“Humans do it. On a dare. They use their tongues.”
“They get stuck.”
“I once saw a boy’s red tongue frozen to a flag pole. Teacher had to pry him off. You should have heard him scream.”
“Ariel Duncan Lightwing,” came a stern voice from the arbor path.
The angels scattered. They were young, not yet done with school, but adept at disappearing. Barakiel became a lightning bug, Cahethal a seed. The others morphed into similar, innocuous diversions. The trouble was, their teacher, Zophiel, God’s spy, had unusually perceptive vision.
He narrowed his electric blue-green eyes. “I see you all,” he said. “Now change back.” One by one, the little miscreants returned in form to the shore of Sorrow’s Lake.
Zophiel glared. “You shouldn’t be here, and you know that. If you’ve got so much extra energy, go clean up New York.”
Grumbling, they flew down to abandoned lots and picked up condoms and hypodermic needles. It was the angelic equivalent of scraping gum from desks.
And it did nothing to deter them. They gathered at the Lake again, after midnight, tired and streaked with grime. Naya’il had offered up a dare. “Touch your wingtip to Sorrow’s Lake.” It was appalling, and they knew it. No one touched those waters. Hatred swam below the surface, with rage and shame and greed. Elder angels siphoned earthly misery and sunk it in the darkened, frigid depths. Sorrow’s Lake was heaven’s version of a toxic dump.
“Scaredy-wings,” taunted Galizur.
“You do it, then,” said Harahel.
“You’re in charge of libraries,” mocked Shamsiel. “And they’re underfunded.”
Everyone looked at Purah and Zachriel, brothers respectively in charge of forgetfulness and memories. “I’ll do it,” said the eldest. “Like hell, you will,” said his sibling, and he punched his brother on the wing. They wrestled on the air currents, and then fell, panting, on the grass.
“This is silly,” Sophie said. “No one’s going to do it. Let’s just go to bed.” They trickled off in pairs, slightly humbled and dissatisfied, but secretly relieved.
No one knew that Rahmeil, Sophie’s little sister, had been listening, hidden in a mulberry bush. She crept out to the shoreline, whispering a rhyme:
Blacker than night,
Colder than ice,
And filled with
The waters will drink
The bane of the earth,
‘Till love and mercy follow.
“But what happens when the Lake is full?” Rahmeil wondered aloud. She had eavesdropped on her elders and knew this was a problem. Bath Kol had foreseen a deadly, noxious fog, shorelines sticky with a viscous ooze.
“I am the angel of love and mercy,” Rahmiel told the Lake. “I will follow where you lead.” She extended one translucent wing. “Oh,” she gasped, and that was all.
In the morning, they found her, frozen solid, wingtip on the surface of a Lake that had gone pure, all misery dissolved. Her halo had fallen to the center, like a beacon or a promise or a dare.
Learn more about Wing-Feather Fables here