STORY: Ella Davies, is focused, independent, and driven. Her hard work is finally paying off and she is on the brink of great success. But what no one knows is that her frantic drive is born not from a desire to succeed, but from a need to forget – forget her past, forget her guilt, and mostly, forget the tragedy that changed her life forever.
Ella’s strategy seems to be working but on Christmas Eve she meets Cohen, a strange man with an even stranger purpose. Cohen catapults Ella back through time and forces her to confront not only her own pain, but the pain of those long since passed. In the process, Ella learns about courage and compassion and that in the darkest hour, no one is ever alone.
BEHIND THE STORY by Janet K. Halling
My main inspiration came just from pondering some of the big questions in life such as why we are here and where we were before being born. I believe in life before birth and after death and so I wanted to explore that.
The other inspiration came during a trip to New York City with my sister. We were there in December and had spent the day shopping and of course everything was decorated to the hilt and it was completely crowded with people. It was quite late and as we were walking back to our hotel, I looked up into the lit windows of the skyscrapers and could see people who were obviously still at work. It was just odd. Here was all this revelry going on below and they were working. So I started wondering what their lives might be like and that provided a lot of the structure for Ella. The story opens with her working late on Christmas Eve.
“Somewhere there was a rhythmic humming—a kind of a swooshing sound that increased and decreased in volume at regular intervals. She couldn’t remember where she was. Her whole body ached, and her head felt as if it would explode.
Ella groaned and opened her eyes. She was still in the gym, lying crumpled against the weight machine. The treadmill had stopped, and the rhythmic sound was coming from the man riding the spinning bike, which sat nearby.
Her fingers trembled as she felt the goose egg on the side of her head. Her face was on fire, probably scraped on the belt, and her knees were bloody, also from the belt.
Suddenly she stiffened. There was a man riding the bike! A man riding the bike. While she had been lying there unconscious. Had he just sauntered in and climbed on without seeing her at all or had he viewed her inert form without concern? That was cold, even for New York City. Gingerly, she turned her head to look at him.
It was the clerk from the deli, and he didn’t stop pedaling as he glanced her way. “Oh good, you’re awake.”
She stared up at him in mute astonishment.
He reached for his water bottle and took a long drink. “I’m glad you woke up on your own,” he said pleasantly. “I was about ready to pour this in your face, so you can thank me for sparing you an unexpected shower.”
Ella grasped the weight machine and pulled herself slowly to a sitting position. Her head was throbbing, and her stomach lurched. “I could sue you for failing to come to the aid of an injured person,” she snapped rather feebly.
The man studied her contemplatively. “Hmmm, yes, you would think of that, wouldn’t you? But I’m not too worried, Ella. You’re not going to sue me and we both know it.”
She opened her mouth to snarl a retort but stopped abruptly. “How do you know my name?” she demanded. “And what are you even doing here? You don’t live in this building.” She hesitated, realizing she wasn’t sure. “Do you?”
He jumped off the bike and held out his hand. “You should get up. Want help?”
She shrank away from him. “Don’t touch me! Who are you, and how do you know my name?”
“Well, it’s simple really. My name is Cohen, and I’m your guardian angel.” He broke into a brief but rapid tap dance routine and finished with flair. And with jazz hands.
Ella stared at him in perplexed silence, unsure if he was a hallucination or just crazy. “Uh-huh. Right,” she finally said, groaning as she pulled herself to her feet. A wave of nausea hit her, and she stopped, doubling over and willing herself not to vomit. She for sure had a concussion.
She tried to think. Should she go to the hospital? Or maybe just go home and try to sleep? She didn’t know. She made a move toward the door, but Cohen tap-danced over to block her path.
“Get out of my way,” she snapped at him with more bravado than she felt.
He grinned. “Can’t do that. You and me, we have business tonight.”
For the first time, she felt a small dart of fear. Cohen wasn’t exactly menacing, but he certainly was strange. If he attacked her, would she have the strength to fight him? If only her head would stop hurting!
“What do you want?” she asked.
“I already told you, I’m your guardian angel. Well, not technically an angel, but that word will serve as well as any other. Anyway, I’m here to help.”
“Sure. Like you helped me when I was unconscious a minute ago? If that’s your kind of help, no thanks.”
“No, not that kind of help, silly.”
“Look, whatever you’re on, whatever you’re offering, I’m not interested. Just leave me alone, please? I’m sore and tired, and my head is killing me. I need to go lie down.”
“Oh, right. That.” He made some sort of vague gesture and instantly her nausea subsided and the pain in her head vanished.
Chills raced up and down her spine, and she stared at him, “Wait . . . what’s . . . what’s going on?”
“Okay, no more joking around.” Cohen looked suddenly serious. “Here’s the deal. You need help and there’s a lot you need to learn. Only you’re far too stubborn to admit it. You might not even know how much help you need. But I know; so here I am.”
The pieces were starting to fall into place. “Wait . . . Christmas Eve . . . guardian angel. This is some kind of a joke, right?” she said before adding sarcastically, “What’s the matter, Jacob Marley was busy? Clarence already got his wings? Or wasn’t he on duty tonight?”
He grinned. “Both good men. But you got stuck with me. Although, all things considered, maybe it’s me who got stuck with you. You can be quite unpleasant, do you know that?”
Ella snorted derisively. “So when does the Ghost of Christmas Past show up? Or is he waiting for me upstairs?”
“Dickens took some liberties. It doesn’t exactly work like that. At least, this time it won’t.”
“You have exactly one second to get out of my way or I’m going to start screaming at the top of my lungs!”
Cohen cocked his head to one side and gave her a brief shrug of resignation. “Okay then, you win. Can’t say I didn’t try.” He stepped smoothly to one side and swept his arm in a wide arc toward the door. “Be my guest.”
Throwing him what she hoped was a withering glare, Ella marched past him, flung open the door—and stepped into a nightmare.”
REVIEW: Ella is one of those heroines that at the start of the story you’ll not like much. Growing up, she was the overachiever that grew into a workaholic She is good-looking, single and dedicated to her work. Her work week consists of not just putting in seventy hours at the law firm, but extra hours at home as well.
She is the epitome of one of those women that are best described by the three B’s: Boring, Bland and Blah.The author did an excellent job in portraying her as too serious, rude and not likable at all. Even her living quarters are telling of her personality.The colors of the rooms are in varying shades of white, gray and light blue. Oh, and she dreads Christmas. Something about it brings up unpleasant memories that she’s not ready to face.
As for her love life, well there was none after Stuart and it looks like she doesn’t even want to be in a relationship. This woman’s life was just pathetic, and of her making. Until one evening when she meets Cohen….
For a little novella, this story sure packs a punch. From page one, right off the bat, it will grab you and keep you glued until the end. It will make you think and question its many what ifs and maybes. The author achieved in making the reader ponder this life and the next, and possibly the previous. This is my first time reading Janet Halling, but trust me, it won’t be the last.
Oh, and make sure you have the Klinex with this one too!
FEATURED AUTHOR: Janet K. Halling
Author Bio: Janet Halling discovered her love of writing at the age of six when her story of a lonely duck won a first grade writing contest. She has a degree in Marketing Communications and lives with her family in northern Utah. She is currently working on her next novel.