An exhibit at the BYU Library

Steven L. Peck

 Angels of Pleasant Grove

You might know this author as the creative genius behind:

The Scholar of Moab

I

I found ours on the side of the house where a tangle of overgrown lilac bushes nearly made the back gate inaccessible. A cool, shady, and verdant spot that the July sun could not penetrate. From its contorted position I gathered it might have lain there for some time, apparently having crawled there to avoid detection. Now I found the poor thing nearly incoherent and unresponsive to my ministrations. Its eyes were barely open and could not follow my actions nor attend to my face. It lay there, breathing hard, its mouth somewhat twisted into a grimace, apparently unable to even change its position. It may have tried to wave me away but didn’t have the strength or determination to continue its attempted dismissal before it fell back exhausted. Sadly, whatever strength was left to it was not enough to continue its protestations. Before long it quit trying to move and more or less lost its battle to stay conscious. I remembered the sprinkler might have come on during the last hour. The creature’s robe was dirty, soiled with a detritus of leaves, tiny twigs, bits of vegetative flotsam, and tiny pieces of moldy lichen crust—such as could be found on the cooler side of the rocks and stones that rested among the branches of the lilac bushes emerging from the shaded loam.

I knelt beside it to look more closely at its troubled glow, flickering like a lightbulb burning out with random, strobed, intensities of light, fracturing the soft incandescent steadiness that one would expect from a heavenly being. At least as described by Joseph Smith’s visit from Moroni.

“Are you OK? How can I help you?” I asked.

It said nothing. I didn’t expect it to. The report of their silence was repeatedly mentioned in the Pleasant Grove Review’s descriptions. This would be number fourteen, I thought as I continued to look at the angel’s haggard and frightened face. There was a hint of pride sneaking into my heart. Thinking about the honor of having one of these ending up in my backyard. I shook off the conceit and remembered this was probably just a random event. Even so, I felt pretty lucky and blessed.

I tried to help it sit up, but it was too heavy. As I started to lift it, it became panicky and uncooperative, so I just helped it lie back down and tried to heave its feet into a position that looked more comfortable.

I pulled out my phone and called my elders quorum president.

“I found one in my yard.” I said after his, “Hello Brother Forrest, what . . .”

He didn’t ask what I found. There was silence for a moment, then he said, “That’s the first in our ward.”

“Can you get some of the quorum to help me move it into the house?”

“I’ve heard some weigh a ton.”

“I’m guessing four-hundred poundsish.”

“We’re on it. Do you have a wheelbarrow?”

“Yeah.”

I then called my wife who was working in the emergency room at the American Fork Hospital.

“Well, by all the reports you can’t bring it here. It’s outside of the city.”

She was right of course.

“Some of the brothers are coming over to help me move it inside.”

“Put it in Kim’s room.”

“That’s what I was thinking.”

Kim was on a mission in North Carolina.

“She’ll be so excited to hear an angel is staying in her room. I wish we could find a way to tell her.”

“Yeah. Me too. Let me let you go. I hear some trucks arriving—sounds like the brethren are here.”

 

Moving an angel turned out to be a nontrivial task. It was as floppy as a human body, way more so than a king-sized mattress, and although two of us could get hands under its shoulders and legs, and two could get to the sides, it was too unwieldy to lift. Finally, Brother Hadden pulled his little truck through the gate on the other side of the house. We set out an old piece of half-inch plywood, and he hooked up its legs to a winch attached to the front of the truck and he pulled it onto the wooden plank. No one was sure if you could damage a heavenly being, so we carefully wrapped its legs in a blanket before attaching the strap connected to the winch steel cable and hook.

A reporter showed up from the Review and started taking pictures, just in case it worked this time and the photos actually showed up recorded on the camera. It didn’t work, of course. It showed up on the viewfinder fine, and everything looked right on the screen, it was just that on the saved file image things didn’t show up. It wasn’t like it showed an invisible body either, with its contours all mapped out by the angelic body-shaped blanket like one of those invisible people wearing clothes in a film about someone who has turned invisible. Not just the angel was missing, but the context. It looked like a bunch of men and women and kids standing around a pile of blankets with a winch attached. There was some high-level intervention going on to keep this a secret.

The reporter mentioned that she hadn’t heard that other people finding angels had had this much trouble getting their resurrected beings into the house, so he gave me a Brother Joss’s number over in the Grove Creek Stake. He didn’t pick up, but I left a message. He called back immediately and I described the problem.

“Umm, mine wasn’t that heavy or that hard to move. How much does yours weigh?”

“I’m not sure but a few hundred pounds I guess.”

“Wow! That’s a strange one.”

“How much was yours?”

“She was light. I mean not human light. Maybe five pounds? But the one down near the downtown weighed nearly three tons from what I hear. They had to put a tent around it in the front yard. They’ve had a devil of a time keeping the sphinx moths off it too.”

 

It took most of the afternoon to get it upstairs. By the time we got it into Kimberly’s bedroom, nearly the entire neighborhood had gathered to help. There were discussions and debates about if the roof could hold a pulley bearing that much weight to maneuver it through the second story window. Debates also started about why angels weighed different amounts, and especially why in the world they were showing up incapacitated in Pleasant Grove. Well, that started an interesting conversation because we weren’t sure it was only happening here. Maybe they were dropping all over the world but no one in the other cities could communicate outside their local area either. We believed we were alone in this affliction because we were unable tell anyone what was happening outside our little town—files we emailed didn’t show up; or we’d lose our train of thought when we tried to speak to others not located here, or to put up a YouTube video; or anything public. Maybe these sick angels were in every city, but no one could speak outside their area. Weird to think about. However, the consensus was that we were alone. Pleasant Grove was known to be an uncanny place.

 

We finally got it into Kim’s upstairs room because someone showed up with a construction crane, and after some delicate work (dropping it only once from about twenty feet—no harm seemed to come from it), we got it onto the mattress. It was a rough day.

It was hot, we were all wearing masks, except the crane operator who refused, not because he was in an enclosed space, but because he felt the mask violated his rights. However, with my wife  dealing with the virus as an emergency room physician on a daily basis, everyone knew you did not show up at our place without wearing a mask, so he stayed sitting in the crane.

When it was over, I was drained. Just completely gone. Emotionally. Spiritually. I was done. I flopped down in my easy chair and closed my eyes. Our twelve-year-old, Kye, who had helped with the move, went downstairs to play video games on his Switch, while his younger sister Ellie, age nine, who had been my constant shadow for the relocation of the heavenly being, disappeared into her room to practice the violin. Anne wouldn’t be home until 9 pm and it was my night to cook so I did the obvious thing. Ordered pizza. No one would mind.

 

II

I went up to check on the condition of the angel as soon as I got home from the hospital. They had dismantled Kimberly’s bed frame and stretched my new celestial patient on the mattress. The angel was beautiful beyond description. How strange it seemed that an angel was lying on our daughter’s bed. Things had turned upside down enough with the novel coronavirus pandemic, but when the sick heavenly messengers started appearing in our town about two weeks ago, it was hard to wrap our already buzzing heads around it all. The world seemed remade, as if we had entered a fantasy world. Not a good one.

Despite the awfulness of today’s work in the emergency room, the surprise of having an angel on my daughter’s bed took all my weariness away. It sounded like Ansel had had a devil of a time getting it in here. I asked him if its condition had changed since he found it. He told me that it seemed worse than when he found it. Then he reconsidered and commented it seemed less agonized perhaps. Not resting, exactly, but struggling to breathe. I’d seen this so many times in my human patients I almost started to weep. This thing looked like my COVID-19 patients in the ER. How could a pathogen spread to eternal realms? If such places existed.

It was between about seven and a half, eight feet, tall and proportioned similarly to humans but with the physique like those modeled by a statue of the Greek gods. I pulled the stethoscope from the ER jacket I was still wearing and held it to its chest. I don’t know why I expected a normal heartbeat. I’d heard the rumors of the strange sound coming from within these things. It was a vibration like the sound of a hummingbird’s wing—more a hum or a buzz than a beat. I signaled my husband forward and let him listen. He was speechless. I was not the first doctor to examine one of the angels, so I was not surprised, yet even so, the sound was perplexing and disorienting. I tried to pick up his arm, but it was too heavy, so asked Ansel to grab a cushion from off the couch. He helped me raise the arm up so I could feel for a pulse. Something was there, but it was hard to describe. Not like the buzz of the heart, but more a tone, like the sound of a plucked cello. It had a musical quality, not a single pitch, but a chord, a strange harmony even. I know, I know—musical sounds are just vibrations at certain frequencies; I remember enough undergraduate physics for that. These, however, . . . it’s hard to describe . . . were different. More beautiful. His heart reminded me of something like the vibration of an engine. The pulse, however, was quite beautiful. It’s hard to describe the sound I heard through my fingertips pressed lightly to his forearm.

Its skin was dancing with light. Moving across his face and body like the currents in a stream in which small movements of water dove down in one place as they cascaded over or around a moss-covered rock and then emerged a few feet away in an expanding push of water spreading calmly over the surface. The light had an aquamarine tint in some places. In others, still blue, but an almost lapis lazuli hue. He had a broad nose, high forehead and cheekbones. Asian eyes. Irises black as its pupils, giving its unfocused gaze an uncanny and inhuman quality. Its skin seemed to lack hair follicles on its arm and it had no facial hair. It had beautiful eyebrows. I would do a more thorough examination after I could ask it for permission. What medical ethics were in play when examining an angel? I laughed suddenly, and my husband asked what was so funny. This was absurd. What had happened in the world that this virus had changed the universe itself?

And at least I could check that. I pulled out a COVID-19 test kit I had brought home for this purpose. Removing a nasal swab, I pushed it up the angel’s nose and twirled it around 10 times. Ansel asked what in the world I thought I was doing. It was a heavenly messenger; it couldn’t have a human disease. I was eliminating all possibilities.

And oh my, there was its smell. Wonderful beyond description. Unearthly. Healthful. Like a memory of one of those days at Grandma’s house when you were little. Carefree afternoons. Lake water swims on a summer day. A refusal of every evil taint.

I was crying. I looked at my husband and he was too. Neither of us could explain it. He pulled me away and looked at me and whispered that I should try to save it. I just nodded knowing it was not up to me or any human. I would try, I said.

 

III

We started gathering in Kimberly’s room for almost everything. We brought our meals there and ate them with the angel. We started having family scripture reading, again, and prayer. Kye would play his video games in the room while sitting in the big easy chair we brought up to provide more seats since it became a gathering place. I could overhear Kye talking to his gaming friends, less and less about the game and more about the heavenly messenger. He’s the one who gave him the name, “Sam” after Nephi’s older brother. “It seems like he never really got any gameplay,” he said, adding, “so I think that’s who this is.” The name stuck. From then on, we all called him Sam, although none of us really thought it was him. At least we didn’t think so.

Ellie tried hard to get our guest to eat. She made chicken broth flavored with basil and rosemary and spooned it into his mouth. He did swallow it but showed no reaction. Ellie was undaunted. Three times a day, she would spoon about a cup of soup into his mouth and carefully wipe away any spillage with a paper towel. She began to play her violin for Sam before bedtime. A couple of times I caught her reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe from the Chronicles of Narnia to him.

Finally, I asked, “Why that book?”

“He smells like Aslan.”

I could not argue.

As the number of cases continued to climb, Anne was called into work more and more. She would leave in the morning and come home late, exhausted from caring for the growing number of cases. But when she got home, she would come in and check on the angel. Early on, Ellie had helped her set up a videocam on Sam, but no one ever checked it. He just laid there. Breathing in gasps and flickering like a malfunctioning neon light.

 

IV

The messenger’s test came back positive for the virus. Because there was no medical journal that could be made to understand what was happening in our little city, I contacted the other doctors I knew who lived here and told them what I had discovered. None of the others had thought to give the angels a test. Not knowing all physicians working with sick angels, I called the reporter of the PG Review covering the story of the heavenly messengers and told them to publish a note on it. This put me in touch with other doctors attending angels, and we started having Zoom meetings to try to coordinate our care of the strange beings that had fallen sick in our little town. The bottom line was that there was little we could do. They did not seem to need to eat or drink, or urinate, or defecate. They all appeared not to be able to attend to time or place. No one could get an IV into them. They were largely unresponsive, although sometimes appeared agitated but never moved aggressively or dangerously. One of the doctors with a much lighter angel tried to X-ray one to get a look at their lungs, but her film showed nothing. The creatures’ eyes roamed without focus. We came up with a set of protocols which boiled down to: Just watch and see if anything ever changed.

 

V

One night I found Ellie asleep curled up with the suffering angel. Sam had sunk so far into the mattress that it was as if he had been plopped down like a child falling backward into a bed of snow—his body nearly wholly enclosed and surrounded by the mattress. My daughter’s head was on his shoulder, her little body cradled in the hollow between his arm and chest. I thought to pick her up and move her to her bed, but she looked so safe and content I let her sleep. It must be a rare and beautiful thing to spend the night nestled in the restful arms of a heavenly being.

 

VI

I am so tired. And so angry. A delicate grandmother of seventy-two passed away today due to the disease. She was so sweet. The Pleasant Grove librarian for nearly twenty-five years is now gone. Senseless. She worked there when I was a little girl. Only a few months ago, she checked out some books for Ellie—my poor girl will be heartbroken. It is ridiculous no one was taking this seriously. Why did they open the library? Did she have to die so you could eat out a few months sooner than if we had all worked together to make this go away?

And where is god? I struggled for years to believe, you know that, angel? How could there be a god when I see suffering every single day before this thing hit? And now? I don’t even want there to be a god. I don’t want to think about all the prayers I see going unanswered—all the time. I don’t want there to be a god, because if there is a god, he is a monster. There. Is. Just. Too. Much. Suffering. Do you hear me, angel? I gave up. And now you show up. To prove something? I still don’t believe. Angel or not! Hear that, angel? I’m done.

Oh my, now I’m crying. No, I’m laughing. I don’t want there to be a god, and yet a literal angel is lying in my daughter’s bed. An angel. Ha! I don’t want a god because there is too much pain, and so what does that divine joker do? He sends me a suffering angel. I can’t get a break. At home or at work there is nothing but pain. Or maybe angel, you are just a space alien. Or, more likely, you are a figment of my imagination. Ha! Or better yet, you are just the neural damage I’ve seen COVID-19 cause three times now, and I’m just lying in a hospital bed imagining all this. There it is, that’s the only thing that makes sense. You are a COVID-caused neural dysfunction, and I am dreaming or hallucinating. Why are you here? To mock my efforts. I get up and pound on his chest with my fist, like some TV doctor refusing to give up on a stopped heart, but that’s not why I’m doing this, angel. I want you to go away. Maybe I’m even trying to kill this thing that can’t exist. There is no god. There is no god, so how do you exist. Nothing makes sense. Nothing.

I sink to the floor. There is nothing left.

 

VII

I find Anne burning up on the floor. I know what it is. She works with the disease and now she’s got it. I try to remain calm. I know what to do. Her lips are blue. She must have had it for days and yet kept pushing through it to keep working. I don’t alert the kids yet. I dial 911 and then call a doctor friend of hers. He tells me to have the ambulance take her to the American Fork Hospital. He’ll meet us there. Mask up he says, there is still a chance you don’t have it. Yeah, right, I think.

I open the front door and then go tell the kids mom’s sick so an ambulance is coming.

“Don’t worry Dr. Kitz is meeting it at the hospital. Everything will be OK. I need you to be brave and strong, OK? I’m going to follow the ambulance to the hospital. OK?”

Ellie nods and takes Kye’s hand.”

“Don’t worry,” she says, “The angel is here. He’ll help.”

I hope so. Just in case I run upstairs and fall on my knees and put my hands on his unmoving arm, “Please, if there is anything you can do. Help us.”

I look up and find that Ellie and Kye are beside me on their knees, crying. At that moment, a man and woman in what resemble hazmat suits walk into the room.

They glance at the angel, then at Anne, “Oh no! Not Dr. Wren!”

“Please hurry, Doc Kitz is meeting us there.”

They don’t waste another second and go to work getting her on a gurney after making sure she is breathing, her heart is beating. They start an IV. The older EMT looks at the kids and says, “Don’t worry. I’ve seen much worse cases come out fine. She’s tough.”

They take her out. I hug the kids and follow.

 

VII

I’ve been home from the hospital for a few days. I’m still weak and wrapped in a blanket sitting in Kimberly’s room with the angel. We’ve had some long talks. Ansel is downstairs on the couch watching Frozen II with our Ellie, and Kye and his mother Sheila—all six feet apart, wearing masks. Sheila was a gem to come and help when I was still in the hospital. Ellie and Kye tested positive, but they’ve been fit as a fiddle. Ansel’s ex is staying for a few more days and then back to Chicago to be with her husband and their two kids.

Strange thoughts fill my head. Did we get it from the angel? Was I not careful at work and it slipped through my defenses? The angel is still suffering, so I get up to hold its hand. It is still the same temperature as it has always been. Kimberly tried to ride out the spreading disease from North Carolina to stay on her mission, but when we all came down with it, she came home. She was released before I got home. She is staying with her other mother until everyone is safe to be around. Our little returned missionary still comes over every day wearing a mask, as does Sheila. I can tell Kimberly wants a hug but she understands.

What does all this mean? My faith was about emptied out when the angel showed up. It hasn’t changed much really. Well, that’s not entirely true. I am more likely to acknowledge god is real somehow or there is something I don’t understand about the universe, it has switched to a different kind of doubt. Less anger. Or a more productive anger maybe. I tell the angel these things, trying to stir it to answer me—much like Job trying to get god to answer his judicial complaint. Instead gets a personal tour of god’s heavenly menagerie. I feel like the thing on the bed must betoken at least there is something deeper in the universe. Something I don’t understand. Why all the suffering, though? Job’s question. I watched people die, many of them with friends and family praying for them. Pleading with god to spare them. Who lived and who died seemed so arbitrary. Yet here I am. I know I’m experiencing something. I have to acknowledge that. There is an inexplicable thing on my daughter’s mattress.

I talked to the angel about all this. Not that it answered.  Still, it listened and did not judge (or even focus its eyes which still wander). I pestered it with my doubts, derided it with my shortcomings. And I suppose there was some catharsis. And I have to admit the angel is growing on me, whatever it is, alien, Jungian archetype made flesh through some collective quantum consciousness (one of my nurse’s speculations). I made no peace with a Heavenly Father, but at night I make a little room for something like Kim’s notion of a Heavenly Mother. We’ll see where this goes. I’m not ready to take any claims of the divine, or some sort of providence yet. I don’t know what such a thing would look like. But I’ll leave open the possibility a crack.

 

We rushed upstairs when Anne started shouting for us to come up.

“Hurry!” she called, “Sam is waking up!”

Anne had been recovering for about six weeks and was still not back to herself or working. Things in her body were still not working right. Heart palpitations. Memory problems. Little things that let her know something was still lurking there. Conventional medical wisdom suggested it shouldn’t have lasted this long. It was wrong.

When she called, I realized I’d not heard her sound so loud or animated in all that time she’d been back with us. I was the last to get there, and sure enough, hovering above the floor stood our angel. He was not as tall as he had been and now fit in the room that before offered too low a ceiling to stand up fully. His glow was steady, his eyes focused on each of us as he turned his gaze our direction. He gave a weak smile.

We all stood breathless, silent, expectant, scared for the change this portended. Ellie ran up and hugged his legs. He reached down and picked her up and held her close. She was crying.

“You can’t go,” She said, whimpering.

He held her a minute and then said, “I’m so glad to have met you, Ellie. Thank you for the delicious chicken soup you made me every day. It did help me. I was so thankful for every bite. And thank you for reading me The Chronicles of Narnia. You remind me very much of Lucy. How brave she was. How much she wanted to do good. I think Aslan would find you very much like her. I’m glad you came into my life.”

“You can’t go.”

“And especially thank you for sleeping close to me from time to time. I always felt safer with you next to me.”

He held her for several minutes and then placed her on the ground. She tried unsuccessfully to dry her eyes.

He thanked all of us. For various kindnesses. Kimberly for coming home to care for her family and for the use of her mattress. Me for getting him out from under the lilacs and trying to arrange for his comfort.

He then turned to Kye and said, “On the next level there is an Easter egg under the oak by the inn. You have to climb onto the roof of the inn, then jump into the upper branches. Look in the bole hole on the left fork. No one who has played the game has yet found it. You’re going to love the surprise hidden there.”

“Thanks,” said Kye as he resisted pulling out his game to start looking for it immediately.

Then he turned to Anne, who was angrily wiping her eyes.

“So there goes a friend with all my secrets.”

The angel actually laughed. And she smiled at it genuinely. In a way I had not seen in her face for a long time.

He reached out, and after a short hesitation, she gave him a hug.

“I’m with Ellie. You can’t go.”

He didn’t answer her but released her from the hug and held her at arm’s length. His glow seemed brighter than it ever had. It was clear he was about to leave; it was the light of transition. Somehow you could tell. Like just before the transporter whisked Picard away and back to the ship.

Then he said, “Anne. You ask the best questions. Keep doing that. Questions are better than answers.”

Then he gave another look around us, smiled one last time at Ellie, and was gone.

 

When we talk about the angels of Pleasant Grove (and that is the only place we can talk about them), we often allow a little smile to grace our lips. I still don’t know quite what to make of our heavenly visitor. I’ve left it at that.

Whatever he was, his memory is dear to me, especially after the disease took Kim shortly following Ansel’s bout with the disease. She was too young. She wasn’t at high risk. She should still be here. Ansel hikes a lot. It’s been two years. He still seems lost. He thinks she got it from him. He can’t seem to let it go. I suppose who could?

It took me a year to get back to work in the ER. I’m not really sure I ever got over it fully. Still, I can do my job. That’s something.

I wonder. Does Sam still feel the effects? What happened to the infected angels? Were there aftereffects? Sometimes something enters the heavens and earth that changes everything. I don’t know why, but I need that story in my life.

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