“The Angel’s Laugh” is a flash piece I wrote a while ago, inspired by another prompt (of which I cannot yet speak). The story, I felt, did not quite work for that prompt, but I still wanted to write it.
If you haven’t yet read it, you can read it below, otherwise, you can scroll down to the “behind the scenes” part.
Flash Fiction: The Angel’s Laugh
My friends and I always sat in the shade of the stone angel during the summer. Every day the talk would turn to what could possibly be beyond the arch if it should actually open like the old wives’ tales said – if the angel should spread its wings.
“I’m telling you, it’s some kind of fairyland,” Danie said, peering at the dusty clearing beyond the arch. His mother had stiffened the brim of his floppy hat with sugar that morning and he was busy sucking the brim, as usual. “With lots of shade and water and —”
“Yeah, with real sweets,” Benjamin chipped in and sighed. “It sucks being poor.”
“Danie, you know how disgusting that is?” I said, motioning to the hat and he showed me the finger, laughing.
“Grandmother says the statue is of a fairy, not an angel.” Markus’ voice was soft as if he was afraid to say the words too loud in case the fairy-angel could hear. “She says it leads to faerie and — stuff.” He blushed, his ears turning as red as his cheeks.
“You don’t have to whisper, you know. It can’t hear you.” To make my point, I picked up a stone and chucked it at the statue. It bounced off a stone wing and landed on the steps that led up to the arch.
“See? It’s been here since before the war, it’s not going to move. Go on, step through and see what happens. I dare you.” I crossed my arms like I’d seen some of the men do and sniggered like my older brother.
Danie burst out laughing and threw his hat at me as he jumped up and brushed pieces of dried grass from his shorts. He bounded up the arch’s steps and ran through the arch. He did a few jumping jacks on the other side. He’d never been a dancer, so I figured that was his idea of a victory dance.
“Nothing, see?” I shouted.
He stopped and turned around as if he heard something.
“Guys,” he stammered. “Guys, come have a look at this!”
“Very funny, idiot!” I yelled, but Danie bent down, gathered something on the ground and the next moment a ball of snow hit my shoulder. I stared at it while the others ran to the arch, shouting and hollering.
The snow had landed in the blazing sun but did not melt. It crushed under my foot but did not wet the ground. It wasn’t even cold to the touch.
“Faerie,” I whispered. “Get away! Come back!” My voice was harsh, not my own. It echoed between the koppies. Away… back…
Stone scraped against the stone and I looked up at the statue. Its wings and arms were outstretched. Its maniacal, grinning mouth revealed rows of razor teeth and a laugh rolled across the clearing. It — whatever it was — turned around and jumped from its pedestal. My eyes followed it down to the ground. Where my friends no longer were.
I stuffed the snow in my pocket and ran home on trembling legs. I needed the unmelting snow so they would, believe me, I thought. They had to believe me.
They did not. They found the three bodies five days later. And the statue sat unmoving on its pedestal once more. No one cared about snow then.
I stared at the judge as he handed down my sentence. I stared out of the window of the van as we drove away. I stared at the asylum’s white exterior while the guard laughed the angel’s laugh. And I wept.
Behind the scenes of “The Angel’s Laugh”
This story, though it’s not said in so many words, is set in South Africa, in a Highveld (where I live) setting. The characters and their names basically just came to me, unlike other stories where I really struggle to find names for the characters and the first draft of the story was written in one go.
Of sugar-stiffened hats
Yes, this was a thing. My grandfather used to tell us how his younger brother used to suck the sugar from the brim of his hat as soon as his mother had stiffened it (much like you stiffen crochet, for instance). One reason for this is that they did not have much money, hence not really money for things like sweets. And he really had a sweet tooth.
The snow that doesn’t melt
The snow that doesn’t melt was an unexpected detail that popped up. I needed something that would stand in direct contrast to the heat the boys found themselves in and snow that didn’t melt seemed both cool and creepy. And, on the Highveld, we do get quite giddy if even a few snowflakes fall. Giving the boys a whole (dare I say Narnia-like) snow-covered world they step into was as close to foreign that I could get.
I also had this idea that the snow would be explained away by the adults and completely disregarded as it was something that, of course, couldn’t be real.
A court case and an asylum
What could be worse than having your freedom taken away when you are innocent? Add to that another foreign setting, i.e. an asylum, the end of the story is chilling to me and probably at least partly inspired by The Lives They Left Behind, a heartbreaking book I’m currently reading.
The “angel” and faerie
The fae in the form of a statue seemed creepy to me, basically. One that waited to take children away to faerie, even more so.
I’m not really sure which war this referred to… it could be the Anglo Boer War, I guess. But, much like the setting is just “somewhere on the Highveld or a kind of a Highveld”, the war that is referred to is just part of that imaginary world. (I did write a story set during the Anglo Boer War, which you can read over here.)