Category Archives: Angelchroniclestories

Western Union The Pocket Watch

Glancing over, I saw that he reached into the top pocket of his overalls and produced a pocket watch, securely attached to a button hole in the bib of his overalls by a gold-toned copper alloy chain with a Masonic medallion on the end.

He consulted the time. “It’s three-o-two, we will leave in 8 minutes,” he proclaimed, still in the pensive mood he had been in all morning.

The watch was as large as pocket watches go, given to him by his father ten years ago as a gift when he was appointed a Railroad Engineer. He was the third family member to have the watch; in the late 1880’s, his grandfather the original owner. Now, both father figure’s were gone. His wife gone; his mother was ill; a great many losses for a man with time left.

Housed in a thick gold case engraved in relief, with a picture of a stag and doe emerging from the forest into the bright sunlight of a meadow, the watch was his pride and joy; within contained all the memories of what little senior family he had left.

The watch seemed to exist on its own, an individual entity, and would live on and go to others when he was gone. In this way the memories of his ‘tribe’ would be preserved. In a moment of intimacy between us, he had explained that in this life, he didn’t really ‘own’ anything, everything was ‘on loan’ to him, to be passed on to others when he made his final trip with me.

He turned and leaned out of the cab window, placing his full upper body weight onto his forearms, his right leg curled under him on the seat, his left leg out behind him braced by his foot on the back-head. He leaned out the window as far as he could, to get a clear view of the train behind him. His train, the train he commanded responsibly, as was his job.

Normally at this time his eyes would be on the senior conductor, waiting for the all-aboard signal, which would give him the go-ahead to leave the station.

I knew what was really on his mind. He was looking for her, the one who had captured his heart in an instant that afternoon here in Lamy, one month ago.

I studied him, he did not know how carefully I was considering him. His overalls were clean. His boots, although old, were kept in good shape by frequently replacing the soles and heels. He meticulously maintained the uppers, now partially hidden by the legs of his overalls fastened around the top of the boots by a leather garter, a fashion that would keep stray hot coals from getting inside his boots.

“Are we ready?” I questioned, knowing the answer full well. I had already topped off the boiler with water a few moments ago and the water had stopped flowing from the injector, leaving on my side of the roadbed only a steam-filled puddle.

The temperature and pressure in the boiler were back up to the levels I needed for a fast departure.

“All the conductors are standing in the vestibules and no one is left on the platform,” he said peaking around behind him. I could hear him over the thump, thump of the steam-powered air compressor and the whine of the generator on the boiler just outside the cab.

He consulted his watch again and compared his time with the master clock on the Western Union wall, scrupulously maintained by wire every hour. Time, which flowed through the wires hung on telegraph poles that lined the right-of-way. Time, which ultimately was regulated by the expansion of the universe, a recently considered wisdom by his contemporary, Albert Einstein.

Because once again, our country was growing quite fast, the Great Depression had come to an end, expansion was the order of the day. The telegraph poles supported more wires, sometimes as many as twenty pairs, all tied securely around the blue glass insulators on every cross arm.

Electrically transmitted information at the speed of light simultaneously streamed into every station in the country; a precursor of what was to come. Already telephone wires were strung along the same poles below the telegraph wires and would soon displace the mechanical telegraph communications with a human voice.

I heard the lead conductor’s voice ring out across the platform,“All aboard.”

My engineer turned and nodded to me.

I was ready.

He toggled the air valve to the engine bell, which rang out censoriously. He applied the sander, momentarily spraying sand onto the rails ahead of the locomotive wheels.

He reached up and pulled the whistle cord, two long blasts, which meant we were on our way.

“High Ball!” he stated loudly. “I’ve got the High Ball.” His voice was filled with emotion, I saw tears run down his cheeks; he was trying to outrun the losses that had accumulated, one after another and much too soon.

Angel Grains of Sand

Chapter two  Grains of Sand

“I’m going to run sand through the flues before we get to Lamy,” Angel said loudly over the noise of the locomotive running at full chat.

I had been keeping the throttle open wide, we were making good time and would get to Lamy a little early. Plus I’d be able get out of the cab and give the engine a look-see, with time left over to send off my weekly notes to my editor.

Angel locked open the firebox doors, turned and took a big shovel full of sand from the box on the coal tenders footplate. Turning gracefully, Angel held the shovel even with the firebox threshold. The shovel and sandy contents were illuminated by the fire, or the fire-from-hell, as I call it.

In preparation, Angel had elevated the smokestack to full height and turned on the blower in the blast pipe, which created a draft that sucked the coal dust from the floor of the cab and through the now open firebox doors.

I pulled up my googles from where they were hanging at my chest, and pulled down my grimy engineers cap. I knew from experience, once the sand hit the flues a shower of grit and soot would be blasted skyward from the stack into the quiet night.

A tornado of sand hovered just above the shovel before being sucked, with a great whoosh, into the burning hell in the firebox. Angel deftly held the shovel at the correct height and distance from the firebox mouth to allow just enough of the sand to get ‘sucked,’ at just the correct rate into the fire.

I sat mesmerized envisioning the grains of sand flying off the shovel through the fire and into the flues in the central part of the boiler. I leaned out the cab window and was treated to a display of sparks, tens of thousands of bright diamonds, blasted heavenward, a display that equaled any man-made fireworks.

A thought struck me: the individual grains of sand were passing through the fire like the days of my life, through the conflagration, to rise again as a Phoenix into the dark sky.

“Do you think she will be there?” I yelled at Angel as the final grains of my life went into the fire.

“I asked the conductor on the last trip if he knew who she was. She’s a starlet filming in Los Angeles and she and her boy had the biggest compartment on the sleeper car from Chicago but she may have even originated on the train from New York City. A big greeting committee met her at Union Terminal; plenty of press from prominent newspapers and tabloids. Apparently, the flash from the bulbs in the big press cameras scared her little boy because he hid behind her legs and held on to her with a death grip. Rumor is that she is having an affair with a well-known male star, a married one, you know Los Angeles, anything goes now-a-days.” Angel rattled off the litany of facts as if she was intimately aware of the young woman’s life and continued,“I saw a letter her agent sent to the railroad praising you for your skill as a driver and for inspiring her little boy, who wants to become a railroad engineer, which I bet the superintendent of the railroad will mention in the monthly company magazine, you’ll be the envy of every railroad man on the system.”

I became filled with pride, the pride of the knowledge someone knew about my skill and filled with the pride that comes up with the arousal of seeing a pretty girl.

“I know what’s on your mind,” Angel yelled at me as she threw open the fire doors one more time to check on the fire bed. “I’ll take care of your predicament with a trick I know, once this trick comes to an end.” Angel always had a way with words. “Did you answer your editor’s questions on your progress towards finishing your novels or is your head still in the flue?”

“I have a wire ready to go when we get to Lamy. It’ll bring her up-to-date but isn’t exactly a wire, it’s an email.”

“What’s an e that mails?” Angel asked inquisitively.

“Something only writers can do,” I retorted, “wires are so-o-o 1939-ish. Emails are so-o-o 2018-ish.”

“You got me there big-boy. You can explain it to me when we are in bed, that’s after you complete your assignment with me, you know what I mean?”

I looked over at Angel, who had on more clothes this trip. Or at least I think so because she’s wearing a light blue chambray long sleeve shirt with the sleeves rolled up. I won’t know what, if anything, is underneath until we get to the boardinghouse after our trick is over.

I want to help her wash the coal dust from her face and neck, among other places. It always amazes me that I can be with Angel that way and still think of another woman. A guy thing I guess.

Angel seems to be able to read my mind. “I don’t want you to wash your hands right away when we get in tonight. I want you to press some of your greasy sooty fingerprints on me. You know, the special places on my body. I can look in the mirror on the bathroom door and see where my man has touched me. By the way, it’s okay if you think of her, I’ll be thinking of her paramour.”

I saw the city limit sign go by and backed off on the steam. The train was drifting now, slowing under its own weight. Down from eighty-five, down below sixty. The yard limit was approaching; I applied the train brake and slowed us to twenty-five and then fifteen mph.

Angel was preparing the fire for the twenty minute station stop. She would have the steam pressure just below the pop-off point of two hundred ten pounds stabilized and ready for our departure when it was time to leave.

We entered the platform on Track One, which was filled with passengers, porters, well-wishers and loved ones.

I searched for her as I rolled to just the right place on the platform. Using the engine brake I gently took up the slack and we came to a stop next to the REA wagons; I gave a quick blast on the whistle notifying the conductors that the train was at a complete stop.

“I’m going to the Western Union counter to deliver my email,” I said in a loud voice.

“You don’t need to yell now, we’re stopped,” Angel answered, a little annoyed.

“Oh yeah, a force of habit I guess,” my ears still ringing from the engine noise and the wind at the cab windows.

“What are you going to tell your editor?” Angel asked softly this time.

“I’m going to tell her how far I have gotten on chapter four of `Michael and Lark,’ how little I got done on the beginning chapter of book two of `Secrets.’  And, alas, how lonely I am.”

“Don’t be lonely,” Angel said compassionately, “you will always have me.”

Western Union

We pulled out of the station three minutes behind schedule – there would be two hundred miles ahead.

I pulled the throttle open a little too fast and applied sand to control the wheel slip. Once the drivers regained traction we were off and running, accelerating quickly to sixty miles an hour. I adjusted the cutoff to keep up a comfortable pace without using too much steam.

I called over to Angel. “When we get past the grade crossing I’m going to make up the lost time from that last stop. The rails are dry, and it’s good weather ahead, running fast should not be a problem.”

One year ago, Angel began firing for me. At first, I was skeptical about having a female in the cab of a AT&SF Northern Class 4-8-4 number 3751, but Angel proved to be very capable, knowledgeable and strong.

In the cab this time of year, it gets quite hot and Angel had opted to wear her bib-overalls, post-era steel-toed work boots and gloves with the long firehose fabric gauntlets – and nothing else.

Distracting yes, but I am a professional engineer and I could put her diversions out of my mind.

“I’m going to blow down the boiler before the grade crossing,” Angel yelled to me over the roar of the firebox noise in the cab. “That-away I can have a boiler full of dry steam ready to go for the next one hundred miles.” Angel was always ahead of me. “Once we get under way after the grade crossing, I have a Western Union wire for you that the agent gave me at the last stop.”

Then, clang, blam and whoosh! All hell broke loose when Angel hit the blowdown petcock. The rusty and muddy water from the blowdown changed consistency as the mud from the bottom of the boiler blew out onto the side of the roadbed.

“Who’s it from?” I hollered over the blowdown blast. I watched as Angel leaned out her side of the cab window to check the progress of the blowdown.

When steam and boiling water were the only things blowing out, Angel shut off the petcock and announced, “Your editor.”

Angel leaned back into the cab and faced me, coyly releasing one of the snaps from the top of her overall bib and giving me a view of her pert, shapely right breast.

“For you after we finish with this trick,” she said with a mischievous grin.

The grade crossing was approaching; I saw the whistle sign blow by and got on the whistle cord, Wa-Waaa-Wa-Wa-Wa, I blasted away. I could see the flashing red warning lights come on as the crossing gates lowered. Back on the whistle for five more blasts, the standard code for whistling before crossings. No vehicles appeared; we flew by without incident.

I checked the rear of the train and waited ’til I could detect the last car, the observation coach, as it passed clear of the crossing. The red lights went out and I reached up to tug on the throttle.

“Read the telegram to me and stop fooling around with my feelings,” I admonished Angel.

Angel rearranged herself back into the bib of her overalls. She stepped over the foot plate and from her outer breast pocket, withdrew a Western Union telegram.

I still retained the vision of her exposed breast as she unfolded a yellow, 8 x 6″ piece of paper and read aloud:

“I need the fourth chapter of Michael and Lark ASAP: STOP.”

“And the first chapter of the second book of Secrets: STOP.”

“Send me more poetry and the next short story: STOP.”

“Get your mind out of the gutter and stop fooling around with Angel: STOP.”

“You will never achieve your dream if you don’t hurry up: STOP.”

Angel folded the Western Union wire and tucked it into my overall pocket next to my trainman’s watch. She turned coquettishly and slammed the firebox doors open with a loud clang. Angel reached for a long poker and raked some of the clinkers from the fire bed, before closing the doors and going back to her position at the left side of the cab.

“I saw the way you looked at the lady standing on the platform at Lamy,” she yelled over. “The one with the fashionable short skirt and the young boy who wanted to see the engine. They were going to Los Angeles, the new frontier, the West.”

A vision of that young woman, and her shapely calves, appeared in my mind, fresh, like the vision of Angel’s breast; neither one will leave me in my lifetime.

“Claire has been gone for two years now,” Angel interrupted my thoughts. “It’s time for you to find someone, you have seniority, and the new diesel engines are coming to passenger service soon and they’ll relegate this old steam engine to freight service. You can apply for the new engines, they’ll take you and then you can offer a woman security and a pension in your old age. Plus, a woman can help you achieve your dreams.”

I thought of my writing and then of the woman on the platform, of her young son, clinging to her knee. I wanted to do that, to have a woman to hold.

I reached for the throttle and eased the steam on. Adjusting the cut-off, the engine produced a mighty growl, we accelerated smoothly and quickly up to track speed. I would run this section of the trip fast, eighty-five, ninety, for one hundred miles at a time.

Night Flight

I rolled onto the final approach leaving myself plenty of altitude and distance from the runway. The sky was clear and dark. An afterglow remained low on the western horizon.

Flames from smudge pots outlined the runway; headlights from two cars illuminated the runway ahead.

I approached the runway in a sideslip within a strong gusty crosswind. I would kick the airplane into alignment with the runway at the last possible moment.

I checked the landing gear, three-in-the-green. The landing lights illuminated the touchdown zone.

At the end of the runway, the sod was worn to the gravel. I made a mental note to start my takeoff roll in the sod portion when it became time to depart.

Trees lined the opposite end of the runway, the runway was short, several high hills would need to be cleared if I screwed up and went around. I rehearsed the go-around in my mind.

I recited my abbreviated checklist: gas, undercarriage, mixture, prop. If I had to go-around, it would have to be now, otherwise I was committed to land.

The flash of the collision light reflected from the ground as I passed the landing threshold. With a deft flick of my wrist and a dance on the rudder petals I kicked the airplane out of the slip to level flight just as the main wheels rolled onto the gravel. Letting the nose wheel down, I came to a stop with hundreds of feet to spare.

I sat there; the cars speeding along after me, they pulled ahead and made a sweeping turn around in front to guide me to the parking area.

I retracted the flaps, made a slow turn back down the runway, and followed the cars who stopped next to a row of wooden “T” hangers. At the end of the hangers, A light shown out of an office window, illuminating an impressive Sikorsky helicopter tied down on the ramp.

I recognized the name of the company emblazoned on the side of the fuselage and realized the Sikorsky must be the reason for the replacement part that I have onboard.

A man directed me to the center of the blacktopped ramp. I set the parking brake and shut down the engine. Completing the checklist, I turned off the battery switch. The cockpit went dark, I sat listening to the gyros spinning down.

It wasn’t a difficult flight. I found the airport on the first pass, the landing went well. Putting aside my fear of meeting new people, I unlatched the cabin door and stepped out onto the wing and then to the ground.

Flood lights came on. Men from the cars assembled outside my plane. I recognized one of the men, the helicopter pilot.

A chilly wind was blowing, I zipped up my flight jacket and stepped around the wing to meet the greeting committee.

They weren’t all men. One of greeters was a handsome woman, a woman of striking beauty, older than myself by ten years.

It started the moment our eyes met; I have never been right since and that was sixty years ago.

 

The Puzzle

“It will come to you. Don’t get discouraged,” the voice on the other end of the line stated. “Such a beautiful puzzle, two thousand pieces. It is a work of art; just like you, a work of art.”

At that moment I didn’t feel like a work of art, not anything close. My drinking was getting to my health. My marriage had fallen apart; I was estranged from my children. I was terribly depressed; thoughts of taking my own life accompanied me everywhere.

“But, but, all I want is a puzzle to take my mind off my life,” I stammered.

“Yep, how it’s designed,” the voice on the other end of the phone proclaimed. “You’ll catch the hang of it.”

“There is no picture, just a plain, grey paper box, not even instructions,” I said in an irritated voice.

“Give it a chance. Take the first step, open-the-box,” came the reply. “But I have to ride the sound waves now, another troubled man is on the other line.”

“Who are you?” I asked sharply into the handset.

“I’m God. Gotta go.” The line went silent.

I sat there with the dead phone in my ear.

You see, I am very troubled, I am very ill. The prognosis for my recovery is poor. I see why they take their lives, I thought to myself. If I keep going like this I will end up dead, just like the other men, the other survivors of child abuse.

However, the answer to my recovery came to me in a dream. A lovely carefree dream. A dream of flying with angels. I was to buy a puzzle and assemble it. Not any puzzle mind you. A specific puzzle, from a specific source.

In the dream I saw myself reading the newspaper where a small ad in the classified section stated: ‘Free puzzle specifically designed to release your cares. Completing this puzzle will change your life for the better. Guaranteed!’

For me, the `guaranteed` part cinched the deal.

The next morning, I stepped outside and recovered the newspaper from the bushes where the cruel paper boy threw it. The disheveled newspaper had fallen open to a page of advertisements and there prominently displayed in the middle was the ad from my dream.

Try this puzzle free. You can pay me later.

Staring at the ad in disbelief I uttered, “Oh hell, maybe there is something to my puzzle-dream.”

After the morning chores I made out an envelope and sent away for the puzzle. I put it out of my mind and entered back into my old pre-dream space – nightmares, alcohol, and depression.

A week later the postman delivered a package to me. The puzzle.

Ripping off the packaging, I opened the box. Two thousand pieces were enclosed in a clear plastic bag. I cut the bag open with the scissors I kept in my desk drawer and laid out the Masonite board I used for assembling puzzles and poured the pieces onto the center of the board.

I am confronted with the disconcerting fact that all the pieces are blank – on both sides. I reached for the phone and called God. A recorded message from the phone company indicated: ‘The number you have dialed is not in service.’

There has to be a way.

Sifting through the pile I withdrew all the pieces that had a straight edge. Four of the two thousand pieces looked like corners; I laid them out on the board in a manner that marked a large rectangle about the same shape as the unmarked box.

Some of the straight-edged pieces seemed to fit together. I attempted assembling the puzzle sides. Progress was slow. I saw the puzzle was cut by a machine where the characteristics of cutting them left the pieces with a top-side and a bottom-side. I flipped all the pieces over until all of them were arranged on the board top-side up.

Becoming discouraged with the enormity of the task, I pushed back my chair, and paced the floor. Sinking again into a fit of depression I reached for the gin bottle, which was secretly stored in the back of a kitchen cabinet. For once in my life I thought the better of it; instead I went outside and took a walk.

I had been on the walk for an hour and it was becoming dark; I turned and walked back to my cabin and went to bed.

In the dead of the night an angel appeared by my bed. I was frightened, but she was beautiful; her countenance disarmed me and I forgot my fear.

“I see you got the puzzle God told you about. Good going, I am proud of you, you are on the way to a better life.”

The angel spoke in a tender, lilting voice, almost musical, sheer poetry and very comforting. I will never forget her voice.

I really need a better life, I thought to myself. I sure screwed this one up.

“Agreed,” the angel said. “You have some big problems, they are not insurmountable, the puzzle will show you the way.”

“Who are you? Who sent you? Why are you here in my dreams?”

“I am your Guardian Angel, I have been sent to you by the Universe as a messenger, I supply your intuition. I give comfort to the abused.”

“What do you know about my abuse?”

“I know everything about your abuse; I have been with you from the beginning. You do not really know about your abuse, which is why you are so troubled. Once you understand what happened, you will be able to move on and fulfill your destiny, a destiny of love.”

“Why didn’t you come to me before? What took you so long, can’t you see I’m suffering?” I asked plaintively.

“I came to you many times; you were so troubled you didn’t hear me. I heard your cries for help. I persisted. Many never hear me, they become lost. You may be different. I don’t know. You’re worth a try. This is your time, you finally hear me, we are talking. Now, complete the puzzle or be lost forever – your choice.”

My dream ended.

Upon awakening, I poked my right forearm and found to my surprise I was among the living. I got up, dressed, had a coffee, and walked over to the desk. I stared blankly at the puzzle board.

At least I have the four corners and some of the parts of the sides assembled. What did the angel mean when she said that it’s time for me to complete the puzzle?

The phone rang and startled me out of my funk.

“Hello,” I answered, not really engaged in the call.

“Hi there, this is God. I see you met Angel and started the puzzle. Wow, she is a hottie and whew, doesn’t wear any clothes. Way over the top. If you survive your past you may not survive her!”

“God, it’s you again. The phone company said your line was disconnected.”

“Yeah, I had a big response to the puzzle ad and had to shut down that operation. You got some of the pieces together I see and figured out which sides of the pieces represent the top surface. Wow, Way To Go, you are on your way to assembling the biggest puzzle of your lifetime. It is going to change your life for the good. That is, if sleeping with that Angel doesn’t kill you first.” God guffawed.

“I didn’t know humans slept with angels,” I frowned.

“Of course, they do. Happens all the time, including some of the biggest mistakes in history,” God snickered.

“This puzzle is impossible.”

“Nothing is impossible, it requires a little work on your part, that’s all.”

“Can’t you see, I’m working hard?” The words just came out of my mouth; immediately, I regretted saying them. For years, I’d spoken in the exact manner when I confronted my ex: spiteful, hateful, self-centered, angry words. No wonder she left me. No wonder my children drifted away. I was in such pain, I could only consider myself. “I am so pathetic. My predicament chases away the very people who care for me.”

“And I am not uncaring,” God countered. “All survivors say that. All alcoholics deny they have a problem. You’re different, you can learn to care and love others. You are worth saving. First you must learn to love yourself, with a little direction from Angel of course. Gotta go!”

God seemed a little more talkative this time, I thought to myself.

“He’s pretty good with humans, especially the troubled ones.” The words came out of nowhere.

“Angel is that you?”

A shaft of light came through the window and illumined two of the puzzle pieces. I separated them from the pile and saw a pattern where they would fit. My hand trembled as I hooked them onto their potential partners.

As they came together, an impulse of energy rippled through my hand and arm. At that exact moment, I had a brief vision, a vision of a small child crying. I was overcome with grief and the emotions of guilt and shame.

The image-board dimmed; light from the window passed into shadow. An imperceptible change came over me. I felt – relieved – relieved that I had made some progress on the puzzle. A picture resolved itself onto the pieces depicting a memory of my past, a snapshot of me when I was very young. The image made me feel very uncomfortable.

Sitting quietly, I called for Angel. She didn’t answer. Still, I felt calm, somehow knowing this would be the beginning of a long relationship with her.

It was time for the morning chores. My mood brightened, I did the chores in a relaxed and unhurried manner.

Then I took out my checkbook to see how much money was left. The balance was very low, I was going to have to tap my 401K again. Soon, I would be out of money. I needed to find a job, if I could hold a job long enough to get some money together I might be able to publish a story I was working on. Previously, I was never able to make any real money writing, but it could be different this time.

The morning flew by. Deciding to do something with my new-found peacefulness, I took out my laptop and opened the Word file for my story. I scrolled to the part near the ending.

New words came to me. My fingers flew across the keys. Years of pent up and repressed memories appeared on the screen before me. That’s when I realized knowing all about my past was within my grasp. For once I could be free of the terrible memories; they would be gone from me, recorded forever, permanently in print for others to read, who in turn, would discover their own ‘demons.’ Perhaps this is the story I needed to tell. A story of meeting an Angel, a story of faith overcoming all obstacles, a story of how giving my troubles to God set me free to make a better life for myself.

An hour flew by. I decided to take a walk and let the story gel in my head. On the way back, I stopped for the mail. It was the usual mid-week mail – bills, flyers, appeals for money, and, wait what’s this, a business letter from the magazine where I had made a submission.

Oh well, probably just another rejection letter. I stood there with the mail shaking in my hands.

“Better get it over with,” I said out loud, to no one in particular.

“Hurry and open it!” Angel’s voice came out of nowhere.

“It’s you Angel. You took me by surprise again. I saw what you did with that shaft of sunlight on those puzzle pieces, neat trick.”

“Open that envelope; show me, show me, show me.”

I thought about the envelope, and then my mind went back to the puzzle pieces. I had a vision of my sisters. They were much older than I; I came along late in my family’s life. I remember being at the lake with them, those were the happier moments of my life.

The envelope fell from my hand; not all the moments were happy, some moments were very violent. I was getting sick, sick over the past.

“Breathe,” Angel said. “Exhale, you’re going to hyper-ventilate. Breathe at a normal rate, slowly, in, out, in, out,” she chanted.

I stood there and did what she told me. Soon my breathing returned to normal, the world stopped going around, my pulse rate dropped.

I picked up the envelope, opened one end and removed the letter. Within the folded letter there was a check made out to me in the amount of one-thousand-five-hundred and twenty-eight dollars. The letter said it was in payment for my last submission. The story would appear in the August edition. The editor would like to see more of my work, they may consider advances if the stories meet their guidelines.

“See, see what you have done, you’re published, you made moolah.” Angel seemed genuinely happy for me.

“Did you arrange this? Did God?” I asked in disbelief.

“No. You did. You are responsible for everything that happens to you. You have a choice, you can feel bad about your past and continue to suffer, or you can move on. Looks like you just moved on.” Angel started singing the theme song to The Jeffersons, Well, we’re movin’ on up. To the east side. To a deluxe apartment in the sky.

I laughed and continued down the lane to my cabin. Once inside I carefully put the check in my checkbook to be deposited when the bank opened. I placed the letter in my file of letters from the publishers.

This time, instead of caffeine, I took a cup of water and heated it in the microwave. With the steaming hot cup in my hand I sat at the puzzle board. I fiddled with some of the puzzle pieces. A few of them left me with the feeling they might fit together, I put them down on the board and as I pushed them along to the other pieces, a picture formed on them. A picture of a house on a steep hillside.

I went to the cabinet and brought down the box containing the family photos. I had carefully saved those photos in a beautiful presentation box. The collection of photos came from various family members, all of them gone.

I laid a stack of photos on the puzzle board. I thumbed through the stack until I found a picture of the house that was identical to the picture on the puzzle pieces. I recognized the house, one of the first homes I could remember. A pang of fear rippled through my body. The inner sides of my thighs began to burn.

“I see you found a couple of memories,” God said, his voice came out of nowhere.

“You startled me,” I blurted out, “must you always?”

“My apologies, I keep forgetting you are not a God-fearing man. Maybe you will think of me more often, my presence is in everything you do. I should not be a surprise to you, but at any rate, I see you are making progress assembling the puzzle. This time the pieces just came to you on their own.”

“How?” I asked God.

“Seek and you shall find. Ask and it will be given unto you. That’s how it works you know. Can you see how it works now?”

“Do you mean all I have to do is envision what I want, and it will come to me? How can that be?”

“It’s called the `Law of Attraction,’ concentrate on your true desires and everything you need will be placed in front of you. All you have to do is take what you want and discard the rest back to the universe.”

“You know I have plenty of wants, how come it hasn’t worked until this moment?”

“Oh, you want things alright. You want stuff, you want money, you want fame, you want notoriety, but you don’t want to work for it. You want it to appear without putting anything up.”

God’s words stung. “Isn’t wanting what I want, enough? How come I can’t attract it by just wanting it?”

“The Law of Attraction doesn’t mean you will get what you want. The Law works by enabling you to find a way of getting what you want. First you desire something. When you concentrate on that desire, the Law will place the pathway in front of you. If you are alert, you will find the proper way. It may not be easy, but it will come.”

“Everyone wants something, how come they complain they aren’t getting what they want?”

“They were like you. They want something. When shown the way, they don’t want to work. You are different now. You asked me, I showed you the way. The Universe is taking a chance on you. The Universe sees you might be genuine. The Universe gave you Grace and an Angel.”

“How are you, Angel, and the Universe connected?”

“The Universe is the home of all life. You are born of the stuff of the Universe. The Universe wants you to live and create more life, to move life along, to spread life. You are the Universe. You created me. You called me your God. My job is to place the path in your way.

“You have created Angel, who is made from the stuff of the Universe that resides in your heart. When you listen to your heart, you are listening to life itself. But when your mind gets in the way, it is all caught up in the way you think you should be. Angel straightens that out for you.”

“Do you mean, I am the Universe, God, and Angel, all in one? I have the power to be and get what I want because I am life itself?”

“Yes, that’s what I mean. Gotta go.”

“Wait, wait, don’t leave me with a trifecta bombshell; I can never fulfill that role.”

My heart was racing, I stopped breathing again. What did Angel say? ‘Breathe, breathe, just breathe!’

It was time to sit down and write, I switched my chair to be at the laptop. Sitting in front of the empty screen, I decided to write about the house on the hillside, the house where it all began. The house of my nightmares.

I walk down a sidewalk to a small home and step onto the porch. I open the screen door towards me, as I grasp for the main door latch, the door opens on its own, I step inside to a long hallway. A few steps more and I see a parlor on the right and a dining room on the left.

The memories from the past came back. A chill descended on me. A creepy feeling raced up my arms. Working my way through the emotions, I concentrated on getting the words onto the screen.

The hallway is dimly lit by a small bare bulb protruding from a ceiling light. The parlor and the dining room are tastefully furnished in a style from the 30’s. All good quality furniture. The parlor has several overstuffed chairs with doilies on the arms, the kind that are woven from a thick string, woven into knots that circle around and around and join in the center. Standing on the end tables are simple, upright shaded lamps, alit with dim incandescing bulbs. The walls are covered with very flowery faded wallpaper. A thick Oriental carpet, worn in spots, fills the center of the floor, the outskirts, well worn, but expensive wood.

The dining room is not lit. Like the parlor, the window shades are pulled down blocking the outside natural light from ever coming in. It does not matter now because it is nighttime; middle of the nighttime.

As I moved along, I was writing the text in rhythm to my imaginary progress through the house. I could smell the dampness and decay of the aging building.

Walking down the hallway deeper into the house, the lights from the parlor and hallway fade behind me. It is darker now. Closed doors to other rooms line the hall. I have no idea what is behind those doors. My skin begins to crawl. I can hear faint conversation from the end of the hall where a stairway leads up to a second story. There is a closed door at the top of the stairs. I climb the stairs, careful not to make a sound. There are many voices quarreling with each other, sometimes laughing in a grotesque way. Demons; they know of my arrival. The door suddenly opens – the demons drag me into that room – and tear me to pieces.

I sat, barely able to move. Powerful memories of my childhood occupied my mind.

To distract myself from the force of the emotions, I moved back to the puzzle board. A stream of sunlight appeared as it had days prior. Pieces of the puzzle illuminated. I gathered them together and pushed them over into the side of the puzzle. They settled on the upper right-hand corner.

A picture of a middle-aged woman appeared, it was my mother. She was much younger than my recent memories of her. She was very beautiful and full of life and was picnicking with me and my sisters. My father was not to be found, perhaps he was the one taking the picture.

I started in earnest to find other puzzle pieces that would complement the ones I had already assembled. The job went very quickly now. Eventually I had completed the entire four sides and a great deal of the middle of the puzzle except for a round area that occupied the very center.

I was exhausted. Looking at the time I realized I needed to get to the bank before it closed to deposit the check from the publisher. After the bank I stopped for gas, then on to the supermarket to buy a microwavable dinner. After I returned home, I put the dinner in the freezer, then sat at the puzzle board.

“I see you deposited the check.” It was Angel. I could feel her presence.

“Can I see you? I want to know what you look like. God said you are a `stunner,` well, those were not his exact words, he said you were a `hottie!'”

“That God, he is a naughty old man, but you see me all the time. You see me in your dreams, you see me when you walk along the streets in town. You see me when you watch porn. You even possessed me when you were married. Too bad you lost her, she was a good woman.”

Cringing, I decided to whiz by the porn comment. “When will I actually see you? You are the one I want to see.”

“I’ll tell you what. Finish the novel you’re working on and you will see me in that way; I will become very clear to you. I will be your muse, I will become your sexual fantasy. Once the novel is finished you will know me and have me completely, forever; but not before.”

Angel was right, I didn’t want to rush my relationship with her, it was too good. I didn’t want to be in a hurry. I decided to seduce her and make love to her in her way, in my novel.

I left the puzzle board and went for a walk. The novel began to take shape in my mind; the plot would be about a man who falls in love with an angel.

I spent the entire summer and much of the fall completing the manuscript. During that time, I sent off query letters to several agents about the concept of the novel. A number of my short stories found a home in publications, the checks were coming in, I had a track record.

One of the agents developed an interest in my work. Her name was Amanda and she wanted to see the manuscript, providing I could give her an exclusive for a period of time. I reluctantly agreed, I told her I wanted literary control over the content.

Amazingly, a publisher offered me an advance. They wanted some changes, Amanda the agent told me.

“They want some changes.” I spoke out loud hoping Angel would hear me.

“I know,” Angel said, “that is the way the industry works. The publisher is taking a chance, they need to be certain they will sell enough copies of the book to recover their investment, they have already indicated their good faith in giving you the advance. Give up your ego and make the changes, your readers need your story.”

Angel is right of course, after all, I know her well, and she knows me intimately.

“I see you are sleeping with Angel.” God’s voice came to me out of the blue. “I told you she was hot, and she is good for you. Have you finished your puzzle?”

“No, I still have the center hole to fill. I am afraid to look at it. My life is within the pictures, little vignettes from my past; the little pictures comprising a timeline from when I was very young until I married. I can’t find any pictures after that. Where did that time go?”

“You were so wrapped up in yourself you couldn’t think about others. You hardly even thought about your new wife and the babies the two of you created. It was all about you. Gimme, gimme, let me get more, which is why the memories are not there. It is just as well. Would you really have wanted to see yourself fall into your addiction? Your wife and children lost respect for you when you lost respect for yourself.”

God was right. I hated myself up until the time I started the puzzle.

“Pictures of everyone from my past life are in the puzzle; everyone that is, except my father. Where is he? Is his picture the missing part in the center of the puzzle?”

“Yes, your father is the missing part. Why don’t you stop what you are doing and complete the puzzle? Don’t you see you are slipping back into the same trap, wanting, forever wanting? Completing the puzzle will give you a new perspective. Completing the puzzle will bring you calm.”

God left me with those words. It was my original intent to find some peace, the novel and the constant attention to making the writing a business was indeed pushing me backward into the old life. At least I wasn’t drinking, that is up until now. I was constantly praying to Angel to keep me from falling back. The best she could do was to remind me that it was up to me to help myself.

I put aside the mail, and the files, I turned off the computer. I sat at the puzzle board and methodically moved piece by piece of the puzzle into alignment to the center of the puzzle.

A portrait of a man appeared before me.

The puzzle was complete, my life was all there, there except…

“God. God?” I cried out. “That man is not my father!”

“It’s me, Angel. He is your father.” I was so preoccupied with the puzzle I didn’t realize Angel was with me while I assembled the last of the pieces.

“It can’t be, I have his picture right here, puzzle-man does not look at all like my father.”

“You see, what goes on between men and women, sometimes, is secret.”

I was devastated.

“You mean my father was not my father?”

“You must figure that out for yourself. It will take some time, besides what difference does it make now? You are still you, nothing has changed.”

“We have to talk,” I replied pathetically. “I know I have you, you are an energy, not a human. I want human company, I want female human company,” I blurted out. “The fact I may have never known my biological father has tipped me over. I want a woman to hold me and comfort me in my grief.”

“What you mean is, you need to get laid.”

“Yes, that too.”

“Please see that your recent choices brought you to this point on your journey. You have followed the path that you, God, and I have put before you. If you desire a woman to accompany you on your journey, that opportunity will be given to you.”

I felt better getting my needs out into the open.

Months went by; I lost myself in the tasks of launching the book. Angel was right, whatever my past was, did not change the fact that I am here now. I found out about my past and have moved on. Moved on to a better life.

It was time to market my book.

I approached the first signing event with trepidation. Not being particularly outgoing, I was concerned about speaking in public. The novel had become an instantaneous hit, but I was unprepared for having to go on a book tour. I decided the best I could do was to talk at my local book store and do a small signing. If that went well I might, might, do another one someplace close by.

My agent was adamant about me promoting my own work. She told me the readers love to connect with the authors. She was also in the process of arranging appearances on local talk shows.

“Why don’t you just go with the flow,” Angel told me one night when we were talking after making imaginary love. “You are making plenty of money, the book is a hit, you will most likely get a movie commitment – why don’t I arrange it – I will be the Oscar-winning lead.”

“No, no, don’t get me involved in something I can’t handle,” I stammered.

“You can handle it.” God’s booming voice came through loud and clear. “Look what you have done. You stopped drinking, you are able to focus now, you are making a living doing something you love, you are in contact with your children. Even your ex has become a little more civil towards you.”

“What is this, a tag team?” I blurted out. “Here in the bedroom, is there no privacy?”

Angel and God fell silent.

After a semi-sleepless night, I developed a bad case of angst over the signing scheduled for this afternoon. I got dressed and went out to Dunkin’ Doughnuts for coffee and a blueberry muffin. Rather than taking my treats home, I decided to eat there, slowly enjoying my food. The local TV news station was announcing the happenings going on in the area. The picture on the screen showed my books on display at the bookstore, while the commentator announced I was going to be at the store in person to sign copies for the buyers.

The butterflies erupted again, I became sick with fear.

“You can do this,” were Angel’s comforting words.

She was right of course. Angel was right about everything. She was right about the puzzle and my past. She was right about my father not being my father. She was right about letting the words flow onto the paper directly from my heart.

“What do I do?” I asked her.

“Slow down and eat, go home and finish your daily chores. You have a few phone calls to return. Take a shower, get dressed and go to the bookstore.”

“That simple huh?”

“Yes, that simple.”

I finished the muffin and coffee and drove home. Looking through the mail, I found a card from my daughter. It was a note card. A nice one, expensive, a very modern design from Papyrus, just beautiful. Her inscription said: ‘Good luck at the book signing.’ That simple, it reduced me to tears. I became a sobbing mess.

Angel appeared. “Cry it out for a while, and then get on with it.”

The morning went by quickly, I hadn’t realized how much work had piled up. I had thirty minutes to shower and dress, which I did without thinking. I had some decent casual clothes I bought thinking they would enhance my writers image. I had no clue as to what that was. I opted instead to just dress the way I do when I write. Jeans, loose fitting outdoor shirt, jogging shoes and white athletic socks.

Can’t beat that style, I said to myself when I looked in the mirror before leaving the house. As I approached the bookstore I saw the line came out of the front door and continued around the block. As I drove by I got cold feet. I picked up my cell phone and called my agent.

“Why are there so many people outside the bookstore, do they have a water leak or something?”

“Where are you?” she asked. “We are here waiting for you. There is no problem, all those people are here to listen to you talk about writing the story, they want you to sign the books they buy. I sent a runner to another store to get more books, we are going to run out if he doesn’t get here soon. Park where you can, I will meet you at the door.” She hung up.

I drove around to a side street and parked, then jogged to the store. Amanda from the agency was waiting for me and hurried me inside. A podium had been set up at the rear of the store. The staff was busily unfolding chairs they had procured from the church down the street.

Somebody took up the microphone at the podium and announced, “Please find a seat or a comfortable place to stand. Your author is here, his talk will begin in three minutes.”

Amanda rushed me up to the podium, introduced me, and shoved the mic into my hands. I stood petrified, frozen by fear.

“Don’t be concerned sweetums, the Universe, God and I are here. Just talk, it will be perfect.”

The words came automatically as Angel said they would. I simply spoke, I spoke for twenty minutes. A nice lady presented me with 3 x 5 cards with questions on them. The cards were picked randomly so the audience had some sort of a chance to ask about the book and how I wrote it.

We broke from the podium to go to the table where I was to sign. The applause continued as I made my way to my chair. I had my favorite felt tipped pens in my pocket. Smiling people came up to me and presented their books to be signed. I politely asked their name, folks talked to me as I signed. I have no recall of any of it or any of the faces of the people who stood before me.

Except for one!

“Hi!” I said. Our eyes met and locked on to each other. She was very beautiful, just right for me, the spitting image of the heroine in my story. I could hardly hold my marker. “Who do you want me to make this out to?” I questioned, barely able to say the words.

“Angel,” she answered, “my name is Angel.”