Father Judah clucked his tongue and wiped the oily residue off the holy icon of Mother Mary. Long ago, pilgrims would have called them "tears." They would have walked for miles to see them, to pray. But not so much today.
The old priest hung the icon back in its place on the wall of the sanctuary, knowing he'd have to wipe it off again tomorrow, and moved to the next. It was an image of St. Paul, and it was bleeding from its hands. He sprayed cleanser on it and rubbed the red stuff until it was gone. He returned the image to the wall and moved to the next.
He heard the angel when it entered, the flutter of its feathers as its wings brushed against the thresholds, the crackle of weird energies in the air. He did not turn to address the angel. Instead, he picked up a statuette in the sill of a stained glass window and scrubbed the reddish liquid from its forehead.
His palms began to itch with the beginnings of another damned stigmata. He sighed. He had grown to hate this part. He grabbed up two handfuls of damp cloths from his cleaning bucket and clutched them tightly in his fists.
"Father? May I have a moment?"
The angel's voice was like music. It harmonized within itself. It rang in the high ceilings and vibrated in the floors, a beautiful and terrible noise.
Father Judah sat on a pew and regarded the creature with suspicious eyes. It towered over him through no fault of its own. It was just built that way. It kneeled, trying to place itself at eye level with the old man, and it folded its wings close. Even so, it was an awesome vision.
Or, it would have been, if it weren't so common these days.
"Whatever could I do for you?" Father Judah asked. He could feel the stigmata burning in his closed fists. The cloths were already soaking through. Soon, his blood would begin dripping onto the tiles between his feet.
"Your sadness drew me," the angel said. "Your faith shines through it, like light through these painted windows. It will draw others."
Not so common a thing these days, the old man thought. Faith. Who needs faith when angels move among us? Who needs to believe in anything when imperical proof soars above the treetops or kneels just a few feet away? When signs and stigmata abound, when statues bleed and icons cry, bushes burn and pillars of flame move through the night sky. When seas part and manna falls from heaven to feed the hungry. When these things are as much a part of daily life as the sun and the moon, who even bothers to go to a church? To pray? To seek a deeper meaning in life?
"You value my faith because it's so rare?"
Then the angel did a strange thing. It laughed. The sound shook the walls and toppled the icons, and Father Judah quaked despite himself.
"You misunderstand me," the creature said. "We didn't do all this to bolster faith. We made ourselves known and caused these signs so faith would die out. We are not the hosts of your heaven. We are the fallen, the princes of the power of the air."
The angel stood again, drew a sword from between the arches of its wings. The sword sang in the air as it whipped through Father Judah's body and split the pew.
"We don't need your kind in our new world."
(c) 2009 by Tony Simmons
From the writer who created the original Highlander script. The battle of angels comes to earth. With Viggo Mortenson as the scariest Satan ever, and Chris Walken as a misguided and homicidal Gabriel.