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“No Man an Island” is complete.  I wanted to say thank you to all the readers who have visited my story world.  I hope you found it worthwhile.  A big thank you to commenters, I learned a lot from each of you.  A bigger thank you to people who are buying the book on Lulu.com, and who have made donations to support a writer’s creativity.  I am honoured and grateful to all of you.

Now that the story is complete, I’d appreciate anyone who wants to do a review over at Pages Unbound.  I encourage everyone to check out this site for more reading, there are tons of great authors.  If you want more from me, there’s still The Samaritan Project which I will begin new chapters for if there is interest (which means COMMENTS 🙂 ) and The Surprising Life and Death of Diggory Franklin.

Because Pages Unbound is getting bigger and bigger, I don’t want to put up “Diggory” too soon, and have it be lost in the shuffle.  I’m going to submit it after about 10 chapters are up.  There are currently four or five.  But, I would like volunteers to do reviews first, so that we can build some momentum.  Anyone interested?  Because the more momentum will equal more fans and comments, which makes me a better writer.  Then you get better stuff to read.  Plus, more fans equals hopefully more donations, which means I can write more often.  It’s win-win-win-win.  I think. 😉  Also, you can always buy a Lulu edition and show support that way.

I’m basically saying, NMAI might be complete, but I’m just getting started.  There’ll be more from me to come, and I hope you all come along for the ride.  It’s been a pleasure, ladies and gentlemen.

The boy woke up, shaken and groggy, in an unfamiliar bed.  An IV cord was attached to his hand, and he stared at it for a moment before realizing what it was.  Monitors beeped by his bedside.

            He looked around the room and his eyes fell first on the girl sitting on the chair by his bed, asleep.  The morning sun creeping through a crack in the curtains gave her red hair a golden shine.  He smiled at the sight of her.

            “Good morning,” I said quietly, stepping forward.

            He looked up at me, startled, not having realized that they weren’t alone.

            “Hello,” he said shyly. “Are you my doctor?”

            “Yes, one of them.  I’m Doctor Ralph Arches, and the young lady by your bed is my daughter.”

            “Maya… No, ” he paused, shaking away his disorientation.  Then he smiled, looking at her again.  “Mara.”

            “Yes.  She says you’re her hero, that you saved her before the snowstorm.”

            “There were some bullies.  I got them away from her, that’s all.” 

            “Well, she’s refused to leave your side while you recovered from what they did to you.  She found you just in time, and led searchers to you.  It’s a miracle you’re still alive, you’ve been through a lot.”

            “Mostly just some bad dreams, ” he said.

            “Oh?”

            “Whatever came before doesn’t really matter any more than a dream.  What matters is that I’m alive today.  And she’s here.”

            My daughter woke, and their eyes met.  A moment later, so did their hands, coming together over the blanket.  I left them in private, and went home to my wife.

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I awoke feeling refreshed.  I found myself leaning against the silver bark of the heavenly Tree of Life and I saw Enoch kneeling beside me with a smile on his face. 

            “Feel better?”

            “I guess so.” I said.  “Did I really..?”

            “Yes, you did.” He grinned, helping me to my feet.  “Wasn’t what you expected, was it?”

            “No.” I smiled back.  “Wasn’t anything like it.”

            “I have a favour to ask before you go.” Enoch said.

            “Oh?”
            “Can you write a record of your experiences?  For the Library.  I’d like to cross-reference them with Raphael’s report, get a first-hand account.”

            “Certainly.  I’m honoured.”

            “Grand!”  He grinned again.

            “Did you say before I go?  Where am I going?”

            “Back, of course.” He chuckled.  “It’s not your time, my boy.  You’re just getting started.”

            And he was right.

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I yawned, awakening in my bedroom, startled by wakefulness by a young girl’s voice.

            “Wake up, let the sunshine in!”  She said, as my curtains were opened to let the sunrise illuminate my inner sanctum.

            “Wha…?” I muttered groggily, wiping my eyes.

            My little sister sat on the edge of my bed.

            “Wake up, sleepyhead!  Are you going to let this day start without you?”

            “Gwen?” I asked, befuddled.  I felt as if she had woken me in the middle of some dream.  Something important now seemed to slip away as I tried to remember it.

            “Want toast and cereal for breakfast?” Gwendolyn asked.

            “Sure.  Hang on a sec, I’ll help you make it.”  I said.  She bounced from the room, and I stood, yawning and stretching.  I pulled on a pair of jeans and my favourite Superman t-shirt.

            I followed my kid sister downstairs and into the kitchen, where she had pushed a chair to the counter so she could reach the bread in the cupboard.

            “Hey, kiddo.  Do you want some bacon and hash browns?”

            “Sure, that would be great!” She grinned.

            I started frying up some food, enjoying the quiet stillness of the morning.  Gwen was always easy to be with, the two of us had a weird, natural rhythm together, like we could always read each other’s moods.  Right now we were both just happy to have breakfast together.

            After we ate, we watched Sunday morning cartoons, enjoying a lazy day.  Sprawled across the couch, we laughed together at Bugs Bunny for a while.  Then, we took a morning walk through the fields of our farm.

            As we walked, I reflected that this was one of my favourite ways to spend a day.  I was usually so busy with school or chores; a quiet day with my little sister was a treasured luxury.  Almost a slice of heaven.

            I tucked her in at bedtime and she looked up at me.

            “Wasn’t that a perfect day?” She asked.

            “Pretty close.” I smiled.  Inwardly, I felt an odd twinge of emotion.  The day was almost perfect, but something had been missing.

            “What’s the matter?” Gwen asked.  I sat on the edge of her bed, feeling a growing consternation.

            “I don’t know.” I said, perplexed.  “Something’s wrong here.”  I looked around, as if expecting an answer to appear out of thin air.  What was wrong with me?

            “Do you miss Mara?” Gwen asked.

            Sudden relief rushed through me.  Of course, that was it!  That’s what was missing.

            “Right as usual, Gwennie girl.” I smiled, kissing her forehead.  “I’ll have to see about visiting her tomorrow or something.” I got up to leave.

            “Goodnight Gwen.”

            “Night, Ethan.”  She murmured, already half asleep as I exited the room.

            I closed the door quietly and tiptoed down the hall.  At the top of the stairs I stopped short, struck by a sudden insight.

            I walked back to Gwen’s room, turning the handle on her door.

            “Gwen, how can you know about Mara?  I haven’t even met her yet…” I said, speaking of paradoxes I shouldn’t have been aware of myself.  I entered through the door, not into my sister’s room, but into a bright white infinity.  The doorway was gone, the house was gone, and all that remained was white light.

            Floating ahead of me was Gwen in her white night gown, her long hair swirling as if in a wind.

            “You’re not my sister, are you?” I asked, scratching my beard.  Up until a moment ago, it hadn’t existed.

            “Yes, I AM.  I AM your Mother, your Sister, your Brother, your Father.  I AM yourself,” Gwen said, but beneath her child’s voice I could hear a chorus.  All voices spoke through her, yet it was One Voice.

            “Who are you?”  I asked, even though I knew.

            “I AM that I AM,” She answered.  “I read your stories Ethan, I know your secrets, your inmost thoughts.  I see the world you created and the things you hid from yourself.”

            “What did I hide?” I asked.

            “Your anger.” She showed me a scene from my childhood, the end of our Camelot summer.  “First your friends left without you.  Then others abandoned you.  Then you were betrayed.  Your rage grew and grew, unexpressed, and then you destroyed each of them, one by one.  Yin and Yang out of balance.

            I saw Reza, my dark half, murdering my friends, obliterating them in anger.

            “Their traits are stamped on the characters in your stories.  They fed your symbols.  The leader, the charmer, the strong man, the jester, the quiet one, the musician.  Neal, Alex, Daniel, Owen, Jason, Evan.  And in all your stories, the hero outlasts them all, surpasses them.  And you were always the hero.  Always, at the end, alone.”

            My struggle had been always with myself.  No angels or demons had motivated my choices, no one else was responsible.  Tears spilled down my cheeks as I saw how life had become a story, and how stories had shaped my life.  How my dreams had changed my reality.

            “Was nothing real?” I whispered.

            I saw my whole life spill past from beginning to that final moment, where I struck Azazel.  Good versus evil, my withdrawal from the world into myself, my quest, Mara…

            “The journey was real,” Gwen said, her voice compassionate.  “Your seeking.  Your faith and hope.  Your love.”

            She smiled kindly.  “You did well.”           

            I wept. “No, I failed.  I may have looked for you, but I never lived out the things I should have learned while seeking God.  You’re not just something found in any one book, or in a church.  You’re more than that, you’re in the world.  And I hid from the world, hid from life, and thought it made me better.  I played a game and never grew up.  And Mara and I never had a chance to be normal.  To just live.”

            “Who says that you still can’t?”

            I looked at her, perplexed.

            “Why can’t I see your real face?”

            “You cannot see my face; for man shall not see me and live.”

            “But I’m dead.”

            “Are you?  You have stood at Death’s door, but have you crossed that threshold?

            “You mean…?”

            “With God all things are possible.  For now, return to Samsara.

            “I don’t understand.”

            “I shall give you peace that passes all understanding.”  She gestured, and I fell asleep.

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When the blinding light receded, I found myself alone in a garden.  It was still, peaceful.  I looked around, hoping to see Him, or Mara.

            “Is anyone there?” I asked.  I heard no answer.  I rose to my feet and let them wander as they willed, past flowers and trees, streams and springs and fountains.  I soon saw a robed figure resting under a bush, grey-bearded and stocky.

            “Are you God?” I asked, but as soon as the words left my mouth, I knew the answer. 

            The figure opened his eyes and sat up.  A bright nimbus of light illuminated his face.  He chuckled.

            “Not quite, my friend, but thanks for the compliment.  I only work for him.  I took credit for one of His accomplishments once, and I’ve learned my lesson.”

            “Sorry to disturb you.” I said politely.  “You can return to your nap.”

            “Don’t mind if I do.  But if you keep on the way you’re going, you’ll come to Him in a bit.”

            “Thank you, Moses.”  I smiled, and continued on.

            I walked further, and kept running into people.  Joshua and Abraham greeted me like an old friend, but told me to keep going.  Jacob dared me to wrestle with him, but I had to tell him “Maybe later.”  Paul set me on a road along a river, telling me a blind man couldn’t get lost on the way.  I laughed and thanked him.

            I came to a tree in the centre of the garden, and felt a deep humbling awe.  It had faint silver bark, and golden leaves, and seemed so delicate as to be made of glass.  It seemed a stiff breeze could knock it over, yet it stood strong and lovely.  A kindly old man with a white beard stood beneath it.  He smiled and beckoned for me to come closer.

            “Are you..?” I asked.

            Suddenly the garden shimmered, extended.  The leaves on the tree glowed brighter and brighter, exploding outward as stars.  I seemed to float in the cosmos, watching galaxies spin.  The old man spread his arms outwards and burst into an enormous figure wreathed in light, with fiery wings and a crown.  He blazed so magnificently that I felt my breath taken away.  For a moment, I was sure I was looking at the face of God.  But then I knew.

            “Who are you?” I asked, certain that this was not the one I sought.

            “Behold the Metatron, voice of the one true God.  I am His herald, set above the angels and princes to rule Heaven in His name.”  The voice rumbled throughout the universe.

            “Oh, like in Kevin Smith’s movie, Dogma.”  I said, nonchalant.

            “Yes, actually.  Wicked film.”  Metatron smiled, and again he was an old man and we were in the garden.

            “Nice to meet you, Metatron.” I grinned as we shook hands.

            “My friends call me Enoch.” He smiled back.  “And, as the voice of God, He’s asked me to give you a message.”

            “What is it?”

            “The first part is this:  The day you faced Azazel was Resurrection Sunday, in the year of our Lord 2029.  He was trying to prevent you from taking action until that day passed, but you saw through him.”

            “Why?  What’s so important about that day, that year?”

            “Why, it’s the two thousandth year since Jesus was resurrected!”

            “Wouldn’t that be 2033?  He was thirty-three when He died.”

            “Ah, but that’s not all the data to compute the problem.  Yes, Jesus was thirty-three, but that doesn’t mean He died and resurrected in 33 A.D.  He was only a baby in year one.”

            “So He would have been one year old in year two, and died in 34 A.D.”

            “True.  But, the Gregorian monk who worked out His birthday and the calendar messed up the Roman numerals.  Jesus was born five years before 1 A.D.  He was born during the reign of Herod the Great, who died in 4 B.C.”

            I nodded, remembering having read something about this before.  Scholars had endlessly speculated on the true birthday of Jesus Christ.  I found this angelic man’s theory easily believable, but I guess being in Heaven influenced that opinion.

            “So thirty-four subtract five is twenty-nine.” I said, “So Jesus made His Second Coming two thousand years after His resurrection, and Azazel was trying to prevent me from opening the Gates of Hell for Him.”

            “Exactly.  Excellent summation.”

            “What’s the second part of God’s message?”

            Enoch smiled.  “Let there be light!”

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I stood up and helped Mara to her feet.  We emerged from smoky rubble, and I realized we stood where once the Citadel had towered.  Hazy sunlight outlined the bricks of that toppled building, and sparkled off the glassy ground.  It seemed as if the explosion had generated enough heat to fuse the dirt ground.  A surprising distance away, you could see the burned remains of some of the other buildings.  Everything was still smoking, and ash was everywhere.

            At the edge of the glassy circle stood tall figures in white robes.  Most of them had wings and were playing harps, as if celebrating our triumphant return.  They were singing, and though I could not identify the language, it was the sweetest song I ever heard this side of Heaven.

            In the centre of this group stood two figures, one was recognizably Raphael.  We hobbled towards them, leaning upon one another, scratched and dirty.  When we reached them, Raphael embraced his daughter.  The other figure was so radiant that it made Him hard to look at directly.  He wore armour like that which had protected me in Hell, and carried a sword like mine.  Somehow, I knew that He had been protecting me all along. 

            “Welcome back, daughter.” Raphael was sobbing, clutching Mara tightly.  She was crying too, hugging him back just as hard.

            I turned to our Saviour, and saw Him smile kindly at me.

            “What about the others?”

            “I will go to them, cousin,” He said.  “To see if they can ever accept my love.  Real love means always having faith, always hoping.  I will not give up on them.”

            I nodded, not knowing what else to say.  I felt like there should be more than this, some denouement, an explanation for it all perhaps.  He saw this (He sees everything) and smiled again.

            “You shall know the truth, and it shall make you free,” He said, and again I was blinded.

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I remembered finding faith under a tree in a snowstorm.  A time I should have died.  I knew then, and remembered now, that the world was chaotic.  Not because God was unjust, but because only in the unfairness of chaos could we be free.  Bad things had to happen to good people, good things happen to bad, or else we would never have to make real decisions.  We would not have doubts or fears, because we would have certainty instead.  Do ‘A’ and get ‘B,’ like a hamster pushing a button for food.  There would be no moral choices, because we would know from experience and results that the same thing would always happen.  Our thoughts, our intentions, could be evil or good, but so long as our behaviour was proper, we’d get our pay-off.

            With certainty, even the worst people could behave well instead of making choices, because they would have no doubt of the outcome.  But in a world of chaos, where consequences were not so clear-cut, they could get away with cruelty.

            For there to be good, there had to be evil.  For freedom, there had to be choices and chaos.  But for there to be freedom in chaos, it meant that there had to be some order as well.  Some things that were always true.  If God had planned for chaos, there had to be a way to find what was real and good, even when surrounded by darkness and evil.  Even the darkness served God’s purpose.

            “I can do all things by Him who strengthens me,” I whispered.

            “What?” Azazel demanded, knowing that I had spoken, yet not hearing me.

            I began to speak, letting my faith flow through me, fed by the Holy Spirit. 

            “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Words from scripture came to my lips, and I saw Mara’s eyes, blind a moment before, restore themselves to their deep violet hues.  She locked eyes with me and smiled.

Love was the answer.  Love was constant.  I cried out in victory, and lunged for Azazel even as Mara’s sword manifested itself and she went for Astarte.  Simultaneously, the two demons drew their own blades in the nick of time, their obsidian blades clashing with our white swords.

The four of us circled each other, our swords on guard, and then there was a flurry of activity.  Mara and Astarte went for each other at the same time, their swords colliding in a fast and fierce duel.  Azazel feinted for my head, and then stabbed for my guts.  I bounced out of reach, and then rolled behind a pillar.  His blade bit into the stone just above my head, black and menacing.  I sprung away from my hiding place as his second blow sliced through it, toppling a brazier.  Its coals struck a tapestry, setting it ablaze.

Just over Azazel’s  shoulder, I could see Mara and Astarte strike, counter, block and slice in the dangerous ballet of sword-fighting.  I smiled with pride to see my beloved handle herself admirably, and then I had my own problems to worry about.  Azazel was growing black armour out of his skin, sharp and deadly looking.  I grimaced, and prayed for God’s help.

I was unsurprised when white armour manifested itself around me, soft white fire outlining its grooves and edges.  I stood, bowing to my opponent, and then uttering a battle cry as I charged him.

We exchanged sword blows, our blades clanging again and again.  He was faster than words can describe, yet somehow I held my own.  I could feel the strength of his demonic hatred in every devastating attack, and knew my faith was a shield.  In fact, one appeared in my hand as I thought that.

Azazel roared in anger as my opposition continued.  He kept growing bigger, his armour becoming more spiky and dangerous, his helmet becoming a fanged mask.  His sword, now twisted and sharp on multiple edges, was knocking down pillars and scoring the walls.  Yet my shield blocked his every blow, my sword countered his thrusts.

He bellowed and screamed, chasing me around the room, stepping through the flames that burned everywhere.  I simply fought back, but saw that smoke was coming from his nostrils, and his eyes were glowing an angry yellow.  His face seemed to be merging with his helmet, his hands with his gauntlets, which became increasingly like claws.

Before my very eyes, the pieces of Azazel’s armour became scales, and he grew to an enormous size.  Within moments, a fierce red dragon was before me, bristling with fangs and black claws, his wings stretching above him, as wide as the room itself.  With a flick of his tail, the walls tumbled down, forcing Mara and Astarte to run for cover before continuing their duel.

I could see them leaping over fallen columns, slashing and parrying, an acrobatic light-sabre duel if I ever saw one.  Astarte tried to lift into the air on her dark, mottled wings, but Mara leapt from a pillar to tackle her to the ground.  But by then, I had my own problems.

The Dragon growled and went for me with its mouth, its teeth like daggers.  I gulped and then, sustained by my faith, I simply charged forward.  The Dragon snapped at me with its mighty jaws, but I rolled under him.  The monster flapped its wings and rose into the air, and blew fire down on me in a plume.  I ducked behind my shield and stood up unharmed when the Dragon stopped.

He screamed in frustration, his snarls deafening in volume.  I tensed my legs and then sprang into the air, soaring like a bullet straight for his chest, propelled by faith.  I held my sword out in front of me, knowing that I was God’s archer, and it was my arrow.  I, the Hawk, soared and collided with the Dragon.

“LET THERE BE LIGHT!” I roared in righteous fury, the Tiger, as I struck his heart with my sword.

The universe was filled with the brightness of Christ as the Gates opened and He descended from above to lift us home.

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