Is this heaven? Is this hell? I had always been a fan of irony, greatly enjoying the concept that nothing was ever as it seemed. The mere possibility that there was something more to life had always intrigued me. But, I never wanted to live a life—a death—of irony.
Seven hundred and eighty-two years had passed since my mortal life ended—or rather, since my mortal life was so barbarically, so cruelly taken away from me. Now, I lived on a planet called Bolok, or heaven, as humans commonly called it. The heaven. The place humanity has dreamt of since the beginning of time. The place humanity still hopes to wind up when their life comes to an end. The place that is the very epitome of all things good, pure, and beautiful.
There are no words in any God-given language to accurately describe the beauty of Bolok and actually do it justice. The most skilled of authors cannot convey it in their literature, the most skilled of artists cannot depict it in their masterpieces, and the most skilled of musicians cannot capture it in their music.
Bolok can only be described as a giant crystal ball, if you will. A world where all is possible. A world consisting of seas of glass, where all the secrets of the universe are contained. When humans die, upon their arrival to this planet, all is revealed to them. They learn of how everything happened from the beginning of creation to the perpetuity of eternity.
Would that make me an alien, being from another planet, or an angel, being in heaven; I didn't know. The only thing I really knew was that I was completely surrounded by happiness, peace, and love…yet, there was an empty longing within me. An agonizing, burning hole inside me that nothing had ever been able to fill.
How is it possible that heaven, the supposed greatest of all places, is such a hell for me? How is it that heaven itself can be hell? For centuries, these questions had weighed on my mind.
I had come to learn that there was a Grand Plan: a reason for everything. Even this, painful as it might be. The truth was that I had never found my true purpose, my place in the universe. My other half, I guess one could call it.
I was killed before I could find mine. I have lived a life of solitude for seven hundred and eighty-two years exactly, and every second that ticks on is that much harder.
Among humans, it is a common misconception that hell is a place of fire and brimstone where the wicked burn for their sins. But the truth is that real hell is far worse than that. You don't have to physically be in hell to be in hell. And, rest assured, I would much rather endure fire and brimstone than face the possibility of spending eternity alone.
It had been promised long ago that everyone would be given their chance to find love in the end. So, those who died before finding someone are given a second chance to return to Earth for a short time to look for that person.
All thoughts ceased as I was suddenly being engulfed in a blinding, brilliant white light and I felt myself being suspended through midair. Feelings of hope, peace, and—dare I say it—even love coursed through me, piercing me through to my very core.
Before I had the time to process what was going on, my eyelids slid shut, the luring depths of unconsciousness claiming me. A strange sensation came over me—a sensation that I was falling through a vortex of some sort. A vortex to another dimension, another world.
That's when I realized…
…my time was here.
And, I was returning to Earth to find the person I was truly meant to be with forever.
I was spinning at what seemed like a million miles an hour, my head in a whole other universe from the rest of my body. The vortex began closing over me and I was instantly racked with agony. A loud, piercing scream rang in my ears; terror flooding my body.
My mind was suddenly being bombarded with millions of muddled, incoherent visions. Nothing made sense. Whatever this was, it was swallowing me whole. Every inch of me was being consumed in its entirety and I had no choice but to lose myself in it. Within moments, I would be destroyed. I was sure of it.
"Abigail Nichols," a familiar voice suddenly called. Cold. Hard. Angry. Venom and hatred dripping from the mere words themselves.
It was then that I realized what was going on. I remembered this. The agony, the screaming, the terror—all of it belonged to me. I was reliving some part of my former life. It was a memory. A memory that I could not quite pinpoint, but one that I scarcely recognized.
Everything was still somewhat distorted. I had a sense of familiarity of it all, but I couldn't quite put my finger on what it was just yet. I could not figure out why I was being forced to live through the brutality of my death again.
"We hereby sentence you to death…" another voice called, pulling me even further into my visions.
"…has ordered your death…"
"…condemn your already damned soul to the very depths of the fiery pits of Hell. May you spend your eternities in the very Hell you so deserve with your betrayal. Lucifer waits with open arms to welcome his newest angel. May God have mercy on your soul…"
Chaos ensued in my mind and I had no means of discerning one voice or face from the other. All of them mingled together to form the commotion swirling about in my mind. I used all of my strength to pick out just one of those voices and put a face to it, one of those faces and put a name to it. I just needed something—anything—to tell me what was happening to me.
Suddenly, an invisible force stabbed through me, making me cry out in pain. "No…"
With the stabs now came the blows of invisible hits and kicks. Heavier invisible forces fell upon me and all I felt was pain. Pain so intense I could make no distinctions as to what the causes were anymore.
The blows continued landing. The burning scorch of fire seared my flesh. The sting of bitter cold bit into me. The constant loss of oxygen. The blade pierced into me. Blood ran down my skin in rivulets. My body convulsed in paroxysms of pain. Bones breaking. Tendons tearing. Muscles ripping themselves apart.
An intense, searing fire began coursing through my veins, pounding in my very blood. It felt like I was literally being incinerated from the inside out, my body completely obliterating itself.
"Oh, God, please help me," I cried out in my agony.
"Yes, cry out. That will do you no good. No one will help you. No God in heaven or hell will ever help you. You are nothing—"
"No." I would not give in.
"—you have no place in this world—"
"No." I insisted harder. I would not give in.
"No one will save you. You are going to die. For nothing. Live for nothing. Become nothing."
"No!" I nearly growled the word, I was so angry.
But, I did not cry. I could not cry. I would never allow myself to cry. Not for the world.
My mind was so filled with the plague and horror of these memories, attempting to sift through each one, to make sense of just one. But as time dragged on, I lost myself more and more, really and truly becoming nothing.
I was just about to give in and accept my fate when the whirlwind of emotions and feelings in my head suddenly stopped, with no warning, no effort.
Everything just stopped. The world stopped. And, I came crashing back to reality.
No pain. No screams. No confusion. Nothing.
The softest of whimpers escaped my lips before I could stop it and my eyes fluttered open. I was lying down on my back—nothing unusual or extraordinary about it—and I was almost numb with the realization that it was done. I was back. I didn't know what to expect or what awaited me upon my return. I didn't really know where to go from here.
I sat up. It seemed like a good start, at least.
Further examination of my surroundings absolutely astounded me. I was lying on a bed that had a dark almost midnight blue comforter draped over it and a mere flip back of an edge revealed identical midnight blue sheets underneath. Shifting myself into a sitting position, I was amazed at how comfortable the bed was. Granted, I had spent most of my life sleeping in the worst of conditions, so anything would have sufficed in comparison to that.
Beside the bed was a dark mahogany nightstand, simple yet elegant in its own way. Intricate carvings ran along the wood down the four columns on each side of the table, and a black marble top decorated the surface.
I rose to my feet. "Wow," I breathed. It was gorgeous.
I touched my fingertips lightly to its surface, gasping in surprise at the cool yet smooth surface of it. I would have expected it to feel differently. My fingers traced down one of the columns, following the shape of those carvings.
Turning slightly to the right, I saw a desk, made of the same mahogany wood, having that same touch of elegance yet simplicity to it. A leather swivel chair was in front of the desk. I sat down in it and then used my feet to swing myself slowly from side-to-side.
Up against the wall opposite my bed was a mahogany dresser with a built-in mirror. I stood up and slowly made my way over to it, almost afraid of what I would see if I looked into that mirror. Dragging my fingertips slowly across the smooth, marble surface, I came to an abrupt stop in front of the mirror. I froze up in astonishment when my soft, almost honey brown eyes met my reflection: (Is that description okay or should I change it? Should the wording be changed?)
Dark auburn tresses cascaded well past my shoulders. It framed my face in a delicate curtain of sunshine with a hue of soft brown. Lightly bronzed skin perfectly complemented that hair, the contrast setting each other off and really bringing out my features. I was wearing a plain white t-shirt, a pair of dark blue jeans, and black boots.
I was in awe at how perfect my body seemed to be. No marks, no cuts, no scratches, no scars. Seemingly perfect. No evidence at all as to how I had died. I was me again.
I held my breath expectantly and my fingers trembled slightly as I lifted my shirt to peer at my stomach. Nothing. The many scars that should have been there were nonexistent. My palm rested on my stomach and I stiffened up, terrified that it would break me in half. I was just waiting for it—for my body to snap in two and my world to shatter once more. It had to happen. I know it did.
I squeezed my eyes tightly shut, expecting my world to come crumbling down all around me. But when I opened them again, all I saw was what had already been there. Me. Alive. Fine.
Perhaps more importantly…I was truly back. Abigail Nichols was back. I couldn't help a small smirk with that realization.
As if reiterating my thoughts, a voice spoke my name from behind me. "Abigail
I started and whipped around anxiously to see who had called my name. "Jaren," I breathed. The word came out more forcefully than I had intended, considering I had been unconsciously holding my breath.
The slightest hint of a smile played on his lips as he realized how much he had startled me. Gorgeous bright blue eyes gazed deeply into mine, as if seeing into the depths of my soul. Intuition and wisdom beyond my own comprehension filled his expression. His face definitely met the qualifications for the face of an angel, no doubt about it. He had dark brown hair, so dark it was almost black. He was wearing as simple and casual an outfit as I was: a dark blue button-down shirt with a plain red t-shirt underneath and a pair of lighter blue jeans.
"You know," I began, once I finished my assessment of him. "…you would think working for the man upstairs, He could afford to put some bells around your necks or something, huh? Couldn't be too big a hassle for the guy, I've gotta say."
"You would think," Jaren said. He had a deep, almost husky voice—one that held the slightest touch of affection and compassion for me. "So, I trust you remember what is going on," he assumed. "What you are doing back. Your purpose."
I allowed myself a slight smile. "Kind of hard to forget, to be honest with you."
"Right," he said, a sense of sarcasm lacing his words. It was not so much out of condescension as it was a challenge to my cockiness. "So you have no questions, then? You have no need for me. I can go."
"Well, a little clue as to where I am might be handy, just a touch," I relented.
"Richardson, Texas," he told me.
"Uh-huh. And, why exactly am I in Richardson, Texas?" I asked. "I lived nowhere near the States in my life. Why the sudden urge to send me here?"
"That is something that I am not at liberty to divulge just yet, I'm afraid. All I can tell you is that there is something here for you."
"You mean, aside from the guy?" I finally asked, matching his earlier sarcasm. "What else could this place possibly have for me?"
"I can't tell you that yet," he repeated, his voice harder for emphasis. "I'm sorry. All I can tell you is there is a reason that you will come to see some day."
"Oh, thank God, and here I was worried that you were going to be all vague about this," I muttered to myself.
He ignored me. "Listen, Abigail, you must understand—"
"Abbie," I corrected right away.
"Abbie," I repeated. "I am no longer a part of that world, Jaren. Times have changed. And I have changed with the times, as you well know. I have seen everything. The inventions, the creations, the evolution of mankind since my time, everything…I have seen it all and I understand it. I am not quite the naïve useless woman you make me out to be. For all the progress that has been made—the modernization—I don't want to be stuck in the past. I won't be. I want to be called Abbie."
"Well, that's your call," he said, with a dismissive wave of his hand, as if paying me no mind.
"Yeah." I chuckled softly. "Smart man. Finally someone who knows what's good for him."
"Is that supposed to be funny?" Jaren asked, not a trace of humor on his face.
"Do you see me laughing?"
He regarded me with a level stare and I smiled broadly in response. "This is hardly a laughing matter, Abbie." He respected my wishes, despite his show of not caring. "You don't have as long on earth as we thought you would."
That caught my attention. My head jerked up. I opened my mouth to protest when he held up a hand to stop me. "You only have six weeks, Abbie." Sympathy for me came through with his words.
"Six weeks," I repeated, suddenly feeling numb again. "I'm supposed to find love in six weeks? That's just impossible, Jaren. That is insanity. Why?" I demanded.
"I think we both know by now that nothing is impossible, Abigail." He used my whole name to really make his point.
I grimaced slightly in irritation. What did I just say? "Perhaps not, but influential as you might be, even you cannot force some poor, random guy to fall in love with me in six weeks. It doesn't work like that."
"This isn't about forcing anyone into anything. You know that," Jaren reprimanded. "This might not be ideal, but if anyone has the means to make someone fall in love with them in six weeks, it's you."
"Lucky me," I muttered.
He approached me and placed a gentle hand on my shoulder. "You ask why this is so…" He hesitated only briefly. "It's the Rujan."
With that one word, I froze. I stopped breathing. My blood ran cold (assuming, of course, that it was still running at all, I wasn't too clear on that concept). If I was numb before, I was dead now. No. Not dead. I was most definitely still alive.
I winced, the mere thought of that word terrifying me to my core.
The Rujan were hell-spawn creatures, so to speak. They appeared to be human, so that they could blend in among humans without creating any suspicion. Only people such as me could see their true form when they chose to reveal it. Their eyes were the feature that gave them away. What should be the whites of their eyes were completely bloodshot—like all the vessels in their eyes had burst—and where the iris and pupil should be was pure white.
The life purpose of the Rujan was servitude and complete submission to Lucifer and his angels. They were his little minions, wired to his bidding and answer his every beckon call. They assisted him in acquiring his new angels, the bringing down of humanity, and most importantly, stopping creatures such as myself—whatever I was—from completing our missions. And even I had to admit, they were doing one hell of a job with that one.
So, it was their job to stop me from finding my guy. In any way possible, using every means available to them. So, come my deadline, if I have no one, my life is theirs. My soul is theirs.
Well, not really theirs. If I failed, I didn't necessarily go to hell so much as completely cease to exist altogether. My body, my soul, my essence—everything—would be completely obliterated. Either way, though, that to me was worse than any other hell imaginable.
I was mortal—a little more durable than humans, sure, but still not quite invincible. So, if I did die again before my time was up, I would lose my chance. I would never be able to return to earth to find love again. It would be truly over. I would spend my eternities alone. Worse, I would spend my eternities not being anything at all. Ever.
"The Rujan…" I choked out, not recognizing my own voice. "I don't—they are…aren't they supposed to be extinct?"
"Yes," Jaren said softly, a twinge of regret seeping into his voice. "They are. They were extinct. We simply underestimated them. Their strength. It doesn't take much for them to bounce back from oblivion, I suppose."
"Right. Not much at all."
"This is exactly why I have been assigned to you, Abbie," Jaren informed me. "To help you. To guide you."
" 'Assigned to me?' " I repeated, appalled by the words. "You make it sound like we haven't known each other for the past few centuries, Jaren."
"Five, to be specific…but, who's counting?" he unnecessarily reminded me.
"So, you go on and find your happily-ever-after and suddenly, what, I'm beneath you? Is that it?" I demanded, taking my fear and anger out on him. "Just because you had your second chance at life and found your love or whatever, now you're too good to talk to me as an equal?"
"Of course not, Abigail," Jaren said gently, tightening his hold on my shoulder comfortingly. "You know better than that. I would never see you as anything less than equal. I chose to do this to help you. You have no idea how hard it's really going to be. I will be here to just help guide you through it, help you make the right decisions."
"Has it ever occurred to you that I don't need your help?" I snapped.
"Has it ever occurred to you that you do need my help and just won't admit it to yourself because you're too stubborn?"
I sighed irritably. "I know I am," I said bitterly. "That's my curse."
"What's your curse?"
"My stubbornness," I informed him. "My independence and utter determination to never ask anyone for help. To do it myself."
"No." Jaren shook his head slightly. "That's your gift. You have no idea how strong that determination has really made you."
"What, strong enough to do everything by myself? Forever? Oh, yeah, sounds great.
You're right. Absolutely no curse there. None at all. I've always refused help and now I will never have it again. No one is going to offer me their hand—not when I keep smacking it away time and time again."
Jaren offered me a small smile. "Abbie, you have smacked my hand away for five centuries now…and I'm still offering it to you. This hand is not ever going anywhere. I won't force it upon you, but it is not my place to take it away either. You can do this on your own if you want, that's fine. I certainly don't recommend it, but that's your right. Or, you can resort to that very difficult, very impossible task of asking for help and look no further. Help is right here."
I breathed a chuckle and shook my head. "God help me."
"God help you, indeed," he reaffirmed.
"Okay, so what do we do?" I changed the subject, hoping my voice sounded as cheery and determined as I intended.
"The Rujan." I couldn't help a small shudder when I said the word. "How exactly do we fight them off or defeat them or whatever my main goal is here?"
"You don't," he corrected. "I do. You have far more important things to be worrying about."
"What?" I demanded. "I'm sorry, what could possibly be more important than saving my life?"
"Oh, I don't know. How about saving your life?" He made no attempts whatsoever to hide his sarcasm. "Which you do by finding your guy and staying out of the action of the good fight, I'm afraid."
"Now," he continued, not giving me the chance to interrupt him again, "there are several more things you need to know. You have watched the earth grow and progress throughout time, yes? You have seen the changes and inventions that, as a human, you never would've dreamed possible. You have seen what mankind alone is capable of."
"You went through the process yourself, Edison, you found out the two thousand ways not to make a light bulb. Why do you ask?"
"Look around you." He made a sweeping gesture with his arm. "No man could have thought of something so exquisite, so extraordinary as this house. No man has the capability to create something such as this."
I gaped for a long moment, as the full impact of his words truly hit me. "Wait a minute. Are you saying that I—?"
He nodded slowly, a smile spreading across his lips. "Yes. You willed this house into existence. I don't know what the human term for it is exactly. But, in layman's terms, you think of something and it appears. It's like you will things into existence."
"I…will things…into existence," I repeated, reeling from what I had done. "Like, anything?"
"No, you can't will anything into existence. If it were that easy, you could will yourself a man and this whole thing wouldn't be necessary."
"I have limitations?"
"You have to have limitations, Abbie, otherwise the whole God concept would be kind of pointless, wouldn't you say? Being omniscient does not necessarily guarantee you omnipotence. The ability of willing things into existence is only given to people like us. We need to be able to get by and getting a job isn't really an option for us. We have more important needs to focus on. So, we can will anything we need—or even want—into existence. We just cannot mess with other people's free will, because that denies them the same opportunities that we had."
"So, pretty much, I have nothing to worry about? The food, the house, the bed, everything. I will it into existence and then what? What do I do? No job, no school, nothing?"
"You have no need to do anything. You have a purpose in being here, Abbie, much like the humans do. Their purpose is to work and learn all that they can. To progress. You have lived your life on this earth already. You have learned all there is to learn—you have done your job. Nothing more is required of you. I suppose if you want a job, you could get one. I'm not saying that you can't. I'm just saying that there would be no point. Your purpose is to find love. Finding that love will be difficult if you have a job and school and other unnecessary stress to worry about."
I began pacing back and forth in order to take this all in. I have no idea how long I was pacing, but after a while, I stopped and asked the obvious. "So, presumably, I get to eat then? And, sleep?" Two of my most treasured past times—I couldn't quite imagine life without them.
He smiled. "All the things you did as a human, you can do now. You don't have to eat or sleep, but they certainly are fine luxuries to have. But, we both understand why we lived in that time and not this time. This is not our time; it was never meant to be our time. We are here for one purpose and one alone. Which reminds me…once you find someone, in order to make it official for both times, you must give him this."
He reached into his pocket and produced a necklace—a long silver chain with a charm about the size of my pinkie nail in the center of it—almost like a diamond but not quite. It was much shinier and definitely more beautiful than a diamond. Further examination told me that this wasn't made of any material even found on earth.
I looked up at Jaren, confused, and he explained it to me. "This pendant is from Bolok. It was created from the Vas Mare."
The Vas Mare was the first sea of knowledge created on Bolok and contained the ability to single-handedly pass the knowledge of the universe on to whoever encountered it if they understood how it worked.
"This is a special glass shard constructed from the Vas Mare," Jaren explained. "It is meant to be given to the man you choose to be with. When it has been decided that you will be together, give this to him. Putting it on will enable him to receive the same knowledge and glory that you have."
"You cannot age; I trust you know that, Abigail," Jaren continued, when I said nothing. "When he wears this necklace, he will be translated. The necessary transformations will take place within him and it will prevent him from aging as well. He will become your equal in every way."
"Oh," was all I could say.
" 'Oh'? What is 'oh?' " he asked.
" 'Oh' is where do I begin? I couldn't find a man in 30 years of life, Jaren. I sincerely doubt that will change in the next six weeks."
"You have me now," he pointed out. "I will help you however I can, Abbie. I will thwart the attempts of the Rujan to stop you and I will work in silence to lead a man towards you. Just trust me, Abbie, and know that I can help you. I will help you."
I nodded, too overwhelmed to challenge him right now.
"If you need me for anything, just will me to be with you and I will have no choice. I was assigned to find you love and I accepted that assignment completely. I have every intention of succeeding."
"And, what if we fail? I mean, I hate to be a pessimist, but what if I don't find anyone?"
"We won't fail. Someone is out there for you, I know it."
I cracked a smile. "No need to be so corny, Jaren; I'm not dying." Yet, I added in my head.
With a slight shake of his head, he was gone and I was completely alone. As alone as I had been for the past almost eight centuries. Wow, I could really get used to this. What's another eight centuries after that? That has certainly be shorter than the next six weeks I had ahead of me.
Wow. I have experienced heaven. I have experienced hell. And, I have experienced earth.
Now I had to repeat the experience all over again from square one. Irony had a twisted sense of humor. My intrigue with the concept was rapidly being replaced with irritation.
And, so it began…