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The Angel of Death

The angel of death


Estimated reading time — 16 minutes

Extract from records found at scene, author unknown. Dated October 1883:

Matted fur stuck to the Beast’s sides, sweat dripping down its flank as it expelled rancid breath. Thick ropes of saliva swung from pus-stained teeth, protruding from black-lipped jaws like shattered battlements. A single black eye glinted out at the world, unmoving, fixed on its prey, its partner sewn shut by coagulated crimson blood, oozing from the gash running lid to lid. Deep furrows scarred the cobbled street beneath, remnants of the creature’s sudden halt. Yet even in its unmoving state its breath still stained the air with putrid clouds. It was waiting. Its flanks trembled as a bellows to a furnace, steam rising from its skeletal flesh. Between the patches of wiry fur the black and flaky skin clung tight to broken, twisted ribs. The vertebrae of the spine stuck out like tombstones. The tail stood still, held straight back like an arrow.

The few seconds it took to take in this spectacle felt like hours, a stalemate, each player waiting for the other to take the first move. Whoever did would die.

Behind the creature the dark burgundy hue of the moon pierced through the clouds, throwing the spires of the city into sharp relief. Against this backdrop was far off movement, something entirely indistinguishable from the rushing clouds far above. Yet it drew my attention away from the beast a second too long…

Without warning the breath was knocked from my lungs, bones cracked and flesh tore. I smelt rotten breath over my face; death, decay, putrefaction all running through my nostrils. Then came the sharp metal tang of my own blood, stinging the air with iron. The claws dug deep into my body, pinning me to the cold stones of the road. I screamed, a voiceless, impotent scream, with no air to carry it from my blood-clogged throat.

In a heartbeat I was ripped from the ground, air rushing past my broken form. Sky and street and sky again revolved nauseatingly through my vision, until I found myself inches from the beast’s jaws, held aloft like a puppet from a string. The cragged battlements yawned wider, revealing a sore-filled chasm into a foul smelling gullet. The single eye glittered beyond the snout, a hint of human satisfaction in its inhuman pupil.

Once more my bearings were taken from me, I hurtled sideways with the force of a locomotive impact, the ringing intruding upon my ears rivalled only by a harrowing bellow of anguish. I found myself on the stones once more, unable to move all but my eyes. Yet this was enough to behold my saviour. An angel of black wings, spread wider than an airship and jagged as a lightning-struck tree. Framed against the rising moon, The angel wrestled with the beast, lifting it into the air with the beating of its great wings, before throwing it to the earth once more with harrowing crunches of collision. Yet still the beast screamed and struck out at its attacker, deafened and blinded: a wounded animal fighting for its life. What had to me been death incarnate was to this winged fiend little more than a rat to be toyed with. Growing bored with its plaything, the angel swung down its sparsely feathered neck and wrapped its impossibly long jaws around the beast’s canine skull. As if pulling the cork from a bottle, the angel tore head from neck in one swift motion, showering the road with a rain of blood. Lifting its toothed-beak to the sky, it swallowed its foe’s head in one single gulp, four high-set eyes reflecting the moon’s red light. With a victorious screech that rippled the puddles about me, the angel took hold of the headless corpse and rose to the sky once more.

As its silhouette receded into the clouds, I struggled to find breath. My senses were failing me, death’s cold grip tightening around my ruined ribcage. At the corners of my vision gathered a murder of crows, patiently awaiting my final breath. Come the morning there would be but bones left for the carriages to run over, grinding my remains into powder on the roadside.

I understood now the divinity of the angels; why they were worshipped even in their moralised form. That was no servant of God that spared my life, no herald of hope or bringer of death. Far from an infant with wings, what I had encountered was a deity in its own right. The Angel of Death, granting me Passover. Whether it was a god or a beast did not matter: it was real. Real enough to kill.

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With the last of my breath, I wrestled movement into my shattered arm, swinging wildly towards my belt. My numb and stiff fingers found slippery blood and shattered glass where there should have been injectors. Cursing, I fumbled across my surroundings until I found an intact cylinder. A vial of red elixir, tipped with a serrated needle.

My strength rapidly evaporating, I swung as hard as I could into my own thigh, needle breaking through clothing, skin, dermis, muscle, and finally shattering the bone itself. Whilst my head filled with agony, I compressed the plunger, bathing my bone marrow in salvation.

I can hardly describe the effect elixirs of this sort have on the body. Of course, I can say that they use a powerful mixture of enzymes to rapidly mend bones and tissues. I could say it includes a large blood transfusion to replace lost fluids. I could even explain the concoction of painkillers and antibiotics used to stave off infection. But none of that would tell you how it feels to use an elixir. How it feels to have every muscle of your body contract simultaneously. To have your broken bones snap back into place as if struck by a hammer. Or worse yet how it feels to know that you will never truly replace what you have lost: the tissue sewing itself together is not your own, and it never will be. There is no way to know how your body will behave after this process, or if you’ll survive at all. This is not medicine: this is a curse. A deal with the devil for more life, at the cost of your humanity. I did not know then what I would become from this single injection.

With mercy, the screams I had bottled up finally escaped my throat, startling the carrion birds awaiting their feast. They took flight, cawing in panic as they spun like a dark cloud above me. I felt tears running down my cheeks as the feeling returned to my skin. I lifted my head slightly, feeling the weight of my blood-soaked hair dragging behind me. Pain shot through my body, yet the feeling was welcome. Pain meant I was alive. I could hear my heart beating in my ears, blood rushing through my veins.

The gloom around me was broken up by dark red puddles, moonlight bouncing off of them into my straining eyes. Across their surface was a patchwork of swirling liquids: the beast’s blood mixing with my own, dancing around one another like oil in water. I feared something similar was occurring within my own vessels.

With agonising effort, I drew back my arms and raised myself to be sat upright. I gazed down at myself, the melancholy light revealing only dark patches across my white shirt. Through tears in the fabric the pale canvas of my skin could be seen, marred by a branch work of bulging purple veins, all flowing to a band of black skin running from my shoulder to my hip. I ran my fingers along this raised belt, the heat from within causing me to recoil. Along my side I found a solid plate where my broken ribs had fused together, unyielding in my attempts to breathe.

This appeared to be the extent of the changes for now, for before I could fully assess my condition, my vulnerability dawned on me: a lone human, sitting in pools of blood with crows circling overhead. Like moths to a flame, all manner of beasts would be drawn here soon; I could not rely on divine intervention to save me a second time.

Torturously, I stumbled to my feet, realising only then that one ankle had become an unresponsive stump. Yet walking was not impossible.

The streets were kinder to me that night, I found my way home unhindered.

******

In the days that have followed my last account, I have found my mind restless and plagued with phantasms I care not to describe. One, however, I can bring myself to pen is the reliving of the sighting which almost cost my life. I will admit I have become obsessed with the idea of The Angel. I capitalise for I am firm in the belief that there is only one such beast, and is therefore The Angel. Though this is unfounded, I see not how multiple of such a creature could exist unnoticed. My leading theory is that those who have seen the divine beast have not lived to tell the tale.

And so, the sleepless nights prior have been spent locked alone in my library. I have not once allowed the fire to smoulder, lest the dark it keeps at bay materialise into those beautiful yet disfigured wings within my very home. Furthermore, I have removed or covered any and all reflective surfaces I have come across, yet this I confess is for far more personal reasons.

My library was inherited from my father, a doctor of zoology at Greenwich for the better part of his 70 years. This is of note because I do believe this Angel to be a beast, and not in any way supernatural in origin. Had I been so inclined I may have sought out a professor of Theology, as much as it would burden my scientifically inclined soul.

I consumed volume after volume on mutation and the new-formed evolutionary biology. As a medical pharmacist I found both such topics fascinating: the way bodies can change, the conditions needed for new species to arise. I considered the very changes observed within my own lifetime; the creatures that now roamed the streets, yet this reminded me with a sickening jolt of the corruption seeping through my own body.

I suppose I have procrastinated for long enough upon mentioning my physical condition. Thinking of it brings a great deal of shame, writing it even more so. In truth I am forced to shed light upon the origin of the elixir I have inserted within my person: it is a medication of my own design, previously untested on all but rats kept within my study. I intended for it to save lives, which it has excelled at in my case, however the side effects have shaken me to my core:

The black belt across my torso has cooled, yet the network of engorged and inflamed blood-vessels feeding it remains a vivid purple hue. More concerningly, It seems to pulsate in two distinct beats, roughly thirty of them per minute. These pulsations continue separately from the rate of my own heart, which I have consistently measured at an alarming one fifty regardless of my agitation. If I may be candid, I cannot cease to visualise this growth as a leech, a large black leech feeding upon me. This belief is not supported by any evidence, yet I cannot shake it.

As for my appearance: this I cannot stand to bare; much less describe. After catching a single glimpse of my blackened, inhuman eyes, I removed all mirrors as previously described.

Locking myself away is solely for the purpose of research, however it does bring a great deal of comfort to know that I will not be seen in such a state. Though London is plagued by beasts, life goes on as usual. For most they are a nuisance, as troublesome as rabid dogs, however a different story would be told if they dared venture out after dark. The public will not admit they are scared, in such a way as is ingrained in us from birth, yet fear is the true ruler of this new era. I myself am less troubled by the existence of the beasts as I am by the question of their origin.

Within the centre of my library, forward from my blazing hearth, stands a platform for a grand piano. A priceless instrument that I have rehomed against the far wall. This relocation was to make way for a blackboard and a great deal of cork boards. Upon these can be found extracts, photographs, and the writings of a madman all connected with red thread. What to an onlooker may appear as the work of a Marxist insurrection is to me my magnum opus: a grand theory of Beastiology, and most importantly the skeleton of a dissertation on The Angel. Now my burden was to find the evidence of my claims. I must prove the existence of a creature seen only by me, and as of yet rumoured by no others.

For such an expedition I must prepare accordingly.

******

Fog swirled and coiled like fingers grasping at my coat tails. Gas-lamps stood cold and unlit, their attendants too fearful to venture out that night. The wheels of my light wagon rumbled against the cobbled road, crackling like thunder through the silent night. The contents of my trolley were critical to my endeavour: a single tailboard camera, several empty glass vials, a microscope, a phosphorus flare, and this very journal. My only purpose in life by this point was foremost to prove the existence of The Angel, and secondarily to understand what it was.

Upon my belt I carried several fresh injectors of my elixir, yet I dreaded using them, and a cold metal revolver. The gun felt heavy against my hip, almost blasphemous to my noble pursuit of knowledge, yet I felt it to be a necessary evil: I could prove nothing if I was dead.
The streets closed in upon me with inanimate intimidation, their many windows observing my passage with judgement, their curtains drawn tight yet the fires within still shone through, leaving deep orange irises to gaze into my very soul. I had little time to wonder after the lives of the occupants then, but I do now; now I wish for nothing more than to have lived as they do, locked away from the horrors that prowl the city.

My wandering was not aimless, however, as my goal was laid out clearly within my mind: To clearly capture an image of The Angel I must seek elevation, and so I strove for the tallest building around: the church spire. Once there I would bait the creature with a flare, and upon its arrival it would be caught by the flash-pan of the tailboard. With this I would have irrefutable evidence of The Angel, and therefore be able to publish the work of my obsession as scientific fact.

I was roused from my single minded determination by a low growling. The noise was at first a sensation deep within my chest before it became a sound, the deep tone rattling me to my core. In fear I froze, turning slowly about myself to find the noise’s source.

Within the dark of an alley, grey brickwork hidden in shadow, was the subtle glint of teeth. They were low to the ground, yellow, glossy surface bright against the swirling haze of the night. It was a good twenty feet from where I stood, certainly it was stalking me. I had been so focused on my own pursuit that I neglected to consider that I may be pursued myself. The creature growled again, this time allowing jagged claws to catch the light as it edged forwards.

Slowly, I reached for the revolver. This beast was smaller than the last, and likely weaker.

Bones cracked sickeningly as misshapen legs raised a twisted torso. Rising up to the height of a man, the creature’s shins split backwards into asymmetrical knees, bone glittering in the foggy moonlight. Blood stained the fur of the bipedal demon before me, dripping down from its muzzle and staining its chest. Arms disproportionately long were held out at awkward angles, tipped with razor claws protruding from cracked skin. Sunk into the creature’s breast was the handle of a butcher’s knife, rising from the stretched skin like an obelisk, a monument to immortality; I was not the first to make an attempt on the beast’s life.

In its new form the creature was easily a foot over my height. It let out another deep growl, then began to charge.

Broken and dislocated legs launched the beast forwards at remarkable pace. As the distance between us shortened I discharged my revolver, three, four, five times into the creature’s blasphemous form. Each shot was accompanied by the wet sound of tearing flesh, yet the beast hardly even flinched. As it closed in upon me, I levelled my pistol towards its head for one final shot.

The ringing in my ears could not possibly compare to what the creature would’ve felt in that moment. From near point-blank range the lead projectile made contact with the soft cornea of the beast’s black eye; splitting the lens and destroying the retina before the lids had a chance to close. Pain signals may have reached the brain by the time the optic nerve was eviscerated, yet the bullet was far from slowing down. Any pain this beast felt would have ceased instantly as the grey matter within its skull became thoughtless mush, a soup of everything it had ever experienced expelled forcefully through the back of the skull, painting the walls behind in red and brown.

The corpse held significant inertia from its charge; impacting into me with the force of a stallion racehorse. I was thrown backwards, all air knocked from me as I collided with the cobbles once again. There I was pinned in place by the stinking, bleeding, oozing corpse, the foul stench of death and gunpowder lingering in the cold air.

I was wrong to have assumed this opponent weak. Despite its diminutive stature, were it not for my lucky shot the creature would have torn me limb from limb. I feared my time isolated had clouded my sense of judgement. Caution gave way to paranoia.

With excruciating effort, I lifted the lifeless husk from me, and rolled it onto its side. For some time I lay beside it, breathless, my fused ribs fighting against my diaphragm to draw in fresh air. My entire body trembled, muscles spasming with adrenaline.

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Once my wits were about me once more, I began a hasty field-examination of the cadaver before me. Blood samples were collected; vials pushed against weeping bullet wounds, thick purple tinted liquid seeped into them. The abnormal hue made the blood appear deeply sickly, however it would have to be examined under proper lighting to be sure.

The anatomy of the creature was troubling. It was unclear what was a joint and what was a break, for the subject had used both interchangeably; seemingly breaking its own bones when it required a wider range of movement. The fur made examination challenging, however the skin beneath was stretched tightly across the skeleton, the sore-ridden surface prone to splitting under my touch. This allowed me to view the creature’s bones in great detail, though they were coated in flesh and viscera. What at first had been assumed to be canine in origin appeared to me now as disturbingly hominid, resembling closely a great ape or perhaps, sickeningly, a human. However the bones were too mangled and distorted, riddled with fractures and splits, to be sure of their origin.

This disturbing revelation was short lived, however, as my frightful imagination made fancy of spectres bordering on my vision. With these hallucinations came the realisation that my gunshots may have attracted unwanted attention.

I fled the scene with my cart, laden with samples from the beast, and set out once again for the sanctity of the church.

******

Wind, something so often ignored, can become a harrowing shriek at high altitude. The constant roar admitted no other sound as I established my equipment. The hundreds of steps had rendered me breathless, and able to carry only my camera and flare to this point. Yet this was all I would need.

Far below the fog clung to each building like a blanket of living snow, snaking through each street restlessly. It would not find me up here. In places the life seeping from shuttered windows gave way to orange illumination glowing within the blanket as embers in a dying fire. I would not be granted sight of anything stalking down below but for exaggerated shadows; even an alley cat would twist into a grotesque black apparition before my eyes.

The tailboard stood on a wooden tripod, aperture facing outward into the inky night. In one hand I held the flash pan, connected by wire to the boxy camera. In the other I held ready the flare.

Upon lighting, the beacon sputtered and roared, great plumes of smoke rushing backwards in the howling wind. The centre of the red flame burned brighter than the sun, leaving violent spots across my vision. About me the church spire was thrown into sharp relief, tinged crimson as if dripping with blood. Each crack in the stonework became a river of black amidst a plain of sore flesh; gargoyles observed with bleeding eyes, the dark cavities of their mouths hidden in shadow but for their gore-soaked teeth.

Light can be as arousing to the fearful imagination as darkness can be. Yet I bade off my nervous disposition to focus on the task at hand.

I cast my eyes out into the violent tempest of the night, desperately searching for a flicker of movement that would herald The Angel’s arrival. Yet the brightness I held disallowed me from seeing beyond the precipice of the church spire. Each roar of the wind was to my mind the beating of monumental wings; each change in its direction the draft of the encroaching behemoth.

The flare began to sputter once more, blood dripping down the walls to leave dry darkness in its wake. The red hue became dimmer and dimmer until all that remained was the blazing aurora left within my eyes. Left blinded in the dark night I cursed loudly, my voice stolen from me by the wrathful wind.

In my anger, for which I now see childish, I accidentally set off the flash pan, imprinting onto my stinging eyes once more the all encompassing disk of a sun.

I spent more time than I care to admit breathing heavily, clutching at my burning eyelids.

I packed up the tailboard and prepared myself for the descent, disappointment heavy in my heart.

******

Oh what fresh hell I have stumbled upon! Never before have I been more resolute in my belief that God himself is dead; for what grand creator would permit such a thing to exist! I am filled with blasphemous dread: what eternal torment could be worse than this Earth?

I must compose myself, lest I be unable to describe the events that transpired upon my return.

Let us begin with my examination of the samples gathered. My disappointment was so great that I set aside the camera, instead endeavouring to distract myself with the blood of the creature. I removed blood samples from the vials and pipetted them gingerly onto a microscope slide. By the light of a candle beneath them, I peered through the lens with a sketchbook ready for observations.

Thousands upon thousands of eyes stared back at me, unmoving, unforgiving. The millions of cells within the sample watched with red irises and black pupils, never breaking contact with my own. I threw myself backwards in disgust and terror, breathing uncontrollable. Of course I knew what a red blood cell was; I knew its appearance, its structure, its function. Yet despite this I could not shake the chilling notion that these were eyes.

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In a moment of irrational terror, yet masquerading as logical experimentation, I drew a sample of my own blood and placed it upon the microscope.

Here again were those same eyes. At the corners of my view they appeared to blink, yet drawing my gaze over them revealed them to be as unmoving as ever. It is with great discomfort I divulge that I could not tell a difference between my own sample and that of the creature’s. Both stared back at me with the same contempt and judgement.

To distract myself yet again, I turned back to the camera. Despite knowing it to be pointless, I developed the single piece of film within. Staying inside the gloom of the pantry I was using as a darkroom was torturous, each scurry of a rat in the walls spiking panic through my chest. I am far from a photographer, yet I understood the basic process of developing photographic film. This tedium I used to clear my mind of any inclination towards eyes.

I left the photographic paper hanging from a line, and gladly embraced the warmth and light of the library once more. There I stayed for some time, staring at the microscope from a distance, daring not to get close lest the samples gain life and attack me. To pass the time I serviced the revolver, replacing the spent rounds in the spinning chamber.

******

There is no place in heaven for my soul now. Were it not a sin to take my own life, I would still be condemned to fire and brimstone if my death was to be of natural causes. I am a perversion of God’s divine likeness. I bear no honour to hold the title of humanity. This journal was to be the foundation of a scientific paper; a breakthrough in Biology and Beastiology. Now it shall serve as a tale of my demise.

Poison has destroyed my body; obsession has destroyed my mind; corruption has destroyed my soul. No miracles were to be found in my studies; the witchcraft I injected brings only torment. The Angel will come for me soon, I am sure of it.

I do not wish to go with it.

My passage to Lucifer will be escorted by lead. I will visit him on my own terms, and answer for my sins.

This is goodbye.

******

Inspection of the property revealed no signs of a corpse or a firearm. It is suspected that the owner of the house is at large and may be dangerous. A psychologist from the nearby Asylum will consult on this case moving forward.

The contents alluded to within the text were discovered and examined. Their descriptions are as follows:

Multiple samples of human blood, various stages of decomposition, some stored in sealed glass vials, some on microscope slides.

An empty tailboard camera, flash pan recently discharged.

A singular photograph depicting what appears to be a large black mirror. The borders of this mirror appear to be grey and flesh-like, with small feathers scattered in small patches. Potentially an eye, however this is unlikely. Within the mirror can be seen the bright discharge of the pan, however besides this can be barely made out a bipedal figure. The body appears disfigured and contorted. It can be assumed that this is the silhouette of the author, therefore this image will be enlarged and distributed to all officers within the locality.

It would appear that this image caused considerable distress to the photographer, however its authenticity is yet to be ascertained.

No beast matching the description of “The Angel” has been spotted, however other beings described match that of large feral dogs the City of London has been plagued by as of late.

This investigation is ongoing; a formal request has been put through to Scotland Yard to consider the matter further.

Credit: Cult of MJ

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