Read Reluctant Guardian Online

Authors: Melissa Cunningham

Reluctant Guardian (2 page)

Other people head in the same direction and some pass by me, their eyes glowing with happiness, their hands reaching out to the souls who wait on the other side. I don't see anyone familiar yet, but surely, they are there.

I hurry to join the throng, but as soon as I place my foot on the bridge's glittering surface, an unseen force repels me backward and I lose my balance and land on my bottom. Sparkling dust poofs up around me.

A few people glance my way, but no one stops. Embarrassed, and not wanting to attract attention, I try again. But like the wrong side of a magnet, my foot won't move over the edge of the bridge. In my confusion, I try again and again, barely controlling my urge to swear.

Something here is really messed up.

I stop to watch the others successfully cross. They make it look easy as they enter a beautiful city on the other side. A city of brilliant light, filled with golden buildings. Cathedrals and towers sparkle in the distance. I yearn to go there more than anything. I
to go there. I
myself to go there!

But I can't cross.

I'm supposed to rest for eternity on pink clouds and fly on golden wings without a care. What is with the stupid barricade? Why are others crossing without a problem? Why am I blocked? It doesn't make sense.

That's when I see her. She exits the city's gates in a flowing white dress that swishes about her bare ankles. A smile stretches across her familiar, loving face.

“Gram!” I forget the bridge, forget my frustration, and forget my inability to cross. I barrel forward, eager to throw my arms around my grandmother, who championed me my whole life, who loved me in spite of everything.

As soon as I step forward, I ricochet back, falling gracelessly to the ground in front of everyone.


Shame fills me. Something is wrong, and I am sure everyone but me knows what it is. I'm not wanted here. A tight fist closes around my heart, and the hot sting of tears burns the back of my eyes, but I pull myself up, keeping my head high, not meeting anyone's gaze.

Not even Gram's.

She crosses the bridge and envelopes me in her arms, kissing my head, smoothing my hair and gazing into my eyes. “My sweet Alisa,” she says, without even moving her lips.

I stare at her closed mouth, and then raise my eyes to meet hers. Thoughts flow into my mind like a river. Gram speaks in a tone of love and acceptance, but it's all inside my head.

I'm so happy to see you, but you shouldn't be here!”

And then it hits me. I'm a mind reader! I have magical powers!

This is awesome!

I bask in the warmth of Gram's affection, feeling loved and safe for the first time since I left my body. She knows me. She understands me. She'll get me into that glimmering city, come hell or high water.

But instead of taking my hand and leading me across the bridge, she pulls me in the


~My Mansion on High~



Just to be clear, the other direction isn't hell—thank heavens—not that I know where hell is, but I am relieved anyway. I certainly don't think I deserve to go there.

With a blink of Gram's eyes, she takes me to a place she calls
Idir Shaol
, which she says means “between worlds” or something like that. It's a hamlet compared to the teeming city across the bridge, but at least it doesn't have leaping flames and groaning souls reaching from its wailing depths.

“This will be your home for a while,” she says, gazing lovingly into my eyes. “Remember how much I love you. I'm rooting for you, dear. Now go and show everyone how strong you really are.” She shoves me forward.

I turn to face her and then look over my shoulder at the quiet village behind me. “Aren't you coming?”

She shakes her head slowly, her eyes saying goodbye.

An awful tingle spreads through me. She won't really leave me here... in this
between worlds
place, trapped and alone. I don't know anyone, and I don't want to be alone.

“Come now, Alisa. It'll only be for a while,” she says. “You'll learn things that will help you, and before you know it, we'll be together again.” She smiles as her words enter my mind.

I argue automatically. I was a fantastic debater before I died, and I loved a good fight, perfecting the art with my parents. I have a feeling if I don't argue my case just right, Gram will really leave.

I think carefully. “Umm, that does sound great, and I totally want to do that later, but I feel like we should stick together. At least for now. I'm here to rest and be happy. Not to... learn things.” I give her a wide grin, knowing she won't be able to resist my dimples. But watching her face and waiting for a reaction makes the light go out in mine.

My words—and I can tell they
affected her—have not changed her mind.

“Alisa, that's not how it works.” She shakes her head and cups my cheeks between her palms. The familiar fragrance of apple pie wafts up around me.

I search her eyes, because I know that look—her look of... disappointment? In me?

“Don't worry. I'll be back,” she says. “Learn as much from your time here as you can. You're in for a
experience. I promise.” With a kiss, she leaves me standing inside a set of high, wooden double doors, like doors to a fort, staring at the empty space where she'd been standing.

A man wearing a deep green robe approaches, looking right at me. I turn my back, hoping he'll pass by. I don't want to talk to anyone. Not when my heart is so heavy. He nears, and a strange power emanates from him, with a brightness I've never seen before. I look away, and it's not long before I feel him right behind me, like a sure knowledge of a monster under the bed. The warmth of his presence presses against me, and I swirl around to find myself face to face with a perfectly chiseled face.

Long, dark hair falls around his shoulders and his smile radiates a light that takes my breath away. This guy is gorgeous. A glow pulsates around him as though a piece of sun rests beneath his skin. Even his eyes shine with emerald brilliance. His lips turn up into an amused smile and I stare, unable to form any coherent thoughts.

He sticks his hand out. “Welcome to
Idir Shoal
! I'm Raphael.” He says this out loud, his deep, rumbly voice reminding me somehow of Rocky Road ice cream. Rich and chocolatey.

I shake my head, trying to clear the fog, and take his offered hand. I gasp and pull back in surprise. “You have a body!” I peer more closely wondering why he got to keep his.

“Good gracious! You're right!” he exclaims, patting himself down. “How did that happen?”

I feel a moment of panic before his teasing sinks in, and I give him a wry smile, wagging my finger at him. “Good one. You must say that to all the dearly departed.”

“Nope.” A wide smile spreads across his tan face. “You're the first.”

I could like this guy. Cute, funny, and nice. But way too old for me. “So are you in charge around here?” I glance about, wondering if this is a corner of hell. It's not bright like that city, but there isn't any weeping, wailing, or gnashing of teeth. Maybe hell is a quiet place that slowly drives you insane with the need for sound.
sound. My illusions of what death is have been flushed down the toilet.

“Come, I'll explain as we walk,” he says, draping my arm through his. I can feel the heat of his skin through my robe and the flexing of his forearm when he moves his hand to gesture. He pats my arm as though I am just as corporeal as he is.

We move over the stone path at a slow pace, and I feel the cool, flat stones beneath my feet. I soak in the vivid colors and try to remember everything Raphael says to me, but there is too much. Too much color, too much to focus on, too much stimulation. Nothing sticks in my mind, and I'm too embarrassed to ask him to explain it all twice. His speech is water poured through a sieve.

He continues as though he doesn't notice. “You will live in a cottage with three other souls who also took their lives. You'll attend classes to learn your new role, and then we'll take it from there. How does that sound?”

“Wait. Classes?” I'm able to focus on that word without difficulty. “Like school?” With a sinking heart, I search his face. I'd hoped to dwell for eternity with loved ones, not strangers in this unfamiliar place. Doesn't he realize I have no loved ones in
Idir Shaol
? And the idea of living with other suicide victims is
what I had in mind when I ended it all. “Is there an option C?”

His warm chuckle resonates like the soft strum of a bass guitar, and he pats my hand. “Nope. No option C. Sorry.”

Raphael leads me to a bungalow with rounded walls, a thatched roof, wooden shutters, and a red front door. Very Hansel and Gretel. I wouldn't be at all surprised to find a witch inside, stirring a pot of poisonous stew.

“These are your quarters.” He pushes the door open. “We try to make things as homey as your home on earth.” He hands me a box with miscellaneous items inside. “Everything you need is in here. Take time to familiarize yourself with
Idir Shaol
. You can explore anywhere you want. My office is located down that path. It's in a large, white, marble building in the middle of town. You can't miss it. I'd like to talk with you again as soon as you're settled.”


He squeezes my arm and then leaves me standing in front of my mansion on high. There are four beds—one on each wall, like in a dorm room. Three of the beds are obviously taken, as they've been made up with quilts of varying color, and personal items have been placed on small tables next to each one.

Why are there beds? Do we need beds? Do we sleep? I
exhausted and could use a good nap.

Placing my box on what I figure is my bed, I search the quiet emptiness. This is my life now—this place, these people. I fall to the mattress, completely disillusioned and wanting to cry. The ache is still there.

I've ruined my life—
ruined it.

Things were supposed be better after I died.

How could I have been so stupid?



~Drifting Alone~



The days lengthen as spring approaches, and the darkness of winter fills Brecken's heart. Nothing feels right in his life. He's just a performer acting out a part, and the performance never ends. He drifts through a timeless space.

Since the drawn-out illness and death of his mother, his dad has been distant. No. More than distant—nonexistent. He's never home. He's always taking out-of-town jobs. Not that Brecken minds that much. He and his dad have never seen eye-to-eye. Their moments together are a series of arguments that Brecken always loses. With his dad gone, he has total freedom, but also total responsibility for his two little sisters, and that responsibility weighs heavy. Bills need to be paid if they want to stay in this stupid little house, and groceries have to be bought.

Brecken doesn't have a job, and he knows his only way out is to stay in school. In the afternoon, he helps his sisters with homework, makes dinner, and does the laundry.

It isn't an ideal situation. The constant complaining of his sisters weighs him down. They don't want him to replace their dad, let alone their mother. They don't want to be told to clean their rooms, help with chores, or anything else by their dumb older brother.

He doesn't blame them.

There are many nights he lies awake in bed wishing he could talk to his mom, that her ghost would appear and comfort him. She never does though. Nothing is more acutely disappointing.

His grades are dropping and he has gotten in a few fights at school—nothing he started, but he's not about to stand by and take crap about his nonexistent parents and the fact that he doesn't buy his clothes from Nordstrom.

The only light on the horizon is Jill, who is beautiful, kind, and wonderful. Always there like a balm of happiness, ready to cheer him up at the end of each dark day. She is the miracle he needed, and he plans to hang onto her as long as he can.






I have no idea how long I lie on my new, unfamiliar bed—which is made with a quilt that looks exactly like the one on my bed at home. I miss the tick-tock of my clock, the pictures on my walls, my closet full of clothes. And let's not forget the ability to judge the passing of time.

No shadows move across the walls here, nor does anyone call me for dinner. When is it time to go to bed? When are the classes I'm supposed to attend? How do the people here stand it? How will I? In that moment I know I'll go crazy if I stay, and I wish more than anything to turn back time.

Within a few moments, my new roommates show up, barreling through the door. The front-runner is laughing, and when they see me, they freeze, stiff smiles appearing on their surprised faces. It's easy to see they have already become friends and that I'll be the odd one out.

My death is turning out to be as wonderful as my life. What a nice surprise.

“Hi!” the laughing, boisterous redhead exclaims when she sees me. She plops down beside me on my bed and gives me a one-armed hug. “It's great to meet you! I'm Shana.” She takes my hand and pumps my arm up and down with a firm grip.

“Hi.” I pull away slightly. She smells like buttered toast. Weird. Gram smelled like apple pie. I wonder what I smell like, if anything.

“That's Cinder,” she says, pointing to the sullen girl whose long, black hair hangs over one eye. Cinder doesn't brush it back or even tuck it behind her ears, but carries her aura of sorrow like a heavy shroud. I feel depressed just looking at her. She may have brown eyes, but I can't tell. She walks slowly to her bed and sits, keeping her chin tucked to her chest.

The third girl, who is at least six feet tall with the shoulders of a linebacker and thick flexing hands, towers over the rest of us. She glares, animosity radiating from her in palpable, threatening waves.

Other books

Monkey Play by Alyssa Satin Capucilli
Little Altars Everywhere by Rebecca Wells
Hell on Wheels by Julie Ann Walker
Men of the Otherworld by Kelley Armstrong
The Nowhere Emporium by Ross Mackenzie
F Paul Wilson - LaNague 02 by Wheels Within Wheels (v5.0) Copyright 2016 - 2024