Friday, 6 November 2015
By Andrea McDonald
Getting around in Heaven takes a little getting used to. The Greater Angels can fly of course. But Lesser Angels, like me, well, we have to walk. It’s easy really. I guess. You put your foot out and the path appears under it. Look back and there’s just empty sky. But it can make you a little dizzy.
Running, now that was really scary at first, what with the speed your feet fly. There’s always that worry that the mechanics of Heaven just won’t be fast enough to get that path down before your foot lands, and dropping through space is not my idea of fun. Especially as it was a failed parachute that put me here. But I had to learn to run early on. Due to the fact that I was always late. Punctuality was the last lesson I was to master before coming here, but the last time I died, one of the Angels let me sneak on up. Figured I’d never get it, and what the hell, being late is not really a mortal sin, now is it. That’s what he said, but I think he just had to make his quota.
Anyway, I’m running because I’m due at The Hall of the Lesser Fates. I’m to monitor the final hour of a fellow named Mike Watson.
The Lesser Fates is code for The Little Guys. You know, the ordinary people. Not the Ghandis or the Dalai Lamas of the world; they belong in the Hall of the Greater Fates where the Greater Angels look out for them. Because their lives matter to tons of people, and maybe, just maybe, they might have the power to change the world down there. The Joe Silvermans, the Mary Dillons and the Ram Ramkumars just don’t rank up there, because their lives are ordinary. Sure, they might get their fifteen minutes of fame, but that’s it. And so they get angels like me assigned to them.
Now, I like Mike. Others might not, but I do. He was born to be a skinny dude, with a tiny head full of red-neck ideas, and I’ve got to say, some of the things his brain comes up with are pretty radical. He dreamed up camouflaged toilet paper. You know, so the stuff that comes out of a human wouldn’t be as obvious as it is on white toilet paper. Pretty smart. And he developed a toilet bowl plunger that is shaped like a gun and fires air with a bang when you pull the trigger. Unblocks those plugged up toilets like the dickens. And fun. I’ve never seen so many men line up to do the dirty deed. Or undo the dirty deed, to be more precise.
But Mike just doesn’t seem to get the lessons we set out for him this go-round. I mean, his one big lesson was to learn to think of others before himself. Seems simple. But so far he hasn’t got it. The other things, like patience, tolerance- well, we gave up on his getting those a long time ago. It would be a miracle if he learned them in his last hour, but hey, I’m an optimist.
I’m here now at the Hall of the Lesser Fates. I pushed aside the mist. The chairs that floated in the room were empty. Hmmm. Maybe I’m so late the other angels left. Or maybe no one is coming because Mike is just not worth the effort. I have to admit the thought of determining his fate without opposition is kind of thrilling. We don’t often get to be headstrong up here. Cooperation is the name of the game.
But then the mist divided. Meseo entered. In this realm of love, he’s the one I love the least, if you get my drift. I swear the powers-that-be named him Meseo because he’s a total mess-up, but they say otherwise.
He went straight to business. “I hope this won’t take long. I’ve got a hot new angel waiting for me on Cloud Nine. Who’ve we got?” he asked.
“Fellow named Mike Watson. I’ve been keeping an eye on him. Here’s his bio.” I threw the information to him mentally. Saves time.
“Hmmm.” Meseo said. “Seems like a loser.”
“Well,” I said, “he’s had some interesting ideas over the years. He’s not all bad.”
“Shot his dog because it got in his way.”
“To be fair, the dog chased the sheep rather than herding them.”
“Did he ever try to teach the dog to herd?”
“Well, no. He’s not very patient.”
“Okay, well he failed that test. I see he was prejudiced, and we manipulated things so those he couldn’t tolerate became his neighbours. Next door, in fact. How’d that go? Never mind. I just read your thoughts. He threatened to kill them if they so much as stepped on his land.”
“Like I said, Mike’s not very tolerant.”
“How many chances did he have to learn his lessons?” Meseo asked, frowning.
“Let’s see, there was the time his only son came out of the closet. Hasn’t talked to him since. And his wife became ill and couldn’t manage to keep the house going anymore.”
“Did he offer to hire help?”
“No, he divorced her.”
“He’s a lost cause.”
“Well, hang on. He has an hour left. Let’s see what he’s up to,” I said. “Maybe we can throw something at him that’ll challenge him. Maybe he’ll come through after all.”
Meseo and I used our super angel vision to find Mike down there on earth. “Got him,” I said. Can you see him? He’s in his pickup truck at the corner of Eldridge Avenue and Main Street.”
“Where’s he heading in such a hurry?”
“Hang on- zeroing in on his thoughts- really excited- going out to the range to shoot with a couple of buddies.”
Meseo frowned again. “I’m surprised he has buddies.”
I concentrated- got the picture from his brain. “Antonio Vandez. . . imprisoned for drug dealing. And ‘Dead Dog Douggie’. . . local drunk, but harmless enough.”
“He’s really keen,” Meseo said, “judging by the speed he’s going. Who have we got in the area who’s reached the end of their time? We can throw that somebody in his way. He’ll plough into them. Bammo! Kill two with one stone. Our work will be done and I can get back to my- pleasures.”
“Hang on, hang on,” I said. “Surely he deserves one more chance. He doesn’t know it’s his last chance, so it’ll be a true test.”
“What have you got in mind?”
“His father, Gerald Watson- how old is he now?”
Meseo scanned for the data. “Seventy six.”
“In poor health?”
“No. Quite healthy in fact, but we can change that-“
“How long before his term is up?”
“Three years, four weeks, five days and two hundred minutes, but we can shorten it-“
I felt his vibrations- Gerald Watson’s- and they were pure and bright. It wouldn’t be fair to sacrifice him to save his son. He’d done his best to raise him well. “No,” I said. “But we can use him anyway.”
“What are you thinking?”
I smiled. “Let’s give him a heart attack. Does Mike have his cell-phone with him?”
Meseo concentrated. “Yeah.”
“Good. Here goes.” I put my fist to my heart and squeezed hard while concentrating on Gerald’s energy. I felt it go from strong and white to tight and a queer shade of burgundy. The man fell on the sidewalk about four kilometers from his son’s position en route to the shooting range.
We watched. A crowd gathered. One man stooped to help.
“Bonus points for that one. Remind me to advise his angel,” I said.
Another man rummaged in his pocket, but pulling them out empty, he gazed imploringly around the crowd. “He’s asking if anyone has aspirin,” Meseo pointed out. “He’s got some from the woman in the blue suit. He’s telling Gerald to chew them.”
“Good,” I said. “I wouldn’t want Gerald to die. The Man Upstairs would hear about it, wouldn’t he Meseo, and have something to say about that. You almost cost me my wings.”
“You misjudge me. Hey, if I was a rat, I wouldn’t be up here, now would I? In fact I’m making notes of the good deeds…”
I let it go. Heaven and all that.
“That one-“ I concentrated hard to locate her energy signature and her assigned name- “Ellen Fraubaum- she’s phoning 911.”
It wasn’t long before the paramedics arrived with their sirens screaming. They strapped Gerald onto a gurney and lifted him into the ambulance.
“But, it’s not working,” Meseo said. “No one has asked him for an emergency contact. No one has called the son.”
I concentrated hard. I wrote the words In case of emergency, call my son, Mike Watson @ 725-3611, on a slip of paper and made it fall out of Gerald’s pocket. No one noticed.
“Sh-t, I mean, golly,” I said, “help me get someone to notice. That woman, Ellen Fraubaum, concentrate on her with me!”
We watched as she turned to leave, then stopped, and looking down, scooped up the scrap of paper. She pulled out her cell phone and dialed.
“Whew, that was a close one.”
“Yeah well, I don’t know why I bothered to do that,” Meseo said. “That Mike character isn’t going to change. He’s a lost cause.”
Which is another reason why Meseo is the one angel I love the least. “Come on,” I said, “everybody deserves another chance.”
Down below us Mike’s phone rang. His radio was thumping out tunes so loud his windows were shaking and he was singing like a has-been country star. Just before I conspired to shut down the radio signal, he looked at the phone laying there on the seat. Hung his hands on the wheel and ignored it.
“See? Told you. Lost cause. Let’s see who can crash into him.”
“No, wait. He has ten more minutes.”
I took over the phone signal. Turned up the volume and just let it ring and ring. Finally Mike swore and took the call.
“Is this Mike Watson?” Ellen asked.
“Yeah. Who wants to know?”
“My name is Ellen Fraubaum. I’m sorry to tell you this, but your father has just had a heart attack.”
We watched Mike curse and slap the steering wheel. He looked over at his rifle case.
“Mr. Watson? Did you hear what I said? Your father has had a heart attack. He’s being taken to Ellesmere Memorial Hospital.”
“Yeah, yeah. I heard you the first time.” He hung up. Kept driving. In fact he sped up.
Meseo rolled his eyes. “Told you. His buddy Antonio is just as bad. He’s driving to the range from the opposite direction. I’ll just make him speed up too. They can meet at the corner of Main and Eldon. They’ll take each other out. Boxed and bowed.”
I sighed. I hated to lose a soul. Worse, I hated to lose to Meseo. Just because I’m up here doesn’t make me a saint.
I was about to close the clouds on the scene below when I got a curious buzz from Mike’s energy flow. I looked down. He was squealing the tires of his truck in a U-turn. Laying rubber down Main Street. Then I heard his voice through his cell phone.
“Antonio? Yeah. Look. I can’t make it to the range today. Yeah. My old man. He’s had a heart attack. I got to go to the hospital. Yeah. Call Dead Dog for me, will ya? Let him know. Yeah. Hope so. Thanks man. I’ll call you later and let you know.”
I grinned as Meseo stood up, shrugged, and walked out into the mist.
Boxed and bowed? Nah.
Betted and bested.
Wednesday, 28 October 2015
Hi gang. Halloween approaches. Time to get creepy.
By Andrea McDonald
A dying fly buzzed futilely against the grimy window pane as Susan scanned the yard. She wrapped her arms tightly around her waist, clutching her knobby green cardigan in her fists, but one hand found its way up to press tightly against her mouth as her eyes riveted on the spot at the end of the long lane where the school bus would stop.
A van approached, and braked. She tensed. A man with a mailbag slung over his shoulder jumped out, pried open the mailbox, and pushed in a letter. She didn’t exhale until his van rumbled down the gravel road out of sight. She chewed her lip and waited.
When the school bus stopped and the doors folded open, she strained to hear if there was laughter as her daughter stepped down and trudged up the rutted lane toward the house; the trapped fly buzzed too loudly. She watched Amy, twelve years old, blonde head down and with arms crossed, kick the dust as she plodded up the hill. Were the kids making fun of her, and the house?
Susan didn’t call to Amy to ask her to go back and fetch the letter. She’d face that herself.
The screen door squealed. “Hey,” Amy said, shaking off her jacket. Susan glanced down at the murky bruises on both her daughter’s arms where her husband Derrick had grabbed her. They were fading at least. Soon they’d be gone, and she’d never be hurt again. She pulled her own sweater tighter.
“How’d it go?” Susan asked, looking away.
“Okay I guess,” Amy muttered. She turned toward the table. Her shoe caught on a scrap of raised linoleum and she tripped. “I hate this house,” she mumbled, and shivered. “It gives me the creeps.”
Susan sighed but said nothing, and after peering across the yard and into the woods, scurried down to the mailbox. As usual, her thoughts turned back to the day- the day that had led them here to this run-down house: the day Amy’s twin Amelia was taken. The girls were only six then. A man had lured them to the curb with a lame puppy. Amy had sensed something wrong and run home, but Amelia stayed and was gone when a frantic Amy returned with her mother.
Amelia was never found, alive or dead. Amy was cut in half without her twin. Susan never forgave herself for not protecting the girls. Derrick crumbled, but over the years the evil that had befallen his child, the evil he couldn’t fathom, somehow crept into him. He began to drink, and then his fury erupted. The pushing, the grabbing, the slapping started.
The tin flag on the mailbox squeaked as Susan yanked it down. She peered in the dark box, and pulled out a letter addressed to her. She turned it over. No return address.
No one knew she and Amy were there. She’d been so careful not to say a word to anyone. When her widowed and childless sister died of cancer, Susan kept her death secret from Derrick, and when the small inheritance came, she knew she had a way to protect Amy. Strangely, she had spotted the ad in the newspaper that same day. Private sale. House on two acres. Secluded. Furnished. Owners transferred. Priced to sell.
It was a shell of a house, grayed, with shreds of old paint hanging like psoriasis flakes on infected skin. It smelled like old cheese. Dense, dark woods surrounded it and it was far from town.
It was all she could afford, but more importantly, it was safe. She and Amy packed up a few belongings when Derrick was out drinking, and left without telling him their whereabouts. She knew it was cruel, but heartache and stress and fear had scraped away any love she had felt, and she swore she’d never see her daughter cower under the stairs again.
The letter burned in her hand as she hurried back up the hill. Once in the kitchen she slit it open with a knife and began to read.
“Dear Mrs. Wilson,
My name is Mary. My husband and I sold you the house. He made me swear not to say anything to anybody, but I haven’t slept since we moved out, since before we moved out in fact, but when I saw that it was just you and your young daughter who would live in it, all alone, I knew I had to say something.
Susan slumped into a rickety chair. Her stomach twisted.
I’m so sorry, really I am. But you see, and I’m sure you can tell by the house, my husband and me, we don’t have much money. We never got insurance or anything like that. And my husband, he’s a good man, but he got in trouble with the police a few times, and he couldn’t risk the cops coming around in case they thought he did it. He might lose his job, or even go to jail, and then where would we be?
Amy was sitting on the stairs, ripping up the linoleum with her heel. “What is it Mom?” she asked.
“Nothing,” Susan replied.
We weren’t really transferred. I can’t tell you where he works. He made me swear. We couldn’t have a real estate fellow sell the house because he’d ask questions, and we’d have to tell what we found, and then he’d have to tell anybody wanting to buy the house, and who’d buy it then? We’d be stuck in that place, and I couldn’t live there a minute longer. Not with what we found.
“You’re sweating Mom. Are you okay?”
“Yes. Yes Amy. There’s nothing for you to worry about.”
My husband made me swear not to tell. He said if we didn’t get enough money out of the house we’d be broke. He doesn’t make much and I can’t work on account of my knees. So I’m real sorry but we had to do it. But I never thought in a million years that someone like you would buy it.
Susan felt a familiar sick dizziness coming over her. It was the feeling she had when the street was empty and no matter how loudly she yelled her name, Amelia didn’t answer. It was the same as when Derrick hit them, swinging and yelling and crying. The same as all the times she discovered Amy, wide-eyed and staring from between the treads of the basement stairs. Utter helplessness. A fly buzzing against the glass.
“It’s about this house, isn’t it Mom? I can feel it.“
Susan ran her hand through the strings of her hair and looked at her daughter. She saw Amelia there too. She dropped her head and tried to read, but her vision was blurring.
God, I hate to tell you. It’s just so awful. Promise me you won’t sue us or anything. I know we should have gone to the police but my husband said no. Just get out, he said. Let someone else deal with it. So we did. I’m so sorry. Really I am.
We bought the house private-like, from a man with a crippled dog, because it was cheap and it was all we could afford. One day a few months ago, when we were trying to put in a sump pump under the basement stairs, my husband was digging out the dirt floor and he found- God I hate to tell you- he found a little skull with long blonde hair. You know that little girl, the twin, that was abducted some years back? We think it might be her.
“Mom! What’s the matter?! Mom!”
Susan dropped the letter. She collapsed onto the floor. Amy stared in horror at her mother’s face and backed silently toward the basement stairs.
“Amy!” Susan wailed, as she watched her trip and tumble backwards.
Amy screamed as she thumped and rolled down the steps. Susan froze, her mouth gaping open. Then, in a frenzy she crawled to the edge of the basement stairwell and stared down, straining to see into the dim light.
Amy lay still and silent, at rest in the disturbed dirt by the bottom step.