a novella by Mardi Ballou
from New Concepts Publishing
Here’s an excerpt -- enjoy!
Celestial Spheres’ Life and Death Transition Central
Office, 2007 C.E.
Despite the perpetually blue sky, rainbows and soothing harp music that formed
the backdrop for the office, the atmosphere inside felt decidedly dark. Apprentice
Transition Angel Second Class Astreluna braced herself for Lecture Number
Forty-Eight, delivered in impassioned tones by Astreluna’s immediate superior,
Since Astreluna had heard the same lecture three times in the past three
moon cycles, she already knew it by heart and could tune out, not focusing
on Venussuna’s words until the older angel came to her concluding words.
“So, Astreluna, I’ll overlook your peculiar ideas one last time and give
you one more chance.”
Thinking the lecture was over, Astreluna grinned at her hopefully. However,
Venussuna had more to say.
“But you’ve got to take the nature of our office seriously and stop giving
people options. Once you arrive, their transition fate is sealed. Their time
on the Earthly plane is over, and your duty is to escort them to the Celestial
Spheres for their next phase. Death cannot claim them if you refuse to escort
them. He’s been complaining to the higher-ups that you’ve ruined several
missions by offering people options.”
“We’re supposed to take them on the transition even if they are young and
still have much to keep them on Earth? That seems wrong.” Astreluna wished
she had the gift of persuasive words, that she could find a way to move Venussuna.
The other woman remained stony faced. When Astreluna started to point out
her excellent reasons for bending the rules each time, the warning look in
Venussana’s eyes convinced her to remain quiet. But, molten moonbeams, it
was just plain wrong to transition people before their time! Death was even
harder to deal with on this subject than Venussuna. Astreluna just had to
change the system.
“You will complete the assignment as I will present it in a short time, or
it will be your last. I am merely waiting for confirmation before I’ll tell
you the exact details. Do you understand?”
Understanding wasn’t the problem. Disagreeing with management was. But Astreluna
figured the only way to bring about the changes she envisioned was to keep
her assignment and rise from her lowly position to one of more authority.
Despite disappointments, Astreluna held on to her natural optimism. She would
take this assignment and try her best to use it as a stepping stone to the
fulfillment of her dreams. She knew, deep down inside, that her instincts
would guide her if only she listened to them with her whole heart.
Dismissed, Astreluna returned to her home cloud to prepare for her next assignment.
Since her arrival in the Celestial Spheres, after a too-short and less than
satisfactory life on Earth, Astreluna had been in search of her niche and
her bliss. With Eternity and all the resources of the supernatural at hand,
she’d expected to at last achieve the success that had eluded her during
her terrestrial life. She’d quickly won her wings, large white and gold feathery
appendages that glowed when she flew. Far from a beauty on Earth, now she
had porcelain skin, sky blue eyes and spun gold hair--not unusual in the
angel population, but still thrilling to her. But in one major area, that
of her heavenly work, Astreluna continued to fail, just as she had on Earth.
She hadn’t needed Venussuna’s reminder to realize the dire consequences she
faced if she didn’t upgrade her performance record quickly.
Astreluna took a few moments to savor the sweetness of flying among white
fluffy clouds in the blue, blue sky. It felt like swimming without having
to remember to breathe or worry about the fit of the bathing suit. But she
couldn’t fully indulge in her distraction with her assignment hanging over
Convinced that her life on Earth would have been better if she could have
postponed death until she’d achieved her dreams, Astreluna had committed
herself to working in the Death sector to ensure that people were not transported
from the Earthly plane before their time. But before she could be in a policy-making
position, she had to work her way up the ranks. Currently she was an Apprentice
Transition Angel Second Class. In reality, this meant she often had to follow
orders she might not agree with--even when her reasons for disagreeing were
excellent, which they always were. As an Apprentice Transition Angel Second
Class, she had to escort people who were transitioning--who died--from Earth
to the Celestial Spheres. She was supposed to welcome them, to ease any fears
they might have and to make the transition as seamless as possible.
Sparing her charges, as she thought of them--allowing them to remain on the
Earthly plane longer--was not supposed to be part of her job description.
She did, however, have the power to allow people summoned after too short
a life (such as she’d experienced) to remain on Earth—though she exceeded
her authority any time she used that power--which she’d done whenever her
charges appealed to her in any way. Actually, so far they’d appealed to her
In fact, after messing up her last two assignments by allowing the charges
she was due to escort to postpone their fate, Astreluna learned she was in
serious danger of permanent reassignment--to the Celestial Spheres’ central
filing division. Having spent too much time in jobs centered on filing on
the Earthly plane, Astreluna resolved to avoid a similar assignment in the
Spheres. Determined to plan strategy, Astreluna settled on her cloud. She
hadn’t been meditating for long when Venussuna summoned her again, “I have
the details of your next assignment.”
Astreluna rushed back to her office, where she found Venussuna looking very
pleased with herself. “Here is your next assignment. I’m going to spend extra
time with you on outlining your specific duties because I want you to get
it right this time. If you make any mistakes, they will be your fault, not
mine. You must, I repeat must, complete the mission assigned, or I will no
longer be able to overlook your … irregularities.”
“Understood.” Knowing Venussana had no sense of humor, Astreluna resisted
Venussuna watched Astreluna very closely as if she suspected the younger
angel had some subterfuge in mind. After several moments of silence, Venussuna
began to speak again. “Your current task is to escort two married couples
from Earth to the Spheres.”
“Two couples? Are they friends or relatives? Are they to die in some sort
Venussuna nodded minutely. “In a manner of speaking. Both couples go on a
weekend excursion to a ski resort. There is a freak storm and avalanche which
traps them in a cave. Alas, rescue will arrive too late to save them.”
Astreluna gasped. “But that’s terrible. They expected to go for an enjoyable
holiday and will instead die a slow painful death.”
Venussuna shook her head. “That kind of thinking is what gets you in trouble.
Astreluna, they will have had their lovely weekends before they are trapped
in the cave. But I will not enter into a discussion with you. You’re to escort
the four of them here, where they’ll be together after their wonderful holiday.
That’s all there is to it.”
Though numerous arguments sprang to mind, Astreluna knew Venussuna wouldn’t
listen, not really. Already trying to steel herself for the chore, Astreluna
asked, “Who are the couples?
“The first are two business people celebrating their first wedding anniversary--Beth
Bartel and Todd Lanigan.”
“Beth and Todd?” Astreluna echoed. “They’ve only been married one year? They’re
probably young and adorable and madly in love.”
“None of that is your concern. They can be cuter than two little puppies
with gift ribbons ‘round their neck—their time is up.” She glared at Astreluna,
who swallowed back her protests.
“Who is the other couple?”
Venussuna looked down at some notes. “Another couple celebrating their wedding
anniversary—their eighteenth. Natalia Semarova and Rafael Volar are both
artists who’ve managed to live together all these years.”
“Artists?” Astreluna adored artists. Her reflexive question had popped out
before she’d thought. She could already, sight unseen, think up dozens of
arguments to spare both these couples. As assignments went, this one would
challenge her--which was probably one of Venussuna’s motivations for giving
it to her. Rambling rainbows, this wasn’t an assignment--it was an ordeal,
Astreluna took a deep breath. She wanted to share her concerns with Venussuna,
maybe get the other angel to be more helpful than she’d ever been before.
“I will find this assignment a huge challenge.”
Venussuna narrowed her eyes. “Are you giving up, Astreluna? Should I bring
in another apprentice to complete this escort?”
That was the last thing Astreluna wanted for many reasons, including that
a request for a substitute would be tallied as a failure and thus allow Venussuna
to transfer her. “Not at all. Just, in light of this being such a challenge
for me, perhaps I should have a strategy before I go to Earth.”
Venussuna nodded approvingly. Astreluna waited to the other angel to offer
to help her come up with this strategy, but Venussuna appeared to be waiting
to hear what Astreluna would say next.
Astreluna took her leave and flew back to her cloud to meditate. And when
she’d come up with a strategy, she returned to explain it to Venussuna.
The senior angel looked up from a file. “So what is your plan?”
Astreluna smiled. “Since I have more than usual advance notice this time,
I will get to know my charges before their fatal accident.”
Venussuna looked puzzled, which didn’t happen often. “Why do you want to
get to know them?”
Astreluna figured that was clear, but she’d explain. “Through familiarity,
I will become immune to any last minute stories or pleas because I’ll know
what to expect.”
“You really think so?” Venussuna looked unconvinced.
Venussana started to say something, then evidently changed her mind and shrugged.
“All right. We’ll give this a try. Though I have my doubts, I grant you leave
to become familiar with the charges before the avalanche. Just remember one
thing, Astreluna. I’ll be watching you--and I won’t be the only one.”
Determined to complete the assignment so she could complete her apprenticeship
and rise in the ranks of Transition Angels, Astreluna set off to San Francisco,
where Beth Bartel and Todd Lanigan lived.
2006 Mardi Ballou