Death of an Angel
TW: religious/emotional/transphobic abuse, general transphobia/homophobia, parent death
DISCLAIMER: I'm a trans gay man. A lot of Anthony's backstory is, in a purely emotional sense, personal.
Those hollow church bells had always chilled me to my tired, young bones. Inside the chapel I locked my eyes on Lord Andrew’s morbidly serene visage, his form watching over the pews like a starving hawk. His eyes were closed, they always were, but his presence was a gaze enough, and it burned into every white-faced churchgoer to make sure there wasn’t a single wrinkle in their bodices, that their suits were perfectly fit, that not a strand of ruler-straight hair was out of place.
And if there was?
The corner of my eye caught on a shock of bright red hair as I took my spot at one of the pews. One of the boys from my class, Matthew, apparently decided on a different seat that morning. Normally he sat near the back, but his family’s usual spot must have been occupied. I couldn’t take my eyes off the boy’s sharp jaw, which had bits of stubble starting to poke out of it. I wondered what it felt like if I were to brush my hand against it, if I were to lean in and…
A claw of dread twisted my attention back to Lord Andrew.
“Do not upset him.”
I swallowed. My throat was desert dry and scratchy—I nearly coughed up a drove of fear, but luckily I was practiced at holding things down. At least, that’s what I thought.
While my focus was on Lord Andrew and the preacher ranting His word, I could tell the man to my left was glaring at me out of the corner of his eye. People called him my father, and I guess he was, if you judge parentage solely by blood. I’d never felt any sort of familial bond with him, though. Regardless, the fact that he knew I’d been staring at Matthew shot icy panic up my spine. There was a woman to my right, my mother. She seemed to know that the man to my left knew. Not that she would do anything about it.
I spent the rest of those long hours with cold blood and wet eyes.
“You were looking at him.”
“I wasn’t! I swear to the L—”
“Do not lie to me! If you are what you say you are—and you aren’t—then that’s yet another sin!” The man barked. I flinched—his body filled the entire entrance to my bedroom. I’d retreated to it immediately after church, hoping he’d forgotten about what had happened. Evidently, he had not. “And don’t you dare use the Lord’s name like that.”
My voice was barely a whisper, caught behind an intangible lump in my chest. I could feel every hair on my body standing on end, every muscle tensed as I pulled further into myself. What was I trying to do? Protect myself by curling into a ball? That wouldn’t help, logically I knew it, but after so long it felt like the only action I had control over anymore. “I’m sorry,” I said through gritted teeth. Feeling so helpless almost made me angrier than what he was putting me through in the first place.
The man let out a chewed up sigh, “Is it really so hard to just stop and save us all this grief? Your mother is worried sick, my coworkers are asking questions—why must you go against His word?”
My head spun. I couldn’t answer even if I had one. It was only me and him in the house at that moment, but I felt a presence prickling at the back of my head, bleeding chaos into my mind. It was always at its most volatile whenever the man was around.
The man pulled his hand down his face, distorting features that I refused to look at since whenever I did, the space behind my eyes would squirm, like there were maggots made of lightning wriggling into my brain. He grumbled something, then said, “If I catch you doing that again, I’m taking away your pencils and sketchbooks. The shit you draw in those things…” he shivered. “Be grateful I let you have them in the first place. It’s better to exorcise those thoughts in private than where everyone could see, but understand that’s a privilege, young ⎯▂▅▪.”
I’d asked him not to call me that many, many times, so it made me hate it even more when he did, so much so that I learned to blur the words into a white-hot light. They still stung, but they were bearable if I shrouded them in rage.
All I could muster in response was a stunted, “Okay.”
I swallowed hard. “Okay.” It wasn’t much louder.
He turned his nose up in disappointment. “I said stop mumbling. How do you expect anyone to respect you?”
“Lord, okay!” I blurted, immediately regretting it. Every bone in my body shuddered from how hard I tensed up at the man’s widened eyes. He took a few rapid steps toward me—adrenaline kicked in, but I couldn’t move—he leaned down, still towering over me. I scooted back and averted my gaze to the wall.
“What is wrong with you?” he hissed, “‘Stop mumbling’ doesn’t mean talk back. Hey, look me in the eyes when I’m speaking.” His face suddenly grew exhausted. “Ugh, where did I go wrong?”
I was used to just about everything, but that… that implication that I was somehow his mistake. That set an angry blaze alight in my stomach, which poured out of my eyes as a steaming liquid.
But I still said nothing.
Finally, the man relented. He stood straight, smoothed down his button-up, and left my room without another word besides a slammed door. I flinched again, then slowly uncurled into a board on top of the covers. I pulled a pillow to my chest, quietly sobbing into it until I fell asleep.
The year since I’d, foolishly, decided to tell my blood family about myself I’d been in survival mode. Trudging through school, tolerating my relative’s company on holidays (they didn’t know about who I was. Considering how my parents had taken the news, I decided to keep it that way), and being as modest as possible when alone with my parents. Even looking in the mirror had become a nightmare—I knew that, logically, that was me in the mirror’s foggy surface, but it also wasn’t. It was like someone had arranged a puzzle incorrectly, nothing quite fit, not even my hair. After a while, I decided to scrub my image from my mind completely.
Today was no different. I sat stiffly at our small dining table for breakfast—bland eggs, as usual—conscious of every bite I took. Andrew’s cross hung on the wall. There was one of them in nearly every room in the house, always watching.
The walk to school that day was a blur, as I was still reeling from the events of the previous night. My eyes glazed over the crushed, yellow grass that lined the edges of the sidewalk, and it felt as if I was watching myself from behind my eyes, like a movie. A horribly numb movie.
How did I get into the school house again? I only noticed the gap in my memory around half an hour into my first class, Morals of the Book of Andrew. I blinked, trying to clear the fog from my mind.
Someone was giving me a strange look from across the room, and quickly looked away when I caught their eye. They leaned to the side, their uniform straining unnaturally against the movement, to whisper to a friend. I narrowed my eyes. They were definitely talking about me, or were they? Was I overreacting? Why would they even bother?
I let out a short breath through my nose and tried to focus on the droning lecture, too tired to keep worrying about it.
I don’t think I was overreacting.
It seemed even the halls themselves had eyes as I shuffled through them, trying my best to keep to the edges of them, out of view. Whatever reputation I’d unknowingly mustered within the past day betrayed me, and my height being fairly tall for kids my age certainly didn’t help. Everyone, or at least what felt like everyone, stared as I made my way to my next class. I think they were trying to hide it, but high schoolers tend to struggle with subtlety. I tugged on the strap of my satchel as I pushed my shoulders forward. I just had two more classes, then this day would be over.
I started at the voice, my cheeks immediately going red from embarrassment. One of the girls in my grade, Eve, I think, stood in front of me. Her platinum blonde hair was done into two neat braids, framing her pale, angular face like a painting. I blinked at her.
“Are you not a ▂▅▪, or something?” she asked, her tone more perturbed than curious.
My blood turned as icy as her cold eyes. I couldn’t speak. Is that why everyone was staring...?
When I failed to respond, she wrinkled her nose at me. “You know that’s going against Lord Andrew’s wishes, right?”
Panic gripped my chest. “I-I am a ▂▅▪.” I barely managed to push the words through my throat.
Clearly unconvinced, she adjusted her satchel. “Oh… okay. Just wanted to make sure, since I’m sure you know what would happen if you went down that path.” She leaned in closer. “Stay away from Matthew, by the way. You’re not slick, I know you were looking at him at church. He’s taken,” she hissed, “and probably wouldn’t be interested in someone like you anyway. Got it—?”
I didn’t give her the chance to finish. I rushed past her and straight for a side exit. I had to get out, but my hurried footsteps just made even more people look at me, but this place wasn’t safe anyway, I—
I was in front of my house. I whipped around in the frosty winter air, my quick breaths puffing white smoke as I tried to figure out where the hell the school had gone. The thin tights around my legs did little to keep the chill out, and the skirt, which I harbored a visceral hatred towards, much less. The last thing I remembered was stumbling out of a door as some teacher asked me what I was doing—oh, oh no. I slid down on the stone porch. Father was going to kill me when he got home that night, or worse.
I’m going to die. I’m going to die.
My heart slammed against my ribs. The white smoke was coming out quicker and quicker.
My hands were going numb, I had to get inside.
I can’t get inside.
Yes you can, just turn the nob.
But I can’t.
I pulled my knees to my chest, the fog in my head swirling into a vortex. I didn’t even notice the tears until they dripped into my mouth as I gasped for air. What was happening? Why couldn’t I breathe?! It felt like an anvil had been dropped on my stomach.
“This wouldn’t be happening if you’d listened.”
“Go away,” I growled to nothing. I didn’t need this now, I couldn’t handle any more. The presence from yesterday was back.
“I only want to help. Come, now.”
A sharp finger of wind scraped against my chin, lifting it towards the sky. I jerked my face away.
“Why do you resist me still?” its voice was soft, but not in a comforting way. Soft in the way that’s intended to lull you into safety, only to bubble into poison moments later and sink its fangs into you.
I didn’t reply, shakily reaching a hand up to the doorknob, trying to both turn it and use it as a krutch. It clicked and I stumbled inside—no one in this town locked their doors in the daytime, since break-ins were rare—but the thing, an angel was what it called itself, followed steadily.
It had been with me ever since I started realizing who I was, offering long, spindly hands of support. It spoke flowery words and cooed about how lovely Lord Andrew’s kingdom was, that it could help me get over this phase so I could one day see the ceilings made of emerald and ruby and lakes full of sapphires. I’d never go hungry, never be thirsty, cold, tired, or want for anything else but what the kingdom provided. Pure bliss.
But its fingertips were sharp as daggers and its tongue was forked with venom. Even if there was such a place, this thing was not one of its messengers. And if it was, I wanted nothing to do with that so-called kingdom.
My bedroom door slammed behind me. I locked it, grateful that no one was home to hear the bang, then dropped like a corpse onto my bed, curling into my pillow. I reached between the wall and my mattress, wrapping my slowly-warming fingers around something rigid and metallic—a switchblade. I’d stolen it from the man I had to call father. He used to go camping in his youth, but not anymore. He never noticed it was gone, thank the Lord, and despite knowing how much trouble I’d be in if he ever found out I’d taken it… it made me feel safer.
The angel cited a line of scripture, “‘Weaponry is a tool of cowards.’”
I’d never seen its face, only glimpses of its hands, legs, arms, and, rarely, it’s torso. All were wickedly thin and crooked, like the branches of a dying oak tree, and doused in a blinding bright white light. I had no desire to see its face.
My heart had begun to slow, though it still ached and my breaths were still ragged. Burying my face into the soft fabric of the pillow, I willed my tear-crusted eyes to close and my mind to calm enough for me to rest. I’d deal with whatever hell awaited me later.
And hell it was.
WHAM, WHAM, WHAM.
I woke to the furious pounding of fists on my door. They were accompanied by a deep, unmistakable voice yelling, “Open this door immediately!”
My lungs leapt into my throat. The shaking from earlier started up again, and the swirling fog returned like a hurricane. I slowly slipped my legs off of the bed, knowing if I didn’t unlock the door his fury would only grow stronger. I tried to take a breath as my fingers closed around the lock, but it stuttered in my semi-closed throat, only succeeded in making my lungs scream. My head started to pound in a mixture of fear and fed-up anger. I turned the lock.
Silence stretched between me, the door, and the man on the other side. Until…
WHOOSH, the door was thrown open by a red-face, fuming monster who came barging into my room the second he realized he was able to. I backed up quickly, bumping into my bed frame, my knuckles going white as the angel—
I quickly realized that I was still holding the knife. My already light skin went even paler. It may have made me feel safer, but if he saw it…
“What the fuck did you do?!” the man screamed. “I got a call from your principal. He said you ran out of school in the middle of the day!”
He was getting closer. My mind was on fire.
“You’ve already made our life hard enough as it is, why would you think skipping classes was a good idea?!”
My stomach twisted into a knot.
“I don’t care what happened at school, you do not do that. Not while I’m your father.”
I didn’t even think. “You’re not!”
I’d never seen a man so stunned before that moment, but it didn’t last long. I was aware of the particles of the atoms of the space around me as he pulled his arm back before swinging it forward to slam his hand against my chest, yanking a bundle of my uniform into his meaty grip.
I didn’t scream. I just stared forward with wide, fear-filled eyes…
No, that’s not entirely right. It wasn’t just fear.
He was about to yell something else when his expression suddenly matched mine. He let go of my shirt, stumbling back until his back thudded against the wall. He slid down it, clutching his midsection, something red staining his hand.
Neither of us had heard me open the switchblade.
I slumped down against the bed, panting, unable to take my eyes off of him. First, I surveyed the wound, how it gushed blood onto the hardwood floor. That would be difficult to clean up. Then, my eyes moved upwards.
You’d think I’d be horrified, stricken with sheer panic and disgust at what I’d done, but all I felt was a warm, buzzing relief. Probably warmer than his blood, which continued to spill in a steady stream.
I met his terrified eyes with an anger that surprised even me, one that said, “I’ll see you in hell.”
And then he was gone. Just like that, his chest stopped rising and falling, his hand fell to the floor.
Running away had crossed my mind many times before that night, though I never had a good enough reason to do it. This place was awful, yes, but I had nowhere to go and no survival skills. The lack of a bed to sleep in and warm food was too scary to me. But I didn’t have much of a choice anymore, it was either try my luck getting a job nothing more than a high school diploma or be tried for murder by an Andinian court, and I knew which one I feared more.
There was no turning back now.
Gasoline always had something about its smell that I enjoyed, as weird as that sounds. In the past, I had no idea why. Now I think I’ve got a good idea.
I didn’t bother trying to hide the body, or waiting for mother to come home to tell her goodbye. I found a pair of scissors, cut my hair, changed into a button-up and proper pants, and stole a lighter and the car keys from the kitchen. I took one last look in my bedroom mirror. The haze had faded from its surface, and I saw all my features clearly.
That… that was me. Well, not completely, but now it was much closer to who I knew I was. I ran a hand through my hair, short and messy and warm brown. Even the stiff, oversized button-up I had taken from my former father’s dresser felt more natural than any of the blouses or dresses I’d been forced to wear. Relief, comfort, washed over me. But I couldn’t linger in its tide for long.
After stuffing the bare essentials into my satchel—granola bars, a couple bottles of water, a change of clothes, the switchblade—I headed for the only gas station in town. A dilapidated old thing with faded lettering for its convenience store. I’d only used a gas pump a couple of times when mother had to stop to fill up the tank. She’d shown me where you’d stick the pump in, how you went to the cashier inside to pay, and made sure to emphasize turning off the car. She may not have taught me much, but I thanked the Lord, or whatever was out there, that she’d taught me to drive.
Tonight, though, I was filling up two white jugs instead of the car, which I parked right next to the pumps. The cashier was bored out of his mind and half asleep, so he didn’t question why I needed the jugs. I stored them in the passenger seat then took off for my last destination before I left this place in my memory: the church. My hands sweated against the leather steering wheel. I wasn’t sure if it was worth it, mother could be home at any minute and phone the cops…
No, fuck it, I’d suffered a lifetime from this town. It deserved a little suffering from me. This was something I’d fantasized about for a year now, despite the angel’s verbal lashings whenever I did so.
“You will pay dearly for this, ▄▆▂▄▃,” its voice slithered into my head from the back seat.
I responded, my tone flat yet forceful. “I already have. And that’s not my name.”
It hissed lowly, like it’d been stung, then gathered itself before begrudgingly asking its question, “Then what is your name?”
I watched the empty buildings on mainstreet whisk by, sounding the name out in my head like it was a cherished friend. For the first time that day, I smiled.
The angel’s spider-like limbs curled around my shoulders and legs as I worked, spreading that stinking liquid over the steps of the church. I’d finished dousing the inside just a few minutes earlier and was now making my way across the front lawn. The lighter rustled in my pocket, itching to be flicked open.
After the last drops of gasoline trickled out of the jug, I tossed it to the side, staring up at the jagged peak of the steeple. The angel coiled its body up the steeple, its face hidden by the building. It had been growling at me to stop the entire time.
“You will never escape the Lord. He has determined your path since birth, you cannot change it.” When it was mad, it’s voice usually dripped with malice, but this time it shook with uncertainty. Still furious, but now powerless to stop me. And it knew it.
“Then I’ll put both Him—” I pulled out the lighter. It’s silver body glinted in the pale moonlight. “—and you into the ground. No one owns me. Not anymore.” I flicked it open. It gave a soft fwoosh as I struck my thumb over the flint wheel.
“You are making a mistake! You will be judged for this! Judged for this and all your other sins! You will burn!” It wailed. I could swear as it grew more desperate, its body distorted further and further into something grotesque, something even more inhuman than it previously was.
“Then you’ll burn with me,” I snarled.
I tossed the lighter into the gasoline.
Have you ever heard an angel shriek? It’s screams filled the sky with a chorus of agonized voices, straight from the pits of hell. Fire enveloped its body, colorful windows shattering into a thousand pieces—I wasn’t sure if it was from the angel’s screams or how quickly the church burst into flames. Shards of wood and glass rocketed into the grass. I fell to my knees, not from the glass shard that struck me in the lip as it flew by, leaving a nasty gash, but because the inferno made my legs weak with its brutal majesty. The beautiful bonfire of my former prison, topped by one of the Lord’s dying messengers.
I don’t know exactly how long I kneeled there. It felt like hours, but it must’ve been only minutes, because the roof hadn’t even finished caving in before I picked myself up and headed back to the car. I watched from the driver seat as the angel let out its final cries as the fire charred it to a blackened crisp. Then it crumbled away. Nothing but ash in the night wind.
The car roared to life and I grinned. I’d have to deal with the aftermath of this night eventually, and the thought sent a shock of anxiety through me, but my relief soon returned. Tires tore up frost-speckled grass as I peeled away from the church. I rolled down the windows, sticking my hand out of the driver-side window as I made my way onto the highway. The wind roared by like a jet engine as I sped southward down that dark road, past forests of fir and alder trees.
I was free.