The Wounded Angel

    

The blackening sky was cold and clear, except for the two darkling thrushes that sang and danced above and around them. The boys, Mikael and Sepp, carried the girl along the dirt path. I thought she’d be weightless. Mikael held on, his hands ached and his feet were numb. He couldn’t tell if Sepp was struggling as much as he was. Sepp was behind him. Behind the girl…

They’d found the girl while the sun was still in the sky. They’d been hunting for pigeons when they saw her, unconscious, in between two trees, her existence absurd against the realness and coldness of the woods just outside Aapo’s farm. She was still, her skin pale yet dull, with some memory of light in its complexion—as though it had once glowed, perhaps until recently. Her clothes were dirty and ragged from the fall, her hair was dove white, and her wings, her broken wings, were dull, off-white, muddied with flecks of dirt and blood.

They made a stretcher from Sepp’s coat tied to two thick sticks they ripped off a silverbirch. When they placed her carefully on the stretcher, Sepp rushed to the back and began to lift. Mikael was forced to take the front. I thought she’d be weightless, he thought, but she’s as heavy as a dead boar. Mikael changed the position of his shoulders, easing the pain in them for a moment.

“I want to stop for a second, Sepp, I’m thirsty,” said Mikael.

Mikael knew that Sepp’s stomach hurt too: he’s in almost as bad shape as me. He just doesn’t want to admit it.

“Fine, little brother. If you have to,” said Sepp.

The boys tried to set her down gently, but Mikael’s knees buckled and the girl rolled forwards onto him. She wrapped her arms around him and whispered something in his ear. The weight was too much for Mikael to support and they fell sideways onto the dusty path. Sepp rushed over to see if they were alright. He pulled the girl off Mikael and rolled her down softly on her back. Mikael thought about slapping the dirt off his coat, but he didn’t have the energy. He was also distracted by the girl and what she might have said in his ear. He couldn’t take his eyes off her.

“Stop staring at her, Mikael,” Sepp protested.

“You were the one that ran to hold the back of the stretcher,” Mikael complained. “You’ve been looking at her the whole time we carried her.

The boys looked down at her. A bloody bandage wrapped around her eyes. It was there when they found her.

“She can’t see us,” said Mikael, “We don’t even know if she can hear us.”

“It just doesn’t seem right,” Sepp said, “you should show her more respect, she’s an an—” 

“—No she’s not,” denied Mikael. She can’t be an angel. “She can’t be. If she’s that, then it’d mean that He’s definitely real.”

Sepp stared at the ground for a moment, then looked at her again.

“Maybe He’s sent her here to help us,” Sepp said. “I mean, look at her wings, and there’s something special about her, isn’t there? Like how she doesn’t really look real, but she’s so heavy. And she’s almost glowing, isn’t she? There’s something about her, I mean, maybe she’s what we’ve been waiting for. We haven’t had a good harvest in three years. Maybe she’s here to save us. Don’t you think?”

“Even if she is that, she can’t save us. Look at her. If she’s really… you know, then why are we starving? Why did Hanna die? Why did Mother…”

“—Shut up.” Sepp snapped, and he started to cry.

I’m an idiot, Mikael thought, why’d I have to mention Mother and Hanna?

“But she’ll get better,” Sepp said, wiping his eyes, “and she’ll—”

—The girl let out a quiet sigh and Sepp went silent. Both of the boys stared at her.      “Better get her back to town,” said Mikael. “We need to get her to Dr Laine before it’s too late.”

“Don’t say that—she’s going to be okay.”

“Alright. She’ll be fine,” Mikael sighed. “Let’s just get her into town before it gets too dark.”

They struggled to get the girl back onto the stretcher. And when they did, Mikael rushed to the rear and claimed the handles.

It’s not staring if she’s in front of me and I’m carrying her. Where else does Sepp expect me to look?

 Neither boy knew how much longer the makeshift stretcher would hold out, or how much further they could carry her. As they lifted her, Mikael’s limbs and hands began to ache once more. The girl let out another soft sigh as they began to shuffle forwards. What had she tried to whisper in my ear, Mikael wondered again, and he kept his eyes on her, careful to avoid looking into her face. He inspected her limp, crumpled wings, and her small, laboured breaths. She hasn’t come to save us. Maybe she just fell and He didn’t catch her. He didn’t catch Hanna either. Or Mother.

Up above, the thrushes fluttered weightlessly through the dull purple of the gloaming, and Sepp began to whistle along with their music. Mikael was not cheered by their song, and he could no longer see them. A cold wind beat against the girl’s feathers and Mikael heard her soft sobs. She is despairing. We have to help her.

The brothers carried her until the sky was completely black, the clouds concealed the moon and stars. Mikael thought about the village—about how they’d react, half-starved, half-mad, to the girl with the almost glow and the broken wings, and if she would give the village a good harvest this year. Maybe she’ll do the opposite, he thought, with a grimace. Maybe bringing her here is a mistake. Mother would have known what to do. I’m so hungry and she’s so heavy.

They carried her in silence for several minutes, then the darkness amplified the scraping of their feet, her despairing sobs, and the bristle of wind over the barren ground. The birds had stopped and bats had not bothered with their region in years. Recently, the nights had been almost as quiet as they’d been dark.

Mikael was so exhausted he was delirious, and his thoughts meandered from the girl to Sepp and his mother.

He remembered Sepp’s idea to run away and fish in the river, and how much he’d wanted to follow him. They’d been hungry then too, but at least there was food to be had if you looked hard enough. His mind settled on his happiest thought. She was lovely. Her thick blond hair. She was everything his father was not.  Kind, soft. She was funny and she loved to tell jokes. Mikael had adored his mother, but Sepp had been her shadow, her ‘sweet one’. Mikael and Sepp had loved her stories more than anything else. She often told tales about her mother, and about her grandfather who had travelled great distances in search of treasures and adventure. It was these stories of adventure that Mikael loved most. His brother preferred the stories of The Old Man, Väinämöinen. The wizard.

“His power was not in his hands,” she’d say, “but in his voice, for who needs to lift a finger against one’s enemies if one can convince them not to fight? His songs were more beautiful than any other, and they had the power to change everything. When Väinämöinen sang, the world listened; for it’s not just men, women and children that listen to songs, but all things. And as a ballad can move a man to tears and conjure in his mind images of heaven or hell, so too could Väinämöinen’s voice change the listening world.”

Mikael remembered how Sepp used to pretend he had the power to change the world with only his voice. As a young boy, though older than Mikael, Sepp described his imaginary exploits to his brother. In his imaginings, he usually saved a woman or a helpless child from a gang of bandits or trolls. He would transform the ground they walked on so that it became soft and boggy, sucking them in and trapping them. When he was young, most of Sepp’s fantasies ended with him living happily ever after. Mikael had enjoyed them back then, when the barns were full and the winters short. But it was different now.

Not long ago, Sepp told Mikael that he wished he was Väinämöinen.  It had been a few years since he’d mentioned the wizard, but it was cold and neither of them could sleep, so Mikael was not so surprised to hear talk of The Old Man again. It had always been at times like this that their mother used to tell them stories—when the cold droned in their bones and sleep was many hours away.  In the darkness of their room, Sepp began his tale, without preface or preamble. He told him a story that he made up as he went along. Instead of saving a damsel in distress, Sepp used his powers to fix his broken village. He created food from dirt; soil became bread and fish, and the stream turned into beer. The villagers feasted for days because of Sepp’s magic. Using his voice, Sepp transformed the barren, unyielding earth into rich fertile soil, and crops magically sprouted up to three times their usual size. He sang his mother and sister back to life. He raised his voice by their graves, and they rose with it—fresh and overjoyed, as though only waking from a long sleep. It was a rich imagining and Mikael’s heart hurt as he listened to it.

“Just shut up about that wizard, Sepp!” Mikael had said, the darkness holding on to his words, amplifying them somehow.

“Just shut up about magic and about Mother and Hanna. They’re dead, Sepp. They’re dead and no one or nothing can bring them back.”

Mikael was crying. He felt bad for chastising his brother. But he felt other things. Complicated things for any ten-year-old to process.

“Mikael” Sepp said, his voice faltering, “I only wanted to pretend.”

Mikael sighed. “I know. But you’re too old for that. You need to grow up. You need to be a man.”

Sepp didn’t reply. Mikael felt like a fool. He knew who he sounded like, and he hated himself for it.

I sounded like Father, he thought. I never want to be Father. And that brought him to another memory.

One day Mikael and his father were chopping wood while Sepp was mending a fishing net. This was woman’s work, but someone had to do it, and Sepp’s nimble fingers made much quicker work of it than Mikael’s. As they split wood and he mended nets, Sepp told his father some of his stories. He told him about how he stopped the great hunger, and that he had brought his mother and Hanna back to life. His father listened to his stories from beginning to end, captivated. But when Sepp mentioned his mother, his father thumped the axe into the block and screamed at him:

“You’re eleven, boy. You can’t go around telling stories!” He slapped him hard across the face and Mikael felt the sting tingle on his own face, though that might have been the embarrassment. I should have stood up for him, he thought. How dare he hurt Sepp!

He stomped back to the block and resumed chopping the wood. He was hitting it too hard and the logs were tipping over and chipping diagonally. Neither of the boys spoke.

“Stop idling like a silly child,” their father said after a few moments of terrible silence. “You’re almost a man now. That sort of nonsense is something I expect from a child, not a boy of eleven.”

“I learned the stories from Mother,” Sepp said. “She loved them,” his voice was strong and deep.

In that moment, Mikael felt embarrassed, yet proud, of his big brother. He waited for his father to hit Sepp again for talking back and for mentioning their mother. And he did. Sepp tried to fight back, but he was overpowered easily.

You’re a sad, pathetic little man, Mikael thought. I don’t know what someone like Mother ever saw in you.

…This memory stung Mikael. He turned his thoughts away from it—to the real pain—to the ache in his hands, his shoulders, his belly. He turned to the back of Sepp’s head and the broken creature they carried. She was not so heavy now, although Mikael was more tired than ever.

“You okay back there?” Sepp called.

“Yes. I’m fine.”         

“She’s getting lighter.”

“I know.”

“Let’s hurry it up a little,” Sepp said.

“Yes,” Mikael agreed, and they tried to speed up, building into a stumbling trot. I don’t think I can take this much longer. I think I’m going to faint.

 

The angel died quietly a mile from town. The sudden lightness, almost weightlessness, of the girl threw their breathless jog out of kilter and they tumbled forwards into the dirt.

I knew she’d die, Mikael thought. Sepp was up and dusting himself off.

“It’s okay, little brother,” he said. “We’ll get her to Dr Laine. Maybe she’ll be okay.”

“No, Sepp,” said Mikael. “She’s dead. You know that. She’s gone.” Mikael tried to stand, but he collapsed back down to the ground.

“Can you stand?” Sepp asked.

Come on. Just stand up.

Mikael tried again, with all of his strength, to get to his feet. His muscles ached and his head rolled and he thought he was going to be sick. COME ON! JUST STAND UP! Just…   

His vision blacked and warmth, fuzzy sensation washed over him and he almost knew that he was fainting…

 

Some time later. Maybe seconds. Maybe minutes. He felt hands on his shoulders, shaking him.

“Mikael? Mikael?” Sepp sounded muffled, distant. “I’ll get you to the doctor.”

Mikael felt himself become weightless and he was aware of a pain in his gut. I’m floating. This pain was all he could feel or contemplate and it was easy. Easier than before.

Eventually, they stopped and he guessed that Sepp had set him down, because he didn’t feel weightless any longer. Mikael felt the empty feeling ease a little and he opened his eyes enough to see Doctor Laine sitting on his front step holding his pipe. He did not smoke; tobacco was a luxury no one could afford, but he was often to be seen on his front step, with his pipe in hand.

“Sepp,” he said, in his deep, though quiet voice, “what’s wrong with Mikael?”

“He’s sick,” Sepp replied through laboured breaths, “I think it’s just hunger and exhaustion, but he hasn’t been right for days.”

“Right,” the doctor said. “We’ll get him inside and I’ll see what I can do—

“—It’s not just him, Dr Laine,” Sepp interrupted—he’s getting more and more out of breath, thought Mikael. “It’s the angel as well.”

No. You shouldn’t have said that, Mikael thought. Maybe they will just think that she’s a monster. A freak. And nothing more will come of it.

“The angel?” said Dr Laine. “What are you talking about, boy?”

“The girl Mikael and I found in the woods. She has wings and she was really heavy but now she’s light and I think she might be dead, but she’s an angel, so maybe she’s not—maybe she’s just sleeping and I really wanted—”

“Hush boy. You’re having a panic attack,” said Dr Laine, taking him by the arm and guiding him to the ground. “Sit. Take deep breaths. Tell me where she is.”

Sepp slumped forwards on the ground and struggled to slow his breathing.

“She’s. Near. Turri’s. Turri’s farm,” and Sepp fell sideways onto the dirt.

 

Mikael dreamed that he and Sepp were attending a banquet, but there was only one mouldy piece of bread between them. Then he dreamed of the angel. Her eyes were deep amber and she smelled of flour and butter. She took him and his brother into a room with a table piled high with hot, steaming rye bread and baked fish. The angel smiled at the boys as they relished the food in front of them. When they were done, she brought them each a freshly-baked pulla and a cup of watered-down mead, sweetened with extra honey. Hunger sated, the boys sat by the fire and listened to the angel’s evensongs. They were the most beautiful either of them had ever heard.

Mikael awoke quietly, gradually, barely aware of the distinction between the angel’s banquet and the Laine’s. He felt cold, but sweaty, and his stomach twisted and hurt. Where’s the angel? Where am I? Who’s talking?

“Look Sepp,” said a woman’s voice, “I’m sorry, but I don’t believe she’s an angel.”

“But you’ve seen her wings! How can you even think that, let alone say it? How can you not believe in angels?”

“I do believe in angels, Sepp,” said the voice again—she must be Mrs Laine—“but I don’t think they come in the shape of dead little girls left out in the middle of nowhere.”

“But she wasn’t dead when we found her! She was alive. She’d fallen. There were bandages on her arms and one covering her eyes. She had a sort of magical glow. She’s an angel—or was one, anyway…”

“I don’t want to dishearten you, Sepp. You’re a nice boy, but you’re almost a man and you need to be realistic.”

Not you too. Please don’t say that to him.

“I can be realistic when I want to be, but that’s got nothing to do with the bloody angel that just died. I felt the weight leave her body, for God’s sake!—”

“—That’s enough!” she said. “I’ll not have you taking the lord’s name in vain in my house.”

“This is the right bloody time to bring up the lord! We need to accept the truth, even if it’s almost unbelievable. We need to figure out what it means. I mean, maybe there’s a reason why the crops have failed three years in a row. Maybe there’s a reason for all of this, you know, a plan?”

There was a silence.

Has she gone? Is she… Is she crying?

“I… I didn’t mean to upset you, Mrs Laine,” Sepp said. Mikael heard his brother’s soft, tender tones, and he knew he felt guilty. Sepp was always quick to anger, but he was even quicker to get himself out of it.

“I… I’m sorry,” he said.

She sobbed even louder and Mikael could tell somehow, from her muffled noises, that they were hugging and that her face was pressed into Sepp’s shoulder.

Big brother. It’s so easy for you.

“Why are you crying?” Sepp asked after her sobs had died down.

It’s because of Eerik. Remember him, Sepp? You can be such a fool sometimes.

“I… I didn’t mean to cry,” she said. “I’m sorry. I’m a mess.”

“It’s okay. Don’t be silly,” he said. “You can cry if you want. Crying can help sometimes. But what was it I said?”

“It’s just that I don’t like the idea that God has a plan for us. That anything that’s happened in the last three years was always meant to happen.”

“Oh.” Sepp paused. “It’s Eerik. I’m sorry. I didn’t think…”

“It’s okay,” she said. “No need for an apology. Now. How about I make you and your brother some onion soup?”

“That’d be lovely. But doesn’t Mikael need medicine instead?”

“Yes,” she replied, “I think he does. But he needs food just as much. His fever broke when last I checked. He’ll be awake soon, and it’ll be nice for him to awake to a nice bowl of soup, wouldn’t it?”

“Thank you, Mrs Laine,” said Sepp, his voice sounded thick, emotional.

Can I open my eyes now? Mikael wondered. His eyes flickered open and he was met by a blurry, distorted perspective of the Laine’s ceiling. As his eyes began to focus, he studied the room: When he was younger, he remembered playing with Anni. Eerik was too young to play with properly, but he and Anni had spun him around and laughed as he tried to walk and fell. Mrs Laine had caught them and scolded them for it. She told Mikael’s mother about it and she scolded him. But she laughed about it with his father later. Father was so different then. He also remembered the time Anni showed him some of Mrs Laine’s silver and gold jewellery. The entire place had been packed full of beautiful furniture and paintings. Mikael barely recognised the place now. It was bare; most of the furniture was gone, as were all of the paintings.

The sound of footsteps brought Mikael back to the moment. Doctor Laine stepped into his house and slammed the door.

“Valma, the people of this village have gone mad.”

“What’s the matter?” Mrs Laine asked, turning to face her husband.

Doctor Laine sighed deeply. “They believe that the girl is a fallen angel. They believe that her coming is a sign from God. They believe that we are wicked and that we’re being punished with this famine. They fear more famine, more hunger. How they think that poor girl out there has anything to do with our crops is beyond me!”

“Oh dear. Did any of them back you up?” Mrs Laine.

“Only Anni. She stayed to try and slow them down,” he said. “Edgar has wound them up too much with all of his scripture—he was at the head of this nonsense, of course. He said that she was sent by God to die before us, and that we had to redeem ourselves in his eyes. He thinks the boys are related to this. He spoke of the Bible, of how people used to use a scapegoat to free themselves of their sins. He argued that because the boys brought the angel to this village, it is their duty to bear the village’s sins. They’re to be the scapegoats. It is as they did in the bible, Valma, in times like these: they would place their sins onto a goat, or someone weak, crippled, or dying, and they would send them out into the desert as a sacrifice to cleanse them of their sins and rid them of whatever famine or plague blighted their town.”

“But they can’t send us away,” said Sepp. “Mikael is too weak.”

I can’t even sit up, brother. You should escape without me.

“So are you, son,” said Dr Laine. “You boys need rest and whatever food the rest of us can spare.”

Just then, Anni came charging into the house.

“They’re coming, Father. I couldn’t delay them any longer.”

“You did well, dear,” he said.

“Edgar knew what I was doing. He… he said some horrible things about you once you had gone…”

“Of course he did,” Dr Laine hugged his daughter. “He’s a coward, so he waited until I was gone. Try not to think about him.”

“Maybe we can change his mind,” said Mrs Laine. “Maybe he just needs to—”

“—Don’t you think I said everything, anything, I could, Valma?” He stopped and took a deep breath. “I’m sorry. It’s just that I was there: Edgar has swayed the villagers. All of them.”

Even Father?

“Even my father?” Sepp asked, his voice trembling.

“This is a desperate time,” the doctor said, and he rested his hand on Sepp’s shoulder.

“He opposed Edgar at first; it was him and me against the rest. But his harvest was one the worst in the village and with your mother and sister… he’s lost so much…”

Sepp began to sob.

The bastard. I’ll kill him. I’ll get better just so that I can kill him.

“He’s just lost, Sepp,” said the doctor, “and he’s angry at God. Most of us are right about now. We cannot expect any help from him.”

What will they do when come? Will they hurt us, or just take us away and leave us to die somewhere? Maybe Father will be in the mob. I want to look into his eyes. I want to spit on him.

Mrs Laine hugged Sepp, and he cried onto her shoulder. None of them looked over at Mikael. If they had, they’d have seen him awake, lucid, staring at them.

“They will probably come for boys soon, Valma,” said the doctor. “They want to send them far away from the village—along with the poor dead girl. They want to leave them to die. I can’t abide this, Valma; I’ll kill whoever tries to take them.”

Dr Laine began pacing the room and Mikael closed his eyes; he knew that if they thought he was awake, they wouldn’t talk as straight. Adults never talk to children like they’re people. And he knew that it was just because Sepp was a little older, and much taller, that they didn’t mind speaking the truth in front of him.

“Perhaps we could take the boys to the next village,” said Mrs Laine, “and hide them there. We still have a little money saved from the jewellery we sold.”

“But how would we get them there. We’ve no horse or cart, and we’re not strong enough to carry them. Not at our age, not with bellies half-empty.”

“Then we’ll hide them—under the house,” she said.

“Where?”

“Under the floor boards. We can take the cheese and wine out and then put it back over them. They won’t find them. Then we’ll take the boys out when everyone’s gone.”

“It might work,” Dr Laine agreed, and he rushed over to Mikael and knelt beside him.

“Boy, open your eyes. I know you’re awake.” Mikael opened his eyes guiltily. “Do you understand what’s happening?” Mikael nodded his head—they want to kill us.

“Right, well Valma and I aren’t going to let anything happen to you boys. We’re going to hide you in our cellar until this madness blows over. Okay?”

Mikael nodded again. He knew he should be terrified, but he felt very little, other than the fury at his father.

Mrs Laine helped Mikael out of his bed and lifted his arm over her shoulder.

“Can you walk if I prop you up?” she asked, breathing hard from the strain of lifting him.

“Yes, I think so.”

“You okay, little brother,” asked Sepp, stooping down to get a closer look at him in the lamplight.

“Yes. I… I’ll be okay. I just need some food, I think.”

“They’re coming,” Mrs Laine cried, looking out of the window. The room was silent, its mind fixed on the front door, its heart flittering tremulously in its chest.

“Mikael’s too weak to leave, and Sepp’s not much better,” said the doctor. “You’re right: we’ll have to put them in the cellar.”

“But they’re seconds away, there’s no time.”

Doctor Laine sat on the bed and sighed. The urgency of the moment made this small rest feel like forever.

“I’ll fight them if I must,” the doctor said eventually. He pulled out his flintlock musket from the cupboard in the corner and loaded it with a ball of lead, then poured a little powder into the pan.

“Father. You can’t fight them all with that thing,” said Anni. “The entire village is coming.”

“Maybe not, but if I don’t try, these boys are as good as dead.”

Something about the aging doctor in that moment—his thick beard, his wild, wind-swept hair, reminded Mikael of The Old Man: Maybe you’re as close as we’ll ever get to Väinämöinen. And the thought comforted him a little, though he didn’t understand why.

Mikael watched him from the bed as he prepared the rest of his ammunition and set the black powder on the windowsill. He was fast; this took only a few seconds. I guess you’re more of a fighter than you seem. Dr Laine peered through the curtains at the mob.

“Look at them out there,” he said, “Young boys, women, friends, neighbours—all of them are there. I can’t do this. There are too many.”

“Perhaps we can reason with them,” Mrs Laine offered.

“No. I’ve tried that already. The only thing they’ll respond to now is fear.” The doctor fired his first shot through the open window and it must have hit the ground just in front of the mob. A warning shot? I think they’ve stopped.

As he reloaded, he shouted out the window: “I have already reloaded, and Valma and Anni have their muskets aimed directly at you. If you move forward all three of us will shoot you. And as I am the only person in the village capable of treating shot wounds, you had better stay where you are.”

“You’re bluffing,” shouted Edgar. “You don’t have three muskets, and you’re a doctor—you wouldn’t hurt any of us.”

“You’re dead wrong,” the doctor shouted, as he moved to the other window and he fired the musket again, this time a little closer to them.

“That was Valma,” he shouted, “she’s a much better shot than me. Don’t come any closer.”

The doctor turned to his daughter as he reloaded, “Anni, I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to stall them while your mother and I lift the boys into the cellar.”

“Okay Father,” Anni said, taking the musket from him.

Dr Laine and Mrs Laine moved the rug aside and lifted the trapdoor. Mikael watched them; he felt such love for them in this moment. He tried not to think about his father out there in the crowd, shit-scared and mob-brave all at once.   

“Ukko,” Edgar shouted from outside. “Don’t do anything reckless. We bear no ill feelings towards you or your family. You’re a good man.” Edgar must have started to walk towards the house because Anni fired a shot close to his feet and he stopped for a moment.

I can’t see anything from here.

“Ukko, please, let’s talk about this.”

Anni, didn’t say a word. She reloaded the musket, but she was much slower than her father. Mr Laine picked up Mikael and set him gently in the cellar. Sepp followed and pulled a blanket over both of them.  

If they look in here they’ll see a blanket with two boy-sized lumps under it and they’ll spot us immediately.

“Ukko?” Edgar shouted again.

“Father,” Anni whispered, “you must say something or he’ll come in.”

Mikael heard Mr Laine’s heavy steps as he rushed to the window.

“They’re gone, Edgar,” he shouted, “We’ve been buying time. They left through the back as you arrived.”

“Quickly,” he whispered back into the room. “Close the trapdoor.”

Mrs Laine and Anni closed the trapdoor above the boys and Mikael felt insulated in the cellar, in the silent darkness of it. He felt a little safer.

“If the boys aren’t there, Ukko,” Edgar shouted, and Mikael could still hear him, and the small sensation of safety left him.

“Let us come in, Ukko. If they’re gone, what’s the harm?”

“The harm is all of you men riled up, with your blood boiling in your belly coming into my house and upsetting my wife and daughter. That’s what the harm is.”

“We’re going to come in, Doctor. Just accept it. If the boys have left, we will leave you alone.”

“If you come closer I’ll shoot you.”

“DON’T!” Mikael heard the doctor shout, and the bang of his musket, and they were thumping at the door and Anni was screaming. They flooded into the room and Mikael felt as though there were a hundred people thundering above him.

No! Don’t hurt them. Don’t hurt them. Sepp took Mikael’s hand in his own and squeezed it firmly.  

“Where are they, Ukko?”

“I told you: they’re gone!”

“Perhaps they are. Perhaps they aren’t. Perhaps they’re in the cellar,” Edgar said. “I know you have one.”

“Get the hell out of my house!” the doctor cried out and Mikael heard a dull smack then a thud as something heavy hit the ground.

“No! Don’t hurt him,” Anni shouted, her voice was shrill and shaking. “They’re in the cellar. Please just take them and go.”

No Anni. We’re dead. You’ve killed us.

The trapdoor was pulled open and strong hands tugged Mikael up into the light as though he were a doll.

“I don’t understand!” Doctor Laine shouted. “We’re all hungry. We’re all starving. Why must we become monsters every time we’re threatened?” He looked at the boys:

“Boys, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

I know. Mikael nodded sadly. Sepp nodded. What can we even say to him? He risked everything.

“Ukko!” Edgar said, “Give it a rest. Don’t do anything as foolish as follow us when we leave here. Don’t think about it. There are too many of us for you to fight. There are too many of us for your family to fight.”

The doctor’s head sank. He got the message.

“You bastards,” Mikael shouted as loud as he could manage. “They’re just trying to help us. They’re just trying to stop you from killing two little boys!”

“Shut up!” Edgar snapped, and he slapped Mikael across his face. The pain seared and resonated deep in his head—but it felt good. Mikael wanted pain. He didn’t want to go without a fight.

“You’ve done enough for us, doctor.” Mikael said.

“Ukko, we’re doing this for the good of everyone—even you.” Shouted someone else in the room—a faceless, scared voice lost in the mob’s conviction.

“I beg you not to.” He said, slowing his speech and emphasising each word. “They are just children; don’t do them any harm. It will do us no good.”

“We’ve already decided, Ukko,” said Edgar. “Can anything you say fill our bellies with food? Can anything you say or do bring that angel back to life?”

Doctor Laine remained silent.

“Then don’t stand in our way.”

“But how will sending the boys off to die help us?” Mrs Laine asked. “How will their deaths save our lives? This is lunacy.”

“It is what needs to be done; the angel was a sign.” Mikael recognised the woman speaking: Mrs Fisk. She had three young children; the fourth, the youngest, had died a month ago.

Mrs Fisk spoke again, “Why else would God send us a dead angel? Think about my Eeva and your Eerik: it’s a message. And I don’t want to ignore God. Do you?”

“Don’t you dare bring my son into this,” Mrs Laine said, surprisingly calmly. “What if it isn’t a message? What if she’s just a girl with some giant seabird’s wings sewn onto her skin? Or she could be a freak of nature, disfigured from birth.” The crowd was silent.

“Even if she is an angel,” Dr Laine added, “what if she just fell by accident? You’re all jumping to wild conclusions, and Edgar is leading you to them.”

“Enough, Ukko,” Edgar said. “Will you swear not to follow us? They must be left outside. No one must save them.”

Doctor Laine looked to his wife and daughter, surrounded by the men. “Go. Take them, damn you.”

Edgar and Turri walked over and hoisted the boys up onto their shoulders.

Turri’s shoulder dug painfully into Mikael’s belly. Pushing the pain away, Mikael looked over to Sepp and saw tears streaming down his face.

“It’ll be okay, Sepp?” Mikael said, his voice stuttering as Turri’s shoulder jutted into him with every step.

What can I tell him? How can I tell him? How can I? I should tell him a story instead.

“Don’t worry big brother, for I have special powers. I can change the world with my voice.”

Sepp stared at Mikael, “What are you taking about? You never believed in Väinämöinen …”

“Where do you think they’ll leave us to die?” Sepp asked, though Mikael could tell that didn’t really expect an answer.

“We’re going to a celebration instead; we’re to be honoured by the village for bringing them the angel.”

“What are you talking about?” Sepp said. “She died. They’re leaving us in the wilderness to die alongside her.”

“No, big brother. You’re dead wrong. I spoke to Väinämöinen and he said that it’s all a ruse so that we won’t expect the surprise party they’re throwing in our honour.”

“This is ridiculous… Oh. Okay.”

He gets it. Thank God he gets it.

“Is there to be a feast?” Sepp asked.

“Yes. There’s to be a huge feast and—”

—Turri stopped for a moment, letting Edgar and Sepp get away from them. He set Mikael down. “What are you talking about, boy? Don’t you understand what’s happening?”

“Of course I do,” Mikael whispered, “But do you want me to talk about how my brother and I are going to die because you all listened to Edgar?” Turri looked to the floor, his mouth opened again as if to say something.

“You’re much too grown up for a ten-year-old,” he said, his head dropping, and he lifted Mikael onto his shoulder again and caught up with the others.

“I always felt like Doctor Laine might have been a wizard,” Sepp said after a while. “He’s special, isn’t he?”

Thank you so much for this.

“Yes. He is,” Mikael agreed.

“Maybe he’s Väinämöinen, hidden among us…” said Sepp.

“Yes. Maybe. I could believe that.”

“So you believe in him now, little brother?”

“Of course I do,” Mikael said. I’ve seen him, sure. He told me we’d be okay.”

 

After a while, Sepp passed out again, and Mikael continued to tell stories to himself. The stories were like the ones his mother, then Sepp, used to tell him. They soothed him. He told himself about Väinämöinen: how the wizard had given his voice to him so that he could make everything right again.

“Everything will be alright, big brother.” said Mikael, and in his mind, he almost believed it. He closed his eyes and saw his dream again.

“It’s real, isn’t it?” he asked the angel.

“Of course it is, Great Wizard Mikael.” The angel smiled. “Of course it is. Come in. Have as much food as you like.”

The men carried the boys far beyond the village. They left them in a ditch where no passers-by would find them and they bound their wrists and ankles together. They left the angel’s body with them. They’d wrapped her in a woollen blanket. I’m glad she’s with us, Mikael thought, remembering her sobs and her delicate, broken wings. Now you’re all crushed up inside that blanket and no one will see you again. I’m sorry.

Turri set Mikael down against a tree and left a skin of water beside him. He pulled an old stale piece of bread from his pocket and looked at it for a few seconds before quickly stuffing it back into his pocket. He walked away quickly, catching up with the other men.

“Don’t worry, Sepp,” said Mikael, “I’m as great as Väinämöinen now, and to honour me the angel has cooked us a feast.”

“I don’t have the energy for this,” Sepp said. “This isn’t like you, Mikael. I… I can’t pretend to be a little boy anymore. I’m sorry.”

“Look, Sepp. The table has so much food on it that some of it has tumbled to the floor.”

“Stop this, Mikael. Just grow up.”

“Not all children grow up, big brother. You know that better than me.”

Please. Just try this. Mikael was on the verge of tears. He saw Sepp’s eyes soften slightly.

“Oh! Look, Mikael,” Sepp said, his voice bright all of a sudden. “It’s pulla—your favourite. Eat some; it’s delicious.” And Sepp began to chew thin air; his lips smacking happily, his teeth chomping down on nothing.

“Look. Here’s one for you,” and Sepp set the invisible bread on Mikael’s lap with his bound hands.

Thank you! Thank you. Maybe it’ll be enough.

“Oh,” he said. “I see. Hmmm, pulla, it’s very tasty.” Mikael, hands bound together as though in prayer, picked up the emptiness and began to eat.

“This pear’s nice too, Mikael. Do you want some?”

Mikael smiled thankfully at his brother. “Sure, I love pears.” He took it from him and ate it happily.

“The angel didn’t really die, did she, brother?” Mikael suggested.

“Nope. You’re right there,” Sepp said. “She’s gone off to get mead and some cheese. She’ll be back shortly.”

“Lovely.”

Two thrushes twittered in the cold and the sky above them. I can hope for another angel to fall to earth, Mikael thought. The next one will save us. In the meantime, I am Väinämöinen.

“We’re going to be alright, big brother. I just know it.”

“I know, little brother, I know.”

 

© 2015 Peter McCune. All rights reserved.

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