The Angel Express
by Eric J. Krause
He staggered forward, eyes fixed on his destination. Dirt caked deep in his face, running as mud where his tears tracked down. Bright crimson streaks painted his shoulders and back, covering the leathery scabs where they'd once been.
His throat felt raw, like ground meat. He didn't test it, but he had no doubt his voice, if it worked at all, was hoarse to the point of incomprehension. Not that it mattered. There was no one left to talk to until he reached the gates.
The wounds--his stumps--itched and stung all at once. Hopefully it was the healing process and not maggots. He fell to his knees, vomited, and fought hard not to reach back to feel for movement. Why dwell on it when there was nothing he could do?
He clenched his teeth and stumbled forward. Almost there. He dreamed they'd shower him with spirit wine, purifying both his outer and inner wounds. Sure, and maybe they'd rediscovered the secret of Ambrosia from the long lost Greek and Roman Gods while they were at it. That'd get him back in the battle in no time.
He glanced back. Had he heard someone or something coming up behind him? No, it was impossible. No one but angels could pass through this plane, and he very well could be the last one outside the Lord's realm. With good reason, too, he thought as another shiver of pain rocked through his body.
How they found him made no sense. He'd lived among mortals since they first understood how to create and use tools. He'd kept his wings hidden, not only from the mortals, who despite their flaws, he loved as if they were his own offspring, but also from the demons who stalked and hunted the Earth and all surrounding dimensions. If they couldn't sense or see his wings, they couldn't single him out. His divinity saw to that.
Another sound drew his attention behind him, and this time there was no mistaking it. Something was following him. His muddled mind couldn't piece together how it was possible, but he braced himself. Not that he'd be able to fight anything off.
A half-dozen demons got the drop on him as he left his home. That they were of the lesser persuasion ultimately saved him. He dispatched three in short order, but that didn't dissuade the others. Before he could size them up and discover the best ways to both attack and defend, one had a blade against his left wing. He screamed as it fell, landing with a hollow thud on the ground.
The agony and loss propelled him on, and he made short work of two more demons. As he turned to face the last, the one who'd disfigured him, the blade slashed again, dropping his right wing. Blood dripped down his back and pooled at his feet.
That final demon laughed and raised the blade for the kill, but even in a haze of pain, he moved too quick. The demon's sword dropped and disintegrated as the monster joined its brethren in oblivion. He thought he might follow his six enemies, but though his blood flowed free and the pain blazed through him, he managed to shift planes to the only one where he had a chance. The Angel Express. The Highway to Heaven.
He couldn't venture a guess at how long he walked, crawled, and scratched his way forward towards the pearly gates. Now that he was in metaphorical spitting distance, something moved in to finish him. Though he hoped he struck a regal pose, he had no strength left to defend himself.
He fell to his knees and wept when he saw. Wings. An angel. But how? Even if he wasn't the last on Earth, what were the odds another would follow?
Then he saw. It wasn't another coming up the Angel Express, but his wings. And propelling them forward? No. Impossible. But there they were, no doubt sent by the Lord Himself. Three holy cherubs.
No words were spoken. Could they even communicate out of His presence? The wings touched his back, and though the pain disappeared, the itching intensified. One of the tiny cherubs placed its hand on his head, and light engulfed them all. When it lifted its touch, he felt as healthy and strong as ever. If not more so. He stretched his wings and found them alive and well. Even the bloodstains streaked across his skin had vanished.
The three cherubs smiled at him, their miniscule wings working overtime to keep them afloat. He expected them to zip off, their job done. He'd already received a gift he'd never expected, but what came next brought more tears, this time of intense joy. The cherubs outstretched their tiny hands, awaiting his to join them--a once in an eternity ticket to the Realm of the Throne. He wiped his tears away and put his hand in with those of the three cherubs.