Safira stood before the great Altar of Heaven, watching the crystals that surrounded the Forbidden Door glow eerily. Beyond the Door lived God, so they said, yet at that moment Safira did not feel sure of anything.
“Safira,” came a soft voice. She turned to see one of her fellow angels, Ashea, looking at her curiously.
“Yes?” Safira said, pulling herself from her reverie. “I’m sorry. I was just thinking… I hate… not remembering who I was, where I came from. I was human once… wasn’t I?”
“We all were,” Ashea said, “We are all Angels for a reason; great deeds, or holy lives. So does it matter? You were a great person, chosen by God to maintain the Kingdom of Heaven while He sleeps. We take care of the dead; guide their souls to peaceful respite. What we were doesn’t matter.”
“But don’t you ever wonder?” Safira said, “if you had a family, if they miss you, if they’re waiting for you somewhere in this great Kingdom? Or perhaps they have forgotten about us…”
“Our memories are erased for a reason,” Ashea said, “We have a job to do. I understand how you feel. But this is how it is. It is how God decided it should be, before he embarked upon his Great Slumber. Let it go. For now, you need to conduct your routine patrol.”
“Yes,” Safira said. All around them, Angels were taking off and landing, talking and making reports. They seemed contented, happy, but Safira couldn’t help but feel that there was something missing, something she had forgotten that was incredibly important to her, and it had eaten at her in the three months since she had been reborn as an Angel.
She took off, her white wings keeping her aloft. Below the floating island where God slept and the Angels lived, the Kingdom of Heaven stretched out eternally. There were fields and rivers, lush plains and even cities. But sometimes there were conflicts also, despair, hopelessness, and the difficulty of eternal life and living together. The Angels’ job was to keep this conflict in check by attending to the people’s needs, and by helping people who could not reconcile to live apart if necessary.
As she flew to her patrol spot, she saw a small island. Safira had resolved to explore a new area each day while carrying out her job, in order to search for her memories. The regular people each kept their memories of their past life, and she hoped deep down that someday she would meet somebody who knew her and would be able to reveal her past. Other Angels had discovered their pasts and put them to rest, but most still fumbled with the mystery of who they were now and who they had been.
Setting down upon the small, grassy island, she saw a tiny home, well built, but isolated from the rest of the world. She wondered what kind of a person would isolate themselves from all the people they knew. She shook her long black hair out from where it had become tangled in her wings and headed to the door, acutely aware of the sounds of nature and the water isolating this island from many others.
Safira knocked on the door, but there was no answer. She was about to leave and fly back to her patrol when the wind blew, setting into motion a wind-chime that hung above the door. It tinkled a tune she recognized, and a deep sense of nostalgia and longing filled her. She knocked again, but still received no response.
Eager to know more, she tried the door, and found it to be unlocked. She called inside, but there was no response. Gingerly, she stepped inside and closed the door behind her. There was a kitchen on the right, dirty and cluttered with dishes in the sink, and a bedroom on the right, which she looked into.
The light was on, and a girl lay curled up on the bed, her long brown hair barely covering her naked form. Safira felt a blush rising through her cheeks and went to leave, but the girl’s hand rose up, as if reaching out to her.
“Why am I still here…?” the girl asked, dozy and half-aware. She sat up, her hair tumbling around her shoulders. As her eyes slipped into focus, she started, as if she had been surprised by Safira’s presence.
“How can it be…” she said, “Safira, how?”
“You know me,” Safira said, “You seem oddly familiar to me as well… but I’m an Angel now. My memories have been erased… I don’t know anything about my past life!”
“Of course I know you…!” the girl on the bed said, “You’re an Angel, oh…” She fell quiet before speaking again, “Then it doesn’t matter.”
“Please tell me what is going on,” Safira begged, “There is something missing deep inside of me, and I need to know what it is. If you can help me, please…”
“I begged them for so long to be able to see you, Safira,” the girl said, “They said my sin was too great, that I could not see you again. It was like dying a second time… and now this… To see you, yet know that what it was that was you… is gone forever…”
“It doesn’t have to be this way,” Safira said, “I want my memories back. I didn’t ask them to steal my memories away!”
“Yet still… somewhere inside… you still sound like you,” the girl said. Tears were flowing down her cheeks, “It’s such a cruel trick!”
Safira approached the bedside, feeling so many mixed emotions rising up in her. A great sense of compassion and warmth for the girl were rising up in her, and she wrapped her arms around the girl in comfort. The girl clung to her desperately, sobbing her heart out.
“You were the love of my life, Safira,” the girl said, “We went to school together, spent all our time together, and we were secretly lovers. Nobody knew except us. We were so happy.”
Safira felt recognition as the girl recounted their story, “What’s your name?” she asked.
“Hikari,” she said, letting go of Safira. She wiped her eyes.
Safira knew that she should be patrolling now, but nothing mattered to her any more, only this. For three months she had searched for this, and she knew that Hikari was the answer to her emptiness, the absence in her heart, the thing that was missing.
“Tell me more, Hikari,” she said, “Please. I want to know everything about us.”
“You were always there for me,” Hikari said, “You promised you would always protect me. We had been best friends since childhood, and I don’t know when it became something more, it just did. One night, we kissed… and it just went from there. I was willing to give up everything to be with you, and you felt the same. We had hopes and dreams… We were going to go to college together, then settle down together, in a house just like this one…” She buried her head in her hands, “Why do they take the Angels’ memories away?”
“I don’t know,” Safira said, “All they told me was that exceptional people become Angels. I don’t know what I did in my life that made them choose me…”
“I know…” Hikari said, “You saved my life… One day, we were walking to school when a car came speeding down the street. I was daydreaming of our life together while we were crossing the street… and you threw yourself at me, pushing me out of the way… but the car… it hit you…” Hikari started to cry, while Safira was filled with shock. Memories flashed before her eyes as she recalled the car speeding down the road, it hitting her… Hikari holding her in her arms as she felt a white light taking her away…
Safira started to cry, “I remember now. It’s all coming back to me… Hikari…” She embraced Hikari, feeling the gentle warmth of her naked body close to her, “I can’t believe they made me live without you… that they repressed my memories of what mattered most to me… No wonder I felt empty… you were missing from my life!”
“I thought I would never see you again,” Hikari said, “But they are right… I committed a grave sin. Perhaps it was my punishment, taking you away from me to serve a higher power…”
“What did you do?” Safira asked.
“When you died, everything fell apart. My reason for living was gone, my hopes, my dreams. I couldn’t go on, with no goal and no purpose. I wandered the world so empty and alone… People wouldn’t even talk to me, because they couldn’t understand why I was grieving so deeply for you. They told me to get over it. How could I get over you? I wanted to see you again so badly… so I ended my life…”
“Hikari!” Safira held her closely as she cried, stroking her hair. Despair, warmth and confusion filled her soul, but she knew that Hikari had suffered the most.
“I wasted your gift… you sacrificed your life for me and I threw it away… I’m so sorry, Safira! All the suffering you have endured is all because of me!” She pulled away, burying her head in her pillows.
“It’s all right, Hikari,” Safira said, “I forgive you…” She lent down and kissed Hikari’s soft back, letting her hands gently stroke her skin.
The door opened with a bang, and several Angels stood in the doorway, including the High Angel Gabriel. Hikari sat up, her eyes wide in terror. Safira shielded her.
“Safira, you should not be here. The past lives of Angels are concealed for a reason. Hikari led you into the sin of homosexuality, then sinned herself, but we felt that both of you could be saved. Now… look at you, tainted by sin. You’re not fit to be an Angel.” Gabriel looked down at her with a frightening glare. “But that’s all right. We can erase your memories again, move the girl. We will save you, Safira, and perhaps Hikari as well.”
“I don’t want to be saved, if salvation means giving up the only person I have ever loved,” Safira said, “Heaven is supposed to be a place of wonder and rest, yet I wandered as an Angel, empty and alone without my memories of Hikari. I won’t give that up again, even if it means I go to Hell!”
Gabriel laughed, “There is no Hell, not in the fire and brimstone sense, anyway,” he said, “It’s quite simple, really. This place can either be your Heaven or your Hell, depending on how you play this. I can erase your memory and you can go back to being an Angel, and receive the highest praise from God when He awakens, or you can sin and sin again and watch it consume you. Then, when God awakens, he will make you miserable in ways you cannot imagine!”
“It’s not possible to be any more miserable then I have been,” Hikari said, getting up from her bed and wrapping a robe around herself, “This is Hell, as far as I’m concerned. In the real world, I was scared about being condemned for my love, that’s why I kept it secret. Here, in the place that is supposed to be my eternal rest, I am still condemned! I do not want much for myself, just a small home that we can share. Why does it have to be like this? Why do we have to be punished? We just want to be together!”
Gabriel shrugged, “God makes the rules, not I. He knows better.”
“I don’t believe it,” Safira said, fire in her eyes, “A loving, peaceful God would not allow this.”
“Who said God was loving and peaceful?” Gabriel said, “Perhaps you have not read the Word?”
“Fire and brimstone, pain and prophecy…” Safira said, “Then I ask you a question: why do you follow Him? Why follow a being who brings pain to his people?”
“Because I believe He is right,” Gabriel said, “You are scum of the Earth, sinful beings who have twisted the natural order against what He has created!”
“No, that is your opinion,” Safira said, “You want it to be true, to back up your own prejudice! We shall see if you are right!” She picked Hikari up and pushed past the Angels, running outside and taking off.
“Where are we going?” Hikari asked.
“To the Altar of Heaven, the Forbidden Door,” Safira said, “To awaken God from His slumber.”
“You would do that for me?” Hikari said, “Safira, they’ll cast you out!”
“Perhaps,” Safira said, “Maybe I’ll be condemned for all time, but I cannot spend my afterlife like this, trapped in a cycle of finding and losing you. I won’t let them erase my memories of you again!”
They landed on the floating island, and gasps came up from all assembled. Safira saw her wings had turned black, and she turned to Hikari.
“You don’t have to follow me,” she said, “I’ll take the burden of this sin.” She stepped forward.
Ashea stood in front of the door, seeing Safira’s black wings and understanding her intent, “No!” she said, “You can’t open the door! Please, don’t!”
Safira shook her head, “I have to do this,” she said, “Otherwise, they’ll take Hikari away from me, again and again. All I want is peace to treat her with tenderness and love.”
Ashea bowed her head, “Then go inside and see for yourself,” she said, moving aside.
Hikari rushed up to Safira and took her hand, “Perhaps this will condemn us both,” she said, “but I want to be with you. I want to fight for this!”
They pushed on the great doors, and with all of their strength, a mighty creak came from them as they opened. A white light came from within, and they entered hand-in-hand as all the Angels stood around the door, their expressions aghast with horror.
Hikari and Safira stood in the center of the room, and the white light dimmed to reveal an empty room.
“Hello?” Safira called out, “Where are you? I need to speak with you!”
“He’s not coming,” Ashea said, entering the room behind her, “He disappeared a thousand years ago, so the holy records tell us. Perhaps to die, or maybe to create other worlds. Since then, we have been running the Kingdom of Heaven, us, the oldest of Angels, the most ancient of the humans who came to this plane of existence.”
“How…?” Safira said, “I don’t believe this!”
Gabriel entered the room behind them, and lowered his head, “I am from a thousand years ago,” he said, “A lot has changed since I last saw the face of God. People, attitudes, the way of the world… Nations have risen and fallen, evil has come and gone and come again, constantly invading the hearts of man… Perhaps it has infected my heart as well.”
“Gabriel, what are you saying?” Ashea said, “You, the mightiest of Angels…”
“To stand in the presence of God,” Gabriel said, “It is like love incarnate. In my desire to feel that wondrous feeling once again, I have tried so hard to adhere to the Book, everything I believed it said… and I made you all follow me. I erased your memories so you would have no other allegiances, took away the things that mattered to you…”
“So it is the weakness of Man after all,” Safira said, “The desire to keep all things the same, the fear of moving forward, the old prejudices that keep us from embracing the new world…”
“We all are all prone to them,” Ashea said, “Even those of us who think we are immune…”
“What do we do now?” Hikari said, “Where do we go from here?”
“I can return you to life,” Gabriel said, “Though doing so will cost me my immortal life, perhaps then I will finally be with God, and you will be happy…”
“What about our memories?” Ashea said, “I still do not know who I am…”
“You will be as you were,” Gabriel said, “Ashea, you must keep the Kingdom of Heaven in order. I still believe that someday, He will return…”
“Indeed,” Ashea said, “The souls of the dead continue to pour in as we speak. There is work to be done… Gabriel, are you sure about this?”
“I am sure,” he said, “I have lived too long… I want to walk with God.” He smiled, peace in his eyes.
Hikari and Safira joined hands, Gabriel raised his arms, and they disappeared in a flash of light.
Hikari was daydreaming as she started out into the road. School wasn’t far away, Safira was beside her, and life was good…
Safira grabbed her arm and pulled her back into a deep kiss. Hikari giggled, “People will see!” she said.
“I don’t care!” Safira said, “Let them see. I don’t want to keep this a secret any more.”
As they let go of each other, a car went speeding by. They stood in silence for a few seconds, as if caught in a feeling of deja vu, and then Hikari pulled Safira into another kiss, deep and loving, eager to enjoy every moment of their life together.