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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.

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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?”

In Which The Lady of the Lake Appears

by

Last time in the Catrina Chronicles, our heroine had just agreed to join Merlin on a quest to find the Lady of the Lake, retrieve Excalibur, find Arthur, and in so doing save Britain from peril. Little did Catrina know that she wasn’t the only one looking for Excalibur….

The aquarium looked like any other aquarium. An assortment of variously colored fish swam in lazy circles, placidly ignoring the occasional person who took a moment to gape at them. A plastic castle adorned one corner. At night, when the rest of the medical office was dark, waves of blue-green light flickered over the walls. It seemed to be a perfectly normal aquarium.

Then the office door creaked open. A brown-haired woman in a black denim jumper stalked in. She marched up to the aquarium and banged on it with her fist. This is normally a very bad thing to do, as it bewilders and disorients the fish, but she was the last person on Earth who cared anything about fish welfare. “Right!” she called. “I know you’re in there!”

A tiny white figure emerged from the castle. It burbled something at the intruder. “I’m sorry, what?” she said. “I couldn’t make that out!”

There was a flash of white light, a bang, and a splooshing of water. A tall lady materialized in the office, clad in shimmering white fabric. “I said,” the lady said loftily, “I am the Lady of the Lake. Who are you that disturbs my repose?”

“But you’re not,” the intruder said.

“Not what?”

“The Lady of the Lake.  You just emerged from a freakin’ aquarium. That’s not a lake, sister.”

“Of course I am the Lady of the Lake!” the Lady said. “I am Nimue, Lady of the Lake, bestower of Excalibur, most powerful enchantress! I take refuge in this limited abode as my own lake was paved over for a vile creation of humankind! They refer to it as…” she shuddered. “A shopping mall.”

“That’s rough. I’m Susan.”

A short pause followed. Nimue blinked. “Susan who?”

“Oh now, that’s insulting,” Susan said. Without any hesitation whatever, she drew a laser pistol from its holster on her belt and blasted Nimue in the arm, blowing it clean away from her shoulder. Nimue shrieked in pain. The arm flipped through the air like a ghastly Frisbee, landing right on a pile of outdated Time magazines on a table. Susan stalked over to it and glanced at the magazines. “Oh, Herbert Hoover’s president now, I see. That’ll end well.”

“Return my arm!” Nimue howled.

“How are you planning to stick it back on?” Susan asked pleasantly.

“I have magic,” Nimue said, bristling. “Spells I learned from the greatest wizard of my age, Merlinus Ambrosius himself! I could turn you into a very newt if I wanted!”

Susan shrugged. “Yeah, I know that one. I’d get better. Anyway, how’s about a trade? I give you your arm back; you give me Excalibur.”

Nimue glared. “I cannot give you Excalibur. You are not the woman I am waiting for. She is black of hair and green of eye, and has a mark upon her that is the exact shape of-”

“Newfoundland,” Susan sighed. ” Yeah, of course. You’re waiting for Catrina.”

“I have foreseen it,” Nimue said. “She will arrive here by magic, in the company of my old teacher, Merlin himself. I will deliver them the sword Excalibur, and-”

“Yeah, that’s not going to work for me,” Susan said. “See, I want the sword. And it’d be real awkward if what’s her face showed up, so Id like you to bounce them magically somewhere else. Loch Ness, for example. The one with the big monster. That’d be fun.”

“And if I do not?”

Susan smiled evilly. “Then I blast you in your other arm. Then your head. See if you can stick that back on.”

Nimue’s eyes blazed. “If I can send the princess Catrina to the lake of the monster, what makes you think I cannot send you there?”  There was another flash of white light, and a bang. When the light cleared. Nimue gasped.

Susan was still standing there besides the magazines and the Lady’s flopping arm. “Oh, didn’t I mention?” Susan said. “I’m the Mistress of all Character Hell. I know some magic too. But I’ve kinda gotten attached to the laser pistols lately. So.” She took aim. “First, you send Catrina and Merlin to Loch Ness. Then the sword. Now.”

Nimue grumbled some very uncomplimentary words in old English. Catrina would’ve been scandalized had she heard them. Then the Lady of the Lake snapped her fingers. “There,” she said. “I have sent them.”

“Wonderful,” Susan said. “Now the sword. I haven’t got all day, sis.”

With another glare, Nimue plunged her arm into the aquarium. She drew out from its watery depths a gleaming sword, whose shining blade lit up the entire bland medical office. Slowly, the Lady of the Lake extended the sword towards Susan. She snatched it with a victorious giggle. “Oh, yeah,” Susan said. “This rocks.” 

“Now,” said Nimue, “I demand that you return my-”

Susan was still holding the laser pistol in her other hand. She fired, once. “I am Susan,” she declaimed to the now silent office. “You demand zilch of me. Zilch. You should learn that, or you’ll never get ahead in life.”

She snickered. “Pity you can’t appreciate that anymore.”  With a final villainous laugh, Susan turned and departed the office, leaving the deserted aquarium behind.

This has been another exciting episode of the Catrina Chronicles. Be sure and tune in next week when our heroine and Merlin confront the Loch Ness Monster. #DunDunDun….

 

 

 

Fight Song

by

The angel’s whistle shrieked across the battlefield. It was followed immediately by an extremely irate yell. “Hey! Hey you! Stop!”

Guns jammed in mid-fire. Bullets popped away into nothingness. Rockets puffed into smoke. As the soldiers in various shades of camo stared in befuddlement at their suddenly harmless weaponry, Constance strode right through them. In the middle of the crowd, a confused woman in a red jacket waved a pistol around, apparently trying to get it to work. “Come on!” she yelled, as Constance approached. “Come on, you stupid mindless son of a motherless-”

“Language!” Constance snapped.

The woman turned. “Did you just do a Captain America on me?”

“Captain who now?”

“Jeez, where have you been the past few years?”

“Saving lives,” Constance said. “That’s what we do in Search and Rescue. Save lives. Which you’re kinda making hard to do right now, Carmen.”

Carmen shrugged. “I was bored. There hasn’t been a really big show in a while.”

“Which some people might consider a good thing!” Constance reminded her.

“Yeah, but I’m the Incarnation of War,” Carmen said. “It’s easy for the other guys. Death, well, there’s always people dyin’.  Famine, same, people always going hungry. Pestilence, yeah, that’s always around. But war? Nowadays you’ve got peace treaties, UN resolutions, all this stuff. And then there’s the capes flying around, stopping crises. Oh, sure, I get the odd civil unrest now and again, but where’s the fun? Where’s the drama? Where’s the glorious charges and the feats of bravery? Where’s the nukes?” 

“Nukes,” Constance said flatly. “You want those things.”

“Well, yeah!” Carmen said. “Again, War here! I like things that go boom! Kinda my thing! These people, these genius humans, come up with the coolest superweapon ever and they only use it twice? Honestly!” 

“And so you decided on this bright Tuesday morning to, what, go and get them to light one off? Third time’s the charm? I don’t think the Big Guy would approve of that.”

“Oh, please.” Carmen rolled her eyes. “That’s not a big bouquet of flowers Michael’s carrying around.”

A short silence followed. Constance sighed. “Okay. If I let you use one little nuke, will you call the rest of it off? They’ve got little nukes, right?”

“Tactical, yeah, sure,” Carmen said, her voice quick with excitement. “Yeah, yeah, I can do that, no problem!” She spun, her eyes darting across the battlefield. “Okay, tactical nuke, let’s see, I think that city over there, maybe-”

A loud klonk interrupted her sentence as a golden halo thwacked into her head. Carmen fell to the ground. Constance stepped calmly over the fallen Incarnation of War and retrieved her halo. She glanced over it with a critical eye. “I hate doing that. You’d better not have put a dent in this thing. I’ve already had one lecture for halo-throwing from Gabriel this month.”

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