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Dark Angel (Chapter 3)

first it looked like a speck, then like an insect on a lightbulb, then like a kite. Gillian watched, too

frightened to run, until it got close enough for her to realize what it really was.

It was an angel.

Her fear drained away as she stared. The figure seemed to shine, as if it were made of the same light as

the mist. It was tall, and had the shape of a perfectly formed human. It was walking, but somehow

rushing toward her at the same time.

An angel, Gillian thought, awed. An angel…

And then the mist cleared and the shining faded. The figure was standing on the grass in front of her.

Gillian blinked.

Uh-not an angel, after all. A young guy. Maybe seventeen, a year older than Gillian. And… drop dead

gorgeous.

He had a face like some ancient Greek sculpture. Classically beautiful. Hair like unburnished gold. Eyes

that weren't blue, but violet. Long golden lashes.

And a terrific body.

I shouldn't be noticing that Gillian thought, horrified. But it was hard not to. Now that his clothes had

stopped shining, she could see that they were ordinary, the kind any guy from earth might wear. Washed

and faded jeans and a white T-shirt. And he could easily have done a commercial for those jeans. He

was well built without being over-musdy.

His only flaw, if it could be called that, was that his expression was a little too uplifted. Almost too sweet

for a boy.

Gillian stared. The being looked back. After a moment he spoke.

"Hey, kid," he said, and winked.

Gillian was startled-and mad. Normally, she was shy about speaking to guys, but after all, she was dead

now, and this person had struck a raw nerve. "Who're you calling kid?" she said indignantly.

He just grinned. "Sorry. No offense."

Confused, Gillian made herself nod politely. Who was this person? She'd always heard you had friends

or relatives come and meet you. But she'd never seen this guy before in her life.

Anyway, he's definitely not an angel.

"I've come to help you," he said. As if he'd heard her thought.

"Help me?"

"You have a choice to make."

That was when Gillian began to notice the door.

It was right behind the guy, approximately where the mist had been. And it was a door… but it wasn't.

It was like the luminous outline of a door, drawn very faintly on thin air.

Fear crept back into Gillian's mind. Somehow, without knowing how she knew, she knew the door was

important. More important than anything she'd seen so far. Whatever was behind it was-well, maybe

beyond comprehension.

A different place. Where all the laws she knew didn't apply.

Not necessarily bad. Just so powerful and so different that it was scary. Good can be scary, too.

That's the real gateway, she thought. Go through that door and you don't come back. And even though

part of her longed desperately to see what was behind it, she was still so frightened that she felt dizzy.

"The thing is, it wasn't actually your time," the guy with the golden-blond hair said quietly.

Oh, yes, I should have known. That's the clich��", Gillian thought. But she thought it weakly. Looking at

that door, she didn't have room left inside for cute remarks.

She swallowed, blinking to clear her eyes.

"But here you are. A mistake, but one we have to deal with. In these cases, we usually leave the decision

up to the individual."

"You're saying I can choose whether or not I die."

"To put it sort of loosely."

"It's just up to me?"

"That's right." He tilted his head slightly. "You might want to think your life over at this point."

Gillian blinked. Then she took a few steps away from him and stared across the supernaturally green

grass. She tried to think about her life.

If you'd asked me this morning if I wanted to stay alive, there would have been no question. But now…

Now it felt a little like being rejected. As if she weren't good enough. And besides, seeing that she'd

come this far … did she really want to go back?

It's not as if I were anybody special there. Not smart like Amy, a straight A student. Not brave. Not

talented.

Well, what else is there? What would I be going back to?

Her mom-drinking every day, asleep by the time Gillian got home. Her dad and the constant arguments.

The loneliness she knew she'd be facing now that Amy had a boyfriend. The longing for things she could

never have, like David Blackburn with his quizzical smile. Like popularity and love and acceptance. Like

having people think she was interesting and-and mature.

Come on. There's got to be something good back there.

"Cup Noodles?" the guy's voice said.

Gillian turned toward him. "Huh?"

"You like those. Especially on a cold day when you come inside. Cats. The way babies smell. Cinnamon

toast with lots of butter, like your mom used to make it when she still got up in the morning. Bad monster

movies."

Gillian choked. She'd never told anyone about most of those things. "How do you know all that?"

He smiled. He really had an extraordinary smile. "Eh, we see a lot up here." Then he sobered. "And

don't you want to see more? Of life, I mean. Isn't there anything left for you to do?"

Everything was left for her to do. She'd never accomplished anything worthwhile.

But I didn't have much time, a small wimpy voice inside her protested. To be quashed immediately by a

stern, steady voice. You think that's an excuse? Nobody knows how much time they've got. You had

plenty of minutes, and you wasted most of them.

"Then don't you think you'd better go back and try again?" the guy said, hi a gentle, prodding voice. "See

if you can do a better job?"

Yes. All at once, Gillian was filled with the same burning she'd felt when she got out of the creek. A

sense of revelation and of purpose. She could do that. She could change completely, turn her life in a

whole new direction.

Besides, there were her parents to consider. No matter how bad things were between them now, it

could only make it worse if their daughter suddenly died. They'd blame each other. And Amy would get

one of her guilt complexes for not waiting to drive Gillian home from school…

The thought brought a little grim satisfaction. Gillian tried to quell it. She had the feeling the guy was

listening.

But she did have a new perspective on life. A sudden feeling that it was terribly precious, and that the

worst thing you could do was waste it.

She looked at the guy. "I want to go back."

He nodded. Gave the smile again. "I thought maybe you would." His voice was so warm now. There

was a quality in it that was like-what? Pure love? Infinite understanding?

A tone that was to sound what perfect light was to vision.

He held out a hand. "Time to go, Gillian," he said gently. His eyes were the deepest violet imaginable.

Gillian hesitated just an instant, then reached toward him.

She never actually touched his hand, not in a physical way. Just as her fingers seemed about to meet his,

she felt a tingling shock and there was a flash. Then he was gone and Gillian had several odd impressions

all at once.

The first was of being… unfixed. Detached from her surroundings. A falling feeling.

The second was of something coming at her.

It was coming very fast from some direction she couldn't point to. A place that wasn't defined by up

or down or left or right. And it felt huge and winged, the way a hawk's shadow must feel to a mouse.

Gillian had a wild impulse to duck.

But it wasn't necessary. She was moving herself, falling away. Rushing backward through the tunnel,

leaving the meadow-and whatever was coming at her-behind. The huge thing had only registered for an

instant on her senses, and now, whizzing back through the darkness, she forgot about it.

Later, she would realize what a mistake this had been.

For now, time seemed compressed. She was alone in the tunnel, being pulled down like water down a

drain. She tried to look between her feet to see where she was going, and saw something like a deep

well beneath her.

At the bottom of the well was a circle of light, like the view backwards through a telescope. And in the

circle, very tiny, was a girl's body lying on the snow.

My body, Gillian thought-and then, before she had time to feel any emotion, the bottom of the well was

rushing up toward her. The tiny body was bigger and bigger. She felt a tugging pressure. She was being

sucked into it-too fast.

Way too fast. She had no control. She fit perfectly in the body, like a hand slipping into a mitten, but the

jolt knocked her out.

Oooh… something hurts.

Gillian opened her eyes-or tried to. It was as hard as doing a chin-up. On the second or third attempt

she managed to get them open a crack. Whiteness everywhere. Dazzling. Blinding. Where… ? Is it

snow? What am I doing lying down in the snow? Images came to her. The creek. Icy water. Climbing

out. Falling. Being so cold…

After that… she couldn't remember. But now she knew what hurt. Everything. I can't move.

Her muscles were clenched tight as steel. But she knew she couldn't stay here. If she did, she'd…

Memory burst through her. I died already.

Strangely, the realization gave her strength. She actually managed to sit up. As she did, she heard a

cracking sound. Her clothes were glazed with solid ice.

Somehow she got to her feet. She shouldn't have been able to do it. Her body had been cold enough to

shut down earlier, and since then she'd been lying in the snow. By all the laws of nature, she should be

frozen now.

But she was standing. She could even shuffle a step forward.

Only to realize she had no idea which way to go.

She still didn't know where the road was.

Worse, it would be getting dark soon. When that

happened, she wouldn't even be able to see her

own tracks. She could walk in circles in the woods until her body gave out again.

"See that white oak tree? Go around it to the right."

The voice was behind her left ear. Gillian turned that way as sharply as her rigid muscles would allow,

even though she knew she wouldn't see anything.

She recognized the voice. But it was so much warmer and gentler now.

"You came back with me."

"Sure." Once again the voice was filled with that impossible warmth, that perfect love. "You don't think

I'd just leave you to wander around until you froze again, do you? Now head for that tree, kid."

After that came a long time of stumbling and staggering, over branches, around trees, on and on. It

seemed to last forever, but always there was the voice in Gillian's ear, guiding her, encouraging her. It

kept her moving when she thought she couldn't possibly go another step.

And then, at last, the voice said, "Just up this ridge and you'll find the road."

In a dreamlike state, Gillian climbed the ridge.

And there it was. The road. In the last light before darkness, Gillian could see it meandering down a hill.

But it was still almost a mile to her house, and she couldn't go any farther.

"You don't have to," the voice said gently. "Look up the road."

Gillian saw headlights.

"Now just get in the middle of the road and wave."

Gillian stumbled out and waved like a mechanical doll. The headlights were coming, blinding her. Then

she realized that they were slowing.

"We did it," she gasped, dimly aware that she was speaking out loud. "They're stopping!"

"Of course they're stopping. You did a great job. You'll be all right now."

There was no mistaking the note of finality.

The car was stopped now. The driver's side door was opening. Gillian could see a dark figure beyond

the glare of the headlights. But in that instant what she felt was distress.

"Wait, don't leave me. I don't even know who you are-"

For a brief moment, she was once again enfolded by love and understanding.

"Just call me Angel."

Then the voice was gone, and all Gillian could feel was anguish.

"What are you doing out-Hey, are you okay?" The new voice broke through Gillian's emptiness. She

had been standing rigidly in the headlights; now she blinked and tried to focus on the figure coming

toward her.

"God, of course you're not okay. Look at you. You're Gillian, aren't you? You live on my street."

It was David Blackburn.

The knowledge surged through her like a shock, and it drove all the strange hallucinations she'd been

having out of her mind.

It really was David, as close as he'd ever been to her.

Dark hair. A lean face that still had traces of a summer tan. Cheekbones to die for and eyes to drown in.

A certain elegance of carriage. And that half-friendly, half-quizzical smile…

Except that he wasn't smiling now. He looked shocked and worried.

Gillian couldn't get a single word out. She just stared at him from under the icy curtain of her hair.

"What hap-No, never mind. We've got to get you warm."

At school he was thought of as a tough guy, an independent rebel. But, now, without any hesitation, the

tough guy scooped her up in his arms.

Confusion flashed through Gillian, then embarrassment-but underneath it all was something much

stronger. An odd bedrock sense of safety. David was warm and solid and she knew instinctively that she

could trust him. She could stop fighting now and relax.

"Put this on … watch your head… here, use this for your hair." David was somehow getting everything

done at once without hurrying. Capable and kind. Gillian found herself inside the car, wrapped in his

sheepskin jacket, with an old towel around her shoulders. Heat blasted from the vents as David gunned

the engine.

It was wonderful to be able to rest without being afraid it would kill her. Bliss not to be surrounded by

cold, even if the hot air didn't seem to warm her. The worn beige interior of the Mustang seemed like

paradise.

And David-well, no, he didn't look like an angel. More like a knight, especially the kind who went out in

disguise and rescued people.

Gillian was beginning to feel very fuzzy.

"I thought I'd take a dip," she said, between chattering teeth. She was shivering again.

"What?"

"You asked what happened. I was a little hot, so I jumped in the creek."

He laughed out loud. "Huh. You're brave." Then he glanced at her sideways with keen eyes and added,

"What really happened?"

He thinks I'm brave! A glow better than the heated air enveloped Gillian.

"I slipped," she said. "I went into the woods, and when I got to the creek-" Suddenly, she remembered

why she'd gone into the woods. She'd forgotten it since the fall had put her own life in danger, but now

she seemed to hear that faint, pathetic cry all over again.

"Oh, my God," she said, struggling to sit upright. "Stop the car."

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