Battle for His Soul

 

Chapter 1

FEEL THE AIR

 

Ellechial

Seventeen-year-old Jarret West gripped the handlebars of the mountain bike, lifted a foot to the pedal, and shot a half-crazed look down the hill at the ramp. A wide, flat rock jutted from the rim of a five-foot cliff, its tilt and smoothness making it an ideal bike ramp. He needed speed to make a jump that avoided the bushes and landed in the clear. After a few tries, he seemed to have figured the distance required to accomplish that. He had even taken the time to rid the path of anything that would impede his ride. A root and a big half-buried rock remained in his way, though he had tried to dig them up too.

Ellechial watched with a light soul. Whatever the boy did, he threw himself into it.

“I wish I could convince you to abandon this reckless pursuit,” Ellechial said. “Have you not been out here long enough? There are other things to which you ought to attend. The horses could use your attention. And Roland will be looking for his mountain bike any minute—”

Jarret leaned forward, elbows out, and started down the slope. Now he stood and pedaled furiously, making his approach. He dropped onto the seat, assuming a more controlled posture, and weaved around the root and the half-buried rock. In order to land safely, he needed to hit the ramp dead center.

Pedaling harder, grimacing, he neared the rock.

Closer, closer, and . . . three, two, one . . .

With a jerk of the handlebars, he cleared the ramp and stopped pedaling. His expression softened and froze as he relished the euphoric moment.

Weightlessness.

The wind brushing his face and arms.

The beating of his heart.

He gazed at the sky and the farmer’s field before focusing on the ground. Then he shifted his weight, adjusting his angle of flight to ensure a two-wheel landing. In full control, he came down with a thud. A squirrel scampered away. Blackbirds and grackles flew up from the cornfield.

Jarret hooted, long and loud. This was his best jump yet. Losing momentum, he crossed onto the neighbor’s land and spun the bike around, his leg brushing the end row of knee-high corn.

Ellechial smiled. He liked seeing the boy enjoy himself, especially after his recent trials and sufferings, but Jarret had a tendency to push everything to the limit.

He had originally come out to the back border of his family’s property to get away from his twin brother Keefe, not to teach himself how to jump a mountain bike. But the slope of the land and the discarded board he’d found lent themselves to the idea. He created his first ramp by propping the board on stones. He had increased the angle with larger stones every few goes. Before long, he had learned how to move his body to control the bike. He had come close but—thank you, Lord—he hadn’t crashed once.

Jarret pedaled past his first ramp, the board on the stones, hopped off the bike and walked it to the new one. His eyes gleamed with his desire for more. He glanced over his shoulder at the first ramp.

“Not a good idea, Jarret.” Ellechial zipped to his side. “Experimenting with steeper and steeper ramps will only lead to trouble.” Not to mention, rusty nails—rife with Clostridium tetani spores—protruded from the board. “You have had enough for today. Time to go home.”

Jarret laid the bike on its side and jogged to the old board. He stooped and reached, about to make contact with a rusty nail.

“A little more caution, my boy.” With only a thought, Ellechial coaxed a Nicrophorus americanus, an American burying beetle, into action. It flitted at once to Jarret’s hand.

 

Jarret jumped back, cussing and shaking his hand. The black-and-orange creature flew off, soon disappearing from Jarret’s view. Jarret scanned the board twice before gripping it this time.

He carried the board to the rock ramp, dragged a log over, and collected a handful of sturdy sticks. He positioned the log near the far edge of the stone ramp and laid one end of the board over it. Then he used the sticks like tent stakes to keep it all in place.

Stepping back, he propped his hands on his hips and looked it over. The new ramp had a steeper angle. He stepped onto it and bounced a few times, the board squeaking under his weight.

“Yeah, that’ll do,” he said with a grin.

“Jarret, no,” Ellechial said. “I know you see it as a way to get more air time, but it is not as sturdy as you believe it to be. Pressure on the board will cause the log to slip. Then, once the bicycle reaches the end, the log will act like a fulcrum and the board will tip. The angle of your ascent will be all wrong.”

Jarret turned and stepped off the board.

Ellechial shot to his side and shouted, “Listen to me!”

The hair on the nape of Jarret’s neck pricked. He made a sweeping glance into the surrounding woods.

“That’s right. I am trying to warn you. Take heed, my child.”

Jarret peered into the woods and glanced at the open areas of tall, sunlit grass. He probably thought his younger brother Roland had discovered him with his Iron Horse, or that his father or Keefe were watching with a disapproving glare.

“It is only I . . .” Ellechial sighed. “. . . trying to keep you safe. How I wish you would listen to me.”

Jarret shook his head, obviously dismissing the warning, and grabbed the bike. He climbed the hill, moving slower than he had the last few climbs, probably feeling it in his thighs.

“You’ve been out here for hours.” Ellechial kept to Jarret’s side. “You should give it a rest.”

At the top of the hill, Jarret swung his leg over the bike and pulled the band from his ponytail. He dipped his head and shook out his long black curls. Perhaps he wanted to feel the wind in his hair for this jump. He’d inherited his mother’s hair. With her mixed Mexican ancestry—Spanish European and Native American—she’d had long, gorgeous locks. He treasured his hair now because it reminded him of her, and he’d lost her in childhood. Despite the cool façade Jarret put on in front of others, Ellechial knew his grief ran deep, even after all these years.

Jarret ran a hand through his hair and frowned, probably thinking now about Keefe’s haircut. Jarret had not understood the changes in his twin brother or the reason for his haircut. Keefe had tried to explain that it symbolized something, reminded him of a promise he had made. For Jarret, it seemed to symbolize the end of his control.

Ellechial sighed. All his life, Jarret had relied upon others and the power he had to manipulate them, especially his twin brother. Now, at age seventeen, it had all ended. Even Keefe no longer agreed with him or went along with him on things. A rift had formed. They had parted ways.

Jarret clenched the handlebars, determination flashing in his brown eyes. Every jump he made seemed to boost his confidence. He may have lost control over most things in his life, but he thought he had control over this.

“This is a mistake, Jarret.” Ellechial hovered above him. “I will do what I can to protect you, but you make it difficult, my reckless child.”

Jarret lifted his elbows and started down the hill, standing, pedaling hard, his gaze fixed on the path. Nearing the ramp, his heart pounded faster. Elation brightened his face. Almost there . . . in three, two, one . . .

The front wheel of the bike smacked onto the low side of the board, causing the opposite side to pop up a few inches. The tree trunk slid.

Jarret’s eyes bugged, and his mouth opened with the realization.

The bike raced to the top of the ramp. The board tipped forward like a seesaw. Jarret headed downward rather than up for the jump.

Catapulting off the faulty ramp, the bike twisted. The pedals spun away from his feet. He released the handlebars, and his body sailed over them.

Ellechial flew into action. “If only he would have worn a—”

Jarret threw his arms out but not soon enough. He landed hard on his face, Ellechial softening the impact to avoid a broken neck. Jarret slid with the bike tangled around his legs, rocks scraping his arms.

“. . . a helmet,” Ellechial said.

Jarret lay on his belly motionless and not breathing. Still not breathing. Still not . . .

Ellechial leaned over him and spread his wings. “Breathe,” he commanded.

Jarret dragged in a breath of air and rolled over, groaning. 

“You’re okay, my child. Nothing is broken.” Ellechial sat beside him. Wanting to be left alone, the boy hadn’t even brought his cell phone. No one knew he was back here, half a mile from the house. If Ellechial had permission to travel, he could summon help. But alas . . .

Pain contorted Jarret’s face. He hugged his ribs and rolled to his side.

Ellechial perched on a three-foot stone near Jarret and thanked God he had been granted permission to avert total catastrophe. If only Jarret would have listened to him . . . but Jarret had numbed himself to the voice of his guardian angel long ago.

~ ~ ~

A few minutes later, guardian angel Nadriel breezed onto the scene, glowing with radiant joy. “Greetings. I bring good—” His attention snapped to Jarret who lay curled up in the fetal position.

“Oh, what a shame.” Nadriel flashed to Jarret’s side. Angels and demons alike knew how to read people by their expressions and physical signs, but Nadriel had a unique gift for it. He assessed a situation quicker than most angels did.

“He’ll be fine,” Ellechial said. “He would’ve broken his collarbone, or worse, if I hadn’t redirected and softened his landing. But that was all I could do. I am largely powerless to help him.”

Nadriel peered at Jarret’s face. “I don’t like the look in his eyes.”

“Nor do I. I believe he is feeling sorry for himself. Though I had worried about his physical safety while he jumped the bike, his self-pitying thoughts had been largely kept at bay.”

“Mmm.” Nadriel examined the bike with its bent rim and forks. “I tried to get Roland back here to look for his mountain bike, showed him tracks in the damp dirt. I hoped he might help Jarret, maybe curb his reckless behavior.”

“Roland would not come? He usually listens to you.”

“Yes, well, Roland couldn’t imagine who would’ve taken his bike or why a person would take it back here. He went on without it, which brings me to my good news.” Nadriel’s wings lifted as he smiled.

“Good news?”

“Yes—”

“Zoe,” Jarret mumbled, hugging his ribs and rocking.

Ellechial glanced heavenward. “I do hope he does not attempt to renew their relationship. Jarret has not taken their break-up well. He wavers between resentment and wanting to believe she didn’t mean to break up with him after the baby.”

“Incidentally, the baby does well.” Nadriel beamed.

“I am glad.” Ellechial smiled. Every baby born gave him great joy. “You have visited the adoptive family, then.” Nadriel was blessed. As an angel supported by prayer, he had much more power to come and go in the world. Ellechial wore the long, restrictive robes of an angel who traveled little.

“I have. The new family does well. They rejoice daily in the child.”

“Zoe, I need you,” Jarret moaned, still hugging himself. He was most likely remembering Zoe’s comforting ways, how she always seemed to know his thoughts and feelings. He hadn’t been able to see past the physical, though, or to recognize her spiritual or emotional needs.

“His emotions rule him,” Ellechial said, “and could change the direction I envision for him.”

“Direction?”

“Yes, I need to keep him from self-pity and from Zoe. Then once his father and Roland go to Arizona, he will have no one but Keefe. I have hope for him if he begins to listen to Keefe as he once did.”

Nadriel’s wings lifted. “My news may increase your hope.”

A wave of joy coursed through Ellechial. “Oh?”

“Cyabrial has a plan. It begins now.” Nadriel rose a foot off the ground as he often did when about to take flight.

“A plan from Caitlyn’s angel? It will affect Jarret?”

“Yes.” Nadriel disappeared before his thought faded. “Many souls depend upon Jarret.”

Ellechial sighed. “That they do.” So much depended upon the soul entrusted to his care, yet his wings were tied. “May Cyabrial’s plans be blessed—”

A sudden gust of hot wind made Ellechial’s wings ripple.

Deth-kye, the demon bent on seeing Jarret in hell, appeared. He crouched and whispered in Jarret’s ear. Then he cackled. His evil laughter echoed in the woods. A flock of sparrows spread their wings and took flight.

Ellechial grieved, knowing that Jarret would listen to the demon’s lies. He ached to protect.

A long, low moan escaped from the depths of Jarret’s soul. He grabbed the hair on the top of his head and curled up. “Leave me alone.”

“No one cares about you,” Deth-kye whispered, making nearby blades of grass shudder. “You’re worthless. You think Zoe wants you. Ha! You used her. She had to make choices she wasn’t ready to make. She hates you for that. She hates you,” he hissed, “but you need her. Go to her. Go now. You can get her back under your control.”

Jarret moaned and tucked his head under his arm.

“Do not listen to him,” Ellechial shouted, coming to full stature. “He seeks your ruin. Turn to the Lord who is quick to—”

“Get up!” Deth-kye spat.

Jarret pushed himself up on his elbows, wincing at the pain.

“That’s my boy.” Deth-kye laughed, acknowledged Ellechial with a glance, and laughed harder, evil resonating through his being.

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