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#180

Height Night at The Heart of Heaven



                 Angelo was 6 feet and 3 inches tall. His friend Marcel was 6 feet and 5 inches tall. So they were both tall, but Marcel was taller. Only a little taller, but it was enough to be noticeable. This two-inch difference meant very little to Angelo, but it meant a great deal to Marcel. Angelo probably wouldn’t have thought about the height disparity at all if Marcel hadn’t become fixated on it. The problem, at least as Marcel described it, was that his extra two inches of height didn’t do anything for him. Girls, in general, did not prefer Marcel to Angelo. Marcel’s girlfriend Tara said she preferred him to Angelo, but she insisted that it had nothing to do with Marcel being 6’5” and Angelo only being 6’3”. She said it was actually because she had a lot more in common with Marcel, such as their mutual fondness for reptiles. Marcel’s height also didn’t separate him from Angelo on the basketball court. Angelo and Marcel had both played varsity basketball for Multioak High School, but Angelo had been the better player despite being somewhat shorter. In fact, even though Marcel played center, Coach Verck had Angelo, who played power forward, jump center to begin every game because he could jump higher than Marcel. Actually, Angelo could dunk, whereas Marcel, who, again, was two inches taller than Angelo, could not. But the thing that made Marcel the most furious, as far as Angelo could tell, was the fact that Marcel couldn’t even reach things that Angelo couldn’t reach because Angelo had disproportionately long arms.

                “All I get for being 6’5” instead of 6’3” is I hit my head on stuff more often and I’m more uncomfortable in a car,” said Marcel.

                “You can see over people’s heads that I can’t see over,” said Angelo.

                “OK, sure,” said Marcel. “But where are these people? Can you think of one time where there have been people in front of us that I could see over but you couldn’t?”

                “No,” said Angelo. “But if I stood in front of you, you’d be able to see over my head. But if you stood in front of me –”

                “Let me stop you there,” said Marcel. “Because my eyes are more than two inches down from the top of my head. So I wouldn’t be able to see over you.”

                Angelo stood in front of Marcel. “Can you see over me?”

                “No,” said Marcel. “Your hair’s in the way.”

                “What if I shaved my head?” asked Angelo. “Do you think you’d be able to see over me then?”

                “Are you gonna shave your head?” asked Marcel.

                “No,” said Angelo. “Not unless I get lice.”

 

                But then The Heart of Heaven made two connected announcements. The first announcement was that on Saturday, May 26th, they would be unveiling their newest roller coaster, The Soul of the Ostrich, which would be a roller coaster designed specifically for tall people. In fact, only people 6’4” or taller would be allowed to ride it. The announcement clarified that the ride would be unsafe for anyone under 6’4”. The second announcement was that in honor of the unveiling of The Soul of the Ostrich, there was going to be a special event on the 26th called “Height Night” where anyone tall enough to ride The Flight of the Ostrich would get into the park for half the price of a regular, non-member, adult ticket. Even though it was called Height Night, the event would take place during the entire day, not just at night.

                Marcel, who had never been to The Heart of Heaven before, was ecstatic. “We have to go, Angelo.”

                “You go,” said Angelo. “I’m not tall enough to ride the new roller coaster and I’m not tall enough to get the discount.” He and Marcel were sitting on two of the three couches in Angelo’s apartment. No one ever sat on the third couch unless it was absolutely necessary. Some people even preferred to sit on the floor or stand.

                “I know,” said Marcel. “I know! That’s why you have to come with me! I’m finally gaining from the two inches I have on you. Like, I want to see you paying full price while I only have to pay half price. And I want to see how you’re not on The Flight of the Ostrich with me, I want to see you watching from a bench while I ride it. I don’t even care if it’s not that good of a ride. Please? Please come with me. It would make me so, so, so happy.”

                “I don’t even like roller coasters,” said Angelo.

                “You’re already trying to undermine this for me,” said Marcel. “A better friend would want to give this experience to me.”

                Angelo groaned. “I don’t want to spend 50 bucks on a ticket, drive an hour and a half, and then spend all day somewhere I don’t even like being just so you can feel better about yourself. It’s dumb that you feel inferior. Devin was a better basketball player than both of us and he’s only 5’11”.”

                “Yeah, but he was a guard,” said Marcel. “So his role was different. And besides, there’s lots of stuff that I can reach that Devin can’t.”

                “Why can’t you just go to The Heart of Heaven by yourself?” asked Angelo. “Like, tell yourself that if I were 6’5”, I’d be there, but I’m so upset about not qualifying for Height Night that I didn’t even come.”

                Marcel said nothing. He just stared down at The Heart of Heaven’s dual announcements on the screen of his phone, probably directed at him because one of the social media platforms he used had figured out that he was tall. He looked despondent. Spring sunlight came in through the open window and played across his despondent features. He looked like a sad, big, little boy.

                “I’ll go if you pay for my ticket,” said Angelo.

                “But then I’m not benefitting,” said Marcel. “I’m actually spending more money than everyone else.”

                “This is so stupid,” said Angelo. “This is very, very stupid.”

                “I don’t care if you say it’s stupid,” said Marcel. “That’s fine. I actually like that because it makes it sound like you’re bitter that you’re not as tall as me. I know you think I’m pathetic, but I can’t help how I feel.”

                “If I do this for you,” said Angelo, “do you promise not to dwell on our height difference anymore?”

                “I promise to try,” said Marcel.

                “But do you at least promise not to bring it up to me anymore?” asked Angelo.

                “I’ll try not to,” said Marcel.

                “No,” said Angelo. “That’s my condition. I’ll go to Height Night with you, but only if you promise not to whine about the height thing ever again.”

                Angelo watched as Marcel struggled with his offer. He knew that Marcel derived unhealthy comfort from complaining about how unfair it was that his height hadn’t given him any obvious advantages over Angelo. “Well, OK, but here’s the thing,” said Marcel. “If we do this, yeah, that’ll be one time that my height was an advantage, but that’s out of years so far of it not being an advantage even though it should be an advantage, like, all the time, so-”

                “Then forget it,” said Angelo. “I’m not going.”

                “OK, OK, OK,” said Marcel. “If you go to The Heart of Heaven with me on Height Night, I’ll never talk about it again.”

                “Talk about what again?” asked Angelo.

                “About how even though I’m two inches taller than you, it doesn’t benefit me,” said Marcel.

                “OK,” said Angelo. “I’ll go.”

                “All right, good,” said Marcel. He didn’t sound excited, or even pleased. He sounded anxious, tired, and petulant. “But you have to drive.”

                “Why?” asked Angelo. “In order to feel good about your height, you need me to be your chauffer too?”

                “No,” said Marcel. “My license is suspended. And I don’t want to talk about it.”

                “Did you walk over here?” asked Angelo.

                “Yeah.”

                “All the way from your place?”

                “Yeah.”

                Neither young man said anything for a long time. The tension slowly, but not entirely, evaporated as they busied themselves with their phones. Angelo read an article about a disease that was harming a lot of beech trees in another state. When he finished it, he said, “Want to get some food?”

                “Sure,” said Marcel, and they went to Grand Beede’s Chicken and ate dinner.

 

                The Heart of Heaven was not actually in Heavenburg. It was a good 15 miles outside the city limits. In fact, it was closer to a small town called Soonash than it was to Heavenburg, but the original owners had gone all-in on the heaven theme and the subsequent owners had stuck with it. The big front gates were, of course, pearly, and the ticket-takers were all dressed as St. Peter. Inside the park, all of the main walking surfaces were painted gold and most of the employees – who were called “angels” – dressed in white robes with varying colors of sashes to differentiate their roles. They also had to wear wire-mounted, glittery halos and small-but-nevertheless-unwieldy, translucent wings. The rides, the shops, the restaurants, and all the other attractions and facilities more or less stuck to the heaven theme too. The Heart of Heaven claimed to have no specific religious affiliation, and had even begun construction on a portion of the park called “Nirvanaland,” but the whole thing had a pretty distinct pop-culture-y Christian vibe with a few oddly specific, apocalyptic biblical references disconcertingly tossed in.

                Angelo had hoped that once the day came and they were actually on their way to Height Night, Marcel would relax, but the whole drive to The Heart of Heaven had been quiet and tense. At a little after 9 a.m., Angelo parked the car in The Heart of Heaven’s massive lot and he and Marcel headed for the Pearly Gates. The day was bright and warm with an unassuming breeze. In the distance, Angelo heard the rumble of roller coasters, loud harp music, and the screams of saints in mid-thrill. At The Heart of Heaven, all customers were called “saints.” There were other tall boys and men in the parking lot heading for the Pearly Gates as well. There were even a few tall women. Angelo hadn’t considered the sexist ramifications of Height Night before, but maybe The Heart of Heaven had an event for shorter people as well. What was the shortness equivalent of 6’5” for tallness? 5’3”, maybe?

                At the Pearly Gates, Angelo and Marcel got into one of the St. Peters’ lines and waited. The lines moved slower than normal because the St. Peters kept having to measure people’s height to make sure they qualified for the Height Night discount. When Marcel saw how meticulous the St. Peters were being with their measuring, he said, “Oh, good” and visibly relaxed a little.

                Standing in line with so many tall people all around was a strange experience for Angelo. He was used to being shorter than Marcel, but whenever they were hanging out with other friends or out in public together, Angelo was usually the second tallest person around, or at least in the top three or four. And when Marcel wasn’t around, Angelo was often easily the tallest. He was three inches taller than his dad and a full six inches taller than his older brother. But here in line for Height Night at The Heart of Heaven, Angelo actually felt short. Sure, there were plenty of people shorter than him – the friends and families of the tall people, mostly, or people who were unaware of Height Night or just didn’t care – but for the first time since his growth spurt, which had happened in 9th grade, Angelo felt physically unremarkable. He had not anticipated this feeling. Angelo had assumed that because he didn’t care about his height as much as Marcel did, that it didn’t matter to him at all, but he was finding out that he was wrong. There were lots of people in line around Marcel’s height, but some were significantly taller. Angelo noted at least two guys who were around 7 feet tall and several more who were at least 6’9”. Marcel did not seem bothered by his proximity to so many people who were taller than him. Instead, he seemed pleased by the fact that The Heart of Heaven had seen fit to put him in the same category as these giants, and, more importantly, had seen fit to exclude Angelo from that category.

                When Marcel and Angelo got to the St. Peter at the front of their line, Angelo said, “You don’t have to measure me. I’m only 6’3”, I know I have to pay full price.”

                “What are you doing?” asked Marcel.

                “I’m saving time,” said Angelo.

                Marcel turned to the St. Peter and said, “You have to measure him, don’t you? Isn’t that the policy?”

                “Uh, well, no,” said the St. Peter. “I only have to measure if someone’s close to the line and wants the discount.”

                “But he’s close,” said Marcel. “He’s only an inch short.”

                “If you know he’s an inch short, then I don’t need to measure him,” said the St. Peter. He turned the card-scanner in his kiosk around so Angelo could pay the 50 dollars for a full-price adult ticket.

                “But you don’t know I’m right,” said Marcel. “Maybe he is 6’4” and maybe I’m 6’6”!” He turned on Angelo. “Tell him you want to be measured or the deal’s off.”

                “You can’t bail on the deal now,” said Angelo. “You never said this would be part of it.”

                “The deal is that I get the experience I want out of this,” said Marcel. “And for that experience to be complete, I need you to get measured before you pay.”

                Angelo sighed and gave the St. Peter an apologetic look. “Can you just measure me real quick?”

                “Sure,” said the St. Peter. He came out of his kiosk with his measuring stick and held it up next to Angelo. “Stand up nice and straight. Looks like you’re about…6’3”. So, yeah, about an inch short of the discount. Sorry.”

                “No, I’m sorry,” said Angelo, glaring at Marcel. He paid for his ticket.

                When Marcel stepped up to the kiosk, he said, “I am going to be taking advantage of the Height Night discount today.”

The St. Peter again came out of the kiosk with his measuring stick. He held it up to Marcel and said, “Yeah, OK, looks like about 6’5”. Congratulations, you get the discount.”

Marcel broke into a broad grin as he paid his 25 dollars. “This is such a good idea for an event,” he said. “Have you been on The Soul of the Ostrich?”

“No,” said the St. Peter. “I’m not tall enough.”

“Oh, of course,” said Marcel, and he took a park map, turned, and sauntered over to Angelo. “I think we should hit The Soul of the Ostrich right away. Just to make sure I get to ride it multiple times today.” He opened the map and studied it with exaggerated concentration. “Ah, here it is! We need to head toward the back of the park and veer right around The Sea of Glass. Ready?” He did not wait for Angelo’s answer before striding off through and around the clusters of fellow saints, many of them tall.

 

Even with its odd height-restriction, the wait for The Soul of the Ostrich was almost two hours long according to the digital sign near the beginning of the line. Marcel was not bothered.

“Angelo, come here,” said Marcel. “Stand here.” He pointed at a wooden cut-out of a serene-looking ostrich with a halo. At the top of the ostrich’s head was a line labeled “6ft.4inches” and below that it read, “You must be as tall as this ostrich to ride The Soul of the Ostrich.”

                “Stand where?” asked Angelo.

                “Next to the sign,” said Marcel. “You stand on that side, I’ll stand on this side.” He waved at a passing couple. Neither the man nor the woman were tall enough to ride The Soul of the Ostrich. “Excuse me!” called Marcel. “Would one of you be willing to take a picture of my friend and I by this sign?”

                The woman agreed and Marcel handed her his phone. “OK, hold on,” he said to her. He turned to Angelo. “All right, so I’m going to be smiling really big because according to the sign, I’m tall enough to ride, but you need to be looking sad and dejected because you’re too short to ride.”

                “Uh, OK,” said Angelo. He looked at the woman with Marcel’s phone and frowned.

                “Does he look sad?” Marcel asked the woman through his fixed grin.

                “Sort of,” said the woman. “More like bored.”

                Marcel punched Angelo in the shoulder without turning his head. “Look sad, not bored!”

                Angelo adjusted the insides of his eyebrows upward.

                “There,” said the woman. “That’s a sad look.” She took the picture.

                Marcel rushed over to examine it. “Hmm,” he said. “Angelo, do you know how to make yourself cry? Or we could get some droplets on your cheeks from the drinking fountain, maybe.”

                “No,” said Angelo. “I’m not going to pretend to cry because I can’t go on this stupid ostrich ride.”

                “Whoa, hey,” said an angel, strolling up to Angelo and Marcel. She wore a green sash with her white robe. Her halo was nice and straight but her wings were a little askew. “What’s going on over here? There’s no arguing in heaven! There’s no frowning in heaven!”

                “Sorry,” said Marcel. “He’s just in a bad mood.”

                “There are no bad moods in heaven!” said the angel. She had curly black hair and a septum piercing. She wore pink running shoes with her angel garb. “Why are you in a bad mood?”

                “I’m not,” said Angelo, irritated by the angel’s condescending intrusion. “He wanted me to cry for a picture.”

                “Oh, no,” said the angel. “There are no tears in heaven!”

                “See?” said Angelo. “Listen to the angel, Marcel. Just be happy with the picture you got.”

                “All right, all right,” said Marcel. “That lady who took it for us left anyway.”

                “Why would you want your friend to be crying in a picture?” asked the angel.

                “Because he isn’t tall enough to ride The Soul of the Ostrich,” said Marcel. “But I am.”

                “Hmm,” said the angel, looking Angelo and Marcel up and down. Then she lowered her voice. “Well, I’m not supposed to tell everyone this, but it’s not actually unsafe to ride The Soul of the Ostrich unless you’re under 6’2”. We just set the height at 6’4” to give us sort of a buffer. But I have the authority to make some exceptions for people who are close to the line.” She smiled at Angelo. “You look pretty close, so I’m gonna give you this special exception ticket and you just give it to the ride operator angel when you get to the front of the line. They’ll let you on, it shouldn’t be a problem.” She turned and smiled at Marcel. “And that way you won’t have to stand in line by yourself for two hours and you guys can ride it together! I’ve heard it’s a lot more fun to ride with a friend.” She stepped back so she could smile at both Angelo and Marcel equally. “And that way no one has to frown or be in a bad mood or cry in heaven!”

                “No!” said Marcel, jabbing his finger at the angel. “Do not give him that ticket! Get out of here!”

                The angel was shocked, baffled. “But don’t you want your friend to have fun? In heaven?”

                “Not on this ride!” said Marcel, almost shouting now. “This ride is for people one inch shorter than me, people my height, and people taller than me. He is two inches shorter than me! You say there’s no frowning in heaven? Well, what about rule-breaking, huh?”

                “But there’s mercy in heaven,” said the angel, her voice sharp. “And grace. And besides, I’m not breaking a rule, I’m adhering to a less-known exception to a rule.”

                “It’s fine,” said Angelo, conscious of the stares of passing saints, many of them tall. “I don’t want to ride the ride. I’d rather walk around or ride on something else than stand in line with him for two hours anyway.”

                “Oh,” said the angel. “Well, OK, then…but if you decide you want the exception ticket after all, just find me again. Or any other angel with a green sash. The green sash means we’re Atmosphere Angels. We keep the atmosphere in heaven, you know, heavenly.”

                “OK,” said Angelo. “I probably won’t, but thanks.”

                The angel turned and walked away.

                Marcel spun to face Angelo. “You better not get one of those exception tickets. If you do, the deal is off and I will never stop talking about how my height advantage isn’t an advantage at all because a literal angel stepped in to offer to make an exception for you to do the one thing that I can do but you can’t.”

                “She’s not a literal angel,” said Angelo.

                “That’s what they call them here,” said Marcel. “That’s literally what the job title is.”

                “Stop freaking out,” said Angelo. “I’m not gonna get an exception ticket. Go get in line.”

                “Stay right here,” said Marcel, pointing at a wet bench in the shade by a garbage can. A sprinkler in the grass behind the bench wetted it further on every pass. “That way I can keep an eye on you from the line to make sure you aren’t going to get an exception ticket.”

                “I’m not sitting on a wet bench for two hours,” said Angelo. “I’m gonna go get something to eat. I might try to find a dry bench where I can take a nap.”

                Marcel stood with his hands on his hips, radiating suspicion as he examined Angelo’s face for signs of clever deceit. “Fine,” he finally said. “Meet me back here in two hours. If you’re not here, I’ll assume you got an exception ticket and got into line behind me and the deal will be off. The whole friendship might be off.”

                “Wow,” said Angelo. “You sure you don’t want to just end the friendship now? That way I could just drive home and you could get one of your truly tall friends to give you a ride.”

                Marcel’s face softened a little, worry creeping in. “No, no, I’m just…OK, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that. Just meet me here in two hours and…and don’t get an exception ticket, OK? Please?”

                “I’m not going to,” said Angelo. “Calm down.”

                Marcel turned and walked past the ostrich cut-out again, pausing for a moment to affirm the inch he had on the ostrich, and then joined the line for the ride. Angelo watched for a minute as a few more tall people got into line behind Marcel, then a ripple went through the line as everyone advanced a few steps, then stopped again. Angelo turned and walked off in no particular direction, or maybe he’d find his way to the kids’ rides, not for any particular reason, but now that he thought of it, it was probably true that there would be fewer tall people there, and there would probably be quite a few people shorter than him, such as mothers, such as children. Of course, some of the dads might be taller than Angelo, but that was fine, it wasn’t like he was insecure about it.

 

                Angelo was right about the area with the kids’ rides. There were a lot more people who were shorter than him there. Mostly mothers and children, just as he predicted. And yes, some of the dads were taller than him, but some were not, some had obviously come to The Heart of Heaven in spite of Height Night, not because of it. The area with the kids’ rides was called Cupid Cloud, which Angelo had forgotten, but when he saw the sign, it reminded him of how when he and his friends were in middle school, they’d call it “Stupid Cloud” instead, because all the rides were “slow” and “boring.” And if one of their friends was afraid to go on the bigger rides, such as Holy Roller Coaster or Seraphim Splash, then the unafraid kids would say stuff like, “Why don’t you go over to Stupid Cloud with the babies?” That had only happened to Angelo once on a visit during the summer Rapture II had opened, but the taunting of his friends had persuaded him to ride it despite his fear, and although he hadn’t thought it was fun, exactly, it turned out to be a lot less terrifying than he had imagined.

                After walking around Cupid Cloud for a bit, Angelo felt his irritation with Marcel beginning to fade and he went into a shop called Eternal Eats for a treat of some kind. He selected a dessert called “The Perfected State,” paid the cashier – an angel with a blue sash – took his number, and went to sit at one of the tables on the sidewalk in front of the shop. In the distance, over the ubiquitous harp music playing from speakers scattered all through the park, Angelo heard The Heart of Heaven’s big musical show kicking off its first performance of the day. It was called “Heavenband: Dead Legends” and it featured a cover band comprised of many impersonators of famous, dead musicians, all playing each other’s songs as one huge group. From what Angelo remembered of the one time he’d seen the show, there were, like, 10 guitarists, 8 drummers, and so on. They tried to incorporate classical composers too. And of course, plenty more famous musicians had died in the 8 or so years since Angelo had seen the show, so they’d probably added even more impersonators to the band, making it an even bigger mess. He laughed to himself as he thought about how ill-conceived the whole idea was and at how impossibly busy Heavenband’s current rendition of “I Swear to be Fair” was.

Angelo was just beginning to wonder why the number for his dessert hadn’t been called yet when he saw the angel who had tried to give him the exception ticket walking down the sidewalk in his direction. For no real reason beyond simply recognizing her, Angelo said, “Oh, hey!” when the angel passed his table.

She stopped and looked at him for a moment, then gave him a sympathetic smile when she recognized him. “Hi! Where’s your friend?”

“He’s in line for The Soul of the Ostrich,” said Angelo.

“So he really did just leave you all by yourself?” asked the angel. “That’s not how someone should act in heaven.”

“Well, that’s OK,” said Angelo. “I really didn’t want to ride it. We’re here because he’s working through some insecurity issues, so you kind of saw him at his worst.”

“That’s very gracious of you,” said the angel. “That’s a good attitude to have in heaven. And, I mean, he is here, so he must be a good person.”

“Well, he paid to get in, if that’s what you mean,” said Angelo, allowing himself a smirk. “Although, he used the discount, so maybe he’s not quite as good as some of us.”

The angel smirked back, but she said, “That’s a little cynical for heaven. Cynicism doesn’t have much of a place in heaven.”

“Sorry,” said Angelo, feigning contrition.

“But shame doesn’t have much of a place in heaven either,” said the angel. “So don’t feel too bad about the cynicism.” She paused and looked around. Then she said, “So if your friend is in line without you, that probably means you’re lonely, right?” She winked at Angelo.

“Uh, yes?” said Angelo.

“Well, loneliness has no place in heaven,” said the angel, pulling out the chair across the table from Angelo and sitting down. “So as an Atmosphere Angel, I should probably keep you company for a little while.” She lowered her voice. “At least until I’ve rested my feet for a bit.”

“I noticed your running shoes earlier,” said Angelo. “But all the other angels are wearing those white slipper things.”

“Yeah, I have special permission to wear them because my feet are really bad,” said the angel. “And they do help, but really, I just need to work my way up to one of the positions where I can sit down. Like, being a St. Peter would be boring, but it pays better than an Atmosphere Angel and I’d be able to sit.”

“That makes sense,” said Angelo.

“But we can’t just talk about my aching feet,” said the angel. “There aren’t any aching feet in heaven. So what do you want to talk about? Do you have any questions about The Heart of Heaven?”

“Not really,” said Angelo.

“Do you want to know why The Soul of the Ostrich is called that?” asked the angel. “A lot of people are confused about that.”

                “Yeah, OK,” said Angelo. “Why is it called that?”

                “Because,” said the angel. “The ostrich is the tallest bird, but it can’t fly. But the idea is that when it dies, its soul leaves its body and flies up to heaven. And then when it’s in heaven, it gets angel wings, and it can fly like all of the other birds. And that’s why the ride is built specifically for tall people. Because the ostrich is tall. And the ride gives the sensation of flying and soaring and swooping, like the soul of the ostrich does on its way to heaven and once it gets to heaven.”

                “Thanks,” said Angelo. “That makes more sense now.”

                “And do you feel less lonely?” asked the angel.

                “How do your feet feel?” asked Angelo.

                “Still a little sore,” whispered the angel.

                “Then I guess I’m still lonely,” said Angelo. “You’d better keep sitting down for a while.”

                The angel laughed, but as she did, both she and Angelo became aware of a distant sound. It was not Heavenband and it was not the rumble of a roller coaster or the happy cries of entertained saints. It was something else. Something more chaotic, something more threatening, something less heavenly.

                A chirping sound came from somewhere around the angel’s waist. Her right hand disappeared inside of her billowing sleeve, she made a face, and then her hand came back out of the sleeve holding a walkie-talkie. The angel pressed the talk button on the side of the walkie-talkie and asked, “What’s going on?”

                There was a pause, and then a staticky, panicky voice said, “There’s a riot breaking out at The Soul of the Ostrich! There’s a mob here destroying everything! A violent mob!” Behind the voice on the walkie-talkie, Angelo could hear the same chaotic, threatening sound he heard growing in the distance, but louder and closer. It was clear that the person on the other end of the walkie-talkie was in that sound, or at least very near it.

                The angel jumped up from the table. Other saints nearby had noticed what was happening and were murmuring among themselves, watching the angel with mounting concern. She pressed the talk button again and said, “A riot? What should…what should I do?”

                “Keep the saints calm!” screamed the voice, one of the least calm utterances Angelo had ever heard. “Keep them calm and get them out of the park! Help direct people OUT of-” The voice was cut off and then there was only static.

                “Hello?” said the angel. “Hello? Hello?

                “Miss,” said a very tall man nearby with an ice cream cone in his hand. Angelo couldn’t remember the heaven-themed name of the ice cream cone. “Miss, what’s going on? Is something wrong?”

                Angelo was impressed with how the angel pulled herself together, although he thought this would be a good time to drop the angel act, which she did not do. “No, things don’t go wrong in heaven,” she said. “But that being said, there may occasionally be a part of heaven that ceases to be a part of heaven for a while because something is going wrong there, and, uh, that appears to be happening now, so I think it would be best if all you saints would make your way to the Pearly Gates and exit heaven until you’re given word that it’s safe to return. If you cannot return, be sure to talk to our Saints Service Angels and they’ll be happy to discuss refunds with you.”

                “Can we finish eating our treats?” asked a woman of average height.

                “I would say to either leave them here or take them with you,” said the angel. “But whichever you choose, we need to hurry, OK? So, please, everyone…let’s hurry.”

                The chaotic sound, now that it had been identified as the sound of a riot, sounded like exactly that. “My friend was in line over there,” said Angelo. “I have to go find him.”

                “I’m supposed to be getting people out of the park,” said the angel. “I shouldn’t let you go over there.”

                “But you can’t really stop me,” said Angelo. “Can you?” He was genuinely curious as to whether or not she had a means of stopping him.

                “No,” said the angel in a low voice, leaning close to Angelo. “But try not to let these other people see that I can’t stop you or none of them will listen to me. Just stay near the back of the group and slip away.”

                Angelo figured he could at least do that much for her.

                As the angel gathered everyone from Eternal Eats together and started herding them toward the Pearly Gates, saints from farther back in the park came hurrying past. Some of them were bloodied, some were limping, some were holding their hands to their heads, some had torn clothing. There were angels, too, with mangled wings and bent halos, sashless and dazed. “Keep moving!” called the angel in running shoes, Angelo’s new friend. “Don’t panic! We don’t want anyone getting trampled!” She was maintaining a semblance of order so far. Her crowd of followers grew in numbers as frightened, confused people were drawn to her relative calm. They sensed the presence of a plan. And the assurances about refunds were probably nice to hear.

                As Angelo was just about to slip away to head toward the riot in search of Marcel, a man no taller than 5’7” came scurrying around a corner. The front of his polo shirt was torn almost to his navel and he had a large, ugly knot on his balding forehead. “Where are these people going?” he asked Angelo.

                “That angel up there is leading us to the Pearly Gates,” said Angelo. “We’re supposed to leave the park until order can be restored.”

                “Good,” said the man, falling in step beside Angelo. “Good, good. But they’re not going to be able to restore order. The cops won’t help them. Has anyone mentioned refunds?”

                “Yes,” said Angelo. “She’s mentioned refunds a few times. Why do you say the cops won’t help them?”

                “The Heart of Heaven has had a contentious relationship with the cops since it opened,” said the man. “They made it difficult for the cops to investigate some alleged crimes in the park early on because ‘there aren’t crimes in heaven,’ which upset the cops, of course, so then the cops denounced the park, and then The Heart of Heaven said ‘there aren’t any cops in heaven,’ which, I mean, I suppose the idea is that heaven won’t need cops because you won’t need laws so you won’t need law enforcement, but the park probably meant it to insult the cops, and that’s definitely how they took it, so now they refuse to come here pretty much under any circumstances. So my guess is that they’re gonna let this riot run its course and see if a bunch of young people in angel costumes can do anything to slow it down.”

                “Do you know what started the riot?” asked Angelo. “Why are people upset?”

                “It’s a bunch of the tall people,” said the man. He stumbled a little, but waved Angelo away when he moved to steady him. “They were in line for that ride that only the tall people are allowed to ride, but there was some kind of mechanical failure and then the park shut the ride down for today, at least, and maybe longer. One of the guys who had been waiting in line got very, very upset and basically single-handedly stirred up the rest of them. Now they’re all going crazy, destroying everything. Maybe we just don’t understand their problems, but I have to wonder why tall guys have so much rage. They have all the advantages.”

                “The guy who started the riot,” said Angelo. “Did you see him?”

                “Yes,” said the man. “Well, I think so. There was one guy that seemed to be leading the mob, so I’m assuming he’s the one who started it.”

                “What did he look like?” asked Angelo.

                “Uh, I dunno,” said the man. “Angry. Tall.”

                “Was he one of the taller ones?” asked Angelo. “Of the tall guys, I mean.”

                “I dunno,” said the man. “They all look really tall compared to me.”

                “Was he, like, two inches taller than me?” asked Angelo.

                “He was definitely taller than you,” said the man. “You’re only, what, 6’3”? The guy leading the mob definitely got the discount today. Guys like you and me never get a discount day, huh?”

                “Guys like you and me?” asked Angelo.

                “Yeah,” said the man, looking up at Angelo. “Guys like us. Average height guys.”

                Angelo was surprised at how much this annoyed him. “Did you hear anyone call the guy leading the mob ‘Marcel?’”

                “No,” said the man. “Their shouts were mostly inarticulate.”

                Angelo realized he wasn’t going to get confirmation from this man, but he also realized he didn’t need it. Marcel was the leader of the mob, the inciter of the riot. He had to be. Angelo turned to duck down one of The Heart of Heaven’s golden side streets.

                “Where are you going?” asked the man.

                “To stop the riot,” said Angelo.

                “But how?” asked the man. “You’re not tall enough. They won’t listen to you.”

                “Yes, they will,” said Angelo. “I can do anything Marcel can do. I can do it better.”

                “Maybe if you wore some shoes with thicker soles,” said the man.

                Angelo turned and ran toward the roar of the riot, trying his best to ignore the sting of the short, short, short man’s cruel words.

 

                It did not take Angelo long to find the rioting mob. They seemed to be prioritizing thoroughness of destruction over moving rapidly through the park, so most of the rioting was still occurring in the shadow of The Soul of the Ostrich. Angelo peered around the corner of a gift shop called You CAN Take it With You and watched as many furious, tall men and a few furious, tall women overturned garbage cans, kicked garbage cans, stomped on garbage cans, hurled garbage cans, scattered garbage around, hurled benches, broke benches into pieces, hurled pieces of benches, ripped sprinklers out of the ground, ripped speakers playing harp music off of poles, smashed shop windows, hurled merchandise into the golden streets, bellowed, and sometimes scuffled when then their rioting conflicted with the rioting of others. There were no angels anywhere. They had all fled this portion of heaven and the tall saints were entirely unopposed.

Scanning the scene, Angelo saw the top third of the ostrich cut-out set aflame and flung into a fountain, where it immediately fizzled out. He did not see Marcel. The uniform tallness of the mob made it difficult to identify individuals except for those with strange clothing, those with outrageous hair, and those who were exceptionally tall, such as the likely-7-footer who threw a ceramic gift angel at a light overhead whereupon the angel and the light both shattered and showered him with sharp fragments of their respective substances as he cried out and covered his face with his long, long forearms.

                As Angelo watched a variety of small, violent scenes play out within the context of the overarching riot, he heard a loud, animalistic shriek down the golden street to his left. There, standing on the roof of a shop called The Lamb’s Book(s) of Life, was Marcel. He proved himself to be the source of the shriek by doing it again and sustaining it for longer. The tall rioters, wherever they stood, turned their eyes to Marcel and raised whatever wreckage was in their hands in acknowledgment. Maybe even in salute. In darkness and illuminated by torches, Marcel might have looked frightening or intimidating. As it was – a bright, beautiful morning – Angelo thought Marcel looked silly, like a tourist posing like a leader of a mob for a photograph at a location where a historical riot had taken place.

                “I have another idea!” shouted Marcel. “Let’s set heaven on fire!” Angelo wondered if he’d gotten the idea from that top third of the ostrich cut-out tossed in the fountain.

                The tall rioters shouted back their approval, putting all of their considerable height into their voices.

                Angelo knew he had to do something. He couldn’t let these tall people burn The Heart of Heaven to the ground. Not that he really cared that much about the park. He hadn’t been here in years and didn’t feel very nostalgic about it. He didn’t think the rides were fun and he thought the theme was stupid. But he would save the park for the nice angel he had met! Although he wasn’t sure how much she really cared about the park either. Her job probably didn’t pay that well and walking around all day hurt her feet. Would she really be that sad to see it go? Maybe if she’d been promoted to a St. Peter position, but who knew if that would ever happen? So why did Angelo want to stop the riot? To protect Marcel from himself? To attempt to limit the amount of trouble Marcel was getting himself into? But the wounded short guy had said the police didn’t care what happened in or to The Heart of Heaven. And Marcel certainly didn’t seem to be in danger from the mob. The mob seemed to love him. So why shouldn’t Angelo just leave the park, get in the car, drive home, and let Marcel do whatever it was he wanted to do? Why should Angelo risk drawing attention to himself, perhaps inciting the rioters to turn on him?

                Well, in a moment of rare, honest introspection, Angelo discovered why: he didn’t like seeing Marcel feeling triumphant and confident and he wanted to undermine him.

 

                It was not difficult for Angelo to get onto the roof of the Mini-Mansion – of which there were two in the whole park – across the golden street from The Lamb’s Book(s) of Life. He just backtracked a little, found the alley behind a row of shops, climbed up on top of a dumpster, and from there was able use his long arms to reach a ledge on the back side of the Mini-Mansion. He pulled himself up to the ledge and from there it was a simple matter to scramble up the sloped roof to the flat area at its peak. Marcel spotted him immediately, interrupting himself in the middle of a query about lighters directed at the tall mob in the golden streets below him to shout, “Get down from there, Angelo! This has nothing to do with you!”

                The mob followed Marcel’s venomous glare from his rooftop to Angelo’s rooftop. Angelo felt the mob’s attention fall upon him, felt their readiness to attack him, their eagerness to attack him. They needed only the slightest reason. Or maybe they already had their reason to attack and they just needed the slightest confirmation that the moment to do so had arrived.

                Angelo did not address Marcel. He addressed the mob. “Listen to me!” he shouted down at them. They were all taller than him by at least an inch, yet they all had to crane their necks to look up at him. “There’s no reason for you to act like this! You’re scaring people! You’re hurting people! You’re making tall people look bad!”

                “Shut up, Angelo!” shouted Marcel, stepping to the edge of his rooftop and jabbing his finger into the open space between them. “They offered a special benefit just for us and then they snatched it away!” There were scattered cries of agreement from the mob. Someone threw a piece of rubble at Angelo but it struck the roof below him and slid into the gutter.

                “They tried to give you benefits!” shouted Angelo. “They designed a ride just for you! They gave you all discounts today! This whole day is called Height Night and you guys didn’t even make it to noon before you ruined it! Do you think they’ll be inclined to give tall people special benefits again? Huh? After the way you’ve responded to the ride breaking down, which wasn’t even on purpose?”

                “They should have serviced The Soul of the Ostrich thoroughly before today!” shouted Marcel. “They should have gone over it with a fine-toothed comb to ensure that nothing like this would happen! And now we’re getting word that people are getting refunds today? Well, let me guess who won’t be included!”

                “Because you’re rioting!” shouted Angelo. “Some tall people are getting refunds but you’re destroying everything! If you hadn’t gotten violent, I guarantee you would have all gotten refunds!”

                “Oh sure,” shouted Marcel. “We might have gotten our refunds! But our refunds would have been less than everyone else’s!”

                “Because you paid less!” shouted Angelo.

                Marcel ignored this point entirely. “But, actually, no!” he shouted. “They were never going to give us our refunds, just like we were never going to be able to take full advantage of our discount and we were never going to be able to ride The Soul of the Ostrich! Because they always find a way to take the benefits of being tall away from us! Always!” The mob responded to this with whoops, stomps, and more destruction of anything immediately at hand. They were not wavering. In fact, this debate seemed to be riling them up, further entrenching them in their aggrieved state.

                Angelo had expected Marcel to make a fool of himself, to fold once confronted, to expose himself as pathetic and self-pitying. And while his arguments did not make sense, his audience had a lot of built-in sympathy for his cause. They were the very mob he had whipped up, after all, and accepting that he was wrong meant accepting that they were wrong too.

                “Look,” shouted Angelo, addressing the mob again rather than Marcel. “I’m only an inch shorter than many of you. I’m only two inches shorter than Marcel, who you seem to have accepted as your leader. By most people’s standards, I’m tall. So I can-” Angelo didn’t get to finish saying what he could do, because what he couldn’t do was keep talking as the mob booed, shouted him down, and flung more pieces of rubble at him, one of which struck him in the hip. He had made a grave tactical error. He saw that now, but too late. The mob surged toward the Mini-Manson atop which Angelo stood. More rubble was thrown at him. “Around back!” shouted someone. They were coming for him. If they caught him on the roof, would they throw him down into the street? Would they go that far in their fury?

                Angelo shouted across the gulf between himself and his slightly taller friend. “Marcel! Help me! Tell them to stop!”

                But Marcel was too far gone. “You think I don’t see what you did!” he screamed. “You chose a building taller than mine to stand on! You had to get higher than me so my height wouldn’t benefit me!”

                Angelo heard shouting in the alley behind him now, then scrabbling sounds as someone gained the ledge. They would be upon him soon. He had no choice but to flee. He slid down the side of the Mini-Mansion’s sloped roof and used his still-pretty-good leaping ability to launch himself over a small gap to the roof of an adjoining shop. He didn’t know what the shop sold, but it was probably Frisbees shaped like crowns or stuffed lions and lambs that lie down with each other or “blood-dipped robes” that were actually just red. This roof was flat and he was able to run across it and lower himself over the side. Still holding his head up over the edge of the roof and looking back, Angelo watched as his nearest pursuer – a skinny guy who was at least 6’7” – slipped as he attempted the jump from the Mini-Mansion roof and disappeared into the gap with a cry of dismay. This caused the other pursuers on the Mini-Mansion roof to hesitate. Angelo let his arms straighten, lowering himself in order to get as close to the ground as he could before letting go. When he landed on the hard, golden street, the shock sent jolts of pain through his feet and up to his knees. As he ran away on sore legs, Angelo wondered how much less pain his landing would have caused him if he were even one inch taller.

 

                In the parking lot, Angelo stood with other exiled saints and watched as black smoke billowed up from The Heart of Heaven and into the blue sky. Angelo wondered if they could smell the smoke in the real heaven. There were quite a few police cars in the parking lot too. The cops watched the smoke with unconcealed delight. Their hatred for The Heart of Heaven had not, it seemed, been exaggerated. A few people asked them why they weren’t intervening to stop the mob still in the park, but the cops just said that The Heart of Heaven preferred to deal with problems in their own way. Then why were the cops there at all, the people asked. The cops said they needed to be there in case the mob tried to continue the riot outside of the park.

                As Angelo turned away from watching the park burn and began to search for his car, he spotted a cluster of angels kneeling in the parking lot. Beside them were two piles: one of wings, one of halos. At first he thought they might be praying, but as he got closer, he realized that there was an angel with a green sash lying flat on her stomach in the middle of the group. Then he spotted her pink running shoes. Angelo hurried toward the group to see if there was something wrong with her. When he got close, Angelo saw that the angel with the running shoes did not appear to be hurt, but was reaching down into a narrow hole in the parking lot with an effortful expression on her face, her cheek pressed against the blacktop. Beside her was a small, circular, metal grate.

                “What’s going on?” asked Angelo. “Are you OK?”

                All the kneeling angels looked up at him. So did the angel with the running shoes, and she smiled in recognition. “You made it out,” she said without getting up. “Did you find your friend?”

                “He’s fine,” said Angelo. “What’s going on?”

                “I dropped my car keys down this hole on accident,” said the angel. “I can see them and we got the grate off, but none of us can reach them.”

                “Can I try?” asked Angelo. “I’m a lot taller than the rest of you. And my arms are long for my height too.”

                “Sure!” said the angel. “That would be great!” She pulled her arm out of the hole and sat up, moving aside so Angelo could take her place.

                Angelo lowered himself onto his stomach and looked down the hole. The keys were right there at the bottom, resting in a puddle. “No problem,” said Angelo, and he slid his hand down the hole. And he could almost reach the keys. Almost. But no. He pressed his shoulder painfully against the opening, straining for just another inch, another half inch. But no. No. No.

                “Can I give it a try?”

                With his arm still in the hole, his fingertips still just a fraction of an inch from the keys, Angelo looked up and saw, standing over him, the most handsome freak he had ever seen: a young man not more than 5’9” with arms that seemed to hang almost to his shins. His smile was beautiful.

                “Oh, yes!” cried the angel, leaping to her feet. Her pink running shoes were right next to Angelo’s head. He dropped his eyes and the shoes filled his vision. “Get up!” said the angel, her voice filled with glee. “Let him try!”




Discussion Questions

  • List a dozen more souvenirs that could plausibly be sold at The Heart of Heaven, including estimated price and target demographic (infants/atheists/that Burpo kid/etc.) for each.



  • What are some other promotions that an amusement park could do similar to Height Night? Keep in mind that they should all rhyme. Example: Gray Day for people with a set percentage of their hair that is gray.



  • If you can correctly explain the “Mini-Mansion” joke, you will receive many bonus points.



  • Which roller coaster at The Heart of Heaven sounds the best: The Soul of the Ostrich, Holy Roller Coaster, Seraphim Splash, or Rapture II? Why?



  • What is a trait of yours for which you have NEVER received the benefits you deserve?



  • What is the significance of the fact that Angelo’s name is just “angel” with an “o” on the end? How significant is that significance?