Lola Hancock was a six-year-old girl with soft, wavy, blonde hair that fell down to her small shoulders. She wore a light pink dress, it was her favorite color. Her favorite food was chocolate, though she was apt to get more on her face than actually in her mouth. She was sitting, cross-legged, in a large, gorgeous field of wild flowers that stretched up to the sky, filled with so many bright colors she felt she was in a dream. She was happy and at peace, not a care in the world. As she merrily picked some of the beautiful flowers surrounding her, she hummed a familiar tune. It was a lullaby her mother used to sing to her every night when she was younger. If she was lucky, she could still get her mother to sing it to her before bed every now and then.

            Then she paused in her flower picking as she heard sweet music from behind her that played in-tune with her humming. Lola turned her head and spotted a handsome man, playing a shiny trumpet. The man was copper-skinned and wore a tunic of bronze. His hair was dark, but his eyes were bright. He took the trumpet away from his lips and revealed a brilliant smile. Lola smiled in return. He walked up to her and held out his hand.

            “Hello there. I heard your beautiful humming and was inspired to play along. I hope you don’t mind. My name is Gabriel, but you may call me Gabe.”

            Lola took his outstretched hand, instantly feeling comfortable with this man. He helped her up to her feet. “I’m Lola, but everyone calls me Lo.” She smiled. “And I liked your playing. You’re very good.”

            Gabe laughed. “Thank you very much.” His bright eyes studied her carefully. “I can’t believe how big you’ve grown!” He exclaimed with joy.

Lola cocked her head. “Do I know you?” She asked curiously.

Gabe nodded. “I’ve known you your entire life. You see, I’m the doctor who delivered you into this world.” He knelt down so he was eye-to-eye with her. “It’s very nice to see you again, Lo, and so grown up.”

Lola smiled. She acted on a sudden urge and hugged him. “Nice to see you again, too.”

As they pulled apart, Gabe held onto Lola’s hand. “Lo, I’m looking for some of my brothers and sisters. Do you think you can help me find them? I sure would like some company on my journey.”

Lola nodded happily. “I’ll help you find them! I’m good at hide-and-seek.” Gabe, with a smile, reached down and plucked a beautiful white rose from the field. He gently placed it in her hair. She giggled.

“Wonderful. Let’s go!” He straightened back up, kept Lo’s hand in his own, and they walked together through the field of wild flowers. Hand-in-hand, they soon came to the end of the field and saw before them a dark cave. There was a woman standing at the mouth of the cave. She heard them approach and turned around.

“Brother, how glad I am to see you…and your friend.” The woman, olive-skinned and wearing yellow, had similar bright eyes to Gabe. She smiled at the pair.

Gabe smiled in return. “Sister, I’m pleased to have found you. I’d like you to meet my friend. Her name is Lola.” Gabe introduced the young girl to his sister.

Lola took a step forward and offered to shake hands, like her mother had always taught her. “You can call me Lo,” she stated.

The woman took her hand. “My name is Uriel, but please, call me Uri. Any friend of my brother’s is a friend of mine.”

Gabe came up beside Lo and said, “You know my sister from before, as well. Does she look familiar to you?”

Lola studied Uri only for a moment before she nodded her head in excitement. “I remember her. You were the crossing guard at my preschool!” Lola exclaimed.

Uri smiled. “Indeed I was.”

“You saved a bunch of us from that crazy car that didn’t stop.”

“I’m surprised you remember that.” Uri raised her eyebrows. “Maybe you can help me this time?”

Lola looked at her eagerly. “Sure! What do you need help with?” Gabe and Uri both smiled.

Uri pointed at the dark cave. “Well, our other brothers and sisters are on the other side of this cave, but it’s very dark inside, as you can see.”

Lola glanced at the cave, then hesitantly looked at Uri and Gabe. She took Gabe’s hand in her own and pulled him closer. “I don’t like the dark,” she whispered in fear.

Gabe squeezed her hand in comfort. Uri knelt down before Lola. “I don’t like the dark either, Lo,” she confided in a quiet voice. “Which is why I carry this with me.” She pulled out a candle from behind her back, but it was unlit. “This is a very special candle; it will light up even the darkest of places. All you have to do to light it is blow on the wick. Do you think you can do that for me, Lo?” She asked, pointing to the tip of the candle.

Lo looked at the candle wick and nodded, “I’ll try.” The young girl sucked in a deep breath, then blew on the candle. To her amazement, a flame came to life and the candle was lit with a bright, glowing light.

“You did it! Good job, Lo!” Uri exclaimed excitedly. Lo smiled from ear to ear. She was happy to help. “Now this cave will glow with light. Will you walk through with me to reach our other siblings?”

Lo took one last hesitant look at the dark, then turned to the lighted candle. “I’ll go with you,” she declared. Uri smiled and took Lo’s hand. Gabe still held her other hand. Together all three walked through the cave, now illuminated by the flaming candle that Uri held.

As they neared the end of the cave, and could see the light up ahead, Lo thought she heard a small shuffling noise behind them. She glanced back into the dark, and saw the swift movement of a hooded figure cloaked in a black robe. She tugged at her companions’ hands and they both halted and looked down at her. Lo was still looking back, though she had lost the figure in the shadows, so both Uri and Gabe glanced behind them as well. The figure shifted again, and they, too, very briefly saw the billowing movement of the hooded shadow.

“I think I saw something,” whispered Lo.

Uri and Gabe exchanged glances over Lola’s head, then both turned Lo’s shoulders so she was facing the light at the end of the cave again. Gabe leaned down and said softly, “Pay no attention to the shadows, Lo.”

Uri pointed up ahead. “Look, I see our brother at the exit. Let’s go!” With both her hands held by her friends, Lo was guided out of the dark cave into the brilliant light of the open sky. The shadow lurking in the dark was forgotten.

Upon emerging from the cave, they came upon a great mountain towering over them. At the base of the mountain stood a man, clothed in emerald green with dark ginger hair. Together, they walked up to him. He turned to face them, and immediately smiled. “Brother and sister! I’m glad you have come.” He had the same bright eyes that Uri and Gabe shared.

The siblings smiled. Gabe knelt down and gently placed his hand on Lo’s back. “Lo, this is our brother, Raphael.”

Lo stuck out her hand to shake. Raphael looked down and took her small hand in his large one. “Call me Raph. What’s your name, sweetie?”

Lo smiled. “Lola Hancock, but everyone calls me Lo.”

“It’s a great pleasure, Lo.” He smirked.

“You look familiar,” she remarked.

Raph smiled. “Yes, we’ve met before.” He gently took her arm. “I helped you heal once, when you had fallen out of a tree and broken your arm.”

Lola looked down at her arm. “I remember that. I fell out of a tree at my Grammy’s house. You were the doctor I went to.”

“I’m glad to see your arm is still fine and healthy.”

“Oh yes. Look what I can do!” Lo merrily waved her arms around in big circles like a wind turbine.

“That’s very good!” Raph laughed.

Lo pointed to Raph’s other hand. “What’s that stick for?” She asked.

Raph rose to his full height and brought his other hand forward. “Why, this is my pilgrim’s staff. It’s like a walking stick. I take it with me wherever I travel.”

“Where are you going?”

“My brother is up this mountain, and he needs my help. He needs all of our help, for he’s fighting a mighty beast,” Raph explained, pointing up the mountain side. “Will you help me and my brother?” He asked.

Uri nodded. “I will help.”

Gabe nodded. “I will help.”

Lo smiled. “Yes! I will help, too.” She jumped forward and took the open hand of Raph. He smiled down at her and gently squeezed her hand.

“Great. Let’s go!” Together the group trekked up the mountain, Raph and Lo leading the way. The climb was a long way up, but it was not strenuous. Holding Raph’s hand made the way seem easy to Lo. Only once did she glance down to see how far they had climbed. But when she looked down, she saw the same hooded, black-robed figure following them up the mountain. She could not make out any features, for the black cloak hid everything. He swiftly dashed out of sight behind a boulder when she spotted him. Then she felt Gabe’s hand on her shoulder.

He whispered in her ear, “Do not look down, Lo.” She looked at Gabe, who smiled in encouragement. His smile made her feel better. She smiled back and looked ahead, and never looked back down.

After a while of climbing, they came upon a wide landing on the mountain side. There, they saw a man battling a wicked dragon. Quickly, Raph, Uri, and Gabe huddled Lo behind a large boulder so the dragon could not see them. The man fighting the dragon had a sword that glowed blue. As the dragon blew a stream of fire from his mouth, the warrior dove behind the boulder that Lo and her friends were behind.

“Brothers and sister!” The warrior exclaimed with joy. He clasped hands with them all. Then his bright eyes fell on the little blonde girl.

“Hello.” Lo smiled. This man was very beautiful, and something about him made Lola feel at peace. He was blonde, like herself, and wore purple and gold. “I’m Lola, Lo for short.”

The warrior smiled. “I’m Michael. Mike for short.” He took one of Lo’s hands. “I can sense you are very special, Lo. And if you’re friends with my siblings here, you are my friend, too. But I’m in a situation and it’s too tough for just me. I need your help to defeat this wicked dragon. Will you help me, Lo?”

Lo looked hesitant. “How can I help?”

Mike smiled, which made him even more beautiful. “You have a unique power in you, Lo. Take hold of my sword.” He offered the hilt of his blue sword. Lo cautiously put her small hand upon the hilt, just above Mike’s own hand. Instantly, the blade exploded in crackling blue flames and burned twice as bright. Lo gasped in amazement. Mike, Uri, Raph, and Gabe smiled at the child.

“Woah!” Lo laughed.

Mike gently placed his hand over Lo’s hand. “Will you help me beat this dragon?”

Lola looked him in his bright eyes and nodded. “Let’s get him.”

Mike looked to Gabe and nodded. Gabe nodded back and rose to his feet. With a wink at Lo, Gabe ran out from behind the boulder into the sight of the dragon. He waved his arms, drawing the dragon’s attention. Mike rose to his feet and Lo did likewise. Together, they ran out from behind the boulder and charged at the distracted dragon. Its underbelly, where there were no protective scales, was exposed, and that was where they aimed. Together, Mike and Lo drove the flaming blue sword into the belly of the beast. With a mighty, anguished roar, the dragon fell and breathed his last.

Raph, Uri, and Gabe rushed over to the pair with celebratory shouts and congrats. Mike turned to Lo, picked her up, and spun her around in exaltation. Lola laughed and cheered with her friends.

“Thank you, Lo. That was very brave of you.” Mike placed the little girl back on the ground as his siblings surrounded and congratulated them with joy. “I’m so proud of the girl you’ve become. You have grown so big!” Mike smiled with pride.

Lola looked up at him. Suddenly, it was like her eyes had been opened. She knew this man, from long ago, from a time when she was too young to have any real memories. How was that possible? “I know you, don’t I?” She asked.

Mike recognized the look of shocked recognition and his smile grew. “Yes, we’ve met before, when you were not even a year old yet. I was the priest who baptized you, Lo.”

“Father Mike,” Lo whispered in awe. Somehow, she remembered. She gave him a quick hug, then pulled away with a smile.

Uri placed a hand on Lo’s small shoulder. “Come, let’s feast to our victory!” Lo looked up at her in excitement. Uri pointed behind them. “Our brothers and sisters have already prepared for us.” Lo looked over and saw a long banquet table covered with the most delicious looking food and drink she had ever seen before. Lining the table were many more men and women, of all races and ages, partaking in the feast. They all shared the same bright eyes.

“Wow! You’ve got a big family!” Lo remarked with awe. She didn’t even wonder how the table and food got there, it just seemed to make sense. She was guided to the head of the table, and sat with Mike and Raph to her left and Gabe and Uri to her right. Before she took any food, she took the hand of Mike and Gabe. They looked over at her, but her eyes were shut.

“Dear Lord,” she said softly, “we thank you for this meal.” With her eyes still closed, she smiled. “Amen.”

Mike and Gabe looked at the young girl with great love as they repeated, “Amen.”

Lola opened her eyes and glanced at her friends, who were watching her with smiles on their faces. She did not let go of their hands. “I only wish my mommy was here, too,” she said sadly.

Her friends shared somber glances with each other. Mike squeezed her hand. “You’ll see her again, but never forget that she’s always with you and you’re always with her. You are her little angel,” he said gently. Lo smiled at that. She pulled her hands away and grabbed at the food. Her friends did likewise. Soon she was smiling, chatting, and laughing again. The food and drink was delicious, the best meal she had ever had. She was very happy.

After all the food had been eaten, all the drink consumed, Mike took Lo’s hand once more. She looked over at him curiously. “There is one more I would like you to meet.” He raised her to her feet and they walked away from the table and crowd.

It was then that Lo saw the familiar shadowy figure that had been following her, shrouded in a black robe and a hood pulled way over his head that hid his face. Lo immediately shuffled backwards, into the strong body of Mike. He put his hands on her shoulders to keep her steady. “It’s okay, Lo. This is another one of our brothers,” Mike assured.

The hooded figure took a step forward. Lo was still hesitant. “He looks scary,” she whispered as she clung to Mike.

The figure slowly reached up and pulled his hood down, revealing for the young girl his true face. She gasped in surprise. The man beneath the hood…was beautiful! He had very pale skin, long black hair, and the same bright eyes as his brothers and sisters.

“This is Azrael. We call him Az for short,” Mike made the introductions. “Az, this is Lola Hancock.” Az nodded his head in greeting. Lo smiled shyly. Az took a step forward, pulling his hood up over his head again.

Lo watched his beautiful face disappear behind the black shroud. “Why does he wear that dark hood and robe?”

Mike answered for his brother. “Az always feels cold. His hood and cloak are made special to keep him warm. They help him survive.” He then knelt down, turned Lo’s shoulders so she was facing him, and spoke again to the young girl. “Az is going to take you the rest of the way up this mountain, to the very peak.” Mike pointed up and Lo followed his gaze. It was not much further up.

“What about you and the others?” Lo asked, glancing back at the table and those gathered there.

“You must go alone with Az. We’ll meet you at the top.” Mike smiled. Az reached out his hand for Lola. She looked at it hesitantly. Mike gave her a small nudge. “It’s okay. You’ll be fine, Lo. Az will take good care of you.”

Lola took his hand. As told, his skin was ice cold, and she felt bad for him, always being so cold. In that moment, she forgot all the fear she once had for Az. Together, the pair traveled up the rest of the way to the mountain’s peak. It was not a hard trek; it went quickly and silently.

There, at the top of the mountain, Lo and Az came to brightly glowing, beautiful-beyond-comprehension, white gates. “Oh my God,” whispered Lo in awe. She had never seen anything so beautiful before in her life. In front of the white gates stood an older gentleman with youthful, loving eyes. He stepped forward.

His eyes first went to the cloaked man. “Thank you, Az.” Lo’s guide bowed in response. The man then turned his attention on Lola. “Hello, Lola Hancock.” He smiled, and it was a bright, warm, welcoming smile. “I am Peter, but please, call me Pete. For I am your friend, and it’s time for you to join me and come home.” Pete reached out his hand for the little girl.

Lola glanced past Pete at the gates, and she could not deny the powerful urge she felt to go through those gates, into the large amount of joy and love she felt radiating from the other side. It truly felt like home. Her eyes came back to Pete’s and with no hesitation, she grasped his large hand with her tiny one, and she could immediately feel the warmth from his hand.

Pete looked to Az and nodded. Az knelt down next to Lo, who turned to him, expecting him to finally speak. Instead, he pulled his hood back once more and leaned in close to Lo. He softly kissed her forehead. Immediately, the white gates began to open. Az slowly replaced his hood and stood up. Lo smiled up at him. “Thank you, Az,” she whispered. Az gave her a small bow, stepped back, then made his way back down the mountain in silence.

Together, Pete and Lo, hand-in-hand, turned toward the open gates. Through the open gateway, Lo saw all her new friends, waiting for her with arms wide open. They looked more beautiful than ever. They had magnificent white feathered wings and golden auras around their heads. There was Gabe, Uri, Raph, and Mike, and all their brothers and sisters. She could hear beautiful harp music playing from behind them. An indescribable feeling of peace washed over Lola as she walked through the pearly gates with Pete.

* * *

In a bleak, starkly white hospital room, the family of Lola Hancock surrounded the little blonde girl on her hospital bed. Mrs. Hancock felt her daughter’s small hand go limp and fall away from her own. Immediately, her eyes began to water as she looked to her daughter’s peaceful face. “Lola?” She whispered. “Lo?” She managed to get out before the crying took over.

            Doctor Azrael bowed his head and said quietly, “I’m sorry, Mrs. Hancock. She has passed on.”

April McDermott previously had poetry published with Adelaide Magazine. She also had poetry published with Academy of the Heart and Mind and a short story published with Scarlet Leaf Review.