by Trisha Lea
Understanding washed over him as he teetered on the narrow ledge thirteen stories above the sidewalk. Viewing the world from this height often had a contemplative effect on a soul. The wind rustled his hair and tugged at his clothes, urging him to step off and see what happens. He resisted the urge, for now, and turned his attention to the people rushing past on the pavement below. They looked like ants, but his hawk eyes could see them clearly. Too clearly, perhaps. Like the man in a suit with the bouquet of flowers, rushing home to his wife from his lover’s apartment, hoping the flowers would be enough to distract her from the strange cologne that still lingered on his clothes. Or that woman, with the designer jacket and oversized bag, her newly acquired silk scarf flapping in the breeze. The scarf that she had bought after berating a terrified shopgirl in front of half a dozen customers until the poor girl retreated in tears and the manager, apologizing profusely, offered her a bargain of 25% off the ticketed price. She hadn’t needed the scarf, and she could have afforded the full price, but she calmly accepted anyway. Or that boy on the skateboard who had harassed a much smaller and smarter boy into helping him cheat on that afternoon’s math test. Yes, he could see them, in all their glory.
Perhaps Gabriel was right. Perhaps they did deserve what was coming.
He wasn’t sure anymore. He had rather liked the humans. They were complicated, multi-faceted creatures, always full of surprises. Sure, they were full of evils, too, but one could excuse a certain amount of misdeeds if the whole story was known. Like Suit-Man. He snuck around behind his wife because he was afraid she would disappear with his kids if she knew the truth about him, the truth he had tried to conceal since he was fourteen years old and shared his first kiss with Blake Stevens behind the gym. And Scarf-Woman, while horrible, was watching her husband slowly die from cancer of the liver. A cruel and bitter end to a loveless marriage that had brought her security and little else. Even now, in the final hours, her son refused to come home to say goodbye to his father. How could she tell her husband? How could she blame her son? And Skateboard-Boy, who’s father was more concerned with a successful son than a happy one, couldn’t go home with less than a B on his test. With his wits alone, was a C student at best. Could their actions be excused? Maybe. Were they wrong? Probably. The nuance of the human condition intrigued him. So many gray areas. He wondered how the humans could navigate it. Perhaps that was why so many fell into the traps of addiction and escapism.
Still, did all of them deserve to die? It wasn’t his place to say. He was merely their escort to the other side, the aid in their transition. He had no hand in the judgement they faced. He found this comforting, as he didn’t think he could judge them.
Gabriel, however, was eager to get it over with.
“The humans have had a long run. They’ve had more than enough chances to get it right, and they’ve botched it time and again. They’re too numerous, too lazy, and too stupid to change. They’ve ruined the Earth. Their time is over,” Gabriel had said.
“They’re a young race,” he had said. “They’re learning. They’re growing. They are confronted with all their actions during their transition, and they genuinely learn from their mistakes.”
“Only to forget it all the instant they reincarnate,” Gabriel had sneered. His patience had grown thin. He had watched the humans fumbling over themselves for far too long.
“Perhaps, but not all of them do. Some remember. Some change. And if you knew all that they were facing, all the struggles they must overcome, you wouldn’t be so calloused. It is the journey through the darkness that brings them to the light.”
Gabriel’s eyes had narrowed. “You’ve been reading too much of that Carl Jung. Besides, it doesn’t matter what we think. The decision has been handed down from higher up. We must follow orders.”
He had turned his pleading eyes to Michael, their leader, the most stoic and level headed of the group. Michael had nodded sadly. “It’s true. The decision is not ours to make. Our opinions do not matter. We must obey our orders.”
And that was it. Conversation over.
We must obey our orders.
He let out a long sigh and turned his face up to the sunlight. The weak rays streamed down through the gray clouds, barely warming the surface of the building behind him. The wind was cold, but it didn’t chill him. It was early February, a time when the humans would celebrate romantic love with red hearts, oversized stuffed animals, an excess of chocolate and candies (although humans were good at finding a reason to indulge in their sweets any time of year), and expensive dinners in crowded restaurants. He had always enjoyed watching the shenanigans of this holiday, though he supposed it would be rather low key this year.
On the street below he watched as an old man hobbled along on his cain, hacking and coughing a deep and worrisome chest cough. A small girl strolled past, clinging to her mother’s hand, as tiny droplets of the man’s cough sprayed the air. Yes. It had already begun. The disease would spread like wildfire, consuming all in it’s path. Well, maybe not all. He hoped some would survive, would learn from their mistakes, and possibly carve out a peaceful existence.
Then Archangel Azreal, the angel of death, stepped off the ledge. He plunged down fifty feet before unfurling his massive silver wings. They caught the updraft and guided him gracefully to the street below, to the first victim.