The pain was unbearable. It ate at him like a ravenous wolf, tore him apart like a slowly-growing cancer. It was a jet void, and he was falling into it. There was no way to stop it, and fighting it only delayed the inevitable.
Jonghyun picked up his phone with nerveless fingers, tapped random buttons, sent texts flying into the ether. But he didn’t understand the words; it was like trying to read Greek.
Tell them I did well.
It wasn’t the last words he ever said, and he didn’t know, as he lit the charcoal bricks in the pan on the stove, that those words would be heard the world over, and that he would never be forgotten.
White. Everything was white, and clear, and peaceful. He blinked his eyes, noted that he was laying flat on his back. Jonghyun could swear he heard the ocean, but when he turned his head, all he could see was a never-ending, sterile blankness.
Was this death, then? He’d imagined many things, but never this. Staying here too long might cause him to lose his mind, but then, what did it matter? He was dead, and if this was his afterlife, to wander this emptiness, devoid of all color, what did it matter? He slowly sat up, shaking his head slightly. The sound of the ocean seemed to surround him, and then slowly ebbed away. Climbing to his feet, he realized he was dressed in an all white suit. It fit as if it were tailored to his body, and his feet were bare.
‘Well, if I have to spend eternity in one set of clothing, I suppose this is better than most.’
Suddenly, there was a soft laugh that swirled around him like a soft breeze.
‘Jonghyun, you have all of time and space before you, and you consider your clothing.’
The voice came from all around him and yet inside his head as well. He whirled around, spinning to take in the expanse around him, but there was no one there.
“Who-who are you?”
He spoke the question out loud, but also formed the words in his head.
‘I’m your guardian angel.’
Jonghyun’s eyebrows almost disappeared under the fringe of his bangs. Of all the things he’d sort of expected, that wasn’t one of them. But it only took him a moment to recover.
“Ok, well, if you’re my guardian angel, why can’t I see you?”
‘Because seeing me as I am would burn your eyes. You’re a new arrival, and so your eyes aren’t adjusted yet. But, maybe I can try something…’
Jonghyun’s eyes widen when the air in front of him starts to waver, as if there was a heat wave concentrated into one spot. Slowly, a figure begins to materialize. It’s clearly a she, although Jonghyun never thought of angels as anything less than androgynous before. She’s got a slender body, with soft curves, draped with a lilac colored sheath. Her skin is what Jonghyun would call sun-kissed, and her eyes are wide and expressive, a deep blue. Her hair is so blonde it’s almost white, and it moves as if blown by a gentle breeze, although Jonghyun feels nothing. Her cupid’s bow lips curve into a smile and Jonghyun can’t help but smile back.
This time Jonghyun speaks out loud. The angel ducks her head as if she’s never been told that before, and her cheeks color just a bit.
‘Thank you, Jonghyun.’
Jonghyun can’t help but smile back, her happiness is infectious. They stand for a moment, just content in the moment, before Jonghyun speaks again.
“So, do you have a name?”
She cocks her head to one side, as if considering.
‘I do have a name, but you cannot pronounce it in your language. So, you may call me Zaniyah.’
“Zaniyah. It’s unique. I like it. So, Zaniyah, what happens now?”
She frowns a little, two small lines forming between her brows.
‘What do you mean?’
Jonghyun gestures around, encompassing the empty space that surrounds them, his gesture a bit helpless.
‘Oh. Well, you have a choice to make.’
Jonghyun is momentarily taken aback.
“What do you mean, a choice?”
‘Well, this is the in-between. I believe the closest thing you have for it in your language is purgatory. But it isn’t a place of torture, it’s simply a short stop for those who end up here. As for your choice-you can go on, or you can go back.’
For a moment, Jonghyun is speechless.
His voice is soft, and filled with pain. The memory of the crushing weight that was his depression floods over him and he feels like he’s drowning-he can’t get enough oxygen into his lungs. He notes distantly that Zaniyah is staring at him, both confused and concerned.
‘Jonghyun, listen to me. Breathe.’
Somehow her voice, her words break through his panic attack and as he takes a deep breath, he feels like laughing. He’s dead, but still having panic attacks. It’s like a bad joke.
“No, I can’t go back. I can’t.”
Understanding sweeps over Zaniyah, and she reaches out, cups Jonghyun’s cheek gently.
‘No, not back like that. You have finished that journey. But, if you’d like, you can take another. You can take the title of guardian, and help a mortal fulfill their destiny. Or, you can go on to your heaven. The choice is yours.’
Jonghyun process what she’s offering him. He can go on, be truly at peace, but at the same time, something about becoming a guardian angel intrigues him.
“What exactly does a guardian do?”
‘Well, for starters, it’s a lot harder than you might expect. The person you are a guardian is the only one who can see you. You still retain all your memories from before, and basically you’re just as you are now. But it can be hard work, because humans aren’t known for making their lives easy. However, I believe you could do well. And, once the human has fulfilled their destiny, you get to come back, and your heaven will be waiting for you.’
It took Jonghyun less than a moment to decide. If heaven would be waiting for him when he got back, and he could help another human, who was he to turn down that chance? He could do something truly selfless, and wasn’t that what made humans, made himself, great? He nodded at Zaniyah, a grin spreading over his face.
“I’ll do it. Do I get to know anything about the person I’ll be helping?”
Zaniyah grinned back before answering.
‘Her name is Aislinn, and her dream, her destiny, is to be a singer. But she’s strayed far from that path, and she’s very stubborn. You will have your hands full!’
Jonghyun cocked his head and gave Zaniyah a nod. At this moment, they both had the confidence that Jonghyun would succeed. With a nod, Zaniyah disappeared, and Jonghyun felt himself falling--and then there was darkness.