An Angelic Visitation
For an eternity Michael served in the courts of heaven, diligently keeping a record of the celestial movements, adjusting their course at The Boss' whim, playing conductor to the scattered bits of matter put under his charge. At first, he was delighted, self-important. He reveled in his work, glad he was unlike those angels designated to wander the Earth. God forbid he had to deal with humans. Millenia, after millennia he worked, round the clock, harder than all the host of heaven. He even managed to get a raise, assigned the title of an archangel in a ceremony devoid of all pomp and circumstance. Pretty soon he had other angels to do his work. He sat behind a desk and approved the planetary movements of countless star systems and galaxies. With a flourish of a pen, planets were realigned and cosmic order was kept.
But the work became boring. His life was a litany of approval forms that piled higher with each passing century. Every day, his routine was the same because eternity never changes. The monotony of it all began to grind away at his soul, and pretty soon he was beset by a deep depression he couldn't shake. Michael decided that the best course of action was to talk to his boss, Gabriel. After waiting a few hundred years Gabriel's secretary penciled him in for an appointment.
Michael found himself standing outside Gabriel's office, a corner beauty that was wall to wall crystal and whose view overlooked the silver sea and golden roads below. Michael walked in to find Gabriel with his feet up on his desk chewing out a lesser spirit.
"Dammit Polaris, you know what happens when you're late to your damn shift. It means the earth goes a night without a frickin' North Star! And can you tell me what happens when you don't do your damn job?"
"Umm...people get lost."
"Oh, no big deal, people just get lost." Gabriel paused and for a moment Polaris looked relieved as if the worst of it was over, but oh was he wrong. Even louder than before Gabriel's tirade continued, "People don't just get lost you, dimwit, people die, we had 500 shipwrecks, a few thousand kids lost, and we even had a damn war below because some idiot king interpreted you not showing up as a sign to raid a city. Now we're backed up in processing, all because you can't show up to shine for a few frickin' hours. Your job's not that hard. Show up on time, be bright, and get out of my damn office."
Polaris' head was hung on his chest as he made his way out of Gabriel's office.
"Good luck in their Michael. Gabriel is in a real mood today."
"I heard that, you dimwit," screamed Gabriel from his office. "Say another word and you'll do the next eon cataloging particles.”
Polaris zoomed down the hallway until he was out of reach of Gabriel's wrath. Michael peeked his head into Gabriel's office, but Gabriel paid him no mind. His head was in a pile of paperwork he was preparing for The Boss. Michael cleared his throat, hoping it would be enough for Gabriel to pick up his head and acknowledge his presence. But Gabriel's head didn't move. He continued to flip through the paperwork piled in front of him, murmuring to himself about margins. Michael waited in the doorway, unsure if he should speak up. He tried to clear his throat a little louder hoping the tactic would work, fearing to speak up and actually interrupt Gabriel.
"So are you going to say anything, or is this meeting a waste of my time?"
Michael froze when put on the spot, unsure of what to say next. He was silent, searching for the right words until finally, Gabriel looked up from his work as an exasperated sigh left his lips.
"Listen, Michael, I don't have all day, so say what's on your mind or else see me in another hundred years. There's a lot to do, and I don't get a lot of time to do it."
"Well, Gabriel, if I'm honest, I haven't been feeling quite like myself. I'm bored. Every day, it's the same thing, over and over again. I'm thinking, is there a new assignment you can give me? Just give me something different."
"You're a good worker Michael. You made archangel in record time; you run the Celestial Department; and now you're telling me you're bored. Well, I got news for you, buddy. Guys in your wings don't get new positions. We put you in that role 'cuz your good and your gonna stay in that role until The Boss says otherwise."
"But Gabriel, I'm dying up there, there's got to be something you can do for me."
"Fine, I'll help you, but on one condition: when you come back, you get back to work and stop wasting my time."
"Thank you, thank you. So what is it, what's the new assignment?"
"Oh, I ain't given you a new assignment. I'm giving you vacation. Sending you to earth. Enjoy the company of humans for a while and you'll see how good you have it."
Michael stood there in shock, his jaw wide open, his wings drooping, he didn't want a vacation, he wanted a new job, something to give him some meaning. He tried to protest, but Gabriel wasn't listening, and with a snap of Gabriel's fingers Michael was pushed out of Gabriel's office as the door slammed in his face. Michael hated earth; he hated humans; he hated the Boss' whole experiment, and now he was being sent there against his will.
Michael made his way home and on his doorstep was a round-trip ticket to Earth and back. He picked up the ticket and checked the date. He left tomorrow. With a roll of his eyes, he shoved the ticket into his pocket and made his way inside. Michael sat down and began to mull over his situation. Maybe he had forgotten how good he had it. He was an archangel. He had a prestigious role. Maybe he did need a vacation to really appreciate his job. He took out the ticket and held it in his hand, running his fingers over the letters, and quietly under his breath, he threw up a small prayer to the Father hoping He heard prayers from heaven too.
The next morning, Michael wasn't feeling so positive. He dragged himself up out of bed and took the long winding road to Processing. All around him, angels and the like went about their business darting to and fro, keeping creation in perfect working order. The great expanse of heaven stretched into the distance, gilded towers rose out of sight, and the silver sea sparkled with the light of the throne room that sat high above the bustle where the Boss and the Father sat on their thrones. Michael sighed as he looked around, knowing for the next week he'd be stuck in a less than perfect place. Michael had no clue why the Father and the Boss cared so deeply for their failed experiment. The humans and their world were a mess. Humans fought their way to get to heaven, not the other way around. But alas Michael finally arrived at Processing, its pearly gates open wide as a train of human souls stepped up to be checked in. The gatekeeper looked quizzically at the ticket in his hand.
"Vacation?", he asked.
Michael didn't respond. His ticket was stamped, and as was protocol, he handed in his wings. The pearly gates slowly faded into mist behind him, as he walked past the queue of human souls waiting eagerly to pass through them. The light of heaven dwindled until not even a sparkle was left behind. Everything grew dim and then Michael was pushed all together into a different kind of light. This one was pale and grey. He looked up and saw the moon shining bright and over to his left he saw the North Star glimmering in the sky, a little brighter than usual. Polaris obviously wanted to keep his job.
Michael found himself in a desert. Sand dunes rose and fell in rolling hills all around him, and in the distance, he saw an oasis, an emerald hidden in the sands. Michael went to stretch his wings only to remember he had turned them in. So, with a grunt of annoyance, Michael began walking, slipping and sliding over the shifting ground beneath him. The green grew brighter as Michael drew closer, and amidst the oasis, a fire flickered, signaling the presence of humans. All about the oasis, laid a flock of sheep, and sitting at a fire was a young woman doing her best to keep warm. Michael shivered as a cold desert wind tickled his skin. He cursed whoever was running the winds that night. He moved closer to the flames despite his aversion to humans, hoping to bask in the glow of the fire.
"Excuse me!", Michael called out.
The woman stirred at the sound of his voice. Quickly, she grasped her staff in her hand, her knuckles turning white from her grip. Slowly, she stood up to face Michael, and her eyes were alight with curiosity.
"What do you want? Speak quickly stranger." She raised her staff, keeping it positioned between her and Michael. Michael was quite sure she knew how to use it and didn't want to test her skill, even if he was immortal.
The light of the fire illuminated her face, and Michael got a clear look at her. Her nose was sharp, her eyes were bright, her raven hair flowed loosely down her back, and her robes were a vibrant green swishing back and forth with every subtle movement. But most of all Michael noticed all her flaws: the darkness under her eyes, the slight crook in her teeth, the small scar under her lip. She was far from perfect. Michael had seen perfect. In fact, if he were to look in the mirror, he would see perfect, but he had never seen beautiful. Something about her captured him. She was beautiful in every sense of the word.
"Hey you. Yea, I'm talking to you. What do you want?"
Michael was quickly awoken from his daydreaming. The woman looked like she was about to swing her staff. Michael quickly remembered that, to her, he was a stranger. And, even worse, he remembered he was naked. He had forgotten how shameful humans felt about nakedness, and so for her sake, he quickly ducked behind a tree, hoping to spare her the view. Though even as he did, he caught her eyes lingering on him.
"My apologies. My name is Michael and as you can see, I am a bit lost and very underdressed. I was hoping you could spare me a spot beside your fire and maybe, possibly something to cover up with."
The woman didn't respond, but a few moments later a balled-up piece of cloth landed at his feet. Matthew quickly wrapped it around his waist and poked his head out from behind the tree. The woman had put her staff down and returned to her spot beside the fire. Michael sat opposite from her. Stretching out his hands over the flames, he warmed them, feeling the heat seep into his bones. He smiled and then he laughed. The woman looked at him with a furrowed brow, but he kept laughing. He couldn't tell why he was laughing. What about fire could possibly make him so giddy? Then he remembered the chill that ran down his spine as the bitter wind blew and the misery he felt as he shivered at its touch. Now he was warm and laughing. He still didn't get it, but he was happy. It had been a while since he could say he was happy.
"You're weird," said the woman.
"And you're beautiful," said Michael.
The woman blushed and grew silent. Matthew wondered what was the matter with her. He had simply told her the truth. He couldn't understand why was she was so embarrassed.
"Your blunt," said the woman.
"I'm just honest," said Michael.
"You're obviously not from around here. Where are you from?"
"Someplace a lot of people are dying to get too."
"What are you doing lost in the desert?"
"Apparently I'm on vacation."
"Lucky you. I'm working. By the way, my name is Esther, and your not half bad yourself."
Michael and Esther laughed together. Maybe humans weren't so bad after all, Michael thought. Sure, their planet was inconvenient, but Esther didn't seem half bad. She had made him laugh, and no one had done that for a few hundred years. They continued to talk into the late hours of the evening. Laughter came often, and Michael listened with rapt attention at every story she told. But, pretty soon, Esther drifted off into sleep, and Matthew was left alone with his thoughts. He stared at her as she slept and, though he still couldn't figure it out, there was no denying she was beautiful.
Esther awoke early the next morning, surprised to find Michael still seated by the ash and embers of the night's fire.
"Where are you going from here?" Esther asked.
"I don't know. I mean, what's there to see but sand?"
"Why don't you come with me to my village? We're not too far, and there's a big wedding happening which means there's going to be a party."
Esther beamed, but Michael was unsure if he wanted more human company. But, then again, he didn't have much else planned, so he joined Esther on the long road back to her village. They quickly came upon Esther's village. It was a hodgepodge collection of colorful tents, each as bright as Esther's robes. Vibrant yellows and deep reds served as a welcome contrast to the dull brown of the sand that surrounded them. The village was alive with music, and the sound of feet dancing in rhythm was carried on the wind to meet them. Esther quickly put the sheep in their pen, grabbed Michael's hand, and dragged him toward the noise. All around them, people danced, their bodies gyrating to the rhythm of the drumbeat, and a chorus of voices sang together, as the bride and groom made their way out of their tent for their first dance as man and wife.
Michael stood in awe. The singing was slightly out of tune, the beat was a bit off-kilter, but the smiles he saw were more real than any smile he had ever seen. Esther pulled him into the swirling mass of flesh that danced around the bride and groom, and Michael couldn't help but wonder why he felt so alive. He knew all these humans were destined for death, that the marriage and the children it brought about were all going to fade into dust. Why then did they sing of love and make vows they could never keep? Why did they celebrate if they knew the pain that awaited them?
Then everything stopped, every dancer stood frozen in time and the notes hung on the air robbed of their sound. From behind a tent appeared a man. His hair was grey, and his eyes were as bright as the sun. Michael quickly bowed, pressing his head against the sand. A gentle hand lifted up his face. Michael stood up, face to face with the Father. The Father smiled, and taking Michael's hand, they walked among the humans, unseen and unheard. When they had walked some distance away from the village, the music continued, the party commenced, and the Father and Michael watched from afar in silence.
"I heard you were bored," said the Father with a chuckle and a smile.
"Father, I apologize if I was out of line with Gabriel. Ill get back to work."
"You know, it was my idea to send you on this little excursion. Out of everyone, Michael, you're beginning to get it."
"That perfection is boring. I love humans precisely because they aren't perfect. Because their lives are short and painful, they appreciate Heaven, because they know what it's like to live down here. Perfection is all you've ever known, Michael, but you don't know beauty or hope. All you know is endless perfection. You weren't bored with your job, you were bored with heaven. You hated humans, until you met one. You found their planet horrid, until you felt the joy of warmth against your skin. You looked down on the angels who have to work down here. You thought I had handed them the lesser job, but the big jobs aren't upstairs. They're down here with them. They're chaotic, and beautiful, and you are never quite sure what they'll do next. So Michael, how would you feel about a promotion?"
Ryan Diaz is a poet and writer from Queens, New York. He currently lives with his wife Janiece in Long Island. Ryan is an avid coffee drinker and enjoys long theological tomes paired with a cigar.