This story is by Kacy Hogg and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
It wasn’t easy being an angel. The responsibilities often seemed too otherworldly to bear, which was as funny as it was ironic. Not to mention getting stuck in doorways that weren’t built for eight-foot wings. Being an angel did have some perks – yes, flying was one, but the glamor wore off quickly. Wings were an extension of the body and grew tired just like any other limb – and sure, bearing the title of a mythical being was cool, but it wasn’t winning-a-pie-eating-contest cool. As finite as they were, humans had the monopoly on feeling alive.
And being cooped up like a canary in a mining tunnel only increased those feelings.
He sighed, twisting himself around in his too-small chair in the too-small room to rub away the unpleasant ache in his wing. He couldn’t wait until he could sleep it off. The archangels wouldn’t be caught dead (ha!) wandering around this place. Uriel was a pompous pigeon. Raphael a narcissist, and Michael was just dumb. And those were just the three he’d met. Plenty more gossip drifted on the sunlight rays and the sparkling winds of Above. He snorted. The archangels were responsible for helping the mortals nurture their murky souls and, if necessary, lead the ranks of other lesser angels, such as he, into battle. That had only happened on a single occasion when the handsome Lucifer went through his rebellious teenage phrase and decided he was unhappy. He called God out – Lucifer was never satisfied with anything, except his rakish good looks – and boom, the rest was history.
He picked at his drooping feathers. This job was tedious. Perhaps more tedious than anything because he was meant to perform it for eternity. Angels never died and humans always did, so he was sentenced to sit here forevermore. Lucky me. Some angels did nothing but preach and brag: My face was on the ark of the covenant, was yours? Other angels fluttered about singing hallelujah at the top of their lungs. It was truly a moment of hallelujah when they stopped screeching. Then there were the angels tasked with the mundane work: showing the newbies around the place, delivering messages from central command, spinning stardust and sunbeams into clothes, you know, real kumbaya type of stuff.
Then there was him. Lucas. He wasn’t an archangel – not that he had a burning desire to join those chest-puffing geese – and he couldn’t carry a tune whatsoever. He was a separate kind of seraph, meant to atone for the rest of his days. Thankfully, his little slip-up hadn’t been on the same level as Lucifer’s, so instead of permanent banishment he had been sent here, to fulfil the monotonous yet necessary work of opening the doors to the Four Realms.
When someone died, their ghost traveled to The Hall where he was stationed, isolated from everything. Once there, their personal profile would pop up on screen, detailing two things: the vices that were committed, and the virtues that were practiced. Trauma, accomplishments, their favorite color, none of that mattered. Just the virtues and vices. Each spirit would then be claimed by either God or Lucifer, according to which outweighed the other. From there, he was responsible for sending that confused-looking soul through one of four doors: Above; Purgatory, where they were meant to undergo a cleansing before returning to The Hall and entering heaven – the ‘cleansing’ was just a cold bath without bubbles – Limbo, where the bad-ish guys go because they couldn’t go up but Lucifer didn’t want to babysit their miserable arses; Below. And he’d just hit the right button so the right door would materialize, and the ghost would be whisked away to Oz. No one knew which door led where . . . except for him. Oh, and a secret fifth door, that spat the deceased back to earth? That didn’t exist. He’d often think about it when he was bored though and started craving six burgers and a dozen chocolate shakes. Another benefit of being angelic: high metabolism. Another disadvantage: a constant appetite. Since they weren’t alive alive nothing was super satisfying, but a hunk of greasy cow meat came close. Oh, and don’t forget the ketchup. Dry burgers? Now that was sinful.
Lucas chuckled to himself. The other angels were the happy-go-lucky, “I’ll brush your wings if you brush mine” sort who didn’t appreciate his sardonic sense of humor.
He sighed, glimpsed at the next profile, then summoned door three. The gold number seemed to glow against the black door. The soul barely had time to utter a terrified squeak before the door swung open and they were sucked inside by the glimmering whorls of the portal. The rest of the day went by in an identical manner. Ting! Glimpse, press, whoosh, repeat.
Only God and Lucifer had the authority to decide which door a soul went through – he was never, ever, permitted to decide. Whatever it may say on the profile, whatever his snap judgements were about Mr. What’s-It and Ms. Who’s-It, he was to obey. That’s what angels, fallen or not, were meant to do. Once a ghost went somewhere, there was no changing the bosses’ minds. Lucas couldn’t help but wonder which door he’d be sent through if he were standing on the other side of the glass. Would he tremble? Face his fate courageously? He hoped he would. Perhaps he’d just want to get it over with; after living a whole lifetime, did it really matter where you lived your second one? He figured anywhere would be more exciting than The Hall, coughing up moondust that coated pretty much everything. Lucas swore he was the only angel who was allergic to the stuff.
Regardless, it would be significantly more interesting if he could have more freedom and select the doors. He liked to think that, after an infinity of reviewing profiles, he was more than qualified. But Big G wasn’t about to change that. His hellish counterpart, however, just might. The Fallen Angel was quite approachable, the charmer, they said. So much so, he convinced thousands of angels to turn with him. Lucas wondered if things would be different if he was working for the other side. Though there had yet to be another ‘incident’ as serious as The Great Rebellion, there were . . . rumblings. To which he definitely listened.
The whispers told of Lucifer’s revenge. He was growing restless, eager to prove himself. Despite being the long-standing ruler of Below, he still hadn’t snagged as many victories as God had; he wanted to leave his palace behind and soar higher. Lucas didn’t know much, but a renewed attempt to reign Above? Very intriguing.
Ting! Another profile appeared, reading like all the others: name, virtues, vices, assigned designation. So, Lucas would never be able to explain why he didn’t immediately summon the door but peered down at the floating figure instead.
Something just seemed . . . off about this particular arrival. Lucas couldn’t place his finger on it, but whatever it was, he was . . . entranced. The soul peered up at the glass, meeting Lucas’ eyes. His dark eyes flickered like hellfire.
It was clear that this man wasn’t who he appeared to be. Lucas had heard rumors of The Banished One being able to exert considerable influence over mortals and their ghosts. Possess them, even. Without realizing the true extent of what he was doing, Lucas summoned a door.
Door one materialized in a puff of wispy black smoke. The man waited for it to open.
He was sweating profusely now. Think, Lucas, before you open that door. Did he dare risk his home? His wings? Disobedient angels were stripped of them and thrown to the bottomless pits of Below. Things could be different, he thought. He’d never heard tales of loneliness where Lucifer was concerned. The Fallen Angel and his companions had formed their own family. No one was left behind.
Lucas’ eyes darted to the door. If he did this, there was no going back.
Suddenly, he pressed the button again, and a different door appeared. Door four.
One or four?
An unexpected war raged inside him. All the while, the man waited patiently. One or four? One or four?
Lucas closed his eyes. He never thought such a weighty decision would fall on him when he woke up for work that morning. He’d never entertained such behavior before. Yet, The Hall had been his cage for as long as he could remember, and the truth of it was bound to sink in eventually.
He brushed his fingers over the drooping feathers of his wings. As frustrating as it could be, he was an angel. That was who he was.
Just press the button. You know which one. Was that his voice speaking? Somebody else’s perhaps.
His hand didn’t tremble as he selected door number one.
It wasn’t easy being an angel.