Read Reluctant Guardian Online

Authors: Melissa Cunningham

Reluctant Guardian (5 page)

“Alisa, may I speak with you a moment?” Anaita's soft whisper makes me wince. I try not to show any feeling when I turn to face her, but dread spreads through me like slow moving tar as I see her eyes harden. I make my way back across the room to where her ivory desk rests under a wide, bright window. She leans against her desk, pink robes fanning out around her.

“Raphael spoke to me about your desire to become a guardian. I think it's a little soon.” She doesn't smile, but cocks her head as though trying to figure me out. She'll have no success in that area. I can't even figure myself out.

“Well,” I answer finally. “You're wrong.” I fight the urge to cover my lips, blocking the escape of any other errant words.

Her eyes darken and she crosses her arms over her chest. “I see fire in your soul, Alisa, and that is a good thing... sometimes. But if you are to succeed, you'll need more than just fire. You'll need unwavering confidence. Your charge will rebel at every turn. He'll try to escape your influence. He... well, it doesn't matter. You're sure to fail.”

“Does this mean I
go?” I ask in surprise.

She sighs and walks around her desk. “We discussed it and the vote was mostly in your favor.”

She must have voted otherwise. Not a big surprise.



~Learning in the Library~



I float all the way back to my cottage and can't wait to share the good news, especially with Deedre. I feel a tiny desire to rub it in just a bit. She got here before me after all, and now I'll be the first to leave. Take that!

I open the door with all the drama I can muster and... no one is there. I stare at the empty, quiet room, deflated, but then a spark of excitement begins to glow inside me. This is the perfect time to visit the library! I have nothing else to do. Slamming the door behind me, I race toward downtown
Idir Shaol
. I pass a few buildings, not remembering what they are for, and easily find my favorite place in the entire world.

The library.

It looks just like it should. Red, glittery brick, tinted windows, cement steps leading inside. And there are people everywhere. Their voices carry easily as they visit, bustle about, or sit at desks, working at what looks like small, compact computers. I move slowly, completely absorbed and baffled by this strange, new experience.

A group on carpeted risers sits before a movie screen in the corner of the large room. I make my way over, curious about what has captured their attention. They stare with determined focus, watching the film. The small-scale amphitheater seems cozy so I sit on the edge of a riser next to a friendly looking girl.

“What's going on?” I whisper.

“Shh,” she says, glancing at me, and then turning back to the movie.

“But what are you watching?”

“A training visual. Be quiet.”

“For what?” I ask.

She turns and faces me fully, a frown pulling on her lips. “A training visual is instructional media on how to be a guardian.”


“Shh!” The group turns to stare at us. My mouth snaps shut, and I fight the instant desire to stand up and leave, but I'm curious, so I stay and watch. This is what I'll be doing after all. Being a guardian.

An instant yearning for hot, buttery popcorn comes to me, but since they don't have hot, buttery popcorn here, I feel empty and deprived, hating myself for what I am missing on earth. There's no way to curb this craving, so I sit there, depressed that I'll never taste my favorite treat again.

The video continues with a spirit guardian tagging along behind his charge, who is battling a desire to enter a bar. The guardian hovers behind him, whispering frantically into his ear. They stand on the street corner, the man's eyes glued to the door of the bar. He wears a leather jacket and seems about the same age as my dad. Probably in his late forties. His hands clench and unclench as his Adam's apple bobs up and down.

“He's an alcoholic,” the girl next to me whispers. “He just finished AA.”

“Oh,” I whisper back. “So why is he at a bar?”

The girl scowls at me like I'm an idiot. “That's the whole point. His guardian is trying to talk him out of going inside.”

I have the feeling she wants to add a
to the end of her sentence.

The scene plays out and I lean forward, my toes clenched and my eyes straining even though the picture is crystal clear. I'm spellbound, holding my breath. Will the guy screw up months of success for just one drink? Will he throw all those torturous hours of AA away?

Just when I'm sure he'll lose the battle, the man turn and hails an approaching taxi. The people sitting next to me jump up and cheer, their hands in the air. I find myself jumping up too, hugging the girl next to me in celebration of the man's success. A thrill of excitement rushes through us.

Will my charge have temptations like this? Will people here watch my work? As cool as that sounds, I'm not someone who wants an audience. I'm sure to screw up if I know people can see me in a movie like this. “Do you watch these training visuals all the time?”

“Oh sure,” she says. “Especially if there's a special situation where the task is difficult and the guardian is successful. They want us to learn from one another's achievements... and failures.”

“Right. Got it.” I'm sure to be in lights someday. Probably to show what
to do. When the group disperses, I meander to a different part of the library, anxious to see what else this fascinating locality offers.

I pass some high bookshelves and stop to pull a book down. The pages are thick and appear very old, crackling with a musty odor when the pages part. The words are in a strange language. One I don't understand, so I put it back and pull down another, only to find the same thing. What is this section? Where are the romance novels? The suspense thrillers?

“Are you lost?” a voice behind me asks.

I turn to see a small woman in white carrying a large stack of ancient tomes. Not unlike the one I'm holding.

“You work here?” I feel an instant liking for this woman. She seems sweet, motherly.

“Yes. I do. Are you lost? Most people don't wander around here aimlessly,” she says with a smile and a wink. “You must be new. Can I help you find something?”

“Well, I came to read, but there's so much to see.” I look at all the different people watching videos, conversing, or in discussion groups. I can't see one person just lazing around reading.

“This isn't a library like you'll find on Earth if that's what you mean,” she explains. Everyone has a job to do, or is in training.”

“Oh. Well, I'm leaving for Earth soon to be a guardian.”

“That says a lot about you.” She places her hand gently on my forearm. “You must be an old soul, wise and sent to earth quickly.”

Old soul? Wise? She definitely has me mixed up with somebody else.

“I have some time to visit if you'd like.” She smiles with a warmth I can't ignore, and I'm so lonely that I take her up on her offer.

“My name is Annabelle. I've worked here for a long time. Over a century.” She sits down at a nearby table, so I sit opposite her.

“You've worked here a hundred years?”

“Yes. Time doesn't move the same here like it does on earth, but I love my job. I chose to come here, to help souls like you.” She sits back with a serene expression. “What is your name, dear?”

“Alisa. Alisa Callahan.” This lady reminds me of my grandmother, which is actually kind of wonderful. She has the same oval face and twinkly blue eyes. Even their smiles are similar. She makes me feel wanted and comfortable. Something I've been craving for a long time.

Annabelle leans forward, her countenance open and peaceful. “I died of natural causes in the late eighteen hundreds. After I died, I learned that all spirits continue to work, to help out in some way. There's a lot to be done in every area of existence.”

Will I have to work for eternity too? Actually
Did Gram have a job? Did Natty? I close my eyes in despair. I don't want to work forever. I want to rest. I'm tired. That was the whole point of killing myself. I shake my head and glance down at my hands.

“What did you imagine people do after death?” she asks kindly. “Float on clouds of happiness all day?” She places her hand over mine and gives me a couple of squeezes. “That would get a little boring after a while. Don't you think?”

Actually, no. I don't think it would. It sounds wonderful.

“I know it's a lot to take in, but once you return from your guardianship, you'll be able to choose where you'd like to contribute. That is, if you succeed.”

I glance back at her. “
I succeed? What happens if I don't?”

She pauses and slowly raises her eyes to meet mine. “You go to Soul Prison.”



~A Bad Deal~



Brecken sits across the kitchen table from Damion, a kid he knows from school. He wouldn't exactly call him a friend, more of a means to an end... kind of. More and more often though, Brecken has been told to do things he doesn't like, things that cross the line, but how else will he get the extra money he needs?

He can't call his dad. Those conversations always end in an argument, with his dad telling him what a crappy job he's doing paying the bills and saving the money he left them. Doesn't his dad realize they need food too?

Anger at his hopeless situation sprouts anew, and his resolve to go along with Damion's latest scheme strengthens.

“They're gone by eight in the morning,” Damian says, his dark eyes intense. “They have a dog, but it's little and can't do any damage. Kill it for all I care. They're crappy neighbors anyway. They leave their bathroom window cracked open. Idiots. Anyway, there's a screen on it, but you can easily push it out. Go for the master bedroom. Jewelry, that kind of stuff. All I want is a third of what you take.”

“A quarter. I'm the one taking the risk.” Brecken gazes into Damion's muddy, brown eyes with disgust. The only reason he is still here is because their phone will be disconnected tomorrow if they don't pay the dumb bill. Brecken needs ninety-five bucks, and if he's late paying, not only will his cell phone be turned off, but his dad's too. It's a family plan, and his dad needs his phone for his business.


Brecken grits his teeth and looks down at his hands, shame blossoming in his chest, making his heart feel as dirty as the grime under his fingernails.

He leaves with not only regret, but a raw dose of fear too. How can he continue to live like this?



~First Glimpse of Hell~



“Soul Prison?” I repeat, staring into Annabelle's eyes in horror. “Like a penitentiary?” I don't want to be punished forever for one little misunderstanding. That doesn't seem fair. I want a shot at redemption, to be with my family, with Natty. I can't go to prison!

Annabelle continues to smile as if it's no big deal, like it happens every day, and maybe it does for some, but not for me. I'm not the jail type. I've never stolen, done drugs, or anything else illegal. Okay, I did try alcohol once, but I didn't like it. That has to count for something. I've never even made out with a boy... officially. Nothing past first base.

I killed myself to be free!

“There are areas of Soul Prison that aren't so bad,” she says. “Some people even like it there. Other parts though... ” She shivers. “You don't want to know.”

She is right about that.

She twists away and closes her eyes, becoming quiet and perfectly still. “One moment, please,” she says putting her finger up for silence. “I'm getting a message.”

I frown, waiting. “Annabelle?”

She is still for a moment longer and then turns back to me. “Raphael... I assume you know him?”


“He knows you're here with me in the library.”

Of course he does. There is less privacy here than on Earth. What a surprise.

“He says I should take you to visit Soul Prison so you can see firsthand what it's like. That the experience will help you. It's not one of my normal duties, but I would be happy to be your guide.” She stands and smiles sweetly, then offers me her hand.

I stay in my seat, my hands in my lap. “I don't want to go there.”

She chuckles and reaches for my hand anyway. “Not to be imprisoned. Just to see it.”

She links arms with me, and I brace myself for what is sure to be torture.

We disappear from the library with a blink of her eyes. It seems to take a long time and I wait to appear... somewhere. Anywhere. I feel suspended in darkness. The landscape looks unnaturally shadowy, and I can barely see Annabelle beside me. “When will we get there?” I whisper after a moment.

here, dear.”

She pulls me down a slightly sloping path as a heavy blanket of fear wraps around me. The darkness is almost enough to drive me to my knees, because I feel it all around me. A viscous mist descends, its gummy substance accumulating on my arms. It won't come off and sticks to my fingers like gum. Horrifying screeches, like wounded animals dying in pain, rise on the dank air.

I can't do this. I can't be in this place. “What is this?” I shriek, trying to wipe my arms.

“It's desperation, sweetie. Defeat. Agony. The torment of guilt.”

The wailing grows louder, penetrating me like a dull knife, magnifying the horror of this evil place. “Can't someone help that poor... whatever it is?” I ask, distracted by the gooey mist collecting on me. It mushes between my toes, fills my hair, and sticks to the roof of my mouth.

This evil place, this dark world, has wrapped its sinewy fingers around me, clinging with the icy chill of dead hands, dead souls, and dead dreams. Not only do I feel physically tormented but emotionally too. Hopelessness, fear, and anger, as though live entities, float in the mist, making me want to lie down and die all over again. This is way worse than my funeral.

Other books

Gates of Dawn by Susan Barrie
Survivor in Death by J. D. Robb
The Broken Lands by Robert Edric
One Wrong Move by Shannon McKenna
Transparent Things by Vladimir Nabokov
Finding His Shot by Sarah Rose Copyright 2016 - 2023