Half the World Away

by Mike A. Rhodes
Fallen Angel

Alexandre Cabanel, “Fallen Angel” (a fragment, 1847)

I have learned the tongues of many races of man
And eaten them too.
So if I’m to die here in this new world,
half the world away
from where I was born
Then hear my story:

You probably won’t give credence
to the idea that a creature such as I
could fall in love.
And yet it is true.
Any why not? Why shouldn’t all the beasts and beings in creation have within them the possibility of love?
You probably think of my species as being depraved, unholy, dirty;
sinful and stupid too.
Many of us are filthy animals
living in caves and dens
stalking graveyards
for we all crave the flesh;
Yet, every once in a long while,
an epoch or a generation,
one of us is born with especial gifts
feared by their own kind for their power and brilliance
and I was such a being.

I was born
when the races of man were nomads
on the majestic plains.
Back then it was easy
To follow a caravan at a safe distance
and lure someone to us.
Or find someone alone in the desert;
a straggler or sole trader
someone without a clan.
Enthral them with a pretty face,
and dine on their flesh.

As I said, I was different.
I wanted to travel the world,
to see all of its wonders, smell its many delights,
taste its many flavours of flesh.
My people are scared of new ideas
jealous too
of my extra powers
my ability to fully mimic a man.
They held me in mistrust.
Me made me outcast
free to do as I please,
but alone.
Expecting me to survive alone.

I proved them wrong.
Over many years
I migrated far from my sandy home
towards the lush green pastures of the North.
I got into several misadventures along the way.
In one small town I aroused the natives
into chasing me with flaming sticks and forks,
and only have a timely storm to thank for my safe flight.
I was almost apprehended
on my very first night in Serdica,
Attempting to lure a drunk into an alleyway,
only for the man’s companions to return.
Luckily the drunkard was in such a state
they were more concerned about their friend
than me
and I slipped away.
I saw many sights, and heard numerous languages.
I stuck to graveyards, ruins and hovels
on the periphery of human life
and I survived.
I could talk for days
of my deeds
but I promised you a tale of love
so I will tell it.

I came to a small port town
in central Europe.
For many weeks
I did what I always did
when in towns:
Lived in the graveyards
Off of the bodies –
nobody was using them anymore.
I was getting ready to move on,
Thinking that I should like to leave this city,
when I saw her.

She came to
one of my graveyards
with a man
who I found out
was her husband.
When my eyes first met hers,
I could not breathe
and had to hide
behind a gravestone
until my breath returned
and the drumming stopped in my ears.
She had simmering turquoise eyes
Like the very first seas
I ever laid eyes upon,
coupled with sandy skin
and brown curls.
It was love.
As sudden as a heart-attack.

She sat at a bench
and read
whilst her husband worked.
They were on some
sort of grand tour
his interest in
graveyards and ancient burial practices
and ruins across the continent.
They returned every day
whilst he surveyed the site.

It was weeks before
I found the courage
to talk to her.
I would watch
from behind a flagstone
or the corner of a sepulchre
and imagine our great conversations.
I could tell her of my adventures
and all the cities and peoples I had seen
and she could tell me of her
country, for I knew her not to be
and of the stories she read
in the books she devoured.

Yet I feared my language
wasn’t good enough,
that my inhuman approximation
of human speech
would be defect.
Or worse she would
identify me as monster
or ghoul
‘pon first sight
and run screaming,
raising a raucous
at the moment of my approach.

One day
I could bear it no longer.
I’m far better
at passing as a human
than most of my race.
Yet, I would not fool
a real one for long.
So I morphed
into a male of
similar age to my love
and raised the hood
of my ratty
old cloak to obscure
my face.

Upon our first meeting
I think she mistook
me for a beggar
down on his luck
as she offered me a part
of her lunch.
Even this simple act of kindness
swelled my heart
towards her.

Our talk gave me the chance
to practice some human language
I had picked up.
I am certain
I was clumsy,
but after her initial suspicions
she seemed pleased of the company.
She was bored.
She was lonely.
She was far from home.
Like me.
Two peas in a pod.
Her husband showing more interest
in old buildings than in her
why bother bringing her in the first place?
I could hardly bare to look at her.
I asked her about the book
she was reading,
nearly finished.
She told me a tale of love and woe
so passionate, and enthusiastic her speech,
her face light up
like the stars in the night sky
and I was lost amongst them.

We talked
until it became painful
To retain my shape,
but not being in the presence
Of her beauty
Was painful in a different way.

I approached her
a few more times.
at first,
not wanting to spoil
the majesty of that first meeting
and yet aching to be near her again.
One occasion
she recognised me,
and seemed to beckon me over
but her husband was close,
and looked over to where
I was.
So I pretended
that I had not seen her.

She asked me
as I sat next
to her one day
why I always had
my cloak raised
over my head
in the stifling
summer heat.
I told a truth
obscured in a lie
that my face was
In a fire,
I said,
and I was embarrassed
to reveal it.
She cooed sweetly.
Expressed sympathy.
Then I had to go
because I was
losing control
of my form.
She mistook this
for embarrassment
and she called after me.
But I had no choice but to flee.

When I saw her next
she intensely expressed her regret
at ever having brought up
my disfigurement.
She called herself uncouth
unsympathetic, rude, uncivilised
and it took much persuasion
on my part
to calm her.
Once I did she was thankful,
she was worried, she said,
that she might not
get the chance to apologise to me
because she mentioned,
quite casually
As if it were nothing
that her husbands’ survey
was almost complete
and they would be
moving on soon.
I tempered my reaction.
Yet despairingly,
I hatched a plan.

I had been practising
her husbands’ form.
Strenuous and demanding
to perfect,
and the voice
But time was short.
I learned the date of their departure
and whilst still not ready
had little choice but to act.

I followed them
from the graveyard back
to their lodgings
and then made sure
to get my rest
in my true form
as I couldn’t be
sure when I could relax
into it again.

Under cover of darkness
I scaled the exterior
of their dwelling –
easily done if you take
an appropriate form
for a swift ascent.
I hovered on the narrow balcony
outside their room
for some time.
Apprehension perhaps.
Then I changed my form
to match the husband as best I could,
and pulled back the curtain
to enter the room.
Soundlessly I crept towards the cot
they both lay on
concentrating on what I had to do
to remove the husband
and secure her for myself.
I reached the side of the bed.

She awoke.

There was a moment of silence
where I could look into
those deep eyes
for the last time.
Then her beautiful face
twisted as she screamed
a caterwaul of terror.
Such a vision of horror
I will never forget.

Then it is confusion.
Her husband awoke.
They both leaped out of the bed
Something hard hit me around the head
with a clang
as I retreated towards the window.
There was shouting
and screaming, yelling.
The flame of a lamp
A clicking as I turned to the balcony
and a gunshot as I leapt into the alley below
accompanied by a searing pain
in my upper leg.

This was the start of my downfall.

Injured, disorientated
dazed and confused
I staggered down through the town
towards the port.
In my disarray
I ended up upon a boat
covered by tarpaulin and surrounded by boxes
where I laid to rest.

I did not come around
until we were sailing into a new dock
in a rainy country.
This place had a bustling port and shipyard
with an abandoned church
looming over the town.

The nomad in me was pleased
to have a new land to explore
but we creatures were born in the
desert sun,
not in the wind and rain.
Besides which, I ached
to go back to her.
Over many weeks,
after doing my rounds of the seaside town
I had found myself in,
I trekked my way down the land
to another port town
feasting as I went
on my usual diet
of lone travellers,
and the freshly buried.
My leg continued
to throb, sometimes making it hard to concentrate
or to sleep.
My wounds made me
and more than once I risked
exposure when my killing stroke
wasn’t as clean as I was accustomed to
and the victim cried out for help.

But I was always able to escape.

At this new port town
I don’t know what went wrong.
‘for adopting my usual disguise
of a raised cloak
I listened to the talk of the people
and watched the boats
and became convinced that a
particular vessel would take me
back from whence I had come.

I snuck on board said galleon
Under the cover of night
And again hid my presence
With cloth and merchandise.

I realised my mistake
when we hadn’t reached land
after several days.

We eventually made shore
in this new world
of deep forest and pine
barely inhabited
except for these strange
pious god-fearing folk.

They live in communities
too closely knotted
to infiltrate.
Each is too puritan of spirit
to seduce and lure
with my old tricks
of a comely figure with a pleasant voice
and obscured face.
The graveyards too
are small and closely guarded;
so that each corpse I consume
necessitates another move
and another danger of getting lost
in the dense forests.
Where a lone traveller is rare.

This is where I find myself now
relating to you my tale of love and woe.
In my long life
I’ve been lost, I’ve been found
But now I am without food for weeks
after a disastrous stay
in an isolated village.
Whipped up hate
a hot-bed of suspicion,
and chased out of town
by pitchfork and flame.

So now you know my story
and how I came
to my end
in this new world.
in a ditch
half the world away
from where I was born.
One who has lived
amongst you
through your history and growth
dies hungry and lonely
yearning for the majestic plains
of my birth
for want of one more meal
Because these puritans are too uptight, incorruptible.

But here!

There is sound, movement.

A teenager comes hither.
All curiosity.
A mere snack
but an easy lure.
If I have the strength to change my shape
one more time,
Then perhaps I can be reborn
along with this new world.
Grow as it grows,
shooting from an acorn
into to the forest.
And I can truly begin again.
Find my feet
and adventure anew
Half the world away.

About the author

Mike A. Rhodes is from Sheffield, England. He enjoys reading, writing, ice hockey and food – although sometimes in a completely different order. While not disabled himself, he also plays Para Ice Hockey for the Sheffield Steelkings Para Ice Hockey Club. Follow him on twitter @MikeARhodes, @SteelkingsSH.

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