Chapter 1

As soon as he opened his eyes, he knew he was dead. It wasn’t given away by the white expanse that seemed to surround him in every direction, bright yet not glaring. It wasn’t the strange awareness that was overcoming him, telling him things he’d never imagined possible. He just knew. He looked over his body, trying to find something strange about his existence. Everything was fine, he felt fine, he was fine. Except he was dead. 

Abruptly, a strong guilt washed over him. Every lie, every wrong, every tiny thing that he regretted was now all pounding on his mind. It was not that he was a bad man. In fact, as humans go, he was among the best. He was born to a well-to-do family, was left a sizable inheritance, and used that money to support a sister, to start several charitable organizations, and to give himself enough time to volunteer regularly. Even so, he had made mistakes that he regretted. There were things in his life that he felt guilty for. 

His worst regret dealt with how he died. Just the reminder brought tears to his eyes. His chest hurt. He dropped to his knees and cried out uncontrollably. A strange voice came from behind him.

“Hello, brother.”  

He could barely force himself to face the old man who had just appeared before him. He was large, both tall and wide, and he looked joyful yet tired. He wore a strange robe, mostly white but with silver embroidery around the hems, and a cloth draped over his shoulders. Adams opened his mouth to speak, but only a sob came out. The grief that was overtaking him shook him to his core. He fought to control it, to push back this guilt that made him want to stop existing all together. 

“Take your time.” 

Another nugget of knowledge came to Adams: this man was an angel. He wasn’t at all what Adams would expect in an angel. He seemed so normal. However, Adams knew it was true, and in that same moment, he knew he had to make the ultimate decision, what to do with himself in this after-living life.

“I don’t know,” Adams cried. “It’s too difficult.” 

How could he make such a decision so quickly? Every fiber of his guilt told him to end it, to become energy and to combine with all the energy of the universe, where he would feel no guilt, nothing at all. Yet it seemed so final, and he could not bring himself to say it.

“There’s no need to rush to a decision right now. Let’s just talk. My name is Stiggens.” 

Stiggens voice was slow and deep, which seemed to suit his personality well. He was as calm as a gentle breeze, slowly breathing in and out, his whole body seeming to expand and contract. Adams found himself breathing as well, and his reaction was noticed by Stiggens.

“Breath,” Stiggens said. “Breath is something we all have within us. We no longer need it, yet we continue to use it. It allows us to feel closer to Midrealm.”

Midrealm. Adams knew this, too. It was the name for Earth. Well, not really Earth. More like the physical being and matter of the universe that the Earth occupied. The angels lived in a level of Highrealm, where they could exist as energy yet express physical representations of themselves. Adams could almost see it in his mind, yet knew that his expectations were also altering the Realm. It was a dynamic existence formed by the consciousness of all who occupied it. 

He wondered what he could achieve there, the accomplishments that eluded him in life, the people he could help. Yet he had trouble convincing himself that he deserved to live there. As the weight of his guilt pulled down on him, he struggled to fight against it, to regain his composure, and to stand. 

Stiggens waited patiently before speaking.

“Many cannot handle their guilt. They fall to the floor unable to rise, unable to speak, unable to bear it, no matter how long they try. Of those, some wish to return to Midrealm. They wish to return, to somehow right their wrongs, to be purged of their knowledge of all that is, and to start anew.”

“They are reborn?” Adams asked.

“Yes. New bodies, new lives, new memories, new experiences.” Stiggens laughed a little to himself. “They often make the same mistakes, but that is the way things are, and it brings them comfort.” He paused for a long while, waiting for Adams to respond. He became quiet, as if he were thinking about something, and then suddenly began again. “Others who cannot bear the guilt join with the Source. Do you understand the Source yet?”

Adams was able to stand now, though his head was still reeling.

“It’s energy, the web that connects us all.”

Stiggens nodded his head gently, as if moving too quickly would cause him to fall.  

Adams continued, “the Source exists in another level of Highrealm, where the immortals live.”

“Now, now. We are also immortals, in a way. We exist for as long as we see fit. After a time, most angels choose to move on to the Source or be reborn. Those that exist at the Source are not so different, and yet hold more knowledge of the universe and understanding its interconnection with time.”

“What should I do?” Adams asked. 

That coherence of thought that he was so used to was returning to him, much faster than was typical, although Adams had no knowledge of this fact. He fought to maintain it as he pushed the question from his lips.

“I can’t decide that for you,” Stiggens said. “There are many options available to you. You know them just as well as I, isn’t that correct?”

Adams sighed.

“I can become an angel. Is that really true?”

“Of course, Brother. It’s your choice to make. Your guilt will follow you there and will stay with you. But the strong and the selfless sometimes choose to become angels.”

A strange whisper, clear yet silent, snuck into Adams’s ear. It called on him to make a decision, as if it was as clear as day. The guilt still hung over him, threatening to pull him into its clutches at any moment. He struggled to hold onto his footing and to not be overcome with grief. He could not help but wonder if it was even possible to exist with such a feeling always upon him. 

Yet he knew – as he knew he was dead and as he knew Stiggens was an angel – that his place was in Highrealm with the other angels. He knew that he still had work to do.

Adams was given time to settle in once he made his decision. He was given living quarters, which was more like a pocket of space within the Realm. This quarters conformed to his needs and wants, yet it was currently barren and practically empty. It had developed simple architecture like the apartment he had been living in. It was cozy enough, but lonely. 

He could not stand to stay there for long periods of time, and so wandered around trying to find excuses to be busy. He had been told there were many options for work and that at some point, he would have to choose something. He had even tried to learn about them, but none of the information seemed to stick. 

His thoughts often went back to his 10-year-old niece, Illeina, who had been in the same accident he was in. She was not in this realm; he could feel that. He assumed that she had joined with the Source. He often found himself asking whether he should have done the same. Stiggens had told him that he could change his mind. However, it just did not seem right, not yet.

Illeina had just barely turned ten when they died. He had organized a family party for her, renting a gazebo at a public park near where he lived. She loved that park, especially climbing in the network of treehouses that the neighborhood had put together. Adams always ended up climbing after her, bumping his head on doorways and making her laugh at his suffering. At her birthday, she kept glancing at the treehouses, but diligently thanked everyone for coming and for her presents.

His sister had come over to him as everyone ate cake and hugged him tightly.

“Thank you again,” she had said.  

He smiled and squeezed her as he replied. “Of course. She’s my only niece. I have to spoil her.”

“I know work keeps you busy, but you always make time for her.”

“I know she has a big family on your husband’s side, and that means she has quite a few cousins nearby to play with. But she means a lot to me. I probably won’t have kids anytime soon.”

She had laughed at him, tossing him back and forth in her continuing hug. 

“You’ll meet someone someday and maybe even have a daughter of your own. You know I think you’re the most mature and kind person I know.”

It gnawed at him thinking of how much hope she had for her brother, and now here he was, wallowing in guilt while he was supposed to be making a difference. He could not imagine how heartbroken she must have been. Their parents had died several years earlier, and they had no other family left. Now she had lost all that was left: her brother and child.

As he tried to push the thoughts from his mind, he found a bench on a balcony that overlooked a large forest. He had been told that it was not a forest at all; the trees were not trees, but as much created by the community as everything else. It didn’t feel artificial at all. 

There was a scent that he recognized from the hardwood forest that was just beyond the city he lived in. He took Illeina there a few times each summer to camp. Illeina adored being outdoors, and it was often hard for him to keep her on the trails. Camping was a different story, and she complained every year about the small, old tent that they shared. He had promised her that they would go the next summer and buy a new tent together.

Buying that tent for her seemed like such a simple request now, and he wondered how many more forests he could have shown her had he bought one sooner. And he wondered, were there any forests on Earth that compared to this one? 

This forest in the Realm of the Angels was a training ground, where angels spent a large portion of their time when they first arrived. He would train here at some point, once he had chosen what he wanted to do. When he had asked Stiggens what kind of training there would be, Stiggens just smiled in his strange way and told Adams that there was plenty of time.  

The balcony sat near the top of the nearby trees, while other trees towered far above him. Below, he could hear angels talking. There was a loud boom, and then laughter. He wondered if he was hearing training or some kind of competition. He reached his neck out and leaned forward to see, but the foliage was too thick. 

So he just sat back and sighed, looking up into the artificial blueness of the sky dotted with artificial white puffs of clouds that all looked and felt so real that he wished they were anything but. He wished it all felt like a dream, so he could tell himself that he might one day wake up.

“Hello,” a voice said from behind him and his lonely bench. 

He looked back to put a kind face on the voice and returned the greeting.

“You’re still feeling the guilt, aren’t you?” ze said.

Adams was taken aback. The other angels he had met were distant, in order to give him adequate time to process his guilt, or that’s what Stiggens told him. Yet this angel had no qualms with jumping into such a heavy topic.

“How can you tell?” he asked zir.

“You’re sulking. Almost any time I see someone sulking, they’re new and still weighed down.” Ze sat down next to him. “My name is Casey.”

“I go by Adams, my family name.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Adams. Would you prefer I leave you to your sulking?”

Adams sighed and shook his head.

“So, what’s on your mind?” Casey asked.

Casey was incredibly different from the other angels he had met so far. Ze seemed full of life, yet boldly curious. His understanding was that asking a newcomer this kind of question was rare. Others seemed cautiously friendly, as if speaking about it would bring their own guilt to the surface. Casey had no such inhibition, and it was refreshing.

“Besides everything?” he finally replied, and he felt calmed when Casey laughed. “I’ve actually been thinking about my niece, Illeina.”

“You were close?”

“Very close. I loved her as if she was my own.” Adams sighed. “We both died in a motorcycle accident.”

“Was she a child?”

He nodded and replied, “She was only 10 years old.”

“It’s good that she had someone in her life who loved her, but of course, it’s always sad when a child dies.”

Adams put his head in his hands, that overwhelmed feeling starting to creep up from his stomach into his chest.

“There were people who loved you, too, Adams,” Casey continued. “They are in pain, just as you are. You still share that bond. But you can’t fault yourself for something that may have been fated.”

“I’m not sure I believe in fate.”

“Not everything that happens is fate,” Casey explained. “But a very small proportion of events are fated. There are things in this universe that we know will occur. There are prophecies that come and go and fork.”

“Fork?” Adams asked. “What does that mean?”

“Well, prophecy isn’t always as straightforward as ‘this person will create that outcome.’ Sometimes, the way things occur can shape and mold the prophecy, even though the overall form of the prophecy remains the same.”

“Is there some prophecy about my niece?”

“I don’t know, but I’m just trying to say that some things are fated, and if her death was, nothing you could have done would have changed that.” 

This did not soothe Adams at all. In fact, this just made him feel worse. Maybe he should have just told zir to give him some space.

“Thanks for trying,” was all he could bring himself to say.

“I work in the Archive,” Casey said, “so I read and follow the prophecies closely. It just gives me a unique perspective on things, I guess. I didn’t mean to upset you.” 

Ze stood to leave, but Adams took a deep breath.

“It is nice to have someone to talk to,” he said. “Let’s just talk about something else.”

Casey was cautious and hesitated for a long while. Adams watched as ze looked around, as if looking for another reason to leave, before sitting back down. 

Adams was reminded of a time when Illeina was very small, and although she was not loud, she was opinionated. She often would go up to people and ask them questions. His sister would be so embarrassed whenever Illeina did it, but Adams thought it was amazing. Almost everyone Illeina spoke to left the encounter with a genuine smile on their face. 

Even so, one day while her mother was at the doctor, Illeina found her way to a patient’s room. Adams had tried to catch up to her, but couldn’t stop her before she went into the room and up to the woman sitting within.

Illeina asked the woman if she was okay, and the woman responded that her husband had just died. Illeina asked what that meant, and the woman told her that she would never see her husband again. Illeina’s eyes had teared up, and she began crying. She was inconsolable, even after Adams took her from the room and coddled her outside. For a month, Illeina avoided strangers, and then suddenly, her curiosity took over, and she was back to asking questions again.

Something about Casey seemed to spark the same pride he had felt the first time Illeina was back to questioning. It was a strength about her that he had never thought about, to be so resilient after a bad experience. He had often questioned whether all children showed such resilience, but that did not make it any less remarkable to him. 

He sat for a long time with Casey, asking questions about the Realm. It felt good to be interacting with another person, and it was almost enough for him to believe that he could bear this existence.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments