Halo: Angel and Demon
"Now I want you to be on your best behavior, Michael," said a blonde haired woman as she escorted a young, brown-haired boy towards the Church ahead of them. The child, who was only marginally paying attention to her, was looking around him with wide, deep-brown eyes, taking in the falling snowflakes as they sparkled in the light emanating from the streetlamps.
"Yes, 'm," he said, sensing that he should provide a response even if the words fell flat on his ears. The woman sighed.
"I mean it Michael. My family is in the chorus this year. I don't want you causing a commotion. Please, for my sake as much as yours, try to stay out of trouble."
Michael, hearing the tone in her voice, looked up at his guardian with a curious gaze. She looked at him with an urgent, almost pleading expression, to which he finally nodded to.
"I'll be good," he said, giving her a big smile. The woman returned it with an expression of relief, though the young boy could see the hard edge of nerves that laced her lips and traveled the length of her hand into his. Michael returned the squeeze in her hand, hoping to soften her grip as they continued towards the church, snow and ice crunching beneath their boots. Michael felt excitement race through him. This was to be his first time attending church, and the first Christmas that he would be sharing with the woman who had been his guardian for the past year.
I'll finally be seeing Alicia's family, he thought, blowing into one gloved hand to keep out the cold. A giggle built up in his chest, but he forced himself to repress it. He promised that he would be on his best behavior, and above all else, to not do anything that would bring any attention to himself.
Even at the age of six, he realized that would be quite the impossible task for someone as young as he was, filled to the brim with the boundless energy that was typical of all six-year olds. Impossible or not, Michael would give it a try anyway. He didn't want to disappoint his caretaker after all. His hand tightening around Alicia's, he found that he was starting to skip ahead, almost pulling Alicia with him. His boot slipped on a patch of ice hidden beneath the snow, and the next thing he knew he was hauled into the air and set back down on the ground with the ease of an Olympic ice-skater.
"Watch the ice, boyo," grinned Alicia, patting one mitten-covered hand on his head, mussing up his hair in the process.
Alicia shrugged and pulled on him, urging him forward with but a quick warning look to remind him to watch his step. Within short order they were inside the church, and shrugging off their winter gear. Michael sniffed, grateful for the warm air that permeated him.
"Welcome Alicia," spoke an approaching preacher, his hands reaching out to take their coats. "Did the two of you have a good journey?"
"Yes, Father Paul," Alicia nodded respectfully. After a moment's pause, she tilted her head to one side, a worried expression on her face. "We're not late, are we?"
"The chorus will be starting in about a minute, so I believe that would make you right on time. The seats are pretty full."
"We'll manage. Is the closet…?"
"I can handle your jackets," the father insisted. "The two of you can make yourselves at home. Ah. It sounds as though the music is starting. You had best hurry."
"Of course. Mom's wrath makes the Good Lord's look like paradise."
The preacher frowned perceptibly but a wry smile drew across his features. Michael, for his part, felt like giggling. He had heard stories about Alicia's mother and her infamous temper.
"Of all the sins, hers is Wrath, and it burns most hotly."
Alicia laughed and took Michael by the shoulder, leading him towards the fellowship hall. Already the song Holy Night was starting, kicking off the evening. As they entered, Michael found himself dumbstruck by the sight of the congregation standing, singing along with the choir in harmonious voices, each of them holding a lit candle to illuminate the darkened room.
"This sure brings back memories," said Alicia, taking a wick from a table behind her. They quietly slipped into one of the seats and allowed one of the followers to light their candle. The new flame quietly licked at the tip of the candle, sending small rivulets of wax crawling down the wick. Michael watched it distractedly before reaching out towards it, only to have his hand pushed gently away with a firm shake of Alicia's head.
"You'll burn yourself doing that," she whispered, opening a program so that she could follow along with the lyrics. Michael fidgeted, glancing around him. The building was quite beautiful, but having been forbidden to explore, and not knowing the words to the song he couldn't very well join in either.
Is this all that they're going to do? He wondered, listening to the adults sing. Not a single one of them seemed to be having a problem with standing still for any significant length of time. Granted, only a couple minutes had passed since they arrived, but for him that might as well be an eternity. This wasn't like Television where something was always happening and changing from one thing to the next. There was just a lot of…the same. Tightening one hand into a fist he looked out at the crowd.
I wonder if I can find Alicia's parents…
Narrowing his eyes, he began scanning the people around him, trying to find his guardians family. He had seen them in pictures since arriving at her apartment, so he didn't think it would take too long. It was almost like the 'Where's Waldo?' book Alicia gave him a few months back to entertain him, only without all the funny things going on in the background. He went over each and every face in the main group standing ahead of the crowd, garbed in their funny dress-like outfits. Unfortunately, none of them looked familiar to him. Giving a disappointed sigh, Michael gave up for the time being, and scratched his head idly.
Well…poop. Michael grimaced and rocked back on his heels. My feet are starting to hurt.
Time clicked by, and Michael fought to stay quiet about his discomfort, while simultaneously looking for something to occupy his time with. He looked out again over the crowd. They were the only thing that he could really focus on…well, that was wrong. There were pictures behind them, but they were somewhat obscured by the singers. One of them looked like a man hanging on something, his arms spread out in an eagle-like fashion. His head was down and he wore something over it. What it was he couldn't tell, except that it looked brown and tangled. The person was bearded as well. Who was he?
No answer came to him. It occurred to Michael that he didn't know what a church was, really, except that people liked to gather there. He had never been to a church until now, though the home he had been in before Alicia adopted him had similar looking images painted on their walls, one of which involved a similarly bearded man wearing a red, wavy outfit and carrying a sheepherder staff. Although he couldn't tell whether it was related to the bearded man hanging on the cross with his head down, there was the same feeling of waviness—that was the best word he could come up with to describe them—that was shared. It reminded him of the sky and clouds, though in the case of the hanging man there was a sense of depression about him. It made him feel rather sad.
Michael contemplated the image for another moment before looking away, resuming his search for Alicia's parents. No avail. Reaching up, he tugged on his guardian's shirt.
"What's up?" Alicia whispered.
"Your mom and dad," Michael whispered back. "I can't find either of them."
"They're in the front, closer to the crowd. We just can't see them from where we are."
Michael nodded glumly. He was rather grateful that he could see anything. He was so short that the people, not to mention the bench in front of him obscured just about everything, forcing him to look out through the aisle to get a view of the room. Frowning, he looked up at the ceiling, hoping to find something else of interest there. He gasped upon seeing sculptures carved into the roof. They were all human in appearance, but all had bird-like wings fixed to their backs, offering them flight. Immediately opposite of them were similarly shaped beings, only more grotesque in their appearance. Horns stood out on their foreheads, and bat-like wings flexed outward. Dark, scornful, laughing faces stared defiantly at the bird-winged people. The two seemed to be locked in an epic battle, forever locked in it through stone.
Michael felt his back itch, and the pain in his feet relaxed.
"Michael!" hissed Alicia, grabbing him by the hand and giving him a hard glare.
"Ah!" Michael snapped back to reality, startled. It took him a second a second to realize what had been happening. His face flushed. "S-Sorry," he stammered. "I just wanted to see…"
"Never mind that for now," she whispered. Next to them, someone made a shushing noise for them to be quiet. Alicia spared them an annoyed glance before returning her attention to Michael. "We'll talk about it later. Just…try to keep yourself under control."
Michael nodded, swallowing anxiously. His back continued to itch, and the pain in his feet returned in full force, but he ignored them as best he could. He pressed his lips together. The itching in his back was starting to take up all his attention now. He looked up at Alicia with an urgent look on his face. Sensing it, she looked down at him.
"All right," she said, blowing out her candle. "Let's go."
Trying to be as discreet as possible, they exited the fellowship hall, catching the attention of Father Paul.
"Is everything all right?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Sorry," Alicia replied, giving him an apologetic smile. "Michael just needs to use the bathroom."
"Down the hall and take a left," Father Paul directed. Thanking him, she led Michael in the direction that they'd been pointed, while Father Paul watched them go. The man tilted his head to one side as he thought he saw something shift beneath Michael's shirt.
Probably just my imagination, he thought, pushing his glasses up onto his nose. Turning, he walked towards the congregation, not noticing the small, shining feather that slipped out of the hem of Michael's shirt as he and Alicia disappeared into the bathroom.
"How's that?" asked Alicia as she pulled off Michael's shirt. The boy breathed a sigh of relief, nodding at her.
"Much better. Thank you."
"It's a good thing you didn't wait this time to let me know…"
"But…I didn't say anything."
"You gave me the look. That's enough for me. Now turn around."
Complying, Michael turned and Alicia looked over his back studiously. Gray, bird-like wings, rumpled from having been pressed down in the confining environment of the shirt, shifted flimsily. Alicia grabbed hold of Michael by the shoulders and began massaging them. The wings twitched noticeably, and Alicia nodded.
That's a good sign. If everything goes well, we'll have these boys calmed down and we can be back with the congregation in a few minutes.
The wings twitched again, shimmering slightly. Another good sign. In the short time that they had been together, she had gotten used to her charge's quirks and how to deal with them—as strange as they were. As used to them as she was however, she still found it strange that things turned out the way they had, ending with her having to care for a child as…bizarre as this one. On some days, she couldn't believe it until she saw Michael in the morning, wings out. It was a constant reminder of the day that she first picked him up.
Makes me wonder why he's even with me. Or why I even brought him here in the first place. It's not like I even have anything to do with this church—or any church—these days.
"Alicia?" The child's voice snapped her out of her thoughts, and she looked at him questioningly.
"The statues on the ceiling…what were they?"
"The ones that look like me. What are they?"
"They're called angels, honey. They're supposed to be…something special." Alicia thought for a moment, pausing in her ministrations, until she spoke again. "That's right. You've never seen one since you showed up on my doorstep."
"Are there any more like me?"
"Not that I know of," said Alicia, shaking her head. The wings were almost completely gone now. All that remained of them was a translucent, rainbow-like shimmer arching just above his shoulder blades. "I don't even know if they exist."
"You exist," corrected Alicia. "But I don't know what you are, except that you're a young boy with wings that magically appear and disappear. I don't know if you're an angel. Besides," Alicia grinned and playfully tapped his cheek, "you're too much of a little monster to be one, what with all the pranks you like to play at school."
Michael flushed in embarrassment, though the small smile that he was struggling to hide spoke his thoughts on the matter.
"I-I was just having fun…"
"The fun you have gets me called in for parent-teacher conferences," she reminded him. "And I'm trying to keep a low profile for you. Lord knows why."
"Lord?" Michael frowned. He had heard similar words before, especially tonight, but he didn't quite understand them.
"A little complex. I'm not sure I want to go into that right now." Removing her hands, she gave Michael's back an appraising look. "All right. Done. You're as normal as you're going to get. Think you can keep your pals under control for the rest of the evening?"
"Pretty sure I can…"
"Yes or no, Michael."
"All right. If you can, I'll treat you to a Happy Meal on the way home. How's that sound?"
Michael's eyes lit right up, and a wide smile bloomed across his face. Light shimmered just above his shoulder blades, and Michael's expression changed noticeably. Clamping his eyes shut, he concentrated, making a low humming sound. His face turned red after a couple moments, and the light died back, quickly disappearing. Breathing a sigh of relief, Michael tottered a bit, and Alicia gave him a worried, but proud smile.
"I think you can manage it," she said, lifting up his shirt and slipping it back over his head. "That's my boy. Now, ready to go back?"
Michael nodded, a tired expression on his face, and together, hand in hand, the two of them exited the bathroom to rejoin the congregation.
The evening ended far better than Alicia could have hoped for, and soon enough the two of them were parting for the car, an exhausted Michael leaning heavily into her leg. Unlocking the car, she got the distinct idea that in spite of his earlier excitement over the idea of McDonalds for dinner, the child would be too exhausted to be able to eat it.
It always takes a lot out of him whenever he makes the wings go away on his own. Oh well. If it's tonight or tomorrow, he'll have earned his treat. Hmmm…tomorrow's Christmas Eve too…
Quickly strapping Michael into the backseat, she looked at his face as he went back and forth between wakefulness and sleep, his head drooping and shooting back up, only to drop once again. Her parents were quite taken with him—hardly a surprise as he tended to be a relatively good boy, if mischievous at times. She had been worried though since they spent the past decade and a half badgering her about getting married and birthing them a grandchild for them to spoil rotten. And that was only the tip of the iceberg, as his earlier incident, one of many that they managed to keep hidden, had proven. All things considered, the evening had gone off splendidly. It complicated things for the future however.
But I can't keep him hidden forever. My folks were bound to find out eventually. Better this way than to have them walking in on me during one of their surprise visits.
Closing her eyes she thought why she had kept him when she could have turned him away, or over to the police. Those early days, so recent yet so long ago, were quite the frantic time for her, both with her job and then having this oddity waltz into her life, looking lost and in need of a warm meal.
Not to mention a bath, she thought in amusement. He was pretty grubby then.
Like always, she didn't have an answer, and she certainly didn't pray to God for one either. She had only her life to live, and while she lived it, she would be taking care of this one until he moved on. If he moved on, and if she was ready for him to.
God, I am far too sentimental for my own good.
Closing the door, she got into the driver's side and stuck the key in the ignition. One quick turn, and they were soon pulling out into the streets.
In the cold night air, a figure lit down atop the roof of the church, pulling black wings behind its back. Brushing aside dark hair from deathly pale skin, crisp, dark-blue irises raised up to follow the car as it began to pulled out into the streets.
"So…this is where you ended up," the figure spoke dispassionately. Black wings spread outwards and the figure took to the air, following the car.