Saturday, January 19, 2008

LOVE IS A BATTLEFIELD

By L. David Wheeler


Belinda Budge was as stubborn as her last name implied, and on this particular day she was resolute in refusing to fulfill her duties. As she was a guardian angel, this left her charge, Darrah Rongweld, in something of an awkward situation, as she was marked for humiliation, desecration and ultimate annihilation by the Secret Dark Lords of Malevolence.

Why Darrah Rongweld was marked by said Secret Dark Lords of Malevolence as their particular repository of wrath, why they feared her as they had few others – the Galilean, certainly; Merlin, quite possibly; Gary Cooper, most definitely, for the magic was strong within him – is obscure. For Darrah Rongweld was a file clerk. In a third-string American city named Rochester, New York. Who collected Snoopy figures and played piano badly and made decent chili and occasionally gave bums a dollar. She grew up in the thickest suburbs and lived a thickest-suburban life. She had a boyfriend named Murray who sold advertising for a free shoppers’-rag and had a rockabilly band named The Burnin' Beulahs. She named her two cats after Jane Austen characters. She was smart but not brilliant, cute but not beautiful, steady but not resolute, strong but not steeled. She was, in other words, perfectly ordinary.

Belinda Budge figured, rather, she knew in her sinews that she was made for grander things than to guard the perfectly ordinary Belinda Budge. She had guarded Winston Churchill! Miguel de Cervantes! Abigail Adams! Joan of Arc – well, that hadn’t turned out all that well, but it was quite a gig while it lasted. Just because the Secret Dark Lords of Malevolence had apparently made some appalling clerical error didn’t mean she had to waste however many decades the wretched creature would live, just because the Secret Lords of Lofty Luminescence said so. Just because they said Darrah Rongweld was this era’s Chosen One Who Beats Back The Forces of Entropy Simply By Existing. What did they know? (And what kind of title was that, anyway?) They weren’t real archangels, any more than she was a real angel or the Secret Dark Lords of Malevolence were real demons. Those folks existed, but traveled in different circles, it seemed. No, the Secret Lords and their associates – once Malcolm Mudge called her and, she supposed, himself, “minions,” and she disemboweled him extra disembowely for the affront – were free-lancers in the field of Meddling in the Affairs of Mortals. And subject to the occasional lapse in intelligence gathering, it seemed.

Let Darrah Rongweld get hit by a truck today. No, a bus! A train! A cruise ship! The space shuttle! Let her get eaten alive by mad dogs – cows, bears, kangaroos, dinosaurs, basilisks! Let her Diet Dr. Pepper turn to arsenic, hemlock, Drano, acid, even that foul draught they call Mello Yello! The Earth would continue to spin. Evil would not run rampant over the cosmos. Both the Secret Dark Lords of Malevolence and the Secret Lords of Lofty Luminescence would sheepishly realize their error and root around for the real Chosen One.

And maybe Mudge would finally shut up.

“Hey, come on, Belinda, the day’s half-over and we haven’t even started.”

She was sitting on the Court Street bridge over the Genesee River, welcoming the meaty fumes from the nearby Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, wishing her kind were corporeal enough to eat. He was standing behind her on the sidewalk, nervously stroking his moustache and making entreating eyebrow motions even though she had her back to him, because that was his way. This is the kind of demon the stupid Secret Dark Etcetera send to stay the Chosen One? Stupidity and folly.

She’d done battle with some of those Teutonic hunks of virile vileness that hovered around Hitler and his posse. Malcolm Mudge just ... sucked.

“What we?” Belinda asked, never taking eyes from the river. “Do whatever you want. Shoot her. Stab her. Lase her, tase her. Boil her blood and bake her bones. Toss her off the Xerox tower. Force-feed her Garbage Plates til her heart ignites. Feed her to the zebra mussels. The choice is yours.” She hopped down to the sidewalk and looked Mudge in the eye. “The day lies spread before you, and it’s all yours. I won’t stop you, 'cause I quit. Abdicate. Surrender. Hit the road. Shuffle off to Buffalo. Bet I can make it in an hour.” She smirked. “You’ve won – or you will if you quit bugging me and destroy her already. She’s a Chosen One” – she poured as much bitter irony into the term as she could – “your promotion is assured. You’ll get out of Rochester! Just cowboy up and do it. Be a man!”

“I’m not a man, Belinda, I’m ...”

“Ain’t that the truth.”

“... an Incorporeal Spectral Personified Entity. Just like you. And you know it doesn’t work that way.”

“Who says? You try to kill Rongweld. I try to stop you. Today I stop trying. Ball’s in your court, Mudge.”

“It’s in our court. Because I can’t do anything to her unless you resist. The victory isn’t won unless it’s taken. That’s the rule.”

“Rule? What rule?” She had never heard of such a rule – but then again, she had never heard of any Incorporeal Spectral Personified Entity, on either side, refusing to do her or his duty. She was, as far as she knew, the first, for she was as stubborn as her last name implied.

“The Deepest, Truest Canticle from the Well of Portentious Power Ere Eternity’s Onset Decreeing Ever Matched and Met Combat O’er Reality’s Covert Hinges, of course.” He crossed his arms. “Really, Belinda, you should study up on this stuff.”

“The Deepest, Truest ...” she muttered the litany to herself, trying to recall the ponderous title, than stopped short at “Onset.” She jabbed a finger in Mudge’s face. “You made that up!”

“I most certainly did not!”

“You made it up just now!”

“All right, all right. What gave it away?”

“What didn’t give it away? What the hell is wrong with you?”

He was silent for a moment, but his face was moving, various shadows passing across his eyes while his lips ... trembled, they truly did. Then he spoke, looking her square in the eye. “I don’t want it to end.”

“What to end?” she snapped.

“This. Well, not this, but that. The fight. The battle. The sparring. The parrying.”

“What are you talking about? The sparring and parrying don’t stop when one of the mortals does. Your bosses will find another alleged Chosen One for you to harass, and my bosses will send someone out to stop you. And you can fight and battle and spar and parry to your heart’s content.”

“I don’t want to fight anyone else. I’ve got my heart’s content.”

Belinda’s confusion and honest curiosity had almost overwhelmed her anger and annoyance. Her gaze softened, if only a mite. “Mudge. Malcolm. What are you saying?”

Malcolm Mudge looked more miserable than Belinda had ever seen a free-lance nondemon look. “I’m saying I love you, Belinda. I’ve loved you for years – since Darrah Rongweld was in preschool.”

She didn’t know what to say. So she pushed him off the bridge. And hoped that didn’t turn him on.

And she cursed Darrah Rongweld, while getting back to work protecting her worthless but possibly pivotal life. She preferred Malcolm as ardent adversary to whiny stalker, so Darrah would get her guardian angel back.

Belinda perched her incorporeal, invisible body atop Darrah’s cubicle wall, watching her nibble on Lean Cuisine fettucine as she worked her way through her lunch break. She leaned forward and stared into unseeing eyes, addressing her charge’s unhearing ears. “Bitch, all I can say is you’d better save the whole damn cosmos.”

And, as they drew swords, Malcolm Mudge smiled. Someday she’d come around.

3 comments:

BriHack said...

Wonderful!

A complete short story with a delightful end.

I was almost expecting some kind of turn-the-tables with a long-string-of-synonyms kind of monologue directed at Belinda because it was used so much in the story.

All the characters are painted with the brush of reality.

This was great!

Marcy Mahoney said...

Fantastico, Looley Houheet!!! What a great story! It reminded me a little in basic theory of Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett's "Good Omens" (which if you haven't read it, you absolutley should!)And thanks for the Love is a Battlefield earworm, too. Think I'll base mine on Saturday in the Park ...

Marcy Mahoney said...

oh, and ... mmmmmmmmmmm dinosaur bbq .... drooldrooldrooldrool