Angel of Death

I was only seven when I first saw the Angel.

Most people live their entire lives without seeing it. When it does appear, it appears in a blinding glare of too-bright light. It speaks its Judgment in a voice that sounds like the crash of iron plates, and within seconds it vanishes.

Only those in the presence of its Judgment see it. It does not always appear in public locations. And rarely in places so public that there are more than a handful of witnesses. For myself, when I saw it I was the only witness. It came for my father. He was not a cruel man. He never abused me, or neglected me. I loved him. Yet it came for him nevertheless.

I remember little of how it appeared. It was human-formed, from what I recall, but yet too large, or its limbs somehow wrong, though the details of that wrongness elude me. Some witnesses have called it beautiful, awesome, majestic, or splendid. Others have called it terrible, monstrous, twisted, or horrific. None can agree on why.

I remember mostly its eyes. It barely looked at my father as it spoke. And when it had pronounced it’s terrible, implacable judgment, its eyes fell upon me as my father clutched his chest, gasped in pain, and fell heavily to the carpet. I do not know if it turned its head to look upon me, or if I merely fell within the scope of its vision. Either alternative fills me with dread, for different reasons. But I saw its eyes. And I remember that they seemed utterly blank. Expressionless, yes, but more than that, they were not focused on me. I do not believe they even saw me. I do not believe it could. Was that because it had not come for me? Can it only see those it takes? It would make sense.

Others disagree of course. There are as many theories as there are books about it. And everyone has their own opinion, from those who are also witnesses, to those who are thoroughly satisfied in their ignorance. Some say one thing, another something else, and the opinion of each is worth the same as the other, for the simple truth is that we do not know. We do not know where it comes from, or why it does what it does. We call it an Angel, by custom, but other cultures have called it by different names. It has been called the Vanadis, the Fate, the Accuser, Yamaduta, Izanami no mikoto – “she who invites”.

None of it helped. The theories, the clichés and platitudes. People said that the Angel’s Judgement was God’s mysterious will, or that it must be for a reason. My Priest asked me, as gently as he knew how, what the Angel had said, as it stood over my father. I honestly could not remember. It hadn’t seemed important, at the time.

My mother was distraught, inconsolable. She abandoned our Church, and found comfort in another, whch had no priests, and asked no questions. She became cold, detached, seeking comfort in faith and obedience to a purpose she refused to doubt. When I refused to leave our Church and join her, she stopped speaking to me. My Priest tried to help, but he did not understand, he had never seen the Angel himself, though he had spent his entire life dedicated to divining where and when it would appear. When I realised the disconnect there I remember it almost broke me. How had I never realised it before? Why did no one even point it out?

The Priests, for all their earnestness, sincerity, learning, and wisdom, fundamentally they had no idea when the Angel would appear, or how to forestall it. They tried to claim that their divination was reliant on God’s will, and human interpretation. That they could not command the Angel, only interpret the signs. But the truth was that there were no signs, there was no will of God to interpret, or none visible at least. The truth was that we were on our own before the Angel. Each of us stood alone.

I abandoned the Church then, as a moody teenager, though my mother wept, and my Priest pleaded for one more meeting, as though another cup of tea and earnest conversation in his sitting room would solve it all. I loved the man, he had stood at my side when I lost my dad, and he had taken the service at the grave, weeping with me as he did. But I could no longer stand in the Church and listen to his speeches any more, nor believe the songs we sang to beseech God’s restraint of the Angel’s wings.

I sought out others of my own mind instead. I found few whom I could stand to be around for long. Many had sunk into self-destructive nihilism, others into the pursuit of distracting pleasures, chanting “You only live once” and “Be your best self” with as much fervency as my parents had once chanted “We beseech you”, and “Avert your wrath, O Herald”. And, for a time I did the same, blotting out my fears with drink and sex, and dance, and drugs.

But still the Angel came, we found our friend Justine lying in the alley outside the club, froth at her mouth, needle still in her arm. There had been no witnesses, but the bouncer had heard what it said this time. It said “DEGENERACY” and when he had arrived upon the scene, it was gone, and my best friend’s face was twisted in agony and was jerking like a puppet on strings.

 “Degeneracy” was a vague, unhelpful judgement, too subjective to be sure of. Every Priest was happy to expound on what it meant, for the same word had been pronounced upon many before. Whole books had been written by intelligent leaders and thinkers of the Church, to illuminate that word for the masses, and help us avoid such Judgement upon ourselves. But I had read studies, and they had found that those of the Church received no fewer pronouncements of “DEGENERACY” from the Angel than any other group. Whatever the Angel meant by it, it seemed unlikely that the Church was capable of averting it any more than the rest of us.

Yet I grew up, and realised that the youthful exuberance I had enjoyed was empty of meaning, mere foolish fun. It had its time and its place, and I did not regret it. But it was time to settle down, to take life seriously.

I got a job and lived my life as best I was capable. I met a girl and we married. I did not see the Angel again, except on TV and in the newspapers. Some people were obsessed with the sightings, poring over the reports. Some were looking for patterns, clues to meaning. Most just wanted to see, to watch the Angel pass them by, and know that they were still alive. I kept my eyes open, one could hardly ignore it. But it did not touch my life as it once had.

I put the memory of it behind me, the thoughts of my father’s visitation stored carefully at the back of my mind, buried under other detritus of my past. I thought myself content, I thought myself safe. I returned to attend the Church as an adult, never having lost my reverence for the people and the place, though I no longer trusted the abilities of the Priests as I once had. They were just like me, I realised, just trying to make sense of the world, of the Angel. They offered comfort and support, as I comforted my friends, they may even offer some answers, how to live one’s life in that time we lived between the Angel’s visits, and was that not far more important than the other, abstract theories. I continued to enjoy the songs, and valued the lessons. And the Priest of the Church I now attended was a good man, with a deep knowledge of the theories and philosophies of learned thinkers. I was pleased to be a part of it.

I saw the Angel again when I least expected him. When I was at my happiest. We never even saw our daughter before he came for her. He did not even speak, he pronounced no judgement. Yet still she died.

I had known the possibility, but I had never spoken of it. No one did. No one spoke of the silent visits, preferring to hide their pain and hold it within themselves. But what did any of the theories mean, when the Angel could come, and not even offer justification for his coming? The judgments he pronounced were always hard to interpret, ambiguous, mysterious. But they at least appeared to have some purpose. The silent visits were entirely purposeless. There was no higher meaning for them, no Angelic plan that we could perceive to be there but not quite comprehend.

The Priest of my Church took the service. He didn’t offer any answers this time. I was pleased he didn’t try. It would have felt like an insult. He hadn’t been there. He hadn’t seen the face of the Angel, or experienced his silence, more terrible than judgment.

We carried on, my wife and I. We wept, and dried our eyes, then wept again, more loudly. The years passed, and we tried again. I never forgot the Angel. Though through the rest of my life I didn’t see him again his face was always at the back of my mind.

I made my peace with it, as best I could. As the years passed, it became easier just to carry on, not to think of the Angel. I now turned the news off when they reported another visitation. My eyes slid past the articles in the newspaper. I continued attending church, letting the words slide off me when they spoke of him, on those rare sermons when they did.

When I saw him for the last time he was come for me. I was lying in my bed, and he appeared at the foot of it. He wore that same expression I remembered so well. His face was serene, implacable, unyielding.

I looked at that great bright gaping hole in the universe and was struck with the sense of him, the impossibility of his existence. He shouldn’t be, I realised suddenly. He couldn’t be real, he shouldn’t be real.

How had it never occurred to me before? I had lived my life in a world that accepted him and his visits as normality. Why did the world not rise up in fury, shock, and horror at his constant attendance upon us? Why did we accept them as normal, why did we not oppose him with every inch of our being? Why were our leaders and governments not declaring him our greatest enemy and organising all the resources of our nations in holding him at bay? I should be angry, I thought. I should be furiously angry, we all should be. But I just felt tired.

He should not be here. But he was here nevertheless.

I had spent years thinking of what I would say to him. I had rehearsed a hundred speeches, from a single bitter curse, to a long and clever argument, to a heartfelt, weeping plea. When I saw him that third and final time, I realised it was pointless. I looked upon his face. And I realised he wasn’t even looking at me as he pronounced his Judgement upon me.

His eyes were completely blind.

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