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Jessica L.H. Stanfield

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Angels in Our Midst (Chapter One)
By Jessica L.H. Stanfield
Sunday, February 23, 2003



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Recent stories by Jessica L.H. Stanfield
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Are there really angels among us? This story explores that concept.

Angels Among Us

The snow fell hard outside Hannah McKay’s bedroom window. She awoke and stumbled lazily out of bed to look out the window. As she stared into the gleaming sunlight reflecting off the newborn snow, excitement filled her voice and she ran back over to her bed and turned to her husband, Mark.
“Honey, wake up! Look! We have our first snow in Cougar Falls for the season!”
Mark turned over to face her and the excitement he saw in her face sent happiness racing through him. She had always loved the first snow ever since he’d known her. He got out of bed and stood with her at the window for a moment. Wrapping his arms around her shoulders he gently whispered in her ear, “First snow, Christmas will be here before we know it.”
“I love the first snow,” Hannah said. She turned to face him and kissed him softly. “And, I love Christmas,” she said.
“Well, you know what I love?” Mark asked her. “I love you!” Mark smiled at her and Hannah smiled back.
“I guess I should wake up Luke and Sarah…otherwise I just might crawl back into bed and then they’ll be late and you’ll be late, and that’s not good….right?” Hannah asked, smiling as she hugged Mark around his waist.
“No, that’s not good, but it sounds fun.” Mark said, smiling, as Hannah walked to the bedroom door.
She opened their bedroom door and went to Luke’s room first, since he was always the more difficult of their two children to wake up. She knocked lightly on Luke’s door and slowly opened it. Her thirteen-year-old son was already out of bed, standing by the window, watching the snowfall. She could tell that he loved the first snow just as much as she did and it brought her such joy to know that she had passed that excitement on to her oldest child.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” Hannah asked him as she stood in his doorway.
“Yeah, I like the way the sun makes the snow look like glitter!” Luke said emphatically as he turned to face his mother.
“I can’t believe it’s already snowing,” Hannah told him. “Christmas will be here soon!”
“I love Christmas!” Luke said as he started pulling open his dresser drawers looking for his school uniform.
“Me too. And I especially love Christmas here in Cougar Falls. The lights hung all over downtown, red and green decorations everywhere, and the people,” Hannah said. “The people here in our little town make Christmas so special with their kind words and the way everyone comes together for the big Winter Wonderland Festival. I never thought Christmas could be like that when I was your age. You’re so blessed,” Hannah told him, knowing he was not really listening to her as he pulled on his navy blue polo type shirt. She knew he was thinking about the snow, and only the snow for right now. Mark and Hannah had decided that this winter Luke would be allowed to go to Wild Panther Park alone without their supervision. Every winter, all of the kids would gather there because Wild Panther Park had the best hills for sledding, the best ice for ice skating, and big, open fields for the best snow ball fights one could imagine. As she talked to Luke about Christmas in Cougar Falls, she could tell that his mind was in Wild Panther Park with the rest of his friends.
“Okay, well, I’m going to wake up Sarah and then I’ll make hot chocolate, pancakes, and sausage for breakfast, Hannah said.
“Great!” shouted Luke.“ I love our ‘First Snow Breakfast!’” As Hannah left and made her way down the hall to the bedroom of her youngest child, she could hear Luke whistling happily in his room as he finished getting dressed for school. Hannah knocked on Sarah’s door and when she gently pushed it open, she was surprised to find that her eight-year-old daughter was still in bed.
Hannah walked into Sarah’s room and over to her bed. She bent down to kiss her daughter on the cheek, but just as she did, Sarah shot straight up in her bed and screamed!
“Honey, what’s wrong,“ Hannah, asked, trying to keep her voice as calm as possible.
Sarah couldn’t hear her though because now her scream had turned into wailing and tears began streaming down her cheeks.
“Sarah, sweetie, tell me what’s wrong so I can help you.” Hannah was trying to stay calm, but her voice shook a little as she spoke. She had never seen her daughter behave this way. Sarah finally stopped wailing long enough to tell her mother what was wrong with her.
“Mommy, I had the most horrible dream!” Sarah’s voice was also shaking and her long blonde hair fell around her face as she dropped her head.
“What was the dream about, sweetheart?” Hannah asked, a little calmer now that she knew Sarah wasn’t injured in some way.
“It was about Daddy,” Sarah answered and then stopped as if she did not intend to go into detail about the awful dream that had sent her into tears as soon as she had awakened..
Hannah coached her daughter on, knowing that it was best for children to talk about bad dreams right away, rather than letting them fester inside all day, not being able to shake the feeling that the dream was somehow real.
“Did Daddy do something bad in the dream?” Hannah scooted over next to Sarah and put an arm around her shoulders.
“No, Daddy didn’t do anything bad in the dream,” Sarah answered as she looked up at her worried mother’s face. She rested her head on her mother’s shoulder and Hannah could see the tears start to form in Sarah’s big, green eyes again.
“In the dream, Daddy died,” Sarah said with a finalization that sent shivers down Hannah’s spine and made the back of her neck tingle with goose bumps. Sarah continued and Hannah didn’t interrupt her, even though the details of Sarah’s dream scared her more than she cared to admit.
“Daddy was driving me and Luke to school and everything was fine. We were talking about Christmas and the Winter Wonderland Festival and we were remembering last year’s festival. We were just laughing and talking and then before I knew it, we pulled up in front of school.” Sarah paused for a moment and then dropped her head again.
“Keep going, Sarah,” Hannah encouraged. “Tell Mommy the rest of your dream. That way you can get it out and then you’ll feel better.
“Okay, but it’s really yucky, Mommy, are you sure you want to know what happened to Daddy in my dream?” Sarah asked.
“Of course I do, honey,” Hannah answered and smiled at Sarah who lifted her head and continued on with the details of her nightmare.
“Well, next Dad told me and Luke to have a great day and told Luke to get his hockey stick out of the trunk. Luke got his hockey stick and closed the trunk. He walked up on the sidewalk and we were waving good-bye to Dad. Just then a big, yellow, school bus came by really super fast and slammed into the back of Dad’s car!” Sarah started to cry again.
“That’s awful, Sarah,” Hannah said, drawing Sarah into her arms.
“I’m not finished though,” Sarah sobbed. “When the bus hit the back of Dad’s car it pushed the car into the bus that was in front of him and Luke and I saw him get smashed in between the two buses!” Now Sarah was wailing again.
“It’s okay, honey,” Hannah said, trying to comfort her. “You can cry if you need to, but it was just a dream. You know that, right?” Sarah nodded her head. Hannah continued, “Daddy is right in our bathroom in the shower. Do you hear the shower?”
“Yes, but it was so very scary, Mommy! Daddy’s head exploded and Luke and I knew he was dead and we were crying and it was just horrible!”
“I know. Sh…sh…sh…everything is going to be fine.” Hannah tried to think of something that she could say to make Sarah smile and get her mind off this terrible nightmare.
“Guess what?” she said.
Sarah looked up at her. “What?” she asked.
“Look out the window. You’ll see!” Hannah said encouragingly.
Sarah climbed slowly out of bed and walked over to her window. She pulled the left curtain back and immediately gasped excitedly.
“It’s the first snow!” Sarah shouted. “Wow! There’s a lot of it! You know what that means, Mom?” Sarah turned from the window to face her mother. “It means that Christmas will be coming soon! And it means that we’re having pancakes and sausage and hot chocolate for breakfast, right?”
Hannah smiled at Sarah. She was glad that her daughter’s mind was distracted from that terrible dream. “That’s exactly right, my dear! Why don’t you go ahead and get dressed for school and I’m going to go downstairs and start the McKay First Snow Breakfast.”
“Okay, Mommy, but I’m going to wait in here for Daddy. Will you ask him to come in here after he’s done in the shower?”
Hannah agreed and went straight to her and Mark’s room to tell him about Sarah’s nightmare and to ask him to go talk to her after he got dressed for work. Mark was just coming out of the shower when Hannah pushed the bedroom door open. She explained the dream in its entirety to Mark and he was horrified.
“What a terrible thing for her to dream,” he said, as he took one of his many suits off its hanger and tossed it lightly on the bed.
“I know. I felt so badly for her, but we talked about it and then I had her look outside so she could see that the snow has arrived and that seemed to cheer her up a bit.” Hannah said as she brushed her short, wavy, light brown hair, in front of the mirror on her dresser. “She wants to talk to you though so please go in there when you’re finished, okay?” Hannah asked, turning to face Mark who had put on his khaki suit pants and was now sitting on the bed, buttoning up the buttons on his light blue, long sleeved, shirt.
“Of course, I’ll go see her in just a few minutes,” Mark answered. He stood up and kissed Hannah on the top of her head before he turned into the closet to get his brown loafers.
“What was that for?” Hannah asked.
“Just for you being you. You’re so good with the kids and I couldn’t have picked a better woman to be their mother and my wife.” Mark smiled at her and then sat back down on the bed to put on his shoes. Hannah looked at him. She loved him so much. She couldn’t remember what her life had been like before Mark, and now she couldn’t imagine having a life without him.
“Thank you, honey, that’s a really nice thing to say. I love you too and I think I did a pretty good job choosing a father for my children and husband for me also,” she said as she walked over to him. They embraced for a moment and then with a light kiss on his lips, Hannah swayed out of the room and headed downstairs to make breakfast. Mark checked his appearance in the mirror one last time, straightened his tie a bit, then walked down the hall to his baby girl’s room and gently knocked on her door.
“Sarah, it’s Daddy, can I come in?” Mark asked. He began to push the door open, but before he could get a foot in, Sarah, already dressed in her navy blue skirt and white collar shirt, had jumped off of her bed and was running into his arms.
“Daddy, it was an awful dream! Did Mommy tell you about it?”
“She told me all about it. She said that the nightmare scared you very much. Do you want to talk about it?” Mark asked, holding his daughter in his arms.
“No. I just don’t ever want to have that dream again, Daddy. Can we pray and ask Jesus to help me not have that yucky dream ever again?”
“Of course, sweetheart. I think that’s a great idea.”
Father and daughter knelt beside the bed together, closed their eyes, and folded their hands. Mark and Hannah had taught their children to pray when they were very young. They had started with a simple bedtime prayer that Luke, and eventually Sarah, could memorize and as the children got older Mark and Hannah taught them that they could talk to Jesus anytime they wanted and that they could ask him for anything they wanted, they just might have to wait awhile and have patience in order to get an answer. Sarah’s voice was soft as she began her prayer.
“Dear Jesus, I love you. I love the new snow. Thank you for sending it to us. Jesus, please, please, please, don’t let me have any more bad dreams about Daddy or anyone else getting killed. It was a very scary dream and I didn’t like it. Thank you for my mom and dad and for my brother, I guess. Amen.”
Sarah opened her eyes as did Mark and they smiled at one another.
“Thank you for my brother, I guess?” he asked her, smiling and lifting an eyebrow in her direction.
“I’m just kidding, Daddy. Don’t worry; Jesus knows I’m not serious. He knows everything that’s in our hearts, right?”
“That’s right, honey, he does.”
“And does he know what’s in my tummy? There’s nothing in there!” Sarah giggled and Mark was glad she was feeling happier now.
“Let’s go eat breakfast, Daddy, I’m really hungry!” Mark took Sarah by the hand and they walked out of her room and down the stairs towards the kitchen where the smell of frying sausage and sweet, hot chocolate filled the air.
“Breakfast was delicious as usual,” Mark was saying to Hannah as he rinsed his plate and silverware under the stream of warm water in the kitchen sink. Hannah was sitting at the table, finishing her hot chocolate. She looked up at Mark with a smile.
“Thank you, honey. Luke, Sarah, did you enjoy your “First Snow” breakfast as much as Dad?
“Even more!” Luke said. “I love the taste of the sausage with the sweet hot chocolate and the warm, soft pancakes,” Luke said as he stepped toward the kitchen doorway. “I’m going to go grab my things for school.” And with that he ran up the stairs.
“You always make the best breakfasts, mommy,” Sarah said, as she took her plate to Mark who was washing Luke’s Star Wars hot chocolate mug.
“Thank you, sweetheart! Now why don’t you go brush your teeth, grab your backpack, and brush your hair once more? Dad will be ready to take you and Luke to school soon,” Hannah told her.
Sarah walked into the living room and up the stairs to her room. Mark finished washing the breakfast dishes and kissed his wife on her cheek before he too went upstairs to put the final preparations on his appearance before he left for the kids’ school and his downtown office.

*********
Traffic, as usual, was busy and congested as Mark drove his blue Taurus down the main highway leading from Cougar Falls into the city. The city was also crowded and congested with people walking down the icy sidewalks and trying not to slip as they crossed the busy streets on their way to their various destinations. Mark didn’t like that the kids had to go to school all the way in the big city, but since it was the best private school in the entire surrounding area and his office was only about a twenty minute drive from Parker Robinson Academy for Boys and Girls, taking them and picking them up after work was all too convenient. The three of them always enjoyed their rides to and from school together and always found something fun and interesting to talk about. This morning Luke was giving his prediction as to how much snow would land in Cougar Falls before Christmas.
“I think we’re going to get 100 inches of snow this year!”
“That’s an awful lot of snow, son, I kind of have to hope you’re wrong,” Mark said without looking away from the road.
“I think we’ll get 200 inches of snow!” Sarah chimed in, giggling.
“My goodness, you two, we’d be snowed inside our house until spring if that were to happen,” Mark said, laughing and shaking his head.
Their discussion continued until Mark pulled the Taurus into and around the half circular driveway of Luke and Sarah’s school. He pulled the car in behind one of the yellow school buses and Sarah immediately started crying.
“Daddy, Daddy, it’s happening! Just like my dream! When we get out of the car, another bus is going to slam into you and squash you!”
“Sweetheart, that’s not going to happen,” Mark tried to reassure his daughter, but she interrupted him.
“That’s exactly what’s going to happen!”
“What is she talking about, Dad?” Luke asked.
“Sarah had a nightmare last night that my car got squashed between two buses and I was hurt really badly.”
“He was dead!” Sarah wailed. “And now it’s going to happen in real life!”
“Okay, sweetheart, I’ll tell you what. I’ll get out of the car and take you and Luke to the front doors. This way if a bus drives in and squashes anything, it will only smash my car and not me, okay?”
This seemed to please Sarah. She stopped crying and dried her eyes on the sleeve of her school uniform shirt, then opened the back passenger door and waited for her father and brother to get out first. Luke went ahead and got out and Mark followed behind him. Sarah practically jumped out of the car in order to avoid being crunched herself. Mark walked up the long, wide, cement steps of the school front and when he arrived at the big, glass double doors, a child on each side of him, he bent down so that he was eye to eye with Sarah.
“You see, Sarah, Daddy is just fine. You just had a terrible dream, but it didn’t happen in real life and it’s not going to. Now, do you feel better?”
“Yes, Daddy,” Sarah said with a smile. She kissed her father on his cheek, gave him a big hug around his shoulders, and went on into the building. Luke gave his father the good-bye high five that had just recently replaced the ever-embarrassing good-bye kiss that his sister was so fond of, and then followed behind Sarah.
“Have a good day, you two,” Mark called after Luke and Sarah, although he doubted they heard him over the hustle and bustle of all the other kids walking in the building and down the hall.
Mark walked back down the cement steps and got into his car. He was surprised at the sense of relief that he felt as he drove away from the bus that he had parked behind. He would never have admitted to Sarah or to Hannah for that matter, but when he pulled into the school drive way and saw the yellow school bus was directly in front of him, the hair on the back of his neck had stood up and he had been more than a little unnerved by the similarities between Sarah’s dream and what had actually been happening.
But the dream was just that, he told himself; a dream. Mark turned on the car radio to his favorite morning show as he pulled out of the school drive way and turned left onto San Miguel Blvd. Mark’s thoughts drifted away from Sarah’s nightmare and on to the topic at hand that was being discussed by the two radio talk show hosts, Bill Billows and Dan Davenport. The show was broadcast right out of Cougar Falls, but could be picked up easily from anywhere in the surrounding areas. This morning Bill and Dan were discussing angels and whether or not their existence was possible.
“Angels? You really think that there are little white things with golden halos flying around the world?” Dan Davenport was saying.
“Well, I know that sometimes I feel like there is someone with me when I know there isn’t and I feel very protected. Call me crazy listeners, but if something like this has ever happened to you, please call in and let us know. Dan here needs some divine intervention it seems.”
“I mean I’ve just never seen one myself, Bill, so please tell me and the rest of our listeners what angels really look like.”
“I just told you, Dan, I’ve never seen one either. Maybe they really are little white things that float around the world and land where they see that someone needs help or maybe they look just like regular people. I don’t know, I just know that there are people out there who have experienced angelic presences and I would really like to hear from them.”
Mark wasn’t sure if he believed in angels. Although he had never seen one and he was pretty sure that he had never really felt the presence of an angel, he tried very hard to believe everything that he had read in the Bible. He had heard stories of miracle births and miracle rescues and he believed that those things could only happen if there were angels, or something miraculous like that, throwing in a helping hand. Mark continued to drive down San Miguel Blvd until he reached the busy intersection where San Miguel met with McDouglas street, stopped at the red light, and turned on his right turn signal. As he waited for the light to turn green he tuned his mind back to Bill and Dan as they continued to discuss angels with the first caller of the morning, an elderly woman calling from the city.
“Well, I’ve never seen an angel, but…”
“Then how do you know they exist?” Dan interrupted before the woman could finish her sentence.
“I’m about to tell you that. That’s why I called in,” the lady said slowly, a little irritated at being interrupted. Then she continued, “My nine-year-old grandbaby, Ashley, came home from school one day and she went to put her bike in the garage like she does every day when she gets home. She put the bike up against the wall and started to leave the garage. As she was walking out of the garage, that big ole, heavy door rolled down and slammed right on top of her!”
“How awful!” Bill was saying. “What happened?”
“Well, that’s just it. My son and his wife, Ashley’s parents, don’t get home until 6:00 o’clock at night. That day, Ashley had stayed after school for soccer practice so she didn’t get home until 4:30. She laid there, with the weight of the garage door crushing her little ribs and lungs for an hour and a half before her parents found her!” The woman’s voice was shaking and Mark could tell that the tragedy still affected her. He thought to himself that this must have happened recently. The two announcers were listening intently to the story and asking what happened to Ashley.
“That’s the amazing part! When my son and his wife found Ashley they were panic stricken! She was bleeding heavily, she was blue, and she couldn’t breathe very well at all, but she was alive. They rushed her to Mercy General and after 9 hours on the operating table, Ashley was moved to the pediatric intensive care unit.” The woman took a breath and Dan jumped in.
“So, you’re saying that angels kept your granddaughter alive during that hour and a half that she was lying there under the garage door?”
“No, Mr. Davenport, here’s what I’m trying to tell you. After a few days in the pediatric intensive care unit, Ashley was able and willing to talk with the doctors about how exactly she ended up under the garage door. What she told them amazed them all. She said, and she told this to me also, that while she was lying there, she was crying and she was hurting a lot. She kept closing her eyes and feeling like she wanted to go to sleep. Once when she closed her eyes, she said that she wasn’t going to open them again because she was in so much pain and thought that if she went to sleep, the pain would go away. When she closed her eyes that time, she saw several figures in front of her. Ashley said the figures were dressed in purple bath robes and they had gold eyes, but they weren’t people.”
“She said they were angels?” Bill asked.
No, she said the figures never told her they were angels, but they spoke to her and told her to open her eyes. They told her that God was taking care of her and that her mommy and daddy would be there soon, but if she closed her eyes she would never wake up and she couldn’t see her mommy or daddy or any of her friends again.” The woman could tell that Dan Davenport was probably not a believer.
“And what did Ashley say to the angels?” he asked. His tone was semi-sarcastic.
“Actually, she said that when she tried to talk to them, the figures shushed her and told her not to talk. Ashley said that she opened her eyes and felt like heavy weights were immediately attached to them and they wouldn’t close again.
“Wow, that’s amazing!” Bill said excitedly.
“It’s absolutely unbelievable.” Dan said flatly.
“Ashley told the doctors that from then on she couldn’t close her eyes no matter how hard she tried. The doctors said that her CT scan showed that her brain had been on the verge of stopping due to a lack of oxygen and that if she had gone to sleep, she most likely would not have recovered from the coma. They aren’t actually sure how she avoided going into a coma, but I am. Those were angels that Ashley saw and that kept her eyes open. I believe that with all my heart and so do Ashley and her parents. So, if you ask me, angels not only exist, they help those who are in need and who believe in them.” The woman finished her story and waited for the response of the two radio hosts. Mark also waited to hear what Dan Davenport would say now.”
“Well, I am in shock,” Bill was saying.
“Yeah, me too,” Dan said.” I’m shocked that anybody would believe that. It sounds to me like Ashley was hallucinating or something. Those kinds of things can happen to a person when the brain is deprived of oxygen for long periods of time.”
“Well, her brain wasn’t deprived of oxygen completely, it just wasn’t getting enough. I mean she couldn’t have laid there for much longer and come out of it as well as she did.” Ashley’s grandmother responded.
“Don’t worry, ma’am,” Bill Billows was trying to make up for Dan’s inconsiderate comments. “I believe you and I believe Ashley and I think a lot of our listeners do too.”
Mark thought about the story as Bill Billows and Dan Davenport hung up with the woman and went to a commercial break. Mark pulled up to the intersection of McDouglas street and 1st Avenue, the street on which his office building was located. He let his mind wander back to the radio show as he waited for the green light. He sat there for what seemed like forever before the light finally turned and when it did, he made the left onto 1st Avenue and immediately knew he was in trouble.
Barreling down 1st Avenue, in the wrong lane, was a huge, blue and gray semi truck. The truck was coming right towards Mark’s car, hurling itself down the right lane so fast that Mark almost didn’t have time to do anything. No time to think. He grabbed the wheel and spun it as hard as he could over to the far right side of 1st Avenue. Rubber tires grabbed hold of asphalt in an awful screeching sound and Mark’s car slammed into the guardrail hard, sending Mark flying into the windshield just before he passed out.
The vehicle behind Mark’s Taurus, a Greyhound bus, was coming just as fast as the semi truck and wasn’t able to get out of the way like Mark had done. The two monster vehicles collided in a burst of flames and a loud “BOOM!” could be heard for miles when the two vehicles made contact. People immediately stopped their cars and were getting out to see if they could be of any help to the people on the bus, the truck driver, or the driver of the Taurus. The eight passengers on the Greyhound bus and the driver were killed instantly upon impact, the truck driver was removed from his cab, but only after paramedics used the Jaws of Life prying device to remove him. He was laid on a gurney on the other side of 1st Avenue and paramedics were working on him; poking and prodding at him, trying to restore life to a lifeless body. Eventually a white sheet was laid over the truck driver. Paramedics were not angels.
A different team of paramedics had run over to Mark’s car as soon as the ambulances had arrived on the horrible scene at 1st and McDouglas. The driver’s door opened easily and a pretty, young, paramedic woman with long, blond spiral curls squatted in between the open driver’s door and the car so she could get a look at the man inside.
“Sir? Sir, can you hear me?” she touched Mark’s shoulder and nudged him a bit.
“It was a bus. She said it was a bus and it was a bus.” Mark drolled sleepily.
“Yes sir, we know it was a Greyhound bus behind you that ran into the semi, but…”
“School bus, I, then, hit, school bus. Luke, Sarah, Hannah, they know, school bus,” Mark was rambling and the paramedic wasn’t able to understand.
“Okay, sir, we’ll get that all straightened out at the hospital. Right now, I need to know where you are hurt. Anywhere besides you head and face?”
“The bus. Squash, but she said they saw me. Am I dead? I don’t hurt anywhere. Bus squash!” Mark was getting upset, and still rambling.
The paramedics decided that Mark definitely needed to be seen by a doctor. They got him out of his car, which was badly smashed in on the passenger’s side, and put him on a gurney, then into a waiting ambulance, and rushed him to Mercy General Hospital.


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Reviewed by Ronald Dondiego 8/9/2004
You have a genuine talent for writing, and this story proves it. Ron
Reviewed by jay singer 10/4/2003
I'm a little confused because "Angels .." was posted under short stories and then at the bottom in"Review it", it was titled achapter One, which changes the genre, thus the "critiqing" perspective. I was going to mention the abrupt ending for a short story, but if it Ch. 1 of a book it's fine.

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