Authors: Annie Dalton
First published in Great Britain by Harper Collins Children’s Books in 2007
This updated and revised edition published by Lazy Chair Press in 2013
Text copyright (c) Annie Dalton 2001
The author and illustrator assert the moral right to be identified as the author and illustrator of the work.
This ebook is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be leant, resold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the author’s prior consent in any form (including digital form) other than this in which it is published, and without a similar condition, including this condition, being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
A big thank you to Reuben for being such good company on my Egyptian research trip, to Vivian French for suggesting Cleopatra’s time as a setting for Mel’s tenth cosmic adventure and to Jenny Pausacker for a useful talk that eventually led me to Maia. Special mentions to Philip Ardagh and to Roger Morkot from Exeter Museum, who both did their best to keep me on the straight and narrow; any major slip-ups are all mine!
uestion: What are angels really made of?
Sorry, I know that sounds like a lead into a cheesy joke, the kind that makes me and my angel buddies snigger weakly into our hot chocolate when we’ve flown one too many missions. Like, How many angel trainees does it take to change a lightbulb?* But I’m not joking. I’m really asking. You see, not so long ago I thought I knew the answer.
“Light, love and all things lovely. That’s what angels are made of,” I’d have said perkily, like an angel toddler reciting nursery rhymes. If you’d gone on to ask what angels were actually for, I would have had another snappy answer waiting on the tip of my tongue. “We are celestial troubleshooting agents working for a heavenly network of Light Agencies
known as the Agency,” I’d have reeled off confidently. “Our mission is to wake humans up and remind them what they’re really on Earth to do. We comfort them, support them, watch over and protect them and, if absolutely necessary, we morph into a crack team of highly-trained divine warriors and get right into the mix to save them from the Powers of Darkness.”
OK, so I might have said that with a few more ‘urghs’ and ‘you knows’! The point is I absolutely KNEW where Mel Beeby, trainee angel, fitted into the Big Cosmic Picture. As an underachieving high school girl, I wasn’t exactly a shining example to humankind, but as a surprise winner of a scholarship to the coolest school in the cosmos, a.k.a. the Angel Academy, I was now one of the Good Guys, no question.
That was before the Test.
If you think that sounds harmless, like some little spelling test - think again. You can prepare for a spelling test, you can memorise tricky words, and get someone to hear you spell them the night before. No one has a chance to prepare for the Test. This ancient angelic ordeal is shrouded in such total secrecy that a trainee angel has no way of knowing the Test even exists, until she comes tottering through to the other side with her self-esteem in tatters.
Anyway, how could you ‘prepare’ to lose a part of your soul - for a minute, let alone weeks or months?
I’m not sure if I ever used the word ‘soul’ in casual conversation when I was human, but just because I’m able to bandy it about doesn’t mean I totally get what ‘souls’ are about, even now.
I do know my soul is a LOT more cosmic-minded than my everyday self. I know this because until recently I had pretty much twenty-four hour access to my own ‘soul advice hotline’, a.k.a. Helix my inner angel.
Helix and I didn’t always see eye to eye, (she could be tres opinionated for an inner angel, I have to say!) but her divine radar had got me out of some unbelievably dodgy cosmic situations. In fact, I was getting to rely on her to the point where I sometimes asked her advice before I got into trouble!
Then one night - nada. Not even a tiny cheep from inner space.
It started after my first official angelic birthday.
Since angels are immortal, our birthdays are a bit different to the human kind. You still get a party and pressies, (this is Heaven!) but the main event is your angelic upgrade. In the long term your upgrade will hopefully make you a more insightful and more effective angel.
In the short term? You go completely bonkers.
No, babe, trust me on that, you do!
In an ideal Universe, you’d be given a few months to adjust to this new super-cosmic you. I got two hours max.
My headmaster Michael appeared (in the middle of my birthday party would you believe!) to tell me my three best friends from my old human comprehensive needed urgent cosmic support.
It was, without a doubt, the most absolutely harrowing mission I have ever been on. I came back totally haunted by my failure to help Sky Nolan, a girl who had once been my closest human friend. Just before I left, I found out she’d gone over to the Powers of Darkness - or her skanky boyfriend had -which, if you’re a vulnerable thirteen-year-old girl, amounts to the same thing.
What got me was the Agency seemed to think my assignment was a big success. Michael and his assistant Sam were waiting for me in Arrivals all smiles. We finished my debriefing at about 2a.m., then they walked me out of the Agency building, put me in a staff limo and congratulated me all over again on my good work.
Michael popped his head through the window as I was sinking gratefully into my soft plushy seat. “You’ve been through a lot in a short time,” he said, making the understatement of the year. “Your energy system might be a bit erratic for a while. I suggest you skip school tomorrow and catch up on some rest.”
Our headmaster can be surprisingly human for an archangel, but it’s unlike him to dish out advice. The Agency has a major bee in its bonnet about Free Will, which in practice seems to mean trainee angels are pretty much left to figure out the hard stuff all by ourselves.
But for once Michael was giving me a gentle warning. This crazy cosmic rollercoaster ride, otherwise known as my life, was about to get a LOT more bumpy.
At the time I just laughed.
“Yeah right!” We never get to take sickies at my school, not unless we’re injured in the line of duty, and I’m talking hideous flesh wounds, not routine blood poisoning from getting too close to the Powers of Darkness.
By the time I reached the third landing on the long climb up to my poky little room in our school dorm, post-mission exhaustion was catching up fast. I actually had to lean against a wall, I felt so wobbly. That’s how I came to notice the painting.
The Angel Academy has quite a collection of old fashioned oil paintings dotted around the school, dating back to the days when angels carried out their missions wearing pristine white robes. This particular painting showed a furious old-style angel banishing a hideous demon back to the Hell dimensions.
The picture of that calm confident angel doing what angels are supposed to do made me feel more ashamed than ever.
I dragged myself up the remaining flights of stairs to my room. Lola had pinned a note to my door in shimmery gold felt-tip.
“Wake me up as SOON as you get in and I’ll run you a HUGE smelly bath and you can tell me ALL about it. Huge Love, Lollie.”
Lola isn’t just my best friend, she’s my soulmate. We tell each other everything. Yet I still didn’t feel able to tell her what had happened to my friend Sky. I can hardly bring myself to tell you now.
I let myself into my room, dumped my bag in the middle of the floor, fell on to my bed with all my clothes on and started to cry.
Sky Nolan came from what celeb watchers in magazines love to describe as a ‘troubled’ background. Not that Sky was a celeb (though she could be a right little diva sometimes), but once she trusted you, she was a real laugh - and she had such huge dreams.
One time my mates all stayed over at my place and we were playing that game, if you could win a night out with a Big Name, who would it be? Everyone named a certain drop-dead-gorgeous singer from a local hip-hop band, except Sky who picked Cleopatra, Queen of the Nile!
We’re like, “ARE YOU CRAZY? Why would you CHOOSE to go out with a dead Egyptian queen!”
“I’m betting you never saw that movie where she has herself delivered to Caesar in a carpet!” she snickered.
We all gawped at her as if she’d sprouted a second head.
“Why did she do that exactly?” I asked politely.
“Caesar’s soldiers had taken over her palace,” she explained. “It was the only way she could get back in and regain control of her kingdom.”
“Oh totally,” Jax agreed, nodding wisely. “I’ve used the old carpet trick myself. Works every time!”
think she had style,” Sky said defensively. “You could learn a LOT from a chick like that!”
I could see her going all huffy. On a bad day, Sky could have totally sulked for England. I rushed to smooth things over. “Aren’t you all forgetting something?” I teased my friends. “Sky’s a smooth operator. She’d sweet-talk Cleopatra into inviting us back to her place, wouldn’t you, babe?”
All my mates screamed with laughter.
“A royal sleepover!” Sky giggled. “How cool would that be! We could rollerblade through her palace and try on her golden shoes!”
Back in my room at the Angel Academy I could feel new tears welling up and trickling back into my hair. Can you imagine how it feels to see your fragile best friend walk away into the dark, perhaps forever - because YOU didn’t save her?
At times like these, my inner angel normally comes online to comfort me, reminding me of the Big Cosmic Picture.
Remember that little thing called cosmic timing, sweetie? Helix might have said that night. Maybe the Universe still has plans for you guys? Maybe you’ll meet Sky again in some totally different time or place, and get a second chance?
She could well have said something like this. Maybe she did? Maybe she was beaming fabulous cosmic advice at me all night long and I just wasn’t able to pick up?
I don’t pretend to know the technical ins and outs of Inner Angel Loss, so I’ll try to stick to the facts. Without her divine radar system, a trainee angel is flying blind. When this angel girl, (OK, me) is a total mess of emotions left over from a traumatic mission, plus HUMONGOUSLY unstable from her recent upgrade, she is downright dangerous, to herself and to the Universe.
I didn’t know any of this. I hadn’t even noticed Helix had gone walkabout, which was disturbing in itself. I could cry when I think how much I didn’t know.
I was so dumb. It never once occurred to me that a tiny speck of that ugly Darkness we were all so busy fighting was secretly hiding inside me, had been there ever since I started my angelic training, just biding its time.
And now all this shimmery birthday Light energy was starting to flood my system, flushing out any lurking cosmic impurities like some kind of celestial Draino.
I’m making it sound like it was really bad timing; the Test and the upgrade coming so close together, my divine radar on the fritz. In fact it happened this way for a reason. That’s what the Test IS: the Powers of Light flushing the Powers of Darkness out of hiding so they can really duke it out. In the open.