How about a little excerpt from one of the stories? Like this one:
“I’m Gabe,” he answered. Well, that explains the horn. And the cheeks.
“Pleased,” I said. “I’m Ish.” We waited a while longer. I was beginning to get fidgety again, when he was just- there.
We’ve all heard about Mike, but seeing him right there behind the Gate was something. Big as Lucky, all muscle and tan, he’s wearing white, also, but his shirt is open at the collar and he’s got bling. Big gold chain with a fancy cross hanging around his neck. Hanging off his belt is a white scabbard with the gold hilt of a sword sticking out of it. Didn’t quite go with the outfit, but I wasn’t in any position to criticize. His big baby blues are all storm clouds and thunder as he’s looking at me. His right hand is resting on the hilt of that famous sword. I held up my hands.
“Hey, look,” I said, backing up a step. He just stood there, staring at me, like I was something the hell hounds dragged in. “I don’t want any trouble. This is Lucky’ s idea of a joke. All I want is to get home. Okay?”
“Lucky always did think he was funny.” Mike’s voice was like the rest of him: big and deep. It rolled over me like a tsunami.
“Yeah, yeah,” I said. “But let’s forget all that and just send me back. Just point me in the direction of the staircase.” He pulled the sword out of its scabbard with a metallic sliding sound. The blade was shiny steel and it looked sharp. Like hot knife through butter sharp. The hilt and cross thingies were gold and inlaid with jewels. Little flashes of lightning rode up and down the blade. Mike gripped it in both hands and leveled it at my chest through the Gate’s bars.
“I should smite you where you stand, minion of evil!” His voice boomed out like breaking the sound barrier. Even Lucky didn’t get that dramatic sounding.
“Hey, hey, now,” I said, trying to buy time while I thought. “No need for any smiting. No need at all. It’s not like I came here on my own or anything. I didn’t have a choice. All’s I want is to get out. Let’s not be hasty, okay, Mike?”
He considered me for a long moment. I held my breath. I wasn’t particularly fond of the idea of getting smitten. Or smited. Or smote. Or whatever it was. Mike took a half step forward and pressed the blade against my chest. It burned, let me tell you. Demons are kind of allergic to stuff like that.
“Or perhaps, you are the one who took it,” he mused, his voice back to its normal roar. He pressed a little harder. I started to smoke, and I don’t mean a Cuban. I winced and took a step back.
“Took it? Took what?” I managed to get out. “If something’s missing, I don’t know anything about it. I just got here, remember? I haven’t had time to take anything.” I was thinking fast now. Maybe there was a way out of this yet. Not that I liked where that train of thought was going, but it was better than a burning sword in the chest.
“If something’s missing, you might want to talk to me about it. Not that I know anything, but finding things, see that’s kind of my specialty. Lost that soul you were about to steal? Someone lifted your pitchfork? I’m the guy to call. So why don’t we discuss your problem. Maybe I can help.” I looked down. The thing left a nice burn hole in my good suit. Great. I looked across at Mike. He’d let the sword point drop, but I could tell he was ready to slice and dice at any second. Again, I get the long, slow look. I raised an eyebrow and tried to look like I didn’t care.
“He’s got a point, Mike,” Gabe said. I jumped. I’d forgotten about him. Mike glanced at him.
“He did just get here,” he continued. “I was right there. And it’s been gone a while now. I’m not saying we should let him nose around on his own, but your guys haven’t had much luck.” I could see the wheels turning in Mike’s head. He seemed a bit more of the intellectual type than Lucky.
“Look, can it hurt to tell me what’s missing?” I asked. “You can always get back to the smiting later if it doesn’t pan out. Tell you what? I won’t even charge you my usual fee, how’s that?” He slid the sword back into the scabbard. That alone did my mood a world of good. “So what are we looking for?”
“The scales.” He said it quietly, for him. I didn’t get it at first.
“Scales? You’re all tensed up because some scales are missing?” Mike looked at me like I was nuts. Maybe I was. Gabe spoke up.
“The ones he uses to weigh the souls,” he explained. The light dawned. Those scales. Not something you misplaced lightly up here. I mean, even where I come from, we all know about the scales. Every soul who wants in at the Gate has to take its turn on the scales. If you don’t weigh up right, you get cast down to us. I whistled.
“Helluva thing to lose, pardon the language,” I said. “So what’s it look like?” Mike glared.
“A scale, dummy,” he says. Now, I’m getting insulted.
“Hey, no need to get personal,” I groused. “I’ve never seen them, so it might be easier to find them if I know what I’m looking for.” Gabe moved over to stand next to Mike. He was shorter by a head.
“The scale is pretty standard issue,” Gabe went on. “Two pans suspended from a post with chains. Gold, with curlicues and stuff on it. Stands about yay high.” He held his hands apart about 24 inches. I raised both eyebrows at that.
“That small? And you can weigh a whole soul on that?” I was impressed.
“A soul is not a body,” Mike says. “It is ephemeral. It can dance on the head of a pin.” I held up a hand.
“Okay, okay, I get it,” I said. “Where was it last?” Gabe looked at Mike, who nodded. Gabe reached out and opened the Gate, letting me in. Never figured I’d be getting an invite inside, but here we were. Gabe showed me a box carved out of the one of the side posts of the gate. It had gold plated doors that swung open behind a pure white curtain. He opened the doors and I stepped forward to peer inside. It was empty except for a single white feather. I reached in to pick it up, but Mike’s hand grabbed my wrist like iron shackles.
“Do not touch that!” There was the rolling thunder roar again. My hearing was never going to be the same.
“That is the feather by which the soul is weighed,” he went on. “If it is lighter than the angel’s feather, it is acceptable. If not…” He spread his hands. Yeah, I know, cast to the depths. Which aren’t so bad, if I do say so myself.
“How long’s it been gone?” I asked. Mike glanced at Gabe, who shrugged.
“Time is irrelevant here,” Mike said. I grinned.
“So, a while then,” I answered my own question. “What have you been doing with all the souls in the meantime? I mean, they haven’t stopped coming, right?”
“They go to the waiting room,” Gabe said. “That’s why I’m here. I meet them and send them to wait.” Waiting room. Cute. Purgatory, he means. Limbo, where you don’t know up from down. Not a place I’d want to be stuck for long.
“Huh,” I said. “You said you had someone working on this, right? Maybe I should talk to them. See what they know.” Mike nodded, and spoke to Gabe.
“You go with him,” he said. He sounded tired, not something I’d expect from the Right Hand. “Don’t leave him alone.” Back to me. “If you can find it, I will see that you get what you want.” I nodded.
Excerpt from Where Angels Tread, “Six of One: A Collection of Short Fantasy” by M.A. Kropp
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Six of One: A Collection of Short Fantasy by M.A. Kropp is a set of short fantasy stories. Meet wizards, imps, gangster angels, and frogs in this group of varied tales of magic and mischief. Escape from the everyday into worlds of fantasy with Six of One: A Collection of Short Fantasy.