• Bonnie Randall

How Far Is Heaven? A Magical Realism Short Story



Winston’s eyesight was dodgy. He tripped over his own feet more often than not. But when it came to his intuition he was never wrong. That’s how he knew that something was just not right about that librarian. He eyeballed her from over the weighty volume he’d just taken out, the one she bared her teeth over when he’d asked if he could remove it from the library for just one night.

“The Nephilim Collection is privately owned and restricted from being removed,” she said, then whapped a pair of gloves in his hands. “For when you turn the pages.”

Winston stuck the book (and the gloves) under his arm and stomped over to his favorite carrel. But didn’t it just figure that he had to trip? Feet bumbling over the thick soles of his shoes and the volume on Nephilim bouncing end over end in his hands, fragile pages flapping.

“Careful!” The librarian glared, and that was the other thing: those eyes of hers were not normal. Seascape one moment, tiger’s eye the next, they were different every time he came in here. Sometimes within the same day.

“Contact lenses,” said Iz, his business partner and friend. “Ever think about trying them? Those glasses of yours have to weigh seven pounds.”

Winston shoved his spectacles up the bridge of his nose. They weren’t that heavy.

Iz grinned and the librarian, from her spot at the counter, gave him one last, wintry look before slipping outside into the courtyard.

Good place for her. The courtyard was lovely—all verdant ferns and hydrangea bushes in bloom—yet something about it always struck Winston as dark. Mysterious.

Iz, though, routinely met his claims of unease with skepticism folded into her brow. “Honestly, Wince. You see the Devil in way too many details.”

The Devil indeed. He glared at librarian through the window pane and Iz, beside him said, “What now? Why are you giving old Miss Esther and Bram the sticky eyeball?”

“Old…who?” he frowned and Iz hiked a thumb toward a wheelchair, stacked with bedding and parked in front of the window. Winston squinted and…wait. That wasn’t bedding. In the middle, tucked tightly amid blankets, rested a small, withered lady, neck stretched into a contortionist’s angle and her skin, illuminated by courtyard sunshine, so pale and crepe-paper thin that blue spider’s web veins visibly crept under the surface. “Miss Esther?” he asked.

Iz nodded and his heart contracted. Strapped in and immobile, the old lady’s eyes were locked unseeingly out the window while her mouth, slack and open, was pale pink and visibly dry. Was this what life came to? Locked before a view you couldn’t even see?

“And look,” whispered Iz. “Here comes Bram.”

An old black man, skin wrinkled, and gait feeble, shuffled up to the wheelchair. He had a water bottle which clearly pained him to open but then, once he’d cracked it, with trembling hands he dampened a faded, folded hankie. “What’s he—” Winston began, but then the old gentleman lifted the hankie, tenderly touched it to Miss Esther’s parched mouth.

“Stop that!”

A human gazelle, mouth pinched in a knot and arms flailing, flew between Bram and Miss Esther. “Mistress doesn’t need that!” she cawed.

“And that,” Iz said dryly, “Would be Miss Esther’s lady-in-waiting.”

Winston stared. The old lady, all sharp angles and a prim dress circa 1962, reeked of a holier-than-thou scent of pressed powder, perfume he could smell from even way over here at his carrel. “No more!” she cried and swatted the hankie out of Bram’s hand, so hard that water droplets rained all over Miss Esther’s tucked bedding.

“Hey,” he said, and started to rise, but Iz tugged him back down.

“Not worth it, Wince.”

“But...” he said, then recoiled as the old gazelle grasped Bram firmly by the shoulders, spun him around. Winston stared first at her, then at Iz. “What’s with that wrinkled old she-beast?” he asked.

Iz’s grin looked ironic. “Do your glasses need to weight eight pounds, Wince? Can’t you see that Miss Esther is white? And Bram is black? Her lady-in-waiting can’t possibly have that.”

Lady-in-waiting. That was still really a thing? And frowning on black and white couples— that was still a thing?

“Oh, Wince.” Iz shook her head, aptly reading his naiveté.

He blushed, hoping his ingenuousness didn’t offend her. After all, Iz was black too, and there’d once been a time when he wished they would be a black and white couple, a crush that left him praying, night after night, that maybe just once she’d see him as someone other than a big pair of shoes and gangly legs and fingers that could never seem to hold anything without spilling or dropping. But then, one day—“Wince, I love you,” she’d said, and sat him down, held his hands. “But I don’t love you.”

To his surprise the hurt did not tear is heart out. Didn’t last all that long at all, really, and its short shelf-life told him what she clearly had already known: that he too loved her but didn’t love her. Still—“I would crush the windpipe of any fool who ever hurt you,” he had said, the gallantry heartfelt.

She giggled. “I know that, Wince. And that’s why I adore you.”

Adore? It was too strong a word given the way he now watched old Bram gaze at immobile Miss Esther. The softness in the old fellow’s eyes, the tenderness around his mouth—now that was adoration, and it made Winston wonder…did Miss Esther adore old Bram too? Had she ever? Given her generation, and station, would she ever have even let herself? His tongue clucked, unconscious pity, and Iz patted his hand. “She was the lady and he was the groundskeeper, Winston. He should have known better.”

“Poppycock!” he burst, and ignored the way Iz grinned at his preference for old-fashioned expletives. “What’s meant to be always finds a way.”

“And wrongs are meant to be righted?” Iz added, impish, for it was another of his oft-stated sayings.

“Yes,” he replied, and she could call him a romantic or an idealist if she wanted, but his belief in the truth and his unshakeable quest for justice was why their internet podcast, Mindbending Mysteries, was so wildly successful. For no matter the coldness or hopelessness of the cases they investigated, Winston never stopped believing that somehow, some way, they’d be solved—even if sometimes they had to entertain the most outlandish, supernatural fringe theories to help things make sense. Like…now. He looked down at the Nephilim tome the librarian had so reluctantly given him.

Iz did too and the grin slid off her face. “You-um-you think fallen angels have something to do with our latest case?” she asked.

Winston pursed his lips. Strictly speaking, Nephilim were not fallen angels, but rather the descendants of fallen angels who had mated with humans. Yet no matter what they were, he had no idea if they had any connection to their current mystery—a series of vanishings right here in their own city—all he knew was that he’d felt in inexplicable pull to read about Nephilim and learn as much as he could. So—“I think,” he began, but—

“I said Mistress doesn’t want that!”

Miss Esther’s old lady-in-waiting was locked back into battle with Bram, but this time as her gnarled hands snapped and swatted, an echoing movement occurred out the courtyard window. “Uh-oh,” Bram murmured as the odd-eyed librarian threw her watering can to the ground. He shuddered for it appeared that the leaves leaned in her wake as she marched back inside. “Ahem!” she said, and was behind Esther’s wheelchair far faster than Winston thought she should have been able (but then again, and as Iz simply loved to point out, his eyesight really wasn’t all that it could be). Then she announced, loud enough for every patron to hear “Miss Esther will sit amongst the hydrangeas today.”

Winston shuddered. The librarian’s voice, clear and commanding, reminded him of the way mountain water sounded when it slid over rocks: rhythmic and fluid—yet icy.

“Wince?” Iz peered at him. “What’s wrong?”

That librarian. She wasn’t wrong, exactly, but…something about her just wasn’t right. Those strange eyes. That icy water-upon-stones sounding voice. And her hair—who had hair like that? A sheet that fell down to her knees, it was neither platinum nor gray. Instead…”Iridescent,” he mumbled. Near reflective. “Her hair,” he murmured. “Ever see hair like that?”

“Sure.” Iz shrugged. “Women go broke paying stylists for that trend: white-grey.” She tugged a coil of her onyx locks. “It would never work on me,” she added, grin merry.

Winston didn’t return it. The librarian’s hair…the color wasn’t unnatural. And that’s what made it unnatural. Shivering, he looked away as outside the foliage in that courtyard seemed to embrace her and immobile Miss Esther. But when his gaze landed on the gold embossed title on the book—NEPHILIM—he swallowed, rough.

Iz watched him. “Wince, maybe you need a break from researching our cases. I told you before: you’re starting to see the Devil in the details.”

She wasn’t wrong, but—“No,” he murmured and squared the Nephilim volume before him. “All these missing people, Iz. What if we land on a theory that helps?”

“A theory out of this book?” She skeptically tapped it.

“Maybe,” he said, but his gaze strayed beyond, out the courtyard window. There amid a green embrace, the librarian set the brake on Miss Esther’s chair, parked it in a shady alcove of branches dripping with fluffy hydrangea and hostas rising up out of the ground. A gate stood partially open to the old lady’s right, and when the librarian flicked a finger in its direction Winston could not suppress a gasp.

“What?” said Iz, but he didn’t reply. Watched instead as the librarian dipped down low to speak into Miss Esther’s ear.

The old lady smiled. Did she smile? It was there in a twinkle but then gone as her mouth fell slack again. Scrutinizing her, Winston wondered—was he really just seeing the Devil in all the details? He pulled his gaze away, jittery and unaccountably nervous. But when he cast a glance around to recalibrate, he gasped again and “I-iz?” he croaked. “D-d’you see that?”

A poster-board entitled LIBRARY CRAFTS! hung upon the north wall and was a collage of several haphazard snapshots scotch-taped atop paper. Upon it were kids making baking soda volcanoes. Paper mache hats. Creating leaf rubbings while in the background the librarian—she— smiled encouragingly.

Iz followed the path of his pointed finger and then they said, in unison, “Terry Dean.”

Terry Dean was an eight year old boy with a cowlick and wide, wary eyes. He had vanished into thin air a few weeks ago after leaving…. “Here,” Winston rasped and, staring at Terry Dean’s photo, he remembered the lone time he’d seen the child in the community. In the Superstore parking lot, to be exact. Terry Dean had been walking with his mother when he’d squatted down to examine something—perhaps a neat bug, maybe a found coin. Big mistake. His mother had jerked him upright so forcefully Winston had cried out. Then, as the child rubbed his stinging arm, she’d gotten right down in his face, snarling and hissing too quietly for Winston to hear.

Not that the specific words mattered. Winston’s gut churned as she frog-marched the little boy over to their vehicle then wrestled him into the back seat. She was enraged for no other reason than that her son had dared break her stride by acting like a normal little boy, and as she burned out of the lot, Winston could see Terry Dean’s face through the back passenger window. The child’s eyes were shiny, smarting from pain, yet the rest of his expression had been what tore his heart out. Resignation. Misery. Meaning what the child had just experienced was really nothing new. And it wouldn’t be long before anything Mom said or did wouldn’t even hurt anymore because Terry Dean would get hard. He’d get mean. Yet deep down beneath all of that bitterness—and long after he became an old man like Bram—the child who would remain inside forever would always long for a mother’s love. And wonder why he never deserved it.

“Wrongs are meant to be righted,” he remembered whispering, to himself, watching that mother burn away. Yet after Terry Dean had gone missing, that same statement haunted him, and he confided in Iz what he’d seen in the parking lot that day.

She had wept. “Wince, that poor little boy. Abused like that and now someone …someone….”

Now someone—or something—had done the unspeakable. To Terry Dean and to others. A widower was gone. A vagrant who’d lived on the corner right outside this very library had simply evaporated. ‘Wrongs were meant to be righted’, yet these innocent people, who had already been suffering, had vanished with no trace, no warning, no sign. “Where?” Winston muttered now. “And how?”

The volume on Nephilim was under his fingertips. He cracked it, but a shriek rose from outside.

“I said Mistress doesn’t want that!”

Winston looked and old Bram had found his way out into to the hydrangeas. But the lady-in-waiting had too, and there she was, bony angles flapping with righteous indignation.

The librarian materialized in the courtyard (how the heck did she always appear out of nowhere like that?), face stern and iridescent hair swinging. “If you cannot be quiet, you will have to leave.” Winston could hear her, through the window. Then she turned to Bram. “Sir, come with me.” She offered her arm and the old man took it, old world manners holding sway, and he offered not so much as a weak protest as she led him back inside, lowered him into a window seat.

Yet the way he splayed an open, longing hand upon the window pane cracked Winston’s heart. Had Miss Esther ever loved him too? It seemed like, outside in her chair, the old lady had shifted her head so that she could see Bram as well, but then the librarian crouched beside the old man, obscured Winston’s view, and as she spoke into Bram’s ear, he was chilled once again as she gestured to the gate, cracked open outside in the courtyard.

But then old Bram’s face lit into a smile so beatific that Winston’s chill ran away, and it made him wonder, for the rest of the evening and well into the blackness of night, what the librarian had said to make the old fellow beam as if he were a young man.

The next day he was back in his carrel and old Bram was back at the window. Miss Esther and the gazelle sat outside, oblivious and prim, in that order. Winston gazed at all three of them for a moment then dug out a ballpoint, filled out a call-slip for the Nephilim tome.

“Again?” The librarian said, voice that same cold water-upon-rocks.

Winston lifted his chin, hopelessly aware that there’d been a cowlick on the back of his head this morning, one he hadn’t been able to tame.

“Gloves.” She pasted a pair onto his palm.

“I’m not going to wreck it,” he replied, intentionally waspish.

“Really?” Today her eyes were an impossible forest-lawn green. “I’ve watched you spill soda all over your own lap. Miss your mouth and smear ice cream on your face. You trip, you fall, you stumble. And that book is fragile.”

“Yeah, well, I can also be careful,” he huffed, but as he turned to stomp away he smacked into old Bram with enough force to make the poor gentleman wobble like an uncertain bowling pin. “Oh, my goodness, sir!” Winston righted him, the heavy Nephilim tome awkward under his arm. “I’m so sorry.”

“S’okay, son.” Bram cupped a free hand around a hydrangea he held, its petals barely winning the battle with his tremors.

“Is that for Miss Esther?”

“Yes, son.” Bram’s voice, serrated by age, still held a deep timbre that made most men envious—and most women weak in the knees. Winston wondered how Miss Esther had once felt when she’d heard him, and looked at the hydrangea.

"Could I take that to her for you?” he asked and their eyes met, shared meaning.

“Yes, son,” Bram said again.

Winston took the hydrangea, fully aware of how the librarian watched him, caustic eyes and no doubt ready to scold him if so much as one petal rained onto the floor. “I’ll pick up any mess,” he snapped, and was pleased when she looked a little taken aback.

“Don’t get pollen on the book,” she replied.

Oh, stuff your precious book, he thought, and threw her a look of venom that she returned with such force he was shaken. ‘Nephilim walk among us.’ It was the only line he’d been able to read in the book so far, and it occurred to him now. “And they look almost human,” he added, and started shaking as he fled out into the courtyard.

Miss Esther was parked in the shade. He crouched beside her. “Good day, my lady. May I present you with a posy?”

“Oh, my!” Her lady-in-waiting trilled. “Aren’t you the most charming boy!”

Of course I am, he thought nastily. I’m white. A sour smile affixed his lips but then faded as he slid the stem of the hydrangea beneath Miss Esther’s immobile hand, ropy with protruding veins. “You’re very loved, my lady,” he whispered.

Miss Esther’s mouth moved. “Love,” she breathed, and Winston followed the path of her gaze—through the window and straight back at old Bram, whose hand was pasted, ever pasted, on the pane. “Wrongs are meant to be righted,” he whispered, then kissed her, chastely and upon her weathered temple. Then he retreated before her corrosive old lady-in-waiting took it upon herself to ask him what they’d just said.

Back at his carrel, his cell was pinging. Iz, frantic. “Have you checked the news?” Her tone made his belly drop and, keeping her on the line, he opened a tab on his laptop.

INFANT MISSING

A picture anchored the headline, a baby, thin and clad in a sagging diaper. It had sticky looking cheeks and what little hair sprouted off its vaguely misshapen head appeared matted and gluey. It wore a smile too, yet the expression struck Winston as more dogged than happy, and what was more—“I’ve seen this baby,” he said.

“Shhh!” hissed the librarian.

He shot her a look, and Iz, on the phone, said “Where?”

Winston swallowed. “H-here,” he said and his gaze hopped over to where, just a week ago, he’d watched a mother push a rickety stroller up to the front desk. “Got a phone I could use?” she’d asked, dead-eyed and vaguely twitching. There’d been open sores on her legs.

“No.” The librarian, changeable eyes as unmoved as always, stared her down, softening only (and even then only slightly) when she’d seen the baby, slurping on a bottle that appeared to be filled with orange pop. “You need this more than a phone,” she said, then handed the mother a voucher from a stack on the counter, courtesy of the local soup kitchen.

The woman crumpled it, dropping it on the floor. “Thanks for nothing,” she said, and on cue the baby started crying as she squeaky-wheeled their way out the door. “Oh, shut up,” she’d told it, then she was gone.

And now her baby was gone.

Winston’s mouth tasted metallic. “What the heck is going on?” he whispered.

“Whatever it is,” replied Iz, “I’d feel better if we were working together, not apart.”

“As you wish, my lady,” he sallied but the gallantry sounded cardboard and tasted like sawdust. He gathered his laptop and notebooks, then with trembling hands hoisted the Nephilim tome—unread yet again—and took it back to the counter. A framed picture between the soup kitchen vouchers and bookmarks stopped him short and what little air was left in his lungs disappeared. The missing widower. Seated within a circle of others, he’d been photographed in a spot just beyond Winston’s favored carrel, the place where the local book club always met, often interrupting his research with their boisterous, spirited discussions.

The librarian silently materialized at the counter, surveyed him with her fathomless eyes. “Join our book club?” she intoned.

Oh, heck no! Winston’s heart thwacked and when their eyes met everything inside iced over, arctic cold.

A low moan sliced through their staring contest and when they looked out into the courtyard, the lady-in-waiting was forcibly pushing Bram away from Miss Esther, who was braying in either pain or protest, Winston wasn’t sure.

“God above!” burst the librarian and the exclamation felt, to Winston at least, far more powerful than the mild words really were. ‘You’re seeing the Devil in all the details’. Maybe Iz was right. Although…he glanced back at the framed photo. Maybe she was wrong. For now a new detail was emerging: everyone who’d gone missing was connected to this library.

Or to this librarian.

He fled but tripped as he bolted for the door, feet and knees tumbling over each other to send him sprawling. Not that anyone noticed. For old Bram, having shuffled back to the window where glass separated him and Miss Esther, wept noisily. And Winston, feeling hopeless and inept, sad and scared, wondered if maybe he should weep too.

***

“We need to go to the police,” said Iz.

“No.” Winston taped a bandaid over the rug burn on his knee. “I want to catch her myself.”

“How?” squeaked Iz.

“There’s a clue in that Nephilim book. That’s why she’s so guard-some of it. Why she taunts me about it. Iz, I know it.”

“Like…you intuitively know it? Or you know it because you don’t like her?”

One and the same, he thought darkly, and Iz, studying his face, said “What’s your plan?”

“I’m going to break in there.”

“Into the library? To steal that book? Wince, I hate to remind you, but you can barely walk without creating a catastrophe and besides—there’s law enforcement everywhere right now! People are going missing, in case you’ve forgotten. It’s not safe.”

“Life isn’t safe,” he replied, and it would have been a great exit line had he not misjudged the distance between he and the door. The edge of it whacked him in the face as he whipped it open, and he nursed a nosebleed all the way over to the library.

Where he could scarcely believe his good luck.

The door was ajar. He squinted over the tissue mashed to his nose, hardly trusting what he was seeing, yet…. A yellow cleaning cart was wedged between the front double doors so he bolted, slithering between its front garbage bin, and scraping his backbone from behind on the door latch. Nonetheless—“I’m in!” he whispered, then promptly kicked a garbage can out of a queue of others, sending it clattering and forcing himself to dive down low beside the librarian’s counter, cursing himself. What a typical Winston move! He held his breath, waiting for the custodian to come storming out.

No one did. He waited one extra beat and then exhaled, unfolding himself and carefully creeping to the back where the Nephilim book was shelved with other relics like it.

A silver flash out the courtyard window froze him fast and he ducked again, peeking up, out the glass. The librarian! Gliding, iridescent hair aglow in the moonlight, she moved toward the ajar gate that never failed to unnerve him, even though he now sort of thought of it as belonging to Miss Esther and Bram. Staying statue still, he plastered himself against the front of the counter, watching. The librarian was carrying something. A bundle.

A moving bundle.

He stared and could feel his heartbeat start to quake as his gut knew, before his brain, what was wrapped in that bundle. Nonetheless, he still gasped when a little leg wriggled free and began kicking. Then a small, clenched fist poked out and “The baby!” he wheezed. “The missing baby!”

Approaching the gate, the librarian leaned down, and though she whispered to the bundled baby, Winston could still, even through the glass, somehow hear her. “Wrongs were meant to be righted,” she said, and Winston was shocked that she used that phrase. His phrase. Then—

“Oh my God!” he cried for she threw it. The bundle, the baby, she threw it through the open gate. “M-monster!” he cried and leapt from where he was crouched, bolted out into the courtyard. “Evil!” he shouted. “Nephilim!” He stumbled upon the uneven cobblestones, panting and choking on the perfumed hydrangeas and on the thick scent of moss, damp and cloying. His gaze bounced all around. The librarian was gone, but the gate was…there! Straight ahead. He bolted.

Branches bit his face and he was slapped by a low hanging elm, verdant and thick. Fighting his way backward “Wh-what?” he said, confused. “Where?” Spitting leaves out, he looked. There! The gate was over there. Somehow he’d misjudged direction. He raced for it anew, but—

Hydrangeas. Hostas. And to his left the elm. To his right a different hedge, indiscernible in the moonlight. And the gate….the gate was gone.

How could it be gone?

He rocked back on his heels, eyes gobbling the foliage that now encircled the courtyard. There was no gate. The gate was gone. And the librarian—the baby—they also were gone.

Winston began sweating. Shaking. Then “Hey!” A waving hand caught his eye on the other side of the window. The custodian, presumably the one with the yellow cart, opened the inside door. “You get locked out here by mistake?” he asked. “Not a good thing to be stuck anywhere all alone lately. Not with all these weird vanishins goin’ on ’round town.”

Winston nodded and followed him back inside, still trembling and eyes wildly wanting to both hide and track back out the window. The gate! Where had it gone? Or, more importantly, where did it go?

The custodian wore big eyes. “Whaddya make of all these disappearins?” he asked.

“M-monster,” Winston choked, then steeled himself, looked outside,

The gate was right where it always was, partially ajar and with moonlight streaming through its top lattice.

“Ah, a monster.” The custodian nodded, sage. “I agree. Only a monster would steal children and an old widowed man.”

Yes. And tomorrow Winston and that monster would have a showdown. He drew a deep breath, grimacing as he accidentally kicked yet another garbage can as he raced from the library.

The next morning he was at the library before it was unlocked and shocked to see he was not the first one to arrive. Miss Esther already sat in the courtyard, staring at the gate in a way that made Winston’s gut quiver. The librarian regarded him placidly with moonlight colored eyes. “Sometimes I let her in early,” she said, then looked down at his empty hands with surprise. “I don’t see a call-slip.”

He squared his shoulders. “I don’t need your book today.”

“Oh?” A smile crouched in her eyes. “Are you sure?”

Monster, he thought. Nephilim. And glared at her. But then—“No!” A cry from outside. “Mistress does not want that!”

“Already?” said the librarian wearily, then glanced at him. “It’s time,” she said. “Come with me.”

Come with…. “I do beg your pardon?” he said, and stayed rooted to the spot while she, with her typical fluid speed, had already opened the courtyard door.

She turned and her changeable eyes now glowed, sunlit amber. “You are fond of a saying,” she said. “‘Wrongs are meant to be righted’.”

Winston felt his jaw become stiff as he lifted it. “I’ve heard you say it too.”

A faint smile graced her face. “Yes,” she said. “It seems you have.” Then she glided out into the courtyard, slipping effortlessly between Miss Esther’s lady-in-waiting and Bram.

Winston hesitated. Beyond them all, the gate seemed open a bit wider than normal. He could hear it, quietly creaking as it moved in the breeze.

“You,” the librarian was addressing the lady-in-waiting, “Will go to the front desk. Ask for a cold bottle of water for Miss Esther.”

The old gazelle blustered, gangly arms all akimbo and the rouge on her cheeks standing out in bright spots.

“Right now!” the librarian snapped and the command in her voice worked. The old lady blustered, but then her sensible shoes rocked across the lumpy cobblestones, making her stumble in a way that nearly made Winston feel sympathy. Then the librarian barked. “It’s time!” again, and pointed at him “Grab his arm!” she said, and gestured at Bram who, eternally an arm’s length away from Miss Esther, fretted.

“She is thirsty,” he mumbled, deep voice rasping with age. “She is sad.”

Winston’s heart cracked. “I know, sir, but—”

“For God’s sake, hurry!” the librarian cried and Winston marveled at how he, reflexively it seemed, obeyed her, approaching Bram and offering his arm.

“Thank you, son,” the old gentleman said, and latched on, shuffled alongside him over the cobblestones.

“Try not to trip,” the librarian tossed over her shoulder, then wheeled Miss Esther quickly toward—

“No!” Winston gasped and Bram rocked bedside him as he came to a full stop in front of the gate. “Not—”

“You shall do as you’re commanded!” The librarian glared and this time her strange eyes burned with heat Winston could feel, a scorch on his face. “Obey,” she said, voice all hard stones and terrible, chilling water. Nephilim, Winston thought, but that mesmeric, reflexive sensation was back and…and he could not defy her.

“Now hurry,” she said, a little softer, and spared a furtive glance through the window. The old gazelle-in-waiting had indeed got a water bottle. She was returning. “God!” exclaimed the librarian and something about it sent a chill straight through Winston’s gut as she rapidly turned Miss Esther’s chair, squared it in front of the gate. “Ready?” she said, but Winston wasn’t sure who she spoke to. Then she struck a foot out, kicked the gate all the way open.

“Light!” He cried out, blinded, while Bram tugged his arm, moving hurriedly forward.

“Just shove!” he heard the librarian say as his eyes stung and seared, and he could just barely see that she’d flattened her hands on the back of Miss Esther’s chair. “Shove!” she repeated and he felt Bram move forward beside him. ‘Shove’ the command again was a mesmeric reflex, and he felt his arms jut out, palms up and pushing.

“Goodbye, son,” was the last thing he heard old Bram say and then….

And then light. An open gate. And they…they were gone.

No! His heart fell to his shoes. What had he—they—done? He whirled to face the librarian.

She was looking over his shoulder, speaking in the direction of the door. “Ma’am, I’m so sorry, but I wasn’t quick enough. Mr. Bram grabbed Miss Esther’s wheelchair, and…”

The old gazelle emitted a howl of indignation. Of rage. Winston’s skin crawled but the librarian, unperturbed, stepped aside of the gate, flourished an arm. “You’re welcome to go after them,” she said.

Winston’s jaw dropped and before he could stop her, the old gazelle shoved him aside, barreled through the gate…

The sound of her shouting rang out, clearly, then immediately dropped off and became… distant. Small and from unmistakably down. Falling. She was falling. That gate led to—

“Nowhere you want to go,” said the librarian, pleasantly, then beamed. “And for the record, I am not a descendant of angels and nor am I one of the Fallen. I’ve never fallen.” She grinned a little. “I’ve actually only ever…flew.” She smiled.

He did not. She cocked her head. “You’re scared,” she said.

Who wouldn’t be? He stared at her.

She sighed. “Maybe it will help if you see Bram and Miss Esther.”

He recoiled but she offered her arm. “Come on now.” She raised the crook of her arm, cajoling, and with her free hand she pushed the gate open wide.

Scorching light billowed at them and “Hush,” she said, and for a moment Winston wondered what he’d said, thought she was talking to him. But when he allowed himself to squint it was the light that had responded to her command, and she was still proffering an arm. “Come,” she said. “Look.”

He didn’t move, wouldn’t move, but then, on the other side of the gate a voice resounded, a deep baritone that he knew.

“See?” The librarian smiled. “Let me show you.” She waggled her arm.

Shaking, Winston set his hand in its crook and they walked into the embrace of light. He glanced behind, nervous, and could see the gate swinging, but the library… “It’s gone,” he squeaked.

“It does that.” She wrinkled her nose. “But it’ll be back when you need it. Now look.” She pointed, and he obeyed, but…all it was was a garden. An impressive garden, expansive and filled with every flower he knew but still…

“J-just a garden,” he said, and “N-no hydrangeas,” he tacked on, wobbly.

“No,” The librarian smiled. “No hydrangeas. But there is that.” She gestured and Winston then saw a woman, slight and with a cap of blonde hair, peek out from around a bushy tree. She wore a heart-stopping smile and “Can you catch me?” she called, then tossed a playful wink over her shoulder. Winston searched and a man, heavy set and black, jogged after her, face caught into a big smile and features not weathered or wrinkled. Instead he looked smooth and handsome. Ageless.

“Catch me now,” said the blonde, and hopped behind another lush tree.

The man—Bram! It’s Bram, Winston thought, wondrously—scratched his head in mock confusion but when Miss Esther jumped out at him he caught her ’round the waist, whirled her in a merry circle. “My love,” he said, and Winston’s heart puddled. “I will take care of you forever.”

Miss Esther beamed. “Welcome to my forever,” she said, but then—“Oops!” A little boy ran into them, face beaming and pink and filled with the flush of new wonder. “I found a bug!” he exclaimed. “Look at this bug!”

“Terry Dean,” Winston rasped and felt his eyes fill as Bram and Miss Esther dutifully crouched down, peeked into his small hands.

“And over there,” murmured the librarian, directing Winston to look near a grove of trees where a man—the widower from book club!—had his arm slung around a woman who could only be his wife while his other hand patted the shoulder of—“The homeless man,” he said, blinking as the man scooped up a baby, the baby, off the grass where it crawled, cherubic and no longer neglected or sickly.

“We should probably go back now,” the librarian said, turning them.

Winston stayed rooted still. “So…this is Heaven?” he said.

She lofted both brows. “Is that what your so-called old gazelle would call it?”

Oh, heck no. He curdled recalling the sound of her shout falling, falling….

“This is where wrongs become righted,” the librarian said, then led them back, through the gate where only elms, hydrangeas, and a few hostas grew. She turned to face him. “Some people never get what they truly deserve here on Earth,” she said and then her smile became impish, reminding him a whole lot of Iz. “So every once in a while I’m allowed to come down here and hasten the process.”

Winston was gaping like a fish and he knew it. “S-so are you saying that you…you’re an—”

“We’ll finish talking about me in a minute,” she said. “For now let me ask you, Winston—”

It registered, albeit distantly, that this was the first time she’d actually called him by name.

“—have you ever even bothered to read that Nephilim book you’ve been so anxious to see?”

No. Every time he’d tried some cacophony or calamity in the library would seize his attention and he’d have to close it or put it away.

“I didn’t think so.” She watched his face. “So how about I capture in a couple sentences what that ridiculously long volume takes a pretentious amount of words to say. Nephilim are the result of fallen angels’ liaisons with humans.”

Of course. That much he knew.

“And in the early days those descendants were lumbering, pea-headed giants. But over millennia their traits watered down and they just became people who…well, often they’re tall. Sometimes gangly. But always markedly cumbersome.” She paused and, in his mind’s eye he could see Miss Esther’s lady-in-waiting, all spindly angles and awkward arms and legs.

“Oh!” he said. “So the gazelle—”

“Yes,” the librarian confirmed, then chewed her lip and, after a moment, added “Nephilim are also exceedingly clumsy.”

Why, yes. The old gazelle had been very clumsy.

The librarian’s face corkscrewed, as if she were waiting. But when he said nothing, she added “They can also be highly meddlesome and controlling. Now, often it’s because they think their way is the right way—which is why their ancestors came down to Earth in the first place.”

His head bobbed. The old gazelle had practically contorted her nasty old self in order to separate a black man and a white woman in love. And now…he glanced at the gate, belly twisting as he remembered the sound of her falling—and heart soaring as he remembered Miss Esther and Bram, young and in love forever.

“But,” the librarian went on, “sometimes Nephilim are meddlesome simply because they’re insatiably curious. They are supernatural beings, after all. So any type of unknown or mystery compels them like a moth to a flame.” Again she waited and he looked at her. Stared at her, really. Then he felt his mouth loll open, reminiscent of poor old Miss Esther.

“And,” she said, “just like angels (for the Fallen were angels, never forget that, Winston) some Nephilim have a deep and unquenchable thirst for justice. They think every wrong deserves to be righted.” She looked at him, meaningfully, and he felt his eyes become wide. She offered her hand. “We’re supposed to be enemies, you and I.”

“B-but are we?” he asked.

“You tell me,” she said and the impish smile was back while her eyes began to rapid-cycle through colors. “There was a reason you were drawn to that book, Winston,” she said, and her water-atop-rocks voice held no chill, sounded instead like music. “But it had nothing to do with the mystery of all our local, missing people.”

“But…but...that means I….”

“Yes,” she said gently. “You are. But.” Another smile. “Please remember that the Fallen were once as pure as…” She gestured, helplessly—and somewhat ironically, he thought—to herself. “And so those traits are inside of you too.”

“But they were inside the gazelle also,” he said.

She lifted a delicate shoulder. “Yes,” she agreed. “But we’ve all got choices, Winston. See, I could have fallen too but instead…I flew.” She wore a cloak she now pushed off and Winston gasped as behind her, lifting up off her shoulder blades, were two wings the same iridescent shade as her hair. She smiled broadly as they opened and his eyelashes fluttered from the gentle breeze that they made. “And now you know, so I need to go.” Her feet levitated. She was ascending.

“Wait!” he said. “This gate—”

“—is now just a gate,” she told him. “But there are others. Hundreds and hundreds of others.” Her smile felt a lot like the sun. “Not all who wander are lost, Winston. Always remember: Sometimes wrongs are just being righted.”

Then she spread her wings. Flew up over the gate and was gone.

Thanks for reading 'How Far Is Heaven'! If you like my fiction, please consider a purchase of my novel-length pieces:

Divinity & The Python - where deception and desire dance in the dark, is Book I in my Secrets & Shadows series.

Within The Summit's Shadow love waits...but so does murder, and it is Secrets & Shadows, Book II



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