26
Feb

Angels Shall have Guard Over Thee

(This is a much edited scene from Black Cat and the Accidental Angel -- due to space on the website.)

The flagman flipped his sign to STOP.

John stomped his brakes. 9:50 A.M. Why hadn’t he left sooner? Work delays along the mountain highway between Nevada City and Reno were not unexpected this time of year.
Reno - 62 miles

John’s throat tightened. He had to get his Emu hatchlings to the airport by 12:30 P.M.! If they missed the flight, what could he say to his buyers? “Yeah! You trusted me, but I didn’t account for delays, so we missed the plane.” If he lost the sales, like dominoes, he could lose everything. His ranch–his business–even lose the custody of his daughter.
Reno - 60 miles

Traffic crept forward. Another flagman. John whacked the steering wheel. “Let’s go!” Perspiration beaded his forehead. They have to fix a landslide today. I have to make the flight in time. Lord, show me the way.

Another road worker stopped traffic. John’s truck inched forward and came to a stop beside a hitch-hiker. What was a hitch-hiker doing on a mountain road so far from Reno?

The hiker caught John’s eye and extended his thumb.

I suppose he wants a ride. What could he say? 'I’m going your way at two miles an hour with an empty passenger seat, but somebody once said hitch-hikers might steal your money or kill you.’ What harm could this kid do? If he was planning to rob someone, he chose the wrong pickup truck full of baby Emus. John rolled down the passenger window. “Ride, Mister?”

The kid’s expression seemed to say, “Life isn’t so good lately. Can you help?”

John unlocked the door. “Get in.” What did he have to lose besides his money or his life?

The hiker dropped his backpack to the floor and slid into the truck “Thanks. I’m Peter.” He needed a haircut and a shave. His jacket was frayed and stained with perspiration. Oddly, his fingernails were clean and trimmed.

“I’m John. Nice to meet you. Where you headed?”

“My uncle’s ranch is right on the main highway, just outside Reno. Could you drop me there?”

The cars crept forward. John checked his watch. “I’ve got a plane to catch at 12:30 P.M. If I miss the flight, I’m cooked.” He jerked his head toward the chicks in the rear.

Peter tapped the dashboard clock. “There’s plenty of time. Once we get past the roadwork, it’s less than an hour to Reno.”

“You don’t understand what’s riding on getting my chicks on that flight.” John waved toward the flagman.

“Couldn’t you ship them tomorrow? What difference would one day make?”

John huffed. “Ever hear of an Emu? They get six-feet-tall. The airlines won’t take them past two weeks old. That’s today and they’re already 30 inches tall. I could lose everything if I…” Whoa! Hold it. He’d just met the guy ten minutes ago and was spilling his guts to him. John shrugged. “Look. I shouldn’t dump on you. Let’s say, I have to make this flight, and leave it at that. Okay?”

Peter leaned back and sighed. “You’re not the only guy in this truck with troubles.”

“You’re too young for troubles. What’s your story?”

Peter nodded toward the floor frowned. “Huh! See this backpack? That’s everything I own. I’ve got the world’s troubles on my shoulders, and that’s the truth.”

John shrugged. “If you say so.” The cars inched forward. 10:22 A.M. Just over an hour to make the flight.

“By the way. Do you know your Bible?” Peter asked.

John cheeks flushed. “I…I…I guess so. Maybe not as well as−”

“What you said about your chicks reminds me... Listen… He is my refuge and my fortress: He shall cover thee with His feathers, and under His wings shalt thou trust: His truth shall be thy shield and buckler.”

John’s shoulders relaxed. “Under His wings shalt thou trust... Say! That’s good.”

Before long, they were in the valley with traffic moving along at normal speed.

Reno - 13 miles

John checked his wristwatch. 10:49 A.M. “I’m going to make it!”

Peter pointed to a red marker on a driveway beside the road. “That’s my uncle’s place.”

John stopped beside the marker. “Should I drive you up to the house?”

“Nah! I don’t want to keep you. You’ve got–”

“Uh-oh! What’s going on up there?” Another long line of cars had stopped a short way ahead. “Must be an accident. I'll never make it now.”

“Don’t worry. See that dirt road?” Peter pointed off to the right. “It goes about a mile and doubles back to the highway, beyond all that traffic.”

“Sounds good. Thanks…and for the encouragement. Means a lot…”

Peter waved and trudged up the driveway.

John’s truck kicked up dust as he turned onto the dirt road. “Wait!” Peter’s backpack lay on the floor! He hit the brakes. Why hadn’t he taken it when he got out of the truck? "There’s just enough time to get to the airport. If I go back, I might miss the flight. But, it’s all he owns… I have to go back.” John turned the truck, raced back down the dirt road and turned into Peter’s uncle’s driveway where he spotted a woman watering flowers.

“Morning.” John hefted the backpack. “Could you give this to Peter?”

“Peter?”

“Yeah. He left it in my−”

“I don’t know any Peter.”

John’s eyebrows rose. “I just dropped him at the end of your driveway. Said this was his uncle's place.”

The woman shook her head. “Not in my driveway.” She backed toward the house.

“Sorry. I must be mistaken.” Back at the road, the red marker flapped on the pole. This was the right place. John unzipped Peter’s backpack to look for a phone number or an address…. He pulled out underwear, toothbrush, a notebook. A paper fell from in John’s lap.

Highway 20 - August 31 - 9:50 AM Red pickup truck
There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague
come nigh thy dwelling.
For He shall give His Angels charge over thee…to keep thee
in all thy ways.

Chill bumps careened down John’s neck. Today was August 31. He’d picked up Peter on Highway 20, at exactly 9:50 A.M. “He was waiting for me! How is that possible?”

Lightning slashed overhead. Dark clouds gathered beyond the foothills. There’d be rain by nightfall. John glanced at his watch. 11:15 A.M. .There was just enough time… time to get the chicks to their flight. Maybe he’d even get home before the storm hit.

Faith! For He shall give His Angels charge over thee…

Check out my books at Amazon in print and e-books
Black Cat’s Legacy http://tinyurl.com/lrvevgm
Black Cat and the Lethal Lawyer http://tinyurl.com/q3qrgyu
Black Cat and the Accidental Angel http://tinyurl.com/07scsm2
Mrs. Odboddy-Hometown Patriot http://tinyurl.com/hdbvzsv
Mrs. Odboddy – Undercover Courier http://tinyurl.com/jn5bzwb
Mrs. Odboddy – And Then There Was a Tiger http://tinyurl.com/y96qshuv
All Things Cat – (short cat story collection) http://tinyurl.com/y9p9htak

14
Feb

A Valentine Story - The Secret of the Bells

This fiction story is based on my own experience in Austria in 1987 when I was told about the 'secret of the bells.'

Rolling thunder drowned out the clanging church bells across the street. Lightning zig-zagged across the sky. Fear clutched my heart as Mother Nature crashed around me. Was this reality, or had I been caught up in a time warp that transported me to another place–magical, ethereal, and terrifying? Stay calm. It’s just a sudden summer storm. A torrent of water rushed down the Austrian cobbled street, threatening to overflow the gutters onto my feet. Were the bells warning of some disaster? Had war been declared? Had someone assassinated the President? Did Austria even have a President?

Cold spines of rain stung my face and bounced off the pavement onto my legs. Another clap of thunder and a flash of lightning made me jump. I pulled my sweater tighter around my chest and huddled closer to the wall beneath the narrow, striped canopy. And then a man stepped beneath the awning and tilted his umbrella over my head. “Do you wish to share my umbrella?”

“Thank you, how kind.” His presence soothed my fear. My pattering heart slowed. “The storm came up so quickly, it caught me quite unawares.”

“Sudden storms are not unexpected at this time of year.”

We stood side by side beneath the canopy, watching the ribbons of lightning zigzag across the afternoon sky, chatting about bells and clouds and weather. I tilted my head toward the church towers. “Why are they ringing the bells? Is there an emergency? The street is flooded.”

“The priests ring the bells to frighten the storm clouds toward the next village.”

I suppressed a smile, doubting that bells could drive away the clouds. “If that’s true, I’m sorry to say, it’s not working. It’s been raining buckets for twenty minutes.”

“Oh, it’s working fine.” A smile lit up his face. “But, the next village also rings their bells, and the storm clouds get confused, so they drift back here again. From village to village they drift. Soon they will find a quiet place where they can rest.”

I was pleasantly amused, but did not wish to dispute his quaint belief in the magical power of the bells. As we talked, we stood shoulder to shoulder. His scent comforted me–a woodsy manly scent, strong and secure.

A train whistle pierced the air. At the sound, he turned. “My train... I’m sorry, I must go. You will be alright?”

“I’ll be fine. Thank you for sharing your umbrella and for the secret of the bells.”

He caught my hand and lifted it to his lips. “It’s been a pleasure. I wish we had more time to… Good-bye.”

We looked deep into each other’s eyes and in those few seconds, as his lips brushed my fingertips, I was whirled through another time warp. In that instant, surrounded by the lightning and the chiming of the bells, it was as though we shared a lifetime together, infinite days and endless nights of love. I heard the blare of a hundred marching bands, saw the night sky explode in a cacophony of fireworks, felt the coolness of a thousand springtime rains, the color of a hundred rainbows, and an untold myriad of golden sunsets…

The rain stopped as he released my hand, waved a final farewell and strode toward the train. As he disappeared into the station, the blare of marching bands…became the tinkling bells around the cow’s necks in a nearby field. A final streak of lightning…replaced the image of fireworks in the night sky. The sun came out…and cast sparkling rainbows through the dewdrops dripping from the awning.

His scent lingered, but as I reached for the place where he had stood, the memory of his touch melted through my fingertips. I ran toward the station, “Wait! I don’t even know your name. Wait!”

The whistle blew and the train clacked down the track. The magic spell was broken. Was it a crack in time and space? Was it an entire lifetime of love that two strangers shared in those few moments, or was it just a dream caused by the magic of the bells and the storm clouds?

****

Years have passed. I’ve had the best life one could hope for–marriage, a satisfactory career, and children. But, every time I hear church bells, I close my eyes and remember a summer storm in a faraway land.

I am reminded of church bells echoing from mountaintop to mountaintop, as the storm clouds scramble from village to village in their frantic search for a silent, peaceful place. Finally, they drift onto a quiet hillside where the only sound is the tinkling of cow’s bells, as they amble across the meadows and disappear into the mist…. and I remember the man I loved who was only a dream

****
If you enjoy this short story, please check out my published novels on Amazon. Black Cat's Legacy, Black Cat and the Lethal Lawyer, Black Cat and the Accidental Angel, Mrs. Odboddy Hometown Patriot, Mrs. Odboddy - Undercover Courier, Mrs. Odboddy And Then There was a Tiger, and All Things Cat (short story collection about cats).

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