Read an Excerpt
An Angel's Touch
By Heather Graham
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1995 Heather Graham Pozzessere
All rights reserved.
"Silent night, holy night ..."
Dimly, dimly, he could hear the music. It came louder now, yet the music, the song was still so soft.
"All is calm ...
"All is bright ..."
No, nothing was calm. It was the night from hell. There was cacophony. So many screams, cries, groans ...
The impact was over. No more movement. Fire! He inhaled, smelled no gas. He couldn't see! he realized. He blinked. Something was in his eyes. Blood. Oh, God, he blinked again. Almost cleared his vision. Don went to unhook his seatbelt, trying to realize how he had become so cut up. No airbag in the old Beamer, he thought. He saw that the windshield had caved in.
His beige coat was drenched in something sticky and dark. Blood, he thought dizzily. More blood. Cathy. Oh, God, Cathy. He blinked again. Looked for her. Groped for her. Her head was bent forward. Glass fragments had rained over her hair. He reached for her, gently, thinking that he had to be careful, couldn't disturb her, the paramedics would be coming, police, doctors ...
"The children, the children, all those babies!" someone was shrieking. There were screams again, cries, moans, broken sobbing. He couldn't think about those sounds. Cathy, Cathy, oh, God, Cathy ...
And the cold ... The cold was stealing over him even as he reached for her. He had to touch her. He didn't dare try to discover why he was drenched in blood. He touched her cheek, frantically crying her name.
"Cathy, please, oh, Lord, Cathy, please, don't, don't die, please ..."
She stirred, slightly. Lifted her head.
Opened her eyes.
Angel eyes. Oh, Cathy. Oh, God, take me. Let her live—she has so much life, so much to give to everyone ...
"Don," she said, barely mouthing his name. She smiled, but there was something in that smile. It was weak, wry.
And he knew.
God wasn't listening. There were no miracles.
She was dying.
And she knew that she was dying.
And being Cathy, she was grateful anyway. Grateful to see his face again, reach out and touch him once more.
There was so much darkness around them. The wreck had knocked out street lights. Headlights flared and died, blazed eerie patterns of illumination over the tragic accident. He saw her face; it disappeared. Saw it, lost it. Those eyes. Angel eyes.
"Cathy!" he found her fingers. Curled his own around them. He leaned toward her. Her door, damaged in the crunch, fell open with a horrible rasping sound. Cathy slipped from the car.
"No!" he cried, fighting the waves of frigid cold that were sweeping over him, stealing both his strength and his will.
Waves of death.
How strange that he should know it so clearly, and with such absolute certainty.
It didn't quite matter what had occurred. Just what injury it was that soaked his coat in blood.
Oh, God, this was it, this was how it happened. Death was cold, Death was ice. Killing first the extremities, then the limbs, then the heart, the mind ...
With every effort, he dragged himself from the driver's seat, to the passenger's seat. Out the door.
He fell on her. Damned himself even in death as he heard the painful expulsion of her breath.
"Cathy ..." He could hardly make a sound anymore. Tears stung his eyes. "Cathy ... are we dying? Cathy, oh, Cathy ..."
She looked at him and nodded. Winced. Sound went on around them, so distant, part of a different world. He brought his fingers to her again. Ten bloody fingers entwined. Someone was sobbing near them. He was dimly aware of what he heard.
"The children, the children, someone help me, they're in this car. Oh, dear God, the blessed little orphans, help, help, someone help them ..."
Something huge and black passed by them. He thought that Death had swooped down for them then, quickly and neatly. But the huge black thing came and went, leaving a flurry of snow to fall down upon them, as if they were done for already. Don blinked. Not death, but a nun. Running across the metal-and-flesh-strewn accident scene. Trailing blood herself, trying to get help.
Sirens, so many sirens suddenly. So close.
He held her right fingers, those on her left hand trailed into his hair.
"I love you. So much. Those poor little ones in the train. Don, oh, God, I had you, I had everything. No regrets, Don."
"Not even children?" he whispered bitterly.
She smiled. "I had you. I had so much. I can almost ... die happy."
"Don't say it, don't say it, dammit. Cathy, you can't die—you can't—and you can't be happy—"
"We're together, Don." She inhaled. Her chest rattled terribly. There was blood in her lungs, he thought. A clinical realization. At such a time.
"Dying together," he told her. He wanted to sob, to rail, to curse loudly and furiously.
Demand a miracle.
He hadn't the strength.
Nor the belief.
Cathy was talking. He wanted so badly to hold on to her. He didn't even seem to be able to do that.
"But life was good. Listen to me, I had you."
"You had an ass. I had you. Everything. Oh, God, Cathy, help is coming, listen to me, sweetheart, you have to hang on, you can make it."
"Cold, Don. So cold. Hold me."
He wanted to hold her. The cold had seized him. His limbs. His torso. His heart, he was certain. He could suddenly hear it beating. One thump. A very long time. Another thump. Each beat coming more and more slowly. Soon the pulse would stop completely.
"Touch me!" she whispered.
He couldn't feel her heart at all.
"Touch me!" she pleaded again. "Don, I can't! I can't! I'm too cold to reach you. Please, touch me, reach me, let me feel you one last time ..."
He tried. Tried again. Dragged himself up. He pressed his lips to hers. And died.
Or thought he died. It was the weirdest damned night. He touched her, kissed her. The cold overwhelmed him, sweeping throughout the whole of him. But now ...
Apparently, he hadn't been hurt that badly at all. He had been hallucinating.
He had his hands on a heavy luggage bin and was shoving it aside. There had been a railroad conductor beneath it, pinned there. The man was unconscious, but breathing evenly. He might have a broken leg, Don mused, looking at the position of the fellow's limb, but it looked like he had a good chance.
"Don, come here!"
He looked up. Cathy was standing at the cock-eyed entryway to one of the train cars that had gone askew. He hurried toward her. He looked down as he leaped over the wreckage and realized vaguely that the blood was gone from his trenchcoat. He didn't seem able to dwell on that for the moment; Cathy was calling him.
"Careful. Careful. There are a bunch of little ones trapped inside here, Don. Can you see?"
The train's lights had gone out. Only here and there were flashes blinking illumination. Don could still see that this railcar was the one loaded with children. The orphans. They had apparently come from a Brooklyn facility called St. Mary's: the name was stamped upon most of the clean, though shabby and worn, baggage the munchkins had carried; some had suitcases, some backpacks. The bags seemed to have come in a multitude of sizes, perhaps six or seven in all.
"Cathy, maybe we shouldn't touch them. Listen to the sirens. People who know what they're doing are coming now. We could hurt them—"
"Don, smell," she told him.
Hmmm. He didn't seem to be able to do that. But he thought he saw some smoke billowing in from the rear of the car.
"All right, let's get them out," he said to her. "There, I'll pull up that broken seat, you grab the youngster."
He heaved against a seat that had been twisted severely in the violence of the wreck. It appeared to have been bent as easily as a coat hanger. He pressed, strained. It wasn't going to move.
Then, to his astonishment, he lifted it with no effort whatsoever. Cathy reached down for the child trapped beneath it. A boy of perhaps ten. Not a skinny little tyke, either, Don thought. The orphans at St. Mary's were not eating so badly. Except, of course, he reminded himself, boys didn't necessarily gain a little weight from too much nutritious food.
"He must be heavy, Cath," he warned.
"Not at all," she told him. "Grab that sweet little toddler there. Two more trips and we'll have them all."
There were six of them, all boys, if Don could guess correctly, between the ages of three and ten. They were smudged and dirty. Only three of them had stirred, groaned, or moved. He knew one had a broken wrist; another, well, he wasn't sure if the boy, a handsome, lanky, blond-haired lad of about nine, would make it. Yet he suddenly stopped thinking about the boy because he could see his own Beamer, the broken headlights of it jammed against the derailed car of the train.
There were mounds in the new-fallen snow beside it. Snow-covered mounds, with more snow falling upon them. In fact, as the sirens screamed in the night and rescue workers began to come running across the darkness, their flashlight beams wavering over the terrain, Don realized with a sinking sensation just what he was seeing becoming buried in the snow.
She was just in the act of laying down one of the children, the littlest one, a round-faced cherub of about three.
"Isn't this little guy adorable, Don? He's breathing evenly, too, I'm certain of it. Wave to those ambulance attendants there, they can't possibly see the children, and I'm afraid the kids will freeze to death before they get help. I wish I knew more about medicine—"
"Hello, over here! Hey, someone come help!" Cathy called. "Are those fellows deaf?" she demanded.
"Yes, yes, I know—it's snowing. Those poor people. Do you think that they're de—"
"Cathy, I think they're us!" Don exploded.
"I've got to see!"
He went running, tripping, scrambling over wreckage, baggage—even the nun, fallen from a sprained ankle.
Cathy came quickly after him. Until she reached the nun.
"Sister, can I help you?" she asked solicitously.
The nun sobbed quietly, trying to struggle to her feet. Cathy pulled her up. The sister screamed, unable, it seemed, to realize how she was being helped. She hopped about in the snow, looking around her, in front of her, behind.
She seemed to stare straight at Cathy, without seeing her.
She looked heavenward.
Then passed out cold.
"How strange!" Cathy said, just barely catching the nun and easing her back down. "We need help here so badly! This poor lady will freeze if—"
"She's a nun, God's going to help her first!" Don snapped. "Leave her for now, please, Cathy. Just get over here!"
She stared at the sister. "You'll be all right, help is coming, real help is coming!" she promised, then went running after Don. She moved so quickly that she slammed into his back when he tensed and stiffened.
"Get around here!" he said, pulling her forward.
"Easy!" she protested.
"Look!" he commanded.
"Where?" she asked.
"Down ... where?"
"There. In the damned snow!"
"Oh, God!" she gasped, seeing the bodies. "Those poor people. They're so hurt!"
"They're so dead!"
"Oh, dear, Don, you're right—"
"Cathy, aren't you listening? They are us! You and me. Us, Cathy!"
"They can't be."
"Look at them! They are!"
They stared at the ground together.
At the couple there.
He had fallen to her side. Their heads were together, his reddish hair and her ebony waves plastered in the whiteness of the snow. Their blood-stained fingers were laced together. They were as close as could be.
"It ... it really is us!" Cathy breathed. "It can't be."
"But it—it can't be. We're here."
"We're there, too."
"Oh, God!" Don groaned.
"What's the matter with you! Don't you say that!" Cathy gasped.
"What, what? What did I say?"
"God. Just don't, er, speak his name like that. Not under the circumstances ... don't you think?"
He stared back at her. Into her wide blue eyes.
"Under the circumstances?" he blazed back. He stared up, heavenward.
He stared back at his wife.
"Who the hell do you think put us into these circumstances."
"Don, dammit, don't say hell!"
"Hell, Cathy, then cut the dammit!" he exclaimed.
"Oh, my God" she protested, "you've done it now."
"I've done it! Done what?"
Then he realized. Something was happening again.
The accident scene was receding from around them. And they seemed to be rising. But they couldn't be. Because the white was becoming so dense. They were ... in snow. That was it. The snow was getting harder. Falling with incredible speed. Blanketing all around them.
No, he realized.
Mist encircled them. Spinning, swirling, thickening.
They were rising.
Rising within it.
Into the clouds.CHAPTER 2
"We're dead. We must be going to ... heaven?" Cathy said, a tinge of hope in her voice.
"We can't be."
"Don, we saw our bodies. We are dead. We just need to understand what's happening now. I was always so afraid to die. I mean, I believed in God, in an afterlife, but I—I was always afraid, I didn't want to go alone. You know how I hate going places alone."
"You're not alone. I'm with you."
"Are you afraid?"
"Think we may be going to heaven?"
"I hope. Surely, we can't be going to ... hell?" Don murmured. "I wasn't great, but I wasn't that bad."
"Do you think all our sins play out before us now like a motion picture?"
"I hope not."
"I think hell is down. And very hot," Cathy assured him. "You're not hot, are you?"
"No, no, but in all honesty, I wasn't that bad, but I'm not so sure I deserve heaven. Maybe I'm just rising by hanging on to your shirttails."
Cathy smiled. Her fingers curled around his. "What makes you think I was that good? But we're together, right?"
He nodded. "Maybe we'll just float for eternity," he said worriedly.
"I don't think so," Cathy said.
Because they had reached some kind of a strange landing.
It was worse than the Christmas Eve rush on Fifth Avenue.
The flooring was nothing but mist; none of the hundreds of ... creatures? ... rushing about on it seemed to notice, or to have any doubt of the solidity of what lay under their feet. And wings.
They looked like people. Maybe they were people. Except for the ones with wings.
"Wings mean angels, right?" Don whispered to Cathy.
"Or birds," Don said.
Cathy elbowed him. "I think it's time to be very careful about what we say." Her fingers still laced with his, she looked around, turning them both in a full circle.
The cloud-landing seemed to stretch on forever in all directions. There were corridors within it, all formed from the same misty white stuff, and thousands of people—or angels or, as Don was thinking of them, humanoid-type creatures—were hurrying about. They all seemed to be moving with purpose. Their appearances varied greatly; many were dressed like Cathy and Don, in winter coats and boots. Others' outfits made the gathering look almost like a costume party. To Cathy's left was a group in bikinis and cutoffs, to her right, a couple in exquisite medieval dress, probably from around the period of Henry II. There were people in caftans, evening gowns, tuxes, dungarees, flapper outfits from the roaring twenties, T-shirts in tie-dye colors advertising the Grateful Dead, anything, anything at all that might be imagined. Those wearing the varied costumes walked about with lists; they walked with purpose, they stopped by the desks, they moved onward. They all seemed incredibly busy.
I will wake up, Don told himself.
He stared toward a group of young men and women who began to change position. They were rising on a cloud-elevator, so it seemed, heading upward toward a small mountain or hill in the midst of the mist. The shape was rather rugged and craggy, as the face of a cliff might have been on earth, but there the resemblance ended. Magnificent colors seemed to shoot down from a dazzling light atop the cliff. Silver, gold, exquisite, vital violet.
Next to the crest, slightly lower, was a group of hills, ever so slightly mist-shrouded, yet beneath the silver-white mist, the colors were all in shades of green and brown. Cathy tugged upon Don's coat sleeve suddenly, pointing out a man in a brown caftan, carrying a staff. He was surrounded by animals—lambs and lions, birds, snakes, puppies, ponies, and so forth. A large giraffe walked past the man.
"St. Francis?" Cathy whispered.
"I don't know. I'm sleeping, surely. Dreaming," Don insisted.
Excerpted from An Angel's Touch by Heather Graham. Copyright © 1995 Heather Graham Pozzessere. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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