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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Rho is a guardian angel that cares more about flying than he does anything else. This obsession costs him, and the one he is charged with protecting, dearly.

Submitted: July 17, 2015

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Submitted: July 17, 2015




Rho sat on the bridge, trying to recall how his existence had come to this point. He couldn’t really say his life, because what he had had before being forced to stay here was so much more than a single mortal life. He had had flight. He had had the sky. No. He had had all of the skies.

The skies over any number of realms had been open to him. He could dip into any type of sky he wanted, and all thanks to his wings. At this thought, he could feel them twitch under his coat. He knew he would not be using them for flight, so he tried to put that twitch out of his mind. But that twitch, that single movement brought back so many memories of flight.

He had been able to split clouds with the barest touch of his wings. It had been marvelous. He had tasted the winds of so many worlds, and each of them had been sweet. All of those worlds had been laid out beneath him, and he could have spent so much time exploring them, but all he had wanted to do was fly. And that had cost him dearly.

Before his expulsion to this single world, Rho had been what people refer to as a guardian angel. He had not been charged with this task by a single higher power. He had been empowered by existence itself. He supposed, if he had wanted to be technical, he could count himself as an agent of balance. After all, the only way any of it worked was by agents maintaining eternal balance. Of course, this meant for every agent out there saving lives, there was an equal number taking them.

This was all part of the great balance, as it had been since time began, and as it would continue to be until time ceased. Rho had not been born, per se, but he just was. One moment he had not been there, then the next he was. His first thoughts were of the being that he was charged with protecting. This was a small being on one of those unidentified worlds. He was instantly aware of how long that being was supposed to live, and it was Rho’s job to ensure that it survived until its predetermined date of termination.

At first, Rho fought against the entity of predetermination. He found it unfair. He believed that all beings had the right to make their own choices, and live (or die) with the consequences of those actions. However, whenever his charge came close to an early death, Rho was unable to stop himself from intervening. The day of termination arrived, and try as he might, Rho was unable to stave off the cold hand of fate. Thus his first assignment was completed.

Rho was in shock for the first few days after his initial assignment was finished. He couldn’t bear to be around any beings, as he was afraid he’d have to watch them die, as well. Thus he flexed his wings and took to the sky. Rho had never allowed himself to be away from his charge for long, so he had never truly tested the limits of his wings. Up to this point, he had believed his wings were only good for getting his charge out of harm’s way when needed. But now, he was tasting the sweet freedom of flight, and he found it most agreeable.

With his first flight under his belt, Rho felt that he could bear the weight of another life. That was, as long as he could steal away from time to time in order to experience the high winds and the thin atmospheres of the skies. It wasn’t long before Rho received a vision of another being on another world that he was to be the caretaker for. The only problem was that Rho had no idea how to get to that world. Try as he might, he couldn’t fly beyond the borders of the sky, for there were places that even his wings couldn’t take him.

As the birth of his new charge drew closer, he was nearly frantic with anxiety. What if he didn’t find a way to this new being’s world? What if he failed before he was even able to begin this new task? When he had impossible questions, he always did the same thing: he took to the sky. He knew the sky itself held no answers, but the time in flight gave him a chance to clear all the questions out, and let the answers come to him, from wherever it was that answers came from.

Rho flew to the very top of the sky, where his wings began to grow cold and falter, when he spread them out as far as they would go in order to glide along on air currents. He closed his eyes, and focused only on the sound of the wind in his ears. No questions. No worries. Nothing more than the wind. He could feel his body wanting to twist, sending him into a corkscrew, but he resisted the urge. He didn’t want to do tricks. He wanted to glide.

However, no matter how much he tried to resist, the feeling persisted to the point of madness. Finally, he gave in to it, and twisted his body, causing his wings to curl around him. He went into a corkscrew that was quite a bit faster than he had intended, yet he couldn’t seem to make himself stop. Every move he tried caused his wings to tighten around him, increasing his speed beyond anything he had experienced before.

When he believed he could go no faster, his wings fully enveloped him, and just the tips spread out. As his head was also encased within his wings, he was unable to see what happened next, but he could hear something that sounded curiously like the tearing of fabric. That is, if fabric were made of harmonics. He could feel the air around him change, and he knew, without knowing how he knew, that he was no longer in the sky that he had known. He was now somewhere new.

Finally, his wings relaxed, and as they unfurled, he found himself looking at a sky that he had not even imagined possible. The tint was red instead of the teal that he had been use to. And the clouds were almost a perfect black, instead of light green. This sky felt so alien, but he was coming to find that alien was a relative term. He could still fly, so he would make do. Now, he had to find his new charge.

Much like parents experiencing a second child, Rho was much more relaxed in his duties this time around. He would consider defying the hand of fate, but in the end, he diligently performed his duties. His second charge met its fate at the exact moment that had been predetermined. Rho made sure to be the silent witness, if he could do nothing else. After all, he had been with this being through every other important event in its life.

After his job was done, Rho made for the sky again. He had accepted that his job was to care for the beings under his protection from birth until death, so he tried to distance himself, but it didn’t seem to work. He laughed at their jokes; he cried over their losses and pain; and he would mourn their passing.

As before, he was allowed a few days to fly and get himself under control before he had a vision of his next charge. Now, though, he knew how to go from world to world, so he did not hesitate to get some altitude and go into his spin. As before, at the moment of terminal speed, his wing tips tore a hole through into the next world. This one had a pale white sky and pink clouds. Odd, yet peaceful. Rho felt he would like this sky. He managed to explore for nearly a day before his latest charge was born and the cycle started again.

This is the way time passed for Rho. He would explore new skies, watch over his charges, fly whenever he could get time away, and witness the final moments of those under his protection. Then he would go to the next world and start all over again. The lives began to blur before him, but he always had the skies.

Thinking of the sky, his wings gave another twitch. Since his discharge from his duties, he has almost come to hate his wings. The constant reminders of his time in the sky; all the different colors that he’s experienced; all the different winds that he’s tasted. Everything. He knows that it’s unfair to blame his wings, but it’s easier than the truth.

He casts his mind back to his last charge. He came to this world as he always did. A flutter of wings, a harmonic rip, and he’s flying through a new sky. This one was blue with white clouds. After exploring the sky, he went to witness the birth of his latest charge. This species had both male and female sexes, even though many of the species that Rho had looked after didn’t.

This charge looked to be a male named Harry. As Rho looked over Harry’s life, he found that Harry would lead a troubled existence, and would die alone. This depressed Rho to the point that he spent more time flying through the sky than he did looking after Harry. But he was always there to keep Harry from stepping in front of a bus, or walking under a falling air conditioner. He was always there, whispering an idea in Harry’s ear about an idea that might help out. Harry didn’t always listen, but when he did, things worked out for the best.

However, the day of Harry’s passing came, and Rho opted to spend the time flying instead of looking after his charge. He would be there for Harry’s time of death, as always, but until then, he felt the need to fly. Unfortunately, Harry also felt a need. He felt the need to go to the corner market for a soda and a pack of smokes. Had Rho been there, he would have whispered for Harry to forget about the market, and go to the gas station up the street instead.

But Rho was not there, and Harry walked into a robbery. He did not walk back out. Harry lost his last three hours. He did not die alone, however, as he stepped in front of the bullet meant for the cashier’s daughter. The gunman fled, as the girl Harry protected held him in his final moments.

Rho felt Harry die, as the balance shifted. Harry was not supposed to die at that time, but the girl was. Two lines of destiny forever altered, which in turn altered other lines of destiny. The discord which reverberated through creation was felt on some level by all beings. It hit Rho so hard that he forgot to use his wings and started to fall from the sky. After a moment, Rho began to flap his wings to regain his lost altitude, but a strange thing was happening: he was continuing to fall.

No matter how hard he flapped, he was still getting closer to the ground. He started to feel a new pain in his back, near the base of his wings, which he attributed to how hard he was still flapping them to no effect. The pain worsened, and when he was within 20 feet of the ground, his left wing tore off of his back, causing him to spin towards the ground. He watched his wing flutter towards the ground after him, as he heard someone screaming. He thought if he saw someone with wings falling from the sky, he’d be screaming too.

However, when he hit the ground, the screaming stopped. It took him a few gasping moments to realize that the screaming stopped because the impact had knocked the wind out of him. He happened to land on his back, so he was able to watch as his wing hit the ground and exploded in a flurry of feathers. It looked like a motley assortment of all types of feathers: duck, goose, dove, robin, finch, etc. Rho had no idea what to make of this, and was just glad to still have one wing.

He managed to catch his breath enough to try his feet, and after a few attempts, he made it. After he was sure of his legs, he walked over to where the pile of feathers was slowly dispersing on the wind. He dropped to his knees and plunged his hands into the shrinking pile, hoping against the evidence of his eyes that his wing was still under the feathers somewhere. But when he lifted his hands, the rest of the feathers fluttered away, leaving him with nothing.

He reached over his shoulder to touch his remaining wing when that incredible pain took hold again, and his remaining wing exploded into more feathers. As these were already off of the ground, they were quickly carried off by the breeze. Rho knew what this meant. He had allowed the balance to slip, and this was to be his punishment. An existence without the wings that he had loved so much.

As soon as he thought this, he began to cry, for an existence without wings would be unbearable for him. He was so lost in his misery that he failed to notice a new sensation in his back until it was too insistent to ignore. Instead of the ripping that he had felt when his wings were taken from him, this felt like something trying to push its way out of his back. Soon, he was crying out as the surface of his back appeared to push away from the rest of his body, and two new wings sprouted whole, allowing the rest of his back to fall into place.

As he realized what had happened, Rho began to cry tears of joy. He had learned his lesson. He would not allow the balance to shift again. He’d do better next time. But as Rho attempted to take to the sky, his wings would not support him. At barely five feet off the ground, both wings ripped free of his back, allowing him to fall back to the ground. This time, both wings puffed into random feathers before they hit the ground, and were gone before Rho began the painful task of growing new wings.

He didn’t know how to react. Was he to have his wings, yet not have the sky? What kind of balance was that? He couldn’t take it. He had to have the sky. His existence had always been more about flying than it had been about protecting the beings under his care. It was an ugly truth, but it was the truth nonetheless. Rho vowed that he would have the sky again. He knew that each failed flight attempt would cost him his wings, and the pain with which they grew back was immense, but it was worth it to him to try.

Over the years that followed, he tried any of a number of methods to try to ensure working wings, yet nothing seemed to work. Now people could see him, but they couldn’t seem to see his wings. When he unfurled them in front of people, his audience just looked dazed until he tucked the wings back into the long coat he had taken to wearing. When people witnessed his flight attempts, they would sometimes comment on how high he could jump, but would assume he had injured himself as he landed, as it was always accompanied by screams of pain as his wings grew back.

After a time, Rho began to visit high places in order to feel the wind on his face, and get a little taste of his old existence. It wasn’t enough for him. He needed to feel the wind with nothing supporting him but his wings. He began visiting these high areas for another reason after that realization. He began to wonder what would happen if he tried to use his wings after a jump from one of these high places. Splat, most likely. He wasn’t quite that desperate. Yet.

He often wondered if he now had a guardian angel looking out for him, and he kind of doubted it. He looked for signs in his life of an outside influence, and couldn’t find any. If he did have an angel, they were much more discrete than he himself had been.

Five years passed in this manner, with Rho never losing his obsession with his lost wings. It was only made worse by the fact that he still had his wings. He could reach into his coat and touch them anytime he wanted. They even felt strong as ever up until the point when he tried to use them. Then, of course, a puff of feathers, followed by extreme pain and new wings.

That brought him to the bridge. He had sat on this bridge many times over the past five years. It was used, but not overly so. He could sit by one of the upright supports, and no one would bother him. It gave him the time that he wanted to think. And more and more, his thoughts turned away from his punishment to the reason for the punishment. Before, he had been convinced that he was being punished for allowing the balance to slip, but now he was becoming less sure of that. There seemed to be something more to it than that.

He thought of Harry, and the life that he led. He didn’t have many friends, either by accident or design, and always seemed to have things gnawing at him. Surely, Rho wasn’t being punished for letting that type of life end early. It had to be the loss of balance, didn’t it? Rho had spent much time considering it, and had come to no solid conclusions on the matter.

However, it no longer seemed to matter. With the constant reminder of the existence he would be forever denied, Rho finally had enough. Today would be his last day of uncertainty. He would no longer be plagued by ideas of balance. None of that would matter in a few minutes. He would finally be free. And better yet, he would finally feel the wind on his face on the way down.

With tears in his eyes, Rho pushed himself from where he had been sitting on the edge of the bridge.

Falling. That was what he was doing now. Not flying, but that hardly seemed to matter to Rho. The wind was in his face again, so he closed his eyes and tried hard to imagine that his wings were carrying him forward instead of gravity dragging him down. That was what he had missed. Flying was life. And that life was sweet. Then he began to think about all the countless lives he had had the job of witnessing throughout his long existence.

They each had things which made life sweet for them. Of course there was the pain, the heartache, and the bittersweet sting of loss, but all of that went to making their limited life spans all the sweeter. Even Harry had tasted the sweetness of life. His life may not have looked like much to an outsider, even one as familiar with Harry as Rho, but to him, every moment would have been worth living.

That was when it all began to make sense to Rho. It wasn’t the loss of balance that he was being punished for. It wasn’t his dereliction of duty. It wasn’t even forgetting that life was sweet. It was the fact that he had caused a living being to lose out on even a moment of that sweetness. With that realization, Rho realized what his punishment actually was. It wasn’t being denied the sky: it was being denied the sweetness that he had denied Harry. It made sense to him, and he agreed with it. He felt that he deserved his punishment, and was truly sorry for what he had cost Harry. He deserved what was waiting at the end of this fall.

His wings began to twitch, but he refused to unfurl them. He may be about to die, but he would do so without the pain of his wings ripping themselves off of his back. He opened his eyes, and saw the water rushing up to meet him at an extraordinary rate. The sight made him lose his resolve momentarily, and his wings popped out from beneath his coat. He had enough time to cringe in anticipation of the coming pain, when he realized there was no pain.

Not only was there no pain, but his wings seemed to be carrying him. He tested the theory by setting his wings, and found himself flying across the water instead of into it. He was so ready to die that he didn’t know what to do with the restoration of his life. He allowed himself to glide to the bank of the water, near an old, seemingly abandoned, construction site. After landing, he took a moment to make sure he was really here, and not drowning at the base of the bridge. He was fairly sure he was alive, but it still took a moment for the information to reach all of the different parts of his mind.

He was sure that the restoration of his wings was a temporary situation, meant to keep him in this life a little longer. He decided to risk the pain in order to see if he was correct. He again spread his wings and flapped them, expecting them to rip free at any time. But by the time he reached twenty feet in the air, he was becoming convinced that he had his wings back. He looked to the sky with a smile on his face, when another face came into his mind. This was the face of Harry, who he had let down. With this, his smile faltered, and Rho allowed himself to settle to the ground.

He looked around, and seeing the construction site, made a decision. He walked over, resisting the urge to fly, and looked among the discarded items until he found something that would suit his needs. This close to the water, it wasn’t in the greatest shape, but it would do what he needed it to. He took his coat off and laid it across an old splintered sawhorse. He took a deep breath, took hold of his wings, and cut each one off in turn. There seemed to be less pain that there had been when they ripped themselves off. Rho didn’t know why, but he felt that was probably a good sign.

With the job done, he waited for the pain of the wings growing back in, but that pain did not come. Nor did the wings. Perhaps with time, his obsession with the sky would lessen, but probably not. Either way, Rho was fine with it. No matter what came, life would be sweet. And even though he now knew the reason behind his punishment, as well as the purpose of it, and that existence had deemed balance maintained, Rho still could not forgive himself. He had caused pain that could not easily be forgiven, and he would carry that weight. He would carry it without the aid of wings. But at least now he believed that he might have a guardian angel.

The End

© Copyright 2019 CharlesLeeMcCabe. All rights reserved.

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