This project is my attempt at dabbling in fiction. Enjoy. 

Introduction

The man sat on the stone bench facing the cold granite figures of Mary, Joseph, and St. Francis.  His white linen robe shone brighter than the moonlight that illuminated that half of the yard at this time of night.  A moment earlier, he had been contemplating his lifeless companions, studying the artwork: the rosary intertwined among St. Francis’ fingers, seeming to dangle except for the betrayal of the breeze that could not make the stone beads sway; the doleful expression on Mary’s face as she pondered the fate of her Son; the prayerful demeanor of Joseph as he knelt on his pedestal in the grass. He had seen hundreds like these before in dozens of gardens and courtyards. He had watched with interest as the people to whom he was sent spoke to them, asking for their intercession. That was why he was here on this night.

His attention turned to the boy’s window. He wondered if the little branch from the old red maple outside of it made the child nervous when it scraped against the glass like it was doing now in the gentle breeze.  He noticed the suction cup stuck fast to the top pane with the airplane dangling from it. He had seen the boy win that at the county fair three nights ago. He smiled, remembering the expression on the boy’s face as the last ring landed snugly around the wood block. The boy had no idea, however, that the robed man now sitting in his yard had tweaked the side of the ring so that it would fit.  The carnival man looked perplexed, as he knew full well that the circumference of that ring, which he had made himself in his garage back home, was a hair smaller than the perimeter of the blocks, and had no business falling into place like that. The robed man chuckled softly at the memory. 

He had been watching the child for nearly a month, now. His only instruction thus far had been to follow the boy, learn his routine. He was to pay special attention to the relationship the boy had with his family. That would determine how to proceed in the years to come. If this boy was chosen, which he almost certainly was, there would be ways to bring him to his full potential. His family and friends were integral players and guidance needed to be subtle enough so as not to arouse suspicion when it was given, yet precise enough for credit to be properly placed later, should the Plan succeed, as he knew it would.

The robed man, who was now standing and leaning an elbow on Joseph’s head, had just received further instructions to proceed with the child. This was the night he would contact the boy. His favorite method of initial contact was dreams.

Earlier that evening, he had stood next to the ornate corner cupboard in the family’s dining room, smiling as the boy shoveled an inordinate amount of ice cream into his tiny mouth.  Much of the chocolate fudge had landed on his cheeks, nose, and chin, but a surprising amount had made its target, and the boy shivered and managed a garbled “brain freeze!” The man figured a night of ice cream before bed would be the perfect time to come to the child in his dreams, since the boy’s mother believed that sweets before bedtime made sleep more colorful.

Striding toward the house, his robe dimmed considerably as he disappeared into the shadows beneath the eaves. A moment later, he was standing in the boy’s room, gazing fondly at his charge’s personality, which oozed from every corner of the space. Half a dozen more airplanes either sat on shelves or hung from fishing line knotted to eyehooks screwed into the ceiling by the boy’s father. Two hundred or so green army men lined a camouflaged bookcase, made for him for his fourth birthday by his Uncle Spooner. Countless books lined the floor on the perimeter of two walls, held in place by iron crucifix bookends. Faded cowboys on various manner of horseback adorned the walls, which were slanted on two sides because of the dormered roof. A Lego racecar lay half assembled on a metal desk, its loose parts scattered about, waiting to be added to the masterpiece in the morning. The man loved this room, and he was beginning to love its occupant, as well.

The child lay sprawled on his back, his small arms outstretched, tiny hands hanging limply, palms up, from either side of the twin bed. His superhero comforter lay in a heap between his bed and the wall, matching sheets twisted beneath his little body. His bangs were pasted to his forehead, and his steam engine pajama top was soaked.

“Daniel.” The boy twitched as he heard the man speak into his ear. “Daniel, don’t open your eyes.  I want to talk to you.  Can you hear me?” The boy nodded slightly, and pulled his arms in close to his body. The man waited until the boy’s breathing became steady again.

“Daniel, can you still hear me?” Another nod.  “My name is Nathanael.”

“Am I dreaming?”  Daniel’s eyebrows raised in his sleep as he mumbled the question.

“No, Daniel, not really. However, when you wake up tomorrow and tell your mother about me, she will think it was a dream, and that is all right. I am visiting you this way because I was worried you would be frightened if I came to you while you were awake. I will help you keep on sleeping, but you will be able to hear everything I say.  I have something very important to discuss with you. Please listen carefully.  Are you ready?”

“I’m listening. I can hear you. You have long hair. My dad doesn’t like long hair.  Why are you wearing a robe?  Are you a priest?”

“No, Daniel,” Nathanael smiled. “But you are. You have been ordained, Daniel. When you are grown, you will be a priest, but not the kind you are used to. You will learn many things before you understand what kind of priest I mean. This is the first of many visits I will make to you in your sleep. Perhaps someday we can meet while you are awake, but for now we will only talk late at night after you have fallen asleep. Would you like to see me again?”

“Yes. I think you are nice, and I think it’s cool that you can talk to me in a dream.  Are you God?”

“No, Daniel, but I work for Him.  He is my Master and I am doing a job for Him.  He is watching you closely.  He has assigned me to you to make sure that you follow the path He has laid out for you.  It is a special honor, Daniel, to be ordained by God.  It is also a big responsibility.  That is why God has sent me to you while you are so young. You have plenty of time to grow into the Plan that God has had written in His special book since before you were born. I am very pleased to serve you in this way. I have been watching you for a while, and you are a very special boy. If you listen to what I have to say, God will do great things through you.  Though for now, dear Daniel, I am going to leave you so that you can get a good night’s sleep.  You have a big day tomorrow, don’t you?”

“Yes, I’m starting school. Will you talk to me in kindergarten, Nathanael?”

“No.  I will watch you, but you will not know I’m there.  You will not even wonder, because you will only be aware of my presence when I come to you in your sleep. You will only remember parts of our talks, important parts, but you will not fully understand where you have heard them. I will be part of a puzzle you will have to solve as you grow. It is how God works out his Plan, sometimes. It will be fun and exciting if you stay on the path. Remember that, Daniel.  Stay on the path.”

With those words, Nathanael vanished. Daniel stirred, scratched his nose, and rolled onto his side to face the wall. Although he remained in a deep and dreamless sleep, the slightest furrow of his brow could be detected on his face. A small smile turned up one corner of his mouth. He scratched his nose one last time and muttered, “Good night, Nathanael.”

 

Chapter 1

Daniel awoke as the first sliver of pale sunlight made its way beneath the suction cupped airplane, and through his window. He sat up and rubbed his eyes, which suddenly widened as he remembered that he had had a strange dream sometime in the night. As he struggled to remember the dream in its entirety, he could only conjure up pieces. Was there a man with long hair? He concentrated hard as he recalled a white robe and the word ‘ordained.’ Nothing more erupted, so he shrugged it off and, after going to the bathroom, took the back staircase two steps at a time in slippered feet to greet his mother in the kitchen.

“Daniel! How many times have I told you not to run on the stairs? Please go up and try again.”  Daniel sighed and rolled his eyes as he ran up the back stairs so he could walk down them again. His mother smiled to herself and shook her head, as Daniel took his place at the breakfast table.

Mary Hartwell was 48 years old, and had already raised five boys to adulthood. Daniel had come along thirteen years after her youngest son, Robert, was born. Mary’s second decade of life was spent pregnant and with at least two children in diapers at any given time. She had a welcomed reprieve in her thirties, and enjoyed the adventure of raising five active and challenging boys. However, for her 43rd birthday, she had received another blue-blanketed bundle. Although she and her husband Rick had been bowled over by the news that she was pregnant again after all these years (she thought she had stomach flu), having that tiny boy laid in her arms on her birthday was an indescribable gift.  Rick had warmed to the idea, at least partly, after several months of the pregnancy, but even he smiled and tears filled his eyes as he held the minuscule hand of his sixth son. Daniel’s brothers, Stone, Michael, Philip, Chase, and Robert, had been in the waiting room during the entire labor. In the hallway, after Daniel was born, the five young men took turns holding their tiny brother, competing for the widest and proudest grin. Although Daniel barely remembered having most of his brothers living in the same house with him, they shared a special bond with the boy. They visited the house every Sunday for dinner after church. It was Daniel’s favorite day of the week.

As Daniel sat at the red Formica kitchen table, greedily munching the last bite of cereal, milk dripping off of his chin, he cocked his head to the side and asked, “Mama, what does ordained mean?”

“What?” Mary replied. “Oh, Daniel, please use your napkin. Good grief, child, look at the puddle of milk you’ve made.  Has any gone in your mouth?” She roughly swiped the kitchen rag over Daniel’s mouth and cheeks, the nubby material making Daniel wince as it tore across his face.

“Ow, Mama! Don’t rub so hard!” He pulled away and tipped the bowl up to his mouth to drink the last of the milk.

“Daniel, that’s not good manners, now use your spoon!” He noisily slurped the last drop of milk and replied, “Yes, Mama.” After depositing his bowl and spoon in the sink, he ran up to his room to finish his Lego car. Kindergarten wasn’t until the afternoon, so he had plenty of time to create.  As he fitted the small blocks into place, and fastened the wheels carefully to each side, he was utterly unaware of the robed Nathanael watching him from his bed.

The angel smiled as Daniel talked through his design, pausing every few moments to race the partly assembled car across his desk, sputtering a perfect rendition of a stock car flying around a racetrack. Nathanael was intrigued by humans, especially children. He often marveled at the love God had for these strange and fallen creatures. They had great capacity to love, and yet a seemingly greater capacity to hate and destroy. Nathanael knew all about the sovereignty of God, and he trusted it.  It was for this reason that he loved humans, too.

He looked forward to this assignment with great anticipation, and was equally eager to watch the boy grow. He knew Daniel would have challenges ahead, even heartaches, but he also trusted that God held this boy securely in His hand and would bring him through the trials that would make him the man God created him to be. Before leaving once more, Nathanael said a short prayer over Daniel.  Then he was gone.

Daniel was unusually quiet and pensive on the way to his first day of Kindergarten. The air was humid and his bare legs were sticking to the vinyl seat of the family’s Buick. His mother gave a furtive glance at her tiny schoolboy and said, “Nervous?”

“Huh?  Oh, no, not really.  I’m glad you took me to meet Mrs. Dixon. She’s nice and I think she’ll like me better than Mrs. Know-it-all did in preschool." He rolled his eyes dramatically as he said this. "I’m going to try really hard not to spill things every day.  Mom, what does ordained mean?”

Her name is Mrs. Knowall, and where did you hear that word?” Mary was amused and intrigued that her little son would know such a sophisticated term.

“I had a dream last night. I don’t remember much about it, except that there was a man with long hair. He was wearing a really white robe. I thought he was a priest, but he wasn’t. He said I was ordained.  I don’t know what that means, do you?”

“Wow, that was some dream. Ordained. Well, in the Church, that means that you become a priest. It’s a sort of ceremony you go through. You have to go to a special school to learn all about the priesthood, and then they ordain you. You heard that word in a dream? You sure you didn’t hear it somewhere else, sweetheart?”

“Nope. Just last night. I’ve been tryin’ to remember more of it, because I think it went on for a longer time, but I can’t. Just the guy in the robe tellin’ me I’m ordained.” He picked at a thread on his shorts, and resumed his pensive examination of the scenery whizzing past their car window.

Mary was used to her son’s spirited imagination, but this little inquiry had her nonplussed.  She stole another glance at her boy and changed the subject. “So, Daniel, what do you think Mrs. Dixon has in store for all you big kindergarteners on your very first day of school?”

Daniel shrugged.  “Dunno.  I remember seeing a sand table there. Actually, that seemed a little preschooly to me. I hope we don’t use it. Maybe the girls, will like it, though. I wish we had our own desks instead of tables.  I think we get desks in first grade, don’t we Mama?”

Mary nodded absently as she became lost in the word ‘ordained.’ How in the world had he come up with that word on his own from a dream?  She thought it strange, but in the end shrugged it off as something that surely had a logical explanation. As the car slowed in front of the school she asked, “Want me to walk you in?”

“Mom, I think I can manage, thank you.” He threw his scrawny arms around her neck, kissed her five times on the left cheek, five times on the right, and, as a kissing finale, landed one smacking kiss directly on the lips. It was their secret kiss.  “Bye, Mary!” he cried, a sly smirk tugging at the corner of his mouth.

“I’ll Mary you!” she countered, and laughed heartily as he exited the car with a vigorous slam of the door.

**********

Rick Hartwell was nearly fifty years old and had worked at the same job for more than thirty years. He had begun college right after graduating high school, but it soon became apparent, largely due to an enthusiastic campaign of discouragement launched by his diehard blue-collar father, that he was not baccalaureate material. He dropped out after only one semester. The local ceiling plant was hiring, so Rick applied for a grunt position.  Now, over thirty years later, he was one of the head grunts…a foreman.

Rick loved his family fiercely, but rarely showed it. In his mind, if he was winning enough bread to put food on the table, he was fulfilling his duty as a good father and husband. Interactions with his wife and children were limited to brief grunted greetings, and gruff criticisms, which he wholeheartedly believed were intended to be lovingly constructive. It was a show of love passed down from his father, and many fathers before him. Mary was resigned to her husband’s demeanor, but her heart ached for her boys, who longed for a warmer relationship with their dad. Even Daniel, the sweet and cherished youngest, could barely crack the stoic deportment of his father. He, like his brothers before him, had learned early on to keep a wide berth around his father, especially right after work. He had also learned to keep silent, a nearly impossible task for him, if his dad was “in a mood.” It was the way of the house, and everyone bowed before it.

Nathanael sat in the back seat of Rick Hartwell’s truck, studying the back of the man’s neck.  He knew that Rick would be his biggest challenge in this assignment.

Jealously Catholic, Rick’s mind was as set in stone as the statues in his backyard. He would be an obstacle around which Nathanael would have to maneuver. He prayed that God would use Rick to strengthen Daniel. Time would tell if the boy’s father would be a detriment or an asset to the Plan.

That night, after pajamas and prayers, and after Daniel had sleepily regaled Mary with the last details of the antics of his very first day of school, Mary slipped downstairs to talk with her husband before he, too, went off to bed.  “Daniel said the strangest thing to me today.” She paused, waiting for a response. After receiving none, she continued. “He asked what ‘ordained’ means.”

“Where’d he hear that?” Rick asked distantly, as he flipped the paper over to the sports page.  “Damn, Bears lost again!  They oughtta fire Luzinski, the bum.”

Ignoring the swearing, which she despised, and knowing he would ignore her pleas for him to stop, she went on. “He said a man told him the word in a dream. He said the man had long hair and a white robe, and that he said that Daniel was ordained. Weird, huh?”

“Guess so.  I’m sure he heard it somewhere else and only thought it was a dream. Don’t make so much of it.  You know how he is.”

“I guess you’re right. It just seemed so strange, though. He was quieter than usual on the way to school and…”

“Mary, let it go. You know that boy’s always comin’ up with crazy ideas. How was his first day of school?”

Mary knew she wouldn’t get any more satisfaction from her husband. Sighing resignedly, she replied, “He did well. He likes his new teacher. I think he’s going to have a good year. It seems like this Mrs. Dixon is the type that will allow for Daniel’s, uh, creativity.”

“Mm hm.” Rick was finished listening. He was lost in the business section of the newspaper. The conversation was ended, at least for her husband’s part, so Mary said goodnight and climbed the stairs to say her rosary before going to bed. Rick barely knew she had left.

Nathanael had been listening intently to their conversation, trying to glean any information that would aid him in his implementation of the Plan. Nothing tonight, except confirmation that Daniel’s father was going to be a tough sell. He tucked the problem away for further consideration, and made his way to Daniel’s room.

The boy was as Nathanael had always found him, sprawled out on his bed, soaked in sweat, looking very peaceful and sweet. Nathanael watched him for a long moment before quietly uttering, “Daniel.”  The boy frowned slightly.  “Daniel, it’s Nathanael.

Can you hear me?  Are you listening?”

Without stirring or opening his eyes the boy whispered, “Hey, Nathanael. How’s it going?”

Nathanael smiled affectionately.  “It is going well, Daniel.  Thank you for asking.

I saw you at school today.  It looked like you were having fun.”

“You saw me? You were right, I forgot all about you except for a few things. I didn’t even think about you at school. You know, I think I might be scared if I thought about you at school. You would seem like a ghost.  I don’t like ghosts.  Mama says there’s no such thing, but I’m not so sure about that. Steven Wilokovsky says there’s ghosts living in his shed. He even saw them a couple of times. So it’s good that you just talk to me when I’m sleeping, ‘cause I don’t feel scared that way.”

Nathanael was chuckling softly, but waited until he regained his composure before answering. “Well, I am glad you are not scared of me, Daniel, because there is really nothing to fear.  But you are right, coming to you in your sleep is the best way.  I want to protect you from being scared of me. If you were scared, I couldn’t carry out God’s work to lead you where He wants you to go.”

“Into the priesthood, you mean? I remember you told me that I was going to be a priest.  The word is ordained, right Nathanael?”

“Well, yes, Daniel, very good. That is what I said. But you will not be a priest like the men you see at St. Cecil’s. You will be a member of what God calls the Royal Priesthood. It is a very elite group, chosen by God Himself to carry out His work in the world.”

Daniel had no reply. It was clear that he was working out what the angel was telling him. After several moments he said carefully, “I don’t understand, Nathanael. If I’m not going to be a priest, how can I be a priest? I mean, Mama says that being ordained means you have to go to priest school, or something like that. But what you’re sayin’ is something different.  Will I understand when I am bigger, Nathanael?”

Nathanael was amazed at the perspicuity of his charge. It was clear that God had chosen an inquisitive and insightful child. He was again reminded how blessed he was to be a part of this assignment.  “Yes, Daniel, as you grow you will understand more fully.  It will take a long time, and you will learn so much along the way. But for now, when I come I will just tell you small parts of the Plan God has for you.  So, this is all we will talk about tonight.  Are you excited to go back to school tomorrow?”

“Yes.” Daniel still seemed to be thinking hard about what Nathanael had told him. Finally, he smiled faintly and said, “Mrs. Dixon is nice. I spilled my juice at snack time, and she didn’t even yell at me.  I was scared she would, because Mrs. Know-it…I mean Mrs. Knowall yelled at me every time I spilled something. Kindergarten is cool. Will you be there tomorrow, Nathanael? I know I won’t know it, but I was just wondering.”

“For a while, perhaps.  I have some important things to do tomorrow, errands to run.”

“Hey, just like Mom!”

“Yes, Daniel. God gives us errands just like your mother.” Nathanael was smiling warmly as he vanished.

Daniel sighed deeply, matching Nathanael’s smile, as he drifted back into a deep sleep.  As he faded away, he vowed to remember every bit of his ‘dream’ in the morning.”

Deep in the long shadows of Daniel’s room, another figure was watching the child with interest. The man stood very still next to Daniel’s wooden clotheshorse, tucking himself behind the layers of clothing heaped there. Dressed in a purple tunic that was so dark it almost looked black, the figure craned an ear silently to glean whatever he could from the low tones of Nathanael’s discourse into Daniel’s ear. He winced as he made out the words “Royal Priesthood.”  “Filthy messenger,” he thought.

Just before Nathanael vanished, leaving Daniel alone to sleep, the angel caught sight of the dark figure lurking in the shadows. His smile never dimmed as he bowed his head slightly toward the dark angel and disappeared. The figure snarled silently in the inky stillness, and vanished himself. He would wait for a more opportune time to deal with the boy.

Daniel waited until after school to tell Mary about his latest dream. He had actually forgotten about it in the morning, with the need to finish his racecar and a trip to the grocery store on the way to his second day of kindergarten. The man in the robe had come to mind just as he was entering the huge wooden doors of Parkwood Elementary School. He thought about running back to the car to tell Mary, but decided he didn’t want to be late. He made a mental note to tell his mother first thing when she picked him up in the afternoon.

As he skipped down the shiny hallway toward his classroom, he suddenly had the distinct and rather unpleasant impression that someone was following him. He threw a surreptitious glance over his shoulder, and decided that he was just feeling intimidated by the fifth grader walking behind him, making his way to his own classroom. Still, he quickened his pace a bit, sneaking one more glance at the enormous upper classman bearing down on him, before ducking into the bright and inviting classroom of Mrs. Dixon.

What Daniel didn’t see, and what would have made his blood run cold if he had seen, was a tall and hideous creature dressed in a ravenish purple tunic, trailing behind him, directly beside the fifth grader.  In fact, the creature was walking so close to the older boy, that the flesh on the back of the child’s neck felt like it was crawling off his body, and inexplicable goose flesh raised up on his back and arms. The boy had quickened his steps, losing the feeling as he turned the corner into the fifth grade hallway.

Inside Daniel’s classroom, the bustling sounds of the day’s beginning were interrupted by the morning bell and the subsequent mandatory patriotic song, which were followed by the leading of the Pledge of Allegiance. Daniel recited the oath with gusto, remembering Mrs. Dixon’s speech about American patriotism the day before. Of course, he had yet to learn the entire thing, but that didn’t diminish his enthusiasm. As he and his classmates took their seats after the morning routine, the disconcerting sense of being watched suddenly hit Daniel afresh. His eyes darted about the classroom as he tried to shake the feeling, making a vain attempt to reassure himself that it was just his imagination.

“Daniel.” The voice of Mrs. Dixon made him jump, knocking his pencil box to the floor with a humiliating crash. “Honey, please pay attention. I asked the class to remove their crayons.  Clean up the mess and get your head in the game.”

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Dixon. You scared me.” Daniel tried to hide his crimson face, feeling every eye on him as he scooped his school supplies back into their box. He placed it under his chair and carefully set his crayon box in front of him at his shared table.  Mrs. Dixon continued as Daniel folded his dimpled hands neatly in front of him.

The dark angel had slipped unnoticed into the bright classroom. Each child experienced a fleeting impression of dread as he passed by. As Mrs. Dixon instructed the children to neatly write their names on tagboard strips that would serve as nametags for their space at the table, they were wholly oblivious to the blinding light that suddenly exploded through the room with blazing intensity. The dark angel reeled backward as the searing heat of the light hit him full force. He spit murderous curses in the direction of its source.

“Amraphel!”  Nathanael approached the staggering figure, sword brandished, eyes blazing. “You have no business here. Be gone!” Nathanael detected the ephemeral expression of terror on Amraphel’s horrific features as the dark angel struggled to his feet.

“Nathanael,” the creature hissed.  “What right have you to dictate where I roam? I have free reign over the boy. You cannot stop me. I do as I please.” Amraphel had his own sword drawn now, although he kept it close to his side.

“You know full well, as do I and as does Lucifer, that you do nothing without the Master’s permission. You have no authority here, or permission to lay a hand on the child. In the name of Jesus, who is above all names, be gone!” With that, Nathanael wielded his sword, scorching light emanating from the tip, and sent the terrified Amraphel screeching pathetically back to his lord.

Nathanael sheathed his sword, which instantly disappeared, and positioned himself in the reading area where he could watch Daniel and the rest of the class. The teacher and her eighteen students had no idea of the battle which had just ensued in their midst. “They never do,” Nathanael mused, as he watched Daniel, tongue out and pasted to the corner of his mouth, carefully forming the letters, all capital, in his name.

Nathanael had originally planned to spend the day with Daniel’s oldest brother, Stone, but he decided to remain in the classroom the rest of the day in case Amraphel or worse, a contingent of Lucifer’s legions, should return to torment the boy. Although he knew the dark forces had an integral role in many of God’s Plans, he was well informed when they had permission to intervene.  Today, Amraphel had been working alone, which is why Nathanael had such great power over him. Had the Master given any of Lucifer’s minions authority over the situation, Nathanael would have been powerless to stop them, since he was sworn to complete obedience to the Lord.

This was one of God’s methods in which Nathanael struggled to trust.  But trust he did, fully and utterly, without question. God had never failed him or His chosen ones, so he knew he would be a fool not to trust Him. Nathanael had learned to wait patiently for the end of a Plan, and invariably God’s way turned out perfect results. Nathanael was grateful that he had not followed the beautiful and brilliant Lucifer ages ago, when he and one third of his brothers left Heaven to pursue their own gain.

“Fools,” Nathanael said aloud, causing a tiny girl in a smocked dress to turn her head in search of a strange noise she had thought she’d just heard.

At the end of the day, Nathanael escorted Daniel through the hall, and slipped into the backseat of Mary’s ancient car. The rest of the day had gone without incident, and the angel felt confident that Amraphel had given up for the time being. Nathanael watched Daniel closely, waiting for him to discuss last night’s visit with his mother.

“How was your day, kiddo?” Mary asked, reaching over to stroke her little son’s chestnut hair.

“Ok, I guess. Actually, the day was good except when Mrs. Dixon caught me in a daydream and she called on me and I jumped outta my mind and spilled my pencil box all over the floor.”

Mary stifled a laugh as she said, “You mean jumped out of your skin?”

“Whatever,” Daniel retorted. “I was so ‘mbarrassed. I wanted to run out of the room. But Mrs. Dixon is just so nice. She waited for me to pick up my stuff before she started talkin’ again. I wish she could be my teacher forever. The rest of the day was good, though.”

“That’s good. Just make sure you’re paying attention, and that shouldn’t happen again, right bud?  What were you thinking about?”

“Nothing really. I was sittin’ at my table listening to Mrs. Dixon, and then all of the sudden I got this weird feeling that somebody was watching me. It was so creepy, Mama. I kept lookin’ around the room, but nobody else was there and nobody was even lookin’ at me. Then Mrs. Dixon said my name and I snapped out of it. Hey, that ‘minds me.” Mary loved when he said that. “I had another robed guy dream last night. Wanna know what he told me?”

Mary shot a sideways glance at her son, who wasn’t looking at her but staring straight out the window, brow furrowed, working hard to remember every detail his memory would allow.  “Uh, sure, sweetie.”

“He said I was going to become a priest. But not like Father Kenyon. He said I would be a, um, oh rats, I forgot. Hold on while I try to ‘member it. He closed his eyes tight and rapped on his forehead with his knuckles. Oh yeah, I would be going into the Royal Priesthood! That’s it, I think. I had no idea what he was talkin’ about, though. Do you Mama?”

Mary was unable to reply right away. Her mind was racing as she tried to determine how her five-year-old son, even as bright as he was, could come up with such terminology and insist it was from a dream. “Um, no darling, I don’t. Are you sure that’s what the, uh, man said?  Royal Priesthood?”

“Yep, I’m sure. I know there was more, but I just can’t remember. Hey, can we stop for ice cream?  I had a hard day.”

“Sure, honey,” Mary said absently, as she drove past the Dairy Cow ice cream parlor Daniel was referring to.

“Hey, Mama!  You passed the ice cream!  I thought you said we could have some!”

“Oh, sorry honey.  I’ll get you ice cream up here at the Freezy Friz.  Ok?”

Daniel nodded sullenly, as Mary struggled to attend to her confounding little boy.

She pulled into the parking lot of the ice cream shop, parked the car and shut off the engine. As they stepped out onto the shimmering macadam, Daniel said suddenly, “Mom, do you think that guy in my dream is watching me? Right before I spilled my pencil box, I really, really felt like somebody was just staring at me. It was creepy, like the feeling I get when Uncle Spooner and I watch a scary movie on TV.” Daniel winced as he remembered, “Oops, I wasn’t s’posed to tell you about that.”

Mary stared hard at her boy, as she considered his question. He continued before she could respond.

“Mama, maybe that guy is a ghost. ‘Cept, I don’t think he’s a bad ghost, because what I remember about him is nice. I just wish I could remember more, is all. If I could remember more, then maybe I wouldn’t be scared and have creepy feelings in school. You think?”

“Honey, I’ve told you a million times there’s no such things as ghosts. I’m sure that feeling you got in the classroom was just your imagination. You know, being in a new place sometimes makes you feel, uh, different.” She knew that sounded lame, but she was trying to put up a good front against her own nagging creepy feeling. She continued gently. “Sweetheart, there is a logical explanation for this robed man in your dream. You have a very smart and active imagination, you love stories, and you watch way too much TV, I’m afraid.  By the way, I’ll be having a talk with Uncle Spooner.”

“Oh boy,” Daniel sighed.  “He’s gonna be mad at me.”

“Well, you just make sure you don’t watch things that make your imagination run away with you, ok?  What kind of ice cream do you want?”

As Mary and Daniel raced against the heat to lick their dripping delights, Nathanael watched them from the empty seat at their table. He had heard the entire conversation and was concerned. Although he had explained to Daniel that he wouldn’t remember enough of the “dreams” to be aware of Nathanael’s presence outside of sleep, Amraphel had subtly and yet disadvantageously made his malevolent presence known. That was unfortunate, and Nathanael knew he would have to take great care to protect the boy from even the slightest notion of the dark angel’s presence. This would be no easy task, but one that would be crucial to the success of this stage of the Plan.

Mary and Daniel talked about mundane things on the drive home. Mary was grateful for her son’s reprieve from the discussion of the supernatural . She needed time to think and talk to Rick, if he would listen.  She needed advice, or to be told she was making way too much of nothing. She told herself that if Daniel had another dream, she would, indeed, seek counsel from Father Kenyon, their long time and trusted priest.

Rick was late getting home, and arrived just as Mary was tucking Daniel into bed. He entered the boy’s bedroom just as Daniel was planting the last part of their secret kiss onto Mary’s mouth with a loud smack. Wiping the kiss from his mouth, he cried, “Hey, Dad, what’s up!”

“Hey, boy.  Nothin’ much, what’s up with you?”  It was their standard greeting.

Rick crossed to the bed and ruffled his son’s hair. That was the extent of his greeting and his tuck in.  “Night.”

“Night, Dad. See you tomorrow.” He winked slightly at Mary and nestled down into his covers.  Mary said a last goodnight, and switched off the light.

She followed her husband downstairs, watching him closely for signs of an opportune time to bring up Daniel’s latest nighttime encounter. She waited patiently through warming up his dinner, watching him read the paper and enduring his ritual of cursing the local team, and stepping out on the porch for a cigarette (Mary did not let her husband smoke in the house). Finally, an hour and a half after he arrived home, he mumbled, “So, how was your day?”

“Oh, fine.” She did not want to rush into Daniel’s dream too quickly, for fear of appearing overly anxious. “Daniel had a good day at school. He was caught not paying attention, but apparently Mrs. Dixon helped him get back on track.” She cleared her throat and pressed on.

“Um, Daniel had another, uh, dream last night. He saw that same man with the robe and long hair.” She paused for Rick to respond, but after several moments of silence, she continued. “He said another strange thing. He said the guy told him he would become a priest…”

“Yeah, he said that the other night, too.”

“No, not just a priest. Let me finish. He said Daniel would be a part of what he called a Royal Priesthood. Isn’t that weird? Where would he come up with something like that?”

Rick stared out the window into the darkness and finally said, “Watching too much TV, I guess. Mary, you know him. He’s got a wacky imagination, that’s all. Don’t go makin’ such a fuss about it.  There’s a logical explanation.  Just let it go.”

She had thought this would be Rick’s reaction, and yet she was still frustrated and disappointed. He hadn’t been there to hear it from Daniel firsthand. She had decided to forgo telling Rick about Daniel’s feeling of being watched. That would cement his theory that their boy was suffering from an overactive imagination. Resigning, yet again, to a lack of support from her husband, she once more vowed to seek counsel should Daniel have another dream.  She would not have to wait long.

While Daniel’s parents were deep in discussion one floor below, Nathanael was waiting for the child to fall asleep. The boy had stirred restlessly, unable to shake the events of the day. Finally, after nearly an hour, Daniel’s breathing became deep and steady. Making sure Amraphel was nowhere near, Nathanael bent down close to the boy’s ear and whispered his name.  “Daniel, it is me, Nathanael.  Can you hear me?”

“Yes, I can hear you.  How are you, Nathanael?”

“I am very well, thank you. How did you enjoy school today?” “I enjoyed most of it.  Were you there today, Nathanael?”

“Part of the time. I sensed you needed some help, so I stayed with you a while. You seemed a bit uneasy today. Was there anything wrong?” The angel knew exactly what was wrong, but he wanted the boy’s take on the incident.  Nathanael wanted to make sure that Daniel knew nothing of the dark forces threatening him daily, until he was old enough to understand their role in God’s Plan for his life. If he knew about Amraphel or any of his cohorts, he would be too frightened to function.

“Not really, ‘cept I had a bad feeling that somebody was watching me.  Was that you?”

“No, Daniel, I promised that you will not ever know I am there, remember? I think it was just your imagination. You need to stop watching so many scary things on TV, I think.” He intentionally repeated the advice of his mother so Daniel would be convinced that his fears were unfounded.  It had worked, at least for now.

“Yeah, you’re right. My mama says the same thing. Uncle Spooner and I watched the creature feature last Saturday night when Dad was working overtime and Mom went to Bingo at church. It was a great movie when I was watchin’ it, but in bed I was scared outta my wits. I guess I should stick to cartoons, huh.” Although Daniel remained in a sound sleep, his facial expressions were lively and extremely endearing. Nathanael smiled at the boy’s appeal.

“So, now that we have gotten that settled, on to business. Do you remember what I told you last time, Daniel?”

“Yep. Well, the first time you said I was going to be ordained. Right?” “Exactly, very good.  What else?”

“Last night, you said I would be a priest, but not like Father Kenyon or the other guys up front in church.  You said I would be in the Royal Priesthood, right Nathanael?”

“That is right, Daniel, excellent. You are a very smart boy with a good memory. I have one more thing to tell you, then I will not be meeting with you for a while. I will be with you, but I will not come to your sleep until you are a bit older. For now, I will have told you everything you need to know to put God’s Plan into motion. Are you ready for the third thing, Daniel?”

“Fire away, Nate. Isn’t that short for Nathanael? There was a boy in my preschool class with your name, only they called him Nate for short. Sometimes people call me Dan for short, but I don’t like it. I tell them to call me Daniel, because Mama says that’s my gived name.  Do you like Nate or Nathanael?”

Nathanael was once again taken aback by how delighted he could become by this boy. Daniel’s tangents were entertaining in their simplistic complexity, and the child had wedged his way firmly into the angel’s heart. Nathanael said yet another prayer over his beloved charge before replying, “Either one is fine, dear Daniel.  Now to my message.

Daniel, as you grow, you will become very close to God. You will become a saint, Daniel.  But sainthood is not like what they teach you at church.  Anyone who is among the Royal Priesthood is considered a saint in Heaven. So, Daniel, because you are ordained by God, you will be a saint.”

Daniel considered this for several moments before replying, “I think I’ll call you Nathanael, because that sounds very important and the things you are telling me are very important. I don’t understand them, but I know they’re important. You mean I will be like Saint Francis and Saint Matthew and all the saints I learn about in Sunday school?

How can that be, since I’m not very, um, famous? Mama says the Pope makes you a saint.”

“That is what your mother has been taught, Daniel. She loves you very much, and she would not tell you wrong things on purpose.  But the Church has made, well, mistakes in the way they understand saints and many other things. That is why God has sent me to you.  He wants you to understand the Truth about such things.  A saint is anyone who believes in Jesus and acts like he does.  Do you understand, Daniel?”

“Sort of. Well, not really, but you said I would when I’m older, right Nathanael? So I’ll just wait until then to figure it all out. I am sad that you won’t be coming to see me for a while.  When will you be back again?”

“When you are a bit older. Now that you have learned these three important things, there will be changes in your life that will help you to grow toward your sainthood.      I will not visit you until God has more messages for me to bring.  But, like I said before, I will be with you. Take courage, Daniel, and remember, stay on the path.” The angel vanished, once again leaving Daniel to ponder their conversation as he drifted back to dreamless sleep.

“See you later, Nate,” Daniel teased, as he faded away into silence.

 

 CHAPTER 2

 Father Kenyon’s office was at the far end of a long corridor festooned with plaques listing generous church donors of the past, portraits of saints in pious garb and bulletin boards with postings of upcoming events. Mary made her way down the hallway, glancing absently at the array.

On Father Kenyon’s door hung a brass crucifix, which was dutifully and lovingly polished the third Wednesday of each month by Mrs. McNamara, the capable and zealous church secretary.  Mary rapped gingerly on the door, so as not to disturb the fixture. When she heard nothing, she knocked a little harder, wincing as the bottom of the cross- bounced perilously against the door.

“Come in,” she heard a voice say. She opened the door slowly, never taking her eyes off the precarious figure of her dying Savior.

“Hello?” she inquired softly, gently closing the door behind her.

 Father Kenyon got up from his enormous leather chair and, with great difficulty, made his way around his ornate cherry desk to greet the timid Mary. “Nice to see you again, Mary, come in, come in. I was just working on this Sunday’s homily. Almost time for the fund drive, so I’m being especially careful. Have a seat, dear.” The corpulent priest, who had just recovered from knee surgery, gestured toward a low barrel backed chair, as he waddled back to his seat behind his massive desk. Mary looked like a small child who had just been sent to the principal. When he got himself settled with a huge rattling sigh, he looked intently at Mary and puffed, “Now, what can I do for you, dear?”

Mary barely knew where to start. She stole a furtive glance at a large framed picture of Father Kenyon and the Pope, which hung prominently beside his desk, closed her eyes briefly and began.  “Well, it’s about my son, Daniel.”

“Your little one, right?” Father Kenyon broke in.

 “Yes, our youngest. Well, for the past few nights, he’s been having these, uh, dreams. He says he sees a man with long hair and a white robe.  The man talks to him and, um, tells him things, specific things. Things that a five year old boy would not come up with one his own.”

“What kind of things, dear?” Father Kenyon was doing his best to look attentive while glancing clandestinely at his unfinished homily.

“Well, after the first night, he said the man told him he was going to be,” she hesitated, “ordained.” She paused again, waiting for a response. After getting none, she continued, letting the words come faster. “He said he would become a priest, but not like you. The second night, Daniel said the man told him he would be part of a Royal Priesthood. Then, two nights ago, he said, or Daniel said he said, that Daniel would become a saint.  He didn’t have a dream, or at least didn’t remember one, last night.” Mary stopped to see if Father Kenyon would react.  She watched him carefully.

The priest was listening intently now, fingers laced together to support his substantial chin. He leaned back thoughtfully in his chair, genuinely deep in contemplation about what his parishioner had just disclosed. After several moments he cleared his throat and said, “And the boy was certain he heard these things in a dream?”

“Yes. I questioned him extensively about other places he could have heard them. He insists that he was told these things in a dream by a man wearing a robe. He said the robe was very white. Daniel has an active imagination, I admit, but he is a truthful boy, and it’s not, well, normal for such a little boy to know such sophisticated and, well, mystical terms, is it Father?”

“No, I would think not. Did the uh, man, explain these terms to Daniel?” “No, I don’t think so.  I’m sure he didn’t, because Daniel asked me what they meant. I explained ordained and saint, but Royal Priesthood had me stumped. I have no idea what that means, do you?”

Father Kenyon considered this for a long moment and said, “Well, in the Bible, according to Saint Peter, he calls all those who follow Christ a Royal Priesthood. Here, let me open up the Good Book and we’ll see what it says about it.” The priest swiveled around in his high backed chair and pulled an enormous leather bound Bible from his extensive and comprehensive collection of books. Father Kenyon had a passion for literature and history, and was highly educated and pedantic. “Let’s see, first Peter, I believe.” After positioning his half moon reading glasses on the end of his bulbous nose, he thumbed through the nearly diaphanous pages of the thick text and said, “Ah, here it is. Chapter 2, verse 9. Saint Peter, the rock of the church tells us, ‘But you are a chosen generation, a kingly priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people, that you may declare his virtues, who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.’” Father Kenyon removed his glasses, rubbed the bridge of his nose, and looked thoughtfully at Mary.

“What does it mean?” she asked, pleading inquiry in her eyes. “The wording isn’t the same…”

“The Bible has many translations,” he interrupted. “Let me look in this one.” He pulled a much smaller, paperback Bible from the shelf, replaced his glasses, and quickly found the passage in first Peter. “Here it is. In this translation, called the NIV, or New International Version-not my favorite, you understand-it says, ‘But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.’ There you have it.”

“But what does it mean?” asked Mary. “Look, my son, a kindergartener, used a term from the Bible that he’d never heard before and said it came from a dream. Father, don’t you find that strange?”

“Yes, on the surface, but…”

 “It’s strange at all levels, Father. It has me up at night. My husband isn’t taking it seriously. He says there is a logical explanation. But he didn’t hear Daniel, Father.  My son was dead serious. And more than that.  He’s been quiet, distant.  He’s also been having feelings of being watched. I am very worried. It’s scaring me, Father, really scaring me.  I came to you because…” She stopped, unsure of how to proceed.  If she said aloud what had been niggling at her brain for the last several days, the good priest might think her insane. She hadn’t dared even hint at her notion to Rick. There would have been no end to his ridicule. But she had to know, to have an expert opinion. At last, she decided to go for broke.  “Father, do you suppose Daniel could have had some sort of a vision?” She said the last word in a pronounced whisper, as if the massive collection of volumes were eaves dropping and threatening to gossip. “I mean, do you think he could be, well, special?

The seasoned priest looked at her intently, choosing his words carefully. He had to admit that this was a puzzling occurrence. He had heard of mysterious, spiritual encounters before. There was the disabled woman who saw the Virgin Mary, and hundreds of people who claimed to see bloody tears stream down the stone face of a statue of Christ. But he had never had anything like those phenomena happen in any of his parishes. He was not sure he even wanted to. But here was this woman, sincere and genuinely concerned about her son. He couldn’t ignore the fact that little boys generally don’t use words like ‘ordained’ and ‘royal priesthood.’ And what about the whole saint thing?  He proceeded slowly.

“Well, Mary. I believe this does warrant some further, uh, investigation. How would you feel about my interviewing the boy myself? It’s not that I don’t trust you, dear, but I would like to hear it right from the source.” He looked Mary directly in the eye as he waited for her to consider his request.

“Yes, I think that would be wise,” she replied, relieved that the priest had not laughed her out of his office.  “When can I bring him by?”

“When does Daniel get out of school?”

 “He has afternoon kindergarten.  I could bring him by in the morning.”

 “Let me check my schedule. Pardon me, dear.” He pushed a thick index finger against a small button on his desk and said, “Mrs. McNamara, would you please check my morning schedule? I need to see if I can make an appointment for Mrs. Hartwell tomorrow.”

“Yes, Father,” came the dutiful voice of the church secretary. In a moment they heard, “You are free before nine o’clock and after 11. You are booked solid the rest of the day.”

“Thank you, Mrs. McNamara. Please schedule Mrs. Hartwell for 8am.  That will be all.” He turned back to Mary and said, rising slowly and painfully from his chair, “It’s all settled, then. I will see you and Daniel back here tomorrow at 8. And please try not to worry. We’ll figure it all out.” He smiled as he gestured toward the door.  “Goodbye, dear.”

“Goodbye, Father,” Mary said, as she gingerly closed the door behind her, barely disturbing the crucifix.

The next morning arrived gray and threatening. Mary had to go and wake her usually chipper early riser. Daniel was not eager to get up, and became even less so when he remembered that he had to go talk to the ‘old fat priest’, as he sometimes called him.

“Daniel Richard, you get out of that bed right this instant. We can’t be late for our meeting with Father Kenyon.  Move it, buster!”

Daniel peeked out from beneath his covers. He hated it when she used his middle name, because it meant that his delay of obedience was at an end. He had to comply. “Mama, I don’t want to go talk to that old priest.  He scares me.  I don’t think he likes me, either. I always feel like I’ve done somethin’ bad when he looks at me. And he smells.”

Mary suppressed a chuckle, but managed to barely hold on to her firm demeanor. “He does not smell, young man. His nose does.” She waited until he got the joke, and then tickled him mercilessly. “Now get up, wisenheimer!” She kissed her boy and spanked him on his bottom as he swung out of bed giggling, his disdain turning to delight.

“All right, Mary,” he guffawed, throwing back his head in a fit of laughter as he bounded to the bathroom. He was still giggling as he began brushing his teeth. “What should I say to Father Kenyon?” he mumbled slowly and deliberately as he swished the foamy toothpaste around his mouth. “I’m afraid I won’t get it right.” He spit into the sink and rinsed his mouth.

“Just tell him exactly what you told me, sweetie,” Mary replied, as she carefully matched clean pants and shirt from Daniel’s dresser. “You’ll do fine, and I’ll be right there with you. There’s no need to be nervous. Besides, I think I saw a jar of candy on his desk.  Maybe he’ll give you a piece, if you’re lucky.”

“Prob’ly that hard striped candy that Grandma gets. That’s old people candy, not real candy.” He was wiping his mouth with his arm, nose wrinkled at the thought of the yucky treat.

“Enough, wise guy. Get dressed. I’ll go make you some cinnamon toast, and then we’ll get going.  Hurry, now.”

“Make sure the butter melts, Mary,” he called after her. Mary wagged a finger over her shoulder as she left the room.

Nathanael smiled as he watched the whole interchange. He loved the relationship Mary had with her son. It was warm, and there was no question that she loved the boy fiercely. She would be the most integral player in the Plan, he knew, and he was grateful that she was such a positive force in her son’s life. He made his way to the kitchen to observe breakfast before leaving for Father Kenyon’s office. This would be a crucial and interesting day.  He could hardly wait to see how it would turn out.

Mary brushed a bit of cinnamon from the corner of Daniel’s mouth as they made their way down the busy hallway at St.Cecil’s. Before she could tentatively knock on the door, Mrs. McNamara said from her tiny office across the hall, “You can just go in, dear. Father Kenyon stepped out for a moment and will be back shortly. He is expecting you, so just go on in a have a seat.”

“Thank you,” Mary said, and led Daniel through the door. He watched the crucifix sway on its nail as he walked into the foreboding office of his parish priest.

“It’s creepy in here,” he whispered, moving closer to his mother’s side and holding tightly to her hand. “Do you think he’s read all those books?” He gestured toward the shelves, which wrapped two thirds of the way around the priest’s office.

“Not sure, kiddo.  What do you think?”

“Prob’bly not.  They’re prob’bly just for decoration.”

Mary helped herself to the barrel-backed chair and pulled Daniel onto her lap just as Father Kenyon entered the room. He was not so cautious with his door, and the heavy brass crucifix banged noisily against the oak as he swung the door closed.

“Hello again, dear, and hello young man. Do you remember me? I’m Father Kenyon.”

“Uh, sure,” Daniel replied. He had been furtively eying up the jar of hard candy on the priest’s desk. “I see you almost every Sunday at mass. You look sorta different up close.”   The priest chuckled as he made his way behind his desk.

“I get that a lot.” He picked up the cut glass jar from his desk and held it out toward Daniel. “Want some candy?”

“No thanks,” Daniel said, as he stole a ‘told-ya-so’ glance at his mom.

“Well, Daniel, your mother tells me you’ve been having some interesting dreams. That right?”

Daniel nodded his head, suddenly losing his voice as Father Kenyon cut right to the chase.

“I’d like to hear all about it, if you’d be willing to tell me. I understand you, uh, were, um, told, some things in these dreams.  Why don’t you tell me all about it.”

Daniel took a deep breath, looked tautly at his mother, and sank back against her body in the small chair. He began without looking at the priest. “Well, there’s this man. He was in all of the dreams. I had three of them.  This man has really long hair and a white robe. It’s very white, like even whiter than after mom does the laundry. He talks to me, but I can’t remember everything he says.  Just some things.  He said I was going to be ordained. He said I would be a priest, but not like you. He said I would be in a Royal Priesthood.  In the last dream, he said I would become a saint.  That’s all I remember. I know there was a lot more, but I just can’t ‘member it.” He stopped talking and watched his own hand intently as it rubbed his knee.

“Are you sure that’s all you can remember, Daniel? Think very hard.” Daniel nodded.  “I’ve tried and tried.  I can’t think of anything else.”

"Are you sure, Daniel, that you have never heard any of these words before? Not in Sunday School?  Or maybe on TV?”

Daniel looked up from his knee and met Father Kenyon’s gaze.  “No, Father.  I am sure that the man in the robe told me those things.  I never heard them anywhere else. I didn’t even know what they meant. Mom ‘splained some of it to me, but I still don’t get it.  Is there, is there something wrong with me, Father Kenyon?”

Father Kenyon was taken aback by the sudden boldness and sincerity of this boy who moments ago couldn’t even look him in the eye. “No, Daniel, I don’t think there is anything wrong with you. It’s just a little, well, different to learn unfamiliar and mysterious things in a dream. We just have to take some time to figure out what it all means.” The priest paused for a moment, remembering something else Mary had told him the day before. “Daniel,” he continued. “Your mom says that you have had feelings of being watched.  Tell me about that.”

“Well, that only has happened twice. On my second day of school, I was walkin’ down the hall to Mrs. Dixon’s room and all of the sudden I got a funny feeling. I was really scared all of the sudden. I felt like someone was followin’ me, so I turned around. There was a big kid comin’ down the hall, but he didn’t even see me, I think. He was walkin’ really fast, almost runnin’.  The feeling went away then.  But then it came back when I was in my room. Mrs. Dixon was talkin’ and then I just started feelin’ scared. Then she called my name and I snapped out of it.  I didn’t have the feeling after that.”

“Why do you think you were scared, Daniel?”

 Daniel shrugged. “I don’t know. I just thought that somebody was watching me. ‘Cept there was nobody there but the kids in my class and my teacher. They weren’t watching me until Mrs. Dixon called on me and I dropped my pencil box. Then I was just ‘mbarrassed, not scared.”  Daniel went back to rubbing his knee.

Father Kenyon considered his tiny parishioner for a long time, and finally spoke. “Well, Daniel, I think you are a special boy. You are very bright and, although I’ve heard that you have a very vivid imagination, I think something, uh, unusual has happened to you.  I wish I could understand it so I could explain it to you.  But for now, we’ll just have to wait and see if it happens again, and if we think there is anything we should do.” He turned from Daniel to address his mother. “Give me some time to talk to some of my colleagues. I may even take it to the bishop. I will call you in a few days to let you know their opinion.” He stood, indicating that their meeting was over. Mary thanked the priest and led the relieved Daniel out of the office.

They walked back down the hallway in silence, each with their own thoughts. When they stepped out into the warm morning air, the clouds had given way to bright sunshine. There were still a few hours before kindergarten started, so Mary suggested they go to the park.  Daniel’s mood brightened immediately as they got into the car.

Nathanael was pleased at the outcome of the meeting. If the old priest had not believed the boy, it would have been more difficult to proceed.  But Father Kenyon had seemed interested, even intrigued by what Daniel had told him, so thus far the Plan was on track.  The angel followed the child into the car and rode with them to the park.

The car ride was uneventful until Mary rounded the corner to the wooded park.

 Suddenly, Daniel cried, “Mom, I’m getting that feeling again! Somebody’s watching me, I know it.  Do you see anyone, Mama?  Is anyone at the park?”

Mary saw several people walking, playing or sitting on benches, but all were minding their own business, paying no attention to her old car and its occupants. “No, Daniel, just people going about their business. Calm down, honey, nobody is watching you.” Mary was genuinely concerned about Daniel, now. He had tears in his eyes and appeared shaken.

“Mama, it’s so creepy. It’s like I want to hide, but there’s nothing to hide from and nowhere to go to hide.  What’s happening, Mama?  I don’t like it.”

Mary pulled into the parking lot near the playground, turned off the engine and took her frightened child into her arms. “Look around, sweetheart,” she said gently. “Look at every part of the park you can see. Nobody is watching you. Look.” She took Daniel’s face in her hand and gently prodded him to scan the park. “See? There’s only people like us enjoying a day in the park.”

“But…,” Daniel protested.

“Honey, it’s just your imagination. Between Uncle Spooner’s movies and your dreams, you’re just spooked, that’s all. Now shake it off and I’ll race you to the swings.” She opened the car door and lifted Daniel onto the parking lot. After getting out and closing the door she challenged, “Ready, set, go!”  She took off toward the swings. Daniel hesitated only a moment before sprinting after his mother, easily passing her and touching the metal pole of the swing set.

“Beatcha!” he squealed, panting for breath. Mary caught up, conceding her loss. “You’re too fast for me, speedy.  Bet I can swing higher, though.”

As mother and son mounted the swings, Nathanael scanned the park. He knew what had caused Daniel’s strange feeling. He drew his sword and waited. Suddenly, he caught sight of the dark angel and four of his minions cresting the hill above the swings. Nathanael sprang into action, blocking Amraphel’s path to the boy. “What business have you here, demon?” Nathanael questioned with authority.

“That is none of your concern, Nathanael. We are here with permission. Step aside and allow us to do our work.” Amraphel drew his black sword as he approached. His minions stopped halfway down the hill and stood their ground, waiting for a signal from their master.

“You have no authority to harm the boy, Amraphel. Why bring your cohorts?”

“You know nothing of the authority given me, messenger,” Amraphel hissed.

“You have no power here. Leave us!”  With that, Amraphel lunged toward Nathanael, their swords meeting with a great clash and flash of brilliant light. Struggling against the great strength of the messenger of light, Amraphel repeated, “We are here with authority, messenger. You have no power to stop what we came to do!”  With a great surge of power, Amraphel shoved the bright angel away from Daniel and raised his sword above him.  “Make no mistake, Nathanael, I will carry out what I have been given permission to do. Even you, the great filthy messenger, cannot stop me. Stay clear of the boy and let me finish my work.”

Nathanael stared up at the hideous form, seething with anger and regret, knowing the dark angel was right. Nathanael had no power to stop the events about to occur. Still, he got to his feet, standing ready should Amraphel wander outside of his parameters.

Although Nathanael knew nothing of Amraphel’s part in the Plan, the Master did allow him to know that the dark forces were not allowed to kill the boy, though they surely would try. Brandishing his sword, he waited, watching with fierce intensity for any sign of mortal peril to the child.

Amraphel acted swiftly. As his minions hovered on the hillside, disappointment over not being able to confront Nathanael etched on their faces, Amraphel approached Daniel, sword tipped up toward the chain of the swing. Daniel was swinging very high, now, taunting his mother, legs kicking out in front of him. At the very moment that a sudden flood of dread overcame the boy, Amraphel touched a link of chain, bending it just enough to detach from its partner below, sending the swing in a sideways arch toward his mother. Mary screamed in horror as she watched her precious boy tumble headlong out of the swing, flipping once before landing with a sickening thud on the dirt. All at once, Nathanael sensed he must act, lunging toward the dark angel just as he brought his ebony sword down toward the child’s head.

“Enough!” Nathanael cried, slapping away the blow with his bright sword, and knocking the cursing Amraphel to the ground.  “You have no authority to kill him! Your work is done here, now leave this place or I’ll bring others to escort you and your underlings!”

The demons on the hill squealed in repugnant delight as their commander brought them into the fight. Nathanael now sensed permission to intervene and full power was granted. His robe blazing with a white brilliance, he brought his sword around in an enormous arch, deftly beheading two of the advancing creatures. They evaporated instantly, leaving a foul mist in the void. The other two creatures, whimpering in terror, skittered a wide berth around the great angel. Nathanael turned in time to see Amraphel making another attempt at the tiny boy, who was writhing in pain, his mother frantically trying to assess his injuries. As the dark creature rushed at the boy, Nathanael struck with a force so great, their meeting swords exploded in a cloud of light and smoke and noise. Amraphel bellowed in rage as he struggled to defend himself against the great power of his enemy. His companions, unsure of how to proceed, finally glanced at one another and vanished, apparently concluding that facing the wrath of Amraphel would ultimately be much better than that of the bright messenger.  Amraphel was left alone in the fight.

“You are finished here, Amraphel. Follow your coward friends. Your deed is done.” Nathanael met each of the dark angel’s blows with ease, sending fire and light in all directions, bathing the unsuspecting humans in a white inferno.

“You cannot interfere!” Amraphel screeched, wielding his sword once again, only to be thwarted by the unmatched power of his nemesis. Defeated and enraged, Amraphel slowly lowered his sword, seething and trying desperately to save whatever dignity he may have had when the fight began.  “Very well, messenger.  You have won the day. However, your Master may not be pleased by your interference. You are only to direct the boy, not to save him from us.  My lord has given me permission to…”

“Your lord does nothing without the Master’s permission! He is a servant of the Great One, as are we all. Your fall did nothing to change that. The only reason you were able to harm the boy today is because the Almighty wanted it to be so. He bestowed power and permission on me when you tried to kill him. Even I know that you are not allowed to end the boy’s life.  Do not speak of your lord as if he has any power here. Your authority is limited to that which is given to you from on High. Now, Amraphel, dark angel, prince of the night, in the strong name of Jesus Christ, the Word, the Maker of all things, the Almighty who was and is and is to come, BE GONE!” The blow of the flaming sword, and the authority of the words were so great and so swift, that Amraphel barely had time to raise his black weapon before vanishing in terror.

Nathanael sheathed his sword and turned his attention to Mary and Daniel. She was cradling him now, weeping desperately, deciding whether or not she should move her wailing son.  He was in agony, rocking back and forth, holding his arm, which was bent at a sickening angle. Quickly, Nathanael made his way around a bend in the path and found a young couple strolling toward the playground. Nathanael moved in close to the woman and whispered in her ear, “Walk faster.” Instantly, the woman picked up the pace, leaving her bewildered husband to try to keep up.

“Hey, where’s the fire?” he chuckled. As they rounded the bend in the path, they spotted Mary and Daniel on the ground beneath the swings.

“Help us, please!” Mary sobbed. “He’s hurt. I think he broke his arm. Could you please find a phone and call an ambulance? I’m afraid to move him. Please hurry, he’s in so much pain.” The man instructed his wife to stay with Mary while he raced across the street to a pay phone. Nathanael watched, relieved. Mary would never know how close she came to losing her precious boy that day.

**********

“Daniel.” The voice seemed very distant, dreamy and seeming to originate from a very white place. “Daniel, can you hear me? It is me, Nathanael. Daniel, try to hear me. Concentrate very hard.  That’s right, very good.  Can you hear me now, Daniel?”

“Yes, I can hear you. You are coming from the clouds, Nathanael. What is this place?  Where are you?”

“I am here, Daniel. Right beside you. Be calm, my child. You are safe and everything is all right.”

“What happened? Where am I?  What is this place? Nathanael, I’m scared.” Daniel tried to move, to look around to see his friend, but he couldn’t. “Nathanael, where are you?  I thought you said you weren’t coming to see me for a long time.”

“I know, but this is a special circumstance. Be still, Daniel, I am right here and I will not leave you. You are in a hospital. You have broken your arm, and the doctors needed to give you some medicine so you could go to sleep. That way they could fix your arm without your feeling any pain. I decided to stay with you until they were finished.  You cannot move because the medicine they gave you helps to keep you very still and quiet. They don’t want you to hurt yourself any further. They will be finished soon.  Until then, we can talk.  Would you like that?”

“Yes, thanks.  Where is my mom?  Is she ok?”

Nathanael was touched, once again, by the boy’s concern for others.  “Yes, Daniel, she is fine. She was very scared when you fell off of that swing. You fell very hard. She stayed with you until the ambulance came.  You were a very brave boy, Daniel. I am quite proud of you.  Do you remember anything?”

“Yes, I remember swinging. Mom and I were having a contest to see who could swing the highest. I was winning. Then the chain broke, and I fell. I don’t know why that chain broke. I thought chains were s’posed to be strong. I guess it was just an old swing.  Somebody oughtta fix those old swings, I guess.”

“I guess they should. I am sorry you fell, Daniel. You know, even though you broke your arm, God protected you today. It could have been much worse, but God was with you, Daniel. He will always be with you, no matter what. That is very important to remember, Daniel. Even if you stray from the path, God will never leave you. He loves you so much and has a great Plan for your life.”

“But Nathanael, if God loves me so much, why did he let me break my arm? I mean, it hurt really, really bad. I can’t understand why he would let me hurt so bad if he loved me.”

“I know it is hard to understand, Daniel. It is even hard for me sometimes. But God’s ways are very different from ours. He sees everything, and has a reason for everything.  Sometimes things that hurt us now can make us strong later on.  I am sure He has a good plan for this broken arm. God works out good from bad, Daniel, for those He loves.  And He loves you very much.  So watch, Daniel, for something good to come from your broken arm. It may not happen soon, but look for it throughout your life. Try always to look for the good in the bad.  The good is where God is.”

“Daniel.” It was a different voice now, coming from another place. “Daniel, wake up, sweetheart.  Open your eyes, Daniel, we’re all done.”

“Nathanael?” Daniel whispered. “Nathanael, is that you? Where are you? I can’t hear you anymore!”

“Daniel, open your eyes.  Come on, honey, it’s time to wake up.”

Suddenly the surreal and cloudy place where Daniel had met with Nathanael became a yellow, stark light shining in his eyes. Daniel blinked and began to whimper when he saw an unfamiliar face hovering over him. “Nathanael,” he cried, trying to make sense of the situation.

“No, sweetie, I’m Nurse Carol. You’ve had an operation, Daniel. The doctors fixed your broken arm and now you’re good as new. We want you to wake up, darlin’, so you can see your family. They’re all waiting outside.” Nurse Carol, a young RN with a healing smile, stroked Daniel’s hair and spoke more words of reassurance until the boy calmed down.  “Who’s Nathanael, sweetheart.  One of your brothers?”

“What?” Daniel was nearly fully awake now, and had no memory of calling for Nathanael. “I don’t know who you mean.”

“You were calling for a Nathanael when you woke up. Guess you were just dreaming, huh?  Here, kiddo.  I’m going to give you an ice pop to make you feel better.

In a little while you can see your family. Ok?” She smiled warmly and gave Daniel the cherry flavored pop. Daniel sucked on it tentatively, then with more gusto as he began to feel stronger.

Suddenly, Daniel noticed the enormous cast stretching from his knuckles all the way to his shoulder, holding his tiny arm in a permanent ‘L’ shape. “Cool!” he cried in delight. “I always wanted one of these. Wait ‘til the kids in my class see this. Zach Haywood had one, and everybody signed it with a marker. Only they used a watery marker, and the names ran all over the place. I’m gonna use a perm’nent marker. Mrs. Dixon has them in her desk. They’re not for kids ‘cause they stain your clothes and make your mom mad.  I’m sure she’d let me use one, though, for such a special ‘casion.”

Nurse Carol was shaking with laughter as she left the room to retrieve Daniel’s family.

Stone and Chase had just gone to the vending machine for candy. Rick and Mary were pacing anxiously near the windows of the waiting room, and the rest of the boys were dozing in vinyl chairs near the door. They sprang to awareness when they saw the nurse enter the room. “You may go in and see him, now. He’s awake and talkin’ up a storm.”

“He’s alright then?” asked a relieved Mary. They were able to fix the break?” “Good as new, ma’am.  He’s suckin’ on an ice pop checkin’ out his cast.  I think it will be the best show and tell he’s ever taken to school.” She smiled as she led the family through the waiting room door. Stone and Chase returned from their chocolate quest just in time to follow the group down the hall and into the recovery room. The group found Daniel sitting up in the raised youth gurney, sticky red juice bordering his lips and tipping the end of his nose. He smiled a red-toothed smile as his mother ran to him and hugged him ardently, tears dropping onto Daniel’s hospital gown.

“Mama, you’re getting me wet! Watch out for my cast, now. Isn’t it cool?” Mary finally let the boy go and laughed through her relief.

“Yeah, honey, very cool.  Wait until your buddies at school see you.”

 “Dad, look here. There’s plenty of room for everyone to sign it. When can I go back to school?  Today, you think?”

“No, not until Monday,” Rick replied. “Today is Friday, and school is already over. You’ve been here all day. The doctor said you can go home tomorrow, Sport. You’ll have to wait a few days for your friends to give you their autographs.”

“Ok, if it has to be that way,” he pouted. “Hey guys,” he turned his attention to his brothers. “Go see if the nurses have a perm’nant marker. You can be the first to sign.”

“Gotta ask the doc, kiddo,” Stone answered. “Not sure if the cast is ready for artwork yet.  But when it is, I’ll draw a picture of a dragon on it for you, ok?”

“Yes!” Daniel cried in delight.  Stone skillfully drew amazingly detailed dragons and other mythical creatures. Daniel would sit for hours watching Stone create a masterpiece with pen and ink, dreaming up all manner of creatures from his seemingly endless store of imagination. Although he loved all of his brothers deeply, it was Stone whom Daniel admired the most. Next to Mary’s brother, the infamous Uncle Spooner, Daniel spent more time with Stone than any other relative other than his mother. Stone would pick Daniel up about once a week and take him to the movies or a ballgame, or sometimes they would just spend an evening at Stone’s apartment eating junk food and drawing together. Daniel was very precious to Stone, and the elder brother made sure that the gap in years didn’t represent a gap in their relationship.

“All right, everyone, I’ll have to ask you all to step back into the waiting room. Mom, you may stay. We’re going to move Daniel upstairs to his room.” She turned her attention to Daniel, as the rest of the family filed out to the waiting area. “You’ll like your room, Daniel. It’s bright and cheerful and it has animals painted on the wall. There are two other boys in there, as well.  Both of then have broken bones, just like you. Pretty neat, huh?”

“Mmm hmm,” Daniel replied. He had barely heard what Nurse Carol was telling him, as he began remembering bits and pieces of Nathanael’s visit. As the nurse busied herself with Daniel’s chart, Daniel turned to Mary and said, “Mama, do I know anybody named Nathanael?”

“Nathanael? Hmmm. Well, there was a little boy named Nathanael in your preschool class.  Remember?  You called him Nate, though.  Why, honey?”

“Oh yeah, I remember him. He always had a runny nose.” Daniel became quiet for a few moments before continuing. “The nurse said I was asking for some guy named Nathanael when I was wakin’ up from my sleep medicine. She thought it was one of the boys.  I don’t ‘member sayin’ it, though.”

“Don’t know, baby.  Maybe you were dreaming about preschool.”

“Actually, Mama, the man in the robe talked to me in there,” he offered flatly, pointing in the direction of the operating room.  “I couldn’t see him because the place was all white and cloudy and I couldn’t move because of the medicine they gave me, but I could hear him. He said he wanted to visit me so I wouldn’t be so scared. You think his name could be Nathanael, Mama?”

Mary was frozen to the spot. The fear and bewilderment she was feeling now almost matched the fear and despair she felt as Daniel lay writhing in pain in the dirt beneath the swings. She didn’t know how to respond to this latest…she didn’t even know what to call it. Could it have been a dream? Did people dream under anesthesia? She had to talk to the nurse to find out exactly what Daniel had said.

“Um, Sweetie, I’ll be right back. I need to ask Nurse Carol a question, then we’ll talk about this some more, ok? Try to remember what the man said while I’m gone. I’ll only be a minute.” She turned to find the nurse, who was still perusing Daniel’s file and signing some forms at the nurse’s station.

“Excuse me, nurse? Hi, I’m Daniel Hartwell’s mother. Sorry to bother you, but were you the nurse who was with Daniel when he woke up?”

“Yes I was.  He is such a good boy. He did very well with…”

“Thank you. Um, do you recall him saying anything as he was coming out of the anesthesia?”

“Well, yes, actually I do. He kept calling for someone named Nathanael. I thought it was one of your sons.

“Is that all he said?” Mary inquired, a hint of desperation in her voice.

“I believe so, yes.  Is there something wrong, Mrs. Hartwell?”

 “No, nothing, thank you.  Thank you for your time.  Will Daniel be going up soon?”

 “In about ten minutes or so.  They’re getting his bed ready.” “Thank you.”  Mary turned and walked back to interrogate her son.

“Hey, Mama,” Daniel said as he spotted Mary coming toward him. “Am I going to my room soon?”

“In a few minutes, honey. Hey, kiddo, did you think of anything the man told you while you were asleep?” Mary tried with a modicum of success to keep her voice light so as not to betray her racing mind and heart.

“A little.”  He took a deep breath and closed his eyes.  “He said that God loves me.  He said that I should look for good things when bad things happen.  He said that God protected me today. I felt a lot better, not so scared, after he talked to me. I don’t know who this guy is, but I like him. I think I’ll call him Nathanael from now on, even if that’s not his name.”

Mary was nonplussed.  What in the world was going on?  She studied the beautiful face of her cherished little son. She was deeply frightened. She was not a superstitious woman, but despite her many attempts to explain this, she didn’t even know what to call it, a phenomenon? Despite her attempts to explain it away, she could not ignore the fact that Daniel knew things he could not have known otherwise, and his description of the mysterious man was consistent every time. She was convinced, especially after today, that her son was receiving visitations from some supernatural being. She was further convinced that her son, for whatever divine reason, had been touched by God. She could deny it no longer, and standing in the hospital recovery room, she resigned to make sure this divine act was not wasted.  She would call Father Kenyon in the morning.

CHAPTER 3

 Father Kenyon sat in the study in his private quarters reading a thick expose of the reformation. He was fascinated with the history of the early Church, and the efforts the Church Fathers made to keep the sacred religion alive. Although Luther opposed the Church, Father Kenyon had a deep admiration for his courage, perseverance and profound faith, no matter how misguided. Understanding the reformation, he reasoned, gave a good Catholic a deeper understanding of the importance of the Faith.

Typically, the veteran priest reserved Saturday mornings for private study and a slow brandy from his secret stash.  No one knew about his early morning weekend brandy ritual, and he thought it completely harmless since he was extremely self- governed and without fail limited himself to just one per week. After all, there was no law against drinking in the morning. Some people preferred juice, and that was their unfortunate prerogative. He cherished this time, one of the few times he was utterly undisturbed thanks to his faithful and longtime housekeeper, Mrs. Jancowski. The aging and loyal widow moved into the guest room of the private quarters one year after her husband died of lung cancer. That had been eight years ago, and she was the only person on the planet who knew anything at all about the private life of the respected and revered priest.

Father Kenyon was in mid sip when Mrs. Jancowski knocked softly and apologetically on the study door. “Father?” She waited for a response, and after hearing none she knocked again, just as softly and repeated, “Father?  I’m sorry to disturb you.”

Father Kenyon moved his drink behind the large ginger jar lamp on the side table and grunted, barely hiding his annoyance, “Come in, Gladys.”

“Father, I’m so sorry to disturb you, but you have a phone call from a Mrs.,” she paused, trying to remember the name of the caller, “Hartwell.  She said it was urgent. She insisted.  Should I tell her to call back on Monday?”

Father Kenyon sighed and closed his eyes for a moment. “No, no, I’ll take the call, Gladys, thank you. I’ll take it in my office. Would you please hang up when you hear me on the line? Thank you, dear.” Mrs. Jancowski returned to the phone to wait. She hung up immediately when she heard the priest’s winded voice on the other end.

“Mary, good morning.  What can I do for you on this fine day?”

“Father Kenyon, I’m so sorry to bother you on a Saturday. I would never even think of disturbing you unless it was important.  And this is.”

“Not to worry, dear.  What is it?  Is Daniel all right?”

“Yes. Well, no, actually, he broke his arm yesterday, but that’s not why I’m calling.”

“Oh my, is he going to be ok?  What happened?”

“He fell off of a swing. He’ll be fine, just an accident. But Father, in the hospital- they had to operate on his arm to fix it-when Daniel came out of anesthesia, he said that the robed man visited him again. He said he talked to him.”

“Oh dear, surgery.  Poor thing.  All right, so he said he heard from the man again? What did he say?”

“He said that God protected him and that God loves him. He said the man came to him so Daniel wouldn’t be so scared.  He’s calling the man by name, Father. Nathanael.”

“Where did he come up with that?”

“The nurse said Daniel was repeating that name over and over as he was waking up from surgery. What could it mean, Father? Have you spoken to your colleagues yet? Have you informed the Bishop?”

“No, not yet. I was waiting until next week. Mary, what is your impression of all of this? I know you have come to me for counsel, but you are the boy’s mother. What is your instinct?”

Mary hesitated, not wanting to admit what she knew in her heart to be true. She proceeded timorously. “I think, I think Daniel has been visited by God, Father. I think God is singling him out to do something special. I don’t think Daniel is making it up.  It is too complex and detailed for it to be a fabrication.  He’s too little to know these things. I want guidance, Father. If he is chosen by God for some special work, how do we proceed? I don’t want to waste, for Daniel to waste, an invitation from God to do something special in his life. I just don’t know what to do next. I’m scared, Father. This is all so mysterious and frightening.”

Father Kenyon wished he had brought his brandy with him to his office. He sighed and closed his eyes, trying to think of some words of comfort and reassurance to offer his distraught congregant. He began, “Mary, I want to offer you some profound words of comfort, or to remember some precedent here.  But I have no explanation for what your son is experiencing other than what you are suspecting. I do not want to come to any official conclusion until I speak with my superiors, but I want you to know that I think your instincts are correct. To me this very much sounds like Daniel has had some sort of divine encounter.  It is a rare occurrence, but it is not unheard of.  I will not be able to address this with the Bishop until Monday morning, but rest assured, I will make it my first priority. Be patient, dear, and take care of your boy. He is very special, indeed.” As he hung up the phone, he made the sign of the cross and said a short prayer for the young boy who had been touched by God.

Mary had decided not to tell Rick about her conversation with the Father until after he spoke with the Bishop.  She wanted to have all opinions in before she took further action. An idea was forming, taking shape and growing more concrete as she turned the events of the past week over and over in her mind. She would wait until the priests offered an opinion. Until then, she would focus on Daniel, who was coming home in a few hours.

She busied herself in his bedroom, changing his sheets, tying balloons on his bedposts to welcome him home. Mrs. Dixon had stopped by Friday evening with handmade cards from the children in Daniel’s class. Mary had called the school from the hospital and explained the situation. The young teacher had expressed her genuine concern for her student, and wished him well. Along with the cards, she handed Mary a small teddy bear, which was just from her.  Mary knew that Daniel would be thrilled. She now placed the bear and the cards on Daniel’s pillow. His room was well suited for a special homecoming.

At nine o’clock, Rick and Mary drove the fifteen minutes to the hospital. Daniel was sitting up in his bed, dressed and ready to go home. “Where’ve ya been? I been waitin’!” Daniel demanded, as he hopped off of the bed, almost losing his balance as he hit the floor.

“Whoa there, pal, take it easy. You can’t go home until the doctor says you’re ready. They said sometime in the late morning or early afternoon, so hold your horses.” Rick took his injured son in his arms and hugged him tight. It was a rare show of affection, indicating how scared he had been for his youngest boy. Mary savored the moment.

“Who helped you get dressed, kiddo?” Mary asked, noting that Daniel’s shirt was on backwards.

“I got dressed myself. I found my clothes in that closet over there. This cast isn’t so bad.  I can still do stuff.  And my arm doesn’t even hurt.”

“Honey, you should have waited for the nurses. I guess you’re anxious to go home, huh?”

“Yes, and I’m anxious to go back to school.”

 “Speaking of school, there’s a little surprise for you at home. That’s all I’m going to say,” she teased with a sly smile.

“What is it, Mama, tell me, please?” Daniel pleaded, locking his fingers in a begging gesture and sticking his bottom lip out as far as it would go in a dramatic pout.

“Nope, gotta wait ‘til you get home. Sorry, pal.” Just then, Daniel’s surgeon entered the room and gave Daniel the green light to be discharged.  He conferred some last minute instructions about follow up appointments and pain medication, assured Mary and Rick that the cast could come off in about six weeks, and patted Daniel on the head before leaving the room.  Daniel was ecstatic.

“See, I get to go home early. I’m free!” He wriggled off of Rick’s lap and ran for the door. Mary grimaced as his cast barely missed the doorframe. This was going to be a long six weeks.

Nathanael had not left Daniel’s side since the park. He was on heightened alert, watching for any signs of Amraphel or his cohorts. He rested a bit easier with each hour that the dark angel didn’t appear. Still, he kept his sword at the ready, standing directly beside the unsuspecting boy at all times. He was determined not to let anything happen to his charge, or to the Plan.

**********

Bishop Greyhorse was a Native American whose family converted to Catholicism four generations earlier when a Catholic Priest visited their reservation. Half of his tribe had converted, while the other half stubbornly held on to their ancestry.  The bishop was a kind man, devout and generous, and known for his ability to listen with both ears and a discerning heart. He had entered the priesthood at the age of nineteen, having felt the call as a boy. He was a keen student, a favorite of the Franciscan priests at his seminary. He devoured any bit of knowledge, demonstrating an astute penchant for history and classical literature. It did not take him long after being ordained to rise to the level of bishop.  In fact, at 30, he was the youngest priest in his diocese to receive the honor.  He kept a framed letter of congratulations from the Supreme Pontiff on his desk next to a picture of his parents.  All were very proud of him.

Early Monday morning found the young bishop writing a blanket letter to the priests in his diocese, outlining some new Vatican regulations regarding priestly garb and other items he considered to be mundane and a colossal waste of time. Deciding when and when not to wear a cassock, he felt, was not exactly relevant to the advancement of God’s Kingdom. He wanted to get this chore out of the way to attend to the work he had begun at the local mission. As he was proofing the body of the letter, he was startled by the ringing of the phone. Noticing the early hour, he frowned and picked up the receiver. “Hello, Bishop Greyhorse.”

“Hello, Bishop, it’s Father Kenyon. Sorry to bother you so early, but I have something rather urgent to discuss with you.

“Hello, Jacob, no problem. And please, I told you before, call me David. Just because I’m your superior now doesn’t mean you have to go so formal on me when we’re talking privately.   How can I help you?”

Father Kenyon was suddenly struck dumb by the fear of sounding foolish to his Bishop.

“Jacob, are you still there?  What seems to be the trouble?”

“Yes, Bish, er David, I’m here. Forgive me. It’s just what I have to say may sound strange, but I urge you to keep an open mind and hear me out.”

“Jacob, we’ve known each other since I was in seminary. Of course I’ll hear you out, now just tell me.  You have me quite intrigued.”

“Well, there is a parishioner in my parish, her name is Mary Hartwell. She has a young son, Daniel, who she is very concerned about.” He took a deep breath and continued. “You see, the boy has been having some strange, um, dreams recently in which he claims to see a man with long hair wearing a white robe.”

“How old is this boy, Jacob?”

“What? Oh, uh, five. He is in kindergarten. Anyway, the man tells him things; things he is too young to know. At first, his mother just thought he heard them in Sunday School, or on TV. But as the dreams continued, it became clear that the, uh, terms the man was using were not something the boy had heard other places.”

“What kinds of things did the boy say he heard?”

“He said the man told him he would be ordained and that he would become a priest, but not a priest like us. He said he would be part of a Royal Priesthood. He also said that he would become a saint.”

“Wow. Interesting. And he’s sure, the mother is sure, he hadn’t heard these things anywhere else?”

Father Kenyon was trying to discern in the Bishop’s tone any sign of sarcasm or patronizing. So far he could detect neither. “Yes, Mrs. Hartwell is certain that her son could not have heard them anywhere else. And there’s more, David. The child broke his arm on Friday, and the doctors had to perform surgery to fix it. The boy claims the man came to him while he was under anesthesia. He was calling the name Nathanael as he was waking up. Now he’s taken to calling the man in his dreams Nathanael.  What do you make of this, Father?”

The young Bishop was carefully considering every word his elder subordinate was telling him. He had heard of supernatural occurrences to be sure, but, like Father Kenyon, he had never encountered one personally. “Well, it certainly sounds,” he paused, searching for the right word, “unusual.  Have you interviewed the boy?”

“Yes, the day after his mother first came to see me.  He’s very bright and engaging. He was scared, but when I pressed him about other places he could have heard the words he claimed the man told him, he became emboldened and adamant about hearing them in his dream.  I believe him, David.”  He continued, deciding to lay it all out. “David, I feel we have a, a real supernatural phenomenon here. I think this boy has been visited by God. I know it sounds extraordinary, but I’ve spoken with the mother several times, now, and she feels the same.  I believe this is the real deal.”

“Jacob, we must be very clear on this. We cannot make any official decision on something like this until we consult the Holy Father. It cannot be made public. We can guide the boy’s family, give advice and support, but we can’t share it with the diocese or the public. He would be made a spectacle. I think we should watch the boy, follow his progress and document any more, uh, visitations. If God is speaking to him, calling him into the priesthood, then we have an obligation to stay close to the situation and guide him.  I would like to visit with the family myself.  Is there a husband?”

“Yes, but he is skeptical. In fact, he won’t even hear anymore about it. Mrs. Hartwell is going to speak to him after I call her today. Your Episcopal authority may carry much more weight, though.  I will call you after I speak to her.  Thank you, David, for listening and not laughing me out of the diocese.” He said goodbye, hung up the phone and immediately dialed Mary’s number.

**********

The Hartwells sat in the simple, yet comfortable office of Bishop Greyhorse. Mary was secretly glad they had not met in Father Kenyon’s office, which would have been much more intimidating to Rick, who had come to this meeting with trepidation. They had left Daniel with Stone, who had planned to take Daniel to a carnival.

Rick, dressed in his Sunday best, which consisted of a collared shirt, worn chinos and brown oxfords, kept his eyes fixed on the floor, wanting to be anywhere else but there. Mary had come to him two days earlier talking about Daniel’s dreams again. Now she had not only the parish priest, but the Bishop himself believing that Daniel had been touched by God. He still didn’t buy it, but knew he had no choice but to go along with this cockamamie idea so as not to defy the authority of the priests. He didn’t need God to be mad at him.  He had enough troubles.  He would use this meeting to calmly reason with the Fathers, and with his wife, that Daniel was just an ordinary kid with a vivid imagination. These men were educated, reasonable men.  They would come to their senses and not side with a hysterical woman.

Bishop Greyhorse entered the room, still wearing his cassock and vestments from the morning mass.  He removed the green stole and folded it neatly over a small quilt rack in the corner, then turned to greet his guests. “Good morning, I’m so sorry I’m late. Our eldest parishioner stopped me in the hall to discuss the condition of the votives.  She is a stickler for detail.” He began with Rick. “Hello, I’m Bishop Greyhorse. You must be Mr. Hartwell.”  He thrust his hand out to Rick, who took it limply.

“Nice t’meet you, Bishop,” he mumbled, barely looking the man in the eye. “And you must be Mary.  Pleasure to meet you.  Glad you could come.”  He was shaking Mary’s hand firmly as he spoke. His warm demeanor and gleam in his eye were infectious, making Mary smile involuntarily.

“Father Kenyon, good morning to you.  Nice to see you again.”

 “You too, Your Grace.  Thank you for seeing us so soon.  I know you are very busy.”

“Nonsense. After all, it isn’t every day we have such a special, uh, occurrence happen right here in our own diocese. The pleasure is all mine. Now, let’s get down to business.  Mrs. Hartwell, I realize you’ve probably told this story ad nauseum, but I would like to hear it again. We have to be very sure that what we are theorizing is what is actually happening.  After all, there are many people who would fabricate such a story, and even more skeptics who would try to disprove it. Go ahead and tell me everything Daniel told you.”

Mary recounted the story, taking care not to miss any detail. She included Daniel’s strange feelings of being watched, which was new information for the Bishop. Rick sat quietly, studying the ornate pattern of the oriental area rug beneath the Bishop’s desk. When his wife was finally finished speaking, he cleared his throat and practically broke out into a sweat avoiding eye contact with the priests.

Bishop Greyhorse had listened intently, putting Mary at ease. He had occasionally stolen a few furtive glances at Rick. He decided to address him first. “Mr. Hartwell, how do you feel about all of this?  Do you agree with your wife’s theory?”

Rick was squirming now, looking for a trap door to drop through. “Well, uh, to be honest, Bishop, no. I think my son has a very active imagination, and that there is a logical explanation for all of this.  I think my wife just wants it to be something more.” He looked quickly at the men seated across from him, and then resumed his study of the carpet. 

The Bishop pressed him.  “What is your theory then, Mr. Hartwell?”

Rick felt cornered, ambushed. He started to flush. Mary knew he was becoming angry.  “Oh, come on Father.  You can’t really be serious about thinkin’ that a five year old little boy could have been talked to by, by God?” He ended the sentence in a whisper, as if he would be struck by lightning at the mere thought of something so irreverent and absurd.   “My son is nothin’ special.  We are just ordinary folk.  God doesn’t talk to people like us.  In fact, when’ve you heard of God talkin’ directly to anybody anymore.

It just doesn’t happen like that, not now, and definitely not here.”

Bishop Greyhorse retained his kind demeanor as he pressed the issue. He had been captivated by the story, and his instincts told him that Mary and Father Kenyon had the correct perception of the situation. Rick was a simple man who felt safe within the confines of the ordinary and routine. The bishop would have to proceed with great care in order to help Rick feel that he had some control over the situation. He had already decided what should happen next, and he felt that Rick would be a very tough sell.  He began, “Well, Mr. Hartwell, I can certainly appreciate your concerns. It is rather out of the ordinary for a small child to experience the sort of phenomenon we’re all talking about here. However, it is not unheard of for people to experience divine visitations in this day and age. For example, have you ever heard of St. Bernadette Soubirous? She was a farm girl who lived in France in the latter half of the last century. She claimed to have seen the Blessed Mother eighteen times, receiving messages from her. The woman in Bernadette’s vision called herself the Immaculate Conception, a term which was not likely used by such a simple peasant girl. In fact, this girl had some mental challenges stemming from severe asthma. At first, the people of her village, Lourdes, thought Bernadette mad. However, the woman in the vision told Bernadette one day to dig in the ground of the cave where the woman appeared until water sprang up from the ground. The girl obeyed, and the water that came forth was, and to this day is, said to contain miraculous healing properties. This prompted a movement in which millions take a pilgrimage to Lourdes each year just to fill containers of water from that place. That supernatural phenomenon is validated by millions around the world. I admit that the vast majority of sightings of the Holy Virgin, or claims that statues of saints or of Christ cried tears of blood, are hoaxes. But occasionally, rarely, a genuine and validated story emerges that defies all rational explanation. These occurrences can only be explained by what they appear to be, supernatural events. Granted, your son has not claimed to have seen anything so extraordinary as weeping statues or visions of the Blessed Mother, but his case is intriguing at the very least. I would encourage you, Mr. Hartwell, to at least keep an open mind."

Rick was beginning to feel defeated. He could not compete with two priests and a determined wife. His only option, he felt, was to go along with this madness. “Father, I can’t compete with this group. I think this is all a ridiculous waste of time. But I know that my wife has her mind made up about this, so I am going to have to go along with it for now. I’ll just sit back and wait until everyone sees that there is a logical, earthly explanation for it all.  So do whatever you think you have to.” Rick’s tangent was over and he was already resigned to do whatever Mary wanted.  It seemed his only option.

“Well, Rick,” Father Kenyon offered, “it would be best for Daniel to have your support. Even though you may not agree with our assessment, unity among the adults involved would offer security for the boy. He would feel validated. Do you understand what I mean?”

Rick was offended now. “Of course I understand, Father, I’m not an idiot! I will not show my disagreement in front of Daniel. Now let’s get on with this thing. What is it that you want us to do?”

Father Kenyon and Bishop Greyhorse shot glances at one another before the bishop continued.  “Well, Mr. and Mrs. Hartwell, Father Kenyon and I feel that, in light of what Daniel has said about becoming a priest, that he should be removed from his current school and placed in St. Cecil’s. It seems clear that, if this was a divine visitation, that it was also a divine invitation into the priesthood. It seems that your son has received a calling. I know he is young, but the Lord does work in mysterious ways.  There are still a few openings in St. Cecil’s kindergarten.  I would urge you to…”

“Hold on, Bishop, you can’t be serious!” Rick was incredulous. You want our son to attend Catholic school? How in the world do you expect us to afford that? We can barely make ends meet with how we are living now! You are out of your mind, Father, with all due respect.”  Mary was mortified.

“We have an extensive assistance program, Rick, and…”

“Assistance? You mean charity. I am a hard working man, Reverend. I earn every penny I make to support my family.  I have never taken charity and I never will.”

Mary had wanted to hear these very words from the Bishop. The idea of Catholic school had erupted in her mind days earlier, and the thought had become an obsession. It took everything she had not to share her idea with Rick, who was reacting now exactly as she had envisioned.  “Rick, please, hear them out.  If this is from God, we can’t go against it.  If it’s his will…”

“Mr. Hartwell,” Bishop Greyhorse interjected. I can see that you are a man of great pride and a strong work ethic. I understand your concerns. However, if it is in your son’s best interest, perhaps you could take some time to think about it. We do not have to decide this today. Father Kenyon has some literature on St. Cecil’s. It may not be as expensive as you might think.  Families from all kinds of backgrounds and incomes attend the school. It is an excellent institution, and I would encourage you to at least give it your most serious consideration. Would it be agreeable to you for us to reconvene in a few days?  It is clear that you need some time to discuss this with your wife.”

Rick was beginning to feel defeated again. He still thought it all crazy, but in the end, agreed to meet with the priests again in three days. This, he reasoned, would give everyone time to come to their senses.

The ride home was conspicuously quiet. Mary was apprehensive to speak for fear of tipping the delicate scales of Rick’s mood.  Rick was brooding over being outnumbered.  As they pulled up in front of their house, he finally said, “Mary, I know you want what’s best for Daniel. But Catholic school?  It’s just too expensive.  I don’t care what the brochures day. Any extra expense is too expensive for us. What could you be thinking?”

“Rick, I have thought of nothing else for the last few days. Something miraculous is happening, and we just can’t ignore it. So I came up with a solution.  Please hear me out before you go spouting off about it.” She shot a sideways glance at her husband, gauging his reaction. He seemed calm, probably still in a state of defeat. “What if I got a job? Something part time and close to home. I would work only when Daniel was in school.  I saw that Shelly’s Deli is hiring.  Or I could clean houses.  What do you think?”

Rick was silent for a long moment. He had never wanted his wife to have to work to support the family.  He wanted to be the sole breadwinner, and until now had succeeded at this goal.  But this was different.  He had always wanted his children to go to parochial school.  However, it was never an option.  But Mary was so set on this that he didn’t see any way he could say no. Still, he kept up the front a bit longer to save face. “Mary, I’ve always told you I didn’t want my wife working. Your place is in the home with our children.”

“Yes, I know, but Daniel is going to school now, and I have no need to be at home. I will still cook and keep a clean house. I’ll just have something to occupy my time while Daniel is at school. And, I’ll make some extra money to support the tuition. Please, Rick, it’s such a perfect plan, and I would really love to do this. Please, honey, it’s for Daniel.”

Rick sighed, a sign to Mary that she had won the day. She showed no indication, however, of the glee she was feeling inside.  She waited for him to respond.

“I’ll think about it.  Don’t say anything to Daniel until we make a final decision.

We don’t want to worry him.” As he got out of the car, he was oblivious to his wife’s posture of silent prayerful thanks. She smiled as she watched her husband disappear into the house, then she burst into tears of exhaustion and relief. The hardest part was finished.  The next hardest part would be telling Daniel.

“What do you mean, Mama? I won’t be going to Parkwood anymore? I won’t have Mrs. Dixon? I don’t understand. Why do I have to leave my kindergarten? I love it there.”  Mary was sitting on Daniel’s bed watching him assemble his new Lego set, which he now abandoned at the news his mother had just told him. He was not taking it well.

“Sweetie, you would still be in kindergarten, just in another school with another nice teacher and other kids. It’ll be a little scary at first, but so was leaving preschool, remember? I know you love Mrs. Dixon, but you can write her letters and stay in touch with the kids if you want. Honey, your father and I feel this is the best thing for you. We want you to learn all about being a good Catholic, as well as learning all the regular things you learn in school. This is a great place, because you get to learn both.” Mary was doing her best to make this difficult move as pain free as possible. She felt she wasn’t doing a very good job.

“But Mama, I learn about Cath’lic stuff in Sunday School. Isn’t that enough?” “No, Daniel, it’s not.  Do you remember when we went to see Father Kenyon at the church?” Daniel nodded miserably. “Well, he went to see another priest, his boss, I guess you could call him. His name is Father Greyhorse. He is a very kind and wise priest. Father Kenyon told him about your dreams and all of the things the man in the robe told you. He thinks, and I think, that the man in your dreams was a messenger of God. We think,” she hesitated, not wanting to scare or overwhelm him, “we think that you have been called by God to do something special in the Church, Daniel. Your dreams are a miracle, sweetheart. A real for sure miracle. That is why we, the priests, your father and I, all think that you should go to St. Cecil’s. Being there will help you find what God is calling you to do.  Do you understand?”

Daniel was crying now, silently, trying to figure out why his small world had just been turned upside down. “Why, Mama, why?” he pleaded.  “Mrs. Dixon will be so sad. I am one of her favorite boys. She gave me a Teddy bear. Please, please don’t make me go. They were just dreams, Mama.  They didn’t mean anything.  Please don’t make me go to the Cath’lic school.  I’ll do anything.”

Mary felt the sting of hot tears as she struggled to retain her resolve. She was still convinced that this was the right decision. The arrangements had been made. She had gotten a job at the deli working three hours a day while Daniel would be at school. The extra salary would cover more than two thirds of the tuition for kindergarten. They would cut some corners to afford the rest.   Daniel would survive the transition. Everything would work out fine. She closed her eyes, fighting back the tears and said, “Daniel, I am sorry you are sad, but your father and I have made up our minds. This will be your last week at Parkwood, and then you will be starting at St. Cecil’s. Now be a big boy and stop crying. You will be fine, I promise.” She crossed to Daniel, kissed him briefly on the top of the head and left him alone to deal with his grief. As soon as she entered the hallway, the tears began to flow. Although she tried heroically to wrangle the guilt and doubt seeping into her heart, she had no way of knowing that these feelings would be her constant companions in the years ahead, challenging her faith and her very worth as a mother. She stood outside of her son’s room for a long moment, listening to his sobs through the closed door, before making her way slowly across the hall to her own room to cry herself to sleep.

Nathanael had been watching the heartbreaking interchange from a corner of the room. He was tempted to question God’s intentions, but knew better. Every Plan his loving Master had put into place for His creation ended in His glory and edification of His subject and those around them. But it was these momentary, heart wrenching turns in the road that Nathanael dreaded every time. He knew God meant this for Daniel’s good, and that Catholic school was the only path toward fruition of the Plan. But he hated to see Daniel sad, hated to witness something that seemed as if it could turn Daniel from God, not toward Him. But Nathanael resolved long ago to rest in the trust of his Lord, and so he watched his tiny charge sob himself into a dreamless sleep, confident that the Plan was on track. He crossed to Daniel, touching him on his tear stained cheek before vanishing without Daniel ever knowing he was there.  The next phase of the Plan had begun.