John Stubbings and the Angel 
Jo Hewlett

    John Stubbings was a good old man. All his life he had done his best to follow his simple faith. Every day he would wake up and lean out of his bedroom window and thank God for the birds and the flowers, the trees and the hills.
     Every Sunday, no matter how busy he was, he would attend morning service in the old church in the town where he lived. Usually there were only a handful of people in the church and John would feel rather sorry for the old sad parson, droning out the prayers in a grubby cassock. 
    But at Christmas time, everything was different. The church was full of people and gaily decorated with holly and candles. The parson wore a clean cassock and smiled at everyone. John loved it and wished it could be Christmas every week.
    One Christmas morning the church was very full and John could not sit in his usual pew. He had to go behind an ornate screen with ancient paintings in green and gold and scarlet depicting beautiful birds and animals in a lovely garden. He knelt to say his prayers and when it was time to go home he stood up and looked around him. He was in a part of the church that he had never noticed before and on the back of the ancient screen he saw a painting which he recognised as the Angel of Death.
    In one hand the Angel held a scythe and in the other he held a skull. The day was bright but frosty and it was rather chilly inside the church and the old man shivered as his gaze fell on the long pale face of the Angel.
   For the next few days John went about his daily business much as usual. He was a gardener and odd job man and worked in the municipal gardens, and he soon forgot his strange experience in the church. However, one morning when he was looking for a meat pie in the supermarket to take home for his evening meal, he looked up and to his amazement and horror, he found himself face to face with the Angel of Death. 
    He recognized him at once by his long white robe and his long pale face 
although he was not carrying the scythe and the skull.
    John jumped back with a howl of fright and the Angel of Death raised his hands in the air.
    "Help!" cried John. "The Angel is going to strike me." And turning, he fled through the crowded shop, bumping into people and knocking over shopping trolleys and piles of tins. 
    Without looking behind him he ran out of the shop and nearly all the way home, until he sank down, exhausted, sat on the pavement and closed his eyes. 
    For a little while he was too frightened to look about him for fear the Angel was still there. But when he finally summoned the courage to open his eyes, there was no-one about. 
    John struggled to his feet. His knees were knocking and his tongue seemed stuck to the roof of his mouth. He clasped his hands together to try to stop them from shaking so violently. His one thought was to get as far away as possible from the dreadful place where he he seen the Angel.
    "I must get away" muttered John to himself. "I must go far, far away. I will go to a place that is very crowded, where there are thousands and thousands of people. I am such an ordinary old man, perhaps he will not find me - I will go to London."
    For a while John considered setting out for London straight away but he was an old man and he realised that without food or money he would never manage the journey. So he waited until it was quite dark and then with a quaking heart, he made his way back to the little room where he lodged.

    He was very sad to say goodbye to the kind old lady who had looked after him for many years since his wife died, and she was very sad too, for she was fond of the old man and could not really understand why he had to leave so suddenly.
    She could not make head or tail of his strange story and shook her old head sadly as she waved goodbye to him.
    So John set off for London carrying as many of his worldly possessions
as he could manage in a large battered old suitcase, and several hours later he got off a train in the great city. The station was full of noise and bustle.
    "I shall be safe here," said John as he walked out into the town and saw the teaming thousands of people thronging the busy streets. "surely not even an Angel could find me in this crowd." and he looked around wondering where he could sleep that night. Turning a corner he once again came face to face with the Angel of Death.
    John felt his heart skip a beat and knew he could not run any more. "Why are you chasing me", he asked, nearly in tears. "Why did you raise your hands as if you were going to strike me?"
    "I was not chasing you, John", said the Angel in a kind and gentle voice "I raised my hands in the air because I was so surprised to meet you hundreds of miles away, when I was supposed to meet you this afternoon here in London.
    John looked up and to his amazement he saw a great archway made of
white fire stretching right across the busy city square. Everything was exactly the same as before on his side of the square and nobody was paying any attention to the amazing sight. 
    Through the archway John could see green lawns and beautiful gardens where every flower under Heaven was growing. Fountains were playing and the wonderful animals and birds which he had seen on the screen in the church walked freely about.
    "Come with me, John", said the angel kindly, and taking his hand they stepped together through the fiery archway.
    And the moral of this story is, that a good man has nothing to fear in this world or the next.

Narrated by Rachel Belringer.