There was a thing with wings in the hospital, and he wanted to cut them off.
No one was entirely sure how he got those wings, who he was, or even if he was human. The Protestants and Catholics of the hospital crowded to meet him as doctors forced the individual into an isolated room. Two security guards held them back, out of fear that one of them would break through and disturb the patient inside. Several caught glimpses through the glass window on the door, catching sight of a dead television and a pair of white wings covered in red droplets.
Raphael didn’t believe in angels.
It had been ten years since he last visited a church, and most of his Catholic family members had either passed or forgotten his existence. He didn’t mind—the image of gods and medieval torture devices never particularly appealed to him. He believed in medicine, the choice between a long life and an easy death, and the power of herbal tea. He was a content man, never too saddened by a death, never too elated by a successful healing. He’d rather God didn’t exist. It made miseries easier to digest, knowing it was only a product of misfortune instead of malice.
He was surprised, then, to hear that the strange thing yearned only to talk to him. It couldn’t make less sense if he tried. Wouldn’t it make more sense to ask for a priest? Or at least a Catholic doctor? Surely there were some, especially in a hospital named after a saint.
Perhaps it was just a coincidence.
He entered the hallway, walking towards the two security guards by the door. The usual ruckus was present, but the people from the first few days appeared calmer, more intent on staring at the thing with wings from afar. They stared at him, their eyes peeled wide with hope as the security guard let him pass. “Not a chance,” one of the guards shot at the crowd. They cooled down again.
Raphael nodded, entering the room. Someone tried clutching at his lab coat, only to have their fingers slapped away by the previous security guard. He closed the door as quickly as possible, feeling the rosewood stutter slightly. He sighed.
“Hello,” a voice started, “Old friend.”
The first thing he did was stare at the wings on the hospital bed, with feathers like lily petals stained with roses. They breathed, little inches of feathers melting off every time they did. There was a man attached to them. A blonde haired, blue-eyed man, with scar tissues for a face and a muscular build. It was difficult to disassociate his image with camo garb or a suit of armor, or something else he’d bring to war. The blue scrubs the doctors put him in did him no justice. “I’m sorry,” Raphael answered, politely, “But I’m afraid I can’t quite call you an old friend, considering I barely know you.”
The thing with wings arched a brow, before nodding silently. “Ah. Yes,” he said. “You must’ve forgotten. It’s a fitting coping mechanism. I might use it, after I’m done with these accursed things.” He struck his own wings.
Raphael paused. “Forgotten—what?”
The thing laid back in his bed, shrugging. “Heaven. Hell,” he eyed him, intently. “Lucy and Gaby.”
He didn’t catch a word of what the thing was saying. He recalled tidbits of conversations with a local priest in his childhood, talking about angels and demons and the like. “Lucifer and Gabriel, you mean?” There were many angels, as far as he could recall. He only knew a handful, and ruling out the first two and his own name left him with one. But it couldn’t be. “You’re…Michael?”
The thing with wings grinned. He’s crazy, Raphael thought. Or maybe I’m crazy. None of this is real, either way. “You remember me.”
“I remember Sunday school,” Raphael propped himself down by a chair beside his wings. A feather brushed against the back of his hand, and it almost felt like salvation. “My parents had an obsession with angels. Which, of course, led to me.” He smirked. “But I suppose you’re a bit more widely accepted, being the one who threw the Devil in hell.”
The smile on Michael’s face faded soon after, replaced by an expression of shame. Raphael opened his mouth to point it out, only to push it aside. “Do you have anywhere to go to, Mr…”
“Michael,” he answered, lowly, “Just Michael.”
“You must have a surname.”
“I don’t need one.”
“Well, you will if you want to register into our system.”
“I only wish to have my wings cut off.”
“We’re considering it. It might be very dangerous, and the hospital would rather not risk your life. Especially knowing your condition.” Raphael eyed the wings, calmly. “It’s unseen in the medical world. Did you get it transplanted, or is it a genetic condition?”
Michael shook his head. “It’s a gift from God.”
Raphael smiled. “Ah.” He chuckled to himself, looking down at his fingers. He pulled out a notebook, turning to the thing with wings earnestly. “Yes. I forgot.”
There was a silence between the two as Raphael penned something on his notebook. Patient might be experiencing psychosis related to religion, particularly associated with his condition. “You don’t believe me,” Michael mentioned. Raphael closed his book. “Do you?”
Raphael looked up at him, silently. “Perhaps not now,” he confessed, stashing the notebook back in his pocket. “I’m—admittedly doubtful. You make it very convincing, though.”
Michael smiled. “How much more proof do you need?”
He chuckled, leaning back in his chair. “Oh, I don’t know, really. I’m on the irrational side, now, seeing that you’re here. It’s difficult explaining away a winged thing with science, as you ought to know,” he admitted. “I hope to rule out the logical before assuming the strange. For reality’s sake.”
“Am I--” Michael considered his words. “Breaking your reality?”
Raphael blinked, before nodding in agreement. “But reality deserves to be broken every once and a while. It’s all subjective, we humans can never know what the world has hidden behind the next curtain.” He thought over what he’d just said, suddenly getting excited. “I mean, think of the possibilities. If it turns out a human-like creature is capable of carrying wings without drastically changing their morphology, we could design something of the same breed for ordinary human beings, evolve into a new species of--”
“That wouldn’t be a very good idea.” Michael answered, quickly. “The Lord did not intend for humankind to possess wings.”
The brown-skinned doctor panned up, his enthusiasm somewhat dimmed by Michael’s admonishment. “I mean, if you believe in that sort of thing. But if He didn’t want that,” he said, “He wouldn’t have brought you here.”
Michael stared at him. “My descent is entirely my choice.”
“But certainly the Lord knew you were coming here?”
“I came here,” Michael said, sternly, “To have my wings cut off.”
Raphael shook his head, turning away. “Well, yes, I suppose you’ve made that clear,” he said, crossing his arms over his chest, “But you could put your wings to much better use. You could put your very existence to better use.” He paused. Did he sound selfish? He sounded selfish. Damn it, he was supposed to help the man, not drool over anatomy. “And we could help you with whatever problem you have, anyway. Cutting them off would be reckless.”
“Leaving them be would be a sin,” Michael said, sitting up straight. A muscle by his mouth inched slightly, indicating pain. His wings drooped. “Or do you not believe in sins, either?”
The doctor clutched his fingers, shaking his head. He stood up. “I think our discussion is over,” he said, “For now.”
He moved towards the door, Michael calling him back. “Answer me.” He said. “Please.”
Raphael stood by the door, looking out the window. There were people outside watching him, eagerly waiting for him to leave and allow a glimpse of the thing with wings. “I—I believe in practicality,” he said, looking back temporarily. “I believe in a balance. Vices and virtues may or may not be a part of that.” He paused, gauging Michael’s reaction. “If it means anything to you, I believe in forgiveness, at least.”
Michael stared up at him, grasping at his sheets. His eyes seemed to whisper some sort of regret, as if he was trying to say ‘I wish I felt the same.’
Facts arose. Tests were performed. Michael still wouldn’t vent his complaints to anyone but Raphael, but his words weren’t as important as what the machines told them. “We don’t know what blood type he is, the only thing that seems to be able to damage the wings are fire and corrosive acids, and X-rays suggest his bones are nigh unbreakable,” one doctor told Raphael, laughing. “The man’s a marvel, I tell you.”
“Well, we can safely assume he’s a little more than human,” Raphael said. “What is he, then?”
The doctor didn’t have an exact answer. He thought it was important, but once the news inevitably slipped from hospital walls the public decided Michael’s species long before any other biologist could—an archangel.
At some point they had to move Michael to a separate room. The cause obviously pointed towards the hordes of people crowding to witness the rare spectacle of a living angel, but it was more specific than that; a reporter for the Guardian climbed towards a window to get pictures of the angel while he was resting. Michael, however, was not resting. The thing with wings went to the window, pulled the reporter in, and did whatever in God’s name he did to the poor man. Raphael had found the reporter in pieces the next day, mostly uninjured but in a state of catatonia.
“What did you do to him?” he asked the thing with wings.
Michael simply sat in his bed, shrugging. “He wanted to talk. He climbed a wall to reach me, so I thought I’d grant him that, at least,” he stared at the man. “He’s been like that for some time. I think the last question he asked involved God’s name.”
Raphael glared at him. “You know God’s name?”
“Well, yes,” he said. “I suppose it was my fault. I already knew the human mind wouldn’t be able to comprehend such a thing, but he did insist.”
They reassigned him to a windowless room, after that, hiring security guards to inspect every single corner. Nobody but the occasional doctor and Raphael was allowed in, and even then they all had to have their cards with them. Michael seemed somewhat annoyed with the doctors tests, and he had started asking people other than Raphael when he was having his wings cut off. “It’s difficult to say, Michael,” Raphael answered him, once, giving him the standard conversation he’s given countless other patients, “You’re making it very difficult for us. We aren’t sure if anything in our arsenal could cut it off without taking unaffordable risks--”
“I don’t care,” Michael answered, restlessly, “I’d rather die wingless than live a traitor to my kind.”
Raphael glared at him, narrowing his brows. “What do you mean?” he looked at the back of his head, trying to remember his lessons in Sunday school, “Michael, you’ve never done anything wrong. Not as far as I can recall. Theology adores you. There are kids named after you. There’s a religious sect that thinks you’re God.”
Michael shook his head, violently, grasping at his mouth. “That’s not the point,” he screamed, attempting to move further out of his bed, “That was never the point.”
He turned around, letting Raphael see his backside closely. There were tears in the skin and a number of feathers had been forcibly pulled out, leaving an egregious leaking of blood. “Michael,” Raphael grabbed him by the shoulder, pulling him back, “What happened to your wings?”
“Well, you wouldn’t do it for me,” he said, glaring at Raphael, “What difference does it make if I do it myself?”
“Michael,” Raphael screamed at the thing with wings, holding him by the wrist. “This is serious. You could kill yourself--”
“I don’t care.”
The scream made the doctor jump, putting him back slightly. The thing with wings glared at him with death in his eyes, his face slowly dissolving into guilt again. Constantly remorseful. Constantly searching for forgiveness. Forgiveness for what? “Leave me alone,” Michael tossed back, shaking his head. “We’re done.”
“Michael,” Raphael started, “I--”
“Did I not make myself clear?”
Raphael repealed his apology, nodding in silence. He left the room with a heavy weight on his shoulders, and no deeper understanding of the situation.
“Do you prefer pizza or hamburgers?”
Michael glared at the man, who’d come into the room without his request, carrying a large bag fragrant with grease of some form. “I mean, I know I probably should’ve chosen something healthier from the food groups, but at this point I doubt a little junk food will kill you,” he propped himself down on a chair nearby, pulling out a thin box and a couple of plastic bags. “There’s some fruit juice there, too, if you’re queasy about this sort of thing.”
“I’m not hungry,” Michael answered, plainly.
“Come on. It’s a bonding ritual.”
“This is somewhat demeaning.”
“It’s pizza. Pizza can’t be demeaning.”
Michael glared at him. Raphael adjusted his glasses, shrugging nonchalantly. His face was set, cheerless, broken. “You know, I asked my brother to make this, just for you and I,” he said, setting the box on Michael’s lap. “It was difficult to ask—we haven’t talked as much as we ought to. A very radical believer, you’d like him, I’m sure. He’s never taken too kindly to my…beliefs. I’ve never taken too kindly to how he treats me as if I’m damned to hell,” he smiled, chuckling. “But you know, if there’s anything he can do that’ll always have me crawling back, it’s his cooking. He fed us both for most of our childhood, and now every other Italian meal tastes like grounded rocks.” He blinked rapidly, as if holding back tears. He looked up to Michael. “It’s good. I swear, it is.”
Michael stared at him, conflict stirring in his expression. With a wilted sigh, he opened the box, picking up a slice. “Jesus Christ,” he said, the moment he took a bite.
Raphael laughed, chuckling at the winged thing. “I told you it was good.”
“Who in God’s name is your brother and why has he not been made a saint?” Michael asked, taking in one more slice.
“Oh, that. I don’t have a brother.” Raphael chuckled. Michael glared at him with the most annoyed expression in his eyes, and he laughed harder. “I’m not even Italian. I’m a fourth generation Mexican, and I’m not exactly the master of tacos. But if you’d like to make anyone a saint, I’ll pass the compliments to the pizzeria down the block.”
Michael glared at Raphael, shaking his head with a clear smile on his face. “You’re unbelievable.”
Raphael grinned. “You’re a miracle in your own right, Mr. Angel.”
That was one of the first dialogues where Michael’s wings were completely ignored. Michael and Raphael knew their boundaries, bit by bit, figuring out what they liked and what they didn’t; Michael preferred sausage, Raphael preferred anchovies. Michael seemed to conform more to the Catholic mold, and Raphael was content with being a liberal heretic. Michael didn’t like talking about what he was before he was found in the wards, and Raphael didn’t like having questions about his religious values thrown at him. It was a comfortable relationship. It wasn’t meant to last very long.
“What do you think of evil?”
“Don’t you think it’s too late in the evening for that sort of discussion, angel?” Raphael chuckled, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. He’d brought in a bag of orange juice and apples, since the other doctors suggested feeding the patient junk food was too risky. “Go and eat your apple. You’ve been to too many tests.”
Michael shook his head, biting into the fruit in his lap. “I’m being serious.”
“You’re being too serious.”
He chuckled. “No. Really,” he said, softly, “You don’t believe in God, do you?”
“It’s hard to say that when I’m talking to an angel.”
“If you don’t think goodness comes from God and evil from the Devil, do you think they exist?” Michael continued, ignoring his statement.
Raphael paused, looking at the orange in his hand. He tossed it to Michael, who caught it with a free hand. “I believe that other people believe it exists, but I wouldn’t say there’s a law in the universe stating that it affects gravity or anything substantial,” he answered, honestly, “Humankind can afford to be good or evil because survival’s become cheap. They’ve carved out their place in the universe, and they want to make rules of their own, in their little worlds. That’s fine by me. But good isn’t always good, and evil is often just cruelly practical,” he smiled. “It doesn’t matter too much to me unless I agree with it.”
Michael eyed him, intently. “And what does matter to you?”
Raphael paused. He sucked in a breath, nodding. “Saving lives. Leaving the world with something worthwhile.” He called out, from the top of his head. “Just doing what I can to help others, I suppose.”
There was a long silence between the two. Michael leaned back, carving at the orange with his nails. “You know, long ago in heaven,” he started, solemnly, “We thought that there would be no need for an evil. The universe was empty and hollow, and most of the angels liked it fine. We were in harmony. There was no need for war, no reason to fight. We knew the Lord wanted to make another creature besides us, but we thought that wouldn’t develop for a long time.”
Raphael listened to the story intently, chewing on his apple. It didn’t quite matter to him if it was true or not—too many strange things have occurred for him to care for the truth. Still, it was entertaining to listen. “Some of the angels,” Michael continued, “Assisted in the project. One of them helped design fire, which would later be used to spark light into the universe, and the other helped design water. The one who designed fire was named Lucifer. The one who designed water was named Raphael.” he looked to him, knowingly. “They were my dearest friends, if I were allowed to have any.”
“I was only the one who gave the orders, the commander, nothing more. They were intelligent. They were ambitious. It was not uncommon for the two of them to spar over ideas, faces filled with holy fire, deciding what percentage of fresh water they should leave on the Earth or how hot they should’ve made Venus. Lucifer threw the water storage from Mars to Earth to prove that Raphael had left the Earth too dry. Raphael retaliated with decomposing a star, proving to Lucifer that its collapse would cause a singularity. It was all in jest. I knew it was all in jest, because the three of us promised we wouldn’t be torn apart by anything as simple as an argument.” He continued. “I loved them both dearly.”
“But love is dangerous. It’s volatile, it’s a sin. One day, Lucifer decided that they’d had enough with leaving the credit to the Lord. Initially, they wanted to be acknowledged as more. As they realized that many other angels shared the same sentiment, though, they decided they wanted to be more than just acknowledged. They charged into heaven with the intent of turning it into hell.” He stopped. “I was told to rally the troops and show them no mercy.”
Raphael stopped, swallowing chewed pieces of his apple. He’d suddenly lost his appetite. “Oh.”
Michael nodded. “Raphael was angry, afterwards. I told him it was my duty. I think he believed it, for a little while, but then it could never last.” He confessed. “He ran. I thought I’d find him in hell, so I interrogated Lucifer to find him. They told me differently. Gone to Earth, they said. Plans to cut off their wings and become a human being. Left you a message, too.”
“What message? I asked.”
“He’d tell you to go to hell, but he doesn’t know where it is anymore.”
Raphael dropped his fruit, looking away awkwardly. “Michael. I’m--” Sorry? He wasn’t sure if he was sorry. He wasn’t sure if what he was hearing was real. How could he be sorry for a dream? “That must’ve been very difficult for you.”
Michael paused. “I still want to get my wings cut off.”
There was an even longer silence between them. Raphael nodded. “I understand.”
“What do you mean he ran away?”
“He just disappeared,” the guard told him, earnestly, “Some of the guards saw him run away, but he was too fast for any of us, and he—well, his wings were heavy,” he laughed, nervously, “He knocked out a couple of us. We chased him downstairs, but by then he’d flown away.”
Raphael was frantic. He made calls to the police station, the local newspapers, even other counties, every one of them making him sound like a raving maniac. A person is flying in the air, but without helicopters or airplanes, he told them, he may or may not be suicidal.
It made headlines for weeks. Paranormal enthusiasts and FBI agents alike went scouting for the strange thing, going off the basic description of a man with blonde hair and blue eyes. There were no words that could do to justice to his splendor other than angelic. There was no greater tragedy in Raphael’s mind than to see it all go to waste.
A thing with no wings came to the hospital, one night. It had them cut off.
Several of the nurses screamed when he sauntered in, and the other more practical ones called Raphael. There was no quicker responder. He dragged all the doctors he knew from their idle shifts and ran downstairs, coming to the thing’s side. He had been propped onto the lobby couch, blood oozing from his back, his hands holding onto a pair of wings. “Michael,” Raphael screamed, “Michael, can you hear me?”
The thing with no wings looked at him, dimly. He chuckled. “You know, I think you once said that only acids could cut it off,” he said. “Did you try a chainsaw?”
Raphael shook his head, holding the thing’s back up to face him. “You’re a fucking idiot,” he whispered, before snapping to the nurses, “Someone get him a stretcher, now.”
But a male and female nurse had already come in carrying one, a female nurse helping Raphael gently carrying him to it. “It’s going to be alright, Michael,” Raphael whispered as they sped towards the emergency room, repeating the same words he heard family members of dying patients say, “It’s going to be okay. You’re going to be okay.”
It wasn’t okay. He knew it wasn’t okay. Michael knew, too. The thing with no wings looked up at him, earnestly, his eyes no longer filled with remorse. “I’m sorry, Ralph,” he managed, “I’m sorry for Lucy. I’m sorry for what I did. I’m sorry for everything that happened in heaven and in hell.”
For a moment, Raphael thought he remembered. He thought he remembered a battle for heaven, a decision to choose mortality over the divine, a decision to run away. He didn’t know if he did or if it was his mind playing tricks on him. “If you die,” he said, clutching at the thing’s hand, “I will never forgive you.”
The time of death was three AM in the morning. Raphael waited in the dimness of the hospital hallways, his face flickering like the fluorescent lights above him. The moment his fellow doctor opened the door with shadows under his eyes, he didn’t want to know. He didn’t want to feel it. He didn’t want his hope, his feathered thing, to be crushed by the weight of the situation.
When the doctor looked at him, he wept.
Michael’s last wish was to donate his body to science. They found that his blood had healing properties to it, and reconstructed it to create various cures to fatal illnesses that went beyond just cancer. Raphael helped pioneer them. He and the dead thing in the morgue were seen as universal heroes.
But there would be no celebration on Raphael’s part. He was given the wings from Michael’s corpse, told that he was the closest the thing had to a relative. Raphael hung them in his future office, a gigantic space filled with mahogany and bookshelves, because he had to be reminded that Michael was gone.
There was neither a heaven nor a hell that waited for Raphael—only the silence of the Earth, and the brokenness of wings.