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On God as a Character

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When you’re writing eschatological humor, as I’ve been doing lately, you tend to write a lot of stories involving what we Catholics would call the Last Things. Case in point: The Angel and the Apocalypse has a number of scenes set in Hell, and a few set in or outside of Heaven. I’ve got a lot of angels as characters, and some people from the other side too. (Cue Adele). This of course leads to the obvious question, and I mean no disrespect at all: what about the Big Guy? I mean, as an author, one trying to do right personally and all that, how do you write… Him?

The way I see it, if you write God into the story as a character directly, you’ve got two problems. If you have Him say anything other than Scripture, you run the risk of coming off cheesy or borderline sacrilegious. I wouldn’t presume to speak for the Almighty in real life, why would I presume to write for him in a story? It’s very tricky to get right. As C.S. Lewis once said when he explained why he didn’t do a good-guy counterpart to the Screwtape Letters, “Every word would have to smell of Heaven.”

Alternatively, you might just borrow from the Bible, but that has its own pitfalls. (Ever read Kingdom Come, the final volume in the Left Behind series? Then you know what I’m talking about). I’m not sure it’s the best approach to have God show up and rattle off Bible verses like He’s a bad copy/paste job. That’s not great either.

In the end, I think the best approach is either the Narnia or the Touched by an Angel way. Either you work God in as a stand-in, like we all know who Aslan is, or you have him outside the story, but you have representatives, like angels (Monica, etc). I’ve taken the latter approach, since I don’t pretend to be on the level of C.S. Lewis. Anyhow, that’s what I think.

Also, as tomorrow is Volcano Day (unrelated, but why not?), I’m offering a free copy of The Angel and the Apocalypse, starting tomorrow through Wednesday, August 25th. Enjoy, thanks for reading, tell your friends!

Iron Van

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Following up on my post about real-world implications of superhero movies, let’s talk about car insurance. How does that work?

I think I first wondered about this way back when I was watching an episode of Superman: the Animated Series. I don’t recall the plot exactly, but it involved Harley Quinn kidnapping Gotham City socialite Bunny Vreeland, whose father, Army General Vreeland, proceeded to give chase in a tank. As one does. In the process, General Vreeland runs over some random car in said tank. Naturally, even back then, before law school, I wondered, what about that guy’s car?

Now, I am by no means an insurance expert (and none of this, obligatory disclaimer, should be taken as insurance or legal advice in any way whatsoever), but as I understand it, the basics of the car insurance market are as follows: you pay a premium to the insurance company, they collect the money, and then they pay out when you have an accident. The idea is that they can afford to do this because they have lots of people paying premiums, and presumably all of those people aren’t having accidents all the time, so the math and the money all works out. You also have some basic rules of fault: if you caused the accident, generally your insurance company pays for it, but your premiums go up.

Okay. So far so good. How does that work in a superhero world?

If you watch a superhero show or movie, whichever it is, cars are getting smashed up ALL THE TIME. Seriously, pick a film. Any of them. Let’s take Iron Man, for example. Remember when Obadiah Stane picked up the lady’s Audi and try to smash Tony Stark with it? (Yes, I checked the make. I try to be accurate about these things). Iron Man uses his chest thruster to knock the car from Stane’s hands, catches the car, sets it down, gets run over by it. The mom in the car drives off, the battle and the movie resumes.

What happens to the lady in the car after that? We don’t know, because she’s not part of the movie now. But imagine you’re her. Once you’re home and safe, calm the kids down, try to process the fact that you’ve just survived a superhero duel, your next call is probably going to be to your insurance agent. How’s that call go? “Hello, Geico? Yes, some supervillain in an armored suit just used my car to try and kill Iron Man. Yes, we’re okay. The car’s pretty damaged, though. Can I get reimbursed for that?”

First of all, does your insurance policy even cover superhero battles? Maybe not then, because at that point in the MCU those weren’t a thing. I don’t imagine she had time to take a photo, so would the company even pay out? But let’s assume they do for a minute; after all, the battle is pretty well public; Tony Stark confesses to being Iron Man. I’m certain Stark has insurance; so now the claims come thick and fast. And then you’ve got superhero fights over the next few years, culminating in the Battle of New York, not to mention subsequent events like Sokovia, Johannesburg, DC, and the Battle of Earth. That’s only the mass-scale stuff; there’s all kinds of smaller scale things like Thor’s fight in the little New Mexico town, the skirmish in Seoul in Age of Ultron, and so on. The car insurance market in MCU Earth is going to be swamped, or changed dramatically. If insurance companies are constantly paying out because everyone’s cars are getting smashed by the Hulk or zapped by Chitauri or crushed by Sokovian debris or what have you, that’s not a sustainable business model.

So what happens? My guess is, either the insurance companies had some sort of superhero disaster coverage into their premium models or however that works, or the Avengers and associates themselves step up to provide separate help. Maybe that’s part of the Sokovia Accords (not to mention the Stark Relief Foundation that we hear about). I honestly don’t know how that would work out, but I tell you one thing; the insurance law classes would be upended for years to come.

Thank you for indulging in my superhero movie thoughts; while you’re herecheck out my novel, The Angel and the Apocalypse, available now on Amazon!”

The Problem with Valorum

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So, there’s something that just occurred to me while watching the opening crawl to Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. The Senate is debating the Trade Federation’s blockade of Naboo so Chancellor Valorum “secretly dispatched” two Jedi Knights to “resolve the matter.” Is he allowed to do that?

I mean, setting aside the whole light side/dark side, Sith vs. Jedi deal, you have the legitimate body of the Republic debating a resolution and the Chancellor’s all, ‘”Screw it, I’m gonna send in the dudes with lightsabers to sort things.” Does that seem right to you? I won’t pretend to be an expert on Old Republic politics; I vaguely recall they had a constitution, but I could be wrong. But even so, I do know the Republic didn’t have a standing army; in fact as I recall that was a major plot point in Episode 2. Doesn’t it therefore seem like a bit of a blurry line that, essentially, Valorum is using the Jedi as a unilateral executive move to enforce a political resolution of a crisis?

Now, of course, the obvious counterpoint is that the Trade Federation started it with their blockade, and that’s a fair point. But here’s my problem: why the secrecy? Why did the Chancellor have to send in the Jedi on the quiet, presumably without telling the Senate? And why were the Jedi okay with it?

Perhaps this is addressed in Expanded Universe novels, or Star Wars Legacy, or whatever they’re called now, but either way, I can’t help but wonder if this sort of thing is why the Sith were able to take over the Republic in the end.

Jurisdiction and the Dora Milaje

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As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m a big superhero nerd, and also a lawyer. You can probably imagine how my ears perk up, so to speak, when these two things intersect. I’ll try to avoid spoilers as much as possible, but fair warning, this post discusses parts of the most recent episode of The Falcon and The Winter Soldier. I’ll presume you’ve been appropriately warned of spoilers, and also that you have a basic knowledge of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

So, to set the scene, the new Captain America, John Walker, is talking to Sam, Bucky, and Zemo when suddenly the Dora Milaje show up. They demand that Zemo be handed over to them due to Zemo’s murder of King T’Chaka back in Civil War. John Walker, you gotta love him (no, you really don’t), refuses. And then he makes what is actually an interesting legal point: he argues that the Dora Milaje don’t have jurisdiction. ‘

The Dora leader, Ayo, responds in an absolutely wham-line cool way, “The Dora Milaja have jurisdiction wherever the Dora Milaje happen to be,” a fight ensues, and John gets satisfactorily pummeled. However, my lawyer brain naturally wondered: what about the whole jurisdiction issue?

I hasten to note that this is not my field, and I’m drawing mostly on my memory of Civil Procedure in first-year of law school, ten years ago. But here’s the thing: the Dora Milaje are the Black Panther’s bodyguards, essentially, sworn to protect the throne. As such, one could argue their authority ends where Wakandan sovereignty ends: at Wakanda’s border. Latvia, where the whole fight scene is set, is definitely outside Wakanda’s border. So we have a problem.

Ah, you say, but maybe the Dora Milaje are there pursuant to a valid extradition request. Possibly, but this assumes that Wakanda and Latvia both recognize each other and have an extradition treaty, which we don’t know. Remember, Wakanda just made itself known to the international world at the end of Black Panther, Also, the Dora Milaje’s actions don’t seem to me, offhand, to be in comportment with a formal extradition request with all the paperwork and all. My guess is they’re probably going with the good old fashioned off-the-books snatch and grab. That would make the most sense, given what Ayo said.

In other words, technically, had they captured Zemo, and had he stood trial, his lawyer might have been able to raise a valid procedural objection. On the other hand, we also don’t know how Wakanda’s legal system works. Their procedural rules might be totally different than American law. So who knows?

At that point, Zemo’s best move might be to try for a change of venue to a different court, maybe in Austria or through the UN, since that was where he committed the alleged crime, but then again, we don’t know if the Wakandans recognize motions for change of venue. Honestly, escaping down that tunnel was probably his best strategy, really. Lawyers can only do so much in a superhero world.

Thank you for indulging in my superhero movie thoughts; while you’re herecheck out my newly released novel, The Angel and the Apocalypse, available now on Amazon!”

You Forgot Vanaheim

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So, here’s the thing. I’m a big superhero movie nerd, but I’m also a political-science major and a lawyer. This combination means I tend to overanalyze this movies probably more than I should. (For instance, I like to think a lot about real-world implications of what would happen, like who’s going to pay the insurance on the cars the good guys use to swat the bad guys with, and such.

All that, to say this. I have a query about the MCU, specifically part of Thor’s arc. I sometimes run over novel plots in my mind before I go to sleep, and of late I’ve been running over this and it bothers me, to quote Columbo. My problem is this: what happens to the Nine Realms after the events of Avengers: Endgame?

Let’s walk through this. (Side note: I’m going to assume everyone reading from this point forward has seen the Marvel movies up through Endgame, so this is your one and only SPOILER WARNING. Anyway: we learn in the first Thor movie that the Bifrost allows access to the Nine Realms (Midgard, Jotunheim, etc.). During that movie the Bifrost is destroyed, preventing Thor or any of the other Asgardians from accessing the other realms. The second movie introduces us to Vanaheim, home of Thor’s comrade Hogun, in an opening battle scene in which Thor anticlimactically destroys a rock monster. More to the point, we learn that the Bifrost has been repaired and Thor and his Asgardian friends have spent some time using it to bring peace to the Nine Realms. This indicates that Asgard serves as a sort of inter-realm peacekeeping force. Ergo, as rightful king of Asgard, Thor would be responsible for that force and thus, indirectly, responsible for the protection of the Nine Realms.

So then we get to Thor: Ragnarok. This is one of my favorites, but it is a problem. In this movie, among other things, Thor gets back to Asgard after an absence and remarks that the Nine Realms are in chaos because Odin has been replaced by (surprise!) Loki. This emphasizes that when Asgard is absent, bad things happen to the Nine Realms. As if to drive home the point, after Asgard is destroyed in order to stop Thor’s evil sister Hela, in the next movie, Infinity War, Thanos wipes out the Dwarves on Nidavellir, and leaves only Eitri, a fact Eitri points out to Thor with the poignant lament, “Asgard was supposed to protect us!”

So, events progress from there, the Avengers defeat Thanos in the Battle of Earth, the surviving Asgardians settle in their town in Norway, and Thor appoints Valkyrie as their leader. He then…goes off with the Guardians of the Galaxy on what, for all we know, is a random joyride.

This, for me, is a problem. Let’s remember where we are at this point. Asgard is destroyed. So is the Bifrost, for that matter; Heimdall could wield it, but he’s dead. Thor could wield it with Stormbreaker, but he’s off with the Guardians and seemingly in no mood to do realm-protecting. Maybe someone else could wield Stormbreaker, you ask? Nope: I checked that most reliable of sources, the Internet (specifically the Marvel Cinematic Universe wiki) and evidently Thor took Stormbreaker with him. Also, he did make Valkyrie leader of New Asgard on Earth, but he didn’t say a word to her about the Nine Realms or the Bifrost, or anything along that line. All he said was that he had no path.

Which is all very well. But here’s the thing. And it’s not Valkyrie’s fault; she’s taking care of the New Asgardians, as she’s been doing apparently throughout the Blip. But who’s looking after the Nine Realms? I’m going to assume the Snap and the Blip affected them too, so if you figure they were in trouble after the destruction of the Bifrost in the first Thor movie, and Odin’s trip to Earth in Thor: Ragnarok, what kind of shape would they be in after Endgame? Vanaheim doesn’t have Hogun anymore, and there’s no more Asgard. They all need help. And where’s Thor? Joyriding with Peter Quill and friends on the Benatar.

I mean no disrespect to Quill and Co. But someone, Thor particularly since he’s the one with the Bifrost-wielding super-axe, needs to think about Vanaheim and the guys that don’t have Bifrost-wielding super-axes.

Anyhow. Maybe they’ll address this in the next Thor movie.

Thank you for indulging in my superhero movie thoughts; while you’re here, check out my newly released novel, The Angel and the Apocalypse, available now on Amazon!”

The Angel and the Apocalypse

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Some years ago, specifically in September 2013, I wrote a short story for the Trifecta writing challenge involving a treasure-hunting angel. This kicked off a story arc that ended in Lover’s Quarrel, a story written for Trifecta’s successor Yeah Write. One thing led to another, and that led to NaNoWriMo 2019, and that led to a year’s worth of rewriting and the invaluable editing and cover art skills of my wife Nicole, and that, after toil and tribulation, led to The Angel and the Apocalypse: available now on Amazon.

To quote the book summary: “Constance didn’t plan on being an angel. She certainly didn’t plan on starting the apocalypse. Yet now she’s done both, and she’s trying to fix her mistakes and earn her wings at the same time. She also has to fight off her ex-boyfriend Ben, who’s joined the Other Side, and recover a treasure of Biblical proportions. Not to mention, she has a problem with a kaiju. It’s a lot to deal with for Heaven’s newest angel.”

Enjoy!

Catrina vs. Susan, Again

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Last time, in the Catrina Chronicles, our heroine had just defeated the Loch Ness Monster and an assortment of government people who were trying to cover up her heroic adventure. Now, accompanied by Merlin, she races back to the Lady of the Lake’s aquarium to retrieve Excalibur and save Britain. Little does she know…

“Oh dear,” said Catrina. “She’s not supposed to be missing her head, is she?”

“No,” Merlin said grimly, “She is not.”

The two stood in the empty office, looking down at the body of the Lady of the Lake. “I don’t suppose you can resurrect her?” Catrina said hopefully. “Resurrections can happen a lot. I’ve done it myself.”

“No,” Merlin said again. “Not this time. For one thing, I’d need her head, and I don’t see it anywhere.”

“Ah,” Catrina said, wincing. She brushed her dark hair off her shoulders and hefted Mlrning (the Shovel of Thor!). “Right, can we at least find out who did it? I bet I can guess who, though.”

Merlin made a few passes over the body with his wand. A shadowy figure materialized in the air; a woman with brown hair, wearing black denim. “I knew it,” Catrina said. “Susan. Always Susan. My nemesis.” She looked closer, and then she had no need to, for an object had just come visible in Susan’s left hand. “Oh, look, she’s got the sword.

“Then we’ve failed,” Merlin said. “It was my fault. This was not the year in which to attempt a great quest.”

Catrina blinked. “What, is this a bad time?”

“You have no idea,” Merlin said. “Well, Britain’s done for then. You might as well go back to the 12th century.”

“Now, hang on there!” Catrina protested. “I’ve been in worse spots than this! I was turned into a zombie penguin once! We can get the sword back. All we have to do is set a trap.”

“And how do we do that?”

Catrina smiled slowly. “What good’s a sword if you don’t use it?”

Susan was bored. She had been about to storm London and, with the power of Excalibur, lay claim to the throne of Great Britain, but first she decided that she wanted a snack. The problem was that she couldn’t seem to find any place open. Unlike Merlin, who could see into realms of space and time, Susan’s knowledge was rather more limited. She had no idea about pandemics or lockdowns or even basic mask protocol. So there she was, strolling down the sidewalk, carrying the sword Excalibur, when finally she observed a line of people gathered before a shop selling muffins.

Susan ran for them, drawing the sword. It flashed like lightning in her hand as she descended upon the queue. “Stand aside, losers!” she yelled. Or rather, she started to, because suddenly the people and the muffin shop had vanished in a magical puff of smoke. In its wake stood the familiar outline of a dark-haired girl with a shovel, and a birthmark on the back of her neck the exact shape of Newfoundland.

Slowly Catrina turned ’round, Mlrning held casually in her hand. “Susan,” she said.

“Catrina,” Susan snarled, raising Excalibur.

“Shall we?” Catrina said.

“Let’s.”

The fight began, shovel against sword, in a crash of lightning and ice. Catrina and Susan were both hurled backwards at first, but they quickly bounded up and started in again; this wasn’t their first rodeo. Merlin conjured up some popcorn and, realizing that they probably had some history here and this was something they should work out for themselves, decided to wait before intervening and watch the battle unfold. Besides, he’d already seen ahead through time to the next season of the British Baking Show, so he knew who won there anyway. At the moment, this had his full attention.

This has been another exciting episode of the Catrina Chronicles. Will Catrina and Mlrning emerge victorious against Susan and Excalibur? Tune in next week to find out!

The Last Bop

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Their hold on me had long since loosened.

They’d been getting their cut, once a month, no more, like the plan said.

Then the pandemic came, and, well, you know.

So I stopped sending the checks to Igor U. altogether.

I used the money for myself, and the work.

Got the doc a nice new lightning machine. What’s the harm, right?


I am an Igor, and this is my job.

I thought the feds had put all student loans on hold.

Turns out universities for mad scientist assistants don’t play by fed rules.

So they came after me. First letters on parchment. I ignored.

Then more letters, less polite. I gave ’em to our monster.

Parchment letters are super tasty, apparently.

Then nothing for a while. I figured I was fine.

Even the doc thought so.

Actually let me have a turn on the lightning machine.


I am an Igor, and this is my job.



Turns out you shouldn’t ignore Igor U’s letters.

They’ve got bigger monsters.

They break lightning machines like twigs.

They broke the doc too.

I’m totally fired now.

And the monsters think I’m tasty.


I am an Igor, and this is my job.

In which I write a farewell post for the Yeah Write grids as they are closing, a bop which is also callback to Missing. I wouldn’t have known what a bop poem was without Yeah Write. Good times.

Lights in the Dark

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One flashlight flash meant danger, two flashes meant it was safe; but she saw three flashes that night from beyond the bog. “Three flashes?” Amelia said in exasperation. “What am I supposed to do with that?”

“I’m sure I don’t know,” Azalea said. She was the cooler of the sisters, almost to a fault, and besides, it wasn’t her affair. “I wasn’t in charge of the signals.”

“Maybe his flashlight’s gone wrong?” Beth piped in. Beth was the youngest, and found the whole thing very exciting. “He could’ve meant to signal two and sent three by mistake!”

“I thought you said it was a brand new flashlight,” Azalea pointed out. “You bought it yourself, didn’t you? That was part of the plan. Of course I thought it was ill-mannered to make you buy the flashlight yourself in the first place, but-“

“He didn’t make me,” Amelia said miserably,” “I did it myself. Thought it was more romantic that way. And it was new. Well, what do I do now?”

She considered sneaking out to meet him as they had planned. It could just work. Her father was in his study, reading as usual. Mother was in the kitchens arguing with the cook about the next day’s dinner. It was supposed to be a big to-do, not that Amelia planned to be around for it. In between the kitchens and the study, the main hall leading to the front door was dark and quiet. If she could get down the stairs and to the hall, she’d be home free.

“You should go!” Beth urged.

“I wouldn’t,” Azalea said.

“Wait!” Amelia exclaimed. Outside the window, in the distance, a light flashed. Everyone froze in breathless anticipation, even Azalea. Then a second flash. A long pause followed. No further flashes came.

“So is that five flashes or…” Azalea said.

“That’s two,” Amelia said decidedly. “Beth was right, the first time was a mistake. I’m going.” She swept up her traveling cloak and bag and started for the door.

“Oh, best of luck!” Beth said, intercepting her and giving her a sisterly hug. “Happy eloping!”

“I’ll try to calm Father for you,” Azalea said. “Shouldn’t be too bad. He’ll get over it.”

With that, Amelia was away. She went cautiously at first, down the steps and through the dark hall. Mother’s voice rose on her right; she was going on about a trifle or some such thing that she particularly wanted for tomorrow. On her left, light spilled out under the study door.

Amelia tugged the front door open and slipped outside. She elected not to close it entirely behind her, lest it bang and alert everyone to her escape. She gently pulled it to, as much as she dared, and then, catching up her things, she sprinted away from the house, towards the distant light.

Photo by Ján Jakub Naništa on Unsplash

Waiting

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She knew he was terrified of small spaces. She knew that. Colonel Woofles had made it plain to her as best he knew how, through plaintive whimpers, soulful gazes, and frequent tail droops. He had even, on a few rare occasions, despite all protocol, growled. It wasn’t his fault the witch couldn’t speak Dog.

And yet, here the Colonel was, tucked away in a pocket dimension, with only a few mournful trees surrounded by endless dark, waiting for her to return. And why? Because she had to go and see some mystical power or other so she could ascend to new heights of evil. How this was to happen he wasn’t quite sure. In her defense, she had offered him a biscuit midway through her monologue which was much more interesting, in his considered opinion, than the monologue was.

But she hadn’t returned, and Colonel Woofles’ stomach was beginning to growl. It was difficult to be sure in the pocket dimension, but some innate sense told him that it was close upon dinner time. The Colonel waited until he could wait no more. Then, at last, he took a breath, puffed out his chest, and let out a tentative bark.

The sound echoed amidst the trees around him and died away. Then, in the darkness, something barked back.

Photo by Přemysl Čech on Unsplash

The Lost Package

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Clyde was just walking home when he heard the crunch of boots behind him. “You there,” a voice boomed heroically. “Where’s the cake?”

Clyde whirled. He couldn’t believe it. There, cape swirling in the light of the streetlamp, was the Red Brick. He followed the man’s escapades every night on the radio as he finished up his shift. Just the other day the man had lifted an entire school bus out of the way of an avalanche and flown it for two miles without breaking a sweat. “You… you’re…”

“The Red Brick, yes, I know,” the man said. “And you’re Clyde Barnes. I had my associate Networker track you. Now we’ve made introductions, where’s the cake?”

“Erm,” Clyde said. “Well. About that…. look, the package was damaged, and according to the postal rules I had to inspect it to make sure the contents were okay, right? Anyone would’ve done the same.”

“Okay….” the Red Brick said suspiciously.

“And there it was inside, a nice bundt cake, just like my sister Freda used to make, bless her, and I hadn’t had lunch yet, so I thought I’d just have a little bit to take the edge off, you know, and then, well….”

“Let me guess,” the Red Brick sighed. “You ate the whole thing.”

“I did that,” Clyde said, scuffling his shoes. “But if you’re wondering about what was in the middle, I saved it just in time. Almost thought it was an almond. Here you go.” He fished in his pocket and tossed a glinting object towards the Red Brick.

“No!” the Red Brick gasped, making a drive and catching it just in time. “That mustn’t be lost!”

Now it was Clyde’s turn to gasp. “Don’t tell me it’s a legendary gem of power or something that could destroy the cosmos if it falls into the wrong hands?”

“Ah, no,” the Red Brick said. “It’s quite ordinary, actually. I bought it from a company that’s in the same building you ship packages in. See, I have a date tonight. With the Flying Cricket. I’m hoping she’ll say yes.”

“Oh,” said Clyde. “Well, good luck then. ”

“Thanks,” said the Red Brick. Then, with a swirl of his cape, he blasted off into the night sky.

Lesser Incarnations: 100 Words

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She slammed down in the chair across him. “You filed a complaint against me. Why?”

“You went on vacation. Your deputy had the duty.”

She shrugged. “Revolution’s great. What’s the problem?”

“Called in sick. Someone else filled in.”

“Who?”

“Monday.”

“It couldn’t have been that bad.”

“It was. How many people usually die during Monday morning conference calls?”

War arched an eyebrow. “You’re upset because you had nothing to do?”

“I found something,” Death growled. “One person missed his alarm and in his hurry got hit by a bus.”

War giggled. “Fine. I won’t go on vacation again. Deal?”

“Deal.”

This was February‘s assignment for Yeah Write’s 20/20 Hindsight project, which was to take one’s January story and rewrite it in 100 words. Hoo boy.

Our Souls, Our Selves

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“Right, all of you, listen up!” Tasha said, primly tapping her clipboard. “Okay, here’s how it’s going to work. You’ll all be sorted into the Pearly Gates in just a moment. First, though, some of you are going to be detained just a bit, only an eon or two, yes, Purgatory’s real, sorry about that. Right, I need the following people to step over here, please!” She glanced down at the clipboard, squinting in the light of her halo. “Payson? Payson Smith?”

One of the souls stepped forward. Tasha almost dropped the clipboard in astonishment. It was her own self. It looked exactly like her, except without the halo and a little more tired around the ghostly eyes, but nonetheless, it was her. Tasha glanced back towards the Pearly Gates and wondered if she should call in Peter for this. “No,” she said firmly to herself. “I am an angel. There must be an explanation.”

She took firm hold of the clipboard. “Right,” she said. “Who are you?”

“Payson,” the soul said dully. “So, I’m up for Purgatory? Why?”

“Erm.” Tasha said, checking her papers. “Well… you did kinda slack off on a lot of things… and there was that guy, the one on the bike…”

“If you were me, you’d know,” Payson said. “I had a rough life, you know?”

Tasha looked at the worn out soul. “You aren’t a clone or anything, are you?”

“A what?”

“Never mind,” Tasha sighed. “I suppose I’ll never know. Okay. We’ll let it slide, this once. I won’t tell Peter if you won’t.”

Payson flashed her a grateful smile, and started towards the Pearly Gates. Tasha smiled back as Payson moved past her. She felt nice, having helped a fellow soul escape the troubles of Purgatory, even if it wasn’t as bad as the other place- then, she sniffed. Tasha had just caught a distinct hint of sulfur.

Instinctively, she grabbed her halo and threw it. It hit Payson with a bang and a flash of golden light. Payson’s appearance changed into something distinctively worm-shaped. “Ow!” she hissed, her voice less Tasha-sounding and much more irritated than before. “That wasn’t fair!”

“Well, neither was trying to sneak in!” Tasha said in high outrage. “Begone, foul menace!”

“Look, have a heart,” the creature whined. “I really did have a bad day. I put in for a transfer from Circle Ten. It’s a frozen lake of ice. You know how much it sucks guarding ice for all eternity? But the boss says no. Says every circle’s full. Then he jabs me in the spleen with a pitchfork!”

“Didn’t know you guys had spleens,” Tasha said.

“Well we do, and it hurts,” the creature sulked. “So I figured I’m good at disguise, yeah? Thought I’d disguise myself, sneak in here, rest a bit. ‘Least it’s not ice.”

This time Tasha wasn’t tempted at all. “Well,” she said briskly, “You can’t. Not falling for that one again. Bye!” The clouds parted, and the creature disappeared, giving a last frantic scream before it fell.

“Okay,” she said , turning back to the waiting line, its members looking distinctly more nervous now. “Next?”

Saving the World

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“You know, those guys, they’re messed up,” Tabitha said, scowling. “They’re just…messed up!”

“Yeah, I know,” Constance said. “Tell me about it. I was over in Uruk the other day. Those temples they’ve got, you do not want to know what goes on in there. Trust me, you don’t, Tabs. You really don’t.”

Tabitha shuddered. “I don’t get why the big guy doesn’t just smite them. Or maybe let us do it. It’d be easy. Like that!” She snapped her fingers.

“Not that easy,” Constance said. “There’s the animals.”

“Look, I know a guy,” Tabitha said. “Good with animals. Not so bad himself. Got some kids. He can handle things. We take care of him, he gets the animals, we zap everything else.” Her eyes lit up. “Or, you know what, we flood ‘em!”

“Flood,” Constance said flatly. “Like with water.”

“Yeah!” Tabitha said. “Big ker-sploosh, all that water, everything’s clean! Bam!”

Constance shrugged. “I can talk to Angelic Command if you want. Make some inquiries.”

Tabitha nodded, a little nervous now. “Yeah. Why not?”

A few days passed. Then Tabitha’s halo chimed. “Hey, Tabs. It’s me. You’re a go.”

A week later, Constance missed Tabitha at the morning roll call. She went in search of the angel, and found her staring down through the clouds at the pouring rain. “I … really didn’t think it would be that bad,” Tabitha said. “Not like that.”

“Yeah, but you can start again now,” Constance said. “Make ’em better. Trust me.”

“You sure? And the Big Guy, he’s sure? He did give me the go, right?”

Constance looked down at the rain. “Sure. Yeah. He did.”

Tabitha smiled. “Thanks, Con.” She straightened her wings and flew off.

Constance sighed. Her halo chimed insistently. That would be Angelic Command, screaming to know what had happened, and how the whole planet had gone and gotten itself wrecked. “They’ll be better,” Constance insisted to herself. “They’d better be. ”

Battle of the Crosswalk

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It was dark in Edison City. It usually is, at three in the morning. One lone traffic light bravely glowed above the one-way straight, doing its best to maintain a small sense of order in the dark. The traffic light clicked methodically through its eternal sequence of green, yellow, red, then green, yellow, red. No one noticed, not that the traffic light cared. Order was preserved.

Then, someone came strolling up to the corner. They paused. The traffic light had, just at that moment, clicked over to green. Accordingly, the person on the corner should, by all the laws of the road, wait until the light clicked back to red before crossing. The night was silent. The dark figure looked left and right. Not a car was in sight, not even another human being. The man smirked, and started across.

He kept to the crosswalk, at first. Then, as if to compound his actions, he strode away from the pale white lines right into the center of the road. Still no car came. All was silent. He smirked again. There wasn’t even so much as the snap of an automatic traffic camera, just the disappointed green glow of the traffic light.

Then, a swoosh of cape. A black Starfleet-style boot slammed to the ground. A blast of flame scored the night air. Before the man could do anything, the new arrival had slammed him up against the traffic pole. “Isn’t it past your bedtime?” an intense voice said.

“Who the-“

“I’ll ask the questions. Who’re you?”

“I’m… I’m Phil.”

“Never heard of you. You’re not my usual. Crudmuffin I know. Behemoth Bob, Hiccup Holly, the Malevolent Med-Student, they’re all big leagues. But you’re new.”

“Maybe,” said Phil. “You know me by my big city name. Back home they called me… the Rogue Jaywalker.”

There was an audible snort. “You’re kidding.”

“It’s what I do,” Phil said defensively. “I’ve got no superpowers, I’m not a billionaire, I’m not a mad scientist, so…”

“Whatever. This is stupid. Just head on home, will you? And mind the signal.”

Phil was shoved away, in obvious dismissal. He turned back, one question still on his mind. “Hey, who the hell are you?”

” Me?” she said. “I’m Gaseous Girl.”

She took off in a blast of flame. Phil stared. The traffic light quickly clicked over to red.

Lesser Incarnations

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The bar was unusually empty for a Saturday night downtown in the city. Even the bartender, a gregarious man who normally enjoyed his shift, wanted very much to clock out early and get away. An undefinable air of gloom seemed to hang over the place. Even the jukebox kept playing sad little songs with wistful saxophones trailing off into minor key.

The front door banged open, and a woman in a red jacket stormed through. “Right, where is he?”

“Ma’am?” said the bartender.

“Guy in a fedora. Used to wear a cloak, I liked the cloak, but he’s gone all hipster now. Wears sunglasses indoors, even. Said he’d be here.”

The bartender pointedly tried not to look at a shadow huddled in a booth by the far wall.

“Ah,” the woman said. “Typical.” She marched over and sat down hard opposite the shadowed figure, slamming a thin sheet of paper down on the table. “What, may I ask, is this?”

The man slowly removed his sunglasses and folded them up with a neat, ominous click. “It is a complaint. I filed it with your department this morning.”

“I figured that,” she snapped. “But what’s it about?

“Did you not read it?” he said coldly.

“Says it’s classified!” she said. “So what’s it about?”

“You were on vacation last week.”

“Yeah? So?” she replied angrily. “Look, you’re Death, you’re always on the clock. But I’m only War. I figure I’m entitled to some peace every now and again. People’ve been fighting all over, I just got done with a big show in East Plaznik, and then there’s the big missile scare. I deserve a break once in a while, yeah?”

“Perhaps. But your deputy had the duty.”

War shrugged. “Revolution’s a good guy. Knows his business. What’s the problem?”

“Revolution called in sick. The duty devolved to one of the lesser incarnations.”

For the first time, War showed a trace of concern. “Who, exactly?”

“Monday.”

There was a long pause. Even the jukebox went silent. When War spoke, her voice was very quiet and very strained. “Monday.”

“Yes,” Death said. “The Incarnation of Monday was in charge of War.”

She sighed. “It couldn’t have been that bad…”

Death glared. “Oh, yes, it could have. And it was. Were you aware of what Monday usually deals with? People oversleeping their alarms. Traffic jams on the freeway. Terribly boring work meetings. These are not usually problems handled by War.”

“I still don’t see the problem.”

“Do you know how many people usually die because they were bored during a conference call?”

War’s left eyebrow quirked. “You’re upset because you didn’t have anything to do?”

“I found something,” Death growled, “but it was hardly dignified. There were no explosions. No uprisings. One person missed his alarm and in his hurry to make a meeting got hit by a bus. Another was poisoned by eating a pastry to which she was allergic. A third died as a result of an unfortunate stapler mishap!”

War giggled. “Oh dear.  That’s awkward.”

“Terribly.”

“Fine. I’ll make sure not to leave Monday in charge of War again. Deal?”

“At least Tuesday would’ve been appropriate,” Death said sullenly. “With being named after a god of war and all.”

“I’m curious,” War said. “If you went on vacation, who’d cover the department for you?”

Death looked uncomfortable. “We have made inquiries. No one particularly has been identified for the duty.”

“No one particularly? So you’re saying there might be someone?”

“There was a volunteer.”

War’s eyebrow quirked again. “Someone volunteered to play Death?  You have to tell me.”

Death sighed deeply. “Dysentery.”

There was another long pause. “Perhaps,” War said carefully, “You should plan on not going on vacation.”

“I don’t intend to.”

“Good.”

This story was originally written for a 2016 Yeah Write Super Challenge #2; I have resurrected it for the Yeah Write January 2020 Hindsight assignment.

An Attempt at Planet-Stealing

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“They’re not using it,” gurgled the First Mate. “It’s just a red blurry dot to them. So why can’t we take it?”

The captain shrugged, his eye-stalks blinking in the cold light of the starship bridge. “Well, we could… but they have landed on it. That counts for something, shouldn’t it?”

“Only robot landers,” the First Mate said. “Which don’t even work, most of them. They haven’t done a real manned landing yet.”

“Ah,” the captain said. “And you’ve checked with tactical? We could blast the thing, strip what we want, and get out of there with no trouble?”

“No trouble at all!” the First Mate said confidently. “Their weapons can’t match ours. They don’t even have light-speed drive!”

“Indeed,” the captain said, interested at last. “Well, then. Let’s go steal their planet.”

An hour later, the slim grey starship appeared above the surface of Mars. There seemed to be nothing in its path. A panel opened on its side, and a metal firing arm emerged. A green light shone ominously at the end of the firing arm. “You may fire when ready,” the captain said leisurely.

“I’d rather you didn’t,” a new voice said. Every being on the bridge turned. There, by the science station, stood what appeared to be a human, except this one had two flowing wings and a halo, which it was casually tossing in one hand. “Otherwise,” the figure said, “Things could get messy.”

“Who’re you?” spluttered the First Mate.

“Ron. Angel, first class. It’s complicated, you wouldn’t understand. Point is, this planet is under protection. So’s the next one over. You can’t have it. So I’d advise backing off, if I were you.”

The captain, alarmed as he was to find an intruder on his bridge, was not about to back off just like that. “Or what?” he demanded.

Ron let fly the halo. It flashed across the bridge and embedded itself neatly in a computer panel just below the forward viewscreen. The panel promptly exploded in a shower of golden sparks, and every panel near it lit up in wild rows of flaring lights. The alien officers responsible for the panels and lights ran about and flailed their tentacles in mad panic. In the midst of it all, Ron coolly walked over and retrieved his halo. “Or that. And more. Do I make myself clear?”

The captain sighed. “Fine. First Mate, reverse quilithium thrusters, full power. Course one-two-seven, mark four.”

“Aye, sir!” the First Mate said.

Ron smiled and disappeared. The spaceship slid away from sight. The red planet rolled on unharmed. The captain, meanwhile, slumped in his chair, his eye-stalks wilting. Perhaps, he mused, it was time to think about retirement.

Fighting Time

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“Sorry,” the admiral said dispassionately, “The fleet’s full.” With that, the viewscreen went blank. The room fell silent. The brown-haired woman sat stunned in her chair, staring at the screen where the admiral’s face had been.

Lucy was completely thrown. This wasn’t in the plan. Everything had proceeded to plan so far. She had worked her way through academy like a trooper, class after class, assignment after assignment. She had graduated academy with highest honors. Commendation from Skeever himself. Then, ensign on the Borpion. Then up through the ranks, month after month, ship to ship to ship, until she had finally made captain of a transport. She’d spent years slogging away on that thing. Even her choices of partners had been carefully planned, so much so that on one memorable occasion she had written out the moves and dialogue she intended her partner to use during an encounter that turned out to be a lot less romantic than she had hoped. Finally, after all her hard work, now she had the resume, the quals, the recommendations, even a potential first officer recruited, everything she needed. But the exploration fleet had turned her down flat. It made no sense.

“What do you mean the fleet’s full?” she said to the empty viewscreen. She knew the statistics by heart. Earth Fleet had enough ships to hold its own in a scrap, if it came to that, but there was a crying need for more fighters, not to mention more captains for them. The raids on the border planets kept getting worse with each passing year. It made no sense to keep her stuck as a merchant pilot when they had a surplus of those already.

“What,” said Lucy with rising fury, “do you mean the fleet’s frickin’ full?”

At that very moment her viewscreen came alive with an alert. Another raid. It happened to be one of the border planets closer to her. She made a few quick calculations on a pad. It would be hours before the nearest Earth Fleet fighters could get there. As it happened, her transport could beat them. She had a stock of emergency weapons. She had a crew. She was, if anything, over-prepared. But she would be in violation of at least five different regs. They’d never let her in the fleet if they found out.

Lucy smiled slightly. “If.” She picked up a comm. “Pete? Lu. Busy tonight? No? Swell. ” She paused. Heck, she’d gone this far, throwing her usual workman-like devotion to plan to the winds. “Incidentally, before I get to the main reason I called, you seeing anyone?” When he said no, a little startled ,she sighed. “Ah, well. Anyhow…”

She made her battle plans swiftly with Pete, then clicked off the comm, rose from her chair, and stalked out the door of her room, pulling on her flight jacket. “I’ll show ’em the fleet’s frickin’ full,” she snarled under her breath as she stormed down the corridor towards the lift. “I’ll show ’em.”

Heroic

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“”All right,” Maggie said, as her arm stitched itself together again, “What killed me this time?”

The raven-bot chittered a stream of information at her. Maggie swore. “They’re using lasers now?”

The raven-bot chirped an affirmative. Maggie sighed. She shrugged on her cape and started for the door of her small apartment. It was almost time to go on patrol again, and the bad guys were still out there, like they were every night in Edison City. “And now I’ve got to evolve some new shields too,” she complained to the raven-bot. “Because they’re using lasers now. Can’t stick with guns, now, oh no, they’ve got to step it up to lasers! The idiots!”

Working herself up into a fine bad mood, Maggie decided that the best way to defend against a laser was a solid skin of impenetrable diamond, and evolved herself accordingly. This took several minutes of concentration, and gave her a splitting headache, but at the end she felt like she could stand up to the lasers. “Right,” she said to her faithful raven-bot, her voice sounding tinny as she opened her apartment door, “let’s go pound some bad-“

Then she paused. Her head was still aching. What if the bad guys had figured out how to blast through the diamond? What if they came up with something else? She’d been doing the cape thing for a year plus, ever since the government had found about her superpowers and outfitted her with a uniform and the raven-bot. Yet, even with her abilities to resurrect herself and evolve super-abilities at will, even with her constant patrolling, the streets didn’t seem like they were getting any safer. There were always more bad guys, more crimes, more problems. Worse, she kept on getting herself killed. She was on her seventeenth murder now. Suppose one day her super-ability failed her and she stayed dead? What then?

“Screw this,” Maggie said, and turned on her diamond-skinned heel. She marched back inside, the raven-bot following hesitantly afterwards. “Power down, buddy,” she said. “We’re taking a break.”

The raven-bot dutifully powered down, and Maggie went in search of her microwave and a popcorn bag. For once, she was going to enjoy herself. Edison City could take care of itself, surely, for one night, couldn’t it?

Then she paused again. Maybe it couldn’t. The last time she’d been off duty for an extended period, the Rogue Jaywalker had struck without warning, wreaking chaos in the streets. She’d promised the government after that she’d always be on watch. She had a responsibility, didn’t she?

Maggie swiveled to face the outdoors. “Fine. We’ll head out again.”

The raven-bot powered back on in nervous excitement. “I don’t care if they’ve got lasers. Lasers can’t cut through diamonds, can’t they?”

The raven-bot beeped uncertainly. Maggie froze. “What do you mean they can?”

The robot flashed more data at her. Maggie swiveled back and forth uncertainly. “Carbon. No. Steel? Too clunky. Rock. No. Um. Graphene? Maybe. Erm….”

In the end, she whipped up some spider silk and looped out uncertainly into the dark.

Visitors

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This story is part of the Angel Chronicles, and relates to prior events in Incoming. The characters, however, are new.

“So I suppose you want to ask me why I left town,” Benjamin said hopefully, as the bus skidded to a stop.

“Not really,” Allison said coldly. “Now leave me alone, will you? I have a group. They’re from a British wizard community. Very important. Gotta go.”

She waved off the robed passengers from the bus and lined them up neatly on the sidewalk, conjuring up a bullhorn in her hand and giving it a swift tap with her hand. “Right, people? Everyone hear me? Okay. Hear we have the home of Linus Wistwickingham, founder of our beloved magical city. It’s been magically preserved to look exactly as it did the day he left it, moments before he inadvertently blasted himself into a quantum dimension. People didn’t understand magic quite as well back then.”

“And when exactly was that, miss?” one of the tourist wizards asked, raising his hand.

Allison neatly ignored him. “Moving on!” she said. “Next up, the statue of Reginald Cloud-Pomfrey, the only known wizard to have fought in the American Revolutionary War!”

As the crowd oohed and aahed, and Allison tried to remember exactly which side Reginald Cloud-Pomfrey had fought on, Benjamin attempted to catch her attention again. “Look, I had a reason,” he said. “It was important!”

“I don’t care,” Allison said, ushering the excited group down the street.

“But, Allison-”

She whirled to face him, forgetting entirely about the astonished tourists. “I don’t care, Benjamin! We were in danger from the Feds, we could’ve all been dragged off to a lab somewhere or had to fight it out with the military for heaven’s sake and you weren’t there! And you should’ve been!”

There was a long silence. The tourists looked awkwardly at their shoes. One of them coughed nervously. Finally Allison sighed. “Fine. I’ll ask. Just once. Where were you?”

“I wanted to see the aliens.” he said sheepishly.

“The what?”

“Aliens. There was a bunch of people who wanted to storm Area 51 to see the aliens and I wanted to see them too.”

Allison paused. “And?”

“Ah,” Benjamin said. “I had a nice talk with some Air Force people. Lots of guns. Very convincing. Also government guys in suits. More guns.They convinced me I probably shouldn’t stay around there too long.”

“So you don’t know if there are aliens there or not.”

“No.”

“Oh.”

The tourists gave up on the drama and started off down the street. Allison rolled her eyes. “Next time, make sure there’s actually aliens there before you run off to check ’em out, okay? We’ve got spells for that.”

“Right. Yeah. I’ll do that.”

Incoming

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She started finding pomegranate seeds at the doorstep, and knew it was time. Sarah knew all too well that pomegranate seeds were the agreed-upon warning system. It was all arranged. Some in Wistwick, Sarah herself for example, had argued for practical things like sirens or booming klaxon alarms, possibly an array of flashing lights, to warn the community of hidden wizards that their cover had been blown and the Feds were coming. Everyone knew what would happen when the Feds came. The U.S. government would be painfully interested in a community of magical people with powers unknown, who had not as yet made themselves known to the government. It was the mother of all security risks. And so the feds would come, and the wizards would be carted away to a facility somewhere to be locked away or experimented on or worse. Therefore, Wistwick had needed a warning system.

Anna, Sarah’s sister, had felt sirens would be upsetting in the midst of a crisis. Pomegranate seeds were not only much quieter, they also contained anti-oxidants and healthful vitamins. Anna had reasoned that if the Feds were coming, it was the perfect time to snack up and maintain one’s health while one was evacuating.

Sarah, had disagreed, but no one listened to her. That was why she was the janitor at Wistwick High and Anna was Head of Border Security. Sarah was also known to avoid using magic in her ordinary janitorial tasks, which made the other wizards look at her suspiciously. Sarah offered an explanation to anyone who asked, although very few did. “We become too dependent on magic, and it’ll fail us when we need it,” she said. “If I use it for things like mopping floors, and the magic fails, what if I need to mop a floor without magic? What then?”

The other wizards couldn’t quite imagine how this could happen, so they ignored her. And so, the town of Wistwick ended up with a warning system of pomegranate seeds.

Sarah was allergic to pomegranate seeds, something else no one had asked her about. Nonetheless, she knew what they meant when she saw them neatly lined up on her doorstep. She snapped on a plastic glove from her janitorial supply bag, then scooped up the seeds from the step and said a quick teleportation spell. In an instant she found herself on the outskirts of Wistwick, standing on a low grassy rise just outside the school she had spent so many hours cleaning. Before her, a caravan of SUVs rumbled over the fields towards the town. Hardly anyone in Wistwick seemed to have noticed them yet. Then lights flashed on and she heard a distant scream. Evidently someone had woken up to the danger.

Sarah sighed. She flung the pomegranate seeds up in the air. “Townicus vanisho!” she shouted, hoping she’d gotten the words right. Fortunately, she had. Wistwick and all its inhabitants disappeared in a flash, relocating neatly two states over. The Feds had no idea what had happened, which led to a great many bewildered after-action reports and even a Congressional hearing which went nowhere. Anna, meanwhile, insisted her warning system didn’t need changing. “It worked, didn’t it?”

Sarah, and a number of the townspeople this time, ignored her.

When Plans Go Awry

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Note: This story follows on from last week’s Wings and Magic.

In my defense, it was a brilliant idea at the time. When you’re hidden in a community of wizards in midwestern North America, your entertainment options are, y’know, limited. We learn invisibility and teleportation spells practically from the moment we first pick up a wand. Easy stuff, right? I just zap myself out somewhere, save some poor innocent sap, zap myself back. No harm done.

It almost worked, too! I saved the girl, and got to do it in front of an angel too. Showy winged jerks with their shiny halos and all. Blasted some sharks to oblivion then zapped back home with no one the wiser. Again, no harm done.

Then that night I got a call from Candy. Candy’s my sorceress girlfriend who runs the counter at the convenience store. We only have the one, on the highway that runs through town. We use it as a front for the normals so they don’t suspect the whole wizard thing. In case they see something funny, they usually say something to Candy, casual conversation like, and then she does a quick memory wipe along with the Snickers bars.

Anyhow, Candy’s also a news junkie, hanging out in the convenience store chatting up normals all day as she does. So she was watching TV that night, and that was how she knew. Next thing I know, I’m getting a buzz on the crystal ball. “Hey,” Candy says. “You remember that thing we talked about? How you were going to sneak off and play superhero?”

“Yeah?”

“You remember the part where I said you really shouldn’t do it because you’re almost certain to get caught, what with all the social media and phones and everything?”

“Yeah?”

“And you remember where you said you absolutely positively weren’t going to do it?”

“Um….”

“You did it, didn’t you.”

I review what happened, sure I’d taken all precautions. “Okay, yeah, but I made myself invisible, I used a fake name-“

“You used Squalulus, right?”

“Yeah, well, it sounds impressive, and none of the normals know Latin anymore anyway!”

“Passing over that, let me ask you this,” Candy says. “Did you do a memory wipe?

I pause. “…Ah. No.”

“Well. Guess what. She remembered you. And she caught the thing on her phone. And, oh yeah, you identified yourself and Wistwick by name, so now the whole government’s out looking for us. You brought in the Feds. Way to go, genius.”

Suddenly I have a feeling this is going to put a damper on our relationship. “Look, I can still fix it,” I say. “I can find the girl, wipe her memory, maybe they’ll think it was all a big mistake.”

Candy’s voice changes in the crystal ball. “Maybe not. A whole bunch of SUVs just pulled up in the parking lot. And I don’t think they want Snickers bars.”

Suddenly the crystal ball cuts out. I go for my wand, just as I hear a siren in the distance. It looks like Wistwick’s anonymity just went all to heck.

Wings and Magic

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Image courtesy of Jared Rice at Unsplash .

Janey lay blissfully stretched out beneath the sun, completely unaware that she was in mortal danger as sharks circled hungrily beneath her. Fortunately, her guardian angel was up to the mark. With a dramatic flourish, Caitlyn drew her shining sword, unfurled her angelic wings, and prepared to dive-bomb the sharks and deliver some righteous wrath upon them for daring to threaten her charge.

To her surprise, she never got the chance. A blinding bolt of lightning whooshed past her, and and one of the sharks exploded in a blast of steam. Janey nearly fell into the ocean in shock. “No worries, ma’am!” a tremendous voice boomed. “I’m here to rescue you!”

Caitlyn, very much annoyed, looked around for the source of the voice, but saw nothing except for a vague ripple in the air close by. She quickly realized what this had to mean. “Magic,” she sighed. “Wonderful.”

“Look,” she said to the ripple, “I’m already rescuing her! I’m her guardian angel, I have dibs! And what kind of an idiot are you, shooting lightning bolts at the ocean? It’s water, genius. Water and electricity don’t mix!”

“I am Squalulus!” boomed the voice. “Mightiest wizard of the hidden community of Wistwick!”

Caitlyn’s eyebrow arched. Being an angel, she knew her Latin. “Squalulus? Doesn’t that mean Baby Shark?”

“…yes,” said the voice, and suddenly it was much less resounding. “Yes. It does. But-“

“All right, Baby Shark, I know you’re being invisible because you’re a wizard and you think it’s cool and stuff, but playtime’s over,” Caitlyn cut in. “Show yourself.”

“Why should I?” sulked the voice. “I’m the mightiest-“

“Wizard of Wistwick, yeah, heard you the first time. I should be impressed? I never even heard of it.”

“We’re a hidden community of wizards. You’re not supposed to hear of us. Kind of the point.”

Now both Caitlyn’s eyebrows arched. “Ah. And you’re out here trying to electrocute my girl because….”

“I..got bored. With the hiding.”

“Ah. Grow up, Baby Shark. It’s the way the world works. You get bored sometimes. I’m an angel. I’ve been around for millennia. I was in Angel Choir for three whole centuries. Ever try singing the same part in the same song for an entire decade? It gets boring. You deal. Now how about you magic yourself home or whatever and let me get back to saving my-“

Janey screamed from below. The surviving sharks, paying no attention to Caitlin’s speech above, had decided to go for the kill. There was a flash and a bang, and a very confused Janey found herself surrounded by a cloud of butterflies that had once been sharks.

“You were saying?” said the wizard, sounding distinctly more smug.

“Shut up,” said Caitlyn.

A Baroque Relationship

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Image by Ryan McGuire at gratisography

“This can’t be happening, this just can’t be happening!Sherry moaned as she fled past the concert pianist in the park. Why there was a pianist in the park on that Saturday afternoon she didn’t know and was in no mood to ask. Her cell phone was still buzzing with the latest in a string of texts from her most recent date, one Ryan. Things had been going well, and Sherry had even thought they might be getting serious. Then, that morning, they had gone out for breakfast. She had inadvertently forgotten to take her acid reflux meds, had eaten a bit too much waffle, and had proceeded to throw up said waffle all over Ryan’s nicely creased khakis. Sherry was convinced their relationship was over.

She fled on, trying not to think about the shocked look on his face or the lingering smell of waffle sick, ignoring the piano melodies wafting through the park. She was ignoring a good deal else as well, which was why she didn’t see the old man peacefully sipping his tea until she crashed headlong right into him.

“Oh my God!” Sherry yelped. “OhmyGodohmyGodohmyGod are you okay?”

She had said this on instinct, half expecting that the old man would’ve been knocked sprawling, maybe even broken a hip. Out of the corner of her eye she could see some guy snapping pictures, presumably of the pianist, and it would be just her luck he would’ve caught her too, and her imagination was already spinning out a whole tale in which she was identified and arrested for battery and the old man sued her for millions and she died poverty-stricken and alone and-“

“I’m fine,” said the old man, who had decidedly not been knocked sprawling. “I went through the war. Takes a lot more than that to knock me down. Name’s Alvin.”

“I’m Sherry,” she said. “I’m so sorry, it’s just, I was distracted, really bad day, I threw up all over my boyfriend Ryan’s khakis this morning.

“That’s rough,” Alvin said. “Same thing happened to me, sort of. I was out at dinner with a nice girl. Again, back during the war. Harriet, I think. Real fancy French restaurant. Thought I’d be fancy and try something new. Turns out I was allergic. Puked all over her nice dress. Kinda took the fun out of the date.”

“Yeah,” Sherry said ruefully. “I can see that.”

They fell silent, listening to the concert pianist playing happily and obliviously away. He had been in the minors for a while; now he seemed to have shifted into something more upbeat.

“So…” Sherry said at last. “Did it work out for you?”

“Eventually,” Alvin said. “Married her a year later. We’ve been together since.”

“You think I should try again?”

“I would. If he’s worth it, he’ll understand.”

Sherry looked down at her phone, and the texts she hadn’t checked yet. She smiled. “I think maybe he does. It looks like he wants another date.”

“Good luck,” Alvin said. “Maybe skip breakfast, though?”

“Maybe we should. There’s always this guy.” Sherry gestured to the pianist. “Maybe he takes reservations?”

The Problem of Legs

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This story is part of, and uses characters from, The Angel Chronicles. Also, as this story was written for Yeah Write’s weekly writing prompt, it relies on a photo prompt included below.

Legs, Window, Car, Dirt Road, Relax, Woman, Outdoor
Image by lisa runnels from Pixabay 

It was early morning at the gas station. Pickup trucks rolled leisurely in and out, their owners swinging by for morning coffee and donuts. A field of corn stretched away in the distance outside. Clouds piled up on the horizon, promising storms. Francesca waited by the door, watching for an opportunity.

Then a car rolled in from the road across from the station, tires scrunching in the dirt. A pair of legs draped out the window. Shoes at the end, no laces. Francesca narrowed her eyes. The legs looked feminine enough. Perfect. Francesca started towards the road, but checked herself just in time and looked for a crosswalk. She didn’t want to go through all that again. “Stupid human traffic rules,” she groused as she made her way towards the car.

“Excuse me, ma’am!” she called. “I need your legs!”

“What?”

“No, I mean, erm, I need to look at your legs.” Francesca coughed. “Let me explain. I’m an angel, see, and I’m on undercover assignment, and I’ve got to get a good human disguise. My last one got blown in Ankara. Long story. I’ve put together a good replacement one mostly, Farrah Fawcett hair, all that, but I’m having a hard time getting those right. Can I look at yours?”

The woman seemed highly insulted. She whipped out a taser from her purse. “You back off right now, sister, or I’m calling the cops!”

Francesca raised her hands slowly. “Oh dear. Look. I’m an angel. I’m okay. Let me just turn on my halo-”

To her alarm, however, her halo wasn’t in her pocket where she had safely stashed it. The next moment, the woman had fired the taser. Francesca fell to the ground twitching and yelping. In human form, tasers worked on angels the same as everyone else.

Later that day, at the same gas station after the cops had left, the same woman lingered. She made her way over to a bank of long disused pay phones, and dialed. “Leon? Me. Yeah. Coast is clear.”

A puff of ash, and a battered form materialized next to her. “Surprised you got out so easy,” she said.

“Ah, halo-head security is for crap,” Leon said. “So. Nice acting.”

“No problem. She’s going to have trouble explaining herself to the local PD. ” she said. “What’s with you and her anyway?”

“She busted me for some stupid thing. I pranked some punk halo-head, she got me back. Got me in trouble with the boss. Then she dragged me up to halo-head jail. Now she’s stuck in Earth jail.” Leon smiled, pulled a halo out of his pocket, tossed it in the air, and caught it neatly. “Perfect.”

Angelwalking

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This story is part of the ongoing Angel Chronicles, and also refers back to One Who Works in the Dark.

“Right,” Sarah said, nervously tapping her halo, “The court shall….” She paused, checking her scroll for the line. “The court shall come to order.”

There was a busy ruffle of wings. The angels before her sat down on the gathered cloud banks. An awkward silence fell. Sarah paused again, and wiped a smear of dust off the scroll. It had been a long time since this particular one had been needed. She made a tinny cough. “Ahem. Francesca. Angel, third class. Assigned to Intelligence Corps, Shadow Division.” She checked to make sure that Francesca was actually there. The angel in the front cloud bank, just slightly to her left, gave a tiny nod.

Sarah went on. “Okay.  For the record, I’m Sarah, Angel first, I’ll be presiding today. Francesca, you are charged with a violation of Article-“

“Excuse me?”  Another angel, on the cloud bank to her right, raised his hand. “I’m sorry to interrupt, ma’am, but I believe, under procedure, as the JAG here, I’m supposed to present the charges.”

“JAG?” Sarah said, slightly flustered.”

“Judge Angel General, ma’am. Prosecuting attorney.”

“Ah. Right. Of course. Proceed. State your name for the record, then, and go on.”

The JAG unfurled his own scroll. “Christopher, Angel second class,  representing the Heavenly Hosts in the matter of HH v. Francesca, Angel third. Charge I. Specification. That, on or about February 2, Earth year 2019, at approximately 2: 19 Eastern Standard Time, in or around the Earth community known as Pikesville, Indiana, one Francesca, angel, third, did knowingly and deliberately walk or cross a trafficked roadway other than at a suitable crossing point, or otherwise in disregard of traffic rules, and in violation of posted traffic signs. This conduct by Francesca, Angel third, being in violation of Article 212 of the Uniform Code of Angelic Justice, to wit, Angels shall not knowingly or deliberately violate human laws, statutes, or ordinances, save when unavoidable in execution of divine laws, statutes, or ordinances, or when unavoidable in commission of official angelic duties.”

Sarah blinked. “She did what?”

“Jay-walked, ma’am. Crossed a street where she wasn’t supposed to. While visible, too.”

“Oh. And…that’s a crime?”

“The humans say so, ma’am. ” 

“Oh. Well.”  Sarah checked her scroll again. “Francesca, how do you plead?”

“Not guilty, on account of it’s a stupid rule,” Francesca said. There were some gasps from the crowd. “There wasn’t a car in sight for miles. I’m an angel. I can’t get hurt. A little old lady was doing the same thing a block away!”

“Okay,” Sarah said hesitantly, “Well. You’ll be assigned a defense-“

“No need,” Francesca said with a smirk. “I have a surprise witness.” She tapped her halo. “Send him over, Raph!”

There was a bump, and a bedraggled form materialized in the courtroom, looking very much the worse for wear and smelling of ash. “Guys, meet Leon. He’s a demon posing as an angel. Collared him the other day. Leon, be a good demon and tell ’em what you did.”

Leon whimpered. “I changed the street signs and covered up the crosswalk stripes to get people in trouble for jaywalking.”

“Bravo,” Francesca said. “That’s three years off your sentence. Only, what, 2,799 to go? It’ll fly by.” She snapped her fingers, and he disappeared again. “So?”

“Well….” Christopher said, shrugging.

Sarah threw up her hands. “Not guilty. Court adjourned.”

The angels cheered wildly. Sarah decided to ask whether she could get a transfer to the Puppy division of Search and Rescue. Retrieving puppies from trees was so much easier.

 

One Who Works in the Dark

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It was really surprising, Raphael reflected, even after all these eons, how much paperwork was still involved in overseeing the heavenly hosts. He was just sorting out various applications from angels wanting to be transferred into the choir when he heard a knock on his office door. “Enter,” he said calmly, without looking up.

“Sir?” Donny said. “Ah, sir, I wanted to apologize again about the, ah, incident with the tennis and the, ah, hyenas, and I wanted to ask if-“

“Let me stop you right there, kid,” Raphael cut in, his voice not without a note of kindness. “Let me guess. You got tricked by Leon, who wasn’t actually an angel but who was working for the other side. So you want to go Down There and get him back, maybe stick a halo up his shorts or something, is that it?”

“Of course not, sir!” Donny said, a little archly. “That would be vengeance, which is strictly forbidden! I just thought I might, you know, find out how he got through our defenses!”

“Right. Sure you did. I get it, kid. The thing is, even if I were inclined to send you on a mission like that, we’re already handling the situation.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. We have a mole down there. Deep shadow conditions, so to speak. She’ll take care of Leon.”

“Ah. And you’re sure I can’t….help?”

Raphael smiled grimly. “If all goes well, she shouldn’t need it.”

***

It was chillingly cold in the lowest level of Hell. An eternal wind howled mournfully across the frozen lake of ice that imprisoned all those guilty of treachery in one form or another. Behind one ice-bound rock, a thin figure emerged from a round hole that had been painstakingly chiseled into the ice. Leon shivered and clutched his jacket tighter around him. He hated getting back into the infernal regions this way, but it couldn’t be helped. All he had to do was make his report to the Boss and then he’d be back up top again tricking the halo-heads. So much more fun than slinking ’round the ice down here, he thought.

“Hey, sailor,” a voice called from behind him, making him jump. One never liked hearing unexpected voices in Hell. Leon whirled around.

“Ah,” he said in some relief. “Francesca. Back from soul reapin’, are you?”

“You might say that,” Francesca said. She was casually holding a long sword with a smokey grey blade in her hand. “One never really is much off duty in this job.”

“Yeah,” Leon smirked. “‘Specially when you have to beat the halo-heads to it. Those guys are the-“

No one ever found out how Leon would have finished the sentence, as Francesca’s sword flashed out and through him. Then, for the first time in a very long time, she popped on her halo. “Raph, I got one!” 

There was a distant, furious rumble in the ice. Before anyone could do anything, however, Francesca’s halo flashed with golden light, and both she and Leon disappeared. 

Angels on the Court

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“Right, kid,” Raphael said, “You’re on Sports detail now. Here’s your racket.”

“Sports?” Donny said, completely bewildered. He had thought he had been doing a pretty good job as a guardian. The incident with Stacy falling off the telephone pole hadn’t been his fault, really. Could’ve happened to any angel. People fell off telephone poles all the time.

“Yeah, sports,” Raphael said. “It’s the big thing now. We go down, find some poor guys who have a completely lousy team, maybe they’ve got a sad backstory, some kid who really wants ’em to win, and then we help ’em win. Kick the ball into the right goal. Give the bat a little extra push. Y’know.”

Donny blinked. “But…is that really fair? What about the other team?”

Raphael shrugged. “I don’t make the rules, kid. Anywho, here’s your assignment. Ashley Morrison. She just entered her college tennis tournament. She’s been having a lousy year. Long story. I made a pamphlet for you.”

Donny skimmed through the pamphlet. It was heart-rending. On top of everything else, Ashley’s pet goldfish had bubbled its last. So, apparently, the night before, Ashley had looked out her dorm window and prayed desperately for some help in her upcoming tennis match. “Now, technically,” Raphael said, “She asked for the patron saint of tennis, not an angel, but Sebastian’s busy with the Olympics coming up, so you’ll have to do.”

“Right,” Donny said. “I’ll help her out, straight away.” He started to make a dive for the clouds.

“You forgot your racket!” Raphael called. Donny wheeled back, slightly embarrassed, and took hold of the extended racket. Unfortunately, he grabbed it by the wrong end. Raphael sighed. “You do know how to play tennis, right, kid?”

“Sure!” Donny said enthusiastically. In actual point of fact, he had no idea how to play tennis. He hadn’t been much of a sportsman even before he’d become an angel. However, he was not about to admit this to Raphael. He had a better idea. Once he had left his superior, he set about looking for an angel his own rank to ask about the rules of tennis.

It didn’t take long for Donny to find one. He had just passed the Pearly Gates when an angel lounging against one of the shining walls flagged him down. “Hey, you. I hear you’re lookin’ for an explainer on how to play tennis?”

“Actually, yeah,” Donny said, “But how did you-“

The angel shrugged. “I hear things. Word gets around. Anywho. Name’s Leon. Angel, second class. I used to be a big-time sports guy when I was alive. ”

“Perfect,” Donny said. “So, how do you play this thing?” He held up the racket, again by the wrong end.

Leon smiled.

Ashley’s first tennis match was the next day. When it was over and Ashley had run away in hysterics (along with half the school and two-thirds of the teachers), Raphael summoned Donny before him. “So,” Raphael said testily. “Would you care to explain to me why you conjured two romantically involved elephants and a pack of hyenas on the tennis court?”

“Because those were the rules?” Donny said. “Once you launch your ball at the other player, they’re allowed to declare the magical exotic animal zone and conjure any animal they can think of onto the field in retaliation. I figured Ashley’s magical skills were lacking, so I thought… I could… you know…. help.”

“That….” said Raphael slowly, “is not how you play tennis.”

“But…. but Leon said….”

“Leon?”

“Angel. Second class. I asked him about the rules.”

“We don’t have a Leon, angel second class. The other side, however….”

“Oh.”

And We’re Back

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The first thing Maxwell did when he saw the body was to conjure an air freshener and hang it neatly above the shattered windshield. This wasn’t technically standard procedure; as a death angel, his first task was to find the deceased’s soul and escort it to its final destination, wherever that happened to be. But Maxwell thoroughly and literally believed that cleanliness was next to godliness, and he hated an untidy scene. Just because one had the misfortune of being dead, he felt, didn’t mean one had to leave a mess.

He waited as the pleasant scent of pine needles wafted through the battered car. Then, gathering himself and adjusting his halo to the proper angle, Maxwell looked around for the soul.

He was a bit nonplussed when he spotted it, hovering in a bewildered sort of way over the body. Most souls were fairly easy to sort out: they were either shining clear and ready to send up to the good place, or muddy dark, in which case they went the other way. This one was a color Maxwell had never seen before. Since when, he wondered, were souls mauve?

“Excuse me?” he ventured. “Hello, I’m Maxwell, I-“

He didn’t even get the chance to launch into his standard “Hello-I’m-an-angel-and-you’re-dead-now” speech. The soul interrupted, which threw Maxwell completely for a loop. “Look,” the soul said. “This isn’t my first rodeo, so if you’ll just hang on for a minute, I’ll say the incantation, then I’ll resurrect and you can go help someone who’s actually for-real dead.”

“I’m sorry?” Maxwell said.

“I should’ve thought you’d know,” the soul said in irritation. “You’re in Wistwick, right? And what is that godawful smell?”

“First, language,” Maxwell said. “Second, it’s the sparkling freshness of a wintry evergreen forest, which you need because you’re dead and your remains are, ah, somewhat messy. Third, of course it’s Wistwick. Small town, suburb really, rural America, lots of corn. Wal-Mart’s the biggest employer. What does that have to do with anything?”

The soul would’ve rolled its eyes, if it had had them. Instead, it made a sort of mauve rippling motion. “And here I thought angels knew everything. We’re a community of wizards, genius. We hide out here so no one knows. Disguised in plain sight and all that. Look, I’ll demonstrate.” It said something in Latin. Before Maxwell could react, there was a flash and a bang. To his complete shock, the body slumped in the driver’s seat abruptly knit itself back together, sat up, switched off the hazard lights, then looked over at the stunned angel. “See?”

“You were dead!”

“Not anymore. Basic resurrection spell. Wistwick Elementary, first grade. I had Mr. Plum. He fought in the war way back when.”

“Which war- never mind.” Maxwell decided he didn’t particularly want to know the answer to that. “I’m going to have to check with my superiors about this. Once you’re dead, you’re supposed to stay that way!”

“Do tell,” the formerly dead man said, raising his eyebrows. “That’s not the way I read the Scripture. Lots of resurrections going on in Bible times, weren’t there?”

“Yes, well,” the flustered angel replied. “That was, ah, circumstances being what they were, you understand-“

“The point is, I’m not dead anymore, so I’ll be going on home now, okay? Nice to meet you!” With that, the man put the car into gear and drove away. As he tore off down the road, something small and green flipped out the window. Maxwell cautiously approached. It was his air freshener, now lying forlornly on the pavement, still smelling limply of pine.

Maxwell bent down to pick it up. All at once, there was yet another flash and a bang. The air freshener exploded in a spray of green, showering the angel with pine needles and sap. In the distance, he heard the sound of mocking laughter.

“That does it,” Maxwell said. “That is the absolute last time I’m escorting anyone to the afterlife! I have had it!” Extending his wings, he blasted skywards, heading straight for the Pearly Gates. Surely there had to be a spot open in Angel Choir. No one ever got blasted with tree sap in Angel Choir.

Catrina vs. Nessie, Part Two

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Last time in the Catrina Chronicles, our heroine and the wizard Merlin had just been transported to Loch Ness thanks to the evil machinations of Catrina’s arch-nemesis Susan. Worse yet, Catrina and Merlin are about to confront the dreaded Loch Ness Monster…

“Stand aside!” Merlin said. “I shall defeat the foul creature!”

“No need.” Catrina said pleasantly. “I have this, thanks.” She raised Mlrning, the Shovel of Thor. “It’ll just be a moment.” Mlrning flashed a blinding white. The waters of the loch suddenly froze solid, locking the monster in place. Before Nessie quite realized what was happening, Catrina had spun the shovel round in a circle, unleashing a flurry of snowballs. “Ah, blast,” Catrina said. “I meant to freeze the thing solid, not pelt it with snowballs.”

“Perhaps now I shall defeat the foul creature?” Merlin said hopefully.

“Give me a second!” Catrina waved Mlrning again. This time a beam of white light shot from the shovel’s enchanted blade, striking the monster dead-on and encasing it in a massive block of ice. “Well, that’s over,” Catrina said. “Now, I believe we were looking for-“

At that moment several SUVs with tinted windows roared in around them, skidding to a halt on the shores of the loch. Several dark-suited men emerged, all thoroughly armed and complete with ominous sunglasses. “Excuse me!” said one of them, approaching Catrina. “We’re going to have to ask you to come with us!”

“Ask?” Catrina said. “Then I politely decline. We’re on an adventure, you see. Not sure who you people are, but-“

Once again she was interrupted before she could finish her sentence. “Name’s not important,” the man said. “We’re with the Monster Preservation Bureau. Our current directive is to keep awareness of the LNM to a minimum, maintaining plausible deniability and the stability of the civilian population. Which is somewhat difficult to do when you’ve frozen her in a giant block of ice for everyone to see.”

“Ah,” Catrina said. “You’re government guys.”

“Yes,” said the agent. “You might say that.”

“Cool. I’m from a constitutional monarchy myself, so we don’t have much call for your types. At least, I think we have a constitution. I should probably look into that. Merlin, remind me when this is all over, check on Shmirmingard’s constitution.”

“Consti-what?”

“Never mind.” Catrina turned back towards the government man. “Look, I can unfreeze the monster, no problem, and then you all can handle her and I’ll be on my way. Deal?”

“Not quite,” said the agent. “It’s usually our policy to wipe the memories of anyone who’s obtained a visual of the LNM. No hard feelings. You understand. We’ll just need a min-”

This time it was his turn to be interrupted, but not by Catrina. She would have interrupted, she was not at all keen to have her memory wiped, but Merlin had got there before her. “You dare?” rumbled the wizard. “You dare?”

Before any of the government people could do anything, Merlin waved his wand and boomed something in Latin. There was yet another blinding flash. Catrina blinked hard. “Remind me to bring a pair of sunglasses on my next thrilling adventure,” she said. “Where did they all go?”

“I turned them all into semi-aquatic salamanders.”

“Newts, you mean?”

“Yes. They’ll get better.”

“I’ve heard that,” Catrina said. “Right. Now, can we try the transporting to the Lady of the Lake again? I’d rather not hang around here until these people get reinforced. Or what’s her name breaks out of the ice.”

“Very well,” Merlin said, and muttered another incantation. This time they disappeared with a simple popping sound, leaving behind them only a collection of bewildered newts in sunglasses and a very irritated, very cold lake monster.

This has been another exciting episode of the Catrina Chronicles. Be sure and tune in next time, as Catrina continues her search for the Lady of the Lake, and the magical sword Excalibur. Little does she know….

Guardians

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“Right, everyone, listen up!” Raphael called. The angel assembly dutifully fell silent, with only the most minimal ruffling of wings. Raphael ran down the assignment list briefly. “Donny, you’re on guardian detail. Lisa, same. And let’s try and cut back on the head injuries, okay?”

“Sure, boss,” Lisa said, as her fellow angels giggled around her. “But hey, you know a better way to stop people cheatin’ on other people than whacking them over the head with a frying pan, you let me know.”

“How about calm reasonable persuasion?” Raphael said tiredly.

“How about a mailbox? I’ve been thinking about switching to a mailbox. More balance in the swing, and all that.”

“Just try talking them out of it before you clobber them, okay? Now then, Anna, you’re on guardian too. I know you just transferred over from Angel Choir, so make sure you read the packet before you start. This job involves a lot less singing and a lot more stopping bad things from happening. Your charge is about four months from being born, so you’ve got time. You’ll be stationed in…ah. Chernobyl.”

Anna blinked. “Are they letting people in there now?”

Raphael shrugged. “Unofficially, yeah.”

“Cool,” Anna said laconically.

After the assignments were announced, Lisa darted over to where Anna was gathering her paperwork together. “Hey, my guy’s in Chernobyl too. I was just heading down there. Wanna tag along?”

“Sure,” Anna said. “You are not planning on hitting my person with a mailbox, are you?”

“Not unless he grows up and cheats,” Lisa said.

Anna rifled through her packet. “It seems to be a girl.”

“She, then,” Lisa said. “I’m equal opportunity that way.”

“Why is this a thing with you?” Anna asked curiously.

“Pre-angel. Long story.”

Several months went by. Anna was on guard in the corner of the small crumbling brick house. Her charge still hadn’t been born yet, but from what Anna could tell, the child would arrive any day now. So far, the most guardian work Anna had done was making sure the baby wasn’t affected by the radioactivity still lingering in the atmosphere.

The mother was reading a book by the window, although she didn’t seem to be paying much attention. Anna surmised she was worried about the father. Now that Anna thought about it, the man was past his usual time.

Then the door opened, and the father came in, looking rather the worse for wear. “You would not believe what happened to me,” he exclaimed. “I was just coming from taking a tour through the zone, you know how the tourists come all the time now, and one of the tourist women came at me with a mailbox!”

“A mailbox?” the mother said.

“You would not believe,” the father repeated. “She swung it like the superhero in the American movies, the one with the hammer. She was crazy! And then she ran off and the police acted like they couldn’t see her!”

“How curious,” the mother said. Anna was thinking the same thing, until she looked past the father, out the window to the barbed wire fence outside. Lisa stood, grimly clutching a white wooden post in one hand. Anna sighed. This was going to be a complication.

The Direct Approach

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“Right,” Donny said to himself. “This should be easy. I’m an angel. Angels don’t get airsick.”

His charge, Bill McCormick, had been assigned to go on a business trip to a conference of wind turbine technicians. Donny, as his guardian angel, was duly tagging along. He had assumed his duties would be on the light side: keeping his charge from being poisoned by conference snacks or run over in a crosswalk. What Donny had neglected to consider was that a guardian angel’s charge can be in peril in more ways than one.

He was staring out the plane window, safely invisible two rows behind his charge, trying to focus on the passing clouds, when someone jabbed him forcefully on the shoulder. Donny whirled around, wondering if if was his superior Raphael dropping by to check. To his surprise, it was another angel. “Lisa? What’re you doing here?”

“Trying to stop your guy from goin’ after my girl!” Lisa snapped. “He’s married, isn’t he?”

“Yeah, but happily,” Donny said defensively. “I’ve been guarding him for a month. He and what’s her name are solid. I checked!”

Lisa sniffed. “Check harder. ‘Cause the way he’s looking at Annie they’re going to be knockin’ boots in the bathroom before we’re over Chicago. And I’m not even sure that’s legal!”

Donny frantically looked for his charge. He had last seen Bill watching an in-flight movie in his seat. To Donny’s horror, Bill wasn’t in his assigned seat anymore, neither was he watching the movie. Instead he was leaning against a bulkhead chatting up a flight attendant. The amount of light in between them was vanishingly small.

“Oh no,” Donny said. “Oh, no, no, no, he can’t do this! He’s got an anniversary next month! He’s got kids! Several!”

Lisa sighed. “You’ve never been on anti-temptation detail, have you?”

“No, not yet, but I didn’t think – I’ve got to do something! I’ll remind him of his marriage vows! Quote 1 Corinthians at him! Something!”

“You really haven’t been on anti-temptation detail before,” Lisa said, rolling her eyes. “Watch and learn, kid. I saw something interesting in the baggage compartment.”

She vanished in a flurry of wings. Donny wondered if he should try quoting Scripture anyway. He was just about to make the attempt when he heard a loud metal clang. “Ow!” Bill yelped. “What the- who threw that?”

As Annie rushed to find a bandage, Lisa reappeared by Donny’s side, twirling a cast iron skillet in her hand like a band-leader’s baton. “Would’ve been easier if they’d let her put this in the carry-on,” she said casually. “But no, TSA says skillets have to go in the checked baggage. Typical.”

“You whacked him over the head with a skillet,” Donny said. “And…that works?”

“Every time. Some angels like the philosophical method, sure. Me, I go the direct approach. Betcha he won’t try that again soon.”

The Eternal Footman Says Hello

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“Hello,” Andrea said. “Welcome to the afterlife. May I take your coat?”

“Welcome to the what?” Stephen said, blinking. The last thing he remembered was driving down the road, and then a sudden blast of light and a shriek of metal. Now quite suddenly he found himself in a well-appointed room with a fireplace along one wall, and an angel standing beside the fireplace coolly reaching for his coat.

“The afterlife,” Andrea said. “I hate to tell you this, but you died. I collected your soul myself. Your processing will begin shortly.”

“My pro-” Stephen didn’t even get the obvious question out before there was a sudden pop, and a third person appeared in the room.

“Hey!” the new arrival protested. “What’re you doing? He’s not dead!”

“He was unconscious when I found him,” Andrea said defensively. “He was clearly about to die, Donny.”

“About to die isn’t the same thing!” Donny shot back. “I know I’m new at protection detail, I’ve only saved ducks and a wind turbine technician and all, but come on! I do know basic first aid! I could’ve saved him!”

“Oh, please.” Andrea rolled her eyes. “The guy was in a smart car. He was hit by a dump truck. Dude wasn’t going to make it. ”

“You don’t know that! He could’ve done!”

“This your first time losing one, then?” Andrea inquired. “Didn’t lose any of the ducks when you were on duck detail? Look, buddy, it happens. You’ll get used to it. Human beings are super fragile; they get bumped off all the time. ”

“Excuse me,” Stephen interjected. “First, I’d like my coat back, and second, I’m still here, guys, and what do you mean I died?”

“Yeah, sorry, you’re dead, it sucks,” Andrea said. “We’ll start the review of your life in just a sec-“

“LOOK OVER THERE IT’S A DEMON LOCUST!” Donny shouted, so frantically that Andrea spun round, her golden sword leaping to her hand. Donny dove past her. There was a flash of light and a bang, and suddenly Andrea found herself alone in the room. Stephen’s coat lay abandoned on the ground.

Andrea used some words most unbecoming of an angel. She had been on Death Angel duty for two years, and had never lost one yet. “This is going to Peter, I’m telling you!” she yelled at the empty room. “Right up to Peter! We’ll just see what he says about this!”

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.

The Mark

by

“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! 

Oops

by

“It’s not my fault,” Constance said to nobody in particular. The meadow stretched around her,  far as the eye could see. As an angel, this was significantly farther than most humans could see. Not that this mattered anymore.

The sun shone placidly overhead. Constance made a note. She had forgotten what month it was long ago, but she had managed to keep count of the days. Today was the four hundred and sixty-seventh day since the apocalypse. “Weehoo,” she said bitterly. “Four hundred and sixty-seven. Only thirty-three until the big five-oh-oh. I should plan a party.”

She had said this in jest; she now wondered seriously for a moment whether she should. It wasn’t like she had anything else to do. All the usual assignments were moot now. Search and Rescue was pointless when there was no one around to rescue. The same applied to the death angels, in their way. Everyone had already died; what was the point of them? The Meet Cute division, the First Aid group, the Messenger service: all of them were gone. About all that was left was Angel Choir. Constance hated Angel Choir.

So she had elected to remain on Earth. Flat, boring, lifeless Earth. “You know,” Constance said to a nearby rock, “It wasn’t supposed to be this way. People were supposed to survive  the apocalypse. That was the point.”

The rock said nothing. Constance was used to this. On day two hundred and forty-five she had briefly considered whether to imbue the rock with life. But even when everyone was on Choir duty, there were still rules, and Constance hadn’t felt like going through the work. Plus, she would’ve had to have checked in with the Archangel Michael, and Michael wasn’t speaking to her much these days.

“It wasn’t my fault,” she reiterated. “I’m an angel. Shouldn’t I be innately good at what I do? I didn’t know angels could make mistakes. Apparently we can. Go figure.”

The rock continued to say nothing. “It wasn’t like there was a freakin’ manual,” Constance said. “Rule one: don’t set your human up with your ex-boyfriend the Antichrist and trigger the apocalypse before it’s supposed to happen, or everyone will die and you’ll have no one left to save or match-make with or anything. That would’ve been good to know.”

She sighed. “But even if there had been a manual, they probably would’ve stuck that sort of thing in that back, like they always do, and let’s face it. I would’ve skipped the thing. Because I suck.”

Out of habit, Constance flinched, expecting some other angel to reprove her for language. “Oh, right,” she reminded herself. “They’re all at Choir.”

She hummed a few bars of the Hallelujah Chorus, wondering once again maybe whether she should try signing up, just for variety. The angel winced. She had forgotten exactly how the Chorus went, but she wasn’t pretty sure that wasn’t it. “Oh,  don’t even start,” she said to the rock.

The rock, as always, said nothing.

Meet Cute Wrong

by

She meant Marsha to be happy. Constance had been temporarily reassigned from Search and Rescue to the Meet-Cute Division, in charge of arranging satisfactory romantic encounters, and she’d been having a great deal of fun with it. So far she had helped along seventeen matches, and she hadn’t had to throw her halo once. All seemed to be going well.

Then Marsha happened. Constance tried everything. She undid the snap on Marsha’s bag, causing her papers to dump all over the floor in hopes that some kindly gentleman would offer to assist. Unfortunately, Constance neglected to check the bag first, and she had forgotten that Marsha’s class that afternoon concerned Entomology. No one has a meet-cute over notes about bugs. Scratch one. ‘

The angel’s second attempt involved a coffee shop. This time she went elaborate. Constance rounded up a few dozen of her angelic colleagues, had them disguise themselves as civilians, and occupied every seat in the coffee shop Marsha frequented, save two. One, obviously, was for Marsha; the other was for some lucky guy. Unfortunately, Marsha picked that week to come down with mono. By the time she recovered, the angels Constance had recruited had been reassigned to other matters. Scratch two.

Scheme after scheme followed, and nothing worked. Constance began to get desperate, She had never yet failed to make a match. Finally, she decided to let pure chance have a go. She waited until Marsha was on the subway headed home. Deftly maneuvering her way through the crowd, Constance waited until the train was pulling into Marsha’s stop, and then gave her a quick shove. Marsha stumbled, and fell right against the guy standing behind her, who happened to have an open soft drink in hand. Coca-cola spilled. Flustered apologies followed, then various iterations of “No, no, you’re fine, it only spilled a bit.” (This was not entirely true). Introductions ensued, then Marsha offered to buy a replacement soft drink. The guy chivalrously suggested coffee instead. A destination and time were agreed upon. Constance made note of it, smiling happily. Sometimes, she decided, the best plan was simply to give the person a push and let the magic happen.

The next day, Constance showed up at the coffee shop, all eager for the date. The time came. The guy appeared; Marsha didn’t. The minutes ticked by. Oddly enough, the guy didn’t seem worried by Marsha’s failure to appear. Finally, Constance decided to break the usual rules of the Meet-Cute division and intervene. She marched over and plopped down across from the guy. “Dude,” she said. “Shouldn’t you be calling her?”

“Well, that wouldn’t make much sense, since I murdered her and all,” he said casually.

Constance blinked. “You did what now?”

“Kinda had to,” he said with a shrug. “Needed a sacrifice to kick-start the apocalypse. I should think you’d know that.”

“Know-” Constance spluttered. “What’re you- I can’t even-  you can’t sacrifice someone! Who do you think you are?”

He smiled. “What, you don’t remember? Back before you were an angel. We used to date.”

Constance gasped. “Ben?”  

“Yeah. Ben. Your boyfriend. Or ex-boyfriend, rather. Now I’ve got a different deal going.”

“You’re not saying you’re-”

“Yeah,” Ben said. “I’m the Antichrist now. I got a whole pack of demons just waiting to be unleashed for the apocalypse, which starts in, oh, about an hour. Sucks for you, doesn’t it?”

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