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Lesser Incarnations: 100 Words

by

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

by

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

by

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

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

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

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

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

“And?”

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

“And?”

“I make everyone take a loyalty mark?”

“What number?”

“667.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lilith narrowed her eyes. “Where, exactly?”

“Down below.”

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

“I meant further down. Way further down.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?”

Serve and Protect

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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“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

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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.”

A New Quest

by

Note: today is the eight-year anniversary of the first episode of the Catrina Chronicles, A Princess Story. It has also been two and a half years since the most recent episode, In Which Catrina Wishes She had Studied Her Latin. The author apologizes for the delay; life, in all its fullness, intervened. Also a baby. In any event, in that last episode, our heroine had been deposited by the Swirling Vortex of Imaginary Time into the midst of World War Two. However, as it’s been two and a half years in real-time since then, and everyone’s forgotten the plot by now, I’ve decided to send Catrina on a new adventure. So here we go! 

Catrina, Princess of Shmirmingard, was bored. It had been some time since her last caper, “And boy, you’ll never guess how I got out of that one,” she remarked to no one in particular. The kingdom was going as smoothly as ever. Cthulhu hadn’t been seen on the beaches for months. Catrina’s arch-nemesis Susan hadn’t been seen around either. Catrina’s twins, Tamalyn and Timothy, were growing nicely. Her prince consort, Perry, was still definitely not a bear or an Atlantean clone, and hadn’t been for a while. She hadn’t even had to use Mlrning (the Shovel of Thor!), as the last winter had been remarkably mild. Her birthmark, shaped like Newfoundland, bothered her in no way whatsoever. All was well. Which, in Catrina’s world, usually meant that something was about to happen.

She was idly strolling about the courtyard (the twins were down for a nap, thank heavens), when suddenly, something did happen. A loud bang resounded from the castle gates. Catrina automatically flung out her hand; with a crash and a bump, Mlrning (the Shovel of Thor!) spun out of its closet, rebounded out of a window, and thwacked into Catrina’s waiting palm. “Ow!” she exclaimed. She’d forgotten how much that stung. “Right, who’s there?” she called.

“Merlin!” a voice resounded from the opposite side of the gates.

“Merlin who?”

A pregnant pause followed. Then, it gave birth. A blinding flash of light, and the gates banged open all by themselves. There stood a tall man in dark blue robes, carrying a long wooden staff. A long white beard tumbled nearly to his waist. “The Merlin,” he said, in an impressively rumbly voice. “Straight from Camelot.”

“Ride in on a camel, did you?” Catrina said.

Merlin glared. Evidently he wasn’t keen on puns. Catrina sighed. “Well then. How can I help? Would you like some tea or something?”

“No,” Merlin growled. “I require your assistance. I, ah, seem to have misplaced Excalibur.”

“Excalibur,” Catrina repeated. “You lost it.”

“Could happen to anyone,” Merlin said defensively. “Times have been busy. Lot on m’ mind. You understand.”

“I wouldn’t know, I’ve been waiting for my next story for two years,” Catrina said with a shrug. “So why do you need the sword now?”

“I’ve got to get Arthur back,” Merlin said. “Britain needs him. And to get Arthur, I need the sword.”

“Britain’s in trouble, is it?” Catrina said.

“Have you been there recently?”

“Not since 1913,” Catrina replied. “Time travel. You know. Has a lot happened in Britain since 1913?”

Merlin sighed. “You have no idea. But rather than retrace the entire history, suffice it to say that Britain needs Arthur back again. And to get Arthur-”

“You need the sword,” Catrina said. “Okay. When was the last time you had it?”

Merlin grumbled something. “I’m sorry, what was that?” Catrina asked politely.

“It got thrown into a bloody lake,” Merlin said. “Wasn’t my fault. Arthur had it, and he was dying, and I was stuck in a tree, and he goes and has Bedivere chuck the thing in a lake, and-”

“Stuck in a tree?”

“Long story.”

“Of course,” Catrina said, sighing. “So the sword’s in a lake.”

“Specifically, it’s with the Lady of the Lake. She caught the thing. Find her, you find the sword, retrieve Arthur, save Britain.”

“Seems straightforward enough,” Catrina said. “But what do you need me for?”

Merlin grumbled something under his breath. This time Catrina waited.  After a pause, Merlin sighed. “Nim and I…had a falling out.”

“A falling out?”

The great wizard scuffed his boots on the ground. Catrina gasped. “Oh-ho! You had a thing!” 

“Yes, we had a thing. It ended badly,” Merlin said. “The point is, if I ask her for the sword, she’s liable to take my head off with it. That’s why I need you.”

“I see,” Catrina said. “So you want me to find the Lady of the Lake, get the sword, hand it off to Arthur, save Britain. Is that about it?”

“That’s the idea,”  Merlin said. “Will you?”

Catrina’s trademark slow smile spread across her face. “Absolutely. I just need to let Perry know he’ll be on twin duty till I get back. He won’t mind.”

This has been another exciting episode of the Catrina Chronicles. Tune in next week for more exciting adventures as Catrina sets forth to seek the sword Excalibur! Little does she know….

Be Careful What You Wish For

by

I don’t normally attend funerals. You’d think I would, in my line of work. Some of my associates do. Rachel goes all the time. Sometimes she even makes herself visible and pretends to be one of the mourners. Last time she forgot to turn off her halo and startled the entire congregation. Rachel’s forgetful like that.

Anyway, it’s not like there’s a requirement to go. Michael has always left it up to us. I would go, I really would, only…I just don’t like people. They’re too complicated, too mixed up with emotions and whatnot. Also I live in a town with superheroes, and that makes it even worse. You think civilian humans have issues, you should try dealing with capes.

At any rate, my job is easy; I show up, give the guy the “I’m sorry you’re dead now” speech, and send him up or down, depending. I don’t have to do small talk or sort out relationships. I process and send off to the afterlife, that’s all. Easy.

But today, I have a problem. My guy’s not dead.

I missed getting to him at the moment he expired; there was a big cape-fight on my way, and I got called in to assist. By the time Titanium Walrus’s last seal-bot was destroyed, my guy had already been wrapped up and cremated. No worries, I thought; souls tend to hang around for a while. So I show up at the funeral, ready to do my bit.

Only he’s not there. I peek in the urn; there’s not an echo of a soul. I look closer, and realize all that’s in there is dirt. So where’s my guy?

I shoot a glance around the church. No one seems to have any idea that the deceased isn’t actually demised. They all look appropriately somber. I have no idea where to go now. I can’t just wing back up and say, “Sorry, Archangel Michael, sir, I lost a dead guy.” You don’t lose souls like car keys. So I have to find him.

I decide to go back to where he was supposed to have died. I get as far as the parking lot. He’s right there, sitting inside a rented Volvo, big as life. He’s got some kind of flimsy disguise, dark sunglasses, different color hair. But I know it’s him. You can’t fool an angel like that.

I wait till he gets out of the car. Then I give my left wing a flick and appear. “Hey, you’re supposed to be dead!”

“Faked it,” he says coolly. “Always wanted to do that.”

“How?” I demand.

“Bit of chemicals, bit of dirt, bit of this, bit of the other,” he says. “In this town, it’s not that hard.”

“Granted. Next question. Why?”

He shrugs. “I’m poker buddies with Captain Midnight. He says he’s been to the afterlife twenty-three times by now. I was curious what would happen.”

“You were curious.”

“Yeah. But now, if you’re all, I figure I’ll just wait till my time’s up normally. See you around.” He turns to go.

“The thing is,” I say, and the light around me dims just a bit. “I’m supposed to retrieve a dead guy. I’m not going without one.”

It turned out that his time was a lot sooner than he thought.

It happens.

Incoming

by

“Why did you scream like that?” Constance asked.

Tabitha was still shaking. “I wasn’t expecting it. I got used to the usual alarm, you know. Hey, halo’s blinking, somebody died. But I hadn’t heard that one before.”

Constance patted her wing sympathetically. “Yeah. It’s rough when you have the duty and a Code One goes down. I still remember last time. All those poor dinosaurs. Never had a chance.”

Tabitha sniffed. “I’ve only had the duty for a couple months. I don’t know if I can handle this.”

“Good news is, you won’t be alone,” Constance said. “I talked to Raph. They’re calling in all the teams. They might even pull from Search and Rescue. Do you know when the thing’s supposed to hit?”

“Yeah,” Tabitha said glumly. “Next Tuesday. Somewhere in western Canada, apparently.”

Constance winced. “Yipes. Tough luck. That’ll mean winter for a couple years, at least. Won’t be anything bigger than a ladybug that gets through.”

“Maybe the humans will stop it?” Tabitha said hopefully. “They’ve got those, what do you call them, new-cue-ler things now?”

“Nuclear,” Constance corrected. “Yeah, sure. They’ll throw some bombs at it, maybe that’ll work. Kinda doubt it. Anyway, you’ll be up if it doesn’t work. They’ll probably have you take the first wave of adult souls, since you’re new. Adults are easier.  Kids are rough. You have to try and explain to them….”

Tabitha fell silent. Finally she ventured a question. “Can’t we…you know…stop it?”

Constance shrugged. “Not our call.”  Her halo chirped, and she raised her wings. “Well, see you Tuesday.”

Tabitha watched her soar away in light. “Maybe,” she said quietly to herself, “It should be.”

Comeback

by

If you wanted to set your life on fire, there wasn’t a better combination. You’ve been assigned to Search and Rescue ever since you became an angel, and you’ve been pretty darn good at it. Just last month you saved three puppies and a lizard from a burning building. Your tally of successful saves ranks in the triple digits. Michael himself gave you a terse “Good job” after the puppy rescue, and he never does that. You figured you would be with Search and Rescue forever.

But everything changes. Some scientist lets loose a cloud of radioactive vapor, a mysterious amulet grants a kid magical powers, some guy falls into a vat of toxic waste. Next thing you know, there’s capes running around everywhere. When you have people who can move dump trucks with their mind, Search and Rescue suddenly isn’t so relevant.

That leaves the other assignment. The one you’re on now. The one you specifically requested not to receive when you first won your wings. But there’s a need for it, and so you’ve been assigned. Even in a world with superheroes, people still die. They may die in unique and interesting ways now (you’ll never forget that poor man overwhelmed by the horde of genetically engineered ferrets with laser eyes), but they still die, all the same. When they do, someone’s got to take them on to the afterlife. That’s you.

So, tonight, you have the duty. Your halo blinks, informing you that you have an assignment. You show up on scene, prepared to give the usual “Sorry you’re dead now” speech. This varies only slightly in content, depending on whether your subject is going up or down. Tonight, though, is different. Tonight, to your shock, it’s not one of the civilians that you’re called upon to escort. It’s a cape.

You’re a little surprised, actually. You’d heard that Captain Midnight was nigh-invulnerable. Apparently his invulnerability didn’t extend to the Kaboominator. As you glide down to the expiring Captain’s side, you note that this isn’t the first Kaboominator-related death in the city lately, and wonder if you should ask Michael about it. Maybe you could give a little nudge to the good guys to stop it?

As you approach, Captain Midnight’s soul detaches itself from his body, seamlessly as a square of toilet paper coming off a roll. It looks unusual to you. Usually souls are glowy-bright or inky-black, but this one looks muddled and grey. You sigh, realizing that the Captain’s eternal destination might take a minute to sort out.

“Hi there,” you begin. “I’m Tabitha. I’ll be your angel of death this evening-”

“Hang on,” the Captain’s soul says. “I’m dead?”

“Yes, sir,” you say. This isn’t the first time you’ve had to explain this. People who’ve just died tend to have a little trouble adjusting. “I realize this may be new for you, and I’m happy to provide any assistance necessary-”

“Yeah, no thanks. I’ve been here before,” the soul growls.

“I’m sorry?”

The soul says something you can’t quite make out then; you think maybe it’s Latin. To your astonishment, the soul disappears. Next thing you know, the body on the ground is sitting up, blinking, and wiping the ash off its shoulder. “Right,” Captain Midnight says. “What’d I miss?”

“You’re alive!” you exclaim, rather obviously.

“Yeah,” Captain Midnight says. “It’s kinda my thing. I’ve resurrected, oh, seventeen times now. Kaboominator this time, was it? I’ll have to do something about that.”

“But…but….” you stammer. “You died!”

“Yeah,” says the Captain. “Nice to meet you. Don’t think I’ve met you before. The last death angel I met was a guy. Scott, I think he said his name was.”

“You….you can’t come back once you’ve died!” you manage, still at a loss.

Captain Midnight gives his cape a dramatic flourish. “Can.”

He soars away into the night, leaving you bewildered. You do make a note that you need to have serious words with Scott. If people can resurrect themselves now, a heads-up would’ve been nice.

A Grave Offense

by

It was a dark and stormy night, which befitted the troubled soul of Captain Midnight, for he had sworn his eldritch powers to maintain order in this tempestuous demopolis, and yet – and yet  – Thomas Corcoran (age six) had not returned his library book promptly.

After the Caper

by

The light clicked on, startling him badly. He whirled. There she stood, framed in the glow from the hallway. She looked tired. “Okay. Where’d you put it?”

“Put what?” he said, rather lamely.

“You know what,” she said. “Jupiter. Great big planet, big red dot. Where’d you put it?”

“Honestly, Min, I don’t know what you’re-”

“Oh, yes, you do,” she shot back, and now she sounded angry rather than tired. “I checked, okay? I’ve got friends at NASA who’ll still speak to me. They’re flipping out because they lost a freakin’ planet. One of them told me they picked up some sort of funny radiation. You don’t think I know what that means? I helped you build the Shrink-O-Mater, genius. I know it runs on terseron particles.”

“So someone stole Jupiter,” he said defensively. “Why do you assume it’s me? Plenty of supervillains out there. The Red Mushroom, Crudmuffin, the Rogue Jaywalker-”

She rolled her eyes. “Oh, please. Like that guy could steal a planet. Anyway, none of them have a fully functional Shrink-O-Mater, which, funny thing, isn’t in the vault downstairs. I checked, I said.”

He knew the game was up. “Fine,” he said. “Yeah. I stole Jupiter. Shrunk it, stashed it.”

“Where exactly?”

His eyes flickered towards the crib. She looked that way too. Then she looked back at him. “What…” she said slowly. “What did you put in that diaper?”

“Well…”

“Tell me you didn’t put the King of Planets in our baby’s diaper.”

He shrugged. “There’s plenty of room in there. We just went up a size in Pampers, remember?”

“But…” she asked plaintively. “Why? The hell, why?”

“Seemed like a good place for it?”

There was a long silence. “Okay,” she said. “You’re going to put Jupiter back. Now, before the Great Red Spot becomes the Great Brown Spot. You’re going to put the Shrink-O-Mater back downstairs. And in the morning, you and I are going to have a talk.”

“Yes, dear,” he said, reaching for the diaper. Next time, he decided, he would swipe Saturn. Min liked rings, he knew. She’d swiped more than a few in her day. And Saturn, he decided, would be a perfect “I’m sorry I stole a planet” present.

Wishes

by

“I wish for the Seven Seas, please.”

The request was straightforward, spoken clearly. So many people made their wishes in a burst of excitement or wild desires, and often came to grief due to improperly enunciated syllables. Hassan had gotten no end of fun out of the poor man who wished for an unending celebration and accidentally dropped the “R”.  Despite the well-enunciated nature of this request, however, Hassan still felt the need to clarify.

“You wish to see the Seven Seas, you mean? I could arrange a tour…”

“Oh, no,” she said. “I want them. The actual Seven Seas. Mediterranean, Caspian, Red, Adriatic, the whole bit. I want them all.”

Hassan blinked. “Ah. You do know that the Seven Seas are…well….big. It’s a great deal of water.”

“I’m aware,” she said coolly. “I assume that you can include some sort of magic pitcher or box or some such thing that can contain the Seven Seas inside until I want them. It should be implied as part of the successful granting of the wish.”

“You’ve studied,” Hassan sighed.  He always had less fun when the wish-casters knew what they were about. “Very well. You’ll have them in an appropriately magical container.”

“Fine,” she said. “Can you get the lights for me?”

“The what?”

“I want the Northern Lights too. Or southern. I don’t care which. I want the sky lights.”

Hassan looked perplexed. “That’s actually two wishes, you know. Wouldn’t you rather wait a bit until you’ve had the first one?”

“No,” she said. “I want them now. I’ll let you know about the third one. Incidentally, where are you on the killing-people thing? I’ve heard some genies don’t.”

“Oh, I will,” Hassan said. “I have no problem with that. Who do you want done?”

“Death,” Merope said.

Hassan burst out laughing.

Merope. it turned out, wasn’t joking at all.

Note: this story follows on from Bad Ideas

Bad Ideas

by

“I’m sorry, you did what?”

“I chained up you know who.”

“I’m sorry, Sis, you’ll have to be more specific. There’s way too many people with unspeakable names nowadays. There’s this Dryad I know, real stuck up, and she’s going on and on about how no one can say her name now because it’s too magical and mysterious and I’m like, girl, it’s not all that and a box of ambrosia, Iknow what her real name is-”

“Thanatos, okay? I chained up Thanatos.”

“….”

“Yeah. That’s why I got to roll this rock.”

“Well. That was stupid.”

“Thanks for the encouragement, ‘rope.”

“Well, what did you think? The guy’s Death, Sis. You can’t just go picking on Death.:”

“Well, I did. Thus the rock.”

“So, what, you have to roll the rock to the top of this hill?”

“That’s what they told me.”

“Doesn’t sound too bad.”

“Yeah. I got a bad feeling though.”

“Okay, look, I’ll help. It’s just a stupid rock, how hard can it be?”

“Thanks, ‘rope.””

“Just promise me you won’t do anything else stupid like picking on You Know Who, okay?”

“Yeah, yeah, I promise. You don’t got any of that ambrosia around, do you?”

“Sorry, but it’s not on the menu. Elektra took the last of it.”

“Oh. Ah, well. It’s just I wanted a snack. Rolling this rock and all…”

“I’ll check with Elektra. Maybe there’s some left.”

“Thanks again, ‘rope. You’re the best.”

“You too, Sis. You too.”

Checking It Twice

by

Seven?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Including wrath?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Wrath and sloth?”

“Super mad, too lazy to fuss about it. So he went to gluttony, then lust….”

“Oy.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, he’s off the nice list.”

“Already scratched, Mr. Claus. How long till you let him on again?”

“Years, Jingles. Years.”

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