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.