P R O L O G U E
In The Beginning There Was Coronation Street
In the beginning, there was God. But there was also boredom, which God had quite a lot of at that time. For God had been existing for eternity and after a few eternities even the most confusing soap opera can become tedious. But God was lazy, and could not be bothered to create the world. So God's conscience spake up and it said unto God, "God, you are lazy."
And God said, "I know, but I am too lazy to care."
And then God's alternate personality spake up and God's alternate personality said, "God, don't create anything. It will all turneth into a cosmic joke and all your friends will make fun of you. It's not worth it."
And then, because God wished to spite God's alternate personality, whom God did not like very much, God thought. And the thinking was painful, and long, and somewhat boring. But eventually the thinking was done.
And God said unto God's alternate personality, "The number of one, I don't have any friends, and in the number of two, I don't like you, and in the number of five – "
And then God's alternate personality spake and said, "Three."
And so God responded, "Shut the hell up." And he created the the heavens and the earth and all the angels, for the sake of making God's alternate personality angry.
And an angel opened her big mouth and said, "Lord, that was not thy best idea ever."
And God ignored the angel and created light.
And the angel looked upon the earth and said, "My goodness, what a terribly ugly rock that is that you have created, o Lord."
And God took great offence indeed, put His fingers in His ears, and blanketed the earth in a protective atmosphere, while the angel found a pair of sunglasses and slid them on, and decided they looked rather cool, even if they were several billion years too early.
And the angel examined the future and saw that one day a hole would be torn in the atmosphere by the earth's inhabitants. And she said nothing, for while she may have had a big mouth, she was not stupid (or at least, compared to most angels, who are in general conceited, toffee-nosed prats who wouldn't recognise a joke if it Riverdanced in front of them wearing a tea cosy).
Meanwhile, God secretly agreed that the earth was rather an ugly sort of rock, and He brought forth green things to cover the soil.
And the angel said, "Lord, that's the first bright thing thou hast done all week," and clapped God on His back.
And God barely kept Himself from smiting the angel, for His anger management classes had taught Him to think first, smite later. And He set lights in the sky around the earth, gigantic and glittering balls of –
"Gas," said the angel, and she snickered behind her hands.
And God forgave her, for she had only existed for a few days and could not yet be expected to be mature. And God placed upon the earth creatures of all shapes and sizes.
And the angel looked at the birds in the air, and the fish in the sea, and the beasts on the land, and the platypi that made her wonder if God was smoking something, and the Loch Ness monster. And her eyes widened, and she asked God, "Who's going to clean up after them all?" (She was really starting to pisseth God off.)
And God said, "I'm one step ahead of thee." And He created a mirror to see what He looked like, and He moulded dirt and water into two of his many images and breathed Life into them. And He set them upon the earth to do all the dirty work.
And the angel decided that this was something of a Mistake, and she told God so in no uncertain terms. And God, who despite his anger management classes, had a tendency to be more than a little touchy, bypassed smiting the angel and instead pushed her over the edge of a cloud, where she fell for seven consecutive days (or light years) and wound up in Hell, which had been created previously, was full of demons and was just starting a budding trade in estate agencies.
And the angel, now a newly minted demon, sat up, looked around, picked up her sunglasses and announced, "Bugger."
As it turns out, however, she was right all along.
There is an important lesson to be learned from this: one, this particular demon is nearly always right about everything, and two, so is God – His judgment merely lets him down once in a while, as in that unfortunate situation regarding Lucifer's famous rebellion, not to mention that whole completely overdramatized thing about the apple.*
It was a nice day.
That was the most irritating thing.
In Heaven, the days were never anything but nice. The sun was nice. The clouds were nice. Even when it rained, it was divine rain, soaked (forgive the pun) with holiness and purity. Last time he had glanced out of the door, the sky had been the kind of blue usually only seen in children's drawings, scattered with fluffy sheep-clouds. It was all so…perfect.
Anael was getting sick of it.
He longed for a good old thunderstorm. One of those really unpleasant ones, with thunder and lightning and power cuts, and rain that sluiced down like water from a great celestial tap. He'd been on guard duty at Heaven's metaphorical gates for three days now, and he was bored out of his skull. They hadn't even given him a flaming sword. The whole thing was a disgrace.
To top it all, there wasn't even anything to guard. Heaven's new system consisted of an intercom, which anyone could answer, any junior angel. It didn't take an actual Seraphim just to man the telephone, did it?
And then, right on cue, the speakers flickered into life.
"Hello?" came an unfamiliar voice from the other end. "Anyone there?"
Anael stared at the speaker. His heart was beating fast. This was it, his big chance – nobody had even tried to make contact for the three horrendously boring days he'd been here, stuck in a plain white room with nothing in it except a door, an intercom and a magic circle. Most people believe that the universe was created in seven days by an old chap with a beard, perhaps with breaks for tea and sandwiches. This may be halfway to the truth, but in actuality they were very long days: about two billion years long for each, give or take a few million years, which is a lot of sandwiches. Well, scratch that. Each of these days had to have been at least one life-age in length, if not more.
He bashed the speaker with his hand, to check it was working. Judging by the surprised yelp that issued from the other end, it was. Anael decided to go for it.
"Who is this?" he shouted into the speaker.
"In terms of what?" came the other voice. "Status, location, purpose, or name?"
"Name," Anael decided.
"Well, would you prefer angelic or demonic?"
"Demonic?" Anael whispered to himself. Then, out loud, trying to quell the creeping horror, he called, "Excuse me, I'm not jumping to conclusions, but would you happen to be an invading demon army?"
There was a pause. "Not exactly," said the voice.
Anael let out a breath of relief. "Oh, thank Mongolia," he said. (Saying "Thank God" or "Thank Heaven" was considered blasphemous, so he'd had to settle for something in between.) "Who are you, then?"
"It's a little hard to explain," said the voice. "Would you mind telling me your name, and then I'll pitch up and try and clarify things a little." It was the kind of voice that turned cool, bored and supercilious into a fashion icon. And female. Definitely female.
"Well – " The angel hesitated. "My name – it's, it's Anael, but – "
"Anal?" The voice spluttered with laughter.
"Anael! It's a very ancient and meaningful angelic pseudonym," the angel protested desperately. "It influences love and passion and – "
"Whatever. I don't have time to laugh at your stupid name right now," said the voice. "Just let me in, will you?"
"Yes, yes, absolutely," said the angel in heartfelt relief, grateful for an excuse to end the conversation. He yanked at a lever and the door slid open. It was perfectly oiled, as were all the doors in Heaven, and made no noise whatsoever.
It was only then that the angel realised he perhaps shouldn't have been so hasty.
For standing on the threshold was someone – or rather, something – who he really, really did not want to see.
Talia Strangeway was a demon. Nothing about her looked particularly demonic, at first glance – at least, not by biblical standards. No horns, no tail, nothing. Admittedly, she had previously been listening to Jesus And Mary Chain on her iPod while waiting to be admitted, but no conclusions should be drawn from this. She was of average height – perhaps five foot five – with shoulder-length dark hair, her shoes were black stilettos (murder for walking about on clouds) and she wore a black skirt and jacket, expensive shades, a white shirt and the kind of translucent tights to which holes and ladders always seem to gravitate like ants towards a dropped lolly. She looked seventeen, and always had.
Right now, she was more than a little stressed, but she wasn't letting it show. She'd taken the lift up to the thousandth floor, walked her feet to absolute ribbons over those clouds, managed to avoid a couple of angels wandering around who looked like they might be in a smite-happy kind of mood, and then this angel with the stupid name had just gone and let her in without argument. No threats, no interrogation. She hadn't had to use the Fear, or the Temptation, or even lie.
Frankly, it was a bit of an anticlimax.
Right now, though, Talia – or Lia, as she preferred to be called – couldn't help thoroughly enjoying the horrified expression working its way across the angel's face once he read her demonic aura and sensed who – or rather what – she was.
"You're a – you're a demon!"
"And you're a master of the obvious," said the demon. "Going to let me in? Or shall I just stand here and wait?"
"Ah – hang on a moment – " The angel coughed, taken up short. There was pause. Then he coughed again, stuttered, and finally declared in a wavering and needlessly overdramatic voice, which had obviously been well-practised in the privacy in his bedroom along with the "Righteous Wrath and Smiting" expression, "Begone, foul demon! Get behind thee, or I shall be forced to – "
"Oh, stuff a sock in it," said Lia, rolling her eyes. "I'm not interested."
The angel sighed. "Will you let me finish?" he said irritably. "I was just getting to the good bit."
Lia stepped in fully through the door and leaned uncomfortably against the dazzlingly white wall. These angels, all the same. Conceited, toffee-nosed prats who wouldn't recognise a joke if it Riverdanced in front of them wearing a tea cosy, and who took about six millennia to get to the point. Although, she supposed, she'd probably have acted like that too, and maybe kept her big mouth shut, if she'd known it was going to get her chucked out of Heaven.
"So," she said, because she just couldn't resist, "is your name really Anal?"
"For the last time, it's Anael."
"From what I recall of Enochian terms, that means bringer of sexuality."
"An extremely crude way of putting it," said Anael coolly. "Very twenty-first century. Now if you don't mind, I'd like you to leave. If they find out I've let in a demon, I'll lose my job and probably get sent down to Earth again as a punishment." He didn't add that this would be a welcome break from guard duty.
"And this is my problem how?" said Lia. Seeing his crestfallen face, she relented. "Oh, fine. I won't tell them."
"What do you want, anyway?" said Anael, who was recovering from the shock of finding a demon in Heaven's reception and was starting to think that he'd quite fancy a cup of tea to calm his nerves.
"I want an audience with Gabriel," said Lia, drumming her perfectly manicured nails against the wall.
The angel's mouth dropped open. "What?"
"What?" said Lia.
"Why are you saying 'what'? I just said 'what'."
"I know. Why?"
"My question exactly," said Lia.
Anael's head was starting to hurt.
"What does this meeting concern?" he asked weakly, trying to get control of the situation again.
"It concerns certain current events," said Lia Strangeway, in the tone of a cat that has gotten not only the cream, but has devoured the sardines, the cheddar, and quite possibly the crème brûlée you were saving for dessert. "Namely," she continued, "the world. And its imminent unworldliness, which is to say, the fact of its ending, fairly soon, with lamentably decisive certainty." She paused. "I made up the phrase "unworldliness", by the way."
Anael contemplated this for a moment.
"The world's going to end?" he said finally.
"Give the boy a gold star," said the demon, more than a little sarcastically. "And it's happening soon. Very soon."
"All of Heaven against all of Hell?"
"Goodness, no," said Lia, honestly shocked. "That would be completely off the record. No, this is Humanity spontaneously attempting to destroy the Universe. Again. An ultimately more serious prospect."
"Oh, sh –," said Anael, catching himself before he broke the six-million-years-and-counting-habit of not swearing. He stared at the demon. "Are you serious?"
"Serious as a heart attack."
"That's – that's just – oh my God."
"So I should probably let you in, right?"
"Sweetheart," said Lia, whose succubus side sometimes came upon her rather too strongly, "you have not got a choice."
"Of course," said Anael, "this could all be an elaborate hoax to gain entrance into Heaven."
"Would I do that?"
"Yes. You're a demon, aren't you?"
"Yes, but a demon of my word, I hope."
Anael shook his head and stepped backwards. "Step into that circle," he said, motioning towards a chalk figure surrounded by a five-pointed star. "It'll take you straight there. Good luck. You're not a bad sort; I hope they don't kill you on sight."
"Well, that's sweet of you," said Lia, making to step into the circle.
Then, at the last moment, she turned back. "Don't you even have a flaming sword or something?" she asked him sceptically.
Anael sighed. "No. No, I don't," he admitted.
She grinned, revealing canines that were just the slightest bit too long. "Wrong answer. What you're supposed to do when someone says that is lift up your robe and say, "Flaming sword? I never lost it, baby."
Anael made an expression of disgust. "Really," he said. "I never knew demons could be so crude."
His only answer was a low, melodious twang as the circle gave up its passenger. Lia Strangeway was currently the size of a pinhead and speeding a hundred miles an hour en route to Heaven, having abandoned her corporeal body as was customary when hitching a ride in a mystic circle; an act that was similar to zooming down a telephone line, only noisier and less claustrophobic.
Staring at the now-empty circle, Anael sighed. He was regretting not having asked the demon what her name was, or rather, its name, and he was beginning to get the feeling that he'd just made a ridiculously big mistake. So he just did what he usually did in similar situations, as a sort of defence mechanism.
He stopped thinking about it.
* The story has, of course, been much lauded in the Bible: the real version goes something like this.
One day when Adam and Eve were living happily in Eden, eating roots and berries and banana splits and that type of thing, Eve was out gathering fruit when she heard a faint "Hissssss."
And Eve looked around, but there wasn't a creature in sight. So she went back to work. A moment later, she heard another "Hissssss," and she looked around again, stepping into a clearing with a single tree in it.
As she walked forward she heard, "Hissssss-ck."
She had stepped on the snake.
And the snake said unto Eve, "Get the hell off me, woman!"
And Eve said, "Sorry about that."
And the snake replied, "Don't mention it."
And Eve said, "So, what do you want?"
The snake responded, "Hath God said, 'Ye shall not eat of every tree in the garden?'"
And Eve thought a moment, and finally concluded, "No…I don't recall that – Oh! Yes…God hath said, 'Ye shall eat of any tree in the garden but the one in the centre.'"
"We shall surely die."
And the snake laughed, "Ye shall not die! Ye shall know good and evil and be as God!"
And Eve thought a moment and noticed that the fruit on the tree would make a good banana split, so Eve picked the fruit and took a bite.
Adam came in and said, "Oooo! Food!" And Adam grabbed the fruit and stuffed his face with it.
And God peeked over a cloud for a moment to check on Adam and Eve and he noticed that they were eating the fruit. And God said, "Aaauuugh!" and leapt up, fell three feet and hit the firmament face-first. He jumped up.
"Thou hast eaten from the tree I sayeth thou must not eateth frometh!" he bellowed.
And Adam pointed to Eve and said, "She did it."
And God glared at Eve and said, "THOU hast eaten from the tree I sayeth not to eateth frometh!"
And Eve nodded, saying, "Yes. But the snake told me to."
The snake said, "Ah, shit."
And God said, "Thou hast ALL done a bad thing! Now I must – "
The snake spoke up. "How could we have known it was a bad thing if thou hadest not giveneth us knowledge of good and evil?"
And God said, "Shuteth up."
And God rose up and roared loudly, "Thou art banished from thy home in Eden! Thou must leave!"
So Adam and Eve left the garden and Eve said unto Adam, "Nice going, Adam."
If the Bible parodying offends you, you can leave. Flames are welcome; I find them rather amusing, and they will be used to toast marshmallows in the love pits of Hell (note the sarcasm). Thank you.