Shannon Holmes

picture prompt

The view of the forest is a bleakly beautiful sight. A melancholy figure shivers in the cold air. The glamour of the forest around her sharply contrasts her despair. Despite the gloomy atmosphere around her, she is exceedingly pretty. Her snowy-white feathered wings are reminiscent of those of a dove. A silky red dress drapes gently around her. Her pale skin and silvery hair are flecked with white as the snow floats on them and sparkles. Her arms and feet are bare; they have a grayish tinge.

The strange creature slowly lifts her bowed head. Her wide hazel eyes brim with unshed tears; her lips are blue with cold. Her visage is twisted into a mixed expression of sorrow, pain and hatred. She is a young angel, only about equivalent to thirteen in earthly years, sent down to our corrupted world for purposes unknown even to her.

Though memories flash occasionally through her head, the meaning of them is unclear. She has no recollection of how she got to these dark woods, or where she was before. A strong sense of desolation floods her body, though she doesn't know the reason for it. As an angel, she is not immune to pain or the freezing snow. Goosebumps cover her arms and she shivers.

Though she is not human, she has the same human instinct for survival as any. As her extremities begin to go numb, this takes over. She gets up and begins to walk. Her body tingles as the movement causes her to regain feeling. As she proceeds through the woods, her eyes take in everything. The soft snow surrounds her and the bare trees glow with stark beauty. Despite the cold, despite her hopelessness she is open to the beauty of the world around her. It's something she's never seen before and she finds herself wanting to see more.

So she does. She continues on and every new marvel she sees fills her with wonder. A deer peeks through the trees and the animal's independence and curiosity amaze her. Curiosity is something unknown to her; in the existence she once knew, knowledge and understanding came naturally. Now she is faced with a world she doesn't know, and a past she can't remember. It terrifies her but she's eager to find out the secrets of this new place.

As dawn breaks and a bright orb rises in the sky, she reaches the edge of the woods She leaves the allure of the forest behind her and descends into the madness of humanity.

It's still too early for anyone to be awake in the small town of Haverly, Vermont. If a resident did happen to arise early and chance to look out their window at the exact right moment, what they would see might either shock or delight them. A childlike being with wings and silver hair, scarcely dressed for autumn, much less winter walks down their quiet streets. Her gait is quick and her posture is perfect. Despite her weak legs and labored breathing, she walks with a confidence unusual among humans, who are, as a general rule, awkward and unsure creatures.

The high spirits Melody felt before start to wane as she realizes that she has to find somewhere to go, away from the cold. Her small body feels as though it's shutting down and her head spins. The exposure to the cold becomes too much. She feels too weak to keep walking and she finds a bench to sit on. She lays her head on the cold metal of the bench and falls slowly into nothingness.

As the angel sleeps, slowly succumbing to the cold, she reaches, ironically, her full consciousness. Her memories return and she sees her life as it once was. At first events flash rapidly, and then they start to form coherent thoughts. She thinks of her village, her simple house with its plain wooden walls so unlike the strange houses she's seen today. She recalls the year-round warm days and comfortable, cool nights. She thinks of her life with no problems, no pain, and everything she could wish for. She grows weaker and the memories swirl into a vortex, and fade away. Then her mind is still.

Hours later, she awakes warm and painless. What a strange dream, she thinks, unsure whether to be relieved or regretful. Her eyes open, just slightly, to reveal an unfamiliar face leaning over her. Frightened, she looks around and realizes that she's in a bed, covered in a soft white blanket. She reaches a hand out to feel her back and nearly screams: Her wings are gone.

She sees strange looking machines, and bright light. The bright green eyes looking down at her belong to a woman in a white coat. Of course, the angel is familiar with the concept of doctors and hospitals, but she's never seen them herself. It takes a moment for the realization to hit her; she was never dreaming. Everything she saw and felt was real.

Her moment of comprehension is followed by trepidation. She knows nothing about her surroundings except what she observed earlier. She searches her mind for anything that will help her survive but her memory is once again blank. The understanding she felt in her dream is now nonexistent.

A harsh voice snaps her out of her thoughts. "She's awake. Find out name, age, etcetera." Then there's the sound of footsteps.

Melody feels a gentle hand on her arm and sees a kindly looking older woman. The woman smiles at her and speaks in a soothing tone. "Do you know where you are, dear?"

"A h-hospital. I don't know where." The angel's voice cracks as it hasn't been used in a long time.

"Do you know…how you got here?"

"I came from…from…well…" She realizes that giving her true circumstances away before she knows how these people will react isn't the best idea.

Seeing her discomfort, the woman stops her. "Well, we have plenty of time to find that out. Can you tell me your name?"

That question seems relatively safe. "Melody…"

The next few minutes are a blur of questions she can't, or won't, answer. Finally, the woman leaves the room. No one has said that she had to stay in bed, so Melody gets up and looks around the room. At first she feels faint and her legs are unsteady, but when she gets used to standing she feels fine. She examines the machines and finding a bathroom, splashes water on her face. The movement helps her feel slightly better and the cold water on her skin shocks her from her unbelieving state into reality. It occurs to her that her situation could get much worse. She looks around the room, for an escape route, just in case. There's a window in the corner. She looks out and nearly screams.

She's no longer in the suburbs. The window looks out high above the city. Below, rows of cars and trucks are stuck in traffic on the highway. People, specks of color on the dark sidewalks, go about their lives. Buildings emerge into the sky, blocking out the sun and casting dark shadows across the ground.

To Melody, it seems like a dull, cold world, devoid of the simple joys that filled her old life.

Inevitably, staying in the small room becomes monotonous. Tentatively, she peers out the door, seeing a long bright hallway. Doors such as her own open into the hall. Some of them are marked, some blank. Melody steps out of her small room and follows the hall to a room marked "Lounge".

Inside, children, ranging from toddlers to teenagers, sit on couches or on the floor. The younger ones play with assorted toys while the older teenagers talk to each other. A few nurses are scattered around the room, playing with the younger children. Though some of the children look very ill, with bald heads and red eyes, most appear normal and healthy.

Melody spots a young girl, maybe about ten, sitting in the corner alone. Her thick brown hair is uncombed and her face is streaked with tears. Her eyes are half-closed and she's crumpled in a tight ball. Something about her seems tired and jaded, as though she has seen everything and it's all too much.

It's in any angel's nature to help and heal so Melody approaches her. The girl looks up slightly then returns to her slumped position.

"I'm Melody." the angel says softly. "What's your name?"

The girl laughs to herself. She raises her eyes to scan Melody and focuses on her face. It's as though the little girl can see right through her and knows all her secrets. It's a discomforting feeling.

After the girl looks at her for a moment, she turns away and puts her head down on the couch. A muffled reply meets Melody's ears. "I'm Jesse…not that it's any of your business."

Surprised at the attitude Melody isn't sure what to say. She stays quiet and just looks down at the girl. Momentarily another mumble comes from the girl. "Are you going to stand there all day?"

"I just wanted to make sure you were alright."

"Well I am and I'm not looking for anyone's fake sympathy." Jesse says sharply.

"What makes you think it's fake?" Melody asks.

Finally the girl sits up straight. "Look. I don't know who you are or what you want but I'm not interested. Please just go away." She says but Melody can feel that this girl needs her. It occurs to part of her that maybe helping this child is her purpose, and maybe with that she can get her life back. So it's not completely out of compassion that she vows to do what she can to turn one life around.

She sits down next to the child. "Jesse," she says softly. "Why do you think that I want something from you? That I'm sitting here trying to talk to you out of fake sympathy?"

The girl's voice softens and her eyes glisten. "Why should you? My parents don't care if I'm alive or dead. Nobody else ever cared. I've never seen you before in my life. Even if you think you can come over here and wave a magic wand and make everything right…what difference can you really make? You're just another sick kid."

Not sure what to say to this, Melody sits quietly for a moment. Slowly, as if she's thinking aloud she says; "What if I can though…maybe all it takes is one person. Maybe…" and almost instinctively she lays her hand on the girl's shoulder and breathes the word "hope". Immediately she can feel the magic flowing through her into the girl. The change is instantaneous. The girl's shoulders seem to straighten, as though a heavy weight has been lifted off them. A glimmer comes to her eyes, a glimmer that seems to have been there all along but obscured by her misery. A gaze passes between the two youngsters, the human child and the angel. This momentary glance shares more than words alone ever could. It tells of the girl's suffering, not forgotten, but put in the past where it belongs. It tells of understanding, of knowledge beyond her years and f realization that a future of her choosing lays ahead of her.

Melody has given this girl nothing material, and nothing that wasn't in her all along. All the magic has done is brought the hope already inside her to the surface, and perhaps that's all it can do, but in any case it's enough. This girl, who has spent years drowning in the agony of her past is ready to move on, and though it might not be an easy road she's prepared to take it. All this takes place in a split second.

Melody, meanwhile, is going through an equally enlightening but somewhat painful experience. Her memories are returning to her and suddenly she knows what led her to this place.

She thinks of her home that she left behind. Her small village, surrounded by friends and family, is fresh in her memory. She thinks of her house, plain and simple yet enough to live happily. Most of all though, she thinks of the monotony and the feeling of emptiness she had felt, as if there was so much more out there to experience. She has been sent down not only to help others but to learn, and to see the things she was missing out on up above. Every angel is sent down to Earth at some point, on a unique mission, not only to help humans but also to help themselves achieve greater understanding and acceptance of life. After completing their goals, they would be returned to their home, whole as they never were before.

Melody knows instinctively what she has to do. She calls her mentor angel, Vera, to her and is pulled roughly into a vision. A swirl of white mist enshrouds her body. The mist clears and there stands a figure, greater and more magnificent than Melody. Vera towers above her, but her face is kind and her wings are gently outstretched in a welcoming gesture. She looks at Melody with empathy and understanding.

"You have seen, my dear." Vera says. "You have seen beauty and suffering, greatness and evil. You have seen the power of hope in a sick child's mind. You have seen the pain that exists on earth…but also the joy."

A million questions swirl through Melody's mind. "But…what purpose can it possibly serve? And that girl…she may feel differently but her situation is still the same. Who's to say she won't go back to the way she was over time? Why can't they live the way we live? Isn't our way better?"

The older angel smiles. "Whether or not the hope in her heart blossoms, that is up to her. You have given her what she needs. That is all you can do. As for your other questions…those you must answer for yourself. To some, it would seem our way of life, simple and with no progress is better. We live without the pain of sickness and death, without the suffering that these creatures feel. Yet, you have seen wonders here that you never could have imagined before, have you not? You were never happy up above; why is that?" With that final question the white mist once again swirls around the two creatures and when it clears Vera is gone.

It takes Melody a moment to move her eyes from the spot where the angel stood. Her mind is working furiously, trying to process what Vera told her. She realizes that there's a lot she doesn't know about her surroundings. Looking carefully around, she leaves the room, and then follows the hallway to a pair of large doors. She checks to make sure that no one is looking, and then slips through the doors.

Beyond the doors is another long hallway. A sign on the wall labeled "Lobby" points to another hallway. She reaches a grand high-ceilinged open room. Sliding doors at the opposite end lead out into an asphalt lot filled with oddly shaped cars. The snow on the ground has turned to brown slush, and when she walks in it, it feels cold and wet on her feet. She realizes that around her neck is a tiny brown velvet pouch, and she opens it to find a wad of bills. They weren't there before; Vera must be looking out for her in her own way.

Across the street from the hospital is a small dingy shop that appears to sell clothes. The inside is grimier than the outside and full of black leather, velvet and lace clothing. Eager to leave, she picks out a plain black sweatshirt and black sneakers and pays for them. She slips the sweatshirt over her dress, and puts the shoes on. Returning into the cold isn't as bad with the shoes and sweatshirt on.

The sun is starting to show through the clouds. Melody looks up and she can feel it on her face. It shines in her eyes and she blinks rapidly to clear her vision. Up close the city is dirty and broken down. The brown slush fills the streets. The sidewalks are cracked and littered. The city feels cold and unfriendly. People hurry past hardly glancing at her. They rush to their next destination, never taking the time to enjoy life just working their way into the grave. Melody wonders if they even take the time to feel, or if they are as emotionless as they seem.

As Melody walks the ugliness of the city starts to blur and she begins to see a certain beauty about it too. The people passing are all different shapes, sizes and colors. People are dressed in all kinds of strange and unique clothing. They have a kind of individuality about them that is unknown where Melody comes from.

The differences in the two worlds are striking. The ever-present question-which way is better- haunts Melody. For the first time, she begins to question her assumption that the angels have a better life. It occurs to her that maybe the rushed atmosphere here isn't as bad as it seems. This world is so much broader, with so many more choices. The progress that the angels had abhorred for so long brings these people so much benefit. A sense of curiosity hangs over her. Things here are new and exciting, both unfamiliar sentiments.

The decision she knows she must make lies heavy in her heart, but she can feel that it's the right choice. Once again she summons Vera but this time the vision gently washes over her. The angel appears again. "Have you done what you came to do? are you ready to return?"

Taking a deep breath Melody responds. "I want to stay on Earth. There is so much more I need to see. I want to start a life here."

The older angel bows her head then raises it again. "You understand that your decision is binding? There will be no turning back if you do this."

Slowly and deliberately Melody nods. "I'm willing to take that chance."

"So be it." Vera's voice softens. "This is how it was meant to be. Melody, you have found your place."