Authors: Lisa Gail Green
Of Angels and Demons
By Lisa Gail Green
Dad, this one’s for you. Your enthusiasm means the world.
Hell looks like Death Valley
That’s my first thought as I realize I’m standing in the center of a vast expanse of hard, flat ground, cracks running like claw marks as far as I can see. Blinding light surrounds me, and I throw my arm over my head in an attempt to shut it out. It’s blisteringly hot. I’m sure this is Hell because the last thing I remember is getting behind the wheel in a suburb outside Seattle with a blood alcohol level that must have registered somewhere between head-in-the-toilet and comatose.
In the distance I hear screams like someone’s being tortured. I spin in place trying to locate the sound, but there’s only wind. I lick my lips, already chapped from the heat, and start to move. The direction doesn’t matter—anywhere is better than here. But after twenty minutes filled with distant, intermittent shrieks of terror, I realize I’m getting nowhere fast.
I fall to my knees and lower my head to the ground. I’m thirsty, I’m exhausted, I’m scared, and I’m pretty sure I’m dead. I take a deep breath, nearly choking on the sand, and stand up, dusting off my jeans.
“Well you finally got your wish, Josh,” I say out loud. My voice echoes all around.
“Why would you ever wish for this?” It’s a drawling male voice that speaks in my ear, and it makes me shiver like ice has just been poured down my shirt. I turn open-mouthed toward the man behind me.
“Joshua Gaynes,” he says, placing an arm around my shoulder with a dangerous smile. “Have I got a proposition for you.”
The man smells like my dad trying to cover up after an all night bender—too much Old Spice. He appears middle-aged with salt and pepper hair. He’s dressed in a pinstripe suit, and his shoes look freshly shined. But the thing I notice most are his eyes, dark and intense. They make me uncomfortable.
He hands me a glass of ice-cold lemonade with a tiny purple umbrella and a swirly-straw. I’m sure he didn’t have it a moment ago, but I take it eagerly, throw the straw and umbrella to the ground, and guzzle. When I’m done, I wipe my mouth with the back of my arm and see that he’s still standing there with that awful grin, watching me like I’m a dog who’s just performed a good trick.
“Where am I?” I have many questions, but I start with this one.
“Where do you think you are?”
“I don’t need therapy, I need an explanation.”
“Hell,” I guess.
“Clever. How old were you? Seventeen?”
“Yeah, that’s right. Wait. Were?”
“You don’t think you could still be alive if you’re here, do you? I’m counting on you being smarter than that, Joshua.”
“So I really am…” I can’t bring myself to finish.
“Dead? Oh, yes. Irrevocably. And you haven’t exactly been the poster child for goodness, have you, my boy?”
I swallow hard. “So what happens now?” I ask when I’m able to speak.
“That, Joshua, is up to you.”
“So I get a second chance?” That’s good news. Could I manage it? I try to picture it. I’ve always taken the easy way out, and I’m not so sure I could cut it as “good guy” material.
“No. No second chances I’m afraid. Not in my territory. There’s only a choice. Eternal torture—” He pauses while the screams in the distance reach a crescendo, “—or you do me a favor.”
“That’s right. Now, I’m not saying it will be easy. But I believe once you have considered the alternative, you will find it most reasonable.” He offers me another lemonade.
“Do people really choose…
?” I ask, pointing into the distance.
“Not everyone has an option.”
Did his eyes just flash red? “What’s so special about me?”
“Not everyone has your charm, your quick wit, or your looks. You’d be surprised how many things people will do for someone as handsome as you.”
No. I wouldn’t. That’s probably why I’m here
“What do I have to do?” I ask, accepting the drink.
“’Atta boy, Joshua. I knew you’d see it my way.”
There’s no mistaking the red glow in his eyes this time.
Heaven is far colder than I expected. You would think since it’s paradise and all, they might have better climate control. I wrap my arms around myself and step forward through the mass of clouds billowing around my feet. I shiver, and then I have an unwelcome thought: What if this isn’t Heaven? I look around, suspicious, but if any of the traditional stories are true this has got to be it. Huge pearly white gates, taller than a skyscraper in Manhattan; men and women dressed in flowing golden robes ushering all manner of lost people around with kind smiles. I wonder where my escort is. I have to find someone so I can explain—
“Gracelyn Howard?” A woman’s high-pitched voice calls from behind me, and I turn toward the sound of my name.
She is plump with rosy, cherubic cheeks and short, curly brown hair that bounces as she nods expectantly. She’s dressed in the golden robes, except hers have a silvery trim that crisscrosses over her ample bosom. She looks understanding enough.
“Hello,” I say. My voice cracks unexpectedly, and she grins even wider. “There’s been some sort of mistake.”
“Oh, no. I’m afraid not, my dear.” The understanding in her eyes is a sudden annoyance. Like what I’m saying is typical. Well, maybe it is, but I have to say it anyway. I have to try.
“I’m only sixteen,” I say, trying a different tact.
“So sad. But don’t you worry, Gracelyn, your family will receive the highest attention from The Man Himself.” She winks.
“Isn’t there anything—” I begin.
“No, my dear. But it’s not as bad as you think. You have a special calling, Gracelyn.”
“Call me Grace,” I say, hating the sound of my full name from this woman’s lips. Like she’s my mother. Shouldn’t the greeters in Heaven be trained in grief counseling or something? She’s acting more like the obnoxious substitute I had last week in Physics.
“Grace, then.” She smiles as though I’ve somehow accepted her words and steps forward, looking around conspiratorially. “And you may call me Ms. Alvarez. You, Grace, have an opportunity that not everyone gets. You have the chance to become an Angel.” She bites her lower lip after the last word, opening her eyes wide like a madwoman. I guess she expects me to get excited.
“I wanted to be a writer,” I say.
Her face falls for a moment before she recovers. “Well, this is perfect, then. You will have the power to help write the future of humankind.” The words send shivers down my back. Me? I can’t imagine that kind of responsibility. The last thing I remember is walking home from the party with my friend Emily and the squeal of tires on asphalt, those headlights streaming toward me.
“How did this happen?” I ask as tears begin to leak from my eyes. I hate crying in front of people, but I can hardly help it. My body is rocked with a sudden and fierce quaking as though all my muscles are in protest. Ms. Alvarez looks beside herself.
“Now, now. You’ll scare the others,” she scolds, gesturing toward a little girl of no more than eight. I try to stifle the sobs but find it difficult.
“An Angel?” I ask. I don’t sound much older than the girl, who looks like a frightened lamb and clutches the hand of another golden-robed person. Her greeter is kneeling beside her now, focused and silent. Listening while the little girl speaks. I shift my gaze back to my own escort and do my best to choke back the tears and the wish that I could trade places. That kind of thought can’t be worthy of Heaven, right?
“Oh, yes,” Ms. Alvarez is saying. “But not a full Angel, of course. No, that will come with time. You must first save a soul before you earn your wings.” She wears an expression of rapture at the thought of it, and I wonder whether the wings are literal. I don’t see any on her.
“Save a soul?” I ask. “I want to go home. Please, just give me another chance.”
She smiles and places an arm around my shoulder, brushing my hair to the side. “Poor Grace. There is no undoing what happened. Choices were made. People were hurt. All we can do now is make the best of the situation.”
I’ll never see my family again
. I sink to my knees, barely registering the spongy feel of the ground beneath me.
“Why don’t we go somewhere a little more private?” Ms. Alvarez places a hand on my head, and the little girl, now smiling through a sniffle, disappears from view.
I sink back into Lucifer’s overstuffed, leather sofa, buzzed from chugging my third can of ice cold beer. I figure it can’t kill me again. If this is Hell, the people on Earth have it all bass-ackwards, ’cause this is my idea of Heaven.
“Lucifer,” I say, as he sits in the matching armchair, “you have a seriously bad rap.” He’s regarding me with his unnerving eyes, but I’ll handle it if it means this kind of treatment.
“I think it’s pretty accurate,” he says, a little too calmly. “My methods can be harsh, but I use them all for the right reasons. And you’ll find that when you do as I say, I can be quite accommodating.”
I find a fresh beer in the built-in cup-holder to my left, which I raise in a toast before gulping down the amber liquid. “You’re the boss.”