The angel cannot see and cannot hear.
So he imagines forests.
The sun is hot and sometimes he tastes sand. But he imagines forests and talking animals. In the evening when he is thirsty he imagines that there is a river blue and clear. In the mornings he thinks that there is a pillow made of loam.
In his heart there is a drumming.
It drums because it is a warning. It drums because he will bring devastation. It drums the vengeance of the Lord.
It will burn the things around him.
It will burn with a terrible fire, unless he finds ten just and good and wholly righteous men.
“I think,” says a sloth, that is hanging from a tree, which the angel now imagines, “that you have already released this fire. For look, the sun is hot, and all around you there is sand.”
“Sometimes,” the angel says—
Though he cannot say much, as his tongue has melted to the bottom of his mouth—
“Sometimes I brush up against what seem like buildings, or I am pelleted with bullets. So I do not think that this is so.”
The answer is as haughty as a Queen’s.
“We sloths, we disagree.”
The angel stumbles on.
It is late in the day and he is tired and it is hard to hold back the fire that lurks behind the drumbeat in his heart when he meets Mikhael.
That is the name he gives the man.
He does not know the true name for the man because he cannot hear and he cannot see and he cannot speak. This is something that makes introductions difficult, particularly when you do not share a common tongue.
So he names the man Mikhael.
He says, “I feel you. I feel you in my heart.”
He is seized up. People grab his arms. Something goes over his head. He is pulled and he is dragged and his feet leave the ground.
Tum-dum, goes his heart.
He flares his great feathered wings. He makes a choked-off sound. He gargles.
But because he feels Mikhael near him, still, his heart retains some element of peace. He is frustrated. He is disoriented. He is angry and confused.
He is not enraged.
Something slides into his arm, metal in a vein, and time becomes a whirl.
“I feel you,” he says.
He is groping through a fever and looking for the sensation that told him that Mikhael was near.
“Ha,” laughs a duck. “You are an angel deaf and blind. What makes you think you are ever anything but alone?”
The sensation is distant. But he clings to it.
His heart still beats: tum-dum.
He is treated roughly. His wrists are sore.
Then he feels a mouth against his cheek. It is whispering to him through the vibration of his bones. It is too hard to hear but because his heart feels Mikhael he makes sense of certain words.
“You fell to earth,” says Mikhael. “And you were deaf and you were blind. And it is sad, because that makes it difficult to find a righteous man.”
“You have no idea,” says the angel.
It has a lot more humor and joy than something like that should have—gallows humor, but still this explosion of mirth in him, that someone would see that hidden pain and then think that perhaps the angel might not already be aware.
“You were captured,” says Mikhael. “Studied. It was decided that you should be turned loose against strategic targets. That you would wander here, in our homeland, until you failed to find ten righteous men. Then our land would be destroyed.”
“Ha,” says the angel.
He makes moaning, mumbling noises with his mouth. But what his heart says is, “You have no idea. You are making this about you. You are forgetting that I am laboring with every moment of my life not to hurt you but I am suffering myself.”
“You have been captured,” says Mikhael. “You have been bound. My people, they thought at first that they could contain you in this fashion.”
He makes an apology with his next words.
“I told them how to find you. I told them you were here.”
“Mikhael,” says the angel. “Will you bring me righteous men?”
“I am afraid,” says Mikhael, “that they have all been slain. There were never very many. There are children still, and dogs and cats, who are not unworthy. And they were indifferently incomplete in eliminating the women; three righteous such remain. But if it is only men whose hearts will serve then there are none; and if infants are excluded, then we can muster only eight. The rest are dead. They have been slain.”
The angel frowns.
“They have been slain,” he repeats.
“They were hunted for their righteousness,” says Mikhael. “It was elementary. There would be no point to send you here only to allow some incompetent discovery of ten righteous men to stop the fall of Heaven’s wrath.”
“Oh,” says the angel.
He turns his thoughts inwards for a time. He is thinking that perhaps Mikhael is righteous and that perhaps Mikhael is not. It is difficult to tell from the rough voice against his cheek and the tremor in his heart.
“Then you must hold me deep,” says the angel, “deep beneath the earth, deep in some far and isolated place, where the Heavens may rumble and the earth may crack but lives shall not be lost. Let the skies burn out their outrage against a nothing target and then all shall be well. —Or kill me.”
“I cannot do these things,” says Mikhael.
“But you must.”
“I have told them,” says Mikhael, “that you are an angel, and that we must therefore let you go. I have argued long and hard and finally I have won out. They fear me because I understand their hearts and they do not dare to go against this wisdom. They will hate me, of course. One day they will probably kill me out of fear. But while they let me live they listen to my voice and so they will let you go.”
“There are none?” asks the angel. His voice is a plea.
“The standards of an angel—“ says Mikhael. “They are not like ordinary men. I tell you, there are darknesses in every human heart. There are weaknesses and follies. They are not righteous. Save sometimes I would meet one of those who moved among us—frightening, inhuman, perfect, clear. They were the opposite of monsters, antipaths to devils that walked among us men. They shone and they frightened me and I thought that most likely they were as unworthy to live among us as we to live with them. They were obvious to those like me. They were obvious and easy targets and one by one their lives went out.
“They welcomed it, I think,” Mikhael says. “These are hard times for the righteous.”
“O,” cries the angel.
The bonds are stripped roughly from his wrists. He is dragged somewhere. He stumbles and he twists his leg but still they drag him on.
He feels the presence of a door.
“But I must kill you all,” says the angel, “if I find no righteous men.”
He falls onto the street outside. It is rough beneath his hands. He feels Mikhael go.
It comes to him softly there that if he is deaf and blind he must decide the presence or absence of righteous men upon his own; that the world, it cannot tell him, whether the angel now must act.
But he does not understand.
He does not see.
He does not understand how Mikhael let him go.