Heaven And Hell

When Laura, aged 15, dies by falling off a cliff, she thinks she will be safe in Heaven.
But Heaven isn't what it seems like, and Hell's just as bad.

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2. "We're All Strangers In This Place."

Images are whirring through my mind like the memory of a camera, until the memories blend together and my eyes flash open. Things are jumping into focus all around me - too quickly for my liking, and lights are popping in my eyes again. But I notice a block of flats that reminds me of home. People hanging around a lamppost. A roadside.

Have I survived? Memories of falling into the sea come back, blazing a haunting image into my mind: the pain of something hitting me in the back of my head; icy water invading my lungs. Tears spring to my eyes again and I sputter water from my mouth. More things hover into my view, turning from an insignificant haze into an off-color, white sky that looks like it has turned slightly sour over the years. But I see no sun; and the light is illuminating people bustling all around me, pushing and shoving, not caring for anyone else. I see graffiti on the side of a house with bricks showering ash and grit onto the uneven walkway; windows that look like they have been shattered by an angry fist. 

This place doesn't look like home.

A supportive hand suddenly shoots behind me and helps me up from my fetal position I realize I am curled in. I turn around defensively to see myself staring into a pair of unfamiliar, deep blue eyes.

I struggle in their iron grasp, as they begin to shout. "Hey! Hey!" the cry, and I cower in fear until I realize that they aren't shouting at me. Their hollers are alerting the entire street, whose inhabitants are turning on the spot, focusing on me. I feel like part of a zoo attraction and it frightens me that I don't recognize a single face in this desolate city center. 

"HEY!" shouts the man, still grasping my arm firmly. "We have a new one! A girl!" I hear more voices but they cloud up my ears and my eyes close. My legs shake, and my gut is twisting into knots, like invisible snakes spearing my insides. Acid is pounding through my veins, making my knees buckle and my body meet the ground.

 

*

 

"Laura ... Laura ... Laura ... It's time to wake up now ..."

My eyes open and everything is distorted, like a mirage. My eyes are adjusting and I feel soft, downy pillows beneath me. I'm lying on a small bed in a vast, circular hallway. The voice that is coaxing me to wake up is soft but confident, smooth but firm. Like you would imagine the snake in Adam and Eve to sound like. Deceptively trusting. 

Pillars are snaking towards the ceiling at intervals around the outer rim of the room, flecked with multi-colors that enrich the paintings of angelic cherubs dancing and poised on the ceiling too, flashing iridescently. Patterns in the marble floor snake and vine in decorative shapes beneath my feet. 

"Laura." 

I look up. A man is stood before me, tall and thin. He wore a royal blue robe that cascaded to the floor in a deep waterfall, gathering protectively around his feet. His face was a mass of tanned wrinkles but he didn't appear aged; merely wise and intelligent, from the way his brown-flecked eyes creased into a knowledgeable smile. His hair fell in a mass of shaggy black waves and he gave off a grand air of someone who liked to be in control.

"Welcome, Laura." He spread his arms in happiness and I shuffled backwards on the bed.

"Who are you?" the words felt like dead weights on my tongue that struggled to be delivered with dignity.

"My name is Lord Guillard Fardhorn, Minister of Heaven," he informed me with diplomacy, smiling. "I mean no harm."

I laugh mockingly, as he graciously bows and looks at me expectantly. "And Heaven is a mass of city streets and graffitied houses like I saw outside, is it?"

He sighs. "Yes."

I smirk again and rise from the bed, but feel a shaking in my ankles that means I need to sit down again.

"Rest," he tells me. I give him a defiant look.

"Where is my mother? Where am I?"

"You are in Heaven," Fardhorn tells me quietly, crossing over to the window and staring out at the deep gray flagstones that decorate the near courtyard.

I laugh again, but uneasily this time. What sort of a man would take a girl into a room and spin her a tale of nonsense? I begin to feel increasingly doubtful about this man's intentions. Where is my mum? Mel? Everyone at my school? I'm not in Heaven, I'm in  a city near home and I'm going to see everyone soon, I tell myself, balling my hands into fists and rubbing my eyes incessantly, as if to scrape away any remains of the events I have just witnessed. 

"You are," he tells me pointedly, slightly more firm this time. "Your mother is back at home, and you are in Heaven."

This time my expression sets into a determined glare. 

"Stop telling me that ... It's not true." I reply incessantly. 

In answer, Fardhorn stares behind me. I whip around warily, my eyes pulled wide in alertness. Who is lurking in the shadows now, ready to grasp me and shout about having 'a new one'? What did that mean? A new what ... resident of this town? I'm going home. Home is where I'm going to be in a few hours. 

Nothing seemed to be hidden menacingly in the shadows, however. 

"No, Laura," Fardhorn crooned sadly. "On your back."

My vision meets a mass of gracious, dewy white, curved in an elegant arc and sprouting from my back. With a flicker of horror I realize that they are pure white wings, downed and soft, fluttering in the breeze coming from the open window where Fardhorn was standing demurely. I choke on my own words and tears spring to my eyes. 

"These are ... wings?" I ask with a twisting of my gut. 

Fardhorn stares at me, almost sadly, and then a smile plays around his lips.

"I'm sorry," he bursts out, wheezing with laughter. "I just had to do that!"

"Do what ...?" I ask uneasily, a burning patch of embarrassment emblazoned on my cheekbones.

"Put the wings on you," he guffaws. "It works every time!"

Anger boils inside me as I see how easily he can stand and laugh at me when I'm in so much confusion. I feel like a simmering kettle left alone, to seethe and writhe with vicious hot water. Any minute now I'm going to rise and lash out at him.

"So these past ten minutes ... you were just meddling with me?" I ask him furiously. "About being in  Heaven, about being someone named Fardhorn when you're really just a stranger?"

Fardhorn's laughter abruptly stopped. He stands upright and fixes me a look of defiance. "We're all strangers in this place." He tells me enigmatically. "And you do not have wings. That's just a myth ... I'll remove them." 

He strides over and unlatches the feathery, wiry wings from my back. I shrink back from his touch and he carries the wings back with him to stand over at the window.

"But you are in Heaven." he tells me. 

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