It was a dark stormy night. The sky was billowing with thick atramentous clouds, blotting out the crescent moon that hung somewhere in the sky. A blanket of unpierced darkness lay on the land and the only light came with the occasional flash of lightning that warped the landscape into a web of shadowy tendrils. The peals of thunder resonated in the deathly silence like artillery in some celestial war. A frigid wind blew from the north, throwing the clouds into a frenzied turmoil.
From it’s perches in a tall pine, a single raven opened up its folded wings and flew off. It soared through the charged air and spiraled down, landing squarely on a windowsill of a small dilapidated cottage. With it’s beady red eyes, it gazed into the room through the window.
The window was grimy with neglect, cracks emanating from one corner in a symmetric procession of chaos. The room was itself abysmal. A single rickety bed dominated the cramped interior, on a rotting parquet floor. The walls were mouldy and the faded wallpaper was peeling off. A candle burned in a cheap brass stand, casting a flickering light from a decaying bedside table. The only thing of any monetary value in the room used to be a porcelain figurine of an angel by the bedside table, wings spread and face aglow with heavenly glory. It now lay in a shattered heap of broken shards on the floor.
A small child lay in the bed, covered with torn, moth-eaten blankets. His brown hair fell onto his forehead, into his frightened eyes. His lips were dry and cracked, his skin pale and devoid of any color. Grabbing his burning feverish hand, a woman sat by the foot of the bed. She gripped onto it tightly, as if willing to hold onto the boy and anchor himself to her. Her hands trembled as she caressed his hand, her eyes red and her cheeks stained with tear-stains.
She could practically see the vitality draining out of his body as the fever wracked it. Every burst of pain that her son felt, she felt it it in an agonizing burst of helplessness. How many times had she implored the assistance of the very angels that she had told her son would protect him. How many times had she begged to take her son’s place, to bear his pain in his stead. He was all she had left in the world. She couldn’t bear to lose him. She couldn’t believe the Fates would be so cruel. The angels had betrayed her faith and she had flung the figurine of the guardian angel to the floor in a moment of enraged desperation and spite.
Every time the fever sent spasms of pain through his tiny body, he yelped and thrashed. His mother wept, stringing out incomprehensible streams of false reassurances. She knew her son wouldn’t live to see the dawn. She knew his time was here. She prayed that she would be quick to follow. She prayed there would be a miracle. But she knew that hope was an effort in futility.
As the last shreds of life seeped from him, the boy whispered in a hoarse voice:
“I’m scared, mother.”
“Don’t be,” she croaked, her eyes brimming with tears. “There’s no need to be scared.”
“But it hurts so bad,” he squeaked. “Am I being punished by the angels?”
“No, my darling! Not at all. The angels just give pain to the strong boys so they can go to heaven.The pain will go away and you will have so much fun in heaven where there will be food and toys and your father.” Her voice broke and she had to pause to regain composure. “Father will be so proud of his brave boy.”
A faint trace of a smile broke out on his face and his mother brushed a lock of hair out of his eyes.
“Its ok, my son. Don’t worry”
The boy closed his eyes.
“I can hear the angels, ma…” he whispered. “They’re calling me.”
Silent tears began to seep down her face. The boy opened his eyes slowly and gazed at her, a look of loving contentment. Then he was still, a glassy look over his lively eyes.
Her resolve shattered and she broke down into a cascade of tears. She hugged the body of her dead son. She wailed his name, her voice shrill to a point of dementia. She wept and the clouds outside broke down in a shower of icy water. She wept, and the heavens wept with her.
A small part of her brain told her that the dawn was upon them. Her son never saw the dawn, and neither would she. Her sight was blurry but she was determined. She grabbed a knife from the bedside table. She positioned the knife above her heart. She imagined the face of her husband, laughing. She imagined the angelic smile her son wore.
As she thrust the knife down and it sank into her heart, she smiled. The physical pain was infinitesimal compared to the anguish her soul had just freed from. As her body thudded to the bed, her chest spurting thick streams of crimson, the first rays of sunlight broke through the clouds, scattering into a thousand spectrums through the rain. She had stopped weeping, but the heavens wept into the dawn.