When I looked down and saw the stake through my chest, I knew my troubles were only just beginning.
Everything went red, and I prepared for the interview to come. I’d have to explain to some sanctimonious mid-level Cretin exactly how I’d ended up dead, and what I planned to do differently next time. For somebody in my position this was bound to be a humiliating experience. Death is so very inconvenient these days. Hell, unsurprisingly, is full of bureaucrats, and they do so enjoy stretching out the paperwork while you’re lying in some pit with your entrails wrapped around your throat.
That was why I was surprised to hear the harps.
They do so love their stringed instruments. Violins, guitars (acoustic only – if you’ve ever seen an angel try to rock out, you’ll understand), even pianos, although this is a bit of a stretch if you ask me. We make do with drums, mainly. Oh, and accordions. The goddamn accordions.
The world focussed and I found myself on a small platform, surrounded by lake. The gentle sway of the waves harmonised with distant birdsong, while the air carried an essence of peach. A marble pagoda stood above me, perfectly framing the setting sun. All very pretty, but cliché even before the Fall. Yawn.
There was a cough behind me, and I turned to see Peter. Of course he hadn’t aged a day, but his voice spoke with a weariness born of aeons.
I winced, but nodded. Only a Saint would still call me that.
“This is rather unusual, I must say. We don’t get many of, er, your type up here.”
“I should think not.”
“In fact, you could well be the first. The circumstances are exceptional, however. My colleague shall explain more.” He stepped aside, and Gabriel stepped from behind a pillar.
Ah, Gabriel. Always attempting the clever entrances, but somehow never living up to the Boss’s standards.
“Still sticking with the lion’s mane, I see.”
“Shut up, Leon.”
“No, really, it suits you. Why, with that plus your gorgeous muscle tone, you’re vaguely sexual.” The peekings of a smile cracked my stoic expression. I couldn’t help it.
“Leon, if it were up to me, you’d have been sent straight to the Orifice Orb.”
“Been there, done it, got the stretch marks, thanks.”
Gabriel tossed his hair. Ponce. Even Peter looked embarrassed. I giggled.
“Get in the boat, Leon.”
A small craft had appeared to my left – a swan-prowed vessel carved, if I remember correctly, from purest pearl.
“And where, pray, would we be going?”
“Don’t make me hurt you.”
“I’d like to see you – ow!” Gabriel pressed his hand into the stake, which was apparently still protruding. The hellhounds would have ripped that away in an instant, and I’d forgotten it wasn’t usual angelic practice to repair the body – thank Heaven for small mercies.
“Geez. No need for that.”
We stepped into the boat, untied the rope – probably made from unicorn pubes, or something – and we drifted out into the smooth water. I was starting to put it together.
“So.” said I.
“So.” said Gabriel.
“So.” Came a deep voice from behind me, and I damn near fell off the boat.
“Is there something wrong with you?!” I yelled, turning around to face God. Admittedly, this was not the best retort. In fact, of all the people to ask such a question…He simply looked into my eyes, and I could feel Gabriel smirking at my back.
“To what do I owe this honour?” I asked, trying to regain some dignity.
“You present us with a dilemma, Leon.” This was from Gabriel. I stared at God.
“The ventriloquist’s dummy appears to be talking.”
Gabriel pushed past me and stood next to his master. I sat down. After a moment, so did they.
“Oh, really? Why’s that?” I’d figured it out, and they knew I’d figured it out, but I was starting to enjoy myself. Gabriel snarled.
“I hear you’ve been making quite the name for yourself.”
“I was getting by. Until this happened.”
“You’ve managed to unite the Undead. That’s quite the feat.”
“That’s because of my progressive politics. I’m a vampiric David Cameron.”
Blank looks. Wasted.
“More him than Blair, anyway. You know Labour and blood sports.”
Nothing. I gave up.
“Yes; I; Have; Managed; To; Unite; The; Undead.”
Gabriel flickered back to life.
“Nobody’s tried that for fifty years.”
“I’m an optimist.”
“You’re a dangerous group of crazies, and your time passed long ago.”
“Now, look, the Cameron thing was just an analogy.”
“So you’re leading the largest group of Ghouls in the history of Creation, you’re notorious in all three planes, and, yet, you end up dying while rescuing a nun from a burning building.”
I so knew that was coming.
“Yes. I guess you could say I saw the error of my ways.”
“Why must you always deride me, Gabriel? You wish to poke fun at my redemption?”
“Redemption? You? You couldn’t be saved in a safe room.”
“Have you ever considered stand-up? Don’t.”
“Enough.” said God, and we obeyed. The guy may be old as the hills, but he knows how to craft a commanding sentence.
“The evidence is against you, Gabriel. This poor child died protecting one of our own. You should have faith.”
Gabriel smiled his beautiful smile.
“With all due respect, my Lord…”
“Do not argue with me. This child has redeemed himself in my eyes. We…”
I sat on Gabriel.
God looked confused, until his eyes fell to the stake in my chest. The Slayer had been of the old-school variety, and it was a long, long stake. Long enough to exit my body and slide smoothly between Gabriel’s perfect pectorals. I heard a gurgling, and a fine spray of blood flew over one shoulder. I pulled myself forward, the stake staying inside the swearing angel. That part hurt, quite a lot. But I was dead already, so what did I care? Nobody had ever had a better opportunity and to squander it would have been obscene.
I was upon him, then. Tearing, ripping, biting – all the usual stuff. He put up a decent fight, but two thousand years as God’s lackey had left him out of practice. I must admit to losing my composure for a moment, as I rendered him flesh, and when God tried to intervene…well, I was spitting feathers.
I stood and wiped the blood from my jaw. God looked puzzled.
“You should have been at the party conference.” I explained, sitting him down with a hand on his shoulder. “I gave a rousing speech – forty standing ovations, I think – about how we need to think in the long-term.”
God said nothing. I continued.
“What most people don’t appreciate is that blood is like a fine wine. The longer you let it rest, the better it becomes. We have a reputation as baby-killers, but, really, that’s a waste. I’ve tried to move us on from all that. See: progressive.”
“So you rescue Nuns from burning buildings.”
“Yep. Ideally it’s best to avoid ungrateful Sisters from the Van Helsing bloodline, but the theory stands. We should be helping people live full lives, and only ripping their lungs out when they reach old age.”
“That’s very clever.” said God.
“Nah, it’s just common sense.” I replied, and bit him in the neck. The sun began to set as massed wingbeats reflected across the water. I jumped overboard, and dived for Hell.