. It didn’t take long before it rotted to the core. She knelt in the first row and made the sign of the cross. I silently touched down a few rows behind her. She hadn’t become aware of my presence yet. I heard the words; though she wasn’t speaking them aloud. Even if they weren’t actually audible, to me they came out like a desperate scream.
“I need help. I don’t know how it got so bad or what I have done to deserve this, but I can’t take it anymore. My friends are gone, I’m about to be homeless, and every moment of my life is spent in fear and agony. I’m at my limit… I don’t know if you even exist, but if you do, why? Why are you doing this to me? I need your help.”
“I can help you.”
Beth whirled about in the direction my voice was coming from. I slowly began to materialize in front of her. If I were too sudden in my appearance, I would startle her and maybe even send her running from the church. I had once looked resplendent like one of the heavenly host, but my time amongst the living had begun to take its toll on me. My skin was beginning to grey and turn mottled. Feathers had begun to fall off of my wings, revealing the pale, almost translucent flesh beneath. My veins rose out of my skin like tiny blue wriggling worms.
Beth gasped in shock and I reassured her, “Fear not, child of man, one cannot exist in both Heaven and Earth without being altered. They are two different worlds with two different environments. You wouldn’t be able to live in Heaven with your corporeal form and my time spent on Earth has taken its toll on me. What you see before you is a product of the time I have spent here helping people.”
That explanation seemed to put her at ease. She spoke slowly as if uncertain of the question itself, “Are you an angel?”
I unfurled my wings, carefully so as not to lose any more of my feathers, and answered, “Yes, daughter of clay, I am a son of fire born from God’s hand just as He has shaped you. I have come here to answer your call for salvation.”
“You have cried out to me amidst your suffering and I have heard your supplications.”
“Why is all this happening?”
“A shadow hangs over you tainting all of your endeavors and poisoning your plans. This shadow was set upon you by a spurned man to break you down and make you suffer. You rejected him and in his scorn, he called forth an infernal entity to visit tragedy upon tragedy on you.”
She sat down as if the revelation was too much for her. She wept into her rough and calloused hands. A sore on the corner of her mouth dribbled out a viscous straw-colored fluid that mingled with her tears. I stood in the aisle waiting for her to regain her composure. It took her a few minutes before she wiped the snot and tears away and asked, “What is going to happen to him?”
She meant the one who had put the curse on her in the first place. I took a second to decide whether or not to tell the truth. “Nothing; the heavenly mandate prevents us from taking justice into our own hands. He is in the employ of a demon. When his end comes, he will burn for his actions, but until then he will not be punished. He will continue his life unaffected and without any repercussions.” I answered truthfully.
Her face soured and for a second; with the lesions, weeping sores, and angry countenance, I thought I was in the presence of a demon rather than a human. There is very little separating them from us and there is even less between demons and them. It didn't take any special insight into the human condition to see the gears in her head turning. She was thinking of revenge. Maybe hunting down the man who placed the curse on her and getting retribution. She was too weak to do that though. Another possibility about what she may do descended on me like a bolt from the blue.
Beth would summon a demon and pledge herself to them for her 'justice'. I couldn't let that happen. We were already losing far too many people to the temptation of ease and instant-gratification. I would have to do something. I would have to talk her out of it some way. She grew tired of my contemplation and broke my train of thought.
Her teeth ground into a snarl and she howled, “That’s not fair! Why should I be the one to suffer when he did this all to me?! Where is the justice in that? What kind of God-”
“What right do we have to met out justice based on our caprices? What do we know of God’s plans? Are we wiser than Him? If we dealt out retribution for every offense, the world would be nothing but cinders.”
She became quiet for a moment before she asked weakly, “If you can’t punish him for what he’s done to me, can you free me from the demon’s curse and return me to the way I once was?” Her exertion had left her drained and made her look pitiful. She was in her thirties, but Aka Manah’s influence had left her looking like a withered crone. Her skin hung loosely off of her. She was wasting away before my eyes, and there was nothing I could do. Well, that wasn’t the truth exactly.
“No. Once someone has been cursed, it is irreversible. You will carry this affliction until the day you die. Misfortune will dog you until the very end of your life. You will wake every morning in trepidation of the terrors waiting for you and you will go to bed wondering what horrors the next day will bring. Your last breath will be pure agony. A cruel coup-de-grace that culminates from your curse.”
She exploded to her feet and limped towards me. Anger had clouded her mind and blasted all rational thoughts out of her head. She wanted to rage, she wanted to blame someone for the way the cards had been dealt to her. She snarled, “Then what good are you?! You can’t save me and you can’t punish the son-of-a-bitch that did this to me. What can you do?!”
“I can give you mercy.”
My wings folded outward suddenly and encircled her. She tried to back away, but was enclosed and pressed against my almost transparent flesh. She couldn’t scream while I held her close and forced the air out of her lungs. She tried to strike me, but her wasting disease had rendered her weak. I barely felt her punches and struggling as I pinioned her to my body.
The hand I had used to stay Abraham’s dagger slid the same blade into her. It entered right below her rib and angled up into her heart. She tried to scream in surprise, but it came out as a sigh. I wrenched the handle upwards and raked the blade through the tough muscle that was her heart. She expired as I watched the life leave her eyes. I laid her against the pews. A tiny trickle of blood crept from the wound and stained the oak.
I stood over her corpse and offered a prayer up for her. Her suffering was finally over. I had freed her from the demon’s blight. There was no other way. This world was a cruel place. People suffered excruciating agonies and the only balm that we had left to offer them was a quick death. I had done God’s work. I had saved another poor soul. I smiled at the prospect of carrying out the Lord’s will.
Beth was gone. Her suffering was over. I stretched out my wings and watched as more feathers sloughed off. I had made my choice. This place was taking its toll on me, but I couldn’t leave others to suffer. I flapped my wings and took to the air. I could hear more prayers echoing around me as others pled for salvation. There were more I could save and I intended to save as many as I could. They all needed my mercy.
Written by EmpyrealInvective