For Michael, death comes calling unexpectedly one afternoon with a sudden squeezing sensation in his chest. But he soon learns that death is only the beginning of his troubles as he reaps the unpleasant reward of living a lukewarm life and finds himself denied entrance into Heaven. The life Michael once knew is gone.
Just when Michael thinks he is headed to the fiery gates of hell, he is offered one last chance at redemption-but at a terrible cost. After he reluctantly forfeits everything from his old life, he is recreated into a guardian angel who must abide by strict rules. Homelessness, hunger, danger, and despair become his world until the kindness of a minister in a homeless shelter provides him with a much-needed purpose. But the danger only increases as he halfheartedly immerses himself in his Guardian Angel duties. Ordered to protect jealous lovers, burned-out police officers, delusional street people, and delinquent youth, Michael only wants one thing-to go home.
Michael is about to realize that his path to redemption will be more difficult than he ever imagined.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.65(d)|
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GUARDIAN ANGELBook I of the Guardian Angel Series
By Kurt R. Sivilich
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Kurt R. Sivilich
All right reserved.
Chapter OneI'm sure you're wondering how I could attend my own funeral. Some people might guess that the entire thing was faked and that I was some sort of celebrity that wanted to get away from the worries of the paparazzi, much like Elvis or any number of dead famous people rumored to have done just that. Others might say that it was a dream and that I would be waking shortly in my own bed, relieved, probably promising myself to take better care of my body so that dream wouldn't become a reality.
But I assure you, it was no dream and this was no Great Escape hoax. I was dead, in that coffin, and I was there to witness it.
How did I manage to attend my own funeral? Well, that's going to take some explaining. Perhaps I should start at the beginning, which is really the point where I—or at least my body in the box—had ended.
Recalling my "last moment" on earth, I remember that I was sitting at my dining room table, taking a break from the work I had brought home and going over the family bills. I had really needed a mental health day—or at least a quiet day out of the office—with the pressures from the bank being what they were in that day and age. The entire summer had passed without us taking a vacation that year—there was just no time—and it was already October, with the holidays looming in the coming months. Coupled with the housing crunch and the credit crisis, it was all piling up and making my job and my life really stressful. So at the end of the previous day, I had grabbed a bunch of paperwork that was piling up so I could work from home and at least get a break from the office routine. With Scarlett, my wife, at work, and Billy and Susan, my children, at school, I had the house to myself and was really digging the quiet stillness that surrounded me. Life was good.
Anyway, I was sitting at the table working on the family finances when all of a sudden my left arm went numb and a terrible squeezing sensation hit my chest. I could barely breathe, and I must have sat there stunned for several seconds. I thought that maybe it would pass, and then began hoping it would pass, and upon realizing it was not going to pass, I fumbled for my cell phone with my numb left hand. My fingers didn't want to work correctly, and I dropped the phone on the floor. I bent over in an attempt to retrieve it, my chest radiating agony, the pain stealing away my ability to breathe, my fingers groping for the stupid phone. I remember feeling the pressure of making contact with its plastic case through numb fingers as my vision started to go black, trying to pull it up to where I could dial someone, anyone. I remember feeling a brief falling sensation with a soft landing, like onto carpet, and then—nothing.
People who have had near-death experiences say they remember seeing a tunnel of light and loved ones beckoning to them, welcoming them home to the hereafter. I have to tell you, I didn't get any of that. The next thing I remember is coming back to awareness, lying on my side on a hard, cold floor. I could barely keep my eyes open from the bright light seeming to radiate from everywhere and everything in the room, washing out all details, leaving the walls, the ceiling, and the floor a stark white. I tried to right myself, to sit up, but I was as weak as a kitten and couldn't move. My limbs just would not respond to any command I sent.
I noticed some movement off to one side, and when I focused on it, I could see two people walking toward me, speaking with each other in soft conversation. When they reached me, one knelt down and gently placed a hand on my shoulder. Warmth coursed through my body from that contact, and I looked up into the face of a very nondescript man. He had close-cropped hair, was clean-shaven, and was wearing what appeared to be white robes. The man smiled faintly as he looked down at me.
"It's just not for you, Michael," he said. "Not right now. I'm sorry. You need to find your path."
And then, sudden darkness again.
The next thing I knew, water was splashed onto my face—well, more like dumped; suddenly I was soaked from the armpits upward, and I could feel my hair plastered to my head. I awoke sputtering and coughing. Opening my eyes, I looked up to see a man walking away from me, carrying a bucket. He reached an old wooden chair, and after setting the empty bucket down, he sat down, hooked a leg over the seat, and leaned back, facing me. I studied him, noting that he was rather average with very plain features—brown hair cut in a business style, lightly tanned skin, brown eyes, and wearing a black suit with a light grey shirt and a dark tie. He had a trench coat neatly folded by his chair on the floor.
"Go on, get up. We don't have all day," he said, his voice immediately grating on my nerves.
Using my arms to push myself into a sitting position, I looked around. We were in the approximate center of an old, empty warehouse. Naked light bulbs hung from the cavernous ceiling, casting islands of light onto the concrete floor.
"Where the hell am I?" I heard a voice speak, and then I realized it was mine. The voice I spoke with was not what I was used to hearing.
"Let's get something straight," the man said, ignoring my question entirely. "You're dead. D-E-A-D. And the only reason you're here is because you've been deemed worthy of a second chance to get into the kingdom."
"But I'm not dead; I'm right here, talking with you," I said, my voice still not my own. I looked down at myself for the first time and saw that I was dressed in clothes I had never laid eyes on before. I had never owned a dark grey suit in my life, and here I was dressed in one, with matching shoes, no less. How stylish.
"Why do you people always have to make it so difficult," the man muttered as he stood up and walked over to me. Reaching into his pants pocket, he pulled out a small mirror and tossed it to me. I barely caught it, my hands and arms not wanting to go where I willed them, and then looked at myself in the mirror.
The face that looked back at me was not mine. It wasn't even close.
My hair is blond, or at least it used to be. The hair I saw in the mirror was jet black and styled completely differently than mine. The skin was also different, more of an olive complexion now, rather than my fair complexion. Even the shape of my face was different; it was very square with angular lines, not the rounded jowls and double chin I'd been looking at in the mirror for the past decade or so. But the thing that jarred me out of my skin was that I was not wearing glasses, yet I could see everything quite clearly.
I stood up in horror, which caused me to lose my balance and fall over, barely catching myself with my hands as I hit the floor. I heard the mirror crunch under my weight and felt some shards drive into my palm, but I was too frightened to really notice the pain. Instead, I tried to get away from this stranger, doing my best to roll over and crab crawl backward away from him, my legs and arms fumbling around at even this effort. The net result was that I probably looked like an upside-down turtle trying to flip itself over.
"Are you done?" the man asked, shaking his head in disgust.
I stopped attempting to get away, not because I was convinced he wasn't going to harm me, but because I was too winded to continue thrashing around like a beached walrus. Looking up at him, I tried to remain calm while he stepped a little closer and crouched to look me in the eye.
"What did you do to me?" I asked, fear clearly coming through in my words.
He exhaled heavily and regarded me with a look that bordered on contempt. "You died. You were found wanting and were denied admittance into the kingdom. But to your credit, you were not entirely lost, so the decision was made for you to return to the creation to find what you missed your first time around. We call that 'finding your path.'"
I recalled the figure who had spoken to me briefly. "I was in heaven?" I asked.
"Yes," he answered, watching me intently.
"And I wasn't let in," I continued.
"Correct," he replied.
I gingerly leaned back on my uninjured hand and brought up my wounded palm to study the damage. Several small punctures surrounded a large gash that ran from the meat of my thumb to the outside edge, muscle and tendons visible as the skin had puckered back from the wound. Several shards of broken mirror glinted from the naked light bulbs overhead. I began to feel the pain as the initial surge of adrenaline started to wear off.
"Who are you?" I asked, looking away from the nauseating injury.
Still crouching, the man settled back onto his heels a little farther, apparently getting comfortable. "You can call me Jacob," he answered.
I began pulling on my nose, my ears, trying and failing to pull off the prosthetics that someone had glued to my face.
Jacob sighed, stood up, and returned to his chair. "It's real, Michael," he said, sitting down.
"No. No, it's not real. This is some kind of elaborate joke." My voice sounded less resolved than shrill and hysterical. I started clawing at my eyes to get the contact lenses out that were sure to be there. They just had to be; I couldn't see without corrective lenses, and I wasn't wearing glasses.
"Stop that, you're going to hurt yourself," Jacob said, his voice sounding tired, almost bored.
He was right. All I ended up doing was scratching my left eye, which caused it to start watering. Squinting against the discomfort, I looked around in a panic. "No, no, no ... this can't be real ..." I said and then repeated "no" several times more, getting louder and louder. Somehow I managed to lurch to my feet and keep my balance, and in doing so, I ran. Staggering and almost falling down at first, I falteringly got my feet under me and was soon proficient enough to fly across the warehouse floor, screaming at the top of my lungs and weeping in fear.
I ran from wall to wall, corner to corner, back and forth, over and over again, trying to find a way out but discovering only locked doors, walls I couldn't climb, and windows too high to reach. Eventually my legs gave out from the exertion and I fell again, landing hard on my hands, tearing my wounded palm open even wider and driving the remaining shards deeper into my flesh. Panting like a dog, I pushed myself into a kneeling position and cradled my injured hand with my good one. Looking around for Jacob, I discovered him still sitting on his chair about forty yards away, simply watching me.
"You son of a bitch!" I shouted at him, rage and exhaustion making my voice shake.
He regarded me silently, still watching my every move.
"I want my life back!" I railed at him.
Shaking his head slowly, his eyes never left mine. "I can't do that," he replied.
I sat back, tears running down my face. It couldn't be true, it just couldn't. This wasn't happening. I was supposed to live a long life; I had a family, responsibilities, a job, a wife. This wasn't real!
"Why me?" I shouted. "Why did you do this to me?"
Jacob spoke very gently. "Because it was your time, Michael."
"Liar!" I snarled. "If it was my time, why didn't I get in? Why was I turned away?"
"Michael, it doesn't work like that—we don't take people when they're ready; people are taken when it's required. It was your time. Anything else is not mine to explain. It's the way of it," Jacob answered, his calm demeanor getting under my skin. I struggled to get to my feet, still holding my wounded hand. Eventually I managed to get myself upright and started walking toward Jacob.
He slowly got to his feet, his movements a great deal more controlled and intentional than mine. He stood there, his legs shoulders-width apart, hands clasped together at his stomach, waiting.
"Give me back my life," I said in a measured tone. I could feel myself seething with anger, and for the first time in my existence, I knew I could do violence to someone.
A sad expression came over Jacob's face. "I can't. I'm sorry," he said. A part of my brain noted that he sounded sincere. I ignored that part.
"Last chance. Give me my life back. Now," I growled, clenching my fists and holding them at my side. I could feel the burning pain in my torn hand. I ignored that, too.
Jacob sighed, his eyes glancing at my quivering fists. "Michael, I can't do that," he answered.
I slapped him as hard as I could with my good hand, the contact sounding like a pistol shot in the quiet building. His head slewed to the side, rolling with the blow, a large red handprint blooming on his cheek. Giving him no time to recover, I brought my injured hand around, slapping his other cheek just as hard, the meaty smack echoing in the empty space. Tiny furrows were left in his skin from the glass, and a wet smear of blood from my sliced palm stained his cheek.
I began to lose control, pummeling his chest and shoulders with badly aimed and weak hits. I shouted all kinds of obscenities at him, but Jacob just stood there, like a rock, absorbing all the abuse and damage I hurled at him, his expression never changing.
We must have gone on like that for fifteen minutes, me flailing wildly at him, punching and hitting, and him just standing there, regarding me with those heavy-lidded eyes, his body barely moving from the impacts of my fists.
"You don't know what I have to lose!" I shouted with rage. "You've never been in this situation! How can you even do this to me when—"
And then suddenly everything changed. His hands moved like lightning, one hand grabbing one of my wrists while the other hand slammed open-palmed across my face, causing my head to turn and my neck to strain almost to the breaking point. Before I could even think, the hand that hit me had snaked out and snagged my other wrist, effectively stopping me from pounding him anymore.
He yanked on my arms and drew me close to him, my nose touching his. I looked into his eyes, saw real emotion reflected there, and felt my innards turn cold. This is what it must be like to look into the eyes of a grizzly bear. A very angry grizzly bear, I thought.
"You little worm," he hissed. "You have no idea what you have to lose, so don't you dare lecture me. If I were in your shoes, I'd shut up and listen and be damned sure to get my act together before it cost me the only chance I have left. I've let you have your little tantrum and run around like a spoiled brat in a candy factory, but it's time to get down to brass tacks—so are we going to talk about the road in front of you, or are you going to spit into the eye of God, say 'no thanks' to this last chance, and take the easy way out?"
His words stunned me, and the violence I could see in his eyes, the quickness with which he had grabbed my arms to stop me from hitting him—it was all too much. He gently released my wrists, and I held them close to my body, close to my chest, hugging myself as I started to shake from the exertion, the fear, everything.
Jacob took a deep breath and then spoke to me as if nothing had happened. "Here's how this is going to work. You are going to live in the world, be a part of it, walk, talk, sleep, eat, everything that everyone else does. From time to time, I, or someone like me, will visit you and give you specific instructions, and you will carry them out. As you go about your journey, the idea is that you'll pay more attention to your life, and hopefully through your experiences, you'll figure out what you missed the first time around. Once you find your path, you'll no longer be required to fill this role. Do you understand?"
Getting myself back under control, I nodded.
"Good," Jacob said. "There are some rules to this. First, you need to follow instructions. Should you start blowing off assignments because you've given up or are just plain lazy, it's a sign that you've chosen not to dwell in the kingdom and your chance here is forfeit."
Again, I nodded. Simple enough. Easy as pie. Play well with others, no problem.
"Second, you must obey God's laws, specifically the Ten Commandments. If you have any questions as to what they are, find a Bible, look them up. Deliberately breaking a commandment is a sign that—"
"That I've chosen not to dwell in the kingdom and my chance here is forfeit. I got it," I interrupted.
Excerpted from GUARDIAN ANGEL by Kurt R. Sivilich Copyright © 2011 by Kurt R. Sivilich. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Excellent story line and very well written. Easy to read but also makes the mind turn a little bit. Made me think about what Guardian Angels may very well be and the role they play in our lives. Can't wait for the next part of the story! Great job Kurt! Keep'em comin!
Full disclosure requires that I tell you upfront that I have the privelege of working with the author, though we didn't discuss the book much while he was writing it. I did, however, WATCH him write it - often over lunch at his desk or in the local pub. Any good writer begins with the end in mind and Kurt, with Guardian Angel, has set up the series perfectly. Michael is introduced enough to allow the reader to build a relationship with the reader, but plenty of room is left for future exploration. It's obvious we're going to learn a lot more about him as the series progresses. The story arc is also established; we have a sense of what future installments might bring - enough to entice, and nothing more. I also appreciate that Kurt has elected to avoid the too-easy and too-limiting default to explicitly Christian themes. While he stays on turf familiar to most of us, life, death, loss, redemption, love and hatred are all universal themes that can be studied from any number of perspectives(challenge to Kurt - weave in all the OTHER faith traditions!). The story itself is propelled along at a pretty fair clip; it would be easy to have long segments of philosopical meanders in this kind of work, but Kurt is wise to keep things moving with lots of realistic dialog and well-described action. Guardian Angel is clearly modeled after Jim Butcher's Dresden series; Kurt chose wisely, as carefully blending genres, while a challenge, makes for very entertaining reading, as well as allowing for investigations that aren't possible in a more simplistic style. Congratulations, Kurt - well done! I'm looking forward to more!
This is an extremely good book. I started reading this on a Monday and completed it Wednesday. The main Characters are well developed. The story line easy to follow. I am definitely looking forward to Book 2 of the series and to follow Michael as he continues on his journey. I highly recommend this to everyone.