Reverent hands caressed the binding of the journal. It was all that was left now. Lauren was gone. It was such a worthless sacrifice, a foolish sacrifice. What manner of torture was this? What form of punishment?
Those same hands gripped the journal in a death grip, strong enough to tear it in two. It was so unfair. It was so unjust. How could something so new and precious just disappear with no warning? Was this a test? A test of faith? A test of Obedience?
Perhaps it was a punishment. How could it truly be anything else? It was worse than any torture. Trembling hands opened the journal and lightly moved shaking fingers over the words written on the page. It was all that was left. Tears formed in eyes that had never shed tears. A pain began in a heart that had never experienced heartbreak.
Those same hands that were shaking so badly from grief and anger wiped at the tears, clearing them to be able see the only piece of Lauren that was left. How many times had it already been read? Hundreds? Thousands probably. Reading didn't get easier each time. The words didn't provide a succor against the pain. Not even putting the journal aside would do that. All that was left were these words to read. And the pain, there was always the pain. A tear splashed down on the first word blurring the beginning, but Haniel knew the first word was 'I'.
I write this in the hope that someday someone will find it and know what happened to me. I was the only one to survive it. The others are all gone, dead. I have to assume they're dead at least. I suppose I might be too, it's so hard to tell. Things are so different here, so strange. Sometimes, when I'm awake I think I'm dreaming. But my dreams had never been like this. I never imagined anything like what I've seen.
It was such a beautiful day when we set out. We had chartered a luxury boat, with the intent to roam the ocean for almost a week. The weather was supposed to be gorgeous the entire week. We decided that we should sail through the Bermuda Triangle. It was supposed to be a grand adventure to tell our other friends about when we returned from vacation. Instead, it was the beginning and the end.
Things seemed calm when we entered the Triangle. There was no immediate loss of power; none of our instruments on the ship went haywire. All the clichés associated with the Triangle turned out to be false. Then it happened. I was standing at the bow of the ship gazing out at the never-ending ocean when I saw the air in front of me blur. I turned to call out to Shelly, my best friend, who was manning the helm. My warning was far too late. I heard the screech of bending metal even as I flew through the air. I could hear the screams of the others over the metal, or at least I thought I could until I was knocked out by my impact against something hard and unforgiving.
I awoke to the clashing of metal. A sound, like none I had ever heard before. The strikes sometimes were followed by a cry of pain or anger. I sat up blinking and shrank back against the gigantic stone at my back. Out beyond the mist was a great battlefield. I had only known scenes like this in movies. Women bathed in a white light battled one another. Both sides so similar I couldn't tell them apart. Neither group looked sinister. They looked quite beautiful. The swords slicing through body parts were horrible, turning all that beauty into an ugly death.
I was frightened and called out to my friends hoping that having someone with me would make it seem less terrifying. I tried to crawl towards the boat. I could see pieces of it littering the ground. Finally after hours of listening to the battle and sifting through pieces of our broken ship I found the radio. It was near the helm where I'd last seen Shelly, my best friend. I tried to radio for help. I couldn't reach anyone. I couldn't even hear static when I flipped through the channels.
I angrily threw the radio down; this wasn't how it was supposed to be. This wasn't what my vacation was supposed to be like. I noted absently that the sounds of the battle had diminished. Only the occasional clang of swords could be heard. It sounded as if someone was only rendering a token resistance. I searched the rest of the ship hoping to find one of my friends alive or something to contact help. The only thing I found was more useless fiberglass and metal from the torn boat.
The ache in my head was growing worse by the second. I suspected that I probably had a concussion or worse from my impact against the rock. I felt like I was floating yet too heavy to move much further. I crawled away from the remains of the ship thinking that if any of the combatants came to investigate it, I would be better off gone or hidden. I made it to the rock and leaned against it, feeling the weakness of my body reach up and drag me down further. I knew I couldn't stay here, I had to find help. I had to move. I don't remember even crawling though I knew I had.
I sat there gazing out at the mist when suddenly it lifted making everything startlingly clear. I found myself staring unbelieving at the fallen bodies. Thousands of them littered the ground. They were so beautiful, so heartbreakingly beautiful. I crawled towards them, inexplicably drawn forward. I reached out my hand as tears prickled my eyes. I touched the soft flesh of the nearest face, gasping at the jolt of sorrow that washed through me. I felt the pain of the sword that had hacked this being to pieces. The same sword that was clutched between bloody hands, holding it in a last attempt to pull it from an already dying body. I struggled to my knees. I didn't want to see the horror of so many dead and dying, I just couldn't stop myself from looking. I wanted to help them, to offer salvation, to take their pain away. Their beauty was such that I would have died for their pain to be lessened. I rose to my feet and stared at the fallen. Tears streamed down my face. It was so pointless, all this death. I knew this even as I wondered how I had the knowledge.
I didn't hear when someone approached. All I could hear were the cry's I had ignored as I searched for my friends. I should have helped these beings. I should have done something. I didn't turn when the sword was raised to strike me down. I didn't even realize anyone was there. Not until I heard the resounding clash of one sword meeting another. I turned to look at them, swaying unsteadily as the two beings faced each other. One of their features so distorted by righteous anger it was rendered unsightly.
"No!" Haniel shouted as she blocked the others sword.
"Why do you stop me?" Uriel snarled back.
"This is not an enemy." Haniel replied pushing Uriel back, making the enraged being stumble.
I couldn't take my eyes off of them. They were resplendent, bathed in a white light that seemed to emanate from inside them. Even as the one called Uriel stared at me with new comprehension and an undisguised mistrust all I could see was beauty. It made me want to weep. I watched in awe as Uriel's wings expanded, their whiteness causing the sun to glare off of them.
"Human?" Uriel said in a lyrical voice.
"Yes." Haniel replied while watching me watch her.
I wanted to fall to my knees and cry. I wanted to rage! I was dead and I was in heaven. But what kind of heaven was this? So much death surrounded me. How could this be the heaven I was taught to believe in? Finally, I couldn't take the silence anymore.
"Where am I?" I asked in a gravelly voice that sounded so unlike my own.
I waited for an answer. Haniel's head inclined as if in question and moved closer. The angel's hand reached out towards me, I didn't flinch back. Instead I looked into eyes so dark as to appear black and let that hand touch my face. The fingers were warm and light. Instantly I felt a rush of triumph and joy. I looked over the fallen army and knew things were as they should be. There was no sorrow to feel because those that had fallen were enemies.
"You are in the garden." Haniel told me. The angel lifted its fingers from me, leaving me bereft.
"Garden?" I repeated blankly.
"The lower garden of heaven." Haniel said in a voice so melodious it made my heart expand.
"I'm really dead then." I said more to myself, even as I swayed on my feet. It seemed unfair that being dead, I could feel this bad.
Uriel let loose with a belly laugh that was surprising coming from one so petite and beautiful. "You're not dead."
"No, you are not dead." Haniel agreed.
"Then what am I doing here?" I asked not really believing them.
"You came through the gate." Haniel said as if it should be obvious to me.
It wasn't obvious. My headache was starting to pound harder. I could feel myself sinking to the ground even as I asked, "What are you?"
"We are Virtues, angels that protect heaven." Haniel responded as I was swept into protective arms before I could meet the ground. I lost consciousness then, finding it much too hard to comprehend it all.
I awoke sometime later. I was still extremely disoriented and convinced I'd been dreaming. That is until I got a good look at my surroundings. I sat up quickly causing my head to spin and my brain to bounce around in my skull uncomfortably. I could hear voices talking in the room next door so I concentrated on that rather than the swimming in my head.
"You can't mean to let her stay here!" I recognized the voice as Uriel, whom I'd already had an encounter with. Although how I could tell their voices apart was a mystery, both Uriel's and Haniel's voices were equally lyrical.
"Of course she's going to stay here. She has no where else to go." Haniel responded reasonably.
"She is not meant to be here." Uriel insisted.
"If she's here then it was meant to be. God has a reason for everything." Haniel reminded. It seemed that Uriel was going to object further and Haniel raised a hand. "I am still in command and it will be as I say. If it is not God's will we will know soon enough."
"Of course." Uriel demurred, bowing slightly to the commander.
"She's awake." Haniel said softly.
I heard footsteps approaching. I wanted to feign sleep but I heard one of them say I was awake. How could I trick an angel into believing I was asleep? Didn't they know when a person was lying? Couldn't they read minds and other things I've read in scripture? I took a moment to wish I'd paid more attention in confirmation classes.
I hardly breathed as the door swung open, letting them enter. I thought these beings beautiful before but their beauty was encompassed in the white light before. Now I noticed Haniel's features. Raven black hair surrounded features that would have been at home on a perfect work of art. An androgynous perfect beauty stood before me. This being could have easily been male or female. Though I thought of it as female for some reason. Perhaps it was because of the eyes. Terrifying in their blackness, yet calming when one took a moment to look into them. Compassionate eyes that once I met them, they ensnared me. Making it impossible for me to look away.
Haniel must have realized the power of that gaze because the angel released me from the trance by looking down, breaking our eye contact. I glanced behind Haniel's shoulder at Uriel. Uriel was as stunningly beautiful as Haniel with hair that seemed to hold the very fire of hell within it. The energy around Uriel seemed to crackle. I noticed Uriel wasn't looking at me as if I was an animal in a zoo any longer. However, I got the feeling that I wasn't completely welcome either. In fact, I detected a certain amount of distrust from the being. My attention was drawn back to Haniel when she stepped forward.
"You are feeling better."
It was a statement not a question. I nodded my head still too unsure to speak. I was sure I had to be dead or dying or this had to be an elaborate dream on my part. I looked down at my hands, noticing for the first time that all the abrasions and bruises I'd gotten searching through the pieces of the boat were completely gone. Even my headache had disappeared. I ran my hands over my face tracing where a gash used to be. It was gone.
"What the hell is going on?" I muttered to myself as I looked around. My gaze landed on Haniel again. One eyebrow arched in question and a small smile played about the angel's lips letting me know the question and it's phrasing had been heard.
"You are not dead, Lauren. And this is not hell." Haniel smiled and waved an arm out indicating the room and everything else around us. "As I said before we are in the lower garden of heaven. We are in my home."
I tried to figure out what was going on, how any of this could possibly be true, how they could know my name. "But?how? Why?"
"You came through the gate." Haniel responded as before. It wasn't any more enlightening for me however.
"What gate?" I asked in a less than patient voice.
"The gate between heaven, earth and hell." Haniel explained. "It was opened during the battle."
"Where are my friends?" I asked.
"You were the only one to come through." Haniel said glancing back at Uriel. Uriel nodded and closed her eyes, eyes that resembled a black void. When they opened again I could see in the reflection, the waters we had been sailing before our boat went through the gate. Uriel lowered its eyelids, when they were opened again all I could see was a deep black again.
"Your friends are on a life raft awaiting assistance." Uriel informed me.
"I need to get back to them." I said as I started to slip out of the bed I was sitting on.
"You can not." Haniel calmly stated.
"I have to. I can't stay here. I don't belong here." I told them desperately.
"We cannot open the gate. To do so would allow more of our enemy to enter."
"You can't mean to keep me here?" I asked.
"God has a reason for everything Lauren. Rest assured that all will be as it should be." Haniel assured me.
I jolted out of sleep in a blind panic looking around anxiously for the source of my panic. I didn't have very far to look; it was all around me. The reminder that my world was terribly wrong. I expected to see Haniel close by, for some reason I thought the angel would know when I was awake.
I looked around the room wondering what I should do when Haniel didn't immediately show up. Was I allowed to look around? Was I supposed to stay here? My own despairing thoughts and a little curiosity drove me from the bed. I moved out of the bedroom, gazing around Haniel's home in amazement. The walls seemed to shimmer. It was as if the walls and ceiling were made of light. I brushed my hand against a wall as I passed surprised at how cool it felt.
I drifted towards an open doorway. I could see heaven through the open door. It wasn't as I imagined it would be. It looked like home; green grass below blue skies. I always imagined that heaven would be completely white. Maybe it was the illusion of purity that the color white can give that made me think this, or maybe it was because angels dwelled in clouds.
I wondered if I walked out the door and stood on the grass would it feel the same? Would I feel like I did when I was at home? Would I feel safe? Happy? Loved? Would I feel God's presence? I couldn't feel it now. I couldn't feel it when I was on the battlefield. It could all be a lie. None of this could be real. No angels, no heaven, nothing. I could be in coma, lying in a hospital bed somewhere dreaming everything.
With that thought, I walked out onto the grass. I wanted to believe. It was soft and warm under my feet, exactly like at home. I lay down on the grass and gazed up into the sky watching as the clouds drift by, now and then picking out a shape.
I lay there for what seemed like days, but it could only have been hours. I knew Haniel was there, had been for some time now. It felt like Haniel had always been here with me. I wanted to believe.
"What am I doing here?" I asked softly. Haniel knew whom the question was directed at. Knew it, like I knew when the angel came here.
"God brought you here."
"I don't know God. I don't know why." Those words should have had heat. They didn't, they were no more than a whisper. A breath.
I felt Haniel place a hand on my arm. "You have always known God, Lauren. You may not have remembered him, but you've always known him."
It was true. I knew those words were true the same way a mother knows her child, a bone deep recognition. What I didn't understand was why. Why was I here? For what purpose?
"Why?" I asked again.
"I don't have those answers Lauren. Only He does." Haniel explained.
Compassion. I could hear it in Haniel's voice. If compassion had a face I would associate it with Haniel's face.
"Why you?" I asked suddenly. The question barely made sense to me at first; I wondered how the angel could possibly understand it. I wanted to know why Haniel was with me. Why I was trusted alone in Haniel's home, alone with the angel itself, when Uriel obviously didn't trust me. Why Haniel was helping me. Why I was brought here rather than left near the remains of the boat.
"You needed my help and I needed to help you."
That response sounded as more than mere words. In that angelic voice they were a song. I almost missed the meaning of them because I was concentrating so hard on the sound.
"You needed to help me?" I questioned, without taking my eyes off the passing clouds.
"Yes." Came the soft response.
I nodded my head in understanding, because I understood. Somehow I understood. I understood everything. That this, my being here, was as it should be. That Haniel was the one to help me. How I came by the understanding was a mystery to me, but it was a mystery I didn't need to solve. I just took the knowledge of it on faith. It was the first thing I'd taken on faith since I was a child.
I felt my stomach rumble and smiled. Certain things still needed to be taken care of no matter where I was. "Haniel, I'm a little hungry. I don't suppose it's almost dinner time here?"
"Hungry? Oh, you are?" Haniel asked confused.
"Yes." I said slowly, unsure of why such a simple thing should cause confusion. "Don't you eat?"
"No, we do not." Haniel responded. "You should not need to either."
"Why not?" I liked eating. It was one of the joys of living and one I didn't particularly want to give up. Even on a short-term basis.
"We don't need food. Our forms do not require it." The angel explained to me.
"Why wouldn't I need food?" I questioned. "I'm still alive aren't I? I still need food for fuel don't I? It seemed reasonable to me.
Haniel's mouth opened to respond then closed without saying a word. A thoughtful look crossed Haniel's face, quickly followed by understanding. "Of course, you are correct. What would you like to eat?"
"What do you have? I asked skeptically. I doubted much could be offered if no one needed food.
"You may have anything you wish." Haniel offered generously.
I raised one eyebrow disbelievingly. I'd probably have to go hunt, skin, and cut up and cook my own food. I had a problem getting what I wanted in a grocery store, I doubted I'd do very well as a hunter/gatherer type.
Haniel must have noticed my look of pained disbelief. "All you need do is ask and it will be provided." Haniel assured me.
I decided to give it a try. "How about some fruit and cheese?" I asked.
I started simply, I didn't figure that would be too difficult of a request to fulfill. Even as the thought was tumbling through my mind the fruit and cheese appeared in front of me on a platter. An apple sat predominantly on top of the platter.
I ran my finger over the apple as I looked at Haniel. "Should I be concerned by this?" I asked, indicating the apple.
Haniel laughed uproariously. "No, that is no longer the fruit of knowledge, it is merely an apple."
"Oh, that's good to know." I said after a pause. I still had no intention of touching the apple. Better safe than sorry.
I ate slowly enjoying the taste of the first food I'd had in what must have been a couple of days. While I ate, Haniel watched. The angel seemed to be paying rapt attention to each of my movements. Haniel was transfixed as I peeled a banana. I noticed the frown when I set the peel aside and ate the inside.
"Something wrong?" I asked finally. I was beginning to become slightly self-conscious.
"Why did you not eat that part of the fruit?" Haniel asked, pointing to the banana peel.
"You don't eat the peel, it tastes awful." I explained. "Here, try some." I said as I handed over a piece of the banana.
"I do not need food." Haniel reminded as long fingers took the offered piece.
"Just try it." I urged. "You may not need it, but it's fun to eat."
I watched as the piece was tasted and chewed slowly. Haniel nodded and smiled. "It is very good. I can see why you enjoy it."
"You can swallow it too." I told her laughingly. "It's all part of the experience."
I waited until the banana was swallowed then offered her a grape off the platter. "You've never tried to eat before?" I asked.
"No, why would I?" Haniel asked while examining the grape. "Do I peel this as well?"
I shook my head. "Not if you don't want to. Some people peel them, some don't. I like to eat the entire grape."
I took one as well and popped it into my own mouth and began to chew as Haniel followed suit. They were very sweet grapes so I cut off two pieces of cheese and handed one to Haniel. I took a bite of the cheese, enjoying the contrast of flavors. I noticed Haniel's eyes widen with pleasure and smiled.
"I can't believe you've never tried food before." I said motioned her to come closer with my hand so we could share the platter more easily.
"If I were to give you a sword, what would you think?" Haniel questioned.
I frowned; wondering where this question could be going. "Why would I want a sword?" I asked.
"To protect yourself." Haniel said before taking another grape.
"I don't need a sword to protect myself, we have cops where I come from." I said as comprehension dawned. "I don't need a sword and you don't need food, I get it."
"We have different needs." Haniel nodded in approval.
After I finished eating Haniel offered to show me around. It was breathtaking. I'd never seen any place on earth that was more beautiful. Everything flowed together so naturally. The homes shimmered in the sun, so much so they appeared transparent at first glance. Everywhere I looked beautiful angels were present.
But something wasn't right though. I looked around trying to pin down what had struck me as wrong. My eyes roamed over all of them and the landscape then back to the angels. They all appeared female to me? Every one of them, even the one's I remembered who lay dead on the battlefield.
"There are no male angels." I said to Haniel. I stopped walking and looked over the angels present to make sure I was right.
"Of course not." Haniel confirmed.
"Why not?" I asked in confusion.
"This is the way we were created." Haniel explained.
"I don't understand." I really didn't understand, not at all.
"You were made in God's image." Haniel said as she pointed at me. "I am made in God's image."
"He's really a She?" I questioned slowly.
"When we were created, yes." Haniel smiled thinking I understood.
"God is both male and female, two sides of a whole. We were created in that image."
"Oh." I said for lack of anything more intelligent to say.
The angel smiled knowingly at me. "You are disappointed?" Haniel asked
I frowned slightly aware that somehow my mind had been read, or maybe it was a coincidence. "Not really." I hedged. "I guess I just assumed you were female."
Haniel just smiled and continued to be my tour guide.
I walked next to Haniel while the tour continued. How could they be male and female? It had to go against the laws of nature. Then it hit me. I was in heaven; the laws of nature didn't apply.
"You have more to say?" Haniel asked, aware of my disquiet.
I nodded my head. "I'm sorry you just seem female to me." I told her.
Haniel stopped walking and I thought I'd offended the angel until she spoke. "You see the female, others see the male. I am both, yet neither." Haniel explained. "I am not offended to be called female nor am I ashamed to be called male."
"What others?" I asked after a moments thought over what she'd just said. I decided then that Haniel would forever be female to me, as would the other angels. It may not have been accurate but it was how I saw them.
"There were others who have been through the gate." Haniel told me.
"Others? You mean other humans?" I asked with growing excitement. They weren't here now. That meant they'd gotten home some how. I had to know how.
"Yes, other humans. Humans who spread the word and will of God to others."
"So they came here and went back. That means I can go back too." I said in a rush.
Haniel placed a hand on my shoulder, calming me instantly. "No, these others entered before the war in heaven. You are the first to enter since the war began. We cannot open the gate to earth, it is too dangerous."
"Why?" I didn't understand why I couldn't go back.
"The gate between earth and hell is open. Only this gate stands between the fallen and heaven."
They say comprehension and understanding are the stepping stones to acceptance. For me it was just a death knell. I would never see my friends or family. Never have a partner. I had wasted so much time in my life. If I could only have known that I would be trapped in a heaven I didn't want I would have done things differently. I wouldn't have squandered precious moments.
"There are people on earth whose sole reason for living is to enter heaven." Haniel said, having noticed the devastation so plainly written on my face.
"I wasn't one of those people." I replied softly. I was talking to myself really but I knew Haniel could hear me.
Haniel nodded in agreement. "No, you were not one of those people. There really aren't any of those people left on earth. The earth is full of men and women who worship but do not believe."
I frowned, wondering at that statement. "I wish it weren't so." I didn't know if I was talking about human's lack of faith or my own situation. A little of both I supposed.
"As do I." Haniel agreed solemnly.
We walked back to Haniels home in silence as dusk began to settle over heaven. It seemed like only a few minutes that we had been walking, yet in reality I knew it had been hours. As soon as we entered the house I retired to the privacy of the bedroom that had been given to me. I crawled into bed without eating. I wanted to escape for a little while in sleep. A place where blissful ignorance is a life-like dream.
I awoke the next day in the same state I had the first, panicked and disoriented and like before I realized instantly the reason for those feelings. It wasn't all just a dream. No matter how many times I woke up it wouldn't be a dream. I wandered around the lower garden alone. I found many places to sit and rest while pondering what it meant to actually be in heaven. What it boiled down to in the end was that I was bored. Bored out of my mind. I didn't have work to rush off too. I didn't have my friends a phone call away to go do something with. There were no places to shop. No recreation facilities at all. I started to wonder what the difference between heaven and hell actually was, and which one was I really in?
It seemed like just when I thought I might go mad from the boredom, Haniel showed up offering to take a walk with me. We started out just as we had the day before, walking slowly up a hill that lead to a river. Yesterday I'd completely ignored the river because of the conversation Haniel and I had been engaged in. Today I planned to investigate it. I needed a bath badly and swimming was a recreation I'd always enjoyed. I glanced sideways at Haniel wondering what angels did all day to pass the time.
"Yes?" Haniel asked as we walked having caught my furtive glance.
"I was wondering," I paused for a moment trying to think of how to phrase the question politely, then I gave up and blurted, "what do you do around here to keep from going stark raving crazy from sheer boredom?"
Haniel let out a laugh that startled me. I hadn't expected something so hardy from someone as feminine looking as she was. Then I remembered that she wasn't really a she or a he. It was all still rather confusing.
"I apologize," Haniel said with a chuckle. "It has been some time since something like this has occurred. I forgot that you would not have the same options those who belong here have."
"What sort of options?" I asked puzzled.
"The beings here are able to do whatever they like or have whatever they like simply by wanting it. And of course we do not have the same needs as you do." Haniel explained.
"So you could say, I want a T.V and poof it would appear?" I questioned.
"Perhaps not a TV but the concept is correct." The angel agreed.
"No TV" I grumbled. What the hell was I supposed to do with myself all day?
"You wish to watch people?" Haniel asked after hearing my grumbles.
"Come with me." Haniel said as she strode off towards the river.
I followed her out of curiosity. And because I wanted to visit the river anyway. I was still disappointed about not having television, which led me to think about other things I wouldn't have, like a toilet with running water. If angels didn't eat they obviously wouldn't have to do other things related to eating and drinking. I was starting to miss my home more and more with each thought.
I finally came to a stop next to Haniel. She had stopped at the river edge and was looking down into the water as if it were the most fascinating thing ever seen. I was looking at the other angels gazing into the river. I'd been wondering where all the other angels were while exploring heaven, now I knew. A few of the angels closest to us looked over at me, they stared at me with the same absorption they did the river.
I glanced down at the river wondering what was so interesting. At first it was just our reflections cast back on the glass surface of the water, then suddenly I could see people. All sorts of people. People walking to work on busy streets, people at home, people driving. It was all a jumble. I barely focused on one person when my eyes were drawn to another.
"Who are they?" I whispered as I sank down on my knees so I could look closer.
"They are humans." Haniel informed me.
"Yes I recognize that." I said with sarcasm lacing my voice. "I mean 'who are they'? Why can we see them?"
I glanced sideways at Haniel as she knelt next to me. She looked just like a painting I'd seen in a book. She exuded the same purity and beauty as the artwork itself. I had to force myself to tear my eyes away from her.
"Before the war we could go down to earth and walk among humans, bringing them the word of God. We could help and guide them as we were meant to do. Now all we have is this river. We watch humans as they go about their lives."
"You can watch anyone?" I asked as I was reaching down into the water to see if I could touch someone. My fingers caused a ripple in the water making the images disappear.
"Yes, we can watch anyone as long as the water is undisturbed." Haniel explained with gentle humor.
"Can I see my friends?" I asked anxiously. I still worried about them even though Uriel told me they were safe in the life boat a couple of days ago. Days? Had it been days already? It felt like I'd been here mere hours.
"Of course," Haniel answered. "You only need concentrate to see them or anyone else."
I stared down at the water willing my friends to appear. I frowned in concentration and shifted uncomfortably on my knees. As if by magic they came into view. Shelly, my best friend who had been 'steering' the yacht, looked drawn and pale underneath a very dark tan. Her lips were sunburned from long hours out in the sun. I could see Nate and Tina in their house as well. They too looked tired and sunburned. I wondered how I could see them side by side while they were obviously in two different places.
I concentrated even harder trying to bring my family into the image. It only took a few seconds for my sister to appear beside my friends. Then my parents came into view. I wanted to reach out and touch them. There was such despair and grief in their faces. I knew it was because of me. I wanted to tell them I was all right some how. Unbidden my fingers ran over their faces and made the images disappear. I stood up abruptly wanting nothing more than to run to the gate and leap through it no matter whom or what might get through.
Haniel must have recognized what I was feeling. She reached for my hand and held it between hers imparting a sense of sympathy, peace and calm. I looked down at our clasped hands wanting to cry. This was a momentary peace and I knew it. Haniel couldn't make things right. I pulled away, refusing the false comfort that was offered. I began walking away back towards Haniel's home; I couldn't look at my family and friends any longer. It was too hard to see such pain and be unable to help. It was too hard to be the cause of all that pain.
I lay on the floor of Haniel's house staring up at the ceiling. If I concentrated I could make the roof disappear so that all I could see was the blue of the sky. It wasn't the blue that I was accustomed to seeing. It was different from earth, a difference I was only now beginning to recognize the longer I was here.
It didn't surprise me when I felt a presence beside me. Somewhere in the back of my mind I was expecting Haniel to come to me. She always seemed to know when I needed help.
"The images disturbed you?" Haniel prompted, talking about what I'd only moments ago seen in the river.
"I can't be with them and I can't help them." I said unhappily while still staring at the sky.
"I understand." The angel responded sadly.
"Do you?" I asked, not really believing her.
"Once," Haniel began softly, "I was able to walk among humans. I gave them love and they loved me. Then the uprising began and I was denied that love."
I turned to look at Haniel. "I guess you do understand." For some reason this knowledge made me feel better. Maybe it was true that misery loved company. Only I wasn't miserable. I missed my family and friends. I hurt because my disappearing hurt them but I wasn't miserable.
"Are you lonely?" I asked after a long silence. It was how I felt. I didn't have anyone here.
"I was." Haniel admitted.
"You came." Haniel told me.
"Is that why I'm here?" I asked.
"I don't know why God brought you here." Haniel confessed. "I pray that is not the reason. I would never want to cause you pain."
I glanced over at Haniel aware that for some reason she'd paused. I raised an inquiring eyebrow giving her permission to say what was on her mind. She bowed her head and smiled her thanks. "Do you truly miss it so much?"
"What?" I asked.
"Your life? Do you truly miss what you had?" Haniel clarified.
I sat up slowly taking a deep breath. I knew she'd asked the question to make me look at my feelings and the reasons for them. "I miss my family and my friends." I told her honestly. "Sometimes I miss my job. Mostly I miss those things I never got to do. All those things I put off thinking I had all the time in the world. You know, like falling in love, actually spending time with my parents and sister aside from holidays. Things that I'll never be able to do here. Children." I finished softly.
"You may find that you are here to accomplish some of those things. That there was a reason beyond chance for your being here with me...us."
I nodded my head and shot Haniel a small smile in thanks. I didn't believe what she said, I thought she was just providing comfort. Something an angel was supposed to be good at providing. I thought about everything for a moment then shook my head as if to shake the thoughts loose and kick them out. I refused to dwell on it any longer. I was here, that was that. Wishing and thinking about it wasn't going to change the reality.
I glanced at Haniel who seemed to be lost in her own thoughts. I wondered what she was thinking about? What her dreams of life were? "May I ask you something?" I said pulling Haniel out of her thoughts.
"What do you want? What do you dream about having for yourself?" I didn't know why but her answers were extremely important to me. I felt I had to know her. To know what she was and what she wanted.
"I have all that I want. All that I could ever dream of having." Haniel replied.
I looked into her eyes and saw honesty born of purity. I couldn't understand it. How could she have everything when she obviously didn't have everything? Perhaps I noticed the lack in her existence because it was the same in my own.
"Don't you want to fall in love?" I asked. "I mean in love like humans do?"
"None ever have." Haniel replied without actually answering my question.
Those words stayed with me through out the next few weeks. Even when I was with Haniel those words echoed in my mind. How could an angel be lonely? Haniel was surrounded by angels. So many angels. Too many to remember and I'd been introduced to everyone. But then again, I was lonely here and I too was surrounded. I supposed that was the difference between being alone and being lonely. Until now it wasn't a distinction I'd ever had to face.
I headed towards the river not really thinking about my direction. I'd been spending more and more time next to the river as days went by. I hadn't used the river to look at my family, not since that first time. More often than not I found myself thinking about Haniel and all the things I'd learned being here in heaven. Not that I spent all of my time moping and skulking. A couple of times I tried to get the river to tune into a television show or a radio station. After seeing the lead singer to my favorite band butt naked I decided that it just wouldn't work. There were some things better left unseen.
I stooped down and picked up a pebble and sent it down the river skipping it over the water. Normally I wouldn't have been able to skip a rock. I would have disturbed an angel who was looking in the river. Lately though they looked into the river less often. Instead I would find them watching me with the same absorption they watched the people on earth who were living their lives. Sometimes I felt like I should sing a song or entertain them in some way. But the only song I knew all the words too was the Mighty Mouse theme song.
I was surprised when a rock went skipping by on the water. I glanced back and saw two other angels trying their hands at rock skipping. It was amazing what these beings had never done. Angels were immortal but never really lived. They never skipped rocks, never went swimming, never fell in love, they never ate food. Though I did manage to introduce a few things to them, like the rock skipping, swimming and eating. Or rather, I'd introduced Haniel to eating; she wouldn't eat unless I offered it to her personally. She seemed to enjoy the flavor so much, I wondered why she didn't eat without me.
I turned around and smiled at Haniel. It was as if my thoughts of her had made her come to me. "I was just thinking about you."
"And I you." Haniel paused, looking as if she were about to go into battle. "Would you like to take a walk, that is if you don't mind leaving your students?"
I glanced back at the two angels who were watching us and waved goodbye. "They were just watching me skip rocks." I explained as we walked away from the river.
"Skip rocks?" Haniel questioned.
"Yeah, you know, skip a flat rock over water." I replied.
"Why would you want to do that?"
"To see how many skips I could get."
Haniel nodded in understanding. "This is one of the 'circular' events that you warned of asking about, isn't it?"
I laughed softly and shook my head. Over time Haniel and I had explored many of the things I'd done in my childhood and my not so recent past. I was happy to explain why I did things. Things that so obviously mystified the angels here in heaven.
I glanced up at our path and noticed we were heading towards the battlefield and the gate. I hadn't been to that area since that first nightmarish day. I wasn't in a huge hurry to go back either. The idea of seeing all those corpses made my skin crawl and my heartache.
I was just about to tell Haniel I wanted to turn back when we crested a hill and I could see the battlefield. It was as if the battle had never taken place. The grass was a lush carpet of green that extended as far as the eye could see.
"What happened?" I asked.
Haniel stopped and looked back to where I was standing gawking at what should have been a mass burial site or worse. "What do you mean?" She asked.
I pointed at the lush grass dotted with trees. "Where are all the bodies?" It wasn't that I wanted to see them again, far from it. I just couldn't believe that anyone, angel or not, could totally wipe out all the evidence of what happened here.
"Bodies?" Haniel repeated blankly before understanding dawned. "They weren't really bodies." Haniel explained.
"Excuse me?" I must have misunderstood.
"We are angels Lauren. As were they, we cannot die."
"But they were just laying there, dead. Some were missing parts!" My voice was starting to screech. Sometimes my friends likened it to fingernails on a chalkboard. I hated it when I was forced to use that tone.
"It was merely a shell, a form of armor." Haniel explained even as she backed up away from me. I assumed it was to get as far away from my screeching as possible. "Once the armor is destroyed the angel is cast back down from heaven."
"What happens to the shell though? I mean they were just laying there, broken and battered." Even the memory made me feel as if I could be sick.
"Eventually the shell dissipates without the spirit animating it."
I stared at Haniel absorbing all this. Did that mean Haniel wasn't real? That she was wearing armor? Could it be true that all these weeks I'd been spending time with something that wasn't real? I walked up to her and placed my hand on her cheek. She stood still with a somewhat confused expression on her face but let me touch her. She was warm. It wasn't something I expected from her. I didn't think angels were warm. Of course, before coming here I didn't really believe angels existed.
"Are you real?" I asked finally. I didn't remove my hand. I was staring into those black and cold fathomless eyes, feeling the warmth of her skin and marveling at the incongruity.
Haniel stepped away breaking our contact. The look of confused longing and pain that flashed across her features left me speechless. "I'm am as real as you."
In that moment I realized that angels felt all the emotions we humans felt. The purity and knowledge of God didn't make them immune to emotion. I also realized from the expression on Haniel's face that Haniel didn't know how to handle those emotions. She probably didn't understand what she was feeling. After all none of her kind had ever loved like we humans do. I recognized the emotion underneath all the confusion. I wondered if Haniel did also?
"If you will excuse me Lauren, I am needed." Haniel said as she turned away and rapidly left me standing there with my new understanding.
I stared after her, lost in my own thoughts. Thoughts about what I should say to her, if I should go after her? How I could help her?
"I've never seen Haniel run before."
I felt my heart leap up into my throat as I turned around so quickly my head spun. Uriel stood four feet away, the distrustful and menacing countenance I associated with her intact. "I didn't realize you were here." I told her as I took a protective step backwards. "Where did you come from?" I asked when my heart rate slowed a bit
Uriel held up her sword. "Practice."
"With who?" I asked skeptically. There wasn't anyone else around. No sparring partner, just me.
"You." Uriel said taking a step forward and producing another sword.
I hadn't seen the other sword that was sheathed on her waist. At least not until she pulled it out. "I don't know how to fight with a sword." I demurred.
Uriel took another step forward and I backed up keeping the distance between us. "You know I didn't know why God would bring you here." Uriel began conversationally as she twirled her sword.
"Maybe it was just an accident." I offered. I couldn't hide the tremor in my voice.
"There are no accidents Lauren. God does everything for a reason." Uriel pushed the blades of the swords into the ground. "I think I've begun to understand why, finally."
"Oh?" I asked nervously. I felt only marginally better since she'd let go of the swords.
"You are a test. Haniel is being tested." Uriel told me.
I opened my mouth to deny it, when Uriel held up one hand as if to say stop. "We are all tested in one way or another everyday. Haniel has always been the most pure, the most driven."
"Haniel doesn't need a test!" I defended her hotly. I was no longer afraid but angry that it could be true.
"No? Haniel's behavior towards you would make me think otherwise."
"She has been supportive and understanding! She hasn't done anything wrong." I practically yelled, taking a menacing step forward. "It's not true!"
"Then why are you here? Why does Haniel even now walk the Upper Garden seeking answers?" Uriel asked. Her voice was modulated. No longer holding the harder tones of mistrust.
"I don't know."
"Perhaps you are not a test, perhaps you are a reward." Uriel said thoughtfully.
"You're insane." I said as I moved even closer to her.
"Would you like to practice now?" Uriel asked as if she hadn't heard my rejoinder.
I wanted to pick up that sword. I wanted to lash out. I didn't move an inch.
"I won't hurt you." Uriel reassured me.
I shot her a less than trusting look and glanced down at the swords between us. "Why not?" I asked. It would be her chance if I picked up the sword. Why shouldn't I believe she would hurt me?
"I couldn't." Uriel told me as she reached forward and placed her hand on my arm.
It was like before, with Haniel only different. With one touch I knew what Uriel said was true. She wouldn't hurt me. She wanted to protect me. She wanted to protect Haniel.
"You should learn to fight. It will be necessary, if only to protect yourself if we cannot." Uriel said. She picked up the sword on the right and handed it to me, offering me the handle.
"Are you sure?" I asked. I hefted the sword, quickly bringing my second hand up to stabilize it.
Uriel smiled and nodded. It was the first time Uriel had ever smiled at me. It dazzled me for a moment. Uriel took the advantage and moved to strike. The sword stopped inches from my head. All I could do was flinch and shake.
"You must first learn not to let an angel beguile you." Uriel said softly.
"That would probably be a good first step." I replied shakily.
I stepped back feeling tremendously relieved when Uriel lowered the sword. "So, now what?" I asked, trying to cover my relief.
"Now you practice fundamentals. Lunge," Uriel lifted her sword and thrust into an imaginary opponent. "Parry." She lifted the sword blocking her imaginary opponents attack. "Block." I watched all the while wondering if I should mention that I didn't even pass gym class.
"These are the most important things you must learn. It takes time to learn to wield a sword." Uriel told me gravely.
"Time seems to be something I have a lot of right now." I pointed out as I lifted the sword and tried a parry and thrust into an invisible opponent. At least I had time until it got too dark, I amended to myself.
I stopped my motion and frowned slightly in confusion at a sudden thought. "Shouldn't it be getting dark soon?" I asked.
I looked around and noticed it was as bright now as it was at mid-day. It had to be close to dark. Not that I wanted nighttime to fall, I was enjoying the lesson.
"Why would it get dark? Do you not wish to practice?" Uriel asked.
"Of course I want to practice, it just seems like it should be getting close to dark." I explained.
"It will not become dark until you desire darkness." Uriel said in a tone that indicated I should already know this.
"Darkness falls when you desire it." Uriel explained patiently.
"Nobody told me this." I said slowly. That would explain why the days seemed to be so short.
"Were you not told that what ever you needed would be provided all you need do is request or desire it?" Uriel asked.
"Yes." I drew out the word as the conversation came back to me. Haniel explaining all I needed to do was want something and I'd have it. Holy crap! "Does it get dark everywhere in heaven when I want it." I asked curiously.
"Only in the lower garden."
"So you all have been putting up with early nightfall just because I wanted it." I was amazed.
"The darkness was a welcome change." Uriel assured me.
"You don't normally have night time?" I questioned. They couldn't possibly exist without nighttime. Didn't that make people crazy?
"No, there is no need."
"Oh, I suppose there wouldn't be." I agreed finally. Haniel didn't have a bedroom in her home. It had been explained to me that angels didn't need sleep. Just like they didn't need food. I was beginning to think being an angel was a bum wrap.
I glanced down at the sword looking at it contemplatively. "I could practice indefinitely."
"You are limited by the frailties of your body. You will need to eat and sleep sometime." Uriel corrected.
"I can't just desire that away, huh? Too bad." I said, smiling.
She chuckled softly, surprising me. "Are you ready to continue?" She asked as her laughter died away.
We spent the next few hours practicing with our swords. I parried, counter parried, lunged, blocked and ducked and swung the thing like a club. And didn't once come close to defeating my imaginary foe. Though Uriel did compliment and encourage me the entire time. As we walked back towards the river, where I planned to bathe no matter who was watching people, I realized I was looking forward to tomorrow for the first time since coming here.
"You are getting better." Uriel complimented me as we walked away from the practice field.
"Thanks." I replied, feeling a distinct satisfaction at the compliment.
Everyday we came to the field and practiced until I couldn't lift the sword any longer. I'd lost count of the days this way. I worked so hard that I would collapse when I returned to Haniel's house, I never knew if a day went by or hours went by. Whenever I was ready to practice once more Uriel would be there waiting. Maybe it had only been a few days or a few years. It didn't matter anymore.
I wished sometimes that Haniel would practice with me as well; it was the one desire in this heaven that went unanswered. In fact, I hadn't spent any significant time with Haniel since I began practicing. We did occasionally spend a few moments together but she always seemed distant, as if she were afraid of me . I tried to bridge the gap between us. I wanted to help her. I wanted to be with her.
As we crested the hill I caught a glance of Haniel as she walked towards our home. For some reason my feet stopped moving while I watched her. It was one of those moments in time where I was unable to break away my gaze. I stared unblinking wondering why things were so different between us.
"You are unhappy?" Uriel asked, pulling me from my trance.
I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised at the question considering the close scrutiny Uriel usually paid me, but I was. "Not really unhappy." I lied unconvincingly.
Uriel tilted her head to the side as if trying to understand a particularly difficult problem. "You seem unhappy." Uriel responded after a few moments.
I sighed in frustration. Uriel wasn't the type to give up easily. "She's avoiding me." I confided. I tried to hide the hurt in my voice even as I knew it wasn't possible.
"Yes, it has seemed as such to me as well." Uriel agreed.
"Why? Why is she avoiding me?" I asked, thinking that Uriel possibly knew the answer.
"I do not know, have you asked?" Uriel questioned.
I shrugged my shoulders. "No, I didn't want to crowd her. I mean, she doesn't have to spend all of her time with me nor is she accountable to me."
"Perhaps you should ask anyway."
"I guess I should." I agreed reluctantly. Though it was easier said than done. The last thing I wanted to do was have Haniel tell me that she just didn't want to spend time with me.
"Now." Uriel said before turning to leave.
I watched her walk away to go do whatever it was she did when she wasn't with me. I'd wondered many times what angels did when I wasn't with them. The answer was always the same: they watched. They watched humans and they watched the gate. I started to walk down the hill towards home. The 'now' Uriel had spoken rang loudly in my ears.
I practiced how I would ask, what I would say, discarding several opening lines. I walked through the door with no idea how to broach the subject. Even as I was stepping through the door agonizing over how to begin, Haniel was walking towards me ready to leave. Suddenly I didn't have any time to formulate a plan or even come up with a way to ask that didn't seem desperate.
"You're leaving." I stated the obvious. "Or are you just avoiding me some more?" Just as with Uriel I couldn't hide the pain in my voice.
The question brought Haniel up short. I thought the look of confusion and uncertainty on her face broke my heart before, now it seemed amplified a thousand times. She made me want to weep.
"I am sorry." Haniel offered quietly.
I nodded my head acknowledging her apology. I knew she would be sorry. I still needed to know why, no matter how much it might hurt me. "Why?" I asked when she didn't move or say anything more.
"I am not human." Haniel said as if it should explain it all.
"I know that." I said slowly.
"I wish I were."
"What?" I asked confused.
Haniel reached out and placed a finger on my lips requesting quiet and patience. "For so long I would watch people, watch you live. Watch you love. Then one day I looked into the river and desired that love." Haniel pulled away from me, removing her finger from my lips. I wanted to reach out and pull her back, to comfort her somehow but she turned and began talking again. "I didn't really know what I was asking for, I realize that now. I didn't know that I would ruin lives, your life."
"No. No, you didn't ruin my life."
"You are wrong Lauren. You were brought here for me. It is my fault. I have seen you. I have watched you."
"What? When?" I asked baffled. "What are you talking about? You couldn't have known I would be brought here, any more than I could have. This isn't your doing."
Haniel shook her head sadly. "I have watched you in the river. I saw you by chance the first time. I followed you after that. Not a day went by I didn't look down upon you." Haniel confessed. "You see it is my fault, I have ruined your life."
"It's not true. My life isn't ruined."
"What of all those things you will never be able to do? All those things you mourned?" Haniel reminded me.
"What makes you think I can't have those things?" I asked. I wanted to reach out and touch her. I'd been aching to reach out to her for so long. It was difficult to wait for her to understand.
"Because you are here." Haniel replied patiently.
"With you." I said softly. I waited, wondering when she would understand. Wondering when she would acknowledge it. Finally I couldn't take waiting a moment longer. "I wouldn't have been brought here if I wasn't meant to be with you. You asked for someone to love, for someone to love you. Your prayer was answered."
"I do not want to be the reason you are trapped here." Haniel said quietly, not even realizing what I'd said to her.
"I do." I responded firmly.
Haniel shook her head. "I do not know how to love as you do."
I smiled at the admission. "I know. I'll help you."
Haniel traced the last word written in Lauren's own hand. How could it be offered and ripped away so quickly? How could she continue to exist with Lauren gone?
Haniel surged to her feet and began to pace. For the first time she understood what a curse immortality was. She understood the mistake made by creating angel's in God's image. She understood why angels didn't love like humans, why they shouldn't love like humans. The anger that coursed through her at the injustice made her head spin. If she could have she would have taken the head of the angel who had caused her this pain again.
Revenge. It was all Haniel had to look forward too. An eternity of revenge. She tried not to think about that moment, the moment when it was all lost. The need for revenge however, drove the visions in her head and she saw it all as if it were happening again.
The battle came as a surprise. Haniel had been unprepared for another attack so soon. In fact, she'd had hoped that this last defeat would deter the others indefinitely. It was a hope that she always had after a battle.
Haniel lay with Lauren observing the clouds that floated by. They had cloud watched many times and although Haniel understood what she was supposed to do she still wasn't able to see any shapes. She listened to Lauren's light laughter each time she said that she saw nothing were Lauren had seen an animal or another shape. It was a perfect time. Loving Lauren was like a benediction from God. Haniel had never felt anything so pure or so right. She felt this was meant to be. Even her service to God and heaven was secondary to this.
The alarm that reverberated in her mind made Haniel reach for her sword even as she was shooting to her feet to answer the call.
"What? What is it?" Lauren asked, looking around for an emergency of some sort.
"The gate is opening." Haniel responded as she offered Lauren a hand up. "You must go home and wait." Haniel instructed.
"What? Wait. The gates open? How do you know?" Lauren asked confused.
"I was told." Haniel answered as she pulled Lauren with her.
"Well, I don't want to hide. I can help."
Haniel stopped and frowned down at Lauren. "That is unwise. You are human." She explained patiently. "You could be killed."
"So could you." Lauren pointed out.
"My death would not be permanent. Only my shell would be lost." Haniel replied brushing away Lauren's protest.
"I want to go. I may not be able to fight but I refuse to sit and wait."
Haniel nodded her head even as she transported them to the gate in the blink of an eye. Lauren idly wondered why, if Haniel could always do that, did they walk everywhere.
Haniel looked down at the battle that was raging below. The sound of many voices rose up in the small valley. A terrifying chorus that makes up a battle. There were cries of anger, pain and death. More attacking angels entering through the gate every minute. She knew they had to repel the intruders quickly and shut the gate before the entire force could get through. "Stay here." Haniel said before striding down towards the battlefield.
Lauren watched amazed. They were magnificent; graceful and deadly. Two stood out above the din. Uriel and Haniel fought with a ferocity that Lauren had never seen before. Perhaps they stood out because she was most familiar with their form and appearance. Privately she knew it was because these were the two she most cared for.
They were fighting their way towards the gate, pushing the invaders back. In their wake hundreds of shells littered the ground. Lauren didn't look on the scene with the same horror that she had first felt upon seeing this. It wasn't real to her. It wasn't real until she saw a group of three angels battering Uriel's defenses, more than once driving her to her knees.
Lauren looked for Haniel, believing that she would surely be working her way to Uriel to help. Lauren found Haniel bathed in blood and surrounded by opponents. But Haniel was standing and steadily hacking through all those who dared defy her. She glanced around and looked at her other friends all of whom were embroiled in battle and unable to help. The decision was made in a split second. An instinctive need to help those she loved.
Desire it and it shall be. Lauren had a sword in her hand and was running towards Uriel. Long hours of training paid off as Lauren ran her sword through one of Uriel's attackers. She turned towards another who had taken the place of the one she'd just killed. The sword arced through the air towards her head. She barely managed to block it, being driven to her knees by the force of the blow. Even as the angel drew back the sword to finish her, Lauren heard her name being shouted. She recognized Haniel's voice.
The sound of the shouted name brought the attacking angel's head up stopping the sword short of it's target. Black hateful eyes turned towards Haniel watching as she approached.
Haniel ran towards Lauren praying to God that Lauren would be safe. She lashed out with her sword striking down those who were foolish enough to try to stop her. The blows so powerful from her sword that even meeting flesh couldn't stop the blade.
The angel looked back down at the kneeling Lauren and smiled. It reached down and lifted Lauren up looking into her eyes as she struggled to get away. Lauren wanted to call out for help, to call out for Haniel. The fear paralyzed her.
"You are human." The angel informed Lauren as if she was unaware. The angel glanced at Haniel whom was now sprinting towards them not even slowing down when she sliced through another with her sword. "And beloved." The angel said smiling evilly.
The scream was torn from her throat before she could stop it. She felt herself flying through the air, certain that she was going to die from the impact.
Another scream tore through the throng of combatants. Lauren heard Haniel cry her name then she heard nothing.
"Lauren!" The cry reverberated throughout all of heaven, causing a painful echo in all those who heard it. She came to a skidding halt in front of the gate, peering through it for any sign of Lauren. It was pointless she knew it. Her eyes closed slowly knowing that there was no way to get her back. Lauren was gone, gone back to her home. She took a deep breath letting her pain temporarily transform into anger. She turned towards the angel who had done this to her. The one who had caused this unbearable pain.
Haniel clenched a fist and tightened her grip on the journal. All that was left was the revenge and the pain. The pain of betrayal and loss. God had betrayed her. Haniel's eyes hardened. It was no longer an angel staring out at heaven.
Lauren stared at the water, the Fort Lauderdale lights twinkling behind her. She peered out into the blackness trying to penetrate it's secrets. Trying to see the door that would lead her back. It was pointless from shore. It was even pointless from the water or so it seemed. She'd been sailing the Devil's Triangle for weeks looking for the gate, praying that she would find the way back.
Angry tears shimmered in her eyes as she looked up into the nights sky glaring at an uncaring deity. She wanted to scream out into the night, rage against a God who gave her everything then cruelly took it away. Sometimes she even wanted to blame Haniel for not coming to find her. Blame her for letting this happen to them.
Lauren wished she would have been able to get back to the gate when she'd been thrown out. She might have if not for the fishing boat who'd seen her floating in the water. She might have drowned or been able to call out to Haniel and possibly be heard. Instead she was hauled into a boat and 'taken care of' by those helpful fisherman.
Lauren had screamed at them, thrashed and demanded to be let go. To be allowed to go back. Of course they didn't know what she was talking about. They thought she was suffering from dehydration or just insane out in the ocean so far from shore with no boat to speak of.
The fisherman had turned her over to the Coast Guard, who managed to identify her immediately. They'd given up searching for her months ago. Everyone said it was a miracle that she was alive. It had to be a miracle from God. It was a miracle to everyone but her. She knew the truth.
It took almost six months for her to convince her parents that she was alright. She didn't talk about heaven anymore. She couldn't talk about it anymore. She didn't want to go back into the hospital again. It was a place worse than hell. Only thoughts of Haniel and eventually getting back to her kept Lauren sane. She was sane. It was true. It happened. That was the litany of whispers Lauren told herself at night after the medication had been distributed. She had to believe. It was all she had left and they'd tried to take it from her. But she was free, she was here. She would find a way back.
"So are we going back now?" Madeline asked coming up behind Lauren. She knew this was where she would find her sister.
Lauren started slightly. Annoyed at being disturbed but putting up with Madeline as a necessary evil. "I'm not going back." Lauren replied not taking her eyes off the water. If she looked away or blinked she might miss her chance.
"You can't stay here forever." Madeline told her. "Besides who would want to stay in a place like this, I feel like everything is sticking to me." Madeline griped while plucking at her cloths that were indeed sticking to her in the most inconvenient places.
"Go, there's nothing keeping you here." Lauren said quietly. She wanted to be alone anyway. It was easier to believe that Haniel was nearby when all she could hear was the sound of the water and the peaceful silence of solitude.
"Of course there's something keeping me here, dork. You're here." Madeline said dismissively as she sat down on the ground next to Lauren. "If I leave you here alone Mom or Dad will come down here, you don't want that do you?" Madeline asked slyly.
Lauren let out an aggravated sigh. She really didn't want that. Her parents meant well but they were too concerned. It was stifling, worse than when she was a child and got pneumonia. "No, I don't want them here." Lauren agreed finally.
"So are we going out on the boat again tomorrow?" Madeline asked changing the subject.
"Yes." Everyday for the rest of my life until I die if necessary, Lauren thought to herself.
"So what is it that keeps making you go out there?" Madeline asked gesturing out into the ocean. "The sex?" She asked. Lauren had told her all about the experience, and while she may not believe it happened she knew that Lauren did believe. That was enough for her. Though she wasn't going to leave her sisters side for a second just in case she was as totally insane as everyone had suggested.
Lauren snorted. "It wasn't about sex." She glared at Madeline who always seemed to ask the most inappropriate questions no matter the situation. When Madeline was twelve and she was fifteen Madeline had asked their priest what he did when he was horny. She still blushed remembering that conversation. "It was about love."
"I could be wrong here but when I'm in love I like to make love." Madeline told her.
"You've never been in love." Lauren pointed out.
"Well that's true but I think the logic still applies." Madeline argued. When she saw the small smile on her sisters face she felt like she'd accomplished something great. It had been so long since Lauren had smiled. If moping were an Olympic event Lauren would have the gold medal. She waited silently for Lauren to really answer her question.
"Have you ever felt like you were meant to be with someone? As if one person was just the most right, the most important thing in your life." Lauren asked looking at her sister for understanding. She saw the confusion on Madeline's face and plowed ahead. "For me Haniel was that person. From the moment when she stopped Uriel's sword I knew we were supposed to be together. It didn't matter to me how, just that we were together."
She took a deep breath trying to control the tremor that she knew was beginning to show in her voice. "I have to be with her. Not because of sex," Lauren glared at her sister who was about to disagree. "But because alone I'm incomplete. The greatest thing I'll ever do with my life is to love Haniel."
"So what does that mean?" Madeline asked.
"I have to get back to her." Lauren answered
"What if we can't find the gate?" Madeline asked worriedly. Lauren was so heavily invested in finding Haniel she was dreading the moment when Lauren realized she had to give up and accept reality.
"I won't stop trying." Lauren told her. "One way or another I'll get back there. In life or in death, I'll do it eventually."
"But sooner is better right?" Madeline questioned. She was beginning to fear that Lauren would do something drastic to hurt herself.
Haniel watched as Uriel approached were she sat silent vigil, waiting. Uriel had come many times, sometimes sitting silently with Haniel offering support, sometimes urging Haniel to leave this spot to look at Lauren and know she was all right. Each time she turned away from Uriel ignoring the other angel until she was left alone again.
There sitting at the edge of the gate she would take out her hate and examine it, cherish it. Hate made the pain more bearable. As long as she could continue to feel this numbing rage she wouldn't feel so lost. Not like those first few days when all she could think about was that Lauren was gone.
Uriel finally reached Haniel and sat beside her. She had watched Haniel destroy everything she was until only a husk of her former glory remained. Uriel couldn't even recognize the angel that Haniel had been. How many centuries would Haniel nurse this resentment? What would happen when the hate fully took hold and she turned on her brethren? It was time to find out, to put an end to this.
"God is at fault." Uriel said, the words shattering the peaceful silence.
Haniel merely snorted in a disgusted manner. Her agreement was apparent though.
"Do you know why?" Uriel asked when Haniel didn't say anything else.
"Jealousy? Spite? Cruelty?" Haniel spat believing all of them were true.
"We are weak." Uriel corrected. "God made us weak. We have never had to face adversity . Never had to feel the turmoil that the most destitute of humans have had to contend with. Never felt the pain of loss. " That was the problem, the real problem. None of them had ever lost anything.
"It is easy to sit in judgment upon me when you have not been hurt as I have. If it were you that were punished you would not say such things to me." Haniel said glaring at Uriel.
"Why do you believe you have been punished? It was an accident that brought Lauren here to us. It was fate that restored her to earth. What makes you think you are so important that God would deign to punish you?" Uriel demanded.
Haniel's eyes blazed cold fury as she rose to her full height to tower over Uriel. "I am Commander of the Virtues. Protector of the Heavens! Who are you to question me?" Haniel roared. "Who are you to defy me? Who is God to defy my will and incur my wrath?"
Rage poured off Haniel in waves crashing into Uriel making it almost impossible to rise. Such power and fury had never been directed at her before and she trembled slightly in fear even as she drew her sword to defend herself against Haniel who had already drawn hers.
"You are not almighty Haniel you must serve God as we all do." Uriel challenged as she prepared for battle.
"I will not serve a God who is petty and malicious." Haniel snarled even as she brought her blade clashing down on Uriel, trying to sever her head with one vicious swipe.
Uriel blocked the blow, driven to her knees by the force. "Then you will be cast out!" Uriel shouted as she surged to her feet and attacked Haniel.
Their swords moved too fast for any human eye to see. But each slash and thrust of a blade was parried and countered. Haniel's rage fueled her strength. She slashed through Uriel's defenses and sent Uriel staggering from the blow that removed her arm and sword. Haniel stood over the fallen angel and glared.
"I will not be cast out." Haniel said softly. "I will not allow God to continue to reign in heaven. Justice will be done."
Haniel turned to the gate. She closed her eyes and concentrated.. The mist in the gate began to part and the window opened. As if by predestined agreement those that had been cast out surged through the gate and past Haniel towards those angels that would defend heaven.
Haniel looked at the horde of damned and smiled. Victory was within her grasp. Soon she would be the deity that ruled heaven. She would change heaven and earth forever.
Lauren checked her GPS for what seemed like the thousandth time. She knew the gate had to be in this area. She could feel it. She had to be close.
"I don't see anything." Madeline called from her perch in the wheelhouse.
Lauren just nodded her head, holding up her hand so Madeline would bring the boat to a stop and drop anchor. It just had to be here somewhere.
At first she didn't notice the slight shimmer in the air. The faint sound of metal striking metal was what drew her attention. And like a predator stalking its prey her eyes tracked to what her ears already knew was there. There no more than thirty feet from where they were anchored was a wavering light. She stared intently at it wondering if it was merely another trick of the ocean. Light refracting. It wouldn't be the first time she'd been disappointed. Shadows flickered in front of the light causing it to momentarily disappear. Shadows in the shape of beings she would never forget.
"Pull up the anchor!" Lauren yelled to Madeline as she sprinted to the bow of the boat. "That way!" Lauren shouted pointing in the direction of the a strange light. "Go there!"
Madeline jumped when she heard her sisters shout. She automatically hit the button to raise the anchor and started the engine as she mumbled in irritation at being startled. She pointed the boat in the direction Lauren was pointing and squinted to see what she was so excited about. She saw the displacement of heat in the air and sighed, realizing that Lauren was going to be crushed when she realized what they were heading for. She glanced down at the controls making sure she had had the throttle at half. She looked back at Lauren and nearly vaulted over the rail when she saw her sister standing on the railing of the boat poised to jump into the ocean.
"What the hell are you doing?" Madeline demanded. "Get down before you kill yourself!"
Lauren could see it. She was so close. She stood up on the rail as the boat began to approach the opening. The sounds of the battle, at once so familiar, let her know that this was no trick. She had found it. She didn't look back at Madeline as she prepared to jump. She didn't want to. Didn't want to see the fear on her sisters face. Didn't want to see the sadness when she finally disappeared.
She felt it when Madeline killed the engine, not wanting to injure Lauren if she fell overboard. She waited impatiently for the boat to drift near enough for her to enter. With a burst of strength she catapulted herself through the gate towards Haniel.
The scene that greeted her was a familiar one. A bitter reminder of her last moments in heaven before she was tossed out like garbage. Lauren stood up, shaking off the memory as she looked for the one angel among the throng that mattered most. Her breath caught when she saw Haniel., magnificent in all her glory, sword raised and glinting in the bright sunlight. Lauren drank in the sight as if she were starved. She began to run towards Haniel dodging fighters as she went. As she got closer she could see an angel lying on the ground gripping her arm in agony. The twisted features weren't instantly recognizable as Uriel to Lauren. She watched in horror as Haniel reared back to finish her.
Haniel stood over Uriel after she'd demolished all those who had the temerity to challenge her. Now there was only Uriel who still defied her. The dead angels of heaven littered the battlefield, though many were still fighting. It was only a matter of time before she would conquer.
"Tell your God that Heaven is now mine." Haniel growled as she raised her sword to send Uriel to God with her message.
The piercing 'NO' that shattered the air made Haniel smile evilly. It hadn't helped her when Lauren was in danger. It wouldn't help Uriel either. Haniel could hear the pounding footsteps as she was approached from behind. She swung her sword in an arc slashing through Uriel's throat and around to impale the angel who was bearing down on her.
For a split second she rejoiced in the death. She looked into the eyes of the angel on the end of her sword and fell to her knees. Lauren stared back with wide eyes, clutching the sword that was buried to it's hilt in her stomach.
A choked gurgle issued forth from Lauren's lips as blood surged up her throat. She reached out to Haniel grabbing her robe and pulling her into an embrace.
"Oh God, no. Please no. Lauren." Haniel gasped. She felt Lauren go limp in her arms and held her tighter not wanting to let go. Because if she let go she would have to face what she had done, what she had become.
"God do not let this be true." Haniel prayed as she lifted her head from Lauren's hair. She cradled Lauren's head and peered down into her features. Lauren's lifeless eyes stared back.
Haniel shot to her feet and stumbled back away, unable to breathe, unable to tear her eyes away and unable to die.
The battle around her continued to rage as Haniel stared at Lauren. Haniel sank back down to her knees feeling too weak to stand. She crawled towards Lauren and gripped her hand. She bent her head and prayed. Prayed for death. Prayed for deliverance from this immortality that wasn't worth having. That she was not worthy of having. Haniel pulled the sword from Lauren's body unwilling to look at the symbol of her treachery. She placed her hand over the wound hiding it from her view.
"Please God I do not want this existence. I cannot bear this." She whispered brokenly. "I do not want to live without her." She could hear the battle turning. Those angels that were moments ago being driven back into the garden pushed forward hacking through the intruders. Forcing them back towards the gate. She knew that was her fate as well. She would be exiled. Never allowed to enter heaven again. Lost to Lauren forever. It was more than she could bear.
"Haniel." The voice of God boomed throughout the lower and upper gardens of heaven.
Haniel didn't stand up, didn't even look away from Lauren's face. She wanted her last moments to be Lauren's visage.
"Haniel, you will be rewarded for your service to me." God's voice shook the heavens. "And you shall receive punishment for your betrayal."
Haniel could feel her life force being drained. She leaned down to kiss Lauren's lips. Wanting to feel their softness once before she died. Suddenly, Lauren gasped her eyes opening as more energy flowed into her. She looked around wildly her eyes landing on Haniel who seemed to be changing before her very eyes. Becoming less somehow.
"It is done." God thundered from his throne.
"What's done?" Lauren whispered to Haniel who was still hovering just a breadth away from her lips.
Haniel blinked as tears formed into her eyes and fell. She looked into the empty blackness of Lauren's eyes and felt her tears fall. Realizing even if no one else had that Lauren had been made an angel in Haniel's place.
"I'm human." Haniel whispered in answer.
"What? How?" Lauren asked excitedly as she sat up reaching for Haniel.
Haniel caught her hands and placed kisses on Lauren's palms. Savoring the warm feel of living flesh. "I have been punished and rewarded." Haniel replied as she reached up and brushed a strand of hair out of Lauren's face.
"We can go home, to my home. There's so much I want to show you, to do with you." Lauren said in a rush.
"No, you cannot go Lauren." Haniel said shaking her head as she began to pull away.
"What? Why not?" Lauren asked alarmed. She gripped Haniel's shoulders to keep her with her.
"I was rewarded." Haniel repeated softly.
"I don't understand."
"I destroyed your life so God answered my prayer and gave you mine."
Lauren stared at Haniel for long minutes trying to understand what she was saying. Then it came to her. Those last few shocking remembrances of Haniel killing Uriel then plunging her sword into Lauren.
"No. I won't accept it." Lauren said getting up and raising tear filled eyes to heaven. "NO!" She cried out.
"Lauren, you mustn't . It is the only way." Haniel tried to console her.
"How can you say that. I can't be with you! I don't want to live like this. Not like this." Lauren pleaded.
"Don't you see this is the only chance we have? I have a chance to be absolved Lauren. Forgiven for all of my sins. I can only have that as a human." She pulled Lauren close holding her in her arms for a moment. "I will be allowed back into heaven. I will redeem myself in God's eyes and in yours. I swear I will come back to you" Haniel promised.
Lauren didn't want to let go. She didn't want to accept what Haniel was saying. But she had seen, she had seen what Haniel had become in those last moments. She had seen the rage and the betrayal. Even as she stood there gripping Haniel she could hear the voice of God in her mind. She knew God's wishes, the reason for Haniel's second chance and ultimately Lauren's second chance to be with Haniel. She knew how it must be. "I'll be watching." Lauren promised in a whisper.
Dozens of angels surrounded Haniel and Lauren following God's judgment. Haniel glanced over at the nearest angel and nodded. She pulled away from Lauren and moved towards the gate. At the entrance she stopped and turned to look at Lauren one last time. Burning her image into her mind to hold onto for a lifetime.