People would have called it The One Day War, had there been anyone left. Conflicts and wars peppered the history books but then, without anyone knowing why, people stopped killing each other. That time didn’t have a name, but it should have. Humanity turned its attention to solving all the other impossible problems: ending hunger, comfort and safety for all. People were happy for a time, and then the world went back to normal. Maybe the ending was always fated, maybe not. With humanity’s needs met, people turned inwards. They dug right down into the depths of their collective soul and uncovered a button long since buried. Some human quirk. A button marked destruction.
On the day of the One Day War, bombs fell in their tens of thousands as military trumpets blared in time to gunshots. It began at dawn and lasted until the last human died, a short fifteen hours later. An Angel and Demon came to Earth the following day.
“Yet another win for me,” said the demon Baal.
The archangel Michael grunted. Michael retracted his wings, folding them into a compartment next to his spine. The heat had weakened several of the nearby buildings, and he didn’t want to get dirty. One tower, a monument of glass and steel, drooped like a wilting flower. Its upper floors had liquified into a silver sludge, draining into a puddle. Michael’s mouth twitched downwards as he stepped over a stream of metal. Such a waste. He pointed in a different direction, and the pair changed their path. “I was wondering when you’d get to the score.”
“I haven’t said anything about the score,” said Baal with mock indignation. Of course I haven’t said anything about the score, he meant to say. It’s so much more fun when you do it. Baal’s tail knocked over a small wooden sign as he walked. Without appearing to think about it, he bent down and re-staked it beside a bed of dead flowers. Keep off the Grass. Humanity’s perfect gravestone. Baal wiped his feet on the black stems turning them into a fine dust.
“Yet you’re about to. It’s on the inside of your skull, knocking to come out. You can’t be quiet because it’s not in your nature. It’s a compulsion. Have you considered therapy?” Michael paused for a moment. “Do they have therapy in Hell?”
Michael had the face of a man about thirty, with kind eyes and the unshaven beginnings of a beard. Unlike Baal who dressed well, Michael wore blue jeans and an untucked t-shirt. The only thing humans got right about angels were the wings; and, even so, wings were more practical than majestic. Angels lacked the power and majesty that had been painted into them for millennia.
“There’s a listening couch between the Frozen Lava Pits and The Chamber of the Perpetual Scream. Tell me, how many times have you said that I should consider therapy? You say it every time we play. It will help me remember the score,” said Baal.
Humans weren’t right about demons, either. Baal, for example, didn’t have wings nor horns. Aside from the tail, Baal had the regular number of limbs in the usual number of place. It was more ornamental than practical, and Baal swished it when he walked. They differed from angels though; demons were anything but ordinary.
Had there been any humans left, they would have stopped and stared at Baal. An idea would have shot through their minds, ricocheting from memory to memory, blasting through grey matter until it hit the target. That man looks familiar. Humans would recognise Baal from the world of half-forgotten nightmares and terrible dreams.
“You’re a member of the celestial planes. You are forged in the early fires of creation and have been alive since before the beginning of time. A witness not only to the Big Bang but every hour, minute, and second of every day since the beginning of days. And you forgot,“ said Michael, drawing out the last word. So predictable. You want me to say the score. Michael tried to bend the middle and index fingers on both hands. It was a way that humans showed sarcasm. The word for this was “air quotes”. Unfortunately, angels only looked human on the outside and lacked the necessary dexterity in their hands. Michael flexed all his fingers, making him look as though he was scratching an invisible animal.
“My friend, you are right. I am guilty of being a sore winner —“
“— yet again,” interrupted Michael.
“Yes, yet again. Demons are guilty of being creatures of habit. A crime for which I grovel at your feet. My teasing is predictable, a cheap humour to rub salt into the wound. The score is thirty-eight to four.”
“Thirty-seven to four,” corrected Michael.
“Oh, thirty-seven? Are you sure? I could have sworn…”
“Yes, I’m sure.”
“How careless of me,” said Baal. Having claimed his prize, Baal changed track. “Where has the time gone?”
“Yes, it’s been wonderful,” said Michael, pleased with himself for getting the sarcasm right this time.
Michael stepped over another silver stream, whereas Baal jumped into it. He splashed around letting the liquid metal squish between his toes. Unlike most demons, a thick coat of glossy hair covered Baal’s feet. It was thick enough to brush a part from toe to ankle. Lately, he’d taken to bunching the hair together into clumps tied with colourful ribbons.
It was Baal’s oversized, overstuffed stomach that grabbed all the attention.
Baal claimed not to have eaten the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, but that may be a lie. Baal’s stomach sagged on all sides, more in the front than the back. From time to time it made a grumbling sound, like a small earthquake or a muffled cry for help. Whenever this happened, Baal would rub his stomach and mutter something under his breath. Yes, my darling, soon. Michael assumed it was a private joke although the opportunity to ask had long since passed.
“Every few million years, I find myself standing here on either a broken world or an empty world. When I win, the world has ended in war, disease, and death. Hell drains of souls as they fade into nothingness, broken beyond repair.”
“And when I win,” said Michael, “the species transcends this world to a place beyond Heaven and Hell.”
“What’s your point?”
“There’s always the two of us in the end.”
Michael looked at the broken world. He knew he would find nothing but ruins, radiation, and emptiness. It was true. After each game, the souls moved on from Heaven or faded away from the shock of Hell. It was all a part of logic that ruled existence and something that he’d never questioned. In the end, there was only Baal and himself. “Well, yes, that’s how things work.”
“With what? Humans were thorough in wiping life from this planet.”
“Well,” said Ball, playing out the drama of the moment, “there was one survivor, a bit of a hardy species. A good fighter for me, with social instincts that I know you like. We’ve discussed it before, and you’ve never been a fan.”
Baal lifted up a rock to expose a black beetle. It waved its antennae in the general direction of Michael and Baal.
“Not a dinosaur, pity.”
“They were fun. We can wait for something else if you prefer? There’s an ocean or two that isn’t too poisoned. Shouldn’t be too long before something evolves there. Loser’s choice.”
“Let’s get on with it.”
With his free hand, Baal reached inside his robe and brought out an apple. He offered it to Michael who willed stigmata to appear. A single drop of angelic blood stained the apple, turning it a luminescent red. Baal placed the apple beside the cockroach and waited.
“Not much of a Garden of Eden, is it?” said Michael.
Baal looked around, “Eh, I’ve seen worse.”
“Remember that one time–”
The cockroach took a few tentative towards a different rock to hide under. Before reaching it, the cockroach paused, flittered its wings, turned, paused again, and then darted back in a mad dash. It landed on the Celestial Apple with an imperceptible chirp. Michael and Baal crouched down for a closer look; Baal being first to spot the engorged eyes and said so. It was sure sign that it was working. Then, its mouth full, the cockroach fell to the ground, landing on its back. Its legs twitched one final spasm then nothing.
“Oh great, you’ve killed it,” said Michael.
“We’ll call this one a draw? Oh, it’s moving again.”
The cockroach’s legs and antennae twitched to life as Celestial Knowledge flooded its central nervous system. A glimmer of intelligence twinkled in the beetle’s eyes. It sensed a change with the two beings looking down at it. Gone were the humans that had been there only a moment before. In their place were two oversized cockroaches staring down at him.
“Hmm,” said the first cockroach.
“It’s working,” said the second.
The first cockroach was uninteresting, black wings fading to a dirty brown. The second was different though. Hairless. Odd. Thin hind legs supported an abdomen that bulged on all sides. Not understanding, the cockroach fled, its belly full of eggs.
“That was a male, wasn’t it?” asked Michael. There was no response, he continued. “Silence does not fill me with confidence.”
“Apologies, my friend. I was using my inside voice. Yes… it was male or female. One of those.” He added, “See you in a few thousand years. And good luck.”
The angel and demon returned to their celestial homes and waited.