The apocalypse did not go as planned. Not even close. Those of us on the lower rungs of the seraphic hierarchy could have told you there would be major problems, but no one wanted to listen to any of us. Bottom line, there were multitudes more souls than any of the archangels had expected. And worse, so many of these mortals were absolutely certain- and unfortunately at the same time- absolutely wrong about where they were supposed to go.
I’m not saying that consulting with my cohort would have solved everything. Certainly not, but our order is closest to the affairs of mortals, after all. We saw some of this coming for millennia. We documented and sent memos. CYA, my old supervisor told me. CYA. Well, a lot of good that did. Who cares if we were right? Certainly not the higher-ups. They weren’t the ones who had to deal with the fallout.
Truth be told, as it always should be, we lacked the imagination to predict exactly how off-scripture things could get. My team should have been headed off to some much-needed vacation time after the breaking of the last seal, but our reprieve wasn’t meant to be. Just when we thought we were finished, the tasking to locate the missing trumpets came from above. We wouldn’t be allowed to ascend from Earth until the holy clarions were back in the hands of our archangel supervisors. And if we didn’t find them? Well, it was better not to think about it.
But I couldn’t stop ruminating. How could the angels have lost the trumpets? You’d think they would have kept them under their careful guard. The whole situation was maddening. I shook my head and paced back and forth, trying not to grind my wings together. I wouldn’t be able to relax until we found the trumpets. And where was Zaznel, anyway? I looked up and quickly spotted the familiar orb of white light against the clear blue sky. Soon I could see the winged outline of my loyal assistant drawing closer. It was about time.
He landed just short of me, glistening and out of breath. “Ofanael, there you are! I bring news.”
“Yes, I’ve been right here, waiting. Good news, I hope. Any progress on the trumpets?”
“Yes and no. We have a lead on numbers three, five, and six. The others, not so much.” He shifted from one foot to another. He honestly looked spent.
I put a hand to his wings, knowing I shouldn’t be so impatient. My voice softened, “Why don’t we go somewhere to sit down. Maybe get a coffee?”
“That sounds good, but decaf for me, I haven’t been sleeping all that great. Stressful times.”
I nodded in sympathy. Zaznel had taken on a lot more responsibility. I was grateful, but I saw that it was wearing on him. I didn’t think he’d quit our team, but honestly, I wouldn’t blame him if he requested a transfer.
I procured two decaf lattes while Zaznel settled on an empty park bench within the shade of an abandoned apartment building. By the time I returned, he was looking better. At least his robes seemed smoother, and he had a bit of his glow back. I passed him one of the coffees.
Zaznel sighed. “I still can’t believe we’re having to do this. I mean, who would have thought we’d be chasing down the actual trumpets?” He removed the lid of his cup and took a sip, getting a little foam on his nose. “Worse, the mortals that took them don’t even want to keep them. They are trying to sell them. Can you believe that?”
“Sell them? That can’t be.”
“It’s true. The good news is that it will make the thieves easier to locate because they need their buyers to find them.”
We both knew what this meant, though, at least when it came to our next steps. I turned to Zaznel. “We’ll need a mortal to help us. Are you still in contact with the one we worked with before? Frod or Frad?”
“Yes, Fred. I haven’t spoken to him since he assisted with the horse situation, but I think he’d be willing to help us again. He’s a good person.”
The horse situation was the first time we realized just how strange the mortals had become. Zaznel and another human had tried to explain it to me numerous times, but I remained bewildered. After the seven seals had been opened, a group of mortals took two of the four horses- the pale one and the red one. The mortals made “videos” with the horses that they somehow shared through tubes. I think he said that these videos spread like a plague, which made no sense to me, since the plagues had already come and gone. Zaznel had shown me the videos, and honestly, they were really quite boring. The horses were just eating or sleeping or walking around. I shook my head. “I still don’t understand about the horses. Why would anyone watch that?”
“Apparently people here like seeing nature and animals. Most of them are really cut off from the natural world. It was sort of like panda-cam, but with our horses.”
He looked at me with an expression that bordered on pity. I held up my hand. “I don’t need to know. It’s more important that we find the mortal Fred and set him on the mission. We’re going to need him, not only to help with finding the trumpets, but to pose as a buyer.”
We stood to leave. I looked around for an empty trash bin, but all were overflowing. It was the end of the world, after all, and trash removal hadn’t been a priority. I took Zaznel’s empty cup and stacked it with mine, transforming them both into a small ball of latte-colored light.
The next thing I felt was someone tugging on my wings.
“Excuse me, do you work here?”
I turned to see a rather angry looking mortal looking up at me. I was about to tell him that we had important angel business to attend to when Zaznel responded calmly, “How may we help you?”
The man’s face flushed red with frustration. “It’s been years, and I’m still waiting for judgement. What is the hold up? I should have been in one of the first groups to go up, but look at this.” He showed me the slip of paper with his number, which truth be told, was quite high. It was clear that he’d be waiting awhile longer.
He continued, “Look, I’ve been a Christian my whole life. I was saved! Saved! So why am I still standing here, while people I know to be sinners have been taken up. Just today I saw my neighbor, a real piece of work. She- “
“Sir,” I cut him off, “we are processing souls as quickly as possible. Might I suggest that you pass the time with prayer?”
His face turned an even deeper shade of red, and I imagined he was about to say something he’d regret, but once again Zaznel spoke, while a shimmery white aura surrounded him. The effect added just the right amount of holiness to his words, “So the last shall be first, and the first last. For many be called, but few chosen.”
This calmed the man some and he nodded. “Matthew. Of course. I understand. But you can’t expect me to be happy about it. I’ve filed multiple complaints and still no action. This is not how the rapture was supposed to happen.”
I agreed with him, but it’s not like there was anything I could do to help. It wasn’t my department, and I was hesitant to send him back to a cathedral to register another complaint. Those teams had been absolutely overwhelmed. Whenever I thought we had it bad, I remembered the “Mortal Satisfaction Offices” the angelic order above us had set up, and what a terrible idea that was.
The man stormed off and Zaznel and I were alone again. He turned to me. “I know the stakes. If we don’t get the trumpets back…”
I nodded solemnly. “We’ll get them back.”
We found the mortal Fred leaning against an aged and dirty wall of a storefront that was currently being used as a soup kitchen. A lit cigarette hung from the young man’s mouth. The despair of the place seemed to permeate from the myriad of cracked bricks and boarded up windows that surrounded us. The whole area set off alarm bells in my head. How on Earth was this unkempt man from this decrepit neighborhood going to help us retrieve the holiest of holy trumpets? We were doomed for certain.
Fred extinguished the cigarette under his shoe, but kept it between his two fingers as we walked. “Sorry,” he muttered. “I know this is a dirty habit. I quit, before all this.” He gestured at me, and then shook his head. “Man, I still can’t believe this.”
“What can’t you believe?” I asked.
Fred gave a slight smile. “All of it. Angels, horsemen, the apocalypse.” He paused and shrugged. “God.”
“You don’t believe in God? How is that possible?”
He smiled more fully. “Well recently I’ve been rethinking my belief system. But before- let’s just say I’ve just never been very religious.”
I nodded politely and then slowed down a step so that I could be next to Zaznel, who had been walking behind us. I pulled him to off the side while Fred kept moving on ahead. “You didn’t tell me he was a nonbeliever? Did you know?”
Zaznel’s eyes followed Fred. I knew he didn’t want to lose sight of our mortal, who was leading us to his apartment. At this point, I didn’t care. Even if Fred did help us with the horse situation before, he couldn’t be trusted now.
Zaznel read my mind and put a reassuring hand to my wings. “He’s a good human, Ofanael. You can trust me, right?”
As we flew to catch up with Fred, I knew I didn’t have much of a choice. We needed those trumpets.
Ten minutes later, we arrived Fred’s tiny basement apartment. He immediately settled in his desk chair and powered up his computer. He looked at me for a moment. “I hope I didn’t hurt your feelings earlier. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with God or religion. It just never worked for me.”
I felt my feathers grinding slightly. “And now?” I asked.
“Now, I honestly don’t know. This could be some wild dream.” He turned to me and smiled again. “Here I am, looking for some trumpet of the apocalypse on eBay for a couple of angels. I mean, how could this possibly be real?”
Neither of us angels had an answer for him. Zaznel pulled up a chair next to Fred and the two of them set to work. There was nothing for me to do, so I paced around the main room of the small apartment, looking at the worldly belongings of the mortal- the nonbeliever. One of the photos on the wall caught my eye. I didn’t want to be right about Fred, but it looked like I was. I walked over to Zaznel and tapped him on the wing. I whispered, “We need to talk.”
I showed my assistant to the photo and kept my voice low, “Look at this. Fred was a criminal! He’s a nonbeliever and a criminal. And the neighborhood we found him in- I can only imagine what sins he was up to there. I was right. He can’t be trusted.”
Zaznel shook his head. “Ofanael, you have it all wrong. This isn’t a photo of Fred in jail. I mean, yes, he’s in a jail, but he’s a volunteer there. He teaches inmates how to program. This is a photo of him and his students.”
“Yes, write code.” He looked at me. “Never mind. Fred was a tutor in the prisons. And he was in that neighborhood because he helps out at the soup kitchen. He feeds hungry people.”
“Is that what he told you? How can you believe him?”
“I’ll show you.” Zaznel called to Fred, “Fred, would you mind showing Ofanael your number?”
I heard the squeak of his desk chair as he turned and scooted toward us. “My number? What number?” He paused. “Oh, my number! Hang on, it’s here somewhere.”
He scrounged through a desk drawer, and then another. Finally, he pulled out a crinkled slip of paper and held it up. “Here you go.”
I walked over to look. When I saw it, I gasped, “Fred! You should have been taken up in the first group, years ago. Why in heaven’s name are you still here?”
He shrugged again. “I don’t know. I suppose I wasn’t ready to go.”
Zaznel put a hand on Fred’s shoulder, but looked directly at me as he softly spoke, “I think you didn’t want to leave people behind. There’s a lot of suffering here. You realized you could still help.”
Fred didn’t say anything. At that moment I knew I had been wrong about him, and lots of other things too.
In the end, Fred found the missing trumpets. He posed as a buyer and we had them in our hands in less than a day. My team returned the horns to the angels who lost them, and we were finally given our leave. I recommended Zaznel for promotion. We talked about it first. I wanted to be sure that he wanted it, and he did. For myself, I put in for a transfer. The result being what would have happened had we not completed our task. What once seemed like the worst punishment possible was now the only thing I truly wanted. I’d be staying here, on Earth, for a while longer. Fred would eventually turn in his number, and I would eventually take my vacation. But for now, we had more important things to do with our time.
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Nice story! I always enjoy stories with angels. The tone is good. And those poor angels! I love how they ended up relying on Fred, the mortal. :>