One Night Every Year
"Fuck you too!" Danny was still waving his hand when the borders closed, and the world blurred before his vision. As familiar flames erupted around him, his lips formed words that he couldn't quite bring himself to speak out loud. "Bye, angel."
Already the memories of his Halloween adventure were turning hazy, as if his antics with Ari were something that had happened in a dream, or to some other boy in some other life. He shook his head and begun slowly walking back towards home. After a little while, he could hear the chime of the first bell.
"Crap!" he hissed as he broke into a run. What was it Ari had said? "Shimmers!"
The word seemed a far more appropriate curse in Hell than on Earth, and Danny giggled as he hurried towards the gate. If he were to end up in trouble, he might as well earn it. Then again, for a devil to get into trouble wasn't really a bad thing. Or, well, it was bad, but bad in a way that was good down here. As always after a foray into reality, his head was a bit fuzzy, and he knew it would take him a while to get back into the twisted logic that was his home.
The second bell sounded just as Danny got within sight of the gate. To his dismay, he saw that it was already closing, way ahead of time. He muttered some choice curses, and slowed down his pace. There was no way he'd make it in time, even if he ran at his fullest. It wasn't such a big deal, really. Staying out after curfew would get him a scolding, some sneering from his brothers, maybe a slap around the ears.
That was, if he got caught.
Still feeling his sugar rush from all the Halloween candy he had eaten, he danced along, trying to step on as many good intentions as he could, while he pondered his next move. The sensible thing, as sensible as anything could ever be in Hell, would be to walk right up and demand to be let in. As a prince, he could not be denied. But if any of the family were there, he'd get chewed out in front of the lesser demons. That was never a good thing.
Before anyone could see him, he dashed away from the road and in underneath the still branches of the Petrified Forest. When he was litttle he used to be scared of the place, with its creepy shadows of naked branches,and the wails of dying souls coming from somewhere deep within the trees. True, he was still quite little, but at least he wasn't scared anymore. Much.
The back door was never closed; it needn't be. Even from a distance, Danny could hear the low rumbling growls of its guardian. He slowly made his way up to the wall, then eased along it until he was so close that the growls were almost deafening. The trick was, as always, to stay clear of Righty and Middle, the surly ones. Lefty and he had been friends for years, and Danny grinned as the huge head sank towards him.
"Heya, Kerbie," he whispered as he scratched Lefty behind the ears, trying to avoid most of the slobbering. "Missed me, huh? Didja miss me?"
The dog's tail wagged happily, but to Danny's relief the other two heads didn't seem to notice. After a few more cuddles he hissed goodbye and ran in underneath the huge body, making sure to crouch low as he ran between the sturdy hind legs.
He made it all the way into the castle, and almost to the stairs that lead up to his tower room, before he got caught.
* * * * * *
"Fuck you too!"
Danny's voice died down as the borders closed, and Ari felt his surroundings melt away. Instead of a playground, he looked around and saw endless fields. Heaths and moors, meadows and rivers, forests and lakes. Endless Elysion stretched out in every direction, bright and beautiful, sacral and perfect. And boring.
He sighed, clinging on to the memories of his Halloween while he began his transcendence from a boy with white dove's wings to his usual ethereal self. A child of light. A child of THE Light. A child that was still enough boy to giggle at what he had done and said, and felt. His lips could almost taste the kiss they had never shared, and his tongue longed to try the swear words again. The bad ones, that Danny had taught him. It had been so much fun!
With a whoop of joy he took off, soaring out over the fields until he reached the coast. He flew low, occasionally touching the water as he sped in between the boats coming from the other side. The once-living all saw him, and he took delight in their astonished gasps, aah's and ooh's. It was always this way with the newcomers. They were fun, and sometimes they even made for good friends. There were no kids on the boats this time, and Ari couldn't decide if he should feel relief or disappointment.
Danny had been a good friend. Funny and naughty, and not at all boring. Ari mouthed one of the swear words, the one that had been hardest to say.
"Fffffff...." He shook his head as he left the docks behind and soared towards his home. "Fffff-ity-fffff..."
No use. He just couldn't do it. Not here, not this close to the heart of Heaven. Far ahead, hundreds of miles ahead, the spires of the Cathedral towered upwards into the neverending blue. Home. Ari sighed, wishing he could have stayed on Earth just a little longer. Sure, he loved his home and everyone who lived there, but...
He knew them all.
Knew them and knew what they would do and say at any given moment. Whatever else Danny was, he hadn't been predictable. Ari made a couple of loops, swept inland for a little while to greet some of the residents. Suddenly he felt as if he were in no hurry to get back home. No hurry at all.
Then it was there. A presence, as if pressure had just built up behind him. He stopped and turned around, his still partly human eyes blinded by the brilliant beauty that shone before him. Michael was his celestial guardian, as close to a parent as any angel child could ever have. He was mostly kind, but now his golden eyes shone with sternness.
"You went down, child?"
"Yes, High One..." Ari whispered, looking away. "For All Saints' Eve."
"For the saints... or for your own amusement?"
"I did have fun, High One. But I did good, too."
"Well..." Ari ransacked his mind. Had he really done any good? Lying wouldn't do, Michael would see through him in an instant. What he needed was a mostly-truth. "I... I taught a nasty old man a lesson, not to scare the kids."
"There is a tarnish to your aura, Ariel. Besides humans, who else did you meet?"
"A devil," Ari said in a voice subdued to a near whisper. "I met a devil boy."
"A spawn of the Enemy." The disappointment in Michael's voice almost made Ari start crying. "I hope you vanquished it, or at least drove it from the human realm."
"No, High One. We... we went trick-or-treating."
"Yes." Ari felt a shiver run through him, while the air around them darkened. "B-but I did..."
"Did what, child?"
"I taught him, High One. I taught him about love. Maybe we can save..."
"There is no redemption for the fallen!" Ari cringed as Michael's voice shook him like a clap of thunder. A whimper escaped his lips. "You have erred, grievously erred."
Ari obeyed, and his feet felt heavy when they touched the ground. They were in a meadow next to a tiny lake, and all around them birch trees whispered in a slight breeze. It would have been a beautiful sight for Ari, had his eyes not been fixed on his feet. His white robe, the only thing he ever wore while in Heaven, fell around his ankles, and strong hands grasped his shoulders.
"Why do we punish, Ariel?"
"What was that?"
"To teach, High One."
"Precisely. There is no anger here. No retaliation for what you have done. Only a lesson to be learned."
"Yes, High One."
Michael pushed Ari until he was bending over, then there was a loud slapping noise. A stinging pain shot through the angel boy, and more followed as he was sternly spanked. As a way of defiance, he kept silent, though he could not stay his tears. One after another, they fell from his cheeks, and when they hit the ground they shattered like pearls of fragile glass.
* * * * * *
The sound of his oldest brother's voice froze Danny in mid-step. He cursed inwardly; he had been so close! So close to escape without having to see any of his siblings. And here he was, stuck with the worst of them all.
"Hello, Damien," he said, trying his best to keep fear out of his voice. "How was your Halloween?"
"Bloody." Damien walked up to Danny, bending over to hiss into his ear. "Exquisitly bloody. But yours wasn't. You reek of sugar, and of humans."
"Not all of us get off to murder."
"No, that's the sad truth. But to wallow around those disgusting pigs, and to gorge yourself on their fucking candy. That's low even for you, Danial."
"Don't call me that!" Danny snapped before he could stop himself. He shied back, covering his mouth with his hands. "I... I mean..."
"Don't you yell at me!" The slap landed heavily on Danny's cheek, and he just barely managed to stay on his feet. "Never forget your place, youngest!"
"I'm s-sorry. I'm sorry, Damien."
"Damn right you are.What's wrong with you, anyway? Don't you like your name?" Danny didn't answer. "Hmm, could it be because it rhymes with 'denial'? You should embrace it, you know. After all, denial is what we all feel when we think about you as our brother."
"Goodnight, Damien," Danny muttered as he headed once more for the stairs. "Sweet dreams."
"Not so fast, Danny-boy, kiddo, tiny one." A clawed hand grabbed Danny's shoulder and spun him around. "There's another stench on you. One I haven't smelled down here for years and years."
"It's just candy..."
"No, no, no. This is something else." Damien grasped the front of Danny's shirt and lifted him up. His handsome face was marred by a vicious grin, and through his lips a forked tongue played. He leaned in and ran his nose all over Danny's body, sniffing like a hunting dog. "I smell feathers, and disgusting cleanliness. I smell purity!"
"It... it was an angel," Danny squealed, knowing fully well that lying to Damien would hurt more than any truth. "An angel boy..."
"Hmph! Did you kill him? Or at least fuck him?"
"No! No, I... I did lead him astray."
"Yes! I made him cuss. And we... and we egged some old dork's house."
"Highly impressive," Damien snorted, dropping Danny so suddenly that he fell on his butt, bending his tail painfully underneath him. "Surely he will be ours in what? Five thousand years? The only angel scent I want is angel blood!"
"I'll go wash..."
No sooner had he said it, than Danny wished he hadn't. He crouched down to avoid a punch, but instead Damien kicked him in the stomach. Doubled over with agony, it was all Danny could do to keep his candy down. Another slap made his ears ring, and he could taste blood in his mouth.
"You're such a disgrace to your high ancestry, Danial. Such a boil on our good name." He turned and walked away, but not before striking home another verbal blow. "If only your mother had been a demon, like ours, then we might have made something out of you. Dad must have been pissed out of his mind the day he raped that filthy whore."
The words hit true, as Damien had known they would. Danny leapt up with a snarl, and against all reason he ran at his oldest brother. He never even saw the blow that sent him hurtling into darkness.
* * * * * *
At the centre of the universe, atop a tower on the outer wall of the mighty Cathedral, sat a sad and lonely boy, crying quietly to himself. The pain in his buttocks had passed, but Ari could still feel the humiliation. Even more so, this close to the Light. He had failed, had let his guardian down, and he didn't even know why or how. Though he had thanked Michael for his lesson, as he must, and vowed to never let it happen again, his mind was still unclear.
What had he done wrong?
Was it really such a bad thing, to reach out in friendship and make another's day just a little bit brighter? Wasn't that what Heaven was all about? Try as he might, he just couldn't accept that Danny was a bad boy. They had had so much fun, and they had been such good friends, even if it were just for that one night. And they had almost kissed...
Ari formed the questions in his mind, and gazed towards the central spire. The Light shone as always, but it felt even more distant than ever. As if he didn't deserve its presence anymore. There were no answers.
Another crystal tear shattered against the tower roof with a clinketing sound, like that of distant bells. All I wanted was a friend, Ari thought, sniffling. All I wanted was...
But he couldn't form the word, not even to himself in his solitude.
To be continued...