The Guardian’s Angel
Tazminn’s breath came in sputters. Sweat dripped into his eyes. I must stop him before he leaves.
The boy, no more than five toddled toward the exit. “Mommy?”
Tazminn quickened his steps and grasped the child’s shoulder. “Your mother is at Spencer’s,” Buying grown up stocking stuffers for your father. “She is looking for you, Johnny and she is worried.” She would not be difficult to locate. Tazminn experienced her distress telepathically from across Sea Lion Rock.
Johnny shot him a suspicious glower. “How do you know my name?”
“Can you keep a secret?” he asked. Johnny nodded. “My name is Taz and I am an angel. I am here to take care of lost children like you.”
Johnny studied Tazminn’s face. Long seconds passed before he took Tazminn’s hand and allowed himself to be led away from the heavy doors, and Tazminn’s tension waned. That was close. What would I have done if he got out?
He and Johnny made their way past the hat store and the decorative pirate ship that dominated Phase Three. Johnny stared at Taz as he walked.
“Are you a Christmas angel?” Johnny asked.
“I am here every day.”
“If you’re an angel, where are your wings?”
Taz smiled. “I left them in Heaven.”
“Because they are too big,” Tazminn said. “And sometimes I trip on them.” Not to mention how difficult it would be to blend in with a bright white wingspan in a sea of mortals. He winked and Johnny giggled.
They were close enough now, that Johnny’s desperate mother could be heard calling for him.
“Oh my God, there you are!” She rushed over and dropped to her knees. “Johnny, you scared me.”
Johnny pooched his quivering bottom lip. “I’m sorry, Mommy.”
“It’s okay, Baby,” Johnny’s mom folded him into her arms. “It’s okay.” She glanced up at Tazminn and mouthed the words thank you. He grinned and nodded before leaving them to their reunion.
Her emotions were that odd mix of relief, anger and guilt he often experienced from the mothers of misplaced offspring. The gratitude in her eyes reminded Tazminn that had the most interesting and satisfying post on this entire planet.
True, the foliage smelled like plastic, and the skylights let in only the palest rays of sunshine, but where else could he experience so much of this world in a warm pocket of shelter? Everything he could ever need lay within a stroll’s length.
He liked the ever-changing clothing stores, especially the ones with pretty pink, purple and red lingerie. He could spend hours watching all the lovely women peruse the bits of lace and satin. He could savor the exotic scents of David’s Tea in Phase Three and the floral and fruit perfumes from The Rocky Mountain Soap Company in Phase One, and everything in between. He took pleasure in the screaming laughter of children as they rode the waterslides in Phase Two or sometimes the sparkling bumper cars in Galaxyland. He enjoyed the multitude of delicious offerings from around the world, all sheltered in kiosks and restaurants and food courts.
Tazminn rubbed the softening belly he had grown during his years as the West Edmonton Mall guardian. Maybe he enjoyed the fare a little too much. If he still had wings, could they lift the extra two inches of his girth? No matter.
He did not need wings to mingle among the mortals. Earthlings from every walk of life—every race, every age, every color and creed--roamed this tiled ground. Tazminn loved them all.
And Christmas Eve. Tazminn loved Christmas Eve. True, he still needed to patrol for shoplifters and lost children, more so than the rest of the year, but the mood seemed different today. . . brighter, friendlier. It meant cramped space but he did not mind. He savored the earthy musk of human and the crackle of their frenzied energy.
Tazminn startled, realizing he had stopped in front of his favorite fast food vendor. “Hello, Elaine. How are you?”
“Same old, same old,” she said. “What can I get you?”
Tazminn’s stomach responded to the question loudly, and he obeyed the command for food. “Chili dog and a large Strawberry Julius, please.”
“Right away.” Elaine set up the blender with his drink and dressed his hot dog with a generous spoonful of meaty tomato deliciousness. She said nothing, but Tazminn could hear her thoughts. She is going to ask again. She filled his order and punched it up at the register.
“So Tazminn. . . ”
“You may still call me Taz.”
“Taz.” Elaine gave him a distracted smile. “What are the chances of you coming back to work for me?”
“I will come back,” He handed her the very currency he had earned at this Orange Julius. “when I need the money again.”
Elaine chuckled. Apparently he had said something amusing. He accepted his meal and sought a suitable location to consume his food while he listened to the cacophony of life. So many busy thoughts to sift through.
And yet, in all the chaos her heartbeat called to him, like birdsong, not far from him. A mirrored pillar let him check his hair, and he pushed a stray black curl behind his ear. His eyes reflected more confidence than he felt.
He let his senses seek her loneliness, and he followed them across Gourmet World to Freshii. The location did not surprise him. She wanted to eat healthier. Her weight concerned her, despite her tiny waist and slender frame. Sure as the Energy was Love Incarnate, she sat by herself, picking at a salad and twirling ribbons of black hair around her fingers with the longing misery of someone wishing for Crepeworks. Her thoughts were sad and distracted.
“Hello, Tina,” Tazminn said. The way her face lit up when she saw him brought a tickle to his stomach. “May I sit with you?”
“Hi, Taz!” The smile spreading across her face made it impossible not to grin back. So pretty when she smiled. . . He had been drawn to her ever since she began her employment at a well known jewelry kiosk months ago. He could not pass by without soaking up her sweetness like. . . sunshine. Her soul was as beautiful as her face. “How are you? Ready for Christmas?”
“Christmas. Ah, yes.” He never knew what to say whenever humans asked him such questions. Are you ready for Christmas? Are you finished shopping? He discovered the best answer came in two words. “Almost. You?”
“Pretty much. I guess.” Tina sipped at her water and Tazminn experienced rare discomfort. He was not the only one avoiding questions with vague answers. Her thoughts were of home, a place hundreds of miles from here. She could not get time off to visit. Even if she could, she could not afford a ticket to fly. Tazminn wanted to apologize, but he knew Tina would not understand why. And she did not wish to discuss it.
“You must be on Christmas Break.” Tina said. He nodded in agreement. Everyone believed him to be a foreign exchange student. “Must be nice.” Her giggle sounded as false as her cheer. “Are you going home for the holidays?”
Tazminn shook his head and swallowed a bite. “Home is too far.” He took another spicy mouthful to discourage more questions. He would not leave the Mall. Not even to return to the heavens whence he came. West Edmonton Mall had become home long ago. When did that happen?
“I know how you feel.” Her mood worsened, and Tazminn switched the subject. It would not do to be so unhappy on Christmas Eve. He wanted to cheer, not depress her.
“I like your necklace,” he said. “Did you purchase that at work?”
She peered downward, and pressed her hand to her chest. “This?” She grasped the green stone between her fingers. “Yes. It’s peridot. My birthstone.”
“August?” He could never be sure with human months. Time did not have the same meaning where he came from. “It is lovely. Like you.”
Her blush he did not expect. “I like it too,” she said. Her gaze became intense, flirtatious. “It matches your eyes.” His turn to be embarrassed. Why do I experience giddiness in her presence?
He glanced away, slurping at his Julius until the buzz of other conversations replaced the strangeness between them. Her thoughts we of a city by the ocean. She longed to hike the coast without the heavy clothing of winter.
Tina stood abruptly. “I have to go,” she said. “Nice seeing you again, Taz.”
Tazminn struggled to respond around a mouthful of frothy strawberries. “Umph! Moo-ooh!” By the time he had swallowed, he saw nothing but her ebony hair trailing behind her like a comet as she melded with the crowd.
“You too. . .” he said to no one.
Her dreams made Tazminn shudder. He rarely ventured from the mall, never made it farther than the sheltered parkade. He never even ventured to the top parking lot with its endless expanse of sky that reminded him of his insignificance in the vast Realms of Life. Even if he could still fly, he would not, could not, take her home.
As the afternoon passed, the oppressive heat of panicking last minute shoppers made Tazminn’s skin clammy. Their musk stank of frustration and impatience. Their rushed thoughts made him dizzy. He perched, invisible to human eyes, atop the bronze shoulders of the oil-patch workers statue in Phase One, like a shepherd tending his sheep. He found it more peaceful there.
He spied three young men sauntering past the shops with the unhurried gait of those who are trying, with great effort, to seem casual. If their thoughts of robbery had not alerted Tazminn, their darting eyes would. He descended from his vantage point, and stalked them.
He could smell the cloying scent of their body spray, all three of them coated in the stuff as though they bathed in nothing else. It itched Tazminn’s nose, and caused his eyes to weep. He shadowed them from one end of the mall to the other, slipping into stores where staff judged them with as much suspicion as himself. After all, wearing matching black hoodies with the hoods pulled up inspired paranoia.
The young men meandered their way to Phase Three, where Tina worked.
The Metalsmiths kiosk had some security precautions, with all their merchandise behind glass showcases. Nothing to steal.
“Hey.” The leader of the trio smiled at Tina. His pale, crooked nose stuck out from his hood. Tazminn caught sight of his blondish unshaven chin. “How’s it goin’?”
She saw the false charm in his demeanor, and his friendly mannerisms were met with a tense grimace. “Can I help you?”
“Maybe,” the man said. “I’m ah, looking for a gift. . .” He gawked at the name tag on her breast with a wide smirk. “Tina.”
“I see,” she said, not returning the smile. “For your girlfriend?”
“No, ah. . .” He cast a quick glance at his friends. His blue eyes narrowed. “For my mom.” His lackeys snickered.
Tina’s lips tightened. She did not want to serve them, any fool could see her trepidation. Now would be a good time for Tazminn to make his presence known. He willed himself visible, and approached the counter.
“Everything all right here?” Tina jumped and the men swiveled their heads in his direction so fast that, Tazminn heard at least one neck crackle. His senses were awash in their instant animosity, like cold prickles on his skin. “Is everything okay here?”
They studied him, eying the bulk beneath the Canadian tuxedo. As though of one mind, the group retreated, blending into the human current.
Tina’s audible relief filled Tazminn’s ears. “You’ve got fantastic timing. Thanks, Taz.”
“It was my pleasure.” Indeed, his assurance was as profound as hers. “Are you okay? Why are you working alone?” Worry coiled around his heart. “Should I stick around?”
Tina ducked her head and tucked her palms into her sleeves. “Vicki is on a break. She’ll be back soon.”
“Oh. Okay.” The heat of his blush encompassed his entire face. “As long as you are alright.”
“I am.” Her voice sounded soothed. “Thanks so much for your help. I appreciate it.” Another customer approached the Italia charms. “I have to go,” she said. “Thanks again.”
“Bye.” Tazminn nodded. I also have work to do. Someone on the skating rink in Phase Two was about to pass out from heat exhaustion, thanks to a vigorous game of ice tag in a bulky winter coat. The grandfather would require attention, and possibly a defibrillator. Tazminn let Tina slip from his thoughts. For the time being.
He spent the rest of the afternoon pining for wings again. So many mortals. Despite his talents, he could not be everywhere at once.
The hours passed in the usual blur that had become Tazminn’s existence. When one has been alive for millennia, one hardly notices the mere hours mortals endure. Before long the multitude thinned and disappeared but for a few lingering souls.
Tazminn gravitated toward Phase Three, past Gourmet World. Closing time had come. This day, as all others, he could not permit Tina to see him trailing her.
She made the deposit each night across from the Casino. He always waited until the day’s profits passed from her tiny hands to the armored lockbox of the CIBC bank.
Tonight felt different. Tazminn disliked the energy. The anger and resentment.
His stomach churned. Tazminn scanned the corridor. Someone, something caused this unease he experienced now. Where is it coming from?
They crept from the corner of the Casino. Had Tina seen them? The three thugs from the afternoon? Tina, turn around. Turn around! Her thoughts were preoccupied with a reluctance to return to her empty apartment. She made the deposit and closed the box with a bang.
“Aw, did we miss the cash?”
Tina whirled around and Tazminn saw dread on her face. They blocked her passage out.
The leader sneered at her as he shuffled forward, narrowing his icy eyes. “Now what are you going to give us for Christmas?”
“Maybe she has something in her purse,” his buddy said. “Have you got some goodies in there, Tina?”
Tina tossed her bag at their feet. “Take it.” She began to edge away, closer to the escalator. Please, Lord, let her escape.
The lead thug let the purse drop before his feet. “Is that all?” he asked. “It is Christmas, y’know. Maybe there’s a little something else you can give us? Hey, Tina?” His goons guffawed.
Tina spun on her heel. She sprinted for the escalator. The men gave chase.
Tazminn sprang. He tackled, then straddled the man who stooped to grab her purse. Two quick punches to the head. The man went limp, and rolled his eyes shut. Tazminn found his footing, and snagged Tina’s purse by the strap. He had lost sight of his quarry, but Tina’s screams for help reverberated downstairs.
He sprinted to the top step of the escalator, and slid down the hand rail. Tina headed toward an empty exit, past the Dollarama, with both assailants in pursuit. Her wails of terror echoed. She ran for the glass doors, the closest way out. Her flat shoes clicked like a distress signal, but laughter drowned it out. One of them howled, like a wolf.
“Come here, girl!”
“Why are you running? We just want to fill your stocking!”
Tazminn raised Tina’s handbag above his head. He whipped it in a circle over his head until it reached the desired velocity. He calculated his aim, and let it loose. The second man dropped to the ground like a meteor. Yet his partner gained on Tina. Tazminn hurried to grab the improvised weapon once more. He had to stop him before they left the. . .
Tina fled into the darkness and driving snow, with her assailant right behind. Tazminn’s heart plummeted. He should not have stopped to retrieve the bag.
She would not get free after all. The bastard would catch up to her in the frozen concrete expanse of the sheltered parking lot. And he would. . .
She would scream, but no one would come to save her. No one would hear her cries.
Except for Tazminn. And he feared the outside.
Tazminn raced to the mall doors, plastering his face to the glass. Tina darted for a small vehicle in a dim corner, but her stalker had almost caught up. Tazminn could almost taste her terror like blood in his mouth. What do I do?
His fingernails squealed against the glass. He had to do something. Or Tina would suffer the consequences of his inaction.
He opened the door. The winter wind screeched in his ears and moaned through the concrete pillars, lamenting Tina’s plight and Tazminn’s cowardice.
His breath came in aching gasps and he tried not to see the black and endless sky beyond the reaches of the mall, all the unfamiliar spaces on unknown horizons.
Tina gave another piteous scream. Tazminn glanced up to see her in the clutches of the last thug. He heard her clothing rip, heard the sick cackle of her attacker. Tina was out of time.
Now. Now or never again. Tazminn twisted his terror into action, and let himself become visible as he charged. He would not sacrifice this human, any human, to his fear.
“Let her go!”
“What the f. . .” Tazminn heard the muttered astonishment just before he delivered a kick to the would-be rapist’s torso that launched him straight upward. He grabbed a handful of clothing, and yanked the man away from her.
A song of groans played in the wind bringing Tazminn satisfaction. He glanced over to check on Tina.
She huddled into herself, holding her torn blouse closed as tears trickled from her almond eyes.
“Are you alright, Tina?” He wanted to cradle her in his arms and make this night go away. But he heard his foe rise and Tazminn’s heart rate quickened. Sometimes his own violence shamed him, however necessary it seemed.
But not today. He would fight this creep again. Just for her.
Tazminn fixed the greasy man with a glare. “Are you certain you wish to pick on someone your own size?”
The murderous expression had disappeared, to be replaced by a cocky smirk. The creep glanced back and found himself solo. Tazminn lurched toward him with a hiss, faking an attack. The rapist slipped, landing on his ribs with a loud grunt. Tazminn observed the crawling retreat with unrepentant amusement, until Tina’s shuddering whimpers brought him back.
He spun to face her, relieved that he could finally comfort her, that she lived so that he could do so. Tazminn dropped to his knees and covered her body with his. The frigid tweed of her coat scratched his face. He squeezed carefully, trying to warm her although he knew her shivers were not a result of the weather.
“Shhhh. . .” He stroked her silken hair. “It is over. They will never bother you again, I promise.” He made no false platitudes. If he ever see them again I will finish the task I started.
“If you hadn’t been here. . .” She could not finish the sentence. Her breath came in hiccups as she hastened to do up her coat.
“I know,” he said, enfolding her in his embrace. “It will be all right.”
They huddled until the dank moisture of the parkade soaked through Tazminn’s sleeves to chill his bones, and still he did not want to release her. He never wanted to let her go.
“Am I still shaking?” Tina asked, “Or is that you? You must be freezing.” She squirmed to study his clothing. He looked down at himself. Small wonder he felt cold. He had stormed out here in nothing but denim.
He stole an extra squeeze as he helped her to her feet. “You should go home now. It is Christmas after all.”
“Yes, it is.” She gazed into his eyes, her ideas flickering fast as Christmas lights. “Do you have someplace to go tonight?”
“Tonight?” Tazminn had not given it any thought.
“I was thinking maybe since you and I don’t have family here. . . ” Tina dropped her eyes. “You saved my life, and it’s Christmas, and I have no one to spend it with, and if you didn’t have any plans, maybe we could. . . ” She paused in her ramble and took a deep breath, lacing her fingers together. “Maybe you and I could celebrate Christmas together. I could make you dinner. To say thank you. It’s the least I could do.”
Tazminn’s mind went blank. No one in all his years on this planet had asked. No one had ever even invited him to their home. What would it be like to have a homemade supper?
“You have plans,” Tina said, mistaking his silence for rejection. “I understand.”
“I do not,” Tazminn said. “have plans. No one has ever invited me to Christmas.”
“Is that a yes?”
He glanced back at the metal and glass doors. Sanctuary waited a brief sprint away. Security and routine beckoned him back to where he could sleep undisturbed in any number of secret nooks and hiding places. Alone. Suddenly the mall did not feel like home anymore.
“You’re shaking,” Tina said. “You must be frozen.” Tazminn peered into her inviting brown eyes. If she only understood his dilemma. Mere cold could not cause him to tremble. Only fear of the unknown could do that.
Suppose he went with her? Suppose he challenged his phobia and stepped away from those secret spots for the first time since he arrived at this world?
“Here.” Tina put her arms around him. The gentle gesture was awkward but well meaning as she rubbed his back. “Maybe this will help?” He treasured her trust, the deep affection she had for him.
A lonely night in an empty mall, or Christmas with a friend?
Tazminn made his choice. Time for a change.
He was a guardian in service of the Energy, with free will. Perhaps he had forgotten that. If he could brave these outdoors—if he could challenge three men to save the woman he loved--and win, he could do anything.