When I woke in the morning, sunlight was streaming through the tall windows and spilling across the bare pine boards of my room. In the beams of light, dust motes swirled in a frenzied dance. I could smell the briny sea air; recognize the sounds of gulls squawking and the yeasty waves crashing over the rocks. I could see the familiar objects around the room that had become mine. Whoever had been responsible for decorating my bedroom had done so with some idea of its future occupant. It had a girlish charm with its white furniture, iron canopy bed, and rosebud wallpaper. The white dressing table had a floral stencil on its drawers, and there was a rattan rocking chair in one corner. A dainty desk with turned legs stood against a wall beside the bed.

I stretched and felt the crumpled sheets against my skin; their texture still a novelty. Where we came from, there were no textures, no objects. We needed nothing physical to sustain us and so there was nothing. Heaven was not easy to describe. Some humans might catch a glimpse of it on occasion, buried somewhere in the recesses of their unconscious, and wonder briefly what it all meant. Try to imagine an expanse of white, an invisible city, with nothing material to be seen but still the most beautiful sight you could imagine. A sky like liquid gold and rose quartz, a feeling of buoyancy, of weightlessness, seemingly empty but more majestic than the grandest palace on earth. That was the best I could do when trying to describe something as ineffable as my former home. I was not too impressed with human language; it seemed absurdly limited. There was so much that couldn’t be put into words. That was one of the saddest things about people — their most important thoughts and feelings often went unspoken and barely understood.

One of the most frustrating words in the human language, as far as I could tell, was love. So much meaning attached to this one little word. People bandied it about freely, using it to describe their attachments to possessions, pets, vacation destinations, and favorite foods. In the same breath they then applied this word to the person they considered most important in their lives. Wasn’t that insulting? Shouldn’t there be some other term to describe deeper emotion? Humans were so preoccupied with love. They were all desperate to form an attachment to one person they could refer to as their “other half.” It seemed from my reading of literature that being in love meant becoming the beloved’s entire world. The rest of the universe paled into insignificance compared to the lovers. When they were separated, each fell into a melancholy state, and only when they were reunited did their hearts start beating again. Only when they were together could they really see the colors of the world. When they were apart, that color leached away, leaving everything a hazy gray. I lay in bed, wondering about the intensity of this emotion that was so irrational and so irrefutably human. What if a person’s face was so sacred to you it was permanently inscribed in your memory? What if their smell and touch were dearer to you than life itself? Of course, I knew nothing about human love, but the idea had always been intriguing to me. Celestial beings never pretended to understand the intensity of human relationships; but I found it amazing how humans could allow another person to take over their hearts and minds. It was ironic how love could awaken them to the wonders of the universe, while at the same time confine their attention to one another.

The sounds of my brother and sister moving around in the kitchen downstairs broke into my reverie and drew me out of bed. What did my ruminations matter anyway when human love was barred to angels?

I wrapped a cashmere throw around me to keep warm and padded barefoot down the stairs. In the kitchen I was met by the inviting smell of toast and coffee. I was pleased to find myself adjusting to human life — a few weeks ago such smells might have brought on a headache or a wave of nausea. But now I was starting to enjoy the experience. I curled my toes, enjoying the feel of the smooth timber boards underfoot. I didn’t even care when, still only half awake, I clumsily stubbed my toe on the refrigerator. The shooting pain only served to remind me that I was real and that I could feel.

“Good afternoon, Bethany,” said my brother jokingly as he handed me a steaming mug of tea. I held it a fraction too long before putting it down, and it scalded my fingers. Gabriel noticed me flinch, and I saw a frown crinkle his forehead. I was reminded that unlike my two siblings I was not immune to pain.

My physical form had the same vulnerabilities as a human body did, although I was able to self-heal minor injuries like cuts and broken bones. It had been one of Gabriel’s concerns about my being chosen for this in the first place. I knew he saw me as vulnerable and thought the whole mission might prove too dangerous for me. I had been chosen because I was more in tune with the human condition than other angels — I watched over humans, empathized with them, and tried to understand them. I had faith in them and cried tears for them. Perhaps it was because I was young — I had been created only seventeen mortal years ago, which equated to infancy in celestial years. Gabriel and Ivy had been around for centuries; they had fought battles and witnessed human atrocities beyond my imagination. They’d had all of time to acquire strength and power to protect them on earth. They’d both visited earth on a number of missions so they’d had time to adjust to it and were aware of its perils and pitfalls. But I was an angel in the purest, most vulnerable form. I was naive and trusting, young and fragile. I could feel pain because years of wisdom and experience did not protect me from it. It was for this reason that Gabriel wished I had not been chosen, and it was for this reason that I had.

But the final decision hadn’t been up to him; it was up to someone else, someone so supreme even Gabriel didn’t dare argue. He had to resign himself to the fact that there must be a divine reason behind my selection, which was beyond even his understanding.

I sipped tentatively at my tea and smiled at my brother. His expression cleared, and he picked up a box of cereal and scrutinized its label.

“What’ll it be — toast or something called Honey Wheat Flakes?”

“Not the flakes,” I said, wrinkling my nose at the cereal.

Ivy was seated at the table idly buttering a piece of toast. My sister was still trying to develop a taste for food, and I watched her cut her toast into neat little squares, shuffle the pieces around her plate and put them back together like a jigsaw puzzle. I went to sit next to her, inhaling the heady scent of freesia that always seemed to pervade the air around her.

“You look a little pale,” she observed with her usual calm, lifting away a strand of white-blond hair that had fallen over her rain gray eyes. Ivy had become the self-appointed mother hen of our little family.

“It’s nothing,” I replied casually and hesitated before adding, “just a bad dream.” I saw them both stiffen slightly and exchange concerned glances.

“I wouldn’t call that nothing,” Ivy said. “You know we aren’t meant to dream.” Gabriel returned from his position by the window to study my face more closely. He lifted my chin with the tip of his finger. I noticed his frown had returned, shadowing the grave beauty of his face.

“Be careful, Bethany,” he counseled in his now-familiar older brother tone. “Try not to become attached to physical experiences. Exciting as it may seem, remember we are only visitors here. All of this is temporary and sooner or later we will have to return. ..” Seeing my forlorn look made him stop short. When he continued, it was in a lighter voice. “Well, there’s plenty of time before that happens so we can discuss it later.”

It was strange visiting earth with Ivy and Gabriel. They attracted so much attention wherever we went. In his physical form, Gabriel might well have been a classical sculpture come to life. His body was perfectly proportioned and each muscle looked as if it had been sculpted out of the purest marble. His shoulder-length hair was the color of sand and he often wore it pulled back in a loose ponytail. His brow was strong and his nose arrow straight. Today he was wearing faded blue jeans worn through at the knees and a crumpled linen shirt, both of which gave him a disheveled beauty. Gabriel was an archangel and a member of the Holy Seven. Although his clique ranked only second in the divine hierarchy, they were exclusive and had the most interaction with human beings. In fact, they were created to liaise between the Lord and mortals. But at heart Gabriel was a warrior — his celestial name meant “Hero of God”—and it was he who had watched Sodom and Gomorrah burn.

Ivy, on the other hand, was one of the wisest and oldest of our kind, although she didn’t look a day over twenty. She was a seraphim, the order of angels closest to the Lord. In the Kingdom, seraphim had six wings to mark the six days of creation. A gold snake was tattooed on Ivy’s wrist as a mark of her rank. It was said that in battle the seraphim would come forward to spit fire on the earth, but she was one of the gentlest creatures I’d ever met. In her physical form, Ivy looked like a Renaissance Madonna with her swanlike neck and pale oval face. Like Gabriel, she had piercing rain gray eyes. This morning she wore a white flowing dress and gold sandals.

I, on the other hand, was nothing special, just a plain, old transition angel — bottom of the rung. I didn’t mind; it meant I was able to interact with the human spirits that entered the Kingdom. In my physical form, I looked ethereal like my family, except my eyes were as brown as river stones and my chestnut brown hair fell in loose waves down my back. I’d thought that once I was recruited for an earth posting I’d be able to choose my own physical form, but it didn’t work that way. I was created small, fine boned, and not especially tall, with a heart- shaped face, pixielike ears, and skin that was milky pale. Whenever I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the

Вы читаете Halo
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату