Wings and things

Milton is running away from his problems. It’s a healthier choice than confronting them head on, especially since most of his problems are beefy men with a casual attitude towards violence.

As his legs loosen and his stride lengthens, he starts to forget about his job as a bookkeeper for a small-town police department and the sheer, exhausting horror of trying, and failing, to blend in. His coworkers slap his butt and tape anonymous notes to his locker.

“Milty, you’re a flamingo in a flock of chickens,” his mother always said. “You should go to the city, and never look back.”

Now she doesn’t say anything at all. The stroke she had a month before Milton was going to graduate from high school either swallowed her personality, or locked her inside a useless, helpless shell. He’s not sure which is worse.

The light in the forest is dimming, and Milton picks up his pace. He loves this trail, but it’s treacherous, drawing him further in than he wants to run. Every once in a while, the cops find a body at one of the campsites. The park is supposedly inhabited by left behind types, who devote their whole lives to waiting for the end.

As Milton reaches the final approach to the trail head where he’s parked, his shoulders loosen and his breath comes easier. He is utterly unprepared when a Doberman blocks his path, snarling and showing off canines that glisten like the new moon.

Milton freezes, a prey animal to his core, and lets the adrenaline flow through him. He thinks about making a run for it when twin pains knock all the thought from his head. Hot knives cut under his shoulder blades, and there’s a sharp, ripping sound. Something warm and wet pours out of him, blood and something more. Visions of heaven and hell scour his soul. He knows he’s going to die.

But he doesn’t. The pain recedes as quickly as it came, and the dog slinks away, its posture both submissive and confused. He reaches around and touches the place where his shoulder ought to be. He gasps. Feathers. After a moment of vertigo, he investigates further. It is, he decides, the best hallucination ever, because he has goddamned wings. He tries stretching them, and the movement is fluid and natural. He feels a rush of euphoria; he knows he is meant to fly.

He is about to take off when something hard and merciless hits his head.

When he wakes up, he’s sitting on a dirt floor, propped against a brick wall. His wings are tangled in a net, and he’s surrounded by men dressed in camouflage who look down at him like he’s some kind of science experiment. Two of them are records clerks he sees every day. Both thrive on petty cruelty.

“Are you the National Guard?” he rasps.

The tall one, with a nose like a blade and a chin like a hammer, answers. “No, son, we’re the First Pentecostal Church of Mandrake, Missouri, and it looks like we’re the first church in the state to have its very own pet angel.”

Milton shakes he head. He’s about to tell the man he’s crazy when he remembers the wings. Oh.

One of the clerks, a bald man built like a spark plug, steps forward. “I can’t fucking believe the angel is this guy. It makes no sense.”

Milton tries to shrug, and the net cuts into his wings. They can, like the rest of him, feel pain.

The tall man holds Milton’s gaze and shakes his head slowly. “Ignore Frank. He’s kind of a douchebag. Now, we’re willing to work with you. We can set you up in a nice, quiet hotel room, somewhere nobody will suspect your, um, condition.”

He nods slowly. Wings are not standard human equipment. He will be a freak, an outcast, even more than he is now. The tall man is right. He will have to hide.

“In return, you’ll need to do a little something for us. We’ve got prayers. A lot of them. You’re going to make sure they get answered.”

Milton hears nothing after the word prayers. Something has cleaved his mind, and molten visions are pouring in. There is love, joy, betrayal, and unspeakable hurt. There is rebellion, imprisonment, and escape.

His eyes smolder as he stands awkwardly, and his captors raise their guns. He laughs and sloughs off the steel netting like it’s made of cobwebs.

“You have no idea who I am.”