Authors: C.E. Pietrowiak
Tags: #angel, #assumptions, #catholic, #chicago, #death, #emerson and quig, #ghost, #high school, #loss, #novella, #paranormal, #saint, #saint ita, #supernatural romance, #suspense, #twilight
By C.E. Pietrowiak
Copyright © 2010 by C. E. Pietrowiak
This ebook is licensed for your
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the hard work of this author.
This book is a work of fiction. Names,
characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s
imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual
events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely
Table of Contents
Chapter One: In the Silence
Chapter Two: Provident Six Months Prior
Chapter Three: All Hallows Eve
Chapter Four: Serendipity Smiles
Chapter Five: Nobody
Chapter Six: Leaving
Chapter Seven: Least Among Us
Chapter Eight: Grace
Chapter Nine: Shut and Open
Chapter Ten: Many Hopes Lie Buried Here
Chapter Eleven: Atonement
Chapter Twelve: Clean
Chapter Thirteen: The Study
Chapter Fourteen: The Key
Chapter Fifteen: Mistaken
Chapter Sixteen: The Messenger
Chapter Seventeen: Elevenses
Chapter Eighteen: The Sapphire Book
Chapter Nineteen: Vespers
Chapter Twenty: Diving
Chapter Twenty-One: Ceili
Chapter Twenty-Two: Gone
Chapter Twenty-Three: Warm
Chapter Twenty-Four: Compulsion
Chapter Twenty-Five: Black and White
Chapter Twenty-Six: Crossroads
Chapter Twenty-Seven: Christmas Day
CHAPTER ONE: IN THE SILENCE
The stars burned bright the night William
Emerson died. But for him, at that moment, there was only
“Sixteen forever,” he said. His lips formed
He heard his mother cry. He could not open
his eyes to see her.
Then there was silence. No more crying. No
The cold crept over him and he wondered if it
was the same for everyone or if it was peculiar to winter. It was,
after all, December in Chicago.
It had been seven months since his last
confession, but he prayed every day, more than once. He had asked
for strength and sometimes for patience, but mostly he prayed about
death. So that is what he did when his body lay motionless,
sprawled over the stone steps in front of the altar at St. Ita
Catholic Church, the power of God now lost to him. Forever.
CHAPTER TWO: PROVIDENT SIX MONTHS PRIOR
The smell of mud and damp plaster hung thick
over the deserted one-lane road. Timothy Stillman wiped his
forehead, the sweat already beading in the sultry morning. He ran
his fingers through his hair, which had become increasingly more
salt than pepper since he left Chicago for this most recent
Stillman leaned heavily against his rusted
pickup truck, mobile phone pressed to his ear. “She’s dead.”
“Did you get it?” asked a cold voice on the
“Yes . . . Yes. I have it. She never knew it
was gone." Stillman rubbed at the sting in his sleep-deprived eyes.
"It doesn’t matter now.”
“Contact me when you get back to the city.
We’ll make arrangements.” The call ended with an abrupt click.
Stillman jammed his phone into the back pocket of his grungy
A radio announcer broadcasting from the next
county read with half-concerned curiosity, like a gaper safely
passing a ten-car pileup on the opposite side of the road.
“Yesterday evening, nearby Provident was struck by a series of
devastating microbursts. Several shops and homes were damaged in a
stormy path of destruction. The number of casualties is not yet
known. Keep listening for further details.”
The news looped in Stillman’s head.
Keep listening for further details . . .
Keep listening . . .
Keep listening while you describe the café
tables flattened by what used to be the front wall of the diner.
Keep listening while you tell us about the barn roof, ripped off
whole, found upside down miles from the farm it once served. Keep
listening while you tally the
dead . . . while you tally the dead . . .
Butter-yellow siding lay in splinters,
scattered across a shimmery cornfield a hundred feet beyond the
exposed foundation walls of a once quaint farmhouse. In the front
yard a battered chicken-shaped sign advertising “Fresh Brown Eggs
for Sale” dangled from its wood post by one loose screw.
Stillman plodded down the road. He stopped
near a small pile of debris and squatted to study the jumbled
collection. He picked aimlessly at the remains – a tea kettle with
no handle, a dented can of tuna. Under the leg of a dining room
table he found a bible, its maroon cover fraying at the corners. A
slender sky-blue ribbon still held its place. Stillman read,
“Anyone who is trustworthy in little things is trustworthy in
great; anyone who is dishonest in little things is dishonest in
great. Luke 16:10.”
He flipped to the front. The bookplate was
neatly inscribed, “This book belongs to Miss Dorothea Whitford.”
Stillman let the book drop from his hands. It fell open on top of
the rubble, its pages fluttering in the light breeze.
He scanned the destruction then covered his
mouth with both hands and bolted to the roadside ditch. He doubled
over and threw up, retching until there was nothing left.
Hunched, hands on his knees, he breathed
deliberately. After several minutes he straightened himself and
collected the bible. He walked back to his truck. The driver’s door
creaked when he pulled it open. He tossed the worn book onto the
passenger seat, slipped behind the wheel, and drove away from the
farmhouse without looking back.
CHAPTER THREE: ALL HALLOWS EVE
William Emerson stood alone at the center of
a small church courtyard, backpack at his feet. Somber morning
clouds hung low over the Chicago lakefront, echoing the bluestone
pavers, coarse and intractable beneath his sneakers. He closed the
collar of his coat against the chill.
Untamed boxwoods hugged the wrought iron
perimeter fence, forming a lush backdrop for the diminutive statue
of a young woman, Ita, to whom the parish had been dedicated more
than a century earlier. The Irish saint, dead nearly sixteen
hundred years, stood atop a waist-high pedestal. Her lifelike gaze
tenderly graced the lanky, dark-haired boy before her.
Will fell to his knees and crossed himself,
“In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Hands raised
palms up, eyes fixed on Ita’s face above, he prayed in silence,
lingering in the stillness of her expression.
He crossed himself again, rose, and brushed
the dust off the faded knees of his jeans. He snapped up his
backpack and jogged to the top of the stairs where he passed
through a nondescript door into the soothing darkness of the
The unnatural flicker of electric votives
washed up against the sidewall of the towering space. The
parishioner’s door of the confessional stood ajar, as it had for
weeks. More often than not, the sacrament took place in the
pastor’s office where, though the door was closed, passersby always
had to make a conscious effort to avoid overhearing the
indiscretions of the less than devout.
At the heart of the sanctuary rested a small
gilded cube flanked by a band of eight bas relief angels carved
into the white stone of the high altar. Will walked down the side
aisle, genuflected, and slid into the empty pew below Ita's window,
her beautiful face framed by the hood of her simple gray cloak.
Will folded back the sleeves of his coat,
swung the kneeler down, and lowered himself, pushing his wrists
hard onto the top of the pew in front of him. The edge dug into his
flesh, a reminder that, for now, he remained earthbound, physical.
He closed his eyes and breathed in the faint sweetness of
Somewhere in the dark behind him an old woman
chanted a Litany of Saints, "St. Raphael . . . Pray for us . . .
All the holy Angels and Archangels. . . "
"Pray for us . . ." Will sang to himself with
each of her petitions.
The swish of robes broke his soft rhythm. He
crossed himself and eased back onto the rigid pew.
"So sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt," said
a smallish man. He came closer so as not to shout. The man smoothed
his mousy hair which receded slightly above the temples. A vertical
crease at the inside corner of his brow imparted a profound gravity
upon his face.
He smiled down at Will. The crinkles around
his wistful gray-blue eyes and the dimples at his cheeks softened
his expression, revealing an austere charm.
"May I?" The man motioned toward the empty
space at the end of the pew.
"Professor Barrett, uh, sure."
In a single seamless motion he gathered up
his robes and sat. “'Professor’,” he said, shaking his head. “I
still haven’t gotten used to that. A little formal at Eastview,
“Anyhow, I’m just an adjunct. My side job,”
said Barrett. “And how are you this morning, young man?"
"Okay," mumbled Will. "You’re deacon?"
"Yes, though I'm not sure why they need me on
a Friday. Small gathering."
"Seems like it.”
"Maybe we’ll have more tomorrow for All
Saints. Saturday is tough, though. No obligation.” Barrett smiled
softly. "How is your father?"
"He's fine." Will paused. "I guess." He
paused again. "I don't really see him much lately. He just works .
. . and he sleeps a lot and . . . works . . ." his voice trailed
off. Will turned his attention to the altar server lighting candles
at the sanctuary.
"The loss of your mother must be affecting
both of you profoundly." The altar server lit the last of the
candles. "Something like that just doesn’t go away, Will. You know
you can talk with me anytime, even at school. My office door is
“Yeah. I know.” Will smiled weakly.
Barrett looked toward the altar. "I should
prepare." He squeezed Will's shoulder then slipped out of the pew.
He walked to the front of the church, quietly greeting a few
parishioners as he passed. Facing the altar, he bowed his head then
shuffled up the steps and disappeared through a side opening.
Will settled back into his hard seat. He
pulled the missalette from the slot at his knees and skipped ahead
to the day's first reading.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall
be comforted . . .
He closed the book and set it on the pew
A trio of altar servers carried the
processional cross and the newly lit candles to the back of the
church. Barrett re-entered the sanctuary, the green stole of
Ordinary Time across his chest and an imposing gold plated book
nestled in the crook of his arm. The priest joined him. The pair
drifted along the side aisle and huddled with the servers. The
cantor began to sing. The servers processed down the aisle. Barrett
centered himself behind the cross. He raised the Gospel high above
his head and marched toward the altar to celebrate Mass.
The service ran longer than usual. Will
sprinted down sidewalk past the morning commuters toward the Bryn
Mawr el stop. In the distance three sets of discordant church bells
rang out the hour . . .
just like they had before . . . last
August in Jerusalem . . .
Will handed his mother a stack of neatly
folded khaki shorts, t-shirts, and a couple of salt stained
bandanas, all of it finally clean after a full month away from the
grit and sweat of the dig where he spent his summer rising before
dawn to haul buckets of dirt and scrub bits of pottery for his
Safa Emerson squeezed the bundle into an
already fat duffel bag, squashing down the edge of the sagging
“Is that all of it?” she asked her son.
“That’s all of my stuff. My room is clear.
Don’t know about Dad. He’s always stashing bits of junk
“That’s no way to talk about your
Will's brows knitted together. His mother
giggled. She ran her fingertips down her son’s cheek and looked
into his deep brown eyes, same color as her own. “I can’t believe
how much you’ve grown.”
Will grimaced. “You say that every
“Well, it's true, isn’t it? Yes. This time
it’s definitely true. Look at you. You’re a full head taller than I
am. How is that possible? You’ve turned into a young man right
before my eyes.” She tiptoed to peck his cheek then returned to her
frenetic search. Her black hair swept wildly across her shoulders
as she flew around the hotel room double checking dressers,
nightstands, under the bed, for whatever they may have
inadvertently tucked away over the weeks.