Chapter 3 of 21. If you haven’t read the earlier chapters, please read them first.  You can find them here: The Willow, a serialized novel.

 

The air was wet, although the lake was miles off. Gabriel loved the smell of it. He breathed in deeply and let it seep out through his pores. His pocket of nature was clean, untouched by even the smallest city, and insulated by the mountain and forest. Gabriel laughed at himself, thinking how this city boy had become a mountain man, marveling at the beauty that surrounded him. He rocked back and forth in his chair a couple times before stopping the motion with his boot. It made him feel like an old man when he enjoyed the chair too much.

Gabriel took a sip of water from his flask and laid it back on the floor. This was his routine. A couple rocks. Scan the forest. Have a few sips of water. There was no motion he hadn’t repeated thousands of times over the past forty years.

Though his hair was now grey, he hadn’t lost the chiseled features that made people notice him, even without knowing him. His eyes had always been set back in his skull, with deep black pools underlining them. His skin was pale having not seen direct sunlight in years. Only slivers of light caught him through the dense forest he was surrounded by. His beard, though a good inch thick, was well trimmed. He refused to let himself go. He was a soldier after all. Four o’clock in the morning still saw him doing 5 sets of air-squats, one-handed push-ups and hand stand push-ups, followed by forty minutes of jogging in place.

They used to call him the cowboy because of his hat and his gate. He walked with a slight rocking motion as if the air was thick and he had to lead with his shoulders to cut through it. He had to admit that he looked the part with his checkered shirt tucked in, showing off his oversized belt buckle. His blue jeans were loose enough to fit over his square toed, brown leather boots. He dressed the same as he did forty years ago. There was no need to change with the times, when he had only himself to impress.

Gabriel was a beautiful man, but his beauty was dignified, not extravagant. The dignity came from the confidence he carried. Honor flowed through him; it had never needed to be bestowed upon him. Gabriel new the mythology surrounding his name and he embraced it.

“God is my strength,” he whispered to himself. “God is my strength. All of the glory is yours, my Lord.”

Gabriel rocked back and forth again. He let himself rock freely while praying. It was part of his meditation. It moved him to a sacred place. The rocking motion was trance inducing, and he was attempting to hypnotize himself, attempting to block out the negativity of the world and remember the divine. Finding that sacred place was easier to do in these parts, with nothing to disturb him. He knew it wasn’t a lasting peace, with nothing to test his resolve, but he took what he could get. Gabriel had seen the world in his day, but sitting on his rocking chair, on the porch of his log cabin, doing God’s work, was the closest to living a life of peace that he could imagine.

Gabriel removed his hat and let his fingers run through his hair before putting it back on again – another one of his routines, similar in nature to when he hunched over and pulled his palm across his forehead, as if he could wipe the stress away. Gabriel fluctuated between peace and stress. It was part of the job. He thought of himself as a warrior for the righteous path. But righteous behavior was not built into the human condition. It took constant determination.

Gabriel had spent twelve years in the Navy, before being recruited for his current position. They had told him that they were looking for a very particular individual: A God fearing man, but someone who was able to work with people from other religions. That was certainly him. His friends called him the peacemaker, because he always sought out resolution over dissolution. He loved all of his brothers, and sisters, and prayed for a world where they could get along. So when a group calling themselves the Guardians, called on him, he was ready to accept.

The Guardians, were there to protect the values that thousands of years of tradition had kept alive. Every generation was looking for their own Jesus or Mohammed, and the Guardians saw to it that God’s work was never watered down. They knew that they would be living a lonely life in the context of an ever-changing world, but they were the peacemakers, they had to make sure that the world, as they knew it, was not ripped apart. Every time a charismatic figure decided they wanted to bring ancient tradition into a new age, the Guardians were there to make sure that tradition won out.

The world was both more complicated and systematic than he had ever imagined. The Guardians had trained him to read the stars. Disruptions in the flow of the world could be predicted there. The Guardians used this knowledge to keep the world on course: to make sure that God’s plans were not tarnished by those seeking to reinvent him, and to figure out when and where the trouble makers would show up.

Now, more than being a peacekeeper, he was protecting the world from certain destruction. He was guarding the cabin. The cabin existed in a pocket that was not readily visible to an ordinary individual. Though it was still a part of the worldly realm, if you didn’t enter this piece of land exactly at the right spot, it would seem not to exist. You would walk right through it. Only those naturally blessed with a mystic sight would wonder upon it. The rest needed a guide to get there. Gabriel didn’t have the sight, he was trained like the rest of the Guardians. Because he wasn’t a natural mystic, he only knew how to find this particular pocket. He’d never seen any of the others. He wasn’t even aware of how many others existed, but he knew that his cabin possessed the mysteries that would end the world as we now know it, and so this was the only place that mattered to him.

Their leader, the only one in their local division with the sight, had died years ago in a coup attempt. At that time, there had been as many as twenty men and women guarding the cabin. Some of the Guardians had decided that the world should see the secret that they had hidden within. A blood bath ensued, and only four had survived. Three of them believed unwaveringly that the secret needed to be kept. The fourth had come around when he saw all of his brothers dead.

As the years passed and no one visited the cabin, Gabriel had volunteered to stay alone. The secret had to be kept, but if no one was trying to find the answer, then they didn’t all need to stick around. For the last fifteen years it was just him. The other three rotated bringing him provisions each month. It was better this way. He was the only one that never desired a normal life. It worked out for him to be alone, because he didn’t need much sleep – even a change in direction of the breeze was enough to wake him.

Gabriel never doubted his role in history. He knew that the part he played was clearly written in the stars. There was no one who could shake Gabriel from the path that he had set out on. He would keep the world on the path that God himself had laid. The only thing that could change the course of history would be his death.

Leaning back in his chair Gabriel picked up his 12 gauge. He wiped it down with the love of a father stroking his son. The nooks and crannies of it, he would get into at the end of the night, but at least once an hour he would wipe the dust off. This action was as much for holding the gun close as anything else. The Remington was about the best friend he had left in the world. They were on guard together. He checked the chamber – fully loaded. This was just part of his routine. He’d done it thousands of times over the years.

He had long ago given up on ever being called to active duty, but out of nowhere he heard the crunch of leaves. Gabriel’s eyes shot up in disbelief. The next month’s provisions were still nine days off, but someone was walking towards him through the forest.

The cabin behind him came to life. There was a pulse, like a heartbeat emanating from it. Waves of emotion were washing over him and pouring out towards the forest. Gabriel couldn’t even conceptualize what he was feeling. It was joy, elation, love, all rolling through and out of him.

It was all Gabriel could do to keep himself breathing. He strained to listen to the steps as they approached. The steps were haphazard – not those of someone trying to disguise their movements. As the ecstasy washed over him, Gabriel forced himself to lift and aim his shotgun in the direction of the breaking leaves. Finally, a small girl barreled through the tree line and stopped.

At first all she could see was the gun. After a second her eyes followed the barrel back and up to the eyes above. Neither the girl nor the cowboy was sure of what was happening. The girl fell to her knees, but Gabriel knew that it was not out of fear. The waves of raw emotion coming from the cabin were overpowering her.

The girl was too young to have been trained to find the cabin and she probably didn’t even know she had the sight. This being the situation, Gabriel’s duty was clear. Anyone other than a Guardian that visited the cabin, must be shot on sight and buried in the back yard. This was the first uninvited visitor he’d seen in forty years.

All of the training he had was for this moment, but there was a force that was keeping him from pulling the trigger. Waves of love were washing over him, and through him. She’s just a girl. How can you shoot her? he thought. But the thoughts were not his; they came from the cabin.

The girl could see the unease on the man’s face. She wanted to run, but was unable to move. She was locked into the power before her. The girl could feel that the man’s intention was to shoot her, but both of them were stuck.

Sam, a voice was yelling in their heads. Find Sam!

Knowing the call was for the girl and not for him, Gabriel forced himself to pull the trigger. A single shot fired up towards the treetops. The girl, freed of the force, turned and ran. She ran as fast as she could and didn’t look back.

Gabriel stood there with tears rolling down his face, the barrel of the gun following the girl’s movements through the forest, but he couldn’t pull the trigger again.

What have I done? he thought.

After all of these years, with only one mission at hand, when the time finally came, he was unable to fulfill his duty. He had one role to play and he had failed at it. Gabriel knew that the end was coming. Now all he could do was wait.

 

 

I’ll see you next Friday for chapter 4.

Featured image via http://www.pixabay.com

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