Caleb let the dressing room door shut quietly, and looked around. Good; no one in the store had noticed him step out of the dressing room where he had appeared.
He strolled past the racks of shirts and shorts, trying to avoid the attention of the perky sales clerk ambling toward him.
“Would you like to try on some of our bright and bold polos for summer?” she beamed. “We’re having a great sale.”
“No thank you.” Caleb continued to the front of the store, smirking as he glanced around at the displays of turquoise, yellow, and green polo shirts displayed around the store. Bright and bold? These colors paled in comparison to the radiance of Heaven, as did all of earth’s details.
When Caleb reached the front of the store, he paused beside a rack of shirts to look out the display window into the mall.
A voice rumbled behind him. “We are far from the Holy City are we not?”
Caleb turned to see Machaia, smiling.
“That is quite an understatement.” Caleb grunted, crossing his arms across his chest. “You are here, too, are you?”
Machaia nodded. “There are many of us today.”
“But you are not shrouded?” The angel hadn’t clothed his spirit in human form as Caleb had. To human eyes, Machaia was invisible.
“I was informed that it isn’t necessary for my task.” Machaia scanned the store. “Where is your charge?”
Caleb pointed past the stream of shoppers walking by the display window. “In line at Starbucks, as always.”
Amusement lit Machaia’s eyes. “If she is able to find mischief while she is standing still, she must keep you busy.”
“I never know what to expect from her.” Caleb thought of the bum that had almost grabbed her in an alley last week. She’d had no business walking alone downtown after dusk, but Caleb hadn’t left her side and the unsuspecting assailant hadn’t stood a chance against the dumpster lid which had met him head on. “She’s simple at times. So childlike; trusting.”
A smile tugged at Machaia’s lips. “The Almighty likes that.”
Caleb’s gaze remained fixed on the crowd of people laughing and swinging shopping bags as they passed the window; his senses detected their lust or covetousness, the unkindness, selfishness and all other manner of disobedience to the Almighty’s commands. “She’s too fragile to live in a world such as this.”
As if he knew where the conversation would lead, Machaia reminded his fellow
guardian, “That is why we are here to protect such as her against the evil.”
Clenching his hands at his side, Caleb muttered, “If only we could fight, rather than merely protect.” His voice shook with passion. “If only we could direct their choices, change their course, we could annihilate evil—”
“The Almighty has given us orders to guard them, my friend, not to guide them. Their choices are their own.” Machaia’s eyes filled with empathy. “I know how you long to battle. You always were a zealous one.”
Caleb stared out the window as the memories came back. Though millenniums had passed, it seemed like only days ago when he had fought Satan and the rebels in the great uprising in Heaven.
After the battle, when earth and humans were created, the Almighty had issued assignments to the remaining angels. Some were appointed to be messengers to reveal His supernatural signs on earth; some were assigned to praise Him; others, like Caleb and Machaia, were sent to be guardians of the Almighty’s chosen ones. But then there were the Defenders, those chosen to deliver answers to prayer, who fought the Prince of the Air and his forces. Though Caleb battled his own desires to rectify evil as a Defender, he knew his assignment of Guardian was of no less importance.
“No matter.” Pushing aside his thoughts, Caleb glanced down at the watch on
his wrist. “Well, we are now subject to time.”
“Yes, we should see to our charges.” Machaia gave one last glance at Caleb before passing through the wall.
Caleb walked out the door to join the surge of men and of angels swarming in the mall’s food court. Hundreds of humans, their arms full of bags and boxes, stood in lines to order pizza, burgers, pretzels, or coffee.
He made his way slowly toward the long line of people just outside of Starbucks. Watching the humans push past him, oblivious to their own depravity, Caleb felt a twinge of pity. Perhaps, ignorance was their greatest sin.
A woman wearing a low cut tank top paraded by and looked him over slowly, her intent
clear even to an angel. Caleb didn’t even see the teenage boy until he slammed into Caleb’s shoulder as he passed.
“Watch where you’re going, dude.” The boy sneered over his shoulder as he strutted away.
Watching him go, Caleb felt his frustration rising once again.
How could the Son have lived for thirty-three years among these that refused to acknowledge their need for righteousness? Immediately, shame gripped his spirit at his thoughts of condemnation. Only the Almighty who was gracious enough to come to them was holy enough to condemn them. But deep inside, Caleb would never understand such mercy.
Since receiving his order to be guardian, Caleb had protected the best of humanity from the worst of humanity. His current charge was Bethany. For all of her eighteen years he had guarded her, mostly from her own oblivious ways. Now, Caleb shuffled into line behind her, smiling at the sight of her blonde pony tail swaying slightly when she gazed around at the bustling atmosphere.
Why she enjoyed exploring new places and traveling alone, he would never understand. He did know, however, that she was captivated by the excitement of the world viewed through her innocent eyes, unaware of the ever present evil endangering her.
He shoved his hands into the pockets of his khaki pants and looked around, meeting the gazes of fellow angels, shrouded and invisible. He didn’t know what was going to happen, but he hoped it would happen soon; he didn’t like standing around doing nothing.
“It’s really busy in here today, isn’t it?”
Bethany’s words caught him off guard. He raised his eyebrows and looked away, hoping she would stop talking, but knowing that she wouldn’t.
“As long as this line is, you’d think that people needed coffee to live.”
Caleb cleared his throat. “That’s how it would seem.”
“Well,” she grinned, fidgeting with the debit card in her hands, “I say that, but
I’m standing here too.”
The plastic card presented an interesting question: if the line ended before his task were finished, how was he supposed to pay for whatever it was they were standing in line for?
“What do you usually get?”
“What kind of coffee do you usually order?”
He decided to be vague, but honest. “I’ve never been to—” he pointed up at the sign, “Starbucks before.”
“Really?” She turned to face him, green eyes opened wide. “Are you from a different planet or something?”
The irony made him laugh. “Something like that.”
She pressed her lips together, a sign Caleb had come to realize meant that she was thinking. Finally, she blurted, “Would you let me buy you your first Starbuck’s coffee? Please?”
He smiled, knowing that rejection would be futile; Bethany would not stop until he was holding a cup of coffee in his hand. “You’re very kind. Thank you.”
“Let me tell you, the best thing to get is the java chip frappachino. I get one every
time I come here. I guess I should try something else, there are so many. . .”
Bethany’s rambling dwindled to a hum in Caleb’s ears as he felt the sensation of danger prick his spirit. Craning to see around a pretzel stand, Caleb spotted him, a young man pushing through the glass doors into the food court.
And he wasn’t alone. At his side strode one of Satan’s minions.
Caleb watched the demon’s malicious glare sweep over the crowd as it whispered into the young man’s ear. The man smiled, looking both smug and disgusted as he touched the side of his trench coat.
Then Caleb understood. It wasn’t just Bethany in danger today; possibly every human in the food court would be affected by the wretch’s alliance with evil.
His heart began to race. This had happened not so long ago at Columbine, Virginia
Tech, and countless other places where humanity’s disregard wasted the Almighty’s gift of life.
Although he hadn’t been at those places, Caleb was here now and this didn’t have to happen; he could stop the man before the shooting started. But he didn’t have much time. Time— he hated time.
He looked back at Bethany who was still chattering, her pristine eyes sparkling with excitement. And Caleb made his choice.
Ignoring Bethany’s protests, he darted from the line, and pressed toward the table area as the young man edged closer to the center of the court—center stage for the farewell performance of atrocity.
Zeal burned within Caleb and his heart pounded against his ribs as he felt power surging within him—the power he had held back for so long.
He stood, facing the murderous duo, until the demon met his gaze. Throwing its head back, the demon released a victorious screech not so unlike the sound of metal scraping on metal. In rage, Caleb lunged forward.
But the grip on his shoulders pulled him back as Machaia’s voice rumbled close to Caleb’s ear. “It’s not for us to right their evil. He can still choose to say no.”
Caleb breathed deeply, watching as the demon whispered lies, prodding on the young man’s rage.
“Think of Bethany.” Machaia urged, his grip tightening. “You don’t have much time.”
Caleb looked at Bethany, then lowered his gaze, and nodded. He sprinted back to where Bethany stood and pressed back into line.
A smile spread across her face. “There you are! I didn’t know where you had—”
“Is there not a different coffee shop just over there?” He pointed up the corridor.
He nodded; it hardly mattered. “Yes, that’s it. I doubt that the line will be as long as this one. Come on.”
Unsure of his sudden urgency, she hesitated for only a moment before complying. Walking briskly to match Caleb’s urgent stride, she chattered, “Actually, Barnie’s is better, but I’ve just always come to Starbucks, just because—”
Caleb cringed, hearing the first burst of automatic gunfire. He pushed her to the floor and crouched over her, shielding her body with his own.
An eternity of thirty seconds later, the firing stopped.
When Caleb’s spirit was free from the sense of danger, he stood over Bethany, who remained huddled on the floor, her screams fading to a whimper as she looked up at him. Before she had time to ask the questions forming in her terror-stricken eyes, Caleb backed away. Entering the chaotic scene of screaming humans and soulless bodies lying in pools of blood and broken glass, he laid aside the human form and disappeared from sight.
In the same area where he and Bethany had been standing only minutes before, he found Machaia hovering over the lifeless body of his charge, a middle-aged man.
Caleb shook his head, his face darkened in anger and grief. “How long until justice reigns?”
“Soon, my friend.” Machaia jutted out his chin, his voice sure. “Very soon.”
Caleb scanned the crowd of humans; some were racing around, while others silently stood in tears. He knew that it would be one of those stories in the newspapers the next day. Many of the guarded would accredit luck or coincidence. Had they not happened to be delayed in traffic, had not some random stranger wanted to chat, had they not been just thirty seconds late, their stories would have been completely different. That was how the Almighty had meant for it to be.
Even thinking of what might have been, Caleb silently praised the Almighty for the chance to bring Him glory and for His command to watch from a distance, guarding until the final judgment, hidden with the rest of them.