- Sci-fi comic about ancient things people find in melting icebergs
Fat girl's angel
Nessy lived in a provincial city that was dull, grey, and littered with frozen trash during winters but colourful and sweet during summers when every street and park drowned in green. It was easy to fall in love with its parks and fountains then and - just fall in love. Yet Nessy avoided the crowded places and never allowed herself to read a book in the park or to eat an ice cream under a cafe’s striped umbrella. All summer fun missed her; winter fun did too. She never skated, played snowballs, or went sledging. In fact, she did her best not to leave her flat at all, even if just to step out into the balcony for a breath of fresh air. Nessy still had to go to work, of course, and she did. It had always been torture because of the looks people gave her.
No, those looks weren’t all evil or gloating, most were just looks, with a pinch of curiosity or disapproval mixed in. Few people actually tried to hurt Nessy but she never felt safe. There was always a chance to hear someone tell, with a condescending smile, “Hey, fatty, are you getting off at the next station? No? Then let me pass.” or “Sweetie, you look like you need some exercise! Come to our gym…” or even “Just look at this pig! Munching on a cake like there’s no tomorrow! That's why she's fat.”
None of them thought much of their words, of course, but for Nessy, every phrase dropped by strangers was like a kick in the gut and kept echoing and echoing in her mind for days. No wonder she avoided other people and had no friends.
Often, when her pain became unbearable, Nessy returned home in tears, looked at herself in the mirror and said that maybe someone had cursed her before she was born. Having cried her eyes out, she made tea and heat up some food. A quiet dinner had always been the best way for Nessy to calm down. She savoured every second of her free time and tried not to think about tomorrow when she would have to leave her home again.
Nessy had no TV set - that annoying, noisy box - so she spent her evenings with a book, reading and dreaming, letting her imagination carry her far, far away somewhere where she could be happy. In her dreams, Nessy had always been beautiful… and could fly.
One day, one grey winter day when the world, frozen at the edge of the spring, was covered with treacherous ice, Nessy was returning home from the store. She stepped on the icy street gingerly, carrying two heavy bags full of groceries in addition to the burden of her own big body. Like many fat people, she couldn’t see her feet so she had to rely on her luck. Well, Lady Luck was kind to her that day; to her alone. People around Nessy kept slipping, tripping, dancing madly in hope to restore lost balance, and falling on the ice, of course.
“Please, help me, kind lady,” said someone behind Nessy’s back and - what a surprise - the phase dropped by the stranger didn’t hurt her for once.
Nessy turned around and saw a young man dressed in a black coat. It was a nice, clean coat and the man seemed nice as well. He wasn’t a drunk or something, just an unlucky guy who’d had an unlucky fall. The only unusual thing about him was a shiny cloak on his shoulders; the cloth it was made of resembled… feathers?
Lots of people passed the fallen man without even giving him a look. The slipping, dancing, cursing crowd seemed to instinctively avoid the invisible island of silence where Nessy and the stranger were. Trying to find someone stronger than her to help the man didn’t seem a good idea. Nessy shuddered at the thought of talking to one of the strangers who had been making her life hell for years. No, she wasn’t that brave.
Nessy looked around, searching for an even surface to put her bags on; there was none. With a sigh, the girl left them right in the frozen mud, among the trash and held out her hand to help the man to his feet. He took it and stood up almost without effort. As he drew himself up to his full height, Nessy had to lift her head to look him in the eyes; he was so much taller than she.
“Please, don’t be mad at me, kind lady,” the stranger said, answering a silent question in her glance. “I’m no stupid prankster, I swear. I indeed was injured, just not in the way you thought I was. I was cursed to die on the ice, among the trash of the alien world while thousands of people passing me and no one hearing my cries. But you heard, you broke the curse… You don’t believe me?”
“Nno…” Nessy stuttered. Her heart was racing and her hand, the one the stranger still held in his own, trembled. Something she couldn’t understand was happening to her right now and it was scary.
The stranger’s shiny cloak rose above his shoulders and Nessy saw it was no cloak at all but a pair of huge, coal-black wings.
“Are you an angel?” Nessy whispered in awe. “A black angel?”
“No,” the young man shook his head, folding his wings again. “But my distant ancestor was. He fell in love with a mortal girl and left the skies to be with her. All their descendants were born with black wings…” he was silent for a while, then said: “My name is Lir.”
“Brave Nessy,” smiled the winged man. “I think we met not by chance but because we both needed it… Will you come with me? If you let my hand go now, I will fall again, crushed by the curse. I don’t know whether someone else will hear me then. Your choice to go must be an act of free will, though. You may be able to deceive me or even yourself, but not the curse.”
Lir lowered his eyes to let the girl think without pressure and relaxed his grip. Nothing would stop Nessy from removing her hand now and going home where she could forget everything like a bad dream and return to the monotonous rhythm of her life…
“I won’t abandon you!” she cried out, tears rolling down her cheeks and her plump fingers clutching Lir’s hand so tightly he wouldn’t be able to fall even if he wanted to.
“Then let’s go…”
Hand in hand, they stepped through the grey reality into a shining alien world that came into focus slowly, like a sea bottom does when a pearl diver approaches it.
Nessy turned around to see what was happening to her world. The grey city clutched in the dirty ice was fading. Only the bright oranges that had fallen out of one of Nessy’s bags shone there like little suns.
“This is my world…” said Lir with a wide gesture toward the snowy peaks and green valleys dotted with wildflowers. “Your people call it Afterworld when they tell fairy tales about it. You can let go of my hand now: the curse is much weaker here.”
“It’s beautiful!” Nessy gasped.
“Yes, it is,” nodded Lir and smiled, “but dangerous.”
“Hard to believe.”
“Why? All worlds have their dangers. See those white dots in the valley below? Those are manna cups. Manna is delicious and healing. This time of the year, it’s also the only food a lone stranger can find in the valley. You can enter the cup and help yourself but be careful or you will never find your way back. There’s a mannik, a little demon, living in every cup and he claims everyone who dares to venture too far into his realm.”
There was no hurry, so they walked slowly, enjoying the sunny day. It was spring there as well but how different it was from the spring Nessy knew!
Lir told her lots of stories; the love he felt for his homeworld went through them all like a red thread. Nessy felt like a beggar beside him; she couldn’t remember anything worth telling about the world she spent all her life in. Were there no wonders at all? Or was she just blind to them?
“Lir, tell me: who cursed you?” Nessy finally dared to ask.
“A girl,” he said in a sad voice.
“Yes. Such things happen sometimes when unrequited love meets immense power. Then, the temptation to take revenge becomes too great.”
“What was she like?” Nessy blushed, ashamed of being too curious for no good reason, but Lir responded with calm.
“Beautiful, young, winded,” he said and added with a sigh: “An angel.”
Back in Nessy’s world, calling someone an angel was just a way of speaking but there it was a real thing. A real angel’s descendant was walking beside her, after all. There could be no doubts that the girl in question belonged to the same winged folk.
“How can an angel curse someone?” Nessy wondered. “Isn’t it against angel nature?”
“It is,” Lir agreed. “This is exactly how angels become demons.”
There was a long, thoughtful silence between them for a while. When they resumed the conversation, they no longer touched the unhappy subject. The long walk tired Nessy out, she felt hungry and miserable but didn’t dare to complain. They stopped by the cold rivulet once to quench their thirst with the crystal-clear water but didn't stay there and just kept walking. Later, Nessy understood where they were headed: toward one of the manna cups!
They stopped at the edge of the white, whispering field and gathered a handful of manna each. The little grains were soft when squished between fingers and had a sweet, creamy taste. While they ate, Nessy understood why manna cups were so dangerous. A distant, unearthly song reached her and called to her very heart. If it wasn’t for Lir, Nessy would have followed it to the very centre of the manna field, happy to be lost there forever.
At the end of the day, they entered a little town where some celebration was in full swing. Little bakeries puffed with fragrant heat, the smell of fresh bread was everywhere; sweet buns and cinnamon cookies, cupcakes and pancakes, pies and pretzels… there was so much of everything!
People were singing and dancing in every street. A flock of flickering paper lanterns floated in the sky. There was a smile on every face and a kind word for every stranger. For the first time in her life, Nessy wasn’t afraid to be among people.
No words could describe how much she wanted to stay there, among these beautiful people; to sing and dance, to join the feast, and then, to wash the dust from her feet and have a proper rest in a little inn…
Not a single word betrayed hew fervent wish but her face did. It was either that or Lir inherited some extra sense from his angelic ancestor. He knew what she was thinking.
“I can’t stay here, Nessy,” he said. “I must keep going, without taking even a single crumb of the holiday bread with me. Will you follow me even now?”
“I will,” the girl decided firmly.
They left the happy town and stopped for the night in the forest. Nessy was shaking from hunger and exhaustion, tears welled up in her eyes from time to time, yet she did her best to look brave knowing that she would never forgive herself if she started to cry or - oh, the horror! - beg for food.
“Dear, brave Nessy,” said Lir with sadness and warmth in his voice and handed her a crumbling battered sandwich wrapped in a sheet of paper. It looked like it spent a lot of time in his pocket and had been fallen on.
“No! I’m not hungry!” protested Nessy doing her best to keep her head high.
“Don’t be afraid.” Lir put the sandwich on her palm. “The holiday treats, they were your trial. As to my sandwich, the curse doesn’t care for it one bit.”
The trial? The curse… Surprised and shaken with those words, Nessy kept going through her recent memories over and over, having forgotten about the battered sandwich in her hands. When she noticed it again and took a bite, it tasted heavenly, like any simple food does when you are ravenously hungry.
“Lir!” she exclaimed suddenly. “Have you eaten something?”
“No. I don’t want to,” he answered simply like it was no big deal. Maybe it really wasn’t. “Now we have to sleep a bit. We have a long way to go tomorrow.”
“But where? Right on the cold ground? We don’t even have a blanket,” said Nessy with a tired sigh.
“Well,” Lir smiled, “the ground of Afterworld is not as cruel to sleeping travellers as your world’s ground is. And we won’t need a blanket.”
Quite soon, Nessy saw how true both of his statements were. She curled up in the soft otherworldly grass and it felt soft and cosy. Then Lir lay beside her and covered her with his wing, the best “blanket” ever…
Nessy slept uneasily that night. Hundreds of mousy-grey dreams swarmed up her mind, cutting off her escape. Their numbers grew and grew until she drowned in them. Nessy tried to fight but the grey wave overpowered her and carried her away from the Afterworld, away from Lir…
She saw the gate between the worlds open again, she felt an invisible force throw her back into the muddy spring of her homeworld.
The fall was short and painless. In a moment, Nessy was back in the icy street, picking up the bright oranges that had fallen from one of her bags. No one noticed her, no one cared, and there was no winged man sprawled on the dirty ice. Was Afterworld just a dream?
No. It wasn’t! Nessy gasped in shock when she saw her arms. They were so slender! She ran to the nearest shopfront to look at her reflection in the glass: she was beautiful! Nessy looked exactly like she always did in her dreams!
“You are so beautiful now!” someone said with a smile, the kind of smile you can feel without looking. “And from now on, you will always be.”
Nessy turned around to face the stranger. Shining as brightly as the sun but invisible for everyone but Nessy, a beautiful girl stood in the snow, her feet bare, her wings, once white, now bleak and losing their feathers.
“Beautiful, young, winged. An angel,” Nessy remembered. Yes, it was her.
One might expect a fallen angel to radiate evil, hateful vibes all around but this girl didn’t. Nessy’s heart raced, yes, but she didn’t feel threatened by the girl.
“You don’t want to speak,” the girl said. “It’s okay, I will speak then. Your transformation is the last miracle I was able to perform; all my remaining strength went into it. In exchange, I’m asking very little,” her voice wavered and Nessy felt her heart ache, responding to the girl’s pain. “I want your old body, the one you hate so much, the one you are ashamed of. Why? Because I love Lir and can't live without him. In your body, he won’t recognize me and I will have a chance for a fresh start.
Nessy kept silent. Her face must have betrayed her again letting the girl see her doubt because she cried, “Please! You two are just strangers to each other anyway. You don’t love him and he doesn’t love you.”
“But it’s a lie, a betrayal!” Nessy finally spoke. “It’s unfair and cruel to betray someone who trusts you!”
“It is,” the winged girl nodded. “Lir trusts you but so do I…”
...Lir tried to distract himself; he cleaned his feathers, one by one, with a special brush. It was the only thing he could do now, the only thing that helped him to keep the panic away. The sun was high and Nessy still couldn’t wake up. She breathed so quietly that Lir had to touch her wrist from time to time and check her pulse to make sure she was still alive. He knew she was trapped and he couldn’t help her in any way. The higher the sun climbed in the sky, the less hope remained in his heart.
“Listen to me, Nessy,” Lir broke his silence, unable to hold on any more. “I don’t know whether you can hear me now but I will speak to you anyway… I told you that I inherited these wings from my ancestor,” he raised a black wing over the sleeping girl to shade her face from the sun, “the black angel. But it’s not the only thing he passed on to his descendants. All of them had his vision too, angelic vision, which is much more subtle than what humans have. An angel can see souls shine.”
“I want to tell you now… and will tell you again when you wake up… that your shining soul is the brightest I’ve ever seen, Nessy… I’ve almost said ‘my Nessy’... I didn’t explain to you why I had turned down that girl’s proposal. I didn’t explain this to her as well, to be honest. The truth is that her ‘love’ was ugly, spotted with ten shades of greed and four shades of lie, distorted with jealousy and hate. But you, you shine. You, you are beautiful. That curse… now I see how it was a trap for us both.”
“Right now, you are fighting a battle I can’t even imagine. I’m unable to help you and I can offer no prize worthy of your victory, nothing but a promise that I will love you forever, shining, brave Nessy, if only you will ever let me call you mine.”
Angelic vision is very subtle, yes, but there are things hidden even from angel eyes. Over a winged man crying in his grief, a ghost soared, Nessy’s ghost. No longer burdened with the heavy body, her free soul took the shape of a slender girl of her dreams.
Nessy was brave and kind, too kind… Two people put their trust in her and she could sacrifice neither of them. Instead, she gave her own life to end the curse. Sometimes, doing the right thing doesn’t mean avoiding or diminishing grief.
Nessy was ready to leave the mortal realm. It was Lir’s words that made her stop at the very edge of oblivion. It was his tears that made her step back from the death gates. And Afterworld allowed it.
“Don’t cry, Lir. Don’t cry, my love.”
Lir raised his eyes, startled. A flash of white light blinded him for a moment, then he saw the Gates of the outer world open and Nessy walk toward him. She was beautiful, a creature of living light, with powerful white wings neatly folded behind her back. She approached her former body and stopped there for a moment, recalling her past life. A shining butterfly beside her old cocoon. As her lost memories returned to her, her light faded enough that it no longer hurt to look at. The Gates closed.
The new Nessy, winged Nessy, stretched out her hands to Lir…
They lived happily ever after and had it all: adventures and travels, quiet days and winged children. Eventually, Lir faded away under the human curse - old age. Then, having said her goodbyes to her great-grandchildren, Nessy left the realm of the living as well.
The mortal realms have always known that angels can fall and become demons but before brave Nessy, no one had known that humans can become angels. Now it is known and the road is open.
(May 27, 2011)
PS: This story is connected with another one: Black angel (it tells us about Lir's ancestor)
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English is not my native language.
If you see an error or a typo, please, tell me. I will fix it.