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Last Saturday, the family and some friends went to Stone Mountain State Park (North Carolina not Georgia). It is a beautiful place with trails and waterfalls. The highlight, you discover, is the mountain itself. Standing on top of it, you feel like you are standing on the moon. The granite goes on forever, smooth as the hood of a car, until you look at it close or rub your hand on it and feel the sandpaper threaten to rip off your fingerprints.

We love Stone Mountain. The hike is about two miles to the top, two miles back down. We have a picture at our house of these friends of ours and us, lying on our bellies on top, pretending that we are hanging on for dear life. Our dog Chelsea is licking the sweat off my face.

Chelsea is no longer with us. And these friends, who now live in Charleston, have kids who had never been to this mountain before. So last Saturday we hiked to the top and imagined walking on the moon while we ate granola bars on the sandpaper rock. We took a picture on our bellies, no dogs this time, but kids. There were no kids back then. Now there are five between us.

That made nine of us total, so we had split into two cars, dividing by gender just for fun. Lia drove our car. She put the keys in her back pocket. She hooked them around the loop of her jeans while we were on top, eating our granola while sitting on the sandpaper. She didn’t realize that the key to our car was missing until we were back down the mountain.

I keep my keys on a carabiner. It’s what you do when you have lots of keys (the cost of having more than one office). My car key I had separated from the rest because (and for those of you who have children you understand this) about once a week one of us forgets something back at the house, and we have to turn around to get it, and it is a pain to turn the car on and off. So only one key was missing, the key that started the car.

We looked everywhere for it – the car, the parking lot, the bathroom, the grass by the bathroom. We discussed whether the eight of them should hop in the other car while I hiked back up the mountain to the moon rock where Lia assumed the key must have come off when she relocated the carabiner from her back pocket to the loop in her jeans. We contemplated driving home all nine of us to get the spare key. We were in the midst of contemplation when we were interrupted.

The man was huge. His thick arms darkened with dirt. His maroon shirt stretched like a rubber band on his two-hundred-sixty-plus frame. His face hid behind a porcupine of a beard.

He said, “Don’t be afraid.”

It’s the kind of thing huge, two-hundred sixty-five plus pounder men with porcupines for beards say – or angels.

Angels say don’t be afraid, too.

“Did you lose a key?” he asked.

He dangled a single GMC Acadia key in his muscular fingers like a carrot in front of a donkey. He handed the key to my wife like a grandfather placing a Werthers butterscotch in the hand of a child – like a priest handing a parishioner the body of Jesus.

My friend asked him his name.

“Bruno,” he said.

Bruno. Of course it would be a name like Bruno.  

“Are you an angel?” I asked.

Bruno kind of chuckled.

My friend asked if he could touch him to make sure he was real. His finger made a dimple in Bruno’s thigh-sized bicep. Bruno walked back to his maroon pick-up.

We waved to him as we drove away in the two cars we came in. Bruno waved back from his leaning against the tailgate of his truck parked in a handicap spot. We turned the corner and headed out of the parking lot. I didn’t check the mirror to see if Bruno was still there or if he had vanished back to heaven where he came from.

Ned Erickson

Ned is the Founder and Executive Director of the Winston-Salem Fellows, a non-profit dedicated to equipping people to live seamless lives as they grow into the men and women they were created to be. He is the author of four books, including the critically acclaimed novel Clay. He, his wife, two children, dogs, rabbit, guinea pig, turtle, and chickens live in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

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