Brian lay on his bed, he glanced at the notepad. He had been so busy the past few weeks that he had barely given it a second thought. He had meant to scan through it, purely out of curiosity when he thought he had recognised a name on the T.V. Now, what was that name? He rolled over and grabbed the now dog eared pad from the table. Flicking through the pages he stopped, pulled out his phone and opened up a browser. Typing the name into the search engine he gasped, he knew it! The name was of the man that had passed on in Montana. Lance Prendergast. He continued to type in more names from the pad, 2 came up as deceased, recently.
He lay back, what was he to do with this information? Should he do anything at all with it? One thing was for sure, he really needed to talk about this with someone. But who? They would think him mad, not a position he needed right now with his bank balance being as hefty as it was. That would be the first thing to be taken from him, he couldn’t risk that. No, he would have to make some enquiries quietly, on his own for now.
“What do you mean we’re going to Italy? Why?” Brian laughed, his friends were so strange!
“I have just offered you an all-expenses-paid holiday in one of the most beautiful countries in the world and you’re suspicious? Thank you was what I expected, not that it was needed, but no, you ask why. Really you guys, it’s my treat for all of your support over the past months, please say you’ll come.” Linda grabbed him, her arms tight around his neck she jumped up and down in an excited frenzy.
“Honey, mind the wound. Does this mean you’ll come?”
“Damn right it does, I don’t know about Mr CSI over there but I’m in.” She released her grip on Brian, her face a confused, somewhat surprised stare at her husband.
“Neil? They have fishing, haven’t you been saying that you need a holiday?”
Neil shrugged, this was so out of the blue, he knew his friend had always been a generous man, generous to a fault, but wow! This was unreal, he didn’t know what to say.
“It’s a fantastic gift, Brian, we would never be able to repay this.”
Brian shook his head, the disappointed look said everything to his friend.
“Oh, okay then. If it means that much to you. Where in Italy?”
“Does it freaking matter!” Screeched Linda as she threw her arms around her husband.
“I guess not.” He laughed.
“Marasusa, if that means anything to you guys, it looks beautiful, never been myself. Do you think it would be too presumptuous to ask Mel? I doubt she gets much time off work, never met her boss but if I did I would have to question why he leaves her to run things.”
Linda chuckled, Neil dug his elbow gently into her rib.
“What? Is it a secret?”
“Is what a secret?”
“She’s her own boss stupid. Has the subject never come up? I can’t believe you’ve been seeing her all this time and you don’t know anything about her.”
Brian was embarrassed, he actually knew very little about her and here he was, about to ask her to take a vacation halfway across the world with them. Pathetic! He berated himself. There was time to rectify the matter, he would spend the next week or so getting to know all he could about Mel, settled! The message he sent was simple and to the point.
Mel, I have realised that in all the times we have spent in each other’s company, we spend that time discussing my life, my wants, my past, my likes/dislikes. This is no way to begin what I hope will be a long and happy friendship. Please come to dinner, tonight. The rules are these. We cannot talk about me. Copious amounts of bourbon and good food. See you around 7.30 x
Mel chuckled when she read the message, he was funny and so darn cute! Her reply was simple.
Azrael perched himself high on the top of the mountain, it was his favourite place for solitude, and that view! The Almighty had surpassed himself with this, this, well it could only be described as exquisite. His thoughts turned to the human, Felling. What was he to do about this man? The order of things was set out with very good reason, if it got out now, in a world already mixed and lacking in faith, there was no telling where it would end. He had to do something, but what? That was the dilemma he faced.
He was sure that Dumah would not keep it to himself for much longer. He worked well with the counterpart, however, even he was aware of the Angels longing to rise higher in the ranks. There are a few amongst us that have been less than charitable, he uttered to himself. Some had gone so far as to have been cast out in their efforts. Dumah would not hesitate to take his place, this he was certain of.
The clouds rolled around him now, breaking every now and again to reveal the tapestry that lay before his feet. His mind was made up, he would visit the Felling man again. It could well be that the human had other things that now occupied him, there was certainly a solid bond building between him and the female. All things considered, the man had escaped death, he should welcome that and get on with living the short span of life allocated to him.
Mel knocked at the door of the large townhouse, she stood back and admired its pristine appearance. It reminded her of the house she once shared with her late husband, she smiled up to the sky as a way of reaching out to him. They had enjoyed a happy time together while it lasted. Not the same as her new friend, it sounded like he had endured a rotten time, not to mention the deception that was uncovered toward the end. Mel was thankful that her union had been a trusting journey.
Brian came to the door, his pinny splattered with what could only be imagined as tomatoes. A-ha! If the woman had to hazard a guess at tonight’s menu she would say pasta of some sort. Men liked cooking pasta, she imagined it was one of the simpler yet tastier meals a person could prepare, swish it up with a pre-made salad and a little garlic bread, followed by chocolate cake and you’ve got yourself a meal fit for a king.
“Hey, come in. I’m so glad you could join me. Now before you get too excited, it’s only a pasta dish I’ve made. You eat pasta I take it? Oh, lord I should have checked! You do eat pasta?” Mel laughed, the poor man suddenly looked like a deer in the headlamps.
“Of course, I do, Brian. Who doesn’t love pasta? Here, I brought wine, wasn’t sure what you prefer so I got one of each.” She passed the bag to her host as she slipped off her jacket.
“Through here?” She pointed as she walked down the hall to the lounge.
“That’s it, go through. I’ll be with you in a sec, red or white?”
“Red please, make it a large one it’s been a day and a half.”
Brian returned minus the apron. Toting a large glass of red wine in one hand, white in the other.
“Dig in. So, what has been so manic about your day? Rush on the Lattes?” He laughed as he sat beside her. He had given this some thought and after a quick call to Neil, they had decided this was the way to go.
“You don’t want to put her in the friend zone buddy, sit right next to her.” Had been his advice.
“No, nothing that exciting. That at least would send profits up. I had to go visit my mother, always a great experience. She lives outside of town, in a care home for the past 2 years due to her mind not being quite what it was.” Mel stared out of the window, a wistful expression appearing to grace her face as she spoke.
“It must be very hard for you. Do you have other family?”
“My father passed away nearly 10 years ago now, she was never the same after that. They were as close as 2 people could be, it was nice to grow up with parents that adored each other. I have a brother, sister-in-law 2 nieces, a few cousins here and there. 1 Aunt that I haven’t seen for a long time, that’s about it. I imagine there are more, can’t say I’m inclined to look them up, I always figured if they were around they would have come to Dad’s funeral, they didn’t.”
Brian put his hand on hers, he felt he should do something. It was warm to the touch, she was a warm person throughout.
“What about you, Brian? What secrets do you hold?”
“Ah, we agreed that my mission is to find out all about you. I am not that interesting, to be honest, the little there is to know of me, well, you know it already. Tell me about your brother, is he local?”
“Not so you’d notice, truth is, I see more of my sister-in-law than I do of my brother. Strange really, we were so close as kids. My nieces are lovely, such little ladies they are. I suspect one of them to be more tom-boyish, mind you, she hides it well in her effort to keep up with her sister!” She chuckled to herself as she visualised the little girl constantly trying to keep her unruly curls in check whenever there was a family gathering.
“They sound great. Do you get roped in for sitter duties much?”
“Once in a while. When my husband passed away they were constantly calling me up to babysit, I think half of the time they sat around the corner in the car, merely a tactic to take my mind off other things.”
Sitting back, his smile now faded. He didn’t know her husband had died he assumed they had divorced. That told him how little he had asked the woman about herself and he was astounded at his lack of interest.
“I am so sorry, I never thought to ask. You must think I’m a terrible person.”
Mel laughed, her nose wrinkled when she did, he had noticed this!
“Don’t be silly, Brian. I didn’t offer it up in conversation either so we are as bad as each other.”
They drank the wine, Brian checking on the meal occasionally.
“Okay, dinner is served. If you would like to follow me to your table Madam.”
He was funny! The table looked amazing, he had pulled out all the stops in his efforts to impress her. Napkins neatly folded as they would be in a top restaurant, cutlery in the right place, 2 glasses, one for water the other for wine.
“Wow! I am very impressed. You do this every night?”
“Good Lord no.” He chuckled. “Unless you count putting the pizza from the box to the plate and I have to be honest, it doesn’t always get that far.”
The meal was, thankfully, a good one. He had managed to avoid burning or overcooking any of it. Yes, he thought, pasta was a good call. They chatted as they ate, Mel telling stories of her time spent with her nieces, Brian talking about the business he used to run. They talked for a while about Mel’s husband, she smiled fondly as she told of their marriage and the things they would do together. They enjoyed camping weekends in the hills, dancing and he particularly loved karaoke. He was no Frank Sinatra, she said, but it made him happy.
“It sounds as though you had a wonderful marriage, I envy you that.” And it was true, he envied anyone that could truly say they had been happy with their choice in a partner.
“We had our moments as most do, on the whole, we had an amazing friendship. Isn’t that what it’s all about?”
“It is. I am glad you have had a blessed life, Mel, I don’t know you yet as well as I hope to but, I could not bear to imagine that you have suffered. I mean to say, I know you have suffered, you lost your best friend, oh my, I am getting this ass upwards aren’t I?”
“I know what you mean, it’s okay. Thankfully he didn’t have a prolonged illness, if anything it was completely unexpected. Some think that’s worse but I am just glad of the time we had and it was a time worth having.”
She had such a way with words, logical thinking, that’s what it was. She saw the good in every situation and that was rare these days. She leant over and kissed him on the cheek, taking him totally by surprise.
“What was that for?” He blushed.
“Oh, no reason, I felt like it.”
“You are a kind woman, I can’t remember when I’ve had such a pleasant evening home. Thanks for accepting my invitation Mel, it means a lot. Now, that chocolate cake isn’t going to eat itself, is it?”
Right Place, Right Time
Azrael watched the pair as they laughed and ate. He liked this female, he liked her the last time their paths had crossed. She had a serenity about her, he was sure that when her time came she would make the perfect celestial. That time would not be for a good long while yet, she had much to do before that day arrived. He felt that tingle, the one that reminded him he had work to do. One last look through the window at the couple, he sighed at a feeling held long ago that could never be again as he faded away into the night.
The rain was a welcome relief, it had been dusty and humid for some time now.
“Come on buddy, we need to get a move on if we’re to get that flight.” Called Brian to his friend. Linda and Mel sat in the back of the car, excited at the idea of getting away from it all for a few weeks at least.
“NEIL!! What are you doing in there, come on for heaven’s sake.” Cried Linda through the window. Neil came outside, patting his pockets as if checking he had not forgotten anything. He high fived Brian as he walked to the car.
“Hey, bud. You going to lock that or leave it open in case the neighbours need a cup of sugar?”
“Bloody hell, all that double-checking and I forget to lock the front door! Cheers pal.”
Once settled in the car, Neil had everyone check their passports and documents, just to be sure he added.
“How do you 2 ever manage to leave the house?” Laughed Mel as she waved her passport in his face. Linda shrugged, she had come to terms with Neil’s incessant checking over the years.
“Are we ready?” Called Brian.
“Aye, aye skipper.”
“Then off we go.”
The journey was a straightforward one, they arrived at the airport with a good hour to spare after check-in.
“I can’t wait to get there, have you been to Italy Mel?”
“No, I hear it’s beautiful. I would never have gone overseas on my own. Have you been?”
“God, no. The furthest we’ve managed is Alaska and even that was a work thing with Neil, cold as anything. Not my idea of a vacation.”
The women chatted as they awaited their departure, Neil and Brian browsed in the kiosk at fishing magazines and car magazines. They paid hurriedly when their flight was eventually called. Brian had gone all out for the trip, he had spent many a time in cramped second class seating over the years, not today, he smiled to himself as he stretched his legs out.
“Jeez, Brian this is amazing! This must have set you back a tidy sum, buddy?”
“It’s a tidy sum worth every cent, plus, I don’t intend to make it a habit. I wanted to experience it once, I like it!” He laughed.
Linda sat in her seat, her face glowing.
“You gotta see the ladies, Mel. It’s bigger than our bathroom at home, I kid you not.”
Mel giggled, it felt so good to be amongst people that still had room in their minds to be in awe of something as simple as a bathroom.
Italy was, as expected, a beautiful place. Linda stood and stared at their surroundings as they stepped from the cab. It was breath-taking, she had never seen anything so old look so wonderful.
“Oh, would you look at it, Neil, look at it.” Neil was looking, not a man that was given to outbreaks of sentimentality he was stunned.
“Bless, is that a tear in your eye?” His wife asked him quietly.
“Sun, the sun’s brighter here don’t you think.” He hurriedly replied as he wiped the tell away.
“Not bad, eh? Shall we get rid of this stuff and explore or, does anyone need a lie down first?” asked their benefactor with a note of accomplishment in his voice.
“Sleep is for wimps, I say let’s see as much as we can while we have the chance.” Offered Mel as she grabbed her bags and headed for the villa. The others followed suit and within minutes they were back on the road with map in hand, ready for the adventure to begin.
Azrael and Dumah had been exceptionally busy, as winter took hold in many parts of the world, so too did illness and death. It was a balance that had to be, for the humans it was random and heart-breaking, for the celestials it was a way of controlling the continuation of a species. There was always a reason, the Almighty had said as much. For some, they had completed their part in the grand scheme, for others, they were prevented from being a cog in a possible chain of events. It is a complicated yet necessary process they were told. Their role was not to question, simply to comply.
“Do you think they ever question why one should survive the un-survivable whilst another succumbs to a chance accident?” mused Dumah as they picked their way through the squalid streets of the slum area. They were looking for a boy, he was close, they could sense him.
“Humans question everything, even when they know the answer. It is their nature to be inquisitive. It is their nature to wonder why them, they can be selfish this we know for sure. They can also be selfless. They pray for the release of a loved one in pain, they offer up bargains, take me instead they pray. They do not know the reasonings to which we adhere.”
“Seems like a lot of wasted time to me when they could be doing other things.” Dumah was yet to see the purpose of his counterparts approach to humans that, in his mind, was a wasteful commodity on the earth.
“He’s in here. It’s a young one, tread carefully with your thoughts.”
“He cannot hear me.”
“He is young, he has not yet been corrupted, he will hear you and possibly see you. Be kind Dumah.”
The child lay shivering on the bed, he was alone and he was dying. His eyes were red with coughing. Azrael approached gracefully, this was one of the hardest tasks he undertook in his role. It seemed unfair that one little human should play such a part thus having to be removed. It seemed unfair to him that the way in which the boy had lived was the only way he could be brought to this conclusion.
The boy had an age of 5, the parent had left a long time ago leaving him with an elderly guardian. The parent had many offspring, this one being one too many. They had to leave, for wheels had been set in motion. Should the boy continue to grow and the guardian pass over, the boy would be forced into a world that would turn his pure and innocent heart into one of a killer of men, one man, in particular, this could not be allowed for the man would come to do great things.
“Hello, are you cold?” Whispered Azrael as he pulled the thin cover over the child.
“Why must you talk to them?” Dumah hissed, his voice shrill.
“Would you like to come with me? It is warm and bright, you can play all day.”
The child, too weak to answer, stared up into the brightness that spoke to him, his eyes telling Azrael what he needed to know.
“Sleep little one, when you awake you will feel better than you do now.”
He whispered softly into the child’s ear. The boy replied with barely audible words.
Brian and Mel sat on the bank of the Lake, it was an amazing view. A view that a person could watch all day if they had the time.
“Do you believe in God?”
Mel was startled by the question, it came from nowhere leaving her stuck for words for a few moments. Brian continued to stare at the Lake.
“That’s an odd thing to ask. Yes, in answer to it, I do. Many question why I should after my husband passed so young, but still I believe. Do you?”
Brian gazed up at the clear blue sky, it was perfect here.
“I never thought I did, never really thought about it much at all if I’m honest. I’ve always held a faith, not sure in what exactly, just faith that there’s something. Until recently, that is, since the accident.”
Azrael’s ears pricked up, along with the hairs on his spine. What was he doing? Surely he wouldn’t?
“Go on.” Encouraged Mel. She was curious as to what he was getting at.
“Now I do, I mean, I shouldn’t be here, right? But I am, what to do with that is the question that keeps running around my mind. Surely that means something, that I have a purpose to do something good with my life, doesn’t it?” He stared at Mel, waiting for an answer, hoping that she had one.
“I think, this is only my thoughts, that we have a purpose regardless of near-death experiences. If I have learned anything, it’s that we aren’t here forever.”
“What if we could be?”
Azrael paced the floor. Don’t be foolish, man!
“Don’t be silly, Brian. Only in movies are there immortals. Have you been smoking some of Neil’s herbs?” Her laughter rang through the air, echoing over the Lake and bouncing back along the mountains that surrounded them. Brian shook his head.
“Just a crazy thought, pay no attention to me. How are you enjoying the trip? Is there anywhere in particular that you want to visit?”
Azrael heaved a sigh of relief.
“Have you ever thought about travel, when you were married did you ever want to go anywhere? We talked about touring once, never got to do it mind you.”
Brian laughed, only that morning did something spring into his mind about where he was.
“You might think this weird, wouldn’t blame you if you did, this morning my phone reminded me that today would have been my 15th wedding anniversary. We always said that if the marriage lasted that long we would come to Italy. It wasn’t the reason I came here, far from it, but strange how things pan out don’t you think?”
Mel shook the blanket they had been sitting on, she folded it neatly as she processed what he had said.
“Maybe it was subconscious?”
“I don’t know, it hasn’t entered my head since the day we said it and even that was half-joking at the time. I haven’t thought about it since, especially after everything that has happened.”
“Do you think it was meant to be? Is that what you’re saying? Is this why you asked the God question?”
“I’m not convinced it was meant to be, as I said, I never gave it a second thought afterwards, one of those things you say when you’re young.”
“Hmm, coincidence is a great thing isn’t it?”
They climbed back into the rental car and headed back for the villa. They were going into the town tonight with Neil and Linda for a meal and possibly dancing, or so Neil had threatened. They were halfway there when they noticed a broken down car on the side of the road.
“Should we stop? It is very remote here, the poor thing could be waiting hours and it looks like she’s alone.” Mel suggested, she didn’t like the idea of a woman stranded out here and the evening was drawing in.
Brian slowed the car down, wound down the window and thought about the little Italian he could remember.
“Hai bisog-no di aiuto? I not speak good Italian.” he asked in the best broken Italian he could muster.
The woman tried to smile through her worried look.
“Thanking to you, I have a little English. I have broken the car down, I have to go to the Ospedale.”
“Si, hospital. My papa, he is sick.”
“Get in, we can take you to the hospital.” Replied Mel. The woman locked her car and soon they turned around and were on their way to the hospital. The woman explained that she had a call to say her father had suffered a heart attack and she was to come quickly.
“It’s no problem, we will be there soon.” Added Brian putting his foot down harder on the accelerator.