Chapter One

I knew almost immediately that it was him. I could recognize his tall, well built figure from miles away. The sky was painted with soft grey clouds that allowed a little light to break through every so often. Dew was sprinkled on the tops of trees, the light shining through them in a manner that turned the luscious leaves golden. His musty scent drifted on the wind towards me. I stood mesmerized for a moment before I stepped towards him. As I gradually got closer my heart grew faster. Every step I took was like jumping from a cliff. A sudden wave of adrenaline washed over me as soon as my heel touched the ground, fading away just as quickly as it had come about. It was too dark and I was too tired to clearly see his face but I knew what it would look like, it always looked the same when we had these meetings. His bright blue eyes shadowed by his black hair. His mouth would be twisted in a sideways smile, looking at me with his entrancing eyes, daring me to lie to him, taunting my emotions, twisting my heart strings this way and that.

As I approached him cautiously, his figure became larger, long black shadows wrapped themselves around his broad shoulders carefully peeling upwards as I drew closer. The shadows never ceased moving like oil fighting gravity behind his strong physique. Soon I felt my back ache. Just between my shoulder blades I felt a sharp pain, it began to run along the length of my spine. A warm trickle ran down my back and curled itself around my petite frame. My wings were younger than his and the skin around that area had not had time to harden yet. I had only crossed the line a few days ago. My family was still in mourning and I was not to interfere with the natural run of things. I didn't know what would happen if I did but Knysna's voice was so serious when she said it that it must be extremely dangerous.

Knysna was Raphael's (the figure in front of me) sister, she was head of... The female department... I guess. Raphael was an arc angel, he oversaw the entire community, and he was never meant to speak to new angels, but I was 'a special case' in his words, I was never meant to join them so early you see. It all happened twenty years too early, I was meant to stay with mum. I would've gone to college and started a job. I would've met the man of my dreams and crossed peacefully, with no pain or suffering in my sleep. But for some reason this had happened. And here I was. About to find out what I'd wanted to know the answer to since I arrived. Why didn't you stop me?

Raphael stepped towards me and gestured to a narrow pathway to his right. As I stepped in front of him in response, he cringed and I thought I saw a flash of empathy in his eyes. I knew what he was looking at. Small cuts covered my back and shoulders. Some of them deep enough to create a constant trickle of blood down my back.

'Not as bad as last time' I uttered trying to mask the pain in my voice; Raphael was an arc he didn't need to hear my petty complaints. I was sure this is what happened to everyone, apparently not. He traced a cold finger along my spine.

'I suppose this is what happens when you arrive so early. Knysna must not have had enough time to harden the skin for you. Sorry.'

He sounded truly remorseful about what had happened to me. His deep voice slipped through the air like silk, and a strangely calming feeling spread through my body. We walked the next few metres in silence. The sound of dead leaves crunching beneath our feet and my laboured breathing were the only sounds I could hear. I wondered if there was anyone else like me, and if there wasn't, why did the angels save them and not me? Raphael stopped in his tracks and placed his hand on my shoulder. When he spun me around to face him, I wondered if I had spoken aloud because his blue eyes were clouded with concern and flickered as if he were hiding something.

'Azealia, take a seat.' Raphael gestured toward a smooth boulder on the edge of the pathway. I didn't know why I had to sit down. I hadn't done anything, and I wasn't dying. The only thing I could think of was-

'The night you died, you weren't meant to go. But something altered your life path and we - Knysna and I - felt it best to let you pass early.'

'Are there any others, you know...'

'Like you? Yes, there have been three others in the past year.'

'Only three?'

'Yes, this hasn't happened before. The first was a teen male from Australia by the name of Blaine. He was supposed to die of old age, well into his nineties. But something changed his path and he died in a car accident-'

'Wait. His death was accidental?'

'All the others were-'

'Except mine.' I could see my frequent interruptions were beginning to irk him so I sat silently while he explained the other two. We all had a similar story, our paths changed for the worst and so the angels decided we had to leave before something catastrophic happened that they wouldn't be able to stop or prevent.

Dustin was 10 when he drowned in a swimming pool. Raphael told me, had he stayed on earth, he would've been kidnapped and abused before returning to his parents three years later. Before the alteration, he would've lived a long and happy life after only three days with his kidnapper, would've attended therapy and grown up to become one of Spain's best neurologists. It was written that his entrance into the spiritual world would've been at eighty-seven of a heart attack. But after the alteration, Raphael said he would've become something sinister and his death would've been by execution.

Vanessa died of lung cancer aged nineteen. Before the alteration she was destined to help thousands of cancer patients after surviving the illness herself. But her path led to a much darker place before the Arcs decided to remove her.

We spoke for a while longer before Raphael received an urgent call, about what, I didn't know. When he left the sun was hovering just above the horizon sticking to the clouds as it slipped further and further down. I sat for a few more moments soaking up the sunset; it was so beautiful it seemed artificial, like I was staring at a painting. I was procrastinating returning to the safe house, I didn't want the day to end. It meant I was dead one more day, it meant the people I loved had one more day without me, and I knew tomorrow wouldn't be easy for any of them. Tomorrow was my funeral; it was going to be held at the family church at five. I was going to go, just to see who had come and what the service was like. Once I could see nothing but darkness, I extended my translucent wings and kicked off from the ground. My wings caught on the air lifting my body high above the ground, the forest beneath me growing smaller with every flap. The safe house was hidden by an enchanted wall created by the angels to hide things they knew humans would abuse the second they discovered it.

'Ostende mihi temetipsum' Show me thy own self. I hoped the chant would work; my Latin was a little rusty. Within a few moments a rustic brick building began to form below me, I landed in front of the house, landing a little harder than I would have liked. My shins ached as I stepped towards the large wooden doors and knocked. The handle turned almost immediately and a young blond haired girl peeked from around the door, her bright violet eyes were lit as she ran into my arms.

'Lia! Lia! You were gone so long. You okay? Did you have a nice day? I didn't, I had to have a tea party all by myself, and one of those mean boys stole my teddy!'

'Slow down Olivia.' I picked up the five year old and walked into the house. The inside of the safe house was a lot larger than it looked from the outside. I stepped into the smaller living space downstairs; the residents in the house had dubbed this area the "girl's green room" only girls aged thirteen to nineteen were allowed in there. Seeing as no one else was home yet I took Olivia in and we sat on the beanbags near the bookshelf in the corner of the room underneath the curtained window.

'Start again honey, this time take it slowly, like I taught you.' She took a deep breath and exhaled dramatically before speaking again.

'Are you okay? You were gone for a very long time.'

'I'm fine sweetie, I was watching the sunset out by the fairy forest.'

'Oh wow! Did you have a nice day?'

'Yeah, I didn't really do much. How about you? You said you were all alone?'

'Yes! The whole day! And those mean boys,' she pointed her finger at a group of boys standing to my left in the hallway; 'They stole my teddy, and ruined my entire tea party which I had all alone because none of the other big girls would play with me. They're not as nice you Lia. All they do is talk about boring big girl things.'

'What about the other girls your age?'

'They're mean to me. They say mean things.'

'Like what?'

'Do you think I'm ugly Lia?' I was shocked by the question, Olivia was the most beautiful little girl I had seen, when she entered her new life as an angel, and she was made even more beautiful by the constant glow she now possessed. I took her delicate little hands in mine.

'Never. Don't ever let anybody tell you that. You are beautiful. You always will be.'

Her small red lips curled into a smile exhibiting pearly white teeth half the size of mine.

'Will you play tea party with me now?'

'Of course'

I sat on the bench in the bay window of my room watching the sun rise slowly over the plush green foliage. Today was the day; my funeral. I found it ironic how happy everything looked. The earth just went on. Life just went on. So many people's lives were uninterrupted by the factor of my death. I thought back on my life, there must have been nearly a billion deaths in my lifetime, and only four of those made a difference in my life. So many people who left behind the people they loved so many people I didn't even know. I wandered how many of them became angels, if they had funerals or burial ceremonies. How long they were dead before someone realised, if anyone realised. Life was so – my train of thought was interrupted by a loud banging on my door.


'It's Jase.'

'Oh. Come in.' He opened the door slowly and walked towards my bed. His dark brown hair fell in front of his face, covering one of his piercingly blue eyes. His thin lips curled into his usual mischievous smile, sending a swarm of butterflies through my stomach. I smiled my dorky smile and patted the spot on the bed next to me. His arm supported his body just behind my back, the electricity pulsed between his skin and mine, making it hard for me to control any emotions. I remembered the first day I met him, back when we were both still alive, I was doing lighting for some drama exams and his class had been selected to sit in on the exam as an audience. During a break I sat with a group that included him and a few other boys I had met through our school musical. We clicked almost immediately. I felt as if I could let go of everything, like there was no reason for me to hide anything from him. I thought I had gone insane, trusting somebody I'd just met with every part of me. But I did it anyway. I'd told him I had issues, that I was broken, he didn't seem to realise just how honest I was being. When he found the blade in my purse, his face turned cold and his eyes filled with worry, so concerned that he pulled me aside from the group to talk to me. The conversation ended in an embrace that broke the wall I had built to protect myself. From then on he became my rock and I told him everything. Poured out my heart and soul and let him fix me. Soon I was back on my own two feet, allowing him to lean on me when he needed to as well. Five months later I lost him. He committed suicide. That broke me, I couldn't handle it and he was the only thing keeping me together. So after his funeral, I followed in his footsteps. And here we were. Together again like we'd never been separated. Jase interrupted my seemingly endless train of thought once again.

'What you thinking about?'

'I don't know... us.'

'You broke a promise you know.'

'Yes. I'm sorry. I told you I couldn't live without you.'

'You had to stay alive.'

'I don't have to do anything, remember'

He smiled at me and chuckled.

'No, no you don't. You don't have to go to your own funeral alone either.'

He always knew how to cheer me up. Going to my own funeral was not an easy decision and he was the first one there to help me. He had stayed up with me the entire night listening to me arguing with my own ideas. He repositioned his body to face mine and looked at me expectedly.

My words were almost inaudible 'Thank you.'

'It's cool. What time does it start?'

'Five. It's at the family church.'

'Do you want some time alone now?'

'No.' I almost yelled at him as he stood to exit the room. I regretted my tone of voice immediately. I had just given away the one thing I had managed to hide from him the past few days. I was not fine. Things were not okay. I needed him just as much as I always had. Suddenly my wall fell down and salty tears trickled down my cheeks, his thumb catching them before they reached my chin. Holding my face in his hands he pressed his lips to my forehead and ran his fingers through my hair; reassuring me over and over again that it would be okay.

I awoke with my head in Jase's lap his hand was resting in the crevice of my waist. I laid in silence for a moment longer, absorbing the warmth of his body. He ran his hand up the side of my body stroking my cheek with the back of his fingers and speaking as softly and as gently as he could, I suppose as not to startle me.

'We should get ready'

'You let me fall asleep, you don't usually do that'

'I know'


'Quarter to four'

'I'll get dressed'

'Why? It's not like they can see you anyway.'

'I can see me. That matters.'

He suddenly understood and slowly lifted my head from his lap. I sat on the edge of my bed wiping my eyes and running my fingers through my hair. He stood behind me as I looked into the mirror on my bedroom wall. A curious thought crossed my mind.

'Jase, why can I see myself in these mirrors, but not in any outside of the safe house?'

'They're um, magic I guess. Knysna put a spell on them so the angels could still follow their usual "human rituals" she says it helps make the transition easier to deal with.'

He squeezed my hand and walked into the hallway, closing the door gently behind him. I'd never seen him so cautious around me; he was usually a bubbling ball of laughter and jokes. I wondered, as I pulled my summer dress over my head, what he thought about just before he took a fist full of pills. I remembered the night I died like it happened only a moment ago, I was thinking of him that night, and of my best friends, my family, I thought they'd all be better off without having to worry about me all the time. He described feeling numb one night, didn't feel anything, he was terrified of himself. I have never seen him as scared as that night. Petrified to go home, afraid he would hurt himself and not even realise he was doing it. Luckily that night, I managed to talk him out of it, just that once he had another chance, I had another chance with him.

The dress I eventually got into was an open back, full length gown that puffed out in layers from my corseted waist. I slipped on my gloves and answered the knock at the door, I was greeted by a smiling face and the words "you look beautiful".

A river of black clothes and crying faces flowed into the church garden, scattering gradually into different aisles. A chorus of whispers and words of consolation could be heard from the street, turning strange heads that returned to their original positions shaking from side to side and hanging lower than they had been held before. The garden was scattered with cherry blossoms and artificial black rose petals, both were favourites of mine, I knew exactly who was responsible for them. She stood at the front of the service placing something on the table in front of an enlarged recent picture of me. Her long blonde hair danced in the wind, landing at her waist with every break in the wind. Her black summer dress was broken with a lime green ribbon around her waist that tied in a bow at the back. I thought about how well she knew me, she wasn't in black because it was my funeral, she was in black because it was my one of my favourite colours, lime green being the other. Every small detail at the funeral, only I would notice, I knew she had created. My mother had asked her to organise the decoration and some finer details at my funeral in the hospital after I'd been pronounced dead a few hours before. She returned to her seat and the service began. It was a beautiful service, with my good friends Malinda and Braden singing during the prayers, and playing their guitars quietly throughout the rest of the service. My funeral was just how I would've wanted it. So many people arrived that I didn't expect to even bother. People from school who I wasn't sure even liked me. I was happy they were there, even Aiden had come, alone, his respect for me obviously heightened at the news of my death. I wondered if he regretted being so horrible to me, and if not brining his girlfriend, or even showing up at all, was his way of apologising. At the sight of him my parents tensed in their seats, they did not take his harsh words as lightly as I had, I think, in some way they blamed him for my suicide. Not solely, but as a contribution to the cause.

Eleanor stood up and walked toward my smiling face once again, it was nearing the end of the service and she had in her hand a sheet of paper. I was glad she was speaking; I knew she despised the idea of speaking in public, despite her chatty, confident nature around friends, and so it was a great honour that she had put that aside for me. We were best friends after all. She looked out at the crowd and took in a lung full of air, and began her speech.

'We're all here today to mourn the loss of a loving friend, sister and daughter. She was my best friend, someone I could always count on in times of pure joy and when I felt as if the world was going to end.'

I became engrossed in her words, I loved this girl with every inch of my being and I had to hold myself back with every ounce of will power. I wanted to hug her tightly and never let her go, tell her that it was okay, that I was happy. I needed her to know how much she meant to me.

'So today really shouldn't be a time to mourn the loss of a loved one, but to celebrate the life she lived and the wonder and love that she left behind. Azealia was a complex girl, but one thing she never complicated was her utter adoration for all of the people she met. She had a skill for finding the good in people, even though she could rarely see the good in herself. And it's her dedication to putting others before herself that we should remember, not the destructive path it lead her down. She was a beautiful person, and I loved – no – love her more than anything in this world. Thank you.'

Eleanor sat back in her seat, gathering herself while the minister concluded the service. Malinda and Braden got onto stage playing my favourite song as all the guests began to mingle among themselves once more. Eleanor ran off to the side of the stage, I supposed she was feeling ill, I didn't blame her, so did I. I watched her fall to her knees sobbing at the photo she held in her hands, pressing it to her chest every few moments, I imagined putting an arm around her, apologising for everything I had done, for leaving her here to look after herself, to live with only the memory of her best friend. The next thing I heard was Jase's voice yelling after me to stop, to come back. It wasn't safe. She could see me. Who could see me? Wasn't I invisible to the naked human eye? I just wanted to comfort her, make up for the unwanted grief I had caused.

She looked up at me; her eyes grew wider with every blink. Crap. She could see me. But how? Why? What was going on? I could see she was trying to say the same thing, for different reasons obviously. She put a hand over her mouth stifling a shocked scream. I placed my index finger over my pursed lips, urging her to keep it down. I didn't want anyone else to see me, or worse, think she had gone crazy with grief and begun to hallucinate and taken her away from me. Not now. Not again. Not like this. I had so much to explain so much to tell her. I curled the same finger that was placed on my lips asking her to follow me. Had this been anyone but her, she would've run in the other direction, fearful and confused. Luckily, this was her, my best friend, she trusted me; she trusted herself. She hesitantly stood on shaking legs, supporting her like jelly supporting a stone, shaking more and more with each step she took. I offered her my arm to help her until she became steady enough to support herself. Unsure if I was able to hold her, she placed her hand gently on my forearm before letting me support her body weight the rest of the way. We were silent the entire journey, though it lasted only ten minutes. It wasn't an awkward silence, we both had a lot to say, but I was simply enjoying her presence, and her mine. I took her to a clearing in the nearby forest, hoping that Raphael and Knysna wouldn't kill me – metaphorically of course, though I think if they could do it literally, they would – when they found out about this. Knysna had stated very clearly that any human contact was highly dangerous and must be avoided. But Eleanor was my best friend. I didn't care about the consequences and neither did Jase apparently. He was sitting atop a nearby tree, in clear view of Eleanor's human eyes, whether she saw him or not, I wasn't sure, but I don't think either of us really cared.

I sat on the prickly grass, not wanting to levitate the two of us until she was more comfortable with this whole living dead thing. She sat next to me, plucking a few weeds out of the ground before resorting to picking at the grass. She was angry. I hated when she was angry. Then I saw something snap inside her. I prepared for all hell to break loose.

'Did you even think?' Eleanor snapped at me, something she'd never done before. 'Did you even think about anybody else? Your sister, your parents, your friends... me!' I held back tears as she began to let loose, I didn't blame her for this outburst, things hadn't been easy for her, even before I died, but it still hurt, because she was hurting.

'Do you realise the hours I spent going over my last day with you wishing that you were still there. Then I started to believe it was all my fault, that I had missed something or said something. But there was nothing, Azealia, nothing!' She spat the last word through a stream of tears.

'What about the letters El? I told you everything in them darling, you know I'd never leave –'

'Don't "darling" me now Azealia, there was no letter. You didn't even-' she choked on her words taking a deep breath before she continued 'You left all the others something. Even Aiden. But I got – I got nothing Zea. Why didn't you leave me anything?' The sorrow in her voice was so overwhelming it took a while for me to process what she had just said.

'I wrote you six pages El, both sides, it was there with all the others in my room, and I left you my bank card, with the pin, there was only about two hundred or so dollars in there but I knew you needed the money for those tickets you wanted, and they hadn't gone on sale yet so I couldn't buy them and, oh, Eleanor, I'm so sorry. I truly am. Once I had realised what was happening, it was already too late. There was nothing I could do.'

Something rustled in the bushes, startling Eleanor, only to stop a moment later. There was a brief moment of silence before Eleanor stood and started yelling.

'You! All of this was your fault! You made her do this!' so she did see him then. 'She was a mess when you died, cried herself to sleep every night and eventually she drove herself-'

'Insane? Yes, I know. I was there. I saw everything. When she told you I was there, she wasn't crazy Eleanor.' When I looked at him in disbelief he turned to me to explain 'You weren't crazy Azealia. I promise.'

I was confused. I thought he had been a hallucination. My new anti-depressants had caused those all the time. Now we both sat there in confusion so I asked the question that was now on both our minds.

'How is it that Eleanor can see me, and I could see you, but Knysna said humans couldn't see angels?'

He sat just above the ground in front of the two of us and began to explain how humans experiencing grief had the temporary ability to see the angel, or spirit – had the soul decided its place was not among the angels – of the deceased loved one. However, for the soul's safety and that of the spiritual world, the souls appear mostly in dreams, or make the person they appear to believe it as a hallucination. When questioned about the sightings being but only temporary he went on to explain that once a soul touches the soul of a human being (like letting them see their best friend they thought was dead or anything else that would connect souls, even if they weren't formerly acquainted) they are able to see all other souls as well as their first soul permanently. I now understood the risk of human contact, if you didn't know how to prevent your souls from connecting, this person can see an entirely new world, if the entire world could see the spiritual world, it could be used for things far more sinister than communicating with a lost loved one. But I could trust Eleanor and I knew suddenly being able to see the dead wouldn't drive her to insanity. She was strong and one of the most trustworthy people I knew.

We spoke well into the evening, eventually talking about trivial things that didn't mean a thing, just like we used to. All three of us were levitating now, Eleanor was adapting well to the mounds of information we kept throwing at her. Luckily she was always better at Latin than I ever was, so teaching her basic enchantments and protection spells wasn't hard. It was nearing eleven o'clock and Eleanor knew her parents would be concerned about her whereabouts. There had been two suicides in the neighbourhood in two weeks, the one closest to home succeeding the death of a beloved friend; I wouldn't be surprised if they had already contacted the police.

Jase and I got El home within a few moments placing her gently back on the ground – well, as gently as two new angels could – just outside her street. She spun on her heel and wrapped her arms tightly around me.

'Thanks darling' her whispered words lingered in my ear for the remainder of the night, meaning Jase had to bring me back to reality every now and again. He never disturbed my thoughts with words however, he simply touched the tip of my slowly receding wings, reminding me to use them to get us back to the – get us back home. The sight of the safe house was becoming more and more familiar, and soon, I hoped, it would feel as familiar as home. The house was quiet besides the green rooms of the older angels, who were still up chatting and laughing, and would be for another hour or so, before they all became either too weak to stay awake much longer or bored of the conversation. Jase and I slipped into my bedroom. I, too tired and weak for much movement and him, too cautious to stay around me much longer, parted with an embrace at the foot of my bed.

The sheets were cool and the surface soft, holding my fragile body and soothing the recent slashes on my back. I allowed myself to slip into unconsciousness and longed for the day when rest would not be an issue for me any longer. I envied the older angels who only slept out of habit and few things to do rather than out of weakness and utter exhaustion. Raphael told me Knysna still had to rest at least once a week in order for her powers to stay strong enough to work with the living, but he, who only worked with other angels, hadn't slept in years. I thought about my day with Eleanor as my thoughts slowly turned into dreams and hoped that she was doing okay. I thought about my family, and the other friends I'd left behind. I wished I could just go back, just be the old me, the one who made everyone smile and laugh on a daily basis. Now, instead, I brought them grief and suffering, even to those I never thought even cared that much about me. Eleanor had said that the entire year group, as well as my friends from other years were attending my memorial next week Wednesday. I didn't plan on attending in case I accidentally connected with any more grieving souls there, but Eleanor convinced me to attend explaining that they were holding it for me and there were plenty of places I could hide, besides she would feel much better if when they spoke about me looking down on them and listening, and watching, I actually was. This was the last thing I remember thinking about before my mind became a cacophony of colours.