Rainer had no idea what he was doing in the little church.
It was as if he’d fallen asleep somewhere else and then woken up here, dressed as a vicar, standing in front of this small, eager congregation.
The people sat on the pews and stared at him, expecting him to begin a sermon. He didn’t know what to say. He was not a religious man – in fact, he rarely ever thought about things like faith and belief.
He tried to think what it was he did for a living, but drew a blank. All he knew was his name, and that he was standing here.
Faces shone with expectancy. He smiled. The stone walls of the church looked cold and damp. It was a tiny building, not much more than a single room with pews and an altar; he was standing behind the altar, lost and confused.
Not knowing what else to do, he turned around to face the wall behind him.
But it wasn’t a wall; it was a window. A stained-glass representation of angels ascending towards a blazing star. Hundreds of them, with gossamer wings and holding golden spears. Their faces were upturned, bathed in the glorious light emanating from the star.
It was beautiful.
When he turned back to face the congregation, the church was empty. Dust and cobwebs lay piled in the aisles, and on top of the seats. Bibles and pamphlets lay torn and scattered like the detritus of a disaster.
From behind him, Rainer heard the fluttering of wings, as if a million birds had suddenly taken flight at once. The sound was deafening, and it was glorious.
Then, around him, the church walls began to crumble. The windows shattered, piercing his skin with shards of painted glass. The church roof came off, as if ripped away by a hurricane. This all happened to the accompanying sound of beating wings: a soundtrack which drowned out all other sounds.
He looked up, at the near-blinding light of the star above him; held in its fierce light, he saw the army of angels rising upwards, holding their spears. Because of him, they had been freed from the stained-glass prison to finally finish their ascension. One of them turned its golden head to look at him. It bore Rainer’s own face, but washed in a light so bright that its skin was translucent.
Now he knew why he was here, and he didn’t want to leave. His feet started to rise from the floor; he was hovering inches above the cold stone. This was it. He was about to join them. Everything would be fixed.
Rainer smiled, so close to understanding everything that the distance between here and there was meaningless.
The angel smiled back at him; but the smile became a snarl.
Then, as one, all the terrible angels drew back their arms and threw down their spears, the sharp, silvered tips tearing him apart like a sack of meat. Sending him back where he belonged, so that they might raid the dreaming-lands above, with no mortal remaining to witness the horror of their infinite savagery.
When Rainer awoke from the dream, his eyes remained unfocused for several minutes. He blinked, rubbed at them with the heels of his hands, and waited for his vision to clear.
There was a stone angel sitting in the chair at the end of the bed. Its huge bulk shifted as he watched, accompanied by the grinding of stone as its furled wings flexed.
“Who are you?”
“I’m your guardian,” said the angel, its voice like gravel being mixed in a steel hopper. “I’m here to watch over you.”
Rainer got out of bed and approached the angel, aware that he was naked but not really caring. Surely an angel wouldn’t be offended by nudity?
“What do you want?”
“To serve you.”
“Why me? Why now?”
“Because I am yours and you are mine. Your dream was a spell to summon me.”
When it stood, the angel’s stone arms brushed against the walls, scraping off the plaster; its enormous head crushed the ceiling, causing wide cracks to appear. A fine white dust drifted down and covered its shoulders.
Rainer looked down at himself. At the wounds on his body, healing now, forming scar tissue across his entire torso. After being broken apart by the spears, how on earth had it been able to come together again, and so quickly?
The scars were edged with gold; pale light bled from them, illuminating his flesh.
“Are you really here to serve me?” he asked, afraid of the answer.
“Of course not,” said the angel, grinning, bringing down its mighty stone fists to grab him and lift him high, smashing through the roof of the house to offer him up to the sky, and the light. “My mistake. What I meant to say was, I’ve come to save you.”
Rainer was filled with elation.
At last, he was truly ascending. Guided by this strange entity, he would finally take flight and achieve some form of enlightenment.
If only it would stop squeezing him so tightly…and why did it grin so broadly?
© Gary McMahon, 2022