I did my best to keep to the shadows as I moved through the graveyard. Fortunately, this was an old cemetery with graves dating back to the 1700s. I say “fortunate” because that meant it had decent-sized gravestones, crypts, and even a few large monuments, all of which provided the cover my partner and I needed. As I quietly eased out from behind one of the larger headstones and moved toward a 12-foot-tall statue, I heard my partner snort. I looked over my shoulder to see him standing in a wash of light, his attention fixed on a monument bearing a large angel.
“Tim, what the hell are you doing?” I whispered.
“Is this supposed to be Uriel?” he asked. “I ask because it looks nothing like him.”
“I don’t know who it is, and I don’t care. Get out of the goddamn light. You couldn’t be more conspicuous if you were blowing Michael’s trumpet.”
“Gabriel”, he replied.
“Gabriel. You said, ‘Michael’s trumpet’. Michael doesn’t have a trumpet. Gabriel does.”
“Who gives a shit? Get over here and out of that fucking light!” I was starting to get pissed now. This is the problem with hanging around with angels. They all know each other and will bore you to tears with long pointless stories about who’s who in Heaven.
“See, it looks like Raphael. But he’s holding a flaming sword. At least, I think it’s flaming. Maybe it’s just a regular swo—”
The last word was cut off because I had grabbed his arm and dragged him with me over to the statue. I pushed him back against the marble and got in his face.
“What the hell is wrong with you? You do know there’s a demon in that mausoleum,” I pointed at the ornate stone structure 30 feet in front of us, “getting ready to do unspeakable things to a virgin, right?”
“Of course, I do. I’m not stupid, you know.”
“Then why are you standing out in the open, yammering on at the top of your lungs about which angel that might be?” I said as I angrily jerked a thumb over my shoulder. “We’ve been after this bastard for 3 months. If you screw this up, so help me god…”
“Oh,” he said. “I didn’t think about that.” As I hinted at earlier, Tim—full name Temeluchus—is an angel. As such, he didn’t have much in the way of free will or critical thinking skills. The truth was, he was dumb as a brick, and a lot of the time, I wonder why I put up with him. But he has this very disconcerting knack for reminding me why I do and it made an opportune appearance at that particular moment. His attention shifted, and he said, “Something’s up.”
I waited for more information which, apparently, wasn’t forthcoming. “Well, what is it?” I snapped.
“I’m not sure. It’s stopped moving and I can smell it.” “It” being the demon, of course. I wasn’t getting any of that but, as a rule, an angel’s senses are way sharper than a human’s—even a half-human like me—and Tim was no exception. “Would you like me to take a look?” I nodded and moved out of his way. He very stealthily stole a look around the base of the statue. It always shook me how he could go from being a clueless idiot to this super-intense combat mode like flipping a switch. “It’s standing in the doorway, looking for something.”
Goddamn it, I thought. Tim’s bullshit has got it spooked. Now, we’ll never sneak up on it. Just then, my angelic companion exhibited another of his unnerving habits: the seeming ability to read my mind. “I don’t think it heard us. It’s not looking in this direction. More like it’s expecting someone.”
“Well, that doesn’t make any sense,” I said. “Who would it be waiting on?”
“It’s one of those small, helper demons, like the one in DC back in 1971,” he added.
“Ah, shit,” I said. “Those little fuckers are never a good sign.” These things never operated on their own. Being low on Hell’s totem pole, they were always in service to one of the higher demons. The one Tim mentioned had assisted Pazuzu, a Babylonian entity, in possessing a 12-year-old girl and killing two Jesuit priests. That was a rough one. Fortunately, the girl didn’t remember anything and was still living in DC, married with a couple of kids. Sucked for the priests, though. But, hey, that’s one of the risks of being a soldier in Heaven’s war on evil.
Tim pulled me out of my reverie, saying, “Okay, he’s going back inside now.”
“Can you see anything where he was looking?” I didn’t want to be stuck inside that pile of stone when some uber-powerful prince of Hell showed up, pissed off because we were interfering with him getting his demonic freak on.
Tim slid around to the other side of the monument. “I don’t see anything. No disturbance on any of the planes.” Like all angels, Tim’s vision wasn’t restricted solely to the visual like mine; he could “see” things on all the planes, including the divine. It was an ability had saved our asses more than once.
“Okay,” I said, “let’s move. Maybe we can dispatch this little bastard before things go straight to Hell.” Tim looked at me. “What?” I said.
“Was that a, what do you call it, a ‘poon’?”
“What the hell are you talk—” I stopped as I realized what I had said. “No, it
wasn’t,” I answered, shaking my head. “And, it’s called a ‘pun’, not ‘poon’. Your uptight ass doesn’t want to know what ‘poon’ is.”
He arched an eyebrow at me for a second, then said, “I don’t understand this ‘humor’ that’s so important to you humans.”
“Yeah, we don’t have time to work that out right now.” I took one last look around. “Let’s go.”
We crossed the ground between the monument and the mausoleum without incident and made our way into what appeared to be some sort of waiting room. Basically, it’s what the old French priest who raised me would’ve called a salle d’attente. We paused in the shadows for a moment to get our bearings. At the other end of the room was a fair-sized opening that led to the main area. Apparently, that’s where the demon was doing his thing, as light from torches or a shitload of candles flickered eerily. I still couldn’t hear the infernal thing, but smelling it was a different story. It was bad. Like, really bad. Imagine a combination of rotting flesh and sulfur so thick it smacked you in the face like a wet washcloth. I almost gave everything away by gagging when it hit me. It wasn’t easy but I held it in, and we began working our way to the door. I may not be as quiet as Tim, but I’m no slouch when it comes to stealth. Of course, I’ve had a little over 200 years of practice to build my skills. And, having Aamon, the Grand Marquis of Hell for a dad didn’t hurt either. We reached the opening and stationed ourselves on either side. I tried to get a look at what was going on inside.
I could only see about half the room without exposing myself. There was a stone slab set in the center of a circular room. There didn’t appear to be anyone on it and I was pretty sure tonight’s guest of honor hadn’t been nabbed yet. That was the sort of thing big-time demons liked to dirty their hands with and left to little shits like this character. I was glad about that because it meant a) there would be one less complication and b) no innocent girl was subjected to the trauma of coming face to face with a demon. Thank God for small favors. I noticed, however, that the room was lit by both torches and candles. So I was kind of right. Yay me. I could hear the demon shuffling around the slab, singing some demonic tune. Even though I’m the descendant of a big-time demon (and a French virgin. I mean, I’m not all bad), I don’t speak the language of Hell. It can’t be translated into something a human could say or understand, so having a human mother put a significant crimp in that part of my linguistic abilities. Just then, it waddled into view. Tim was right, it was a helper demon. Not one we’d come into contact with before, but they were of a type. Short, squat, covered with reddish-black scales that made them look perpetually singed. They had long muscular arms, stubby bowlegs, and a member that almost dragged the ground. They were also super quick and strong as hell. We needed to catch him off guard and put him down fast. Otherwise, it would be a hell of a fight and I couldn’t guarantee who would come out of this on top.
I was signaling Tim to switch sides, so I could get a look at the rest of the room when the demon stopped and sniffed the air. Oh shit, I thought, that’s not good. The scaly little fucker whipped around and growled something. He stalked toward the opening and I slipped my backpack off and began fumbling for the sprayer of holy water I carried. I knew it wouldn’t stop him, but it would give me a brief advantage and hopefully keep me from getting dismantled. Glancing up at Tim, I saw he’d pulled out a piece of chalk, run to the middle of the room, and was drawing on the floor. I was about to tell him to quit screwing around and help me when the right side of my head exploded in pain. I rolled and instinctively came up in a fighting stance. The demon was right in front of me.
“Robert LeBlanc,” it said in a guttural voice that somehow made my name sound like a curse. “I thought I detected your stench. And, that of your lap dog over there.” It gestured toward Tim without looking at him. Which was good, because I realized what my partner was up to. Now, if I could just keep this evil, little piece of shit distracted.
“Yeah, it’s me,” I said. The demon was between me and my bag of tricks. Due to my ancestry, I could hold my own with most denizens of the infernal regions, but I couldn’t put one down without some help. I began moving to my right. This had the dual advantage of bringing me closer to my bag and making the demon turn with me or open its flank to attack. And, that meant turning its back on Tim and the sigil he was sketching out on the floor. “Have we met before?”
“No,” it growled.
“You sure?” I asked. “You look familiar.”
“I am sure. If we had met, you would not be here now. You would be on a rack, suffering eternal torment at the hands of your father for all the times you ruined his plans.”
I shook my head. “Yeah. See, it doesn’t work that way. I’ve died multiple times over the years and I always end up right back here.” I shrugged. “Nobody knows what to do with me. Heaven can’t let me in because I’m half demon and Hell’s not an option because…Mom? I mean, Mom was special.”
It laughed. “Your mother was a whore. She loved it when Aamon took her. Screaming how she wanted him to fuck her harder.” A nasty smile spread across its face. “She even begged him to take her back to Hell with him she loved it so much.”
I guess it thought that would rattle me. Like I’d never heard that story before. But I had. From dear old Dad himself, no less. Besides, you don’t spend a couple of hundred years fighting the forces of Hell without building up a pretty formidable fuck-you skin. Believe me, you do not want to get into a roast battle with a demon. I kept quiet and continued easing around to my bag, letting it think it had gotten to me. I was a little worried it might figure out what I was doing, but demons, being fallen angels, are dumb. And, lower demons like this one, are even dumber than their more lofty brethren. Just as I worked my way around to my bag, it must have realized that it had lost track of Tim because it turned to look for him. It saw what the angel was up to and roared. That was my chance. I grabbed the sprayer, which I had pumped before entering the building, and soaked it with holy water. It screamed as its scales blistered up and steam rose off its body. While it was distracted, I moved in and connected with a roundhouse kick to its head. It was like kicking a wall. I mean, the stumpy little fucker’s skin was basically a suit of armor after all. And, my god those are motherfuckers solid. It had an effect though, because it staggered and almost fell. I didn’t let up and kept at it throwing kicks and punches as fast as I could. I had set the imp back on its heels and had to keep it there or I’d have to take whatever punishment it could deal out, which was substantial. You know how I told it I had died several times? At least a couple of those times came from losing a fight with one of these fuckers. They punched way above their weight, both literally and figuratively. I’ve seen one knock a hole in a cinderblock wall without so much as blinking. They also have retractable claws, like a cat. If a cat had razor-sharp 3-inch talons that shot out of their paws. So, it was pretty important for me to stay on the offensive. Another roundhouse connected and slammed the demon into a wall. It shook its head and growled at me again.
“You are going to pay for this you puny mortal,” it snarled.
“Oh hell no, I won’t,” I said, grabbing its head and bashing it repeatedly into the stone wall. That was a mistake. I got too close and stayed stationary too long. It grabbed me and threw me across the room like I was a ragdoll. I slammed into the opposite wall and felt every bit of breath leave my body. The squat little bastard laughed evilly as it pulled itself up and started across the room.
“I am going to rip you apart, piece by piece,” it said. I had no doubt it would as I was still down and it was moving so fucking quick. So I readied myself for yet another trip to Limbo. Scholars have said Limbo is the outer edge of Hell, and they’re right. Sort of. It’s also the outer edge of Heaven. Really, it’s a receiving area and sits right between the two. So, it’s where St. Peter sits with his big-ass book and decides who goes where. While I didn’t mind seeing Pete again (he’s a cool dude even if he is a bit stubborn), I wasn’t thrilled about what was coming because it was going to hurt.
“This is going to be fun,” it said as it grabbed me by the throat and lifted me up. I hadn’t gotten my breath back yet and being choked wasn’t helping matters. Fortunately, that state of affairs didn’t last long because it flicked out the claws on its free hand and plunged them into me just under my ribs. Two of them pierced my heart. The last thing I felt was the weird sensation of them pulling out of my body. Then, it dropped me and I was dead before I hit the floor.
Limbo isn’t anything like you’d expect. The television shows all depict it as this stark white, gauzy-around-the-edges place of nothingness. But it’s not. It’s St. Peter’s home and he’s always there, waiting for new souls to show up and be judged. Think about it: how would you like to spend eternity in such a bland place, perpetually on-call? Yeah, that’s what I thought. In reality, Limbo is more like your granddad’s cozy study. If, of course, your granddad is a study kind of guy. While he’s never come out and said as much, I get the feeling that Limbo’s appearance changes based on Pete’s mood or who he’s judging. For me, it’s always been a cozy study/library. I suppose it might also be a man cave, a tearoom, or even a scenic vista. Who the fuck knows? Not me, I’ve never seen any of those. The point is that Limbo doesn’t suck. Anyway, one minute, I’m getting impaled by an irate demon, and the next, I’m sitting in the most comfortable armchair my ass has ever occupied. I’d had a second to grasp where I was when Pete walked through a door.
“Robert!” he said. “Are you back here again? This is, what, the third time this year?”
“Hey, Pete, good to see you,” I responded. “Actually, it’s the fourth. I came in last month when Andrew was filling in for you.”
“Oh yeah, he told me about that.” He shook his head. “Throat ripped out by a vampire? That’s a deviation from the norm for you.”
I laughed. “Well, I like to mix it up from time to time. Cuts down on the boredom.”
Peter settled down into the chair across from me. “So, what was it this time?”
“A demon,” I said. “Sticking with the classics, this go-round.”
The old disciple smiled. He picked up the Book of Life and then set it back down. “You know what? I’m not even bothering with the book today. You’re going back.”
“Really?” I said. “You’re not even going to push it up the line?” There was a procedure for these kinds of things: check the Book of Life for the soul in question’s status and send them on their merry/not-so-merry way. If there was any question, Peter had to refer it to his bosses and let them decide.
“Nah, you’re here often enough that I’ve finally gotten approval to handle it myself.” That was surprising. Heaven, like any large organization, thrives on bureaucracy. And bureaucracy doesn’t like giving up power. “You ready?” he asked. I nodded. Pete snapped his fingers.
Just like when I died, the process was instantaneous. One minute, I’m sitting in that oh-so-comfy chair, the next, I’m lying on the floor in a heap, watching it turn on Tim who was still working on the sigil. Apparently, he was so engrossed in it that he was completely unaware that the demon, thinking he was finished with me, planned on taking him out next. There’s not a lot in this world that can kill an angel. In fact, there are just two, and one of them is a wound from a demon claw. The imp left the talons it had used on me extended and, my blood still dripping off them, it started easing up on my friend. I felt something pushed up against my back and realized it was the sprayer full of holy water. I grabbed it and got to my feet, pumped it a few more times to make sure I could get a good stream then pointed it at the demon’s back. It was still a few steps away from Tim and thought, well, it’s now or never. “Tim,” I yelled, “Look out!” The demon whirled around, snarling.
“How can this be? You were dead!” it shouted.
I didn’t say anything, just soaked it down in holy water again. Like before, I knew it wouldn’t be lethal. I just hoped it would buy us enough time for Tim to finish his work. It did and he jumped out of the way as I kicked the little shit right into the middle of the trap. Realizing what had just happened, its screams ratcheted up to an unearthly pitch and Tim began to speak the words of banishment. As he finished, the screams stopped, and the demon dissolved into a yellow dust that looked like sulfur. I looked at him for a second and said, “Well, that was fun.” That was when Tim noticed the ragged holes in my blood-soaked shirt.
“What happened to you?” he said, completely mystified by my appearance.
“I fucking died, you asshole.”
“Again?” he said. “That’s like the third time this year.”
“Four, Tim! Four and you fucking know it!”
“Really?” he said. “It’s been four times?”
“Yes,” I said hotly. “There was that fight with the minions of Belial, then the vampire over in Belgrade, that time when Asphodel crushed my skull, and the last one, when those idiots who thought they were Satanists fucked with the brakes on my car.”
“Oh, yes,” he said. “I forgot about the last one. And, that Asphodel business was so messy.”
I couldn’t believe how calm he was about all my deaths. “What the fuck is wrong with you?” I snapped.
“What do you mean?” He still seemed mystified about the whole thing. But, he seemed mystified about almost everything human-related.
“I mean I died four times this year and you’re acting like it’s no big deal.” I looked at him for a moment. “I gotta be honest,” I said, “it’s kind of pissing me off.”
“But, why? It does happen quite often, you know.”
“Sure,” I replied, “I die a lot. But would it kill you to mourn me a little when it happens? Not a lot, just an acknowledgment that the only friend you have in this world is gone, if just for a few minutes. But no, you unfeeling shit. You just keep doing whatever you’re doing, completely unaware that I’ve passed on.”
“I’m sorry,” he said. And, he meant it. Unlike humans, angels are incapable of deceit, subterfuge, or any of the bullshit that people can pull off so fucking effortlessly. It was kind of a double-edged sword, though. I mean, it was nice at times like this but there were others where his honesty had backfired spectacularly. Like the time Asphodel literally stomped my head flat. “Is there anything I can do to make it up to you?” I hated when he did this shit. I can’t stay mad at him when he’s so repentant. I sighed.
“Forget about it,” I said, waving my hand. “Water under the bridge and all that shit.” I began looking around for my gear. “Let’s get the fuck out of here before whichever one of the big dogs that little shit was working for shows up.” I picked up the bag and shoved the sprayer into it. “I think I’ve died enough for one day.”