Heaven's door. It's painted pink and adorned with a glittery heart. There's an angel on the other side, but she's resting at the moment.
Heaven Turner needs each and every wink. The adorable little girl has a big fight on her hands. A fight that no soul should be forced to wage, especially one so young and precious.
The sickening symptoms seemed to strike out of nowhere. First came the headaches, followed soon after by the nausea and vomiting. Heaven's loving parents, observing the ever-increasing frequency of the attacks, were forced to face an upsetting reality. Something is terribly wrong with the health of their once-lively daughter. And something had to be done about it. Soon.
"She's probably got the flu." One theory, but they have heard it more than a few times. From well-intentioned family members, friends, acquaintances, even their own mitigating thoughts. Except that the supposed sickness wasn't passing, or even lessening in severity. And after multiple visits to the ER and their family doctor, nothing was made any clearer. So the search for a solution, or at least an answer, branches off into a much broader direction.
Tomorrow will mark the beginning of extensive pediatric testing for Heaven. She has no idea about the perilous road ahead. All she knows, and wants, is to feel like a normal kid again. A restless night is all but guaranteed for her worried parents. Sleep? Too much thinking and praying to do for that.
Olivia Turner sighs and snuggles, resting her hand on her hubby's burdened chest. "What time is it?". Liam cranes his neck to the side and returns with a grin. "Believe it or not," he reports, "it's...well it's eleven minutes past eleven. Seriously."
Olivia stares at him through distinctive green eyes. "Really?"
Liam nods his head, caressing his soul mate's beautiful face. "That's a positive sign. Right?" The embattled couple share a kiss. There hasn't been an abundance of things going right lately. But at least they have synchronicity on their side. The thought bestows upon Olivia a measure of peace. Transitory, yes. But she is learning to take hope and optimism in doses, however small.
Liam turns his attention toward his buzzing phone on the nightstand. Through strained eyes he scrolls through a stream of themed tweets. Each one appears to be about the same trending news item. Apparently something spectacular happened at the site of a burning building somewhere across the country. He feels drawn to one particular re-share of the video footage. Too tired to watch it, he glances at the social response. Eleven likes, eleven comments.
Wow. Liam has to sit up and take another look. The coincidence is uncanny. He starts to show it to Olivia but he sees that her eyes are closed. Either she has managed to fall to much-needed sleep, or she is silently in prayer. In any event, he doesn't want to disturb her. But man, these synchronous happenings are really piling up, he thinks to himself.
What might it all mean, if anything?
A cold, rainy November morning. The world receives a precious gift. As do two beaming lovebirds. The hospital room is infused with so much love and hopeful anticipation for the future. Liam leans in, kissing mother and baby like only a newbie dad can. Time of birth: 10:11 in the a.m. Later, however, Olivia would discover a seemingly-mundane error on little Heaven's birth certificate. Time of birth: 11:11 a.m.
A few miles away from the hospital sits a modest structure, painted white with a weather-battered cross on top. The sign out front reads House of Heaven in brass script. On sunny days, the reflective letters seem to glow with golden glory to the motorists and pedestrians passing by. This ethereal effect is most fitting, considering the church's namesake.
Olivia grins through the car window on the way home. The roadside church will forever occupy a special place in her heart. It was there, during a midweek revival service, where the visiting evangelist introduced her to the supernatural. The gravelly-voiced preacher called her up front, laid his sweaty palm on her head and prophesied that she would give birth to a miracle. What he had no way of knowing, through natural means, was that she had suffered a miscarriage in the recent past. The experience had shaken her to the core and tested her budding marriage.
For "some" reason, she had felt compelled to visit the humble house of worship. This despite the fact that she hadn't stepped a toe in any church in years. Many years. It was an excruciatingly-hurtful time in her life, though, and pain has a way of pushing a person in unprecedented directions. It would turn out to be among the best decisions of her life. The kind of decision that would alter the flow of her reality.
Back in her pew, wiping tears of newfound hope from her eyes, Olivia made a decision. Should the prophesied miracle actually arrive, she would name it after this place. Heaven. Surely Liam wouldn't object, she reasoned, considering the personal hell they had endured.
Suddenly, the present moment calls her back. Liam pulls into the driveway of their cozy bungalow. They smile at one another before unbuckling to introduce their miracle to her earthly home. House of Heaven. The inevitable connection flashes into Olivia's grateful consciousness.
"Mommy! Daddy! Look!"
Heaven points up at the colorful planets above her head. Dozens of dazzling stars are aligned, creating a mesmerizing effect. Especially for a little girl who loves all things related to outer space. But Heaven is indoors at the moment. And this isn't a fun family visit to the local planetarium.
The Turners have been escorted into Exam Room 11 within Mercy Hospital's acclaimed pediatric ward. It's the first stop along the hopeful and desperate journey to find healing for an afflicted angel. It's tough enough to watch their beloved child suffer with unrelenting sickness. It's a whole other level of darkness to -- well, to be in the dark, not knowing what's happening, not knowing the identity of the enemy. First things first, Olivia and Liam are here to hopefully receive enlightenment concerning that latter issue.
"You okay?" Liam scans his soul mate's worried countenance, patting her slightly trembling hand. Olivia nods and musters half a smile. As if to say, Not really. But we'll get through this together. Heaven reaches toward the Styrofoam worlds above her head, while pressing her nauseated tummy with the other arm.
EARTH. SUN. MILKY WAY. An assortment of glittery, space-themed words adorn the walls of the examination room. Olivia glances at one word in particular. Mysteriously, she finds difficulty in looking away. ORBIT. Something is compelling her to stare, to dwell, on that sequence of letters. O-R-B...Obviously, she has seen the word before. Many times. She attended elementary school, after all. I-T. ORBIT. ORBIT. Curious still, she feels the mental need to insert phonetic space between the first three letters and the remaining two. ORB IT. Shaking her head, she snaps out of it. Wow, the stress is really starting to work on my mind, she thinks to herself.
Footsteps can be heard at this point, steadily approaching, helping her to refocus. "Hopefully that's the doctor," expresses Liam. The waiting has become increasingly torturous. Thankfully, Heaven has fallen asleep, resting her head on her daddy's arm.
The star-speckled door mercifully opens...
A MESSAGE FROM THE DIRECTOR
"I think I'm ready. Let's do this."
Kelly Chandler clears his throat one last time, while an assistant adjusts the clip-on mic clinging to his argyle tie. The fifty-something scientist, executive director of the newly-formed O.R.B. CORPS, is down to the last item on the day's packed agenda. He has sat down to record an introductory video to be posted on the investigative organization's website.
The freelance cameraman holds up two sets of collapsing fingers. The final one signals the rolling of the first, and hopefully the only, take.
"Greetings, my fellow earthlings," begins Dr. Chandler with a scripted grin. "We here at The O.R.B. Corps are happy and grateful for your visit to our site. Since you are watching this video, it's clear that you are, at the very least, curious about this mysterious phenomenon that has captured the world's attention and imagination. So are we. That's why we're here. Hopefully you will know more about our purpose, the scientific part we play in this issue, by the conclusion of this introductory video."
Chandler signals for a brief water break at this point. Turns out, chasing elusive life forms can be a dehydrating endeavor.
"My name is Dr. Kelly Chandler. In my former existence, not so long ago, I held a prestigious position as a professor of astronomy at a top-tiered university. I have authored several research papers that have put my name in the international news media, at least as filler material." The black-rimmed glasses on his tired face rise as he smiles at his own lighthearted description. "Life was comfortable. But then the reports started streaming in. It seemed everywhere I turned, I kept hearing about them. Even from my colleagues, none of whom could ever be accused of believing in the paranormal. Orbs. Mysterious spheres of light. Appearing out of seemingly nowhere, and disappearing in similar fashion. Floating. Blinking. Pulsing. Glowing with an array of luminescent hues. In some cases, even seeming to pursue the unnerved eyewitnesses."
A look of solemnity covers the professor's face. Mixed with very visible fascination. All centered around a subject that shouldn't elicit a second, or serious, thought from a man of such intellectual caliber.
"Let's be clear. The orb phenomenon is most certainly not a recent or modern development. Experiences involving mysterious spheres of ethereal light have a long history. The most notable case being the so-called Foo Fighters of the Second World War. When both Allied and Nazi air pilots reported balls of pulsating light hovering alongside their planes, achieving speeds and maneuvers beyond earthly capability, under seeming intelligent control."
The plan, to be implemented in the post-production stage, is to incorporate video and photographic clips of the still-unidentified aerial phantoms at this point.
"But as far as we know, these orbs never brought down a single aircraft or intervened either positively or negatively in the war. And such has been the case with the multiplicity of orb experiences throughout our planet's storied history. Until now."
Dr. Chandler proceeds to detail the seminal event that will ring familiar with his future viewers. The event that the whole world can't stop talking about. The event that signaled a major turning point in the "relationship" between the mysterious orbs and the people of Earth. The event that, consequently, thrust the distinguished scientist into a new career - into a new life path. When a glowing ball of orange saved human lives from a fiery end.
"The moment of truth. I had mine. Along with many of you, judging from the flood of correspondence we have received in the short history of our organization to date. I realized that I needed to do all within my power to research this phenomenon, utilizing scientific resources and methodology, so I could hopefully understand what - or who - it is that we are dealing with. And, of course, pass the findings on to the public. Those of you watching this video are vital partners with us here at the O.R.B. Corps in accomplishing that mission. So keep those reports coming in. Together, hopefully, we will eventually discover what exactly the orbs are, why they are here and what they might want from us. Each investigated case brings us one step closer to that all-important goal."
In the near future, the video will be posted. The website will crash beneath the unprecedented flood of views, from all parts of the globe. Apparently, the people of Earth are desperately searching for answers. So thinks Dr. Kelly Chandler with a stroke of his chin.
"I'm very sorry. I know you need some time to process it. Just know that we will exhaust every treatment option available."
The Turners are numb. At no point in their marriage have they needed one another more. More than right now. But words cannot be found. Instead, all they can do is exchange stunned looks. As if they have been crushed beneath a steam roller and somehow managed to stand back up.
The results of Heaven's medical tests have just been disclosed. The CT scan shows a mass on her brain. In medical terms, the precocious preschooler suffers from an anaplastic ependymoma - a rare type of brain tumor. Relatively rare, as it's later explained to the devastated parents. There are approximately two hundred cases of the life-threatening condition diagnosed in the United States each year in children and young adults. One is too many, but why does my little angel have to be in that group? Just one of Olivia's incessantly tortured thoughts following the bad news.
The car ride home seems to take forever. Conversation is out of the question. No words can soothe the present hurt. The only sound is Heaven's intermittent groans of pain in the backseat.
Olivia stares blankly through the passenger window. Nothing really registers on her battered consciousness. Until, that is, they approach the church. House of Heaven. The sign out front announces the pastor's upcoming sermon. The title is in the form of a timely question. "DO YOU NEED AN ELEVENTH-HOUR MIRACLE?" Fittingly, the number 11 is displayed below it - the time when the service will begin on Sunday morning but also, Olivia assumes, a symbol for the message.
I would love to hear that sermon, she thinks. I need it like I've never needed anything in my life. But she can barely project her thoughts beyond the next hour, much less the end of the week. Besides, it would take something resembling a miracle for her drained and depressed body to carry her into the church. Nevertheless, the idea has been planted in her mind, in her spirit. As if on cue, a van passes in front of the car. The bumper is littered with an assortment of stickers. One in particular catches her eye. It reads:
GOD IS ALWAYS ON TIME.
TIME TO SHINE?
"Look at our angel. Isn't she beautiful? She has been through so much."
Olivia is nestled in Liam's chest, planted by Heaven's hospital bed. The youngest Turner has indeed been through a lot. Since the original diagnosis, she has undergone surgery, more than thirty rounds of proton therapy and three rounds of chemotherapy. Despite all this, she has not been improving at the rate that her doctors, and most definitely her parents, would like. Still, Olivia and Liam are calling upon every molecule of strength and optimism available within their war-weary spirits. For Heaven.
"She seems to be resting good," observes Liam.
Olivia begins to shut her sleep-deprived eyes when she is roused by a distinctive sound. A ping. She checks her phone. Nothing there. Looking behind her, she catches a glimpse of the television screen. It's the ending of a commercial for ORBIT® gum. For some reason, the concluding frame is stuck -- frozen in place, frozen in time. She is mesmerized by the sight. The logo, the word Orbit, the product's tagline: Time to Shine. In a flash, she remembers that day in the waiting room, when she felt strangely compelled to focus on that very same word. Orbit. Orbit. Orb..it. The frozen television screen is like a neon sign to her consciousness. Could this be a mere coincidence? Or a higher type of sign?
"What is it, sweetheart? What are you looking at?"
Liam pivots his neck toward the television. But the commercial has ended. Olivia rubs her bloodshot eyes. Too tired to explain, she kisses his cheek. "I'll tell you about it in the morning." They settle in for another night of hospital sleep. At least a few hours worth. They are with Heaven, they are together. That's all that matters to them.
The church is illuminated with red and blue flashes. Two police cruisers have arrived in House of Heaven's parking lot. They are responding to a possible intruder inside. During his nightly patrol, at approximately eleven o'clock, one of the officers spotted a suspicious light moving around inside the sanctuary.
A thorough check of the premises yields no indication of foul play. No footprints, no suspicious vehicles. All the doors and windows are intact. The officers knock on doors of houses situated within close proximity, and clear sight, of the church. Nada. No one has seen any "funny business," as an elderly gentleman put it.
"So you say the light was...pink?"
Corporal Luis Cabrera quizzes his brother in blue. The seasoned cop lowers his grizzled eyebrows in consternation. Officer Jeremy Taylor, his rookie partner, nods in the affirmative.
"That's how it looked from the road."
"Well it's not likely that an intruder would be using a pink light," offers Cabrera. "It's possible that the stained glass windows could make the light appear to have a pinkish hue. But even if somebody was prowling around in there, they somehow entered and left without a trace."
The two officers, separated by a chasm of decades and experience, leave the scene through an air of mystery. But at least there was no real emergency to confront. The same cannot be said for the scene a few miles down the road...
DAYS OF HEAVEN
A beam of moonlight slips through the fuchsia curtains of Heaven's hospital room. As it happens, the bedside table supports an open Bible. The lunar ray shines on the white pages, like a celestial spotlight, making the ancient text seem to glow. Amidst this optical effect, a tinge of yellow. A special scripture passage highlighted. The Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, chapter eleven, spanning the eighteenth and twenty-first verses --
"Therefore shall ye lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul, and bind them for a sign upon your hand, that they may be as frontlets between your eyes. And ye shall teach them your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt write them upon the door posts of thine house, and upon thy gates: that your days may be multiplied, and the days of your children, in the land which the LORD sware unto your fathers to give them, as the days of heaven upon the earth."
In the most literal sense, these verses had fallen into Olivia's lap. During one of the many sleepless nights by Heaven's bedside, needing a "word" from a higher place, she sat with the Bible upon her aching knees. She opened it, not quite sure where to go. She gazed upon the first words that awaited her discovery. And like a flashing beacon in the darkest night, the passage called out to her. Especially those last eight words:
"as the days of heaven upon the earth"
A tear dropped on the page. Olivia lifted her head and gazed at the precious child beside her. Her precious child who had suffered so much. Heaven's days upon the earth haven't exactly been heavenly, that's for sure. But the divine promise remained. Right there in front of her. "...the days of your children...be multiplied...as the days of heaven upon the earth." It can't be mere coincidence that these words of hope were the first to reveal themselves on that night. She was positive about that.
On this night, several weeks later, the open Bible abides by Heaven's side. Olivia and Liam are out of it. The hour is late, and they have succumbed to exhaustion.
Minutes later, Olivia rouses to a commotion in the room. Through groggy eyes she sees bodies surrounding Heaven's bed. She hears an alarming medley of anxious voices and loud beeps. The nurses are frantically at work. Forcefully she shakes Liam. "Baby, baby, wake up. Something's wrong with Heaven!" Instantly they bolt toward the chaos.
Some dark force, darker than the night, has invaded the room. Heaven is taking a drastic turn for the worse. Her vital signs are plummeting by the second. Olivia and Liam watch in horror, calling out her name and pleading for the nurses to help her. A needless, albeit understandable, plea. For they are doing all they can. It doesn't seem to be enough.
Vonda Harris taps her badge and recites her favorite verses from the ninety-first psalm. It's a nightly ritual, suggested by her pastor. The hospital security officer settles in for another round of the graveyard shift. Her eagle eyes are trained on a bank of flat-screen monitors. The montage of camera views allows her to see every nook and cranny of the medical facility.
All seems fine and secure for the moment. Nothing out of the ordinary catches her eye. She lowers her head briefly to make a note in her logbook. She reaches up to wipe her eyes, wishing she could have slept a bit longer before starting her shift. It doesn't help. For some mysterious reason, her peripheral vision is registering an out-of-place color. Pink. And it's rather bright. Looking up, the reality is revealed.
What in the...? Well, this is new.
Any further thoughts are halted by her security training. Instantly she bolts out of her chair, while continuing to watch something that logic says she shouldn't be seeing. What appears to be a glowing ball of pink light is floating down the hallway on the first floor.
Ok, that has got to be some sort of camera glitch. This thought is quickly discarded, however, for a simple reason. As the mysterious sphere makes its way down the hall, the people in the path are visibly reacting to its presence. One patient instantly raises her arms and attempts to rise from her wheelchair. The attendant nurse struggles mightily to restrain the euphoric woman.
Whatever that thing is, it's really in the building. And moving at a rapid pace.
To add an additional layer of weirdness, the orb disappears in one spot and suddenly reappears in a further location. As if it's popping in and out of existence. Or somehow traversing dimensions. This behavior pattern makes it exceedingly difficult to track.
Officer Harris has not been trained to deal with this species of intruder. She shifts her attention to the adjacent camera view, anxiously awaiting its arrival. But it doesn't show. Third floor? Absent. Fourth floor? Not there, either. Finally she spots it again on the fifth floor cam, flying erratically and radiating a beautiful pink hue. The brightness has considerably intensified.
The "visitor" seems to have a specific destination in mind...
Heaven has weathered the sudden storm. Her condition has stabilized. But the episode has left her severely weakened.
There on the table, the Bible yet remains. Amazing, considering the recent bustle around the bed. It has been pushed to the edge, however, dangling on the brink of falling to the floor. In another time, this symbolism wouldn't go unnoticed. But the Turners are a bit distracted at the moment.
Olivia and Liam stand over the bed, one on each side, each speaking words of comfort to their beloved daughter. Mainly, they want her to be assured that she's not alone, that Mommy and Daddy are with her. Olivia resolves, with every last fiber of her embattled being, to hold in the tears. For Heaven's sake, she is determined to be strong. Or at least appear so on the surface. Nevertheless, her little girl, bright and perceptive, notices Mommy's reddened and moist eyes.
"It's okay, I'm okay, You're okay, Okay?" They all burst out in giggles. Heaven is reciting the words to a silly song that she recently learned. A local clown had paid a visit to all the children, in order to lift their spirits. It was such a positive experience for Heaven and her parents.
"That's right, sweetie. It's okay. And everything will be okay." Olivia forces a smile before leaning in to kiss Heaven on the cheek. Truthfully, she wishes inwardly that she had more faith in the words that just proceeded from her own mouth.
Though the most recent battle has subsided, the war rages on. The nurses assured her and Liam of that reality a short while ago. None of them could give a good reason for Heaven's recent setback. But good news shouldn't be expected in the near future. At least from a medical vantage point. The promise of Heaven's treatment regimen, the hope of its efficacy, hasn't materialized. The doctor had already broke this disheartening news to Olivia and Liam. Still, he encouraged them to not give up hope. And they haven't. But the unsettling event on this night really hit their faith hard.
Suddenly the family moment by Heaven's side is shattered by a sound. A jolting sound. A nerve-racking and sickening sound.
A woman's scream reverberates through the hallway. Something hits the floor with a pop! noise, resembling that of gunfire. More screams and loud voices follow. The Turners are well aware of the world around them. A world where the unthinkable can happen anywhere, at any given moment. As mere humans, they have no choice but to think the worst.
What's happening out there? How can they protect Heaven from the attack? Will any of them see another day? These are among the thoughts rushing through their panicked minds. But before a plan of action can be executed, the situation takes a sudden and less-threatening turn. Amidst the commotion on the other side of Heaven's door, laughter breaks out. Laughter! And not the sinister variety. Rather, Olivia and Liam are stunned to hear joyous, rapturous laughter and shouts of joy. From a chorus of voices. It sounds more like a Pentecostal revival service out there than the hallway of a hospital.
Liam edges his way towards the door, with a wide-eyed Olivia close behind. Slowly, cautiously, he turns the silver handle. A sliver of pink light slips through the slim opening. Looking back at his lovely wife, he incredulously shrugs his shoulders. Presently, a strong force, irresistible because strangely he doesn't want to resist it, gradually pushes the door forward. As this happens, the room is flooded with radiant beams of pink luminescence - the most beautiful light that the Turners have ever perceived. The incredible brightness notwithstanding, it's not blinding. They are able to witness the ethereal presence without shielding their eyes.
The feeling of transcendent euphoria in the room is overwhelming. Tears are cascading down their transfixed faces. It's as if Heaven - the one that houses the Almighty's glorious throne - has descended upon a lone hospital room.
The otherworldly light gradually begins to contract and coalesce. Whereas it had permeated every inch of the room, now it appears to be gathering into a concentrated point. And that point happens to be directly above one sick little girl. In minutes, the light has morphed into a rotating ball of flashing pink above Heaven's bed. In a deep sleep, she is oblivious to what's happening in the air mere inches away from her ailing frame.
From a natural standpoint, any parent would have cause for alarm at such a sight. But the Turners feel no fear. On the contrary, they have never felt so confident and serene. They feel a fresh surge of spiritual energy with each pulse of the pink orb. Beyond any silhouette of earthly doubt, they know that Heaven is receiving her healing. Right this moment.
* * *
THE SPHERICAL MIRACLE. That's how the news media are describing the odds-defying recovery of one Heaven Turner. And the paranormal (Olivia prefers the word supernatural) visitation that manifested it. There is now a completely healthy little girl pointing up to the stars.
It seems the Turners can't go anywhere these days without meeting a microphone. But it's not so bad. At least they have a story to tell. One news van in particular caught their attention after bringing Heaven home from the hospital. Displayed on the side? WHVN 11 News.
© Matt Decker
Author Notes: SPHERES OF INFLUENCE series
See my previous story "Fireball"