Now, if you think that angels are the most perfect beings in the universe, well, you’re right. We are. But not all of us. And remember my words, for they’ll explain much of the unexplainable as this story unfolds. Humans and angels are not that different after all, specially the young ones. And for us—just as for you—the quest for perfection is both our greatest virtue and our greatest defect, regardless of our clan of origin.
"Questions?” Remedium said, ripping the page off the pad.
Annabel pinched her prescription and read it. He’d scrawled the word “vitamin” so fast it looked like “nitamir.” Questions, she thought . . . Yup. As always, she had only one. And it was always the same one. “Papa Remy, will I ever fly?” she asked, rolling the paper into a telescope she hid behind while he answered.
Yes, she’d woken up that morning feeling all queasy. But now, after receiving such wonderful news, she couldn’t feel any sparkier. Plus the sacred spotlight punching through the sky shined brighter than ever—or at least that’s how it seemed to her, as its golden rays kissed her cheeks and scattered into pastel rainbows. And that soothing scent of ambrosia . . . Aaah, sweet, fresh and tingly, in perfect proportions. So perfect, they made her want to cry. But in the good way.
Now, do you remember how you felt when your teacher stuck that first golden star sticker to your homework? Or when your dad took the training wheels off your bike? Or when you could finally color your fingernails? Well, that’s exactly how Annabel felt after listening to the word “perfect.” “Thermonuclear sunny” is a great way to describe it.
And so she beamed. “Let’s go. I can’t wait to pick my quill of wisdom.”
Annabel giggled and looked around. Umbra had told her the emporium was magical, and she was starting to understand why. Not only were the walls covered with miles of burgundy velvet and flashy, golden tassels. There were also hundreds of glass boxes with feathers of all colors and sizes scattered around the place, from tiny hummingbird tuft to gigantic ostrich drabs, which made the shop look more like a plumeum—a plume museum.
Annabel was making faces into one of the many fisheye mirrors decorating the place. And looking rounder than a fatty meatball, she wondered if that’s what she’d look like to a fish. “Nothing,” she said and sniffed the air. The place smelled of vintage. A mix of wood, stardust and memories that reminded her of the Domus Librorum, the age-old academy library. But here, she also traced hints of raspberry-rose tea. Just like a French palace, she thought and puffed out a sigh. Or at least that’s what she thought French palaces smelled like, for she’d never been inside of one.
Someone was flittering her way, raising a cloud of stardust. And it was someone she didn’t want to see. Uh-uh, not at all. At least not now. At least not later. At least not ever. For it was Mister Mega Wings himself, backed by the usual gang of loud-mouthed peacockies with cool names: Strike, Alpha, Blade, Apollo, Buster, Colt, Diesel, Kaiser, Ace, and Buck. The Magnis-Alis wingball team in whole. A truckload of extra-large, extra-strong, extra-“oh-how-I-wish-they-were-mine” feathers.
Surrendered to her fate, as Cosmo and company came closer and closer, Annabel drifted crabwise through the Custos-Lux colonnade on the way to her dorm. Which doesn’t mean that she did it like a wise crab, or like a smart lobster, or like a thoughtful shrimp, or like any other type of enlightened crustacean. It just means that she moved sideways with awkward little steps as she waited for her predators to nose-dive and feed on her. She certainly didn’t expect what happened next.
Flooded by a monsoon of Confucian confusion—nothing but a harmonious sense of frustration—Annabel spewed her breath over the glass in blue whale style. And when the mirror fogged up before her nose as mirrors usually do when you pant on them, she flummoxed. A fancy word that means that she discombobulated—a fancy word to say that she nonplussed. Which are all fancy words to say that she got incredibly confused, for that fog there meant that she was definitely there. But, where?
Annabel was right. “Slomo” was Wiley of the Sensus-Perfectum’s unhappy nickname. He was the century-old academy janitor, and everybody loved him. As an Orange Ray, he was supposed to have foolproof senses like the rest of his clanmates. But, somehow, he didn’t. They were far from being perfect, specially his eyesight. But also his ears, from which two tiny, brass tubas peeked out to give him a hand with his listening. And the reason everybody called him Slomo was because he moved really, really slow . . . Duh.
Annabel didn’t make a sound, she was too busy feeling rotten. Last night, she’d broken a rule for the first time. She’d also sworn for the first time. And a couple of nights before, she’d even had a nightmare for the first time. And as if all of that negativity wasn’t enough, she’d just told her very first lie. Yes, something was definitely wrong with her. “Papa Remy? Is explosive flyarrhea common?” she asked, changing the subject to something more amusing.
"How could you, Annabel?” Headmaster Maximus asked. His polished, beige feathers bounced as he paced back and forth through his office with his hands in his pockets. And every time he reached a wall and turned, they swung and spritzed a fresh, citrusy scent that smelled of “old-and-busy-but-happy.” “Yes, Annabel, you! One of our most outstanding White Rays. What went through your mind?”
A lonely teardrop rolled down Annabel’s cheek and squashed its miserable guts on the word “soon,” smudging it into “doom.” Yes, she was going to miss him tons. Even if they locked horns, every once in a while. But who didn’t? She was just a heavenly novice with the frenzies, for heaven’s sake, not an enlightened saint. She stared at the guardiangel river flowing through the hall. Should I follow them, she wondered. She couldn’t risk taking the wrong flight and ending up somewhere in the Sahara. And that’s when the loudspeakers spoke, really loud.
Now you must know that, on the outside, baldbacks and angels look alike, a lot. But on the inside, well that’s a totally different story—yours is a horror one, ours is a fairytale. Don’t get me wrong, though. Our bodies are highly evolved, biosystems with stuff in them, too, we’re not just empty bowls with wings, you know. But in our case, we’ve got just what it takes to live long, healthy lives: a breathing life center, an emotional heart center, a thinking mind center, and a sensing auric center that powers our eyes, mouths, noses, ears and skin. Plus a caboodle of arteries—the via lucis—that carry light around our bodies, energizing each center to keep us alive. Nothing like the goulash of organs, tissues and liquids you schlep around with you, at all times.
"Yah, the basement’s haunted,” Sirius Ay said, and Sirius Be confirmed with a wiggle of his thumb. The twins were the sons of a crazy astronomer gone missing but, somehow, they didn’t look alike at all. And there was nothing serious about them either, except for their names. For they each had a single club thumb they used like talking puppets—Mr. Chunky and Mr. Dumpy—which Annabel thought was hilarious.
O'Quisling’s home in 666 Muggeridge Road was just as dark as he was. Picture an old, gothic haunted mansion and you’ll grasp exactly what it looked like: tall, pointy, and sinister. But nightmarishly beautiful, just the same. Without a shadow of a doubt—and, alas, who ever said doubts had shadows—there was something odd to it. And something hypnotic, I must add, for Annabel just couldn’t stop staring at it.
Ollie hee-hee-heed and whisked the spoon over his head like a magic wand. But instead of receiving an answer, he summoned a crazy, little cyclone that lifted quite a bit of dust as it swirled around the room. “Crikey!” he screeched, holding onto his cap. And then he sneezed, skyrocketing a bunch of dusty boogers.
Annabel tingled in a spectrum of fuzzy sensations, thinking that if rainbows were a feeling, that’s exactly what they’d feel like. And when her virtuometer buzzed and rewarded her with not one but three positive points, she wished her heart were a film projector so she could play the scene over and over again, to infinity.