Itís hell being an angel.
Yeah, yeah, I know what youíre thinking-- being an angel is
great, all floating around on fluffy clouds, eating anything you want
without worrying about weight gain or cholesterol, a euphoric stress-free
existence in a place where the weatherís always perfect and everybodyís
Well, it is-- if youíre a Full-Fledged Angel. But if youíre
like me-- not quite an angel (or my official title, Angel in Waiting), it
ainít no picnic in the park.
And who am I? Allow me to introduce myself. I am Tristan
Barrington, 4th Earl of Ryland. I died nearly two hundred years ago, on a
frigid January morning in 1820. If Iíd been given a preference, I would
not have chosen to die at the age of thirty-four. And I certainly wouldnít
have picked to do so on a non-descript patch of brown, ice-encrusted dirt
on a field just west of London. Most undignified, really. And truly, I
shouldnít have died-- I was a far superior shot to the dolt who stood
across from me on the dueling field.
As our seconds-- my childhood friend Albert and the doltís
bug-eyed solicitor-- counted off the paces, I marched ahead, my pistol
gripped in my chilled fingers, resigned to get this over with. Then
suddenly something happened to meÖ an unprecedented, overwhelming
weariness at the reality of my situation-- that I was about to turn around
and kill a man two decades my senior whoíd challenged me on the field of
honor for tupping his young wife. A nuisance really, having to do this,
especially as I was still hung over from the previous eveningís
frivolities. He wouldnít be the first man Iíd killed, nor was his bored
wife the first married woman Iíd entertained. Yet it occurred to me that
at least the dolt had a modicum of honor. And something he believed was
worth fighting for. Whereas I hadÖ
And thatís where my mind went blank. What did I have? What
was all this for?
I had no answer.
I didnít love his wife. Indeed, I didnít even particularly
like her. A selfish, shallow shell wrapped in a beautiful package. Being
selfish and shallow myself, I would have forgotten her name in a
fortnightís time. She was but a momentary diversion in a privileged,
dissolute life filled with self-indulgent debauchery.
As I continued crossing the field, my future suddenly
flashed before my eyes with crystal clear clarity: years of drifting from
one empty, meaningless depravity to another, my fortune wasted, my health
destroyed, abandoned by fair-weathered friends. Alone. Utterly, completely
alone. My conscience, an inner voice Iíd believed long dead, coughed to
life, and in that instant self-disgust and something that felt exactly
like terror nearly choked me. And with that, an insight struck me with the
power of a lightning bolt: I didnít want that existence. I didnít want to
die alone, my insides rotted by drink, with nothing to show for my immoral
life but a string of paramours, broken friendships, and cuckolded husbands
challenging me to duels. In fact, I didnít want this duel. I didnít want
to take this manís life.
In the space of a single heartbeat I felt as if my life
changed. That Iíd changed. And I was going to implement that change
I decided to delope.
Of course dueling tradition dictated Iíd still have to
allow my opponent to fire, but given his advanced age, poor eyesight, and
reputation as a dreadful shot, I didnít consider heíd even come close to
Boy, was I wrong.
Albert and the bug-eyed solicitor reached the end of the
count and shouted, ďpresent!Ē With my weapon aimed toward the sky, I
prepared to turn, but before I could so much as blink, a pistol shot rent
the air. Searing pain exploded in my head. My last thought was
bloody hell, that doddering old blind dolt shot me.
I was dead before I hit the ground.
As I said, most undignified.
Iíd been taught that after death there were three options:
good people went to Heaven, bad people went to Hell, and then there was
Purgatory for those who fell in the middle. Iíd never given much thought
to what would happen to me after I died-- if I had, I might have behaved
better while living (although probably not), but the instant I was shot I
knew I was headed straight to Hell. Indeed, I was halfway there,
plummeting downward through the darkness toward the eternal fire pit when
I suddenly jerked to halt.
And thatís when I discovered several things: first, that
contrary to any doubts I may have harbored on the subject, there is indeed
a Most Powerful One, who is privy to all oneís thoughts and actions.
Second, the Most Powerful One has a Council, a group of six angels in
charge of making certain that deceased humans go where theyíre supposed
to. And third, that based on my thoughts of changing my immoral ways in
those last seconds of my life, it was decided that I deserved a chance to
And thatís when I discovered that in addition to Heaven,
Hell, and Purgatory, thereís a fourth place where the dead like me, those
with last minute epiphanies, are sent-- Pre-Pearly Gate Limbo. Spin
doctors call it a not-quite-an-angel holding pattern, but the truth is
itís nothing more than a prison, a void where the occupants wait for
do-good assignments that will, if completed successfully, push their
Goodness Quotient high enough to earn a Review from the Council. Those who
make the grade become Full-Fledged angels and are allowed to pass through
the Gates and enjoy the full benefits of angelic existence, including the
spa (which I hear is to die for. Ha! A little angel humor there). If,
however, the do-good assignment isnít completed successfully, itís back to
the end of the line-- the very loooooong line-- to wait for another
turn. Which means, if youíre a perpetual screw-up, you can find yourself
in Pre-Pearly Gate Limbo for a very loooooong time.
Welcome to my world.