Beyond (Afterlife book 1), Page 2Willow Rose
“I will take them from here,” she said with a gentle, almost singing voice. She was alluring. I felt so close to her. I wanted to be close to her.
She pulled the door wide open and we entered a hall as big as a house with white marble floors and white marble walls holding burning torches. Magnificent paintings covered the ceilings like in an old cathedral and the stained glass windows rose from floor to ceiling.
Never have I seen anything this beautiful, I thought. But then I remembered that I actually didn’t know if I had.
“Come with me,” the woman in white said with a smile. “I am Rahmiel.”
We followed Rahmiel across the white marbled floor. As we passed chambers and other hallways I was certain I heard voices coming from everywhere. Happy voices and people laughing. And I couldn’t help but feel cheerful inside. Something about this place made me happy.
Rahmiel led us into an empty chamber.
“Welcome to the Academy of the Spiritual Realm,” Rahmiel said. A man suddenly streamed through the marble wall behind her and glided through the room with a great smile. He had long white hair and a long white beard to match. He was as big as Rahmiel and wore a white robe. He smiled at Rahmiel.
“This is Salathiel. He is the headmaster at the Academy. He will fill you in on what you need to know.”
Salathiel cleared his throat and looked at us with another big smile. He too had a strange bright light surrounding him.
“So these are the new ones. Well, welcome all of you. I know it is a difficult time for you right now and there is a lot you don’t understand. But I ask you please to wait with your questions until later. You will get a lot of them answered the coming days when you begin your education. This is a whole new life that is beginning for you; we call it the Afterlife, and we hope you will enjoy your stay here. It is our job to train you and educate you so when you leave this Academy you will know all there is to know about the Afterlife. It is much different from being a human, as you will soon learn. First of all we will be sorting you in different groups.”
Salathiel and Rahmiel began to sort us into our classes. We were quite a mixed group, I now realized. There were forty-five elderly people, twenty-two adults, a couple of children around eight or nine, and fifteen kids aged twelve to eighteen. Rahmiel put all us teens in the same group. I recognized the twins with the broken glass in their faces. A young Indian boy wearing a hospital gown, named Abhik, was bald and extremely skinny. Another girl about my age seemed angry and hostile toward everything. She looked around with mad green eyes, hissing at people who came too close to her. Her name, I later learned, was Portia.
“Now that everybody has found a group, it is time to get the gala started.” Salathiel looked excitedly at the crowd.“Dinner is served in Hornam Hall.”
As we walked in a line, I felt like a kid on her first day of school. We went through the marbled hallway again and further into the castle.
“Try not to get lost in here,” Salathiel said while leading us in the right direction. “This castle has two hundred wings and, as you can see, there are no staircases leading to the wings. We don’t need them, since we can fly. To help newcomers like you, we have put up some ladders you can climb until you learn how to fly. But you have to beware of these ladders. We have a hundred and ten of them, but we only have a hundred and two towers. Yes, that means there are eight ladders that will lead you nowhere. And they are mischievous. One day a ladder will lead you somewhere but the next time you climb it, it will lead you straight into a wall. There is no way of telling if a ladder leads you somewhere or not. There is only trying. However, if you do get lost just find one of the bells.” Salathiel pointed at a bell hanging in the air next to the marble wall. “This is a special kind of bell, not only because it moves around the castle, but because once you grab it, it will know your motives for doing so. And if you’re not ringing it because you are in trouble, it will not call for help but will do something else.”
“What will it do, then?” asked a badly bruised adult man who I guessed died in some kind of fight.
“That I cannot tell you. Just never do it. Only ring the bell if you need help, and help will arrive.”
We entered Hornam Hall through a huge open wooden doorway. It was magnificent: high ceilings with beautiful paintings; marble floors and walls; hundreds of round wooden tables where people were sitting with their gold plates and silver knives and forks. At the end of the hall, an orchestra of violinists filled the air with the most enchanting music.
When we entered, the music and chatting stopped and all the faces turned toward us. Hundreds of eyes looked at us as we walked inside the hall, as if they were all waiting for us.
Salathiel pointed at the empty round table right in the middle of the room, set with an astonishing bouquet of flowers. Rahmiel came up behind us.
“This is where we sit,” she said. “For the first dinner at the Academy, you join us at the table in the middle.”
Feeling awkward because of all the staring eyes, I followed the others toward the table in the center of the hall. There were exactly enough plates and chairs to fit us all, including Salathiel and Rahmiel. When we stood behind our chairs, Salathiel clapped his hands.
“This is a day of celebration as The Academy of the Spiritual Realm welcomes our newest members,” he said out loud while motioning in our direction.
Then everybody in the room started cheering and clapping. The uplifting sound made me feel good about myself, although a little shy as well.
“Let’s eat.” He signaled that we could all sit down.
The food was amazing. A taste of Heaven, as Salathiel called it while winking at me. And it seemed to appear out of nowhere. The more I ate, the more emerged on the plate. Not only was it my favorite dishes, it was also exactly what I wanted in this exact moment, as if someone knew my innermost cravings. I looked at the other plates on the table only to realize that no two plates had the same food.
Happily, I realized I was still able to taste the food. That sense hadn’t disappeared when I died.
“The great thing is you will never have to worry about calories again,” I heard a woman about forty say to two other women.
And then they laughed. It was the first time I heard anyone among us newcomers laugh. It made me smile as well. Rahmiel smiled at me, causing me to feel an extreme inner peace. How she did that I didn’t understand at all. But she was like everyone’s mother, always smiling, making us feel loved and at peace.
Then the dessert came: ice cream and brownies as big as books.
While eating dessert, I suddenly saw Mick. He shook hands with some friends, chatted for awhile with some others before he came toward our table. I smiled and felt a little twitter in my heart. I hoped he had come to talk with me. But he went straight to Rahmiel and kissed the back of her hand while bowing in front of her.
“My lady,” he said.
“My dear Mick,” she replied with a warm smile.
“Do you find everything to your satisfaction?” he asked.
Then I was happy to see that he turned to me and came closer. He whispered in my ear.“So you like the food?”
I nodded excitedly. “It’s the best I’ve ever tasted,” I said with my mouth full.
“That’s what I thought,” he said with a little smile.
“Did you make this?”
He nodded. “I did.”
“Wow, you are good. How did you know what I like?”
“Call it intuition,” he said and winked at me.
What’s all that about? Why does everybody keep winking at me? I thought to myself. Did they have some kind of secret they thought I knew about? I didn’t understand that at all.
Soon the twins who sat next to me began to fight. Mrs. Higgins had said their names were Frederic and Alexandra Cornwell. They had been gulping down food for almost an hour straight now and still they kept eating. I realized the plates were desi
gned to never be emptied. But even though the two had all they could possibly eat, they still both wanted the same doughnut that at some point had fallen off one of their plates. And now they eagerly debated to whom it belonged.
“It was mine,” Frederic said while picking up the doughnut with his fat little fingers.
Alexandra stabbed her fork in his hand thinking it would hurt him. But as it went straight through him, it only made him laugh in her face.
”Ha!” he said.
The fork trick had probably worked while they were growing up, but now everything was different. Frederic opened his mouth and ate the doughnut while Alexandra argued.
“It was mine, you know!”
“Now it is mine,” Frederic said with his mouth filled, deliberately showing his sister the half-chewed doughnut in his mouth.
“I hate you!” Alexandra screamed. She threw her fork on her plate and crossed her arms in front of her.
To my surprise, Mick suddenly intervened. He stuck his head down between the two and tried to calm them.
“I think I might be able to fix your little problem,” he said.
They both looked at him, obviously not believing him.
“See, I am the cook in this fine establishment.”
Alexandra looked at him with a little more interest.
Then he stretched out his arms and flipped his hands. When he turned them, a doughnut even bigger than the first one emerged between his hands. Frederic’s eyes were huge with envy as Alexandra smiled and took it, looking back at her brother triumphantly.
Mick looked at me and smiled. I clapped my hands discreetly at him. Then as I turned my head, my eyes stopped at Abhik who sat across from me. He sat with his head bowed and had barely touched his food. I stared at him until I heard Mick whisper from behind me. “It is not polite to stare.”
I moved my head. “I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to,” I whispered. “It is just that all the rest of us are eating like we never had food before and that boy is only sticking his fork into it but not even putting it in his mouth.”
“Abhik has been a cancer patient most of his life. He is not used to having an appetite or eating that much. But he will be. We need to give him some time to get accustomed to the fact that he can actually eat and that he will never have to feel sick again. These things take time.”
Just as Mick finished his words Salathiel raised his glass high in the air and made a toast.
“To our new students,” he said.
“To our new students,” the entire hall replied.
After dinner we followed Salathiel and Rahmiel out of the big hall. They soared into the air and we followed them climbing a long ladder.
I was surprised to be feeling so sleepy. I didn’t even know if spirits slept. But then again I didn’t think they ate, and I had been proved wrong.
We found our beds in one of the towers. Four other girls shared my room: Portia, who was also an American girl like me; Acacia from Greece; Mai from China; and Jackline from Uganda. The old-fashioned beds surrounded with velvet curtains were so soft, unlike any bed I had ever slept on. Being as tired as I was, I didn’t pay any attention to the girls chattering. I fell into a deep sleep almost immediately.
I had an odd dream that night. Some people who I thought were my parents were searching everywhere for me. I couldn’t see their faces but knew it must have been them. They were desperate and worried. I wanted to tell them that I was all right, they shouldn’t be worried about me anymore, and that I was dead, but it wasn’t so bad. But I couldn’t.
I woke up sweating and shaking. Once I realized it had just been a dream I rolled over and fell asleep again, but the next day I couldn’t stop thinking about the dream. What if it was true? What if my parents didn’t know what had happened to me?
I was late for my first class. The story of my life, I thought, and apparently also of my death. I woke up late and the other girls were already gone. I climbed down the ladder and then had no idea where to go from there. The hallways were quiet and there was no one to ask for directions. So I tried to walk the same hallway I thought I remembered we took the night before, but I was wrong. I ended up in a dead end with a door on the right.
I entered it and stood in a huge chamber. In the middle on a giant table of stone sat a huge open book. I went to it and looked at the pages filled with pictures of humans. The first one showed an elderly woman lying on her deathbed. The more I stared at the picture, the more I realized that she was in fact moving, exhaling what seemed to be her last breath. The woman’s chest was elevated while the spirit quietly oozed out of her body and looked down at her. Suddenly the woman was not alone. Two spirits came through the walls in the room and took her spirit by the hand. Together the three of them disappeared through the wall and the lifeless body stayed behind.
I stood motionless and stared at the picture for a long time. Then as I flipped through the book, I realized all the pages were filled with pictures just like this one. And in every one of them someone was dying. I flipped twenty pages or so and saw a woman on an operating table in a hospital. I flipped a couple more and saw a young man, no more than seventeen or eighteen, lying on the floor in a pool of blood. Someone was standing next to him. It made my heart race. The man raised a baseball bat and hit the boy with it. Then he did it again and again; the body just lay there lifeless. My eyes filled with tears. How could anyone do something that cruel?
As the man kept hitting him, the boy exhaled and his spirit emerged from him. Like in the other picture, two spirits arrived through the wall and took the boy’s spirit with them and left the body behind.
I caught my breath and took a few steps backward. I realized I was shaking all over. Then I turned the pages back to look at the picture of the old lady. It had started all over again. She was lying in her bed and exhaling. It was like that with all the pictures. They kept repeating the same sequence over and over again.
I stormed out of the room and ran down the hallway. I turned into another wide corridor that led me to a ladder. I hurried down the rungs, thinking it looked like somewhere I had been before. This led to a narrow passage, then a wonky ladder that ended at a wall. I ran back and found a hall with armor I was sure I had seen before. As I passed, the armor followed me before it took a turn and went down another hallway.
I looked for a bell to ring but couldn’t find any. Eventually I sat down in a chair and sighed. After a few seconds I was sure I felt the legs of the chair moving. It began to walk sideways like a crab. Before I could get off, it quickly dashed down the hall. I screamed for it to stop, but as it ran I realized it was taking me in the right direction. Suddenly I saw people in the hallway, floating while they were talking, with books under their arms. They suddenly emerged from the walls, but everybody went in the same direction as me and my chair. The chair seemed to be slowing down now and I began to feel more comfortable.
“Oh, I see you have made a new friend,” I heard a voice from behind me. A stream of peace and love rushed through me and I knew it was Rahmiel.
“The thinking chair is a very good friend to have,” she said as she caught up with me.
“Is that what it’s called?” I asked.
“Yes, the thinking chair can read your mind and will help you in any way if you are good to it. But it will not help you if you are not nice and if your thoughts and motives are not right.”
“Ah, that is how it knew where I wanted to go.”
The chair stopped in front of a closed door.
“It must have liked you right away. Normally it takes more than one try and a lot of persuasion to get it to help you. This is your classroom,” Rahmiel said. “You’d better hurry; I think they have already started.” She leaned over and whispered in my ear. “Don’t forget to thank the chair and tickle it under the seat. It really likes that,” she said before she left.
So I took a moment and found the spot. One chair leg started moving and I could tell that it liked it.
“There now. I have to go to class,” I said while petting it on the seat. “I hope the teacher will not be too mad at me.”
I felt as though the chair smiled at me, but I wasn’t sure. Then I turned and opened the door to the classroom.
“Well, look who has decided to finally join us.”
It was Mrs. Higgins, the lady from the boat. I felt so embarrassed. Giggles came from where Portia sat with girl I remembered from dinner the night before.
“Don’t just stand there. Go and sit down,” Mrs. Higgins said.
I faked a smile and found a seat.
“As I was just telling the class, I am going to teach you the History of the Afterlife. I will not only fill you in on the proud history of this Academy, but also on the history of the Spiritual Realm. As you know, you have entered the spirit world, the world of Ru’ach. This world is filled with possibilities, and you will be amazed at you what you are capable of doing. This is your first full day in the Afterlife and there is a lot you don’t know. But don’t worry; by the time you graduate from this place, you will know all you need to know.”
She looked at the class and then turned to the blackboard behind her. It was an old-fashioned chalkboard. I noticed she had a feather pen with a silver inkwell on her desk. It occurred to me how old everything seemed to be, like nothing had happened here for hundreds of years.
“As you know by now, you have all lost your physical body but you still exist as a spirit,” Mrs. Higgins continued. “Not many people on earth are aware that they have a spirit that will still exist even when their physical body dies. There are several academies like this in the Afterworld, about four hundred or so, that take care of the spirits and prepare them for the Afterlife. Just before a spirit is born into a body it is appointed to an academy and it follows you through your earthly life and helps you get to the right place once your earthly body is dead.”