The first conscious feeling Justin had was one of total peace. Where ever he was, he had the impression that everything was just right. At first, he could see nothing because of the incredible whiteness that surrounded him. After a few moments, the whiteness began to clear as his eyes adjusted to it. He found it somewhat strange that at no time did the whiteness hurt his eyes. The whiteness cleared further, and he could distinguish shapes, then colors. Clearer still, until his vision had totally adjusted. He looked around in wonder. He was in the center of a room whose chairs were all facing the same direction. A meeting room, perhaps, except there was no podium or white board. This must be some place in heaven, he thought. He also wondered why he had not had the type of ‘near death’ experience he had read about others experiencing.
“Yes,” said a voice in his mind, “this is heaven, but you won’t be here for long.”
“Who are you?” asked Justin, vocally. “And how do you do that?”
A man stepped into the room and walked up, introducing himself. “My name is Leland. I’m a Battle Angel.”
Justin shook the man’s proffered hand, somewhat surprised that he could actually feel it.
Leland chuckled. “I’m real,” he said, amused.
“You said that I won’t be here for long,” stated Justin. “I-“, stopping he sorted through all the questions that were running through his mind.
“Take your time,” said Leland, kindly. “We’re not going to kick you back to earth until you’re ready. I know you have questions.”
“I’ll say,” retorted Justin. “Where’s Samantha?”
“I don’t know,” replied Leland. “She got in the car with them and they drove off. I didn’t follow them. I had to be here with you.”
“When will I be ready to go back, then?” asked Justin. “And how do I find her?”
“We’re sending you back right after the meeting, which is due to start at any moment. I just impathed the others and let them know that you’re here. In fact,” said Leland, looking towards the same door he and come in at, “they’re arriving now.”
Two other men and two women walked into the room and came up to him. Leland introduced them.
“This is Brother Aaron, our Senior Angel. He kind of runs the team, and sometimes, they run him. And this is Brother Lynn. The two fine looking ladies here are Sisters Charity and Isabelle. Sister Charity is one of our newer angels.
“Hi, Justin,” said Sister Charity. “Sister Isabelle and I are Samantha’s Guardians-Guardian angels, that is.”
“Then you know all about Samantha and me?” inquired Justin.
“Yuppers,” said Sister Charity, smiling, “and it’s so romantic.”
“Do I have a Guardian Angel?”
“Me, for now,” said Leland. “Aaron used to be your Guardian, but he got promoted, so you’re stuck with me for a time.”
“Well, pardon me for saying this,” replied Justin, “but what kind of guardian angel manages to lose the girlfriend of the person he’s supposed to be watching? You knew where I was going. You could have followed them before coming here.” Justin looked at the two sister angels. “And where were you?” he asked, accusingly. “You are her Guardians.” The taste of manure in his mouth made him realize that he was being a jerk. “I’m sorry,” he said, immediately and contritely, “but I’m very worried about her.”
Laying his hand on Justin’s shoulder, Leland spoke. “We understand,” he said, reassuringly. That’s why we’re sending you back soon-so you can find her.”
“No tour of heaven before I go?” he asked.
Smiling, Leland replied. “Sorry, but no. This room is all of heaven you’ll see.”
“Another question,” said Justin. “How am I supposed to find her?”
Leland grabbed a chair and positioned it behind Justin. “Please sit down,” he requested. “We’re going to give you some tools-heavenly tools-to help you.” Grabbing another chair, he placed it facing Justin’s, then sat down. “At the rest stop, before they attacked you and Samantha, I apologized to you for what I had to let them do. You couldn’t hear me, of course, but I also said that I would make it up to you, and that’s what I’m going to do.” Rising then, he stood behind Justin and placed a hand on each of Justin’s shoulders. “To you, Justin Billings,” he said, solemnly, “I give the gift of Impathing. You are to use this gift only for good. Abuse this gift, and it will be taken away for a season. You may give this gift to one other, if you so choose. Selah.
Taking his hands from Justin’s shoulders, he stepped back. Aaron took his place, doing the same as Leland had done. “To you, Justin,” he said, just as solemnly, “I give the gift of Vision. Use it wisely. Selah.”
The two sister angels then stepped up, one on each side of Justin, each laying a hand on his shoulders. “To you, Justin, we give the gift of Finding. Every soul has a unique aura. If you know the aura, you will forever be able to distinguish it from among many. We show you Samantha’s aura. This is our gift to you, that you may find her. Selah, and Selah.”
As each gift was given to him, Justin felt as if he was forever changed in some way.
“Thank you,” he said, standing. “I feel-I don’t know…different, yet the same.”
“Thank us by finding her, Justin,” said Sister Charity.
“You have my word,” said Justin. “One last question: who can I tell about this?”
Smiling broadly, Leland answered. “Who will believe you?”
“Good point,” chuckled Justin. “I think I’m ready now.”
“Very well, then,” said Leland, placing a hand on Justin’s shoulder. “Pleasant journeys to you, my friend.”
Before Justin could say more, he felt himself being drawn into an invisible conveyance of some kind. He sensed an unimaginable power associated with the conveyance. Immediately, a calming darkness flooded over him, removing any anxieties about his journey back to earth. Within seconds, he experienced a sensation that he could only describe as falling back into himself. When he opened his eyes, he knew that he was back on earth, laying on his back on the ground and looking up at the starry night sky.
The Barber’s car traveled on the main road for about fifteen minutes, before turning onto a hard, dirt-packed road that led to an old shed, once used for who-knows-what. What other structures were there, was impossible to tell because of the darkness. Without protest, Samantha let them pull her from the car and walk her to the shed by the light of the car’s headlamps. She kept her purse, which they didn’t seem to care that she had.
“You just sit tight here, honey,” one of the men said smoothly, “and we’ll be back come sunup, when we can see what we’re doing. Then maybe if you’re nice to us, we might let you live another hour or so.”
Samantha’s silence amused, then irritated them.
“No pleas for mercy?” asked the other man. “Well, we’ll see how silent you stay when we’re having our fun tomorrow morning.”
Samantha turned her back on them and shuffled towards the rear of the small shed.
“Humm,” said Clark, strongly, “Maybe we need to start the fun now so-”
“Forget it,” said his friend. “She’s going mental on us. There’s plenty of time tomorrow for lesson teaching.”
They watched as Samantha sat cross-legged in a corner of the shed and began humming quietly to herself.
With that, Clark and his friend got back in the car and drove away.
Tomorrow. At least I know now, thought Samantha.
Though she feared death, Samantha feared life without Justin even more. Since silence seemed to irritate them, tomorrow she would remain silent, no matter what they did to her. Perhaps their boredom would bring an end to her life sooner, rather than later. That decision made, she finally allowed her emotions to surface one last time. In what was total hopelessness, loneliness, and especially agony over the loss of her Knight, tears coursed silently down her cheeks until she had no more to shed.
Gingerly, Justin got to his feet, putting a hand to his side where he had been shot. He felt the hole in his shirt, and a cakey stiffness that had to be dried blood. He sensed no pain, however. Walking around to the front of the building, he went into the men’s restroom and examined himself in the mirror. Somewhat hesitantly, he unbuttoned his shirt, looking at the area on his side that had taken the bullet. He wetted a paper towel and carefully washed the dried blood away. The only indication of an injury was a small, well-healed scar. Gently, he poked at it, but felt no tenderness. Looking back in the mirror, he also discovered a similar looking scar on his chest, directly on the heart area.
“Of course,” he muttered aloud. “They shot me a second time. That’s the one that killed me.” He paused, an attitude of unbending determination showing on his face. “Or so they think,” he said. Checking his watch, he noted with surprise that he had only been ‘gone’ for thirty minutes.
“How long are you going to stand there preening yourself in the mirror?”
Even though the voice was in his head and not his ears, Justin would know it anywhere. “Where are you, Leland?” he asked.
“Out of site, but not out of mind,” replied Leland. “Your mind, anyway.”
Concentrating, Justin tried impathing Leland, mentally forming the words in his mind and willing them back through the connection Leland had established. “Are you going to help me find Samantha?” he asked.
“Excellent,” replied Leland. “You learn quickly-but no, I’m not here to help you find her, just to teach you how.”
“Give me a moment,” requested Justin. “I’m going to try and figure this out on my own. Feel free to step in with suggestions if I’m not successful.”
Justin concentrated on Samantha’s aura, the image and substance of it that her Guardians had placed in him. Rather than trying to impath a message out to who-knows-where and in who-knows-what direction, his attention was on the aura that was in his mind. “Samantha,” he thought to the aura. “It’s me, Justin.” Totally prepared for failure, he was stunned when a very familiar voice spoke to his mind.
“Go away!” it ordered.
“Congratulations,” remarked Leland. “I’ve never seen anyone pick it up so fast-and with no help from me. Commendable.”
“Yeah, well, she told me to go away,” Justin informed him, “and I still don’t know where she is. I might as well be talking on a telephone to a person with an unlisted number.”
“But you discovered the method,” Leland reminded him. “Every gift we gave you is tied to the person’s aura. The rest you can figure out on your own. And, since I’m not needed here anymore, I’m going to bid you adieu, my friend.”
“So long, buddy,” replied Justin dryly. He refrained from adding a sarcastic “and thanks for the help” just before the connection between him and Leland terminated. So everything is tied to the aura, thought Justin. Interesting-and handy to know, of course.
“Samantha,” he impathed, trying again, “It’s me, Justin.”
“Hello?” Connie cradled the cordless phone between her cheek and shoulder as she finished washing the last dish left in the sink.
“Mrs. Barber,” said the voice on the other end, “I’m Douglas Cameron-I offered Justin and his girlfriend a place to stay for the night?”
“Yes, Mr. Cameron,” said Connie. “Is there a problem?”
“I was wondering if they had left yet, or perhaps decided not to come until tomorrow.”
“They left hours ago,” Connie informed him, becoming concerned. “They should have been there by now.”
“No,” said Douglas, “they haven’t shown up yet. Maybe they had car trouble.”
“Possibly,” said Connie. “It is an older car, but my husband keeps it in excellent running condition.”
“Well, I guess there’s no reason to worry just yet,” said Douglas. “When they do show up, or if they’ve not shown up by the start of the funeral, I’ll give you a call.”
“Thank you,” said Connie. “I would appreciate that.”
“Samantha, it’s me, Justin.”
That stupid voice in her head again. “Go away and leave me alone!” she ordered. “Justin is dead.”
“Au contraire, Lady Fair,” said the voice. “I’m alive.”
“I saw him get shot. Twice. Then they dragged his body-” Breathing heavily, she stopped talking. Narrating the scene was too much for her. She might be able to remain aloof and unemotional when they came for her in the morning, but she couldn’t relive what had happened to Justin. When the voice had invaded her mind the first time and announced that it was him, her vow to live in a self-created fantasy world for the short time she had left to live, had instantly evaporated. What it all came down to, she decided, was that she was talking to a voice created by her extreme emotional state and desire for Justin not to be dead. In other words, she was talking to herself.
Concerned about making her believe that it really was him, Justin tried a different approach. He had noticed, much to his surprise-though he found the concept to be very logical-that through the impath connection with Samantha, he could not only converse with her, but also feel the actual emotions she was feeling. Perhaps the reverse was also true, he decided. Perhaps he could also convey his emotions to her.
It was worth a try.
“Samantha, please,” he implored her. Then, breathing deeply, he thought about how much he loved her, as if he were with her right then telling her. He relived with her the time when he had stood in the Barber’s yard that night, watching the car with her and her mother driving away. He remembered vocalizing his love for her and had how good it had felt. Jumping ahead in time, he recalled when he had finally told Samantha to her face that he loved her, and how happy he had felt weeks later when she had confessed her love for him. He remembered them sitting on a bale of hay in the hay shed, arms around each other, sharing tears and the sorrow of his father’s sudden death. Then finally, he sent her another message. “No matter what happens, Samantha, you will always be my Lady Fair, and I will always be your Knight in Shining Armor. I have never lied to you, and I’m not lying now. It really IS me, and if you want to see me again, you’ll help me find you. This is not your emotions deceiving you, it’s me, Justin Billings, the genuine article, the guy every girl would love to have but you lucked out and got instead.”
After a pause of what seemed to Justin to last an eternity, a small, tentative voice uttered one word.
“Justin?” it asked.
Heaving a huge sigh of relief and letting the emotion travel through the impath connection to Samantha, he said, “Don’t ever worry me like that again, Lady Fair. I thought you’d gone mental on me. Now look, I’ll explain everything to you when we find each other, but right now I don’t know where you are. You’re going to have to help me out.”
“Give me a moment, here,” she replied.
Samantha got her emotions quickly under control. Justin was alive. She didn’t know how, but his comment about her lucking out getting him had convinced her as much as the replay of the bigger events of their relationship had. So. She was locked in a shed of some kind about fifteen or twenty minutes by automobile from the rest area. Justin, by some means, could converse with her, but had no idea where she was. She could give him the general distance and direction, but not the exact location. A quick mental calculation told her that she was at least 15 miles away, a strenuous walk in the daylight, and impossible at night with no light to see by.
“Still here, and a little more sane, thanks to you. How do you do this, anyway?” she asked.
“Hang on,” he said. “I’m going to leave the building and move up into the trees behind it a little and sit down. And I’m going to send you something. I should have thought of this sooner.”
While Samantha had been getting her mind back to reality, Justin remembered what Leland had said about giving the ability to impath to one other person. Of course, the name of that person had been a given for Justin. Since he was able to call up Samantha’s aura on command, he now tried doing the same with his aura, and was successful. Using the same method he had used in sending Samantha the emotions that had gotten her to believe it really was him, he sent his aura, or rather, an imprint of his aura, to her.
“This is…weird,” she said. “I just got you, or something that I know is you. It’s like a fingerprint of your whole life or something.”
“That’s an imprint of my aura,” he informed her. “Your two guardian angels gave me an imprint of your aura, and that’s how I was able to connect with you. Now, I’m going to break the connection and let you contact me. Just concentrate on my aura and talk to it, silently, of course.”
“Don’t leave me, Justin.”
Justin detected fear in her emotions. “I’m here, Lady Fair,” he responded. “If you don’t contact me in 30 seconds, I’ll contact you again.”
Justin terminated the impath connection and waited. As he suspected, she was back with him in seconds.
“So I lucked out and got you, huh?” she said. “There’s payment to be made down the road for that one, buster.”
“Okay,” replied Justin. “How do I find you?”
“First things first,” Samantha told him. “At this point, finding me won’t do either of us any good. I’m at least fifteen miles away from you-probably more. You’ll never reach me before morning in the dark. So, we need to figure out how to break me out of here before Clark and the other one comes back.”
“Give me a minute on this one,” Justin said. ‘If only I could see the shed they’ve locked her in,’ he thought to himself, concerned.
The emotion connected with the desire must have been what triggered it, he decided later. No sooner had he expressed the need mentally, than his vision seemed to rush down the impath connection and into the shed she was locked in.
He could see her!
“Whoa!” he said in surprise, unconsciously breaking the visual part of the connection.
“What’s wrong?” asked Samantha, concerned. She had also felt his surprise.
“Nothing,” he told her. “I just found out how to use another of my gifts. Let me see if I can do it again.”
Concentrating as he did before, his Vision rushed down the connection and into the shed again. “I can see you now,” he told her, excitedly. “You’re sitting cross-legged in the corner.”
“How much control do you have?” she asked. “And can you move around any?”
Justin tried, thinking, rather than actually turning, his head. When that worked, he tried moving closer to one of the walls of the shed. To his delight, that worked also. “I can move around,” he said.
“Good,” she replied. “But how did you know that I was sitting cross-legged? It’s black dark in here. I can’t see anything except a few stars through the spacing in the boards on the roof.”
Justin analyzed what he was seeing. “There’s no colors, and you look like a ’50s television show, but I can see everything in detail.”
“Then see if you can find a way out for me,” said Samantha.
Justin closely examined all the walls of the shed, and the door, but found no weaknesses. A similar examination of the roof produced the same results. Slowly drawing his Vision back, he looked at the shed from the outside. Fate treated him more kindly this time. Partially buried in the dirt, and right next to one of the walls of the shed, was an old claw hammer. The problem was getting to it.
“I’ve found something,” he told Samantha. “Do you have anything to dig with?”
“There’s a nail file in my purse,” she replied. “I also have a little LED light on my key chain if that will help.”
Because his impath Vision was not impaired by walls or other obstacles, Justin was able to direct Samantha to the exact spot where she needed to begin digging. “All you need is a hole under the wall big enough to stick your hand and forearm through-and to pull the hammer back through, of course. I wish there was more I could do to help.”
“Just keep talking to me,” she said.
Rather than actually digging with the nail file, Samantha used it like a knife, making narrowly spaced slices in the earth about a foot long, then cross-cutting through the slices to the same depth. Fortunately, the ground, while firm, was not hard-packed. With thirty minutes of fast slicing and hand removal of the dirt, she was able to reach under the wall and pull the hammer through.
“What now?” she asked Justin.
“Just a minute,” he told her. “I’m looking at the shed close-up from the outside. One of the corners is probably our best bet.” He was silent for several minutes, then, “I found a spot. Go back to the corner you were sitting in-third board up from the bottom on the side wall, not the back wall. Beat on it hard, and as close to the corner four-by-four board it’s attached to as possible.”
Doing as she was told, Samantha had the board loosened quickly. As she was pushing it out from the others, it cracked and splintered. “It broke,” she said excitedly.
“Old wood,” said Justin. “Now do the same with the boards above it until you have enough room to squeeze through.”
A few minutes later, she was out. “We need to put some distance between me and this shed,” she told Justin.
“Way ahead of you, Lady Fair,” he said. “Is your light still working?”
“Yes,” she said. “I’ve been conserving the battery.”
“Here’s my thinking: when they find that you’ve broken out, they’ll assume that you walked back to the highway in hopes of catching a ride.”
“That’s what I was thinking I should do,” said Samantha. “I could signal passing cars with my light.”
“What if no one stops, except the car that happens to be them?” Justin reasoned.
“What should I do, then?”
“There’s some wooded areas close by. My guess is they won’t bother looking for you there. They’ll drive back to the highway and cruise a few miles in both directions. When they don’t see you, they’ll assume that you’re gone.”
“I guess that’s the best,” began Samantha. “You’ll need-wait a minute.”
Justin felt a sudden panic coming through the impath connection.
“There’s a car coming up the lane, traveling fast, she informed him. “I can see the headlights. It will be here in less than a minute.”
Justin elevated his impath Vision so that he was looking down on Samantha from about 50 feet in the air. “There’s a narrow irrigation ditch to your left about 25 feet. It’s dry. Go lay down in it.”
“Tell me when to stop,” she said, walking rapidly in the direction Justin had told her but not daring to turn her little light on. “Isn’t there someplace else?”
“There’s nothing else. You’re in a clearing. If you try running, they might catch you in the headlights. Slow now, you’re just a few feet from it.” Justin watched her lay down in the ditch. It wasn’t much of a hiding place, he decided in despair. He needed something to divert their attention away from looking there when they found the hole in the wall of the shed. Something Samantha’s Guardians had told him about every soul having an aura came to mind. If that was the case, then even animals had an aura. Drawing his impath Vision even further from the ground, he concentrated on finding anything with an aura that was within hearing distance of the shed. He immediately found three, moving slowly in a parallel direction to the shed and about 50 yards away, just on the border of the clearing. Best of all, the auras were on the other side of the shed from where Samantha lay. They had to be deer, he decided. Concentrating on their auras, he imprinted them on his mind. This better work, he said to himself.
“Justin?” Samantha was very frightened now.
“I’ve found something to draw them away,” he told her calmly.
“I’m scared,” she said. He could tell by her aura that she was trembling. “They’re pulling to a stop by the shed. I can hear them.”
“Just stay there and don’t move, Lady Fair. I’m not going to let them find you. What are they doing now?”
Taking a chance, Samantha raised her head up enough that she could see what was going on. Since the headlights of the car were illuminating the shed and not where she was hidden, she knew that they could not see her. She guessed correctly that the glare of the lights on the shed would destroy their night vision. She thought she could probably make a run for the edge of the clearing without being seen, but another plan was forming in her mind, also. “They’re out of the car and walking towards the shed. What kind of diversion do you have?”
“If they decide to search for you” Justin told her, “there will be some noise at the edge of the clearing on the other side of the shed. That should draw them away so you can run in the opposite direction and disappear into the trees without being seen.”
“They’ve found the hole,” she informed Justin, “and they are not happy campers. If your diversion is ready, then use it now because one of them just said something about flashlights.”
“Okay,” replied Justin, “here goes.”
Justin knew that spoken commands would mean nothing to the deer, so he opted instead for the sound of dogs barking, hoping the deer would run and make enough noise to draw the two men away from Samantha’s hiding place. His plan worked to perfection. When he barked roughly into their auras, the poor animals thought they were being attacked by a whole pack of dogs. Totally panicked, they stumbled and crashed their way through the trees on the other side of the clearing.
“It’s working, Justin!” exclaimed Samantha. “They’re running to the other side of the clearing.”
“Alright, then,” said Justin, relieved. “Now’s your chance.”
Standing up in the ditch, Samantha ran, not into the woods, but for the car, which they had left running. Opening the door and climbing in, she put it in reverse and backed the car around. The headlights swept the clearing, illuminating the two men who were running towards the noise they had heard. Samantha stopped the car, the lights shining on them. They were at least 50 yards away. Both of them turned around to see what was going on. Sensing this as an opportunity too good to pass up, Samantha rolled down the window. “Have a nice walk home, you morons!” she yelled, then put the car in forward and accelerated down the road that lead out of the clearing, the rear wheels throwing out dirt behind them like a paddle steamer.
“Tell me they left the keys in the car with the engine running,” said Justin, excitedly.
“Yep,” said Samantha, laughing and giddy with happiness, “they left the keys in the car with the engine running when they went chasing after that noise you created-the morons. We have our ride back! I’ll be at the rest area in about 15 or twenty minutes.”
Samantha brought the car to a halt in the rest area, shoving the shift lever into park at the same time she was opening the door to get out. Sobbing, she charged at Justin, who himself was not exactly a picture of calm. “It’s you!” she cried, literally throwing herself into his arms. “It really is you!” She tried doing everything at once: kissing him, looking into his warm chocolate brown eyes, hugging him as tightly as she could, stroking his face; all the while crying with pent-up relief.
Justin understood her emotional state, hugging her hard as if he would never let her go, reassuring her softly that “it’s okay, Lady Fair. We’re together now and I’m not going to leave you”.
Finally, they both calmed down somewhat.
“What do you want to do now?” asked Justin. “If you’d like to go home, we can. My father would understand.”
Samantha frowned in thought. “No,” she said, “we need to go to the funeral. I’m not going to let a couple of morons dictate my actions. And, the understanding of your father aside, you need to be there.”
Justin looked quickly around, then cupped Samantha’s face in his hands and kissed her gently on the lips. “Your carriage awaits, Lady Fair,” he said.
After they pulled onto the highway, Justin made some silent decisions. He recalled Leland’s who-will-believe-you answer to his question of who he could tell about his experience. Samantha, he knew, would believe him without reservation, as would the Barbers. His friend Bart, of course. Munson probably, provided Justin didn’t get too detailed in the telling. “That’s heavy, dude, heavy,” would be his reply. The question now was, who did he want to tell?
That list had only one name.
“How do you do that Vision thing?” asked Samantha after a few minutes of silence.
“It has something to do with the aura,” Justin told her. “When I did it, I was impathing with you, and was wishing strongly that I could see you. That’s when my vision rushed down the impath connection and I saw you sitting cross-legged in a corner of the shed.”
Samantha thought about that. “Hummm,” she said. “I’ll have to try that some time. How did you pass your aura to me?”
“I was told that I could give one other person the ability to impath. You were my first choice, of course.”
“Naturally,” answered Samantha with a smile. “Who can I impath besides you?”
“Well, you can probably impath any person or thing that has an aura, as I did with the deer when I created that ruckus on the edge of the clearing. Although, who would you want to impath besides me?”
“Oh, one never knows when impathing might come in handy-on the sly, of course.”
“I was also told that if I abused it, I would lose it for a while,” commented Justin.
“No worry about that happening, Knight of mine,” said Samantha.
A few minutes of silence followed. “I think all the events are rapidly catching up with me,” said Samantha, yawing. “How are you doing?”
“I’m good for awhile,” Justin told her. “Why don’t you lay back and try to sleep?”
Justin waited until she had reclined in the seat and closed her eyes, then impathed her the feeling of a soft brush of his lips on her cheek. “Ummm,” she said, smiling serenely. “I like that.”
She was asleep within minutes.