Torched By An Angel

A journey of love, hate, religion and fire. Lots of fire.

Chapter Six: “Southern Gentleman”

Danny woke up the next morning, and Mary Ellen was already sitting on the couch. She had made a bowl of cereal and was watching her cartoons. Danny walked over to the couch, sat down and turned off the TV. Mary Ellen let out a sigh that let him know she was not pleased.

“Honey, we need to talk about last night.” She kept staring at her bowl of cereal.

“What you did was not OK. Why did you do that?”

“I don’t know, it just seemed like fun.”

“Fun? You think setting fire to your room and almost destroying our home sounded like fun?” he could feel the impatience rising in his throat and fought to maintain his patience. Mary Ellen just shrugged her shoulders. “You could have seriously hurt yourself, or you could have been killed.”

“At least I would have been with Mommy.” Danny couldn’t find anything to say to that. He took her bowl of cereal and placed it on the end table, and hugged her tightly.

“I don’t want anything to happen to you. I know you miss your mom, but we need to stick together through this. I need you. I don’t think I could take losing my wife AND my beautiful daughter in the same week. You scared me senseless.” The look on her face told Danny that maybe, finally it was sinking in that what she did was wrong, but she still didn’t say anything. “And what about that bad word you said? Where did you hear that?”

“I don’t know.” she said with immediate thoughtlessness, fearing her father’s retribution.

“It’s OK, I’m not mad and you won’t be in trouble, I just want to know where you heard it from.” She still wasn’t forthcoming with the information. He leaned in close, “Honey, please, don’t make me be mean. I am not going to get mad at you, and you won’t get in trouble, but tell me where you heard that word.”

“I heard it on a movie on the TV.”

“Are you sure you didn’t hear it from anyone at school? None of the other kids in your class use that word?”

“No, Daddy. I promise.” Danny could always tell when she was lying, and he felt she was being sincere, so he dropped it. He leaned in and hugged her one more time. “I promise honey, no matter what happens, you’ll always be my perfect little angel, alright? I’ll never let anything bad happen to you as long as I’m alive. I love you more than life itself.”

“I know, Daddy. I love you, too.”

“Now, what do you want to do today? You don’t have to go to school, but we need to make plans.”

“I want to sit here all day and watch cartoons!”

“I think that sounds like a wonderful idea,” Danny said, and snuggled up close to her on the couch.

———————————————————

After they had spent the better part of the morning involved in Spongebob and the Fairly Oddparents, he began making lunch and looking through the phonebook for someone to come repair the carpet. He finally reached someone who could make it out the same day, even though it would cost him an arm and a leg. He set up the appointment, and went back to her room to get a better look at the damage. The room reeked of burnt fibers, and he knew the smell wouldn’t come out for weeks, no matter how much he scrubbed. He just stood, staring at the spot in the carpet, charred and frayed, and tried to imagine the pain Mary Ellen was feeling to cause her to want to do something like this. His introspection turned up nothing of value, and he felt more lost than anything in his thoughts. He decided to go back downstairs and wait for the repairman. Mrs. Brady was sitting at the kitchen table. Danny was stunned to see an easter basket sitting on the table, as well. Danny and Sarah had never participated in the non-religious aspects of the holiday, feeling like it undermined the Christian message they were trying to convey to their daughter, and thus had never bought Mary Ellen an Easter basket.

“Hello, Mrs. Brady,” Danny said, trying to hide his surprise.

“Hello, dear. How are you feeling this morning?”

“I…I’m fine. How did you…”

“Mary Ellen let me in.” He had not heard her come in, nor Mary Ellen’s announcement of the fact that Mrs. Brady had brought her an Easter basket.

“No, I mean, how did you get over here?”

“Well, these old bones aren’t as brittle as you like to imagine. Some days I just get a burst of energy. Usually ends up costing me more in the long run, but I’m not much longer for this earth anyway, so might as well take advantage of what I’ve got left, don’t you think?”

Danny was surprised at her blunt honesty, but he agreed.
“I guess so.” He said and laughed. “You really shouldn’t have bought her an Easter baske…”

Mrs. Brady cut him off sharply. “You stop right there. I know what you’re going to say, and most of the time I respect your wishes as a father, and won’t try to undermine you. That little angel has been through a hell of a lot, and she needs something to make her feel better. I won’t take it back, and if you try to make me, then I’m afraid our friendship will be voided.” Danny had never heard her swear before, and he sensed a slight tinge of playfulness, but he could tell she was all business.

“Well, I guess if you insist.”

“I do. Now, how is her room?”

“Oh, it’s fine. I don’t know what came over her besides grief, but we talked about it this morning. She seems to be having a hard time accepting the reality of it all, and that was just her way of acting out. It’s all under control now, though. We appreciate your concern.”

“Let me know how much the repair is, and I’ll see that it’s taken care of.” Danny once again, felt a wave of indignance come over him “Mrs. Brady, I…” he didn’t even get to finish his sentence.

“No questions, Daniel. You’ve got enough to deal with, the funeral and all, and it’s not like I’m going to tour the European countryside anytime soon, so if my money can be used to help my neighbor, then that’s the good, Christian thing to do. Not another word.”

Danny sighed, because he didn’t want to accept her money, but he knew she was right. His salary as a pastor was enough to get them through, with enough to keep a little nest egg, but this was most likely going to stretch him very thin.

“Are you sure you want to do this?”

“I wouldn’t have suggested it if I wasn’t.”

“Alright, then, I suppose. The repairman should be here any time.”

———————————————————–

Danny made lunch, and just about the time they were cleaning up from eating, the repairman showed up. He was a large man in a dirty shirt that bore the company’s logo, and blue jeans that had been through the wash probably twice in the life of them which, by the looks of things had been a very long time. his bushy mustache wriggled up and down on his upper lip as he spoke until Danny was having a hard time stifling his laughter.

“Whereda problumat?” Although Danny had lived in Alabama his entire life, he had a problem understanding the man through his thick accent.

“I’m sorry?” Danny said as genuinely as possible.

“I say where da problumat? The problum ya hard us fer.”

“OH! The problem, yes. Right this way.” Danny walked the carpenter to Mary Ellen’s room walking past the kitchen and making a face at Mrs. Brady indicating his immediate need to let loose a fir of laughter. She pruned her face in disapproval. Danny showed him the room, and the man offered his keen observation.

“Look like sumthin dun burnt up in hea.”

“Yeah, that’s why we called you.”

“Mine if I ask what happin?” Danny knew he meant well, but also knew it was best that he didn’t let the truth out for the sake of his daughter.

“Candle.” he said, not sure if the carpenter believed him. The burly man in the dirty jeans stared at him, as if deep in thought. Danny looked in his eyes, though, and could tell the wheels weren’t turning; in fact, the wheels had long since gone flat.

“Hm, aight den.” he said.

“How long a job do you think this will be? We have some important business to attend to, and I’m on a pretty tight schedule.”

Once again, the man’s glazed over eyes rose to the surface, and he blurted out “Coupla hours, I reckon.” Danny sighed, because he didn’t really have a “coupla hours”, but he knew he didn’t have a choice right now.

“Alright then, let me know when you’re done.”

Danny went back to the kitchen and sat down at the table. Mary Ellen was picking through the basket, eating the jelly beans and Peeps, saving the chocolate Easter bunny for later; perhaps, a special occasion.

“Well, I guess we’re going to go shopping for clothes for… tomorrow.” Danny’s voice dropped, but he maintained his composure as best he could. “Are you sure you really want to do this?”

“As sure as I’ll ever be. Now go pick that little girl out a pretty dress so her mommy will be proud of her and how beautiful she is.” Mrs. Brady said with a smile. Danny was still hesitant, but he knew it was best not to argue with her any longer. He let out a slightly defeated sigh. “Alright, well, the repairman is upstairs working, he should be done in an hour or two. I have my phone, so call me if you need anything. We’ll try to be back as soon as we can.”

“Danny, son, take your time. I’m in no hurry.”

“Alright, well, like I said, call me if you need anything.”

“I will. Now go, before I change my mind.” and with that, Danny and Mary Ellen left to go shopping for the dress for her mother’s funeral.

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Chapter Five: “Burnt Offerings”

Danny arrived home a few hours later, and Mrs. Brady was still struggling with the decision of whether to tell Danny about Mary Ellen’s little outburst or not. He walked in the door with a few grocery bags in hand and set them on the floor in the kitchen. Mrs. Brady was sitting in the living room knitting when he walked by.

“Well, the arrangements have been made.”

“Did everything go alright?”

“Yes, we’re having a memorial service at Kleinman’s on Tuesday.”

“I’ll be sure to send flowers.”

“You don’t have to do that.”

“Oh, hush now, it’s the least I can do.”

“Well, we appreciate it,” he said with a slightly exasperated sigh. “Did she ever come out of her room?”

“Well, yes…” Danny could tell she was hesitant to say what happened.

“Did everything go alright?” He asked, prying slightly as he picked up on her unsurety.

“She… She let out an expletive I didn’t think little girls even knew.”

“What did she say?”

“She…” Danny could tell just the thought of the word made her uncomfortable. “She told me to cram it, and she wanted no… no ‘effing’ part.”

Danny was gobsmacked. “She actually said ‘effing’ or she used the real word?”

Mrs. Brady turned red as a beet. “The actual word, Daniel.” She never called him Daniel unless she was upset or embarrassed, and he chuckled to himself.

“I’ll speak to her about it. Would you like to stick around for dinner?”

“That’d be lovely, dear,” she said as she tried to wipe the embarrassment from her face.

“I picked up some pork chops for dinner, I was going to fry those up with some green beans and mashed potatoes. Sound good?”

“That sounds delicious. Would you like some help?”

“Oh, that’s alright. I know it’s hard for you to get around.”

“Nonsense. I’ve got plenty more experience than you, anyway,” she said playfully.

Danny chuckled, “Alright, then. let’s get started.”

————————————–

As he was putting dinner on the table, he walked to the bottom of the stairs. He yelled for Mary Ellen to come eat, but he was sure that it wouldn’t do any good. He walked up to her room and opened the door. “Honey, dinner’s ready. You need to come downstairs.”

“I’m not hungry.” she said with the same obstinate tone she had kept all day.

“You need to eat something, you haven’t eaten all day.”

“I SAID, I’m not hungry.”

Danny’s patience was beginning to wear thin again.

“Mary Ellen, I know you’re upset, but I will not have this insubordination in my house. You come downstairs right now.”

Mary Ellen rolled her eyes, and got up off her bed. “Thank you, was that so hard?”

As they sat and ate, Mary Ellen was trying to rush through her meal so she could return to her room. Danny broke the silence. “Honey, I want to ask you a question. Did you say something rude to Mrs. Brady today?”

“No.” Her gaze never lifted from her plate.

“I know that’s a lie, Mary Ellen. What did you say to her? You really upset her.”

“I told her I didn’t want any fucking part of God’s plan if it included taking my mommy from me.”

“MARY ELLEN!” Danny was shocked at her lackadaisical use of profanity. Mrs. Brady’s face went red again.

“Why would you use that kind of language in front of her? For ANY reason whatsoever?! I raised you better than that! You may be excused from this table if you’re going to continue to talk like that.”

“Fine.” she said, pushed away from the table and stomped up to her room. Danny sat at the table, unsure of how to continue, but finally finding the words. “I’m so sorry… She’s never said anything like that before.”

“It’s alright, son. I know she’s hurting, and she’s lashing out because she doesn’t know what to do with herself.”

“Still, it’s quite inappropriate and there really shouldn’t be an excuse for it.”

“Just caught me off guard, is all.”

“Well, are you ready to head home?”

“You going to be able to finish all these dishes on your own?”

“I believe I can manage.” Danny said with a smile.

“Well, alright, then. It’s getting to be this old bird’s bed time.”

“Well, in that case, we’d better get you home.”

Danny yelled up to Mary Ellen’s room as he walked by the staircase. “I’ll be right back, sweetie. I’m going to walk Mrs. Brady home.” He got no response, but that didn’t surprise him.

He stood at the front door to Mrs. Brady’s house. “I’m really sorry, I don’t know where she heard such foul language, and I assure you it wasn’ t from me.”

“Oh, honey, don’t be silly. I know you wouldn’t teach her a thing like that. It must have been something she picked up at school, or on the television or something, I’m sure. Don’t worry about it, my ears aren’t as virgin as you’d expect.” she said with a hint of a smile creeping across her wrinkles. Danny relaxed a little bit, “Are you ok from here?” “Yes, I think I’ll be alright.” They said their farewells and Danny turned back towards his house.

As he walked back, he noticed a glow coming from Mary Ellen’s room. He thought nothing of it, thinking it was just the light. He walked in the front door, and immediately panic had set in. He smelled smoke, and ran upstairs. There was a small fire in her bedroom floor, made from a pile of toilet paper. He screamed at her, ran in and grabbed her up and took her out in the hallway. She never fought him and just let him take her to safety. He rushed to the kitchen and got the fire extinguisher. When he got back to the room, it had filled with smoke and he was hacking his lungs out. He managed to cover his face long enough to get a full breath, held it in, aimed the fire extinguisher and sprayed. The fire had been put out, but the pile of toilet paper was still smoldering, covered in chemicals from the extinguisher.

        “What the hell were you thinking?!” he screamed at her. “You could have burned the entire house down!” She offered no response whatsoever, only a blank stare. “Answer me, Mary Ellen!”

    “I don’t have to answer for anything.”

“Yes, you do! You nearly destroyed our home! I know you’re hurting because of the loss of your mother, but this is incredibly inappropriate! Go sit in the kitchen until I decide what to do with you.” She stood in the hallway, arms crossed indignantly. “NOW.” She huffed off down the stairs, and Danny just stared at the pile of ashes in disbelief. The carpet was burnt to a crisp, and there was a huge black spot on the ceiling. He couldn’t believe she would do something this drastic. Maybe her mother’s death had affected her in ways he hadn’t previously thought.

Chapter Four: “Righteous Indignation”

Waking the next morning, Danny was up before Mary Ellen. He shuffled down to the kitchen and started coffee. He looked in the oven and saw the ham Sarah had put on before church so it would be nice and warm for Easter dinner. It was everything he had in him to even take it out of the oven. Everything in the house reminded him of her. Each and every utensil, dish, rag, chair, everything in the house had been a joint decision. They decorated the entire house together, so no matter where he looked, he saw her. Mary Ellen finally came down to the kitchen and sat at the table without saying a word. Danny was so lost in his thoughts he hadn’t even heard her come down. He was slightly startled when he turned around and saw her sitting there.

“Good morning, baby. Would you like something to eat?”

She just shook her head without speaking. He went and sat down next to her. “Honey, if you want to talk, please talk to me. I’m here for you.”

She burst into tears, “I couldn’t stop dreaming about Mommy last night, Daddy. She’s not gone! She’s still here, I saw her!”

Danny hugged her tight. “No, baby, I’m sorry, Mommy’s… she’s gone, baby. She isn’t coming back. I know it hurts, but I love you, and I’ll never stop loving you.”

“You’re not going to die, are you Daddy?”

He was stunned, but he figured now wasn’t the time to be forward. “No, baby, I’ll be here for you until the end of time. Until we’re both in Heaven with Jesus.”

“And Mommy?”

This question smacked him like an errant foul ball at a little league game. He choked back tears.

“Yes, baby, and Mommy. Now, what do you want to eat? I’ll make you anything you want.”

“I’m not hungry.”

“You have to eat, we have a lot to do today and you’ll need your energy.”

“I said, I’m not hungry!”

This was one of the first times Mary Ellen had ever used an indignant tone towards her father, and he really had no idea how to react. It was, frankly, quite a surprise.

“Mary Ellen, you HAVE to eat. If you don’t eat anything, I’ll…”

“You’ll what? Send me to my room?”

He was once again shocked at her insubordination. “I know it’s going to be a rough day, but please don’t make it harder than it needs to be. We’re both hurting, and I know this. Being short with me isn’t going to make things any different. I’ve had enough of your attitude, now EAT. And not a word until it’s done.” In the midst of the argument, he had made her a bowl of cereal. “I even put your favorite spoon in it, see? Now please eat, and don’t be ugly. Your mother would not appreciate this attitude.”

“Mommy is dead, she can’t appreciate anything.”

Danny was done arguing. “Go to your room.” Mary Ellen stood up sharply and knocked her bowl off the table, spilling milk and cereal all over the kitchen floor as she huffed out of the kitchen. Danny exhaled sharply, knowing he couldn’t rightly punish her with all they were both going through, and went for a towel to clean up the mess.

Mary Ellen sat in her room, crying. She was completely and utterly lost, and couldn’t make sense of anything. She sat, staring at the wall in her room for the longest time. She stared at the mural she and her mother had painted together just last summer. The tree that covered the entire wall, the mama duck and baby ducks, the fish in the water, all she saw was her mother. Every inconsistency, all the paint outside the lines, it didn’t make a difference to her then, they were having a blast, and now she was gone. Gone forever. Young Mary Ellen couldn’t get that thought out of her head. She would never see her mother again. She wasn’t coming back. She went to be with Jesus. She knew she should be happy her mother was with Jesus, but that didn’t make sense to her. She was sad, very, sad, more than a girl her age should ever have to be. She knew when she went back to school, she would hear from all the kids, “Sorry your mom died.” “Hey, I’m here if you need me.” “It was God’s plan for her to come home.” She knew it was all nonsense, there’s no way God planned on her mother’s body, slammed around and broken into several pieces from a drunk driver, then, as she sat there, void of life, set ablaze by a nearly biblical fireball. Was that God’s will? Is that REALLY what God wanted for me? To live my entire life with the image of my mother’s molten corpse, covered in metal pieces, the back of her head melted to the headrest?

“MARY ELLEN!” Danny bellowed from downstairs. She ignored his call. “Mary! Come down here, please!” There was no way in hell she was coming downstairs without a fight. She felt the undying need to be selfish, and no one was going to take that from her. She was determined to stay in her room for the rest of her life, and her father would have to drag her kicking and screaming to get her away from that mural. She could hear him coming up the stairs, yet she didn’t move an inch.

“Mary Ellen…”

He stopped as he opened her door and saw her gaze unbreaking from the mural. He walked towards her slowly, and sat down next to her without saying a word. FInally he broke the silence.

“You wanna talk about it?”

“There’s nothing to talk about.”

“Honey, please don’t bottle this up. I know this isn’t easy for you, it’s not easy for me, either, but please, baby, let’s talk about these feelings you’re having.”

“I said I don’t want to talk about it.”

Danny sighed heavily. “OK, well, I’m here if you do. We have to leave, though. I have things to run and you can’t stay by yourself.”

“I’m not going anywhere.”

“This is not up for discussion. Get dressed.”

Mary Ellen crossed her arms indignantly and refused to budge. Danny stared at her, thinking of what to do. He finally walked downstairs and called his neighbor, who agreed to come over and watch Mary Ellen while he made arrangements for his wife’s funeral. Mrs. Brady was an old widowed woman. Danny would go to her house on Sunday afternoons and have a Bible study with her, since her health wouldn’t let her go farther than the front walk, usually. She loved Mary Ellen just like a granddaughter, though. Danny walked over to her house to assist her and met her at the front door.

“Hey, Mrs. Brady, thanks for watching Mary Ellen on such short notice.”

“Don’t mention it, honey. It’s no trouble at all. I understand what you’re going through, and I just want to help any way I can.”

“Thanks, it shouldn’t be more than a couple hours. She’s holed up in her room and refusing to talk to anyone, present company included.”

“It’s understandable, she’s been through quite the traumatic experience.”

They both walked back to Danny’s house, and sat down in the kitchen. “I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

“Take your time, son. This isn’t going to be easy, and you need to take all the time you can. I ain’t goin’ anywhere anytime soon, so you take all the time you need.”

Danny smiled warmly. “Thank you, Mrs. Brady.”

“My pleasure.” she said and smiled back.

After Danny left, Mrs. Brady was sitting at the table, reading her Bible. When Mary Ellen finally came downstairs. “Well, there you are!”

Mary Ellen muttered under her breath, “I’m only here for a soda.”

“How are you doing, sweetheart?”

“How do you think I’m doing?”

Mrs. Brady understood her pain, but she knew she wanted to talk to her about what happened, as fresh as it might be.

“Mary Ellen… I’ve known you your whole life. Your mother was a wonderful lady, and I’m very sorry about what happened.”

“Cram it. I don’t want to talk.”

Mrs. Brady was flabbergasted at her insubordination, but she couldn’t rightly reprimand her in her current situation, and she took it with a grain of salt. “Well, at least she’s with Jesus now.”

Mary Ellen stopped dead in her tracks and stared right at Mrs. Brady. “With Jesus? You think this was all part of God’s plan?”

“Well, of course. Everything is part of God’s plan, honey.”

“So, God planned on killing my mother. That’s what you’re telling me.”

Mrs. Brady was blindsided by her observation. “Well, what I mean is…”

“What you mean is, that God took my mother from me, for apparently no good reason. I don’t have a mother now. God thinks that’s an alright thing to do?”

“Well, honey, we can’t begin to understand…”

“Like I said, cram it. If this is God’s idea of a plan, then I want no fucking part.”

“Mary Ellen! Where did you learn such language?”

“Too much TV.” she said sarcastically, and left before Mrs. Brady could collect her wits.

Mrs. Brady sat at the table, troubled that a girl Mary Ellen’s age would know such a foul word, and where she might have learned something like that. She knew neither Danny nor Sarah would ever speak like that, so she must have picked it up from some television program, or on the internet. She pondered what to do, whether she should tell Danny or just write it off considering the situation she was in and what must possibly be going on in her head. She went back to reading her Bible, and waited for Danny to get home.

Chapter Three: “Forced Beginnings”

Everything went black.

Chaos and panic ensued.

People, screaming and bloody, seemed to be everywhere.

Mary Ellen screamed as loud as her little lungs would allow.  Her mother…

 She was trapped inside the twisted wreckage, and she was screaming so loud she could nearly be heard over the sirens. She stared ahead of her at her mother’s body, twisted and mangled, her neck hanging at the most unnatural angle she had ever seen. She was frozen with panic and fear, and the screams came of their own volition; she couldn’t suppress them no matter how hard she tried. She screamed and screamed until her mouth was dry, her lungs were empty, and her vocal chords were sandpaper. The firemen worked tirelessly with the jaws of life, twisting, cutting, sparks flying everywhere; all the while, Mary Ellen was trapped in a cocoon of blood, bone, metal and fire. The engine had begun to smoke, and flames followed soon after. The firemen quickened their pace, working on the razor thin edge of time, working to best of their ability to ensure what was already tragic didn’t become even more horrific very quickly. The metal and plastic screeched and howled as it was being pulled apart, bit by marginal bit, but the firemen finally peeled the rear passenger side door away enough that they could get to Mary Ellen. One of them reached in, cut the seat belt loose and snatched her away as fast as he could. She wiggled free from him and took off like a lion after it’s prey towards her father. She grasped him so hard, he nearly fell off the ambulance. No sooner than they were back in each other’s arms, the firemen began yelling to clear the area. Amidst all the chaos, Danny and Mary Ellen couldn’t make sense of anything and sat right on the tailgate of the ambulance. They stared with incredulity as the van burst into a fireball that filled the sky with smoke and shrapnel. Pieces of the car were raining down on the scene like molten hell fire. They both stared in shock, unable to move, even with everything going on around them. It was entirely unbelievable, yet absolutely and wholly true. They watched, ultimately helpless, as the life they once lived, the one they all cherished, vaporized into nothingness right before them. Everything was going to be completely different from here on out, and nothing anyone could say to them would change this immutable fact.

Mary Ellen finally let out a shriek that pierced each and every bystander’s ears.

“MOMMY!”

He pressed her close to his chest, and whispered “She’s… she’s gone, baby. She’s with Jesus in Heaven, now.”

“What do you mean, she’s gone? She isn’t coming home? She’s OK, right?”

“No, baby, she isn’t. She’s gone forever. She isn’t coming home. She’s gone home to be with the Lord.”

At this point, she and her father both just held each other tight and sobbed together for what seemed like forever. There was nothing either of them could do at this point and the reality began to set in.

The EMTs took Sarah to the hospital, but only as a formality. She was pronounced dead on arrival. Her neck was broken in three places and she had died instantly. Danny and Mary Ellen sat in the waiting room, but they weren’t there an hour. The doctor came out after getting her once beautiful body cleaned up as best they could so they could say their goodbyes. Danny began talking to her, through heavy sobs.

“My beautiful wife… I love you… I love you so much. I promise to raise our daughter right, the way God intends. I will see to it that she gets the best of everything, this I promise you. I WILL make sure you get to see our daughter in Heaven, even if it means we never see each other ever again. I promise you that.”

Mary Ellen stood next to her mother’s lifeless body. “…Mommy…” she said weakly. “I love you, Mommy. I wish you would wake up. I hope Jesus is nice and you’re happy in Heaven.”  She choked through her tears. Leaning in, she kisses her mother’s forehead and her father ushers her out and to the car.

They left the hospital and took a cab home due to their vehicle being totaled from the wreck. Once home, they both sat in the kitchen with a plate of food, but neither of them ate. Neither of them had any kind of appetite. They just sat and stared silently at their food. They skipped the evening service as the associate pastor called immediately after finding out what happened and told Danny to stay home and that he would handle everything. Danny went to bed early, and Mary Ellen slept in bed with him. He held his baby girl as they both cried themselves to sleep that night.

Chapter Two: “Fresh Memories”

Danny stepped off the bus, wearing his fatigues for what he hoped was the last time. His mother came to greet him and hugged him with the loving passion only a mother can produce. It had been just over two years since she saw her son, and she was beside herself with joy. Danny wasn’t her fresh faced baby boy anymore. He had been through a war, and it showed. His face was riddled with creases and folds, aged prematurely by time spent in the desert war zone. His soft, blond curls his mother loved so much had been cropped short, but his emerald eyes remained, and looked at his mother with an earnest love. He was a solid foot and a half taller than her. Skinnier than a rail when he left for basic training, his mother remarked at how much weight he’d put on.

“My word, they certainly bulked you up over there, didn’t you? I thought food was rather scarce in that part of the world.”

“Not for soldiers, it isn’t.” He said, and smiled.

She smiled back at him as she ran her hands over his newly developed muscles and whispered, “Welcome home, Danny boy.”

Little Oak, Alabama, albeit a small town, was the picture of Main Street America. They had resisted the urge to develop big box stores for the sake of revenue far longer than anyone had expected. The town was plenty sufficient without the need for a Wal-Mart or a Piggly Wiggly or whatever else these greedy corporate fat cats could dream up. They had everything they needed on the main strip of town, from a locally owned grocery store that sold produce grown by the farmers in the outlying counties, to a drug store currently in it’s fourth generation of the same family. If you were to read history books about the towns and neighborhoods of the 40s and 50s, the pictures there would bear a very uncanny resemblance to present day Little Oak.

The one church on the east side of town had been an elementary school in a previous life, but when the old church building began to show it’s age in dangerous fashion, they decided it was time to find a new place of worship and the headmaster of the school offered it to the congregation for Sunday services. After a few years, the school moved on to another building, and the people of the church moved in permanently. It was the cornerstone of the town, where everyone met on Sundays and Wednesdays to worship the Lord and have fellowship with one another.

Danny’s father had been the previous pastor, and had groomed Danny to take over the position when the time came. Danny turned eighteen, and immediately registered for the military, following directly in his father’s footsteps. Danny’s father was a Vietnam vet, wounded and sent home on a medical discharge and with a Purple Heart for his trouble. Danny would always ask his father about the day he knew he was coming home, but he never did like talking about it, and Danny never pressed the issue.

Danny’s father had passed while he was in the war. His mother wrote and told him what happened, but at the time he was deep in the field and in no possible situation to come home. The first thing he did when he got home, after dinner and a hot shower, was go to visit his father’s grave. He sat at the headstone and poured his heart out. He told him about everything he had experienced during the war, knowing he was the only one who would truly understand his stories. His mother listened, but unfortunately she was more inclined toward flanking a steak than an enemy trench. He sat for what seemed like hours in the summer sun, sometimes crying, sometimes laughing, telling his dad everything he ever wanted to say after his missed opportunities.

As he sat with his back against the headstone, sobbing softly, he heard a tender voice. “Excuse me, sir?” the voice asked. He looked up to see the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen in his life, and he had no idea who she was. Her eyes were a strange shade of blue, more gray than anything. Her soft, dishwater blonde hair floating lazily in the gentle summer breeze and framing her diminutive, petite build. “I’m sorry, I’m new in town, and I was wondering if you knew where Mulberry street was?”

“I’m sorry, but you thought it would be a good idea to approach a total stranger, sitting against a tombstone and sobbing heavily, and ask for directions?” he asked with a slightly condescending tone.

She was taken by surprise, partly because she now also realized how incredibly absurd the idea was. “I… I’m sorry. I don’t know what came over me. I saw you from the street, and I couldn’t find anyone else to ask. I know it seems strange, but I’m hopelessly lost. I understand, though, I’ll leave you to your business.”

“It’s down the street, then the second left down Hickory road.” he said in a curt, somewhat rude fashion. She was once again shocked, but offered a quick thank you before she followed his directions.

———————————————–

It was the first time Danny ha been back to the church since he left on his deployment. People looked mostly the same, only a few years older. He recognized almost everyone, but there had been some new members. He and his mother sat at the front of the church while the interim pastor preached about the trials of Job. Danny wore his dress blues because he wasn’t able to get a new suit in time for the service, as the owner of the clothing store had left for the week to go on vacation leaving the shop unattended.

After the service, there was a potluck dinner. Danny’s mother had baked a large ham one of their farmer neighbors brought them for just this occasion. As he was piling his plate high with all manner of homemade goodness (while the old maids of the church laughed at his unintentional hubris). He was making his way back to the table, and there she was: the same woman from the cemetery. He felt bad after the fact for being rude to her and letting the grief get the best of his manners.

“Mom, who is that girl?” he asked in a hushed tone.

His mother smiled incredulously, sensing his mild attraction to the girl that he never was the best at hiding. “That’s Sarah McMillan, why do you ask?” She already knew the answer to that question, or so she thought. “She came up to me while I was at the cemetery to ask for directions. I sort of snapped at her, and I just wanted to apologize.” One of his mother’s friends sitting at the table told him she could introduce him to her if he wanted.

They walked over to her table, and the woman said, “Sarah, I believe you know this young man.” Sarah turned back and smiled, “Yes, I believe we’ve met once before. If I recall correctly, he was a bit rude.” she smiled, slyly. He shot back. “Well, I wasn’t in the best of situations, if you also recall correctly.” “Well, I’ll just let you two get acquainted, then.” The two sat and talked until the end of the dinner, and afterwards went to the local ice cream shop and sat and talked until the sun was nowhere to be found. He walked her back to her house, and as they walked, she found herself increasingly smitten with him. She felt safe with his arm around her, even though there was very little to be worried about. Crime in Little Oak was far from prevalent, and mostly consisted of Rupert, the town drunk, stumbling on to someone’s porch and thinking it’s his own house, leaving the owners to call the police on a perceived burglar.

He walked her up to the door, and she relished at how much of a gentleman he was. She stood shyly by the door.

“I really enjoyed myself tonight.”

“So did I,” he said, “maybe we could do this again some time?”

“Sure, how about tomorrow? Are you busy?”

“Oh, you know, just looking for work, but other than that, my schedule is pretty open.” She didn’t pick up the hint of sarcasm, and he noticed. They made plans to go out the next day, and said farewell. He considered going in for a kiss, but before he had made his decision, she had already gone inside and closed the door. He knew he would get his opportunity soon enough.

Chapter One: “The Blood Of The Lamb”

Easter Sunday, early morning. The church bells rang clearly through the bright morning air. Families, dressed in their fanciest clothes, filed into the vestibule. Taking a bulletin, they shuffled off to their regular seats within the humble chapel. The elderly women settled into the usual seats they’d occupied every week for the last twenty-five or thirty years. Their husbands milled around the chapel, greeting one another and shaking hands while exchanging tall tales of the fish they’d caught the day before. Children scampered about, laughing and playing, greeting the friends they hadn’t seen since the week before. Young husbands and wives found the seats not already cherry-picked by the old timers, cramming the children plus themselves into ten feet of pew.

Mary Ellen, daughter of Father Danny, sat down beside her mother in the pew directly in front of the pulpit, hands clasped in front, Bible at the ready next to her. Mary Ellen, all of seven years old, had been the apple of her parents’ eye. She was a bright and gifted straight-A student. Teachers constantly praised her for her positive attitude and determination to excel above the rest.

When the clock struck ten, the deacon tending to the sound booth began playing a prerecorded instrumental version of “Amazing Grace.” Those in the chapel began awkwardly humming along to the tune they knew so very well.

Father Danny had been the pastor of Little Oak Baptist Church church for close to fifteen years. The congregation had grown to love him dearly. He was a beacon of light within the community, always ready to lend a helping hand or a listening ear. As the music came to a close, he took his seat behind the pulpit as the associate pastor approached the podium and led the people through the opening services.

Father Danny preached the standard crucifixion story, a story he’d preached many times. He’d been through every facet of the story ad nauseum. There was no detail, whether literal or philosophical, he hadn’t mined from it, and he was abnormally proud of the message he brought to his congregation. He’d felt as though he were on fire and that the people could feel it, too. He hadn’t felt such a conviction since his days at Seminary, back when he was just a young man following what he believed to be the Lord’s will for him. In those days, he was filled with such an intense passion for his work, he shared it with anyone who’d listen. He hadn’t felt passion like that in ten, maybe twelve years, but he definitely felt it today.

After the service, he was standing in the vestibule, thanking everyone for coming and offering warm smiles and polite farewells. The old folks were pleasant enough, tending to the children and grandchildren.  They all wished a fond farewell until the following Sunday.

“Don’t forget about the potluck next week, now. You’d better not skimp on those potatoes,” Danny playfully prodded.

 After everyone had left, Danny returned to his office to attend to some church business and to begin putting the bulletin together for the following week.

 Mary Ellen skipped merrily around the church grounds, running through the fields behind the property while picking flowers and other girlish things. She was as happy as a child could be, without a care in the world.

 Sarah, wife of Father Danny, waited patiently, reading through lesson plans on her laptop for next week’s Sunday School for the children.

“Almost finished and then we can leave,” Danny told her.

They’d been married for eighteen years, introduced by a former member at one of the church functions.  Their relationship had grown from there. They were immediately inseparable, spending day after day together, until the day Danny decided to pop the question. Sarah’s answer, through a waterfall of tears, was a resounding yes. They were just the cutest couple, as it was told by the people who knew them. They were just an absolute perfect match. There was a little turbulence when they originally tried to conceive, as the doctors told her that she appeared to be around eighty five percent infertile. The chance of her having a child was quite slim and this caused a brief hiccup in their marriage. God’s will prevailed, though, when after months and months of trying, Sarah finally received the amazing news that she’d tested positive for pregnancy. She was so happy, she nearly threw the phone across the room in a burst of joy. Restraining herself, she called Danny and he came directly home from work to celebrate. They were beside themselves and told everyone they knew almost immediately. Family, friends, strangers in the supermarket. They were elated to finally be on their way to the happy family they’d always wanted.

The day Mary Ellen was born was quite the spectacle. Danny was right in the middle of a sermon when Sarah went into labor. Danny hadn’t noticed, and he was currently in the midst of a heavy handed, fire and brimstone-flavored tirade, slamming his fist down on the pulpit and telling these people that if there were any who hadn’t repented, they would surely face the eternal fires of Hell. At one point, he slammed his fist down harder than normal, hard enough to surprise even himself, and at that exact moment Sarah, seated in the back so as not to disturb the other parishioners, contorted her face into a look of horror as her seat began to soak up the water escaping from her womb. Danny rushed down to her as one of the deacons called for an ambulance and one of the church wives ran for a mop and towels from the kitchen. Since it was a small country church, the ambulance driver had difficulty getting back to it, and as a result, baby Mary Ellen was born right there in the aisle at Little Oak Baptist Church. EMTs finally arrived, checked the baby to make sure she was healthy, and the family wrapped her up in her swaddling clothes and went home to bask in the glory of their beautiful new daughter.

Mary Ellen was brought up in a typical Christian upbringing. She attended Christian schools and was always buried in a book. She constantly wanted to learn. Some of the kids made fun of her, but her parents instilled in her a sense of pride in knowledge.

Father Danny sat in his office, finishing up his paperwork for the week. He poked his head out the open window in his office. “Mary Ellen! Come on, honey!  We’re about ready to leave!”  He could hear her giggling and playing in the field.

“Five more minutes, Daddy! Pleeeeease?!”

“All right, I guess,” he said through a smile.

After they’d finished up, Danny and Sarah were walking to the car when Sarah yelled for Mary Ellen to join them.  Easter dinner awaited them on this Sunday afternoon; it was one of the family’s most cherished traditions.  Due to the lack of grandparents on either side, they really tried to help Mary Ellen feel as special as possible and few things were more precious than Easter Sunday to them.

Mary Ellen appeared from around a bend and ran to the car, handing her mother a bunch of flowers she had picked from the field behind the church.

“For me?”  Her mother smiled as she asked, as though she was surprised at the affection.

“Daddy, do you like the flowers I got for mommy?”

“They’re beautiful, pumpkin.”

“How beautiful, Daddy?”

“Almost as beautiful as you.”  They shared a smile.

As they approached a stop light, they could hear sirens as they grew louder from somewhere off in the distance. The sirens appeared to get louder and louder, but Danny paid no attention. The light turned green and as he pulled out into the street, a car came barreling through the intersection.

Before he had a chance to react, the driver of the car slammed directly into the passenger side of the family’s van.

Foreword

This story started as nothing more than a joke between my friend Brandon and I. He sent me a text on one of my many long, boring nights at work talking about ideas he had for books he was rolling around in his head. The conversation went a little something like this:

Brandon: “I had the worst idea for a book title ever today.”

“What’s that?’ :Me

Brandon: “Torched By An Angel. I know, it’s terrible.”

“You know, I could work with that.” :Me

Brandon: “Don’t use that. It’s awful.”

(By this point, the gears in my head had already started turning.)

“No, seriously, it could be awesome!” :Me

Brandon: “Please, for god’s sake, if you use that title, don’t tell anyone I made it up. It’s so bad. You can have it, I don’t care. I just don’t want to be associated with it.”

“Fine, I’m totally taking it, though.” :Me

And from there, I began running ideas through my head and writing them down as they came to me. After reading about Mikey Neumann and his process of writing “The Returners” (which is also an incredible book that everyone should check out if you get the chance), I was inspired to do the same with Torched. I hit a wall after my ideas dried up for a while, but I am going to find inspiration to finish this story, because I leave too many things unfinished, and I feel like this story has potential to be excellent if I give it the proper care (and have the proper motivation behind me to finish it, namely fans who love the story and want to read more.) 

Some of the story is already written, but I’m going to go back in, re-write some of it, and break it up into chapter sized chunks so it’s easier to digest.

I hope I can do the story the justice I feel it deserves. I don’t have an outline, I don’t know where the story is going beyond where it’s already been, but as I write more and more, I hope you will stay with me until it’s finished, and most importantly, I hope whoever reads this finds it entertaining and enjoyable.