by Callista Van Allen
Being the angel on someone’s shoulder is impossible when they don’t listen, no matter what you do. There isn’t even a devil on their other shoulder—no one else they’re listening too. They just refuse to hear me.
Angels don’t have names, but humans give us epithets; mainly Michael. Lots of Michaels. Back when I was the patron saint of ArchDuke Ferdinand, he gave me the name Jonathan. It’s the only name I’ve ever had.
I told him not to go to Sarajevo, but he didn’t listen to me, either.
He’s the most recent notable person I’ve advised. A few kings of old, rulers of fallen empires long before recorded history. It’s a flashy line on a resume—if angels made such things—good for bragging rights, but I prefer nobodies. Keeping Nero in line? Impossible.
Ironically, Keith, my newest ward, listens even less than Nero. He sits on his mother’s couch, trapped in a dark dingy basement, playing Halo. Which, in my opinion, is a blasphemous name for the game. Halo? Really? Halo?
Keith recently graduated college. He wasn’t top of his class, but he was well enough along. After he graduated? He traded notebooks for Cheetos and pens for Mountain Dew. He hasn’t sent out a job application in months.
Maybe it’s my fault. Last year hit hard—especially after his father’s accident.
That’s another thing angels can’t understand; loss. Sure, my wards die, illness or malpractice take them before their time. Goodbyes are a dime a dozen when you’re immortal. It isn’t the same for humans and angels. After all, we know what awaits after death.
Humans don’t see the end game, only the rotting grave.
I gave Keith time to grieve. I’m no monster; I sent him blessings in disguise, doves outside his window, rabbits in his room. Oddly, he found it more annoying than helpful.
Because of his general unpredictableness, I’ve put a special alarm in my schedule to check on Keith every hour.
When I find him, he’s sprawled on the floor, surrounded by chip bags and empty bottles. I’m not sure what he likes about either indulgence. I don’t eat human food, nor can I taste it, so I’ve never gotten the hype. Keith, however, diets solely on dollar-store snacks and fast-food meals. He’s only maintained a reasonable weight because he doesn’t eat those meals often enough.
“Up and at ‘em, boy-o.” Keith groans as I kick his ribs. My toe rams into his body too forcefully and he yelps. Human bodies are delicate, glass that breaks with the slightest breeze. It’s easy to forget my strength.
He rolls over, glancing right through me. We’re invisible to humans, but you hear our voices—your conscious. Keith slings his arm over his face and closes his eyes.
“Wake up,” I say through gritted teeth.
My jaw grates so tightly a tooth pops and falls out. All six eyes burn into his soul, but there’s no guilting a man without any regret. “One. Just do one application.” Blood hammers through my fingers as I clench my fists; my knuckles must be white.
“Keith. You must do something with your life.” Why? Why am I the one stuck with Keith? Millions of other angels could’ve dealt with him instead. Handling mundane tasks to no avail laces my nerves with fire.
He tugs a pillow over his face, blocking out sound. He’ll have to come up for air eventually or he’ll suffocate, but Keith is all too good at walking that fine line.
“Do you plan to do this forever?”
He curls onto his side, fetal position, as if he seeks protection. No urgency will break his shield.
“What would your father say?” It bursts from my mouth and Keith freezes, rigid, muscles tensing, a taught bow. His breath hitches.
Finally, Keith says, “Doesn’t matter. He’s dead now.”
Anger scorches my throat, heating my face and tongue. I hadn’t meant the outburst, but it should have been the final straw—the forbidden subject that spurs Keith into motion. But he lies there. Unmoving.
He won’t listen to me? So be it. I’m not his father; I’m not the one to baby him when things go wrong or hold his hand through his self-created crisis. If he won’t listen to an angel, well…
Maybe he’ll listen to another form.
Thank God Keith doesn’t have any weapons except a giant butcher’s knife in the kitchen. Lord knows, he’d probably chop off a finger if he decided to cook, an unlikely scenario, but one I’m prepared to face.
Within seconds, my fingers clasp the blade, like the mere thought summoned it. I shove the bathroom door open and yellow light spills out. Stepping into the tiny room is stepping into a portal to an unknown world.
More than any room in the house, bathrooms represent what angels don’t, what angels can’t, have. Skincare? Too selfish. Hair dye? The body is a temple.
A bathroom is a museum of rules, a charity not meant for cherubs, and when I enter it, I break one of the most important rules of them all; I look in the mirror.
I am not human. I am pure power, energy in my veins that gave birth to stardust, no mere angel on someone’s shoulder. No, I’m done asking.
From now on, I’m demanding.
The moment the knife hits my halo, the wreath of light flickers. The blade bites, sawing painfully. Fire races into my lungs, white hot, choking me and then the halo collapses, leaving only bloody stumps in its place—horns.
The wings go next.
It isn’t blood that comes out, but fire, heavenly fire scorching my veins, bleeding, pulsing from my body until there isn’t a drop left. My knees give out. I crumple to the bathroom floor, twitching, convulsing, bile coating my throat. Black covers my vision and yanks me into it with devilish paws.
When I come back around, I’ve never felt so cold.
Light as a feather but heavy as a brick, I’m falling, falling, falling. And when I finally regain my senses, I don’t recognize myself at all. I’m human. Not human human. Sick. Twisted.
I’m used to the heavenly fire in my bones, but this? This is oil in my arteries, sludge in my soul, dirt packing every inch until it threatens to pour out through my eyes.
I gather all the glass cups I can find, from coffee mugs to collectibles. His poor mother will miss her dishes, but she can get a new set. She can never get a new son.
Keith doesn’t hear me as I re-enter the basement. He does sense something through; maybe the shadow I leave on the wall. I’ve never had a shadow before. I see why the fallen like them, how ominous they are, the promise of something where there’s nothing.
I chuck a plate at Keith’s feet. It shatters, glass spiraling into the walls. A mug explodes by his face and he jumps to his feet, yelling and swearing. A bowl erupts near his ribs, a shard cuts his side. He scrambles and dives behind the couch. Sobs echo from his hiding spot as he threads his fingers through his hair. Trying to comprehend me must be frying his brain.
“Fill out an application.” This time, my commands thunder and shake the ground. They aren’t merely a whisper in Keith’s mind, but spoken aloud for all to hear. Keith falls backward, eyes rimmed red, cheeks wet.
“Ok, ok!” He holds his hands over his face, curling into a ball. “I’ll do it tonight!”
A plate collides against his thigh, spreading a dark mark. How fragile human bodies are. How easy to break, when I wish to.
“I’ll do it now!” He amends.
My heart swells, creeping with a strange satisfaction, warming my bones. No one said being a fallen would be so fun.
Perhaps Nero was right –horns suit me much better than a halo .
About the Author:
Callista Van Allen is an American author with a love for blurring the line between heroes and villains. Her favorite genre to write is urban fantasy, and in her spare time, she competes in foil fencing and collegiate Model UN. ‘Fabulously Fallen’ is her first published piece.