If I Had An Angel
I can see signs that they're out there: a faint track in a soft spot of earth, a slight movement in the bushes near my camp. Sometimes at night I glimpse twin orbs of red luminescence - eyes out there in the darkness, but always gone when I turn to see more clearly. And I hear things: furtive footsteps - barely audible, a twig snaps with a muffled pop as if crushed by a ponderous appendage, evil laughter wakes me shivering. Or was that just the wind? I can smell them, too, just a hint, just a whiff. My olfactory receptors briefly detect the familiar scents: the stale smell of loneliness, the acrid aroma of fear, the cloying odor of despair. But most of all I have the overpowering feeling that I'm not alone and my companions are anything but welcome. Yes, they're out there. All the demons are back, beginning their relentless siege of my camp. It's happening again and even though I am very familiar with how it will go down, or maybe because I am, I shudder at what lies in store for me.
Except for the demons just outside the circle of light from my campfire, I am alone. Oh, I can see other fires out there in the distance, but they might as well be on another planet. I wouldn't survive a dozen yards in an attempt to make a visit, even to the closest neighbor. Some of those other fires are blazing high into the darkness. I know the men next to them are drifting off to sleep now, in warm blankets, with full stomachs, and no fear of the demons who are far away from that protecting blaze. I know this because I've been in their situation. It seems like an eternity ago, but it has been that way for me in the past.
I see other fires that are barely visible. Not because they're any further away, but because the men near them are conserving their almost depleted supplies of fuel. Those poor souls are shivering, right next to their pitiful flames, with threadbare coverings, and hunger pains gnawing in their empty stomachs, but there is something far worse than those miseries going on. Their circle of demons is practically on top of them. The grisly guests are sitting on their haunches, making no effort to hide, with mouths open in anticipation. Their evil red eyes glowing in a ring around their victim, like a string of Christmas tree lights, all the same fiery hue. This I know, all too well, from personal experience. I feel thankful I'm not in that state, but shiver to realize that most likely I soon will be.
Conditions continue to deteriorate. My fuel supply is shrinking at an alarming rate, as are my food reserves. My blanket is getting very thin, there are even holes worn through. No matter how I reposition this threadbare covering, some part of me is always cold when I try to sleep. Of course, I knew this was going to happen. The angel who used to bring my food, fuel and other supplies hasn't been by for weeks and the chances of her returning now are scanty. Without the unlikely event of my finding a new angelic supply source, I appear to be doomed because the demons are much bolder now that my fire is shrinking and they appear to be growing. Before, I got the impression that most of them were the size of rats or maybe small dogs, even though I never really saw one clearly. Now, most of them are like wolves or great cats and a few remind me of bears, as they don't hide themselves nearly as fast when I look in their direction. And at night those glowing red eyes will gaze back into mine before they look away or drop behind the bushes to evade my observation. These are not the tiny red glows I was glimpsing before either, they're more like marble-sized balls of liquid fire in the darkness which comes much closer to my campsite than it did the last time I wrote.
I need help! I need my angel, or any angel for that matter, but I don't get my hopes up. It certainly looks like the circle of demons will have their way, but I will stand them off as long as I can. That is why I am stretching my food supply with one meager meal each day and conserving fuel with this puny fire. It would be so easy to have one last feast, next to a roaring blaze, but I know what would happen immediately afterward and I will delay that moment with my last ounce of strength.
I am so cold. A fishing net would provide as much insulation as my tattered blanket. Fire without heat sounds impossible, but my tiny flame would certainly have to be described in those words. I'm practically on top of it all the time now, but my shivering is not relieved. Unfortunately, this isn't the worst of my problems.
Neither is my hunger. My stomach feels as if I have been dining on broken glass. This gnawing pain inside of me is an ever-present reminder that starvation is a very real possibility. I haven't eaten since yesterday morning. Or was it two days ago? The scrawny portions that I have been calling meals lately don't seem to have any effect on my weakness or my stabbing stomach pains.
But far worse than the above mentioned inconveniences is the presence of that patient hungering circle; nearly converged on me now! Even in the daylight, when they stay further back, they no longer attempt to hide their presence. And at night they come so close that, to a distant outside observer, they could be mistaken for a group of close friends: sharing my fire, having a few beers, telling ghost stories. But their feelings toward me are anything but friendly, it's not a cold brew they thirst for as they eye my throat with slavering jaws and what will happen to me when my fire finally goes out will be far more gruesome than any tale ever told around a campfire! They are so close I could reach out and touch them if I had that perverse inclination.
I can recognize them all now. Over there, sitting back on his haunches with strings of saliva glistening in the firelight as they drip down onto his chest from sharp shining teeth and lolling red tongue, looking like a large coal-black wolf, that's Terror. Right next to me, lying with yellow foam oozing from jaws resting on his massive fore-paws, like a hydrophobic St. Bernard, that's Loneliness. Sitting patiently off to my right, with long gleaming claws extended from monstrous paws folded against his impossibly broad chest and dagger-like yellow teeth protruding from his thick blunt snout, like a giant grizzly bear, that's Despair. And all the others, Depression, Gloom, Misery, Alienation, et al; looking like a monstrous menagerie of great canine, ursine, feline and other carnivores. I know them well and the hate and fear I feel for them are like living things, insane creatures that run howling and gibbering through my brain! They know me also, but it is not hate that they feel. Just hunger, for my blood, for my flesh. There are so many of them, each one's portion of me will be a meager morsel, barely denting their insatiable hunger. Why do they patiently wait so long for a mere snack? I know they also long for the emotional feeding they will receive from my terror and despair as they devour me. I am more than just a meal, I'm entertainment!
If only I could contact an angel. If only I could convince one that I deserved salvation from the grisly fate that awaits me in the jaws of my fiendish friends. The angel who had been my supplier for most of the last 12 years seems totally out of reach. Although her provisions did diminish somewhat over the years and there were occasions when the supplies had been stopped all together, only to resume on a lesser scale, there had always been enough to insure my survival. This time she stopped all deliveries over five months ago and there seemed to be no sign of renewed relief. My latest angel, who had rescued me just before the last of my previous supplies ran out, had gradually decreased her efforts until they too had stopped, just before this narrative began. But it might be possible to get a message to her. If I can just convince her to help me. If I can just get across to her the dire straits I've fallen into. If I can only convey the urgent need I have for her help. She couldn't refuse to come to my aid, or could she? I have to try!
I did it! I got through to my angel. Now all I can do is wait, see if my message brings any help. But I don't have much time! I can't keep my fire going much longer and I know that as soon as that flame is gone the demons will not be held back. If it goes out at night, it will happen in an instant. When the last flame flickers and dies, that circle of red eyes will converge on me. My screams won't last long. If the fire fails during the day, then I will have the unbearable wait for the nightfall that brings my doom. It doesn't have to turn out that way, if only I can get a response to my pleas.
The demons seem to sense that something is in the air. I guess they can smell my hope. Their glares are even more malevolent and their howls more hateful than usual. They don't feel that I have much of a chance either, but still they hate that I would even try to deny them what they feel they've rightfully earned. I try to project defiance toward them, but the nearness of all their total terror makes me shiver and hide my face. I feel my newly sprouted hope wither like a fresh-picked flower on a summer sidewalk. I can't feel anything but despair in the presence of this much cold unending hatred. I almost feel tempted to just walk out to them and end my misery, but I realize that's what they want and the thought of them winning holds me back.
Then suddenly, she appears. In the air directly above me, my angel! The demons cover their eyes to ward off that dazzling luminance and howl their rage and disappointment as they retreat. She smiles at me as she drops off more fuel, warm clothing and food. I feel like I'm five years old and it's Christmas morning. I am saved! She doesn't stay long, but as she leaves she seems to be promising, or at least hinting, that there will be future deliveries.
Now I look upon my newly acquired provisions. It's not a large supply, but when compared to how I have been living they will make my camp seem like a paradise. I throw fuel on the fire and the flames climb higher into the now darkening sky. Of course, the demons aren't completely gone. I know they will never give up. They're still out there and already their anger at losing me, when I seemed almost in their jaws, is turning back into the inhumanly patient hungering of their eternal quest. They will wait; they have all the time in the world. But they are driven out of sight now and already their stench is dissipating. The cool evening breeze is clearing the air, as is a soft rain that is beginning to fall. If that rain keeps up, by morning all their footprints will be erased from the trampled earth surrounding my camp.
I'm reclining under a tent I received with my other supplies, I'm wrapped in a warm blanket and I'm eating a full meal for the first time in weeks. I can feel the radiant heat from the blazing fire on my exposed face and hands. Ah, life is good! How well I know the future is uncertain, but I think I'll just enjoy now for a while. I know the demons are out there, glaring at me through the rain, but my stomach is full, I'm warm and I think I'll just lie back to sleep and dream of my angel.