Guarding the Borders of Heaven

A short standalone Angels story.

Seraphel, standing beside the portal, couldn’t hold back from sighing as he saw the approaching procession.  Of course, since angels didn’t need to breathe, they really didn’t have to sigh, either, but he felt that it appropriately expressed his mood.

The angel approaching his portal didn’t look quite right.  The wings were sagging, and the halo appeared to be held up with the help of a chopstick and some duct tape.  Instead of glowing with holy light, it had been painted yellow with reflective spray paint.

The “angel” was also pushing a large trolley, on top of which sat several cardboard boxes.  The boxes seemed to be shifting and twitching more than was appropriate for inanimate objects.  The “angel” was struggling a fair bit to get the trolley to roll over the clouds leading up to the portal, but he was still creeping forward.

“Hold it,” Seraphel said, putting out one hand as the other “angel” approached.  He didn’t draw his flaming sword, but he lowered one hand to its hilt, at the waist of his robes.

The “angel” stopped, looking rather frustrated.  “Yeah?” he grunted in gravelly tones.

Again, Seraphel sighed.  “Come on,” he said in gentle tones, still hoping he wouldn’t have to do any smiting.  It always made the air taste all greasy and unpleasant.  “You can’t really be hoping to fool me with this getup.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” came the reply.  “I’m an angel, same as you.”

Seraphel’s eyes narrowed.  “Do you really think I’m that stupid?” he asked, a note of irritation creeping into his voice.  “Your wings are definitely made of cardboard, and one of my kind would never actually push a trolley to move a shipment of things.”

“Oh yeah?” the other figure challenged.  “What would you do then, huh, flappy?”

Ignoring the dig at his wings, Seraphel pointed at the boxes and lifted one immaculate finger.  On their own, the boxes rose up and floated off the trolley, hovering in the air.  Another little twist of his finger, and they flipped upside down, and several rather dirty looking humans came tumbling out onto the clouds.

The angel didn’t feel that he had to say anything more to prove his point.  Instead, he just crooked an eyebrow at the imposter who had been trying to get through the portal.  It was a look that Seraphel had practiced for several centuries, and he was very good at it.

The men on the ground were complaining as they climbed to their feet.  “What gives, man?” asked one, angrily shoving his disguised companion.

The “angel” just shrugged.  “I told you it wouldn’t fool him,” he said.  “They’re not as dumb as devils, you know.”

Seraphel nodded.  “Very true,” he approved.

The disguised man gave him a nod as his companions finished crawling out of the boxes.  “I mean, we gotta try, you know,” he said, trying to explain himself.  “The demons may be dumb as a bunch of rocks, sure, but they still keep trying to do the whole “flay the skin from your body” thing.  I mean, after a couple weeks we all work out that we can’t feel anything, but they don’t get that.  We’ve tried explaining it a hundred times.”

It was all true, but there still wasn’t anything that Seraphel could do about it.  “Better luck next time, I suppose,” he offered.  “Besides, it’s still Hell, you know.  You have to serve out your immortal judgement there.”

“Oh, bugger that,” the disguised man replied, to the murmured agreement of his companions.  The anger had gone out of his voice, however, and he wasn’t making any confrontational moves.  “One of these days, Seraphel.  We’ll get through eventually.”

“Keep on trying,” the angel replied, not unkindly.  He knew that he was assigned to prevent damned souls from getting into Heaven, but he had to admit that he felt a little sorry for them.  Besides, it was a nice break from the monotony of standing beside this portal throughout the millenia.  At least they were creative.  “Maybe next time I won’t notice.”

Seraphel’s hand was still on his flaming sword, but he decided to give the men a break.  “Do I really need to smite you?” he asked.

“Nah,” the man replied, bending down to toss the empty cardboard boxes back onto the trolley.  “I know how you dislike the smell.  We’ll take our time walking back.”

Seraphel leaned back against the gate as he watched the men leave.  One of the fellows who had been hidden in the boxes was still angrily complaining, but he was new.  He’d settle into the natural rhythm soon enough.

Sure, being a border guard was a rather dull job most of the time, but at least it had interaction with mortals.  That helped keep it interesting.

"Real men ride dragons."

“Okay, lemme get this straight.”

“Yeah, go ahead.  Ask away.”

“We’re talking about dragons, right?  The same dragons?  Not, like, goats?  Or a horse that you’ve just decided to name “Dragon”?”

“No, I’m talking about dragons!  You had it right.”

“The big scaly things.  Lots of spikes, mouth full of teeth the size of my forearm, spits out fire, have a propensity for roasting knights and would-be slayers alive in their armor?  Sometimes carry off whole cattle to devour in their lairs?”

“Yeah, man, dragons.”

“And you want to ride one of those.”

“Well, yeah.”

“Dude.”

“What?”

“Are you insane?”

“No!  Come on, just think of how awesome that would be!  Soaring up through the clouds, flying, on the back of a massive dragon!”

“Until that massive dragon gets hungry and decides that you’ll make a nice snack!  Or it gets tired of you wanting to steer it or control it and it decides to drop you – a thousand feet in the air!”

“See, that’s the difference between us.  I’m an optimist.  I think things will work.”

“Yeah, well, I’m a realist!  And I say that you’re throwing your life away.”

“Oh, wait.  I see what your problem is.”

“What?”

“You’re chicken.

“What??  I’m not chicken!  Not wanting to die doesn’t make me a chicken!”

“You’re just too scared to ride a dragon.  A real man would man up and do it!”

“No, a real man would wait until the thing’s asleep, sneak up on it, and stick a sword through its throat!  That’s what real men do!”

“Nah, didn’t you hear?  Lady Jacobene killed a dragon last week.  In single combat, no less.  We gotta do something more extreme, something more manly.”

“Dude, I give up.  You’re insane.”

“Just you wait.  When I’m riding a dragon, I’ll be sure to dive-bomb your cottage first.  Real men ride dragons.”

“Idiot.”

“Fraidy-cat.”

Lazy Sunday

Written by request.

She’s already sitting on the couch by the time that I struggle out of the bedroom we share, still trying to wipe the last remnants of sleep from my eyes.  I can’t even begin to imagine how she can manage to struggle out of the grasp of our sheets before noon on the weekends.  My engine is a V8 on a cold day, slow to turn over, needing plenty of time to warm up.  Hers reminds me of a scooter – always ready to spring to life, but occasionally running out of steam without warning.

I settle into the spot beside her on the couch, and she is immediately leaning up against me.  Her hair feels slightly damp.  She must have showered already.  I slept right through the sound of the running water.

“What’re you up to?” she asks as I reach for my computer.  I think she’s occasionally frustrated by how attached I am to the device.  I’m not quite sure how to explain it; I’ve become accustomed to the extension of technology.  My ritual begins each morning with checking my mail and various sites, catching up on what I’ve missed.

After a quick scan of my email headings, I reply.  “I need to write some blog posts for next week,” I say, reaching up to rub her shoulder with one hand.  “Any inspiration for me?”

She rolls over so she can look up at me as she lays across me.  “Ooh!  You should write about me!” she exclaims, a silly smile plastered across her face.

I smile back at her, despite the prompt.  “Okay, but I need more than that!” I insist, as I’ve done so many times before.  “I need a plot, not just a character!”

Her brow furrows in concentration as she consider this.  I doubt that she’s even aware of how her face betrays her inner thoughts, but I can spot it now almost instantly.  She thinks that I’m sensitive when I ask her about a bad day.  I just think I’m being observant.  But it’s nice to listen to her, to know that I’m not alone in life’s frustrations.

“I dunno,” she finally says.  “Plots are harder.”

She’s right.  Plots are harder.  I struggle occasionally with plots; they either come to me in my mind, almost fully formed, or I muddle through pages after pages of nothing.  This is why I need to throw a net on my ideas right away, to capture them and imprison them in an outline, before they can escape.  “Well, what are you going to be doing in this story?” I try asking.

Her eyes are already closed again, though, as she cuddles in closer to me.  “This,” she murmurs, before pressing her face into my shirt.

I gaze down at the keyboard, not quite sure how to write this.  But it’s what she requested.  I start clicking my fingers across the keys, putting down words, hoping that they’ll coalesce into something worthwhile.

“I did Jillian this morning,” she comments, about ten paragraphs in.  I pause momentarily in my typing, glancing over at her.  Her eyes are still shut and her face is still pressed against my stomach, slightly muffling her words.

Jillian is her set of workout videos.  That must be why she showered already.  I reach over and pat her on her stomach, my forearm slipping down to momentarily press against her chest.  As always, I’m slightly thrilled by the casual intimacy, how this girl trusts me so deeply.  And it goes both ways; I feel more comfortable around her than with anyone else, free to speak my mind and not fear an angry backlash or unprovoked attack.  “Good for you,” I say sincerely.

She doesn’t even open her eyes at the touch of my arm.  “You should do yoga with me,” she says, before turning over to press in further and get more comfortable.

I’ve heard this before.  To be honest, I have wanted to try yoga – I have read multiple articles supporting its use for meditation and mental acuity.  I just haven’t yet been able to bring myself to lay out on a mat and stretch myself into silly poses.  “It could be fun,” I reply.

We should get up and start our day; the hours are already beginning to slip away.  As always, I feel the drive to be productive rising up within me, whispering its insipid song.  You’re wasting your time, it hisses to me. If you don’t get something done, this day is a waste, useless.  I wonder if my couch companion also hears that little voice, inspiring a mixture of optimism and fear.  Optimism that I can do something with my day, my time, my life; fear that it will all be for nothing, that I will have somehow failed to achieve.  If she does hear that voice, she hides it better than I do.

But for a few minutes longer, we remain on the couch together, doing nothing.  Sloth slowly deposits a miasma upon my soul, but it is pleasurable in small doses.  Especially when I have someone to share it with.