By J.S. Wayne
At Halloween, it’s only natural that every possible permutation of a dead, or undead, body claws their way into the limelight. After all, this is the time of year when death and the dead are celebrated and for a time, hold sway over our world.
But what about other creatures?
How about, oh, say, angels?
Most people have been conditioned to think of these beings as cutesy, benign, vaguely cartoonish entities. The sweet-faced little cherubs flitting around the centaurs in Disney’s Fantasia (and the DTV video for “There Must Be An Angel,” by the Eurythmics), or the Cupids who adorn modern Valentines, come immediately to mind, and I’m sure if I strain the old gray matter a little, I can list you a hundred other examples without much more effort than standing up. (I won’t, because this isn’t an encyclopedia entry.)
Yeah. These angels were SO not to be fucked with.
Oddly, no one seems to pay much attention to this side of angels. We describe people of unusual virtue and kindness as angels. The action hero who shows up to lay waste to the bad guys in a movie is referred to as an avenging angel. Nurses, doctors, and emergency responders are labeled angels of mercy. A woman can have an angelic face and a heavenly body. A famous singer may have an angelic voice.
But then there are the other angels: angels of death, fallen angels capable of every vice and deviancy in the book, angels of chaos and destruction.
When I started on the “Angels” series, I had no idea what I was creating. At the time, I thought I was writing a simple one-off story about an angel of death choosing to turn his back on Heaven for the sake of the woman he’d come to love. I could have chosen any number of different angelic archetypes, but I settled on the Soulbearer specifically for the hint of danger, the slight whiff of horror such a being would carry with him.
Azrael was written to be just as frightening as the corpses he leaves behind. A menacing, hooded presence with a weapon reminiscent of the Grim Reaper’s legendary scythe (but different in some key and horrifying respects), Azrael is about as close to an animate cadaver as any angel can ever come.
I bring this up not to plug my own my writing (although if you find yourself curious, hey, who am I to argue?), but to make a point.
Angels can be as terrifying and blood-soaked as any other being, if given the proper motivation. That motivation can be as simple and straightforward as the word of God or as Machiavellian and convoluted as the average politician’s campaign promises. So when the creatures of the night come to your door this Halloween, and you notice that cute little angel standing shyly in the back, you might ask yourself just what lies beneath that cute exterior. And if you happen to find yourself face to, well, skull, with the Grim Reaper, recall that he’s an angel too, albeit a frightening one.
Happy Halloween, everyone!
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Shenophiel narrowed her eyes. "What do you want, Azrael?"
The Angel of Death matched her glower for glower. "This is not a social call, Shen."
One shoulder, left bare by the top she wore, tensed. "Don't ever call me that again. You surrendered that right when you assumed the Mantle." She glanced away, her jaw tightening, before turning back to face him fully.
Azrael reached up and drew off the hood of his cloak to reveal his face fully. Shenophiel winced; she remembered that face only too well. It haunted her most erotic dreams and her most harrowing nightmares.
She hated that she could see the remnants of the angel he had once been, back in the far-distant past when they had loved each other. She could still taste him on her lips and feel his celestial flesh against her own. But several millennia of wearing that Adonai-cursed cloak had altered him so drastically that without it, she might not have recognized him at first glance.
His cheeks were sallow and sunken; his gray eyes were as dull and lifeless as those of the corpses he left in his wake. Where his hair had once been a long, lustrous halo that flowed to the middle of his shoulders, it now hung limp and stringy. If she had seen a human who looked like he did, she would have thought he was suffering from a lifelong heroin habit. He affected a short, neatly trimmed beard at odds with his overall appearance; she decided it didn't suit him, but it was no concern of hers how he framed his lips. After all, it was not like she had any intention of letting those lips anywhere near her.
"Have you seen them?" he asked, his once-gentle voice creaking like the lid of an ancient coffin opening.
"I have not," she replied coldly, "and even if I had, you would be the last being in all the universe I would reveal their whereabouts to."
"Tread carefully, Shenophiel," Azrael whispered. "I still love you, but this situation is unnatural; it goes against every Law by which angels are governed. If this is permitted to go uncorrected, the consequences are unthinkable."
Shenophiel gave him no answer except to offer him her back. She would know if he had sought her out with lethal intent, and he had not. The very idea of him still harboring feelings for her made her cringe as if she had put her hand into a vat full of maggots. His once-pure, clean aura now writhed and shivered around him; even to be near him made her feel soiled. She stole one glance over her shoulder to ensure that her survival instinct had not gone complacent.
He was standing in exactly the same position, everything below his chin concealed by the darkness of the Mantle of his office. Compared to his cloak, Moradiel’s wings, dark as they were, were noon on a bright day. The cloak seemed to suck the thin ambient light right out of his surroundings and absorb it as certainly as the gravity well of a black hole.
Not, admittedly, that there was much light to draw away in this alley.
Azrael seemed oddly at home in this purgatorial place. Shenophiel grimaced and turned back to face the wall.
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