The Afterlife

Sacred Calling

It wasn’t often that an angel walked through the afterlife, but when it did all the spirits knew that something important was happening. What they didn’t know, and Caitlyn did, was that a lot of planning went into when the angel was going to visit. There would be several phone calls, which were referred to as ‘Sacred Calling’, files would be passed between the spirit guide and the angel, the route the angel was going to take through the afterlife was planned carefully, and then the angel would enter the afterlife.
Another thing most spirits didn’t know was how much input angels could have in their spirit’s incarnations. Before her first ‘Sacred Calling’, which happened during a time when Caitlyn was manning the reception desk, she didn’t really believe that angels existed. The last thing she expected when she picked up the phone was to hear, “This is Uriel. Can you put me through to Elizabeth, please?”
“I’m afraid Elizabeth is in a meeting right now,” Caitlyn replied, when she finally found her voice. “Can I take a message?”
“You’re new,” Uriel said, and Caitlyn could hear the smile in his voice. “What’s your name?”
“Caitlyn. How did you know I was new?”
“No one new ever expects to answer the phone to an angel, so it always takes them a while to say anything. It doesn’t happen very often and I’m glad that it was finally my turn to ring the newbie.”
Caitlyn raised an eyebrow. “I’m happy to be of service,” she said, attempting to keep the sarcasm out of her voice because she was talking to an angel. “Can I take a message?”
“It depends on whether you can help me or not. I need to check a file on the spirit of Jane Hardy and I think Elizabeth was the last person to have it.”
“She was, but I think it should be back in the cabinet now.” Caitlyn turned and rolled her chair towards the filing cabinet that held all the ‘H’ files. “If you give me a moment I can check for you. Elizabeth probably won’t be too long in her meeting, so if I can’t find it then hopefully I should be able to put you through.”
“That would be perfect.”
Still not quite used to the fact she was talking to an actual angel, Caitlyn pulled out the top drawer of the filing cabinet. With one hand she started checking though the files towards the middle of the drawer.
“How do like training to become a spirit guide?” Uriel asked.
“It’s interesting,” Caitlyn replied. “Although reception duty can be a little boring sometimes.”
“I hope I made your day a little less boring.”
“Yes, you did.”
“Great. Now that you’ve had your first Sacred Calling you can come and meet us.”
Caitlyn stopped checking the files for a moment. “What?” she asked, unable to believe that Uriel had said that she’d be meeting the angels.
Uriel laughed. “I love it when I get that reaction. Spirit guides in training have to meet the angels at some point because there are times when we work together very closely. Usually we leave it until after the first time a new spirit guide has picked up the phone and found that there’s an angel at the other end.”
“Why do you wait?” Caitlyn asked, finally finding the hundreds of files on people with the surname Hardy.
“It’s easier that way. We don’t often come down to the afterlife, it causes too much upheaval for the spirits and some of them can get a little clingy, so it’s better for you to come to us. To be able to come to the angelic realms you have to know that we exist. Hence the phone calls.”
Caitlyn bit on her lip as she finally got to the J. Hardys and wished that there was an easier system for finding files. “I don’t know that you exist though. You’re on the other end of the phone, so you could just be someone pretending to be the angel Uriel. Unless there is some way you can prove your identity through the phone I think I’m going to stick to be slightly skeptical about angels.”
Uriel was silent for a long time, so long that Caitlyn started to think he might have put the phone down on her, until he asked, “Is there a reason you’re skeptical?”
Caitlyn shrugged and then remember she was on the phone. “There no specific reason I’m skeptical. I never believed in the existence of angels when I was alive, probably because I never saw one, so until I do see one I think it’s going to be hard for me to accept that angels do exist.”
“Not everyone needs an angel, Caitlyn.” Uriel sighed. “Some spirits are better off just having their guides to help them, while there are those who probably wouldn’t get through another incarnation without our help. It’s something that you’ll learn in time because you will find spirits who need to be passed on to us.”
“Like Jane Hardy.”
“Poor woman.”
“Why do you say that?”
Caitlyn was still going through the files trying to find Jane Hardy’s file and knew that there would be at least six of them. It helped knowing that Elizabeth was the last person to have had the file last because her name would be on it until someone else picked it up to go through it.
“She’s had a few particularly difficult incarnations, so none of the guides have been able to convince her that she should incarnate again. That’s why she’s been passed on to me.”
“Is there any particular reason why you were chosen to look after Jane Hardy?”
“A spirit looking for redemption is always sent to me if they have trouble.”
Nodding, Caitlyn pulled out the file for Jane Hardy from the cabinet. “Last birth date for this spirit?” she asked.
“The twenty-sixth of February 1971.”
“I have the file right here. How exactly am I meant to get it to you?”
There was a pop and suddenly a man with wings appeared on the other side of the desk, still holding the receiver in his head. “Oops,” he said, smiling.
Caitlyn stared at him for a moment. It was all she could do. Talking to an angel on the phone was entirely different to having one standing right in front of her. He was actually kind of good looking, although she wasn’t sure she should be thinking that about an angel. The red eyes were kind of weird, but logical considering the shimmering scarlet hair and wings.
Finally she said, still speaking into the phone, “I thought you visited rarely.”
As Uriel made his receiver disappear she put hers down, shaking her head at herself. “We walk through rarely. They’re always carefully planned. Spirit guides are a different type of spirit entirely.” He held his hand out. “It’s very nice to meet you, Caitlyn.”
His hand was warm when she took it. Instead of shaking it as she had half expected him to do he lifted it to his lips and kissed it. They were just as warm as his hand. Raising an eyebrow, Caitlyn held the file out to him.
“Thank you, Caitlyn,” Uriel said, taking it. “To be honest I shouldn’t really have done this, but I wanted to be the first one to meet you.”
“Why?”
“New spirit guides are rare. I’m not exaggerating when I say that. A spirit takes a long time to get to the point when it can be a guide, so we have a new one maybe once every two or three centuries and I enjoy being able to greet the newbie first. It must be a couple of millennia since I last got to be the first to meet a newbie.”
“Okay…” Caitlyn tried to think of something she could say in reply, but it was hard to get her head around the idea that Uriel had been alive, if that was what an angel was, for so long. “Two millennia?”
Uriel nodded. “Two millennia really isn’t that long. We keep busy, but newbies are special. They never know what to say.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Are you alive?”
“It depends on your definition of alive. Are you alive?”
“I don’t know. I’m still trying to work out whether I can call myself alive or whether walking dead works better.”
“You think you’re a zombie?”
“How do you know about zombies?”
“I do read.” Uriel tutted. “Angels aren’t illiterate, and you’ll find that we read a lot of Earth fiction. Humans have interesting minds.” He looked at Caitlyn. “We can also use computers, before you ask.”
“I suppose you have to do something with all that time.” She shrugged. “Anyway, I didn’t mean we’re zombies, although I guess we kind of are zombies. I mean we’re not alive and yet we’re still walking and taking.”
“And filing.” He smiled. “You’re not a zombie, Caitlyn. You’re just humans in a different stage of incarnation to the ones that are living on Earth. I’d call it living, but it’s just not living in a human suit.”
Caitlyn thought about what he said for a moment. “Why am I having a conversation with an angel about zombies?” she asked herself.
Uriel laughed. “It’s an interesting conversation to have,” he replied, even though Caitlyn hadn’t expected an answer.
“You must have the same conversations with all the spirit guides when they first take their place. Surely it gets boring.”
“Every spirit is different, so every conversation, even if it is on the same topic as one I’ve had before, is different.” Uriel sat in one of the seats opposite Caitlyn’s desk. “Of course it helps that the world changes, so even a spirit I’ve met several times already can change their point of view, and I think that’s also very interesting – especially as the longer a spirit spends incarnated the more it learns about both the people around them and themselves.” He smiled. “Spirit guides are one type of spirit I most enjoy spending time around, as you…” For a moment he studied her. “Not all spirits will become a guide, no matter how many lives they live, so those who do are special in some way. Each spirit guide is chosen for a different reason, they have strengths that make the spirit council decide to offer them what can be one of the hardest jobs in the afterlife, and sometimes I do feel sorry for all of you.
“Nothing about being a guide is simple.” Uriel looked at Caitlyn, this time with pity in his eyes. “You stay here when other spirits, spirits you will have incarnated with before, move on, live new lives, and follow a path that you can never really step onto again. By becoming a guide you have changed what you will be in the future, as well as in the present, which is something that a guide doesn’t always truly understand before they take the position that they were offered.”
As their eyes met Caitlyn found herself smiling. “Fortunately I have a friend who was determined that I did truly understand what becoming a guide would do to the rest of my…” She searched for the right word, remembering Richard having used it before. “Existence. Being friends with Death wasn’t something I looked for, but it did help when I was asked to become a guide.”
“You’re friends with Death?” Uriel seemed surprised, which was to be expected, but he looked perplexed at the same time. As though he didn’t expect to be surprised. “Sam didn’t mention you, and he would have done if he met you. He knows how important you are to me.” He bit his lip. “Forget that I said that.”
“I’ve seen Richard’s mirror, Uriel, and considering what you are…” She found herself reaching out to squeeze his hand, without really thinking about what she was doing, as that was the sort of thing she’d do for anyone. “You having one isn’t a surprise, but him not mentioning the angels is.” Caitlyn sighed. “Although I guess that’s something he thought I wasn’t ready for, even though he accepted me becoming a spirit guide without arguing as much as I expected him to, for some reason.”
“Sam might have asked him not to.” Uriel brushed a hand through his hair. “I do have a feeling, though, that Richard still doesn’t trust Sam, not after the choice that Sam made.”
“What choice?” Caitlyn asked, wondering if that had something to do with what Richard had said to her when they first met.
“He’d had enough of saying goodbye, so chose to stop getting close to the Deaths, even though it was something he’d done since he awoke.” Uriel shrugged. “I think he hurt too much to carry on, but that didn’t stop him from watching all the Deaths in his mirror, which, to me, was just him being a masochist, and I did try to stop him. Maybe if he’d listened he would have felt ready to talk to one of the Deaths before Richard. Unfortunately it wasn’t until Gabriel convinced him that it was time for them both to move on, or it might have been Sam that convinced Gabe – I’m not entirely certain what happened, because I know the time before that their conversation had ended with Sam screaming at Gabe that he couldn’t possibly understand, and it was a surprise that they actually spoke to each other, let alone made the decision together that it was time for both of them to move on.
“They were right. Neither of them seemed to want to accept that we are, as far as we know, immortal, and we need to do something with the time that we have, even if what we’re doing with it isn’t the reason we exist.” He sighed. “Hekate told me that she thinks we’re tulpas and the more I think about it the more I think she might be right. We woke in what we call the angel’s lounge, Gabriel first, followed by the rest of us, although it wasn’t a quick process, and ever since then we’ve been trying to work out why it happened.”
“You know Hekate?” Caitlyn stared at Uriel. “The old Earth deities are real too?” She shook her head. “I don’t know why, when I’ve just found out that angels exist, I’m surprised that the deities do as well. How about God?”
“According to Hekate he’s just a voice. She thinks it might have something to do with how few people really connect with him, as a deity, rather than anything else, because they all seem to rely on their priests instead, and those priests…” Uriel shook his head. “It’s too easy for them to pretend that they are talking to God, when really they’re making up everything that they’re saying, so God might never be more than a voice on the wind that people hear occasionally.”
“Hekate knows God.” Caitlyn laughed. “I take it Hekate is one of those deities who knows everyone.”
“Pretty much.” Uriel smiled. “We’ve become good friends, now, even though I was scared of her when I first met her. She seemed so knowledgeable and there I am, not even sure that I’m doing the right thing because I have no idea what I am, really, feeling like a total idiot when she’s talking to me about how I might be have woken because of the people that believed in me.” He shook his head. “It was a difficult conversation to have and one I still haven’t shared with all of the others. The only one I felt I could tell, because of the time he was spending with Richard, was Sam, and now Sam wants to meet Hekate, to talk about her idea in more depth, because he thinks it makes a lot of sense.
“She wanted to meet him even before he wanted to meet her, so that isn’t an issue, but I don’t know if it’s a good idea for him to start getting close to the deities as well.” He bit his lip. “I came here thinking that I could act normally, even though I can’t stop thinking about everything, and… Caitlyn, sometimes I can’t help thinking we need more help from you than we can ever give, and yet it’s not something I’ve mentioned to any of the other guides, because I don’t think they’re ready to know that I’m not as certain of the choices that I’ve made as I’ve always seemed to be.”
“Why are you telling me?”
“I wish I knew.” Uriel sighed. “My only theory is that you don’t have any expectations of me, because you didn’t even know that angels were real until I rung you, and that makes me more open.”
Caitlyn smiled. “You obviously need someone to talk to and I don’t mind being that someone, as long as you don’t have a problem with a spirit guide knowing your angelic problems.”
“Of course I don’t mind and the other angels all know that I’m much more likely to talk to you, or one of the deities, than I am to talk to them about whatever my issues are. They might be bothered by it, but they’ve never said anything, so until they do, if they do, I’m going to keep doing what I think is right.” Uriel sighed again and it was then Caitlyn really started to connect with how he was feeling. “You’re much easier to talk to, because we all have our own issues that make talking to each other a chore most of the time. The only one of us who really seems to be friends with all of the angels is Mikhael and I think that’s because he’s different to the rest of us.” He shook his head. “I don’t know how to explain it, but he was the second of us to wake and he seemed to assume automatically that he wasn’t going to be the only one, so he waited for us. Unlike Gabe, who ended up in the afterlife without any idea of what he was, where he was, or even who he was. From what he said I believe he was given his name by one of the spirits he became close to, although he doesn’t talk much about that time. One day he might be ready, but I doubt it, because it was hard for him and in the end he lost everyone he’d become close to before one of the angels stumbled across him.”
“Didn’t he have wings?”
“Our wings didn’t start manifesting until there were ten angels and by that point Gabriel had been awake for nearly a century, without knowing that there were others like him. I’m always glad that I wasn’t the first of us, because I can’t imagine what it must have been like for him, and the spirits he found himself with didn’t truly accept that they were dead, that the time would come when they’d have to move on, in the same way that some spirits even now have difficulty with the idea of this being what death is like.”
Nodding, Caitlyn thought of some of the groups of spirits she’d met in the time she’d been training, who all seemed to think that they were still alive. How could it be death when they were living in houses, and they were feeling emotions, because that was something they didn’t expect, and they were doing the same things they did before they died, including playing games of football at the local sports centre? It was something she couldn’t explain to them, although they had no choice when it was their time to move onto a new life. Then they realised that everything they’d been doing was their way of clinging onto who they were and it was time for them to become someone else, someone new, as well as look back at the lives they had lived before, so they would know what lessons they needed to learn during their next life.
“I’ll be honest, Uriel – I didn’t expect death to be like this either, but I accept that I’m not living.” Caitlyn remembered the first time she’d gone from one part of the afterlife to another, because that was when she realised she had no choice. “Those spirits have never gone from here to the night beach, because they don’t want to believe that they’re dead, that they’ve left Earth behind and they’re somewhere else. While they’re in their town, with the people they were close to during their lives, they can hold onto the belief that they are still alive. It isn’t until they have no other choice that they start thinking that maybe there is something different.”
“Why did you accept that you were dead?”
“Death was the only thing that made sense. I remember going to sleep the last time, knowing that I was close to the end and that I’d done everything I could to prepare my daughters for it, and my granddaughters, although I never doubted that losing me would still hurt. Years ago, when we lost Nathan, it had been a shock. We hadn’t been prepared for his death, but it happened, so we dealt with it the best we could.” Caitlyn glanced down at the desk before looking back at Uriel. “For a while my daughters were angry with me for being able to move on so quickly and I couldn’t seem to explain that I knew some day I would see him again. His death didn’t stop me from caring about him, or realising that marrying him might not have been the best decision I made when I was young and believed marrying him was the right thing to do, and that I was grateful for the chance to be single for the first time in my life. There was so much that they didn’t know about me, as I’d been Mum. I hadn’t talked to them, but I started to after the loss of the man I had been married to for over half my life, because I realised that I was missing out on an important part of our relationship.
“So they came to understand why I could move on. Nathan still meant a lot to me, but I was almost glad that he was gone… and I felt so guilty for that for a long time. At least until my daughters understood that I had made what seemed like the best choice when I was a teenager and it wasn’t until I got older than I started to come to the conclusion that I’d made a mistake. Instead of waiting for love I’d gone with safety.” She shook her head. “I’d never been in love with Nate. He was my best friend and losing him hurt, but it was like losing my arm instead of my heart. As time passed I’d come to love him and I think it was then I knew that there was a difference between being in love and love itself. Love… there are so many types and as I’d never been in love I convinced myself that I was in love with him, because he was in love with me. He always had been. Now that we’ve had a chance to talk about I know that he never felt like he was being short changed, so I must have done something right, even though I was never deliriously happy.”
“Maybe he didn’t expect that from love, because not everyone is deliriously happy when they’re in love with someone. Being in love is something that’s different for everyone, and if his parents had that sort of safe love that doesn’t feel so passionate that might well have been what he expected as well.”
“The reason I chose him was his stability, because that was something I never had when I was younger, even though my parents were passionately in love. Sadly, for me, they were just the type of people who cared more for love than they did for money, so I always felt unbalanced, because they never knew where our next meal was coming from. I never had that problem. Nate was careful with money, and I always kept track of what we were spending to make certain that nothing went out that I didn’t know about, so I had what I’d always craved. It just wasn’t… exciting.”
“Which wasn’t a bad thing,” Uriel said, sounding as though he understood, almost better than Caitlyn had at the time.
“No, it wasn’t. I had no issues with it, while we were together, and then when he died I realised what it was that I’d been missing my whole life, but it wasn’t something I had a chance to think about before. Maybe if I had, if I hadn’t been busying raising our children and looking after him, then I wouldn’t have been as content as I was. When he died I felt old, even though I wasn’t, so I didn’t think about looking for someone else, for that relationship I’d missed out on, because I believed even then that I would be reincarnated.” Caitlyn looked around the office, smiling. “Of course that isn’t something that’s going to happen any time soon, but in time I will live another life, even though, as you said, I’ve stepped onto a different path now.”
“And, of course, you have your time here.” Their eyes met. “It isn’t unusual for two spirits who have never met each other on Earth to meet here and fall in love.”
Caitlyn bit her lip. “You’re talking about Richard.”
Uriel nodded, smiling. “If something does happen between you it’s not something you have to be embarrassed about. Even though I haven’t spent much time with him I like him and he was the right choice. That doesn’t make being Death any easier, it doesn’t make the spirits here any friendlier, but it does mean that he won’t spend as much of his time fighting what he’s become, the way a couple of them have before.”
“Samael walking away made things harder.”
“Yes, it did, and the Council did the best job they could, but they were missing his expertise. He has this ability to be able to look at a spirit and know that they’re meant to be Death.” Uriel sighed. “I do understand why he made the choice he did. Saying goodbye isn’t easy. I’ve done it enough times to know that it doesn’t get any easier, no matter how many times you do it, and Sam’s problem was that he’d get close to a spirit, really close, before they moved on to their next life.”
“Richard said that being Death doesn’t change his path in the same way that being a spirit guide changes mine.”
“You learn much more than Richard will about life during your time as a guide. Being Death he spends most of his time guiding those who weren’t ready to die back here and not much else, because of the position he has been given, as well as looking after the places of death, but none of that is anywhere near as in depth as what you do.” Uriel shrugged. “It’s hard to explain, Caitlyn. He has a job to do, one I know is the hardest in the afterlife, that means he doesn’t spend much time around the other spirits. They’re uncomfortable with him, due to what he is, and I’ve never known a spirit to willingly become friends with Death before – but I think that’s just another sign that you were meant to be a guide. You didn’t see him as his position. You saw him as a person.”
“He is a person.”
“I know that and you know that, but the other spirits don’t seem to think that way. Well the majority of them don’t, even the other guides, although I think part of that is because Richard isn’t exactly approachable when he isn’t working. I think, after Charis left, he promised himself he wasn’t going to get close to someone that might end up leaving behind, and I have no idea how you managed to break through the shields that he threw up around himself.”
“As well as the lies he told me when we first met, when he was trying to get me to walk away.” Caitlyn couldn’t help smiling. “He didn’t want me to try to get close to him, he didn’t want a friend, but I was determined, when he told me he didn’t have anyone, that I was going to be, at the very least, an irritation, until he was forced to give me a chance. Which he did, in the end, even though I think the reason he did was because he wanted to get rid of me. I don’t think he expected to want to become friends with me.”
“From what Sam said Richard didn’t expect to become friends with him either, so it all happened unexpectedly, and yet I still don’t think Richard trusts Sam not to walk away. It doesn’t matter what Sam says, as Richard’s read the journals.”
“Richard told me that Sam’s choice really affected the Death that he walked away from and, honestly, I’m not surprised that Richard is wary. I would be too, if I’d read about how damaging it was to lose the person that Death thought of as his only true friend, especially as Richard already went through that pain when Charis left.” Caitlyn sighed. “When I finally convinced him to tell me about Charis…” She shook her head. “For the first time I could understand why Richard didn’t want to get close to me. I think he was glad when I told him that I’d been asked to become a spirit guide, because it meant that I wouldn’t leave him, even though he did his best to convince me that it wasn’t a job I wanted. He kept reminding me, over and over, that becoming a guide would change everything, for both of us, in such a way that I realised he was scared that if I did take this job I’d walk away, because I’d suddenly realise what he was. As though I didn’t already know that he was Death.”
“Did becoming a spirit guide change the way you saw him?”
“No, not in the slightest. He was my friend long before I was asked to become a guide and nothing anyone here could say would change the way I viewed him, as I already knew how hard it was for him to be Death. They all see Death when they look at him. I see my Richard, a man I care about and feel the irritating urge to look after, even though he keeps trying to convince me that he doesn’t need looking after. Yet he know I’ve seen him when he’s returned from a particularly difficult extraction, so I have an idea of how hard it is for him to bring the spirits back where they belong.”
Uriel smiled. “I went with Sam and Death once, a long time ago, to view an extraction. They were trying to bring a particularly nasty poltergeist here, so he could be… fixed, I guess, although I’m not certain exactly what happens to them once they’ve been handed over to the Council.”
“There’s a group of spirits who work to emotionally ground the spirit, so it can let go of all the anger it felt at being dead, before either being handed over to some specially trained guides who’ll help it to move on to another life or given the waters of Lethe so that it can begin again.”
“You know that because you’re a guide?”
“I passed the information on to Richard and he’s put it in his journal. He thinks it’s important that we record as much as we can for the other Deaths, even though he promised Charis he would stay on to train his successor, because he isn’t certain that the Council will let him. Now that I know about Samael I can’t help wondering if he thinks the Council will expect the angel to train them instead of Death.”
“Sam used to, before he walked away, and when that happened things changed, more than he expected them to. He seemed to think that the Council would ask the Death to stay on, in order to train his successor, but it didn’t happen. That Death, the one that Sam found himself getting too close to, chose to move on as soon as the next Death was chosen, because he couldn’t stay in the afterlife any longer. I’m not certain why Sam was surprised, as the Death had felt the same way he had, and I wish I’d have known what was going through Sam’s head, because I would have told him that it didn’t matter to us that he was falling in love with one of the spirits of the afterlife.” Uriel shook his head. “I actually think it scared him when he realised how he felt and that fear gave him a reason to take a step back, at the very least, but once he did he seemed to get this idea in his head that we were all judging him.”
“Were you?”
“No, and there were only two of us that realised what the issue was. Even though they’re my siblings we’re not really all that close. Sam spent most of his time with the Deaths, so I only really saw him when he occasionally returned to talk to Mikhael, which didn’t happen as often as Mikhael would have liked. He realised quite early on that Sam shouldn’t have been so focused on the Deaths, but needed to have other people there to support him, and if he’d have listened things might have been very different, especially as Mikhael tried to tell him more than once that the angels didn’t care if he’d fallen in love with one of the Deaths.”
“How did you find out?”
“Mikhael and I talked about it when Sam locked himself in his room for a week, because we both knew that something had gone very wrong then, but Sam had never been the sort of person to open up about what he was feeling. Especially not as he was certain that nothing he said would be right. He didn’t understand that we empathised with him. I can’t help wondering if he wanted us to be angry with him, to give him another reason to stay away, and if he didn’t say anything he could keep believing that he was right about us.” Uriel shrugged. “We may be angels, Caitlyn, but we all have our own problems, and the last thing we are is perfect, even though that seems to be how we’re viewed.”
“Even if you’d have known why you woke I could understand you having issues, because you’re immortal, some of you chose to connect with the spirits of the afterlife, and, no matter how much you want to be perfect, I can’t imagine that being in your position makes it easy.” Caitlyn smiled. “Not knowing makes things harder, as you’re always guessing. There is no one there to tell you what you should be doing, if the choices you made in the early years are were right, and I think that is going to make it easier for me to think of you as a friend, Uriel. If I’d have always thought of you as one of the angels I read about, as one of God’s messengers, it would have been much harder.”
“What makes you think I want a friend?”
“Everyone wants a friend. They may not always act like they do, they may do everything they can to convince themselves and everyone around them that they’re fine alone, but everyone wants someone they can talk to, someone they can trust with their secrets, and someone they can really open up to when they’re having a particularly bad day.”
“I have that in Hades.”
For a moment Caitlyn wasn’t sure what to say. “You’re friends with Hades?”
“Since the day I wandered into the Greek afterlife.” Uriel grinned. “Hades is a good person. He’s just very busy and keeps telling me that I need other friends. Even though he does his best to be there for me he has a wife, and children, and races to help guide.”
“Races?” Caitlyn bit her lip. “Is that something I should ignore, Uriel, considering what I am?”
Uriel shook his head. “No, not considering that. If it was anyone other than you I think they’d be better off not knowing, but you’re special, and I think you’re going to learn more than you really need to know about the multiverse.” He reached out and took hold of her hand, gently squeezing. “It isn’t often that I come across someone like you, someone I really feel I can talk to about anything at all, and I felt that from the moment I first appeared, but I was half expecting it. After I was asked to watch you, by the other spirit guides and by the Council, I realised that you were different from the others, and then you proved that by becoming friends with Death.” He shook his head. “I don’t think I’m making a lot of sense. Every single spirit guide is special, otherwise they wouldn’t be asked to do the job. This was your third chance – if something had happened to make the Council think that you shouldn’t become a guide this time then it would never have happened.
“When I first saw you I knew that you were the right choice. I understood that you had made a difficult decision when you married Nathan, one that was based on both fear and logic, and if you could do that, during your incarnation on Earth, then it was your time to be a guide. Even though you wanted love you chose stability, knowing that love isn’t always the answer.”
Caitlyn shook her head. “I’m not so sure that I knew that. Not even when Nate died I’m not sure I understood why I’d gone for stability when I could have…” She thought of the man she had been certain she had loved, the one who had made bad choices more than once, the one she’d known was not the right person for her to marry no matter what she felt for him. “For a little while I thought I’d chosen Nate because I was grieving, but I wasn’t. That was something I’d already done, because I’d already known what I was going to do before the accident happened, and that meant I’d already gone through the process of saying goodbye to the man I loved. He was too like my father for me to seriously think about anything more than a fling, if I was the sort of person to have a fling, but I wasn’t, so I moved on. I knew that Nate, even if I didn’t love him, was someone I could love in the future, and right then stability was much more important to me than love. Would I have made a different choice if I knew in the future I would regret not choosing love?”
“No, you wouldn’t.” Uriel’s certainty surprised her. “Marriage, for you, was never about love.”
Caitlyn thought about what Uriel had said, looking back at the choices she had made when she was old enough to be making them. He was right that her marriage had never been about love, but she wasn’t certain that it had never been that way, and yet she remembered thinking, when she was about six, that she would never marry for love. It had been something she’d been so sure about then, as she sat in bed listening to her parents argue once again about what step they should take next, because they were out of money again and it seemed unlikely that her father would be able to find work for at least another couple of months.
“You might be right,” she said, even though she didn’t want him to be. “I was happy with Nate. He never made me unhappy, although we didn’t seem to have much in common, and he never had any issues with us each doing our own thing. We’d come together at night to talk about what we’d be doing, normally when we were having dinner, which was always nice, but it was almost as though we weren’t together, really.” Caitlyn bit her lip. “Should I be a spirit guide when I still don’t know why I made the decisions that I did?”
“Being a guide isn’t about being perfect or knowing everything, anymore than being an angel is.” Uriel smiled. “It’s about being able to help the other spirits in the afterlife with their own decisions and you, by admitting that you aren’t sure, means that we have picked the right person. Not that I had any worries. There is no wrong answer, though, so if you’d have come to the conclusion that you knew why you married Nathan it would have been fine as well. Everything you do is about learning, even being a guide.”
Nodding, Caitlyn tried to shake off the feeling that she was an impostor, that she shouldn’t be a guide, because she knew she wouldn’t have been asked to take the position if the Council hadn’t been certain. She hoped. “What about angels?” she asked, needing to change the subject.
Uriel shook his head. “I wish I knew. We’re different to the other spirits here, because we don’t live lives, as such, but we can spend time on Earth if we wish to. People can see us and interact with us, although our wings disappear, which is weird.”
“Can you fly?”
“I’ve never tried to fly, but the others have and some of their experiments have worked better than others. Honestly I don’t think we have wings because we’re meant to fly, especially if Hekate is right and we are tulpas, as it means they exist due to the belief of the people who made us exist. We were written with wings, so we have wings.” He shrugged. “Sometimes I wish we didn’t have them. It marks us as being different, so everyone knows what we are when we step into the afterlife, which is why we have to plan our walk throughs. None of them know that I’m trying to work out why I exist. They simply look at me and see an angel, someone who might be able to help guide them, help with their problems, so they flock to me, hoping that I’ll be able to give them what they want. Yet they don’t do the same with you.”
“We’re spirits like them, Uriel, so we aren’t different enough. When they see you they see something more.” Caitlyn shrugged. “Maybe you are meant to work more closely with us, in order for us to be able to help more of the spirits of the afterlife, but for a lot of them it’s simple – they come here for a rest before they move onto their next life, normally with the same spirits as they incarnated with before, and they don’t need us. Not in the way that some do.”
“Like the spirits that chose to stay on Earth.”
“Exactly. They need guidance and a lot of the time they don’t want it. When they see one of us they know why we’re there, so they shut down. None of them want to talk about the choices that they made, or why they made those choices, or what happens in the future.” Caitlyn sighed. “I went with Elizabeth when she was visiting one of them, as she was chosen to help one of the more recent arrivals, and it’s not a job I’m looking forward to. Each one of them is kept locked in a room, which is comfortable enough, until they accept that their duty is to live another life… even though the people they stayed on Earth for probably moved on centuries ago.”
“Poltergeists aren’t easy to catch.”
“They also aren’t something that can be made a priority. Richard spends most of his time helping those spirits who might become poltergeists chose to come to the afterlife and those that walk away from him tear him apart.” Caitlyn had helped him while he sobbed over those failures, as he called them, so she knew how hard he took it. “I keep telling him he isn’t perfect, that he can’t expect to bring them all back, but he knows what they’ll become and that some future Death will be sent to gather them once they become such a problem that an exorcist is called in.” She ran a hand through her hair. “Even though he isn’t supposed to he often goes back to talk to them, in the hope that they’ve had time to think about the decision that they made, but he often comes away hurting more than he did when he went the first time. A couple of times I’ve tried to convince him not to, knowing how hard it is for him, but nothing I say works, and I guess that’s what makes him a good Death.”
“He cares and that’s what makes it hard, Caitlyn, but if he didn’t care then he wouldn’t have been the right person for the position. Other Deaths haven’t cared as much as he does, they’ve simply done the job because it was what was asked of them.” Uriel bit his lip. “Richard is the sort of person who would visit the spirits he brought here.”
“I know. That’s why I haven’t told him where they’re kept, even though I hate keeping it a secret from him. I just don’t want him to pile more pressure on himself when he already has enough to deal with.”
“You’ve made the right choice, but it is something you might want to tell Sam when you meet him.”
“What makes you think I’m going to meet Samael?”
“Caitlyn, you spend hours of your time with Death. Eventually it was inevitable that you were going to meet him and I can’t work out why…” Uriel shook his head. “He didn’t, did he?”
“Tell me what you’re thinking.”
“Sam and I have been getting closer recently. Reconnecting with Death, getting to know Richard, has changed him, so he’s more open to having friends who aren’t Death, like me and Gabe. One thing I think he’s beginning to pick up on are my feelings for him…” Uriel looked at Caitlyn and she could see the worry in his eyes until she smiled. “I’ve been in love with Sam for decades, maybe as long as centuries, even when he was being stupid, and now that he’s had a chance to get to know me properly I think he’s realised they exist.”
“And you’re wondering if he kept away when I was at Richard’s because he knew that you were looking forward to being the first of the angels to meet the new spirit guide.”
“It’s the sort of thing he’d do, especially as I’d told him about you before, and Richard wouldn’t have introduced you to Sam until he was certain that you really did want to be friends with him. When he did finally tell Sam I know Sam would have put two and two together, even though there was a chance that you were a different Caitlyn who’d become a spirit guide.” Uriel smiled. “So he’s going to stay away until I go back and say that I finally met you, which gives him the freedom to do the same thing, which is something he’s probably wanted to do for as long as I have. Especially as you are friends with Richard.”
“How long have Richard and Samael known each other?”
“About ten years, maybe a little less, since about three months after Charis left the afterlife for good. Richard was focusing too much on the job and Sam was worried about him, but he wouldn’t have made the move if it hadn’t been for Gabe promising that he would try to move on as well. To me it seemed as though Sam only went down to meet Richard because he thought it would force Gabe to keep his promise and I know that was something we all wanted, even though we didn’t say anything, as we didn’t want to make things harder for Sam.” Uriel shook his head. “Sam’s not stupid, so he knew how we felt. I could see it in his eyes when he told me he was going to see Richard. When he did I was ready for him to come back shattered, the same way he had been when he walked away, as I wasn’t certain that Richard would give him a chance, but fortunately he did.
“Occasionally I wonder if it would have been better for Richard to have said no, because Sam is Sam. There’s really no other way of putting it. Mikhael and I warned Sam about getting too close too quickly, in case something happens, and I think he did listen, but it hasn’t changed things. Sam sees Richard as his best friend, even though the day will come when Richard moves on, and I don’t know how Sam will take that. Sam gets close to people much faster than I do.”
“That’s something I’ve thought about,” Caitlyn admitted. “I’m going to be here longer than Richard, even though he’s Death, and losing him…” She shook her head. “When I first realised I was dead I had no idea that I’d be able to make new friends here or that I’d do something as stupid as fall in love with someone who will incarnate again without me, but that’s exactly what’s happened. Richard doesn’t know and I don’t plan on telling him, because I don’t want to make things harder for him, especially after what happened with Charis. He’s just going to worry when there’s nothing he can do about anything and it’s not as though I don’t have other friends.”
“Friends that aren’t Richard and never will be.”
Caitlyn nodded. “Sadly, yes, but this isn’t something that I should be worrying about now. Richard is going to be here for at least another two or three hundred years and I’m going to make the most of that time, even though it doesn’t really feel that long now, not when I know how long I’m going to be a spirit guide.” She sighed. “All I could think, to begin with, was that I was dead. I couldn’t work out how I could fall in love when I was dead, until I realised that really the only thing that had changed was my lack of body, which wasn’t even that much of a problem here, because it’s the afterlife.”
“Being non corporeal is really only a problem when you’re on Earth and even then it can be dealt with. The few times I’ve gone there without my body have been interesting, actually, because I didn’t realise how much freedom you have, but at the same time there are some strange things that you can’t do if you don’t have the energy or just can’t do at all.”
“I don’t go back very often, and the only reason I did the first time was because I promised my granddaughter that I’d go back if there was an afterlife. What I didn’t realise was that I’d have to fill in a form, wait for the Council to give me permission, and then go down with someone, to make certain that I came back again. They didn’t have any idea that by then I’d already met Richard and I knew how difficult his job was, so there was no chance of me staying there, even though a part of me really wanted to.” Caitlyn smiled. “I think it’s that part of people that makes them cling onto their pasts the way they do, but for me it’s much smaller. Being here is fascinating and even before I became a guide I wanted to learn more about the afterlife. Richard’s promised me he’ll take me to all of the places of Death, because that is something I don’t want to miss, even though the time will come when I have to forget it all and live another life.”
“You’ll never forget it now. Being a guide does change you and your path, so even when you’re living a new life you’ll remember being here.” Uriel studied her. “How much did Richard tell you about the changes?”
“Probably more than he should have done, because it’s not something that the other guides have told me, and I have a feeling they might not know. I half want to tell them, but I don’t want to be the one to make them feel they’ve made a mistake by becoming a guide, as they won’t be incarnating on Earth again once they’ve finished their time helping the spirits here.” Caitlyn bit her lip. “Richard said that’s why they are so few spirit guides chosen, in comparison to how many normal spirits there are, and sometimes a number of us are chosen at the same time, but he doesn’t know if that’s something that will happen now or not. He just wanted me to be ready in case it did happen.”
“He’s right that it does sometimes happen and it all depends on who dies when, what stage they’re at, and if they act right when they find themselves here.”
“I know I didn’t act right.”
Uriel laughed. “You went exploring, Caitlyn. If that wasn’t a sign that you were ready to be a guide I don’t know what it. Even though you weren’t entirely certain where you were you didn’t sit and cry or act as though there was something wrong – you just started wandering, because you wanted to know what you would find, and then when Nathan did find you you realised faster than a lot of spirits do what it meant. Nathan was worried though, when you weren’t at the meadow, because he thought something might have gone wrong, until Aras told him what had happened. The way he shook his head made it obvious that he was amused with you, once he knew you were fine.”
“Nate knew me well enough to have realised that was what I did without Aras saying anything.” Caitlyn thought of the spirit who had once been her husband and curled her arms around herself. “When I told him I was going to become a spirit guide he took it better than I thought he would, and I think it’s because he already knew what was going to happen. Aras prepared him for it, so he was ready for the day when I visited him to tell him that I wouldn’t be incarnating with him again, which is something I am always going to be grateful for. I had this horrible vision of the two of us arguing about what I was going to do, even though he knew then that I wasn’t in love with him.
“When we met again that first time I could see he was still in love with me. Being here hadn’t changed that. Fortunately it had changed him and he knew, from that moment, that whatever relationship we were going to have here was going to be different to the one we had down there. Even though I didn’t think it was going to be possible we are friends now. He’s been talking to me about his plans for his next life and how he used the one we spent together to decide what sort of life he wants to live next. Instead of settling for stability he wants to try out being less steady, although I told him that whatever choice he makes is going to teach him something new.”
“You’ve seen the other lives you spent together.”
Caitlyn nodded, even though Uriel hadn’t been asking a question. “It was one of the first things I did when I found out about the Record Keepers, even though they weren’t certain it was a good idea. They wanted me to wait until I was ready. When I told them I was ready they consulted someone, I think it must have been someone here, and in the end they let me in to view my lives.”
“That was me,” Elizabeth said, making Caitlyn jump. “I’ve been watching you for a long time, Cait, and when I was told that you’d already asked to view your records I knew you were ready to take the next step, although I was a little worried that Richard would talk you out of it. Fortunately all he did was make you more certain that being a guide was what you wanted, even if it did change the path that you were on. Not having you here would have been a tragedy.”
“Uriel keeps telling me that I’m special, but I don’t feel special, Beth.” Caitlyn turned to look at Elizabeth and their eyes met. “I feel like I’m just another spirit guide.”
Elizabeth smiled. “You are special.” She reached out and took hold of Caitlyn’s hand. “There are spirit guides who meet an angel once and nothing else happens, because they aren’t someone who is meant to work with them. I call them the guides in training, as they are meant to be guides but they aren’t ready for everything yet. Next time they become a guide they’ll be prepared differently, so they can take a another position within our ranks, and our job will have been to get them ready for that.”
“Have I already been a guide in training?”
“We all have, at one time. It’s something you’ll be able to see now, if you wish to, when you visit the records, but before you met Uriel you hadn’t learnt as much as you needed to about being a guide to be ready for that. Now you’re being prepared to be a guide who works alongside the angels and the deities, because that is the place you’re meant to have.” Elizabeth crouched down in front of Caitlyn. “You proved that when you managed to break through the shields that Richard put up after Charis left, even though she had tried her hardest to get him close to some of us in order to stop that from happening, and that puts you in an even more interesting position, one I don’t think someone’s been in since Samael last worked with the Deaths.”
“You will be the guide who works with Death.” Uriel sounded as though he’d expected it, but was surprised by the news at the same time. “I think, if that’s going to be the case, I need to introduce you to some people.”
Elizabeth nodded. “There are a few other guides who do the same thing, like me, which was why I was chosen to be one of your mentors. I work closely with Uriel and some of the deities, in order to do my job to the best of my ability. You’ll find that a lot of your spirits will be like you – most likely pagan, someone who has an understanding of reincarnation and life after death, people who have found the records during their lives and know something of who they were before… the list is pretty much endless and it’s a rewarding job, but not one just any spirit guide could do.”
Biting on her lip Caitlyn studied Elizabeth. “Are you sure I’m the right person for the job?”
“Do you want the answer to be no?” Elizabeth asked, sounding as though she’d been asked the same question before. “Do you want a chance to be able to walk away now that you’ve met Uriel and realised that some of those things you didn’t believe in before actually exist?”
“No, I don’t.” Caitlyn sighed. “It’s just hard to accept that I’m…” She shook her head. “Why me?”
“That is a question I could spend hours answering and you’d still worry that you weren’t the right person for the job. We’ve all been through it, Cait, because becoming a spirit guide isn’t something anyone really expects to happen to them. I know I didn’t.” Elizabeth shook her head. “On the day I asked my mentor if she was sure that I was the right person for the job she looked at me, appearing to be fighting a smile, and asked me if I thought she’d be wasting her time on someone who wasn’t supposed to be a spirit guide. As I thought of all the work she had to do, because she was also a guide who worked with the deities and angels, I realised that she wouldn’t be. It didn’t stop me from wondering, but it did make me understand that she truly believed in me.”
“Can I walk away?”
“If that’s what you really want to do, yes, you can.”
“Has it happened before?”
“Yes.” Elizabeth bit her lip. “One of the other girls my mentor was working with chose to walk away, because she found being a guide harder than she thought it was going to be when the spirit who had been her husband revealed that he’d fallen in love with someone else and was going to live a life with them to see how things worked. She was still in love with him, so she made the decision that day to be reincarnated as someone else – it didn’t matter who as long as she didn’t have to see them together. Our mentor asked her to think about it for a little while. We have more time here and it does help with certain things, but she wouldn’t. Nothing any of us could say would convince her that she was being rash.”
“I remember her.” Uriel sounded sad. “That was her third chance, so she wouldn’t be able to become a spirit guide again, and when I asked her if she was certain she wanted to throw away something she had been working towards since the time she was a guide in training she said nothing else mattered. We might have been wrong about her, to be honest, but I’d so wanted her to be able to fulfil her potential. Now that isn’t possible, because of a choice she made out of pain and anger.”
“So you can walk away during your first and second chance, if you want to, and still become a spirit guide when you return to the afterlife?”
“Most of the time,” Elizabeth replied, “but there have been times when that spirit has made a really bad decision during their life that means they have to go back a couple more times. There have been three guides who chose to walk away that found themselves in that position and one of them was a girl I mentored. When she arrived here she did the same thing you did – she started exploring the afterlife. Her greeter met her in one of the forests, I think the autumn forest, and helped her to get settled in. About a month later the Council met with her, so she could be told that she was in the position to become a spirit guide if that was what she wanted.
“Like you she asked a lot of questions, which is always seen as a good thing, because curiosity is something we appreciate in a guide who’s going to be working with the angels and the deities. I was asked to talk to her, to make certain that she was going to make a good guide, and I was happy when I realised how well we got on. Before she started her training she seemed like the perfect spirit for the job.” Elizabeth ran her free hand through her hair. “Maybe she was just a very good actress because that all changed when she walked in here. I don’t know. It might have been the realisation of what she was going to be expected to do, as a guide, or it might have been something else. She didn’t tell me exactly what it was that made her decide she wasn’t ready, actually, although she had thought she was.
“So she asked to live another life. As she’d been my guide I helped her to create it, even though I had my misgivings. I asked her if she was certain that she wanted to incarnate again and she told me that it made more sense to her than becoming a guide at that time, but she wouldn’t explain why she felt that way. When she finally went to talk to Life we had everything ready and she checked again that my guide was absolutely sure of what she was doing. The answer, as it had been from the moment she made the decision, was that she didn’t have any worries about living another life but she did about becoming a guide.
“I tried to tell her that we all have worries. None of us think we’re ready to be a guide, but that hasn’t stopped any of us from doing it, because we’re trained to be the best we can be. She just shook her head and told Life she wanted to go. Everyone else she had lived with on Earth was still there, so we’d had to find a different greeter for her husband, which meant she was going down there with spirits she’d not spent any time with at all before. They’d accepted her as an addition to their group because they needed someone else with them. What we expected was that she would live an easy enough life before returning to the afterlife.
“She grew up, her parents loved her, and everything seemed to be running smoothly. I started thinking that she was right, my misgivings were just me being overly worried about the decision she’d made, but then…” Elizabeth shivered. “Even now I don’t know how it happened.” A tear trickled down her cheek. “As she reached the age of eighteen she started, like all young adults do, drinking. At first it wasn’t a problem. She went out with her friends from school, got a bit drunk, and stumbled home with them, knowing that she’d have an awful hangover in the morning. Then she met someone in one of the clubs. Her friends told her not to go with him, but she did. Occasionally the problem with having a safe life is that they want to have some excitement and then they do something stupid.
“The guy wasn’t too bad, really. He did some soft drugs, that he wouldn’t let her touch, but the problem was the people he happened to be friends with. Unlike him they didn’t have any qualms about letting her try things. First it was cannabis, which was not so bad, but then she tried other things, and that was where it all went downhill fast. It wasn’t the life we’d planned for her and it changed what her next steps would need to be, if she did want to become a guide. Sometimes, though, the issue is that the spirit gets addicted too, to whatever it was their body was addicted to. When she returned to the afterlife, after spending the majority of her life an addict, we found that was exactly what had happened to her.
“Even though she didn’t want any help we put her into a program to wean her off the drugs, which is something I wasn’t expecting to have to do, and I spent hours talking to her about the decisions she had made during her last life. I told her that it affected whether or not she could become a spirit guide, as she’d need to live some clean lives before that happened, but instead she did something unexpected. She asked for the Waters. Nothing she’d done was something that couldn’t be fixed and I told her that. Three lives was all she needed. When Hades walked in the room, carrying the smallest vial of the Waters, he reiterated what I’d told her. Making a mistake didn’t mean that she needed to drink the Waters.
“When she’d listened to everything that Hades had to say she told us both that she wanted to. She’d never wanted to be a guide, but she’d gone along with it because she thought it was her only option, until she realised that it wasn’t something she could do. Her lives hadn’t prepared her for helping other spirits to live their lives, especially ones who knew they’d lived before and knew that their spirit guides existed. The last life she’d led just proved that to her, as she’d made such a huge mistake during it, and she’d decided, during her time going through the most horrendous withdrawal, that she wanted to start again. It took us a little while to coax out of her the real reason, because Hades hadn’t believed anything she said.
“Then she told us that she remembered her past lives from the time she was young, during her last life, and that was why she had turned to drugs. She wanted to stop remembering them, to live her life without the past affecting her, especially the day she walked into the office and made the stupid decision that she couldn’t be a guide, because of one person. I asked who that one person was. It turned out that the whole reason she had chosen to live another life was because a spirit who had once been her abusive husband was standing in the office at the same time as her and she was scared of him still. Him being there changed everything, even though it didn’t have to. If she’d bothered to talk to me about it we could have made certain they were never in the office at the same time, instead of her running away and making such awful decisions.”
Caitlyn looked between Elizabeth and Uriel. In one very short conversation being a spirit guide had become a very different thing, and she knew why the story had been told. “You don’t have to worry about me making that choice.” She smiled. “Even if I can’t talk to you then I always have Richard. He’s not going to let me deal with anything alone.”
“No, he’s not.” Uriel looked at the file he was still holding onto. “I really should get back. There are things I need to be doing.” With his free hand he reached out to touch Caitlyn’s. “I look forward to getting to know you in the future, Caitlyn.”
“I look forward to getting to know you too.” Their eyes met for a moment, and she had to tell herself she really was talking to an angel. “Thank you for visiting.”
He glanced at Elizabeth. “You know where I am if you need me.”
“I do.” Elizabeth put her hand on Caitlyn’s shoulder. “I’m okay. These stories need to be told, and I know it was the right time.”
“Yeah, it was, but that doesn’t make it an easy thing to do. At least we all have work to focus on now.”
With that Uriel disappeared, leaving Caitlyn with Elizabeth. “Well, that is something I wasn’t ever expecting to happen.” Caitlyn shook her head. “I guess that changes things.”
“For now you’re still on reception duty, and I need to get back to that meeting. I just needed to grab a file.” Elizabeth sighed. “Had I know Uriel was here I wouldn’t have said I’ll be back in a minute.”
“Will they mind?”
“Not when I explain things.” Elizabeth squeezed Caitlyn’s shoulder. “Do you need to take some time for yourself?”
“I’m good, thanks.” It wasn’t as though reception was exactly busy, so Caitlyn would have the time she needed to think, and work out how she was going to talk with Richard about the things he was keeping from her. “Get back to that meeting. We can talk when you’re free.”