Spooktober Prompt # 21 – Ancient Angels
“My Family Was Blessed with an Angel… I Think It Was a Curse.”
by Penny Tailsup
I grew up hearing the stories and whispers.
Our family was blessed with a great honor– a guardian angel. He had a name, but not one we could know. Apparently, it couldn’t be conveyed in a human tongue, so we simply referred to him as what he was: our Guardian Angel.
My mother could see him, a Glory bestowed on only one person at a time. Before her, it was Grandpa Deangelo. Before him, it was Great Grandma Angela… I’m not sure how far it goes, but I’d never believed the stories.
I’d always thought the “Guardian Angel” was a way to keep us “Good Christian Children”. Not only was God watching, so was our angel. He could report back, whispering directly in God’s ear. As a chosen family, we had to live as an example to others. We couldn’t only be good, we had to be perfect.
Because I didn’t believe it, I strayed from the path my family worked so hard to keep us on. I had the sense to keep it secret. I went to church, worked hard in school… but while everyone else believed the story of our Guardian Angel, I didn’t.
It was too weird. In fact, it seemed unchristian the way our family would worship the angel. We lit candles, prayed, brought offerings and begged him to continue his watch over us. I went through the motions, but I never meant them. I mouthed the words, but didn’t speak them. In a family of devout followers, I was a pretender.
The fact that no one noticed seemed to prove I was right. If there was an angel among us, one who whispered in God’s ear… Wouldn’t I have been called out? My mother, who was blessed with the sight of the angel, never questioned my beliefs. As long as I went through the motions, nothing aside from divine intervention could have told her different. “Divine Intervention” never saw fit to let her know there was a non-believer in the family.
Then my mother died. I was the first to know.
As I groggily got up, I noticed the shadows in the corner of my room. The morning sun flooded in from the window at my back, but there were two shadows instead of one. A scrawny teenager and a much taller figure with jagged edges, sharp angles jutting out from its back like broken glass.
No… not glass. Wings.
I spun around, expecting to see it standing behind me– but there was nothing. I looked again at the corner of the room…the second shadow was still there, towering over me.
“Mortal eyes cannot behold my form.” came a voice. “So I’ve blessed you with the sight of my shadow, to spare your sanity.”
I knew who… what he was, but I also knew what his appearance meant. My mother had died, and I’d inherited the sight of an angel I never believed in. I refused to believe it, gritting my teeth together and pretending I hadn’t heard the thing.
When I came down for breakfast, Angelo and Angie were waiting at the table. Of three kids, I was the oldest. Mother was nowhere to be seen. Neither was Father. I wasn’t sure if I should wake him up or not. I didn’t want to be part of the ‘discovery’.
“Are you okay, Sera?” Angie asked. My little sister noticed that I seemed a bit… checked out. I shook it off, giving a tight smile. Pretend everything is okay. Don’t ruin their day before you have to.
“I’m fine, just tired.” I made myself smile, making no mention of the jagged darkness making shadows around me. No one else saw them.
Since breakfast wasn’t already made, I stepped into the kitchen. Today was going to be a bad day, the least I could do was start my siblings off on a happier note. I decided to make pancakes, wondering if I’d ever have a taste for them again after a day like this.
“Pointless.” said the angel.
I continued to ignore him until I heard a scream from upstairs. My sister Angie jumped right up to go see, but I stopped her.
“Watch the pancakes, please. I’ll go check.” she was scared, I was older… and since I had some idea of what to expect, it only seemed right that I go.
“Are you going to pretend you’re noble now, Unbeliever?” asked the angel.
I trudged up the stairs. Father came out of the bedroom, quickly closing the door behind him. His striped pajamas were soaked in blood. My father, who I’d never seen cry, fell to his knees and covered his face. The sounds coming out of his mouth, racked with grief, sounded alien.
“Father, are you hurt?” I knelt in front of him, grabbing his shoulders. The blood staining his clothes felt cold. Not his blood. He didn’t answer me, unable to form words. I wasn’t even sure if he’d heard me. I stood up, stepping past my father and reaching for the door behind him.
“Don’t go in there.” Father managed to say, voice breaking. “No one should see their mother like that. Go… go downstairs, take your siblings to Grandma’s house.” I froze, indecisive. I didn’t want to see, but it seemed only right that I did. All these years, I secretly thought her a liar. Now her angel was my shadow.
“Go on,” said the guardian angel who failed to save my mother. “Open the door. She passed unto you a Blessed gift, she named you heir in her last breath. Go on, and honor her sacrifice.”
Mother had chosen me? The pretender? A bubble of sick, horrified laughter threatened to come up. That, or vomit. My stomach roiled as I slowly turned the handle and pulled the door open. The stench of iron pervaded my senses. The carpet was wet, squishing under my slippers as I stepped inside.
My father didn’t react in time. Before he could grab me and pull me from the room, I saw everything: the bloody wings my mother had painted across the room with slippery red hands; her still body, collapsed between those wings; her arms open like she was offering a hug. Her wrists were slit vertically, all the way up to her elbows. Worst of all, her face: vacant eyes with an unsmiling mouth. She had not passed on in peace. This tableau of woe spoke volumes about the family Blessing.
It was a curse.
Had the pressure of the angel’s presence broken her? I couldn’t imagine living with an angel over my shoulder. If my devoted Christian mother couldn’t, how could I?
“Suicide is a sin. Your mother was unworthy. Weak.”
My mother had lived a life devoted to God, there was no one in the world more worthy than her. I refused to believe the angel was right about her, but didn’t dare utter a word. No one else could hear this angel, or see his shadow… and I would never tell anyone what he said about Mother. My family would believe it, coming from the Guardian Angel.
It took me a few minutes to realize I was standing in the hall. The bedroom door was shut again and Father was shaking me. His bloodshot eyes met mine.
“I’m sorry you saw that, Sera.” he whispered, “Go downstairs. I’ll call Grandma to pick you kids up, I’ll… stay here. I have to talk to the police, and…” he trailed off, going completely silent when he realized he couldn’t say another word without crying. I hugged him, crying, because there was no other way to react to what I’d seen.
“It’s okay to cry, Father.” I sobbed. He was a man of pride, but… if there was ever a time to cry, it was now. Unfortunately, the sound of our grief had attracted my sister, who was coming up the stairs with a worried expression.
“Go back downstairs!” my voice came out a little sharper than intended, but she did as she was told. I wiped my eyes and went into my room, I was covered in blood so I had to change. I took a shower, too wound up to care that the angel had followed me.
Once I was clean and dressed, I went downstairs. Angie and Angelo were sitting on the couch with blank faces. They knew something was wrong, they knew it had to do with Mother… but they didn’t know what.
Grandma arrived a few minutes later, but instead of asking about Mother, she asked… “Who inherited our Guardian Angel?” Unlike my father or myself, she did not seem stricken with grief. She was more concerned about our family’s Blessing.
This angered me, so I clamped my teeth together and said nothing. Besides, having just discovered my “inheritance”, and still coming to terms with everything… I wasn’t sure what to say. I was… AM … an atheist. What kind of sick joke was it, that the angel would be passed to me?
“I don’t know.” I lied. The angel let out a piercing shriek behind me, that I’d dare tell such a lie– but no one else could hear him. No one else could see his shadow. As far as I knew, there was nothing he could do about it.
“I’m sure we’ll know soon. We should wait for his guidance.” Grandma said, insultingly calm. Part of me wanted to believe she simply didn’t know what happened, but the fact that she’d asked after the angel was proof she did.
On the drive to Grandma’s house, the angel hurled insults and threatened me. He was enraged, clearly never expecting to fall into the hands of someone like me. Everyone else in the family must have fallen in line. Generations of Believers. Not me.
My brother and sister were crying. Grandma’s question had broken the news to them, and it hadn’t been pretty. Her lack of tact infuriated me. Perhaps I could have told her off, citing the authority of the Guardian Angel… but I didn’t want to traumatize them even more. Pretending that Grandma had invoked the angel’s wrath would probably scare them.
“I won’t stand for your insolence.” the angel’s voice had quieted, but not the anger. I could feel the danger, an underlying current of electrifying blackness. The air tasted of iron and rain. “Do you want to end up like your mother? My patience is limited. She wasn’t worthy. You don’t seem to be either. I suppose it makes sense… she picked you.”
I couldn’t see the shadow, but I could feel it. The weight of it crushed me, I curled inward, clapping my hands over my ears and fighting back the anger, sorrow and fear. Thunder roared in my ears as I tried not to cry. In the backseat filled with grieving kids, I didn’t stand out. At least there was that. I didn’t have to cry alone.
We’ve been staying at Grandma’s since Mother’s death. Only Father and I know about the suicide and the bloody wings—Father told everyone that she fell in the tub and hit her head. I don’t know if anyone believes that, but no one has questioned it.
Aside from my siblings, most of the family only cares about one thing. The family is in chaos, screaming for their Angel. Everyone except Father, who only sits quietly and stares into space. One of these days, someone might step forward to claim the Glory– if only to calm the panic.
I’m not sure what I’m going to do yet. I know what I’m supposed to do, like everyone before me. It’s not that simple. Maybe it’s because I was never a believer, but I can’t bring myself to believe that’s the right thing to do.
When I was finally alone with that shadow… I had questions. I turned to face it, the shadows falling on the wall behind me.
“What kind of angel are you?” I demanded. I had a lot of questions, but I feared this answer most of all:
“Fallen.” its voice was dripping with smugness, vibrating with amusement; an insulting contrast to my dread.
My heart dropped, thudding uncomfortably in my stomach. I’d asked because I’d expected that answer, but to have it confirmed…
Biting my lip, I pressed on:
“Did Mother know?” In answer, a sinister sound rose up from below. My skin prickled at the electric sensation of its laugh.
“Of course she knew. Why do you think she picked you?”
I’d learned a terrible truth, passed down from generation to generation. A truth that was now my burden to bear.
I wasn’t a believer. I had no choice but believe now. Perhaps that was Mother’s way of saving me.