Matthew-El (an angel) overhears Sam (a probably dead human) describing God.

Sam was calling over to another group of souls at the next table; reaching out to a huddle of rather terrified newcomers stealing furtive glances over at the angels, and alleviating their fears with a constant stream of Sarah’s finest ales. In an apparent move to help the fearful newcomers feel at ease, Sam began noisily moving the two white metal tables together with a screeching scraping on the stone cobbles. Drinks spilled and slopped with the move. Ham slapped one of them on the back, and they erupted in a chorus of Delilah.

“So, come on, come on, tell us then. What does God look like?” one of the newcomers asked with one eye closed.

Another interrupted loudly: “Nonononono, no, what I want to know is, who was right then, eh? Eh? The Christians or the Jews? Or the Muslims? Or the, erm, the Hare Krishnas? Or, no wait, I ‘spose it was the Buddhists then, because of this festival thing? Can’t have been the Atheists?”

Raen watched Sam put his glass down and look at each of them earnestly.

Ascension Denied Sam Paladin
Sam Paladin: Probably dead, but nobody’s quite sure.

“The fact of the matter is, dudes, the fact of the matter is that nobody knows. Nobody knows!” He threw his arms out and embraced the men on either side. “But at least here we all know we don’t know, whereas on Earth most of us all thought we knew, and those who didn’t know didn’t know that they knew they didn’t know. They didn’t find that out until they had been here for a while. Now we all know we don’t know. Even the angels.”

The newcomers raised their eyebrows in admiration and went “aaahhhh,” and Ham nodded and patted his buddy on the back. “That’s profound, my friend,” he slurred.

“But fear not! I’m not saying we don’t know anything,” Sam continued, wiping up some spilled beer with his tie-dyed bandana. “We know some things. Like, well, for example we know there’s a heaven and a hell on either side of us, you know: Os and Fo. But we don’t know, you know, what’s in them, you know?” Sam gulped some more beer.

Matthew-El grinned at Raen-El and shook his head. “Isn’t he eloquent? And if I could deliver just one message to my eternal dependents, it would be Sam’s. Out of all the humans I’ve protected across Earth since the beginning of time, let’s face it, if any one of those who strictly followed the arbitrarily established rituals of their chosen doctrines took an introspective microscope to their beliefs before they died they would’ve found that what they professed to be a rock hard conviction was actually more like an idle notion.”

“Yeah, and if they’d all compared notes they’d have found that idle notion to have been the same amongst them all,” said Raen, frowning as he stared at Sam. Who was that strange human? Raen had an unsettling feeling that he knew him from somewhere.

Matt clinked his glass against Raen’s and watched the jolly party across the pond.

Ascension Denied Matthew-El
An angel on a mission

“…but what people don’t know…” Sam was telling his friends, his eyes glazed and half closed under exaggeratedly raised eyebrows. “…is that to find out what’s in them it would behoove seekers of this pocket full of marbles between here and there to travel. And that is a journey!”

“Can’t be done,” hiccupped Ham.

“Every road can be trodden, or it wouldn’t have been laid,” slurred Sam, puffing out his chest and jabbing at it with his thumb. “Trodden it my very self, I’m sure! Oh, it’s a Dark road though; you’d need a torch of the Greatest Light you could imagine—”

“—a flashlight,” interrupted Ham.

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Alice (a dead woman) and Raen-El (a pissed off celestial being) discuss the nature of angels.

The two of them sat in gentle rocking silence for a few moments, looking in different directions up at the indescribable myriad of books and scrolls.

“Which one do you need?” Alice asked, eventually.

“I need the Book of Revelation. It should contain a description of how to transcend in the flesh to Earth. From there it should be much easier to get to Fo.”

“There’s nothing like that in the Book of Revelation,” offered Alice, somewhat perplexed.

Ascension Denied Alice
Alice Shepherd: Dead, but still learning.

“Not in the abridged version you’re familiar with. The scriptures contained within this library are bloated with ancient knowledge, knowledge inherited directly from the first angels closest to the Source. The first angels passed on the knowledge to subsequent generations, with the intent that all wisdom should be shared with man. But unfortunately back then (and in fact even to this day) we hadn’t figured out exactly how to get through to humans, their minds often too polluted with their own earthly agendas. So the messages of angels were distorted, misunderstood, edited, and forgotten. They gave up trying to impart Celestial wisdom and decided to try to guide humans through life instead, allowing them to earn wisdom with age. It sort of worked. Well, it worked better for humans that way; you were never very good with divine knowledge. But it did mean that universal wisdom was archived in here, locked away and pretty much forgotten about. I don’t think there are any Guardians in Eadar who remember what’s in here. Most probably don’t even remember these holding vaults exist.”

“How do you know about it then?” asked Alice, and true to her character immediately regretted the audacity.

“I pay attention,” was the angel’s short reply.

“So, what you were saying about forgotten wisdom, that must be why there are so many religions.” Alice started pulling the oar side to side, changing the angle of the blade as she did, and gently thrusting the boat forward on both strokes. A wavy turquoise glow bounced off her face as the little green dinghy glided along.

“There are many reasons for that,” Raen muttered, watching thousands of ancient gospels climb towards the high ceilings. “The predominant one being none of us can even begin to imagine that we could understand the multiverse. Yet we can’t help trying to answer answerless questions.”

Ascension Denied: Raen-El
Raen-El: You think you hate your job? Try being a goddamn angel.

Alice tried not to stare at the angel’s unreasonably convex biceps. “There are loads of books in here, I bet we could find out the real…you know. Truth about it all?”

“This Celestial Library?” laughed Raen-El. “Not even a fraction of all the divine knowledge contained in the big everything. Only divine knowledge from the third triad of angels is stored here, and then only that pertaining to Earth and her species.”

“Third triad?” asked Alice.

“Do you know anything about angels?”

“Ah, there’s lots of…angels, and you are all very, um, loving. And protective,” Alice said and sat up.

“Do you want me to tell you a bit about angels? I know you like learning things.”

Alice held her breath, trying not to betray her excitement with a giant grin.

“There are three triads, as we call them. The first triad is the closest to the Source, and this triad is made up of the Seraphim, the Cherubim, and the Thrones. They deal with the very concept of ‘is’. To understand this mysterious group we need to look deep within ourselves, far into the depths of the microcosm, where even the most gigantic material structure is reduced to nothing more than miniscule bursts of energy.”

“The Seraphim?”

“Precisely. They project what we know as Seraphic Light. Known by many as the love of God, it’s what we’re all made of, on a quantum physical level at least. And the Cherubim represent the fullness of divine knowledge—mysteries of the universe are contained in them. There are also the Thrones—they are angels of wisdom, truth, and fairness. Of course, we’re talking about wisdom, truth, and fairness applying to the great equilibrium of the mysteries of the most high, not the petty sort of stuff you and I can comprehend.

“What about the second triad?” Alice asked, watching with frustration as answers to profound enigmas went unread while she navigated the boat along bright and clear water.

“The second triad deals with the universe on a much vaster level. Swirling endlessly through time; expanding, vanishing, and being reborn forever. Dominions, they’re my least favorite angels. I’ve never met one, but they apply the laws of cause and effect over the divine creation, making my job almost impossible to do without cocking up something on some level. Virtues are angels that control the elements, so they are heavily involved in the creation of new worlds across the universe. And finally, Powers. They’re the keepers of time. All that has been and all that will be is kept safe, which I can only imagine is a fairly complicated undertaking.”

“And the third triad, then. That must be where you belong.”

“Yes, I belong to the third triad,” said Raen, and winked at Alice, sending a shockwave up her pizzazz. “Principalities, Arch Angels and us: the Guardians. Together we deal with beings. Creatures of creation that fill the universe. Principalities understand every single creature in every single world. That’s a lot of souls to be concerned with. Arch Angels are the sort of administrators, really. They oversee all the comings and goings of angelic life. And then there’s Guardians. And you know what our purpose is: to guard and guide the perfect souls of the divine. We have counter-parts in every world across the giant sea of everything. You’ll notice of course, that there’s nobody left to guard our souls. Yep, we’re the third triad – the lowest of the low.”

Alice sat in amazed silence and she continued steering the little boat and sneaking glances at one of the Source’s most awesome ideas, whose wet clothes were still clinging to his perfect celestial body.

Ascension Denied – coming soon.

The Song of the Gondolier: Episode 4

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Marty peered into Gail’s eyes, wet and bloodshot with clumps of mascara smeared into the lids. “I’m sorry,” he whispered, and kissed her on the forehead. “It was insured.”

“Hah!” laughed Pio. “You kiss your woman under Ponte de Sospiri! Very romantic!”

Gail blew her nose and stuffed the tissue back into her sleeve. “Just keep going, Pio.”

The gondola bobbed along until it came to a smooth stop in a water-based traffic jam between walls of damp brickwork. There were gondolas loaded with tourists jammed into the tight space with the Grubfeldts’ little black boat. A garbage boat emitted yellow fumes of rubbish, and a man sitting at the back of a vaporetto was playing an accordion over the sound of a tourist kid screaming.

“Honk, dammit!” demanded Marty. “Hey you! Get out of the way! We’re trying to get through here!”

“This music is beautiful,” sighed Gail, trying not to smell the garbage boat. “Isn’t it, Marty?” She put her hand on his knee. Sensing something, Marty didn’t swat it away but instead placed his own over hers. “I’m not angry with you about the camera,” she continued, her voice still thick but much softer. “We don’t need it really—romance is about feeling, not seeing.”

“Get moving, Pio,” Marty growled as the gondola traffic jam slowly dispersed. “What are you waiting for?”

“Red light, signor,” smiled Pio. “I wait for it to change.”

Soon the swishing of the oar once again disturbed the sludgy water, and Gail leaned in to Marty and put her head on his shoulder. She closed her eyes.

Pio smiled, and began to hum.

Gail and Marty did not explore each other’s hot and fleshy mysteries in their hotel room that night. Instead they ordered room service and ate it in bed watching Oprah Winfrey. It’s also true that Gail went home with no photos to show Mrs. Wazenski and Mrs. Cabot of her beautiful perm against a backdrop of crystalline canals and Italian architecture. Marty continued to belch and fart for the remainder of their marriage. But ever since their romantic trip across the Atlantic Marty and Gail Grubfeldt hold hands a little more often.

THE END

Thanks for reading The Song of the Gondolier by E. A. A. Wilson!

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*Featured Image: Gondolier, by Ekaterina Frolova

The Song of the Gondolier: Episode 3

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“What the hell are you stopping here for?” barked Marty. “You tryin’ to rape us? You think I’m gay, you Ah-talian faggot?”

“No, no!” Pio laughed, holding his hands out in a gesture of gentility. “I bring you to Camp Sant Angelo like you say so you can get good price. You want to get out here? Nice architecture, molto bello! You get out here you pay me only twenty Euro, you wait for my friend Fico, he take you on his gondola. No? I keep going? Ok, I keep going.”

Soon after the Grubfeldts were almost raped by Pio at Camp Sant Angelo, they found themselves gliding along the canals described in Mrs. Grubfeldt’s magazine. Apartment blocks rose, with washing lines suspended between buildings and hosiery that was more colorful than necessary fluttered like the flags of European promiscuity. Gail shuddered. Though, if this trip succeeded in defrosting her marriage, she would perhaps invest in something silky, she decided.

“Ah, Ponte de Sospiri!” announced Pio. “The Bridge of the Sighs.”

An arch of carved white stone traversed the water between two giant billboards. “Ok, so you cannot see much of the bridge because of the billboards, but look, we have the picture of David Beckham!” Pio saluted David, who just pouted in return.

“We Italiano, we love football!” laughed Pio with a twinkle. “My team, Venezia, maybe one day we buy David Beckham, no?”

Marty grunted. “If by ‘football’ you mean soccer, then it’s a sport for faggots and pussies.”

“Ah, the American faggots and pussies have good taste in athletics.”

The gondola glided under the bridge, and Pio stopped rowing. He turned to his passengers, beaming.

“You kiss now. Kiss your lady, si? Give me your camera, I take photo. Kiss her! This is romantic, no?”

He took the camera out of Gail’s outstretched hand and began to poke at the touch screen display. “You kiss under the bridge! Very romantic. All the local Venetians do it, si, I promise.”

“I’m not going to kiss her with you looking at me like that, you faggot!” barked Marty. “You think I’m gay? Give me that!” He snatched the camera back, but the sudden shifting of his three-hundred pound bulk caused the gondola to rock and he flung his arms out to steady himself, sending the camera spinning through the air like a shot put. It smashed into the brick wall of the canal and thousands of pieces of shattered equipment rained into the brown water.

“Marty!” shrieked Gail. Tears were already spilling down her cheeks. “Oh, Marty, look what you did.” Protecting her newly permed hairstyle, she leaned over the side of the boat to reach for the camera strap that was floating beside them.

“No, signora! Leave it! It is dangerous to lean out of the gondola!” Pio stepped across and grabbed Gail by the elbow to steady her.

“Get your hands off my wife, faggot!”

“Signor, I try to help!”

“Only person touching my wife is me, you hear?” Marty grabbed hold of Gail and held her tight. “You just stick to sailing this boat, you’ve already lost me my camera and I don’t want you to lose me my wife.”

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*Featured Image: Gondolier, by Ekaterina Frolova

The Song of the Gondolier: Episode 2

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When they arrived at the front of the line and were about to board the one-way water journey to romance, Gail’s heart sank. The gondolier was, granted, wearing the red and white striped T-shirt as per Gail’s magazine, but she could see his nipple piercings through the material and she simply couldn’t forgive the jeans with a worn patch by the pocket where he clearly kept his keys. It was supposed to be romantic, not ordinary. Keys implied that the handsome gondolier had a house and maybe a fridge that he cleaned rotting vegetable juice out of from time to time, with other mundane needs of everyday life that certainly didn’t meet her vision. She pressed her lips together tightly.

Buongiorno!” he sang, and opened his arms. Marty shouted something in return that was neither Italian nor English, and with a thud he stepped in to the narrow river boat, making it wobble and splashing eggy mushroom water into the hull. Gail covered her mouth with her handkerchief and held out her hand for Marty to help her in, but he was too busy settling his mass into the wooden pew to notice. He shuffled his weight around and released a vibrato of bodily gases.

Just as Gail prepared to scold her husband, a warm hand closed round her frail fingers. The gondolier helped her in with a smile.

“My name is Pio,” he said.

Gail sighed. Why couldn’t he have been called Giovanni, or Salvatore, or even Raffaelo?

Pio continued, still grinning. “You like cruise? We call this Italian cruise, no? Hah!”

“Now you look here, Luigi,” bellowed Marty. “We ain’t happy about payin’ you a hundred Euros for a boat ride, but we’ve been in that line for an hour. You better make this good.” And then with another burp, he added, “My marriage is on the line here.”

“Hah!” laughed Pio. “You want better price? For good price you go to Camp Sant Angelo, you find gondoliere sitting on stone steps that lead to San Stefano. He give you better price.” He put his hand on his heart and continued, “I, sadly, am regulated. But my friend, he charge whatever he wants!”

“Why in the hell would you tell us to go to your competitors?” asked Marty, his voice an octave higher than before. Gail settled in next to him and tried to snuggle up. He shrugged her off.

Pio just smiled, and soon Mr. and Mrs. Grubfeldt were gliding along the Grand Canal, with Pio navigating the heavy traffic of vaporetti, work barges, rubbish boats and all the every day traffic that made the pinnacle of bona fide Italian romance seem like the highway interchange back home in Dallas.

Pio didn’t serenade as he rowed. And neither did Marty. A hot dog wrapper floated past, and Gail watched as it bobbed and dipped in the gentle wake of the gondola. Then a droplet of water from Pio’s oar landed on it and it sank into the murky depths.

Pio’s muscles flexed as he manipulated the oar. A forward stroke and then a compensating backward stroke brought the gondola to a halt by the entrance of a brick house. Steps were leading from a door directly into the water. There was no rogue gondolier sitting on the steps, but there was a puddle of what looked like porridge and smelled like goat. Gail shrieked and grabbed her husband’s arm.

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*Featured Image: Gondolier, by Ekaterina Frolova