I’m about halfway through the revision of “The Envy Of Angels”, and should be submitting it this weekend. It’s been both fun and challenging, and I’m finding short stories to be excellent practice in structure. Everything has to fit and be super concise when you have limited words to play with. Here’s a snippet for this lovely Wednesday afternoon:
Hosanna, the wondrous Kingdom By The Sea, sprawled across the hills before me. Dazzling megascrapers flanked the metropolitan center. Clustered edifices of tiered steel and concrete raked the darkening skyline, hectic overpasses and expressways swooping between them. The Temple of the Seraphim commanded the most prestigious rise, its bold spires aglow between shifting spotlight beams. Atop the Temple turrets loomed the monument to the Archangels–an immense circle of seven chromed figures with streamlined wings and arms raised in triumph.
I strolled along dusky lanes on my way to the Examinations Office. Shopkeepers drew window shades and locked their doors for the night. Shiny contoured motorcars and well-dressed pedestrians crammed the streets and sidewalks. Many inquisitive stares followed my threadbare cotton shirt and plus-fours, and the ornate harp slung across my back on its worn leather strap. Delicious smells emanating from a nearby restaurant tempted me I’d find a place to eat after I appealed for citizenship.
Soon I reached the oldest section of the city, where the organic curved buildings of the founders jostled amid the sleek modernist angles of the new. Loudspeakers blared the music of the Sacred Chorus on every corner. The propellers of a passing zeppelin droned against the exultant hymns. Rays of sunset illuminated the side of a municipal tower, where a tele-screen several stories high flickered with a joyous broadcast. Clips of a massive congregation flashed by, hands raised in supplication and praise to the adulation of the Chorus.
The image of a dignified young man appeared, blonde hair oiled to perfection. His voice boomed over the plaza, diamond cuff links twinkling as he lifted a volume of the Righteous Code to the camera. “Have you lost hope? Do you feel as if you’re sinking beneath the crested waves of life’s petty tragedies? The only way to peace is through the angels themselves. Our saviors, our guardians, those who shield us from the terrors of the deep—they wait for you with open arms. I’m Pastor Benedict Lee of the Redemption Ministry, and we await you in the fold.”
Pastor Lee’s contact information scrolled along the bottom of the display. I wondered if he were related to the charming Annabel. It was unlikely, being a common enough name.
The sun descended below distant waters as I reached my destination. A rounded structure of pearlescent marble, the Examinations Office welcomed hopefuls at all hours. Blossoming trellises arched over the entrance colonnade. Tall fanlight windows bore patterns of interlocking triangles in orderly rows, gas lamps casting cheerful beams onto the terrace.
Pushing the brass-trimmed doors open, I stepped into a palatial antechamber. I removed my cap, clutching it to my chest in bated reverence. Reflective black stone slabs adorned the towering walls, a stark backdrop to the contrasted decor of blue, black, and white. My boot heels thumped against the checkered tile floor, causing a rude echo. Sculpted cornices bordered the vaulted ceiling, curvilinear desks and chairs arranged in a pleasing manner about the room.
A colossal bas relief dominated the entryway, hewn of solid granite. Carved upon it was a scene depicting the arrival of the Seraphim, and their great battle with the Devils. At the top, the Prodigal Star plummeted from the heavens, a tail of celestial dust streaming behind in brash symmetrical lines. The Archangels soared from its fiery descent, their simplistic ridged pinions spread to the firmament. They pressed trumpets to their lips, calling all to war. The bestial Devils cringed and flailed below, seeking refuge beneath the tormented swirls of the sea. I admired the piece, absorbed in its beauty.
An elderly woman approached, her shrewd eyes searching me. “Good evening. Are you here for the examination?”
I bowed my head. “Yes, ma’am. How do I begin?”
She gestured with a sweep of her arm. “Come this way.”
A smaller chamber waited beyond. Unlike the reception area, there were no embellishments here. Colorless stone masked the ceiling, walls, and floor. Six people waited behind an ebony desk, the imposing Seraphic emblem mounted to the front. Dour faces watched me over their clasped hands.
An old man in a woolen three-piece suit stood, gripping a thin cane. His body hunched, but his words rang clear. “What’s your name, young fellow?”
I straightened my posture. “Tristan of Steelbend.”
“A steelworker’s son?”
“I was previously, yes.”
He rested both hands across the cane, the ring on his little finger glistening. “I’m Mr. Kalen Ness, Chairman of the Council of Holy Reason. What brings you to the Kingdom By The Sea?”
“I seek fame, and the freedom to express myself as I please.”
Chairman Ness glanced at his cohorts. Haughty chuckles and whispers ensued.
“Honesty is rare in young workers, unfortunately. What is your profession, now that you’ve abandoned your steel career?”
I lifted my chin, unashamed. “I’m skilled upon the harp, and I possess a clear singing voice.”
The Chairman’s smile widened beneath his white brush mustache. “What a splendid diversion from the practical types we’ve seen tonight. Please play us a song.”
I set my bag down, and strummed the first undulating notes. They rolled like the tide over stunned emptiness. a traditional lullaby my grandfather had taught me. It was a tribute to his memory, and a plea for my future.
“Fear not the deep,
“Sleep, child, sleep,
“The wings of the angels surround thee…”
My voice lilted, skimming all gloom. I remembered Grandfather’s kind smile, and the happier times when he’d instructed me on the harp.
“You have a gift, Tristan,” he’d said. “If you use it well, the world will celebrate your name.” His words instilled courage, and the restlessness which had freed me from the confines of Steelbend and its unappreciative dolts. I concluded the song with a flourish, and met the awestruck visages of the Council. They all clapped.
“Most excellent,” the Chairman said. “I daresay you belong here with us in Hosanna. Nothing is more pleasing to the soul than a song born of a pure heart. You’re most welcome here, if this is your wish.”
I staggered a moment. “You mean…I’m worthy to live here? You’ve approved me?”
Chairman Ness laughed. “Of course. And we’ll introduce you to the Sacred Chorus soon enough. But first, you must make a choice. All here are interfaced with the Sanctum network, but we never force the newest citizens to undergo the procedure.”
Being ‘faced required the surgical installation of an implant. I pondered it, and quickly deemed it necessary to achieve my goals. “I accept.”
“Very well.” The Chairman summoned a blue-robed usher with the wave of a gnarled hand. “Please escort Tristan of Steelbend to one of our guest rooms for the evening, and inform the stewards of his impending Ascension to the Sanctum.”