I was twenty three when the angel bit me. Stupid, really; I should have seen the danger. A figure hunched in an alley, wearing a coat too large and a scarf too fluffy for the weather, eyes constantly tracking upward to the sky. But I just thought it was some poor homeless person who might need help.
I don’t even know what message the angel was carrying. It never passed it to me. I went over, calling out, and it just sat there, shivering in the alley. I’m not stupid; I stopped at the mouth of the alley, well out of reach. Or so I thought. I certainly hadn’t expected the figure to launch to their feet, push themselves forward with two powerful wingbeats, and sink their teeth directly into my arm.
I know, I know; stupid. But I’d never seen an angel before! Who has, these days? I did the only sensible thing, kicking the beast off me and running home to disinfect the wound. I told myself that the transmission rate was very low. It was almost certainly fine. Almost certainly.
I didn’t go to hospital. What could they have done for me, other than shut me in a small room and look on with nervous pity? No. It was probably fine. Even when the messages started singing in my mind.
It wasn’t until a whole month later, when I had my parents around for dinner, that I was forced to confront the reality of my situation. My mother heard me humming the song as I cut potatoes and asked what it was. I told her it was nothing, just something I’d heard on a passing radio that was stuck in my head. Oh, what was it about? I didn’t know; it was in some foreign language, wasn’t sure what one.
Thinking back, I’m not sure if I genuinely believed my own explanation. But what I couldn’t deny were the feathers.
They were too small for my mother to see them. I wouldn’t have even noticed, if I hadn’t been staring at my own knuckles, concentrating on avoiding them with the knife, but the hairs on my fingers were unusually thick and pale, a soft white down covering the flesh. I grabbed a magnifying glass and fled to the bathroom.
Yes. Feathers. Not the full, stiff bird feathers you’re thinking of; these were thick hairs that split into thinner ones, fanning out into tiny, soft flat almond shapes of down. I pulled every one of them out with tweezers before returning to lunch, explaining the redness away as the effect of a new dish soap.
They were back in the morning, of course.
The growth was halfway up my hands by the time I woke up and plucked them; on the third day, it reached my wrists. By the end of the week there were fully formed feathers growing, leaving little holes in my skin where I pulled them out. I kept plucking, and took to wearing gloves.
The plucking helped. If I let the feathers be, the messages sang louder in my head, and I could feel my bones start to reshape by the time the feathers hit my elbows. Keeping the feathers back slowed the growth. Slowed, but didn’t stop. By the end of the month, my gums were tender and swollen behind my teeth and the messages were singing so loudly in my head that I covered up and headed to the loudest club I could find o drown out the song. I met a nice man, Daniel, who spoke slowly and clearly when it was clear I was having trouble understanding him even in the quieter parts of the club, and I deliberately drank myself into a state where going back to his place would seem like a good idea.
With the alcohol dulling my anxiety, the song was glorious. It rolled over me in waves as I rested my head on Daniel’s shoulder in the taxi home, it swelled and subdued with our movements as we discovered each other in his bed. As he lay there, restful and content, and the messages still thrummed through my skull, electrifying every nerve within me, I mused on what a pity it was that we hadn’t truly shared the experience. I longed, more than anything, to share the song with him.
And I could feel the needle-like teeth pushing their way through my gums, behind my normal teeth, fresh and sharp and just long enough to cut. I ran one hand down the side of his peaceful face, and knew exactly what I had to do.
I took a taxi home. I fished the pliers out of my garage, sterilised them in vodka, and ripped the new teeth out one by one, leaving a bathroom sink of blood and white bone needles. With every extraction, the song in my head quieted a little more until it was at its normal distracting buzz. It didn’t hurt as much as you’d expect; they weren’t anchored in my jaw like real teeth. It was like tearing out a row of thorns; painful, but relieving in its own way. An invader in my body gone, and when the wounds healed, all would be well.
Except I already knew that they wouldn’t get the chance to heal, not properly. By morning, I could feel new teeth forming, and within two weeks, they were breaking through once more. I tore them out every time. I couldn’t risk succumbing to the desire to share the song.
I still couldn’t understand the messages in the song. As time went on, I could sense the shape of it, but I still didn’t know what the words meant. Well, not words, the… you know what I mean. Sometimes there were smaller messages, little bits I understood; things to whisper to the pizza delivery man, to send to an old high school friend on facebook, to write among other graffiti on a wall. I never saw the eventual results of these things, but passing them on calmed the itch of the song for a little while. The big one though, the base of the whole melody, was well beyond my reach.
My arms bleed all the time now. The feathers come thick and fast and the skin can’t heal before I need to pluck them again. The bathroom is full of feathers and teeth; there are too many to easily dispose of without drawing notice. Maybe there’s a way to burn the feathers. I’m not sure what to do about the teeth. Bury them in the garden, perhaps?
Not that I’ve tended the garden in some time. I rarely go outside any more; the sky is out there, and I love it too much. It’s entrancing, a home I am desperate to reach. But I suppose I should give up fighting, really. It became pointless a few days ago.
Because a few days ago, when I opened the door for the pizza delivery guy, I saw where the message is coming from.
It’s a point, high in the sky. Okay, yeah; that’s obvious. But I know what specific point now. I looked over the man’s shoulder and, in the shifting shadows of traffic headlights, I saw the base of the ruined tower that humanity built so many generations ago to try to reach us. My predecessors struck it down and scattered them, and there’s nothing there now, of course, but I saw it. Right under the message. Right under my home. Up there, where all languages are one, I will understand the message with perfect clarity, I will sing every syllable perfectly, I will know what it is that I am declaring and who it is for. (That’s the thing that really gets me about all this; I don’t know who I’m carrying this message to.) And I don’t need a tower to get there. I can fly.
I locked the door behind the pizza guy and moved every piece of furniture I owned against the doors and windows to trap myself inside. But I’ve decided it doesn’t matter. I’ve decided to let the feathers grow.
What else am I to do? Keep fighting to keep my arms until they get infected? Try to trap out an endless song while I dream of the sky and slowly wilt in a tomb of dead feathers? Whether I let myself change or not, the song is growing stronger, and I know where it comes from now. At some point, I will try to reach it. At some point, I will convince myself that I can, climb the highest building I can find, and jump.
When that happens, would I rather all to the pavement, a victim of my own stubborn fear of change?
Or would I rather fly?