"Be not forgetful to entertain strangers; for thereby some have entertained angels unawares."
It was the early evening in the small farming community of Sunlight County when the stranger came knocking. Leonard was agitated at yet another intrusion into his privacy today. He had already been bothered by the disingenuous police officer James. And now – a stranger in the night? He swept the curtain aside to sneak a peek at who was calling at such an odd time. He eyed a tall, thin man with a long dark coat and a brimmed hat shadowing his features. He let the drapes fall and proceeded to the front door, almost involuntarily.
He turned the lock switch to the left and cracked the door ajar. "I'm not looking to buy anything this evening, thank you. Have a nice night," offered Leonard. But the stranger politely tipped his hat and said two words; "Angie Brack."
"Angie…Br...Brack," stammered Leonard, "what of that poor child?"
"I must speak with you tonight on her behalf," said the stranger in a dark, lawyerly fashion. "It is of singular importance that you hear me tonight, sir."
Leonard opened the door and stood aside, allowing the dark stranger entry into his small abode. The stranger wafted in like a wisp of fog moving with the breeze. He surveyed the chamber, and his eyes settled on the threadbare couch in the middle of the room. He hovered over the tattered settee for a moment and then took his seat.
Leonard closed the front door and locked it. He then made his way to the only other seat in the room and sat opposite the stranger. He looked closely at the stranger and noticed, for the first time, his hands. It was as if they were skeletal, adorned with a willowy layer of paper-thin derma.
"I come to you as an advocate for Angie Brack. You know of the circumstances of her demise?"
"I know that she went missing last year, I believe she was murdered," said Leonard mournfully.
"I must warn you, sir," said the stranger, "if you were the party who killed her, she will know."
"I didn't kill Angie. I adored her. She would play on the swing. I would never hurt her," said Leonard.
The stranger observed Leonard closely and allowed the silence to negotiate for him. Leonard was at a loss for words at the moment, but his mind was churning, and his thoughts were muddled. He struggled to find words he felt the stranger needed to hear.
"I know that it seems strange to some people; the time I spent with Angie. There are people in Sunlight County who think I did it," explained Leonard. "She was just a little girl, and I'm an old man. But she didn't have anyone else who cared for her. She was very much alone."
The stranger eyed Leonard with both patience and misgiving. He caressed his chin with his skeletal fingers and remained irresolute.
"There will be a reckoning tonight," said the stranger. "A long-awaited justice will be served. Do you understand, sir?"
"I do not," replied Leonard. "I don't know anything of this."
"As of midnight, she will know," said the stranger with naked contempt. "I may be blind, but she will see."
"I don't know who you are, and I don't know why you're here. But I do know that I didn't hurt her. You must believe me," pleaded Leonard.
The stranger seemed to grow larger before Leonard's eyes. When he next spoke, his words echoed with sinister foreboding.
"I must believe nothing," bellowed the stranger. "She will know." Leonard held onto himself and gently rocked back and forth in his chair. He was truly lost and confused by the stranger's presence. He decided this must be some sort of vibrant, vivid dream. The stranger seemed to emit some kind of chemical fog that pierced Leonard's psyche, forcing upon him suspension of disbelief. He closed his eyes tightly and hoped that it would all go away. As he sat in his chair, rocking back and forth like little Angie on the swing, he heard only silence and thought the worst was over. Then the stranger spoke.
"There is a streetlight at the end of your drive," said the stranger. "Please, go look out your window and tell me what you see."
The vibrant and vivid dream had not ended after all. Leonard stood and moved toward his front window. He raised his right hand and gently pulled back the curtain. His eyes slowly adjusted to the dark as he peered out. Beneath the streetlight, he saw a little girl. She was motionless, and he could not see her features but could feel her gaze. She was staring. She was staring with cold indecision, waiting.
"I see her," said Leonard, astonished. "How can this be?" He let the curtain fall and returned to his seat. He looked hard at the stranger and began to accept that this night was a night like none other. This night was fated. But for what reason? He did not know.
"The police were here to speak with you today. Why?" asked the stranger.
Things tend to look quite lovely and peaceful from a bird's eye view. Such was the case when looking down upon Leonard Moore as he raked his garden in the afternoon sun. An easy breeze gently rocked the vacant swing to and fro, and birds sang sweet melodies while aloft in the pretty blue sky. A police car rolled into his driveway, outside of Leonard's purview.
As Leonard continued his yard work, the policeman came around one side of the house, surveying the property. Indeed, things did look quite lovely and peaceful from a bird's eye view; however, once down at ground level, things became more clear.
"Good afternoon, Leonard," said Officer James. "How are you on this fine day?"
"I'm good, Officer James," replied Leonard. "Can I help you with anything?"
Officer James was a stout man of average height. He wore his uniform smartly and had a neat and distinguished part through the middle of his hair. On the job for fifteen years, he enjoyed a solid reputation within the small unit.
"I think you know why I'm here. It's an anniversary of sorts. Angie Brack – a year ago today," said Officer James.
"Officer," said Leonard indignantly. I know what day it is. There is not a day that goes by that I don't think about little Angie."
"Well, if you want to get something off your chest, Leonard, you can always talk to me," said Officer James.
"I don't care for your innuendo. I didn't do anything wrong, and I don't care what you think, James. You hear me."
"Well, okay, then Leonard," said Officer James as he turned to go. "Just one more thing, though. That sure is a nice-looking swing. Almost looks brand new. Seems as though that could attract small children."
"I built that last year for Angie. She only used it a few times… She liked "to and froing," as she would say. I built it for Angie," repeated Leonard, out of patience.
"Very well," replied Officer James. "If you ever want to talk, you know where to find me."
"I do indeed," said Leonard. With that, Officer James donned his hat and left the property.
"It's been a year since she disappeared. This policeman named James keeps pestering me about it. He doesn't like me. He thinks I hurt her."
"And did you hurt little Angie?
"I did not hurt that little girl. I told you. I would never…"
"Then why does Officer James feel differently?" asked the stranger.
"I don't know," said Leonard. "I don't know. You'd have to ask him."
"I intend to do just that," said the stranger. "Tell me Leonard, has Angie moved from the streetlight?"
Leonard bristled at this but then gathered himself up and moved to the window. He pulled back the curtain, and the girl was still beneath the streetlight. Only this time, he could see a little clearer. He noticed something in her hair. A ribbon. A yellow ribbon.
"She has a ribbon in her hair. I gave it to her the last time I saw her. Last year…before..," Leonard stopped for a moment. "She loved that ribbon. She loved it so much I ended up giving her the whole role," he laughed.
"But she remains 'neath the streetlight?"
"Yes," said Leonard, confounded.
The stranger stood up effortlessly despite his apparent venerable vintage and drifted to the door. Turning back to Leonard, he said, "I must continue my journey this evening, sir. I have another to call upon. I will leave you with this. I cannot say exactly what will happen. But whoever is responsible for the fate of little Angie shall pay a very dear price indeed. And that responsible party will pay that price tonight. There is nothing you or anyone can do about this now. It is already in motion. The stranger opened the door and stepped out. He then turned back to Leonard and said, "You will retire tonight as always. In the morning light, the deed will have been done, and the truth will be known. Good evening."
With that counsel, the stranger left. Leonard looked out the window. There was no one there. What just happened? Leonard thought again; am I dreaming?
Angie Brack was born on January 7th, 1986. She was born to a single mother who was, in most ways, a child herself. A child who was taken advantage of by a host of men who were supposed to be her protector. Certain members of the community had wanted the pregnancy terminated, but Angie's mom made a stand against these men, and Angie Brack was born.
Tragically, Angie went missing one night in 1996. Though the community rallied around Angie's mother, the little girl was never found.
A year went by, and though Angie Brack was never forgotten, she was no longer at the forefront of conversations. Angie's mother was distraught and alone, and she ultimately left the County behind for a new beginning.
Little Angie, however, was left in the darkest shadows of Sunlight County; cold and alone.
Leonard was quite shaken by the day's events; first Officer James and then the dark stranger. And most disturbing was the appearance of little Angie Brack herself. It all seemed so illusory; mythical.
Leonard wondered what price would be paid that night? What did it all mean? The one small comfort that Leonard did have was that Angie was somehow vital, animate on at least some level.
It appeared that it was time to turn in. But he was terrified. So afraid like a little boy. But he retired just the same, as if on someone else's schedule. He feared a fitful sleep ahead of him, but he was wrong. Sleep came fast and deep, and wanting for dreams.
Angie Brack loved the swing that Leonard had made for her. She always felt safe within the confines of Leonard's world. He would be lazily raking through the garden while she would be dancing, singing, and laughing the hours away. Presently, she sat on the swing, a luminous visitant swaying to and fro.
It seemed odd to many that Leonard and Angie were close friends. He was a man in his sixties, and she was just ten years old. She didn't have any friends at all in her world. She was bullied at school and hated everything she was. To top it all off, Angie didn't have a dad. Leonard did his best to fill that role. This always made Angie happy.
Now, in another realm of existence, she finds herself once again in the large backyard of Leonard Moore; aloft on the swing. She surveyed the home and sensed Leonard was asleep within. As she spied the bedroom window, where Leonard lay, she played with the yellow ribbon in her hair and tugged a little at the yellow ribbon around her waist that acted as a pretty belt.
Next, Angie found herself at the foot of the bed where Leonard slept. She was still rocking gently back and forth on the swing only now in Leonard's bedroom. A bitter-sweet expression on her face mirrored the bitter-sweet emotion inside her. She put her feet down and stopped the swing. She moved toward the sleeping man. She stood above Leonard and slowly took the ribbon from her hair.
Leonard Moore's house was dark. The sun was just beginning to rise, and Leonard was in his bed beneath the covers. Although Leonard felt he was an innocent man, he still wondered if he would ever awaken. The next thing he knew, he was brushing away the bedsheets and glancing about.
The sun found its way through a slit in the curtain and formed a vertical tower of light on the opposite wall. The last day's experience came back to him as he found his bearings. He pulled the rest of the covers off him and wheeled his legs onto the floor. He was alive. Did yesterday happen? He wondered. Was any of it real?
Then he stood and saw it there. A yellow ribbon had been tied to his bedpost. He staggered a moment and then touched the ribbon. He felt its warmth and love. His eyes teared, and he smiled. He felt like he wanted to go outside and feel the sun.
He stepped out into his backyard, and it was like a warm hug from somewhere high above. He gazed upon his garden, a tranquil scene with leaves and stems sprouting from the earth. In the garden appeared the stranger. On this morning, the stranger had an ethereal glow as he glided toward Leonard. Without words, he placed his bony hand upon Leonard's head, and Leonard's eyes closed. This opened a celestial window in his mind. Here he saw a house from a bird's eye view. Beside the house was a garage. In front of the garage was a police car with lights flashing. The window became larger, and the images became closer. In the garage, a man was hanging from a ceiling joist, his face obscured, buried in his chest. But Leonard knew who this man was. He could see very clearly, the neat and distinguished part in the middle of his hair. It appeared that Officer James had committed suicide by hanging himself with a yellow ribbon. But Leonard knew most assuredly, that the ribbon did all the work.
Leonard opened his eyes, and the stranger was gone. His backyard was no different save for a pretty songbird perched atop the swing. Leonard smiled at this, not doubting for a moment its incorporeal presence. Just then, the pretty songbird flew up into the heavens and disappeared.
Leonard stood alone, intoxicated with the spirits of the day. A tender warmth embraced him in the garden. He breathed deeply and searched the pretty blue sky. There, in the sky, he saw beauty, love, hope, and joy. There, in the sky, he saw Angie.