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The Garden Gate
By Christa Kinde
ZONDERKIDZCopyright © 2014 Christa Kinde
All rights reserved.
THE BROKEN PIECES
Two colossal angels wrestled in the darkness, trampling snow and upturning frozen earth as neat rows of apple trees crunched beneath their feet. Lightning blazed, momentarily illuminating the hatred glittering in the narrowed eyes of a Fallen whose dingy clothes flapped against a gaunt frame. Sagging folds of skin bunched as his jaw worked, but a clean, bright hand kept the demon from unleashing pent up curses. Abner's lips tightened into a grim smile. "Your mouth is sealed, as is your fate."
With a growl, the Fallen drove his shoulder into his captor's ribs, twisting away. Great feet snapped more branches, and the chains that dragged from shackled ankles nearly collided with the Pomeroys' machine shed.
"You've done enough damage," Abner said, steering his opponent away from snow-covered barns.
They vied for control of the freakish blizzard that had buried most of West Edinton under snow and ice. Storm clouds threatened to close in, but their dark spiral left the two angels—and much of the Pomeroys' farm—bare to the brittle light of stars. Flights of angelic warriors veered lower, skimming along the tops of trees, driving stragglers before the points of spear and sword. Thunder rolled, and varicolored streaks blazed across that wide patch of night sky in tight formations, then scattered into dizzying patterns as they drove back the shadows.
Abner's grip shifted, and he pressed down on his opponent. The diminishing demon renewed his struggle as the Caretaker reshaped him, robbing him of the power that came with sheer mass. They shrank to the size of mere mortals. "Take one last look at the expanse of heaven before I return you to darkness," Abner invited.
In that instant, the fearsome storm lost its strength, and the clouds dispersed, washing their corner of the world with the silvery light of the moon. Peace spelled defeat, but not an end to the Fallen's defiance. Wrenching free, he lunged for Abner's throat, but a passage opened beneath the demon's feet. Chains rattled against the pit's edge as the Deep swallowed him, and his howl of impotent fury cut short when the earth resealed itself.
The triumphant Caretaker clasped his hands behind his back and turned to look at the darkened farmhouse. Tree roots protruded from the roof above one of the gables, and blue light bled through jagged gaps, outlining the wreckage of Prissie Pomeroy's bedroom.
Destruction. Pain. Suffering.
Abner was willing to go to her, but this time, he was not Sent.
* * *
Snow sifted down between jutting boards and dangling shingles as Prissie crept deeper into the remains of her sanctuary. Trailing tufts of pink insulation hung from the bare branches of an uprooted apple tree, which left her room smelling like soil.
Beau turned to her, hand upraised. Luminous liquid slicked his fingertips. "This is ...?"
Prissie shivered. "He's bleeding."
Her younger brother frowned down at Milo. "Is first aid the same for angels?"
It had taken Prissie weeks to get used to the idea that their mailman was an angel. How could Beau be taking this so calmly?
She caught sight of a cracked sphere of pink glass surrounded by more delicate shards. Her ornament collection. Spoiled. Gone.
"Sis?" When she looked, Beau tensely begged, "Help me stop the bleeding."
Prissie joined her brother, kneeling carefully on the unconscious angel's other side. "Milo?" she called in a low voice. The Messenger's torn raiment glowed more brightly in the damp patches where it clung to wounds, and a thin trickle dribbled down the side of his face. "Please, Milo!"
Beau plunged right in, putting pressure against the gash in their friend's side. "Like this?"
"I think so. I hope so," Prissie replied uncertainly, pressing her hand over Milo's shoulder.
"Do not fear," Koji said. "Padgett is coming."
"Oh, thank God," she whispered, meaning it with all her heart. They needed help. No, Milo needed help. "Yes, please. Send Padgett."
"You know, Milo was my favorite Sunday school teacher. He told the best stories, made us think, made them real. I could tell he really cared about the Bible." Beau stared at their long-time friend, who looked pretty strange with his long curls and outspread wings. "He believed in God like nobody else I've ever met, and I wanted to be like that. To believe like that."
"He's still Milo," Prissie muttered.
Her brother smiled shakily. "Yeah. He's still everything he seemed to be, but the reasons are different. Better. This is perfect."
Such a different reaction than her own. But then, her younger brothers knew Milo in a different way than she did. "Was he really that good a teacher?"
"The best. Absolute best," Beau replied fervently. "I'd go back to being Zeke's age if I could. Just to keep him."
Suddenly, a door opened out of nowhere, and another angel stepped into the room, his gaze taking in the whole scene. "Padgett!" Prissie struggled to her feet. Her throat threatened to close, but she choked out, "Milo's hurt!"
Some of the fierceness left the Caretaker's face as he quickly crossed to her side, his long, black hair sweeping across the debris scattering the floor. "Don't worry, miss. That's why I was Sent."
"Can you help him?"
Padgett touched her face. "Fear not. None of the Faithful are beyond help. Trust God to provide."
She felt a little steadier, a little calmer, and she suspected him of ministering to her on a divine level. "Not me! Him!"
"Them," Koji quietly corrected, for his arms still sheltered Ephron, the captive angel Milo had helped to rescue.
"Of course," Padgett replied, crossing to the Messenger, whose wings still provided the brightest light in the surrounding darkness.
Beau gawked up at the newcomer. "Can you really help Milo?"
"That's good. Thanks."
Padgett's hands moved without haste — smoothing, straightening, strengthening. "Do not thank me. Thank God."
"Have been," Beau replied.
The Caretaker paused in his work. "Milo is important to you."
"Yeah. He's my friend."
"He's also mine."
Beau checked, "Are you really an angel?"
Padgett's almost-there smile made an appearance, and he reached across to touch the top of Beau's head. "Don't be afraid. Everything is in God's hands."
Beau offered a small nod. "Can I help?"
"Thank you." The Caretaker reached into one of his wide sleeves and produced a roll of softly-glowing gauze, which he passed to Beau. Catching Prissie's eye, Padgett nodded significantly toward Koji.
There was no refusing the implied request, but she felt the need to ask, "What will Momma say when she comes looking for us?"
"We have all the time we need."
Prissie's eyebrows slowly lifted. "Did you do something?"
Padgett patiently answered, "I've prolonged this moment so we can finish without causing further distress to your family."
With one less worry weighing on her mind, Prissie glanced at Koji, who had his hands full with a shivering bundle of skin and bones draped in torn raiment. She shuffled her slippers across the braided rug, cringing with every crunch of glass underfoot, to pull a blanket off the bed. Shaking it out, she made her way to Koji. Angels might not feel cold, but her friend couldn't offer Ephron the shelter of wings. When she draped her substitute around the pale angel's shoulders, he started.
Koji spoke in low tones. "Prissie is with us. You remember her. She is my friend. You are safe with us. We are with you." His assurances had a lilting quality that soon became a song that promised peace and comfort.
Even though Ephron was clearly taller than the younger Observer, he'd curled into a tight, defensive ball. But he lifted his face and murmured, "With me." He paused. "Lavi! Where is Lavi?"
Koji helped him fumble with the collar of his tunic, and a brilliant yahavim burst into the air, zinging around in a joyous dance. Prissie squinted hard and gasped in recognition at the manna-maker who'd accompanied her down to the Deep. "Hi, you. You're looking much better."
The tiny angel with his puff of soft green hair alit on her fingers and twirled on the tips of his toes. Lavi's attention quickly returned to Ephron, though, for Koji was helping the injured angel rearrange his limbs. The rescued Observer's pants were badly torn, the cloth unraveling in the absence of seams, which left much of his legs bare. Prissie realized with a jolt that the mottling on his skin was probably bruising, and she couldn't begin to count the cuts, which were in various stages of healing. Her lips trembled, but her chin came up. There had to be something she could do.
Although an angel's raiment could resist spot and wrinkle, Ephron was in desperate need of a bath. Dirt and dust gave his skin a slightly gray cast, with pale streaks to show the tracks his tears had followed. Prissie would have liked to take him down the hall to the bathroom, but that probably wouldn't work. No power. No lights. "Koji?" she whispered urgently. "How do angels wash themselves?"
She bit her lip to keep back a sharp answer.
Koji's dark eyes took on a shine. "That is a good idea."
"Prissie?" She turned to find Beau holding out a basin of water. Her brother explained, "This other guy said you need this."
Lavi fluttered in a slow circle around Beau's head, then landed on the wide brim of what looked to be a stone bowl. Her brother showed no sign of noticing the bright pixie testing the water with his toes. Prissie asked, "How many angels do you see?"
"Is that a trick question?"
She slowly shook her head and pointed to each, pausing to see his reaction. "Milo. Padgett. Koji."
Beau's eyes widened. "Koji's here? Wait. Koji's an angel?"
She stood awkwardly. "I ... um ... I guess I shouldn't have said anything."
"It's all right," Padgett said distractedly. "You may take your brother into your confidence."
"Then yes. Koji's an angel too."
"Figures." Beau gestured to Padgett and Milo. "But as far as I can tell, the only ones here are you, me, and them."
The worst of the mailman's wounds had been cared for, and the Caretaker had maneuvered Milo onto the floor so he could put away his wings for him. With deft motions, Padgett traced his fingers along the Messenger's shoulders and back, coaxing the billowing blue light into the unique pattern that contained an angel's furled wings. Finishing one side, he glanced up. "Take the basin, Prissie. And be careful. It's heavy."
She obeyed, taking the bowl that seemed to be filled with liquid light; it steamed lightly and smelled spicy. Arching his brows, Beau asked, "How many angels do you see, Sis?"
"Five. But there's probably more."
"And how long have you been seeing angels?"
Prissie hugged the basin to her chest and managed a weak smile for Lavi. "For a while. It's a long story."
"Tell me later?"
She nodded, and Beau returned to Milo's side, focusing all his attention on helping the Messenger. His wings were almost completely furled now, so the blue light was fading, but a second basin of water sat beside Padgett, a match for her own. Their warm glow was more than enough to see by.
Walking slowly so she wouldn't slosh the precious liquid, Prissie crossed to Koji. He beckoned for her to join him on the floor.
"How do I help?" she asked.
"You will support Ephron. I will wash him."
The young Observer took charge. Pushing aside some of the clutter on the floor, he laid out her blanket. "Sit here, against the wall. You will support him the same way Taweel held Tamaes when he was injured. Remember?"
She nodded and took her place. With a little scooting and shuffling, Ephron lay limply in the circle of her arms, his head resting on her shoulder. For so long, he'd been nothing more than a name that put shadows in the eyes of her friends. Now, he was a solid someone whose suffering was all the more real in its aftermath.
When Koji straightened Ephron's legs, the injured Observer whined softly.
"I am sorry," Koji whispered.
Prissie was sorry too, but she couldn't say the words. Tears that she'd been holding back for what felt like forever blurred her vision. She wished for wings so she could wrap them around this angel and ease his pain. Wasn't she partially to blame for Ephron's prolonged captivity? If she'd prayed sooner, would he have been spared weeks or even months of torture?
Uneven tufts of flaxen hair brushed Prissie's cheek as Ephron shook his head. "Do not apologize. I am grateful." Fragile-looking hands found the arms locked around his chest, and he hung onto her. "More than I can express."
Koji took the folded cloth resting in the warm water and pressed it to Ephron's cheek. "Should I remove the bandages?"
"Carefully," Padgett replied from across the room. "I'll be with you shortly."
As the strips of raiment binding Ephron's eyes fell away, Koji noticed Prissie's confusion and softly explained, "Ephron is blind."
Prissie closed her eyes, not wanting to see what lay beneath the bandages. Sick at heart, sick to her stomach, she hid her face in the disarray of Ephron's hair and tried to focus on the scent of spices that perfumed the water. It occurred to her that if the basin was warm enough to steam in a room now exposed to the elements, she should have been freezing. After some thought, she realized that while she was aware that it was cold, she wasn't uncomfortable. This was probably how it was for angels, and she was grateful that Padgett had extended their unique senses to her. Otherwise, her teeth would have been chattering by now.
A soft whirr of wings brought her out of her thoughts, and she looked up, expecting to see Lavi. But Omri stood on her shoulder; his small hands patted affectionately at her cheeks, brushing away the traces of her own tears. "If you're here, Taweel must be close."
"On the roof," Koji confirmed. Glancing up, he announced, "Jedrick is here."
Heavy footfalls sounded overhead, and Prissie looked up in time to see Jedrick toss aside some loose boards and shingles in order to widen one of the gaps. The Flight captain dropped into the room, bringing a wash of green light as his wings draped loosely behind him. Crouching beside Ephron, he said, "Here you are."
Lifting his face, the Observer answered, "I am here."
Jedrick's hand dropped to Ephron's shoulder. "Your name is still under my hand."
"I know it."
"I wish I could have protected you from all you suffered," the cherubim confessed. "Forgive me?"
"There is nothing to forgive, Captain. I am grateful to be under your wing once more."
"Amen and amen."
The matter was dealt with so simply. A straightforward apology. Immediate forgiveness. Prissie wasn't sure she could have done the same if, for instance, Margery were to say the whole Elise thing was a big mistake. Could people go back? Ephron certainly couldn't. He was blind. Unless the Caretakers were able to fix that for him. Weren't they capable of miracles?
"May I take your place?"
Prissie blinked up at Jedrick, then loosened her hold on Ephron. "Please do. Your wings will work better than mine."
The tall warrior blinked back. "Prissie Pomeroy, humans do not have wings."
Ephron actually smiled. "Have you no imagination, Captain? Many have wished for wings, but few for such noble reasons."
Jedrick lifted away the Observer as if he weighed no more than a feather, practically cocooning him in the folds of his wings. Prissie stood and brushed off her skirt as Padgett joined them. Koji wrung out his cloth and draped it on the edge of their basin, then stood beside her. His fingers brushed the back of her hand, and she caught at it, grateful to still have someone to hold onto.
"Sis?" Beau sat against the wall on the other side of the room, his eyes wide and his hair wild. Milo reclined against him in much the same way she'd been holding Ephron, and it looked as if her brother was holding on for dear life. "You're not talking to yourself," he said, the lift of his brows making the statement a question.
"No. Two more angels just came in," she reported.
Just then, a shaky hand lifted, covering Beau's. "There's nothing to fear," the Messenger murmured. "Or did I cover that part already? I'm a little foggy on the details."
"Milo!" Beau's arms tightened. Two tears splashed down his cheeks. When he found his voice, he said, "If Zeke ever finds out you can fly, he'll never give you a moment's rest."
Their mailman's low chuckle was reassuringly familiar. "Some things are best kept secret."
"Yeah. I can do that much." Beau's face creased with concern. "Wish I could do more."
Milo's gaze drifted from Prissie to Koji, then back to Beau. "Given the circumstances, I think it's safe to assume there will be more."CHAPTER 2
THE SPARE ROOM
Shimron rarely left his tower, but on this night, no one could hold him back. "Have the children gone?"
"Soon," Abner promised.
"Do not speak to me of soon," the old one said, pacing the stone floors. "I have endured much soon and many laters. Lead me into now."
The Caretaker bowed his head and opened the way. "With pleasure."
Padgett turned as his mentor escorted Shimron into the fresh wreckage of Prissie's bedroom, but the Observer spared no glance for his surroundings. He only had eyes for his former apprentice, who huddled in their captain's embrace. Kneeling beside Jedrick, Shimron buried his face in his hands and wept.
Excerpted from The Garden Gate by Christa Kinde. Copyright © 2014 Christa Kinde. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERKIDZ.
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