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Flights of Angels

Melissa Shaw is a Writers of the Future winner and a Clarion West graduate. Her short fiction has appeared in Asimov's, Realms of Fantasy, Analog, and several anthologies. She is also a game writer and editor, having worked on Halo 4 at 343 and DotA 2 at Valve.
She slumped down the dirty alley, ignoring the discarded garbage, the drifts of broken things with sharp edges. She felt like a broken thing with sharp edges herself.
"You're back?" came the familiar voice. "So soon?"
"I need it," she said, hugging herself. She couldn't bring herself to look at her dealer's face, so she stared instead at his maroon sweatshirt. Its nondescript faded logo had become illegible with stains. With hands that shook only a little, she held out crumpled bills.
"Tell me what you want," he said.
"You know what I want," she said, resentfully. "Angel."
"You should take it easy on that stuff," he said.
"Like you care," she said, feeling a little venom rise in her. "Like anyone cares."
He shrugged. "Your funeral." With a quick glance around, he slid a small yellow packet out of his pocket, exchanged it for the cash.
As she started to open it, he said, "Whoa, not here."
She stared at him dully, then looked down at the package again, her fingers working at the seal.
"You want me to take it back?" he said sharply. He jerked his chin into the alley's deeper shadows. "Back there. Go on."
Caught between swelling anger and fear, she shuffled further in.
"And sit down, for God's sake! You know you don't want to do that shit on your feet."
The packet clutched tightly in her hand, she sat against a cinder-block wall, between torn, yellowed newspaper that smelled of urine and a Dumpster.
She tore open the packet, saw the small, dark gray, oblong shape emerge from the paper. Her entire world focused in and down, until there was nothing left but the Angel.
She smiled.
The pill caught and choked as she swallowed it, making her cough.
She closed her eyes, leaned back against the rough concrete wall.
But--something was wrong. Her stomach blazed with volcanic fire. She screamed, or tried to, but a thousand needles punctured her lungs. Her belly swelled in agony, like something dead was rotting in it.
She tried to clutch at the ground, the wall behind her, to collapse around the killing pain. But her eyes scalded, and her vision grew blurred and dim, then sank into absolute darkness.
She was blind.
She was going to die here.
Overhead, a deafening crack of thunder shocked the world into silence. Torrential rains poured down, drenching her in icy water. Brutal thunder strikes battered her ears, rattled her head. She shivered uncontrollably as freezing rain hammered at her body.
The torment in her gut expanded until every tortured nerve in her body howled and clanged. Roaring fire seared her skin, her mind. The whole world was a white-hot ball of pain.
The agony intensified--eternal, unendurable, inescapable.
But finally, eons later, the storm broke.
The thunder eased, hitting less frequently, and farther away. The rain tapered off, pattering down instead of pounding into her flesh.
The fire in her gut receded, shrank down into her softening belly, to the size of a cantaloupe, a golf ball, a point of light.
And, finally, gone.
She blinked hard. Dim, gray, fuzzy shapes coalesced, gradually acquiring sharpness, color, brightness.
Relief washed through her, like being enfolded in the wings of angels. She felt like dancing. She pushed herself to her feet, swaying. When she nearly fell, she giggled.
She was alive. The sky was a sharp, brilliant cerulean blue, the ground was--well, it was foul with reeking garbage, but who cared? It was dry and warm, and so was she.
The world greeted her eager eyes as waves of gratitude poured through her every vein.
She was alive, the pain was gone, and everything was all right again. The world had never been so dear, so sweet.
As she strode back up the alley, her dealer nodded at her. "Don't come back too soon," he said.
"Come back? Why would I ever come back?" The idea was preposterous, laughable.
"Yeah," he muttered. "It's gonna last forever. It always does."
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, February 11th, 2015


I find it interesting that going from pain or illness to relief from pain or illness can be an even more powerful emotional experience than going from a neutral state to exhilaration. The relief and even joy you feel when you've been sick and you finally start feeling better can be profound. Distilling and heightening that experience allowed me to explore the addiction issues that could arise.

- Melissa Shaw

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