Welcome to the first story from my third annual One Thousand Word Challenge. To start, here is the inspiration:
The final word count was 1,001, so I was nearly right on target.
“They’re angels! Can’t you see them? Can’t you see their eyes of judgment on you?” said Leonard. His doctors called him schizophrenic, but he knew that it was because they were jealous. He crept through the gaps of the system, oozing out onto the streets a broken and battered man. However, he was a Saint. He wasn’t a Saint in the way that the New Religion painted them; he was a Saint like the old ones. He spoke with God and all His Holy Host and everyone called him mad.
A girl, maybe ten years old, walked hand in hand with her mother. She was wearing a rainbow of bright colors that could have blinded Leonard, but through her luminosity, he could see her smiling face.
“Only the innocent can look on them without despair. Only children get into Heaven.” said the Old Man leaning on the side of the crumbling mill that had been transformed into a series of boutiques where Janice’s mother loved to shop. Janice wondered if the pigeons actually were angels, and if she actually was special for being able to see them. She imagined the angels, in their coats-of-many-colors sitting cross-legged and strumming harps, humming melodically. Their eyes were deep blue and filled with compassion. They’d let her into Heaven because she knew them, because she could see them.
She felt her mother tugging her arm, pulling her away. She could hear her grunt unhappily and she marched along, leaving the angels behind. Janice watched as they waved good-bye.
Leonard held out his empty Styrofoam cup, silently begging for change. He remembered how the Buddhist monks gave up everything but a bowl to beg with. They were righteous and holy, and perhaps he was too. He imagined himself in beautiful saffron robes, his head shaved, and a smile on his face. He had nothing, but he didn’t need anything. Having things kept him leashed to the earth. Without a home, without friends, his mind was free to roam in search of enlightenment. However, his mind was no good without his body and he had to eat.
“You gotta eat to live,” he said, “You gotta eat to live.” A fat Hawaiian sauntered down the street; Leonard assumed he was Hawaiian, because if he wasn’t Hawaiian, he was probably the Buddha. If he was the Buddha, that meant Leonard was dead and didn’t even notice dying.
“Would you look at that poor guy,” thought Kingsley. He was a descendant of Chief Kaneikaiwilani, but he didn’t know it. All he knew was that he liked doing things for people. It made him happy to see other people happy. It was his only addiction, and it drove most of his girlfriends away; they always said he was too nice. The Old Man looked at Kingsley and smiled with long, yellow teeth.
“You aren’t Buddha, are you?” asked the Old Man. Kingsley smiled and shook his head. He pulled three crumpled bills out of his pocket and pushed them into the Old Man’s cup.
“I’m sorry I can’t do more,” said Kingsley.
“I bet you are the Buddha,” said the Old Man.
Leonard was happy that it was summer; the light lasted longer and the nights weren’t as cold. It was getting late and he was thinking about where he could go to sleep. As he mused, he wondered where the angels slept. He didn’t know when they left, and they’d always be back in the morning before he arrived. He examined the change in his cup and wondered how much a hotel room would cost him. He hadn’t slept in a proper bed in years. The cots at the Mission were fine enough, but the smell of everyone made him sick, and he always worried about the desperation that some of those men had.
Five silhouettes marched down the sidewalk, and Leonard noticed them far too late. He looked at their clothes and their hair and he knew they were the night, and that the night would swallow him whole.
“Hey Lenny,” said Jake, “What you got in your cup tonight, pally?” The Old Man looked shocked. He fumbled with his begging cup, sending change glittering in the lamplight. Warner crunched a quarter under his jack boot’s heel and ground it against the cement.
“Not all that glitters is gold, Old Man,” said Bruce, showing his silver handled stiletto to the Old Man. “You’re bound to have more, and better.”
“I bet he don’t,” said Marty, laughing like an ass.
“Get away from me! Get away!” begged the Old Man.
“If he don’t have anything better, we better have some fun, yeah?” said Pete as he stepped forward, kicking the Old Man in the ribs.
“Dad, are there really angels?” asked Janice as her father tucked her in. He and Trudy had discussed what to say if their daughter asked a question like that, and the compromise was to be non-committal. Trudy thought that it was not her and Jeremy’s place to influence their daughter’s religious choices. She insisted that bringing her up morally, without religious justification, was best. Jeremy didn’t like to argue, so he agreed. He always thought it was better to agree with Trudy; it made life easier.
“Yeah,” he said without thinking. He couldn’t believe he had said it.
“Mom says that there might be, but I knew there must be.”
“Yeah?” asked Jeremy, smiling uncomfortably.
“A man today said I could see them.”
“That’s good,” said Jeremy, wondering how much trouble he would have in the morning.
“Do you think I’m fat?” asked Kingsley as he looked at his naked body next to Mira’s.
“I think you’re perfect,” answered Mira, throwing her arms around Kingsley and squeezing him. “I think you are beautiful, outside and in.”
“I don’t feel perfect,” said Kingsley. Mira looked at the man she loved and rolled her eyes. There wasn’t anything she could say that could undo thirty years of social conditioning.