Written by Thanisha Chowdhury
Art by Lukasz Szmiegiel
The morning we found him, you plucked fiery leaves off the stooping branches and tucked them into the collar of your shirt, like a secret waiting to ripen. He was fresh when we saw him for the first time, hanging from the tree nearest the grove, head cocked to the side like there’d been something pressing on his mind.
“God, look at that!” You gasped, voice tinged purple with wonder. His feet just grazed the grass, and I was beginning to suspect that I would have a much better day than I’d expected. “Do you think he’s dead?”
“No, I think he’s about to jump down and do a dance for us. Of course he’s dead, are you dumb?”
“Well, obviously I knew that. Just asking if you did too.”
We looked at each other then, like we were in some sort of movie, and I was surprised we didn’t burst out laughing and run back, hand in hand. We were smiling fiercely, though, piecing stories together in the space between our eyes with no words at all.
“Clearly. Look at his hands,” I said, and pointed to marbled fingers, “Practically glowing. Those are angel hands.”
“Hmm, but where are his wings?”
“Not all angels have wings, stupid. How else are they supposed to blend in?” I huffed. “Maybe he’s not even dead. Maybe he’s just waiting for someone to reveal himself to, someone who won’t fall for the illusion that he’s dead.”
You shot up at that, and I could’ve sworn I saw your ears perk up like a bunny’s. “Of course! It’s all a test, and we’re about to be the first ones to pass it.”
“Come on then, help me get him loose.” I ran forward, groping in my pants for my pocket knife. Climbing up the oak was the easy part, but sawing through the rope was another story altogether, like trying to gnaw through a tree with your teeth.
“What do I do?”
“Get right down there, catch him when he falls.”
But you didn’t move, didn’t tear through the grass and nearly tripped on your feet twice on the way. “Aren’t there better ways to pass the test? Like ask him questions or something?”
“You’re so boring. Let’s try, why don’t we?” I leaned over the branch, got as level with him as I could. There was blood crusted at his throat, and his face was black, blue, white, and red—like fireworks during a storm. “Hello, sir, do you happen to be an angel? And if you are, are we good humans? Can you grant us three wishes? Can you tell us when we’ll die?”
He didn’t say anything. I was almost surprised. Whether I believed any of it or not, stories had a way of making themselves real. Everything was true in its own form.
Cherry-faced, you floated to the oak, arms tensed and held out in front of you. “If I get any blood on me, we’re switching clothes.”
“Great, then I’ll get the less bloody clothes,” I said, working at the rope. “See, there hasn’t been any flood or lightning or great fire yet, we’re not in any trouble.”
“So what now? I just catch him?”
“Now?” I loosened my fingers from their grip around the rope, in two pieces now, and grinned down at you through the wisps of his reddened hair. “We see whether he flies.”