Shoulders

The devil was perched gracefully on one shoulder. The angel that had been resting on the other had slipped off a moment before and was jumping up and down in frustration, trying to get its minuscule little wings to carry it back up to an ear. Its high-pitched voice was much too small to be heard from ground level. Why did people have to be so very big?

The angel sighed and gave up. It would have to find someone else. The devil had clearly won this particular person. The horned head peered down from its station and crossed its eyes and stuck its tongue out at the angel. The angel lifted its nose in the air and didn’t deign to take offense. But in truth, it was a little bit hurt. It never said anything bad about the devil, but devil insisted on just being plain mean. There was no call to be like that, as far as the angel was concerned.

Trudging to a mouse hole in the wall, the angel pulled a list from its pocket and began to peruse it, trying to figure out where it could go next. There were so many people who needed guidance, but the problem was that getting onto people’s shoulders was a lot harder than it looked, particular for a finger-angel like this particular one was. There were all sorts, of course – some were as big as people and didn’t have wings or halos or anything. But there were countless finger-angels that were expected to whisper into ears, but their wings were almost useless. They could only fly very short distances, so they had to find a series of steps up to people’s shoulders. The devils of similar stature had sharp claws that helped them climb their way up people’s clothes, which was a much quicker way to get up there.

A squeak sounded, tearing the angel’s attention away from its list. It smiled beatifically and raised its hand in a blessing. The mouse blinked and wiggled its nose, which the angel took to be a sign of thanks. With fresh enthusiasm, it began to walk through the wall to find the next person it needed to help.

Following

He followed her everywhere. On Twitter, on the various blogs she’d started over the years, on Facebook and Google Plus. He followed her down the street, into the supermarket and out again, up to her office at work and back down to the parking lot at the end of the day, out to bars where she met dates and was disappointed and then back to her apartment where she went to sleep, often in tears.

He followed her moods, whims and crazes. He followed her progress when she decided to learn French, when she took up violin, when she began to take aerobics classes. He followed her as she gave each up carelessly, pretending the hobbies and skills she tried to acquire meant nothing. He followed her hand as she scratched frantically in her journal, bemoaning her latest failure and wishing to be someone else.

He followed her across the country when she ran away, hoping that a fresh start would make everything different. He followed her dizzy spiral of hope and contentment and its fizzle back down to the familiar low ebb of desperation.

He followed her up the building but held his arm out so she couldn’t jump. He followed her into the bathtub and took away the razor-blade so she couldn’t cut. He followed her into the garage and unplugged the exhaust pipe so she couldn’t suffocate. He followed her gently, quietly, invisibly, a guardian angel in her atheist world, wishing he could tell her how wonderful she was.

Prettier Than You’d Think

Death sat in the shadows, and waited. She felt very stereotypical, as if she were playing by the rules. She hated conforming. But it was a hot day, and underneath the trees on the damp earth was the coolest place she could sit. As much as she didn’t like being as expected, she also didn’t think it was very attractive to see Death sweating profusely from her upper lip. So she waited, and watched.

A mother and child walked on the sidewalk in front of her. The mother didn’t look at her, because while one hand was holding onto the child tightly, the other was holding a cellphone almost as tightly and she was talking into it earnestly. It sounded like the producer was willing to change the shoot to February, but only if they could make sure that there would be a minimum of rainy days. Death snorted. So this woman thought she could control the weather? Ridiculous. The child, now, the child looked brighter than its mother. Death wasn’t sure if the little puffy thing with curly black hair was a boy or a girl, but either way, the child was looking straight at her with curiosity. Death considered anyone who was smart enough to look her in the eyes to be intelligent.

Death was a little bit of a snob. She couldn’t, of course, discriminate, not really, but she much preferred needing to deal with smart people who didn’t grovel, beg, whine or bribe her. Not that any of it would work, of course,  but that didn’t matter – so many people tried it anyway. Death had relented buy once in her time, and it had ended horribly. She’d received an official warning for it and everything, and she could’ve been sacked, but she managed to explain the circumstances (the bosses were such suckers for true love stories) and got pardoned. She couldn’t afford another mistake, though, which was why she was waiting in this spot well ahead of time.

Technically, her name was Death, Agent #900,345. But nobody needed to know that there were so many of them around – each person received the true and only Death, as far as they were concerned. So Death waited for her man, wondering what he would look like and whether he would be one she’d like.

A man walked in front of her now. He carried a briefcase, and his glasses were just geeky enough to be considered fashionable. He was in his late twenties, with light brown hair that was streaked back with some sort of hair product. He had a roundish face, stubble-free and still boyish, and his lanky frame made his for-the-office clothing seem just a little big on him. Death sniffed, once, and could tell he was the one. As he fell onto the sidewalk, suddenly, without ceremony, grace or aplomb, Death rose to meet him.

He stood there, looking down at himself. “What happened?” he asked as she neared him. And then, “You’re prettier than I thought you’d be.”

“You’ve been thinking about me? I’m flattered,” Death smiled at him and took his arm. She led him a little way away, and together they watched as people rushed towards his body, tried to revive him, pinched and moved and pushed him this way and that, screamed and called 911. Time seemed to speed forwards, and he was pronounced dead, his cellphone and ID found, and the medics called the first numbers there.

“They won’t find anyone real there, you know,” the dead man said.

“Oh?” Death asked.

“Yeah, I was kind of a corporate spy. My work cellphone had lots of fake people on it, in case the bosses got suspicious of me. My real phone’s at home.”

“Cool. Never had a corporate spy before,” Death said. She turned him so he faced her. “So.”

“So… what now?” the dead man asked.

“I don’t know. Why don’t you find out?” she answered. She gave him a slight shove in the chest. He looked at her, smiled, and laughed.

“You’re really much prettier than I thought you’d be,” the dead man said, before his image, still shadowing his body, disappeared.

Death spoke to the empty air where he’d been. “You’re not so bad looking yourself,” she said, and then looked at her schedule. Time to move on to the next one.