Wonders of a Godless World

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Authors: Andrew McGahan
beat against the orphan’s forehead like the wings of birds. The archangel’s eyes were closed in some transport of inner ecstasy, but still he read on. His voice rolled over her with a hypnotic authority. Had it always been so deep? He was hardly more than a boy, but with his hair grey and his face mud-streaked he looked much older. So stern, so grave, so perfect. It occurred to her then that, although she knew he had once attempted suicide with a knife, she had never seen a single disfiguring scar anywhere on his skin.
    But coming close now she saw that the perfection was an illusion. A muddy sweat had beaded on his brow, and his body was not merely motionless, it was locked rigid. Pain transported him, not ecstasy. Horrified, she realised that the window he stood beneath was shattered, and that broken glass littered the floor. The youth’s feet were bare, and as he prayed, he ground his soles against the shards.
    And then it happened again. Without volition, she was drawn out of her body and into his. But the experience was more complete this time. She was the archangel. She felt the sun upon his face and the book in his hands. She felt his long straight limbs and his broad shoulders. She even felt the fire in his feet.
    But she was also in his mind. And in his mind, he wasn’t tall and strong at all. He was hideous to himself, a misshapen bag of skin and bones. His head was corrupt with forbidden thoughts, his belly ached with evil hungers, and in his loins there coiled a damp, snakelike thing, insidious. Indeed, his body was his enemy, and he had put it away from him. The orphan had a strange impression of height, and of a lonely room, where he was held safe by the power of his book and his prayers.
    But now he was ashamed, for when the earth had shaken and the sky had rained fire, he had forgotten his book and his prayers. Instead, he had surrendered to his bodily fear and run away to hide. The archangel was mortified by the memory. He was supposed to be beyond fear. And so now, through the pain in his feet, borne willingly, and through his prayer, he was seeking redemption. But only blood would be sufficient. He ground his heels down, and the glass bit more cruelly.
    The orphan recoiled. The link between them snapped, and she was back in her own head. The archangel faltered. He licked his lips a moment, then drew a ragged gasp, turned a page of his book, and plunged on. Horrible. It was horrible in there. She wanted to flee from him, get as far from his suffering as she could. But she hesitated, torn between pity and disgust. She couldn’t just leave him. He would injure himself. He’d done little damage so far, but if he went much further…
    Blood trickled from beneath his toes.
    She drew a deep breath, and lightly took his elbow. This time there was no black gulf opening. The youth shivered, but something in her touch seemed to reach him, because he lowered his book and fell silent. The tension did not leave his body, but he did at least allow himself to be led away from the window.
    Slowly, they made their way towards the crematorium. Patients and nurses passed them by, but the orphan avoided their eyes. She could not cope with anyone else. The archangel and his bloody footsteps were bad enough. She would deliver him to his room and be done. Yet with every step, an aversion grew in her. She realised that she was in dread of their destination. Not the entire crematorium, perhaps, but the little furnace room was waiting there, and within it, sleeping…
    Ripples ran like heatwaves across her vision, but they were waves of cold, not heat, and she was walking, not through the hospital, but down a deep valley of stone, somewhere where it was night, and freezing. And there was a voice, a voice like no other, a voice she could understand inherently…
    The orphan halted, staring about. No one was visible except the archangel, stiff at her side. She pushed forward, down the last passageway. At its end, all seemed

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