This story is by Clennell Anthony and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
It’s been twenty years since I lived. I was twenty-seven when I died but felt a hundred when I became a Guardian.
I walked into the woods of my parents’ summer house in Oregon. I don’t know why, but my parents thought if they took me away from the city I’d be sober. But, as my counselor could have told them, and had told me a thousand times during the 60-day program I was forced to attend, “There’s a Henry in every city, town or suburb.” If I wanted drugs, I’d find them, and I did. This time, I planned to take me out of everyone’s misery – for good. I was singing Fleetwood Mac’s, Go Your Own Way, in my head, as I went to the place I prepared for my demise. I’m a dumbass, but no one ever told me I was smart, at least not after I was in the mother of all car accidents, lost my job as the head architect at a leading firm in Georgia, had the woman I loved walk out on me because there was a chance I wouldn’t walk again, and started popping opiates to make all the pain just go away. I lost everything without even trying. Now, I sat in a shallow grave, tying a rubber tourniquet around my left biceps and searching for a viable vein. As I hummed, and rocked out in my head, I filled the syringe, and searched for a vein like a dog digging for its last hidden bone. My efforts at amending the shame and bitterness clouded issues, truths, and the transformation of my heart and soul started.
It’s amazing how just ten seconds can change a lifetime, I thought, as the accident flashed into my mind. A white Ford F150 swerved into my lane and the destruction began. I tried to hit the brakes, but with the rain, I skidded. Instead of paying attention to my horn blaring, the damn truck kept coming. Why in the hell do people drive like maniacs in the rain, I thought, as the truck hit the driver’s side. I felt like a test dummy, flopping around in the seat, as the seatbelt locked and the airbag deployed. The car spun. I was in the middle of rush-hour traffic, in the rain, with no control of my vehicle, and being hit from all sides. The last thing I saw before blacking out was a semi trying to brake; thinking, I’m going to die.
I was ready to take that last nod of my life. I’d fly and soar and end up wherever it took me. “Fly like an eagle,” I sang, as I nodded out for the last time ever.
It wasn’t that simple. I landed in a different world altogether. I was in a place of pure light. I thought people who committed suicide were on the fast track to hell. I expected to burn eternally. This place was peaceful; it felt more like a sanctuary than a torture chamber. Out of the peace, was a pure and present audible, “You must listen now. We don’t have much time. You will be a Guardian.” I nearly started to laugh. It was insane; me a guardian? Who was stupid enough to make me anything but an example or a statistic? That’s what I was.
“You have a choice to make, Jashik,” the disembodied voice spoke.
“That’s not my name; I am Cornelius.”
“Not anymore,” The words were spoken in a voice of command, and I knew there was no arguing with that deep voice that seemed to be angry, exasperated, and forgiving all at once, so I opted to listen.
“You can be a Guardian, working under the Angels, or you can be pulled back into that life you so foolishly decided to throw away.”
“What does this whole Guardian thing entail?” I asked, getting a little frightened. “Is this the part people talk about? Fearing what’s next, but unable to take back what’s been done?”
“No, this isn’t the part that should frighten you; it’s too late for that. What is your choice?”
Uncertain, I queried, “Job description?”
“You will save people like yourself. keep them safe, keep them from harming themselves, push people out of the way of oncoming traffic, help little old ladies cross the street, that sort of thing,” the voice replied, with what I realized was utter sarcasm. I smiled inwardly. That voice, deep and resonate, almost had the same inflection I used with my parents when I wanted to push their buttons. “Smile all you like, but the clock is ticking. We only have about ten minutes before those nice doctors and nurses bring you back whether you want to be there or not. So, stop asking questions, generally stalling, and make up your mind.”
Again, I felt the urge to smile, but he wasn’t joking. This was a monumental decision. I took nearly five to answer. I hated that life. If I went back, it’ll just be more of the same. I could try the unknown, and I chose.
For twenty years, I was a Guardian. It was more than what was first described to me. I was Jashik, which I came to know meant defender, guardian, and protector. It gave me a sense of purpose. At the ten-year mark of this existence, I was given the opportunity to be born again, to live a new life, to be a new me. I didn’t want that. I wanted to be who I became, working under the Angel Gabriel and reporting directly to the head Guardian, Gideon.
My nineteenth year, I was assigned to a young woman named Rayla. She was beautiful, smart and funny, but extremely unhappy. I was assigned to watch over her. When I felt she was safe, I checked on my other charges. I kept my frequency tuned to her, so she would never be alone. By doing this, I realized I wanted something more than I wanted to be a Guardian. I never asked for anything: not for help, no special favors, no request to be stationed elsewhere. I wanted to live again, but I didn’t want to be reborn into the world, to forget, to not know, to be free to make the same mistakes. I wanted Rayla, and she needed me. For the first time in my existence as a Guardian, I broke the rules, I showed myself to a human. Most humans are just like I was, stupid and self-involved, but Rayla wasn’t like that. Her name means: well advised protector; wise guardian; and strong counselor. She is all of those things, but when I came to her to keep her from harming herself one night, she thought I was an angel. And so, the love began.
On the twentieth anniversary of my Guardianship, I was told I could ask for whatever I wanted. Gideon gave me a knowing smile. “I will take this to Gabriel.”
I waited a sennight. On the seventh evening, I entered my quarters to find Gabriel himself, waiting.
“Want to make a deal,” he asked.
I stared at him.
“I see you’re not willing to bargain on this,” he observed.
“What’s the bargain?” I asked, knowing I had to make one.
“You will remain a Guardian, retain your powers, dwell in the human world, maintain your charges, fulfill duties reporting to Gideon, and live with Rayla through her mortality. For when she turns to dust, you’ll return us.”
“That’s not a bargain,” I said, thinking of it as a gift.
“You cannot tell her what you are,” he commanded. I knew the stipulations, and never intended to breech them.
“And, you tell me this why?”
“It was a reminder.”
I nodded my understanding.
“When will you go?” he asked,
I felt relieved. “Through all I’ve experienced, I am honored to be redeemed.”
“You were redeemed when you came to us, Jashik,” Gabriel said. “It was up to you to forgive yourself. Much of what you experienced wasn’t your fault. Well, except for the drugs. You will be wise, this time, I trust?” he asked with a lifted golden brow.
I stood straight and tall; he waved an indolent hand at me, and it was as if I were falling through a tunnel.
I found myself lying in the bed as Jashik Herrington, student at the University of Georgia. I smiled as a flood of memories of a live I had yet to live cascaded through my mind. As my feet hit the floor, I prepared to make it to campus just in time to bump into Rayla. I was filled with anticipation, excitement, and gratitude – A Guardian in Love.