"Hark! She comes."
"um... over there, I think."
"Are you certain?"
"Let me check my notes."
The two shadowy figures, the questioner and the one who was a bit unsure of things, were huddled together over what had once been a plinth.
All around them was darkness - real darkness however, ulike the darkness which is when like light has gone on holiday and will be back next Tuesday but the sort of black that is dark because light had never been there in the first place.
The pair's sole recourse against this inhospitable scene was a small waxy candle that was hurredly burning down to the stub - the yellow flame was flickering madly like the eye-lid of an old insane sailor.
The air was still and old but there was occasionally from the depths something approaching a stale breeze, ever so slight, which caused the candle to go into something approaching a spasm.
The flickering light made it hard to read the scrolls.
"Um... take a few paces that way." said one of the figures pointing with out really looking
"Here?" asked the now distant voice.
The scroll-studying figure glanced upward.
"No,no - the other way."
There was the sound of sandals on flagstones
"That's it - perfect!"
There was a strangled metallic-sounding bass note with a resonant twang - as of one molesting a harpishord with a chainsaw - and a flash of intense blue light flared up above their heads, illuminating the forest of impossibly tall stone pillars that surround them on all sides.
There was a cry like "whoa!" and another sound whumph! - argh! - as of an immaculately cut suit with a person inside it and with accesorising Gucci heels crumpling to a heap after dropping 8 feet out of mid air through a dimensional rift.
In all the excitment the candle had gone out.
"I think that was it." said the first.
"Hello?" he ventured bravely but against all reason what came out was a terrified squeeak.
"urrrrrgh." growled some furred toothy monstrosity - well at least that's what the first figure's imagination was currently crediting with having made that sound.
He reasoned - that if there was a big, huge, furry, hideously clawed thing - out there in the dark it would be useless him sacrificing himself for his colleague who, by now, was probably having his shin bone used as a tooth pick , and all in all the best thing he could do right now was... RUN!!!!
His feet were already one step ahead of his cerebral cortex. In fact they were several - he ran and ran , careering into obstacles left right and centre, ricocheting from pillar to post. After he figured he put sufficient distance between himself and whatever it was he was supposed to be here to escort (for the moment forgoing the fact that he would doubtless be killed for abandoning his charge) he was merely trying to put off being killed right now by the... by the... the... um...
While our protagonist wrestled with this rather limited series of career options he failed to notice the shadow move black-on-black past this pillar, around that corner, snaking towards him.
The cowled figure shuffled his feet a little and sounded despondant.
"So that's it - I'm dead then."
A hand reached out, grabbed him by the tunic and hoisted him bodily up into the air and pressed him against the stone pillar with a considerable degree of force.
"Yes you are!" said a voice.
There was the sound of some fumbling, some itinerant clicking and finally a flame jumped up out of the lighter and Annabel stared frustrated into the half-sane eyes of the terrified monk.
"Yes." said Annabel. "Late. I was unavoidably detained being tied to a stone altar about to be sacrficed by a crazed, holy, zombified man."
"Bad day at the office?" said the figure sympathetically prompted by some inner instict of survival.
"The office" stared Annabel "is no more. I shall contact my solictor, have the company liquidated and the assets sold on.
On second thoughts I won't kill you. We may need someone to come back for your friend over there, I'm afraid he gave his head a nasty crack on the floor when he broke my fall."
"It's good to see you again, miss."
"It's good to be back."
"You mission was successful then?"
"I have seen much that the others must know. Take me into the inner sanctum. I must speak with Him."
"The Dying Pilchard Bleeds Under A Turqoise Moon." intonded the monk from the bottom of his indoctrinated heart.
"Yes... quite." smiled Annabell whimsically and heel's clicking on the ancient stone floor of the temple, she strode off to deliver her report.
Bob was becoming quickly bored. He squirmed on the white couch, and cast a glance at St Peter, back behind his desk and glowering over a log book that had to be filled in in triplicate.
"Erm..." quavered Bob.
Peter gave him a Look.
"Like I said, he'll be ready when he's ready. You wouldn't believe his workload. It's not as if you're going anywhere, is it?"
"No, I was just wondering where the, umm, bathroom was? You see, I didn't have time to go before I... went."
The angel frowned.
This is... weeell, it's never come up before. Highly irregular!" he tutted.
"Yes, that's the problem!" said Bob jovially, trying to make a joke of it and failing. Peter harrumphed, and turned back to his books.
The little tibetan monk beside Bob on the couch gave him a broad grin.
"Don't worry, he's always like this. He has a lot of stress. Every time I get reincarnated I say to him, you've got to get an assistant, but he has his ways, you know..."
A bell rang out clear and bright, and a grateful Bob was ushered out of Purgatory into the presence of his god. He waved bye-bye to the Dali Llama as he went.
"So, Robert, you did it. I must admit, I had my doubts about your ability; when Arthur refused me... ungrateful little... but you performed above and beyond the call of duty. And right now, things are becoming... unpleasant... for the renegade monk. Thanks to you.""
Bob blushed, shuffled his feet, stared at the floor, said it was nothing really.
"Although I have had several quite sharp prayers from my children in, um, Australia I think it was. Was it really necessary to transport the machine there? Wouldn't some inoffensive stretch of ocean have done just as well?"
Now Bob looked up.
"Have you ever seen 'Home and Away', sir?"
God cradled his chin in his hands.
"Fair point. When you leave me, you will wake up in a hospital bed, surrounded by your friends. I have arranged it all. But first, I believe it is customary to grant you a request - a boon, if you like. A reward for your sterling services to Creation. What shall it be, Robert?"
"If you could get rid of this third arm? Please? Only it's a bit of a nuisance, 'cause I lose track of which hand is holding what, and when I'm in the loo that's..."
"That's already taken care of, Robert. Tell me so; what do you *really* want?"
Bob looked far away for a moment.
"Well, there is this girl..." he stuttered, then stopped.
"Jill" prompted the Lord.
A mute nod from Bob.
God shook his great head sadly, and clapped a hand on Bob's shoulder.
"Walk with me, my son"
And now they were surrounded by stars, billions of tiny galaxies that twinkled and flashed garishly in the sober vacuum of space. Bob waved a hand, and it passed right through a cluster of stars and space dust.
The Lord turned to him, infinity reflected in his eye.
"Look. This is my Creation. I made this. All here is mine to control"
To demonstrate, and also because he had a penchant for showing off, God waved an arm expansively. A perfect circle of galaxies supernovaed around his head, giving him a halo formed from the death of worlds.
"Time is my servant, Matter is my tool, Reality is my canvas..."
And here he looked sympathetically to Bob.
"... but you and Jill? That's *never* going to happen..."
He clicked his fingers, and the real world came back into focus.
Bob jerked up in the hospital bed.
"He's awake! Oh Bob, thank God you're alive!"
He looked at the circle of relieved faces,
Jill asked him.
"So did you see anything?"
"Where?" asked Bob quizzically.
"Beyond the Veil - y'know... up... there." said Richter clutching his bowler and looking towards the ceiling cautiously.
Bob thought of the conversation he had just shared with God.
"Really?" said Jill surprised.
"Divine champion and all that?" mumbled Richter a tad disappointed.
"That's right - not a thing. Now I could really murder a jam croissant." said Bob, hopping out of bed.
And Bob, our quiet Bob found himself thinking. 'Free will - what a mistake THAT was!'
God folded his arms and said: "I knew he'd do that."
Uh-huh." nodded St Peter, who didn't believe a word of it.
No really I did. What?"
You still owe me a fiver."
"How about a Bagel with my face in it? I have a distribution centre in Wyoming."
"Not a chance."
St Peter strode ahead into Heaven, out through the 'staff only' door to the Pearly Gates. and got almost as far as his desk when he felt a small tug on his tunic.
Looking down he saw a new soul had arrived up the Divinity Escalator.
The man was quite wet and dripping, evidence that he'd drowned obviously.
Then there was also the fact that he was busy trying to extricate his legs from the throat of shark using his surf board for leverage. It appeared that the shark had choked on it's meal.
"Erm... excuse me" said the man.
"Yes?" said St Peter with the air of one who hopes to be pleasantly surprised when delivering bad news.1
"Am I dead?"
Peter looked over his half-moon spectacles past the man at the shark, still gripped about his waist, taking stock of the man's predicament.
I'd say so."
"and is this - "
Peter couldn't hold back.
YES it is. I mean really - is that any surprise? You've got a bloody great fish clamped onto your legs. And these - he said stamping his foot madly. "These are clouds! have you ever stood on clouds before? No? well then!"
The man was clearly confused at the large man in the glowing white tunic having a hissy fit. "but is this."
Peter sighed. "Yes it's this way. hoisting the man up by his shoulder and persuading the shark to let go.