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Like Falling, With Style

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“Well, congratulations, Donny,” the archangel Raphael said. “You successfully defended the ducks against what’s his name.”

“Gormley, sir,” Donny said tiredly. It had been harder than he had thought, protecting ducks against a third class demon who got kicks out of tormenting the things. Absently he brushed a few stray feathers off his halo.

“Right, yeah, him,” Raphael said. “Good job. Ready for your next post?”

“Sir yes sir!” Donny said, hope flaring. “Is it demon locusts this time, sir?”

“No, it’s not demon locusts,” Raphael said. “That’s upper rank stuff, I told you. We’re assigning you to personal detail.”

“Personal?”

“You watch over a guy, make sure he doesn’t hurt himself. Sound fair?”

Donny saluted, this time managing not to knock his hand on his own halo. “Absolutely, more than fair, sir!”

“Great. Here’s the file on your guy.” Raphael handed over a small sheaf of papers. “Name’s Bill McCormick. He’s a windtech.”

“So he summons the winds to fight against the forces of darkness?” Donny said excitedly.

“No, you idiot. What do you think this is, Avatar: The Last Airbender? He works on wind turbines. Makes sure they don’t break down, that sort of thing. By the way, you afraid of heights, kid?”

“Sir, no, sir!” Donny said, more out of hope than lived experience. He was an angel, after all. That meant he could fly, and that meant he couldn’t possibly be afraid of heights.

“Excellent. Go to work, then.”

Donny saluted a final time. “Sir, yes, sir! Won’t let you down, sir!” He vanished in a spray of light.

Raphael sighed. “Kids.”

***

Donny, discreetly invisible, followed Bill up the ladder to nearly the very top of the turbine nacelle. Bill paused and said something into his radio. Donny was concentrating very hard on the ladder, and missed what he said. The angel was also trying desperately not to look down. He had only just discovered that even if one can fly, one can also be afraid of heights.

Bill spoke again. “Yeah, looks clear up here. Hydraulics check out. Hang on, I’m coming back down.”

Donny realized all at once that he had a problem. He was just below Bill on the ladder. He was invisible at the moment, but not insubstantial. Bill might be somewhat alarmed to collide with an unseen person on the wind turbine tower.

“Right,” Donny said to himself, trying to put out of his mind the fact that he was two hundred feet above the very hard ground. “I’m an angel. I can fly. All I need to do is let go and push off. Not a problem.”

Bill had just finished closing up the panel on which he had been working. Now he started back down. It was now or never, Donny realized. With a final lurch of his angelic stomach, he let go of the ladder.

His wings flailed at the air, then caught. The wind turbine steadied before him. Unthinkingly Donny pumped his fist in the air. “Yeah! Woohoo! I can fly!”

“What the hell-” Bill jerked in surprise, and promptly lost his balance. Donny grabbed him by the sleeve of his work shirt just in time, pulling him back to the safety of the ladder. Then he realized what he had done and let go.

Bill seized hold of the ladder, breathing hard. “Someone-” he gasped. “Someone out there?”

Donny froze in midair, saying nothing.

Bill looked around. “Bill, old boy,” he said to himself. “If there was ever a time to start running, now would be it.” 

“What?” his radio crackled. Bill had momentarily forgotten it was still on.

“I mean, ah, start her runnin’,” Bill said hastily.

Donny carefully backed away, hovering in the air, as the wind turbine thrummed to life. Bill gathered himself, looked around to make sure there was no one within sight, and cautiously started down again.

His guardian angel sighed in relief, hoping fervently that Raphael hadn’t been watching. It probably wouldn’t be a good thing for a guardian angel to nearly frighten his charge to a premature demise.

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The Mark

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“All right,” he said wearily, “Let’s go through the plan one more time.”

“I’m not an idiot, you know,” Ben snapped. “I’m the freakin’ Antichrist, I can read.”

“So can the Enemy. They wrote the damn book, for hell’s sake. Now. The plan. Again.”

Ben sighed. “Fine. I show up, take over the world, start killing the good guys.”

“And?”

“I wait for you know who to come back on his shiny white horse with all the angels.”

“And?”

“I make everyone take a loyalty mark?”

“What number?”

“667.”

A burst of flame shook the room. Ben froze. “No! Wait! 666! I was one off! Sorry!”

“Fine. But get it right. We’ve had two millennia to prepare for this; I don’t want to screw it all up because you had the wrong number. It’s written down, for-“

“I know, I know. But hey!” Ben brightened up. “I had a brilliant idea about application! You’ll love this! I’ll be right back.”

He disappeared in a puff of smoke, reappearing in a small waiting room decorated with brightly colored posters. The girl at the reception desk jumped in surprise. “Ben! What the heck?”

“Yeah, sorry, Lilith. Hey, you got a sec?”

“Not really,” Lilith said. “I’ve got an appointment. This guy wants a blue dolphin on a unicycle going across his left arm, and I’ve got about ten minutes to figure out how to do that.” She frowned. “What’s up? We weren’t supposed to go out again till Friday, yeah?”

Ben sighed. He hadn’t quite gotten around to explaining his day job yet. “Don’t be scared. I just need you to come with me for a second.” 

Lilith narrowed her eyes. “Where, exactly?”

“Down below.”

“Below where? You know this place doesn’t have a basement, right?”

“I meant further down. Way further down.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Lilith said in exasperation.

“That’s kind of the point,” Ben said. “By the way, how are you on doing basic number tattoos? I’m thinking like a three-digit thing, easy to remember.”

“Psh, yeah,” Lilith said. “Better than some unicycle dolphin. What do you want, your area code?”

“It’s not for me,” Ben said. “Oh, also, how are you in doing large groups?”

“I did a biker gang once. They all wanted hearts and names of their exes. Took the whole day.”

“Right,” Ben said, doing some rapid mental math. It suddenly occurred to him that he hadn’t thought this part through. “I may need to get you some assistants. You’ll need help. Incidentally, one more thing before we go. Have you ever read the book of Revelation?”

“What?”

Serve and Protect

by

Donny crashed down in a shower of water, having slightly missed his landing by several feet. Hastily he recovered himself and scrambled to shore, his sword already out and shining, ready for battle. From his training in Angel Guard, he had assumed he would be set upon by hordes of infernal beings the moment he touched down on Earth.

No infernal beings presented themselves. The duck pond in which Donny had landed remained placidly quiet. Even the ducks were taking no notice of him. Donny blinked. “Right,” he said aloud. “Any minute now.” Perhaps the devil’s forces were simply hiding in the bushes, preparing to spring out and attack. He had to remain vigilant. The attack would come.

Donny waited. Nothing happened. Not even a human was in sight. Finally, after several hours of nothing continuing to happen, Donny tapped his halo. “Ah, excuse me?” he said. “I’m not sure if I’m in the right place. I was assigned to-“

“Please hold for the Archangel Raphael,” came the cool voice of the angel dispatcher. Then a decidedly gruffer voice barked over the halo. “Yeah, this is Raph, what’s your problem?”

“Sir!”: Donny saluted so fast that he knocked his hand on his own halo. “No problem, sir! Just wondering where the infernal legions were, sir! The area appears to be vacant, sir!”

“Calm down, tiger,” Raphael said. “It’s your first posting in Angel Guard, right? We aren’t going to assign you to fight the Big Bad types. Apollyon, demon locusts, all those my-name-Legion-for-we-are-many guys, that kinda thing takes years of prep, kid. We’re talking archangel stuff.”

“Sir, yes, of course, sir,” Donny said, a little deflated. “But, sir, if I may ask, what exactly am I fighting here, sir?”

Raphael’s sigh was audible over the halo. “You’re fighting Gormley.”

“Gormley, sir?”

“Yeah. Minor demon, third class. Hates ducks.”

Donny paused, wondering if he had heard correctly. “Ducks, sir?”

“Yeah. Likes to pull their tail feathers, throw rocks at ’em, torment the poor things no end. Been doing it forever. You’ve been assigned to make him stop.”

“So..I’m to protect the ducks,” Donny said. “From a demon.”

“Exactly. Better get to it, kid. Raph out.”

Silence fell over the duck pond. Donny looked at the ducks. They looked back at him, seeming a little unsure. One of them gave a hesitant quack.

Donny sighed, and sheathed his sword. “Okay, then. Proceed as you were,” he said to the ducks, trying hard to muster the same confident tone he had before. “I’m here to protect you!”

The ducks didn’t seem like they believed him. Donny wasn’t entirely sure he believed it either.

The One Rule

by

Tabitha sighed happily as the evening sun settled behind the trees. “Well, there they are.”

“Yep,” Constance said. “There they are. All naked and stuff. You think we should get ’em a shirt or something?”

Tabitha rolled her eyes. “Can’t you just enjoy the moment, Connie? They’re the only two people around! Who’s going to know?”

The angel shrugged. “I’m just saying. We’ve got our wings and robes and whatnot. They’re just…out there.  In the open. And it’s supposed to get chilly tonight.”

“They’ll be fine,” Tabitha said. “You worry too much.  Look at them, being happy, over by the trees…”

“Trees?” Constance cut in, a sudden note of alarm in her voice. “Please tell me they’re just the normal trees and not the tree. You know.”

“Oh, come on,” Tabitha said, laughing. “It’s literally only the eighth day of creation. They’ve got one rule. Don’t eat the fruit. They aren’t going to break the one rule. They’re not stupid.”

“Well, they were made two days ago,” Constance said doubtfully. “Maybe you’re right. I mean, it’s probably a really nasty-looking fruit anyway, something that looks horrible and would make them throw up, that kind of thing.”

“Oh, no, it’s a pineapple!” Tabitha exclaimed.

“A what now?”

“Yeah, see, I was in charge of selection. I’d just rocked this killer solo in the angel choir, and I didn’t even lose my halo which is a total first, and so the archangel, Gabriel what’s his face, was like, “Congratulations, you get to pick the apple,” and I was like, “Oh, cool, well, hey, let’s do a pineapple! Pineapples are fun!” and he was like “Okay, fine, yeah, whatever, let’s go with that.” He didn’t seem too thrilled, not sure why, I think he’d had a long day maybe, and-”

Constance raised her hand. “Tabitha, you know pineapples aren’t actually apples, right?”

“They’re not?” Tabitha’s face fell. “Oh. Well. I didn’t…actually….know that.”  She rallied bravely. “But still, pineapples! They’re fun, right? Everyone loves a pineapple, right?”

“They’re not supposed to love it! They’re supposed to not eat it! That’s the point of the one rule, remember?”

“Oh, yeah.”  A short pause followed. They became slowly aware that things had gone ominously quiet in the trees.

“Maybe …we should check on them,” Tabitha ventured. “Just to be safe.”

“Let’s.”

With a rising sense of alarm, the two angels stretched their wings and took flight, into the gathering dark.

Someone’s Knocking at the Door

by

Ben had thought the gates would be actual pearl. He had never been there himself; being the Antichrist meant he was generally headed to the other place, but he had heard frequent discussions about the Pearly Gates. As such, he had expected to see something shining white, and definitely solid. He was therefore surprised to see that the gates were gold, not pearl, and looked more like the barred entrance to some billionaire’s mansion. Ben almost wondered if there was an intercom where he should buzz in. Then he noticed, to his amazement, that there actually was. Just beside the leftmost gate, a shining intercom glinted in its golden setting.

Ben approached cautiously. He took a moment to adjust his angelic ex-girlfriend’s halo and compose his appearance to match hers. If he could get past the gates in his angel disguise, all he had to do was sneak on to the Angel Choir, and the rest would be easy. He did a quick check. He had the halo, the wings, the standard angel outfit. He had her looks down. All he had to do was get through the gates.

Confidently, Ben stepped to the intercom and tapped. “Hello,” an ethereal voice responded. “Welcome to the Gates of Pearl. You will be admitted in the order in which you present yourself. St. Peter will be with you shortly.”

Ben waited. A few lofty strains of  harp music wafted from the intercom. Finally, the voice came again. “Please state your name, and celestial status. If you have recently died, please be aware that a short examination will be required in order for you to be admitted.”

“Constance,” Ben said, in as best an approximation of her voice as he could manage. “Angel. Need to get back to the choir.”

“This is irregular,” the voice said coolly. “Our records show that you have been assigned to penance duty, looking for survivors on Earth, since the apocalypse. Have you been reassigned?”

“Ah, yeah,” Ben said. “Just today.”

“Please hold,” the voice said. Several moments passed. Ben was beginning to loathe harp music. Not that he cared for it much before; being the incarnation of evil, his taste went more towards minor-key chorals and Latin chanting.

“We apologize for the delay,” the voice said at last. “Please note that, per Heavenly procedure, each angel is allowed to maintain one personal item from their time on Earth. For security purposes, please identify the item belonging to you.”

Ben searched his memory frantically. It obviously wasn’t her halo. He tried to recall how she had looked back on Earth. “Ah, a locket?” he said tentatively.

“Please identify what is inside the locket.”

Even the Antichrist has a limit. “It’s a picture of her blasted mother, for God’s sake, now open the effing door-”

“Language,” the voice said calmly. The clouds abruptly opened beneath Ben’s feet. There was a sudden burst of flame, a scream, and then silence. The intercom quietly clicked off.

Never Leave Your Halo

by

It was the five-hundredth day since the apocalypse, and Constance had resolved upon a way to celebrate. “I’m going to get my hair done!” she announced to her friend the rock. She had christened the rock Maria a week before, but had not yet decided to imbue it with life. Accordingly, Maria said nothing, as usual.

Constance’s new resolution brought with it certain questions. The first was who on Earth she could see for a makeover, since there was no one left on Earth anymore besides herself. Passing over that, the second question was what she should do with her halo. Constance decided to tackle that question first. She removed the halo and looked around. She had wandered away from the green meadow she had been hanging out in, and now found herself in much sparser territory, brown and dry, dotted only with the occasional forlorn cactus plant. Constance picked the nearest one and hung her halo neatly upon it. “Not the hat rack I would’ve picked,” she remarked to Maria, “But needs must.”

Maria said nothing. Constance ignored the rock and decided that, on reflection, she could probably arrange her hair on her own; she only needed a decent mirror and a hairbrush. Fortunately, she had flown past the ruins of a city a few days ago, and she was certain she could scavenge something from the rubble. She flew away from the deserted flatland, forgetting one of the very important rules of an angel: never leave your halo unattended.

A few moments later, a shadow fell across the cactus. The air temperature dropped perceptibly. A new figure approached the cactus, then scowled. He didn’t really see the point of all the theatrics anymore. With no humans around, who was there to terrify? The cactus didn’t seem exactly overawed. It just stood there, quietly, with a golden halo dangling from one arm.

The figure noticed the halo. For the first time in a long, long while, Ben, formerly the Antichrist, smiled. “Looks like my ex-girlfriend left a souvenir. How thoughtful.”  Then the smile faded. He remembered when Constance had earned that halo. It had been shortly after he had joined the other side. He had been attempting to convince his target to swipe a Snickers candy bar from a gas station. It was a very minor thing, he knew, not one of the great crimes of history, but it was a start. First a Snickers, next grand larceny, then who knew? Arson? War, maybe. The possibilities could have been endless.

Could have been, because Constance had intervened. She had made some very convincing arguments to the target, one of which had been that the guy had a girlfriend who would be very disappointed, not to mention embarrassed, if he were arrested for something as low-level as a Snickers bar. Practical, if not exactly appealing to the heights of morality, but it did the trick. She earned her halo. The target decided to go home and rethink his life, eventually joined a seminary, and wrote a popular devotional that hit the bestseller lists of all the papers.

As for the would-be tempter, well, here he was now, reminiscing next to a cactus bearing his ex-girlfriend’s halo. “At least I destroyed the world,” he remarked to the cactus. “Her guy got blown up in the first missile salvo. Guess there’s a devotional that won’t have a sequel.”

It was small comfort, he knew, but at least it was something. And now he had her halo, too. With that, he could get past the Pearly Gates, maybe crash the Angel Choir. There were rumors they needed a countertenor. Ben smiled again. All of a sudden, he wasn’t bored anymore.

In Which Catrina Meets Nessie

by

Last time in the Catrina Chronicles, our heroine’s arch-nemesis Susan, ruler of all Character Hell, had just murdered the Lady of the Lake, after convincing her to send Merlin and Catrina somewhere else other than the Lady’s aquarium. Happily unaware of this development, Catrina and her wizard companion were about to set out…

“Now then,” Merlin said. “I should warn you, this will involve a little travel through time. Are you prepared for such a venture?”

“Oh, please,” Catrina said.  “I’ve traveled back and forth through time I don’t know how often by now. I’ve been to 1914, 1944, the original Christmas, Edwardian London, and all over my own century. Also, I’ve been zombified, I’ve been kaboominated, I’ve been turned violet, I’ve been miniaturized, I’ve been pregnant, I’ve been bounced all over space and time.  So hit me with your best shot, Merlin, old pal. I’m quite thoroughly prepared.”

“Fine,” Merlin said grumpily. “Let’s be off then.” Without further ado, he raised his wand and began to chant in Latin.

“I thought you’d say something like “Higitus figitus migitus mum,” or “transporticus timey-wimey-ness,” or something like that,” Catrina said, very interested. It had been a while since she had seen anyone do proper magic, and Merlin had a reputation.

Merlin paused, and glared. “Don’t you know that it’s very bad form to interrupt a wizard when he is chanting magical incantations in Latin?”

“Ah, Catrina said. “Sorry.”

Merlin raised his wand again. Then he paused, and glared. “Don’t you know that it’s very bad form to interrupt a wizard when he is chanting Latin?”

“Ah, Catrina said. “Sorry.”

The wizard raised his wand. Then, he paused, and glared. “Don’t you know-”

“Hang on a minute,” Catrina said. “I have the sudden feeling we’ve done this before.”

“Blast,” Merlin said. “It’s a time loop. I hate these things.”

“Ah,” Catrina said. “Sorry.”

Merlin raised his wand. “Oh, you get the idea,” he said. “Bad form, then you apologize, then we do it all over again. Bravo. Well done.”

“It wasn’t my fault,” Catrina said. “Well, all right, it rather was. Sorry.”

“Don’t-”

Then Merlin raised his wand. “Don’t you know,” he said tiredly, “that it’s very bad form-”

“I’m not sorry!” Catrina said desperately. “Not one bit! I’ll interrupt you any time I like! Even if you’re chanting in Quenya!” 

A long pause followed. Merlin did not raise his wand. Instead, he sighed. “Well, that’s broken. Right, let’s try this again.” He chanted once more in Latin, and this time Catrina did not interrupt, and there was a flash and a bang. The wizard and the princess vanished.

They reappeared on a grassy slope leading down to a lake of dark blue water. The sky was cold and gray. Catrina shivered. “I should’ve brought a cloak,” she said.

Merlin blinked. “We’re not supposed to be here! Something’s gone wrong!”

“It isn’t my fault this time,” Catrina observed. “I just wanted to point that out to the reader. I didn’t say a word.”

Before Merlin could inquire who she was talking to, the waters of the lake split open in a sudden gush. A massive scaly head lurched skyward, a head with great gaping eyes and rows of gleaming teeth. A long serpent-like neck followed after, and a hulking body, all greens and vermillions, and Merlin gasped in horror. “The Loch Ness Monster!”

“The what?” Catrina said. Then she shrugged. “Well, whatever it is, let’s see how she handles the Shovel of Thor.”

The monster thundered a deafening howl that shook the trees all around the banks of the loch. Catrina planted her boots steadily on the shore. “Bring it on, Nessie!” she cried, and the battle was on.

This has been another exciting episode of the Catrina Chronicles. Be sure and tune in next week for the exciting conclusion of Catrina vs. the Loch Ness Monster! 

Myna Chang

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