The first thing Courtney noticed as he pulled his beat up old Ford into Rod’s driveway was the massive gash in the field just east of the farmhouse. It was early January and the ground sat frozen under a thick blanket of snow, yet despite this something had torn a small gorge twenty yards long across the length of the field. It looked as though God, with a great sweeping gesture of his arm, had scooped up a handful of dirt and snow and thrown it away, like a child scooping sand from a sandbox. Courtney couldn’t imagine what could have caused such destruction, but he figured it had something to do with the call he had received begging him to come over as fast as he could. The last words of that call still rang in his head as he pulled up to the house, leaving a sour taste in his dry mouth—make sure nobody follows you.
As Courtney climbed the rickety staircase that led to Rod’s door each board creaked noisily beneath his heavy boots, as if moaning out in pain. Just as he was about to knock he heard a cry from behind him. He spun around to see Rod slipping out of the barn, moving so urgently that he was nearly tripping in the snow. He waved his arms in a come-to-me gesture and Courtney descended the steps, making his way toward the barn, stepping carefully in the footprints which already littered the snowy ground before him.
“What the hell is going on, Rod?” Courtney asked, smiling despite the steadily sinking feeling in his gut.
“You weren’t followed, were you?” Rod’s eyes shifted nervously over Courtney’s shoulder, scanning the road beyond.
“Jesus Rod, who’d want to follow me out here?” The smile slipped from Courtney’s face. For the first time he noticed the dark bags under his friend’s eyes, the nervous grinding of his teeth.
“You see the wreck?” Rod asked, his eyes shifting to the field Courtney had noticed driving in.
“Yeah, what the hell was—”
“I found something, Court. Something fell out of the sky and into my field last night.”
Courtney shifted nervously in the snow, looking first at the field and then at his friend’s face. There was no doubt in his words, no lying in his eyes. Courtney slipped his hands into his pockets, suddenly very cold.
“What do you mean? Like, a plane?”
Rod shook his head slowly, a mixture of certainty and fear on his tired face. He glanced around once more, checking for a final time to make sure nobody had followed Courtney out.
“If I show you this, you need to promise never to tell anyone.”
“Yeah, of course Rod.”
“I’m not fucking around here, Court. I need you to fucking promise.” Rod’s voice was now so shaken that Courtney considered dropping the whole thing and walking away. Only the absolute fear in his friend’s eyes kept him from leaving.
“I promise,” he said, and once more a powerful chill ran through his body. Rod nodded, and rested his hand on the barn door. Before slipping into the building he turned back, locking eyes with Courtney.
“I’m sorry for bringing you into this, but I can’t face it alone,” he said, disappearing into the shadows of the barn, the heavy door swinging shut behind him.
Courtney was left staring at the door, an old chunk of splintered wood and chipping red paint, not unlike the rest of the structure. He’d been in the barn a thousand times over the years, but never had the building seemed so foreboding as it did now. Every fiber of his being told him to turn tail and never look back, but the depths of the old barn called to him like a siren in the night. He found himself wishing desperately that this was some elaborate joke Rod was pulling, but the pit in his stomach said otherwise. Rod’s eyes had told him otherwise. Slowly, as if he was sleepwalking, Courtney moved to the old barn and pulled open the door, slipping into the shadows and leaving the light of the low winter sun behind him.
The air in the barn was still and heavy, smelling of old hay and cow pies, and Courtney felt as if he could choke on it if he were to breathe too much too quickly. A few stray rays of light shone through the cracks in the barn’s ceiling and walls, offering a welcome reminder that something existed beyond the slowly decaying walls of the place, which seemed as if they could close in on the men at any moment, swallowing them whole. An ancient gas lantern glowed lazily on a crate near the center of the barn, and Courtney was surprised to find that its light was not needed to see the thing which Rod had chained to the far wall, a thing which knocked the breath out of Courtney faster than the dank air of the barn ever could.
Courtney hadn’t known what to expect, but the feeling in his gut and the shiver down his back had prepared him for something horrendous. What he saw chained to the wall now was not horrible, but beautiful beyond all words. It looked like a man, but to call it such seemed to degrade the flawlessness of its design. Every curve of its body seemed deliberate and graceful, every ounce of pale flesh seemed pure and smooth. It sat on its knees with its arms chained behind it, hanging its head before the men, its long locks of hair falling like golden thread before its face. Most striking were the massive feathered wings which sprung from its bent back, and drooped now as if pulled down by weights. The being’s entire body was surrounded by a powerful and striking light which appeared to come from no source and lit the far wall of the barn with a white light, as if the thing was hiding a small sun behind its back.
Courtney stood, mouth agape, staring dumbly at the creature as Rod nodded his head in agreement.
“Yep, I felt the same way first time I laid eyes on it,” he said, a note of disbelief still hanging on his voice.
“How…What is it?” Courtney heard himself ask, though he couldn’t recall his mouth moving.
“Well hell, seems obvious enough to me. It’s an angel,” Rod answered, and for the first time Courtney was able to draw his eyes away from Rod’s captive.
“But how is that possible? How did you get it in here?” Words were spilling out of him now, questions hitting him like bullets.
“I don’t know why it came here or how, but it landed out in that field last night. I saw a flash and heard a bang, thought the barn had been hit by lightning. I ran out to see what was wrong and found him in the field, just lying face down in the dirt. Thought he was dead at first, but I guess he proved me wrong. I didn’t know what to do so I drug him up here and locked him up for good measure.” As Rod recounted his night, his eyes never left the wall where the angel hung.
“Does Wendy know?”
“Naw, she’s at her mom’s place, thank God. I wouldn’t want her mixed up in this mess.”
“Yeah, that’s true I suppose. Has it said anything to you?”
“Not a word. I don’t even know if it can. It just sits there and stares at the ground.”
Suddenly, as if on command, the angel raised its head and looked directly into Courtney’s eyes. Its eyes were as golden as its hair, and in them Courtney saw more fear and anguish than he had thought a creature capable of. As he stared into the angel’s eyes, unable to tear himself from its gaze, he heard a whisper in his ears, as if the thing was standing right next to him.
This man plans to kill me. Look behind him.
Courtney looked at Rod, whose eyes were still locked on the creature. Just as he himself broke away from its golden gaze, Courtney noticed the shotgun laying against the wall of the old barn.
“I swear to God that the thing hasn’t moved all night.” Rod sounded more excited than he had all morning. It became apparent to Courtney that he alone had heard the angel’s whispers. His heart was racing now, threatening to burst out of his chest at any moment. He looked back at the angel, whose eyes hadn’t moved an inch.
Please help me. I shouldn’t be here.
“Rod,” Courtney said, turning once more away from the angel’s piercing stare, “what exactly do you plan to do with this thing?”
“Shit, I don’t know. Haven’t really thought about it.” Rod said, his own gaze growing shifty again. “I was sort of hoping you’d have an idea, seeing as you were always the smart one.”
His honeyed words will spoil and rot in his mouth.
“Well, if it truly is an angel, and from the look of it that’s the case, then shouldn’t we let it go?” Courtney asked, testing the waters. The angel was practically singing in his ears now, its voice sweet and melodic, and its freedom suddenly seemed an urgent necessity.
“Let it go? What would it even do if I did? Where would it go, Court? McDonald’s? Pick up a Big Mac?” Until this point Rod had seemed nervous, but now the first edge of harshness slipped into his words, reminding Courtney of the gun only a few steps behind him.
“Jesus Rod, why’d you even ask me out here if you’re not going to listen to my suggestions?”
“I’m starting to wonder myself! Maybe this whole thing was a mistake.”
Something about what Rod said sent Courtney back in time to his boyhood, back to an event that he hadn’t thought on in years. A stray dog, a mutt Rod had found limping around the streets of the nearby town, collarless and mangy. He’d wanted to bring it home and keep it as a pet, and he’d brought Courtney in to help figure out what to do. Courtney knew no such beast would be allowed to live on a farm, especially with a father like Rod’s, and he had said as much. His advice had gone ignored and when Rod’s father found the dog three days later, it was Rod he forced to shoot the animal with his .22 rifle. Courtney had listened to the horrible details of the shooting a few days later as Rod recounted them with horror in his young eyes. A .22 is a small caliber, and when you’re a young boy shooting your pet with shaking hands and tears are clouding your vision, sometimes a single bullet might not do the job. Rod had shot the dog four times before it died, its loud death throes giving way to weak whimpers in the end as it slowly bled out behind the very barn they stood in now. All Rod had said after his story was that it was a mistake, over and over again.
Courtney was jutted from his memory by the sudden sound of the angel’s voice, more urgent than ever.
Don’t let me be that dog, Courtney.
Courtney looked into Rod’s eyes, his hand slowly moving toward the pocket knife that always sat on his belt. Rod nervously glanced at the door of the barn, a million miles away from where the men now stood.
“You could just shoot the thing,” Courtney said, his voice cold and distant as his fingers met the cold metal of the knife. “You could kill it like you did that dog back when we were boys. Make another mistake for old time’s sake.”
“Court… why would you say that.” Rod was sincerely hurt, but Courtney was too far gone to realize it. In his mind the angel revived a hundred dead memories of the times Rod had wronged him in his life, all the while whispering for the man’s death.
“What’s the gun for, Rod?”
“For God’s sake, it’s for defense Court!” Rod said, his eyes slowly falling on Courtney’s knife. “We don’t know what this thing is capable of!”
“You really think this thing would hurt you? An angel?” The being’s voice was begging, pleading that Courtney save him.
“I don’t know,” Rod’s eyes narrowed. “The Devil was an angel once too.” The words meant nothing to Courtney, whose mind had been largely made up for him.
“Let it go, Rod.” Courtney had begun to move forward, his hand resting firmly on his knife. The voice of the angel begged him to kill the man. Its voice was so sweet, so innocent, so urgent. There was a long moment of silence in which neither man moved and time seemed to freeze in the dank confines of the barn.
“I don’t think I can do that Court,” Rod said, tears filling his sunken eyes.
When it happened, it happened quickly. A break was made for the wall. The knife was pulled. Courtney stabbed his best friend over and over again as the angel screamed inside his skull, its cheering broken only by the bang of the shotgun blowing Courtney backwards across the room. Before they knew it both men were lying on the ground, bleeding out and unable to move, like that dog from so many years ago.
And as suddenly as it had popped into his head, the voice of the angel disappeared. Slowly the light began to withdraw into the being, and with the last of his dying strength Courtney managed to turn his head toward it. As he watched the golden hair fall from the being’s head in dirty matted chunks, as he watched the pale skin darken and rot, as he watched the great feathered wings grow leathery and membranous, as he watched to golden eyes turn beady and hungry and the teeth turn into jagged razors, as he watched the beast rip itself from the wall on which it was never truly trapped and crawl towards him in the lamp lit darkness, Courtney became aware of one indisputable and immediate fact: this thing was not, after all, an angel.
Credit: Nick Labath