Feb 222014
 

Jonah didn’t know exactly what he expected to see when he stepped from the elevator, but he had a vague sense that it would be something mysterious and otherworldly. A wide-open space full of fog, mist, and lots of whites and light grays, maybe. Somber chant or choral music sung by unseen beings, that sort of thing. Or perhaps green pastures, bubbling brooks, and rainbows in a blue sky . . . the My Little Pony afterlife.

To read Angeling from the beginning, see the table of contents at the Angeling book page.

Which is why he was so shocked by the scene that actually greeted him.

“A mall? Really?” he asked incredulously as his grandfather stepped up beside him. “All that for a shopping mall?”

The elevator dinged as its doors rattled shut behind them.

Indeed, Jonah and his grandfather found themselves standing at the edge of a wide, curved concourse crowded with people of every possible description. The shoppers strolled by carrying bags and packages, glancing curiously at the stores lining the outside wall of the concourse; some sipped drinks, or carried fried food in small cardboard trays. Others lounged against the railing that ran along the inside curve of the concourse, looking out over a vast atrium that echoed with the noise of other shoppers elsewhere in the mall.

The scene could have taken place in any of the malls from back home, except that something felt different about this place . . . like the beefy guy in sunglasses and a t-shirt that read: i went to the realm of the dead and all i got was this lousy t-shirt. (Ironically, he was carrying several very full shopping bags.)

Jonah slowly circled in place, gaping at the storefronts that lined the wall alongside the elevator: Casket&Burial, Pandora’s Boxers, Bed and Bath for the Way Beyond. A blue information kiosk not only displayed a map and store directory on its huge video screen, but the full-size image of a guy in a white tuxedo singing a bluesy tune: “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die,” he crooned.

Cute, thought Jonah. Real cute.

“Not what you expected, huh?” Grandpa Zograffos asked.

“I didn’t expect heaven to be a mall.”

“Heaven? This isn’t heaven, much less Home, which is a better name for it. Wait—what were you expecting heaven to be, anyway?”

Jonah had never really thought about it before. His only ideas about heaven came from television or online. “I don’t know. Fat babies flying through clouds with little golden harps, maybe?”

Angeling SunflowerThat got a snort of laughter. “You do have a small idea of heaven! Well, so did I. But since arriving Home, I’ve catalogued four hundred and ninety different names for it. For instance: The Ultimate Desire of Lovers, Fulfilled to Overflowing; The Splendor of the Truth; The Long Ascent to the Pole of Relative Inaccessibility; The Fountain of Creation; Playground of Artists. . . .”

“Okay—”

“I’m not finished. Some of the most ancient of the Aeloién refer to it as The Empyrean Eternal; others call it The Dormitory of the Beautiful Song, or The Majestic Threefold Seat of Being. Your grandmother sometimes calls it The Wedding Feast of the One Who Ate Death for the Sake of His Bride—a little over the top, but that’s your grandmother; she’s always been a romantic. It’s been called the Festival of the Illuminated Souls, the Littlest Hazelnut, the Great Lake of Beer—ha!”

“Okay, okay, I get it,” Jonah said, waving his hands.

“The place can’t be contained by any single name. In fact, it’s more than a place, which is why Home is the simplest and best name for it.”

“But if this isn’t heaven, what is it?”

“See for yourself,” Grandpa Zograffos said, pointing to the lighted sign above the information kiosk: Welcome to the Have It All Mall. You are on level: 41.

The man in the tuxedo quit singing, letting an unseen piano and bass carry on with long, lazy riffs. “Well, who do we have here?” he said.

“This is Mr. Jonah Phinneas Wilder, lately of blood and bone but now awakening to the Light,” Grandpa Zograffos said, clapping Jonah on the back. “He’s new.”

“New, huh? Well, welcome, kid—welcome to the Have It All Mall.” From his black, gelled-up hair to his polished, black leather shoes, the singer was the picture of suave, Frank Sinatra style. “I’m Mel Morendo, certified G.P.S. agent. Gentle Prodding for Souls . . . getting souls where they need to go. Also, aspiring Broadway singer. Speaking of which, we’ve got a little song to welcome you on board.” He looked off-screen. “Okay, guys, let’s roll out the red carpet for the kid here.”

Jonah leaned over to Grandpa Zograffos. “He’s not going to sing to me, is he?” His mom had once brought him to a restaurant on his birthday, and the entire staff had come out singing to him. When he turned eighteen, he planned to sue the restaurant for post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I’m afraid so,” Grandpa Zograffos whispered back. “It’s kind of a tradition.”

Sure enough, the off-screen band began playing bright, jazzy notes on a piano, with a snare drum, cymbals, and bass setting the beat lightly in the background. Mel began snapping his fingers, and after a few bars, began singing:

Everybody wants to go to heaven
but don’t nobody want to die,
so they aim a little lower,
don’t set their hopes too high.

Well, if heaven seems a little too pricey
and your heart feels a little bit small,
then you’ve come to the right place, my friend—
welcome to the Have It All Mall!

By now, the band and a trio of backup singers had floated into view behind Mel; they improvised an instrumental bridge while Mel snapped his fingers and did a little dance across the map of the mall. A few shoppers who had gathered to watch broke into applause.

“Okay, well that was great—” Jonah said, hoping the show was over.

“Shh!” hissed a handsome man in a dark suit and red tie. “My line’s coming up.”

“Your line? You’re not going to sing too, are you?”

“Second verse, people!” Mel called.

Welcome to the Have It All Mall!

Whatever your heart’s desire,
whatever your wants or wishes,
it’s here for you to acquire—
from aardvarks to zebra fishes!

Now cash don’t pass beyond death’s door
but don’t worry ’bout having no money;
it’s stories they want at every store,
whether tragic or dramatic
or just plain funny.

Hey, people, tell the kid what’s what—
come on, people, tell us what you got!

Different people in the crowd (which was really grooving now) began singing out in response: a woman whose shopping carts looked like she’d just robbed a library, a glamorous magazine-cover model, the red tie man, a handful of teens.

“I’d always wanted a thousand books!”

“Hey, my face is suddenly all good looks!”

“People finally back my ideology!”

“I got an A in advanced biology!”

“See how well I can dance?”

“At last I’ve found true romance!”

“Yeah, but do you have the latest Nintendo?”

“How ’bout a kiss from Mr. Mel Morendo?”

This last line came from one of the backup singers; she pouted when Mel shook his head dolefully, making the crowd laugh. But then he put an arm around her shoulders and sang consolingly: “You’ll always be my friend, though!”

Then he swung around and pointed at one of the trumpet players, who stepped forward for a solo. When the trumpeter finished, everyone cheered, and Mel turned to the crowd and called, “Big finish, now!”

Now what you want is just what you get,
so be sure you want enough;
’cause your heart’s one tricky shopping cart—
you can’t fill it with any old stuff.

So kid, listen close
if you don’t want to be no ghost:
don’t settle for a heart that’s small!
You’ve got to aspire
to move higher and higher—
you gotta heed that Homeward call.

’Cause your heart wants more
than it can find at any store
in this whole entire Mall;
so don’t give it nothing less
than everything—
come on and have it all!

Yeah, your credit line’s unlimited!
Get the best prices of the fall!
Come Home and we’ll throw a party—
come Home and have it all!

The whole crowd sang along, lifting their hands in the air for the big finish.

And then the song was (finally) over. The shoppers gathered their things and dispersed, and the musicians began packing up and drifting off screen.

Mel pulled a white silk handkerchief from his pocket and mopped his brow. “Well, kid, what did you think?”

“I think that if one more person breaks into song, I’ll take it as proof that this is actually hell.”

Mel scowled. “Some people just don’t appreciate musical theater. But hey, don’t let that stop you from asking me for directions—don’t want you getting lost.”

“Come on, Jonah—I want to show you something,” Grandpa Zograffos said, taking Jonah by the elbow and steering him toward the railing. “Thanks, Mel—fantastic as always.”

“You think so?”

“Sure! You should head upmall. We have music in spades back Home, you know.”

Mel waved him away. “Nah. People need me here.”

Grandpa Zograffos waved back. “I think he just likes having his own one-man show,” he murmured to Jonah as they arrived at the railing.

The view from the railing was impressive; this wasn’t some sprawling suburban mall; this was a mall packed into a skyscraper. The levels rose in a long spiral around the atrium, a colorful festival of stores and cafés and kiosks and food courts and entertainment venues. The spiral converged as it rose, each level slightly smaller than the one below. Looking directly across the open space, Jonah couldn’t quite make out the names of the shops on the far side.

Rising through the middle of the atrium was what at first looked like a bright pillar of glass; but then Jonah saw that it was moving—a column of water rushing upward, illuminated from above and undulating lazily from side to side, more like a river . . . a river that, having gotten tired of lying around in its banks, had decided to stand up and take a look around. As he stared at it, he could see dark shapes—large fish, or dolphins?—shooting up through the water.

“What is that?” he asked Grandpa Zograffos.

“That’s the Fountain of Awakening. You can see the lower pool way, way down there, in the Food Court of Last Resort, and it reaches all the way to the upper pool, which you can’t quite see from here. ”

Grandpa Zograffos craned his neck to look upward, and Jonah followed his gaze; the glimmering Fountain rose up and up through the center of the Mall for hundreds of levels,  finally disappearing into a bright, far-off light. Even at this distance, Jonah knew it was the same Light he had turned away from before: he could feel its warmth, and the way it tugged at something inside of him; and even at this distance, he couldn’t look directly into it, for fear of drowning in its flood.

“See those people there?” Grandpa Zograffos asked, pointing at some of the shapes that Jonah had noticed in the Fountain before.

“Those are people?”

“Yeah. Newly deceased people—or newly awakened, is the way we think of them on this side. If your shadowling hadn’t gotten the better of you, you’d have passed the same way. Anyway, they’ll come out at the upper pool, in the middle of the Garden, which is the front lawn, so to speak, of our Home.”

Jonah watched the people moving so easily through the Fountain, and felt a twinge of regret that he’d turned away. If he really had to walk all the way Home, it was going to take forever.

“So, do we really need to get directions?” he asked. “Mel mentioned getting lost, but I don’t see how; it looks like the whole place goes around and around in one long spiral.”

Grandpa Zograffos nodded. “You won’t get lost as long as you stick to the concourse. Where people get lost is in the stores. They walk into a store, find whatever small things they spent their whole lives wanting, and think they’re Home. They end up hanging out someplace small when they could have it all.”

“So, stay out of the stores?”

Grandpa Zograffos shook his head. “No, you might find something you need for your Clarification inside the stores. So go ahead and explore the stores, if you feel so moved; just don’t stay so long that you ghost out.”

Before Jonah could ask more questions, their conversation was interrupted by the sound of a harp.

“Ah, that’s me,” Grandpa Zograffos said, patting the many pockets covering his overalls. “I set the ringtone to Liszt’s Third Consolation for Harp in honor of your small idea of heaven.”

“You have a cell phone?” Jonah asked. “What do you need a cell phone for? Can’t you just, you know, use telepathy or something?”

That was his SciFi channel experience coming in handy again.

“You’re right. You don’t need a cell phone once you’re Home, but this is all being translated for you, remember? Besides, with unlimited ring tones, who wouldn’t want a cell phone? You should hear Beethoven’s latest Symphony for Cells. Magnificent!”

Grandpa Zograffos was pulling an astonishing assortment of items out of his pockets and placing them on a bench by the railing: a wide paintbrush, a harmonica, a pack of gum, several fishing lures, a calculator, a protractor, packets of seeds, aviator goggles, a bunch of colorful handkerchiefs. . . . “Here it is,” he said finally, producing an ultra-thin silver phone. He held up a “just one moment” finger as he answered.

“Cosmas Zograffos here. Hey, Gregor . . . yeah, I got pulled off that to go meet my grandson at the Avenue of Awakenings, but there was a slight hiccup . . . yeah, that. . . .”

Who is it? Jonah mouthed. He had no idea who “Gregor” was, but the interruption was a little annoying. It just seemed like whatever it was couldn’t possibly be more important than Jonah’s death—or awakening, or whatever—which he was itching to get on with.

He stared at the creepy shadowling under his feet, then jumped up and stomped down on it, but the thing wouldn’t be provoked into revealing itself as anything other than an ordinary shadow. Glancing around, Jonah noticed that with the exception of his grandfather, every other person in the Mall was similarly shadowed.

Something that Gregor said made Grandpa Zograffos’s face light up. “Really? Wow, I’d be honored. Yeah. I have a couple other things to take care of first, but I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

Another long pause as Grandpa Zograffos listened.

“Yeah, yeah. Hey, don’t let the pigeon eat the peas. Ha, ha! Okay . . . all right . . . goodbye!”

“Who was that?” Jonah asked as soon as his grandfather had ended the call.

“That was Gregor Mendel—the Gregor Mendel. You know, the nineteenth-century German monk who figured out the basic principles of genetic inheritance. Now he’s the emerging life forms project manager for the latest universe to come online.” Grandpa Zograffos beamed happily. He lowered his voice. “He’s commissioning me to do a fish.”

Jonah stared at his grandfather for a long moment as all of that sank in. “Gregor Mendel wants you to ‘do a fish’?”

“Yes! Said he’d always admired my house painting, and of course you know how much I love fishing. Gregor put two and two together, and—voilà! The fish gig is mine.” He winked. “So to speak. Hope I don’t mess it up, though. It would be pretty embarrassing if it went straight to extinction, wouldn’t it?”

“I guess,” Jonah said, although he had no idea, since he had no previous experience launching a new species.

Grandpa Zograffos sat down on the bench and picked up an army dog tag, letting the small chain run through his fingers as he looked over all the rest of the stuff he’d dumped out of his pockets. “Every time someone calls me, I end up with a mess!”

Jonah sat down next to him. “Grandpa, where’d you get all this stuff?”

“Here and there. They’re scraps of memories, really.” He picked up a ball of purple yarn. “What’s this remind you of?”

“Grandma’s knitting yarn?”

“That’s right. Reminds me of sitting on the green couch watching TV after the dishes were done. You could tell when there was a good part, because the needles would stop clicking.”

The yarn disappeared into a pocket. Then Grandpa Zograffos picked up a paintbrush and waggled it in the air as if he were painting a wall. “This one’s pretty obvious. Nothing beats a high-quality polyester-nylon sashed brush for tight work. Do you know how many houses I touched with a paintbrush over thirty-two years? I never kept track during my blood-and-bone days, but after my awakening I looked it up: six hundred and fifty-two.”

“That’s a lot of houses.”

“Seemed like more. Not bad work, though. I used to grumble about the weather and the wasps, but on a good day, it was like playing with light. You paint the side of a house red, and you’ve changed more than that one wall; you’ve changed the entire landscape. The garden, the giant oak in the backyard, the faces of people looking out the window, the cars passing by with that streak of red reflected in their windows. Even the sky looks just a little different, next to that red wall.”

Jonah picked up a few of the fishing lures—a silver spoon, and a black-and-silver minnow. “I remember these,” he said, thinking of childhood fishing trips with his grandfather.

“You always wanted to use the silver spoon—against my advice.”

“I liked the way it flashed in the water.”

“And then,” Grandpa Zograffos said, chuckling at the memory, “you actually caught something on it, which amazes me to this day—a big old muskie—and I can’t net it because you’re standing on the darn net!” He laughed. “And after the line broke, you looked at me and you said, ‘Well, what now?’ Leave it to a seven-year-old! ‘What now?’ Well, son, nothing now—the darn fish got away!” He laughed some more.

Jonah laughed, too. It was cool, hanging out with his grandfather like this. He’d never had such an easy-going conversation like this with any adult, not even his mom. Maybe it had something to do with being dead.

His grandfather picked up a packet of sunflower seeds. “Now, these—I used to plant sunflowers in the backyard for your mom, when she was little. I’d plant them in a square, see, and if everything worked out—meaning if the deer didn’t eat the plants—by late summer she’d have a little hideaway. Her sunflower house.” He deposited the seeds in a side pocket.

“She never told me about that.”

“Well, your mother is a busy woman. She has a lot on her mind.” He cleared his throat and returned to his task of clearing the bench, quickly pocketing a compass and a pack of cards and an empty medicine bottle. “Speaking of which, I want to go check on your mother before I get started on Gregor’s little ichthyological project. And you need to get going on your journey Home.”

Jonah started. “Wait—I’m going alone?”

Grandpa Zograffos shook his head. “There’s no such thing as ‘alone,’ Jonah, unless you believe the lies of the Shadow.”

“But you’re not going with me.”

“Nope. It’s a rule.” A pair of binoculars, a set of keys, and a wedding band found their way into Grandpa Zograffos’s pockets, and he pointed at a sign posted prominently on the information kiosk: Guardians may not accompany newly awakened souls beyond this point. Thank you for your cooperation. A smaller sign below it read: Warning! Please do not feed the Shadow. “The many circles of the Mall are designed to aid your Clarification; you don’t need my help. I’d only be in the way. You’d always be asking me questions whose answers only you can provide.”

“You keep talking about Clarification—what is that, anyway?” Jonah asked.

“See—another question! All right, don’t scowl; I’m only kidding. Look, Clarification is nothing more than becoming clear, so the Light can pass through you. It’s about sifting through what good things you can hold onto, and what dark things you must release. Once you decide to let the Light pass through you, there will be no place for your shadowling to hide, and it will drown. It’s like Mel said; you need to figure out what you want. Do you want to live in Light or Shadow?”

“Like that’s a hard choice.”

“Really? Well, if the choice is so simple, then why did you turn away from the Light? And why don’t you fall into it now? You could throw yourself into the Fountain this very moment, you know. It’d carry you straight Home, zippity-zip.”

Jonah looked over the railing and licked his lips; it was a long way down, if he fell.

“You see?” Grandpa Zograffos said. “You’re still Shadow-bound. It’s true that you want the Light—you wouldn’t be here otherwise; you’d be in the belly of the dark beast. And yet you can’t quite bring yourself to kill your shadowling. You’re Shadow-haunted and Shadow-hunted, like everyone here. And I could tell you right now exactly why you hold tight to your shadowling, Jonah Phinneas Wilder, because I can see right through you.” The Light in his eyes sparked and flared. “But would it do you any good? No. You’re the one who has to bring your shadowling into the Light, so you can see it for what it is, and seeing it for what it is, let it drown. And for that to happen, I need to get out of the way.”

Jonah looked out over the railing at the crowds of people—small dots, at this distance—making their slow progress along the Mall’s many wide circles. Too bad there weren’t any escalators. Oh yeah, the Fountain’s the escalator—right. He sighed. It was looking to be a long walk. Okay. Whatever. “Grandpa, like I told you, all I want right now is to go home, my home,” he said. “Or, if I have to die, I want to somehow let my mom know I’m all right.”

Grandpa Zograffos nodded. “That’s not a bad way to start, following the things you love from your blood-and-bone days. The love of smaller things may be the seed for something more.” He picked up a lone sunflower seed from the bench and held it out to Jonah, who took it in the palm of his hand. “Here—take this. You can plant it in the Garden when you get Home.”

Jonah fingered the seed, nothing more than a tiny, gray promise of a sunflower, and slipped it into his jeans pocket.

His grandfather held up a single finger. “But wait! There’s more!” He reached into his overalls and produced a golden cell phone similar to his own. “You’ve always wanted a smart phone, right? Well, this is as smart as they come. It’s genius. You can use it to call me or anyone in your contacts list. And if it’s a Shadow emergency, dial ‘zero’ for Soul Support, and they’ll dispatch help.” He handed it to Jonah.

Jonah smiled in surprise, holding the device in his hands. “Thanks, Grandpa,” he said, with genuine gratitude; it made him feel a little bit better about being on his own. He turned the phone over, looking for the power button. It was the size of an ordinary phone, but as thin and light as a credit card, and its smooth golden surface was completely featureless.

“Try imagining a power button, Jonah, and press that.”

Jonah pressed the middle of the phone and the blank surface lit up. Three white, interlocking circles appeared on the screen above the words Welcome to Yarper.

He looked up. “What’s Yarper?”

“Yarper is the universal communications network; everyone uses it around here. So do a few blood-and-bones folk.”

The logo disappeared, replaced by a screen with familiar-looking cell phone options—all part of the translation, Jonah guessed. He clicked on Favorites and the screen filled with little profile pictures: his grandfather, his grandmother, a bunch of people he didn’t recognize—and a horse.

“Um. Grandpa? There’s a horse listed in my contacts?”

“Oh yeah—don’t you recognize Iridius? The angel-horse that carried us on our flight from your shadowling? I suppose you were never properly introduced, we were in such a hurry. Iridius a’ Laamenhi Ocoar’en is one of the family of angels known as the Fenfallini, and he is a good friend of ours.”

Jonah snorted and shook his head in wonder.  “Right, the angel-horse,” he said. “I should have known that angels came in different species.”

“The kinds of angels are endless,” Grandpa Zograffos said, his face brightening. “Besides the Fenfallini, there’s Aeloién, Felox Fera, and Tahn; the little Khy-Jo and the great songmasters, the Whisselfaar. And may all of them watch over you, Jonah, on your journey; and may you hear their song of welcome very soon. I think it’s time for me to fly now.”

And then he spread his arms wide, and to his surprise, Jonah found himself moving easily into his grandfather’s embrace. His pre-accident self would have been downright squirmy, but now he just sighed deeply and soaked up the warmth and strength radiating from his grandfather.

Grandpa Zograffos stepped back and looked at Jonah with kind eyes. “I’ll see you at Home, okay?”

Jonah looked back into those eyes—those blue eyes, dancing with Light—and he could sense that it had made a bridge between them. They were connected, somehow, more deeply than they had been before. Maybe it was true, what his grandfather had said about going Home bringing you closer to the people you loved, rather than farther away.

It took his breath away, so he didn’t say “okay,” but only nodded in reply to his grandfather.

“Now, I’ve been practicing my take-off,” Grandpa Zograffos said, backing away from the railing and rubbing his hands together. “A little room here, please!” he called out, and the passing shoppers made a path for him. Some stopped to watch.

“All right, Jonah. Remember what I said about the Fountain being the quickest way Home? Well, watch and learn.” He turned to the small crowd that had gathered. “Folks, do try this at Home,” he joked, and a few people chuckled. “See what you think of this.”

He ran forward and threw himself into a cartwheel, and another cartwheel followed by a couple of backflips. He was headed straight toward the railing, but he did a handspring off the bench that sent him spinning over it, arcing head-over-heels through empty space; and then he began to fall—

—until the illuminated river that flowed up through the atrium shifted course and caught him, and he plunged through its surface with a splash that showered Jonah good.

The crowd applauded, and Jonah couldn’t help laughing in amazement. As Grandpa Zograffos rose in the Fountain, he shouted, “Ha! Not bad for a guy who died falling off a roof!”

Jonah waved, watching his grandfather grow smaller and smaller, until he finally lost sight of him where the bright water melted into the far-off Light.

Did you like this preview chapter of Angeling? Share it on your social network using the buttons below. This chapter is a work in progress; your constructive comments are more than welcome. See the Angeling book page for more chapters as they are released, or sign up to receive Angeling chapters and book release news by e-mail.
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P.S. Yes, the basic inspiration for the Have It All Mall is Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy. And the Broadway musical scene is inspired by….

 

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