The Sweetest Angel
Til walked out onto the wooden porch, the rickety screen door slamming shut behind him. Lowering his old, lanky body took some effort but it was his morning routine. Sitting on his front stoop and whittling absentmindedly with his Daddy's rusty pocket knife brought him pleasure.
"Look at that there sunrise, Noah," Tilson Pantos said. "Ain't that nice? God sure is creative."
The ancient brown hound dog sprawled out in the corner twitched his left ear in a lazy response.
Rheumy green eyes scanned sparse land. Dried grass, overgrown bushes and dead trees stared back.
"Yep, God has been good to us, Noah. All the time."
Holding his chunk of wood loosely between calloused hands, Til worked quickly, his eyes still on his failing farm.
He had had a good, long life. His bride of sixty-two years had departed into Jesus' arms a decade before. Pru was an exceptional woman; a loving wife. Although they hadn't been blessed with children, they had been blessed with each other. Prudence cooked delicious meals, kept a clean house and saw that he was happy. He missed her but knew God always took the best ones first. He always needed the sweetest angels by His side.
Distracted from his thoughts, Til looked up to see a dusty plume drifting up his dirt-encrusted driveway.
"Looks like we got us a visitor, Noah," Til raised an age-spotted hand to shield his eyes from the rising sun.
Noah twitched his left ear again.
The old man watched warily as the dark sports utility vehicle parked beside the house. A young man in a three-piece suit, a hospital-type mask covering his lower face, stepped from the driver's side and slogged through the dry, dense foliage.
For half a second, Til thought about retrieving his deer rifle but remained in place, continuing to whittle.
"Good morning, sir," the young man said cheerily.
"Mornin'," Til mumbled. He didn't look toward the visitor but smiled at the dust covering his wing-tipped shoes. Whittled wood shavings curlicued atop the dust.
"I'm Elias Crandall from the CDC," the man announced. "Are you Tilson Pantos?"
"Sure am," Til replied. "Most folks call me Til."
"Does anyone else live here with you?" Elias inquired as he pointed toward the house.
"Just me and my dog." Til waved his pocket knife in Noah's direction.
The dog opened his sleepy eyes only to quickly close them again.
"I'm here to make sure you evacuate per government orders," Elias said sternly.
"Evacuate? What for?" Til was befuddled.
"Due to the virus sweeping our nation, Mr. Pantos." Elias seemed confused. "Haven't you watched the news, listened to the radio or talked to family or friends by phone?"
"Nope," Til said simply. "I ain't got any of those. No television, no radio, no phone. I like quiet solitude. Just me and my dog and God."
Elias couldn't imagine that in this day and age. "No technology at all?" he asked.
Til shook his gray head. "Nope," he repeated.
"Well, I still need you to come with me to be tested and monitored, technology or not." Elias reached a hand toward Til's arm.
"Let me show you something son," the old man announced and disappeared into his home in one swift movement.
Noah raised his head and stared at the strange man left standing on the paint-peeled steps.
Elias pulled at the collar on his dress shirt, a trail of nervous sweat descending down his rigid spine. He took a step backward, preparing to run.
Til emerged from the house, the rickety screen door slamming shut behind him.
"This is the only technology I need, son." The old man held up a well-worn Bible, its cover cracked, torn and faded.
Elias Crandall smiled at the elderly gentleman's faith and tenacity. "I understand that, Mr. Pantos and that's all well and good but you should still take precautions."
"I appreciate your concerns but I have a Healer taking care of me already."
"Don't be stupid, Mr. Pantos, please." Elias adjusted his hospital mask as he shook his head sadly.
Til's eyes brightened as he shoved the tattered Bible into the young man's hands. "Take this to those who need comfort, Mr. Crandall. It's the best medicine they could ever receive."
Calling to his dog, Til stepped back into the house, placed the wooden cross he had been whittling onto the fireplace mantle along with the others and slumped wearily into his rocking chair beside the window.
He watched until the dusty plume drifting down the driveway disappeared completely. Closing his eyes, Tilson Pantos took his last breath; a smile on his wrinkled face.