The funeral for Jackson seemed like a nightmare for Matt. He attended, along with several other friends, but he was only there in body, not in spirit. When anyone spoke to him, they had to repeat it several times before their comment or question finally registered. Even then, he seemed incapable or uninterested in answering.
The questions all started to run together, repeating and reminding him of what he preferred to forget. “What happened?” “How did he die?” “Didn’t they try to rescue him?” What happened to Anna?” “Has anyone found her or seen her?”
And the comments he heard whispered when they thought he was not listening were even worse. “It’s such a tragedy.” “Anna’s probably dead, or she would have shown up by now.” “Why were they even on that train?” “Has everyone given up looking for that poor girl?” “At least they are together in Heaven.” He felt like either screaming at the whispers, or running away and never looking back.
Matt wished he had never decided to attend the funeral. At the same time, he knew he could not have stayed away, out of respect for his best friend Jackson - his former best friend Jackson.
The preacher’s words blurred together. The walk to the car and the drive to the cemetery both went un-noticed by Matt. Eventually he found himself alone, staring at the casket. In the distance, several men were waiting for the mourners to depart so they could finish the burial. When it was too late, he realized he had not spoken to Jackson’s parents. They had already departed.
Hopeless and alone were the two feeling that best described how he felt. Ordinarily he would have made a joke which only Jackson would have appreciated. Now who would appreciate it? At the very least, Anna would have been the target of some comment or insinuation, Jackson would have defended her, and all would have been right with the world.
Jackson was gone. Anna was gone. Both were his fault. He should have never suggested that they take the train, then they would both still be alive. He should have gone to rescue Jackson when that blonde woman told him to, then at least Jackson would still be alive, maybe.
He still wondered who that blonde woman was. How had she known his name and Jackson’s name? He didn’t think about it at the time, but it had bugged him ever since. No one on that train should have known their names except each other, although it was on their tickets. Still, that blonde didn’t likely check any tickets in the middle of the train wreck.
He could still see the flames and smell the smoke. He could still feel the wet clothes on his back after climbing out of the water. No wonder Anna had been plagued by fears after her childhood experiences. He thought maybe he finally understood what she had gone through, and he would have enjoyed telling her that. Too late.
“What’s the use, they’re both gone,” he said, not wanting to believe it, but seeing no other alternative.
Andri-el looked at the cabin where Anna slept, recognizing that the precious girl was having a tough time letting Jackson go. Andri-el knew that the transition from earth to eternity was a quick one, but she also appreciated the fact that humans were not capable of seeing across the divide. The Great Divide, as it had been called, was not really so big, but they didn’t know it. They couldn’t know it on their side of eternity. All they could do was believe.
Andri-el was so focused on wondering how long Anna would take to heal, that she didn’t perceive the presence of evil until it was very near.
“Still here, ’el?” Lu-cedric asked. “It looks kind of slow tonight. Not too much excitement for such an important ’el as yourself. You might just fall asleep on the job. In fact, I wonder if I didn’t catch you sleeping just now.” He laughed a wicked laugh.
Andri-el did not answer, but she did watch his actions, and guess at his intentions. He did not usually act alone, although his normal assistant Lu-seth had been either quiet or absent lately. For some reason Lu-cedric seemed focused on her, not on Anna in the cabin.
“Sometimes you surprise me, oh mighty ’el, at your unwavering devotion to the humans. Although, for the life of me I don’t see what is so special about this lowly human girl. But for some reason she does seem to be the center of attention. Maybe The Boss just wants her for a trophy, or to prove a point. Who knows, it doesn’t matter. Orders are orders. But you, why do you protect her so closely? That’s the mystery that I don’t fully understand.”
He continued to circle Andri-el, as she turned watching him, ready for whatever attack he must be planning. As best she could, she attempted to keep herself between him and Anna’s cabin, but it was not always possible.
Lu-cedric did not seem to have a weapon, which was also surprising since he usually carried a sword. Yet at the same time, he seemed to be confident in his interrogation of her.
“Yes, mighty ’el,” he continued, “you really seem to be wasting your talents on little Anna. I still invite you to join my side. We could use someone with your skill and devotion. You could be a mighty warrior for the darker side.”
“The Lord only will I serve!” she answered.
“Oh, I don’t mean full time. Small jobs, or even just small allowances. Look the other way. Step back occasionally. Let us have a few minutes with Anna. We don’t want her forever. She is so weak, you know we will get her eventually.”
“Though shalt not harm my Anna,” Andri-el reminded him.
“Oh, I know. I know. I don’t want to harm her. I just want to talk with her. How can she make an informed decision if she has only heard one side of the discussion?” Lu-cedric reasoned.
“She is the Chosen Princess, and I will defend her with all of the power available to me.”
Lu-cedric seemed to have anticipated that response, “Yes, that’s my point exactly. She is the Chosen Princess, but for which Prince? That is the question. Has she decided? How can she choose without seeing all the options?”
Andri-el did not answer, but it was a question that made her think and consider a moment. For which Prince was Anna chosen?
Lu-cedric continued to circle Andri-el, and in that moment’s hesitation while Andri-el pondered his question, he saw his chance. He pretended to dash toward the cabin. Andri-el had been expecting such a maneuver, and she instantly drew her sword and blocked his advance.
What she did not anticipate was the searing pain from a flaming arrow, as it pierced her back by some unseen and unknown assailant. No other being had been around. The arrow had not come from Lu-cedric, but he had expected it. He apparently had been the decoy while the real adversary had attacked her from behind.
Even in paralyzing pain, however, she voiced the command, “Though shalt not harm my Anna.”
Surprisingly, Lu-cedric still did not head further toward the cabin, but maintained his position close to Andri-el. She wondered what he wanted. Did he mean to finish her off while she was in her weakened condition? Who had shot the flaming arrow? That was a weapon usually associated with the fallen Lu-cifer, that old dragon. If the Dragon was around, that would explain why Lu-cedric had not proceeded forward, but she did not feel the evil associated with the Dragon.
Then she heard the song of Samu-el. He had continued to defend the cabin. His words and melody protected Anna, and began the healing process for Andri-el. From the way it felt, the arrow must still be protruding out of Andri-el’s back. Samu-el could remove it, but not while the attackers were still around.
Throughout the pain, Andri-el had maintained her grip on her sword, and had never wavered from defending Anna. She still didn’t see or hear the Dragon, and Lu-cedric acted like he would have preferred not being there either.
“Who do you have doing your dirty work now, Lu-cedric? You can’t defeat me on your own, so you talked someone into stabbing me in the back while you keep me distracted.”
“Hey, it wasn’t my idea. The Boss wanted to try out his new bow and quiver of arrows, and you seemed a likely target. Unfortunately he didn’t aim the first one at the silly healer Samu-el. That might have given us the opportunity that we have been looking for to get Anna.”
“You did not get her with the airplane wreck when she was young,” Andri-el answered, “and you did not get her with the train wreck this time. Thou shalt not harm my Anna!”
“But we did appear to get you, didn’t we. You don’t seem like such a mighty ’el now. It’s just odd that The Boss didn’t show up in person to finish the job.”
Andri-el knew the answer to that puzzle, “Even your boss must follow the word of The One. And it is commanded that thou shalt not harm my Anna.”
Lu-cedric had apparently reached his boiling point, because his next words were screamed at Andri-el, “Look closely, you stupid ’el! If we didn’t harm Anna, then why is she cowering in that cabin behind the song of the healer Samu-el? You wouldn’t need a healer if there were no harm, now would you? I’ve had enough of your infernal blathering! So just shut up about not harming Anna – we apparently already have!”
The pain of the arrow had weakened Andri-el, but had not lessened her ability to protect Anna. With an unexpected slice of her sword, she cleaved the demon in half. Such a wound would not destroy him, but it would serve to keep him quiet for a while. Samu-el’s song continued, and lessened the pain in her back, but the arrow had to be removed before she could heal.
The wound in Lu-cedric was enough to make him vanish from the area. Andri-el felt a calm and peace once he departed. She quickly rushed to Samu-el while she still had the strength to do so.
Samu-el met her outside the cabin, and examined the arrow protruding from her back. “Andri-el, it looks as though you have earned another war wound. Did the Dragon shoot it?”
“I did not see the attacker,” she answered, “but Lu-cedric kept referring to his boss, so I assume the arrow was shot by the Dragon.”
Samu-el retracted the arrow, and applied the healing salve he always carried for the angels who seemed to repeatedly get themselves injured. As he worked he pondered the situation, “It seems odd that the Dragon would shoot you but not follow through with the attack. My song was powerful, but not necessarily powerful enough for a direct attack.”
“I do not pretend to fully understand the mind of evil,” she answered. “All I know is that he did not follow through on the attack. Lu-cedric mentioned something about trying out a new bow and quiver of arrows. Maybe they were just testing them for effectiveness. Their aim was good, but it did not stop me.”
“Be careful not to brag, Andri-el. They could be saying the same thing. Anna has been asking me today why no one has come to rescue her. I am not a messenger. With the demons constantly circling to attack you cannot leave us to send a message.”
Andri-el considered the situation. “Tonight’s attack was serious, but I think I wounded Lu-cedric enough that he will not be ready for another attack for a few days. Lu-seth has been quiet lately, so he may be planning something on his own. Maybe tomorrow or the next day I can visit Matt and make sure he comes to get Anna.”
Samu-el was concerned about the wound. “You need rest to fully heal.”
“I shall rest and watch at the same time. As long as they are not attacking then I will be resting.”
It was not a good answer, but Samu-el didn’t argue with her further.
Matt tried to sleep, but his thoughts were heavy. The four days since the funeral had been a continuation of the nightmare of missing Jackson and Anna. For some reason he didn’t have peace about losing them. Jackson was dead and buried – that was certain. Anna was never found. So what happened to her?
It was too gruesome to even think about her being eaten by animals in the bayou. If someone had taken her with them after the wreck why had she not contacted them during the two weeks since the train wreck? Or was she still out there somewhere in that bayou, lost and alone, starving to death because no one had rescued her? The authorities told him they had searched, but how thoroughly had they searched? How could he know? Where had they searched? What had they found?
Finally he did fall asleep, but his dreams were all about Anna and that woman with the blonde bushy hair. In his dreams she told him to go find Anna. He asked her where to look. All she would say was to look where he lost her.
He woke up in a cold sweat, and went to his kitchen to get a drink. When he was back in bed, he fell into a fitful sleep and dreamed the same dream again. The blonde woman told him Anna was still alive, and told him to go find her. Again he asked where to look. And again he was told to go look where he lost her.
The dream was so real that when he woke up this time he turned on the light and looked around the room, expecting to see the blonde woman standing there. All he saw were the things in his apartment – no blonde woman. But her image and her words seemed to be burned in his mind. He looked at the clock, and realized it was still the middle of the night. Turning off the light, he fell back asleep.
Once again he dreamed of the blonde woman telling him to go find Anna. This time when he woke up it was morning, although still early. Even though it was Friday, and he had classes, he knew he could not wait until Saturday to drive to Mobile. He had to go today. He reasoned that he would not be able to concentrate in all of his classes anyway, so why wait? Then he remembered that he had a homework assignment which had to be handed in, so there was a couple hour delay before he could leave New Orleans.
The drive to Mobile seemed short, mostly because he was distracted by what he remembered from his dream. Usually the details of his dreams quickly faded as soon as he woke up, but not this time. They seemed to grow more distinct the more he thought about them. He wasn’t sure if he just remembered the blonde woman from the wreck, or if she had somehow given him a subliminal message while he slept. Either way, he had to get some answers from the Coast Guard.
He arrived at the Coast Guard office in Mobile late-afternoon. As he walked up he could see that the cutter was not moored in its slip in the dock. He assumed that meant they were out on some type of routine – maybe looking for Anna. Inside the office the receptionist was the same one that he had seen previously, and it seemed like she recognized him, because she directed him into the dispatch office.
The dispatch officer was at his desk working on some papers when Matt entered. The CB radio was on, and he could hear a couple of voices talking about something rather monotonous.
“Excuse me, Sir,” Matt said. “I was wondering if there were any news…”
The officer interrupted, “You’re back again, son? Too late to go for a boat ride today. They’ve been out for hours, and are actually headed back here for the day after a routine rescue in the bay. Stranded boat off Dauphine Island.”
“Any news about Anna?” Matt asked.
“Anna?” The dispatch officer seemed to not remember that Anna had not been found.
Matt was anxious, but tried to explain calmly, “From the train wreck. Anna Thibodeaux was on the train when it wrecked two weeks ago, and she has never shown up at home or in any hospital.”
“Let me look. I think that case has been closed. All the passengers accounted for.” The officer went to the file cabinet and extracted a file. Inside he thumbed through some pages, finally finding the one he was looking for. “Says here Anna Thibodeaux was missing, and never found - presumed dead. I’m sorry son. That was weeks ago. Injured people don’t survive this long in the bayou.”
“No, it can’t be true. That woman told me to go look for her where I lost her.” Matt started to turn red when he thought about how to explain. “She can’t be dead. Why would the blonde woman tell me to go look for her?”
The officer was not impressed with Matt’s explanation. “What blonde woman told you to go look for Miss Thibodeaux?”
“The blonde woman in my dream. She was so real. She stood there and told me to go look for Anna where I lost her. It was a very specific message.” Matt knew his story was unbelievable, and starting to sound crazy. He could see the dispatch officer starting to get annoyed.
“Listen son, I can’t send a boat out looking for someone who has been missing in the bayou, likely wounded, probably dead, just because you dreamed that she was still alive. That’s not how it works. The area was searched. No other survivors were found.”
Matt grabbed the edge of the desk, and leaned forward toward the officer. “I’ve got to go look for her.”
The officer stood up, clearly annoyed. “That’s enough. The Coast Guard will not be going to the train wreck scene unless there is a clear cause to do so. Your dream is not it. I suppose you are welcome to take your own boat up there to look, but take a radio because if you get stuck it would be a long way to walk back to civilization. However, that is not my recommendation. I recommend accepting the fact that Miss Thibodeaux is gone, just like many of the other passengers. That’s just the way it is.”
“But…” Matt started to argue.
“That’s final. It’s time for you to leave and calm down before the authorities have to get involved.”
Matt recognized the finality of the situation. He was mad and frustrated, but he knew he would not get any further satisfaction with the Coast Guard. They had closed the case.
Walking out to his car, he was talking to himself, “Now what am I going to do? I know she’s still out there. I failed Jackson when that same woman told me to go get him. I’m not going to fail Anna too. I’ve got to find a way.”
He was so engrossed in trying to figure out how to get to the wreck scene that he walked right past Brant Smith coming in from the dock without even seeing him.
Brant was not one to be ignored. “Hey, how are you?” Brant asked cheerfully.
Matt looked up, realizing that he had not been paying attention to anything around him. “Oh, sorry, I was lost in thought.”
Brant’s cheery reply was not dampened, “Better to be lost in thought than lost in the bayou, I always say. Don’t you agree?”
Matt didn’t argue. “That’s exactly right. That’s just what I was telling the dispatch officer in there, but he wouldn’t budge.” Matt was still mad just thinking about it.
“What were you telling him?” Brant asked.
“About Anna. She’s still out there. I know it. But the dispatcher won’t send a boat to get her.”
“How do you know she’s still out there? Did she call? That’s a pretty remote location, from what I remember. Or did she get to civilization and now needs to be picked up?” Brant at least seemed interested.
“Someone told me to go look for her. I’ve got to go back there. I don’t have a choice.” Matt didn’t want to get into the ‘woman in the dream’ story again, because he knew how crazy that sounded.
Brant seemed to consider the situation for a few minutes. “I get off shift in an hour or so. It would be too late to go all the way up there today, but if you’re certain, then tomorrow I can use my boat to take us up there. Would that be ok? Otherwise you’ll have to find someone else if you really want to go today. Tomorrow is Saturday, and I’m off with no plans that can’t be changed.”
Matt knew this was probably the best offer he was likely to get. “Ok, tomorrow is better than never.”
“I don’t mean to put you off, but even if we did go today it would be dark soon after we got there, and likely foggy after that, which is why the barge hit the bridge.” Brant was simply stating the obvious.
“You’re right, of course. It’s just so frustrating knowing that she’s probably still out there. But looking in the dark with mosquitoes in the fog would not likely be very rewarding,” Matt conceded.
“Have you got a place to stay tonight?” Brant asked.
“Not yet, I’ll get a hotel room. Just tell me when and where to meet you tomorrow.”
“You can do what you want, of course, but I’ve got an extra room in my apartment. You’re welcome to stay in it if you want to. That way we can get an early start tomorrow.”
Matt didn’t hesitate. “An early start sounds good to me.”
Brant told him the details. “Meet me back here in an hour. We can go grab a bite to eat, then head to my apartment. Early to bed, early to rise – you know the old saying.”
The next morning Brant drove Matt to a boat launching ramp north of Mobile. Brant was pulling an interesting boat on a trailer behind his truck. It had a large propeller on the back of the deck inside a cage, with a beefed up open engine in front of that. The bed of the boat was flat, with two seats located in the center of the platform, the back one raised up higher than the front one. The controls were located with the higher back seat.
“What did you say you named this boat?” Matt asked, as they slid it off the trailer into the water.
“It’s painted on the side there,” Brant told him, pointing to the front.
“AIR-GATOR ,” Matt read. “It looks like a combination of airplane, boat, and motorcycle.”
“That just about sums it up,” Brant admitted. “This is what I do for fun on the weekends. I’ve been in a few races, but mostly use it for fishing. I can really get into some backwater locations with this baby.”
Brant tied off the boat beside the launch, then parked the truck and trailer. They climbed on board, and Brant motioned for Matt to get in the front seat. “Better buckle up, Matt, we don’t want to lose you. And put these on.” He handed Matt a life jacket and a set of ear muffs. Brant put on similar equipment. “It gets a little noisy when I open it up.”
“Ready?” Brant asked after they were seated, and the engine was idling.
Brant revved up the engine, and maneuvered his way out into more open water. The water was smooth, so he started increasing their speed to cover the distance to the wreck site a little faster. The ride was breath-taking, literally, with the craft racing across the top of the water with nothing blocking the wind. In fact, Matt wasn’t sure it didn’t actually increase the wind with the big propeller on the back. He turned around once to say something to Brant and his ear muffs almost blew off his head. He grabbed them in time, and stayed looking forward after that.
The noise from the engine was muffled with the ear covers, but he would guess that anyone standing on the shore would hear them coming a long ways away. Brant didn’t get out into the middle of the channel as they blew north up the Mobile River, but instead stayed between the channel and the west shore. One time they passed a barge going downriver the other direction, and the waves made them go airborne for several yards. Brant didn’t slow up, but just steered into the wake to catch the waves head-on.
“Yee-haw,” Brant yelled loud enough for Matt to hear him above the engine noise.
“What kind of craziness have I gotten myself into?” Matt asked, but not loud enough to be heard.
It was a totally different perspective, riding the airboat north up the side of the waterway. The previous week they had been on the Coast Guard cutter. It had been a smooth ride, almost like being on an ocean liner. Today they hit and felt every ripple, and each time they rounded a corner the breeze from the side caused them to slide sideways until Brant corrected their course.
“I could do this every day,” Brant yelled, as he patted Matt on the back. “Isn’t this great?”
Matt didn’t answer. He hoped they would survive, but if they didn’t at least he would have gone out in a blaze of glory on the front of this crazy-man’s ‘water-plane.’ He adjusted his seatbelt again as they rounded the corner into the channel where the wreck had occurred.
Brant started yelling his narration of the trip, “The barge steersman said it was foggy the night of the wreck, and he followed the shore the same way we are. He was looking for a place to tie off for the night to let the fog clear. See that island over there to the right? The main channel stays on the far east side of it. He didn’t know he had navigated on the west side of the island into this channel. He thought he was still in the main Mobile River channel. He said he saw the train bridge columns but didn’t know what they were in the fog. He slowed to tie up to one, but maybe bumped it a little too hard. It was just afterwards that the train, your train, came barreling across the bridge. What a mess that made.”
“Tell me about it,” Matt yelled, holding onto his ear muffs with his hand when he turned around to answer.
As they neared the wreck site, Brant slowed the engine to a purr, and they stopped. Matt turned back to the driver, “What are we stopping here for?”
“Let’s talk for a minute, and agree on a plan,” Brant suggested.
“OK, what have you got in mind?”
Brant explained, “Your friend, Anna right? She was on the train. The train hits the bridge and quickly stops. The train car all three of you were traveling on lands in the water, right? You swim out, your friend is dead, and Anna has never been seen again.”
“Right, that’s what I explained last night,” Matt didn’t see where Brant was headed with his questions.
“So where is Anna? You said you had a hunch that we should search around the wreck site again. What are the possibilities? She could have been knocked unconscious, and drowned, then her body floated downstream. But there is not much current here, and no other bodies floated downstream. Besides, the Coast Guard teams searched this area and downstream thoroughly for several days following the wreck.
“What else? She could have swam to shore, and wandered off into the bayou, dazed and alone. That does not bode well for survival more than a few days, especially if she was wounded. But that may be what we’re searching for today – a body in the bayou.
“Any other options, Matt?” Brant finished.
“I keep telling myself that maybe she left with someone else, and has amnesia and can’t remember who she is or who to call. But that’s the only other possibility that I have,” Matt answered dejectedly.
Brant was not dejected at all. “Then we agree. So that’s why I brought my AIR-GATOR. The real reason to look here again is to explore around the bayou to see if we can find her. A regular boat could never go places that this baby can take us.”
The area immediately around the train bridge had banks on the side of the water, and no small side streams. They buzzed up and down the channel, first looking at one side and then the other. No signs of Anna were seen. A little further up the channel it became marshy, and Brant buzzed the boat over the bank into a bayou on the other side. Still they found nothing, but they were going by so fast that it was hard for Matt to concentrate. Every time he thought he saw something they were past it and gone before he could tell Brant.
“Brant, how are we ever going to look for her going so fast?”
“You’re right. I see another channel up ahead. Let get in there and I can slow down.”
When they got in the clear secondary channel Brant stopped the large engine driving the propeller. Matt removed the ear muffs, and the silence was deafening. “So, how do we explore now?” he asked Brant.
“The same way I fish. Blow to the fishing hole, then put my trolling motor over the side and putt along.”
Matt had not noticed the electric trolling motor lashed under the seats until Brant mentioned it.
Anna didn’t think she could take another day of sitting in the cabin with almost nothing to do. She was feeling better every day, yet here she remained. Her leg was still not well enough to walk on, so she couldn’t just get up and leave on her own. Samu-el had shown no indication of taking her home, or anywhere else for that matter. In fact, except for carrying her to sit on the porch of the cabin once or twice, he seemed to prefer that she stay inside. Even there he still carried her from the bed to the bathroom and back again.
Samu-el was willing to spend time with her, she had to admit. He seemed to enjoy listening to her telling stories, although once or twice she had almost succeeded in getting him to tell some of his own. He seemed to be a very spiritual person, but whenever she asked about his family he always made some reference to belonging to some club or chorus or something. She didn’t understand the word he called it, and he would never explain.
He also was willing to play checkers with her, after showing up one day after her meal with an old set that he had apparently found somewhere in the cabin. Sometimes he won the game, and sometimes she won, but when she won she always wondered if he had let her win. It would be just like him to have some mental healing ulterior motive by letting her win a game of checkers.
But Anna knew that without a doubt, what Samu-el did best was sing. When he sang it was like the world stood still listening. The birds were either silent or sang along. Even the breeze seemed to rustle the leaves in time to the tune. After he discovered that Anna like to sing church songs, he made a point of singing some every day. When the melody was familiar, Anna could not resist singing along. Even though her singing voice was reported to be wonderful by her friends, it still didn’t compare to Samu-el’s. Nevertheless, she knew he wanted her to sing with him, and when he sang her songs there was no way she could resist.
The more time she spent with Samu-el, the more she started to wonder if she was becoming attracted to him. When that thought first surfaced, it was like Samu-el read her mind, and immediately stopped singing. The feeling faded, and she saw him once again as a wizened, but older gentleman.
What was I thinking? she asked herself. Looking around her room in the cabin, she once again started to feel trapped and alone, closed in on all sides and forgotten by her family. She looked out the window, and saw that the weather was nice outside.
“I thought you said that fresh air would do me good. Why don’t you carry me out of this room and set me down on the porch again?” she asked him.
Samu-el once again put the gloves on. He easily picked Anna up out of the bed and started carrying her toward the door. “You sure make that look easy, Samuel. You must be a lot stronger than you look.” As he picked her up, one of her feet briefly touched the floor.
“As I have been telling you, looks can be deceiving,” he said.
While he carried her outside, she looked into his eyes and again saw the deep peace that she had seen before. He still smelled of almonds, or whatever the smell was. “You smell really good,” Anna told him quietly.
“Do not be deceived by what you see or smell. Everyone you meet is much more than their mere appearance.”
“Will you let me sit on the porch again for a while?” she asked.
“I could – but there is a much better spot that I would like you to see.” He continued carrying her across the clearing in front of the cabin and into the trees. This was the first time he had taken her further than the porch. He walked a short distance, just out of sight of the cabin, and gently placed her on the bank of the bayou waterway. The sun was warm on her arms and face. He sat beside her – not too close, but not too far away either.
“I have something that I would like to give you Anna,” Samu-el told her. She watched him reach into his shirt pocket and draw out a chain necklace with a leaf-shaped pendant on it. He handed it to her.
“It’s beautiful, but why are you giving it to me?” she asked.
“This necklace can serve as a physical reminder that God is in control. Just as a tree believes that when it drops its leaves in the fall it will grow new ones in the spring, you can believe that God cares even more for you and always wants the best for you. You are the Chosen Princess. Let your fears and worries and grief fade away like last year’s leaves. Grow a new crop of leaves that can nourish your soul and the lives of those around you.”
“I still don’t know why you call me The Chosen Princess, but I know better than to ask you why. Thank you for the necklace, Samuel. I will cherish it always. Will you put it on me?”
He took the necklace and attached it around her neck. While he was close, she leaned over and gave him a small kiss on his cheek. Although the kiss only lasted a fraction of a second, his cheek felt very hot on her lips. Afterwards she could see a visible print that it left on his dark face.
He took one glove off and reached that hand up to touch the place where she had kissed him. “Thank you for allowing me to aid you in healing,” he told her.
“My pleasure,” she joked. “The next time I need healing I’ll call on you again – if for no other reason than to watch how uncomfortable you get when I give you a kiss on the cheek.”
“Your kiss surprised me, and I am not often surprised. It was not as I expected a kiss to be. I have never been kissed on the cheek before.”
“Then you should try it more often, Samuel, although I didn’t mean to leave such a mark on your face.”
“The mark will fade, but the memory never will. I will cherish your kiss always, Anna, just as I cherish you.”
Anna blushed at what he was saying. As she looked down at the water in front of her bare feet, she saw a snake swim past them and crawl out onto the bank toward Samuel. She quickly pulled her good leg away as she screamed and pointed with her good arm.
“Thou art scaring her,” Samu-el told the snake. He picked it up. It coiled around his hand and arm, with its tail twitching wildly. It looked first at Anna then back at Samu-el.
“That looks like a water moccasin. They’re incredibly poisonous.” she told him, almost screaming. “Get it away from me.”
“Thou wilt not harm the girl, wilt thou?” he asked the snake. Then he prayed, “God, how can I help this creature, Your snake?”
Anna watched him. He appeared to be listening for an answer to his question. Soon he appeared to be satisfied with the answer. Anna had not heard any answer.
He turned to Anna and said, “I must take this snake away from here. Please wait patiently. And never fear – remember always that God cares for you. Lest you forget, look at the leaf and remember. If you need help while you do not see me, call loudly and help will come.”
Anna watched the black man carry the snake away from her into the woods, talking quietly to the snake all the while. Soon she could no longer see him because of the trees and bushes and undergrowth.
He’s such a curious man, she thought, but somehow very attractive. I don’t know what it is about him, but there’s definitely something different. He seems to know more than he’s telling me, and there always seems to be a lesson that I should be learning from his words. But in spite of all that, I like him.
The sun continued to shine warmly on her face and arms. She thought about scooting over to the water’s edge to try and see her reflection. She knew she had to look awful. However, she wasn’t sure she could stop herself from falling in with her broken leg and arm if she got too close.
She watched a pair of white birds land in the water and scoop out some fish. She saw other birds flying overhead, some in groups and some alone. She heard noises in the forest that sounded like insects or critters of one kind or another. Across the waterway, a nutria waddled along the bank, chewing grass. Eventually it crawled into the water and swam along, making a long trail of ripples on the water’s surface.
She wondered what was taking Samuel so long to get rid of the snake. Where was he taking it? I thought he would be right back. Maybe it bit him. Maybe he’s not coming back. Maybe I’ll have to spend the night out here with the snakes and bugs.
Fear started to overcome her. She felt alone and vulnerable. But then she reached her good hand up to the pendant on the necklace as a reassurance of the hand of God watching over her.
Lord, why did You take Jackson away from me? I thought we were meant to be together for life. It’s not fair. Now what am I going to do? First I lost my parents. Now I’ve lost my boyfriend. Who’s next, Matt? Why do I keep getting left behind? Samuel said my work must not be done. So, what do You want me to do? I’m so confused. Where’s Samuel?
She looked around. The sun was much lower in the sky. How long have I been sitting here? Isn’t Samuel coming back?
“Samuel,” she called loudly. “Samuel, I’m ready to go back now. Samuel.” Yelling loudly made her ribs hurt, but she didn’t know of any other choice. He had told her to yell. “Samuel!”
Suddenly Guardsman Smith perked up. “Did you hear that?” He switched off the trolling motor, and they sat in the boat quietly. The only sound was the clatter of hidden insects and birds, and the clop of water on the bottom of the boat. “Maybe it was nothing,” he admitted. After a few minutes he switched the trolling motor back on and they continued up the waterway.
Once again Brant sat up straight. Switching off the engine quickly, he said, “Listen. I heard something or someone.” Matt had not heard anything either time, but he strained to listen anyway.
Finally Matt heard it also. In the distance, and off to their left, someone called what sounded like “Samuel.” It was a woman’s voice.
Pulling the trolling motor up out of the water, Brant fired up the main propeller engine, and headed in the direction of the voice they heard.