Note: This is posted “as is”, no editing or proof reading involved, as part of the 30 Shorts In 30 Days project. During April I will be attempting to write and post a new short story everyday.
“How’s the research going Edith dear?”
“Quite well dad, thank you. I’ve managed to arrange these sightings from the most credible to the least, and popped over to see Polynius to find out if any of them are real sightings,” the girl replied looking up from the paperwork spread out over the table in the parlour.
Her dad looked at the offered lists and smiled. “Not bad, quite comprehensive too.”
“I’m only going back around three hundred years, after that the reports get a little hard to understand or correlate,” Edith explained to her father.
“And when was the most recent one?”
“That was last week, although Polynius swears that none of them were out and about then. The most recent sighting that they validate was nineteen twenty-four, two years ago. A priest in Ireland claims to have seen an angel wandering through the graveyard attached to the convent he works at.”
“Oh? What was an angel doing at a convent?”
“I don’t know,” Edith replied. “Polynius admits it was him, says that he and Belia were just stretching their wings. But you know what they’re like, they’d not tell us if they were up to something.”
“Everyone’s entitled to their own privacy dear.”
“So what’s the next step then? I take it there’s more to this project than just collecting sightings? It wouldn’t be much of a degree if you only had to cut articles out of newspapers.”
“No dad,” Edith smiled. “The next step is to look into the effects that these sightings have had on the lives of those it happened to. My theory, the one I’m trying to prove for my thesis, is that those who have seen angels either go forward leading lives committed to good. Helping others, dedicating their time to their fellow man.”
“Or they go totally mad, are shunned from their societies, killed for witchcraft. Generally not good things,” Edith explained.
“That’s quite a theory. Anything behind it?”
“Well, my thinking is that if we can prove that it’s the former more than the later, that if the genuine sightings are the ones that go forth and be good, and that it’s the fake sightings that are the loonies, then maybe I can persuade Bob to have a word with the angels about putting it to good use.”
“Hmm, you know Bob has recently taken to a policy of not interfering in human affairs,” her dad pointed out.
“Yes, I know dad, but I believe that to be the wrong thing to do. We should be trying to integrate more, not less. And it seemed a nice topic to use for my thesis, kill two dodos with one bolt.”
“Well dear, first you have to see if you can either prove, or disprove your theory.”
“I know dad, I’m working on it.”
Two weeks later Edith wasn’t so sure of her theory as she sat at the parlour table for breakfast.
“What’s the matter love?” Her mother asked.
“My theory is looking like it’s right mum, but I’m no longer so sure it is,” she explained.
“Oh? Why is that dear?” Her dad asked as he sipped a cup of tea.
“Well, the verified sightings all seem to prove that people turn out good. And the non-verified ones mostly see the people turn out to be mad, or be ostracised by their social group.”
“That’s wonderful love isn’t it?” Her mother asked.
“But it’s too easy, too simple. All I’ve proved is that those who actually saw something mystical changed their life. But the problem is, people would anyway. If a human saw Polynius, Belia, or any of the other angels, then it would certainly affect their life. In the same way that if someone saw Bob they would behave differently,” Edith explained.
“That’s true dear. Not many humans ever see a real dragon. Not many humans believe that dragons actually exist,” her Father pointed out.
“And that’s the problem. Whether it’s seeing an angel, a dragon, or even us if we smiled, people would see something fantastical, and that in itself would change the way that they acted.”
“I think I see what you’re getting at love,” her mother said. “What you need is to be able to prove that it was seeing an angel that affected the change, not seeing something they didn’t believe in?”
“Yes mother, it’s exactly that! And it’s exactly that that I don’t know how to prove.”
“Really dear?” Her father asked as he buttered another slice of toast. “Surely the last verified sighting would allow that?”
Edith suddenly looked up the cup of tea that she was constantly stirring.
“The last sighting?” She asked.
“Of course dear, that priest. A priest would have believed in angels before he saw them. In fact he would very likely not expect to ever see them, but at least he would have believed in their existence.”
“Dad, have I told you recently how much I love you?” Edith asked.
“Every night dear, on your way to bed,” her father smiled.
“Not enough then, thank you dad, I love you!”
“Of course, there is a problem though,” her mother interjected. “You’ve not been able to contact this priest have you?”
“No,” Edith looked down-heartened again. “My letters have gone unanswered.”
“Well,” her father said brightly. “This is an important thesis, as it is an important theory. Dear, I think there is no other course of action, you should go visit him. I’m sure that when he sees your charming smile he’ll only be all too willing to help you.”
“Your father is right love, and there is no human alive that can resist the charm of a manticore’s smile.”
Convents and monasteries allow those who believe in the religion enough to devote their lives to it, the peace and quiet to think seriously about what they’ve done. They’re very rarely open to visitors.
“This really is most unusual I’m sure,” the priest said as he guided Edith to a chair in his study. “Please, take a seat and tell me more about this theory of yours.”
“Well,” Edith started.
“One moment, so sorry, forgetting my manners. Would you like a cup of tea?”
The priest picked up a small hand bell from his desk, gave it a little ring and sat smiling at Edith’s shoulder as he looked over it to the door behind her. A moment later an elderly woman entered and Edith’s head snapped around to inspect them.
“Ah Bridget, would you please bring us a pot of tea? And maybe some biscuits if you can find some.”
“Of course,” Bridget said before shuffling out.
“Lovely woman Bridget, does for me. Don’t think I could manage without her to be honest,” the priest explained.
“How long has she been here?”
“Oh, since she was a young woman. Tragic story, husband died on their wedding night, she was accused of his murder and had a total breakdown. Completely collapsed in on herself. When I accepted the position here she rarely left her room, but with a lot of love and a bit of gentle coaching, she’s come along wonderfully,” the priest explained. “Now, tell me this theory.”
“Well, simply put the idea is that those who have seen visions of angels have gone on into two distinct ways. The first is to be totally ostracised, called mad, or sometimes accused of witchcraft, and usually killed for it. The second group have made a difference to their lives and gone on to be exemplary individuals who care more for doing good than for their own wellbeing.”
“I see, I hope you don’t believe I’m mad,” the priest smiled.
“No, of course not,” Edith smiled back. “I was hoping to talk to you about it as a control.”
“Yes, you see, as a priest you will have previously believed in angels. I’ve studied the reported sightings for the last few hundred years and worked through as to which as reliable accounts, and which are likely to be people making it up for one reason or another.”
“And which do you believe I am?” The priest asked.
“I believe you saw them,” Edith smiled across the desk. “You have had nothing to gain, or lose from your sighting, and an acquaintance of mine is a bit of an expert on angels, and they believe that you did too.”
“Well, I’m glad to think you believe that I’m not only not mad, but also not seeing things. But how would I be a control?”
“Well, because you previously believed in angels, it wouldn’t be the sight of something mythical that would change or influence your future behaviour, unlike everyone else,” Edith explained.
“I see. Ah, here’s our tea,” the priest said as the door opened and Bridget shuffled in with a tray.
Edith couldn’t help but start to sniff and twitch her nose. There was something no quite right with Bridget, but she wasn’t sure what it was.
“I do like a nice cup of tea,” the priest was saying as Bridget poured from the pot. “So nice and crisp.”
That was it, Edith realised, Bridget didn’t have the murky smell that humans did. Her smell was sharp, almost more organised. Edith wasn’t sure yet what Bridget was, but she was sure she wasn’t human.
“Thank you Bridget,” Edith said as she was passed a cup. “Do you like it here?”
“Oh, it’s nice. It’s quiet and peaceful,” Bridget replied.
I bet it is, Edith thought. And then to test a theory she accidentally-on-purpose dropped her cup onto the floor as Bridget passed. The speed which the old woman moved at was unbelievable. Edith saw it because she was looking out for it, the priest didn’t even notice she’d moved.
“Thank you Bridget, how clumsy of me.”
An hour later Edith had finished interviewing the priest and let herself out with promises of being able to find her own way. Finding her way wasn’t a problem, manticore have an amazing sense of smell, and the way she was looking to find was wherever Bridget had gone. The nuns had all gone to mass, along with the priest, so bumping into people with awkward questions wasn’t likely to be a problem. In amongst the dull smell of the nuns, Bridget sharply stood out and Edith very quickly found herself at a plain brown door.
“Come in dear,” Bridget called from within before Edith could knock.
“You were expecting me?” Edith asked as she walked into the small bedroom.
“Of course dear. After Father Murphy saw an angel a couple of years ago I’ve been wondering if we’d see anyone else.”
“I’m not an angel I’m afraid,” Edith pointed out.
“No dear, but what are you?”
“I’m a manticore. A sort of shape-shifting werewolf if you like, but don’t worry, I don’t bite,” Edith smiled and made Bridget laugh. “The question is, what are you?”
“How do you mean love?”
“Bridget, you’re not human,” Edith replied.
“No, I’m not. I’m a banshee.”
“A banshee?” Edith asked. “I’ve never met a banshee before.”
“I’m not surprised, all my family and friends are dead. Truth be told, until the angels showed up I hadn’t seen another non-human for a long time. I was starting to think I was the only one left.”
“Oh Bridget,” Edith said reaching out and holding her hands.
“You’re definitely not alone. I live at Regent’s Park in London, we have accommodation within the grounds of London Zoo, you absolutely must come and visit, if not stay. You see, many years ago a Programme was started to protect all the endangered creatures from the humans, and it’s been running really well.”
“I never dared hope,” Bridget replied with a tear in her eye. “Tell me, do you have pandas?”
Edith laughed at an in-joke amongst the Programme staff. “No Bridget, we don’t have any pandas. But come live with us and meet the extended family.”