Almost too late, Rosa Ruiz saw the host of angels gathered at the bottom of the stairs. They were weeping in a bright, feathered mass, inconsolable, their burnished locks tumbling forward on the steps.
In other times, Rosa might have thought it strange to see so many together. In other times, she might have stopped to listen to their whisperings, or even worked up the courage to try touching one of them.
The times were different now. For good or ill the world had called out to angels through book, video, and even Twitter. Now they were here. Some days there were so many it was hard to walk around. She shook her head and crossed herself quickly.
It was bad luck to step on an angel.
Rosa picked up her basket of dust rags and brushes and squeezed past them on her way up the stairs. They didn't even look up. She climbed to the top of the steps and was reaching into her bag for her large ring of keys when she spotted the feather.
She had never known an angel to let a feather drop.
Slowly she stooped to pick it up, then held it to the light. The feather was translucent, like opals edged with gold, fine as a saint's halo in a holy picture. For a moment, the colors danced in flame, then shriveled to brown in her hand until it seemed nothing more than a dry seed husk from a maple tree.
Rosa shrugged and let the wind carry it away. Maybe, she thought, it would find its way back to its angel.
As she let herself into the apartment, she glanced over her shoulder. The angels were still at the bottom of the stairs, crying harder than before.
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