Another Friday Flashfic Challenge from Chuck Wendig: the who, the where the uh-oh.
I chose “detective,” “the Underworld,” and “Left for dead, out for revenge!” (With a side order of “trapped!” and “a conspiracy revealed!”)
So I’ve been waving my D20 around at Chuck Wendig’s behest. Here’s the 1,000 words that resulted:
“Not there, not there. Oh for The Boss’ sake what kind of training do you guys get in purgatory anyway?”
The columns of names on Gabriel’s clipboard swam before his eyes. There was no way they’d make quota this month. He conjured himself another coffee from the raw firmament. A ridiculous use of Angelic Might but, by The Boss’ Son, he needed it.
The problem, as he saw it, was mass literacy. If he could consign anyone to the fiery furnace it would be Gutenberg. Followed by the entire publishing industry. But there would be a special circle of hell for the people who wrote books about Angels.
Time, he thought, to make an example.
Steve Anderson was pressing F5 repeatedly. That in itself isn’t a sin. It’s certainly forgivable for an author on Amazon on the day that one of his books comes out. He’d often worried that too much ranking would make him go blind, but even Steve didn’t deserve what happened next.
At first he thought the deafening celestial fanfare was coming from a pop up advert. As he frantically hit ctrl-tab he noticed the seven-foot being of pure light standing at his elbow.
“Gurgle.” thought Steve, then realised that the seven-foot being of pure light was probably waiting for him to speak.
“Gurgle?” he said.
The being of pure light consulted a clipboard, Not a clipboard of pure light, Steve couldn’t help but notice. A normal, stationery-cupboard-at-work clipboard of the kind he’d stolen so many times when he still worked at the bank. Was it time to say “Gurgle” again?
The fanfare ceased.
“Steve Anderson,” said the being of pure light. If the heavenly fanfare had been an effulgent chord that seemed to harness the very music of the spheres, the voice sounded…
Well it sounded pissed off. In fact it sounded like the voice of his manager, Mr Galbraith, when firing him from the bank for writing books on company time. Well, that and the stationery thing.
“Are you Steven James Anderson?” said the voice – and this time there was no mistaking the frustration.
Steve nodded and added another gurgle for emphasis.
“Author of ‘How to Tame Your Angel – a Guide to Celestial Ordering’? Top of the Times bestseller list for seven consecutive weeks? Featured on Richard and Judy’s book club?”
Steve felt a swell of pride: recognition at last! It might not be clear exactly who was doing the recognising but word had clearly got about that he was a hot property in the speculative non-fiction world. His words came out in a rush.
“This, oh my God,” the Being flinched, “this is the most incredible… I mean what can I… Are you here to impart wisdom because I’m going to need to get my voice recorder. I’m rubbish at shorthand. Oh, can you give me the gift of shorthand? Or maybe perfect recall? No shorthand is better, it looks so impressive. Teeline, not Pitman – I don’t want to look like a…”
“Silence! Good Boss can you hear yourself? Have you any idea of the damage you’ve done?”
Steve’s head swam as he tried to frame a suitable reply. He felt he’d pushed “gurgle” as far as it could go. “I’m a professional writer for God’s sake,” he thought. “I can come up with something insightful.” He drew a breath.
“The Cherubim and Seraphim are pulling double shifts. We’re having to take on some fairly tarnished souls to bulk up the numbers – you do not want to know the lax entry standards we have for guardian angels these days. Surely you’ve noticed the sheer amount of senseless carnage in the world? That’s because we can’t keep up.”
The Being’s voice took on a singsong tone; no-being can do sarcastic like an overworked and pissed off member of the heavenly host. “‘Oh blessed angels, please let me get my promotion.’ ‘Oh blessed angels, please let the hot guy in accounts fancy me.’ ‘Oh blessed angels, I really want a new Mercedes.’”
“But that, but it’s… I was only trying to help people.”
“No you weren’t; you were doing what every member of your benighted species does. You were helping yourself. You saw that books about angels were big business and you decided to leap on the bandwagon. You don’t even believe in Us. Can you honestly say, hand on heart, that you’re not sitting here thinking ‘this isn’t really happening’?”
“Well it does seem pretty unlikely, on the face of it.”
The Being breathed a very unangelic word indeed.
“I’ve had it. This is strictly against protocol but for you I’m making an exception.” The Being moved his hands in an intricate design. Steve had the feeling he’d just witnessed something pretty obscene happening to the nature of causality.
“Your book is gone,” said the Being. “So gone that, in fact, it now never was. Everything else remains the same but you have never written your stupid, irresponsible, ridiculous…” the Being composed itself. “Dont. Do it. Again.”
And with another fanfare it was gone.
“I was an author,” thought Steve, “I threw away my job at the bank. I spent months, years even, sending out proposals. I wore out so much shoe leather meeting agents and publishers and I never got anywhere until ‘How to Tame Your Angel.’ Without it I’d never have got the deal for book two which I suppose means…”
With a shaking finger he pressed F5 one more time. Relief coursed through his veins like the heat of a single malt on a cold evening. He was still an author. Book Two was still selling.
And rather well, actually. Perhaps the Being had been his guardian angel after all.
Over 8,000 orders in the first four hours. Steve laughed and punched the air. It looked like “How to Train Your Yeti: A Guide to Cryptozoological Ordering.” was going to be an even bigger hit than “Angels.”
What could possibly go wrong?
(For the latest Terrible Minds Flash Fiction Challenge)
Shepherdesses. Ballerinas. Marie Antoinette. The Balloon Seller. I grew up with these. It breaks my heart to inhume them between crumpled sheets of The People and the Mail on Sunday. I’ll never see them on these shelves again. Never see these shelves. Never see this room.
They remind me of long afternoons with the tick of the clock, the crackle of the fire, the tic-tic-tic of my great aunt’s knitting needles as she conjured up another jumper for me. I remember reading until my eyes watered in the dim back sitting room while the smell of a roast dinner in the oven tantalised me.
She couldn’t do roasties worth a damn though.
It was here in Ethel’s house that I learned to be still; getting up occasionally to have a tape measure pressed into my nape or the small of my back. Firm, functional touches that I learned to tolerate. It was here that I could escape into a world of words, where four children and a dog could foil international spy rings; where a little old lady would fearlessly accuse a murderer of his crimes; where a man in a bathrobe could wander the galaxy.
I grew taller, the jumpers got bigger, but nothing much else changed.
Then I left home and discovered that stillness didn’t have to be a novelty. I made a home of my own. Minimal. Clean. No china shepherdesses. No ballerinas. No disgraced royalty or cheery peasants. Things like that have a way of accreting and I had no desire to be weighed down. Stillness first became commonplace and then became a burden so I began to roam. But when I was mugged in Florida it was Ethel who wired money for a ticket to the airport. When I was homesick in France it was Ethel who sent me a care package of sherbet dips and chocolate buttons that would have cheered me up at eight. I never cared to admit how much it cheered me up at twenty, too. When I was overwhelmed with wonder and confusion in Japan it was Ethel – who never left the shores of Britain, and who thought Wales exotic – who I rang. And she listened with interest to my ravings about a land she never cared to see for herself.
I should have told her that I couldn’t be this person if it hadn’t been for her quiet back sitting room, stuffy with knicknacks and brasso. If I could restlessly launch myself out on the world then it was only because of the gossamer thread that linked me to the quiet safety of that still room.
The thread snaps so suddenly. One phone call. “In her sleep… Very peaceful.” I would have wished that for her, at least. I come home for the last time, to pack away a lifetime of treasures rendered commonplace by the absence of the person who loved them. Who loved me.
I pack the china in the boxes. Everything I need to take from this place I have in me already.