He'd been sent to kill an angel.
It was time to start the hunt.
The fiery journey from hell back to Earth was like blasting through the blaze of a billion suns, but then it was over, and he was perched on top of a dilapidated building like a smoldering gargoyle.
He sucked in a lusty gulp of city air, desperate to replace the sulfurous stench that was permanently lodged in every sooty orifice of his fire charred body.
A soft, fluttery breeze suddenly swirled past, bringing a soothing sensation that was completely foreign to where he came from. There were no breezes in hell, only roiling, red oceans of crackling fire and volcanic flames.
But he knew he shouldn't waste any more time.
He quickly scanned the craggy landscape of shadowy buildings looming all around him. His memory of this world had almost been completely burned away, but a glimmer of his past life began to slip back, sneaking into his scorched consciousness like tendrils of smoke. As he gazed around with his hollow black eyes, he remembered his human crimes. He'd been sent to hell for being a murderer of the very worst kind.
But that was old news.
He had a job to do.
The struggle between good and evil had always been waged on two fronts, good men fighting bad on the Earthly realm, along with angels and demons locked in eternal combat too.
What was not known to the human world: the fight between heavenly angels and hellish demons was waged in their midst, an apocalyptic battle that happened all around them, though they were unable to see it.
Angels were dispatched from heaven to perform good deeds on Earth, doing their divine work invisibly, their methods more akin to magic than anything else.
Demons were released from hell with a very different mission, to kill angels in the most sadistic and extreme way possible.
He looked out at the decayed, dark city around him, and saw that the underworld rumors appeared to be true.
He heard sirens blaring, people screaming, and he could smell the sordid scent of sin wafting in the gloomy night air. Since the beginning of time, there'd been a seesaw battle for the souls of the Earthly realm. The underworld rumors said his team was on the verge of winning.
He sucked in another gulp of the sinful city air, then leaped off the edge of the building like a black winged suicide jumper, plummeting straight down, landing on the distant cement sidewalk below with an unheard rattling roar.
There was no time to waste. He'd have only the darkness of the night to complete his mission, and it wasalready well past midnight, so the rising sun was a few scant hours away.
He took pleasure in knowing this mission was a gift given to only a chosen few. You were selected for the strength of your wickedness and evil, in a place boiling with the worst kind of wickedness and evil imaginable.To kill an angel was an honor given only to the blackest of souls.
The scent of sin was even stronger and more rancid down on the ground. A few cars rumbled past on the street in front of him, blurred faces staring out through grimy glass. A man stumbled down the sidewalk on the other side of the street, the scent of his sin spewing out with each bourbon soaked breath.
He wondered what the faces would look like if theycould see him in all his fire charred glory.
His crumbling body looked more like a black scab than anything else. His hands were giant charcoal claws, and his eyes were black crusted pits that leaked smoke. Rising up in the air behind him were two giant wings that didn't flap or flutter, but hung limp and slack like dead rotted meat.
He started his march through the breezy night air, eager for the hunt to begin.
He would be able to sense the angel's presence if he was close enough, a revolting sensation of goodness that would cut through the miasma of darkness and depravity that surrounded him. It would make him gag and spit smoke.
But then would come a feeling of exhilaration that he knew would be nothing short of glorious. That would come when he ripped the angel apart with his monstrous claws, until nothing was left except scattered feathers and mangled parts.
He began to wander the dark city without a plan or a scheme, trusting his infernal instincts would lure him in the right direction.
He marched down the middle of streets, speeding cars and trucks driving straight through him without slowing down. But he had nothing to worry about, because he was already dead.
He marched through the night and saw the evil that men and women did under the cloak of darkness, in secluded city parks, in hidden alleyways, in secret underground clubs.
He came upon shocking sights that made him want to linger and savor the wickedness taking place. He wanted to linger because he'd embraced cruelty and pain when he was in his human form. But he didn't, because he wasn't human anymore.
So many sinners, he mused, and how stupid they were.If they knew the infinite vastness of the tortures that awaited them, they would surely have picked a different path.
But for most of them it was already too late, so they might as well enjoy their sins as a final bon voyage gift before enduring an eternity in the unbounded, sizzling horrors of hell.
As he marched haphazardly through the mostly slumbering city, he was getting more frantic to pick up some flickering sense the angel was near.
It was now getting halfway between midnight and morning, so a hideous thought was urging him on at a faster pace. If he returned to hell without slaughtering theangel, his tortures would be even more dreadful. Another soft breeze swirled past, but it only reminded him of the terrors that would be awaiting him if he failed.
He continued on, and the smoky tendrils of memory brought in a new realization. The landscape he was marching silently through was the same landscape he walked in his human form. The smoky tendrils matched what wasspread out before him in the gloomy night.
He had lived in this city. It had been his home.
It was the place where he'd slaughtered people as a killer for hire.
But this brought no sense of nostalgia, remorse, longing, or regret. All those things had been burned out of him in hell.
But as he marched quicker now through the twisting city streets, the new memories stayed with him, trapped in that putrid, black space behind his hollow eyes. It was the memory of who he once was, and what he did in this city a long time ago. But now he was a killer with a much grander mission, an underworld demon with a murderous rage fueled by hell.
A burst of smoke suddenly spewed from the blackened slash of his mouth, and he knew what it finally meant.
The angel was near.
Near enough to kill...
But he had to be careful, because the angel could sense him too. It would experience the same kind of revulsion from the darkness and depravity it would feel close-by. But angels were notoriously more concerned with the welfare of others instead of themselves, so that made them vulnerable to attack.
He prowled quickly down the street, letting the intensity of his growing nausea and loathing be his guide. It led him to the opening of an alleyway, a pitch black gap squeezed between two decaying buildings.
He knew the angel was close, because more smoke sputtered out of his mouth in a belchy blast, and the nausea was now like a feverish sickness.
A tiny sound slipped out from inside the alleyway, a barely heard cry.
He leaned forward, stared into the darkness of thealley with his hollow eyes, finding just enough moonlight to reveal what was there. The cry came from a newborn baby, wrapped in a filthy blanket, lying in the alley like thrown away garbage.
And there it was.
It was down on the ground, hunched protectively over the abandoned baby. It was his first angel to see, so he allowed himself a quick second to hold it in his gaze.
It appeared to be more a dream than real, a glowing gossamer like form, ethereal and hazy, with massive feathered wings arched high in the air. Even though it wasjust a second, his revulsion at the heavenly face and form was just what he needed.
He raised his monstrous claws, then stormed into thealleyway, the black gash of his mouth snapping open like a hellish death mask. He wanted it to be over quick.He slammed into the angel with all his pent-up underworld fury, knocking the tiny baby from its gentle hold.
The baby tumbled away, and so did they.
They locked together in each other's arms, crashing back and forth against the alley's brick walls. It caused a booming, banging clamor that would have woken up the entire city if it could be heard.
The angel was strong, but so was he, fueled by hisfire scorched wretchedness, and the fear of what awaited him if he failed. He needed to serve his master by ripping its colossal heavenly wings off, then waving them in the air for all the demons in the underworld to see.
They both became lost in the struggle, forgetting everything else, except the need to be the victor, like the apocalyptic fight that had been waged since the beginning of time.
They were on their feet, staggering from the crushing weariness of the battle, when the angel suddenly spread its wings, and flapped straight up, taking his black scab-like body with it.
The alley got smaller, then the tenement buildings,then the city too, as the dream-like angel flapped higher and higher, soaring into the upper reaches of the moonlit sky.
He grappled the angel tighter around its body andsqueezed it with every bit of wretched, ferocious fury hecould muster, spewing out a thick stream of vomitous smoke in its virtuous face.
Their steady ascent was slowed, then suddenly reversed, as the angel's wings stopped flapping, and they plummeted back down through the night sky, tumbling and spinning, still fighting all the way.
They crashed on the street in front of the alley, with an unheard boom that shook everything around it.
The angel staggered up first, but it was clearly weakened, stumbling away down the street, its colossal white wings dragging behind it.
He struggled up too, and continued his pursuit, his smoldering body shivering with weakness, his cloven feet marching unsteadily on the street. The angel stumbled through the twisting dark streets, with him a monstrous black shadow close behind.
They could both barely move forward, when they turned a corner, and the angel suddenly stood up taller, its dragging white wings raising up too.
A short distance away was a small neighborhood church, glowing faintly in the moonlight like a beacon in the gloom. The angel struggled faster now, hoping for a safe haven inside this house of God. It creaked open the giant wooden doors and staggered inside.
He approached the church too, because the underworldrumors said there was little faith left in the world, including these once holy houses.
He flung open the doors, stumbled inside.
At first gaze, the candle lit church looked empty, with no sign of the weakened angel. Then he saw a lone figure bent over in a pew, an old man solemnly whispering a private prayer.
A feeling of revulsion washed over him again, black smoke spewed out, and that's when he realized the angel's hidden location. It had found a true-believer and taken refuge in his soul.
He let out a bellow that rattled the stained glass windows, and slammed his monstrous claws down on the worn wooden floor, because the true-believer's faith protected him from a demon attack.
And now it was only minutes before dawn, time was running out.
Then he saw the shadow of another figure shuffle out of a door behind the altar. If the underground rumors were really true, then the shadowy figure had lost his faith along with so many others. He was just going through the motions, living out his final days.
That meant two could play this game.
It was an hour later, when the few parishioners the church had left pushed open the front doors, and walked quietly inside for the early morning Sunday service.
The old minister was there, as he always was, but now he was covered in blood, and the mangled body of an old man was lying in front of him, slaughtered and dead.
The parishioners stood there in shock, their faith suddenly shaken at its deepest core, because the murderous sight didn't make sense, not here in this place of holy worship.
But nothing really made sense anymore, not in this dark world that had lost its way.
About the Author
Sheldon Woodbury loves being a part of Popcorn Fiction. He's a screenwriter, fiction writer, and the author of "Cool Million." He also teaches screenwriting at NYU in New York City.