My contribution, On Wings Not My Own, to Less Than Three Press’ angel anthology, Something Happened on the Way to Heaven, will begin running this week. I love this story. Yes, I’m biased, but I never get tired of reading it. OWNMO totals in at about 27,000 words, 1 prologue, 5 chapters, and it’s about lovers parted and reunited. Without further ado, the prologue to OWNMO…
Dowd leaned against the door jamb, watching the captured angel in awe. The stone room was so dimly lit by the torch in Dowd’s hand that he could barely make out the prisoner’s features. His white hair glowed, but the rest of the prisoner was in shadow. Dowd sighed. Surely nothing was as beautiful as this heavenly creature of God. Even his name, Sobal, was both gentle and fearsome. Sobal moved and chains dragged and chinked as he tested their strength.
“How long are you going to stand there, Bishop Dowd?” The venom in the angel’s voice was surprising; God was merciful and just—not angry. Why would He give such a human emotion to His holy emissaries? Never mind, it was not for Dowd to question.
The angel looked down upon him, even though he was chained to the ground and Dowd stood tall above. It was proper, of course, that the angel should be so superior; Dowd was far beneath this magnificent being of God. Dowd mentally shook himself from his contemplation of awe and bowed. “I am honored that you know my name.”
“I make it my business to know those who are a threat to me.”
Dowd walked into the room and lowered himself to sit on the damp floor in front of the angel. He wasn’t a threat to the angel, not in the slightest. In time, Sobal would come to understand that. Dowd simply needed his cooperation to gain credibility with the Assembly of Bishops. Then he’d be granted a city, and the city would grow. The people would come, and he could share the beauty and teachings of God with them. And who better than a creature of God to want the same thing? It was such a pity the angels granted cooperation so reluctantly.
“I know this must seem a terrible inconvenience to you,” Dowd said. “You have my most heartfelt and sincere apologies.” Sobal raised his face and the light fell upon his body. No emotion was present, only a sneer of condescension. His chest was bare except for the stained cloth that wrapped around his torso and flattened his wings to his back. Dowd decided to extend an olive branch. “May I undo your bindings?”
“Do not touch me.” Sobal rattled the chains attached to his wrists.
Dowd shook his head in awe. Sobal must be in terrible pain with the bindings still in place. Mortification of the flesh was something even Dowd could not tolerate. He was very lucky to have acquired such a holy being. “Very well. The shackles will be removed in a month. You can unbind yourself then.”
The chains rattled constantly and with increasing volume. “I’m not alone, you know.”
Dowd suppressed the urge to laugh; that would have been rude and inappropriate in the presence of a holy creature. “Of course not. I am here with you, and you will always be in my thoughts.” Dowd cocked his head to the side as if in thought. “But you mean your boy?”
“Aive. Yes, I mean Aive.”
Dowd nodded in agreement. “Of course. We took care of Aive.”
The first hint of genuine emotion crossed the creature’s beautiful face. “What did you do to—if you killed him, I swear, wrath unlike you’ve ever known shall rain down up—”
“No, no.” Dowd raised his hands and bowed his head. “To kill is a mortal sin. We helped him go home.” And what a chore that had been. He’d had to call in every favor owed for the resources to deal with that particular thorn.
“He will find me.”
“I very much doubt that, your eminence.”
“In the unlikely event that your boy were to show up, it will not matter. By that time, you will have seen the wisdom of my plan and agreed to aid me.”
Sobal’s eyes widened, he tensed, but the fear was quickly replaced by a mask of ennui and he relaxed. He could feign optimism, but they both knew that after a year or so in the cave, Sobal would break. Then Dowd would have his holy slave well in hand, and it would be too late for anyone, much less a merchant-class boy, to steal his heavenly creature of God.
Six Months Later …
Aive sat in his chair. The back faced the fire and, as a result, the chair warmed to a comfortable and cozy cocoon. He loved curling up within its arms and wings where he felt safe and cradled. In this chair was the only place he could snatch this small bit of calm.
Across the room, his sister quietly hummed to herself while flipping through the store’s account books. Lina closed the book with a quiet thud and her humming stopped. “What are you thinking over there, so dull and mopey?”
Aive lifted his head and uncurled his body. He had been thinking about his most recent dream. He looked at her. Her lips drew into a thin line, and her eyes bored into him. He sighed and composed the words in his head. When he thought he had the right ones to do the dream justice, he took a breath and spoke.
“Last night I dreamt of the ocean. Its blue waters stretching from the land to the sky. I dreamt I had wings that carried me from here in the plains, west over the desert, over mountains, over forests, and finally to a massive city pinched between mountains and sea. The wings took me over the water. I could smell the salt in the air, feel it sticky on my skin. There were gulls and sea birds fishing. I even saw a pod of whales. But then the wings were gone, and I was falling.”
The dream had profoundly disturbed Aive for reasons he couldn’t name. It set off an emptiness in him that festered and ate at the core of his being. Even now, at this very minute, he needed to understand it, fill the terrible chasm gnawing at his insides, and vanquish it. Instead he took a deep breath, trying to calm and soothe the panic bubbling below his thin facade of calm.
Lina, his sister and sometimes friend, sat silently, running her finger along the shell of her ear—a sign she was deep in thought. “Do you think,” she said slowly, “that you were actually there?”
Aive shook his head slowly. “That’s absurd. The ocean is a six-month journey. How could I get there and back here in just a year? And not even remember it?”
Lina shrugged. “You were gone for a year.”
“I think if I were to go to the ocean, I’d stay a little longer than three minutes before turning around to get back in that amount of time.”
“Maybe you should go.” She tapped her pencil slowly on the table. “If you’ve never been, but you’re having vivid dreams …” Lina looked down at the table.
Aive had thought of that. That something waited for him at the edge of the land. “It’s so far away. I don’t know if I’ll ever make it home again.”
“Is that so bad? No one expected to see you again after you left last time. Yet you’re here and … Are you even happy?”
Aive didn’t need to think about his answer, but he paused anyway, out of courtesy. “No.”
For the foreseeable future, OWNMO will be available exclusively on the Less Than Three Press subscription serial site.