I looked up at Crystal’s smooth, soft voice. The tears had dried, leaving salty little paths down my cheeks.
I had lost myself in that memory.
Which I often did, even when I wasn’t upset. Loose myself in a good memory, I mean. I began to do that a lot after I lost my parents. But it was a practice I had started long before their death. Reliving memories, for me, was much like reading a book over and over.
I could do it as much as I liked.
But, somehow, when I went through it again, I found some nuance that had gone unnoticed before.
The greatest tragedy that happened before my parent’s death was not one I preferred to recall at the moment.
I pushed back pesky, emotional memories as I sat up and realized that the grass was not as gold as it had been when I had first come here.
It had been an hour. Maybe two. The sun was no longer shining as brightly upon the field. I looked over at Crystal, who was sitting beside me in the grass, looking at me with those eyes of hers through the tall golden blades. The eyes that were so very, very old in such a young, sweet face. Eyes made of stars.
Once I had asked her why she was my angel.
She never answered. Crystal had only looked away. Far, far away. And smiled.
“Where have you been?” I said with a sigh. “I couldn’t see you anywhere.”
“I was giving my report of you, Meredith Windsor.”
“Your report…but I thought that you did that only once a year. It has been merely three months since your last report.”
She shrugged a bit and studied my face. “Our Lord does not consider time. It does not matter to Him.”
“A thousand years is like a day, and a day as a thousand years.” I said.
Crystal nodded slightly.
“Where was your replacement?” I asked. Whenever she was called away to present her report of me to God, there was always a replacement.
A bit of a smile crept into Crystal’s expression. She was a solemn, thinking creature, my angel. Her smile was a thing of beauty. She used it often enough, I think, by the terms of the angelic host. But not enough by human standards.
“Milo replaced me.” Crystal said.
“Oh.” Well, that explained why I couldn’t see Crystal’s replacement. Milo had requested of God that I would not be able to see him. He was shy, Crystal explained, around humans. He was very young. Even younger than her. Crystal confided that he was bewildered when it came to humans. Even more than most angels. They seemed to scare him. And yet…we were a source of wonder to him as well.
One day, I would convince Milo to let me see him. Somehow.
“What was your report about this time?” I asked, picking a blade of grass.
Crystal frowned, as if confused. “Everything that happened since the last time. I left not a day or a moment out. Unlike others, I treat all time alike. No matter what happens. Time is time and—”
“Eternity is eternity.” I finished for her.
She smiled. “I suppose I say that often enough for you to have memorized it.”
I loved it when an angel smiled.
It was different than when a human smiled.
A smile from an angel was made of light and goodness, lined with humor and…I don’t know...an infinite quality, I think. It was as if angels were smiling all the time anyway and just let it out upon their face and into their eyes at times that seemed appropriate.
“I should return to the orphanage.” I murmured, running my hand along the grass around me.
Crystal looked somewhat discomforted when I said that. I stood and brushed off the dark blue cotton skirt that I was wearing. She stood beside me, her face the perfect mix of serenity and compassion.
Compassion…I had not seen that in her since…I stopped and swallowed.
“Crystal?” I whispered.
She sighed. And a sigh from an angel is a heavy thing to hear on human ears. “He’s here again.”
“He’s…” I stopped, gulped in air, looked up at the sun, now dying from the sky, surrendering its light to the deepening twilight.
The breeze blowing against my face took upon it a maleficence.
I could feel it in the subtle changes in the cooling air and in the rising triumph of the moonless night as the last vestiges of the sun’s rays were pushed away, unwanted by the darkness.
“Who?” I whispered.
Crystal shook her head. “You know this, Meredith. It is not my place to know who. Only our Lord knows. And He tells Death when a human soul is to leave earth.”
“Ready or not.” I said, my voice more air than sound.
Death was here.
For the second time since I had come to the orphanage.
I took off running, memories of the first time I had seen him flooding my spirit as I ran.
It had been about a month after the angels became aware of my ability to see them by then.
I had made a friend the first few months I spent at the orphanage. I was glad that she had left by the time my unimaginations had been gifted to me.
It took me a while to realize how heavy a responsibility this gift presented.
But when I did realize it, I undertook it with all seriousness.
This was my gift to bear. My precious burden to hold.
Nobody else would ever understand.
They couldn’t. Because they could not see the obvious. Let alone the minutiae of the obvious.
The first time I saw Death it was 28 degrees outside. Seven inches of snow covered the ground. Somebody had unearthed eight pair of ice skates. We girls were skating in shifts, taking turns using the skates. I got all bundled up, putting on my thickest gloves, and shoving my legs into three pairs of pants. The coat I had was fluffy with down. Sometimes a feather would stick out of the fabric. I would pluck it, clasp it between two fingers, and out blow it around for a moment before I made a wish and let it fly away.
I merrily took my turn on the ice, skating with more enthusiasm than skill. I laughed along with a few girls I considered good acquaintances. Of course, that was before any of them discovered my gift. It was still so new to me, that I had kept it to myself. The teachers at the orphanage had told us to keep away from the middle of the ice, as it was probably not frozen through completely yet. All the girls kept around the edges, having a merry time.
Crystal glided along beside me, a strange, almost wondering expression on her face. When I gave my skates to the next girl to use, I asked her why she looked as she did as I pulled on my snow boots.
“It’s just…you humans are so strange. So full of contradictions. I think I have you figured out and the next moment you do something completely unexpected.”
“What’s so unexpected about skating?”
Crystal shook her head a bit. With angels, I learned, they had no unnecessary movements. Everything was done for a purpose. Every purpose had an end. So every movement had its place.
“One girl complained of the cold and the next moment said that she wanted to go skating in the cold. Why not stay inside and be warm?”
“Because skating is so much fun!” I enthused, laughter filling up my voice.
Crystal smiled. I couldn’t breathe for a moment so beautiful was her smile. “It is good to hear you laugh, Meredith Windsor.” She said her voice moving through me, refreshing and soft. I stood and brushed the snow from my pants.
Then I heard something. It was eerie and black in contrast to the gleaming whiteness of the snow.
There were words on the wind. It was the same wind that—just moments ago—blew past me in such lovely exhilaration before.
Now it bit into the skin of my exposed cheeks and promised to subdue the fun and laughter taking place upon the ice.
The words were going too fast for me to hear them. But as soon as I concentrated on them they solidified. “And God said: Go down, Death, go down. Go down to Portland, Maine. Down to Mrs. Ansel’s Orphanage, and find little Caroline…”
Beneath my skin, my blood nearly stopped flowing for the cold that infiltrated my system. I did not breathe as I turned around and spotted a man sitting on one of the frozen swings on the forgotten swing set that lay just behind the orphanage.
I knew that poem…I shuddered in growing, dreadful realization.
The man was pale. So pale his skin was the color of the snow.
But it held not the purity of freshly fallen snow. Instead, it was the color of ice that had been frozen too long.
The man’s poem was all too familiar. But it was set to a tune so unnerving that I barely recognized it.
He stood from the swing and began to whistle. A dark black cape swirled around him.
The utter despair of the tune found my heart before the words intercepted my mind.
Then I realized… “Caroline…” I whispered, my words a mere flutter of breath on the air, now unnaturally still.
But none of the other girls could feel it.
Let alone little Caroline.
“No…” I whispered. I began to run toward the ice, searching for seven-year-old Caroline.
She was so little…so innocent…
Then I heard her scream, the sickening crunch of ice cracking over water. I saw her bright red gloves disappear beneath the ice.
The man leaped into the sky above my head. He swirled into a whirling darkness.
“Death.” I said, no voice in the word.
He whirled and whirled and whirled as one of the girls sprinted toward the house to call 911.
But then he dove.
Down from the sky.
Down from the blue that seemed to innocent and wonderful before.
And—almost hungrily it seemed—he took Caroline’s soul into his arms and sprung from beneath the ice.
The physical could not stop him.
He was not made of the physical.
He flew up into the sky, faster than lightning.
Later that night, when the pandemonium of the police and the fire engines and the ER was gone, I sat up in bed and turned on my lantern. And I rewrote the poem that James Weldon Johnson had written. The one Death had been reciting though he had added alterations.
I wrote the last three stanzas.
I revised those stanzas in the poem to make it more accurate, yes.
But also for my comfort.
Little Caroline had known Jesus.
I had told her myself. And she had accepted Him.
I knew for certain where she was, even though I cried while I wrote.
And Death took her up like a baby,
And she lay in his icy arms,
But she didn't feel no chill.
And death began to fly again--
Up beyond the evening star,
Into the glittering light of glory,
On to the Great White Throne.
And there he laid little Caroline
On the loving breast of Jesus.
And Jesus took his own hand and wiped away her tears,
And he smoothed the furrows from her face,
And the angels sang a little song,
And Jesus rocked her in his arms,
And kept a-saying: Take your rest,
Take your rest.
Weep not--weep not,
She is not dead;
She's resting in the bosom of Jesus.
That poem ricocheted through my being as I ran toward the orphanage, that frightful memory adding to the darkness filling up the air. Then the air took up the tune. The one I had heard the day of Caroline’s death. At first, the words—like liquid—rushed through my mind at an unsteady, violent pace. Then they smoothed out and solidified, taking a deceitful peace upon them.
I saw him. Just like before, he was sitting on a swing on the swing set.
Exactly where he had been sitting when he had come for little Caroline.
I stopped running, coming up right beside him.
I looked at the house, which was exactly the place he was looking as well.
It was dinnertime now.
I would have to go snatch something from the kitchen later so I wouldn’t go hungry.
I looked over at Death. He looked straight ahead, seeming not even aware of me.
It was creepy seeing him up close.
His skin was still that icy-white. His cape was a color darker than black.
But then…Death is darker than black.
I walked right past him and sat down beside him on the other swing.
He stopped singing his poem and began to hum it. It made me wonder if he really did know I was there.
All of a sudden, he stopped.
And then I heard him sigh. “Time consumes all humans. It is all they think of. It is by what they measure their lives. Yet it betrays them in the end.” Then he continued humming, as if he had said nothing.
“Do you know the time every man has on earth, Death?” I whispered.
“Meredith—” Crystal said, a note of warning flying heavily through her voice. “I don’t think—”
“God gives me the times of some men, Meredith Windsor. The ends of some men’s lives are fixed.” Death replied. He turned to observe me.
“But not every man’s?” I asked, looking down at my hands, clasped together in my lap.
“Those who love Him have a fixed time.” He said.
I looked at his chin. “And those who don’t…?”
“Well…they’re not under God’s protection so who knows when they’ll die?”
“Not His protection, perhaps. But all men are under His mercy, saved or unsaved.”
“You’re right.” He said. “God’s mercy has added to the time of many, many lives. Most of them never took advantage of it.”
I dared to glance up into his eyes. And then I couldn’t look away. His eyes were made of the substance of dreams unfinished, hopes unfulfilled, loves unrealized, greatness unmade, good things undone. And those things were heart-breakingly beautiful.
But those were not the things that made me stare. Not at all.
Instead it was the unutterable resignation.
Knew his fate.
Then he looked away. Probably because he knew that I could not. And he kind of smiled. I saw a glimmer of the beautiful angel he must have been once.
“I like you, Meredith Windsor. I hope I don’t have to take you to be with your parents too soon. This gift you have…well…I’ve seen the like but once, you know.” Abruptly, he stood, eyes on the orphanage.
He looked back briefly and spotted Crystal. “Oh, yes!” He broke into a laugh.
It was a strange thing, that laugh.
Full of bitterness and a confusing mix of triumph and despair. “You have her for your angel! Nadia Sinclair did as well. God does have a sense of humor, doesn’t He, Crystal?”
Then he leaped up into the air and became a swirling black vortex high up in the sky above the orphanage.
I turned toward my angel. “What did he mean?”
Crystal shook her head slightly. “Don’t make me tell you.” She said. “The story is too sad and I don’t like to remember it.”
And Death dove down from the sky, right through the roof of the orphanage. Then he flew right back out again. Up into the sky.
“Who died?” I asked.
“Mrs. Grayson,” Crystal said, a slight sigh in her voice. “Her heart stopped.”
I sat stunned for a long, long moment. “Who…will replace her?” I finally asked.
“I’m not sure yet. But we’ll know soon enough, Meredith.”
I was shocked that Mrs. Grayson was dead. If anybody had seemed immortal, it had been her.
She had been all steel, no warmth or softness. I began to swing as I felt the familiar push of the weight of my gift in my chest. It wasn’t unpleasant, that weight. But it was heavy enough to tell me to never take for granted what I had. And to never forget that it was there.
I knew that weight was there for another reason as well.
It was there to urge me to ask why. Why was this gift given me? What good can I do with it?
I will never tell anybody the true extent of what I can see. Just as I’ve never told anybody what happened the day of Caroline’s death. They would not believe me. At times, I scarcely can believe myself. I only know this: there is a breach between the physical and spiritual. Either the physical rules the body or the spiritual does. One has to control the other. And I’ve learned that—in this fallen world—the physical world is very, very strong.
But I’ve also learned that God is stronger.
And I have learned that He allows weakness to show forth light unto this dark, dark world.
For through weakness He works best.
And through my weakness He can show his strength.
And I can claim it as my own.
As I swung on that swing, high up into the setting blue of the sky, Kelly came out to tell me what had happened.
I never paused in my swinging as she sat down beside me.
“Meredith,” She said. “I don’t know how to say this but…”
“Mrs. Grayson is dead.” I finished for her, dragging my feet in order to stop.
Her mouth dropped open and her pale blue eyes grew wide. “How—how did you know?” She sputtered.
I stared down at my feet. “Perhaps I added two plus two and got four, is all.”
“Meredith Windsor, you can’t expect me to believe that.”
I looked up at her, saw Crystal beyond her.
She could never see what I saw.
The corner of my mouth lifted. “What would you believe?” I asked as I stood up, brushed off my skirt and began walking back towards the house.
Note: If you enjoyed this chapter in The Unimaginations of Meredith Windsor, please subscribe to my blog! You wouldn't want to miss the next chapter. With Mrs. Grayson gone, things are about to get very...interesting for Meredith. With her gift somebody is going to have to determine if she's insane sooner or later...