2022 Writing Contest

LAMAR PUBLIC LIBRARY This Just In... 2022 WRITING CONTEST The Lamar Public Library is pleased to announce the winners from the 2022 Writing Contest! Short Story by an Adult Liz Waldrip, Angels Unaware Short Story by a Youth Connor Wood, Cyber Box Poetry Samantha Carrillo, Life of Firsts Essays Rob Sanchez, To My Patients Story Tweet Collins Heck, Morning Ride Honorable Mention : Short Story by a Child Izzy Robbins, Izzy and Ellie in Space

Short Story by an Adult ANGELS UNAWARE Liz Waldrip

1 The sky was a brilliant blue with two large eagles soaring over the lone cabin. It should have been the beginning of a lovely autumn day. Esther stood on the front porch of her home, tears of frustration and anger running down her face. Her crops, nearly an acre of assorted vegetables and herbs, her last chance to grow and harvest enough food to last her through the winter with maybe a little extra to sell, had been destroyed. And it wasn’t the first time. She had always managed to find enough to eat and save some seeds to plant before, but not this time. The whole field had been burned to the ground. How it had been done and when it was done, she didn’t know. She hadn’t heard anything, hadn’t seen the reflection of the flames, nothing. Why it had been done and by whom were questions she had no answers to. Slowly, dejectedly, she walked out to the still smoking remains of her crops. She dropped to her knees, running her fingers through the burnt plants and dirt. Lost in her despair and dejection, she didn’t hear the approach of the two men until they were right in front of her. Startled, and more than a bit fearful, she looked up at them. Even with rising sun behind them she could see they were strangers. They were very tall or seemed to be from her position on the ground. They were dressed in heavy coats with knit caps. One had a heavy beard while the other, who looked much younger, had a much lighter beard and wisps of curly brown hair sticking out from under his cap. The first man, with the heavy beard knelt down and offered her his hand. The second asked her, in a surprisingly gentle voice, if she was, hurt. She managed to shake her head no. He then told her she had nothing to fear from them. She allowed the first man to take her hand and help her to stand, saying as she rose, “I’m not hurt, just confused and devastated and a little bit afraid. Lately, I’m almost always afraid.” Esther looked at the two men. She wasn’t sure about them, having never seen them before. At her age, and after all that had happened, she wasn’t sure who she could or should trust any one anymore. Once on her feet, she realized that both men were much taller than she had thought. The first man, with the beard, was at least 6 feet, maybe a little taller. The second man was even taller. Standing next to them at her own slender height of 5 feet and a little more, she felt very small. The second man, smiling gently, wiped the tears from her face. If nothing else, she thought, they both had kind eyes. But eyes can lie, Esther thought almost immediately. Remembering her manners, she invited them into her little cabin. She apologized for not having anything to offer but coffee. The first man took off a backpack, which she hadn’t noticed before, and took out 4 carefully wrapped eggs, a small package of bacon and a small loaf of brown bread. Smiling at Esther, he offered to make breakfast for them. She tried to refuse their kind offer, but the smell of the bread and the thought of a real meal, won out in the end. Esther noticed that both men bowed their heads before eating. She could never get her husband to thank God for anything. His thinking was why should he thank God for what he had planted, watered, weeded, and harvested and sold for meat and more seed. Why should he thank God for any of it?

He was the one who put in the hard work. Esther smiled to herself. It made her happy to know there were men who weren’t afraid or ashamed to pray to God. During the meal the two men introduced themselves. “You can call me Michael”, said the man with the heavy beard. “And I am Daniel.” Said the second man. “I’m Esther.” She paused for a moment then asked, “Forgive me, but where did you come from? I didn’t see or hear you until you were right in front of me.” Michael answered with a smile, “We travel around quite a bit. We’ve learned how to travel quickly and quietly, out of necessity, on occasion.” Esther nodded her head in understanding. Daniel spoke, “Forgive us for asking, but why are you out here alone? Or are you alone?” Esther bowed her head for a moment then answered in a halting, slow voice. ”I haven’t been out here alone for very long. My husband and I moved out here shortly after we were married. We built everything ourselves. We planted lots of vegetables and herbs. We had some chickens and a few goats. We were making it work. Then, about three years ago my husband died. A freak accident on the way home from town.” Esther paused, recalling the last three years. A sad, frightened but determined look crossed her face. “Since then so many strange things have happened. The chickens all died, in one night. The goats kept getting out of the pen and eventually they all wandered off. I looked for them for days, but never could find any sign of them. The next year, a herd of cattle stampeded through the fields. No one could be found who owned, or admitted to owning, the cattle. Last year, it was an antelope herd, grazing through the fields, eating up almost everything. And now, well, you saw, the fields have been burned out.” Here, she paused, a lone tear ran down her check. “There is nothing left. There is nothing to eat, over the winter, no seed for next year. I don’t know what to do any more.” A second tear followed the first. She hurriedly wiped the tears from her face. These strangers had seen her cry once, that was enough. Daniel and Michael looked at each other for a brief moment, then Michael said, “What if we stayed around for awhile. Helped you get back on your feet, helped you figure things out?” Esther smiled at them sadly. “I thank you for the offer, but I don’t know what you can do to help me, much less me get back on my feet.” She sighed sadly, “Even if I had any seed, it’s too close to the first frost, and planting is hard work, even if you find something and there was a decent amount of time for the plants to grow.” Daniel smiled at her. “Why not give us a chance? You would be surprised at how resourceful we can be.”

Esther looked around her small cabin. The idea of having company was so tempting, finally she shrugged. “I suppose it’s worth a try. I can’t lose any more than I already have.” She motioned to the only other door in the cabin, “You can have the bedroom. It’s a double bed so if you don’t mind sharing, it’s yours.” Daniel looked at the door she had motioned to. “Where will you sleep?” Esther smiled at him. “I will sleep in the rocking chair. I’ve slept in there many times before.” Michael spoke gently, “We thank you for your thoughtfulness and kindness, but we cannot accept. It would be wrong. We will sleep outside.” “Outside!” Esther exclaimed. “You can’t do that, you’ll freeze! The nights are getting cold. And what about those people who are trying to ruin me? What if they come while you’re out there? Please, stay inside where it’s safe and warm.” Why was she pleading with them. If they wanted to stay outside, so be it, Esther thought. Daniel reached across the table and took Esther’s hands in his. “My dear lady, you have nothing to fear for us or from us. I promise you, we are quite capable of protecting both ourselves and you. And the cold won’t be a problem.” Esther couldn’t keep the tears from falling. It had been so long since anybody had said anything kind to her. For however long these two men wanted to stay, she would be glad of their company. “Now,” said Michael, “While you clean up from breakfast, we will go out and see what we can find.” He, also, reached across the table to gently pat Esther’s hands. Esther finished washing the few dishes and cups from breakfast and turned to clean the table. She noticed there was still half a loaf of bread left. She was certain that they had each had a slice of bread with their breakfast. Maybe it had been a larger loaf than she imagined. She wrapped it up carefully in the brown paper it had come in and looked around for the backpack that Michael had. Maybe he had taken it with him when they left. But she couldn’t remember seeing him pick it up. She might not have been paying close attention. It had been a very unusual morning. Esther sat down at the table, fully intending to thank God for the two men who had come to her aid at just the right time. Her mind wouldn’t stay focused, it kept straying back to Michael and Daniel. Who were they, really, and where did they come from? They just appeared out of nowhere. Should she have accepted their offer of help, or had she made a mistake. Try as she might, her thoughts kept circling back to those two men. While she sat wrestling with her thoughts, Daniel and Michael came into the cabin. Both men had smiles on their faces. “Is it as bad as I think it is?” Esther asked, not daring to look at them. Both men hesitated before Daniel finally spoke.

“It’s pretty bad, but we did manage to find some plants that weren’t too badly damaged and some seeds that could be planted now for a small crop of vegetables and a small crop of herbs that might see you through winter.” Michael added, “We looked around for some sign that would give a clue about who could have done this awful thing, but we couldn’t find anything at all.” Esther smiled at them. “Thank you for looking. I would have been surprised if you had found something. It’s like they appeared out of nowhere, caused the damage, then disappeared back into nowhere.” Esther sighed, “That can’t happen, not really, right?” As she spoke those words, something flashed through her mind, but it was gone before she could really grasp it. Daniel shrugged his shoulders and Michael just gave a slight shake of his head. No one said anything for a few moments then Michael set his backpack on the table. “You did take it.” said Esther. I was looking for it earlier to put the bread back in it. Michael smiled at her, “I never go anywhere without my bag.” He opened the top of the bag and pulled out several bunches of carrots, two handfuls of beets, some small potatoes and 5 tomatoes. “How did you get all that in your bag?” asked Esther in amazement. “It’s all in the packing.” Answered Michael with a smile. Then Daniel started emptying his pockets. Each pocket held a small pile of seeds. Six different varieties in all. “But what are these seeds from?” Esther asked. Daniel shrugged his shoulders and smiled. “Don’t know. Let’s plant them and see what comes up.” “But it’s August! We could have a frost by the end of September. It’s too late to plant.” Esther said sadly. “Well then, we’d better get to planting.” Chimed in Michael. Outside, as she was about to step off the porch, Daniel stopped her with a gentle touch on her arm. “No, dear lady, you set here,“ indicating the rocking chair that Daniel brought out, “and let us do the planting.” Esther started to protest but Michael spoke softly, “It is our gift to you, for your kindness.” “You have been the kind ones,” replied Esther. “All I did was offer you a place to stay, which you turned down, and some coffee.” Daniel smiled, “True, but you offered. You would be surprised how many people don’t offer anything, even a cup of coffee.”

2 Michael and Daniel walked to the south side of the house, a more protected area to plant vegetable seeds in. Esther sat quietly in the rocker on the porch silently thanking God for His grace and mercy and the gift of companionship, even if it was for a short time. She listened to the sounds of earth being shoveled and the quiet murmuring of a conversation between Michael and Daniel. She could almost tell which one was speaking from the different pitch and tones of their voices. For the first time in 3 years, she felt a sense of peace and safety. Slowly, she slipped into sleep. When Michael and Daniel finished planting the seeds and returned to the porch, they smiled at the sleeping form of Esther. Michael gently picked her up. Daniel opened the door, holding it for Michael, then brought in the rocking chair. Daniel opened the bedroom door and Michael laid Esther on the bed, covering her up with the quilt she had folded at the foot of the bed. They both left quietly and shut the door behind them. Esther awoke suddenly and sat up in bed. She was confused. She remembered sitting on the porch. How long had she slept? Looking out the window she realized it was late, after dark. How could she have fallen asleep and slept for so long and not know when she was brought inside. Where were Daniel and Michael? She could tell the wind was blowing. Were they outside in the cold? What sort of hostess was she to fall asleep like that? Esther grabbed her shawl off the peg by the door and wrapped herself in it. The wind was blowing from the north, a cold, harsh wind. She looked for Michael and Daniel on the front porch but didn’t see them or any sign of them. She thought to check the south side of the house, it was out of the worst of the wind. They weren’t there, either. She was starting to worry. Had something happened to them? Then she heard a light footstep behind her. Turning, she was relieved to see Michael standing behind her. “I was concerned about you both. I wanted to ask you, again, to please come into the house for the rest of the night.” Michael seemed a bit distracted but smiled at her. “I thank you for your concern, but everything is as it should be. We will be watching out tonight, to prevent any further incidents. Daniel is out doing a sort of perimeter walk. As for the weather, we’re used to rapid changes.” Daniel came around the opposite corner of the house, smiling at Michael and Esther. “Everything is fine. No sign of anybody around.” Michael relaxed and his smile was a little brighter. Glancing at Daniel first, Michael said to Esther, “So, you see, everything is fine. Everything is safe.” Again, he looked at Daniel, “Thank you for the concern and the invitation, but as we said before, it would not be proper for us to stay inside with a single woman.” Daniel added, “We are fine, truly. You can go back to bed without worrying. We will be fine.” Esther turned toward the door, then stopped and turned back. “What about lunch and dinner? Have you eaten anything since breakfast? That was a long time ago.”

Daniel laughed. “You are persistent. We have eaten, so don’t worry about that. Go on inside and fix yourself something if you are hungry, then go back to bed and rest. Tomorrow could be a busy day.” Michael and Daniel looked at each other as Esther turned toward the door. “There is one thing you could do for us.” Michael said quietly. Esther turned back around as Michael finished his question. “May we borrow your Bible? We like to read a verse or two from it before we end our day.” “Of course, gladly.” Esther answered and hurried into the house to get her Bible from the nightstand in her bedroom, returning quickly to hand it to Michael. “It’s a little worn, a family bible. I hope that’s okay.” Michael smiled, “Dear lady, that is perfectly fine. Well used and well loved Bibles are always the best ones.” Esther went inside, leaving Michael and Daniel on the porch, holding, reverently, her Bible. Instead of making herself something to eat, or going back to bed, Esther added more wood to the fire then settled, as comfortably as possible, into the rocking chair by the fireplace. Her mind wandered around a bit but eventually returned to the two strangers, Michael and Daniel. There was a feeling, an aura, about them of strength and of purpose. She could also sense a genuine kindness and, surprisingly, love around them. She didn’t feel threatened or as if she was in any sort of danger. She prayed about them then she prayed for them. Esther had dozed off when she was startled awake by a loud rumble of thunder. She listened intently for several minutes but heard nothing more. Maybe it was just part of a dream. Esther decided she must have been asleep for quite a long time as her joints were stiff and sore when she stood up. Even though she wasn’t old, the life of a homesteader, especially one by herself, was hard. After 10 years out here, it hadn’t gotten easier. Looking out a window nearest her, she saw the beginnings of a beautiful sunrise. Looking around the cabin, she realized that there wasn’t much but bread and coffee for breakfast. And where did all the bread keep coming from. She thought she’d like a look inside that backpack. It would have to do for breakfast. There was still just enough water to make one more pot of coffee. She would have to visit the little stream, not too far from the cabin, to get another bucket filled. Her supply of coffee was very low as well. Still, it would do for today. While the coffee boiled, Esther sat down at the table and bowed her head. She thanked God for another beautiful day, for the bread and the coffee and for her two new friends. Just as she finished her prayer, the front door opened and Michael and Daniel walked in, looking as refreshed and rested as they had yesterday. At that moment, Esther realized she was still wearing the same clothes from yesterday and her hair need to be combed and reset. She welcomed the two men into her house, told them to help themselves to the bread and coffee, then excused herself and went into her bedroom to change.

3 When Esther came back into the main room, the smell of bacon and eggs and coffee had filled the room. She stood for a moment wondering. She was certain they had eaten all the eggs and bacon yesterday. She asked Daniel, “I thought we had eaten all the eggs and bacon yesterday. Where did this all come from?” Daniel smiled down at her, “Oh, well, I found a quail’s nest on one of my forays yesterday, so I took the eggs. And Michael has so many things stashed in that bag of his, I’m never surprised with what he pulls out of there.” Esther looked at the bacon and eggs. The eggs were smaller, but quail? She had never seen any quail anywhere near their property in all the years they had lived here. How large was the area that Daniel had walked yesterday? She was beginning to wonder, again, if she had made a mistake in trusting them. Something of her thoughts must have been picked up by Michael who offered her a seat and a cup of coffee. ”Trusting people you don’t know is a hard thing. When you trust someone, you leave yourself open to heartache and hurt.” Daniel sat down next to her and added, “We have no intention of causing you hurt. We just want to help you with your problem and then we will move on. It’s what we do, what we have always done.” Esther sat there, looking from Daniel to Michael, who was still standing. It felt like they were sincere and that, in some way, they had just imparted some important information, but what she wasn’t sure what it was. She was still not sure she had done the right thing. It was so hard to know what was right at times. And lately, trusting people was not something she did easily. Michael sat down opposite her at the table. “Just trust us for a few more days. Then everything will become clear.” Daniel added, “Everything will be okay, we promise you this. Just trust us for a little longer.” Esther looked down into her coffee cup, then looked back up at Michael, who had become the leader, of sorts, in her mind. “I want to trust you. I really do. It’s very hard, though. For the last three years I have lived with fear and worry and dread as constant companions. Even with you finding the few vegetables you found, and even if the seeds you planted germinate and grow, I will barely have enough food to get through the month, much less the winter. If my crops had not been destroyed, with what I would have had left over, I would have sold or traded to get staples, like flour, some meat, more coffee, maybe some material to make a new dress…” Esther’s voice trailed off. The tears were starting to come. She took a deep breath then continued. ”Even if you do find out who’s behind this and why they are doing this, how can they be brought to trial with no proof?” “We do understand. Just trust us, for a few days more. Please.” Michael’s voice was calm and gentle, still Esther sensed an almost demand and a tenacity she had never come across before. She looked at Michael and then at Daniel. In their eyes she saw understanding, concern. In spite of herself, she felt compelled to agree. “Good”, said Daniel with a smile on his face, “Let’s have breakfast. I’m hungry.”

4 It wasn’t until much later in the day that Esther realized that Michael and Daniel had deliberately given her the larger portions of the meals. They ate very little and drank only water. More and more, Esther really wanted to learn more about these two men. But how could she? She had promised to trust them. And they moved so quietly and quickly and always seemed to have exactly what was needed at any time. She wasn’t sure she really believed Michael and Daniel’s comments about packing things well. But what was the truth then? Too much swirled in her head. Esther decided to take a look at the little, impromptu, garden on the side of her house. She hadn’t seen Michael or Daniel since dinner. It would soon be dark and she was a little worried. Not so much for herself, but for Michael and Daniel. In spite of, their assurances that they could take care of themselves, they just seemed too kind and too caring to deal with the people they might have to. Rounding the corner of her cabin, Esther was surprised at the size of the “little” garden. It was only slightly smaller than her original field. She could see corn shoots and potato mounds, tomato seedlings and other starts that she couldn’t recognize yet. If only she had a few chickens and maybe a goat or two she would be set for winter. If the plants survived to be harvested. She sighed, the nights were getting colder and the wind had a bite to it, when it blew out of the north. At least the days were sunny and warm. She paused for a moment, bowed her head and whispered, “Please, God, let me keep this harvest. I need it so desperately.” Esther looked around, where were those two men? She had been standing and staring at her garden for 10 or 15 minutes and neither one had shown themselves. She worried that they might have left, or maybe something had happened to them. Should she try to find them herself? Almost before she finished her thoughts, Michael came walking from the back of the house. “Good evening, Esther. Do you like our little garden?” “This may be a little garden to you, but to me, all of this,” she gestured over the whole garden with a small smile, ” will keep me fed all winter.” The smile disappeared from her face, “If it survives to be harvested.” Michael smiled a little sadly at her. “Haven’t we told you this crop will succeed and you will have enough to make it through winter?” Esther looked at him, wanting so much to believe him, but knowing how quickly winter can sneak up on you, she hesitated. Before she could speak, there was the sound of walking on the porch. She turned and saw Daniel standing there. He had a faint smile on his face but it was a harder, slightly frightening smile. Esther spoke to Daniel, “I suppose you will walk the perimeter tonight? I feel like I’m living in a war zone or something. There’s no one around here for miles.” Daniel shook his head. “You are wrong. There is a neighbor about a mile and a half to the east. From the looks of things, this person is relatively newly settled there.” As Daniel was speaking, a strange, almost frightening look passed over his face. It was gone so fast Esther wasn’t sure she has seen the look. Michael spoke up, “No, it’s my turn to patrol. Daniel will stay here tonight.”

From the look that passed between the two men, Esther thought it must be an argument of some sort that Michael had just put an end to. There was a touch of a command, a sound of steel, in his voice, but the smile never left his face. There was a brief moment of tension between the two men, then it was gone. “Yes,” said Daniel. I will be watching here tonight.” Esther felt she had to say something. “Please, I am not worth an argument between you two.” Michael looked at her and for a moment, Esther felt Michael’s deep searching gaze from dark, hooded eyes, then that, too was gone. “Worry not, dear lady, sometimes my little brother forgets who is the older and wiser one.” There was a snort from Daniel that seemed to clear the air. “Well, that’s settled then.” Esther said, not really sure what had been settled or what else to say. Esther asked Michael if he wanted to take something to eat and drink while he was out. Michael patted his back pack which sat at his feet. “I am well supplied.” Esther didn’t remember seeing the back pack before that moment. There were definitely odd things going on. “Well, if you’re both okay, I will say good night and go in for the night. Good night, Daniel, good night, Michael. God watch over you and bless you.” She turned to walked into the house and both men said, “God watch over you and bless and keep you.” Esther hesitated for just a moment then went into the house. 5 Once inside the house, Esther stood for a moment with her back against the door. So, they were brothers. She hated to see family fighting, if they were, indeed, family. She decided to go back out and try to help solve whatever problem there was between them. Just then, the door opened and Daniel walked in. He smiled at her then gestured for her to take a seat. Esther sat at the table, Daniel taking the seat opposite her. His expression was carefully neutral. “Esther, you are a kind hearted, caring woman with a strong faith. Things are becoming very dangerous. Far more so than you could imagine. Michael and I know who and where your ‘trouble’ is coming from and why. We had planned to come here and protect you and save your homestead and leave without any issues. That cannot happen now. There is a battle coming and when it does, you need to promise me one thing. No matter what we may tell you to do, you must do it. Your trust and faith must be strong and complete. If you can’t, we might not be able to save you or your homestead. Esther looked down at her clenched hands. Daniel reached across the table and laid one of his hands on hers. “You must promise. I know it’s a lot to ask, after such a short time, and it will be hard, but you must promise.”

Esther looked at Daniel, into his kind eyes, then looked back down at her hands, covered by one of Daniel’s hands. Very quietly she said, “I promise. I don’t know why I trust and believe you. I shouldn’t, but I do. I promise.” Daniel smiled at her. “Thank you, Esther. Now, if you are hungry, you should eat then get some sleep. Tonight will be peaceful and so will most of tomorrow.” The door opened and Michael stood in the doorway. “I’m going.” He said, then the door closed and he was gone. Daniel stood, gave Esther a parting smile, said, “Remember your promise.” Then he, too, walked out the door. Esther sat quietly at the table, deep in thought, for a very long time. These two men, whom she had, reluctantly, come to trust, had just warned her that the worst was yet to come. They had asked, almost demanded, her complete trust and she had agreed, almost without a second thought. She knew nothing about them, really. Could they be trusted or was this all a horrible charade to catch her off balance and steal everything she had left. They told her little about themselves and what they did tell was very vague. Esther got up from the table and started pacing back and forth across the room. As she paced, she saw something flicker out of the corner of her eye. She turned and saw her Bible laying on the small table by the rocking chair. She looked at the book and wondered for a moment when it had been returned. Then she thought of something she used to do, before her husband had been killed. She used to set the Bible down on the table or her lap and after praying, she let if fall open where it would. The first verse she saw was usually the answer or pointed her toward the answer. She picked up the Bible and let it fall open on the table. It fell open at Hebrews, chapter 13. The first verse she looked at was verse 2, “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers for thereby some have entertained angels unaware.” Esther read through the rest of the chapter but kept returning to verse 2. Angels unaware. She smiled to herself a little. “Two angels? God fearing, kind, caring men, yes, but angels? What have I ever done to earn the right to two angels. I’m not even sure I’d qualify for one, much less two. But there are two men here and they seem to have answers before the questions were formed. Could they really be angels? Did God care for her enough to send her two angels?” She sat down and thought about what the verse meant. If God was telling her to trust and believe these men, then maybe she should. She trusted God. If these men were sent by God, then she should stop worrying and trust. God had never let her down. Not really. Standing up, Esther left the Bible open on the little table and went to bed.

6 The next morning Esther awoke to the smell of breakfast, bacon and eggs and coffee. She hurriedly got dressed and brushed her hair. She walked out the big room and was surprised to see two new men. All four rose as she came in the room and walked to the table. Michael moved to the opposite side of the table so she could have his chair, at the head of the table. After she was seated and one of the men had placed a plate of food and a cup of coffee in front of her, Daniel introduced the other men. “Esther, this is Levi,” pointing to another very tall man with wavy reddish blonde hair and blue eyes. Pointing to the next man, Michael continued, “and this is Eli.” Eli wasn’t as tall and had straight brown hair cut very short. Eli had more of a military bearing than the other three men. Daniel spoke as the men sat back down. “After talking things over and praying about it, we decide some additional help would be a good idea.” Daniel looked straight at Esther. His usually calm, clear eyes now seemed to have flecks of gold or silver or copper or maybe all three in them. Esther felt a strength in his look she had never imagined possible. “You won’t forget your promise, will you.” It was a statement more than a question. “No, I won’t forget it.” “And whatever any of the four of us,” indicating all of the four men at the table, “tell you to do, you will do?” Esther was starting to feel real fear. A lump was forming in her throat, making it hard to do or say anything other than to nod her head. With that, Daniel smiled and all the tension she had felt in the room vanished. In a surprisingly deep and melodious voice, Levi said, “All will be well. Please enjoy your breakfast. We will be keeping watch now.” As Esther bowed her head over her breakfast, the four men stood and bowed their heads. All five said amen together. Esther began to eat while the men, except Eli. left the cabin. Eli looked at Esther intently for a moment then said, “Your faith is strong. Do not fear. Michael and Daniel could have dealt with this situation, but they chose a show of strength. Truly, all will be well.” Eli smiled and nodded to Esther then, he too, left her alone in the cabin. A show of strength? With just four men? Was it really possible? As the day wore on, Esther began to notice a tenseness in the air. The four men began spending more and more time away from the cabin. Even the air had a heaviness about it, as when a thunderstorm is about to break. Just before noon, the four men came into the house. There were no smiles of greeting this time. Everyone was silent and had very serious looks on their faces. Michael pulled one of the chairs away from the table and placed it in the center of the room. He then motioned for Esther to sit. Remembering her promise, Esther quickly sat down. The four men form a circle around. her, held hands, and began to pray. Esther bowed her head with the men.

Daniel spoke after the prayer, “Esther, you must stay here, in this chair in this exact spot, no matter what happens. Stay right there. Remember your promise. No matter what you see or think you see. No matter what you hear or think you hear. Stay there. In this place, you are safe.” Daniel, Michael, Levi and Eli had lost the kind expressions she had seen so many times before. There was determination and resolve on their faces. She felt a shiver go up her spine. “You are frightening me terribly. I will stay here, no matter how long it takes or what may happen.” “Thank you, Esther,” said Michael. “Just be brave, be strong and have faith.” As the four men left, they each solemnly bowed to Esther before they walked out the door. After the men left, Esther bowed her head and prayed to God for courage and strength for her and protection for the four men who were there to help and protect her. After sitting still for a few minutes, Esther had a thought. If she had her Bible that would, surely, add to her level of protection and strength. The thought went around and around in her head until she decided that it would only take a moment to stand, reach her Bible then sit back down. She had started to rise, when she heard Daniel’s voice in her head say “Promise.” Startled, she stayed where she was, praying, again, for courage and strength and faith. 7 Esther felt like she had been sitting for hours. She hadn’t heard much from outside of the cabin. Several times she had been tempted leave the chair but each time, she would hear a different voice reminding her of her promise. And each time, she would stay in the chair. She soon lost all track of time. Sometimes it felt like time seemed to fly by and that nothing was happening and at others, time was creeping and she could hear strange sounds, sounds of a battle, sounds of people dying, screams of unimaginable pain. At those moments she put her hands over her ears to try to block out the voices. At another time, she thought she saw her husband falling into the cabin, bloody and beaten, reaching out to her. She closed her eyes as tightly as she could. She began reciting any Bible verse she could remember, sing any hymns she could think of. Esther was exhausted, trying to remain in the chair when, at times she wanted to scream and run from the building. Several times she felt herself drifting into sleep. She would jerk awake, then started to pinch herself to stay awake. Esther kept reminding herself that Daniel and Michael and those other two men were depending on her to stay put. She had also become frightened by what she might see or hear in her dreams. Would the voices and the visions follow her into her dreams? She heard Daniel’s voice saying, “Esther, sleep now. It is safe.” In her overly tired and confused mind, she refused. “I can’t sleep. I promised not to.” The Michael’s voice responded, gently, “Sleep now, Esther. We are safe, you are safe, all is good. Sleep.” Almost in tears, Esther cried, “I want to sleep, I really do, but I promised Daniel and Michael. I have to stay awake.”

She felt a hand on her shoulder, firm but gentle. “Esther, it is Michael. You are released from your promise.” “No, I’m not!” Esther tried to jerk away from the hand. “You are trying to trick me again. I will not move. I promised!” Esther almost shouted. Then four strong but gentle hands rested on her shoulders and the voice she recognized as Eli’s said, “Esther, as our God lives and as His Son arose from the dead, all is well. You are released and you may sleep.” There was such authority and conviction in the voice that Esther, opened her eyes and looked up. She was surrounded by the four men. They all looked tired but triumphant. As she looked from one to the other each man gave her a gentle pat on her shoulders. Esther closed her eyes for a moment then opened them and looked intently at Michael and Daniel. “Will you sleep, or just rest?” she asked Michael. Michael smiled at her. “Yes, we will sleep. All of us will sleep, in shifts. Though I doubt it will be necessary, one of us will be on watch. Go. Sleep. We will talk more about all of this after you are well rested. He removed his hand from her shoulder and stepped back. Esther stood slowly, her first steps a little unsteady. Levi reached out and caught her by her elbow, steadying her. She nodded her head, in thanks, to Levi, then walked slowly into her bedroom. 8 When Esther opened her eyes, the sun was shining through her window. Morning. Relief. Then she looked again. The sun was in the late afternoon position. Esther sat up quickly and realized that, once again, she had fallen asleep in her clothes. She changed into another dress and made sure her hair was as neat and tidy as she could make it, then she opened the door and walked into the main room. There was no one on the house. Michael’s backpack was on the table, which meant, she hoped, that the men hadn’t left yet. She had so many questions. She smelt the coffee and found a pot full sitting on the stove. There was bacon and that never ending loaf of bread laying beside the stove. She cooked some bacon and toasted a piece of bread then poured herself a cup of coffee. As she finished eating she could hear voices and the sounds of wagons and horses. For a brief moment, fear gripped her, but then she remembered, vaguely, that her protectors had sworn by God that she was safe. Slowly she stood up and walked to the front door. Michael opened the door before she could. He smiled at her, an even bigger smile than she could remember seeing before. “You’re finally awake! I am so glad.” Taking her by the hand he said, “Come with me. We’ve got something for you.”

Outside were two wagons filled to the brim with all manner of things. Daniel was sitting in the second wagon talking to the sheriff who had a couple of deputies riding beside the wagon. Daniel handed the sheriff a paper which the sheriff read quickly, occasionally looking at Daniel. After a few minutes, the Sheriff folded the paper and put it in his pocket and Daniel motioned to the side of the house. The sheriff got down off the wagon, which Esther could see was empty, and motioned for the deputies to follow him. They dismounted their horses and the three men walked to the side of the house. Michael and Daniel exchanged a look which Esther couldn’t understand, then Daniel jumped from the wagon and walked up to Michael and Esther. He tucked one of Esther’s arms into the crook of one of his arms and said, “Come back inside. We have a story to tell you.” When they got back inside the cabin, Ester asked about Levi and Eli. Michael answered, “They had other commitments to attend to and had to leave. Now, sit down and let us tell you a story.” “There is a great war happening every day.” Began Michael. “It is between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Satan. Many people go through life not knowing what goes on around them or for them. Unfortunately, many are misled into believing that they are good upstanding people, living Christian lives, when they have chosen the path to Hell. The saying, ‘The path to Hell is paved with good intentions’, is very true. You have chosen the correct path.” Here, Daniel spoke up. “We told you we had planned on dealing with the situation by ourselves, but seeing you so heartbroken and defeated, we were given permission to openly set things right, as your husband had planned to do.” Daniel paused, as if deciding something. Then he continued, “Everyone has a choice, every day, of which way to go. Every action, every thought sends out ripples, like a stone thrown into a lake. Every decision made requires a final judgement. Two days ago, the final judgement for several people happened.” Outside the sound of men’s voices shouting and one of the wagons leaving could be heard. Esther looked from Daniel to Michael, who shook his head slightly. Esther stood, as if to go to the door. Michael stopped her. “No, not now. There is much you need to know first.” Esther slowly sat back down. She closed her eyes then sighed deeply. “Then, please continue.” Daniel began, “You remember me telling you about your new neighbor?” Esther nodded her head. “That particular gentleman is where most of your trouble started. Three years ago.” Esther looked at Daniel then Michael. “But how? And why? Is he responsible for Richard’s death? I was told that my husband’s death was the result of something frightening the horses and Richard losing control and the wagon rolled over him.” The ache was still there even after three years. Daniel answered her. “You were not lied to. That is, indeed, the cause of his death. The cause of the accident is very different.” Michael took up the story. “Several days before your husband went into town, he was working out by the creek behind your house, was he not?” Esther thought for a moment then nodded her head yes. “He found something while he was out there that, had he been a little wiser, would have resulted in both of you having a much better life than you have now. Your husband found gold nuggets. Quite a lot of them. Even if that was all he found, it was worth enough for the two of you to live comfortably for the rest of your life.”

Esther’s eyes were wide with surprise. “But why didn’t he tell me? I didn’t know he found anything that day.” She paused for a moment. “But that would explain why he decided to go into town when we really didn’t need anything.” Michael continued, “We aren’t exactly certain why he didn’t tell you, maybe he wanted to surprise you. But it is known that he went to the Assayer’s office and had the nuggets valued. The smallest of the nuggets was worth $20,000. Putting the nuggets back in his pocket, he then headed for home.” Daniel began speaking, “Unfortunately for your husband, the Assayer was not a good man. He had been, it appears, pilfering a little gold dust here, a small nugget there, holding back on the true value of the minerals brought into him. His greed took full hold of him when he saw the nuggets your husband had. He tried to take one of the nuggets, but your husband wasn’t letting them out of his sight for even one second.” Esther smiled slightly. Yes, she though, that would be just like Richard to keep count of every little piece of whatever. Daniel continued, “So greedy and corrupt was this man, and so annoyed he couldn’t get his hands on even one nugget of your husband’s, that he started to form a plan to take the nuggets from him, whatever the cost.” Michael picked up the story. “This gentleman followed your husband to the land office where he registered a mine claim in both his and your names. This also infuriated our little assayer. He tried twice to catch your husband but failed both times. That was when he made his fatal mistake. He made a deal with Satan. Satan sent a snake to bite the horses, or at least scare them so that they would bolt and do exactly what he wanted. Crash the wagon and kill your husband.” Esther was openly crying now. But she motioned for the story to continue. Daniel now picked up the story. “What the poor Assayer didn’t realize was that once you have given yourself, voluntarily to Satan, it’s very hard, and in some ways impossible, to get free of him. The assayer, Jarrod was his name, waited until news of your husband’s death hit the town. Then he went to the Land Office planning on filing a survivor’s claim on the land. He didn’t know about you or that the land was in both your names. The officer told him you would have to come in and revoke your ownership of the property first. As you had no idea that your husband had done any such thing, that put Jarrod between a rock and a hard place.” Michael spoke, “I don’t think he ever realized until the very end that you had no idea about the gold.” Esther signed. “All this death and destruction for a handful of gold rocks. If I would have known, I would have given him the rocks, but I never knew. Where are the nuggets now?” Michael smiled, “Safely tucked away in the bank. But you haven’t realized the full scope of your assets.” Esther looked at Michael, puzzled then realizing what he was implying. ”You mean there’s more than just a handful of nuggets?”

At her question, Daniel and Michael stood. “Please come with us.” Michael held out his hand. Esther looked at him for a moment then took his hand. Esther soon found herself on the bank of the little creek. Several men were working away, building something that looked like a series of flat boxes stair stepping down to the creek. There was a small cabin being built across the creek, and the first wagon was sitting almost empty. “What is this?” Esther asked. It looks like a mine, sort of.” Daniel smiled, “It is a mine. It’s called a sluice mine. Shovel fulls of mud from the creek are put into that top box, called a sluice, water is run down through the various sluices, of different sizes, and then what ever the water carries away is flushed back into the creek. The assayer and the land officer reckons that you have enough gold in the creek to pay for people to work the mine and give you a comfortable life for a very long time.” At that point, a gentlemen walked over to the threesome and identified himself. “Howdy, ma’am. My name is Fred Mitchell. These two gentlemen here said you were looking for someone to oversee this operation. I have worked several different mines and sluices. I’d be happy to take the job.” Esther looked at Daniel and Michael, who both smiled and nodded. “If these gentlemen say you are trustworthy, then I will gladly accept your offer. Although, I have no idea what to pay you or any other men you may hire.” Fred smiled and held out his hand. Esther took it and the deal was done. Daniel smiled and Michael winked at her then he smiled. The three walked back up to her little cabin. The sun was shining and the little garden, now no longer a necessity, was thriving. As the stepped onto the front porch, Esther saw Daniel’s backpack sitting on the step. She knew what it meant. “Oh, do you really have to go now? I still have so many questions.” Daniel looked down at her. “Yes, and you will get your answers in time, but not from us.” Michael took her hands in his. “You are a very strong, courageous woman. Fred and the men he will hire will work for you and will protect you if needed, but I think you know you are already well protected. Be happy.” Together the two men looked at her and said, “May God continue to bless you and keep you and make His face shine upon you.” Esther blinked away the tears that had formed and realized the two men were gone.

9 Esther woke up to a quiet house. She laid in bed watching the sun rise through her window. The smell of breakfast cooking was absent. Her two angels had gone. She was, once again, alone. There was difference this time. She wasn’t really alone anymore. She was still in shock from the events of the two days before. Her life had changed so much in 5 days, she still had a hard time understanding what had happened. To know that she didn’t have to worry about if her crops grew or not, whether she would have material for a new dress from time to time, or even if she had any money. Because of her husband, she was now a wealthy woman. Her angels, for that is what they were, had left the same way they came, here one minute and gone the next. They had left her with a crew of trustworthy men to help with her mine. That’s why he was killed. He filed a claim on the land for him and Esther. Someone, of the wrong sort heard about it and tried to steal the gold from him, resulting in the wagon crash that killed him. As she thought about the details that Michael and Daniel had told her, she fell to her knees, not for the first time, and said a prayer of thanksgiving. The End

Short Story by a Youth CYBER BOX Connor Wood

Cyber Box I flip up my hood as the rain begins its relentless downpour, feeling the cold seep into my bones. I keep my head down as I pass by a small group of guys, each with different colored mohawks. As I pass by them, I notice their jackets logo. JacklesShakles. It's best to avoid them as they are known for cybernetic enhancements and going crazy. Luckily, I pass by them without any incident. This seems to be a first for me. I usually end most days in a violent situation. I keep walking down the street, passing by the Screaming Trout. It’s a good place to grab a cheap meal, but tonight I won't be eating. I stop at a small doorway just past the Trout. In front, a muscular man with a sidearm standing guard. He is watching people that enter and leave, probably a bouncer for some underground stuff. I stall there and begin biting my thumb nail. Reluctantly I enter inside, without the bouncer noticing me. I walk down the steps, until I arrive in an unsecured area. I spot waitress walking around with people ordering drinks from them, which I also must ignore. But I keep an eye out for a chance to take one without them spotting it, as I push forward to see what’s happening. As I move closer to the center of the room, I spot what has got everyone so riled up. There’s a ring, and within it two men. They’re fighting, but something stands out. That’s when the hiss of electricity fills my ears and I see what's wrong. They aren't just normal fighters; they have cybernetic enhancements. While the weapons aren't much to look at, they could make a difference. One guy is a JackleShakle with his left hand modified to be a stun gun. His opponent is bigger, yet his legs have blades built into them. This feels reasonably equal but staring at the JackleShakle I know it's not. While his enhancement isn’t much, the look on his face shows he's hooked on something. Well, I might as well watch. I hear the opponent of the JackleShakle being called, "Alec" Alec is cautious, staying weary of the taser. Alec takes a swipe with his right foot, using the blades to slash. He misses and the JackleShakle answers with a quick succession of jabs, which miss. His actions are sporadic, clearly not as focused as he outa be. Idiot probably took something to dull the pain when he should have taken something for reflexes. He won't be happy if he wins with his guts spilling out. I begin to cheer for Alec as he begins his assault against the JackleShakle. Alec slams his foot into the JackleShakle's leg. When he pulls back the JackleShakle's leg has a wicked gash, but it doesn’t seem to faze him. The JackleShakle gets in close grabbing ahold of Alec's shirt pulling him in closer. As he pulls him in, Alec jabs his knee where the sun don’t shine. The JackleShakle is not affect by it, so Alec struggles to escape his grip. Alec manages to get out, and the JackleShakle thrusts his fist into Alec's stomach. Alec begins to shake violently for a few seconds. Alec manages to get away all the same before taking a breath to settle himself. He readies himself and begins moving forward. The JackleShakle starts giving ground and, slowly he is forced to accept defeat when Alec finally takes him down. As the crowd begins chanting, it’s my signal to slip away. Score. Spotting an opportunity in the cheering, I manage to bump into one of the waitresses. Apologizing profusely I begin to help her pick up the spilled glasses. While I pick up the drinks I stuff a few bills up my sleeves before handing over the glasses. As I walk away I move the bills into my pocket. Then I head to the exit, but that’s when I spot a man glancing at me. The money isn’t worth getting caught. I manage to get out, but as I do so the bouncer puts his arm out while saying, "Sorry Kid, you can't leave" I inquire, "why not?" I hear a voice behind me answer, "we just need a little chat" A chill goes down my spine, a little chat in this kind of place could mean anything. I turn around