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PREFACE: “Ah man!” Charlie angrily slung his hat against a nearby tree. He was exasperated. This was the fifth bloody carcass he had discovered in the past week, and two of those were young female bears hardly old enough to begin bearing young. To find five mutilated animals in such a small area meant there were possibly dozens more he had not found.
Squatting down, he felt the carcass, and then examined it more closely. “Still warm,” he muttered to himself. “They can’t be too far away fella.” With much regret he gently patted the enormous elk’s side. “You must have tromped these mountains for many a year . . . as big as you are. It’s a shame for you to go this way . . . all for a set of antlers.” His stomach was nauseous. Hunting for meat was one thing, but killing this beautiful animal just for the antlers and leaving the carcass to rot was another. How could anyone be so cruel? It’s my fault, he thought to himself. His frustration was building. I should have caught those butchers long before now. Then you’d still be alive. He stood and turned full circle, looking carefully in all directions for any clue that might tell him who they were or where they went. “I’m gonna find you!” he promised out loud. “If it’s the last thing I do, I’m going to find you, and when I do you’ll be put away for a long time.”
A STREAK OF LIGHT
A streak of light flashed across the peaceful horizon, unseen in the physical realm. It was the angelic warrior Neema moving to his next assignment. His countenance glowed with the glory of God, and his large, muscular stature and ebony black hair made him intimidating to all in the demonic realm. This was one angelic warrior they would rather not fight.
As Neema neared the city of Orlando his silken wings began to slow, gradually bringing him to a stalled landing immediately above the university campus. He examined his surroundings. It had been several years since he last had occasion to be in this area, yet the memories were still fresh in his mind. The buildings looked the same, with the exception of the new administration building that sat directly beside the old red‑brick science lab. The trees, slightly larger and more picturesque than he remembered, rustled in the soft breeze. What pleasant memories he had of this serene campus, so full of life and laughter.
He gently lowered his brawny frame through the roof of the science building and into the large classroom directly below. He smiled. There stood his faithful comrade, Tiesel, standing guard over his most recent charge. Tiesel, known in the angelic ranks as “the steadfast one,” was fully alert and ready to spring into action at a moment’s notice, should the need arise. If what Neema had been told was true, there was no doubt that Tiesel must have assumed this stance often while protecting this particular charge.
Neema examined the young lady whom Tiesel so carefully watched, Miss Clair Blair. She’s grown into quite a beauty, he thought to himself. He couldn’t help but admire her shining red hair. It was pulled away from her face and tightly bundled on her head. A few mischievous strands had escaped and were dangling loosely, perfectly framing her fair‑complexioned, freckle‑covered face. Her appearance portrayed the air of an intellectual scientist, with a slight mixture of an old maid-teacher look, living in a world of her own making, mentally separated from those around her by an intense involvement in her experiment. Neema grinned, amused that even this absent‑minded professor appearance could not hide her natural beauty. He turned his gaze back to his comrade who had not yet acknowledged his presence. “Greetings,” he began, “in the name of our Lord.”
Tiesel glanced up, but only for a second. “And greetings to you too, my friend. It’s been awhile.”
“I hear you’re up for a promotion,” Neema commented.
“Maybe,” Tiesel replied. His eyes were once again fixed on the lovely scientist. “It’s still three weeks until her twenty‑sixth birthday. The promotion only goes if I can keep her alive until then.”
“Three weeks. You’ve kept her alive for years. Three weeks shouldn’t be too hard.”
Tiesel responded without taking his eyes from his charge. “You must not be too familiar with my Clair.”
“No,” Neema admitted. “I’ve not yet had the privilege of getting to know her.”
A slight laugh escaped Tiesel lips. “Keeping Miss Blair out of mischief for twenty‑four hours straight is a twenty‑six hour, without break, assignment. I inherited that position when she was only nine months old and you wouldn’t believe what I’ve witnessed since then.”
“She’s got to rest sometime,” Neema countered. “That should give you a break.”
“Rarely. She walks in her sleep. I’ve kept her from climbing out the second story window,” Tiesel rolled his eyes in exaggeration, “I don’t know how many times, and she frequently takes unscheduled midnight strolls, usually without ever finding out about them, and when she’s sleep walking she’s just as likely to enter someone else’s home as she is her own. Her mind rarely shuts down long enough for her to get a good night’s sleep.”
“That bad, huh,” Neema commented.
Tiesel shook his head in wonderment. “You have no idea. You’ve heard the human phrase, ‘An accident waiting to happen,’ well, I’m pretty sure it was coined with Miss Blair in mind.” Tiesel looked up at Neema. “You wouldn’t want to relieve me . . . would you?” he asked in a heartfelt, pleading manner.
“No,” Neema smiled. “You’re the one with the steadfast spirit . . . and the need for adventure. I suspect that’s why you were given her as a charge. If she’s as challenging as you say, I probably would have killed her myself by now.”
“Nah, you wouldn’t have. She’s really a sweet person. She just seems to be accident prone . . . or in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Tiesel chuckled. “Maybe a little of both. Or perhaps a lot of both.”
“She can’t be that bad,” Neema contested. He still was not convinced that any human could accidently be that much trouble. “Maybe you just need a break . . . you know . . . change in scenery. When you’ve been somewhere too long things tend to seem exaggerated.”
“Not that bad!” Tiesel broke into laughter, a laughter that betrayed his true heart. “A few days ago she stopped at a convenience store to buy a Coke. It’s a ritual for her to stop at this particular store each day before work, so she knows the owner on a first name basis. When the store’s crowded she places the correct change near the register and leaves without the bother of waiting in line. This particular morning she walked in, strolled back to the Coke area, grabbed one, walked back up to the counter, totally ignoring the other people in the place, laid the exact change down and said, ‘Marsha, here’s the change,’ then turned and left.”
“What’s so unusual about that?” Neema was truly puzzled. “You said it’s a common practice.”
Tiesel’s joyful laugh bellowed freely through the sky before he continued. “Every person in the place, about seven if my mind serves me right, including Marsha, were standing with their hands above their heads. Like this.” He illustrated the stance for drama sake.
“The store was being robbed. The creep watched her walk in and out without ever noticing what was happening.”
“You are joking,” Neema mused.
“Don’t I wish.”
“And he didn’t try to stop her?”
“No. He was too stunned to do anything.” Tiesel’s laughter again sounded in the heavens. “Matter‑ of‑fact,” he continued, “every person in that place watched her walk in and out in disbelief.”
“And she never realized what was happening?”
“Nope. Never. I still don’t think she knows.”
Neema was amazed as he watched his friend give the entire robbery account without ever taking his eyes from Clair. “He’s serious about this,” he thought to himself. “Didn’t the owner say something to her . . . later?”
“Nah,” Tiesel answered. “What good would it have done?” As soon as he finished his statement the amused look disappeared from his face. “Is it time?” he questioned.
“Yes,” Neema informed. He turned his attention back to Miss Blair. “Everything’s set and ready to go. Lieutenant Cal thought you might need some assistance getting her there . . . in one piece.”
“That could be a very real possibility,” Tiesel mused.