“Andri-el. Andri-el. Clean as a whistle, but dumb as a bell,” the demon Lu-seth chanted at Andri-el, with his normal wicked look and loud voice. “I thought for sure your precious little Anna and her two no-good friends would get arrested today when she tried to open that airplane door handle. What an idiot! Too bad she didn’t try to open it after the plane was off the ground. I would have helped her open it then.”
“Do you doubt my ability to protect her?” the angel Andri-el answered quietly, with strength and authority in her voice.
Ever since Anna was a baby, Andri-el had been charged by The One to watch over her. Usually that was an easy job, but occasionally there was a problem, like what happened at the airport earlier that day. The biggest challenge was keeping the demons, especially Lu-seth, away from Anna. By being the Chosen Princess of God, Anna ended up also being the target of the forces of evil.
“What I doubt is her ability to stay out of trouble,” answered Lu-seth. “She’s scared of everything, and too stupid to get past it. She’s been running and hiding from her own shadow like a scared rabbit ever since you saved her from that burning house eleven years ago. I almost got her with that airplane. I did get her parents. Too bad she didn’t fly in one today. The Boss is the power of the air, you know.” His loud laugh echoed across the night sky.
“Lu-seth, thou shalt not harm my Anna,” Andri-el commanded in reply, with force that shook the sky.
On previous occasions, she had resorted to an authoritative command to ward off Lu-seth’s approaches. Other times she had used patience. Sometimes she called in reinforcements. Today he seemed more inclined to merely threaten to attack Anna, rather than actually attacking her. Nevertheless, Andri-el kept her sword ready at her side in the event that Lu-seth grew violent. Rarely was she called on to use the sword offensively. The typical use was as a defensive weapon.
“Lu-seth, thou shalt not harm my Anna,” he mocked. “Who made her yours, pray tell?”
“She does not ride an airplane today,” Andri-el answered. “There is nothing you can do to harm her in the air.”
Lu-seth laughed boldly. “You don’t believe that rubbish, do you, you oversized puff of smoke? How do you know an airplane isn’t headed straight for a collision course with that train right now?”
“Because it is not,” Andri-el answered confidently.
“That sure is a shiny engine on the front of that train. It sort of looks like a silver bullet, don’t you think? I’ll bet that silver bullet could kill someone, or maybe get killed if it hits a brick wall.” He laughed loudly and wickedly.
Andri-el heard another loud voice nearby. “Lu-seth, you idiot, shut your trap before you give it away,” yelled Lu-cedric, another demon.
“Thou shalt not harm my Anna,” was Andri-el’s authoritative reply to both of them.
Andri-el knew that it was common for several demons to confer together in an attempt to overwhelm their intended victim by force of numbers. That tactic was known to be fairly effective in some circumstances, so Andri-el kept careful watch over the situation. But, just as commonly, two demons together were just as likely to fight with each other as they were to fight their original target.
Lu-seth couldn’t keep quiet. “Oh, you’re right, that you are, oh great and powerful ’el. We shall not harm your Anna.” Both Lu-seth and Lu-cedric laughed and jeered at Andri-el, as if there were some private joke between them.
She heard them talking to each other about physics and momentum and timing. She would find it surprising if either of them knew anything about any of those subjects. Generally demons tended to be more of an “act and react” kind of creature. They were capable of cunning, planning, and deviousness, to be sure, but usually not with respect to what humans would call “science and physics.” Andri-el smiled as she thought of how much effort mankind had spent trying to understand and predict the world’s interactions and rules that The Creator had simply spoken into existence. If they could only see and understand The Creator as much as they attempted to understand the rules! If they would only work as hard at trying to know and understand The Creator, they would be so much better off.
Lu-seth spoke up boastfully again, “Oh Andri-el, what do you plan to do about the train leaving the station thirty eight minutes late? What if that proves fatal to your precious little Anna? What if the wheels are already in motion that will make your protection of her too late to save her?”
Andri-el could see a wicked gleam in his small beady eyes, as he sneered and snarled at her. She had no fear of Lu-seth, nor of any other demons of his kind.
Lu-cedric warned him, “Shut up, Lu-seth, you idiot, or I’ll have to shut you up, do you hear? Just because this ’el is big and dumb doesn’t mean she can’t stop us. But you’re just about to see me stop you if you don’t shut your trap.” That started an argument between the two demons, which Andri-el wisely did not interrupt, thinking it might help reveal some of their plans.
“I’d like to see you try to stop me,” Lu-seth shouted.
“You know I can do it,” Lu-cedric argued back.
“Come on then, small fry, take your best shot.”
“You just watch and learn. We’ll see if delaying the train was better than what I have in mind.”
“Hey, this is my caper.”
“Not any more, junior.”
“Get out of my way.”
“Thou shalt not harm my Anna,” Andri-el commanded them once again as a reminder.
She knew she was capable of protecting Anna. Still, it was appropriate to warn them about not trying anything. She had no intention of relaxing her guard or her watchfulness. She might be more powerful than them, and she had The One’s authority to back her up, but these two demons were not without the ability and motivation to cause a significant amount of grief and destruction along the way.
“Yeah, yeah, we know. Take your Anna and go home. Just be sure to watch the fireworks later tonight,” Lu-seth told her.
Lu-cedric growled, “Shut up, Lu-seth. Your time of freedom might just end sooner than you think if the Boss finds out you blabbed and ruined it all.”
“How floats it Captain?” Billy asked as he entered the steering house of the Mauville at midnight to start his six-hour shift at the wheel of the boat and barges.
“Hey Billy, glad to see ya,” the master of the boat told his pilot. “It’s starting to get foggy here in this Alabama bayou. They might call it the Mobile River Channel, but it sure fogs up like a swamp.”
“Not to worry Captain, I’ll keep it slow and steady just like you do. What’s our bearings?”
“Off Twelve-Mile Island, near as I can figure, just north of Mobile. This fog is startin’ to really git in the way. Don’t worry about slow and steady. If it gets too bad just tie up to a tree on the bank and wait ‘til mornin’. No sense takin’ any undo chances. Fact is, I’ve thought about tying her up meself several times.”
“OK, Captain, whatever you say. Go below and get some rest. Pushing six barges of wood chips and gravel ain’t no trouble.”
“Also Billy, keep an eye on the radar for floats coming at ya. Don’t need to go head-to-head with anothern’ coming down channel neither.”
The Captain left the steering house and headed to his bunk below deck to get some rest. Billy knew their six-hour, round-the-clock routine like the back of his hand. You rested when you got the chance, then you worked when it was your turn.
He lit a cigarette to take the edge off his nerves, as he steered ahead somewhat blindly for a while. The Captain had been right. The fog wasn’t thick everywhere, but when they hit patches that were thick he couldn’t even see to the front barge, let alone past it to any channel markers.
He called to his deckhand who was lounging on the benches outside the steering house. “Yo, Dex, looks like we might need a spotlight up front.”
“What cha want me lookin’ for Billy?”
They were entering an extremely foggy area that didn’t seem to let up. Billy was starting to get sweaty palms as he looked side to side to get his bearings. He knew they needed to tie up.
“Take that spotlight up front and try to snag a tree on the bank. This fog ain’t worth the risk of hittin’ no sand bar nor nothin’ else. Just watch yerself, and tie your belt to the barge. Put yer life vest on too. Ifn’ ya fall in I won’t be able to see ya up there. This dern fog is thickern’ Pappy’s seafood gumbo.”
Billy was glad to see Dex grab the walkie-talkie on his way to the front, even though he walked right past the life vests without picking one up.
“Dern fool. No wonder we loose so many kids like him on the barges. They think they’re invincible, or they think its some kind of sissy thing to wear a life jacket. Let him hit the water a couple of times – maybe that’ll teach him a thing or two about caution. But not tonight, I’d never find him.”
Billy realized he’d been talking to himself. “Been on the river too long. Time for a break.” There he went doing it again.
Dex called on the walkie-talkie. “Capt’n, which side am I lookin’ on for trees? I don’t see no trees on neither side.”
“Come back with that in English next time.”
“Left side.” Billy shook his head in disgust at how little the deckhand knew.
“Don’t see nothin’. Wait, here comes something. Slow her down while I throw a line.”
“Let me know when to cut the engines.”
“Missed it. Twern’t nothing, no how Capt’n.”
“Keep a look out.”
“Yo, Capt’n. Looks like here comes a nothern’. Let me throw the line out.”
“Well, Dex, did ya get it?” Billy called into his walkie-talkie.
“Naw. Can’t even see the bank most times.”
“Come on back, Dex. It’s too dangerous. If we see a good spot maybe we’ll just ground it for a while.”
After Dex was back in the steering house he manned the spotlight on top of the steering house while Billy watched the radar. Truth be told, Billy wasn’t that familiar with the workings of the radar because it had just recently been installed in the pilot house. Always before that they just steered by the channel markers and the current.
“I can see the trees sometimes Capt’n. Want’s I should go forward and try agin?”
“Seems like I remember a good place to tie her down for the night up ahead, Dex. I’m gonna just keep along the shore so we don’t end up goin’ in circles out here.”
Billy lit another cigarette, and kept a slow steady coarse up the left side of the channel where it ran the deepest. It made him nervous trying to make progress when the fog was this thick, but he was proud of his recent promotion to steersman, and proud of the captain’s confidence in him. Therefore, he was determined to make progress at delivering their load on time and in-tact, and certainly did not intend for fog to keep him from being successful. He could just hear the captain now, waking up when it was the next shift, congratulating him on being so far upstream that there wasn’t any fog any more. Maybe they wouldn’t tie up for the night, he decided, as they chugged further and further upstream.