's 2017 Horror Write-off:

The Angel of Self-Loathing

Submitted by E. Lefebvre

The angel first came to Calvin a few months after his great-uncle's funeral.

It was a night in February, the cold of winter still lingering and cutting through the house. The sound from downstairs woke him, and after quickly ascertaining that his parents were not awake, he mumbled some sort of curse at no one in particular and shuffled along the cold hardwood floor, slender arms wrapped around him as he shivered in the nighttime cold that bit through his thin pajamas to his skin.

He couldn't have said what he expected to see when he got downstairs, but it wasn't an angel. He certainly hadn't expected an angel to look like this, either. It stood easily twelve feet tall, with what looked like wings on its back that Calvin realized were arms, splitting into two forearms at the elbow. Fish-like fins wrapped around its waist, covering up three legs that looked like jabbing pincers of bone. It white skin was covered in exposed tendons and tumorous growths, black slime leaking along its body's surface.

There were sounds coming from the distorted, too-wide mouth that sat beneath the half-dozen glowing vertical slits that served as its eyes, framed by inky black hair that seemed more unearthly due to its inhuman frame. They weren't words; they sounded more like singing, even if he couldn't make out the words.

It was beautiful.

He couldn't have explained why it was beautiful if anyone had asked him. It should have been terrifying. But when it walked toward him, whispering its song, all he could see was beauty. At one angle it looked male, at another it looked female, but it didn't matter. The creature before him was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.

It touched him gently, wrapped its hands around his cheeks while its rear arms wrapped around to massage his body. He was lost in its eyes, baleful fires burning deep within. He was enraptured.

There was no real way for him to know how long he was entranced there in the kitchen, though he knew that he had ceased to feel cold at some point and had been simply wrapped in the angel's warmth. At some point it lifted him off of his feet, but he didn't much care. Eventually, it put him down, patted his head once with an affectionate gesture, and then slowly faded from sight.

Calvin would miss it. He wandered back up to his bed, curled up under the blankets, and drifted off to a dreamless sleep with an enormous grin on his face.

* * *

At school the next day, Jackie and Bruce were worried about him, but not too worried. "Looks like you didn't get much sleep, buddy," Bruce joked, elbowing hm in the ribs affectionately. "Ask Olivia to help you sleep for the night."

"Bruce, stop being gross," Jackie said with a roll of her eyes.

"I'm fine," he said, smiling that same idiot smile. It was true; he was. He did have dark circles under his eyes, he knew that. He almost told Bruce and Jackie about the angel, but he had a feeling like they wouldn't really understand, so he kept quiet.

All through the day, the teachers were taking him aside, asking if he was all right, almost annoying him in the process. The bright side was that it wasn't hard for him to say that he was fine; he was. He didn't sleep much, sure, but he felt rested.

No, all he cared about was the angel. It must have been a dream, he knew it; probably just some morbid fantasy about Olivia. It even had the same dark hair as her, though Olivia was a fair bit shorter than he was.

But it had made him happy.

Once he got home, his mother and father had a quick discussion in hushed tones, followed by Calvin being summoned into the living room for A Talk.

"Cal, buddy, you look kind of run down today," his dad said with a feigned smile. "Your mother and I are worried about you. I think you're not getting enough sleep."

"Okay," he replied.

"Is everything all right, sweetie?" His mom looked like the more worried of the two.

"Maybe I haven't been getting enough sleep," he said, seized by a sudden bit of inspiration. "After I get my homework done, I'll go to bed early tonight. Is that all right?"

His father nodded with a satisfied smile, looking as if he'd expected a fight and been pleasantly surprised. "Of course, sport. That's really mature of you."

"Thanks, dad," he answered. It wasn't really a plan, at that point; he did feel a little tired. Odds were he wouldn't have another dream about the angel, but it didn't hurt to at least make the effort. So he ate dinner, did his school work, said good night to his parents, and went to bed as planned.

It was the voice singing that woke him this time, and he looked at the clock to see that it was just after midnight. He checked out his door to make sure his parents were asleep, but he saw that the angel was at the foot of the stairs now. It was waiting for him.

* * *

After two weeks, the angel was showing up in his room.

The dark circles under his eyes didn't seem to be going anywhere, no matter how early he went to bed. His parents were still worried, but he seemed to be a normal teenager. Eventually he was going to bed at nine in the evening, then eight-thirty, then they were talking in hushed tones about bringing him to a specialist of some kind. He remained compliant and friendly.

Jackie was telling him that he looked all right. She seemed to be more worried about him than Bruce did. "Are you worried about something?" she asked. "You look really run down lately."

"I'm fine," he said. And he was. It didn't feel like he was sleeping less. It felt like the sleep he was getting might have been shorter, but he was happy enough to give up his free time for more time with the angel. It was his personal angel, and even though he didn't know why it had come to him, it made him happy just to have it nearby.

Bruce just looked uncomfortable. At one point he took him aside, clearly trying to have a heart-to-heart talk in that halting way of teenage boys. "Dude... are you going to make a move?"

Calvin didn't know what he was talking about. "A move?"

"With Olivia. I mean, I know you're crushing on her, but..."

He hadn't thought about her in a while. "No," he said, shrugging and walking away. He didn't know what Bruce was expecting.

Once a month had passed, the angel showed him what it could do. (It didn't seem like an "it," but he still had no idea what its gender was, aside from "beautiful.") Time meant nothing to it, but it did still mean something to Calvin. So the angel gave him more time.

His parents were no longer worried about how little sleep he seemed to be getting, because now he could sleep a full night and still spend time with the angel. They were, however, still worried. He was doubtlessly sleeping, there were no obvious signs that something was wrong with him any longer. He was happy. He just didn't have much interest in things that weren't the angel.

It would have been easier for them if he wasn't so happily cooperative. His father insisted at one point that he take a drug test, obviously expecting that Calvin would object. Instead, he happily agreed, took the test, came back clean without the slightest trace of anything wrong. He had thought of telling his parents, of course, but would they believe him?

No, he was fine. He was better than fine. He was happy.

School felt like a waking dream. He was vaguely aware that Bruce was avoiding him, but he didn't know why. Then he noticed Bruce and Olivia holding hands, and it triggered something buried in the back of his mind. He should have cared about that, right? It was important, wasn't it?

Jackie would talk at him at length about how Bruce was being a jerk and he shouldn't have screwed over Calvin like that. Calvin was only halfway present for those discussions.

"You can do better than Olivia," she said. "You're handsome."

"Okay," he replied, staring blankly at nothing in particular.

"I know Bruce is a jerk, but there are people who still like you." Her hand touched his thigh. "Some of them are really close to you, you know?"

He looked at Jackie. Her face was nothing but soft, blood-flush flesh, bristly eyelashes covering dull eyes, a tiny mouth that could barely reach her ears, nothing worth caring about. He wanted to tell her how ugly she really was, but that seemed cruel for no reason.

"I know," he said instead, with the same tone of voice that you would use for acknowledging that your car was full of gas. She recoiled as if she had been slapped.

The angel was what mattered to him. No one else would understand, of course, but they didn't have to; as long as he did what he needed to do, they could think he was odd. He was devoted to the angel.

* * *

He had lost track of time when the angel took him.

His parents had argued again, which he had gotten used to by this point. They weren't angry at each other, they were angry at him, but they didn't know how to deal with it, because he wasn't doing anything that deserved anger. It washed over him at this point. All he wanted was for time to slow, to feel time become thick like honey, to see the angel before him.

When he saw the angel this time, though, he knew something was different. He was lying on his back on his bed, staring up at the creature, watching it with reverent eyes. But there was a different look in its eyes this time, something he had never seen before. Something new, something needful. And he felt blessed.

The angel's hands pressed against his body firmly, just shy of hurting him. Now he could feel the thick sludge that was dripping along its surface as it stepped above him, enormous and powerful and demanding. It felt like boiling syrup, thick and almost painfully hot.

For the first time with the angel, he was scared. He tried to move. The wings made of hands held him down, pushed him against the mattress, and something wrapped around his lower body.

Calvin was eighteen, he knew enough about what this meant. He knew that whatever the angel wanted to do to him, he would consent. It was terrifying because of its closeness. He had never dreamed he could be this worthy.

"Thank you," he whispered.

The angel smiled, and Calvin felt himself melt. The sludge pouring from its skin splashed against his shirt, seeped beneath it, until he felt as if it would drown in it. Bits of it splattered in his eyes, and he shut his eyes as he felt tiny needles prodding at his flesh, seeking entry, opening parts of his body to serve as gateways.

It leaned close to him, its ichor dripping along his flesh, and it sang. And for the first time, Calvin understood its song. He understood what it wanted. And he felt tears come to the corners of his eyes, felt love, nothing but love, supreme affection for the creature that was giving him so much more than any human could dream.

* * *

Everyone recoiled from him when he went to school the next day.

This time, the angel had not let him sleep. He couldn't be asleep. He needed to be ready as he walked into the school in a stupor.

His legs didn't feel right beneath him as he walked into the building, but he wasn't going to let that stop him. Jackie and Bruce both ran up to him, forgetting their earlier disagreements. "Cal, man, what the hell is wrong?" Bruce sounded terrified. "Your skin, man, you look like..."

He looked down, ignoring the pointless wet flappings of Bruce's mouth. His skin was stretched taut, he could see, and there was something moving beneath the surface, like little black tendrils. It was not him. It was him. It was both. His arms and legs had swelled just as surely, and he pushed past Bruce, smiling at his friend as he walked into the center of the foyer.

A few teachers came running out to see what the commotion was. A couple of those teachers ran forward, because why wouldn't they? He had come to school in nothing more than a coat and his pajama bottoms, he knew how he looked. This was it.

It could be it.

He spread his arms, and he called to the angel in his mind. Time slowed like honey once more, and the angel appeared before him, unseen by the crowds, massive, beautiful, so beautiful, so hungry.

It needed to feed. He could help the angel.

One finger ran along his sternum, down his belly button. Another ran across each of his arms, then two down his legs. He felt the slightest pricking at each point, but he knew what would happen. Those six eyes looked at him with compassion, asking him for permission.

He nodded.

Time snapped back as he felt his skin split. There was screaming all around him as the straining flesh of his body cracked, letting forth a gush of blood and wriggling black things mixed with the angel's perfect honey. It splattered across the tile floor, draining all around him, a shower of vital fluids covering everyone near enough to him. To the people around him who had never seen the angel, it must have looked horrific.

He fell backwards, cracked his head on the tile. Jackie knelt beside him, sobbing, but he didn't care about that. What he cared about was the angel above him, smiling, happy.

What had happened was horror. What had taken place was fear. No one would ever forget the day that a boy exploded in a fountain of black blood, staining the floor, filling the world with something vile and unearthly.

Misery. Fear. Loathing. And finally, death. That was what his beautiful angel needed. He stared at that six-eyed face and felt himself drifting into nothing, providing the angel with its first meal in far too long.