We must conjecture a bit here. Naomi Pinestraw died during the night, but alleged angels from Realms on High in charge of new arrivals took a rather dim view of her track record through life, shook their corresponding azraelian heads, tsk-tsking in disapproval, and decided Naomi might need to brush up a little more on her flaws, failings and shortcomings before accepting her into Paradise. She had in effect flat-lined, and we may surmise that work-sapped physicians in attendance had succumbed to their own exhaustion and simply covered Naomi’s face with her bed sheet and wandered off to their rest area for a much-needed snooze, neglecting any further efforts to revive one whom in any case was a terminal patient, and leaving other hospital staff to handle things when they arrived for work in a few hours.
Whatever the case, Naomi awoke sometime later in the wee hours, pulled the sheet from her face, stared up at the ceiling for a moment, puzzled on the one hand that she’d apparently been returned to earth, or on the other that she’d been prematurely geared up for the cemetery. Unable to determine which for lack of any solid evidence either way—other than a hospital bed sheet—she swore a few choice epithets, got out of bed, recovered her belongings from her hospital room closet, dressed, and marched out in a huff.
“Where to?” asked an awaiting cab driver at the hospital entrance.
“Home,” she pronounced.
He extracted an address, and off they went. Neither was much in the mood for conversation at that hour, but about halfway through the ride Naomi cleared her voice.
“Excuse me, young man. May I ask your name?” she asked.
“Mike,” he replied, somewhat surprised that she’d now opened up.
“Good solid name, Mike. By chance do you often do pickups at the hospital?”
“Yeah, I kind of swing by there fairly regular.”
“Wonderful. Would you do me a favor? I don’t mean make a special trip. Only if you happen to be over there and feel so inclined.”
“If I can, sure.”
“Thank you. Here’s the deal, Mike: Should anyone at the hospital inquire whether you had by chance picked up a cadaverous-looking woman in her mid-fifties along about two-thirty a.m. this day, would it be too much to ask you to tell them that, yes, a lady of that description and who goes by the name of Naomi Pinestraw—and in something of a snit, you might add—did in effect ride in your cab, and assure them not to fret? She did not die after all, as they expected, or possibly hoped. Umm, now that I think of it, maybe they should fret, the rascals. But anyway . . . since she did not expire, she decided she no longer required their shoddy, overpriced services keeping her on life support and went home. Can you do that?”
Mike shot a glance at her through his rear-view mirror, then nodded with a smirk. “Yes, ma’am, I definitely can do that.”
“Thank you, Mike.”
Through Mike, the hospital eventually tracked down Naomi and remonstrated her for not contacting them. She in turn remonstrated them right back for not verifying more carefully whether she was dead or not before chalking her up as ready for the meat wagon, and she had a good mind to sue the lot for neglect or dereliction of duty or ineptitude, or all three, if not for the fact that she wasn’t particularly inclined to waste what little life she might still have left to her in legal wrangles. Later in the day, notwithstanding, she returned for a checkup, where attending chagrined doctors found to their astonishment and dismay—and perhaps for some, to their regret—that she appeared to be in fine fettle.
“Things like this just don’t happen,” insisted Dr. Garland Grispak, the head physician. “It’s out of all bounds of medical science. You are not supposed to be alive, Mrs. Pinestraw. Both on-duty doctors as well as a nurse swore by all that’s holy—and, I might add, on their own respective mothers’ graves—that you were dead, dead, dead.”
“If that’s the case,” she retorted, “then what you see before you is a bona fide ghost, ghost, ghost. Dare I say yet another first for medical science out-of-boundedness?”
Grispak rubbed the back of his neck, gave Naomi a look, then another, and finally threw up his hands. “Your guess is as good as mine, Mrs. Pinestraw. It could be either, for all I know. But what counts is that our latest tests indicate that except for the weight loss you sustained during your illness, you are in better shape than most of the staff who took care of you so shabbily. I dare say in all likelihood you will outlive us all. So, go home and enjoy life.”
“I fully intend to just that,” she replied, arching a brow, and took her leave.
A month or so later, however, Naomi Pinestraw began to suffer what she initially thought to be hallucinations, but considering her recent and extraordinary resurrection from the dead, suspected they might also be visions. They came to her like mirages—fata morganas shimmering, not along a distant horizon as they sometimes do on blistering desert afternoons or in Hollywood outdoor extravaganzas, but close up, sometimes so close that she felt that if she were to reach out, she could catch hold of them.
Her allergist more pragmatically attributed these instead to the new medication he’d prescribed for her spring hay fever, and which had been known to exercise on occasion odd, but temporary side-effects on some patients. He told her to abide a few days to see if these went away on their own, but if they persevered he would prescribe something else.
Naomi acquiesced, though her misgivings persisted. True, aside from the visual aberrations, she felt otherwise fine physically. But what if it was not a hypersensitivity to the drug? Could it be instead some exotic brain disorder poised for irruption? Or perhaps a mental condition beginning to manifest itself? She wondered then if there might not be some well-guarded family secret of schizophrenia running in the Pinestraw ancestry? Her parents and grandparents had always been reserved when talking about family history, had they not? And now that she thought about it, had they not also always been a little on the flakey side themselves? Would she be that way now, too?
The visions, though tenuous, continued to surface, but they did not seem to affect her adversely other than simply show up from time to time in quiet moments to distract her and put her on edge. She likened these to the elusive dark matter in the universe that so puzzles astrophysicists, some inner dark matter that wanted out of its hole, but which she habitually shoved back down into some isolated root cellar of her mind whenever it poked its obscure tendrils into her conscious life. Were the mirages but those well-guarded cirrhuses now forcing their coiled way to the surface? She thought maybe her mixed metaphors were champing at the bit to expose themselves in more palpable ways, and she felt uneasy, if not afraid.
Then one afternoon, shortly after Naomi had risen from a brief nap on a lawn chair at the poolside next to her home, she again saw the mirage, this time approaching along the road adjacent to where she now stood. She waited for it with a sense of both apprehension and curiosity. At first wavy and diaphanous as before, it now slowly coalesced into the form of a creature resembling a human, but one that decidedly was not the kind of human she’d ever seen before. It was an androgynous-looking individual, neither decidedly male nor female, with iridescent scales instead of skin, and yet not quite serpentine. Naomi thought it something akin to one of those aliens out of a Star Trek movie set. But one of the good ones, she hoped, not out to annihilate her, Earth and all nearby surrounding planets, for it exhibited a pleasant, unassuming smile. Still, wonderment aside, she could not contain a certain degree of disquiet, unaware yet what its intentions were or what might lay ahead for herself. When it drew within a few feet from her, it stopped, and quietly regarded her.
Eyes wide, Naomi swallowed, but being Naomi Pinestraw stood her ground. She waited for it to address her, but when it remained silent, she cleared her voice and spoke. “Good afternoon,” she said, her voice wavering just a tittle uncharacteristically.”
“Good afternoon,” it replied, nodding.
When it offered nothing more, Naomi at last drew a breath, expecting an inevitable ‘follow me’, and asked, “May . . . may I ask if you have you come to take me away?”
“Take you away? Goodness, no,” it exclaimed. “It’s not in my job description.”
“Absolutely not. I’m rather here to help keep you going for your intended lifespan.”
“Indeed? Well, that’s refreshing. Who are you?”
“I am Sut’ukullu Nuna.”
Naomi frowned. “That’s a rather odd name. You aren’t from these parts, I take it.”
“Obviously not,” it replied with good humor. “You are Naomi Pinestraw.”
Naomi raised her eyebrows. “Why, yes, I am. How did you know?”
“It’s my job to know.”
“Oh? How so?”
“I understand that you recently underwent what they sometimes refer to here as a ‘life-after-life’ experience.”
Naomi thought a moment, then shook her head. “Not entirely, no.”
“No?” It was the creature’s turn to look surprised.
“No. Technically, I think you call it more of a life after death experience. According to the hospital, I died, yes. Or at least that’s what they claim. But it was as though I’d gone into a dreamless sleep. I had no conscious awareness of anything until I awoke with a sheet draped over my face. No light at the end of the tunnel, no one of God’s emissaries to meet me at the Pearly Gates, no one making a list, checking it twice…you know, seeing whether I’ve been naughty or nice? Nothing of that sort.”
“Ah…ha-ha, I see, I see! Then you think that perhaps it was instead a misdiagnosed cataleptic state you suffered, not death?”
“Call it what you will, but more than that, I’m saying I was most put out over the untimely face shroud.” She paused then, frowning. “But see here, if you are not the Angel of Death swinging low, coming for to carry me home, who the devil are you anyhow? Devil in the vernacular sense, I mean. And pardon me should I appear to be even more rude, but also . . . what the devil are you?”
The chameleon-like creature smiled brightly. “Ah, yes, of course. I am Sut’ukullu Nuna.”
“I believe you already informed of that.”
“I did. My full name, however, is Sut’ikullu Nuna Pinchi Llimp’isqa. In English, it would translate literally, I’m afraid, as, ahem, Lizard Spirit of Sparkly Colors . . . . To be honest, I personally favor Coruscant Polychromatic Lacertilian Angel, but you can call me Sparky, if you like.”
Naomi gaped at the creature. “You’re kidding.”
“No, no. Sparky’s fine. I don’t insist on honorifics. Actually, my friends call me Pinchi for short, but Sparky works, too.”
“Yes. It’s probably easier that way.”
“I see. And to what do I owe this honor?”
“Honor? Oh, I see. Umm, well, I guess in a nutshell, you could say I’m here to keep you from being run over by a runaway dump truck at a pedestrian crossing, falling down a flight of stairs, getting mugged by a gang of desperadoes, slitting your throat in a spate of despair, or by accident whilst opening a can of peas. That sort of thing.”
Naomi continued to gape. Sparky took that as a cue to continue.
“You see, Naomi. . . . I may call you Naomi instead of Mrs. Pinestraw, mightn’t I? After all, you’re going to call me Sparky.”
“I must be hallucinating.”
“Not in the least. This is all legit.”
“Why? Oh, you mean why all the protection? Well, it’s because you have a special mission to fulfill here on earth that is not my job to do, not to mention the fact that I can’t very well do it myself without creating a lot of public disorder, owing to the fact that my appearance would tend to distract folks too much.”
Naomi raised her head skywards, reminding herself that she was still standing outside under a blistering mid-summer afternoon sun seemingly chatting with a lizard-man, or a man-lizard, she wasn’t sure which took precedent.
“Heat stroke perhaps. . . ,” she mused. “I should probably go back inside where there’s some shade and lie down.”
“Shall I accompany you?”
She began to shuffle toward her house. “No . . . no, don’t bother yourself. I think I can still make it on my own.”
“I’m keen to help. That’s what I’m here for.”
“I appreciate it . . . ” She paused a moment. “Why am I talking to a delusion?”
“Not a delusion, madam, I assure you. I am Sparky, your Homolacertilian Angel.”
“You’re my what!” she exclaimed.
“Higher-ups assigned me the job,” it explained. “I had no choice.” It’s eyes lit up then. Literally. “Nay . . . ! I relish the challenge!”
Naomi turned away. “If you will forgive me, I’m going inside now and have myself a migraine.”
Her coruscant Homolacertilian Angel did not follow, but instead called out, “Yes, by all means do get some rest. We can talk later. But if you should need me at any time—any time at all, mind you—just call out ‘Sparky!’ and I’ll be on hand. I’m at your beck and call . . . twenty-four/seven.”
Naomi raised an apathetic hand goodbye, closed the front door behind her, and headed for the couch in her den. She plopped down and closed her eyes.
“No doubt about it,” she mumbled in despair. “I’m tetched by an angel.”