"No, You Take Him."

Gadriel was the first to arrive, and as he stepped into the mortal plane, he briefly exulted, glad to see that he’d beaten his fallen counterpart there, if only by a few fractions of an instant.

It wasn’t until nearly a nanosecond later – practically five minutes, to Gadriel’s perception – that Laxazz appeared, bursting forth from a red-tinged portal, his roar of satisfaction quickly shifting to a surly growl as he caught sight of Gadriel’s glowing wings and folded arms.

“Oh.  You’re already here,” he grunted, practically each word accompanied by a droplet or two of spittle, thanks to his hulking fangs.  “Finishing fast, huh?”

Gadriel didn’t know how this was meant to insult him, but he could recognize the tone, and chose to ignore it.  “Listen, I beat you, so I get first pick of the soul,” he stated instead, letting one of his hands drop down to rest, ever so lightly, on his sheathed sword.  The thing didn’t flame up in the sheath, but Laxazz knew how easily that blade could burn his flesh.

“Yeah, whatever,” he grunted back.  “Let’s just get this done so I can get on to the next harvest.”

With the initial exchange concluded, both the angel and the demon finally looked around at their surroundings – and the angel’s face fell.  Both of them had emerged into a gray cell, with only a small window offering much light, most of which was blocked by the thick steel bars.  This was, most definitely, a prison cell.

Laxazz clapped his hands together.  “Yes!  Looks like I’m going to get to claim this soul!”

“Not so fast!” the angel protested.  “Maybe he’s innocent, or he repented!”  Gadriel couldn’t quite make his tone sound confident, however, and the demon chuckled.

To combat the darkness, both the angel and the devil summoned up lights; Gadriel summoned a small, brilliantly white glowing sphere, while Laxazz called forth a sullen ever-burning flame.  Both of the lights lit up the interior of the cell, and they spotted their target for the first time.

As one, both the angel and devil drew back slightly, their expressions twisting.  The look of revulsion looked much more repulsive on Laxazz’s face – Gadriel just didn’t have the tusks and warts to pull the look off effectively – but both faces clearly portrayed the same emotion.

“Well, looks like he’s one of yours,” the angel spoke up first, already beginning to move his hand in the gestures to summon an exit portal.

“Hey, wait a minute!” the demon snapped back at him, raising his batlike wings a little in protest.  “I don’t want this one!  I’m willing to pass him back to you!”

With a sigh, Gadriel ceased twisting his fingers in the complex patterns that seemed to somehow pass through each other.  “No, that’s okay, you can take him,” he replied, giving the soul in the corner another look of disgust.  “I think he’ll fit much better in Hell.”

As the angel and demon bickered back and forth, the soul had slowly been coalescing back into its human shape.  When first severed from their host body, souls tend to dissipate as a featureless mist – but over time, they’re pulled back into the body shape that they’ve come to know so well for the last several dozen years.  Now, the man in the corner managed to sit up, blinking for a moment at his shimmering, translucent hands before raising his attention to the bickering supernatural entities in front of him.

“Hey!” he called out faintly, needing to focus even to make a sound.  “What’s going on?  Why are you two arguing?”

“This doesn’t concern you,” Gadriel snapped at the soul brusquely.  “Just let us talk.”

If Laxazz had done the snapping, this might have shut up the soul, but Gadriel just couldn’t project that same level of command.  The soul frowned, but then opened his mouth again.

“I thought I was supposed to be judged,” he commented, looking back up at the pair.  “Isn’t that what you’re here to do?”

As the soul spoke, Laxazz was making a fierce argument, muttering something about how “no, that’s just gross, we don’t want that sort of stuff in Hell” and jabbing Gadriel in the chest with a fat, leathery finger.  But as the soul spoke up, Gadriel suddenly held up a hand.

“That’s a good idea, actually,” he said.  “The soul needs to be judged – and who better to know his crimes, than him himself?”

Laxazz still wore a frown, as much over the syntax of that last sentence as over its content, but Gadriel was already turning to the soul.  “So, mortal,” he spoke up, putting on a smile that seemed to hover an inch or so in front of his face without touching the rest of his features.  “Where do you think that you belong?”


The angel’s smile didn’t budge at all, although his eyes looked slightly more strained.  “You know all the good deeds and sins in your life,” he pointed out, accenting the sins a bit more.  “Do you think you belong in Heaven?  Or in Hell?”

“Hey!  Not fair!” Laxazz cut in.  “You lot have convinced them all that they’re sinners!  He’s just going to pick me!”

The soul looked back and forth between the arguing pair.  “Wait a minute,” he said, shaking his head.  “Do neither of you want me?  Is that what’s going on here?”

Neither the angel nor the demon answered, but they both glanced away, the angel pretending to whistle, the demon reaching up to pick something out of one of his fangs.  Both supernatural creatures looked quite uncomfortable.

“Well, yes,” Laxazz finally answered, his wings dropping a little in embarrassment, his scaly tail flicking back and forth against the backs of his hooves.  “You’re a pretty terrible person, you know.”

“What?”  The soul shook his head, or the protoplasm that formed the semblance of a head.  “Doesn’t that mean that I should go to Hell?”

If Laxazz could sink into the floor, he surely would be doing so right now.  “Normally, yes.  But the things you did…” The demon grimaced – which is something to see on a face with horns and tusks.  “That’s not exactly the sort of thing we get in Hell, even.”

“So what?  I’ve been too wicked for Hell?”

“It’s not even wicked, not exactly,” Gadriel pitched in, unable to bear the awkwardness any longer.  “It’s just, well….”

“Ew,” Laxazz stated succinctly, and the angel nodded.

“Yeah.  Ew.”

The soul stared back and forth between the two, his mouth hanging open for a moment, before managing to reply.  “So what, you’re trying to decide who has to take me?  I’m the one that nobody wants to choose??”

“Yeah, basically.”

But then, just as everyone fell silent, the demon in embarrassment, the soul in outrage, Gadriel suddenly straightened up, snapping his fingers.  “Ooh!  I’ve got an idea!”

He leaned in towards the demon’s twisted, wrinkled ear, whispering.  At first, the demon looked surprised, but then, after a second, he started nodding.  “That could work,” he agreed.  “Of course, neither of us could report on it.”

“That works for me,” Gadriel replied.

The soul, looking back and forth between the angel and demon, grew more and more frustrated.  “Hey!  What the hell’s going on?  Someone talk to me!  Tell me – I want some answers, dammit!”

Both the angel and the demon turned back to the soul – and, simultaneously, they both snapped their fingers.

His mouth open halfway through another curse, the soul vanished, with a slight “pop” noise.

For a second longer, both the angel and demon stood in the empty chamber.  Gadriel was the first to move, twisting his hands through the portal summoning gestures once more.

“Well, that was a waste,” he groaned out loud.  “See you at the next one, Laxazz.”

“Yeah, see ya,” the demon replied, still staring at where the soul had, until a second ago, been angrily standing and ranting.  “Where do you think he went?”

As his portal appeared, Gadriel shrugged.  “Who cares?” he answered.  “The point is, he can make another attempt, and hopefully not muck things up quite so much this time.”

The demon considered this for a moment, but then shrugged.  “Eh, he can’t do much worse,” he replied, thinking back to the list of the soul’s activities and shuddering.  “Guh, I know that I take sinners off to Hell, but some of those thing were just-“

“You don’t need to remind me,” Gadriel answered, grimacing.  “Point is, we’re done with him for now.  And I’m off, before one of my bosses wonders what exactly happened here.”

The angel did strike a good point, Laxazz reflected, as he called up his own portal back to Hell.  After all, he was supposed to collect souls, not send them away.  No matter how disgusting their activities had been while they were alive.


The demon’s portal, as is typical of most portals to Hell, left a good amount of residual heat behind.  That heat crackled the stones and soaked down into the earth, causing some of the insect eggs mixed into the dirt to accelerate their hatching processes.

From one egg, a small worm twisted, wriggling its way out into the dirt.

Worms generally don’t have much in the way of thoughts at the best of times, and even when they do, most of those thoughts tend to be reflections on things like soil temperature, mineral content, and humidity levels.  A worm’s universe is intimately small, and comprised almost entirely of things passing through its digestive tract.

For this worm, however, as it crawled into existence from inside its egg, it found itself dealing with some strange thoughts.  First among those was one that shouted out, “Reincarnation!?  That’s not what I wanted!  Why the hell did they reincarnate me!?”

Worms, however, don’t have much of a long-term memory – or, really, any memory at all, so this strange thought soon faded.  Soon, the worm didn’t remember anything of its past life, or even its present life.  Instead, it focused on chewing its way through the dirt.

And hey, maybe that wasn’t so bad, after all.  Worms can’t get up to too much trouble.

God and Lucifer switch places for a day….

Sometimes, Mephistopheles (Mephisto for short) reflected, souls arrived down at the Gates of Hell claiming that they could talk their way out of things, that this was all just one big misunderstanding.  These people were known to have “silver tongues.”

But if these mere mortals had silver tongues, Mephisto’s boss, Lucifer, possessed the singular golden tongue.

Mephisto had seen his boss charm them all.  He could talk a priest into becoming a killer, could convince the most selfless saint to turn his back on his fellow man.  Once, Mephisto swore, he’d seen his boss charm the very wings off of a butterfly.

And yet, right now, Lucifer was speechless…

It was obvious.  Mephisto slowly edged backwards as he watched the fallen archangel, the Master of Hell, open and close his mouth without any sound coming out.

Briefly, Mephisto wondered what could be considered a “minimum safe distance.”  Technically, his boss’s wrath knew no bounds, but usually the flames didn’t make it more than a dozen feet or so before dissipating.  Still, the trusted devil lieutenant didn’t want to lose an eyebrow.

“Wha – what in the name of Hell did He do!?” Lucifer finally roared out, his bellow shaking the very foundations of the infernal plane.  “This can’t be!”

Lucifer turned and glared with twin black holes at Mephisto, who shuffled uncertainly forward a step.  The other lieutenants were hanging back, waiting for someone else to step up and take the fall.

“Boss, we really didn’t have much of a choice or anything,” Mephisto commented, already half-tensed to dodge Lucifer’s impending wrath.  “I mean, it’s Him.  What are we going to do, say no?”

For a moment, Lucifer kept up the million-watt glare, and Mephisto prepared himself for the worst.  Reforming this body was going to be a royal pain.  But just as he was resigning himself to atomization, the anger went out of Lucifer’s shoulders, and he slumped down.

“Man, that guy really just bugs me, you know?” he said, his voice more despairing than raging.  Kicking off his sandals, the fallen archangel padded out onto the grassy, frolicking meadows that now covered Hell.  He bent down and ripped a dandelion out of the ground, but three more wildflowers sprung up in its place.

“I mean, just look at this,” he went on, spreading an arm out.  “What in the world was He even thinking?”

Interested by the motion, a fluffy lamb ambled over, nibbling hopefully at the Master of Hell’s robe in hopes that it tasted like grass.  Lucifer fired a massive bolt of lightning into the lamb, but it just briefly made the creature’s wool stand on end before it decided that the robe wasn’t as tasty as the green grass underfoot.

Again, none of the other lieutenants spoke up, so Mephisto was left to fill the silence.  “He said that even the worst souls could be saved through peace and tranquility,” he offered, again cringing back from any outrage.

“Peace??  Tranquility??  That’s not what souls want!  They need to be burned in Hellfire and flayed by imps with pitchforks!” Lucifer shouted back, glaring at the whole pastoral scene around him.  “Has He not read any of their recent literature?  When did He go so soft?”

“Some time around the New Testament, I think,” Satan’s lieutenant offered, stepping forward, carefully lifting his foot to crush a daisy and grimacing with distaste.

Lucifer suddenly straightened up, frowning.  “What did he do with the imps, anyway?”

“Er… you just tried to electrify one of them, sir,” Mephisto informed him.

The Lord of Hell’s eyes went wide.  “He turned my demons and imps… into SHEEP?”

“Not just sheep, lord,” grunted Ba’al from behind Mephisto, oozing forward.  “Ducks, piglets, little frolicking puppies-“

Mephisto managed to just duck the fireball, but the giant slug form of Ba’al wasn’t so fast, and the grass was covered in a layer of slime.  “How dare he??” howled the Eternal Ruler of Damnation up at the black sky.

Time to steer the Master back to a more pleasant topic, Mephisto decided, reaching up and gingerly feeling the top of his head to make sure it hadn’t been burned away.  “Sir, at least you did something to Heaven, didn’t you?” he asked.

The devil lieutenant knew his master well.  Lucifer already had another fireball glowing in his hands, but the question made him stop and smile, the orb of energy dissipating.  “Oh, you bet,” he grinned, suddenly happy.  “That should at least put a bee in His bonnet!”



“Lord, he said that it was allowed, since it’s a version of Heaven-“


“Erm, let me see…” The cherub ran a shaking chubby hand down his clipboard until he found the entry.  “Um, rednecks, Lord.”


“Enough for him to make it stick, Lord.  Some of us argued-“


“He filled… them… with helium, Lord.  Said it would make them more ‘perky’.”


“More or less.  Lucifer said that the breathing was the best part, rising and falling.  I’m not quite sure what he meant, Lord.”


“Chicken wings, sir.  And beer.  That’s right.”


“The slogan, sir.  Most people’s eyes don’t make it down that far.”


The ‘Doubt’ Theory of God

The devil sitting across the table from me leaned back, one hand lazily twirling a finger about an inch above the brim of his coffee cup.  Even though there was nothing physically extending down into the cup itself, the liquid beneath his finger seemed to be moving along with his motions.

In front of me, both of my hands were wrapped around my own coffee cup.  Even after years of working here, of pouring coffee every day for the angels, both holy and fallen, that wandered in here, I still got nervous when talking to them.  Call it mortal nerves, maybe.  I waited for the devil in front of me to respond.

“See, here’s my theory,” the devil across from me finally started.  His voice was cultured, with only the very faintest little hint of a sneer giving any sort of allusion to his true nature.  “We all know that God exists, somewhere, in some form.  Right?  We,” and he waved one hand around in a little circle to encompass the two of us, the coffee shop, the world in general, “wouldn’t be here if He didn’t exist.”

“But we never see him,” I countered.  “And even the angels and devils I’ve talked to haven’t ever spoken with him directly.”

It was true.  Ever since I’d started working here, since I had realized who the real customers of this coffee shop were, I’d begun asking around.  My inquiries were surreptitious at first, but as I grew more comfortable with the immortal agents of Heaven and Hell who filed through here every morning, grumpy and in search of their caffeine fix, I grew bolder.

The devil across from me held up a finger, as if I’d just made his point for him.  “Ah, but that’s just it, isn’t it?” he announced triumphantly, as if he’d scored a point.  “We know that He exists – but at the same time, we don’t know!  We’re doubtful!”

I narrowed my eyes at the man.  Was he just trying to be flippant with me?  He did look the type – if it weren’t for the black clothes that marked him as a fallen angel, he could have fit in at a fraternity house, dressed in a polo with a popped collar and hollering for shots.  His blonde hair was pushed back in a loose curl across his forehead that would generally take hours in front of a mirror.

“What’s your point?” I said shortly.

The devil crossed his arms and looked smug.  “Doubt,” he announced.


“Yeah, isn’t that what I just said?  See, I think that this God guy lives on doubt.  He exists, but He can’t demonstrate that He exists, or else He removes all the doubt.  And He must need us to be doubtful for some reason!”

I didn’t feel convinced.  “So God exists… but He is powered by doubt?” I reiterated.

“Yup.  And if He was to start messing around directly, throwing lightning bolts and such, well, that would remove all the doubt!”  The devil looked pleased as punch with this theory.

“Okay…” I paused, trying to decide where to go next.  I still didn’t feel convinced, but I didn’t see how this devil could help me any further.  He was a fairly low ranking devil, but he had been one of the few that seemed agreeable to talking with me.  I was stuck with the customers who seemed friendly, low-powered as they might be.

We sat there in silence for a couple more minutes – I was trying to digest this theory, and the devil was gloating, apparently believing he’d landed another convert.

“So, what does this mean for us?” I finally asked.

“It means we can do whatever we want!” the devil exclaimed.  I almost expected him to add a ‘bro’ onto the end of that sentence.  “See, God can’t jump in and stop us, or else it would prove that He exists – and He can’t do that!”

“But what if He intervenes indirectly?” I countered.  “Like, God doesn’t appear and throw lightning bolts, but there happens to be a thunderstorm in that same place that struck just then.”

The devil across the table frowned.  “Nah, that wouldn’t work, would it?” he mused, looking a little rattled.

“Remember the general who got shot by a cannon after mocking the enemy’s ability to hit anything?” I countered.

The devil looked a little ill.  He lifted up his coffee, but slopped a little as it rose up to his mouth.  “Uh, maybe my theory needs a little detailing,” he stammered, as he rose up quickly from his seat, brushing drops of hot liquid off his black clothes.  “Maybe I’ll let you know once I’ve worked it all out.”

I watched the devil scurry away, and sighed.  Another servant of God who didn’t even know if his boss existed.  Sometimes, I despaired that I’d get anywhere on this.

The bell above the door jangled, jolting me out of my reverie.  Well, at least I could serve coffee.  I hopped up and hurried back behind the counter, putting on a smile as the newest angels entered.

What would you change?

The waitress glanced over at the bearded man in the corner.  He had been sitting here for several hours, now, and she was starting to feel a little concerned.

This wasn’t the first time that a senior citizen had wandered into the coffee shop and refused to leave.  The waitress could still remember that incident a couple of months ago, when a man with Alzheimer’s insisted that his daughter “would be along to pick me up any minute.”

That hadn’t been so bad – until the man stayed for another four hours, staring blankly out the window and shedding all over the floor.

So, once she had a few free minutes between waves of customers, the waitress sidled over towards where the bearded man sat, his cup of coffee in front of him long since gone cold.

“Sir?” the woman said as she stepped up to the table, her tone not impolite.  “Sir, is everything okay over here?  You’ve been nursing that cup of coffee for a while.”

The man glanced up at her as she spoke.  His eyes were bright and focused, she observed with a hint of hope.  Maybe he would turn out to just be some philosopher, reflecting on some problem for a local college, or some harmless story like that.

“Oh, things are quite fine, Virginia,” he replied, his tone gentle.  “I’m just reflecting back on my past, you know?  Trying to think of, if I could do it all over, what changes I might make.  What I might do differently.”

The waitress was startled for a moment.  How did this man know her name?  But then she remembered that she was at work, in uniform – including a name tag – and relaxed.  A glance towards the front of the shop showed no angry and impatient line of customers, so she slid down into the seat opposite the elderly man.  Her back fit smoothly into the two indentations carved into the back of the chair.  It felt good to take the weight off of her feet, even if just for a minute or two.

“Well, I certainly can think of a few things I’d change!” she commented, rolling her eyes.  “But hey, you made it to this age without killing yourself or losing any limbs, so you must have done something right?”

The man just smiled kindly at her, his eyes twinkling in amid the mass of white hair.  He had similar gray running all down his back, and his hands looked wrinkled but still able to move and grasp.  He looked oddly like one of Virginia’s grandparents, in that distant sort of way that all older people look the same.  Something about him radiated trustworthiness, insisted that he couldn’t cause any real harm.  Despite her natural cynicism, Virginia felt oddly at ease.

“I suppose that I’ve done a lot right – but in broader terms, wouldn’t you say that the world is a bit off track?” he asked, spreading out his hands as if to encompass the whole globe in a single shrug.  “Maybe, if the dinosaurs hadn’t been wiped out, they wouldn’t have had such war and bloodshed.”

Virginia couldn’t hold back a laugh at that.  “Really?  Dinosaurs?  The big lizards with the huge teeth?” she replied, still chuckling.  “You think that they’d ever learn to get along?”

“Intelligent plants, perhaps?  I do like the photosynthesis.  They wouldn’t go to war with each other.”

“What, like the whole world would get six months’ vacation every winter?” Virginia asked, almost liking the idea.  “But wouldn’t they all start fighting over who has to go live in cloudy places like Seattle?”

The man laughed at that – a rolling, deep belly laugh that was naturally infectious.  Virginia laughed along with him, imagining the absurdity of plants that could actually think.  Impossible!

“So, you like how things turn out,” the man finally concluded, as his laughter subsided.  “You think that everything went as well as it could, in the end?”

“I mean, nothing’s perfect, but that doesn’t mean that any big changes would help,” Virginia replied after a minute of thinking.  “You know what I mean?”

The man didn’t reply, but lifted his cup of cold coffee to his lips, gazing over the brim as if waiting for the waitress to continue.

“I mean, nothing ever works out like it should, does it?” the woman continued, feeling suddenly uncomfortable, as if speaking on a stage.  “Like, we plan for it all to go perfectly, but no amount of planning accounts for everything that ends up going wrong.  There’s always some moment where we have to sort of scramble to keep things together, but it all works out in the end.  Doesn’t it?”

The man smiled at her, his eyes twinkling again, and Virginia felt as though she’d just managed to ace a speech.  Warmth bloomed inside of her, and she couldn’t help but smile back.  “It’s good to hear someone talk like that, with such an optimistic view,” the man told her, still beaming.

And with that, he pushed back his chair, standing and stretching his limbs out to the sides.  “I think that I’m about done here, then,” he said, as Virginia rose up across from him.

The waitress also started to stand, but she felt herself catch for a minute against the back of the chair, and had to twist around to get free.  “Although if there is one thing,” she started.

“What would that be?”

“Well, these wings,” Virginia said, gesturing at the offending appendages hanging off her back.  “I mean, the scientists say that they help with balance or something, but they’re always getting in the way, and they can’t even keep us aloft more than a few seconds.  It would be great if they weren’t in the way so much.”

“No wings,” the man said, nodding sagely.  “A good suggestion.  I thought they’d be perfect, but it’s like you say – things never quite work out perfect.”

“And while you’re at it,” Virginia kept going, suddenly feeling on a roll, “maybe you could get rid of this bobby glowing thing up above our heads.  Makes it really tough to fall asleep at night.”

“No halos,” the man repeated, as if he was making a mental checklist in his head.  “Got it.  Anything else?”

Virginia shrugged, the wings making the gesture quite elaborate as she headed back up to the front of the coffee shop.  “I think that’s about it,” she said.  “So, do you need me to call someone to come pick you up, give you a ride home?”

Silence was her only answer.  The waitress glanced up, and was startled to see that the man was gone.  He must have ducked out the door while she was busy getting through the thin passage back behind the counter, she reasoned.  Once again, her wings had gotten in the way, slowing her down.

About forty minutes later, after the next rush of customers was subsiding, she glanced down at herself, and noticed that her name tag was missing.  She didn’t find it until she went back home that evening.

The Angels: Trapped in Stories

As the angel’s story came to a close, we felt as though we were returning back to our bodies, as if we’d drifted away, becoming insubstantial ghosts as we watched the angel’s story unfold.

I was the first person to shake off that feeling.  “Ugh, that storytelling ability you all have is really annoying when you stop talking,” I complained.  “Always feels like a hangover when we have to push our way back to reality…”

The angel shrugged without any sign of understanding.  But even as I groaned and rubbed at my temples, I heard Father Helms also waking up.  He blinked a couple times, but didn’t seem as thrown by the abrupt return to reality as I felt.

“How do you feel, Father?” I asked quickly, before another one of these angels could open his mouth and ruin things again.

The man held still for a moment before answering.  “I’m not quite sure,” he finally replied.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, on one hand, I think I feel a little bit better about not understanding everything, after hearing that story,” he tried to clarify, nodding at the angel, who was slowly trying to sidle away.  “But now, I’m starting to lose some faith in whether these angels truly serve a higher purpose.”

I had hoped that the other angels would keep on moving away, that they wouldn’t be eavesdropping.

Unfortunately, these hopes were in vain.

“Ugh, don’t talk to me about purpose,” snorted one man standing far to close to the table.  He leaned over, spilling a few drops of his coffee (which definitely smelled like it was a fair bit stronger than just espresso).  “The whole thing’s a scam!”

I looked up at the angel, my eyes narrowing.  I officially didn’t allow “fallen” angels into my coffee shop, but I didn’t often care much about enforcing that rule.  This angel wasn’t quite at the point of sprouting horns out his forehead, but he definitely looked ready to pull on a leather jacket and start waving a switchblade at an old lady in a threatening manner.

“No one knows what they’re talking about!” he insisted, taking another pull of his drink.  “And here, I’ll prove it!”

And with that, the half-drunk “falling” angel (“down on one knee” angel?) slipped into the booth across from us, and started to tell us his tale…

The Perfect Murder

“I gotta say, in terms of being a scumbag, you’re actually doing really well.”

I started at those words, spinning around and nearly jumping a foot in the air.  I could have sworn that I was alone!  There was no one else in the building at this hour – I knew that the janitors wouldn’t be here for forty minutes, still, and I’d seen the last person leave the office a good two hours previously!

Yet nonetheless, there was a man sitting at one of the desks, two away from me, leaning back in the chair with his feet propped up on the faux wood in front of him.  From under his hat’s brim, the man’s eyes looked curiously dark.  Dressed in a dark charcoal suit, nearly black, and a black hat with a white ribbon around the brim, he grinned at me, briefly flashing his teeth.

“Wh-who are you?”  For a moment, I couldn’t even find my own voice, but I managed to get the words out without sounding too strangled.  As I spoke, I managed to get a slight hold on my surprise.  “You don’t belong here!”

Indeed, I didn’t recognize him.  And considering that I’m the boss of this corporate division, I ought to recognize anyone who has access to the building.

“How did you get in here?” I continued, the shock in my voice finally starting to be replaced by anger.  “You know that you’re trespassing, don’t you?  I could call Security!”

Instead of answering my questions, the man waved one hand towards the open drawer at the desk in front of me.  “See, it’s a really great plan,” he said, not sounding especially concerned about my threat.  “Maybe if someone was really looking for it, they might find some trace, but no one’s going to bother.  Well done!”

This man knew what I was doing?  No, he couldn’t.  I stared back at him, blinking like a fish out of water, as I tried to readjust.  I had too many questions in my brain, all of them shouting at once and drowning each other out.

As I tried to find some sort of mental line to grab, the man stood up, swinging his legs down from on top of the desk and strolling over to me.  He reached past me, snagging one of the small candies out of the drawer open in front of me, unwrapping it with a surprisingly loud crinkle as the plastic came apart.

“I mean, unfortunate allergy plus sweet tooth is basically asking for disaster in the first place,” the man continued, popping the candy up into the air with a flick of his thumb and catching it perfectly in his mouth.  “Everyone will assume that a couple peanut ones got mixed in at the factory.  Probably won’t be an investigation at all.”

Outwardly, I was still keeping it together, but inside, I could feel myself folding, collapsing.  This stranger, whoever he was, somehow knew all about my dark, twisted, evil plan!  He would turn me in, and I’d go to prison, and probably be forced to be some burly inmate’s-

“Relax, I’m not going to turn you in!” the man called out, chuckling in a good-natured sort of manner.  He leaned over, clapping me on the back, and I nearly choked.  “Hell, I’m here to congratulate you!”

“Who are you?” I asked again, staring at him.  There was something really off-putting about his eyes, but I couldn’t pinpoint what it was.  “How do you know about my plan?”

Again, he chuckled at me, like a parent watching a small toddler fail to build a tower of blocks.  “Why, I’m a devil, of course!” he said, as if this should be obvious.

I stared at him.  “The Devil?”

“A devil,” he corrected.  “Asmodeus is my actual name.  Not as big as good ol’ Lucern himself, but pretty high up on the chain, if I do say so myself.”  The man straightened his suit lapels, preening a bit.

I just stared back at him.  Devils were real?  And one of them was here talking to me?  “Are, are you taking me to Hell?” I asked him, wondering if I should run away.  Probably not.  If this devil-man, Asmodeus, could appear in a secure building, he could probably catch an out-of-shape mid-level executive.

“Of course not!” Asmodeus replied happily.  “But I’ve had my eye on you for a while, wondering how you were going to solve this dilemma.  Sleeping with your underlings is great while it’s happening, but the endings are always just so messy.” The man emphasized that last word, drawing it out almost like a hiss.

“And killing her like this, using her food allergy, well, it’s really a stroke of brilliance!” he went on, full of energy, as if we were discussing a pep rally and not a murder.  “I’m just here to shake your hand, as one respectable evil-doer to another!”

And the devil stuck out his hand towards me, still grinning.

I stared back at him, not reaching out for that offered hand.  The man wasn’t threatening, but his eyes were staring at me, dark and deep.  In fact, I realized as I stared back at him, his eyes were darker than any human’s eyes ought to be.  There was no pupil, just two inky black irises gazing back at me.

After another minute, Asmodeus chuckled again, letting his hand fall back down to his side.  “Well, that’s okay,” he said.  “Hitler didn’t like shaking hands either.”

I looked down desperately at the candies that I was mixing in with the other treats in the woman’s desk drawer.  “I could take the candies out?” I offered, my voice pleading.

But Asmodeus was shaking a finger at me, a naughty little “no-no” gesture.  “Doesn’t work that way!” he said gaily.  “It’s all about the intention.  You’re already well and deep in it, now – might as well go through with it, so at least you don’t have two problems!”

The man looked as if he wanted to say more, but a beeping from his pocket made him start, and he pulled out a sleek black rectangle.  “Oh, well, gotta go,” he said, sounding only slightly crestfallen.  “Other sinners to see, you know.  But hey, good luck with the murder!”

There was no gout of flame.  I simply blinked, and he was gone.  I was alone in the office once again.

For a long time, I stood there, no thoughts moving in my head, just staring down at the drawer in front of me.

It had seemed like the perfect answer.  Hell, it still was.  One little candy, and the insufferable woman would be gone from my life.  No more blackmailing me for promotions, because in a moment of weakness I’d let her lead me up to her hotel room!

I could take the candies out, perhaps.  I’d mixed them in, but I could just throw out the whole lot.  It would be obvious that someone had been in her desk, but maybe it was just a janitor.  She wouldn’t know the bullet she’d dodged.

Slowly, however, I pushed the drawer shut.

I knew that I was already a bad person.  I’d gone too far to recover, slipped too far down that alluring path.

Maybe I should have shaken his hand after all.

Welcome to Hell, here’s your chain.

When I finally reached the front of the long line, I stepped up to the absurdly tall podium, tilting my head back to gaze up at the shadowy figure standing behind it and staring down at me.

The creature leaned forward, its head sliding down on a long neck to stare down at me.  I felt like a guilty schoolboy, pinned in place by a forbidding mistress.

Most schoolmarms, however, don’t have eyes filled with flames, giant venom-dripping spikes sticking out in a ruff around their heads, or scaly grasping fingers that end in terrifyingly long and sticky claws…


The monstrous figure paused, turned its head, and let out several hacking coughs.  “Sorry about that, feather in my throat,” it went on in a much more normal tone of voice.  “Anyway, what did you do to end up here?”

I glanced around.  I’d been vaguely hoping that this was just a test, that I wasn’t actually in Hell, but my hopes were rapidly fading.  “Um, I guess I stole a bunch of money,” I fessed up.  It didn’t feel like nearly as big of a deal as it had when I was still alive, but I supposed that it had stuck me here.

The figure nodded.  “Oh, sure.  Times are tough, need to feed the family, all of that, yes?”

“Well, no.  I was a lawyer and I embezzled a few million.”

“For charities?”

“To buy a bigger boat than my boss.”

The figure shook its nightmare-inducing head, making a tutting noise.  “Shameful.”  Its face brightened somewhat, if that can happen with a mouthful of razor sharp fangs.  “I do, however, know just who to pair you with!”

Pair me with?  Before I could ask, however, the figure raised its scaly fingers and somehow managed to snap them without taking off any digits.

There was a clink at my feet.  A long iron chain had appeared, clamped onto my ankle and trailing off into the darkness.

I glanced up at the devil.  “Go on, follow it,” the creature encouraged me.

Well, what could I do?  I set off after the chain, trying to gather up the length in my arms as I followed it back towards its source.

The other end, I discovered several caverns later, turned out to be attached to a large, blue-collar angry worker by the name of Charlie.  He was probably six inches and fifty pounds heavier than me, and he had the beefy arms and body of a dock worker.

“Er, hi,” I greeted him, once it was clear that our legs were attached by chain.  “I’m David, and I guess we’re linked together or something.”

The man nodded, not looking especially enthusiastic about this.  “Hi,” he returned.  “So what are you in for?”

“Embezzlement.  You?”

The man shrugged.  “A guy ripped me off, so I killed him,” he confessed without much concern.  “Ran him off the road.  Unfortunately, I didn’t really think about what would happen to me after, so I went down with him.  Woke up here.”

I nodded, wondering if I should be showing some sort of commiseration.  “Small world, actually,” I said, more to fill the silence than any other reason.  “I actually died from some asshole running into me with his car.  We tumbled right off the edge.”

“Really?  The guy I killed, he was an embezzler!” Charlie said, looking a little interested.  “Some nose in the air lawyer, totally ripped off my company so he could buy himself a boat or some shit.”

It took another minute for realization to dawn, but it clicked for both of us.  “You!”  I gasped out in shock and anger, glaring at the man.

“You!” he returned, and I saw his big, meaty hands starting to tighten into fists.

For the next indeterminate period of time, there was a lot of fighting.

It turns out that in Hell, there are a lot of weapons sitting around!  And some of them really don’t seem to fit in.  I mean, I can understand why a devil would need a pitchfork (presumably for prodding at sinners, I feel), but I’m still not certain who decided that it was a good idea to leave a fully loaded stack of assault rifles over behind a stalagmite.

However, as the battle against Charlie waged on, it finally started to sink in to me that I wasn’t doing any actual damage.  Sure, we were batting each other around a lot, and it was great to see his body shudder from getting hit with bullets, but there was no wounding, no killing going on.  And as soon as I stopped shooting, Charlie popped right back up to come lunging at me with a battleaxe he’d found somewhere.

So once I ran out of bullets, I let the gun drop from my hands, and slipped down to take a seat on the cavern floor.  Charlie, still red-faced and puffing, took a few more swings at me with the axe, but he eventually gave up on the futile effort.  He dropped the weapon to the ground with a clatter and sagged down beside me.

“Well, I feel a bit better,” he commented at length, as we gazed out.  There wasn’t much of a view, but it was at least better than running around grabbing weapons.

“Yeah, me too.”  I looked at the man, noting that he did look much calmer.  “Good shot with that axe, though.  You ever play any ball?”

“Minor league, yeah,” he responded, looking surprised that I’d caught the shape of his stance.  “Busted my knee up, though, so I couldn’t go pro.  I wasn’t that good anyway, to tell the truth.”

“Looked like you kept the form, at least,” I offered.  I received a nod of thanks for the compliment.

For a few more minutes, we sat there.  “So, now what?” Charlie finally asked.  “Aren’t we supposed to be getting tortured, or something?”

I looked around.  The other man was right – there was definitely a noticeable absence of grinning demons with pitchforks, or pools of boiling lava filled with screaming souls.  “Maybe it will start at some point,” I guessed.  “I mean, I feel pretty bad about what I did, that’s for certain.”

“Yeah, me too,” Charlie agreed, although he didn’t meet my eye.

I thought about just lapsing back into silence, but there was still a chain around our legs, connecting us, and I really did feel bad.  “Hey, man, look,” I said, getting the other fellow’s attention.  “I really am sorry about the whole embezzlement thing.  I didn’t ever stop to think about who I’d be hurting.”

For a second, Charlie glared angrily at me, but he couldn’t keep it up, and the angry expression dropped.  “Aw, hell,” he finally said.  “I’m sorry, too.  I was just so angry that I decided I had to kill the sunovabitch – no offense,” he added.

“None taken.”

“But now, I mean, I could probably have gotten the money back, and I still had a good business and all that.  It wasn’t like you really took anything from me I couldn’t get back.”  Charlie grimaced, but then his face cleared.  “And I’m sorry too.”

I held out my smaller, office worker hand, and Charlie shook it with his big meaty mitt.

Feeling much better about ourselves, we sat on the ground of the cavern a bit longer.  But then, as I glanced up and stretched, I noticed something I’d missed before.

“Hey Charlie, look over there!”

“What’s that?”

I shrugged.  “It looks like a door,” I said, climbing up to my feet to go approach it.  But after a few steps, I noticed a jerk at my leg.  I glanced down, and saw that the chain attaching our legs had grown noticeably shorter.  “Dude, come on.  Let’s go see it.”

Charlie looked less than thrilled at having to get up, but he climbed to his feet and we ambled over.  The door looked like a typical wooden interior door, but set into the wall of the cavern.  I reached out for the handle, but paused, glancing at the man I’d been forcibly assigned.

“We could always just stay here,” I said, checking with him.

Charlie shook his head.  When he glanced back at me, I was emboldened to see that there was no more anger in those eyes, just determination.  “Nah, let’s see what’s next.”

So I opened the door, and we stepped through.

The Priest in the Coffee Shop, Part II

Continued from here.

It took a good, strongly brewed fresh cup of coffee being waved under his nose, but eventually the priest came around, his eyelids flickering as he regained consciousness.  I had the pretense to keep my hand ready to clamp over his mouth if he started screaming.

The man didn’t scream, but his eyes shot wide open as his memory booted back up, and he shot upright in the booth and twisted his head around.  I watched, feeling a little guilty, as he stared at the various angels, devils, and other celestial beings in the shop, his eyes looking as though they were about to explode out of his head.

After all, I had been the one who shattered his veil of self-imposed ignorance.

“It’s all in your heads, really,” Gabriel had told me once when I asked about the curious fact that my occasional human customers never seemed to notice how they were surrounded by white robes and halos.  “Before you opened up this shop, did you even believe in angels?”

“Not really,” I confessed.

I felt a little guilty saying this to an archangel’s face, but Gabriel just nodded.  “You probably passed a dozen of us before opening this coffee shop,” he explained.  “But your brain ignores what your eyes tell it, because it’s easier.”

The priest’s eyes had been doing an excellent job of lying to his brain, it seemed.  He turned to me, his mouth opening and closing like a fish, but no sound came out from between his lips.

I gestured to the cup of coffee I had set in front of him on the table.  “Drink some, it will help,” I told the priest.

The man’s hands shot to the cup, clutching it like a lifeline thrown to a drowning man.  He lifted it up to his lips, not even bothering to use the handle, and took a deep draught.  The scalding liquid had to burn on the way down, but he showed no outward reaction.

After several sips, I could see slight hints of color returning to the man’s face, although he still looked abnormally pale.  It also didn’t help that the angels, treating this exciting new event like any other good piece of street theater, were crowding around, popping their heads up over the barriers between booths to stare at the priest.  With the halos bobbing above their heads, they weren’t especially subtle.

“Father, what’s your name?” I asked, just to get the man talking.

He stared back at me, still clutching the coffee cup with both hands.  “Helms – Father George Helms,” he replied, sounding as though he was unsure of even this fact.  Now that he knew that angels are real, maybe his name is wrong!  Maybe the whole world is turning upside down!

“Well, Father Helms, I know this is a shock, but don’t you feel a little better about your own problems?” I pressed, giving the man my best encouraging smile.  “No need to worry about losing your faith now – the evidence of it is all around us!”  I illustrated this point by swatting at an angel hovering nearby with the rag I used to wipe down the counter.

Father Helms, however, looked anything but at ease.  “But… but what are they doing here?  Is this the apocalypse?” he asked me, his face losing another shade of color at the thought.

Before I could respond, one of the angels let out a chuckle.  “The Apocalypse?” he sniggered, properly pronouncing the capital letter.  “That thing’s been botched so many times, no one remembers when it’s supposed to go off.”

I stared at the angel in disbelief.  “Is that supposed to help the poor man feel better?” I asked.

“Um.  I mean, maybe?” the angel tried, looking confused.  He clearly hadn’t expected anyone to comment on his remark.

But now, the others were all looking at him as well.  The angel seemed to lose an inch or so of height, his halo dropping down to hover barely above his hair.  “I mean, they call it D’oops’day!” he protested as an excuse.

I pointed at the seat in the booth, across from the priest.  “Sit.”

The angel sat.


And the angel told us a story.

A Man Walks Into a Coffee Shop…

When I glanced up from the iPad mounted in front of my counter as an ersatz cash register, I was surprised to notice two things about the man standing in front of me, in the following order:

First, he was not wearing a flowing white robe.  There was nothing hovering in the air above his head – especially nothing producing any sort of a glow or luminescence.  He wore a belt around his hips, but there were no bladed weapons slid into it, and he wore very practical black shoes instead of golden sandals.  Instead of a gold coin, he was holding a credit card loosely between two fingers.

Second, the man wore the clerical collar of a priest around his neck…

I recovered quickly, at least, and I doubt that the priest even noticed my little pause as I momentarily stared at him, my mouth dropping slightly open.  “Hi there, welcome to Heavenly Grounds,” I said, pulling my jaw back shut.  “What can I get you?”

As I asked this question, I felt hope rising.  Maybe, finally, someone would order something other than “the special,” and I wouldn’t have to feel the guilt I experienced every time I drowned a delicious coffee’s taste in cream and sugar!

But the man just stood there, blinking up at the board of beverage options mounted on the wall behind me as if it was written in another language.  “Um, I’m not really sure, I guess,” he said, his voice soft and lost.  “I’m not much of a coffee drinker.”

“Well, what do you like?” I asked, ignoring how the line was beginning to grow longer behind the priest.  I finally had another human customer, and I was going to savor it!  “Something mild, or stronger?  Sweet, or savory?  Caffeine or no?”

The poor man looked absolutely overwhelmed by these options.  “Erm, never mind,” he decided, backing a half step away from the counter.  “Maybe I should just go.”

I could have let him go.  There were already several other regulars pushing their way forward, waving the gold coins in their hands as if they were bidding at an auction.  I really didn’t have the time to worry after this confused customer.

But there was something odd about the priest’s appearance here.

“Wait!” I called after the man, and saw him pause halfway to the door.  “Is something wrong, Father?”

He looked back at me, and I could see that my suspicions were correct.  “Come on, I’ll be stuck here waiting until the Apocalypse has passed!” muttered one of my regulars as the priest slowly came back up to the counter, but I ignored him.  It only took a quick glance to confirm that he was a low rank, not likely to give me any real trouble.  His halo only glowed a dim yellow color.

Back at the counter, the priest sighed, still not quite meeting my eye.  “I’m used to hearing other people’s problems, not talking about my own,” the man said, his words halting, “but I just… I feel lost, if you know what I mean.  Adrift.”

“A crisis of faith, father?” I asked him, doing my best to speak gently.

A couple of my regulars were still grumbling a little, but most of them had sensed that there might be something interesting developing here, and were instead doing their best to listen in.  No one was paying any attention to us, but the crowd was remaining as close as they could manage while staring off into space.

The priest nodded.  “Sometimes, my son, it’s hard to remember that there is more than what we see on this earth,” he said, looking down at the counter.

I couldn’t bear it any longer.  Tilting my torso slightly to look past the dejected priest, I gazed over to the front corner of my little coffee shop, where a man in a suit sat at a table by himself, calmly sipping at a tiny cup of espresso.  “Gabe, can I show him?  Please?” I called out.

The man at the table lifted his gaze, looking back at me for a long minute as he held his tiny little porcelain cup an inch from his lips.  I shivered at the intensity of that gaze, but didn’t let my eyes drop.  I knew that this man had the power to take everything I’d earned away from me, but this seemed like a reasonable request.

Finally, the elegant suited man nodded, and I let out a breath I hadn’t realized that I’d been holding.  I turned back to the priest, putting on a grin.

“Father,” I said, “perhaps I can remind you that there’s more out there than most of us know.  Have you noticed how busy my cafe is?”

The priest glanced around at the assembled crowd, all of whom appeared incredibly interested in the ceiling, the windows, anything but us.  “Yes, it is,” the man said without any real thought behind the words.  “Your point?”

I couldn’t keep my smile from growing.  “Father, take a good look at my customers.”

For a moment, there was no change in expression on the priest’s face.  And then, slowly, his eyes widened, until I feared the spheres would simply roll out of their sockets.

Slowly, like a falling tree, the man toppled over to the floor, never changing in his wide-eyed, shocked expression.  The rest of my customers, subterfuge aside, watched him fall with interest.  “Impressive how he kept his knees locked the whole way down,” one of them commented to another.

I stepped out from behind the counter.  “Let’s help him up into a booth, okay?” I called out, waving over a couple of the nearest customers, who reluctantly pushed their flaming swords out of the way so they could squat down and give me a hand.

I hadn’t expected the man to faint, but I wasn’t that surprised by his reaction.

After all, how often do you look up and realize that you’re in a coffee shop filled with angels?

Angels planning post (behind the scenes, novel 1)

One of my goals for 2015: Write 3 novels.

One of these novels will be in November for NaNoWriMo.

Given as how I will be totally burned out by December, however, the other two will have to come out earlier.  Fortunately, since November is the eleventh month, this still gives me five months per novel,, as long as I also spend a bit of time fleshing out the outline for NNWM.

Novel 1?  I’ve always wanted to publish all of my stories about angels; selfishly, I believe that these stories include some of my better writing, as well as a few rare moments when my humor actually seems to work.

I even have a cover in mind (not that I’m sharing that yet!).

The issue, however, is that most of these stories are quite disconnected.  Here are the stories that I have so far, in reverse order:

  1. Tough Love – a man on a blind date instead meets his guardian angel, who turns out to be a bit of an asshole.
  2. Do Computers Speak to Angels? – an angel tries to bring a computer into a coffee shop.  It doesn’t work.
  3. D’oops’day – the Apocalypse was supposed to be yesterday.  Fortunately, no one remembered.
  4. Hell’s IT (2 posts) – turns out devils aren’t so good with technology either.
  5. Lucifer’s Gift (3 posts) – a dream in which the devil appears to hand out the apple of sin.  It doesn’t end up going quite as planned.
  6. Welcome to Heaven!  Now What (unfinished) – Heaven turns out to be rather dull.
  7. Blake Meets Ophiel (Ophiel series) – short excerpt of a human meeting an angel.
  8. Blake and Lucifer Have Dinner – segment where human (from #7, above) has dinner with Lucifer.
  9. Guarding the Borders of Heaven – Angels are vigilant border guards.
  10. The Vault Theft – chapter 1 of an earlier attempt at this novel that I abandoned.
  11. Ambition (2 posts) – a devil steals a man’s ambition, and dares an angel to figure out what’s missing.
  12. Azrael & Mephistopheles (2 posts) – the yearly meeting of an archangel and devil.
  13. In A Perfect World… – a guardian angel explains why the “perfect world” didn’t work.
  14. Cold Blooded Humans? – a guardian angel (#13) points out that cold-blooded humans were an early experiment.
  15. The Angel On the Train (2 posts) – everyone has bad days – even angels.
  16. Barista To The Angels (2 posts) – a coffee shop begins getting unexpected visitors.
  17. Heavenly Grounds – initial write, narrator interjecting with history, of #16.
  18. The Angel at the Press Conference – Fear not!  God exists, he’s just off somewhere on vacation!  Probably.
  19. Mis-Filing Has Serious Consequences… (2 posts, unconcluded) – an angel and a devil chase after a stolen tablet.
  20. Calcifer on Karma (2 posts) – Calcifer explains how karma works.
  21. The Roman Army Upgrade – Calcifer tries to teach the Romans to ride a bike.
  22. Calcifer’s Intrusion (2 posts) – Calcifer’s favorite coffee shop is invaded by an angel!  This is his space!
  23. Calcifer’s Haunt (2 posts) – Calcifer proves that he’s a devil to coffee shop girl.
  24. Soul Harvesting Difficulties – a reaper demon pops up in a supermarket, determined to gather souls.  The visitors are determined to mow him down with carts to get to their deals.
  25. Lucern’s Little Whoopsie (2 posts) – Lucern misses one teeny, tiny little asteroid.  No big deal.
  26. The Coffee Shop of Vice and Iniquity – the post that started it all!  Is a soul worth a grande latte?
26 posts, with lots of raw material.  Now, to organize it into some semblance of a story.  That’s the challenge…