3 Days, 23 Hours, 32 Minutes, 31 Seconds.
Gemma slept soundly, her tiny limbs splayed out and marked by the small ripples of baby fat at the joints. She was, at present, indistinguishable from other babies in appearance, with a bald, round head and tiny, squinting eyes not yet used to the light of day. She had also started to develop little unique qualities that her father and her mother had begun to notice, like the way she gurgled and blew bubbles in her mouth when her feet were tickled.
Her parents would have been ecstatic at the birth were it not for the mother’s bout of ill health. The doctor had been concerned that the baby, not yet named Gemma, would survive, thankfully and miraculously she had. Her mother, however, was not so lucky and after an exhaustive diagnosis the doctor had taken the father to another room and informed him that the mother would not recover.
Gemma’s guardian angel perched on the edge of her cot and a midwife sat, on duty, in a chair beside. A large, dumpy woman she had the appearance and demeanour of a stereotypical nanny. Her brusque attitude was worrisome at first but it soon became apparent that it was born from years of experience. She had swiftly organised the baby’s arrival into the world and substituted the mother’s care while she was bedridden.
The angel had few duties in the care of the baby at this early point in its life and spent the time waiting and watching. It did not mind the wait, the angel was not a slave to mortal emotion and held an entirely objective view of the passage of time. It had no happiness or sadness with which to stretch the elastic length of time, nor did it grow bored from inactivity.
The father knelt beside the bed and listened to the mother’s quiet words. She coughed frequently and the pair exchanged comforting gestures. The father promised to look after the baby as the mother would have, then, the mother passed away.
The midwife sensed the moment had arrived through the silence. Without remark she stood up, carefully removed Gemma from her cot and left the room, leaving the grieving widower in peace.
3 Years, 4 Months, 6 Days, 12 Hours, 9 Minutes, 59 Seconds.
From her highchair Gemma reached forward trying wrap her small hands around the handle of a knife left on the counter. Her curiosity knocked the handle and turned the knife, point towards her. She reached out again and grabbed the steel blade on its blunt side, fortunately, and pulled. The knife fell from the counter. The guardian angel rushed forward and blew on the falling blade to turn it away from Gemma. The knife narrowly missed the toddler and clattered to the tiled floor below.
Alerted by the ringing sound of knocked metal the nanny appeared from the other room and gave a sharp intake of breath at seeing the fallen knife. She rushed to Gemma and checked the toddler for wounds. She was a slender and pretty woman and, though that was perhaps the reason for the father’s hiring of her, she was also undoubtedly kind-hearted. Unfortunately she suffered from an unaccountably forgetful nature. On more than one occasion she had left Gemma in an unsafe place, forcing the angel to get to work influencing the forces around the toddler.
Sol, as the angel had begun to regard itself, settled itself on the countertop. It did not mind the task of being a tutelary guardian for the child, indeed it could not mind if it wanted to, what with no free will. Consequently Sol spent most of its time pondering philosophically about the world around it.
It watched as the nanny went to check the pot on the stove. Subsequently she saw that it had boiled over and after cursing herself ladled the remaining soup into a bowl. She placed the bowl in front of Gemma, with a spoon in it and left the room. Gemma quickly grasped the spoon and set to work spilling as much of the soup as possible over herself. Sol similarly worked quickly, cooling the soup and attempting to make as much of it as possible miss the child.
Sol tasted some of the soup too. The angel’s interaction with physical objects was sparse and it was only able to influence forces already present. Such as a subtle shift in the strength of a throw and the subsequent arc of the thrown object. But by passing through the soup it was able to gather a sense of the tastes and smells of the liquid. With a body composed entirely of light Sol had no need of sustenance, but he enjoyed learning of the different tastes of the mortal world.
The nanny soon returned and fussed over the messy child, wiping Gemma’s face clean with a hankerchief as she tutted and eventually Gemma was cleaned up. More mishaps occurred throughout the rest of the day that Sol worked hard to prevent, but was not always successful with its limited power.
In the evening Gemma was put to bed. The guardian angel waited patiently in the darkness. There was nothing for it to do until the child woke again, or danger approached in the night, which was unlikely.
Late in the night the father returned home from work. He could be heard to greet the nanny, whom had taken to living in the home. He would leave again in the morning with a farewell to the nanny and a brief acknowledgement of Gemma as he prepared for work.
10 Years, 7 Months, 12 Days, 7 Hours, 5 Minutes, 9 Seconds.
Sol watched the young girl drawing out pictures as she sat on the front step of the house. She drew the other, older, kids playing on the street. The guardian angel rested, unbeknownst, on her head. It could sense her thoughts, as it could the other children and the adults too.
It had become very interested in the different patterns that developed in people’s minds. There were differences in each, which the angel attributed to personality changes. At certain times he could see the minds switch between positives and negatives too. What it was most fascinated by was the development in age of the human mind. Gemma, when a baby, had had barely a thought. Her mind being almost entirely instinctual, Sol had been able to watch as drop by drop a store of information was added to her mind.
As a child her mind had grown somewhat more complicated, though not to the heavy emotional complexity of the adults. Full of innocence her thoughts were a mess of ‘I like’s and ‘I don’t like’s. They followed no greater a pattern than the simple process of ‘if I do this, something good happens and if I do that, something bad happens.’
Sol had begun to wonder about its own increasing curiosity. Was the development a sign of departure from its angelic heritage? Did the curiosity signal a shift from simple thoughts to a desire for knowledge? It knew the curiosity had first arrived with Gemma’s own exploration of the world around her. The angel learning as she did of the materials and feeling that possessed the mortal world.
Inside the father lay, near comatose in his armchair, an empty bottle in hand. He had lost his work many months before. The nanny and close friend of the father was unable to be paid and had taken up a new charge in another city. During lucid moments he roused from his self-inflicted stupor and would profess his love for Gemma who revelled in the attention.
15 Years, 1 Month, 13 Days, 18 Hours, 6 Minutes, 36 Seconds.
Sol hovered in the air between Gemma and the young man. It felt nervous, a fear creeping in at the edges of its ethereal form. A desire to ward the girl gripped Sol but it was unable to stop her association with the boy, at best only able to plant seeds of guilt in her mind or whisper unheeded alternatives in her ear.
The pair of humans crouched on the other side of the wall they had just scaled, in the private garden of some wealthy merchant. They huddled close to fend of the chill of the Winter. The boy offered Gemma some of the sweetbread he had shoplifted earlier. She accepted it with a smile and devoured it swiftly.
Her mind was no longer simple. It had lost the innocence of its youth and was now a tangled mess of thoughts, desires and fears. Consequences and emotions fused together. She had abandoned her father in a self-righteous fury, running away from home. Her insecurity and loneliness had rapidly drawn her to the boy, who had taken her under his wing. Together the pair subsisted in the shadows of the city.
The young man was older than Gemma, a full grown male. He had not admitted his exact age yet but Sol’s observances led him to believe the boy was at least twenty. Gemma’s thoughts betrayed her attraction to the stubble on his face and the gentle curve of his muscular arms. But what drew the attention of the angel most though was the tattoo of a snake that crawled up the boy’s arm.
Sol was hesitant to believe a tattoo could be the source of its nervousness around the boy but could not shake the feel that it sometimes moved and was further up or down the arm than it had been. Gemma shared no such grievance and felt it to be an exotic marking of the boy’s life before her.
The boy often talked to Gemma, drawing her in with tales of his travels across the land and to other countries. He drew on his experiences as he spoke to her of his beliefs about how society and authority should be handled and of his own justifications for his actions as a thief. Gemma took it all in and found herself agreeing with him, repeating his words as gospel and believing them as fully as if they had been her own.
18 Years, 5 Months, 29 Days, 14 Hours, 42 Minutes, 34 Seconds.
Lucky Star they called her, or more often just Star. It was on account of Gemma’s numerous near misses. The gang jokingly said she was born under a lucky star and it had soon stuck as a nickname. Her original name was forgotten by some and never known by most, existing only in a tiny recess of her mind.
Sol knew she was no luckier than any other mortal. The angel’s interceptions with disaster just happened more frequently for the girl on account of her natural clumsiness.
The boy had ‘enrolled’ Star into his gang, revealing a more organised and deviant criminal existence. Gemma had revelled in it however, excelling in mischief and quickly adapting to the life. She learnt to use her allure as a distraction and a bargaining tool and added lock picking, pick pocketing and stealth to her repertoire of skills.
She had given herself completely to the boy, entirely devoted to him. At first he had been gentle with her, and later he had begun to take her when he chose and she was always willing for him.
Sol had watched this descent, horrified at the level of cognisance Star displayed of her situation. No longer could the angel help to influence the girl as she chose her path as Gemma believed it to be the best and true path for her. To all appearances, both physical and mentally, Star was pleased with her life.
The last year had been strange for Sol. The angel was ineffectual. It appeared as if it had no more purpose but was still bound to the girl. The surroundings of thieves and vagabonds belonging to an, at times, cruel and vicious gang contrasted vividly with their familial bonds to one another.
The man worried Sol most of all. Now that Star was lost, willingly held in the arms of the man, Sol feared not for her but for itself. The guardian angel lingered in the gloomy hideaways and dens of the gang and everywhere it went it felt as though the eyes of the tattoo snake were following it. It was confused and fearful, clinging to the faint belief that it should still protect the girl and losing certainty in its own judgement of how a life should be led.
Then, in the darkness of night, while the angel waited on the corner post of a bed in which Star and the man entangled with each other, came a noise. A soft slithering noise of scale sliding over skin, then cloth. It was accompanied by a barely audible hissing at periodic intervals. Sol noticed the noise too late, only as the slithering reached the support of the bed and scratched across the wood. A pair of long, deadly fangs fell over its vision before snapping shut.