The Professor had piled all his possessions on his neat suburban lawn. For several hours, curious neighbors stared as he methodically hauled out armloads of clothing, then boxes and sacks of small stuff. Finally the slender man wrestled antique chairs and couch, a roll-top desk, his beloved mahogany dining table, and a Persian carpet.
Rearranging one chair and the couch, he sighed and glanced up at the angel only he could see perched silently on the porch roof.
"This is it, I guess," the Professor said.
With a nod the angel pointed a finger at the pile. It burst instantly into a roaring but strangely cold bonfire, chasing the midnight shadows from the yard.
The Professor stared briefly at the flames, then walked to his blue VW Bug and drove off without looking back.
Five minutes later two fire engines and the chief's car screamed up in front of the house. The pile was now only a heap of cold ashes. Checking the house to make sure no one was inside, the puzzled firefighters departed and the neighborhood resumed its tranquillity.
As the Professor pulled onto the freeway, he addressed the ghostly looking angel beside him. "How can you fit into a VW with those wings? And how come I can see right through you?"
"That again. If I believe something strongly enough it can be true. You knew I'd doubt you could fit into a small car, so you came as a hologram, right?"
"Something like that."
"You still won't say why you chose me or what we're doing?"
"My tank is nearly empty. I need to get some gas and check the oil before we go too far."
"Just keep going."
"Look at this gauge. How can I drive without gas?" the Professor complained. He tapped the gauge with his index finger, but it clung to the E that warned no more than two gallons were in the tank.
"Trust me, Professor."
Twenty hours later the Professor guided the little VW across the Narrows Bridge out of Tacoma, Washington, chugged through Gig Harbor and tiny Purdy, and pulled into a parking area near the Burley Lagoon. He tapped the gas gauge as he peered at it for the umpteenth time. It still registered E after 1,200 miles non-stop.
"Detroit would love you," he told the smiling angel. "Say, you were right. I'm not a bit tired after that long drive."
"See what trust can do?"
"That store across the road is closed for the night," the Professor commented. "I've been hoping to get something to eat, but it just hit me that you probably don't have to do that. Right?"
"Then why did we stop here?" the Professor demanded.
"To get rid of the car. We don't need it any more."
"Trust me," the angel said, fading off the front seat and reappearing instantly standing at the lagoon's edge and pointing out over the water. "Push the VW out there."
The Professor sighed, got out, pushed his car into the lagoon and chortled when it moved slowly away from the shore. "They actually float," he said. "I'd heard that."
As the angel pointed a finger the car burst into the same cold, roaring flames that had consumed the pile on the lawn the day before, and in a few moments all that remained was a circle of ashes on the water.
"Angel, I hope you have a way for us to get around because we're in the middle of nowhere here," the Professor said. "Tell me honestly now, are you really an angel or is this all some elaborate hoax?"
The angel reached out and took the Professor's hand. The two rose gently about five feet into the air, then settled back to the ground.
"Oh, wow! You should've warned me," the Professor said, steadying himself against a bridge rail. His legs gave out and he sat down. "Say, can I do that by myself?"
"What do you think?" the angel asked.
The Professor strained upward for a couple of minutes, then gave up and asked sheepishly, "Trust again?"
The angel said, "Yep. You can learn it if you practice -- and trust yourself. I'd take you but my lifter needs recharging and I can only handle a few short hops with a passenger. Meet me in Gig Harbor." The heavenly creature faded and was gone.
"Hey, wait!" the Professor shouted at the spot where the angel had been. No reply. "Oh great."
He gazed around. It was dark and suddenly he wasn't flying with an angel, he was just a man in a strange area with very little money and no car and only the faintest idea of what it was all about. He pulled out his handkerchief, cleaned his eyeglasses vigorously, sighed deeply and began trudging toward the city.
"Angel, you may not have to eat, but my stomach objects," he declared loudly, in case the missing angel could hear. No answer came, and he continued his lonely trek.
Three hours later, on the outskirts of Gig Harbor, he was startled when the angel popped up next to him.
"Don't do that!" the Professor said testily. "Give me a warning." He walked on a few feet, then turned and confronted the angel. "I suppose you're going to say I can't eat and rest ..."
"Sometimes you're brilliant," the angel said, reaching out a hand. "I see you haven't learned to lift yourself. Okay, the next flight departs in five seconds."
"Can I go to the bathroom at least?"
After a series of hops, the pair settled gently onto the roof of the Space Needle 520 feet above downtown Seattle. Diners in the posh restaurants below them in the Needle had no idea the two were there.
The Professor clung to the angel's robe in terror. A moment later he and the angel popped into an elevator headed down to the lobby. It was obvious the uniformed operator didn't see them. The Professor felt his face and arms to make sure he was really there; he was solid but invisible. The elevator door opened and they stepped into the lobby, dodging the tourists surging forward.
"It's rather nice to be invisible," the Professor said.
"Don't get used to it."
"On second thought, Detroit wouldn't like you. They'd never sell another car if everybody could travel like that. By the way, why did we land on the roof and then take an elevator instead of landing directly inside?"
"Nobody's perfect, Professor."
The Professor snickered, then apologized. "Sorry, but that was the funniest thing I've ever heard -- even an angel isn't perfect. What hope is there for us humans?"
"That remains to be seen. Shall we go, Professor?"
"What do you mean, no?"
The Professor stood with his arms crossed in front of his chest and his chin stuck out. "I mean this 'Trust me' business has worn out. I gave up my possessions and came with you but you won't tell me what it's about. Angel or not, this is the end of the line."
"But we're so close. Bear with me."
The Professor cleaned his wire-rimmed eyeglasses, replaced them, carefully folded the handkerchief and tucked it into his pocket, then declared, "The thought strikes me that you may be a demon instead of an angel, and that could put me in big trouble. If you don't give me the whole story now, I'm walking. You have 60 seconds, 59, 58, 57 ..."
"The Rules won't let me. Your Trust Level has not developed adequately. You need more time. Doubt still holds you back, Professor."
"Humbug. You're the one who won't trust me." The Professor turned and strode briskly away. After a few feet he turned and declared, "I don't know if you can force me to do things or not, but I have my limits." He and the angel stared grimly at each other for a few moments, and then the angel was alone as the Professor stalked briskly across the lobby.
Sighing, the angel fished out a leather-bound ledger and scribbled in it. With folded hands, the angel gazed upward and declared, "Cancel Training Contract No. 823. Restore conditions to pre-contact status. Return Recruiter No. 10145 to the available roster. Sorry. I really thought this one would work out."
About the author, Ray Dangel:
Ray Dangel is a former newspaper editor living near Denver, Colorado. He enjoys reading and writing science fiction and fantasy because reality is nipping the heels of ideas thought ridiculous a few years ago. Ion spacecraft engines, genetic alteration to fight disease, and cloning of animals are no longer speculative.