A/N: This was originally written as my entry in the Review Game's Writing Challenge Contest for January 2010.
The prompt that month was: http://adsoftheworld dot com/media/print/nsw_police_department_body
I've decided to turn this into a bunch of one-shots with reoccurring characters: God, Satan, some angels, some demons, maybe a couple lost souls or two, that Limbo Guy, and, of course, Death.
I hope you enjoy. :]
Death did not walk so much as casually saunter down to the corner of Fifth and Nelson. There he stopped, surveyed the scene with the careful, practiced eye of someone who has seen this sort of thing one-too-many times before, and lit up a cigarette.
An orchestra of sirens filled the air, and there was the faint scent of burning rubber still hovering near the intersection.
Death sighed and leaned against the stoplight pole, puffing thoughtfully on his cigarette.
There was movement, somewhere off to his left. His attention slid to the figure suddenly standing next to him, which appeared to have materialized out of thin air: a young, fair-skinned woman draped in a white toga. She was glowing a little, shimmering here and there whenever the light hit her just right, as if she had an aura made of glitter. There were two little wings, white and fluffy, poking out of her back, and they were flapping ridiculously fast, giving the impression of a hummingbird.
A smile crossed Death's cold, skeleton face. "Looks like you're out of a job," he told her.
The angel looked up at him, shocked. "I-it's not as easy as it looks," she insisted, beginning to wring her halo in her hands.
"Oh, really?" Death blew a smoke ring into the air.
The angel shot him a dark look. "Yes, really," she said.
The two of them stood there for a moment in silence, watching the scene play out before them. An ambulance skidded to a halt in the middle of the street. The doors on the back of the vehicle flung open, and paramedics leapt onto the site of the accident. They rushed back and forth, medical tools in their hands. Two pushed a stretcher. There was a lot of talking. Yelling. And the dull murmur of curious on-lookers, desperately trying to get a glimpse of the crumpled boy's body on the ground.
The angel looked up at Death, her eyes pleading. "He's not…?" She brought her halo up to her lips and squeezed her eyes shut. "He's not…you know…"
"What? Dead?" Death tossed a thumb over his shoulder. "This kid?"
The angel nodded, a nervous, hopeful kind of smile creeping over her face.
If Death had eyes, he would have rolled them. "Calm down. He's not dead," he said.
She heaved a sigh of relief. "Oh, thank God--"
"Wh-what?" The angel's hands began to shake so hard that she dropped her halo on the ground. She bent down to pick it up and said, "But I thought…"
"I said he wasn't dead," Death explained with a frustrated sigh. "I didn't say he wasn't dying. His time doesn't come for another--" He stopped and checked his watch. "--twenty minutes. I'll get him on the way to the hospital, probably."
The angel whimpered. Then she let out a loud, anguished cry and continued twisting her halo beyond recognition. Right now, it looked like some sort of balloon animal, except made out of light. Her wings were beating so fast, Death was surprised she hadn't created a hurricane.
"So," Death began slowly, trying not to seem too suspicious, "how did this happen, exactly?"
"I don't know," the angel admitted, placing a hand to her forehead. "Everything happened so fast. I mean, we were--" She took a deep breath and the rapid fwapfwapfwap of her beating wings slowed down. "We were in the bookstore. Then, he took a step outside, went to cross the street…" Her eyes glazed over, revisiting the memory. "There was a car--a screech. And then…this thud--and that stupid iPod went flying…"
"The kid didn't even so much as scream. It was just…SCREECH. THUD! Over." She shivered and hugged herself.
"And where were you during all this?"
"Where were you during all this?" Death repeated, flicking his cigarette onto the ground. He pulled a black pack with skull and crossbones from underneath his cloak and pulled out another cigarette, which he promptly lighted.
"Well…I was…" The angel scratched her pretty blonde head. "I was in the bookstore."
"Uh-huh." If Death had eyebrows, he would've raised one in disbelief. As it were, all he could do was puff on his cigarette and stare.
"I mean," the angel said quickly. "I mean, he had just come out of the bookstore. I was still inside because I was trailing him. I wasn't outside yet. But my eyes never left him!"
"Uh-huh." Death was unimpressed. "You know, it's a sin to lie."
The angel's face went white. "Well, I…I might have been…" She lowered her head. "I might have been distracted…"
"Well, I might have been…perusing the shelves a bit," she admitted.
"Perusing the shelves?"
"Yes." The angel looked pained to confess.
"And, what kind of shelves were you perusing?"
"The shelves carrying the Good Book, of course!" she said, a bit too quickly.
"The Good Book," Death echoed flatly.
"You were looking at the Bible?"
The angel made a face. "Well, what other book would I have been looking at in a bookstore?"
"I don't know. There's a lot of books in there." Death shrugged, his bony shoulders making a loud clackalack rattling as he did so. He took another puff of his cigarette. "I suppose that makes sense, though."
The angel coughed. "Of course it does."
The paramedics had put the kid up on the stretcher and were rushing him back to the ambulance, shouting things at one another. The doors slammed, the sirens wailed, and the vehicle began to speed away.
Death turned to her. "Well, that's my cue to go," he said.
The angel didn't seem to have heard. She was officially in Crisis Mode. "He'll understand, won't he? He'll forgive me? God doesn't hold grudges, does he?" The angel grabbed on to Death's arm as he turned to leave, clinging to him as if her hands were coated in superglue. "I mean, that's sort of His thing. Right? Forgiving people?"
"I mean, the guy wrote a whole book about it."
"This was just one little--" The angel bit her lip. She let go of his arm and began pacing up and down the street. "I mean, this is just a tiny little flub up, y'know?"
Death hesitated. "I wouldn't exactly call it tiny…"
"Oh, but it is tiny," the angel said quickly, though she didn't sound so sure of herself. "In the grand scheme of things."
"I don't know," Death said, taking a slow drag of his cigarette. "This kid could have grown up to be…" He paused and spun his cigarette-free hand in the air, as if trying to churn up the words he needed. "He could've been the next Ghandi or something. And you just screwed things up."
The angel laughed, nervous. "This boy was far from Ghandi…"
"Ah, but you could never know," Death insisted. "You don't know His plan." He pointed a yellowed, bony finger up at the sky, and the angel's eyes headed reluctantly heavenward. "He could have had anything planned out for this kid. Something big. But now…" Death laughed. "Kid's as dead as disco."
"And it's all thanks to you."
She winced, her bright aura dimming slightly. "Or…you don't think…" She bit her lip. "Maybe…he was suppose to die?" she suggested, voice cracking a bit when she got to the word "die."
"Maybe," he agreed. You could never tell, with God. That guy had a seriously twisted sense of humor sometimes. Especially when he played poker.
"I'll be fine, right?" The angel stared down at the twisted halo in her hands. "He wouldn't send me…" She lowered her voice to a choked whisper. "…down there. Would He?"
"Look, angel, I don't have time for this. I'm a very busy guy, okay?" He tapped the face of his watch. "God already knows about your little snafu, and I'm sure he'll have a few choice words for you once you get your pretty little ass back through those pearly gates--" The angel sniffed and he saw her face scrunch up. "Don't cry. Please don't--"
She burst into tears. "I just got my wings!"
"--cry." Death sighed.
"This was my first real assignment, y'know?" she said, wiping the tears away with the back of her arm. "I was suppose to…watch this kid, guide him down the right track. Basic guardian angel stuff, y'know?" She sniffled and began to turn her twisted halo over in her hands. Then, after a moment, she hurled it down on the ground. "And I messed it up. I can't do anything. Nothing ever turns out right!" She sank to her knees, hitting the sides of her head with fists, her wings hanging limply from her back.
Death watched her gnarled halo roll a few feet, then fall over, defeated, on the sidewalk. "Well, with an attitude like that, you'll get fired for sure."
"I don't care anymore!"
Death sighed, walking over and picking up her halo. He tried his best to untwist it, but it came out as a rather wobbly looking circle of light. He headed back over to the crying mess on the ground and nudged her gently with a skeletal foot. She looked up at him with red-rimmed eyes. "Here," he said, offering her the halo.
Her face scrunched up and she let out a loud, blubbering sob. "What's the point?" she demanded, slapping the halo away. "I won't need it where I'm going."
"And where is that?"
The angel let out a choked scream. "Hell," she whispered, before turning the waterworks on full-blast.
"Well, with that attitude--" Death shoved the halo onto her head. "--you will!"
"What are you talking about?" the angel squeaked, trying to pry the golden crown of light from her head, but it appeared to be stuck.
"You're the kid's guardian, right?"
The angel nodded, fighting back another wave of tears. "I was…"
"No. You still are." Death glanced at his watch. "Your kid's got about nine minutes left to live," he said.
Death sank to his own bony knees with a clatter. "So," he said, grabbing her frail shoulders and shaking her roughly with each word: "You. Can. Still. Do. Something."
The angel stared at him, eyes wide. "I can…still…"
"Do something." Death nodded.
The angel sniffed and looked away. "But…what something? What can I possibly do?"
Death rose to his feet and sighed. "I have my own job. I can't do yours, too." He shrugged. "But if you did manage to save him…God might go a bit easy on your punishment, yeah?"
He saw something harden behind the angel's eyes, and she jumped to her feet, fists clenched in determination. "You really think I can do it?" she asked. "You really think I can save him?"
"No," he admitted. Especially not after what he'd seen? He was pretty sure he'd never seen a more incompetent angel in all of his existence. "But people cheat me all the time," Death added as soon as he saw her eyes begin to tear up again.
She sniffled. "Y-you're right. Of course, you're right--"
Death tapped his watch. "Seven minutes."
She nodded, serious. "Y-yeah." Her wings were beginning to beat like they had before, fast and loud. She straightened her bent halo on her head and flashed Death a nervous grin. "Thank you," she said. Then, with a sniffle and a strange sort of popping noise, she disappeared in a puff of sparkling dust.
Death stared at the space where she had once been, taking one last drag of his cigarette. He wasn't expecting her to actually save the kid or anything. His soul was barely clinging to his body as it was and that angel had a snowball's chance in Hell of actually pulling the whole thing off.
But still. Miracles happened.
The reaper put out his cigarette and pulled his scythe out from under his robes.
Just not today, he thought.