A cold, cloudless night. Stars and moon pin-sharp, glaring down at the earth below. With a restrained caw of satisfaction the angel alighted on the very tip of a thin branch, folding its wings in close as it did so. It appeared unaware that it was being observed.
Less than thirty feet away, a man and a woman were crouched within a hide, camouflaged with the rhododendron bushes that sprouted ferociously and greedily from the ground. Unseen, silent. At the angel’s arrival they moved with minute care to make not a single sound and yet still angle themselves best to watch.
Apparently unconcerned, the angel began to increase its mass, causing the branch it rested upon to slowly bow down towards the ground. As its leaves pressed onto the freezing ground, the angel gracefully stepped off the limb and allowed it to snap back into the air, scarcely ruffling the angel’s feathers. Slowly, with agonising care, the angel extended its wings. The six joints in each of the four wings permitted the wings to unfold like the undulation of a centipede, its feathers stretching to their fullest extent. It turned side-on to the observers and began its dance. First one wing would pass over its front, pause, and then its eyes would open. All thirty-three on each wing would blink in a ripple of activity. Then the angel turned, almost hiding itself behind the wing as it took an oh-so casual step forward, repeating the action with its other wing. This was how they hunted, each wing speeding up stroboscopically, a hypnotic wave of feathers and blinking eyes.
The object of the hunt lay between the angel and the hide: a child. The small boy, aged perhaps five or six, gazed, enraptured by the angel’s display. In the hide, the observing pair grew tense with anticipation. The child was a lure, and lightly buried in the earth around the boy was a noose that the woman would draw tight the moment the angel stepped within the circle. Alas, they were not unduly concerned for the boy’s wellbeing. Such a child could be found anywhere in the stinking city that they inhabited, and his disappearance would be near-unnoticed, unremarked and unremarkable. It was yet possible the child would survive the encounter, which might present some small issues later, but was of little consequence for the moment. The boy was bundled up tightly against the cold, with a hot water bottle to keep him content, and ideally, quiet. The small bedraggled thing he clutched might once have been a stuffed rabbit, perhaps. He was utterly entranced by the motion of the angel, barely even noticing that it drew steadily closer, till it stood just outside the noose, shyly hiding its face behind the wings and its so, so many eyes.
The observers had long since ceased to breathe, excitement and anxiety warring with fear and adulation. Even though the angel wasn’t directing its attention at them, the undulation of its wings wrought its influence, and had they been the subject of its dance, they too – like the child – would have been unable to resist. The child’s consideration fully on the angel it lunged suddenly, wings snapping out, all one hundred and thirty-two eyes blazing, their vertical pupils wide in the starlight. Revealed – its withered husk of a body, scrawny neck and face that was nothing more than a hole ringed with razor sharp teeth. In an appalling, graceful movement it entered the circle and swept its wings around the silent, adoring child.
The action was so sharp and cruel that it broke the angel’s spell on the observers, and in haste they waited not a second longer, triggering the snare. The noose whipped closed, drawing tight around the two-toed fingers of the angel’s feet, each horribly like a pair of severed human fingers. The trap whipped the angel upside down and ten feet into the air where it flailed and screeched in a language not understood by humans for millennia. The eyes on its wings reeled, trying to understand what had happened to it, jerking around the bushes that surrounded the clearing as it twisted and spun in the trap.
With the angel at least held in place, the observers emerged from the hide. The woman, tall, dark-haired as far as one could tell beneath the furry hat, dressed for the cold, with thick leather gloves and carrying a thick sack; the man, shorter, also dark-haired (having spurned the earlier offer of a hat for no clear reason, and now regretting it), drawing a long thin tube from inside his heavy coat. Their eyes averted from the now-shrieking and enraged angel, the woman readied the sack as the man loaded the blowpipe with a dart – red, with a thin furze of feather at one end – and, side-eyeing the angel, spat the dart into its shrivelled body. With a vibration of musculature through its frame, the angel fell still. Its head dangled downwards, a thin stream of bloody drool falling from its toothy orifice to spatter the motionless child below. They’d have no need to return the boy where they found him. But they had captured an angel. To them, a fair trade.