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From the bedroom window she saw them, standing shoulder to shoulder around the house.
Let me say at the outset that Carl is getting professional help at a domestic-violence treatment center. Since I do not want to hurt his chances of recovery, I have changed names and locations to camouflage his identity. Otherwise I am putting down exactly what happened on the night of May 10, 1994.
Carl Broderick and his wife, Marie, were my landlords and next-door neighbors just outside Lubbock, Texas. We shared a driveway, but that's about all we had in common. I drove a 1987 Plymouth Voyager; Carl drove a brand-new Bronco and his wife a silver Cadillac. Their house was large; mine was small. They liked cats and I had a dog, a big German shepherd mix named—more hopefully than accurately—Saint.
With so little to draw us together, it came as a surprise that Marie and I hit it off from the moment I moved into their tenant house. Marie helped me unpack, arrange the furniture in the three-room bungalow, and repair a fence around the property to keep Saint off the highway. She also helped me take down the plywood panels the previous renters had used to block most of the windows.
"Why was the house all boarded up?" I asked.
"There goes my phone," Marie said, hurrying off. But her phone hadn't rung. Later I wondered if the tenants had boarded up the house because they were afraid of Carl.
I was in my kitchen about seven months after moving in when I heard Carl shouting angrily. Then silence, followed by more shouts. A few minutes later Marie came running across the driveway, her long, graying hair loosened from its combs.
"We had a little argument," she said. She looked as though she'd been crying. I asked if Carl had hit her. "Of course not," she said. I wasn't so sure.
Paul Bailey and Matthew Nelson were Marie's childhood friends and both were worried about her husband's behavior too—and her safety. Paul, who lived just up the road, was a bantam-size, take-charge guy who wore a diamond earring in his left ear. Matthew, who lived with his wife in Lubbock, was a gentle, heavyset, long-haul truck driver. I liked both men, even if Saint didn't.
Saint's grudge was with Matthew. Unaccountably, the big guy was afraid of dogs, and dogs can sense attitudes. Anytime Matthew came near our property, the hair on Saint's neck rose and he went into a barking frenzy. It was his "Matthew bark"—not the joyful greeting he gave most people, but a low half-bark, half-growl.
On May 10, 1994, around 8:00 p.m.—maybe three weeks after the shouting episode—I was driving home from my job as a medical technician in Lubbock when I was startled to see Marie running down the highway through the semidark toward me. I pulled over and Marie scrambled in. Her blouse was torn, her hair disheveled, and there was blood on her face and hands.
"Carl's gone crazy!" she sobbed. "He beat me up and smashed the Cadillac!"
The story tumbled out: Carl was drinking and taking drugs again. When Marie reproached him, he began to push her around. Marie ran outside and got into her Cadillac. Carl came after her. He jerked open the car door, grabbed her by the hair, threw her on the ground, jumped into the car and drove it through the side of the garage.
While he struggled to get the dented car door open, Marie ran out to the road. Crouching in the drainage ditch, she'd seen Carl's Bronco roar out of the driveway and turn west.
I wanted to go straight to the police but Marie didn't want "to get the whole world involved." Instead, she asked me to drive her home; before Carl got back she'd pack a bag and find a safe place to stay.
Reluctantly, keeping a wary eye out for Carl, I turned into our drive. I could see the rear bumper of the silver Cadillac protruding from the splintered wall of the garage. Marie ran into her house. When she came out carrying an overnight bag, she told me she'd reached Matthew's wife, who had invited her to stay with them. The minute Matthew got home, his wife said, she'd send him over.
Marie had also phoned our neighbor Paul and asked him to come over while we waited. Paul arrived and wanted to know, "Where's Carl's gun?"
Marie ran back into her house and came out, her face ashen. The gun was gone.
"Let's go to your place, Amanda," Paul decided. "We'll wait inside for Matthew."
Saint barked his friendly greeting as I unlocked the door and entered the dark house. To ease our minds, I went into each of the three rooms, Marie following close behind, and switched on all the lights.
It was from the bedroom window that I saw them...
"Look!" I whispered to Marie.
Standing shoulder to shoulder around the house, just outside the fence, were scores of magnificent glowing figures. Twenty feet tall or more, they were luminescent against the darkening sky, as if their bodies were made of light. They stood with their backs to us, facing outward; each one carried a shield and a long spear at his side. Strangely, I felt no surprise at seeing them. It seemed right and natural that they should be there.
"Look at what?" Marie asked.
"Those men...angels...whatever they are. Marie, there must be a hundred of them!"
Marie stepped to the window and peered out. "Are you feeling all right, Honey?" she asked. "There's nobody out there." She took me by the arm and drew me out to the kitchen. "Amanda thinks she sees angels in the yard," she told Paul.
Paul looked out the kitchen window, then at me. "Yeah," he said. "There are only two chairs in here," he went on, clearly happy to change the subject. He went and got the rocker from the living room.
It was completely dark outside now. Nine o'clock came, and no Matthew. Then, around 9:15 p.m., Saint gave his Matthew bark.
"He's here," I said, jumping up to grab Saint by the collar. "Hush, Saint!" But the dog kept up his low, ominous growl.
I started for the door but Paul stopped me. "Don't open it till you know who's there!" he warned. I went to the window. I could see the shining beings keeping guard around my fence, but no one else. Finally I let Saint go.
"What was that all about?" Paul asked.
"I don't know. There's no one out there , but..."
"Your angels?" said Paul.
Another 45 minutes passed. Ten o'clock. I made a second pot of coffee. "Why don't I take you to Matt's place, Marie?" Paul asked, but Marie was sure Matthew was on his way.
Then, a second time, the hair on Saint's neck bristled and he began his Matthew bark. We waited for our big friend's voice or knock, but once again we heard nothing. At a quarter to 11, Saint repeated his performance. "You say Saint only barks like that for Matthew—well, where is the guy?" Paul wanted to know. "I'll bet it's Carl out there."
"Saint never barks at Carl," I said.
At 11:30 Marie gave in and agreed to go to Paul's house, where there was a sofa bed in the living room. They asked me to come too, but I wanted to stay in case Matthew finally showed up. Paul looked out the window. "Are they still here?"
"Yes," I said, "and I've never felt safer."
Paul and Marie left. I washed the coffee cups, put the rocker back in the living room and got into bed. As I closed my eyes, I thanked God for sending his angels to protect us. Then I turned out the light and immediately fell asleep.
Next morning I ran from window to window to see if the luminous beings were still there. I counted only four of them now, one at each corner of the fence. Guess we don't need a whole army now, I thought.
Paul phoned; I told him that Carl hadn't returned. A few minutes later Paul drove Marie over. "How are your angels this morning?" he asked with a smile. I told him four were still here, keeping watch. "Sure," he said.
Around 10 o'clock Saint began growling—that unmistakable Matthew bark. And this time, through the kitchen window, I saw our friend on the front steps. I put the dog in the bedroom and all three of us went to the door to greet him.
"Where were you last night?" Paul demanded.
"Where was I?" Matthew asked. "Where were you? That's the question."
"Right here," said Paul.
Matthew laughed. "No, you weren't. I came by three times and there was no one here...except that dog, raising a ruckus."
Paul sat down hard on the sofa. His jaw dropped as Matthew described how he'd come by at roughly 45-minute intervals the night before. "Your cars were here. That's what was so strange," he said. "Saint would have eaten me up if I'd tried coming inside, but I walked around and looked in all the windows. The rocking chair was in the kitchen," he added with a puzzled frown. "The place was empty, I tell you. If you were here," he said, "you were invisible."
I stared at him. "Then you had to be invisible too, Matthew," I said. "We didn't see you or hear you."
"But if Carl was out there somewhere—" Marie began.
"And if we'd opened the door to let Matthew in..." said Paul.
The four of us sat blinking in the bright May morning. What mysterious protection had hovered over this house? It was Paul who told Matthew about the angels circling the fence.
There was much we didn't understand—have never understood, and maybe are not meant to understand. We'll never know what danger waited out there in the dark. Carl says his mind was so fogged by drugs and alcohol that he has no memory of that night.
But whatever the evil, it could not find us; scores of shining beings had made us invisible.
*Names have been changed.