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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.

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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

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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.”

Myna Chang

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